Over to you, big fella


Things I haven’t written about I’d have loved writing about:

Euro 2020. I didn’t watch it all but followed it closely, and it was a point of constant discussion with my mates. I’m glad Italy won.

Ash Barty winning Wimbledon. This was big news and a very popular victory in Oz, and I sense, in other places, too. I didn’t watch it – I was in bed asleep – but it’s so nice to have her win.

Then there are random footy matches, the Boomers beating the USA in a trial match ahead of the Olympics (I watched that), and the NBA finals too, which I’ve watched all the way, though. Then there’s the Sydney ‘lockdown’ and the incompetence of Gladys, and ingoing shitshow, which is the federal government and the vaccine rollout – and even the lockdown we find ourselves in from today, for the fifth time, thanks to the NSW shambles.

All of that has been crowded out by my health, but it doesn’t mean my mind doesn’t touch on other things, that my curiosity and interest isn’t piqued by other events. In fact, I’ve made a vow to myself to stay engaged, no matter what the prognosis is.

I should get the prognosis next week. I’m preparing for the worst, though it doesn’t alter my attitude. I’ll fight it every inch of the way, by whatever means. It doesn’t feel right to simply accept the fate they map out for me. That’s too meek, and the struggle is an essential part of this. And I think it’s what I do best: fight.

In actual fact, I’ve been feeling better the last couple of days. I was wary of it initially: what could it mean? I wondered if it was a sign that the cancer had gone deeper into me. I considered that the recent signs weren’t so positive and that the biopsy may have livened up the cancer. That’s the danger of being an overthinker. In the end, I twigged. It was because the cold I’d been carrying for months – which seemed wrapped up in the carcinoma – had gone. Seemed strange but welcome nonetheless because it eases the pressure, and therefore the pain.

I published something to Facebook announcing my situation, and the response has been incredible, both online and off. I’ve had so many messages of support and help that it’s really quite humbling. Everyone is rallying around, to the point that some of the concerns I had now seem irrelevant.

I also spoke extensively with work, both to the senior manager and HR. I’m going to run out of money long before my treatment ends, and so we’re exploring options to take up the income protection insurance I have on my superannuation account. There’ll still be a gap, and it only pays 75%, but it’s better than nil income.

The other day, speaking to a mate, I commented on God, using the other C-word (both are in common parlance lately). He said, be careful, now’s not the time to pisss him off – though I figure he’s long been pissed off at me given all the shit he’s dumped my way.

Last night, we got to talking about Job in quite a playful way. I have a long sympathy for Job as I once wrote an essay on him when I was in love with a Jewish lady – that’s another story. I know the story well, how he’s treated like a plaything, miserably taunted by God in a running bet with the devil. He cops most of it, but in the end, he spits the dummy. Why the fuck have you done this to me he demands of God?

It’s all a test, which is a bit cruel, but ultimately he has restored to him everything that was taken.

I have a grudging respect for the Old Testament God, though he’s an unashamed prick at times. He comes off as a much kindlier figure in the sequel.

Anyway, I’m kind of hoping something similar happens to me. I’ve been tested up the wazoo – but I could do with a miracle and get back everything I lost and more.

More fun


I had a dream last night that I was young, and I had a gang of friends who were cool but who were also all into science. I was smart and resourceful, funny and determined. There was a girl I liked I wanted to get the attention of, so I contrived situations where we would encounter each other that would show me to advantage. She was elusive, though, the type that appreciates her own worth and wants you to work to get her. I was up for the challenge, and the dream was all about that, like a fun TV show from the seventies or eighties, with a bit of a Ferris Bueller vibe.

The whole vibe was fun and over the top – episodic adventures and a laugh track. The character I was, you just knew I’d eventually win out. The rest of it was about books and music – I was into that, and so was my desire. And my hip friends had that geeky touch that made them interesting. In one scene, they’re watching an old Barbra Streisand movie set in an earlier era. Throughout, they’re busily searching a college equivalent of Google looking up historical and cultural references – which is the sort of thing I do.

Afterwards, I realised that’s the very thing I miss most: fun. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt it. And, it seemed, in its absence, I had sold myself short. The Bueller character was in me, and maybe it’d been me in an earlier incarnation, but in recent times I’ve been bogged down in the here and now.

