Thursday, August 27, 2020

It won’t be a good day

I shared this “Facebook Memory” on my personal page this morning. Here’s what I said about it:
Okay [inhales deeply], here we go: Today is Nigel’s birthday, and there’s simply no way in hell it’ll be a good day for me. That’s utterly impossible because of everything I said when I posted this photo six years ago. It was for his 50th birthday, and what I said back then was true right up to the end—and, in fact, it’s all still true in the present tense, because I miss him now every bit as much as I have every single day since he died. I can’t even imagine a time that it won’t hurt so much.

I have a lot to do today: I need to get the house ready for Nigel’s birthday party on Saturday, plus a few everyday sorts of things. This is good. I’ll be able to keep myself busy, but without having to do anything that’s very stressful. I’m glad about that.

Even so, I know that Nigel will be on my mind all day, more so than he is every other day. I always knew today would be difficult, but it’s also only the first of several bad days over the next few weeks. And then I’ll have managed to make it through an entire year without the man who was “not just a wonderful husband or best friend, but a true soulmate”. Thing is, despite the pain I feel now, my life is *still* so much better because I shared it with him, and he still makes me better person. That was his real gift to me.

Happy Birthday, sweetheart. Now and always.
I never posted about Nigel's birthday before, not directly, because I wanted to keep it more private. Those restrictions are gone now, so I’ll have more to say about this day. Of course. Right now, though, I really do have things I need to get done.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The right thing to do

Yesterday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that Auckland will remain at Alert Level 3 until 11:59pm Sunday, at which time it will join the rest of New Zealand at Alert Level 2. The entire country will then remain at Alert Level 2 for at least a week. The restrictions will be reviewed before Sunday, September 6.

I think this was the right thing to do. There are still cases emerging, and there were two people that caught the virus on a bus. We need to make sure that no one they came in contact with was also infected (which is seen as unlikely, but it pays to be certain). There was also one case that was detected only when they showed up at a hospital emergency department, and that’s also worrying because at the moment they haven’t found a link to existing cases.

The NZ Governmnet’s response to this flare up has been a textbook example in how to respond: Immediately isolate the area where the outbreak has occurred and engage in widespread testing along with contact trtacing of all positive cases. If Melbourne had done that, it wouldn’t have had a horrible, deadly surge. New Zealand learned from what happened there.

This affects me personally because I’m having a small birthday party for Nigel on Saturday so that we can celebrate his life. But keeping Auckland’s Alert Level 3 means that no family and friends who live there can attend (I’ll set something up so they can attend virtually). I hoped that Auckland would go down to Alert Level 3 before Saturday, but I actually didn’t think it would, and for the same reasons that I think keeping the Alert Level intact was the right call: There are still too many possible problems.

From Monday, the Government is making face masks/coverings mandatory on all public transport at Level 2 or higher. There’s not yet any plan to expand that mandate, but, as always, the Government’s actions will be guided by the latest evidence and expert scientific advice.

No one wanted any of this. It’s hard on people, and it’s hard on the economy. Up until the resurgence, the New Zealand economy was rebounding better than most advanced countries. The hit will be bigger now than it would have been without the resurgence.

Still, people will stay alive. Other people won’t have to deal with the still unknown long-term consequences of having had Covid-19. I’ve yet to meet any ordinary person in New Zealand who’d argue that we should prioritise profits over people’s lives, but we have our own rightwing loudmouths spouting off, too. We’ll get through this, just as we have every other challenge the country has ever faced.

What helps is that we have a competent, kind, compassionate, and focused government focused on keeping New Zealanders safe. Seems to me that’s a good position to be in.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Good words

There are a lot of things that people say about grief that are too bland or not relevant to the majority of people. Every once in awhile, though, there is someone who gets it right, and yesterday I ran across a good short description, which was all the more surprising to me considering the source:
I know how it feels to lose someone you love. I know that deep black hole that opens up in your chest. That you feel your whole being is sucked into it. I know how mean and cruel and unfair life can be sometimes.

But I’ve learned two things.

First, your loved ones may have left this Earth but they never leave your heart. They will always be with you.

And second, I found the best way through pain and loss and grief is to find purpose.
Those remarks were by Joe Biden in his speech accepting the Democratic Nomination for US President (also in video above). It came after Biden talked about those Americans lost to Covid-19, after he said, “let me take a moment to speak to those of you who have lost the most,” and then sharing what he learned from grief.

This surprised me not because of who made the remarks—everyone knows about the tragedies Biden has endured. Instead, it surprised me because of its honesty and truthfulness in the description of what grief is like. Most people don’t speak so honestly about grief, and politicians even less so. It was really good to hear it.

I agree with him that finding purpose is important, even though I’m nowhere near being able to do that. It’s difficult to find purpose when nothing makes sense anymore, and when everything in life seems disconnected from us. Obviously, it’s easier for some people to find a sense of purpose than it is for others, but the sense in the advice is also obvious, even when it’s currently unrealisable, as it is for me.

