Soldiering on


I’ve held off on commenting on more recent developments with the virus in Melbourne because, well, I was over it – as most people are. But now, as of last night, we’re in stage 4 lockdown, and it’s clear things have gone in the wrong direction.

Setting aside the personal inconvenience, I’m pretty philosophical about the whole thing. I still believe that we’ll get by this setback – I remain optimistic – but I understand equally that if that’s to happen, then draconian steps are required. And that’s where we’re at.

Things might not have been so draconian but for the sort of people who complain about draconian measures. One of the significant issues and major frustrations over the last month has been the numbers of people flouting the rules. Some of the call-outs have been staggering. Infectees are now visited at their home by the ADF to ensure they remain in isolation, but fully 25% of people have been missing when the army has called. They’re sick and infected people out and about infecting more people.

A fair amount of them is the utter ratbags we see on the news and posting libertarian and conspiracy nonsense to social media. They either refuse to believe that COVID is a real thing, or they refuse to comply with lockdown and mask-wearing because it impinges their civil rights – which they’ll read to you chapter and verse (and manage to miss the legal basis of it nonetheless). Victorians are heartily sick of these people. They’re selfish and entitled, and the fact they can so gleefully celebrate their dissent demonstrates how little they care for anyone else.

As we were told at that start of this, we’re all in this together. None of us enjoys it. Many are climbing the walls. We do it because we must: because we recognise it’s for the good of all. And because, if we don’t, then it’ll only get worse.

That’s unfortunately relevant to the other group who aren’t complying. These are the low-paid and casual workers, most of whom live in the less well off suburbs of Melbourne where the virus is most rampant. I have some sympathy for these people because they’re faced with the tough decision between isolating without income or going to work sick so they can get a wage. These are people with minimal resources and who need an income to put food on the table, pay the rent, and provide for their family.

This is the huge flaw in the government’s relief policy that was made clear to them on day one when they exempt casual workers from any support packages. Had they been provided with paid pandemic leave and able to isolate at home then I reckon 80% of the cases we now see would have been avoided. The state government has since stepped in to provide some support, but – incredibly – the federal government is still dragging its feet. This situation was wholly avoidable and for relatively little expense. It’s an example of things not being thought through clearly, which is excusable when you do it in a rush, but less so when they’ve had months to rectify it and had every economist in the land tell them they ought to.

Those suffering most from the second wave are in aged care facilities. Most of the deaths have come from residents tended by casual workers spreading the infection, and ultimately left to fend for themselves. I don’t know if it’s much of a surprise to anyone really as the deplorable state of our aged care system has been an open secret for years. This has exposed it to the hot media spotlight, and the government can no longer sweep it under the carpet. It really needs a post of its own. Suffice to say that so much of this is because of the mania for privatisation and flexible work conditions. Standards slip, and the authorities have little control. And people suffer.

I shouldn’t be complacent, but I live in an area where there’ve been few cases and far from the hotspots. I’m tempted to think that most of the neighbourhood here are good citizens and well aware of their responsibilities – but I also note that there’s no meat or veggies left in the supermarket when I visited this morning.

Like everyone – well, almost everyone – I’ve been wearing a mask for the last couple of weeks. Can’t say I enjoy it much. I never realised how much it would impede my breathing. And, naturally, it fogs up my glasses. Initially, I found it a strange experience. I felt enclosed and separate to the environment around me. My environment was in my mask, as if I was contained in a bubble. I’ve got used to it since and made other adjustments to manage it better. It’s like most things, eventually, you adapt – though I’m looking forward to a time when I can take the mask off, go out for a beer and travel beyond the border.

For now, we’re stuck. There’s a 5km travel limit and a curfew at 8pm. These are strange times, and you only have to look around you to see that with everyone in a mask. Who’d have ever imagined this? This is a surreal moment in history we won’t soon forget. I’m fascinated to see the art that comes out of it.

