Day 32

Day 32

It was another stunning day, helped by some rain overnight. I didn’t manage a COVID-19km walk because of my sore ITB but I got to 13. Dr Google says that I shouldn’t aggravate it by the activity that causes the pain, so I told myself on the walk that as long as it was short enough that’s not the actual activity. How we try and fool ourselves! Contrary to the impression I had that medical facilities were open during Alert Level 4, it’s extremely restricted – only primary care – with severe restrictions. So a physiotherapist will have to wait. To be fair I walk along Auckland’s Medical Mile frequently and it’s been quiet like everywhere else.

What didn’t wait was Mum’s birthday – coming ready or not – and according to the ancestry.com family tree that I maintain, she’s the oldest person on record in her line for many years. Obviously I don’t have all the dates but she has now moved ahead of my 12th Great Grandmother Mary Banestre who lived 1509 to 1598, although my 25th great grandfather Robert du Vaux is recorded as having died in 1194, aged 94 years.

Dad put on a special breakfast and when I saw the picture on Facebook this morning, with blurry morning eyes I assumed it was a shot of the Queen, and then I realised of course it was. Just our family’s! I did feel a bit sad I wasn’t there, as I usually see Mum on her birthday, but there’s a lot more pain going on that this of course. But after singing her Happy Birthday, she didn’t muck around with the niceties:  “Have you got yourself ready to go into work?” Now I remember why I wasn’t late for school! Wisdom brings with it refreshing practicalities I find with Mum.

A birthday breakfast in Lockdown for Mum

There were nine cases today and my running review of the eighteen deaths shows none of them appear to have COVID-19 as the underlying cause of death according the WHO. New Zealand has a remarkably low level of cases, and related deaths, and we’re being put in a group of five nations with similar statistics – Australia, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong.

The fact of elimination being touted up until the other day as ridding the country of the ‘rona, but now being used in a medical sense i.e just very low cases, has caused some disquiet as to whether our media are fact-checking the press conferences. It’s obvious they’re not – in fact as I’ve said before the whole thing looks like a propaganda exercise.  If you’re tempted to think it doesn’t matter because it’s our health at stake, that’s in the same genre of argument that can apply to multiple areas that is essentially government knows best.  In this category is the unlimited access to our data by government agencies (if you’d done nothing wrong, why worry etc). That’s not a system I want to live in. Freedom is far more important.

Be that as it may, our success is being analysed and includes the fact that we are quite socially distant anyway – low population density – and very isolated and relatively wealthy. The cost in this article is described as astronomical, with our Tourism sector as a major contributor to GDP effectively shut off. We have the strictest measures of these countries.

The sooner we can bubble with Australia the better.  Bring those Aussies over for the Ski Season I reckon.

I was lucky enough to escape the city for some essential maintenance at my rural property. I’m quite disappointed to have not had to use my evidence, nicely collated in a plastic sleeve – police exhibit style – I thought they might appreciate that, although the car is a bit cleaner that might be expected and my hands too smooth!.

One more day, and it’s a holiday. We won’t forget this ANZAC break for a while.

See you for the final Lockdown Blog tomorrow!

Stephen

Day 31

Day 31

I walked to the Auckland War Memorial Museum and the Cenotaph at the front which felt right on Anzac Day. There were three or four wreaths laid, one by the Museum and another the Mayor of Auckland. For Anzac Day it was extraordinarily quiet, but a few people were milling around, reflecting.  A father and son were flying a kite which looked like the flag of Thailand, although on closer inspection, the father was doing it all.

The Domain – Pukekawa – is Auckland’s oldest park and consists of 75 hectares and includes the Museum and Cenotaph, Wintergarden, Cricket Pavilion, Duck Ponds replete with Auckland Acclimatisation Society plaque. These are the societies we can thank for ferrets, weasels and rabbits being formally introduced into New Zealand. Pukekawa is one of the oldest Volcanoes in the Volcanic field, at 100,000 years old. It was fresh – almost Spring-like today – and it made for a very good walking loop with a slightly sore leg still.

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Auckland War Memorial Museum and Cenotaph on ANZAC Day 2020

On the second part of my walk, up Mt Hobson, I had a chat to Dad who said he’d stood at the letterbox at 6am, heard the Last Post loud and clear and was now preparing a photo montage for Mum’s birthday. Mum has jokingly said that they’re going to their favourite restaurant, but it’ll just be the two of them and Dad reckons the special crockery is coming out!

This is our last weekend in Lockdown Level 4 and the traffic has already started building, somehow in anticipation of Level 3 on Tuesday. That will be a big step back to the new norm, as many more workers can restart and construction can recommence. It’s got to be an ideal time to advance all the projects in Auckland CBD, with minimal traffic and pedestrians to deal with.

