After decades of rain, Saturday was fine, leading to a great rush to get outside things done. As I painted the window surrounds- our house is largely held together with paint- I could hear the neighbour’s lawnmower hitting hard objects with great frequency, followed by the motor dying and some cursing, before the cycle repeated itself. When I saw him the next day he reported mowing innumerable toys which had been left outside by his children and become covered by the grass. ‘That’s it. I’m not buying them any more,’ he said. ‘Even if I felt like it, it would mean going to the Warehouse.’

I sympathised. Going to the Warehouse at this time of year is a little like experiencing a foretaste of hell, and the children’s toy section with the garish packaging and the surrealism of the objects, is particularly fearsome.

In fact, this time of year generally has a surreal quality. A handful of people celebrate the birth of Christ, that distant historical figure. The midwinter Klaus with his pine log on the fire has been dealt to by the Americans and become Father Christmas popping down chimneys with the latest Barbie. The end of the work year is celebrated by some, but as a mate in a bookstore said, ‘I work in retail. We don’t do holidays.’

People are under financial stress. Caroline reported watching a steady stream of low-income people going into DTR for a high interest loan. Most of us have got too much stuff anyway, the volatile weather is probably here to stay and Aleppo is unthinkable – no stable there.

Meanwhile, Health and Safety becomes an imperial monster, overseeing all activities. Christ and his family and Klaus would be stopped in their tracks for not having a risk assessment. A science teacher told me she’s no longer allowed to do experiments and can’t go into the corridor in her lab coat for fear of cross contamination. As well, kids don’t know how to strike a match and the boys haven’t got the strength in their thumbs to click a lighter. A ridiculously large sign has appeared on the Blackball swimming bath fence warning of the chlorine hazard contained therein. As well, an assembly point has been designated on the swathe of grass outside, in the event of a tsunami sweeping the pool or the water catching fire.

But there are still moments of hope. The school choir I had to quickly get together gelled when the girl with an expressionless face suddenly volunteered to help out the soloist; another friend’s teenage son’s father has turned up in his life with good results; someone wrote to me with some gracious comments about some short stories; the theatre group had a lovely pot luck tea in the storm; and I have a substantial history of India since independence to see me through the holiday period.

Finally, a Buddhist mate has been on a six day retreat at which the participants asked one another repeatedly, ‘Who are you?’ By the end of it he’d felt great love and compassion for his classmates. I lay in bed this morning imagining what I might have said over the six days. It’s an interesting exercise for us schiz’s.

Take care and avoid the Warehouse.