Hoping with intent


There’s a rough correlation between how often I post here and where I’m at. I’ve got the week off from work, but even with that free time, I haven’t posted until today. I haven’t wanted to. More specifically, I had no appetite for sharing myself online like this.

It feels easier today, but equally valid, I’m writing because I feel an obligation to explain the silence. I can’t let it go on.

I’ve had the week off, and I’ve done nothing. There’s nothing to do these days, no place you can go, no activity you can try. If you go out of doors at all you have to be in a mask, so, all in all, it’s a lot easier to stay indoors. That’s what I’ve done.

Monday was probably the toughest. I’ve been crook in a minor way for a while, then I took the bomb last week, and it seemed to work. There were some side effects. For a couple of days, I felt nauseous. You shrug your shoulders at that. But then, I felt as if the medication had wiped me out. That was general across the weekend, but come Monday I could barely rouse myself. I lay in bed until 9.30. When I got up, I lay on the couch for another hour, then throughout the day. I had neither the energy nor the urge to do any more than that.

You try and explain it to yourself. It was the bomb that did it. Then you consider how poorly you’ve been sleeping and think you’re just now catching up. They’re probably true in their own way, but I think much of it was mental.

When you’re working or needing to remain disciplined and attentive, you force it from yourself when it doesn’t come naturally. You rely on routines and patterns and lift yourself to attend them. It’s a kind of structure that holds you together.

Waking up Monday I had none of those routines I must attend, and I think in their absence there was a mental collapse. Without the workday pattern, there was nothing for me to cling to and I was forced back upon myself – and what did I have to offer?

It’s probably quite a common thing at the moment. I’ve grown impatient with being locked down. I feel hemmed in. As I’ve spoken of before, situations like this strip the social veneer from life, exposing the raw bones beneath it. But what if there’s nothing there? I’m a great believer in the meaningful life, but I understand the necessity of social distraction. It salves the soul to go out into the world and mingle in society. Lifestyle – cafes, restaurants, pubs, gigs, etc. – might be superficial in a way, but they’re the glue that holds us together. As for close friends? Well, try living without them.

These are things we are pretty much living without for now. We try and paper over the gaping cracks – I attended a zoom dinner party Saturday night, and had my weekly walk on the beach with Cheeseboy Saturday morning – but it’s a pale and obvious substitute for the real thing. As for society? The closest we get to it is on our TV screens.

Most people are lucky enough to have something to fall back on at home. Mostly it’s family, but I can only imagine the solace that brings. I have nonesuch, but it’s not so much the lack of a family around me I find hard, it’s the lack of intimacy.

You see, in the absence of all the other stuff, it becomes more important. You can deceive yourself the rest of the time caught up in the distractions of social life – look at the life I’m leading, after all: bars and restaurants, flirtation and excess. Look how vivid it is! It’s colour and movement – but restrict movement and strip the colour back to a monotone, what do you have? Only what’s close to you, and inside you.

I felt a bit better Tuesday, but hardly enterprising. Yesterday, the same, though I did manage to do some writing on both days, and a few household tasks.

I sometimes feel as if I should use this time to figure things out – but I’m not even sure what difference it would make if I did. And I’m not sure things are figurable, because there’s not one thing but a multitude of them, complementary and contradictory. Just like human life.

This is a very existential time, but not anything that therapy, or anything similar, can do much about. It’s not as if I can just accept it, though. Half the struggle is the struggle. There is meaning in striving. There’s even meaning in believing the striving will pay-off. Ultimately, that’s one of the things inside you: the belief that you can drive change. Maybe that’s just hope, but it’s hope with intent.

Mysterious encounters in the supermarket aisle


I reckon about four weeks ago I was bemoaning how hard it is to meet anyone new since we’ve been in lockdown. By anyone, I meant predominantly women, but I’m always happy to meet interesting characters regardless of gender, but it just wasn’t happening. “It’s not as if I’m going to run into them in the supermarket,” I said.

Then, the week before last, on Thursday, I’m in the supermarket, naturally – in the fruit and veggie department, to be specific – when going one way I encounter a woman coming the other.

