At dinner with old friends last week one of them said heavily, "New Zealand's in a funk." It was a Friday night in Takapuna, the restaurant was full, the bars were lit up, there were people around. But not as many as there used to be.
He wasn't referring to July's weather, though that hasn't helped. And we weren't talking about the All Blacks at that point, or inflation or the state of business currently, which, in his is not too bad. If we are in a recession it's an unusual one, employers can't find enough of the people they need.
He was talking about the spirit of the country at present. He'd been in Sydney recently and noticed a difference. We're hearing this from further afield too and seeing glimpses of it on TV. The rest of the world appears to be well over the pandemic, here it feels like a national case of long Covid.
We caught the virus later than almost everywhere else and our relaxation of social and travel restrictions have been as delayed at every stage for as long as a cautious government dared. It's hard to believe it has taken until this weekend for the border to be fully re-opened.
Funks come in degrees. This one is not angry, not sullen, not resentful, not even dispirited. It's a lack of spirit, the absence of a spark we used to have. It is rather like the lingering lethargy described by some of those who have had the virus.
As many as half the population has had it by some estimates. And those of us who haven't are not fretting about it, not like our television and newspapers. We are still seeing doleful articles and full-page ads about it, but it feels like they are in a parallel universe. I don't hear people talking about it anymore.
Even the Government seems over it. My heart soared one day in the school holidays when a Herald front page story began, "A leading health expert claims the Government is favouring politics over science in its continued reluctance to impose a mask mandate in schools." At long last.
"Favouring politics over science" is the governing equivalent of personal decisions to balance medical advice with our desired quality of life. This is what we do individually and moreover, it is what sensible doctors expect us to do.
Schools went back this week amid another fuss about masks. Some principals wanted them made compulsory for all, others wanted them to remain a matter of choice. Schools should be more worried about the education children are continuing to lose.
Absenteeism, previously alarming enough, is now reported to have risen to around 50 per cent. And that doesn't count the teachers.
In the interests of education and the economy, it's time to rethink the need for everyone in a family to isolate if one person tests positive. At any given time these days, large
numbers of fit, healthy people are sitting at home to slow the progress of a virus that seems unimpeded so far.
I wish the funk could be entirely attributed to the lingering Covid in the media, because all the warnings and precautions might not outlast the winter. But I worry the cause lies deeper. New Zealand, I suspect, no longer feels as sharp and smart as it was eight, five, even two years ago.
Eight years ago that we discovered, quite unexpectedly, we had record net immigration. Fewer young Kiwis were leaving as soon as they could. We'd rebounded from the global financial crisis faster than almost any other economy. For the next three years the trend continued.
Tourism boomed, big names were spotted in our resorts and some bought a slice of paradise. We had rocket science. We were attracting attention on just about every measure of sensible government and economic success, the "rock star economy".
Five years ago we got a government more worried about the hole in the doughnut - low wages, unaffordable houses, inequality - but a young female Prime Minister made us feel sharp and smart in a new way.
Her intelligent responses to terrorism and division had a global impact. Her Government gave us more international acclaim in the pandemic. Its elimination strategy was working, we were an epidemiological rock star. Then we weren't.
How do we get the good times back? The pandemic will pass but more selective work permits will persist. The Government believes this is how you lift low wage levels. More likely it will shrink the industries that engage with the world, making NZ less wealthy, less cosmopolitan, less cool.
We might not regain that spark for a while.