On the same day I was having a handsome ribbon and cross pinned on my lapel at Auckland’s Government House, humanity was reeling from the latest atrocity at a school in America.
These two things cannot be reconciled in a world that’s reached the edge of comprehension.
For one morning, though, Lin and I – dressed to the nines in kit rarely subjected to social inspection – stepped into a place of serenity and warmth, hosted by new(ish) Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro.
She seemed born to the role.
She did her bit seemingly oblivious to the personal risk of Covid, relying on eight individuals like me to have taken care not to catch it in weeks leading up to what was probably the biggest day of our lives.
She wore no mask as she addressed us, shook our hands, had the formal photo taken, and in one case anointed a new knight, Sir Chris Farrelly, with a sword, as he knelt on a footstool.
It was equipped with a raised handrail to assist those for whom arthritic knees are more or less de rigeur. Like mine, I mean.
Yes, you read the number of recipients correctly: just eight of us, each with a group of five friends and family. In my case that was Lin, my son Kirk, daughter-in-law Megan and Ollie (12) and Amelia (10).
Covid has forced a rethink of investitures. What was once a grand, much-peopled occasion is split into many small, intimate ones.
The GG did the honours on more than a dozen separate morning and afternoon sessions in Auckland on six days of last week and some this week, hoping she didn’t catch Covid before heading off to represent us at the Queen’s 70th anniversary in the UK.
Everyone involved agrees it’s a better way. The line-up resembling a school prize-giving has gone. Recipients are no longer immediately separated from supporters and led away to be advised on procedure and not see family again until after honours were bestowed.
For our occasion, each group had its own table, set out in a room the size of a grand hotel foyer, looking out to the lawn where Prince William probably did his famous buzzy-bee coming out in 1983.
The day was fine, the grounds of Government House earlier wreathed in mist. The chief organiser said she’d taken pictures of it, such was its arresting beauty.
Speaking of arrests, there were none. We’d been advised anti-government protestors might be at the main gate.
They weren’t, probably on advice from their public relations person that annoying a bunch of citizens about to be anointed is not the best way into the hearts of New Zealanders.
From the moment we arrived after navigating the warren of Mt Eden’s mansions and narrow streets, we were attended by a staff of police, army and government personnel.
They welcomed us like old friends, thanks to an intricate lead-up of emails and snail-mail since the honours were announced last New Year.
After sitting down at our table, I was asked by the chief organiser if I would be the guinea-pig recipient for a rehearsal. Showing was better than telling, she advised us in her briefing.
It was, although something odd happened to my brain after the eight of us were taken out into the entrance hallway to stand under the stern gaze of Her Majesty’s portrait and await the arrival of the Governor-General and her party – I forgot pretty much every detail.
No matter. “Our” sole knight, Sir Chris, went first. None of the rest of us had to kneel, but his encounter was otherwise what we would have to do.
Your name is called and you stand at your table while a man at a lectern reads out the citation on why you’re there.
You step up. There’s a handshake and quiet word from Dame Cindy, the pinning on of your decoration by an Army person, a turn to pose for the photographer and videographer, and another quick word.
I blurted out something inappropriate about my surprise anyone would want to reward a journalist, but she reassured me journalism has a vital role in society.
My photo session was slightly different. She didn’t put her arm around me, which was appropriate given my lifelong aloofness from “the system”.
High tea followed, then back out to the world – to hear Auckland had just had its ninth street slaying of autumn. For a moment or three, though, nothing like that figured in our consciousness.