Blair Haddow: Covid-19 – an insight into the way we used to be

Having just gone through the Covid-19 Level four lockdown, as the whole of New Zealand did, I can say the experience has given me a wonderful glimpse into the lifestyle I imagine New Zealand used to be ‘back in the day’ of my parents and grandparents.

Yes, the past few weeks of enduring reduced social contact, no chance to pop out to Ponsonby Road for drinks or dinner with friends, and non-stop talk-back radio discussions on every possible aspect of Covid-19, did become somewhat tedious, but the Level four lockdown opened new ‘experience’ doors for millions of New Zealanders.

We once again became a nation that cared for each other. I mean truly cared. So often, the rhetoric about Kiwis is that we are such a friendly nation. Let’s be honest, as life spun ever faster and faster over the past few decades, we have probably slipped from that mantle as we focused on the new car, the family holiday to Fiji or Bali, shopping, or racing into the coolest new bar in town.

We, as a human race, became too self-centred. The compulsory Level four slow down rectified that pretty quickly.

How so? The slower pace of life changed the way we behaved. I almost feel as if I know what it’s like to live in one of our small provincial towns – Te Puke, Carterton, Renwick, Hokitika or Gore – rather than the hustle and bustle hub of Ponsonby.

During Level four, I talked at length (of course with appropriate social distancing) to neighbours in my street who I may have occasionally politely nodded at in the past, but who had now become true first name neighbours. I talked on Zoom to friends around the world whom I hadn’t been in touch with for months... and in some cases even years.

I made contact with a lady in my neighbourhood who was anxious about venturing outside, so I offered to shop for anything she needed… as I did for others in my street who were unable or nervous about leaving their bubbles.

Going out for a walk around the block during Level four evolved into taking hours – not because of the distance covered, but for the neighbourly conversations I had with scores of people in the streets around my home. I saw children playing hopscotch in their driveways and on the footpaths and roads or riding scooters and bikes in the near-deserted streets rather than sitting behind X-boxes and Playstations.

Neighbourhood-focused Facebook and Whatsapp connections were set up so people could keep in touch with what those in their street were getting up to. Who had spare feijoas in a box on the front lawn, who needed help repairing a dripping tap, who had the best teddy bear display in their window?

Level four made us a more caring and neighbourhood-centric society. It is my heartfelt wish now that, out of all the misery and disruption to come out of what we as a country have endured, it is that going forward we maintain this new habit of caring for our neighbours and our immediate community.

‘Local’ is the new buzzword in our repertoire. I would gladly trade five weeks without McDonalds or KFC for the stories, banter, laughter, smiles and simple life that I have experienced from those around my Ponsonby pad.

From that perspective, Martin and the crew at Ponsonby News have been at the bow-wave of the ‘keep it local’ ethos for the past two or so decades – being a truly local publication which has never lost focus of being the media voice of Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, Freemans Bay, Herne Bay, Westmere and College Hill. That’s probably why we Ponsonby locals are so proud of ‘our’ magazine at a time when other media are wondering how to build a following.

Let’s all hold on to our ‘localness’ and continue to look after each other long after this experience is behind us. Please. (Blair Haddow, Bayleys)