Sign of the times


I’m currently reading a book called Breakout from Stalingrad, by Heinrich Gerlach. It’s a ‘lost manuscript’ that ultimately became the classic The Forsaken Army, which I read as a kid. It’s told from the German side about the battle of Stalingrad and the encirclement, and ultimate surrender, of the German Sixth army. It was a massive battle and pretty full-on. About 300,000 troops were in the pocket when it started. I think only ever about 5,000 made it home years after the war had ended.

I used to read a lot of war books when I was a kid, but not so many now. This is a bleak read, but sort of compelling, too, like watching a catastrophe unfold in slow motion. Sometimes I think I’m going to set it aside because – no matter which side you’re on – there’s something tragic about the story. It’s the futility that gets to me, the utter hopelessness of their destiny. It’s like watching an old movie you know the ending of and dread every time. But I keep on reading because the author was there, this is what he saw and experienced, and because it’s unexpectedly moving. I’m about 300 pages through of about 650.

As I lay in bed last night reading, it occurred to me that the situation we’re in right now has parallels to the story. Sure, no-one’s shooting at us, we’re not starving or freezing to death, and we’re not at war. There is a lot of differences. But, like the soldiers there, we’ve lost freedom of movement in lockdown. We’re not at complete liberty. And we’re doing battle with an implacable foe. The Germans were surrounded in Stalingrad and, if you look at it, that’s sort of an apt metaphor for life in lockdown. We’re fearful of leaving our homes because of the coronavirus lurking in wait. In our case, at least, we’ve got hope – one day, you’d expect, we’ll achieve the breakout the Sixth Army never managed.

Earlier in the night, I’d bought a face mask online, in what is very much a sign of the times. It’s not something I want to wear, for cosmetic reasons as much as anything else, but I recognise the time is nearing when I’ll probably be obliged to. Healthy outcomes might dictate it also.

I’ve actually got two face masks already. Back in January, when the bushfires were raging and smoke was heavy in the air, I bought a simple face mask on impulse when I visited the chemist. I never wore it. Then I got a freebie face mask included in a delivery I received the other week – one of the basic, medical-grade blue masks. Haven’t worn that either.

If I can manage it, I won’t get to wear either of them. No matter how you spin it, I don’t think wearing a face mask is a particularly good look – but then there are really bad fashion takes, and those that are acceptable. The mask I purchased last night is decorated in a Koori motif, and is something I could accept wearing. Basically, it appealed to my vanity because it had a bit of style, a bit of individuality. If I’m to be seen in public wearing one, that’s what I want.

When do I get to wear it, I wonder? In my part of town maybe 1 in 10 people are wearing a mask, but we’re far from the hotspots. If I lived there I reckon I’d be wearing one now. The next few days will tell the tale. If the rate of infection stabilises or even falls, then we’re a chance. But if it continues to rise then we have a problem. My expectation is that the actions the government put into place the week before last should be paying off soon. We might see a modest increase, but I hope it starts to trail away by next week. A lot rides on this, and not just whether I end up wearing a mask.

 

Edit: by wicked coincidence, I’m also reading The Plague, by Albert Camus, currently. I started it quite innocently, without consideration for the times we live in. Perhaps it was a sub-conscious choice made.

In lockdown again


I had a dream last night that I usually would dissect. It seemed loaded with meaning and symbolism, but now that we’re heading into lockdown again what’s the point of dreams?

It was not surprising, but disappointing all the same, to get the news yesterday that we were returning to stage 3 lockdown for the next six weeks. That means to stay at home, limited interactions, no sit service at restaurants or cafes, and so on. The rest of Australia has closed its borders to us, and the infection rate is going through the roof.

I actually feel relatively state in my neck of the woods. There’s only one current confirmed case of COVID-19 in Bayside, and everyone here is pretty sensible. It’s pretty scary what’s happening on the other side of town, though. I get why we’re in lockdown, and I support it, but I don’t have to like it.

One of my frustrations is that I was planning to have a short holiday this month. Firstly I was going to visit a mate in Sydney, then another in Mullumbimby. That was scheduled for next week but got pulled when it was clear that Victorians weren’t welcome. Then the borders closed anyway. So, I thought, let’s go somewhere local. I figured I’d find a B&B somewhere down the beach or in the bush where I could take Rigby. I planned to do that the last week of the month and actually took my car in to be fixed so I could do that.