Most of the shoppers are women, and there’s barely a one in years I’ve given a second glance to. This time it was different, for any one of the umpteen indefinable reasons you find yourself drawn to one person, and not another. It was not as if she was beautiful, though she was attractive. At first glance, there was nothing particularly striking or different about her. But that’s not how it works, not in my experience anyway. I’m a believer in so-called chemistry, though I think of it more as a frequency thing – you resonate at the same level. And that’s how it feels to me. The rare occasion you meet someone and experience this it feels as if you know them. They’re familiar to you, even though five minutes ago you didn’t know they existed.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, and gilding the lily a bit much too.

So she’s coming towards me as I’m coming towards her. I glance at her. She has dark red hair and, though she is attractive at first glance, what I really think is how interesting she looks. She’s slightly taller than the norm, slender, wearing dark yoga pants. I feel something, nothing too big or dramatic, not much more than a stirring of curiosity. Without defining it, in that split second, I think she’s my kind of woman.

Then we’re past each other – and yet, I feel as if she has noticed me much as I noticed her. I go about my shopping idly wondering at her. I’ve never seen her in the supermarket to start with. And somehow I’m reminded of Katherine Hepburn, as if this unknown lady might just be as feisty as her.

The next day I’m at the supermarket at the same time – and she is there too. How strange, I think, two days in a row! We pass by without comment, but there’s the same sense of knowingness shared between us I think – though it could equally be my wishful imagination.

The next day is Saturday. Once more, I go to the supermarket – and once more she’s there. It seems so strange that we should both visit the supermarket at the same time three days in a row when prior we’d never set eyes on each other. And then something happens which I still don’t know the meaning of.

I turn into an aisle. She’s there, alone, looking at the shelves. From the far end of the aisle, a young couple enters. They’re talking animatedly to each other. I walk towards them, towards the mystery woman, watching as she peruses the supermarket shelf. As I draw near, my eyes shift from her towards the couple, but as I do, I sense her turning in my direction. There’s a knowing smile on her face as she looks towards me as if sharing a joke only the two us know. It all happens so quickly that I don’t know if it’s real or if what I saw was as it appeared, and I don’t react. Part of it is that I’m already turning away from her, but most of it is uncertainty, and I kick myself.

The couple goes by. I go by her. Nothing is said.

I return home pondering what just happened. By now something has woken in me. It feels as if encountering this woman has brought to the surface a yearning I had long buried. It’s more general than to be focussed on her alone. It feels like truth. This is who you are, H. This is what you want and need. It’s not an easy realisation because it exposes all that I have done without. I have endured but not lived. It felt as if this what I’ve been waiting for without knowing it – and without seeking to know. To be blunt, I had deceived myself because it was easier than to face the sad reality. How many of us do that?

I’m not so caught up as to think that this mystery woman had the answers for me, but I’m also afraid that I’ve blown my chance. Three days in a row, I encountered her, and did nothing! What are the chances that I won’t see her again? High. I’d been tempting fate, but I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I had all the usual things run through my head at times like this. What if I’ve got it wrong? Why would she be interested in me? Don’t be silly H, it’s all your imagination.

I don’t go to the supermarket the next day, but in the afternoon I take Rigby for a walk. On this occasion, I take him up to the main road where the shops are. It’s crowded with people, and on occasion, I must manhandle Rigby to steer him clear of other dogs. As we approach the doors of the supermarket, I notice two greyhounds tied outside of it. They’re standing there, one resting his chin on the other. I point them out to Rigby. Look, two greyhounds, I tell him.

I look up just as we come to the doors of the supermarket. The doors open, and suddenly I’m gazing into the face of the red-headed woman as she exits. There’s a smile on her face again, but looking towards the greyhounds – isn’t she? Then we are past. We walk, Rigby and I, and somehow I know she is following. I’m conscious of her there. I stop to let some people through a crowded section. I murmur something to Rigby. I turn as if to look into a shop window, and from the corner of my eye, I spot her.

