Life Interrupted – 13

About two blog posts ago, I was going to stop writing this series on the pandemic – we were going back to normal and there’s only so much you can write about your cats or the existential dilemma brought on by the pandemic. And then the second wave hit.

Lockdown stage 4, has been extended by two weeks. There’s a furore because the Victorian Government is ruining the economy for everyone. When Melbourne went into lockdown again our PM said we are all Melbournians now, which lasted all of two minutes until he realised there was no political mileage to be got with unity.

Someone on twitter asked whether you felt Australian or Victorian. I definitely align more with my state than country, which is probably heightened because of the pandemic and watching Daniel Andrews front up every single day, doing his absolute best to get us through this.

The leadership in Australia feels like it’s not for me or about me. I’m not a conservative but it goes deeper than that. At some point the political leadership has taken a wrong turn, it seems like they don’t care about the most vulnerable in our community anymore; they would rather line their pockets with money from the fossil fuel and mining industries than take meaningful action on climate climate change and they have sold our souls for “safe” borders.

This week Scott Morrison said Australia was at risk of losing its humanity, which made me spit out my tea. It seems to me that we lost it along time ago, when we decided to arbitrarily lock up men, women and children in unending offshore detention. We lost it when we privatised nursing homes and understaffed them with poorly paid casual workers or when government after government failed to raise the Newstart allowance so people weren’t living in poverty. To name just a few…

Add to this the slogans, and obscuring and manipulation of facts to present the government in best light (not limited to the current government). And when journalists ask questions you get a bunch of pre-prepared talking points which they doggedly stick to regardless of what question is being asked.

It makes me deeply uncomfortable. It’s inauthentic, divisive and ultimately dehumanising. It’s like politicians are saying to us, you are unworthy of genuine interactions, we don’t trust you and your ability to understand that the world is complicated. It makes politicians less trust worthy; you forever feel like you are being manipulated and lied too.

Sure the Victorian government has failed badly – hotel quarantine, contact tracing and probably a few other things as well. Their roadmap out of lockdown is vague, if I was a business owner I’d be worried about the future. But as John Faine wrote in this piece we are more than just an economy.

It’s hard to feel anything other than fierce loyalty to my state, my city and its leadership right now. Even as the economics of the state look dire, it’s as if we we have become something more than that – like we have remembered that we are in fact a community that collectively rises or falls together.

Many people don’t like Daniel Andrews, his politics or his handling of the pandemic. Regardless of this, what is happening now is extraordinary leadership. In a world turned upside down, seeing Dan Andrew’s standing there in his North Face jacket is both comforting and the touchstone we all need right now. It’s like he is saying to us, the world is spinning out of control but I’m in here, I’m not going anywhere and it’s going to be ok.

It’s been six months since a global pandemic has been declared there have been 28 million infections and over 900000 deaths. By the end of October Melbourne will have endured the longest and harshest lockdown of any city in the world. But perhaps in taking away the trappings of our lives we have had the chance to come to the heart of who we are as a community. And maybe in a covid-19 normal world that gives us an advantage.

Melbourne’s motto is “Vires acquirit eundo”, which in English means “She gathers strength as she goes”. We are gathering strength now to come back and be bigger and brighter than ever.

Life interrupted – 12

On sunny days, I eat my lunch on the deck, listening to the birds and the sounds of the neighbourhood – a child’s cry, a delivery truck, the noise of someone else’s home being built. Midges gather and dance across the grass, the light glinting off them as rise and fall in the sunshine. The cats, always curious, sniff at my lunch, then stroll away to loll in the sun.

It’s winter and the grass is green though patchy after the intense early summer heat. I mowed it the other day, a pain to do but deeply satisfying once complete. My mowing technique needs some work, I generally do one bit, get bored and go do another bit. The effect is more drunken than uniform.

When I moved in two years ago, there was no grass or deck or even fences, which was kind of against the rules. Getting the fence built from our less than reputable contractor was six weeks of increasingly frantic phone calls and threats to consumer affairs. He left us with this…

Needless to say we got someone to fix it.

Building the house was both not much fun and completely exciting. The company started building before I had secured a loan from the bank(!!!), which led to some interesting days when I frantically scrambled to get approval. There was poor communication, some shoddy concreting, unexplained delays and an incident of sexual harassment, which led to one of their staff getting sacked. Even worse, I occasionally had to get my Dad to back me up because it always seemed to go better when a man was involved (sigh). 

Despite all this, my house is well built and for the most part exactly what I wanted. There’s a walk in pantry, a tin roof, and enough space for a library. I have a mix of antique and new furniture, with the requisite number of Ikea pieces required for a first home owner. My couches are comfy for an afternoon nap and my yellow hall stand makes me happy every time I see it. 

