91yo learning Māori in lockdown - “I‘m so lucky”
"I'm at school. I don't like notoriety," 91-year-old Val Nicholson says with a laugh when she answers the phone.
What are you studying?
"I'm learning Māori for infants, it's at my level," she chuckles.
I love Val already.
Her daughter Mari Cribb, who lives in Porirua, got in touch a couple of weeks ago to say that she thought her mum was a "hero" who deserved a shout-out for the way she was handling the lockdown.
"She lives on her own in Rotorua and is legally blind. She has inspired me with the way she has kept her mind active. There is no moaning or groaning.
"She's learning Māori on the education TV channel. She has a little book she writes new words in every day. When I called the other day she said tēnā koe."
Val has been quite determined in avoiding entreaties to talk but it's lucky Mari has inherited her mum's spark and persistence.
"I'm a slow learner," Val says when I ask how the TV lessons are going.
I suspect that's not the case for the former teacher, who was very interested to see how the lessons would be taught.
"They (schools) wouldn't have me today... If I can sit in the sun I'm quite approachable."
Val also has her "music appreciation" lesson to attend. She's dragged the stereo and her CDs out and kicks back for a listen. But there's also a bit of "boogie woogie" too.
Her favourite tracks to dance to are from the big swing bands like Glenn Miller and rock n' roll. She throws in some classical for more contemplative study.
No day is complete without physical education, so Val gets in a walk in the afternoon - for about a kilometre. Mari says her mum rockets along.
Then of course there is quite a bit to do around the house - she's washed the exterior (apparently a ladder wasn't needed), tackles the garden and is just starting her big six-weekly clean.
Mari says for a bit more mental exercise her mother "has a ball with the scammers" when they ring to say her wifi or computer is broken - she doesn't have either.
Val lived through the depression, which she remembers vividly, and says times are tough at the moment but it will change.
"There was more social contact back then but financially it was very hard. We had sacks on the floor and we re-used flour bags as tea towels, pillows and the boys' underpants. You lived on what you could get and nothing got wasted. But it did get better and will again."
Val does miss her one day a week volunteering at the op-shop, having cups of tea with people and catching the bus into town but she's very grateful for the people who have been calling, dropping off food and passing by for chats - all from a distance of course.
She's a stickler for following the rules.
"The other big highlight of the day, apart from the Māori lessons, is (Dr) Ashley (Bloomfield) and Jacinda (Ardern). They have a great gift to communicate with the common herd," she says.
"I'm so lucky. I feel so sorry for those families and people who have lost their jobs and who are struggling. I'm glad the government is accentuating kindness. We all need a dose."
She's hoping we can get to level 2 for the economy but worries about the risks.
"That's enough," she says to bring the interview to a close.
"I don't want to preach like old people."
No, but what a great life lesson you are.