The quality of rest

Last night we had our Zoom ‘party’, which perhaps went off better than I expected. There were four of us each sitting in our disparate homes in front of a laptop or iPad or phone, connecting with a glass of wine or beer in our hand. It was pretty much like any occasion you get male friends together. There was plenty of banter and lots of friendly abuse and regular laughter. We made light of the situation, more or less, while each of us explained our situation with work and at home. One is on half-pay, another has been asked to take leave. Only two of us are still working full time and on full pay still.

It was a welcome break from the locked-in routine, though very strange also. One is in walking distance from here. Another a 7 minute drive. One of my friends, usually dapper and handsome, looked like a Portuguese fisherman, as I told him, unshaved all week and wearing an old cap. Cheeseboy hadn’t shaved either and was looking very silver. Me, I’ve actually gone the other way. I figure I’ve got no-one to impress for a while, so I’m letting my hair grow out, and have shaved off the beard and moustache I’ve had for years. I don’t look like Viking anymore, though God knows how I’ll appear in months from now.

We’re catching up again next Friday night. In between times we’ve set ourselves to all watch the same movie and to all comment on it in our next meeting. These are the things you do in times like this.

It’s Saturday, and I have an excuse today to be a bum. I need it. I keep saying it, but I’m so weary. As I figure it, I’ve had only one day without work in the last four weeks – last Sunday. I plan to do none this weekend. I need to recoup my energy. It’s not so much the act of working that has tired me so, though there’ve been many long days. It’s the mental energy I’m depleted of because your mind is always on high alert. You’re always anticipating and wondering and figuring things out in your head and planning next steps, and so on, even when you’re sitting down to watch TV or laying in bed.

I could handle it, except the quality of rest isn’t there. I’ve come to realise that there’s a difference in how we rest. Doing nothing is insufficient. I could spend an hour lying on the couch with a book or watching TV and sometimes my mind and body will relax into the moment and begin to restore; and other times, doing nothing different, I get up as weary as I sat down. I feel I know more about this now and realise that rest is as much a state of mindfulness as it is of the body. Only rarely in the last few weeks have I managed true rest, and so here I am, running on empty.

It’s a good day to do nothing, though there a few alternatives to that these days. It rained all night. It’s blowing outside now, and more rain is in the air. It’s much cooler. I’ll go for a walk soon enough, but I’ll relax my exercise goals today. Normally I would use the footy as an excuse to take it easy. It’s a perfect day to watch it from the warmth of home. I’d look forward to it. But there’s no footy now but old replays. Instead, I plan to lay on the couch and watch a good movie. I might spend another hour reading. I’ll lower myself into a hot tub later. I’ll clear my head and ease my body. I’m not going anywhere.

Interesting times

I was in a meeting last week when I asked someone from our Ops department (where I used to work) if there are any contingencies in place if and when COVID-19 became widespread. He looked at me as if I was daft.

I think the danger of COVID-19 is less than the panic-stricken reaction to it would suggest. That’s not to say COVID-19 presents no threat, which clearly it does. The infection rate has just about reached the exponential factor, which is why I don’t think it’s going way for a while and will get much worse before it gets better. Fatality rates seem to be somewhere between 1%-3%, the variance likely a factor of population demographics and treatment. In itself, it’s far from being a death sentence, but if enough people contract the virus then potentially that’s still a lot of people – the elderly, the infirm, the unhealthy mostly. And that could be many hundreds of thousands, even millions, across the globe.

Quite logically, everyone is doing their best to limit the spread, which is why we have travel bans and quarantine periods – and, just this morning, the whole of Italy being locked down. There are already sporting events going on in empty stadiums, and one of the biggest tennis tournaments outside the grand slams has now been postponed. Locally, there are schools sending students home as precautions.

All this may well slow the rate of infection, but I expect the virus will take hold nonetheless – and we should be prepared for this.

It’s the consequences of the virus which cause the greatest concern. World markets have plummeted. International trade has drastically slowed with China locked down. And, of course, we’ve seen the panicked reaction of investors in the market, and the general public with panic buying of so-called essential items. The shadow of the virus looms large ahead of any real impact on health.

