Today, we undertook our first flight in over 18 months: a day trip to Melbourne.
I might have mentioned before that we hold credits with 4 airlines: Qantas, Jetstar, Garuda and Air New Zealand. All promise to honour these expended monies for flights that were aborted due to Covid-19. Generous?
Not so easy to claim, I am afraid. Qantas emailed us to inform us we would have to phone them to convert our $800 into new flights. If the new flights came to less than $800, we would forfeit the balance. Since domestic flight costs seem to have gone UP recently, I did not think that would happen. So, for many days I tried to phone Qantas to make a booking to attend the Melbourne funeral of a dear friend.
Qantas are obviously very popular or everyone in Australia is now travelling domestically. All attempts to phone them resulted in my waiting on hold for over an hour. Sometimes, I was told that the wait time was over 2 hours. Since the call centre is open 24×7, I decided to get up in the middle of the night. That worked! I woke at 4 am and rang Qantas on 2 mobiles using 2 different options (after all there is a sequence of negotiating through their many menu options). You would think that they would employ the new technology that allows a ring back. Anyway, after well over an hour the call was answered by a real person and she very efficiently converted our $800 (plus another $90) into two return tickets to Melbourne.
First, we had to apply to re-enter our home state of South Australia and get a Cross Border Travel pass. Secondly, we had to apply to enter Victoria – a Border Permit. Armed with 2 printed passes for two states, we arrived at the airport at 5.45am for our 7am flight. Everyone has to wear masks in the airports and on the flights. We have been fortunate during the last 18 months in that we, in South Australia, have lived mask-less. They are not much fun as you will know: we do not own designer masks. Ours were the cheap white and blue throwaways that sit close to your mouth. Thankfully, they served a sort of snack on the flight and obviously you are allowed to remove the mask. The trick is to take a long time over the snack. The flight to Melbourne is only 1 hr 20 minutes.
Since we lived in Melbourne – 29 years ago – the city has grown enormously. It is now home to over 5 million people and sprawls in every direction. Apparently, ‘Melbourne was voted the world’s most liveable city for seven consecutive years (2011–2017) by The Economist Intelligence unit.’ (Wikipedia). Coming from Adelaide, I felt rather overwhelmed.
We were there for a short time: to attend the funeral of Eric, a special friend. My husband has known Eric for well over 50 years. We went on many holidays, together and many adventures – exploring Australia from Kakadu to the Red Centre to sailing in the Whitsundays. Eric and his wife, Lyn, were endlessly generous to us and our family over the years. He was a committed and dedicated Christian and the eulogies during the service spoke of the many aspects of his life – spoken by his children, his grandchildren and his Christian friends. So we were pleased to be there to share in honouring and celebrating his life.
And we were pleased to get home again after the process of being interviewed – routinely questioned at Adelaide Airport by the border police.
Travel is not going to be simple anymore.
We had been hoping that with the rollout of the vaccination program in Australia and worldwide, Qantas would resume international travel in late October. They had started selling tickets in anticipation of this.
This week Qantas changed the plan – delayed the international opening to late December. There is even mention of mid-2022. The tourism section had this amusing comment: ‘The tourism sector has slammed the government for its vague plans on borders, suggesting Australia could become the “hermit kingdom of the South Pacific“.
Our gardener arrived early to work with us. My husband spent time cutting down branches overhanging the road, working with a chainsaw and piling up wood for our fires. We anticipate the arrival of the winter rains and have been planting indigenous plants to take advantage of the last days of warmth before the earth gets cold. Digging planting holes requires considerable effort as the earth on this hillside consists of layers of shale.
After a long day, we went to a music recital: ‘Botanica Lumina – Enchanted’, in the Santos Museum of Economic Botany (1881) located within our Adelaide Botanic Gardens.
To get to the Museum, we had to walk through the Botanic Gardens, which are usually locked at sunset. Towering fig trees line the entrance avenue. We could hear possums with their aggressive hisses and the squealing of the grey-headed flying foxes that have found a safe roost in our gardens.
Adelaide is fortunate in having a rare remaining artefact of the past: a Museum of Economic Botany – the last one in the world. ‘Economic botany, simply put, is the study of plants through the perspective of their practical use for humankind.’ Our museum was lucky to escape redevelopment as some bright sparks wanted to convert the building into a wedding venue.
The hall is filled with fascinating displays of fruit, fungi made out of painted paper mâché, wood samples and native artefacts. These exhibits were once used to educate students and the non-scientifically trained public about valuable and useful plants.