It’s not as if times are particularly fun these days. Covid, and repeated lockdowns, tends to take the edge off anything whimsical. The inability to travel doesn’t help, on top of which we live in an era of dreadful governments and politics, and I find it hard not to be wound up by injustice and corruption. Then there’s work.

The answer, it seems, is to let go of some of those things. I’ll always be politically and culturally engaged, but I can take it less personally. I can’t do much about Covid, but it will end. Then there’s work, and that’s something I can act on.

Work has been a problem for a while, and in the last few days – since my scare – it’s just seemed wrong, though I couldn’t explain why. Then it became clear: there’s no fun in it. And how can there be when you feel undervalued and exploited? Even the work I do, which I do competently, isn’t the sort of work I like best. I like to create and build, but all I’m doing is managing. I take an intellectual approach to problem-solving, which is out of step with the prevailing orthodoxy – just do it. The result is half-arsed results that drive me crazy.

After wondering all this time, I decided that all I need to do is find something that fits my definition of fun – challenging, creative, expansive, engaging. It’s not as easy as all that, but at least I have a sense of what’s gone wrong. That’s something to aim for because I’m not going to get it in my current workplace.

It might sound a funny thing, but I think I need to believe in myself as that person. Be bold again, be adventurous, don’t set limits and, as I always did before, bite off more than I can chew. I lost a lot of that going through the dire years of struggle, and ever since (though many still think me just as strident and confident as ever). I’ve become a lot more serious and solemn when I want to be light-hearted and charming again.

Get healthy. Get fit and beautiful. Don’t get bogged down in the negatives, go out and find some positives. Have fun. That’s the goal from here on in.

Venturing outside


There’s every excuse to stay indoors at the moment, and not just because the weather is cooling. We’re back in lockdown, which means a range of restrictions, including wearing a mask any time you step out the front door. I hate that and tend to think it’s a bit of overkill when all you’re doing is walking the dog, but I go along with it. It’s easier to stay indoors, and for a fleeting moment this morning, I even considered staying in bed the whole day. Why the hell not?

I got up, though, and followed the usual routine, right up to the moment when I decided on impulse to take Rigby for a morning walk despite all reasons why not to.

We have our routines, and he knows them. Every dog does. Come mid-afternoon, he’ll come nuzzling at me as if to say, come on, dad, it’s time for my walk! It’s the same with meal times, of course, and there are a dozen other triggers that will set him off. Nonetheless, he’s thrilled to add to the routine, and so when I said the magic word ‘walk’, his ears peaked, and eyes drilled into me enquiringly. Did you just say walk? Really? Are we going for a walk? Tell me we are. Tell me, tell me! Yes, yes? Come on, dad! Oh yes, yippee, we’re going on a walk!

By this point the gentle enquiry has become whirling, impatient joy which always gives me pleasure too.

Off we went. It was about 9.45. The streets were quiet. No surprise that, but still a little eerie. I made up to the main drag, and the traffic was sparse. Normally, there’s a regular stream of vehicles going by. This morning, the street was clear for hundreds of metres into the distance, and passing vehicles were sparse. No school today makes a difference.

I walked by the cafe I’ll often visit for a coffee and sometimes breakfast. There was no-one at the outdoor benches, and inside, chairs were stacked on the tables. One or two people were inside getting a takeaway coffee.

I’m not overly perturbed by having to lockdown. It’s an inconvenience on a personal level, but no more than that. It’s a lot harder for those businesses who have to shut up shop and the people unable to work.

Now that we know more, it’s hard not to be mighty pissed off at the infected cases who chose to do nothing at all for 6 and 10 days. They were crook, showed symptoms, but carried on with their life, infecting others. Too late, they got tested,

It makes a huge difference. The Indian strain is highly infectious, and because they didn’t come forward, it was allowed to run unchecked through the population. The cost of it is a 7-day lockdown and a growing number of people infected.

The good news is that only four new cases were reported overnight. With luck, we may contain this. It’s a huge job for the contact tracers. They’ve identified 10,000 primary and secondary contacts and growing, as well as over 150 hotspots. It’s a huge piece of work, and mostly they cop shit for it.