Governments have a role to play in this, and the Australian government has been slow to react in any substantial way. I think by now there should have been a campaign to educate the public, to allay fears around essential supplies, and to advise in case of infection. On top of that is the critical stimulus required to keep the economy going as it begins to tank. That’ll be interesting as the government had ruled out – for political reasons – a package such as the Labor government successfully deployed during the GFC (and which staved off the worst effects of that). They’re also saying that there’ll be no increase to Newstart which, besides being a longstanding moral imperative, would be an extremely effective measure to stimulate economic activity: if you give money to people who have none and are struggling to get by, then they’ll spend it.

Much of this should have happened long before the threat of a coronavirus.

Practically speaking, I think we must expect that COVID-19 will ultimately take hold here as it has in other places. In due course, I expect there’ll be lockdowns across the country. There are already discussions around sporting events being played in closed stadiums. It only takes a few more (and increasing) cases of the virus for business being shut down selectively. And if it’s not the business enforcing protocols around sick staff, then it’s likely building management will do so, and the authorities.

Then you look at such critical services as the public transport that channel hundreds of thousands of people every day into our hubs. They’re a fertile ground for infection at any time, but with COVID-19 taking hold, are as dangerous as any sporting ground, and probably more so.

On top of all this is the social disruption we’re already witnessing, and the potential for stigmatisation.

We’re not at that point now, and it may never get to that stage – but I expect it to become a lot worse here and abroad. At the current rate of infection I reckon we have about 6 weeks before it gets to that point.

This is why I asked if there are any contingencies. It only takes one person to come down with COVID-19 in Ops and the whole area will shut down – that’s a critical function at the busiest time of year. (Pumping my own tyres, I suggested that chatbot and live chat – which agents can log into from home – were options to upscale).

I don’t worry about myself. I’m not downplaying the health risk, but I don’t fit the victim profile. That doesn’t mean that life won’t be turned upside down by this. I can foresee a time when anyone with any cough or cold is asked to stay home as a precaution. And if there’s a case of COVID-19, or if services are cut, then many of us are likely to be trapped at home.

For me, fortunately, I can work from home via VPN. I’m guessing that’s not currently an option for 90% of the workforce. And, more or less, that makes a lot of what I might do moot as I work in a channel.

Interesting times ahead.

In the street

It’s a steamy, uncomfortable morning. After a couple of days over 40 degrees, it’s cooler but no more pleasant. There’s thick, low cloud keeping the heat in. It’s around 30 degrees now and tipped to go higher before the rain comes later. Already there are one or two heavy drops. It’ll come as a relief, not just because of the cooler weather. My car is begrimed in red dust blown in from the country far to the north. It needs a wash, and rain is the closest thing to it it’s going to get.

I was out walking earlier on my regular Saturday morning round of the shops. I stop at the supermarket, sometimes the greengrocer, and at one of the bakeries. Sometimes I’ll stop for a coffee on the way back.

On the way there I walked by a series of red flowering gums in the nature strip. They’re in full bloom now, and glorious to behold. The blossoms are a fiery red and are abundant amid lush green foliage. This year the trees are alive with lorikeets nesting and gathering and feeding. The sound of them as you walk by is joyous and, looking up, you’ll see one dangling upside down, it’s beak in a blossom, and another creeping along a branch, and others, seemingly in conversation. I don’t remember it ever being so busy with birds. In past years I never noticed them at all; this year I can’t help but notice. I wonder if this population is surge is due to the fires, or perhaps to the drought?

Later, walking down the street, I came to a T-intersection with the road connecting coming from the sea. Abruptly my nostrils were assailed with the heavy, odoriferous smell of brine. What is this? I wondered. What does this signify? Why does this happen some days and the rest of the time not at all? I had no answers. I bought my bread and returned home.

Coming together

Monday afternoon on the Australia day holiday I caught up with Cheeseboy and off we went to a Bushfires Support event at a bar in Black Rock. It was going off in Black Rock. It was a bright, sunny day, and the clientele had spilled out onto the pavement. The windows had been flung open at the venue, and a live band playing songs from the seventies and eighties had the buoyant crowd bopping. It was very festive.

