Tucker, Stephen Matthew Interview

Erica Tenquist. I’m interviewing Stephen Matthew Tucker. The subject is Covid-19 and the effects on him and his family. Over to you, Stephen.

Thank you. So Steve Tucker; I live in Havelock North, and I guess my history in Hawke’s Bay stems back to holidaying here as a child. I remember back when I was … I guess early, early, early days before I was ten … we used to holiday at the Arataki Caravan Park, and I remember holidaying for a number of years, and then I ended up living here in Hawke’s Bay. We holidayed here a lot because my sister actually got a job here in Hawke’s Bay and married a local.

As a child I grew up in Wellington but we holidayed here; and when my sister moved here my parents then retired to Hawke’s Bay. And I was living in Auckland at the time and we’d had our first child, and I said that I never wanted to bring children up in Auckland, so we moved to Hawke’s Bay. That was when my first child was one, so that was in 2003 we moved to Hawke’s Bay. Moved here predominantly for lifestyle, to get away from the big city and bring the kids up in a, I guess a quieter part of the country. And, yeah, so I’ve lived in Hawke’s Bay since 2003.

In relation to some of things that I … I guess remember about Hawke’s Bay that relate to Covid and where we’re at now … I guess I don’t have a big memory of things like SARS [Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome] and other pandemics that I guess have been a potential; or the viruses. I obviously remember them being raised on the news and that sort of thing, but I guess I was of the mindset that we’re in a modern world, and these things would be sorted before they ever became an issue.

In relation to Covid this year, I guess I was still a little bit in the dark in the early days, sort of through February when it was starting to take off and hit the media. I was actually away in Christchurch for a field hockey Masters tournament in late February, and it was starting to hit the news then; and then came back to Hawke’s Bay, and we were due to be going to Beach Hop which is an American car festival, and lots of stuff due to happen through March; but we ended up going into the lockdown, obviously fairly quickly.

And where was Beach Hop?

Beach Hop was going to be up in Whangamata. And once the news started to come out and there was talk around the government making some changes around lockdown – I actually had coffee at Hawthorne Coffee on Napier Road in the morning, and there was a gentleman there that was in the medical industry. And he said that his understanding was that at midday that day, there’d be an announcement from government that we were going into lockdown. So with that I spoke to my wife; and we actually had family friends that we met in France – in 2015 we actually went and lived in France for a year, and we met a Kiwi family over there – and their son, this year, had come out and was at Victoria University, so his family were still back in France and he was out studying, So when we heard that there was going to be possibly a lockdown, I ended up going to Wellington that morning to pick him up and bring him back to Hawke’s Bay, because obviously with no family here, if lockdown had occurred he would’ve been potentially stranded. So we didn’t quite know what the time-frames were, and I think at that point they gave us forty-eight hours before the lockdown took place. So we ended up with another student with us during lockdown. He was nineteen years old and he spent the entire lockdown period with us and also a few weeks after lockdown. So yeah, in the end of the day it happened rather quickly, I guess.

What did you give him to do to keep him occupied?

Yeah, well it was quite interesting early on; and as a family dynamic we’ve got two daughters, both teenagers, and Havelock North High School that they’re at were really well geared up for online study. And with us living in France for a year, both of the girls did online study anyway, Correspondence School through New Zealand. So they would get up, Havelock North High School was all geared up ready to go. And Alex, our French student, he is studying at Victoria University and they weren’t as well prepared as far as doing online courses. So I guess for Alex, early on he really struggled with being away from family and the unknown, and as much as we knew Alex and took him into our family, we’d only really met him five or six times before he ended up living with us. So I guess during lockdown, a lot of it was Alex and the two girls I guess getting to know each other better; so I guess they caught up; we spent time with Alex, catching up and getting to know him. We set up a computer in the lounge, which isn’t normally there because I was doing some work on it, and the kids played video games; they played Fortnite as a game on the computer and they were able to connect through that with other people. So again, for Alex who didn’t really know anyone in Hawke’s Bay, he actually started to connect with our family friends during lockdown, because the kids were all playing [speaking together] computer games.

It would help his English?

His English is brilliant ’cause he’s a Kiwi. He left New Zealand twelve years ago; so he was seven when he left New Zealand, so his English is fine. But he did help because Abigail, our daughter, is studying French and Spanish, so he was able to help Abby with her French and Spanish. But yeah, so Alex I guess just slotted in to the family; we ended up accessing a guitar for him because he loved the guitar, so we managed to get a guitar and he spent a lot of time playing the guitar.

Did you go to work, or were you at home?

No, life for us really didn’t change significantly, because we both work from home anyway, so I was probably busier during lockdown in regards to work, because I was doing other things and looking at other marketing initiatives, just trying to ensure we still had a regular income through the business. So I was probably busier during lockdown than I would be normally. So lockdown for us, as far as my wife and I go … it was largely life as normal, other than the fact we generally go out every day and have coffee; because we work from home we get out. So obviously we couldn’t do that, so other than heading out for coffee and having the kids around, it it was pretty much life as normal.

Does your firm have a name?