We need more people to speak honestly and openly about their grief journeys, especially what helped them to move through it. That's what I try to do. More than that, we especially need more politicians to speak about it, and it’s refreshing to hear one express compassion and empathy for others who are struggling. That seems to be far too rare these days, which makes it needed all the more.

Every political speech by someone I support always has one or more things that particularly resonate with me, and I imagine that’s true for most people. That means others will take away from the speech other points that resonate with them. That’s nothing new. And while I’ve also heard a few (very few) politicians who could sincerely express empathy for others, it’s very different to hear a political leader talk about something I’m going through with the moral authority of someone who’s actually gone through it, too.

Some will dismiss his words on grief, I know, but most of them would never support him, anyway, so I don’t care about their feelings about the speech. Instead, I think it’s important to applaud a politician who leads the way even on such human and emotional matters, because it feels like it’s been missing for many years.

Joe Biden won’t win or lose because of that one section in his acceptance speech, and it’s unlikely even to sway many, if any, voters. That’s not the point. Joe Biden spoke directly to people like me with kindness and empathy and compassion. I sincerely hope he can bring that back into the White House.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Eleven months

Depending on how you measure it, today or tomorrow marks eleven months since my husband Nigel died. By date, that’s today, but tomorrow is 48 weeks. Either way, it brings the inevitable horrible anniversary too close. Next week—a week from today—is Nigel’s birthday. Add it all up, and it’s an extraordinarily shitty time in a year that more often than not was nothing but shitty, even when it wasn’t. The thing is, eleven months later, the loss of Nigel has still left my life derailed; it’s affected absolutely everything, and it will for a long time to come. What’s changed, though, is that I’m no longer pretending it can or will be any different in the near future. I’ve come to accept that.

As I've said many times, grief isn’t a straight road, or even a twisty one, but more like a roller coaster, the kind with hairpin curves, corkscrew sections that twist us and turn us upside down and up and down again, and sharp climbs up and rapid falls back down. Even that’s not a perfect analogy: No roller coaster ride lasts indefinitely, and many of them are actually fun to be on.

And that’s why the positivity of others can be so debilitating: When the roller coaster is heading through one of those corkscrews, it’s not particularly helpful for someone to say, “It’s okay. Just remember the roller coaster will stop eventually.” Because when you’re upside down, terrified, and hurtling forward at a very fast speed, the last thing on your mind is positive thoughts about an eventual better time when the roller coaster stops—you just want to get off that damn roller coaster immediately.

Life doesn’t work that way, and grief certainly doesn’t. So, the phenomenon now being called “toxic positivity”, thanks to Covid-19, can cause far more harm than good. This is true for anyone struggling with issues around their mental or emotional health, or even situational problems, like a job loss.

I read an article in the Washington Post about “toxic positivity”, and it struck a chord with me. I’m lucky in that my family and friends do it right, and don’t offer banal positive platitudes except when they run out of things to say. Others facing big challenges aren’t so lucky, and dealing with Covid-19 has exposed the dangers of “toxic positivity” on people who are struggling.

Which is not to say that we shouldn’t try and focus on the positive, on controlling the things that we can control (and there are usually a lot). Even on the darkest days, there’s something positive, no matter how small, that we can focus on—if we want to. However, it’s also okay to not be okay, as the article puts it.

I wrote last month:
I used to think that the pain I feel, or at least its severity, would diminish in time. I don’t believe that any more, and now I think—though “hope” may be a better word—that I’ll eventually learn to live with it, just like I’ve learned to live with the side effects of my prescriptions.
That was my break-through realisation: I don’t have to pretend that I’m okay, I don’t have to pretend that I’m “moving on” (a phrase I despise, for reasons I explained earlier in July). What’s the point of covering up reality—for whom? Why?

My path isn’t pretty, it’s certainly not linear, but it’s mine, and I claim it in all it’s messy meandering. If I want to sit around all day, I do. If I want to cry, I do. If I want to think about and remember the life Nigel and I had, I do. All of that is necessary for me to eventually reach a place where the pain has eased, because it will—someday.

Which brings me to my newest understanding: I need people. During lockdown, the absence of people was the thing that was hardest on me. Sure, there were phone calls, visits over the Internet, and even interactions on Facebook, but obviously, it’s not the same.

Lockdown ended and life returned to normal, more or less—until the sudden emergence of a new cluster of community transmission in Auckland. I was terrified we’d head back under lockdown, and I talked about that in a blog post last week. The shorter version is that between fear of a new lockdown, and wearing a face mask in public for the first time, I sent my anxiety levels into orbit. I got a pretty bad gout attack as a result (now waning). This was on top of having a pretty bad couple months emotionally, for no particular reason, except that I had time to reflect on what I’ve been through, which is a vital part of moving forward.

