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Pantry with fish, eggs, asparagus by Jacopo Chimenti (1551-1564), oil on canvas. (Photo: DeAgostini/Getty Images)
Pantry with fish, eggs, asparagus by Jacopo Chimenti (1551-1564), oil on canvas. (Photo: DeAgostini/Getty Images)

BooksApril 3, 2020

Lockdown letters #8, Renée: Cleaning out the store cupboard

Pantry with fish, eggs, asparagus by Jacopo Chimenti (1551-1564), oil on canvas. (Photo: DeAgostini/Getty Images)
Pantry with fish, eggs, asparagus by Jacopo Chimenti (1551-1564), oil on canvas. (Photo: DeAgostini/Getty Images)

In our new series The Lockdown Letters, some of New Zealand’s best writers tell us what they’ve been up to in the days of Covid-19 alert level four. Today, Ōtaki author Renée.

Yes, a few cyclists out and about. I remember my first bike bought from Farmers around 1942, five shillings a week, all up 19 pounds. Oh the freedom, the independence. Before then I had to cadge rides with my brother, sit on that horrible cross bar that boys’ bikes had. I don’t see many people being doubled now.

The other day when I was out for a walk I was stopped by a cop in a big red car.

“Where you from?” he shouted.

Now I’m short, skinny, grey-haired and I use a yellow-and-black hi-viz stick so for a moment I wanted to tell him to piss off. Instead I waved vaguely. “Down there”, I said.

“Okay you can cross over”, he said.

Maybe he thought I was an escapee from the retirement home down at the beach? I wish I’d given a more coherent answer, but I’m not used to having my movements questioned.

Yesterday I walked up to the medical centre to get the ‘flu vaccine, the furthest I’ve walked since I went into lockdown.

It’s strange walking past silent shops on a practically silent street. A teenage boy, a woman and a black dog passed me and as we observed our social distance, I felt an almost overwhelming desire to explain why I was walking up empty Main Street. There were three people waiting outside the pharmacy, so I crossed over and walked on to the medical centre.

They’ve set up a tent on the marae lawn, a few chairs – in case it rains, I suppose. Someone shouted my name and I said yes and a cheerful guy did the deed and then I sat on the porch in the sun for the obligatory five minutes and watched cars pull up and go, pull up and go. I walked back home feeling something like Hilary must have done after here reached the top of Everest.

Full of self-congratulations, I decided to climb the next peak and clean out the store cupboard.


Down the bottom next to the potatoes and walnuts was a bottle with a small amount of rich cream sherry in it, a nearly full bottle of Dewar’s and two unopened bottles of pinot noir. Leftovers from my 90th last July. Put there by one of my sons. I’d forgotten about them because I don’t drink alcohol any more. I gave it up three years ago when I read that it would help a particular health problem I had – it did. The amazing thing was how easy it was. A hell of a lot easier than giving up smoking in 1986. At that stage I used wine, a lot of it, to ease the way. Eventually of course I stopped that. Overdoing one habit because I was cutting out another seemed a bit excessive.

I don’t jeer at smokers, though. Nicotine is a drug, you get hooked on it, and it takes a lot of effort to stop – I had someone doing it with me and we could console and help each other when it got too hard. It was also a time when I didn’t have any money worries, but really, in the end I kept it up because I was determined I wasn’t going through withdrawal symptoms ever again. I hated that I couldn’t just stop without enduring what seemed like punishment instead of the congratulations I deserved. I don’t know how current smokers afford it, but that’s a different matter.

I went into lockdown a week before the countrywide one. There had been plenty of publicity around the fact that old people, especially those with underlying health problems, were at risk. But hey, it wasn’t the thought of getting sick and dying that drove me, it was the thought of being called stupid – yeah, nah, I know, very shallow.

Once upon a time there was a little girl who went to the Greenmeadows Methodist Sunday School where she was told that every good deed she did was another gold star in her crown and when she died and went to heaven and met Jesus, he would be holding the crown, sparkly with good deeds, and say: “Well done Renée.” (Or Reeny, as they called me.)

All I can say is that a good few of my friends will have gold stars in their crown when this is over.

Seven strawberries today.

Tomorrow: Glenn Colquhoun

Keep going!