I picked up the car yesterday, just as the news came through that we were locking down. Scratch that holiday. On the way home, I dropped by the Cheeses on the basis that I didn’t know when I’d see them again. It’s all a bit of a blow, and worse the second time around.

My manager took a day off last week, and today he told me it’s because he was struggling mentally. I figure there’s a lot of that. I have my ups and downs, but nothing serious. By now, I know that I’ll endure anything. But again, it doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it.

Day to day I manage fine, more or less, but it gets tedious over a period. I yearn for some spontaneity. Some excitement – though there was an episode the other day worth recounting. I’ll do that another time.

Right now, plans have been cancelled for catch-ups and dinners. I don’t know when I’ll get out again. I don’t even know how this outbreak is going to play out. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see similar outbreaks across the country before too long. Everyone is pointing their finger at Victoria, but I think it’s the nature of the virus. We haven’t beaten it, just held it at bay. I think there’s a long way to go, and a few more twists in store.

Even now, I think this is bigger than what people believe. It’s human nature to seek closure, but I think we’ve rushed to do that, and often times in defiance of the evidence. We’ve managed it better here than most places, and the damage has been mitigated thus far – certainly in comparison to the catastrophic parts of the world. They’re heading for more pain. For us, unless we’re careful, the risk of that remains.

Another week in iso


As far as living in iso goes, this has been an interesting week. I’ve actually got out of the suburb twice, experienced a power failure through most of the daylight hours, been crook, and even lost my glasses before miraculously finding them again. On top of all that I’ve got a go-live tonight (and I’m working today because of it).

Last Friday night, I took the train to Richmond and met up with my manager for dinner and beer at the Richmond Club Hotel. Had a chicken parma, a pint and a glass of wine, on top of metaphorically rubbing shoulders with a broader community (we’re very careful not to rub shoulders literally). We chatted about work and life in iso, before popping across the road to the Corner Hotel where we were ushered into Bandroom 2 and sat at a trestle table where we had another pint.

Most years, most Friday nights, the pub would have been heaving with people and real-life bands would have been preparing to perform before a packed and boisterous crowd. On Friday, we sat at one end of the table while a middle-aged man with his Asian toyboy sat at the other end (they objected to our presence, but spacing rules were enforced). At another table, a group of tradies in fluoro caught up for an end of week beer. It was pretty empty otherwise, and pretty antiseptic too – a far cry from the frenetic, sticky carpet days the Corner is known for.

That was last Friday night. Yesterday morning, I ventured into the city for the first time since leaving it in March. Usually, my train is standing room only, but yesterday there would have been 30-40 empty seats in the carriage. It was sparse in the city too, and the building where I work seemed almost deserted. I caught the lift to my floor to find that there were tarps everywhere and two of the doors closed off and tradies painting and renovating the toilets. Good time to do it, I guess.

In the office itself, there were only two other people. One had been working there throughout this period. The other had only returned the day before and was planning to come in a day or two a week, lockdown permitting.

I was there in part out of curiosity, but the main reason was to pick up the dock for my laptop. I was very diligent when I packed up my desk a few months ago. I thought I’d taken everything with me I needed, but I left the dock behind. At that time I thought we’d be gone 2-3 months and I could live without it. And, mostly I have, outside some flickering on the second screen. It’s coming on to four months now since this started, and with recent outbreaks in Melbourne, I don’t know when we’ll get back into the office – September t the very soonest, I would guess, and that presumes that the current outbreak is contained. That’s a big if at the moment.

So anyway, I figured if I’m going to extending my work from home, then I may as well set up properly. And so into the city to pick up the dock.

I was about an hour in the office, during which time I attended a couple of online meetings.

On the way out of the city, I stopped at a couple of stores to replenish stuff I can’t get locally, then caught a near-empty train home. Strange times, indeed.

Otherwise, had a low-level stomach bug most of the week, which was enough to prevent me from writing sooner. I just felt a bit off, and enough that you can’t be bothered doing things you don’t have to do.

On Wednesday, I was in the middle of a meeting at 9.35 when my internet crashed. I returned to the meeting using my phone, then went and investigated.