What I realised is is that even my darkest patches were lightened by others: A phone call from my mother-in-law, an impromptu visit from a sister-in-law, all of us gathering at my brother-in-law’s house, going out for dinner with my cousin-in-law, friends visiting—all that and more was enormously helpful to me, and I invariably felt much better afterward. The better feelings didn’t last, of course, but they were repeated often enough to help smooth out the rougher patches.

And therein lies a lesson for everyone who has a person in their lives who’s experiencing profound grief: Just be there. I’ve said many times that no one needs to know what to say, they just need to listen. The grieving person needs to be included in events with others and brought out of their cocoon—if they want that. I believe that for people in deep mourning, being around caring people is therapeutic, sure, but also anaesthetising, because for a short time we can dull the pain, maybe quite a lot, and that’s invaluable—for many, but not all. Be guided by the person you’re supporting: If you listen carefully, they’ll tell you what you need to do.

However, fair warning: It may not be pretty. By definition, a person dealing with deep grief isn’t in a good space, and sometimes even in the midst of a good time we are stuck in the mire of emotional distress. For me, it comes out as negativity. There have been times I’ve been around people, just talking, and I got into an extremely negative conversational streak. In my head, I was telling myself, “ShutUpShutUpShutUp!”, but I just couldn’t. Even if I tried to go out of my way to say something positive, a negative barb would suddenly appear. It still happens. I’d like to think it’s less often than it used to be, but if I actually believed that I’d be kidding myself.

Nothing in my life is “normal”, as I’d define that, and I’ve come to accept it. I’ve also seen a way forward that actually works for me (but not necessarily others), and that’s to be around people so I can get out of myself, even if only for a short time, and when I want that. They don’t actually have to DO anything, just be there. And that’s the big lesson for us all.

With Nigel’s birthday next week, and that anniversary around three weeks later, it’s an extraordinarily shitty time right now. Eleven months after the loss of Nigel, my life is still derailed; it’s affected absolutely everything, and will for a long time to come. What’s changed, though, is that I’ve come to accept it—and understand it.

Eleven months ago, this particular journey began. I hate it. But you know what else? I’ve learned a lot, especially that the deep pain I feel is a result of the huge loss I experienced which was so huge because of the deep love that Nigel and I had for each other, and to skip the first two I’d have to also skip that love. As awful as things are for me sometimes, I’d rather feel it than to not have had the love at all. You could say that positivity comes from the toxicity of grief, because it does: That I can feel anything positive at all is because going through this has underscored how special and positive the life Nigel and I had truly was. That’s the treasure I found in this latrine I’m stuck in, that’s the rope that will pull me out of it, that’s what will clean me up and help send me on my way.

The pain, the gut-wrenching, aching, debilitating pain, and the resulting emptiness in my life, is more awful than I could ever put into words. But I still have the one thing that got me into this, and will get me back out: Love. If that isn’t worth all this searing pain I’m enduring, then I truly don’t know what the fuck the point of anything is. But I do know it’s that love that still gives me strength, even in my most anguished moments. That’s what I’ve come to understand most of all.

If only it hadn’t taken these past eleven months, and the event that started it all, to truly understand this. Let that be a lesson, too.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Moving progress

Not so little boxes, not all in a row.
It’s normal for our plans to go off track, for things to take longer than we thought, and for things to be more complicated than we’d expected. Best laid plans, and all that. I’ve just made progress on some plans that had gone well and truly off the track.

I moved into my house nearly seven months ago, and in the first couple months, I made progress going through boxes—when I could, in between doing things to get our house in Auckland sold. Then, it did sell. Then, we went under lockdown, and everything changed.

I continued to unpack boxes, concentrating on finishing the kitchen and dining room (so those rooms would be done), then all the books that went into my office. And I kept going—until I couldn’t.

My garage, already filled with boxes waiting to be emptied, became impassable because of all the flattened empty boxes filling up every available space. The day I moved in, the movers told me that all I had to do was phone them and they’d come back and collect the empty boxes. But that couldn’t happen during lockdown, and once that ended, I got busy with other things and kept forgetting to ring them, so I sent an email.

Yesterday, I got a call that they would be here in 30-45 minutes to collect the boxes. Despite the short notice, I was eager to accept. Good thing I was home.

I pulled all the boxes outside the garage (pictured), but I closed the overhead door when I was done, because I’m actually kind of embarrassed by how much is still in there. I shouldn’t be, and overall I’m not, but still.

After lockdown and every other obstacle, I came to accept the fact that clearing the garage will take as long as it takes. But I also didn’t want to continue to be stalled, and those boxes were an obstacle, literally and figuratively, to un-stalling the project. Now they’re not.

Today, I’d planned on starting work rearranging the stuff in the garage, then thought I should really finish my office first, but I ended up doing neither due to an ongoing gout attack that started a week ago. Best laid plans again.

