ReadingRoom

Renée, 90, on her first week in self-isolation

The much-loved Wellington author Renée, who wrote about going into self-isolation last week, details her week in the Great Indoors.

Before I moved to Otaki, I got some blinds done and just as this big strong guy was putting one up, a big black spider appeared on the inside of the window.

“Far out,” I said, “that’s big. Scary.”

“Don’t look at me,” he said, “I’m terrified of them.”

Now I’m the spider, spinning a web between contacts via emails, texts, on FB and Twitter. 

A friend offered some time in the garden. She bought veg plants and put them in yesterday afternoon. The guy from the local hardware shop delivered two bags of compost. Another friend came on Sunday and picked some cooking apples and peaches, and we shouted at each other across the distance. She texted me this morning to say she had a delicious breakfast of apple/peach combo.

Apart from these in-person contacts “across a wide distance”, the only other one I’ve had since when I went into self-isolation last week is when I was out for a walk and a woman came towards me so I moved away a few yards (sorry, never took to metres etc), smiled, said “Kia ora, you doing okay?” She scuttled past, giving me an even wider berth as though she thought I’d forgotten to take my meds. Note to self, don’t talk to strangers.

When I was around 10 and in hospital with pneumonia (poor kid’s disease), I was kept in isolation in a small room because there was a scarlet fever epidemic on at the time. I remember waving to Rose, Jimmy and Val, through the window, crying as I watched them walk away, and the nurse coming in and saying what a silly little girl I was and to stop that immediately because it upset other patients.

Obviously we’ve been through these sorts of things before. We can do them again. We might come out the other side into a different world but it’ll still be ours.

*

About four years ago a friend said, “I have a favour to ask.”  So I wrote a play about the 10 Labour Prime Ministers, which was a great success in Otaki. The hall was packed, people standing, all along the front seat were my family and friends, Andrew Little was in the audience. I listened from the side of the stage, in the dark, as is my custom. I used to walk up and down, smoking, but that was another time.  

After the clapping, Andrew gave me some flowers and made a speech in which he referred in a very nice way to some plays I’d written that he’d seen and liked back in the day. Maybe I looked unconvinced because at the supper (Labour women do great suppers) he came up and said, “I meant what I said, you know.”

I handle criticism better than praise – if saying “well fuck you”– is better.

A House To Let was more of a revue style than a play because I had excerpts from the news over the years since 1935, songs of their time, some poetry, all interspersed with scenes of family and political life during those 80 years. In the 1972 bit there was that famous quote from Norman Kirk: All anyone wants is somewhere to live, someone to love, somewhere to work, something to hope for.

Kirk was good but he wasn’t perfect – he wouldn’t sign the Homosexual Reform Bill so we had to wait till 1986 and Fran Wilde on our side but it’s a great quote and he meant it and maybe, if he’d lived longer, he would have seen the light and signed the bill.

When Nga Purapura (next door) was being built, a meeting was called with neighbours where one man kept referring to “You people,” when he said anything to the CEO. She kept her cool and smiled politely at him. All I wanted to know was would they save my winter sunlight and what about the noise from the gym? They said the architect was already on the case and had seen to sunlight and the noise. Great neighbours.

When I walk, I go up past Nga Purapura, cross over the pedestrian crossing, walk down past Te Wananga o Raukawa, and round the corner onto Te Rauparaha Road, on past the church hall where Andrew (not Little, my accountant) played jazz one Sunday afternoon, then onto Rangiatea, that beautiful church with its graveyard at one side. Most times I turn and go back from there but sometimes I cross over and walk on down to the Catholic School and little church further down.

Maybe these walks will have to stop? We’ll see. On Friday I passed a group over on the opposite side, smoking, talking, laughing, coughing in each other’s faces. I wanted to shout at them but decided against it. I’m not a fast runner any more.

A while ago my oldest son gave me some unbaked croissants to keep in the freezer. You stick a certain number of the unprepossessing blobs in the cold oven before you go to bed and when you wake up they have turned into croissant–like shapes so you stick the oven on to the temperature you use for pastry baking and after 10–15 minutes you have crisp crunchy croissants. Just add butter, jam, and you have a great breakfast. No, I don’t suppose it's up there with lentils and no, I don’t imagine I’m back in Paris, not just at the moment, thanks. Otaki is better.

The free lending Lilliput Library I’ve got out the front is, understandably, not getting much attention, whereas last week it was. It had been such a pleasure to see so many people using it, taking books out, some putting a couple back (although I don’t expect them to replace). About three months ago when Pat Grace and I were speakers on a panel at a hui in Porirua, and afterwards we went down to mingle, a woman came up and gave me a big hug and said, “That’s for the Lilliput Library.”  But now…Covid-19 is spread by touch so print books might be a risk.

I thought of the time three or four years ago when I put up three novels on my blog, a chapter a week. I figured that if Dickens could write a chapter a week, so could I. But in the end I chickened out and waited till I had the whole book done and then my web host put them up, a chapter a week. No, they’re not available now. But maybe it's time for another one? It's certainly a time when we get to know ourselves a little better. Maybe we should all keep records? Either written or photographic or drawings, music, film, whatever appeals to you.

I have joined an online poetry class. Installing Skype turned out to be tricky because of sight problems but I have someone who will install it on my computer remotely and then all I have to do is peer at the screen and hope I’m talking to the poetry class. He reminded me about the keyboard and hygiene. He’s right. Mine stinks of Dettol since last week and will continue to do so.

Print books are going to be tricky for a while but ebooks are available and hygienic. You can clean screens in a way that you can’t clean pages. Not only are ebooks good for people with poor vision but at this time they’re good for everyone. Just keep hands and screens clean.

And my crime novel The Wild Card is available as an ebook. Just saying…

The Wild Card by Renée (Cuba Press, $35) is available through the publisher or as an e-book.

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