Turns out a fuse had blown. Replaced the fuse, but no-go. The fuse had blown so severely that the wiring leading to it had burnt out too. A strong scorched odour permeated the air. That meant that while my lights worked, nothing else did – no internet, no fridge, no stereo, no oven, no TV, no microwave, no coffee machine, and no anything else that plugged in. I worked from my phone and iPad but had to charge them up with a battery to keep them going.

A sparky came late in the day and put in an interim solution, but needs a new fuse box. No matter, with darkness coming on I had a heater that worked and a TV I could watch.

That same day I went for a walk with Rigby late in the afternoon. It was a sunny day, and I wore sunnies with my usual glasses clipped over my shirt. On returning, I went to exchange my sunnies for my glasses and found they were missing. I had a fair idea of what might have happened and so retraced my steps – twice. I figured that after cleaning up after Rigby the glasses must have come loose, and I was confident of finding them. Nup. As you’d expect, that pissed me off, especially since they had a graduated lens and old ones don’t.

Then yesterday, walking to the station on the way to the office, what do I find on the pavement where I was looking the night before? My glasses. I was confused. How did I miss them? I wasn’t checking the nature-strip mainly, but I’d have walked past the glasses had they been there. Did I not check the pavement? But I was sure I did. No explanation, but the good news is that I can see again and don’t need to cough up for a new pair.

I’ll take it as a sign.

Days of our iso-lives


It’s a bit scary how one day blends into the next at the moment. The days get marked off with not much to show for them. As far as I can tell, the only minor difference is the weather, and what I choose to have for dinner.

I can tell you almost exactly what day will be like because it barely changes. My eyes open at about 7.15, I make my coffee, feed the dog, and return to bed to catch up with the news and listen to the radio and maybe read a little. By 8.30, I’m dressed and sitting in front of my laptop. I have meetings until about 10.30 and might have a cuppa in between. Sometime between 10.30 and 11am I head off up the road for my morning walk. I go over and back the railway overpass to get my heartbeat up and then start back. Yesterday I actually stopped for a coffee at that stage, but that’s rare. More often, I’ll stop by the greengrocer or supermarket to top up on supplies.

I’ll work solidly till about 3pm once I get home. I might take a half-hour off over lunchtime and start on the night’s dinner. After 3, depending on pending calls and meetings, I’ll take Rigby out for his afternoon walk. By then he’s pretty well anticipating it and giving me the hurry up. We’ll walk for about 20-25 mins, varying the route to keep it interesting, and Rigby stopping every few metres to sniff at something unexpected and fascinating.

There’ll be things to catch up on when I return. Maybe a late meeting, or a call to make, or loose ends to tidy up. I’ll work up to about 5-5.15pm.

This is my favourite part of the day. Mostly I’ll be cooking or preparing dinner. I’ll crank up the Sonos and listen to a playlist, or more often an audiobook. Right now I’m listening to the first book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If I’m in the mood, I’ll pour a glass of wine or make a G&T. One or two nights through the winter, I might change this routine by running a hot bath at the end of the day.

I’ll eat dinner watching the news. From there on in I’ll be watching Netflix or Foxtel or maybe even playing a DVD. Depending on what’s on I’ll finish up with that anytime between 10pm and 11.30pm. Whatever time it is I’ll hit the sack then and read for up to an hour – in the evening it’s fiction. I’ll switch off the light, go to sleep, and do the same the next day.

There’s nothing wrong with it, or unpleasant, it just feels as if I’m not getting anywhere. But that’s life for the moment, particularly as COVID-19 has sparked up a little in the last week. This is how we live.

Out in the world


Up to yesterday, I hadn’t been outside the suburb since March. I hadn’t caught the train since then and certainly hadn’t sat down for a drink of any type at a venue. That changed last evening when I hopped on a train and travelled to Richmond to catch up at the Corner Hotel with a work colleague.

Restrictions are easing, and though it’s no simple thing going out for a drink, at least there are options now. This came about because the colleague – theoretically the team manager – was starting to feel antsy stuck at home with his family and wanted to get out. We agreed to meet somewhere in between we could both get to by train. Richmond was the obvious solution, and so I booked a table Thursday for last night.

Unlike in days past when you’d just rock up and snaffle a beer even if only standing room, there’re a few conditions these days. As there are restrictions on the number of patrons you’re required to book first. Then you’re restricted to two hours maximum, and if you’re having a drink you must also have something to eat. Then, when you turn up, they must take down your details just in case there’s an outbreak of COVID-19 and they have to trace you.

