8 April 2020

A peek inside the bubble!

Today we peek inside the bubble of Dr John Benseman of Blockhouse Bay, Auckland. John has had a 40-year career focused on adult education, working mainly as a researcher and evaluator. He is also currently a jury member on the UNESCO International Literacy Awards.

How have you found lockdown so far?

Each day you wake up and think - god was that a dream I had? And then you think no, no this is it; this is the norm.

There are four of us in this house. My wife (Alison) and one daughter are both working full time from home, and another daughter with us is an A&E nurse, so she is right in the thick of it. We have a long L-shaped house, so our nursing daughter has been put at one end, to try and segregate her a bit. A big thing has been trying to organise our routines to minimise any cross contamination. It’s a bizarre lifestyle where, in a sense, we’re in each other’s pockets - we’ve found we all need to sneak away periodically and find a quiet place to be on our own.

But I feel very optimistic. I am incredibly impressed not only by the politicians, but also the top civil servants – they have been absolutely stunning. When I look at the drongos running things around other parts of the world I’m just so very grateful that we have people of the caliber that we do. And thank god for living at the back end of the world.

What have you been doing to pass the time?

We’ve been going out for walks - my wife and I are both walkers anyway, but that’s become a big part of our days. We’ve been watching all these people come out of the woodwork who I’ve never seen walking ever, but suddenly they’re all waving and saying hello. It’s just something you could never have imagined.

I’ve been semi-retired for two or three years, but I’m still doing a bit of contracting, including some work for a community organisation called Project Peter in Mt Albert, completing an evaluation of a community driving school they run. I organise most of the household stuff too although suddenly everyone’s very keen to cook, that’s really different. I try and get outside a lot – fantastic weather helps, and my garden has never looked so good.

How are you keeping your spirits up?

I’m really enjoying all the black humour that’s going around, especially the anti-Trump stuff. I just loved the cartoon of Trump being tested for the virus and saying: ‘I’m negative, it’s really negative, in fact my doctor says I’m the most negative result he’s ever seen!’

I do feel like I’ve got all the information I need though. I think there are times now where you just have to turn it all off - you can get information overload. We tell some of the family members to put their phones away. It’s good to be informed, but you can overdo it too.

I’m amazed at the creative stuff people have been doing and showing on Facebook too. I’ve got three grandchildren and the amazing stuff they’re coming up with is really impressive.

Music is really important as well - thank god for Netflix and Spotify is all I can say.

Dr John Benseman of Blockhouse Bay

Dr John Benseman of Blockhouse Bay

What have you enjoyed most about lockdown so far?

Probably like a lot of people, I’ve been quite despairing of where the world is heading of late. I have a sociology background, so I’ve always been interested in how and why people change opinions and their behaviour. I’ve always been fascinated by what it would take to change our behaviour on a large scale - to save the planet really. I do see signs of optimism now with what has happened. The big question is how much of these changes will be sustained and how much will we go back into old habits? Can we use this to reorient the whole world for a viable future? One of the things that stood out for me was a Guardian article about the water clearing up and the fish (coming back) in Venice within about three or four days of (the city) closing down. I thought my god, we can do this.

I think things like professional sport will never be the same. I don’t know what will emerge out of that, but I don’t think it will go back to what it was. I think this will be a real opportunity to reassess what’s viable. I just think this is an extraordinary wake up call on all sorts of levels.

How are you/how often are you keeping in touch with others?

We’re trying to Skype - or whatever system people have got - a set of friends every day or second day. We started off with friends overseas and now we’re doing friends three kilometres away. The technology is just amazing. I think some relationships within our wider family have been a bit lazy, shall we say, and suddenly they have changed quite dramatically in a couple of cases. There are some weird impacts out there. The question is will they be sustained, or will we just wake up like it was a bad dream and carry on the way we were?

What are you missing most?

Not seeing people physically and touching grandchildren – hugging them. That would be number one. Eventually not being able to move outside our bubble physically, but that’s a smaller price to pay.

What long shelved project are you reviving for the lockdown?

Fixing the hole in the deck will be one. I have a workshop out the back, so I’ll get in there once it gets a bit colder and there’s a bit of rain.

What has surprised you most about the lockdown?

Last Sunday (29 Feb) I was outside compiling a family timeline and sitting there on my own I was astounded by the amount of noise in the neighbourhood. There were kids yelling and yahooing and people were mowing lawns – it was incredibly loud, unlike any other time. I have a thing about watching neighbours’ kids come home from school and then you never see them again. But suddenly all the kids in the neighbourhood were out and running around, there was music playing. It was just amazing - it was like someone had flipped a switch.