It’s occurred to me today that the reality of working from home for me is probably several more months. The logistics of social distancing in a high rise with elevators is going to make it really challenging. So I’m gearing up for the long haul. Part of that will be finding new television series to keep this routine going!

Jerry Seinfeld has a new series starting in May, although I’m not sure if that is NZ – 23 Hours to Kill and it seems to derive inspiration from James Bond. All my best things all in one show!  In a 2017 HBR interview Seinfeld was asked if humour was effective as a leadership tool: “Being funny is one of the ultimate weapons a person can have in human society. It might even compete with being really good-looking.

Humour has a really important role in leadership. Some people mistake humour as hiding or a cover for something. It can be, but it’s actually really serious business. You can’t be anxious and laugh at the same time, and it’s a great way to break conflict. And a lot of what goes on in business is funny. Even the Elevator rules (well the old ones) – face the door, stare at your phone, don’t talk. But I better stop there – that’s for another day as to write some truths about the things I think are funny in business this late at night, is something I might regret!

Happy Birthday Mum, the ‘rona kept me away.

Stephen

Day 26

Day 26

 

If you want to know what your favourite film is, doesn’t it have to been the one you’ve watched the most? (excluding children’s films). For me a favourite film is a happy warm place, a comfortable seat (and set) with characters I know, places I love and a story that never grows old.

Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen’s 2011 film is mine and I watched it tonight. I should be embarrassed to say how many times I’ve watched it, but it never ceases to capture my imagination, and if it’s forty times or more I wouldn’t be at all surprised. Gil Pender is a Hollywood screenwriter on holiday in Paris with his fiance and future in-laws, when he is transported back to the 1920s each night and mixes with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Picasso and others.

The warm and fuzzies have finished in politics with the announcement today. During the last four weeks, it seems that if anyone had the temerity to contradict the wisdom of the imposition of the state of emergency, then that was tantamount to the person wanting the ‘rona to attack your neighbour.  Media and all political parties played ball.  I’m glad that’s ended. We went into this thing with the prospect that 80,000 people were going to die if we didn’t. Of course that was never going to happen – we don’t have the population density or age demographics of Italy or Spain. We may not have known that then in fairness, but we do now.

Modern society shields most people from the realities of life and death and it’s been very easy for leaders to frighten us with death rates. Seeing as I’ve become semi-addicted to statistics, according to Statistics New Zealand 3097 people will have died in New Zealand during the Lockdown.  About 100 each day.  Every one of those deaths will likely leave loved ones behind and there will be great sadness and grief attached to it, but we’re all just timing differences, as a boss of mine once said. Our turn will come!

So, I think we need to take the emotion out of the normal run of events and not scaremonger each other about the ‘rona. Yes, the curve needed to get flattened to avoid a health crisis and avoid building the tent hospital. That’s a great thing. Time to get back to work now with appropriate controls. I may have failed to redefine our understanding of death in the context of the crisis, but a verb got redefined today.

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Elimination is not, as you might expect from the ordinary meaning – the complete removal or destruction of something – but rather, the, um, not complete removal!  Common sense has prevailed as it had to – we can’t possibly expect to eliminate the ‘rona – any more that the common cold or any other virus for which there is no vaccination. That could never work.

We need leadership with empathy and understanding, but leaders also need to harness the directness of a Hemingway. Telling it as it as. I’m not sure that trying to redefine the meaning of a word that was so much part of this campaign was a good idea.

But I doubt we have eliminated our desire for food we can’t have. So 27 April 11.59pm is the date for a Big Mac at the Greenlane drive through! The queue alone will be worth being there for  – history in the making surely! When the time comes it’s Japanese for me – Salmon Sashimi and Yakitori dishes. With a favourite film. Can’t wait!

Stephen

 

Day 22

Day 22

Sadly, my trip down to Christchurch to do a surprise visit for Mum’s 89th birthday got cancelled by Air NZ. Well, I’m sure Air NZ didn’t want to cancel it but they have no choice as we’re not permitted travel until Alert Level 2 is here. So Mum will have to see in her 90th year just with Dad, which will be just fine!

Mum’s been bottling fruit  since 1952 – 67 years  – as long as her and Dad have been married, and there’s no bigger fan of it than Dad who loves it with his Tip Top Boysenberry ice-cream. On our annual road trip in January, Mum picked up some apricots from the place just on the edge of Cromwell as you head towards Queenstown. I enjoyed a bottle of it tonight, slightly warmed, with some Vanilla Ice-cream. Perfect. I’ve been eating it, not regularly, but all my life. I remember the annual bottling ritual when I was a boy – it’s been apricots, peaches, plums (off the tree), pear and stewed apples. Despite the sugar that I recall going in the big vat, it must be alright for you!

If you’re ever at Mum and Dad’s the bottles are safely stored in the cupboard in the laundry. It always seems full, despite them eating it for breakfast and dessert every night. Just don’t go there at night-time because the cat is locked up in there, heated bed and all, safely for the night.

