Covid-19 is a real threat to older people, but these Central Otago seniors are embracing technology, experiencing no FOMO, and finding new ways to connect and share, finds Jill Herron

When the full lockdown began on March 25 it meant the end of going for a swim, spa or to the gym, or visiting the library, craft room or main lounge.

“Our son didn’t need to threaten he would take the keys off us if we used the car,” says former Otago Daily Times journalist and author Dianne King. “Jacinda did that for him.”

Dianne (78) and husband Bryan live at the Golden View Lifestyle Village in Cromwell, a new facility normally bustling with the constant activity of its 100-odd retirees. Their Covid-19 experience began with a trip to the Upper Clutha A & P Show in Wanaka. The week had been full of promise, but shortly after the group outing to Wanaka everything came to an abrupt halt.

Management advised residents via a newsletter that all activities and gatherings were to stop. Hard on the heels of that shock was news filtering through that infected attendees of the World Hereford Conference in Queenstown – now a cluster of 29 Covid cases – had also attended the show.

“Days filled with activities that took in bowls, district walks, trips to movies, knit and natter, euchre, exercise classes, bingo, mah-jong, bridge, coffee mornings and travel forums all stopped indefinitely. No more Friday night happy hour. We are all in that vulnerable age bracket and the thought of staying in our villas 24 hours a day was daunting.”

Retired journalist Dianne King has conquered new technology and seen her neighbourhood unite over the past weeks.Photo: Supplied

Deep down, she says, some that attended the A&P Show were “a bit concerned” and quietly counted the days passing, happy to get to 14 with no sign of trouble. Aside from that, there had been no “outbreaks of worry” among residents.

Nor any grownup children worrying about their parents still driving.

“Now cyclists circuit Kanuka Drive and detour down Schist Lane, or Rowan and Willow Close, twice a day,” says King. “Many are out at 7.30am, swooping past with their colourful hi-viz vests. Walks are broken up with calls from happy villagers on their patios as we all now find out so much more about each other. If there is one bonus it is that we are so much better off with all this communication.”

The same goes for former ABC News correspondent and United Nations Communicator Susan Curran. Having moved to Cromwell three years ago with partner Alan Coull, she’s had little problem adjusting to lockdown in their bubble on the hillside overlooking Bannockburn.

“I spend a lot of time on WhatsApp with my daughter who’s been confined now for three weeks in her London share house. I’m also compulsively listening to news about the virus’s creep around the world on radio apps.

“I’m sewing for Alan’s daughter’s baby who’ll come into this strange moment in history before the end of the month. It fills the time when I’m not obsessing about food supplies for the present and the future.”

Food has become a focus, with skills from days gone by dusted off and neighbourhood swaps adding variety to the diet. “I’ve taken to a lot of fruit and vegetable processing that I hadn’t done since my daughter was born nearly 30 years ago,” Susan says.

“We are good for some time for stewed apples and pears, stone-fruit jams and jars of rhubarb and spiced pear chutney – which my partner eats in industrial quantities after days on a tractor helping with the grape harvest.

“A neighbour on our hill offered peaches which I shared with a friend when we did a meat shopping pick up, delivered by her daughter for us over-65s, at a carpark. I spent two hours sorting seeds from our garden for spring into little bags for sharing with the peach grower. I’m experimenting with sprouting chia, quinoa and mung bean seeds as a substitute for fresh vegetables in case they become hard to get.

“Many of us guiltily agree we’re actually enjoying it. My daughter says it’s the absence of FOMO [Fear Of Missing Out] as there is nothing to miss out on.”

Meanwhile, back at the Golden View Lifestyle Village, a “very bubbly” Southlander has started a daily quiz with teams like the ‘Can’t Remembers’ and the ‘Covid Crackers’ relishing the challenge of not being allowed to use Google. A telephone tree network and almost-daily newsletters from management had added to the connection of residents.

“Technology has been wonderful with family emails, and for us an introduction to Zoom and conversation with five children and their partners,” says King. “Small groups gather for Friday night happy hour but only in our driveways, streets or greenways. It’s truly BYO. We all bring our fold-up seats, glasses and our tipple of choice. We keep our distances.

“All up, we are observing the rules as Jacinda requested. We are being kind to each other, we are staying home in the village and the only cars that move are the management.”

* Made with the support of NZ on Air *

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