In the meantime, take it easy. With luck, we’ll be out of it soon.

Here we go again


I went to sleep late last night and woke early this morning. It was still dark when I made my first coffee, and for a few moments, I considered taking an early walk with Rigby down the beach before anyone woke up. But then, the light sprinkle of rain falling dissuaded me from that, and back to bed, I went.

Much of the conversation online and in the news I listened to was about the Covid outbreak in Victoria and whether we’d go back into lockdown. Most thought it was likely, as did I. When the news came through of another 12 infections recorded overnight, it seemed a sure thing – though no announcement has been made yet.

By then, I was sitting down for breakfast. I’m scheduled to catch up with my manager for breakfast tomorrow, but that seems unlikely now, as do other things. I’m hoping it’s just a short lockdown, but I thought it wise to get out and smell the roses while I still could.

It’s a chilly morning. There was a thick band of low, white cloud suffused with the morning sun. Quite striking, really. A stiff breeze blew. I posted a letter and then moved onto a nearby cafe by the railway station. I checked in under the watchful eye of the waitress, then sat down for eggs and coffee.

The prospect of a lockdown – which has just been confirmed for 7 days – is unfortunate and unwelcome but probably necessary. I know many will take this hard after the lockdown last year.

I’m more philosophical about it. I recognise its necessity, though it shits me. I’m weary of these things, as is everyone else. But, get it done, do it right, and I’ll deal with it.

In some ways, we’re quite unlucky. This infection originated in Adelaide – a quarantining traveller, on his last day in quarantine, opened his door at the same time as an infected traveller did, and bingo! Show’s how fucking deadly this thing is.

He travelled back to his hometown, Melbourne, unaware that he was infected. A few days later, he presented as ill. This was about two weeks ago. At the time, it looked like we might have dodged a bullet. The contact tracers followed up, people self-isolated, and It seemed contained. Then it pops up about 10 days after.

Most likely, from what I gather, it was passed onto someone during a train trip into the city. No one checks into trains, so it was hit and miss picking up who might have been in his vicinity.

It’s the virulent, highly infectious Indian strain, and unfortunately, those who’ve been reported as infected were active in the period before being diagnosed. Two went to footy matches – a combined crowd of about 60K. Another had a night on the town in bars and on the dance floor. Lots of opportunities to pass it on, and virtually impossible to trace every contact. So here we are.

It could have been avoided, though, as people been at pains to point out. If we had proper quarantine facilities, as we’ve been crying out for, it would never have been passed from one to another. And if the vaccination rollout had performed as forecast, it’s much less likely it will have caught on within the community. As it is, it’s basically June, and we’re still short of the four million vaccinations the government promised would be delivered by the end of March.

Belatedly and somewhat ironically, this latest crisis has led to a rush on getting vaccinated. So that’s what it takes. Several of those infected were entitled to vaccination but held off – and now they’re sick. It will be too late for others.

Let’s see where we’re at in 7 days time – hopefully, preparing to be released from lockdown.

Emotional scurvy


It rained yesterday afternoon, and the sky was dim and dark long before night fell. The evening was standard for me. I had some dinner and flicked through the TV stations before settling down to watch a couple of episodes of Mare of Easttown.

It was only just on 10 when I finished watching, and I thought I’d go to bed and spend an extra hour reading. I was due for a new book, and there was nothing in my bookbag, so I went into my study to survey my bookcase. I had it in mind to return to an old favourite for a change.

I looked through the shelves, assessing options. You want a book to suit your mood. Sometimes that’s serious fiction; sometimes it’s something more escapist. I plucked one book from the shelves and considered it a moment before recalling I’d recently caught a glimpse of the (poor) movie made of it in the seventies. I put it back, leaving until the memory faded.

The books on these shelves are my very favourite books. To look at it is to be reminded of times past when you first discovered them – even to recall the occasion when you bought them. You remember the many times you would spend hours in the cloistered environs of a good bookshop, gathering books to buy. There are stories about the stories.

Abruptly, I felt a sense of fury. Standing before all that richness, they appeared to me so many lost moments and promise unfulfilled.

