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John and Jill

A day in the life of John and Jill

We’ve all had to temporarily change our social habits over recent weeks, as we get up to speed with video calling each other, but for John and Jill Wilson, there’s an unexpected hiccup to all of this close angle camera work.

“It’s not flattering for the elderly, I’ll say that,” John jokes over Zoom from he and Jill’s home.

At 83 and 81 respectively, John and Jill say the Covid-19 crisis is unlike anything they’ve previously experienced. The devastating Christchurch earthquake of 2011 is as close as it gets, they reckon. Born in the late 1930s, both of them have the odd memory of World War Two and the polio epidemic of 1947. “But we were young children, that’s all we knew,” John says.

The modern conveniences of 2020 mean that the pair have managed to create online versions of their normal day-to-day life. Their ten grandchildren and three step grandchildren are all keeping in touch via FaceTime, “at a higher rate than they might normally have heard from them,” Jill grins.

Jill has a wine group that’s been meeting up every second Friday for the past 30 years, and there was no way Covid-19 was slowing that down, with the group now reconvening over Zoom every fortnight instead. John’s weekly walks with his group of friends, followed by a long lunch, have turned into frequent phone calls and email chains, and he’s even found a solution to missing his trips to the Christchurch art gallery – overseas galleries like The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York are offering virtual tours around their exhibitions.

For the past nine months, John and Jill have been living at the Diana Isaac Retirement Village in Christchurch, one of the largest Ryman facilities in New Zealand. Almost a full week before New Zealand began its official lockdown on March 25, the residents at Ryman establishments were asked to stay home. It was mental adjustment at first for the Wilsons, knowing they couldn’t leave the village. But over the past six weeks of lockdown, they’ve got to know both their fellow residents and the expansive grounds very well. “We now know the village back to front and sideways,” Jill says. “And we’ve got to know people we’ve never even met before. Everyone chats here, from a distance. I’ve noticed in the last few weeks, everyone is far more chatty and wanting to talk to other people. They’re a pretty amazing lot here.”

When they retired, both John and Jill learnt the value of keeping a daily schedule. “There are times of the day when time can drag, but I think if you’ve got a routine, it helps,” John says. Their daily routine is about keeping active, with at least one walk around the village a day, but also about keeping informed from reliable news sources. They start the day with the 7am Morning Report, check in with the 1pm news conferences over a cup of coffee, then sit down for a glass of wine for the 6pm news. They might split into another room in order to catch up on their favourite TV shows – John’s a Trackside man, Jill loves The Chase. But the combination of routine, plus daily check ins with members of their community, are working for both of them. “You really do have to try and get through this, and think of all the things you can look forward to.”

This December, John and Jill will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary, “so hopefully we’re out of lockdown by the end of the year,” Jill says.

“You’ve got to just make the most of it,” John says of this unprecedented time. “At our stage, if you’ve got good health, you’re pretty lucky.”