Oh rats – On an island in the sun, there’ll be no playing and having fun

Dr Richard Swainson runs Hamilton’s last DVD rental store and is a weekly contributor to the Waikato Times history page.

The Holiday

OPINION: The holiday had been planned for months. No, strike that. A holiday had been planned for years.

When you are self-employed, taking sustained time off always seems a luxury that cannot be afforded. No one mandates three weeks of paid rest and recreation. You are trapped in a cage of your own design.

Thank goodness for a rational perspective. ‘Twas good fortune to marry a woman who once trained as a travel agent. Moreover, she was also someone with an actual job, catapulting us improbably into the middle class.

At age 48 I was initiated into international adventure. The ideal became one new country a year and all continents before dotage or death. Then came the virus. Eventually, as Covid loosened its grip, the bottom of the South Island became a realistic substitute.

2022, with its concentration of death, despair and inconsistent All Black results, demanded something a tad more exotic. Something in keeping with Plan A. How about Rarotonga?

* Free RATs make economic sense
* Lessons from our family holiday in Covid-ravaged Australia – It’s not all bad
* Cook Islands travel bubble: What you need to know before you go

A Week of Anticipation

My theory, grounded in whatever remains of the Protestant Work Ethic, is that you have to first earn your break. Before the release of the South Pacific sunshine, the cocktails on the beach and the swimming with turtles, one final burst of energy on the home front was required.

There were volunteers to corral, material to be written and a couple of extracurricular tasks. On the Saturday night, a celebratory drink for a recently deceased friend. On the Sunday afternoon, attendance at a pantomime in Cambridge. Months earlier, before Rarotonga was booked, I had agreed to review Aladdin – The True-ish Story, as a favour to a friend.

Just a Tickle in the Throat

When Sunday dawned the sore throat was understandable. Eight hours of sustained drinking had predictable consequences. Still, fatigue and hangover were not to keep the intrepid theatre reviewer from his calling.

The panto was sheer delight. Spirited performances, a witty script, vigorous pacing, a fresh variation on a well-worn story. Gaslight Theatre was packed, not a mask in sight. Neither Genie nor Widow Twankey coughed once. And the intermission comestibles were to die for. I exceeded my allotment of complimentary scones by a factor of three. Such gluttony.

Monday morning saw the throat rawer still. Writing through the pain, the review was completed in short order. There were sundry shares on social media.

As the day progressed, energy levels fell. Perhaps this was a two-day hangover? Just to be safe, I decided to forego the weekly screening of the Hamilton Film Society. After all, we were leaving on Friday.

A moral dilemma

Dreams were feverish, temperature variable. Monday night’s sleep – or lack thereof – could not have been worse. Tuesday saw me in a wretched state, a headache raging. A polite but firm enquiry was made of one nostril, then the other. According to RAT, I did not have the virus.

An executive decision was made. I would close the shop immediately, hunker down amongst the sheets and see this flu off. There’s nothing bed rest cannot cure.

After two days of doing next nothing, Thursday saw improvement. Emboldened by the thought of imminent departure, I made a list of last minute, would-be purchases. Paper in hand, half out the door, I bid Janine farewell. Looking up from her work station, she made a most sensible suggestion: “you had better test again”.

Extra RATs had been secured for the task. Certain of the outcome, having not once returned a positive result in five or six attempts, there was no hesitation. Fifteen minutes later I was confident of being in the togs aisle at K-Mart, securing swim wear fashionable enough to wow them on Aitutaki beach.

The two lines were not shy about expressing themselves. I looked at the hunk of plastic with horror. How could our fate hang on such a cheap device? When the news was conveyed to Janine the tears didn’t flow immediately. When I tested positive a second time they came close to gushing.

Should we go on holiday anyway? RATs be damned, we deserve a break! What’s our legal responsibility? Consulting various on-line sites, there appeared to be some wiggle room. It doesn’t say you can’t travel with Covid. It doesn’t say that the Cook Islands requires a negative test. Isn’t everyone there vaccinated? What would be the harm in telling a white lie or two?

It was a moral dilemma. Did we want to be the type of arrogant bourgeois who put themselves before all others? Wasn’t our dream of a Pacific island holiday paramount? Didn’t the tragedy of 2022 override other considerations, validating recreation at all costs? Covid has taken enough from the world, why should it take Rarotonga from the Swainsons?

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

It took maybe three minutes to definitively decide to do the right thing. Resolved, Janine set about the cheery task of cancelling everything. Never before in the field of in-house spending has so much been lost so quickly for so little.

A recent article on Stuff posed a rhetorical question, ‘have we fallen out of love with Air New Zealand‘, citing two-hour wait times. I’m happy to report that my wife’s call was answered within the minute. Inside of another 60 seconds she had both clarity and closure. No, our travel insurance did not cover the eventuality of us getting Covid pre-departure. No, we could not get a refund. Yes, we could rebook, but only at current prices, paying the difference.

Being denied a holiday was insufficient. We also had to pay for what we didn’t receive. Purchasing a flight at a discounted rate, using the airline’s own Airpoints system, delaying insurance until another pay day, all these wise, discrete acts, the decisions of the modestly-incomed, were sins in the eyes of Air New Zealand.

I’m not saying I will never again review a piece of theatre. However, there might have to be a surcharge, reflecting the opportunity cost. $2000 ought to cover it.