I would read, back then, as if I was an explorer searching for and discovering new wisdom – new to me. I felt enriched by the experience, as if with every book I read, something was being added to me. It seemed a noble thing and, naively it seems, I thought it must mean something. Would it make me a better man? Perhaps not, but it should make me a more rounded one – or so I thought.

All those fantastic hours engaged with a book felt lost to me. They were gone, of the past, and no longer relevant, as was the ethos that led me on. I read more than ever now, but without that glow of enlightenment. And what came of it? Nothing, it seems, not even anyone I can share it with or hand it down to, as I inherited my grandfather’s books.

I went to bed and read a book I found under the bedside table. Throughout, I had this lingering sense of discord. Not dissimilar to the other night, I wondered what the point of living was? You consume to live, whether it be food and beverages, fancy furniture or car, and programs like Mare of Easttown – but where was the higher purpose? Does such exist, or is it just a fantasy?

The funny thing is that as all this goes through my mind, there’s a motif that recurs to me repeatedly. It’s the sense of disconnect I feel between the public and private me. I see myself with others, and I’m always in control, not just of myself, but often the discourse generally. I’m smooth and easy, as if from habit, a strong, resilient, seemingly confident character, turning the conversation whichever way. It’s the person people have come to know and expect of me, and perhaps even admire, but so often these days, it comes to me as something strange.

That control comes easy to me. I don’t need to think about it. I know the tropes and the behaviours are instinctive. It’s not false, but nor is it absolutely true. Why I wondered, does it return to me so gratingly all the time? Is it that I want to relinquish control? But then, I knew, I would try to take it back. Was it exhausting being that way? No, not really. So what? And I thought, it’s because underneath all that there’s a vulnerable human being, but no matter how I ache to do so, I can’t seem to express it.

I’m at a disconnect with myself, and I realised as I lay there I’d become bored with myself – and wouldn’t I be? Nothing is happening.

I don’t believe there’s a meaning to life. If you’re happy to live a safe and happy life, then good for you. It’s not my thing though, never has been. As always, in these moments, I find myself drawn to the edge. It’s what I miss, and the absence of it has been exacerbated by Covid because there’s been nothing to fill the void.

What I need is to live more rawly. I would do that before when I travelled the world, which was a necessary antidote to domestic life. That sense of discovery, and the unpredictability of it, was like a tonic to me. Of course, none of that is possible presently.

And women. There’s a lot to unpack there, but in former times, when I read books for what I could learn from them, women were so much a part of my life. Not one. Sure, I miss the flirtation and all that, as I’ve said before, and the spontaneous and unlikely encounters. Right now, what I miss now is peering into another’s eyes and seeing possibility there. That, and more primitive, life-affirming moments – the teasing sense of anticipation, the first kiss, the amorous fumblings and the snap of elastic on a pair of panties, the moment that you know that yes, I’m here, this is happening, isn’t this good and soon following the absolute surrender to the moment.

Options are limited, but I need the things I do to have some value – to feel as if they’re a part of the journey. Because of Covid, or perhaps not, it feels as if that journey has paused, or I’ve been waylaid. I need to get back to simple experience – not life as observed on a TV screen, but life felt and experienced in the raw. Without it, I feel as if I’m experiencing a kind of emotional scurvy.

Vaccinated


I woke up this morning, got up and dressed, and walked up the road to get my first jab of Astra Zeneca.

It feels like a significant occasion, like graduating, or something like that. Having endured nearly 18 months of Covid, including an extended lockdown, to finally have a vaccination administered feels notable.

I may have it wrong, and there’s still much conjecture over the quality of the vaccine, but I feel as if I’ve come in from the wild and dangerous cold. Before today, anything might happen to me. From today, I should be safe.

It’s great timing, as it turns out. Melbourne had enjoyed 86 days without a community transmission of Covid. That ended yesterday. Today, more cases are presenting. From tonight, we return to a form of restrictions, which includes wearing a mask indoors. We’ve also been advised by work not to come into the office.

I hope this (hopefully) little outbreak will motivate more Victorians to go out and get their jab. We need it. We’re a long, long way from herd immunity, but the more people who get vaccinated, the less likely the chains of infection will spread. And, with winter coming, you’d have to be crazy not to get it – but, as we know, the world is full of crazies these days.