The last time I was at the Corner Hotel was towards the end of last year. We got there at about midnight and the place was heaving with people. It was very different yesterday. Our slot yesterday was between 5pm and 7pm. The pub was sparsely populated. Though it was early for dinner we ordered a meal with our pint. We had a second pint and then it was over.

It was good to get out. I’m fond of my manager. He’s a Malaysian-Chinese who’s been living here about 30 years. He’s no more than 5’3″, but stocky, with a shaven head and a ready smile. There’s a twinkle in his eyes often, and smile lines at the corner of them. For some reason, he always reminds me of Yoda. He’s a very decent and generous human being – one of the good ones.

It seems strange to get so excited over a very tame couple of hours at the pub, but it’s better than doing nothing, which has been the default setting these last few months. It’s strange how time so readily expands and contracts according to circumstances. Many times I’ve been out on a big night and wondered where all the hours have gone. Last night the time passed in a leisurely fashion, and though it was still early when I headed home, it felt sufficient for what it was. The train was mostly empty, and on the way home I stopped by the supermarket to grab the block of chocolate I suddenly needed.

More to come.

On-hold


It’s another crisp, blue-skied morning. Today is my rostered day off, and without meetings to attend, I was out the door by 9.30 for my morning walk. On the way, I stopped for a takeaway coffee and a loaf of sourdough. I continued on for my walk, over the railway line, and this time walking down towards the beach at Sandringham before turning around to head back towards home. That’s when I bumped into Mrs Cheese out walking the dog.

We stopped to talk for 6-7 minutes. I hadn’t seen her since the lockdown began, and I was surprised to find how much I welcomed the chance to have a meaningful conversation again with someone face to face. Thinking about it there has been bugger all I’ve done that with over the last few months – her hubby, on our weekly walks, and a couple of times when I’ve run into acquaintances around the shops. She invited me over for dinner tomorrow night, so even better.

Being Friday, I’m left to do my own thing, and it means I try and achieve something on the day. One by one, I’ve been going through the rooms of my house, sorting them out – cleaning, tidying, sorting, and throwing things out. I’ve done the kitchen and bedroom, the lounge and bathroom. The study was the first room I started on but, like a lot of homes I reckon, the study is my junk room and has twice as much to work on. I’ve done about half – the other half comes today.

Otherwise, I aim to do some writing this afternoon. And right now I’m trying to chase up the rent relief that hadn’t come through yet – probably a futile quest as I was disconnected when I got down to fourth in queue, and now can’t even get onto the queue (the phone rings out).

I was thinking the other day that while I’m enjoying working from home, there’s a sense of not really going anywhere. That’s true in a literal sense, and it makes it real in a metaphorical sense also because there are no reference points to suggest movement. I can decry the soulless experience of the commuter catching the same train to and from work every day, but at least there is a sense of something happening because you transition from one location to another. Add to that the people you come into contact with and the chance encounters along the way, and you tend to overlook that nothing’s really happening. You’re so busy doing that it’s not a thing – not until you stop to think about it.

Right now, all I’m doing is working at my desk at home, going for my walks, shopping, cooking, etc., and catching up with Cheeseboy each week. That’ll change soon when the restaurants and cafes open proper, but that’s how it’s been for the last few months. I quite enjoy the base elements, but I miss the social aspects we’ve been denied. It’s a phony, slightly unreal period (did I say slightly?), and there’s a sense of being between things. Life is on hold.

I’ve experienced this before, and I hated it. Looking back, I still feel bitter at the wasted years when I was either unemployed or homeless and all the things that were denied to me then. It was worse then because I experienced it alone. Everyone else was living their life, but all I could do was look on. That was 5-6 years of my life, and it came at a time when I was set to change things up – so the narrative I tell myself goes. I was ready to settle down, fall in love, etc., but that’s probably a tale I understand in retrospect. Regardless, once I hit the iceberg, none of that was an option, not even ordinary life. I don’t think I’ve returned yet to anything like normal as I knew it, and probably won’t now.

It’s easier now, but while we’ll soon come out of lockdown a lot of things will have changed. It’s going to be a while until international travel is in full swing again. Back in the day, back ‘before’, an overseas trip every year was one way of convincing myself that there were movement and progression in my life. I was lucky like that, and the absence of that has bit hard in recent years. I haven’t been away since 2013. Except for a few days down Wye River, I haven’t had a holiday since then.