The congestion clears and we go on. Thirty metres on we turn off into a laneway, while she continues on straight.

I haven’t seen her since. I still don’t know what to make of it. A part of me feels embarrassed. I think I’ve imagined it all. Then I wonder why I didn’t have the gumption to do anything about it. But, by now, I have no idea what’s right.

I have a strange and irrational sense that this was a gift to me I didn’t accept. I keep thinking of the old joke about the impoverished man who prays to God each night that he might win the lottery. Finally, exasperated, God booms from the heavens, “meet me halfway, willya, buy a ticket!”

That’s me. I didn’t go halfway.

I’ll probably never see her again. That doesn’t concern me. Life is full of moments that escape from you. Now, I’m more curious about what it means for me – and what it reveals?

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.

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.

Craving movement


It’s interesting to chart the progress of working in isolation, especially now that most of the restrictions on us are easing. Regardless of any of that, I probably won’t make it back to the office until late August/September, and so the basic form and routine will change little.

In the early days, it was a bit of a novelty working from home, as it was for most people. It led to household experiments me as people looked to keep busy, and to explore the possibilities of being home fulltime. For a while, there were myriad social media tropes as every man, and his dog tried making their own bread or dabbled with other alternatives. Banana bread was a thing for a while. About this phase, a lot of us got into the habit of a nightly drink or two, and home-delivered alcohol sales went through the roof.

I never made my own bread – why bother if I could get a superior loaf at the local baker? I made some banana bread, though and made other cakes also given the opportunity. What I really got into was the ritual of cooking my evening meal.

I like to coo,k and I like to eat, but working in the office limits the time you have to do it as fully as you might like. I’d generally cook something up on the weekend that would be good for 3-4 meals over the next few weeks. I’d whip up lighter meals during the week, or get something out of the freezer. Much as I looked forward to a delicious meal, the keyword was convenience.

Suddenly, working from home, I had a lot more time on my hands. I used it to plan, prepare and cook up much more ambitious meals. I’d pore over my list of saved recipes figuring out what I’d cook next. I’d go out and shop for it, and generally make a start on the recipe during my lunch break. By the time I knocked off at the end of the day I’d pump up the Sonos playing Spotify, or maybe an audiobook, and I’d cook up a storm.

I ate very well. Too well, probably. The food was great, the recipes were bold, I’d make my notes and so on, but I’d be doing this 4-5 days a week, and I had to eat it all. The result was that I ate too much. At the same time, I was drinking too much. And in between, because of Easter and the rest of it, I’d have some chocolate or nibble on one of the cakes I made.

That was then. I twigged finally that I didn’t need this much food. I enjoyed cooking, but it was overkill for me. Over a period, I scaled back on my cooking. At the same time, I slowed my drinking (about once a week now, rather than every day). I cut the chocolate out altogether. Basically, I exhausted the phase and moved to the next. I’m sure it was the same for many others.

Another thing I noticed was that people became much more expansive on Facebook, particularly. It makes sense. We’re no longer able to see each other face to face and so other mediums take up the slack. There’s a fundamental need to connect and express. Facebook is an easy option because it’s right there. People who had been quiet for yonks started to pipe up online. We all began to comment on each other’s posts. There was a lot of banter, even mild and friendly abuse. I reconnected with people I’d had hardly seen or spoken to for years.

I did my bit in all this. I began to say more in general, most of it light-hearted. Then I started my sandwich of the day/week post in which I’d make a fancy sandwich, take a picture of it, and then add in my comments and description, much of it tongue in cheek. That inspired many to respond in the same manner. It was very good-natured and enjoyable. To a degree, that continues – I posted about the chicken katsu sandwich with tonkatsu and wasabi coleslaw just last Friday – but I sense it’s starting to trail off a bit now.

I sense that what was a pure need before has been diluted since as we’ve found other alternatives to posting things online – that is, we’re out and about more and meeting face to face.

