Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Covid and Kurt: or the critical dangers of civil servants

Well, I'm home. My winter holiday in Yamba turned into a locked-down, locked-out (of New Zealand) saga of eight months. Wrecked my equanimity, destroyed my bank balance and left me with an utter disdain for 'civil servants' and 'proto-government agencies' ...

Since this Covid thing erupted, I have been a model citizen. I have fulfilled every requirement promoted by the Folk who have appointed themselves to positions 'in charge' of Public Health. And by our Prime Minster, who started out trying, but latterly has seemingly been simply soignering her image (new biography out for Christmas ... how tacky!) for her post-PM career. 'The Woman who saved the Kiwis'. Job for life at the United Nations? Shame, she was a good leader until she started believing in herself.

Well, anyway, thanks to a foolish letter from government (accusing me, like an athlete, of 'missing a control'), today the kettle of my indignation against the 'authorities' finally boiled over. So I'm blogging.


When Covid started to be mediatised, I was in New Zealand. I make no comment on what other people and governments did. I don't really know. I don't watch TV, and other media where the more melodramatic journos live, I haven't read a newspaper in 30 years ...

But it seemed sensible not to go to my 'Winter Palace' in Australia for Winter 2020 ... I don't know why ... but, hey! it would make me $$$ as a holiday let! Well, that was the theory. Until NSW went into lockdown and nobody holidayed ...

Fleeting thought: Omigod! It is about time Australia became a Country instead of a collection of bits.

OK. April 2021. The Baroness Ardern announces a travel-bubble. NZ-AUS. Fool that I was, I believed her. I mean, gosh, this is our Prime Minister. Trust is obligatory. I flew to Coolangatta 19 April.


Well, that Bubble burst pretty smartly, Wendy and Sarah took it all seriously (which I didn't) and flew home to New Zealand pronto.

So, Bubble burst. Lockdown. So, what does a 75 year old handicapped man do, alone in a 1br flat in a semi-foreign land ... ?

Louis and Robert

I survived. But it wasn't that pleasant. Except for flying visits (great fish n chips together!) from the family in Grafton -- trying, themselves, to keep within the 'law' -- and wonderful help from dear pals Robert and Louis, up the hill, who were known to deliver me gourmet home-made meals on wheels, by electric bicycle, during lockdown-isolation, I was pretty much on my own devices. And my aching wallet.

I'd be all right, I thought. Left alone, I'd simply start on writing another book. That worked for a while. Then one day I just stopped. The situation was getting to me. I wasn't eating. I didn't want to get up in the mornings. I didn't care if I didn't wake up in the morning. I understood, now, why folk committed suicide. How many must have actually done so, during this flu-demic? Perhaps they should add that statistic to their 'triumphant' covid data.

Of course, I didn't commit suicide. The dawn sunshine, my books, music, L'Equipe sports results on line (I wonder why I didn't plug in the TV, but I didn't ...) and the odd scaly visitor (without a mask) ... helped raise me out of the slough of Despair each morning ... and Robert was lavish with his invitations to fine dining (in and out) and little jaunts ... but then came the nights, with their horrors and their invitations to sweet dreamless nothingness. Some nights more tempting than others ... did I get near to trying to actually end it all? I have no idea. I was serious at the time.

But all would be well. I was going home 6 October. I had my ticket booked and paid for: Coolangatta to Christchurch.

Queensland closed Coolangatta airport. New Zealand introduced compulsory Quarantine. You couldn't fly into NZ without a booked berth in a Quarantine. Even though sports teams were flying in and out all the time. I was cancelled. Bite the bullet. Apply. An umpteenth panicked email to super-travel-agent Liz, back in Rangiora.

Amazement. Accepted. For 8 December. Where? Logic. I am heading from northern NSW to Christchurch, so I am ordered on to a flight from Sydney to Auckland.

So, instead of the relatively 'safe' journey, during which I would have passed directly Yamba - Coolangatta (by car) and thence to Christchurch ... a total of one flight and two family-car legs ... I found myself condemned to pass by, and change planes at, the two Australasian covid hotspots of Sydney and Auckland, on a total of no less than four different flights. Which, for me, means four transfers in umpteen different wheelchairs ... Was the Government 'protecting' me? Or merely taking care of its statistics?

Then it was weeks and weeks of waiting. The Powers that shouldn't be, at both ends, had been playing the game of changing the rules every ten or twenty days, so just when you thought that all was sorted, scheduled, paid for, somebody 'justified their job' by altering the status quo. Time and again, I had to change my plans; time and again book in (at considerable cost) for another week, another month in Australia ...

And while I waited, a message from the NZ Government. You have been out of New Zealand too long. We are stopping your pension.