I can cop things being on hold if I know it’ll pass. I’ve endured it before. And this will pass, and there’ll probably come a time we look back with bemusement. It just reminds me though, that it’s high time I got back to living more fully. Time passes, and the trick is to make it meaningful. That’s the challenge.

 

Seasons passing


We’ve had some wintry blasts and the rainfall so far this year is at near-record levels (more than all of last year), but right now the weather is near perfect. The nights are clear and cold, and the chill persists into mid-morning. By then the sun is brightly shining in a sky almost bereft of cloud. It warms up slowly but becomes very pleasant. It’s a pleasure to go out in such serene weather. I’d happily settle for this 300 days of the year.

It’s funny to think that winter is less than two weeks away – though the weekend before last was cold and wet and I was so uninspired, so lethargic, that all I did was lay on the couch and watch Netflix.

I was more productive the weekend just gone. Friday was my designated day off, and its quickly becoming my favourite day of the week. Come Thursday night I feel released, though work is hardly a trial at the moment. I sleep in Friday morning and read. When I get up finally I set myself to do things – cook, clean, do some sorting out. Basically, achieve something. Every Friday I’ve ticked something more off the list, generally listening to Spotify or one of my audiobooks.

Though weekends are theoretically different now, they feel pretty much the same for me, and I’m generally doing the same as I would if I was in the office Monday to Friday. The only difference is that most Saturday’s I go for a long walk with Cheeseboy and the dogs down by the beach. Otherwise, I do the normal stuff – a bit of grocery shopping, a kitchen clean, maybe some cooking, and in the afternoon I’ll write. On Sunday I’ll cook myself breakfast, though avoiding the programs I used to watch about politics and sport. Once more, I’ll end up writing. Late afternoon I’ll put my virtual pen down and run a hot bath and shampoo my hair.

Like many others, I’ve left my hair go in lockdown. My last hair cut was in February. My hair is undoubtedly thick now, and growing to a bohemian length. I’m just passing through the awkward, in-between stage, and it should soon look a lot better. I don’t plan to get it cut until I have to, and then maybe not even then. I like having long hair, and I’m figuring I might adopt a summer-short hair/winter-long hair cycle.

I’ve been shaving every 8-10 days throughout this period, but am considering letting that grow out too. What counts against it is the itchy stage, and the fact it looks so fucking grey. Maybe I’ll get it coloured?

Regardless, I have time to make my mind up. Though restrictions are easing, it was confirmed this morning that we won’t be going back to work until July at the soonest. Even then, it won’t be all back.

I’m in no hurry to get back into the office, but I’m hanging out for a social beer.

 

My way


In lieu of all the overtime I did in preparation for lockdown, I’ve taken off today and tomorrow. I’m probably due a day or two on top of that, but this’ll likely do it.

It’s another cool day slowly weeping rain. We went for our walk before, Rigby and me. It was colder than I thought. The streets were quiet and damp. I came across a mother with her son walking their dog and exchanged a good morning. We did the loop, the chill setting in despite the activity, before making it home to a warm house.

I’ve fired up Spotify and made a cup of tea. I caught up on my emails and the news. I’ve mapped out this week’s menu – less meat this week than last: jollof rice, a roasted carrot and tomato spaghetti recipe, a Balinese curry, and maybe a French recipe come the weekend cooking chicken in milk. Lunch today is leftover soup (roasted carrot and parsnip) and dinner the leftover chicken dish from last night, which was delicious – a spicy, Indian inspired tomato and coriander chicken dish.

(For those interested in these things – few, I admit, though I’m one of them – I keep a database of recipes I’m constantly adding to. I cook, and I rate them, adding notes about how I might it improve it next time. Most of the recipes I make are new recipes because I like to try things. Anything with a rating 4 or above is a keeper. It’s a tough kitchen).

What I don’t miss this morning are the online meetings. I chafe at routine at the best of times, especially meaningless routine, but it’s gone to a new level in lockdown. I understand, there’s an inclination to make up for working apart by creating an artificial structure, which includes these meetings. And I understand that some will welcome it because they need it. I don’t. I would handle it better if the meetings were more spontaneous, but these are locked in and repetitive, same time every day. There’s a lot of earnest try-hard in the inspiration and conduct of these meetings, and I tune out 80% of the time. I just want to get back to doing the work.

