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, writer and doctor Glenn Colquhoun goes full epistolary, with a letter to Hone Tūwhare – and his Travelling Band of Constant Companions.
Kia ora Hone,
Well brother, where else would I be at a time like this but down on the beach? It goggles at me through the front window, winking and blinking. Today it’s all light and dark, a jowled sky, full of humpph and shrug. I thought of you immediately, wandering with the dead up the wild west coast. I reckon you’d be with Mickey Savage, Aunty Huia and Aunty Rongo, My dad, Aunty Flu, John Keats (make sure you keep two metres from that bugger when he coughs 😂). It’s good to talk.
It’s all a bit of a shitstorm here. We’re locked up tight. The whole world. A bug so small you can’t see it, barking like a dog at the front gate. Yappity-yap-yap. But what a bite brother. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. What can I say? I’m sentenced to a landscape e hoa. Doing time in the big sky. I love it you know. I can’t be contained. I’ve got the Tasman in front of me. The Tararuas out the back. This creamy driftwood edge between them to walk on. And all you buggers shuffling past. The silence is teeming. Things have never been so social. I write. I cook. I talk to my patients on the phone. I love my daughter. Ruapehu to the North. Taranaki to the East. Mountains and men all blur together. Somewhere inside of us is the same iron, the same magnet. Who could argue with that?
But death is here too brother. All fucking grim as. Suited up. Ready to go. I bloody want to love him as well. Or her, as it may be, Hine-nui-te-pō, and her wrap-around legs. I know I should. She’s part of the picture too. But Christ, she can bring some pain, give us the squeeze. I’ve sat enough in the grief, seen it in others, to know it’s not a thing to be trifled with. I don’t mind the odd heel digging into the small of the back. A reminder. But this is mean. And I don’t want the breaking of it for us. For all of us. The reaping and the tearing. The fear. It’s keeping me bloody sober I can tell you … for all the joy of seeing you fullas again.
And Mickey, while you’re there, I don’t mind saying she’s a treasure your one, isn’t she? The prime minister. She has a heart for sure. I know we’re talking politicians. 🤔 So there’s always that. 😂😂😂 But we read hearts don’t we. More than anything else. Words are second. Does she love us? That’s what matters most now. And I reckon she does. Filters out the bullshit. Catches herself. Cleans the air. She’s a person. Real. You should be proud. They might put her up on the wall beside you one day. Not that I want to blow smoke up anyone’s arse.
E hoa mā, tēnā koutou ngā whāea, e Rongo, kōrua ko Huia,
Ngā mihi nui. Ka tangi te ngākau kia kite i a kōrua. Ka piki ake hoki te wairua. Crack-up ana ahau too ki ō amuamu e Rongo. Stuck ana tō walker i te one. “Gee whizz, this blooooody thing, I don’t know … hōhā man? Heck!” Anyway, you two, pai ana māua ko tāku tamaiti … tō tātou tamaiti I should say. He rangatahi ia ināianei. Kua tupu ake. Blow me down … me rongo kōrua i tōna reo. Pretty-pretty ana. Pupuke ana te ngākau ki te whakarongo ki a ia. Ko ia tōku kaiako ināianei. Engari, ko kōrua te tīmatanga. Kei roto i tōku ahua tuatahi, ko kōrua … all the way down. Hōhonu as. Manaakitia i a tātou i tēnei wā hurihuri e ngā whāea. Kō kōrua ōku taniwha. Heoi anō my bloody kanohis man are filling up. I miss you whāeas. Sorry for the sooking. Don’t go too far away eh?
Geez Aunty Flu,
Guess what! All of a sudden there’s another bloody flu hanging round. It’s pinched your name. Don’t growl me. It’s true. Somewhere out there soon there might be someone else named after a pandemic. Or did they name that pandemic after you? 😂😂 Either way you might not be the only one around anymore. Shit, that’s a thought. I should make some pickle eh? Crack out the recipe books. Cook it all up. I’m gonna do it. I promise. Store it in an old jam jar like you used to. Then sit down with Ōriwa and have it on a piece of bread, maybe toast. And pull out your photo and sit it at the table with us. And tell her how you used to make this for me. And what it was even like sitting at your table. I’ll never forget that. Your kitchen. Your front gate. Some of the best days of my life. I still carry you around with me. Good to see Utu with you as well. Ghost dogs are allowed. 😂 Make sure he keeps you on the leash though!
Hell, I’m not sure if I’m locked down at all any more.
Anyway, you guys … good to talk … just maybe slow down the footsteps for a while if that’s ok … I wouldn’t mind seeing you all again. I need some steady hands. I’m off back to the whare. Olive will be up soon. I need to go for a run. And answer some emails. Work on my books. Cook. Fix the water-blaster wand. Paint the old play shed. Talk to some kids on the phone. Thanks for settling the tone though. It’s been good to catch up. Love you guys heaps. Ka nui te aroha. Kiss. Kiss. Kiss. Hongi. Man-hug. Kiss. Kiss. Hongi. Kiss, Glenn.
Oh, shut up. Youse can’t even get it.
Tomorrow: Fiona Farrell
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