And yet, it’s still quite foreign. This is where I’m at now. I’m doing more, but what is lacking in my life is the real spontaneity you get when you set out each day to go to work. The opportunity for chance encounters and unexpected conversations is greatly reduced, and I miss that. Everything is pretty predictable and routine. It’s rare still that something happens off-plan.

I miss women, and the pleasures of flirting, and moments of delight and wonder, and even possibility. When nothing is different, there’s no real hope because what you have is what you have. Hope is about what you don’t have and the yearning possibility of attaining it. Until the time returns when I have the opportunity for different things, hope will remain – more or less – absent, or at least, no more than generic. This is the picture, and here I am in it. Things need to start moving to make things happen…

 

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.

 

When the war is over


I miss things. I miss having a drink at a pub or bar or going out for dinner. I miss the footy. I miss the random conversations and interactions. I miss women. I miss being spontaneous and doing things on a whim. I miss the CBD, though not completely, and the hustle and activity of it. I miss my friends.

There’s a lot of things I don’t miss. I don’t miss the morning train or the feeling of being on a programmed routine. I don’t miss the dull meetings (though I now have frustrating online meetings instead). I don’t miss the general rush. I don’t miss dressing up for work, or the ironing that goes with it. I don’t miss the meaningless expense. I don’t miss the crush.

I like how this whole thing has opened up conversation, even if we do it remotely now. I like how each morning now I wake up and can spend a civilised hour catching up on the news and reading instead of getting ready and travelling to work. I like being close to Rigby, and he likes it too.

Unlike a lot, I’m thriving in this period of isolation. It’s a long way from ideal, and I pointed out what I’m missing, but when it all ends, there’ll be things I’ll be sad to leave behind. If some are struggling now, I think many others have gained a new appreciation of what they can do. As I keep saying, when we go back, it’ll be different, if only for the fact that we’ll know the difference.

I could handle working from home much more regularly once we return. For me, the ideal split would be two days in the office and three at home each week. You need to get to the office sometimes. You need the face to face occasionally, and to do things with others. And it’s good to get out, to mix it with society. You need the hustle, need to go out and get coffee or maybe a drink after work. You need the vibe around you – just not every day.

What I’ve found in this period is that I work very effectively from home. I sort of knew that before when I did consulting, but it was never as full-on as this. I’m much more productive, and it’s a lot easier because I’m already home.

One of the things I’ve loved about this is that I’m eating properly. Real meals, and not the snacks I’d pick up working. I have time to plan and prepare ambitious meals, whereas before it was always a rush at the end of the day to get something ready. I love food, I love cooking, and so this is a real win – even if it means now that I’m eating too much. I love easing into the day as I do, and it feels healthy for a rounded mind. I’m not always on the go – I have time to slow and even pause. I’ve complained of weariness, and with good cause, but it occurred to me earlier today that I feel generally more healthy. Everything seems to be functioning as it should do.

Ideally, the cafes would be open. That’s a great way to break up a day working from home – stepping to get a late breakfast or working on wi-fi from a cafe for an hour or so. And then, at the end of a productive day, popping up the road to a wine bar. That will come, but for now, I make do with a glass of wine or G&T once 5 o’clock ticks over (12 mins away).

I think there’s an acceptance that work will be different after this for the likes of me. This has been an effective POC – we’ve done the hard work, we’ve set-up the systems, we’ve adjusted to the reality. From here, once life returns to some semblance of what used to be called normal, then it will be a doddle. I hope so, anyway.

And I mentioned, I love how so many minds have been opened by this situation. I used to lament the tedious and predictable conversation of days past, but the constraints that kept conversation dull have been busted wide open. We’ve been made to consider many unlikely possibilities, and the future remains unclear – but, here in Oz, at least, I think there’s some positivity about that as much as there is curiosity.

There’s a lot more, of course, and I suspect much will slide back into familiar routines when this is all over. But hopefully, we learn something too, and even grow a little.