There was a distinct demographic present. More than 50% of the crowd would’ve been over 60, well to do and friendly. I looked about and rubbed shoulders with them, occasionally stopping to have a short conversation, and I could see my mum there, and my stepfather.

Mum would’ve been in her element. It was her sort of music, and she was never shy of having a dance. Such a friendly, social person would have quickly engaged with others around her and Fred, my stepfather would have been right at her side.

I bumped into an acquaintance there, then friends of Cheeseboy happened by. A woman was going around selling raffle tickets for charity, as well as a ticket to an old fashioned wheel. She insisted we buy our share of tickets then demanded that I spin the wheel – she’d cottoned onto me, while another, more matronly type, took a shining to Cheeseboy.

None of us won anything, but we were happy to sip on our pints of Pale Ale and join in the vibe. It was one of those occasions when you were proud to be an Aussie. Everyone was working for free. Half the profits from the beer went to charity. The prizes had been donated. Even the sausage sizzle went to a good cause.

This is what I remember. For all the fervour around Australia Day, most Australians are very decent, generous people. Maybe it’s a bit more skewed one way than the other down my way, but the spirit of community and pulling together was very strong. All of it was very Australian – bright and optimistic, a smile, a laugh, a clap on the back. Very open.

This is what I remembered. This is the best of Australia, just as the community response towards the disaster has been the best of us.

We can act on the things that need to get done, but let’s not forget the basics in the meantime – with few exceptions, we’re a friendly lot happy to embrace others as a rule, and to put in the hard yards for each other when we must.

Smoke in the city

I woke this morning to a heavy pall of smoke outside, low in the sky and much reducing visibility. It’s different to previous days. Last week it was hazy with smoke and there was a general smoky odour and quality to the air. This is much more distinct. You can almost taste the burnt wood, and the odour is much stronger.
It’s like when you sit around a campfire for a while and the smell of the fire infuses your clothes long after the fire has gone out. There’s the tang of burnt timber, not unpleasant in itself, except when out of context like this. This isn’t a campfire – this is the smoke from huge swathes of forests on fire. And it’s a health hazard. As I said, I can taste it on my tongue and in the back of my throat, and I feel a bit of sinus pressure around my eyes. It’s much worse for asthmatics.
The air quality is rated as poor in the city, and very poor back where I live, and it’s tipped to deteriorate further. It brings home the disaster very effectively. The light is a bit eerie, and the whole environment has a surreal feel to it, like in some dystopian movie.
But at least we’re getting some rain.

Too much civilisation

I live in a suburb where the people are generally well off and decent types. They’re well educated and engaged. For some reason, there’s a fair number of expats here too, and they’re much the same. Walking down the street, you’ll often get a smile and, occasionally, will be wished you a good morning, or somesuch. I’ve always thought that a pre-condition of living here was ownership of a bike and a dog. I have both, though only one of them gets any work.

I’ve been for a walk this morning with Rigby, and along the way, we found other couples – man and dog – out on this sunny Sunday morning. Yesterday, I caught up with Cheeseboy for a coffee. We sat there as people went by with their dogs tugging them along, occasionally pausing to get acquainted with Bailey, the Cheese’s labradoodle.

As I walked to the supermarket yesterday after coffee, I encountered more than a dozen dogs out for a walk or sitting at the feet of their owners taking in the sun while mum and dad had breakfast. I looked at every dog. Some, as I went by, I made that little sound in my throat that dogs know. A couple of times, I stopped to pat a dog tied up outside a shop waiting for its owner, some patiently, some keening with worry. Each time I felt myself powerfully moved by these dear creatures, which I love with all my heart. And a feel a kinship with their owners, as if we are a part of a brotherhood.

I’ve always loved dogs, but it’s true also that as I get older, I’m becoming more soft-hearted when it comes to animals in general. It troubles me how often they are exploited and abused. There must be a better term for it, but peering into an animal’s eyes, I can sense their innate ‘humanity.’ I can recognise each of them has a life. They have feelings, have fears and affection. That’s the sort of view likely to have you accused of anthropomorphism, which means to see – or treat – animals as human beings.