We have been sending you letters. Duhhh. Yes, to an empty farmhouse in New Zealand, while I am, as you say, in Australia.

I did not lose my temper. I didn't. I pointed out most politely that I was only in Australia because the NZ government would not allow me back into the country where I was born, lived, paid taxes and rates .. and sent them a scan of my October ticket. Anyway, I see today that the pension payments have restarted. One department of WINZ has a clerk with a brain. But it is a DIFFERENT department which deals with refunding me the money illegally stopped. That little episode was one that pushed me the nearer to the brink ...

So I waited. Expecting, every day, to hear that one government or another had changed its rules ... and getting more and more stressed. But two things happened to alleviate that stress. My beloved Paul arrived from Germany, and the saintly Robert declared that he would accompany me to Sydney and get me on the plane to Auckland.

Together again ...

Paul took me to the Covid testing place in Yamba. Oddly, whereas the actual innoculations had not cost anything, the 'test' (15 minutes paperwork, 15 seconds test) cost 145$ payable in advance. I was past caring. Results in 24 hours. I was cutting it fine. But they don't work on weekends. 

24-hours. Nothing. Paul rings. Gets the woman who DOES know what she's doing at Sullivan Nicolaides. Consequently I got my 'negative' after closing hours, and 16 hours before my flight. And I could stop quivering and enjoy the evening.

So, Paul and I had our last night together for ... who knows how long? ... à deux, at the dear Thai Payu Restaurant, corner table ... and in the morning Sir Rodney the Magnificent picked Paul, Robert and I up in his shiny chariot and we all set out for Ballina airport.

I had thought of a dozen things that could go wrong between Yamba and Sydney but ... none of them did! Paul had packed every conceivable document into a bright yellow folder, which I clutched to my chest, as the Virgin staff bundled me cheerily into w/chair#1 and off we trundled. The 170-seater plane had 168 passengers and -- here's a bit of kindliness and thought -- the staff had put us into the one row with a vacant seat. Big tick Virgin!

Safely arrived at Sydney, the next hurdle was to get from Domestic to International. There's a train, but trains and w/chair#2 are not ideal partners, so we took a taxi. 3km? 4km? $50.

Robert got me safely to AirNZ check-in, my yellow folder did its job, we snacked a mildly indifferent lunch, I hugged Robert a grateful goodbye, and then w/chair#3 and its accompanying assistant and I headed for the departure lounge. The time waiting was pleasantly spent chatting to my fellow wheeley-traveller, the delightful Australo-American film-man, Ben Levin, until we were transported to the bowels of the plane. There was one lady in 1st class; 3 of us in business (which is now called premium economy and is worth the extra); but the back of the bus was bulging. Delightful flight, the best food I've eaten on an airplane probably ever, a glass of whisky which lasted me the whole trip, and I played Bejewelled wotsit all the way across the Tasman to Auckland, and w/chair#4.

Auckland looked gloomy, uninviting and ghastly. As we were bundled onto a bus, I couldn't help thinking of the trains to Theresienstadt. Some Eva Braun, who had been the least efficient of all my trundlers, snatched away my hand luggage and sent me into a tizz. That bag DOESN'T LEAVE my hands! My computer, my vast box of medications and other necessities of life are within. I fretted all the way to the 'Grand Millennium Hotel' where, after a lengthy lecture from totally incomprehensible policeperson (?), we unbundled, my bag was restored to my lap, and the Best Trundler of All -- w/chair #5 -- got me checked in (consternation in the camp when I admitted to not owning a movable phone OR a credit card) and up to Room 533.

The 'Grand Millennium', in more normal times, I am sure, looks much more attractive. It has clearly been stripped down to its basics for use as a quarantine hospital, and now resembles one of those awful 1980s airport hotels which are only meant to be slept in one night or with a whore. Bare, soulless... but, at least, these days, not sporting stained linen or cigarette burns.

I had made up my mind to be a martyr for a week. The only contact with the outside world -- i.e reception -- is by telephone. I am 70% telephone deaf. So, for seven days, I received my meals in a brown paper bag left outside my door, and saw a person only when the medical staff came to stick something up my nose. Or the Asian 20-somethings in the Colditzish 106 Royalty (I think it must be a hostel), next door, came and went on their scooters.

A room with view ...

The meals varied. The most edible ones were the pasta and noodles and, surprisingly, the braised meat. Chips, popcorn, sweet slices etc, as well as the things my dentures can't handle (green leaves, tomato, apple etc) were left untouched. But there was plenty of it! The greatest lack was liquid. One small bottle of water some days. I was forced to drink the tap water which smells of chlorine.

But the basics were sound. Large, hard bed, excellent strong shower, amazingly forceful toilet, and endless wifi. So, I slept 12-14 hours a day, wrote a little bloggery, and just thought of Gerolstein-to-come.

