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As I write these words, we are coming to the end of our level 4 lockdown. By the time you read them, we will be well into level 3 and, with luck, we’ll be starting to make plans about level 2.

In level 4 we are required to stay at home as much as possible and to maintain a social distance between ourselves and other people should we encounter them when we are outside. We are only allowed to go out for essential purposes such as exercise, grocery shopping and visits to the doctor or the pharmacy.

Amusingly, the practical effects of the level 4 lockdown rules have been minimal as far as I am concerned. It has always been my habit to spend most of my time shut away inside my house. I seldom go out or interact very much with any other people because I’m one of nature’s natural hermits. So I really haven’t found that the lockdown has had much of an impact on my lifestyle at all. The person who has noticed the effect of the level 4 rules the most is my dog Jake who simply cannot understand why he isn’t allowed to talk to his friends any more when we go for walks. He’s a very sociable and gregarious dog who loves being with people, and no matter how many times I explain the rules of social distancing to him, he just doesn’t get it.

I’m also one of the very lucky ones. I have no mortgage to pay and I have no job to lose. My pension payment turns up automatically in my bank account and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. So, unlike a lot of people, I have no financial or employment worries. This too makes the lockdown much easier to bear.

Supermarket shopping has changed quite a lot. Initially there was a lot of bulk buying as people began to hoard what they considered to be the necessities of life. On the first day of the lockdown the supermarkets sold enough food to feed ten million people – that’s more than twice the population of the entire country. It’s a bit like the miracle of the loaves and fishes, only in reverse!

To begin with, the most popular items in people’s shopping trolleys were toilet paper and hand sanitiser so of course it wasn’t very long before you simply couldn’t find either of those items on the supermarket shelves. Fortunately that didn’t last for very long and nowadays those shelves are fully populated again. I’m really not quite sure why people felt the need to stockpile those things. Perhaps they were  intending to spend the lockdown eating deep fried toilet paper garnished with sanitiser sauce. Stranger things have happened…

At the height of the toilet paper binge, when it was almost unobtainable, a local jeweller began to offer toilet paper for sale at $5,000 a roll. Everyone who bought a roll was given a free gold ring...

Shopping habits have changed drastically. No longer can you just dash off to the supermarket whenever you feel like it to quickly pick up whatever small item it is that you need for tonight’s dinner. Instead, you now have to plan your menus far in advance and turn up with a list so that you don’t forget anything. It pays to be thoroughly prepared because you will have to queue to get in and everything will take a lot longer than once it did.

Our local supermarket has helpfully painted a set of red lines on the approach to the entrance. The lines are two metres apart so that all the people in the queue can maintain their social distance while they wait to be let in. People are only allowed in to the store on a "one out, one in" basis. When one person leaves the shop, the person at the head of the queue is allowed to enter. The rule is designed to stop the store from getting too crowded so that people can maintain a social distance even within the supermarket aisles. It seems to work well.

At first I didn’t have to queue for very long when I went shopping. All I had to do was produce my Super Gold Card which proved that I was old and decrepit and a member of an at risk group for covid-19 infection. Immediately I would be ushered straight to the front of the queue. Shopping had never been so quick and easy for me! Long live level 4!

Sadly all that has stopped now. I went to the supermarket yesterday, produced my gold card as usual, and was told, "Sorry, mate. We aren’t allowed to give you priority any more. We’ve had a memo from head office". I was sent to the back of the queue and treated just like everybody else. Clearly head office is now keen to eliminate all its older customers by forcing them to stand outside for hours in all weathers in the hope that they will catch something nasty, get very sick and then die. After all, old people don’t have nearly as much money to spend on toilet paper and hand sanitiser as the younger customers do, so the sooner they drop down dead, the better for all concerned. Their absence will leave more room for the younger, richer customers to come shopping. Supermarket managers are notoriously hard hearted when it comes to maximising their turnover.

