Graham R. Cooper
They’re singing down the phone: “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Graham, happy birthday to you.” Our friends – a couple who live nearby – have left something on the gatepost, the one under the Little Owl Gully sign. They chortle, and heighten the drama while at the same time protecting their Covid-19 ‘bubble’ by abruptly ending the call and driving away.
Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?
The parcel is wrapped in plain brown paper and attached is a homemade card. Inside are two 250g blocks of Whittaker’s 72% cocoa Dark Ghana chocolate. We’d run out of chocolate during the second week of lockdown. That gift of chocolate saved the day!
If chocolate was a staple food, then our choice would be Dark Ghana. It’s not only very high in cocoa but also Free Trade organic. Four squares of an evening satisfy our chocolate cravings just fine.
We had enough wine in to have a glass with our bologneses, casseroles, steaks and other evening meals that just didn’t seem complete without wine. And a couple of nights a week, a wee dram of whisky for me and Kahlua and milk for June.
Our self-reliance, when it comes to food and beverages, only extends so far! We like to eat, drink and be merry. Chocolate, wine, whisky for me and Kahlua for June are all part of the mix. What about you?
Brave New World
It’s true though, as I said in my last post, that it’s been five weeks since we went to the supermarket. Our last visit was to the New World one in Timaru a week before the New Zealand government imposed the Level 4 lockdown measures. June and I went into Level 4 lockdown a week early: a pre-emptive strike.
Some people had already started panic buying by the time we visited New World. June wanted 3kg organic white flour but was only allowed 2kg and there were only three packets left of the coffee I like. No doubt many more items had flown off the shelves but our demands, in contrast to most, are very modest.
Shame on you if you thought that we must have done some panic buying of our own to have lasted five weeks. We didn’t. We did our average four-weekly shop:
- New World supermarket: $239.74
- Trade Aid shop: $11.98
- Small shop selling organic products: $36.21
- Sack of bran for the goats: $25.00
- Total spend: $312.93
We didn’t keep the shopping list or dockets but June can recall what we bought that day:
- 2.5kg butter
- 1.5kg cheese
- 2kg organic white flour
- 1.5kg Trade Aid organic unbleached sugar
- 900g unsweetened yoghurt (live culture – starter for our goat milk yoghurt)
- 620g fish flakes (2 tins)
- 425g pineapple slices (1 tin)
- 600g Fair Trade organic coffee (plunger grind)
- 900g Brazil nuts
- 700g Swiss Bircher organic muesli
- 400g organic raisins
- 400g organic dates
- 1 pkt crackers
- 1 pkt Trade Aid organic loose leaf black tea
- 1kg additive free fine sea salt
- 1kg fine Himalayan pink salt
- 2 bottles red wine
We still had in plenty of rice, baked beans, sardines, olive oil and sundry other food items. So, moving on to the purchase of household supplies:
- 2 pkts preserving seals
- 1 box tissues
- 2 pkts dental floss
- 2 prs rubber gloves
- 1 bottle wool wash
- 1 bottle bleach
- 2 bars Trade Aid soap
- 4 bars Sunlight soap
- 1 pack long roll toilet paper (100% recycled paper)
In pre-Covid-19 times we always made sure we had in all the food and beverages we would normally use over a four week period. Now that it’s been five weeks we’ve run out of a few items and don’t have much left when it comes to some others.
What degree of self-reliance?
Having said that, we could put together a healthy diet, year in, year out, based on the food and drink we provide for ourselves. At its most rudimentary, we would eat goat meat and beef, year round supplies of home-grown fruit and vegetables, and drink goats’ milk and water. Not that we’re hankering after that degree of self-reliance!
As you can see, any signs from us of a siege mentality would have to be looked for in things other than a stockpiling of items such as flour, tinned goods, hand-sanitiser, face masks and toilet paper.
Don’t get me wrong. We are as appreciative as the next person when it comes to the additions made to the larder when we shop.
We had large quantities of the following food items in stock when the lockdown began. We buy them in the amounts indicated below:
- 25kg bag of organic otane wheat
- 25kg bag of organic rye
- 10kg bag of organic steel-cut oats
- 10kg bag of organic rolled oats
Our mill can produce 5kg of stoneground wholemeal flour in 30 minutes.