The government has bollocksed up up the vaccination rollout, as anyone with a working intelligence knows. Still, if they’re smart and given the slow uptake of vaccinations, they should now open it up to anyone who wants one without the current age restrictions.

For the record, and the Doubting Thomases out there, I’ve not experienced any side effects from my dose. And I went ahead and got it, despite having experienced a blood clot a dozen years ago. I wanted to get it for myself, but I also feel a civic duty – it’s the right thing to do, and I’m happy to stand up and be counted.

Saturday morning


I woke this morning to a surreal landscape. Even with the blinds closed, I could sense something different. I stepped out the front door. It was cold, the wind blowing and the clouds low in the sky. Through the clouds came a sepia-tinted light that seemed otherworldly. I stood there taking it in, once more given to wonder at the strangeness of the world we live in.

By the time I left the house, the strange light had dissipated, but it was a gloomy landscape. I got in the car to drive the short distance to check out a potential property. The roads there were strewn with leaves and small branches, and when I got out of the car, the wind whipped at my hair. It felt the first truly wintery day of the year, but I was dressed for it in a turtle neck woollen jumper and a topcoat.

The property was a bust. It was in an area not far from where I live but less salubrious. I’m close to the beach here, and cafes and bars and shops are five minutes walk. Everyone has a dog just about, and if not, then a bike, or both (like me). It’s an easy place to live. I’ve just outgrown my home.

The place I looked at was smaller. I wasn’t surprised, but I was disappointed. Over the back fence was a dog park that Rigby would have loved, but the place itself was scruffy, and, as usual, the rooms were about 25% smaller than what they appeared in the photos online. About 20 other people were checking it out, but I was gone within three minutes.

It was earlier than I’d normally be out on a Saturday, except to walk our dogs with Cheeseboy (who returns to two weeks quarantine on Monday). I didn’t want to go home. I was in the car, it was the weekend, and I felt sort of free.

I drove and parked near the shops that usually I would walk to. I ambled down the main drag. It was bitter cold and the wind came and went in gusts. Other than the odd guy all rugged up walking their dog, it was quiet.

I crossed the railway line without a firm plan, but thinking perhaps a coffee would be good. A few minutes later, I found myself sitting in the window of the Brown Cow nursing a flat white and looking out at the traffic pass by, and the people emerge to do their Saturday shopping, or walk their dog, or find somewhere warm to sit with friends over breakfast. And soon enough, my breakfast arrived, poached eggs on toast. It was all very ad hoc.

I was in a state of mind, brought on perhaps by the strange light earlier, or perhaps because I’d been reading poetry in bed before I left the house. That probably makes me sound like an aesthete, to put it kindly, whereas it’s an infrequent event. Still, it puts you in a mood and, in my case, puts me in touch with the feelings I’m too busy to worry about mostly. And I felt so aware of myself as a physical entity – a body in a turtlenecked jumper, tall, wavy-haired, an aching tooth from sinus, a man alone.

I looked at people as I ate my eggs. I wondered at their life. So much is routine. We do things by rote. I also. But then something jumps you out of that rut, and you see it for what it is. It’s not something bad or wrong, but perhaps it seems disappointingly small. Where is the poetry? Where is the wonder? But then, isn’t that just life? And life as it has been in some form for hundreds, probably thousands of years in some form?

I sent a message to a friend. What would you think, I asked if some bloke told you he had masturbated thinking of you? Flattered, disgusted or scared? It was what I had dreamed of, someone doing that. My friend is a sport, and I knew the question would engage her; obviously, the answer would depend on the man and her relationship with him, but I was curious for her reaction.

I set the phone aside, restless inside. The wind blew. The world passed by. I sipped at my coffee and declined another. On the bench table beside me lay the rolled-up topcoat. I felt as if I needed to understand something, but I didn’t know what it was.

I made my way back towards home, stopping for milk among the other shoppers in the supermarket. I wanted to see into someone’s eyes, but everyone was too busy. I bustled away myself in the end, back to the car and the short drive home. I still don’t know what there is to understand. Perhaps nothing.