Yeah, my company is called Valuit. I’ve got a couple of others I work in as well, but Valuit is my main business, and we do a specialist area of property work for property investors. And we operate around the country; so we have to get access into properties which obviously we couldn’t do, so that did take a fairly big hit during Covid. And again when we had the second lockdown in Auckland, obviously we couldn’t continue operations in Auckland.

If you’re going to Auckland, how would you usually travel?

A mixture of flying or driving – it really depends.

So it precluded you doing that?

Yeah, I mean exactly. I mean I haven’t travelled at all this year, which is really unusual … so since lockdown. You know, whereby normally we would’ve had a holiday by now, we would have travelled – there’s been none of that, so you know, the last time that I was anywhere other than home was back in February, you know, which is unusual for me. But even this year – I mean we were planning on heading to Europe at the end of the year for Christmas; that’s obviously not happening. But even our local plans this year over Christmas – we’re really not planning on doing anything. And it’s not because of financial … it’s nothing like that; it’s probably what Covid has done for us, and talking to people I find this a lot; they’re actually just looking at relaxing a lot more in general in life. And I’m sort of looking at Christmas and thinking, ’Well, I’m quite happy just to stay in Hawke’s Bay and enjoy being at home.’

What about the French [New Zealand] boy?

So Alex found it really tough during lockdown, and it was interesting having him in the house because it was a dynamic that we didn’t know, you know, we don’t understand him, and him as a person; so we couldn’t read him, we couldn’t read his emotions. And he actually really struggled at times and had a couple of breakdowns emotionally while he was with us. And for him, being nineteen, away from home, in a foreign land with people he didn’t know very well … he really did struggle. And his family said, “Look, we’re happy to put you on a plane and get you home; if you want to give it all away we’ve got no problems with that.” But he made the decision to stay in New Zealand and finish the year, so at the end of this year – which we’re almost there as far as study goes – he’s planning on doing a bit of a road trip around New Zealand and then going back to France for Christmas.

Has he got his driver’s licence?

No, he hasn’t got his driver’s licence, but he’s got no qualms in hopping on a bus. He’s done a bit of travelling around on the bus, but … yeah, so he is heading back to France for Christmas; and who knows if he’ll come back next year to do his second year of study. I think he will, but I do know that he’s found it very tough this year, and Covid is a huge part of that. And really what affected him the most through the whole thing was just the unknown; it was the uncertainty of when the university was going to start back; it was the uncertainty of, was it all going to be online again; it was just all the uncertainty that Covid created that really impacted his emotional state really.

Sport; so hockey is your thing, is it?

Yeah, field hockey.

So how is the hockey going now?

Hockey has just finished for the year. Normally we would start hockey … so I played Masters in February, and that’s really the beginning of the hockey season. But obviously the club – and I coach at a high school level for Havelock High School – that was all put on hold, and we started … I think it was May when we started this year instead of March … and we’ve just finished the season now, so they’ve pushed the season out a month. It normally finishes in August, and it finished in September.

Summer sports?

Yeah, summer sports; so for me I don’t really do any summer sport, it’s more about supporting the girls. But at this stage, you know, there’s really been no impact on the summer sports at all … perhaps a little bit later starting training. My oldest [eldest] daughter does competitive surf life saving. Normally they probably would’ve started training by now, and they’re just starting to get into it; but I think that’s perhaps a big thing with Covid, is everything’s just sort of been delayed and …

Pushed?

Yeah, yeah. And I think people are a lot more relaxed about these things as well.

So when you came down here, the children were too young to know one place from the other; did you find it easy to get into schools and things like that?

Yeah, we never had an issue with anything like that. I mean, probably the hardest thing with moving from Auckland to Hawke’s Bay was we’d spent eight years in Auckland; originally we’re from Wellington, and we’d spent eight years in Auckland – my wife and I – and it’d taken a long time in the city to build a network or friendship group around us. And what we found is that once we had Jessica, our eldest daughter, because we were involved in the baby groups etcetera we started to build a network. And then I’d had enough of Auckland, and I came home one day and I said, “We’re out of here, I’ve had enough.” So we really came to Hawke’s Bay and … the big difference in Hawke’s Bay is that within six months we had a huge network; and, you know, everything was just a completely different pace of life to the city. Getting into the doctors wasn’t an issue; getting the kids into kindies and school was never an issue. I remember the kindy – they said, “Oh look, there might be a few week[s’] wait before she could get in”; but it was literally days, you know. It was just … yeah. So we’ve never had an issue with anything like that. Nowadays …

What about health-wise?

Yeah, look again, with health the nicest thing was that when we moved here you could go to the doctor, and it would be a half-hour to a one hour exercise, whereas in Auckland you would go to the doctor and it was a half-day exercise; one, because you had to travel so far in traffic; two, you ended up waiting at the doctor’s surgeries for so long. So you know, things like that in Hawke’s Bay have always been easier. I don’t feel that we’ve missed out on health care in any way, shape or form. My eldest daughter had issues with urinary tract infections, so she spent a little bit of time in Starship [Children’s Hospital] when we were in Auckland; but again that was all under control by the time we moved here, and it was actually a chiropractor here in Hawke’s Bay that eventually fixed her urinary tract issues. She had some other form of treatment that we tried, so I don’t know that there’s anything in relation to health care or anything like that that we’ve missed out on, here in Hawke’s Bay.

