Lockdown Lemons

29 Sep Lockdown Lemons

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 4.10.21


Some people make staying home look good. I have friends who are highly skilled at nesting indoors or who potter round the garden happily for weeks. A few have always been like this, and others just gave it a red-hot go at the beginning of the pandemic and totally nailed it. Now they make staying put look like the most natural thing in the world.

I am not one of these people. Sure, I like my own company and I can hunker down, clean out a cupboard or read a book, but I am a traveller at heart and home is the place where you rest between adventures.

My husband – even keener on getting on a plane and having his passport stamped – has managed with more grace than me, I think, to embrace staying home and saving lives. Give him lockdown lemons and he will make you a lemon tart. Also banana bread. Sometimes – don’t tell him – I buy bananas on the turn just to nudge him in the bread-making direction.

But the people who really nailed “staying home” were our 2020 lockdown neighbours, gone now but remembered fondly. They were in the new house over our back fence, built where the orchard used to be before a previous owner subdivided.

It’s a 5-bedroom rental property with a rotating cast of characters.  Sometimes we barely get to know them, other times we have long chats over the fence about the weather or our pets or who might be planning on playing loud music a bit later and would that be a bother to anyone if it was all done by midnight.

When Level 4 arrived in 2020, the house belonged to the most vibrant bunch yet. The languages wafting over the fence included Portuguese definitely, possibly Spanish, plus a lot of something Eastern European. They barbecued, and played long games of cards at the kitchen table, and had their very own karaoke machine, and danced to Polish techno.

I found it remarkable at first that, each week, they had a birthday to celebrate. Ten flatmates suggested a birthday a month-ish, but every weekend the gold balloons spelling out “Happy Birthday!” would appear in the living room window and a party would ensue.

Over here in my bubble of two, I had questions. First, where’d they get the balloons? (And how tremendous to have them on hand when lockdown hit!) Also, where did they store them Monday to Friday? (They were very big and appeared quite floaty.) And this rash of birthdays – had they got together as flatmates because the thing they had in common was their star sign? And supplementary question: who knew people born under Aries and Taurus would get on so well?

By the time we’d got to Level 2 I suspected those big gold balloons were a ruse – that maybe (odds are) there were some actual birthdays involved but they’d just decided to throw a party each week and the balloons helped set the mood.

I found it all very uplifting – all that conviviality and human interaction when the rest of the world was about social distancing and isolation. It reminded me of what we all had to look forward to on the other side if we keep doing this right.

Meanwhile, there’s a superb lemon tart in our fridge and some of my cupboards are very tidy. And if staying home is the hardest thing I have to do this week, I’m pretty darn lucky.