The Museum was restored to its former glory in 2008. Due to the space restrictions and distancing requirements, our audience was now limited to 30. Pairs of chairs were placed at 1.5 m intervals in the narrow corridor between the banks of display cabinets. The hall is visually delightful. You can sit and gaze at the gold and white patterns of the ceiling high above you, even more delightful when you are listening to music. The whole space is filled with light.
There were only two musicians, Celia Craig, an oboist, and Michael Ierace, a pianist. Celia told us that she appreciated the acoustics of the lofty Museum. The two musicians played a series of popular and classical pieces for about an hour and a half.
However, the overwhelming reason I will remember the 30th of April is that today, before sunrise, my good friend’s daughter died. A month short of her 39 th birthday.
Tammy did not die of Covid-19 but cancer. In a perfect world, our children would survive us. We move towards old age with the joy of children and grandchildren, looking towards their futures, the hope of a good life for them – maybe a better one than ours. Our ageing and our death we learn to accept. To lose a child is against the natural order.
Tammy was a shining light to all who knew her: a dedicated language teacher, tennis player, weekend quiz expert, beer not wine drinker, bridge player and a Lego enthusiast. Her beauty and her smile lit up every room. She faced her long, painful illness with fortitude. Such bravery comes from deep within. None of us knows how we will deal with such a difficult passage at the end.
Deeply loved daughter, sister, niece, aunt, teacher and friend to many. RIP Tammy.
‘Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me, Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee; Sounds of the rude world, heard in the day, Lull’d by the moonlight have all passed away!
On Easter Saturday at midnight Christ’s resurrection is celebrated in Orthodox churches. Not this year. The resurrection service of midnight mass was brought forward to 9 pm so the curfews could still be in place.
Last night our curfew was lifted from 9 pm to 11 pm. Honestly, it felt as if we’d been liberated after being long-term hostages. I couldn’t help looking over my shoulder as I was actually outdoors after 9 pm.
There were police aplenty but this time not one of them was stopping anyone to check for documentation or to check on where we were going or if we were wearing masks properly. They all stood back in spite of the blatant breaking of, and frankly impossible to maintain, social distancing. Everyone was out on the street heading to church, even the non- believers, just to partake in the ritual of resurrection and rebirth.
I wasn’t going to attend: I was too busy because we can have up to 12 people to our homes if we are sitting outside. Our apartment is too small but my aunt who lives on the fifth floor has a penthouse which is twice the size of an average house and has a balcony as big as most backyards so we will be probably dining there even though I’ve set up the dining room for her. I’m doing all the cooking and preparing because no one can come and help me and the two old ladies just can’t cope any more with such activity. So, I was too busy.
But a wonderful neighbour called me and said, ‘Come on. Let’s get out of the house and go bring the holy light home.’
I was wearing a T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms. To stop, shower and refresh and change into a suitable outfit would’ve taken too long and I was in the middle of my work so I just threw a light overcoat on top of what I was wearing, grabbed a candle to receive the light, and went.
Do you remember the old barrel organs the organ grinders used to wheel along the streets sometimes with a performing monkey? Occasionally, you still see them here in Greece. They are called laternas. They are festooned with all sorts of blooms, ribbons and in general made as colourful or as gaudy as possible. Last night there were two types of women attending the ritual of the holy light. Those, like me, who pulled an overcoat over their work clothes and dashed out to participate.
It was only my politeness that stopped me from taking photographs to show you some examples but there is one set of massive bright orange tasselled earrings so long they hit the shoulder that are still fresh in my memory.
The holy light comes from Jerusalem. Every Easter Saturday from deep within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre a light is said to spontaneously combust from beneath the marble that covers the rock which is said to be Christ’s tomb. We can argue the origin of that light for a long time but the point of this tale is to tell of how the light reaches us. How it originates is a secret the monks keep. And they can keep it.
The Prime Minister of Greece sends his aeroplane to Jerusalem and a guard of honour comprised of all the armed forces. As that church is primarily governed by the Greek Orthodox church, they are given direct access to the first emergence of the light and then they all get back on the plane and fly straight to Athens.
When it arrives, it is given the same honours given to a head of state with full military greeting, bands, processions, everything. It’s quite a spectacle.
But not this year.
The light arrived at 6 pm. It wasn’t able to be distributed to every city by 9 pm so the other cities further away will have had to compromise. Perhaps they can have a chat to the monks who guard the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as to how they create spontaneous combustion.
In spite of the drastically changed circumstances, my casual attire and the curfew it was the most moving Anastasi (resurrection service) I’ve ever been to. I confess I did shed a tear. I’m far away from my adored children and grandchildren for whom I usually make these Easter feasts. I still don’t know when I’ll be back in my home in Australia but I have so much to be grateful for. I’m sending you some photographs but I don’t know that they can capture the atmosphere and emotion of the night. We’ve all suffered during this pandemic.