And finally the fatidic 15 December came. Lovely young chap (w/chair#6) collected me, zoomed me down to reception, and ... more amazement from the staff, NO extras? NO barista coffees even? 'Barista' is a term that always makes me giggle. Girl pulls a handle? And no. If I had to have a week without alcohol, I could also wait till decent Gerolsteinian tea and coffee were available!

On to the bus, out to the airport: Auckland looked less grim now that I was leaving it. The rows of clapboard houses in the suburbs were really charming. Not at all like 106 Royalty. W/chair#7. On to                 plane ... Every plane on this mega voyage had been pile on time! Every staff member on every flight (as at the Hotel) had been delightful ... perhaps I don't need to close down my travel days. Especially with Liz the whizz of Hello World to look after my arrangements ..

Touch down in Christchurch. 9.50 pm. W/chair#8. Sweet lass. She trundles me out to the pick up area ... oh, my! It has been super-raining! And there is my dear, dear friend Jo with her 4x4 ... the frets and stresses of the last months gurgle away ...

In 30 minutes we drive up the entrance road to the Castle of Gerolstein ... amazingly, it isn't under water ... hug the wonderful Jo, and ....

It's over. Well, the journey is. Not the covid saga. But for now, I'm just HOME. And it will be a bloody long time before I leave my proprietorial acres again. The house is looking gloriously spic 'n' span. Wendy (long gone to bed) has left chardonnay on ice, and erected an enormous Christmas tree in the living room ... and there is my OWN bed, and a bundle of newborn kitties on the doorstep

I must connect up the computer before tuning in ... and find my little bits and pieces which have strayed from where *I* keep them ... oh Lord! Look at the mail! A pile of stuff from various dimwitted government agencies ... can anyone be SO dimwitted? Or are they staffed by computer-robots?

But it's not over. You must check in for a Day 9 test. I've been tested four times on both sides of the Tasman in the past ten days. But I am a good boy, and Papa always taught me to obey authority unless it were Hitler or Sun Yat Sen. So, 2pm Friday, Wendy drove me to the doctor's and I had one (last?) swabbything up my nose. Result in 24 hours, then this saga is over.

Yeah? Saturday. Email from the Ministry of Health. They work on Saturdays? Why haven't I done my Day 9 test. Ignore them. Sunday ... they work Sundays?.., Why haven't you done your Day 9 test? Unless someone is more dimwitted that can be believed, this is an automatically generated mail. OK. I may be going on 76, crippled, fat and forgetful ... but, although I'm easily frightened by Sun Yat Sen and co, I'm not an idiot. Government has NO RIGHT to send out such messages. A MUCH tighter control of civil servants and their hirelings needs to be exerted, and their right to contact the public with 'official' notices vastly curbed.

Wendy's strong, feisty, little 83-year old mother, living in Richmond, Nelson, has been reduced to a fright-stricken wreck by the plethora of government notices and sensationalist TV reporting. Last night she was taken to hospital with a panic attack. Covid may be having its victims, but how many of us are or could be victims of the way covid is being managed by New Zealand and Australian Governments and media? Myself -- a reasonably sane and wise 75 year-old -- included.

Well, as all the tests I've had -- and I have had more than I ever had in the AIDs era -- proclaim: I'm flu-less.  

Do I feel that certain countries and medias are making a hugely exaggerated thing of this (Shit, no AIDS no Princess Diana, no whatsisname President of USA... what shall we put on our front pages). Yes. I do. I have come to the conclusion that the whole affair is being handled with shameless self-interest. 

I've had acquaintances die this year from this disease (I've also had ditto die from road accidents, cancer, old age, a stroke or a heart attack, and a variety of other causes, natural and unnatural), I've had a number of friends, especially in the UK, suffer from the bug with various degrees of severity. I've had more friends suffer from the 'scare-tactics' our government is using to pursue what they consider the right course in controlling its spread. And these Ministry of Health missives are the straw that has finally broken this normally duteous camel's back.

I've been 'good' for two years. But the next time I get a 'letter' from nzgov ... I'm ignoring it and them. Mental health is just as -- nay, more -- important than physical. And the 'civil service' of New Zealand is not a little damaging to one's health.

The man in the ironed mask

Post scriptum. 5 January 2022. I have just waited in a local chemist shop, with elderly folk in a queue out the door, to get my 'passport'. In 10.45. Out 12.15 ...   what will they think up next?

1 comment:

Katerina Songbird said...

I felt every painstaking word of this in my heart and soul Kurt!! Your searing analysis of soulless civil servants and authorities is depressingly accurate 😢 How many people driven to despair one wonders…. Thank God you are back home and I wish you restoration and much love in the coming months.