Foggy brains


https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2021/apr/14/brain-fog-how-trauma-uncertainty-and-isolation-have-affected-our-minds-and-memory

I read this, and much of it made sense to me. I’ve seen this in others over the last 6-9 months or have had them describe it to me. I suspect this is quite a common experience in the aftermath of extended and repeated lockdowns.

I feel as if much of it is true for me also. It was only the other day that I described my own foggy brain. I sensed no cognitive decline or inability to think or concentrate, and I think these pages attest to that. What I have felt, particularly when it comes to work, is an unwillingness to extend myself mentally. I feel that’s more by inclination than it is a functional deficiency, but it fits the pattern.

What really stuck with me is the need for rest and the probability of burning out without it. I think I’m burnt out now, but that doesn’t mean it can’t get worse. I feel badly in need of a rest – but then, I think I said exactly the same thing on Monday, and in the months before.

In reality, I’m about to embark on a big muthafucker of a project that’ll keep me busy and fully engaged for the next few months. I’ll manage, but it might get ugly by the end of it.

The things we keep


From what I can tell, there are many through the pandemic and the various states of lockdown who have taken the time to re-organise and reset their home. It’s a convenient occasion to do so, but I can’t help thinking that it’s a psychological reaction to the times. Locked in, uncertainty all about, and peril at the door, it seems natural that people would attempt to assert some order on their life, however, they can. There aren’t a lot of options, but the decision to spring clean is one of them. Out with the old, and what remains is re-sorted and classified.

I know of a few people who have done this, Donna foremost among them, and I’ve had several unusual conversations on the subject – that is, unusual if these were normal times, but quite standard these days.

I’ve certainly indulged in this, though it could easily be argued that it was long overdue in my case. I’ve got a lot of stuff generally and, while not a hoarder, am inclined to hang onto things.

Early days, I spent a lot of time going through stuff. I threw out or gave away a fair bit from my kitchen and study, and even books, of which I still have boxes full of them. I sought to get rid of the containers in my study with bits and pieces spilling from them and spent a lot of time going through the various clippings I’d collected over the years and either tossing them in the bin or digitising them. All of this is ongoing, and there’s a permanent pile of stuff by my front door that I’ve either got to throw out (including DVDs and CDs) or stuff I’m waiting to get the proper storage for (my old photos).

The other day I came across another cache of stuff dating back to the late nineties, I reckon. It was interesting to go through it and a bit lame, too. There were a bunch of work emails I’d printed out, most of the type that people used to send (but no longer) of jokes or interesting stuff. I still chuckled at some, but to the bin, they went.

Then I came across a poem I’d printed out. I couldn’t recall doing it, and all these years later wondered what it was that inspired me? Was it a woman? Was it a simple appreciation for the poem? Or was it something else?

We do that, and me more than most – we squirrel things away. I guess most people don’t save poems, but I’m a sucker for good poetry. For many years, I had a party trick I’d trot out occasionally whereby I’d recite Byron’s poem, So We’ll Go No More a Roving from memory, line by line.

As it happens, the poem I came across the other day is another by Byron (who is a favourite, along with Donne and Marvell, Yeats, Rilke and some of the modernists like William Carlos Williams and Cummings).

As I’m about to toss this in the bin also, let me first record the poem here for posterity:

When We Two Parted

When we two parted
In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.

The dew of the morning
Sunk chill on my brow –
It felt like the warning
Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame;
I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame.
They name thee before me,
A knell in mine ear;
A shudder comes o’er me—
Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
Who knew thee too well—
Long, long shall I rue thee,
Too deeply to tell.
In secret we met—
In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?—
With silence and tears.

How many moments like these in our life, where we’re so moved to write something of it or read something meaningful and copy it out? And how many of them are forgotten? I’m grateful at least that for the last 20 years, almost those moments have been recorded here, more or less, even those now passed from mind.

It’s a beautiful poem.

Never be the same


Now that we’ve had 30-odd days free from locally acquired Covid infection, we’re all clear to return to our offices to work in Melbourne. That’s the theory, though it appears very few are getting anywhere close to that. There’s still some caution and uncertainty, and after working from home so long, most of us have become used to it. Tap any average Joe on the shoulder, and chances are that he’ll tell you that he’s happy to return to the office for a day a week, maybe two, but any more than that would be a return to the dark ages.

