Corona Chronicles - Lockdown life in Marlborough
By: Christopher Cookson
Last Modified: 13-5-2020 16:21
For the last few weeks, I've been relatively insulated from the nationwide lockdown to try to eliminate SARS-CoV-2 from New Zealand. I work from home and this blog post is considerably delayed as I've been particularly busy with work, trying to make sure other local businesses are able to keep working with staff at home. Although I don't own my own home, I'm blessed with a quarter acre section with ample produce, and plenty of places for my daughter to play. I live close to the Wither Hills Farm Park, so getting out for exercise while staying in my bubble is fairly easy to do, and there's so much to do in the garden at this time of the year, I actually don't need to leave home to get plenty of physical activity.
Everything has been pretty tranquil really for the last four weeks, and in my case, my 'bubble' has been more than just a bubble of keeping away from other people outside the household, but also a bubble of calm amidst the storm raging around the world. I do have my wife and daughter at home, and with school back under way again via an online learning environment, my daughter has been getting a bit frustrated on the other computer with things not always working as smoothly as she expected, but at least she has me as tech support at the other desk.
On Sunday the 19th, the oven died at hardly a more inopportune time. Over the past weeks it's done sterling service, baking home-made pizzas every Friday night with home grown rocket and basil, cookies, home made ciabatta, hot cross buns, and more. On Sunday morning, I went to turn it on, and it was as dead as a corpse. I know a little about electronics, although I'm not tempted to risk my life with mains voltage. I took a look at the back of the stove, where a convenient circuit diagram was located. As far as home appliances go, you couldn't get something much simpler. It's basically just a big, insulated box with some switches, thermostats, and some resistance heaters. The only complicated bit of circuitry is a timer switch and clock that allows the oven to automatically start and stop at predetermined times, and powers a nice analogue clock on the front of the oven. On the back, in neat letters, is written 'Made in Germany' and a few numbers. With the second hand on the clock stubbornly immobile, it seemed like that must be the culprit. At least the stove top still worked, but no gourmet pizza, and stir fry for the next fortnight got to feel a bit scary, and it's not going to do any service to Asian takeaways able to reopen for business at Level 3, as I probably won't want to go near rice or noodles for a month or two.
Monday, the first thing I did was to ring up an appliance repair firm, who did attend the phone, but informed me that they were not an essential service unless I was a hospital. I checked online for new stoves, but with a minimum delivery time of four days, with a week more likely, and the need to call an electrician to get one wired in meant no oven one way or another for over a week. Given the age of the oven, I worried that we could well be up for a new one if replacement parts are no longer available.
Monday also happened to be my birthday, and my wife and daughter had grand plans to make a cake, however that evaporated even before it got started. What was more of a worry was the lamb roast my wife had thawed out. That's not something you can just boil up on the stove and really do justice to, and as soon as I thought about digging a hangi pit, I realised that was out because there's a total fire ban. I'm not particularly fond of social media, however in this case it turned out to be a saviour, as I mentioned my predicament on Neighbourly, and someone suggested a slow cooker. Neighbourly mostly seems to be populated by older people, and it still irritates me no end because it uses a similar layout to Facebook, with infinite scrolling. To quote Smashing Magazine, a website by some of the top global thinkers in web design and development, “Human nature demands hierarchy and structures that are easy to navigate. But infinite scrolling sometimes leaves users feeling disoriented as they travel down a page that never ends”. Neighbourly is NZ only though and automatically filters profanity or terms that might be considered put-downs. Like most social media, it's still horrible, but quite a bit less horrible than Facebook, and green is a much friendlier colour than the blue of Facebook.
I was a bit worried the slow-cooker/crock-pot idea might not work as we've gone through quite a few of them, as in our case, rather than being known alternatively as crock-pots, most of ours have become cracked-pots. Thankfully it turns out that we do still have one that is not broken, so I actually got something other than stir-fry or nachos for my birthday dinner.
After the oven breakdown, I also had issues with the power supply fan failing on the computer my daughter is doing her school work on, but fortunately after years of servicing computers before I shifted my focus more to programming, I have enough tools and computer bits lying around that I was able to get things back up and working. Towards the end of the first week of Level 3, I finally had the oven fixed, and it turned out it was actually 'only' the power switch on the wall that needed replacing, a considerably cheaper fix than a new oven.
That was the good news from a week of Level 3; the bad news was a call to my GP regarding a mild, but persistent sore throat that I suspect might actually be linked to a bad tooth, required a trip to the CBAC centre to get swabbed to make sure I don't in fact have Covid-19. My wife has also been feeling a bit off, and although her constant worry links to a cancer diagnosis a few years back, it was obligatory swabbing for her too. Unfortunately, because Covid-19 can have quite a diverse range of symptoms, if you're feeling a bit unwell with anything, your first medical contact will probably be getting tested for Covid-19. On one hand, it's a bit frustrating if you have something else, but on the other, it's good to know precautions are being taken.
Driving to the old netball courts at Horton Park was the fist time I've actually driven in about six weeks. We were the only vehicle as we were professionally attended, by nurses in protective gear, in what was almost a bit of a surreal experience. I guess the same thing has been happening all around the world. My wife said the swab hurt a bit, but for me it was not nearly as bad as I'd been led to believe by some reports I've read. I'd describe it a bit like one of those times you laugh or sneeze while you're eating or drinking and a bit of food or drink goes up the back of your nose. Just to make the testing experience more interesting, the car battery, with little use over the last few weeks, gave up the ghost and refused to start the car after we'd had our test. We sat with the windows down, unable to put them up, as the sun went down, while a call to AA gave a recorded message apologising for not being able to respond to my call. Fortunately one of the medical staff called her husband who came and jump started us so that we could get home.
We've been in what I'd call 'Level 5 lockdown' for the weekend as we're not allowed even to go out for walks until it's confirmed that we don't have Covid-19, so while other people will be enjoying a little extra freedom that Level 3 brings, for us, it will be probably picking apples and making apple pie at home. At least the oven's working again, it's predicted to rain anyway, I only have pretty mild symptoms of whatever is afflicting me, so won't feel too deprived. Wet days are great opportunities for indoor activities like a family game of Uno, or catching up on adding articles to Marlborough Online. There are over 900 plant species alone identified in Marlborough on the citizen science website iNaturalist, and I have around 50 on Marlborough Online, so I have a few to go, and I don't just write about plants and animals. I don't know if anyone's tried making an online regional encyclopedia before, and I'm probably a little crazy attempting it, but with most school students at home, there's probably never been a greater need for a comprehensive source of local information. I have a new toy to play with, as a phone I ordered a few days before lockdown, finally arrived from Auckland to Blenheim in about the time it could have been surface shipped from overseas! The main reason I ordered it was to have something with more reliable GPS and a better quality camera so that I can improve the speed and accuracy of cataloguing Marlborough's natural history.
Dealing with all the small issues we've encountered as a family got me wondering how other Marlburians are getting on, with some households I'm sure, with more people, less space, lack of employment, and fewer resources than we have, although when I've been out walking, I've seen plenty of people out enjoying our wonderful Marlborough weather and landscape on their bikes or on foot in the Wither Hills Farm Park. In spite of the issues I've mentioned, life has been pretty tranquil for me, while other people have lost jobs, some families struggle to provide technology for their families to engage in online learning, and others will be struggling to adapt to preparing meals when they've been accustomed to a range of ready made fare. For yet others, on some of Marlborough's remote high country farms, social isolation is a normal part of everyday life, so probably not much has changed for some people. Everyone will have different stories, this is a little bit of mine.