Still, this latest development is a major step forward, and now all I have to do is capitalise on it. That, and remember that plans can go off track. Best laid plans, and all that.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Adventure reflection

Four years ago today, I received a stent in a cardiac artery that was was 90% blocked. Now, that was an adventure. Back then, I wrote on my personal Facebook, “So, I’ll soon have back energy and stamina I’ve been missing for so long,” and it turned out that really did happen—up until the next year when it all went away because of heart rhythm problems.

In May of 2017, they put me on betablockers (which I talked about in a post in November of that year). It turned out, betablockers made feel much, much worse than before the stent.

I complained about how I was feeling, and the doctors changed me to a different betablocker which made me feel a little bit better, but not much. They fiddled with the dosage, and I kept complaining about how badly I felt, until the decided I should see a private cardiologist, which I did in June of 2018, and he put me on a totally different drug.

The rhythm problems returned in September 2018 when I was hospitalised for tachycardia, and they put me on different drugs. Things got worse in May of last year, when I was hospitalised again and had my heart shocked back into normal rhythm. They also adjusted my drugs and put me on another one “temporarily” because one of them is dangerous. I now feel pretty much as bad as I did before the stent (though probably better than on betablockers, which isn’t exactly a high bar…).

Because I moved from Auckland to Waikato, I started over on the waiting list (a HUGE flaw in New Zealand’s otherwise absolutely brilliant healthcare system), and there’s not even an estimate (yet) of how long I’ll be waiting. Meanwhile, that potentially dangerous drug I was supposed to be on for up to nine months? It’s now been around 15 months.

These delays happened because I had private health insurance, which meant I wasn’t a priority under the public system. Then, it took FOUR MONTHS for the insurance company to reject the claim, effectively raise the premiums, and exclude all conditions related to the cardiovascular system (which is like, you know, nearly everything). Having private health insurance meant I couldn’t get on the priority list through the public system, and that four month delay meant that by that time, I’d shifted to Hamilton, and that meant starting all over with a new GP and a new waiting list. At least I got the insurance company to refund months of premiums because I would’ve cancelled the policy way back then.

And then Covid-19 happened, and the lockdown, and everything stopped. It’s only been in the past month that the Waikato DHB was able to look at all the reports, and tell me, basically, they have no idea when I’ll get the procedure.

So: I've asked my new GP for a referral to a private cardiologist here in Hamilton. There are three possibilities: They may come up with a better drug combo that works and makes me feel not quite so much like shit. Second, they may be able to get the DHB to prioritise me (highly improbable, but you never know). Third, I may pay to have the procedure done privately (that’s what I’m actually looking to do).

When I was in hospital last year, I told the cardiology team, “I’m too young to feel this old,” and they got what I was saying. But now, 15 months later, I also have to deal with the fast and unexpected death of my soulmate, and it’s absolutely impossible for me to have ANY chance whatsoever of finding a life until and unless this is sorted. If Nigel was still with me, he would have moved mountains to get this done. That’s exactly what I’m going to do.

This post is a revised and expanded version of something I posted to my personal Facebook this morning.

Important note: This is about my own personal health journey. My experiences are my own, and shouldn’t be taken as indicative for anyone else. Similarly, other people may have completely different reactions to the same medications I take—better or worse. I share my experiences because others may have the same or similar experiences, and I want them to know that they’re not alone. But, as always, discuss your situation and how you’re feeling openly, honestly, and clearly with your own doctor, and always feel free to seek a second opinion from another doctor.

Saturday, August 15, 2020


Yesterday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that Auckland will remain at Alert Level 3, and the rest of New Zealand will remain at Level 2, for 12 days, until August 26. That would mean the Levels may be lowered two weeks after the first case was identified (two weeks is the standard allowance for an incubation period). However, Cabinet will review the situation on August 21, and see where we’re at. Ultimately, the Alert Levels could be extended where they are or reduced, but it will all depend on where identification and containment of the outbreak is at.

This is all good news, and the decision was based on evidence and scientific advice, as they always are. But the situation, and the uncertainty had me worried.

It’s been a stressful few days as we went through our raised Alert Levels, waiting to see what was next. I ventured out on Thursday to pick up a few things I needed, both for some projects around the house and a (mostly) routine trip to the supermarket. I went to a home centre (mainly plants for the garden and a compost bin) so that if we went back under lock down, I’d have some projects here at home to work on. However, I’d planned on getting the plants next week, anyway, so it was really only a few days early.

When I entered the home centre, I saw that they’d put back the physical distancing measures they’d removed when we went to Alert Level 1 back in June. The staff were wearing PPE (including one who wore a plastic face shield). I didn’t put on my mask at first, mainly because I’m not generally a first-in kind of person when it comes to social behaviour.

For as long as I can remember, I was paranoid about inadvertently breaking some sort of social taboo and being judged for it by, as I called it in my youth, “The Unseen Other”, an imaginary someone who judges other people for their social mistakes, no matter how small.

