Wellington Scoop

Strange days, with time to think

Wellington this morning. Photo from Jonathan Mitchell/RNZ

by Ian Apperley
These are extraordinary days we live in. You’ll be waking up this morning to the first day of a national lockdown, a lockdown that may last some weeks or longer. Life then takes a dramatic turn for each one of us, but one that has echoes of the past and a hope for a very different future once this is over.

We were due to move to Carterton tomorrow; however, the current state has completely disrupted that. Our movers cancelled two days ago, our purchasers did the same, yet the vendor in Carterton was still good to go.

Breaching a property sales agreement at this point is an incredibly expensive exercise. If we hadn’t found a solution, then at least two of us in that chain would have potentially not only headed fast toward broke but possibly ended up living in a tent.

Lawyers had the same problem with over 6,500 settlements falling due across New Zealand, and that did not include people renting, ending tenancies, and moving.

In the end, all our parties agreed to move settlement until the Alert Level fell back to 2. Crisis averted, though I hear for a lot of other people, reaching that agreement may not have happened, which means people in limbo at the toughest time of our lives. Our purchaser’s landlord gave them a time extension they needed, proving that there are good, kind humans in the city.

We’re all in this together, even if we can’t meet for coffee or a beer. I certainly miss my lair, the Strathmore Local, and I am worried about their staff.

Covid-19 fixed traffic in one fell swoop. It was fixed at what cost, though? The impact of the pandemic on Wellington is not well known yet. It is a government town, and most can work from home, but not all. That’s because not all agencies were ready for this, despite being warned for the last decade it was coming.

The WCC wasn’t ready either, though they have, mostly, scrambled to bring themselves up to speed quickly. Communications have not been great, a couple of councillors have been tone-deaf in their messaging. Now is not the time to push political agendas, and that needs to be called out.

We, the community, were not ready. We had the opportunity to build strong community links, and now we are mainly reliant on local ad-hoc Facebook pages, and social media feeds littered with misinformation. Check your data sources, then check them again – scams, incorrect messages, and fake news are rampant at the moment.

However, all of that can be fixed, and I recognise that a lot of people are risking their lives to keep our city running and in some semblance of order. Thank you.

And it’s tough for the WCC right now, water issues, money issues, transport issues, planning issues, and Councillors generally supporting their communities right on the front line while protecting their own families and under the same lockdown rules that we all are subject to.

I have friends and colleagues who are now unable to pay rent, pay mortgages, and pay for food. While support is available, that can take time, and we as a community need to share where we can in that outer radius from family, to friends, neighbours, and communities while keeping ourselves and each other safe. We have vulnerable people as well who we need to take care of.

What will Wellington look like on the other side of this? Bizarrely, with no disrespect to the disaffected by this event, we have a month to think about what we want our city to look like going forward.

Do we want to retain free public transport? Do we need another tunnel? Will there be an outflow, rather than inflow, of people back to the regions where work is more likely to appear earlier? What about tourism? Do we need all those office buildings given that working from home will become the new normal? How will our suburbs grow as workers stay near to home rather than visiting the CBD each day?

We know that quarantines of this scale in the past have inspired great innovations and discoveries. People have time to think, a lot of time, and this has produced fresh ideas, art, literature, scientific theory, and the like. We have time to think about what we want this city to look like when lockdown is lifted.

The lockdown itself will be tough because you are confined to a place. That’s hard to get your head around. Today it is a novelty; tomorrow it is a sleep in, the third day is an inconvenience, and after that, it can become a slog, if you let it.

As someone who has analysed media and spent a large proportion of my life buried in the data stream, I have learned one thing. Sometimes you just need to turn it off. Nothing much is going to change over the next few weeks and taking a break from the relentless messaging can provide some much-needed mental relief.

In some ways, we are used to this, and it’s good to take a slightly different mental stance to this state.

Each year, over Christmas and New Year, we stop working and spend time with friends and family. The next month will be somewhat like that for a lot of us. Of course, I do not want to demean the situation and the terrible struggle that some are having.

There is already a movement to start putting up Christmas lights, and I am sure this will place no strain on electricity supply given that large industries have closed down. We have seen the movement around teddy bears in windows. It is these acts that signal solidarity in these weird times. Kids see bears in windows, and at night we see Christmas lights twinkling, all to remind us that we are not in this alone.

While we can’t drive except for essential reasons, we can walk if we are careful to maintain distance, and Wellington is one of the best places on earth to walk.

And walk we will, together, through this, to build a much stronger community and city, of that I am quite sure.


  1. Andy Foster, 26. March 2020, 11:53

    Very well put Ian.
    I certainly intend that we should take some time to think together about some of the big issues when we settle into this new normal. Meantime – stay safe.
    Kind regards

  2. NigelTwo, 26. March 2020, 14:41

    WCC, all of you. Go for a walk around our streets. What do you notice? I could have crossed Karori Rd blind-folded today. Yep, even reckon I could hear a Nissan Leaf.

  3. Sue, 26. March 2020, 20:06

    Well written Ian. Went for two walks today – what a beautiful day to start the journey … This event will bring us back community spirit, we have all been on the fast journey and forgotten to build the this spirit. Come on Miramar Peninsula we have been successful with Predator Free – who knows what next…we’ve got this!

  4. Alana, 26. March 2020, 20:13

    And where do we wander – or want to wander?
    For me – the harbour.
    Let’s keep it for people, not commercial buildings.

  5. Ian Apperley, 26. March 2020, 21:06

    That’s my people. It’s going to get tough in the next ten days, but we’ll make it.

  6. Victor Davie, 28. March 2020, 5:58

    Superb article Ian! Thank you.