The quest to find security and meaning in life is universal. I moved from Wellington to Oamaru in 2001. When I moved back to the Wellington area in 2011 after living through the Christchurch earthquakes I sought those goals, though the passage seemed an uncertain and inconsistent journey.

Now, with my own property in Dannevirke I have solid ground underfoot and a roof over my head but the world order around me is again shifting, sliding and being reconstructed with the pandemic's influence. Borders are closed, travel is restricted, living costs are rising and lifestyles are being reconsidered in all manner of directions. Forgotten skills and pastimes have been rediscovered. Madness has prevailed. Loo paper became an endangered species. Masks, hand sanitiser and baby wipes were scarce. Domestic science, Mrs Beeton and the Edmonds Cookery Book found a renaissance as flour became the lingua franca of level 3 and 4 diplomacy and people began growing their own vegetables.
Barely six months have passed since the pandemic exploded. The momentum continues and the retro move to a more considered lifestyle is probably a healthy one leaving me wondering how far the ripples of recollection will spread.

In this world of instant connection and global networking have real people lost touch with each other? The human pulse and the warmth of a loving embrace can't be felt from a digital image...well maybe you can. I can't. I'm an agrarian Luddite. Those desires for real human contacts go back a long way.

From the late 1950s the Cape family lived in Stokes Valley. My parents were well educated, artistic, theatrical and reasonably well-heeled. My father, Peter Cape, was head of Talks and head of Religious Broadcasting from the mid-1950s to early 1960s in the New Zealand Broadcasting Service, the predecessor to the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation. Both my parents were regularly involved with the local repertory theatre, staging such shows as "Maria Martin – Murder in the Red Barn", which my father directed and in which both he and my mother took lead roles. My parents regularly hosted barbecues, dinners and birthday parties at home. Often we were invited to friends' parties throughout Wellington and the Kapiti Coast. My sister and I were often bedded down in the car while our parents celebrated late into the night. My father regularly took his guitar to join in with other musicians. It was normal. It was, as I recall, lively and the company was dynamic and well educated. People talked, and probably flirted occasionally. The food was wholesome. Beer and wine flowed convivially, for the most part at least. We didn't mix in the brawling, beer swilling, pub crawling circles so most of us survived pretty well. Those were the informal occasions. There were the formal and dignified, professional and diplomatic occasions as well that my parents were invited to, such as the Governor-General's garden/dinner party. I was too young to attend those but the atmosphere seeped into my life somehow and those days, those principles, that colour has stayed with me down the decades.

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Maria Martin cast barbecue at the Cape family home in Stokes Valley, 1959. Photo / Peter Cape
Maria Martin cast barbecue at the Cape family home in Stokes Valley, 1959. Photo / Peter Cape

This is not meant to be some misty-eyed reminiscence lamenting a lost irretrievable era. It is a current expectation. It is a reference point which should be shaken awake and recognised. It is a foundation stone on which life thrives.

I often comment about the apparent lack of communication, the insular nature of New Zealand and I don't think I'm alone in this observation.

I grew up experiencing an educated, dynamic life. Returning to New Zealand and to the Wellington region I expected to be met with a lively welcome like a prodigal son, but my reception, notably by those who knew me, was blatantly offhand and uninterested. I'm left asking, "What in tarnation happened in my absence? Who doused the light?"

At the interment of my father's ashes in Kaukapakapa last year my sister, in her eulogy, said that she wanted, down the years, to get away from the bustle and lime-lit lifestyle engendered by my father's position, and live a "normal" life.

She has every right to hold that position, but for me I miss the action of that more social life which was so much part of my upbringing and I don't actually think it was that unusual. I value genuine liaisons. I still take my guitar to events and occasionally earn a crust and pint in doing so. The trouble is there don't seem to be that many invitations or events around. It takes two to tango, but nobody wants to dance with me. C'est la vie. It was different in Australia. In Victoria, in Cudgewa near Corryong the local bush poets will meet at the hotel and play music on real instruments. Bush fires didn't stop them and neither, I'll wager, will wearing facemasks.

It may well be that with the reawakening of home science, vegetable gardens and the Edmonds Cookery Book people will move away from digital devices and there will be a rediscovery of real communication, accompanied perhaps by the occasional barbecue along with a spark that rekindles enthusiasm for living.