As I moved through the store, I noticed some customers wearing masks: All of them younger (20s to 30s). The people most at risk—my age and older—didn’t wear masks. I felt more aligned with the younger people, and thought their behaviour was better to reflect, so I put on my mask, at least in part because I hoped it might encourage older people to wear them. At the very least, I thought it was kind of a way of expressing solidarity with the mask wearers, people who clearly cared about stopping the spread of the virus, and so I also saw it as a way to kind of thank them for that.

It was the first time I’d worn a mask (which I’d already learned to put on and take off correctly), and that meant that I finally understood what some people had said about them: How they can feel hot, you’re aware of your own breath (the heat, the moisture, even the smell), and how hard it is to not touch it. The first two issues passed quickly, but the third took a lot of my mental energy because I constantly wanted to adjust my mask. Mostly I avoided it. I had some trouble with my reading glasses fogging up when I out them on to read a label, and I also realised that I was basically touching my face every time I put them on. I don’t have a solution for that, though I guess I could carry a magnifying glass with me instead. I was anxious at the time, but breathing the slightly elevated levels of carbon dioxide actually helped calm me. Or maybe I just convinced myself of that.

I seemed to adjust fairly quickly to limited visual information about others. I was in one aisle and a young man (mid to late 20s, I’d guess) walked to a shelf to get something and we briefly made eye contact. That was the only part of this face I could see, and his eyes seemed kind. I thought that maybe that’s what people meant about being more sensitive to reading the limited visual cues than maybe we normally are.

I mention all that because it was new to me, and because I can’t remember reading anyone else mentioning their first time wearing a mask. I’m sure some must have, but considering how ordinary it is among rational people overseas now, that makes my first time wearing one quite unusual for me, so of course I had to document it.

I left the store and loaded my car, resisting the temptation to adjust my mask. My next stop was the supermarket, and once in the carpark I snapped the Instagram photo above. The plants I bought are in the background behind me (they’re the ones I mentioned earlier this month). I was feeling a bit anxious about going into the supermarket when I took the photo, which I think is obvious in the photo. That was nothing.

I was lucky that I didn’t have to wait in a queue to get into the store, but once in I noticed that no one was wearing masks, again, including folks in my age group (more or less) and above. As I went through the store I saw a few people (maybe 8) wearing masks—nearly all of them men. More than once I felt incredibly anxious int he store, not so much because of people not wearing masks, but because those same people also totally ignored physical distancing, meaning sometimes I had to wait or even turn around to avoid them. This turned out to be quite stressful, and a couple times I felt I was even close to a panic attack, though that never happened. I did wonder, though, what made “women of a certain age” (basically, my general age group) so cavalier and even arrogant. Is it a Boomer thing and I didn’t get the memo? Was it their political conservatism (Hamiltonians strongly support the National Party)? I have no idea, but they were the people who shot me disapproving looks, something younger people—both men and women—never did.

In a comment on my Facebook post, I joked about buying toilet paper:
…I felt like saying to the checkout person, “I just ran out!”, which, strictly speaking, wouldn’t have been true—I was just running low and it was time to buy more, but that explanation was too involved. I also felt like saying to the lady behind me, “I’m buying two bags of chips because they were on special for two bags,” but then I realised she was probably glaring because she didn’t approve of me wearing a mask
I really did feel sheepish about buying toilet paper, as I did the last time I bought it, too, though I didn’t really explain why I was buying a 12-pack of toilet paper. In general, I ended up buying a little more than I usually would have for a normal shopping trip because I didn’t want to have to go back next week, precisely because of the stress involved. As I said on my Facebook comment, “Going to the supermarket kinda creeped me out, to be honest, just like it did the last time we went to Level 2.”

This took a toll on me: Thursday evening I started developing symptoms of gout, and that night I was in some of the worst pain I’ve experienced in many years. It got so bad that it kept me awake, mainly because there no position that was comfortable, that relieved the pain.

While it’s possible I whacked my knee on something and forgot, it’s probably more likely that it happened because I was so stressed about all of this. I was worried we might be headed for full lockdown again (Level 4), and I felt I barely got through the last one. How would I cope with another lockdown? My shopping trip, especially to the supermarket, was also very stressful, probably in part because I never went to the supermarket when were under lockdown (I found other solutions). So dealing with the restrictions (physical distancing, for example, but masks, too) was actually a new experience for me. In any case, I also felt like my symptoms were easing once the announcement was made yesterday, mainly because we weren’t going up a level. That was highly unlikely to be true, of course: Gout isn’t that responsive and symptoms don’t change that quickly.

New Zealand has, so far, avoided a stronger response to the outbreak because it’s all under control at the moment. That means that I didn’t need to make that shopping trip, but, then, I really just shopped a little earlier than I may have otherwise; it’s not like I have hundreds of rolls of toilet paper. This whole thing taught me that I need better plans in case we have a more serious outbreak in the future and the country needs to move back under lockdown.

Those preparations will be an ongoing thing, too.

My loyal plant soldiers (Pittosporum tenuifolium Variegata) at home, awaiting deployment on the front.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Here we go again?