But today and tomorrow I don’t need to deal with that. What I’ll do is return to my writing. It’s a good antidote to work because it drives everything else out of your head when you’re doing it. It can be exhausting, but it cleanses your mind of things that might otherwise longer.

I’ll stay in the warmth and perhaps later I’ll spend an hour reading. I’ll treat the mind. At some point, I’ll have to treat other parts of me, but that’ll have to wait.

For the record, despite a recent spate of infections, I expect we’ll be back in the office, more or less, by this time next month.

Moments in isolation


It’s a beautiful, blue-skied morning. I don’t know why it should, but it reminded me of trips to Europe. Coolish days in the Mediterranean, I thought. It was not an unwelcome memory, though it seems far away now.

Random memories have come back to me like that. Last week I SMS’d a friend. I’d had a flash of memory going to some fancy hotel with a courtyard. In the courtyard was a lovely pool, a deep blue, and fringed by palms and banana lounges. Waiters came to take our orders and served us cocktails. It was a warm day, and we swam and sat in the shade and drank our cocktails. It was a brief interlude, and I swear I hadn’t thought of it from the day we walked out there. But here it was again, a shiny fragment of memory given back to me to ponder.

Was it Bali? I wondered, though it didn’t seem right. Europe then? I knew others were with me – this wasn’t one of my solo trips. So I texted JV. In the end, hours later, I sent him another message: don’t worry, it was Pnom Penh, and you weren’t there. Sorry. (It was Whisky). I was relieved that the details had returned to me, but there are hundreds of such fragments that fly through my mind like shooting stars.

I was walking Rigby when I looked up at the sky. Others were out and about, each of us keeping a social distance.

There’s an older man I pass in the street quite often. He has a wrinkled, friendly face and always wears an Akubra. We wish each other good morning each time we meet, “how’re you going, mate?” he’ll ask every time.

There was another elderly couple, the husband tall and walking with an unbalanced lurch. As you do sometimes, I wondered at his life, how he came to be hear, how the lurch had developed?

At home now and it’s a non-work day. The birds flutter outside my window. Later I’ll bake a cake. I’ll read. Maybe I’ll write, though the gift of it has deserted me lately. I’ll send a couple of messages, and I’ll receive replies. This is life contained.

The other day I locked myself out. I could have called the Cheeses and asked for them to bring the spare key over, but I didn’t want to bother them for my carelessness. The back door was open, I knew, and so I hoisted myself up onto the roof and crossed it daintily, careful not to break any tiles. I’d liked to say I dropped into the back yard like a ninja, but the truth is I lowered myself carefully. The whole thing left me out of breath and thinking I was much too old for such James Bond shit. No-one noticed. The world went on. Everything is still.

I think that’s one of the things now – we have little visibility of consequence. Because everything is remote, it feels like a deep pond with barely a ripple in it. Like the sky, it feels blue and unchanging, though tomorrow will be different again. Like everything, these are moments in isolation, unconnected, fragments. So it seems to me, anyway.

In the collective


Normally there’s plenty to write about. When you’re a working man, you’re always busy, even if it’s dull. You go to and from work, you interact with people around the place, you witness and observe and engage. There are the trials and tribulations, and the occasional angst, in the office, and outside it, you’re just as busy. You catch up with friends for a drink or a meal, you go see a movie or watch sport. Life is in constant motion, even if much of it is repetitive. There’s ample opportunity, all the same, for things to happen.

In isolation pretty much none of that happens. Life is simpler, almost as simple as it gets. Everything is in small movements, and any engagement is at arm’s length. The usual subjects for discussion pretty well dry up, and all that’s left is a commentary of the event itself – C-19 – and politics around us. Describing life in lockdown gets lame pretty quickly, and what’s left are random thoughts on books and memories and the thoughts that return to you. That’s not for everyone, but here it is.

It has been interesting to observe how parts of the world have re-awakened when human civilisation is in lockdown. The recovery of air quality and the drastic drop in pollution is well documented and welcome. But then there are those stories of wildlife venturing out of their safe habitats to venture into the deserted streets of man. It gives you an insight into how quickly the earth would return to its primal ways should man magically disappear. It’s a heartwarming glimpse because this is the natural world we’ve sought to dominate. It remains in place, and we become conscious of it again. Like most, I reckon, it makes me faintly wistful, and regretful for the time soon in the future the natural world will retreat again once we reclaim the environment.