In level 4 we are allowed to leave home for the purpose of exercise, though we are only allowed to walk around our immediate neighbourhood. We aren’t allowed to drive any distance. As a result of this rule, Jake and I have spent a lot of time wandering up and down and round and about. Every day, we see a lot of people. Some of them are out with their families and some of them are walking their dogs. The dogs of New Zealand are all having a wonderful time in level 4 – many of them have never had so many daily walks in their lives before and, one and all, they are absolutely loving it.

Because so many young children are now exploring their neighbourhood, a lot of people have been putting teddy bears in their windows for the children to hunt down. Collecting teddy bear sightings has quickly become more popular than collecting pokemon. In many houses, whole families of furries smile benignly through the glass at the passing children and one particularly ingenious household has arranged a teddy bears picnic in their front garden with different attendees every day and different food on the picnic table. Another house that Jake and I walk past most days has the largest teddy bear that I’ve ever seen strapped securely to a drainpipe. She rotaties gently in whatever breeze happens to waft her way. She is wearing a pretty orange dress and, because she is outside where people might come close to her, she has a surgical mask over her nose and mouth so as to prevent her from infecting anyone should she chance to sneeze on passers by.

I imagine that most parents are at their wits end trying to keep their young children occupied during the lockdown. I’ve noticed that many pavements are now covered with chalk drawings, and a lot of hopscotch court layouts have started to appear, some of them quite elaborate. The old pastimes are still the best ones. Gardens are beginning to fill up with brightly painted stones. In one garden,  a small teddy bear has been equipped with a paintbrush and he is busily painting as many stones as he can, though only when nobody is looking of course.

Robin has been occupying her time by excavating a new garden in the back yard. She has dug up vast swathes of lawn and bordered it with brick and concrete. She is turning the earth over and over seeking out stones and carefully saving them. She intends to build a rockery with them at some point. Jake the Dog and Gilbert the Cat think this is the most marvellous thing that they have ever seen and they are eager to help her as much as they can. As a result of their help, our carpets are covered with muddy paw prints, so we’ve been doing a lot of vacuuming as well.

When Robin first started her project, the back yard quickly took on the appearance of a World War I battlefield. Shell craters, rubble, uprooted plants and shattered trees were everywhere. Now, the place looks more like a graveyard with heaped piles of freshly tilled earth arranged in regular rows. I haven’t seen any of our neighbours for several days, but I keep telling myself that’s just a coincidence.

There have been two public holidays during the lockdown period. Easter passed largely unremarked and unremarkable, though for the first time ever the holiday road toll was zero because nobody was allowed to drive anywhere. Clouds and silver linings spring to mind...

Gaily coloured easter eggs were chalked on driveways and garage doors. Many of them looked to be so professionally drawn and were so intricately detailed that they must have taken many, many hours of effort to produce. I can only assume that the teddy bears were giving their people a helping hand.

ANZAC day was rather difficult. ANZAC day commemorations typically involve a lot of people getting together at dawn to hold a service in remembrance of the dead from far too many wars. But such large gatherings are strictly forbidden under the level 4 lockdown rules. Instead, people were encouraged to stand at the end of their driveways as the sun rose, and to listen to a service that was broadcast on the radio. I’m sure that a lot of people did exactly that, though I was not one of them.

A host of white crosses decorated with poppies appeared overnight in the grounds of a local school. Every cross was inscribed in black ink with the name of a soldier who had died in the fighting at Gallipoli.

One house that Jake and I walked past that morning had obviously put in a lot of effort for ANZAC day. The trees in the garden and on the verge of the pavement were festooned with carefully crafted home made poppies, all coloured a deep fiery red. Photographs of four soldiers were pinned to the fence together with a brief outline of their service record. And written in chalk on the pavement, in a beautifully clear and impeccable calligraphy, were Laurence Binyon’s unforgettable words:

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Every line was written in a different colour.

Normally I don’t pay very much attention to the ANZAC day celebrations, but I found this display to be tremendously moving and as Jake and I walked past it, being careful not to step on any of the words, I had a definite lump in my throat.

Some good things have come out of the level 4 lockdown.

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