And you wouldn’t move back to Wellington?

We would; we would. And the reason we would is that both of our girls are looking at … I mentioned earlier that we spent a year in France in 2015 … and both our girls are open to travel. So Jessica, our daughter, she’s eighteen at the moment; so next year she’s looking at going to America to study. She’s picked up a scholarship for sport – she plays field hockey – so she’s looking at going to America next year to study and play hockey.

That’s if Covid hasn’t kept the borders closed …

Exactly. Exactly – that is a very interesting thing at the moment, and I’ll come back to that. Yeah, I think if you look at the likes of America and where it’s at with Covid at the moment, it’s … it’s big, you know – the numbers are huge. As are Europe again, and I see the UK [United Kingdom] had the largest single day … spike that they’d had. Look, my take on Covid is … look when it first came out and we were put into lockdown, as a business owner I panicked a little bit; and the wage subsidy that the government offered was great because it really did ease the tension and the pressure. So that was great; but I guess my take on the whole thing has changed a little bit as time has gone by, and I look at things like the States now and my daughter going there next year; it’s August next year before she’d be due there, and I think that even if we’re still in a position where Covid is a factor, we can’t stop forever … is my take. And I think that by August next year – you know, people can travel out of the country now, it’s often getting back that is the harder bit – so my take is that August next year, really, it’s all on.

Should be suitable …

Yeah, yeah. She can go to the States; I’ll go with her. If it means that I have to come back and go into quarantine for a couple of weeks, so be it; I can work out of quarantine. But I don’t really see it as being a major factor going forward. It’s certainly applied pressure in trying to organise all of this, because we’re having to deal with the universities at the moment, and they’ve been largely shut. Obviously it’s their summer break, but also, they’re uncertain where they’re at with everything. And in the States all of the … well, majority of the university sport has all been cancelled for this semester, so … yeah, that’s added some complexities around organising that due to Covid, but I think at the end of the day you can’t stop …

We’ve got to learn to live with it.

We do have to learn to live with it. And I question whether at the moment we’re doing the right thing in New Zealand, with having our borders so locked down; and whether or when a vaccine is going to be available, because we’re going to be so reliant on a vaccine. So I guess there’s so many unknowns around Covid, around the future; and I think that’s where again I sort of said earlier, I’m a lot more relaxed around it now, and I think, ‘What will be, will be.’

But in talking with a lot of my friends, they’re looking at life a lot more holistically and saying, “Well, do we really need all the stress and pressure? Do we need, you know, the flash cars?” You know, “How much do we actually need in life as opposed to just coming back and relaxing and living a simpler lifestyle.”

And learning how to cook. [Chuckle]

Yeah, learning how to cook. And that was an interesting one through Covid; we eat out a lot, we really do, it’s part of our culture, and it’s a huge part of our family. And Abby actually works in a restaurant, so eating out for us was probably one of the hardest things during Covid … the fact that we couldn’t do it. Once our alert levels changed and takeaway was available from restaurants and that sort of thing, we actually had a really fun night where we got takeaways from our local restaurant where Abby works; brought them home, and we set the house up like the restaurant and had takeaways, which was the restaurant food. So we had a bit of fun with that and I think a lot of people did those sorts of things. We had friends that did ‘Formal Friday’ at home; so they would all dress up in suits and ties, and dresses and that sort of thing, and have dinner at home on a Friday night as ‘Formal Friday’. I think a lot of people did that. Alex, our Frenchman that [who] was staying with us … he did a lot of cooking. He had a few dishes that he used to make; carbonara was one of them; he also did a vegan chilli. So yeah, everyone helped out.

The nice thing with cooking too, was a lot of businesses really looked at doing things differently – the fresh fruit producers and those sorts of things, and we ended up ordering in a box of fresh fruit and vegetables – we generally got it delivered each week and it was fantastic, and we had no excuse not to eat healthy during lockdown.

So yeah, it was really good., and you just adapted really. You had time to cook ‘cause you were home; you weren’t going anywhere. It was good family time, that’s the thing; you’re locked up in your house, it’s good family time. It was nice to be able to get out and walk; that was really good, and my wife and I walk every day anyway; we try and go for around about a seven k [kilometre] walk every morning at six. And what we found was – there were so many people out walking, and it actually got to the point where we sort of avoided walking – ‘cause we started walking later ’cause there was no need to be up at six; so we started walking a bit later. But it got so busy that we went back to our normal time when everyone was still in bed, ’cause honestly, some of the streets got so busy, [chuckle] ‘specially later in the afternoon – there was just people out walking everywhere. And it was sort of, I guess, people’s new thing, their escape; their, you know … get out of home. So I’m very pleased that in New Zealand they didn’t stop us from getting out walking. Yeah.

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Interviewer:  Erica Tenquist

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