Ohakune has a fire siren. I’m not sure if that’s the correct name for it but it’s a siren that sounds to call volunteer firefighters, on which rural New Zealand relies, to attend an incident. It’s been a bit busy lately, primarily grass fires in the summer heat. I learned the other day that it only stops when someone unlocks the door to the fire station and, as it rarely sounds for more than a couple of minutes, it’s astounding that someone gets their arse into gear that fast. One of our neighbours is a volunteer and when the siren sounded yesterday afternoon it was only about a minute before his car shot down the street.
I envy those who can get out of the door quickly. This morning I cycled to fetch bread. You’d think it’s as simple as getting on the bike and riding off but, no. I pull on socks and trainers, carefully double knotting the laces to make sure they won’t get in the way of gears or spokes. Then I fetch my jacket, which I’ve left in the bedroom. Helmet next, but my ponytail is too high so I need to fix that. Where are my sunglasses? In the kitchen.
Now, have I got everything? Rucksack to carry bread in. Card to pay with. Don’t forget a mask (still compulsory here and I have previous, getting to the shop and realising I haven’t picked one up before I left). We no longer have to scan Covid QR codes wherever we go so I don’t need my phone, but I’ll take it anyway in case of emergency (I did once get a puncture and had to wheel my bike home, calling Neil so he didn’t worry that I was in a ditch somewhere). Gloves. It’s not cold but what if I fall? (Again, I have previous here.) Don’t want to scrape my hands (if a single injured finger is hard enough to cope with, road-rashed palms would be a nightmare).
Right, I’m ready. Hang on – have I got tissues? Don’t need keys because Neil is here, so I can leave the door unlocked. But I can’t cycle with unprotected lips so I need lip balm. Oh, and I’m not wearing cycle pants so where’s that gel seat? Finally I can get my bike off the rack and ride away.
See what I mean? And it’s not only when I cycle. If I’m going out for a walk it takes me almost as long. I blame the Girl Guides – I have to be prepared for anything. And my mum. She drilled into me not to leave the house without a tissue, and maybe a coat in case it turns cold. And an umbrella – it might rain. (Living in New Zealand, yes, I do sometimes have an umbrella and sunglasses in my bag.)
These islands are subject to many things that may mean we have to leave the house suddenly and a general thought is that you should be able to do so with a few minutes’ notice. If that knock came on my door I’d probably just give up and lie on my back kicking legs and arms like an upturned tortoise. I should have a grab bag, I know, and I often think about organising one. But the main reason I haven’t is I can’t even begin to think about what I might need in such circumstances and if I could I’m not sure I have a bag big enough to carry it all. If I’m being honest I’d rather make like an ostrich and pretend it might not happen.
There’s no way I could ever be a volunteer firefighter. For one thing I’m nowhere near fit or strong enough to be able to carry all that kit. And by the time I got to the station either the engine would be returning from the job or whatever was burning would have done so completely and be nothing but a pile of smoking ashes.
This morning I got halfway down the road and realised I didn’t have my water bottle.