At an emergency press conference tonight (video above, cued to when the prime minister entered), Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfied announced that there were four new cases of Covid-19 in Auckland, and there was no known source. In other words, community transmission may have arrived 102 days after the last case.

As a result, Auckland is going from Level 1 to Level 3 at midday tomorrow, Wednesday, and will remain there until midnight Friday (probably actually 11:59pm). The rest of New Zealand will move to Alert Level 2 for the same time period.

Aucklanders are being asked to stay home, and schools and early childhood care are closed, except for children of essential workers. No one will be allowed to travel into or out of Auckland, unless they are returning home (and, one would imagine, are able to prove it). Police will have roadblocks to prevent unauthorised travel. As under Level 4, supermarkets, pharmacies, and petrol stations will will be open, but bars, cafes, and restaurants are to close, though contactless food delivery or take away will be permitted. Funerals and weddings are permitted, with a maximum gathering of ten people.

In the rest of New Zealand, we’re allowed to go to all shops, but we’re supposed to maintain physical distancing again, and stores are supposed to take steps to make that possible. Cafes and restaurants can open, but all customers must be seated with a single server, and they must keep records of who was there. Gatherings are limited to 100 people.

In the entire country, we’re being asked to ramp up our hand washing, use alcohol-based hand sanitiser when we can’t wash our hands properly. We’re also supposed to record our movements, especially by using the Covid Tracker App (mine isn’t currently signed in after its most recent upgrade; I’ll sort that out). For the first time, we’re being advised to wear face masks whenever we can’t practice physical distancing, especially on tight places, like on public transit.

The government activated its emergency cellphone alert system at 10:12pm tonight, but I got my alert at 11:17pm—good thing I was still awake or it would have scared the hell out of me. As if the press conference hadn’t done that already…

My greatest fear is that we’ll go back under lockdown, since I barely survived the first time. At this point, I’m not worried about Covid itself because there’s not yet evidence of widespread community transmission. But it would be foolish to dismiss the possibility that lockdown could be coming, and that would make me afraid of Covid.

Tomorrow morning, I’m going out to get some supplies for projects around house—something I didn’t do before lockdown last March, and regretted (although, as it happens, I still have some of the small projects from lockdown that I didn’t do at the time). My freezer and pantry aren’t very well stocked at the moment (I haven’t done my shopping food this week), but I could still get by for at least a week, with some of the creativity I used last time.

All of my preparations will be every bit as much a precaution as the changes to Alert Levels that the government is putting in place tomorrow, and hopefully both will turn out to be overly cautious. But I was caught out last time—I won’t risk that happening again. Besides, it gives me something to focus on instead of the possibility that things are about to become very bad.

This may be a case of “here we go again”, or it may be a case of “we dodged a bullet”, but we won’t know which it is for up to several days. Here’s hoping.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

100 days without transmission

Today marks 100 days without any cases of community transmission of Covid-19 in New Zealand. Over that time, the only cases have been from people in managed isolation, which means they brought the disease into the country—and identifying them there is the whole point of having managed isolation: So they don’t spread the virus in the community. Even there, we’ve had four days in a row with no new cases.

Even so, public health officials constantly remind us that we mustn’t become complacent. The Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, said:
“Achieving 100 days without community transmission is a significant milestone, however, as we all know, we can't afford to be complacent. We have seen overseas how quickly the virus can re-emerge and spread in places where it was previously under control, and we need to be prepared to quickly stamp out any future cases in New Zealand.”
Things can fall apart quickly, as Australia has demonstrated. Because of that, the government believes that new community transmission is inevitable, so in order to help prevent further spread, and to contain an outbreak, the government is now recommending that people stock up on masks now for use if there’s an outbreak near them. Health Minister Chris Hipkins said last week:
“The ministry is now recommending that as part of collective preparations for any future outbreak of Covid-19, households add sufficient masks for everybody normally resident in their household to their emergency supply kits.”
New Zealanders have long been told to have emergency supplies on hand to help a household get through a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or large flood (and this is why they’ used to be called “Get Thru” kits, but they’ve done away with the nickname on the government website). We now know that preparedness for pandemics is just one more risk to add to the list.

I have some masks on hand, but I intend to order some more for my kit (especially washable ones). If the government advises us to wear them, then I will, but we’re not at that point right now, and haven’t been for 100 days now. It’s also possible that it will never happen near me, but better to be prepared and not need it than the other way around.

I’m so glad to be living in New Zealand.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Local democracy to increase

New Zealand’s city of Kirikiriroa-Hamilton—my current home—is about to gain some more fairness and local democracy. The City Council has just voted to replace the old-fashioned and anti-democratic “First Past the Post” (FPP, or sometimes FPTP) with the more democratic and fair “Single Transferable Vote” (STV) system for the 2022 local elections. This is a major step forward for local democracy.