Many of our thoughts in times like this are like those animals coming out of hiding. We find ourselves dwelling on things forgotten, and reflecting on what our life means and where we go to from here – because, surely, we must come out of this better people? That’s the hope all of us cling to, though I’m fearful that once life returns to ‘normal’ then these thoughts, like the pigs and ducks and goats, will head back to safe oblivion.

I discussed some of this yesterday on a long walk with Cheeseboy. It’s the first time I’ve seen him since his birthday, six weeks ago. He called me early and suggested we rendezvous for a take-away coffee. In normal life, we would catch up and sit at the French cafe where we’d have a couple of coffees and a pastry and chew the fat. This time we arrived at another cafe with perhaps half a dozen others lurking in the street outside it. Both of us had brought our dogs. Once we had our coffee we set off for a walk.

In the end, we walked for about 75 minutes. It was a cool but fine and sunny day. We made our way to the beach, where it seems much of Hampton had the same idea as us – walking their dogs and jogging and doing exercises, though, strictly speaking, the beach was banned. We walked along the concrete pathway at the back of it, discussing our work from home experiences and his renovations, how business has adapted, and how it means little will be the same afterwards.

As always, talk gravitated to the moral impact of this pandemic. What I mean by that is how it has reduced us to basics, and how refreshing that has been. We spoke as a couple of healthy males in an affluent suburb, walking our dogs on the beach. For us, there is an impact, but most of it is to lifestyle alone. It hasn’t affected our health, and though I’m on reduced days, the financial toll is much less for us than many thousands of others. In a sense, the impact on us is mostly theoretical. It isn’t for others.

There are hard times ahead and challenging decisions, yet both of us agreed this is an opportunity to remake society. Much will have been destroyed through this pandemic, and a lot of it will never be rebuilt. In the reconstruction work to come, there’s the chance to build in a different way. A lot of that will come out of necessity, much as a community devasted by a cyclone will rebuild their homes to be resistant to it next time. We can do that, but we can also take the time to re-imagine the form society takes in this new future.

To that end, we’ve broken ground in responding to the urgent demands the virus has made of us. We’ve broken open the war chest to share among us, against all previous ideological dictates. Business has been forced to adapt and reconfigure to ride out the economic storm. They’ve learnt to do business better, and those that survive will be stronger for it. As people, we’ve re-engaged with each other, albeit remotely. The constraints on meeting and socialising in the usual way have reinforced the importance of the people around us. We need each other, whether we’re friends or strangers. With time on our hands, we have returned to simpler joys, and the lucky become more intimate with their family. All of us, I think, see through the shallow entitlement of conspicuous consumption that gripped us before.

You don’t need me to tell you that it’s been a bizarre year. That’s particularly true in Australia. The new year brought with it diabolical and devastating bushfires. It was oppressive emotionally, and even physically, in the tainted air that we breathed. It was a terrible thing, but we saw the best of society at that time. We pulled together and supported each other. We were selfless and authentic.

How strange and disappointing it was then when the first signs of C-19 hit our shores and seemingly everyone rushed to the stores to hoard toilet paper and pasta and tinned tomatoes, and so on. I couldn’t comprehend it at first, and then I was forced to the stores myself lest I miss out. How had we gone from the generosity of the summer bushfires to the selfishness of this? I had a theory that these were different parts of Australia, but maybe it was that I wanted to believe that: the decent and the deplorable. There may be some truth to that at the edges, but if there was a Venn diagram then likely there’s a decent overlap.

I still don’t quite understand, but it seems to me that panic set in. Someone said something, something was on TV or in the paper, whatever it was it sparked a mad rush, much like the old fashioned runs on the bank. For a while, it seemed every man for himself. I could hardly stomach my disappointment – and disdain.

But now, on the other side of it, generosity of spirit has blossomed again. It’s the cliche of our times but it’s true, we’re all in this together. All but a minority have embraced that ethos. There seems a collective understanding: these are unprecedented times, but if we band together and do the right thing then we’ll get out of it okay. And in this, we’re looking at each other, like a team.

I hope we don’t forget these things. I accept that humankind is capricious and the herd mentality is strong, but it can be used for good. With the sun streaming down both Cheeseboy and I could agree on that. We were optimistic – but there’s still a long way to go.