Apricots all eaten up

During the Lockup it’s definitely been a time to enjoy home pleasures and of course home-cooked food. There’s not much else. But growing up I don’t remember much else either. There were occasional visits to friends, rare fish ‘n chip nights and even rarer meals out. Nowadays, they’d never been a week, or in fact hardly a day, when I wouldn’t eat out or at least purchase out.  So maybe it’s not so bad for us all to have some, hopefully, home-cooked nutritious meals. Who knows, it might keep the ‘rona away!

I walked twice today – total 16.5km – and there’s little doubt that La Résistance are firmly in control of Cornwall Park. The security guards on duty have gone from stern occupying sympathisers, to silent, but benevolent supporters. Never have there been so many smiles and acknowledgements from passing walkers. Yes, we’re in this together, but we’re also in this– our democratically empowered exercise – together. If we have to choose, it’s the walk, so don’t mess with us!

There’s been some weird stuff in the park. A well groomed small man with immaculately trimmed barista style beard and hi-vis vest hurtling down the road from the peak of One Tree Hill on his tiny cycle, to skid sideways to a halt just before the barrier; a woman who I knew but couldn’t remember her name who claimed to have a gun to ward off runners who came too close; selfies with bulls; a child out of control on her balance bike down the hill in the wet, smiling all the way; people with masks protecting their chins only; golf; one man soccer games; and skate boards that go up hill (I need).

When we get out of our motor vehicles, play, interact and stop being busy and important, real things happen. This isn’t new to me, but like the ‘rona is said to compress the mortality rate of those most at risk from 12 months to 2 weeks, the Lockdown has compressed these great pleasures into a few weeks.

Can I say keep it up! Well the walking yes at least!

By the time you read this it will be Friday. Enjoy your dessert. Only two people will have it as good as mine was tonight.

Stephen

 

Day 20

Day 20

I almost broke the chain of blogs today, but no way. I could hear the 1pm press conference echoing in my ear – STAY HOME AND WRITE! – or something like that so lucky I’m compliant.

I had a call with someone outside work today who reckoned that I was just a featureless blob on the screen. I blamed the sun streaming in behind me but she didn’t let up and insisted we find another option. I was concerned that I’d become either featureless or a blob or both but I checked the mirror and I found features, admittedly in two degrees, but that’s the nature of a mirror. Later on we had a telephone call.

It might also be that this third week – three weekends in – has made us all a little stir crazy. Since school, have you ever felt so dependent on another adult for what you can do in your life? Will we get out? What will we be able to do once we get out? Can we go home early after PE? Okay so maybe the last one really was school, but you get the drift.

As I said on the D-Day Home-D blog, Freedom is my most important value. I don’t care much for unnecessary control as a consequence, so the dangling, the hope, the scolding, is all a bit much at times. But hey, we may, if we’ve done the right things, have 8 days to go until the worst is over.

There were four more deaths today. A nurse on Checkpoint this evening texted in and said that the annual influenza cuts through the elderly in rest homes in much the same way as COVID-19 does when it takes hold. A podcast of a Saturday morning interview by Kim Hill with Dr Chris Smith, a UK virologist was replayed tonight (yes I’m boring). Dr Smith said that they expect the death rate to be significantly lower than currently described once the data is in on the very large numbers of people with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic. The story of this virus will have remarkably different headlines in three years time than it does now once full information is known.

But governments can only be expected to act on data that they have available to them at the time. When they data shifts, the politics of owning the decision suddenly make it more challenging. That’s fascinating, especially given that we’ve all been under the impression that most key decisions were political, when in fact they’re not.

There’s a leadership learning here and relevant to leaders everywhere.  Have you put so much leadership or political capital into a decision that to change course unbalances the ship?

It truly was a winter’s walk tonight – 14 degrees –  dark, wet and cold and that chain, the walking chain, stayed intact too, although it was only 4 kilometres. The police approved I’m told.

And it’s Wednesday already! Plan for that last weekend – or maybe don’t just in case it’s not.  After all, Saturday week is ANZAC day and we might just sneak out and make our own freedom parade if we’re not ordered to stay home!

Stephen

Day 17

Day 17

It was like I was in a scene from the charming British series Detectorists. I had been trying to get rid of some wasps that had made a couple of homes on my bore pump shed when I lost one of my Apple Airpods in the long hay. I’d already had to replace the entire set when it fell out of my bag dashing for a flight late last year. Hands and knees searching to no avail. I’d used the Find my Device function without success last time, but  as a last resort I gave it a crack. “Chirp Chirp Chirp“, GPS pinpointed the missing pod to within centimetres.

I’m a great fan of new technology. Watching the first two series that have been released on Netflix, Detectorists in High Definition with high speed fibre is a delight. Impatient for the third series I bought it on DVD. Great stories, but disappointing quality.

