Jane and James

Jane Berney in conversation with

Jane’s cousin James lives 98 kilometres from Wellington, where Jacinda is steering New Zealand out of CoVid’s way. A train manager, his work is deemed ‘essential’ during lockdown. At the beginning of this year he bought his first house, and is as proud as a first-time father.

Note 1: March-May

When he heard that lockdown was on the cards, James’ first response was ‘elation’.

“This is going to be pretty sweet. No one else in the house. It’s just me. Someone who has been alone a long time. The thought of not going to work for 4 weeks didn’t frighten me. I don’t invite people over because I need their company.”

“Then it dawned on me that I was ill prepared. That I wanted ‘old fashioned stuff’, not Netflix.”

He’d heard about the Guinness Book of Records – the world’s longest game of chess was 52 years, the opening move sent on a postcard on Christmas Day between Australia and England. “That’s a year between moves. I was inspired by this record.”

As lockdown loomed, James found all the games in town had sold out.  

Things shifted when the first case of CoVid in a nearby town was announced.

“That morning the world changed. Patient X could have been on my train. People look at you; ‘Have you got it? Is it you?’”

Note 2: May-July

James needed a project for lockdown. It was waiting for him in his backyard: a stubborn cluster of bamboo that had been taunting him since he’d moved in. He considered poison, but “I didn’t want to turn my place into Chernobyl.” He spoke to the head of invasive grasses at the local garden centre. “When I told him I had bamboo, he said: ‘It’s simple, sell the property.’”

He considered the starving strategy, cutting the towering sticks back then covering the stumps with tarps to smother through (our) winter. He seriously thought about a digger.

Instead, for the better part of every day for two weeks he hacked away at the bamboo; 130,000 stems with endless roots and shoots. At the end of it he dubbed himself “the Rhizome cowboy.”

Would he have tackled this project if Lockdown hadn’t happened? No. He might have thought about it, but wouldn’t have started it. This has been his earthly diversion; his in-depth investigation into the wandering, invasive nature of bamboo, and its pandemic-like spreading capabilities; and of growing himself in taking on a project the stature of which in his lifetime he had never tackled before.

Note 3: July-August

Small mercies.

To say it’s been a stressful time is like saying Mount Everest is a molehill. We turn to things we know, that comfort us. For James it’s his classic Nissan Maxima. “There are only 150 of them in the world. I own #106.”

In the second lockdown it failed its warrant because of the overabundance of rust in the engine mount. “I’d been driving to manage the engine situation; swerving to avoid pot-holes, planning trips so I didn’t have to go over bumps. I don’t want to sell it. But it’s $2500 to repair. What do I do? Put that amount into another bomb?”

He was clear that he was not changing the ownership papers. James had the rust cut out and tracked down a Toyota Yaris. “2008 silver 3-door hatch. M5 speed manual. 111,000 on the clock. Like brand new.”

Driving his Yaris back home, he had to navigate past a double-length logging truck. “I thought, ‘I’ll take it going up this hill’ – man did I gun it. 138ks an hour. Roared past the truck. At the brow of the hill a car comes over, flashing its lights. I got down to 99ks in 20 metres. Just in time. At the crest of the hill is a cop with his camera. From the time he flashed lights to the time I saw the cop was 5 seconds. Some old-fashioned romantic thought he’d let the little 1.3-litre Yaris know there was a Big Old cop waiting.”

And the Maxima? “I might deregister it. Might sneak it out for a quick burn round the back blocks. Keep it loved.”

Leave a Reply