Waiting

There’s a movie from the fifties called On the Beach, based on the novel of the same name by Neville Shute, which is basically one of the first movies made about the end of the civilised world.

It stars Gregory Peck as a US submarine commander and set in my home town, Melbourne. Peck and his crew have been marooned here after a catastrophic war that left every inhabitant of the northern hemisphere dead. A cloud of radiation is slowly drifting south, and killing every living thing in its wake.

Life in Melbourne goes on. They watch and track as the cloud that’ll bring their death comes ever closer, encroaching upon the north of Australia, and coming ever nearer. People react in different ways, knowing a death they can’t escape is getting closer every day. Some go to the edge. They party hard or partake of extreme activities they’d have never considered before. Others fling themselves into relationships. Others again, unwilling to face the inevitable, take their own life.

It’s quite a good movie. Very interesting.

I recall it now because there’s a sense of that with COVID-19 encroaching upon us. It’s not as deadly as that, nothing is guaranteed, but there’s been the same kind of slow-motion, creeping observation of it, with little we can do to stop it.

Its epicentre was Wuhan in China, and slowly it’s radiated out from there, spreading further every day. It’s taken hold in some places, and in other places, it’s been beaten back to a degree. It’s far from contained, still spreading, and the worst is yet to come.

Though there are still only a few hundred cases here, it feels as if it’s finally reached us. I think that’s a general perception. Last weekend I was out for 11 hours in public eating and drinking at The Stokehouse and the Espy. I was surrounded by people and gave no thought to it. On Sunday I went to a 50th birthday party, and there were over 70 people there. As I told Donna this morning, lucky your party was last week – this week would be problematic. And, you know, if the party was tomorrow I reckon a good number wouldn’t come.

The NBA is suspended, and the Melbourne Grand Prix cancelled. A cricket match at the SCG last night played to empty stands. And from Monday all gatherings of over 500 people have been banned.

At the supermarket today it was chaos. A couple of weeks back it was eerie because there seemed so few people wandering the aisles, but it had the feeling of the calm after the storm had swept through emptying the shelves. Today there were people everywhere, and trollies filled to the brim, though many shelves were empty.

I bought what I could. It was all quite disturbing, even unsavoury. I scolded myself for not taking the opportunity last week to buy more when I could. I refused to buy into the panic though, out of pride and disdain. And so when I might have purchased more than a single bag of pasta or rice or a single tin of tomatoes, I stuck to just the one. I’ve not seen a roll of toilet paper for weeks, let alone been able to purchase one.

I’m in a reasonable position, nonetheless. I’m single so what I’ve got goes further, and after going hungry when I was broke, I’d got into the habit of buying reserves of things anyway. It means I have plenty of rice and pasta and sugar and butter. I have long life milk enough for a few weeks. I have coffee, meat in the freezer, as well as a few meals there ready to eat. I even have more than a dozen eggs and plenty of cheese of all sorts. Rigby’s dog food gets delivered, but still, I have ready to go. And just by chance, I’d stocked up on dunny paper the week before the paranoia hit, so I’m good there, too. For what it counts I’ve also got about 150 bottles of wine and maybe 20 stubbies of beer. I’m good enough.

On Monday we’ve been asked to work from home to trial our readiness for it. I figure by the end of the week, one way or another, it will become routine – and so it should. I think it’s sensible now to minimise the risk of infection in the hope that it halts the spread of it. Better to act sooner than later.

There’s a strange sensation in the air. A ran into friends as I was going to the shops this morning and we had a laugh at it, but we’re all caught up in it now because we must be. There’s a bunker mentality and a great sense of uncertainty. None of us has experienced anything like this before. What does it mean? What will happen? There’s a level of fear attached to it.

I can foresee a day soon when most places are shut and the streets near empty, but in every house huddled families keeping themselves occupied and isolated. Imagine that! And imagine what it must feel like to be one of those in the high-risk categories – the elderly and unwell. It must be terribly scary for them, and for their loved ones. I guess we all should be scared a little.

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