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Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

BooksApril 7, 2020

Lockdown letters #12, Morgan Godfery: Decay, domesticity and doomsday prepping

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

‘Paint is peeling from the old truck workshop walls. Some days you can taste rust on the autumn wind, like swallowing iron and blood and pollen.’

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I bet the doomsday preppers are feeling smug right now, locking down in their DIY bunkers. The ammunition merchants and the tin can stockists are the gods of the new world. “I told you so.” Yeah, good. OK. Stop saying it. I’m not giving you any credit until the zombies arrive. This isn’t the apocalypse until Maggie Thatcher, milk snatcher returns from the dirt, her corpse wriggling through the top layer screaming “THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS SOCIETY”. The trading boards would light up, stocks shooting through the roof in London, New York, and Hong Kong. CEOs across the finance capitals would dust off the ouija boards, summoning Joan Quigley – Ronald Reagan’s personal astrologer – and begging her restless spirit to reach out to the old man. Mr President, is neoliberalism dead?


It’s hard to move about Kawerau without meeting a ghost. I mean, the town is built over top of half a dozen old pā – and at least as many battle sites – but more haunting than that are the 20th century’s rotting industrial sites. Tasman – the largest pulp and paper mill in the southern hemisphere – is running, but on skeleton staff. The old industrial quarter in the town centre is abandoned, partly because of the lockdown but mostly because industry is, well, dead.  Paint is peeling from the old truck workshop walls. Some days you can taste rust on the autumn wind, like swallowing iron and blood and pollen.

Other than ‘rona coming for people in the thousands – death – this is what I fear most: decay. In the 80s and early 90s the fourth Labour and National governments took out the country’s industrial base, removing subsidies and protections and demanding that pulp and paper workers, sawmill workers, manufacturers, and every other export industry compete with low-cost labour in the developing world. The owners of capital were free, both here and overseas, to chase that low-cost labour as well. The result? A booming consumer economy delivering cheap-as-chips products, from wine to furniture. The other result? Tens of thousands of people were thrown off the job.  

In a world where borders are closing, global supply chains are collapsing, and countries are turning inward to meet their internal needs it seems like the worst folly, the dumbest decision ever taken, to destroy this country’s industrial base.


There are very few jobs left around the house for Nan and I to do. We’ve done the gardens, the lawns, the hedges, the eaves, we’ve stacked the wood, I’ve chopped kindling, she’s rearranged the kitchen, I’ve straightened the photos, I’m vacuuming like a madman. I’ve cleaned the bath that no one’s using at least several times now. Domesticity is a comfort, but it’s also a distraction. From politics. From the online. And it imposes an order on a world that’s collapsing. The UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, is in ICU, after all, perhaps soon to join Mrs Thatcher.


Keep going!