Hamilton City Council ran an online survey between June 17 and July 17, and received 928 responses. 726 respondents (78.1%) wanted to switch to STV and 202 (21.9%) wanted to keep using FPP. (Full disclosure: I took part and said I wanted to switch to STV). To be honest, I’m not certain that a high response among a tiny minority of people represents a statistically significant thing to base a major decision on, even though I support it. Still, I prefer councillors to make the decisions we elect (and pay) them to make rather than kicking everything down the road by holding referenda. If we don’t like what they decide, we can vote them out and put in people who will do what we want; the whole point of representative democracy is that we’re represented, and we’re the final arbiter of whether they got it right or not.

Quibbles about what they based their decision on aside, I do support the move for the reasons I stated in my submission:
STV ensures elected candidates don’t get in with a small minority of votes. It also removes the spoiler effect in which votes for one candidate might accidentally elect the one we least want elected. All of which encourages diversity among candidates, and so, the people elected.
The video above from C.G.P. Grey explains STV, which really is a pretty confusing system for anyone who only knows FPP. The important point is that it introduces proportionality, unlike a system called “Alternative Vote” (AV, or also called “Instant Runoff Voting”, used in parts of the USA). While both systems eliminate the spoiler effect that FPP actually encourages, STV is the only one of the two that discourages the descent into a two-party system, which both FPP and AV encourage.

STV is best used in multi-member districts, and that’s exactly why STV is best to elect Hamilton’s city councillors.

Hamilton elects its city councillors from two wards, East and West (of the Waikato River), both of which elect six councillors (the mayor is elected citywide). In the 2019 local elections, there were 22,284 votes in the East, and 18,213 in the West, for a total of 40,497 votes citywide.

The mayor, Paula Southgate, was elected under FPP with 13,452 votes, some 3,000 votes more than the next candidate. What that means, however, is that more than 27,000 people didn’t vote for her—twice as many as those who did—she won with about a third of all votes cast citywide (629 votes in the city weren’t for any official candidate). This is the fatal flaw of FPP voting: It makes it easy for someone to win an election with a minority of the vote, something that also happened in the races for City Councillor. (Full disclosure: I wasn’t living in Hamilton at the time of the election, and so, had no vote).

In the East Ward, the top candidate got 8,342 votes, which means that 13,945 voters in East Ward didn’t vote for him, and that he won his seat with around 37% of the vote. The other five candidates, obviously, had even less voter support.

In West Ward, the top candidate received 10,105 votes, which is more than half of all votes cast, but all the rest got less than half the vote, including the second-highest polling candidate who was just below half.

Electing councillors from the six candidates winning the highest number of votes in descending order means that candidates can—and often do—win with less than half the votes cast, and it also encourages voters to vote strategically, such as, to vote for one or two candidates only to avoid electing someone they like the least, in the hope it will put their favoured candidate over the line. In a one-winner scenario, like for Mayor, strategic voting is even more important

STV eliminates the need for strategic voting, but, ironically, makes it more potent at the same time. This is because under STV, voting to block a candidate isn’t necessary. However, it allows voters to rank the candidate they want the most as first without risking electing someone they detest. If their chosen candidate doesn’t win in the first round, then the second choice can still help block a detested candidate by advancing one who’s not as bad (this is shown in more detail in C.G.P. Grey’s video below). In this way, it encourages independent and minor-party candidates, which is both more fair and democratic, while also not forcing voters to choose only between the lesser of two evils.

Still, STV isn’t a one-size-fits all solution. While it introduces proportionality to an elected body, for true proportionality a system like MMP (Mixed-Member Proportional), which is used to elect New Zealand’s Parliament, is much better, more fair, more representative, and more democratic. It could be used for city councillor races, but councils’ small size would make it hard to achieve proportionality, and no one wants hundreds of councillors just to ensure proportionality. STV is a logical alternative.

So, from 2022, Hamiltonians will elect their city councillors using a system that will eventually encourage a more representative and diverse city council. In the meantime, we won’t risk decreasing representativeness on the council merely by casting votes for the candidates we really want. But I bet a lot of voter education will need to take place first.

“The Problems with First Past the Post Voting Explained” [WATCH].
“The Alternative Vote Explained” [WATCH].

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Building zone

I now live in a building zone. Well, technically, I already did, because the development only started being built about a year or so ago, and a lot of houses are brand-new—even mine was only completed about seven months ago. What’s different now is that they’ve started building a house on an empty section (lot) right next door to me.

The photo above is of a hazards sign (by law, such a sign is required at any building site, and all commercial places have to have signs highlighting potential hazards). The fenceline along the left side of the photo is the boundary between the empty section and mine. The sign went up early Monday morning, but I suspected something was up last week.

Last week I was out cleaning up the yard, and I could hear the mowers coming to mow the section next me, and to the south of my house. But, unlike every other time, they didn’t mow the section on the other side of me. “I wonder if they’re about to build on it,” I thought at the time.

