The head, not the heart… for now

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    The heart woke up first. It reared indignantly at the thought that someone else was to blame. And sobbed at cancelled plans and lost investments.

    Even the PM, at her hastily contrived 9pm Saturday presser, was grimly “frustrated” as she detailed the isolation breaches that have led to our (so far) week-long level 3 circuit-breaking semi-lockdown. Ardern, again, all heart.

    And throughout the island, hearts have been leading our actions and emotions this week – posting photos of cancelled wedding venues, tables already smartly dressed; bemoaning tonnes of wasted food, ordered for events that’ll never run or customers unable to walk through the front door; resignedly refunding untold (but vital-for-cashflow) payments for guests and clients that’ll never now board a ferry; solemnly sticking the kids once again in front of a computer rather than dropping them off at the school gates; ditching plans for music festivals, for holidays, for family get-togethers, for sporting events, for artistic endeavours… 

    Sure, this has been a body blow and it’s natural to want to punch back, but now’s maybe not the time to let the heart rule. Sunday’s 6am level 3 start came a year to the day after New Zealand became the 48th country to report a case of the coronavirus after a person in their 60s, recently returned from Iran, returned a positive test while being treated in a negative pressure room at Auckland Hospital.

    In the intervening 365 days, although the heartstrings of a nation were pulled by politicians’ pleas to pull together as a team of five million, it’s been the head-strong, calm direction of sensible scientific leaders that has kept our toll to 26 and total cases to just over 2000. (It’s worth noting that, in the same period, the sparsely populated American state of South Dakota with a population almost exactly half that of Auckland and whose governor lauds her response as exemplary to other states, has followed very different scientific and political advice and suffered more than 110,000 cases with more than 1800 deaths.)

    Only further rational, logical reactions to the inevitable cases that will keep cropping up in our communities will see us through to a nationwide vaccine rollout and the relative safety that ought to bring with it. 

    This head-over-heart approach has its champions on Waiheke, from the chef explaining how he’s changed his ordering regime to limit any potential wastage from having to close his restaurant doors, to the ongoing efforts of the Waiheke Resources Trust to ensure their Kai Conscious community fridge keeps recycling food to the most needy regardless of alert levels.

    Local board chair Cath Handley, too, has stepped in to the masks-and-ferries debate after fielding many of the same complaints about compliance that have appeared in Gulf News. While Jacinda Ardern introduced something of a “busybodies’ charter” last weekend when she urged people to call out those going mask-less on public transport (very much a heart call, that one), Cath used her Ministry of Health contacts to create more talks between police and ferry management, and to have more of a police presence on board boats to prevent flagrant breaches and the animosity it causes between often belligerent passengers and powerless staff.

    Bill Singh, too, from Gulf Accountants has been in touch with his reasoned economic argument as to how we can all help keep our Waiheke businesses healthy in these cash-strapped times by thinking and shopping locally. (You’ll be able to read more of that in his column next week, but for now it’s worth dwelling on his observation that the non-profit organisations that help keep our community ticking receive 250 percent more support from small businesses than from larger ones.)

    After 12 months of being told that New Zealand’s strong emotional response will get us through these awful times, it’s maybe no surprise that those heartfelt feelings have taken a battering this week. There has always, however, been a logical underpinning to our national response to Covid, and it’s this that we must rely on for now.


    There is, however, always a good reason to return to the heart – and this week it is to farewell a dear colleague, Ewen Sutherland, who writes his final gardening column after 18 years and heads off to concentrate on his art.

    It’s only fitting this week’s writing focuses in on the memories that his passion for plants helps keep alive – from his upbringing on that Wairarapa farm, to his parents, and to his frequent travels. Over the years he’s invited us not only into his horticultural world and blooming back garden, but also into a lifetime of recollections and, most importantly, his closest family relationships. It’s the mark of a fine writer that many of us feel we know Ewen’s nearest and dearest, and can picture that family farm with gullies festooned with fuschia, simply via the pictures he’s painted since that first column on creepers in 2003. • James Belfield 

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