Let me make it clear. I don’t equate the two – broadly speaking, my feelings towards animals are untainted, whereas I have serious doubts about humankind. In some ways, my affection for animals is little different for what I feel for children. They have an innocence that is worth cherishing, but both are subject to exploitation by the less innocent, and generally are unable to defend themselves against it. To stand by and watch that exploitation seems against nature. It certainly doesn’t fit right with me, and less so every day.

I don’t know if I see things differently now that I’m older, or if it’s just become more exposed. What is clear to me now – a wiser man perhaps than I was before – is that exploitation of this type is an embodiment of hubris.

For centuries, human culture has viewed nature in all its variety as something to serve our appetites and ambition. It is a resource to be consumed, for profit like as not. Animals are expendable as beasts of burden and sustenance, and mother earth despoiled. That’s the chicken that’s finally come home to roost, and I need not expound on that further. It seems a very human thing.

I’m no purist – I like a good steak (though I eat less and less) – but I can’t accept that it’s destiny that makes us the pre-eminent species on earth. We may be the most intelligent of species and possess uniquely – so they say – ‘consciousness’ (I’m a skeptic), but it’s absurd to suggest it means anything more than a fluke of biology. The earth hasn’t been placed here for our benefit, and no amount of misguided destiny justifies abuse and cruelty.

I’m at the stage of life when I want no part of that, and it makes sense to me that we return to nature. It’s about respect. It’s in short supply all round, these days. Respect for each other, and respect for the world around us, too, and every critter a part of it. If there’s anything we need now, it’s humility – but even the well-intentioned seem to lack that.

This is the symptom of my times: I’ve lost faith in humanity. As individuals, as people who share smiles and good wishes and walk our dogs, there is little to complain of. But as a collective, we have become dire.

If there were a vote tomorrow about who should go on, people or dogs, then I’d vote dogs because they are by far the more pure being. That’s where I’m at.

Faux summer days

It feels like summer, not because it’s especially warm – it’d be about 16 degrees outside – but the sky is blue and the sun shining and, as I sit here, I can hear one neighbour going about his mowing while another has the whipper-snipper out. Sure signs. All I need now is the waft of some barbecue aromas (and maybe the cricket on in the background), and I’ve got pure summer cliche, just like so many others in the past. Some things never change.

In reality, this is the dead time before summer. It’s not winter and, despite all signs, not summer either. I think they call this spring. It’s a bit of everything and I don’t mind that, especially as the days grow longer, and you can see things coming into bud. You get a bit of a skip in your step this time of year because winter is over. Finally, enough is enough, though enough is just right too – I like winter, but steady, boy.

For someone who views the calendar through a sporting lens, then this is a bit of a dead time. Footy’s over, cricket hasn’t begun proper. The A-League re-commenced last night, but it’ll take me a while to get back into that. Likewise the NBL, which I’ll keep an eye on without ever getting too excited. There’s motorsport, but, nah; and the horse racing season heats up now – I’ll get into that in a couple of weeks.

It’s a convenient opportunity for me to catch up on things then without distraction. I did a solid shift working from home yesterday, but still managed to take down a few boxes to the local Salvos. There’s a bit more of that sort of stuff to do, as well as the well-timed spring cleaning I rarely get to in any season of any year. And there’s my writing.

A couple of weeks ago I exclaimed to some close confidantes that I’d be finishing my book that weekend. But then I got crook and by then had lost the plot anyway. I did some more work on it last weekend. This weekend I’m a chance to finish, but don’t hold your breath.

I’ve got plenty of time now without distraction and if it’s not this weekend then almost certainly it’ll be next weekend. That’ll be a moment, though it’s only a first draft and I already know so many things about it I want to change. That’s why it’s a first draft.

Once it’s done, I’ll stick it in the bottom drawer and take from there the MS I prepared earlier – the first book, ripe for a final re-write and polish. That’s how it goes.

In the meantime, might fire up the barbie.