So, the sign went up, something I knew was inevitable, though I was lulled into complacency by the fact that the “for sale” sign had fallen over ages ago and never been replaced. So, I have no idea if this is a house and land package, similar to what I was looking at doing awhile back, or if someone bought the section and hired builders, or if this is a “spec house”, like mine was (where a builder builds a house and then sells it when it’s done). I also don’t know how big the house will be, but it may be only one storey, since the two storey ones are on the east-west streets, not the north-south streets like mine. But that could just be coincidence.

All of which means that I have no idea what is to be built there, or how soon it will be done. At least some of that started to become clearer since.

The earthworks to scrape the ground for the concrete slab to be poured began yesterday afternoon, but they didn’t have enough time to get all that far (the sun sets at 5:30pm this time of year). When they were done, they parked the digger where it was in direct line of sight from the stacker doors in the living area. I suddenly realised how much the house could tower over mine when it’s done, and I was a bit surprised by that (I clearly hadn’t really thought it through).

That’s a little more obvious in the photo below: It shows the digger as viewed from my lounge door. The sign in the photo up top is to the right, but out of view. Side note: That gray tube thing on the fence is the outside unit for the weather station that I talked about back in June.

The digger’s roof is easily the possible height that the new house’s roof could be, but that fence in the photo below where the weather station module is hanging, is the build line for the other houses around here, so I assume the new house won’t be any further forward than that.

Because I don’t know how high the new house will be, I have no idea how it will affect the sun on my section (that section is at a higher elevation than mine, ranging from about a metre at that same front fenceline to nearly a couple metres at the back of the section (along that same boundary). However, having the house cast shade on that side of the house wouldn’t be bad: It gets very hot in the afternoon. But in winter, when I’d want the sun’s warmth? That might matter.

Another concern is, as it has been all along, maintaining my privacy along that boundary. I decided a long time ago that I was going to plant a hedgerow of an endemic plant called Pittosporum tenuifolium. The plant grows fairly quickly, reaches about three to four metres in height, and will provide a lot of privacy. It’s also drought-tolerant, which is important around here with it’s hot, dry summers. Even before I moved in, I imagined a wall of green outside my living area doors, and this plant is perfect.

I originally planned on putting in the plants before lockdown, but it happened too quickly for me to get it done, then when I could get the plants again, it was too late in the season to plant them. August is the typical month to plant them, apparently (September 1 is the start of Spring), so I’m about to order what I’ll need. I wish I had been able to get them in before lockdown, though, because then they’d be established already, and might even reach fence height this year. Oh, well.

The construction next door has left me with a lot of questions I can’t answer, but, so far, not a lot of noise or dust. The soil is moist from the winter rains, so it’s not blowing around as it would in summer. And, it turns out, double-glazed windows really help deaden sound. So far, anyway. All this may change as they do the actual building over the coming months.

Whatever happens, that new house will have my first literal next-door neighbours. And as this area fills up, the next stage will probably start being developed, and that, in turn, will lead to infrastructure improvements (like some shops and better road connections), and that will be good for us all. Five years from now, this area will be completely transformed from what I first saw late last year.

Good thing I like change.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Exercising responsibility

Today I finally mowed the back lawn—took two goes because the grass was so long. Still duty called, and that call was answered.

It’s been six weeks since I was able to mow the lawns. I needed a day it wasn’t raining—preferably the second of two. But between a lot of rain (it IS winter…) and a couple (very) cold snaps, I just couldn’t get to it. Today was the day—I thought.

First go, I kept nearly stalling the mower, and that quickly drained the battery. While I waited for it to recharge (and I can neither confirm nor deny a brief nap happened in that time), I went out with the line trimmer to do the fence line and to use it as a brush cutter on the longest patches of grass. I drained its battery, but I had another of that type and put it in.

I went back out with the mower and its newly re-charged battery, and this time I tilted the mower back when I hit really long patches. I’m aware that’s potentially dangerous, but it worked, and I was able to finish the lawn. I then hosed down the mower, especially the underside (due to all the wet weather, and the length of the grass, the clippings clumped underneath). The battery was nearly drained again.

I didn’t mow the front lawn, but it’s just now getting to the point where I think, “that’ll need a mow soon,” and that’s been more than two months since I last mowed it. That pretty much shows how much faster the back lawn is growing than the front is.

Right now, I plan on mowing the back lawn the end of next week so I get the mowing under control as we get closer to Spring and the rapid growth season (though it appears my lawn didn’t get a copy of the schedule…). I may do the front at the same time.

All that fun wore me out! At least it closed the Move and Exercise rings on my watch (screenshot above)!

Footnote: The blue ring is “Stand”, which the watch makes me do for five minutes every hour. I almost always close that one, but it takes until evening because it measures over 12 hours. I usually close the red Move ring (a measure of activity and kilojoules burned beyond what we need to stay alive). I very seldom close the green Exercise ring—usually just when I mow the lawn(s).

This post is a revised and expanded version of something I posted on my personal Facebook this afternoon