I’m much the same. I can manage two days a week at a stretch, but just the thought of anything more than that feels hard. We’ve all settled into routines working from home and found ways to make it feasible. It’s far from perfect – I’d rather meet face to face than via a screen, and managing projects with disparate groups of people is a real challenge.

But then, there’s the time saved not having to commute and the convenience of being close to home. There’s the option for parents to pick up their kids from school and to have family meals at a respectable hour. Its loosened boundaries and introduced flexibility that was unimaginable a little more than a year ago. It’s also blurred the boundaries too, but nothing is perfect.

I don’t think we’ll ever get close to the 100% target ever again. The working convention broke in this pandemic. Forced to make do and work from home, we discovered it was actually possible and liberating after generations of workers making the drear commute to and from work each day, like automatons.

Still, there has been a general drift back to the office as the circumstances have improved. In my office, we are rostered for one day a week, though it’s not mandatory. There’s an acceptance that things have changed and that it’s permanent. Logistics play into it also. It’s no small thing gearing up for a return to the office after a year away from it. I was involved in the development of a return to work app late last year. We’re now hot-desking, though that introduces disinfecting challenges. And, even if we were all made to return to the office, there’s no longer enough desks for us all.

I’ve been back to the office perhaps half a dozen times this year, most recently last Wednesday. It’s a strange feeling. We return as a team, but across a floor that could accommodate perhaps 120, no more than 10-15 sit. I visited the 18th floor on Wednesday, which is where I used to sit. This contains the call centre normally, and closer to 150 people back in the day. On Wednesday, there was not a single soul to be seen. Tumbleweeds drifted down the empty corridors.

My brief experience working back in the office is that it’s a bit pointless. At this stage, it feels tokenistic. There’s no real benefit to being back in the office when the people you need to speak to and meet with are still at home. The idea of returning as (small) teams seems sensible, but in reality, has little real value. Certainly, we take advantage of the situation to schedule meetings and planning sessions, but they’re small plusses. There needs to be a more sophisticated solution.

Nonetheless, I’m glad to be back, though – out of practice – getting myself out of bed and organised, for it is more of a struggle. A day away from home and in the office adds a bit of variety to my schedule and introduces a hint of unpredictability in what is otherwise a very predictable routine.

I catch the train in the morning as I would before, only now I wear a mask, and every day is Friday casual. I sit by the window with my headphones on, just as I ever did, but even with the trains are getting fuller, there’s a distinctly different feel to it. I feel like an outlier.

By comparison to the days before, the city is quiet. The shop where I used to buy my coffee has been closed for a year. Many other shops are also shut, and the streets are not nearly as busy as before.

I’m glad to go out on my lunch break and visit places I would before, but it feels very different. In days gone by, I almost had a weekly routine – lunch one day with a friend, coffee with another the next day, then a selection of shops and stores – and the market! – I would rotate through one week to the next. In retrospect, it felt like a system, a habit almost, comforting in its predictability. But then, most things were predictable then (and sometimes I would complain at it).

These days I can only go for lunch with a workmate. Cheeseboy unexpectedly cycled past me in Swanston street the other day on the way to work, but in general, the friends I would catch up with for lunch or coffee are home now. Some of the shops I would visit are no longer there. And in general, there’s none of the bustle or urgency I remember, none of the big-city vibe of people rushing from here to there, the clang of tram bells, the toots of car horns, the ring of the GPO clock – everything has slackened.

There are people, but no-one’s in a hurry, and anyway, there are only half the people there were. Everything has slowed. You get none of that jolt of being part of such a large, living mechanism. The blood isn’t flowing as it did before, and the beat is much slower.

It will improve. No doubt, more and more people will return to the office in some form, and that’s a good thing. It will liven up again – but I don’t think things will be the same again, or not for years, anyway. Under cover of a pandemic, a revolution has occurred. Things have to be re-worked – re-imagined – if we want to get back that vibrancy.

I’ll be curious to see how all this has panned out in five years time.