The wheat and rye grains came from an organic farm in Methven, mid-Canterbury, and the oats from an organic grain processor in Ashburton. As you can imagine, these essential food items last us a very long time.
We get layer mash in 25kg sacks for our hens. They are Brown Shavers – egg-laying hybrids – that are still in their prime and so provide us with four eggs a day. A three egg day is so rare that, when it does happen, you begin to think a hen must be coming down with something!
The one time over the last five weeks that I had to go into our local town of Fairlie was during level 3 restrictions, a couple of days before level 4 kicked in. All I needed was layer mash from the business that supplied us with such remarkable hens.
An employee and customer were some distance away when I picked up a sack. By the time I went back to put the $30.00 payment in the solid steel honesty box, they were at a normal conversational distance and close to the box. Neither moved as I reached behind the customer to get at the money slot. As I briefly flourished the cash, the employee gave me a flicker of acknowledgement, sniffled and rubbed their nose with their hand. So much for physical distancing and keeping your hands away from your face!
June hasn’t gone into Fairlie at all over the past five weeks. My second visit was a few days ago to get sacks of barley and oat grains for the goats. It had been five weeks since I’d gone in to get the layer mash and I felt a little nervous about braving the outside world once again.
I got the paranoia blues
You get supersaturated with the thoughts that swirl around in your head about this brave new world we find ourselves in. You watch television shows and there are large crowds, and people are shaking hands, hugging and god forbid, there’s someone coughing! Stop! Are you trying to catch or transmit Covid-19?
Last Saturday night we watched a movie on Netflix called Ibiza. A brassy rendition of ‘New York, New York’ and a bird’s-eye view of skyscraper heaven wash over us as we ease into the opening scenes. A woman in a face mask is haranguing one of her employees. She explains that there’s a “stomach virus going around and my twins have very difficult immune systems.”
Towards the end of the film she gives the employee the sack. She’s a vile boss with a foul mouth and we sympathise with the young woman who is being fired. She tells the boss that she hates her and that she caught “a really weird, contagious flu on the flight.” (She’d just got back from Barcelona.) The young woman coughs and sneezes and blows them towards the boss and spits on the door handle as she leaves.
That film was made in 2018. As I said to June, it was like watching a historical drama. New York City, like many of the world’s great cities, brought to its knees by a virus.
I got the paranoia blues
From knockin’ around in New York City
Paranoia Blues by Paul Simon
But all that’s required of me is that I, oh so briefly, go knockin’ around in Fairlie. I can do this!
I’d wiped my nose on a tissue before I left home and had put three tissues in my pocket as a precaution. I told myself that there should be absolutely no reason why I’d need to touch my face while I was out. My sleeves were rolled up past my elbows and my Eftpos card was by itself in a trouser back pocket.
It’s 2.30 in the afternoon; My car is the only vehicle on the road for the entire 9km journey. “It felt like I was doing something wrong,” I tell the stockfeed guy as we stand two metres apart.
I go into the small office and there’s another man sitting at a desk about three metres away. There’s no coughing or sneezing, not even a sniffle. I feel most vulnerable as I lean over the machine to slide my card through the slot and put in my pin. No paywave here. I put my card in my back pocket again and I’m away.
Back home, I put the card at the far side of my bedside table; I’ll let it lie there for three days. I thoroughly soap-up and wash my hands and halfway up my arms for what seems an eternity. Mentally, I reassure myself that my hands have stayed well away from my face since I left home.
Brave New World Revisited
Next week we’ll be back to level 3 and allowed to travel to the New World supermarket we shop at in Timaru. Neither of us enjoy supermarket shopping at the best of times, but I am looking forward to replenishing our supplies of wine, coffee and Dark Ghana chocolate. Will we wipe down and sanitise what we buy? I don’t think so.
I’d actually burnt the wrapping paper and outer wrapping of the chocolate our friends had left on the gate post. But as of now I’m thinking that I’ll just keep my distance from others, have tissues in my pocket, keep my hands away from my face, wash my hands and wrists thoroughly, roll up my sleeves and get on with it.
In next Monday’s blog post I’ll give you an insight into June’s approach to breadmaking. You already know that it doesn’t take our flour mill long to produce ample quantities of stoneground flour. My upcoming contribution holds the promise of revealing what June has learnt, over the past thirty-two years, about making bread.
Thanks for your company. Bye for now from Little Owl Gully.