As I was leaving, I heard a man’s voice in the apartment next door. That man caught Covid-19 and spent three months intubated. He then spent a further three months in intensive care. He is home now so there’s a resurrection for you. On the other side was gloriously happily married couple with four amazing children, they both died within days of each other just last week, from Covid. We can’t relax yet. Another mini resurrection which means the world to us here in Greece, after literally months and months and months of lockdown, is that the cafes will open on Tuesday. I’ve never wanted to have a cup of coffee so badly. I’m going to dress up my two charges and take them out for the first time in seven months. I’ve been able to leave the house and do the shopping and minor chores those two ladies have not.
It does feel like a rebirth is happening it’s slow, cautious, but it’s happening.
Nine days ago, we had our first Astrazeneca vaccination. A suite of offices, consisting of four rooms, beside our large doctors’ surgery has been organised into a vaccination centre.
The whole process was very simple, without fuss and with a certain determined cheerfulness. Outside the centre, yellow lines marked the approved social distancing for the queue. We could not enter until the waiting room was sufficiently empty for the next batch of people, so we were asked to wait outside until it was within five minutes of our vaccination time. No masks were required.
Once we were allowed into the small foyer, our details were checked and we were asked whether we were prepared to have a vaccination before we were given a sticker inscribed with our first names. Someone asked if they had had many cancellations. The young receptionist said, ‘Very few, and those appointments have been quickly filled.’ It seems to me that the scare campaign has not stopped us wanting to be vaccinated.
A nurse called us and led us through to one of the two vaccination rooms. Once more details were checked and once more we were asked if we were prepared to have the vaccination. Then a doctor came in and she asked if we had any questions. She also asked if we had had any reactions to previous vaccinations.
The actual vaccination was a non-event. Afterwards, we were given a three-page document listing all the possible side-effects and what to do if we were concerned about our reactions. We were then led through to a large waiting area which was divided into two sections: one marked 15 minutes the other 30 minutes. The 30-minute section was for people who had had some previous adverse reaction to vaccination. I sat and read through the rather intimidating listing of common, less-common and rare side-effects. After the allotted time our names were called out and we were told we could go out the exit door. DONE!
Our vaccination status is immediately registered on our digital Medicare profile. I am ready for a vaccination passport and almost ready to travel! (New Zealand authorities are looking at insisting on a digital proof of vaccination).
It is now nine days since our vaccinations. At first, my arm felt slightly stiff, Over the next four days I found that I was very tired, wanting to go to bed at 8 pm and reluctant to rise at 7 am. I was quite happy to collapse back and read awhile. This is unlike me.
It behoves me to report on the media situation with the rollout of vaccinations in Australia. If you followed our media, you would think that there was a disaster going on here. It is true that announcments were made by the Federal government, and we were filled with expectations of a seamless vaccination routine. However, there has been a hiatus due to many factors such as the concern over the AstraZeneca vaccine, the delayed arrival of ordered vaccines and the shortage of the Pfizer vaccine. Each state premier was very quick to blame others. Of course. There is also the difficulty of organising between state and federal agencies. Many of these factors are beyond the ability of the federal government to change. But as I have said before, the Australian media love to complain.
On our ABC this morning it was almost as though they were encouraging people in the 1b category (those over 70 or over 50 with some sort of complicating factor) not to get vaccinated. The Victorian Government has opened mass vaccination centres. The ABC was critical of this whole process, siting uncertainties and saying it was hard for people to understand the online advice. In spite of this, I hear today that 67,000 people were vaccinated. And the graph of those getting vaccinated is pointing in the right direction. The government has announced that over 50’s can now go and get vaccinated.
The trouble is that we are still short of the Pfizer and AZ vaccine.
‘The federal government will receive 53.8 million doses of AstraZeneca, 50 million of which is being manufactured in monthly batches at the CSL factory in Melbourne.
Australia has secured 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, with the bulk expected to arrive in the final three months of 2021.’ ABC
The government has now appointed a military veteran, Royal Australian Navy Commodore, Eric Young, to coordinate the vaccine rollout. After all, it is a mammoth task across this vast country. Young said he has a ‘simple mission’ to get every ‘available jab’ into the arms of vulnerable Australians. Scott Morrison has put the national cabinet on a ‘warlike footing’ to fix the delayed program.
On the way back from having my vaccination Handel’s Messiah played on ABC Classic radio. It’s good to be cheeful.
