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Bill Ralston: Together alone

One of the big challenges we face now is living safely in close confinement.

Well, it began simply enough. The night before Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the descent into lockdown and a life of being in solitary confinement, several friends arrived at our place and we might have had several wines. Many several. Well, the risk of transmission at that stage was minimal. I’ll let you know in another week if I was right. Oh, maybe I won’t be able to.

It’s the shock and the uncertainty of it all that is so disconcerting. We all knew it was coming, but encountering the lockdown face to face is unnerving. Four weeks, at least, trapped, with your family.

My wife promptly flew young Jack down to us on the beach near Cape Kidnappers. He may feel he has been kidnapped from Auckland, but our theory is that the guest house with us around to feed and entertain him is a lot better than being stuck in a grubby flat in Auckland by yourself during weeks of isolation.

I rang my son Tom, who helpfully told me he was somewhere in the Nevada desert prospecting for gold. He is a geologist for a large North American mining company, so if you had a vision of him as a guy with a mule, a pick and a big metal pan you are, apparently, wrong. It’s much more sophisticated these days. He’s planning to flee to his girlfriend’s place in Toronto. Hopefully the border crossing will go well.

I found my daughter had already gone into working-from-home isolation. Her boyfriend is an artist, so with the closure of galleries and the like, I suspect his business will atrophy for a while, but it gives him time to amass a larger collection.

I can still write a column for the Listener every week, but my wife’s business has shrunk considerably, as it consisted of her meeting in small rooms with large groups of people who are now working at home with no visitors.

It is the new normal. Skype will be a handy tool, and phone conferencing, email and text will help. Of course, it isn’t the same as catching up face to face, but when close proximity to someone’s face can kill you, those are probably preferred options.

I have had some practice in self-isolation over the past year, happily ensconced at home, looking dreamingly out to sea. A friend of ours who is a journalist in the press gallery texted after the Prime Minister’s announcement, “Bill is the only person entirely unaffected by this announcement.” Cruel but possibly fair comment.

Tim, the man who constructed our new garden, did his bit to help. He put together for us a coronavirus playlist composed entirely of such survivalist hits as Alone Again (Naturally), Don’t Worry Be Happy and Gimme Shelter.

The biggest challenge we all face now in lockdown is not killing each other as a result of the close confines of the home environment. Covid-19 is one thing, close proximity with no chance of escape from each other is another.

There are bound to be things that irritate every one of us. Oh God, I can hear my wife hunting around for the Scrabble game. Don’t tell her I hid it yesterday.

We all know now, illness aside, we face a tough few weeks just living at home as we hope the disease burns itself out. I’m taking the positive view: that several weeks of enforced contact with my family may actually improve our relationship, and I hope it does the same for you.

The moral is, people, look after each other.

This column was first published in the April 4, 2020 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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