I love the countryside. I’m growing feed for the neighbouring farms on my bit of paradise and, armed with suitable documentation, I headed out today for essential maintenance. The motorway was clear and my journey there and back was uninterrupted and uneventful. I’d move out there tomorrow if the journey was that easy usually!

My earliest memories of farming life was staying on Uncle George’s dairy farm. He had me driving his Bedford Truck – I can still smell it – accelerator jammed with a 2×4 while he put the hay out and I steered. He was no doubt a beneficiary of the then government schemes that effectively subsidised dairy farmers but it appeared a charming lifestyle as a young boy looking on.  Sometimes you don’t realise who the influential people in your life were until way after you’ve lost contact.

shed

We now have four deaths said to be from COVID-19. I remember from my police days when you attended a sudden death (aren’t most deaths, like, well, sudden?), but anyway, if you didn’t have a doctor who could certify cause of death, then it was off to the Coroner. The training we had was that when the cause of death was certified without an autopsy, there was a high error rate.

To establish the cause of death, according to WHO, the doctor starts with the direct cause of death, then goes back to the preceding conditions until you get to the condition that started the sequence of conditions leading to death. This is said to be the underlying cause of death, which is described by WHO as ‘the disease or injury which initiated the train of morbid events leading directly to death, or, the circumstances of the accident or violence which produced the fatal injury”

So what? Well if you’re a keen reader of all things COVID-19 you would have seen articles in overseas newspapers that bring perspective beyond the “underlying conditions” that we know most victims of the virus sadly have. COVID-19 may be the direct cause of death, but on the research I’ve seen it’s unlikely to be the underlying cause of death.

So I think we need to be very careful about all of this attributing of cause of death to COVID-19. This isn’t some sort of alternative reality – it’s what WHO says – and explains headlines that describe almost all deaths in Italy early on as being of people with underlying health conditions. That’s not to make light of those deaths, or to underestimate the strain on any health system of so many occuring at once, but that’s a different alarm. Of course the underlying call to action – the 80,000 deaths if we don’t do anything – the medical crisis and so on got us moving, quickly.  Thanks to those government steps we don’t have a medical crisis which is great news and we have cause to be thankful.

Next step?  Daily updates on the economic measures being taken too. That’s got most people in New Zealand worried. The dire warnings spurred us into action that worked, but I think most people now realise we’ve passed that hurdle and we need to get onto the actual crisis we have.

shed2Otherwise we’ll all end up like Uncle George and subsidised by government for the foreseeable future. That won’t work. Although I could do with cheaper red paint.

But it’s Easter still! I think tomorrow (today when you read this) is the actual Easter Egg day and the first time in living memory we’re allowed to go the Supermarket. Such excitement, but for me having been at my land today, I have all things rural on my mind again. Love it.

Stephen

 

 

Day 15

Day 15

If my European trip had gone ahead I would have landed back in Auckland today. It would have been Singapore, Paris, Ireland – to see my son and his family – and Barcelona.  It would have been a cool Auckland to have arrived back into, a much cooler Auckland than I’d left, although I would have been oblivious that it only turned cold today.

Dusk view of Barcelona, Spain. Plaza de Espana

Walking through Cornwall Park this evening it was very much a late Autumn feeling, and I wore a walking jacket for the first time this year on my 118th walk of the year.

It looks like we’ve broken the back of COVID-19 in this country. They’ll be some further stern words – STAY HOME! – and big pronouncements about what restrictions stay (most), but in reality, we’re over it, yes it worked, at what cost, and what now?

I think a hangover will set in really quick. The enthusiasm, village spirit, the dobbing in, the adulation, the jokes, will fade quicker than summer just did.

COVID-19 was and is not an evil, random hideous silent killing stalking us like the Alien.

It’s a virus, mostly avoidable, and when it’s caught it can be very serious, mainly to some vulnerable groups.  There will be a time to reflect on this in the future I hope, although now is not the time. 

But we will rise again. Speaking of which it’s Easter! Time of the Easter Bunny and the Cross. So it’s time for  – a new word! Syncretism: the merging of belief systems which for Easter is about the fertility rituals that underpin Easter, a celebration adopted by Christians to mark the death and resurrection of Christ. Christ isn’t the only religious figure said to have died and born again – here’s ten others – and there are others too.

I’ll miss the Church bells at Easter this year. You might have guessed I wouldn’t be there, but it’s a restful sound that somehow captures community. And we need that now more than ever.

So let’s hope we come back from this and go forward. No flying for us after the comeback though, so my visit to Mum for her 89th birthday later this month might be on hold. Don’t tell her, she doesn’t know I’m (supposed to be) coming.

And do have a community Easter in your Bubble, however that is done. We’ll never forget this Easter so we might as well embrace it, and those who share this moment.

Stephen