After living with family for most of my life, living on my own is both complete freedom and really hard. If I want to stay in my pyjamas all day and eat chips on the couch there is no one to stop me. But there’s also no one else to cook dinner or help with chores. And financially it’s all on you to pay the mortgage and bills. 

It’s not lonely though, at least I’ve not been, even during the seemingly endless lockdown. I’ve always liked my own company, or as I jokingly said to someone I find myself endless fascinating. In my last post I wrote about missing my people – my friends and family. But loneliness is something else; a disconnection from the world around you, not just people and that’s not me.

If anything, in second lockdown I’ve felt more connected to the turning of the earth; the slowly extending days, the changing light, the trees and the weather. In the before times, I would have missed these details – the light at four o’clock in the living room, the second time its snowed here in my lifetime, the double rainbows and the buds on trees as spring approaches.

I have found watching the seasons and weather, endlessly consoling. It’s different every day (and it’s Melbourne so sometimes more than that) but it has own rhythm and reasons for being that knows nothing of pandemics or even people.

Earth and nature exist outside of what humanity can control. We see examples all the time, cyclones, floods, fire and drought. But also the change of the seasons, the shower of rain and new growth of trees. Nature endures beyond me, which is both joyful and deeply comforting.

In the before times, I often bemoaned that I never had enough time at home to enjoy it. And now I’ve barely seen anything other than these four walls for months. With the world outside making my head spin and my heart hurt, at least here, I can close the doors against the hardness of the world. The frogs call, the flowers bloom and they give me hope and constancy that whatever happens next will be ok.

Life Interrupted – 10

We are back in lockdown. Six weeks; four reasons to leave your homes and wearing masks is now mandatory. There’s a judicial enquiry into how we got back here but from the outside it seems to be a mix of human frailty and doing things on the run.

This is just my life now and its alright. I have the sweet boys for company and cuddles, the frog orchestra plays on, magpies chortle and the daffodils have started to burst into bloom.

The virus is now affecting the most vulnerable in the community – that is both aged care residents, and people who work casually. I find this devastating. These workers are often from migrant backgrounds, doing low paid, insecure work. They are in a position where they feel they have to go to work because they have no other choice.

I worked casually for long periods in the last ten years. To pay my mortgage, I went to work sick because you don’t have sick leave (or holiday leave) and if you don’t work you don’t get paid. With casual work if you say no to shifts, it’s likely you will get offered less in the future.

In yesterday’s press conference Daniel Andrews said that prevalence of insecure work in society was a public health issue – he is right. The people who have gone to work have done so because they have no other options. – they need to pay rent, feed their families and ensure they have work when this is over.

The state government have taken steps to address this, which is a good start. But the pandemic has brought this issue into sharp focus, and a bigger conversation needs to be had about how we got here and what we need to ensure all people have access to paid sick leave in the future.

As a lover of history, I take great comfort in knowing people have survived through plagues and pandemics before. The Great Plague of London in 1665-1666 killed 15% of the population of London – around 100,000 people. With almost no medical knowledge and people literally dropping dead on the streets, it must have been terrifying.

In the book A Journal of a Plague Year, Daniel Defoe writes that one of the drivers of the spread was rich people coming to poor areas of London to view the situation. They then took the disease back to their families and communities. It mentions that if people just stayed at home the disease would not have spread so far.

Does that sound familiar? It’s comforting that in four-hundred years people haven’t changed that much. There were people not doing the right thing then and public health officials trying to minimise the impact. More importantly, they got through it and survived – just as we will.

Going out is incredibly stressful and wearing a mask is not much fun, even if I do have pretty ones. So far it’s a toss up between hyperventilating and trying not to throw up because my body thinks I can’t breathe. I can breathe but I have to consciously tell myself that I’m ok.

It’s just something I have to get used to, as do all of us for as long as we are told too. And except for a few people with valid reasons and a few dropkicks with none, most people are doing their part and wearing them.

It’s challenging, you get so many cues from a person’s expression that you can’t get now and you have to listen harder because everyone is a bit muffled. But at this point most people will do anything to help flatten the curve a second time, so we will all just do it.

Right now my thoughts are with those in leadership in the state, the health officials and frontline workers who must be exhausted. It’s with the people in retail having to wear masks all day, for healthcare workers and families grieving the loss of loved ones they can’t visit.

I’ve been writing these since March, watching the seasons come and go via my lounge room windows. It’s almost August and the darkest coldest part of winter. We will still be as the season change again. But spring always follows winter and new life starts to bloom.