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We stayed at home: Life in the slow lane

21 May 2020
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Tess Hall had good conversations with her neighbours from her front porch step. Photo: Supplied.

'We stayed at home' is a three-part series of three people of different ages telling their stories of lockdown life. Want to read all stories now? Click here or grab a copy of Style magazine out now!

'Life in the slow lane'

Tess Hall, 83, of Christchurch had been in isolation before, during the polio epidemic. But things were a lot different then.

When lockdown was announced, it didn’t bother me because I was relieved that somebody was doing something positive and not just humming and hawing about it. We had something that was going to affect us very badly; we had seen what was happening overseas. [Prime Minister] Jacinda [Ardern] just got on with it and it made you feel comfortable that things were taken care of.

I have quite a good section around me. I just went out and pottered about. I can’t bend down and garden or anything like that, but I poke around. I found lots to do inside. In the first week, like my friends, we all cleaned our closets out. Not having to go out to anything, life moved into the slow lane and I quite enjoyed it.

When I stand on my back entranceway, I look straight across to my neighbour’s balcony. So, we can have quite a good conversation! They have a little girl who’s five and she is quite a delight; a busy little soul. I asked her one day, ‘Are you looking forward to going back to school?’ And her mum’s hand went up in the air and she said, ‘Yes!’

There were so many lovely things happening. My neighbours were brilliant from the first day. We live in a crescent-shaped road, and everyone honed in on me. I think it is because I am the oldest. I went out for a walk and some neighbours, who I didn’t know, jumped up and ran over to see me, keeping the appropriate distance. They told me who they were and gave me their phone numbers, and if I wanted anything just to ring them. So, that was lovely. This is why I have stayed where I am. I’ve been in this house for 43 years and I knew I had good people around me. I didn’t want to live on their doorstep, because they are very busy, but I knew they were there and they were all good neighbours.

I guess I have done this before, in a sense. When I was still at primary school, we had the polio epidemic. It went right through New Zealand and all the schools closed. We just all had to stay home, but that didn’t stop us from heading down the road, going to the local creek for a swim or going eeling. We were not given any schoolwork!

We did have fun because life was very simple back then, we didn’t expect or want a lot. People seem to want such a lot these days. If it was now, we’d probably all have been put in lockdown. People died of it. I had a cousin who survived, but still suffers the effects of it now.

I was a child during the war [World War II, 1939–1945]. Food was very much a problem, even after the war ended. There was still a lot of rationing because there were things we couldn’t get. So, we had coupons and you got so much butter, meat and sugar for each member of the family and that lasted you a week. The highlight of our day was if there was a small chocolate bar in the bottom of the order that the grocer had put in there. We all had to share this little bar because there was no chocolate around.

These days, I get out and about a lot, but this social butterfly folded her wings and put them away for a while! I belong to a number of groups, like the Pegasus Ladies Friendship Club. I’m on the committee so we rang people we know and just checked in on each other.

I enjoyed not having to get up and out the door by 9.30am. I could just get up and wander around and, if I wanted to go bed for a while, I could.

I baked for my lovely neighbours across the road. They would bring me over a couple of nice pieces of brownie all wrapped up and everything, or something from their garden. I’m very lucky. I was reluctant to bake for anyone in the beginning because I wasn’t sure if it was a safe thing to do, but I noticed people doing it, so I started to as well.

I missed seeing my family. Talking to them was lovely and my daughter popped over and dropped things off. We had to stand well apart and couldn’t hug, but it was okay. I think you accept it when you realise it is a necessity; you’ve got to do it for everyone’s safety. It is more important that they are safe, and I am safe.

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