Opinion: Jamie Mackay: Covid-19 and a tale of two cities


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Experience now tells me a dash of Dickens is a much safer way to kick off a monthly Herald column thanhref=”https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/jamie-mackay-open-letter-to-jacinda-ardern-hold-urban-nz-to-equal-account/WR5SPFRUAE6RYCG25GBRK5E73A/” target=”_blank”>July’s ‘Dear Jacinda’ and the suggestion of an accidental PM.

If truth be known, I had contemplated making my August offering a ‘Dear Judith’ effort, but the tenure of National Party leaders is proving to be somewhat accidental and an accident-waiting-to-happen of late.

Besides, as an accidental columnist myself, people in glasshouses should never throw stones. Not to mention after the pile-on I got from left-wing trolls for the Jacinda column. It’s just not worth the hassle. I would undoubtedly get likewise from the rabid right, if I dared question Judith’s accidental path to the Nats’ top job. And don’t start me on the anti-vaxers. They’re brutal!

Apparently my opening sentence is the first line in Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities. I say apparently because English literature gave me a wide berth at school. I went down the accounting path instead, which proved to be both a blessing and a curse. Early on in life I knew my way around a balance sheet and a profit and loss account, but I was well into my thirties before I’d figured out possessive apostrophes and pronouns.

So I’m channelling my Charles when I say tomorrow will be our tale of two cities. Auckland and Whangarei. Then there’s the rest of us.

Poor old Northland is a victim of geography for the time being. Auckland is a victim of its size and success. It’s our first port of call, our gateway to the world and our first line of Delta defence. It’s the commercial engine room of our economy. A prolonged lockdown in the City of Sails makes it extremely vulnerable to being the City of Fails for many businesses.

For more than a few of those SMEs, it is literally the worst of times. A tale of two regions taking one for Jacinda’s team of five million. But are we a team? Are we now a tale of two islands? Or are we a tale of two lifestyles – urban and rural? I know it’s hardly the best of times at level 3, but rural folk are definitely faring better under lockdown than their urban counterparts.

Level 4 lockdown on the farm means isolation, long hours and little or no social interaction outside the farm gate. So what’s new? That’s par for the course for anyone ankle-deep in mud, or elbow-deep in calving or lambing, at this time of the year.

As with any essential worker, there is a purpose to your day. There’s a reliable and reassuring routine, regardless of how mundane it is. You’re working with animals or machinery because you love it. The aforementioned isolation, which is so often your constant enemy on farm, becomes your lockdown friend. Your kids can roam freely and can join you on the job.

Your office is not a pokey third bedroom, or hastily converted wardrobe, as you try in vain to juggle stay-at-home work and childcare. Your daily vista is not the neighbour’s window, two metres from yours. More often than not it’s mountains, rolling green pastures, trees, lakes, rivers and streams.

You are in a privileged position.

Sure, farmers are heroes of our economy, but so too are all business owners. Then there’s the real heroes – those on the front line – police, nurses and supermarket workers et al. And it goes without saying for the MIQ workers and all those in the trenches, fighting an invisible enemy that counterattacks 24/7 if you dare doze on sentry duty.

My grandfather fought the Turks at Gallipoli, then the Germans on the Western Front. Invalided home, he then had to dodge the Spanish Flu which, a century ago, infected a third of the world’s (then) 1.5 billion people. So we’ve been here before when it comes to global pandemics. Humanity and science will find a solution. Collectively, they always do. Even though that solution ultimately now looks like living with Covid.

And my final quote, which I’ll utter this very afternoon when I roll up for my second Covid jab, will also be from Dickens; this time from Oliver Twist.

Please Sir, I want some more.

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