Somehow, the music seemed appropriate.
…..And we shall be changed And we shall be changed We shall be changed And we shall be changed We shall be changed
For this corruptible must put on Incorruption For this corruptible must put on Must put on Must put on, must put on Incorruption
Accordion. In and out as required. It’s the nickname of the coronavirus strategy of Greece. Cases go up, we get locked in. Cases go down, we are allowed out. The accordion strategy has brought us to our fourth lockdown. In a few areas of Greece, they just entered a fifth, luckily, not where I am.
We are all feeling trapped in the accordion being blown around by those bellows and, and like an accordion when the bellows are moved in and out, there is a lot of noise. The unrest is loud. We have curfews too. After nine p.m. no one is allowed out on the streets unless they are essential workers or have a medical emergency. Nine p.m. is tough. Greece is geared for the night. At eleven at night, even families with babies and toddlers are a common sight strolling in parks and along restaurant strips.
But our restaurants, cafes and bars have been shut for seven months, not including the two months of the very first lockdown. Sunday mornings after church service the faithful once poured into the cafes, creating a bustling Christmas type atmosphere. Every Sunday. Not now though. It’s been so long since the matrons of Greece, young and old, have been to a church service or a café they now sit at home in their pyjamas watching the televised church services with just the clergy rattling around in huge empty churches. Greeks can’t wait to get dressed up again.
When the pandemic is eventually brought under control, I’m forecasting there will be promenades and parties so resplendent with colour and style they will become legendary. Nature has taken this opportunity to release some pressure and sent the floods, the snowstorms, the high winds. We thought we had seen it all and were feeling grateful the worst was over, then the earthquakes struck. There is nothing like a catastrophic natural event to take your mind off another catastrophic natural event.
Greece is a country of high seismic activity. Everybody is accustomed to a rumble here and there. Schools and workplaces have regular training for enduring and surviving an earthquake. There are no designer trendy desks in Greek schools. They are all sturdy with steel legs for students to shelter under and cling to in the event of a big quake. I’ve experienced a couple of small quakes of short duration in the past. Each time it was a couple of seconds of shaking. Uncomfortable, unforgettable, but inconsequential. Initially, it’s not the shaking that terrifies you. It’s the sound. A guttural groan rising from the earth. Only Nature can produce such stereophonic sheer terror. The earthquake went on for forty seconds. Forty seconds of blood-curdling screeching as if the Furies were descending upon us to tear us apart as they did Oedipus. Forty seconds of trying to stay upright and keep my wits about me.
Our little apartment is on the third floor of a five-storey building. The higher up you are the more you sway. And we were swaying so much I felt seasick. For forty seconds I kept looking at the walls waiting for cracks to appear. For forty seconds I gripped the door frame and waited for the falling to begin. For forty seconds I did not think of death. I thought of life. My only thought was to live to see my children and grandchildren again.
My poor mother was gripping the arms of the sofa and kept asking, ‘Why is the heater jumping around?’ I couldn’t get to her and if I could have, she couldn’t have made it to the relative safety of the door frame. I remember thinking, if she goes, she’ll go comfy. All I could do was try to shout over the horrific groaning swirling around us, ‘We’ll be okay.’ Forty seconds later came the quiet. I ran around checking everything in the apartment in case anything had shaken out of place. All was well. I rushed out onto the balcony and looked around. After what we had just heard and felt I knew the world was wounded. Nothing seemed out of place.
My mother’s sister, my aunt Viktoria, lives on the fifth floor. I ran up to check on her. Some of her glassware had smashed to the floor but otherwise she was well. I brought her down to our apartment and said to her and my mother, ‘Somewhere close by there is a lot of damage.’ I calmed them down with a hot meal before going online on my phone to check the news and to find out where the epicentre was. All it said was – ‘near the town of Elassona.’ The village where my father was born and is buried is near the town of Elassona. I immediately began calling aunts and cousins.‘We are fine. Very shaken. A few cracks here and there but we are fine.’ I hung up my phone as my aunt Viktoria was hanging up hers. She was pale with fear, ‘Turn on the television,’ she said. Her daughter, my cousin Jenny, lives near Elassona, in a village called Damasi. Every station was showing scenes of the earthquake. In the big red letters across the screen was written, ‘The epicentre was Damasi’.
Jenny is a dentist with her surgery in a neighbouring town. She was working on a patient in the chair when the earthquake struck. They managed to get out as debris was falling. She turned back before fleeing to see her expensive and sensitive equipment shimmying across the floor. The ten-minute drive to Damasi prepared her for what she would find. There were rockfalls everywhere. You reach Damasi by a bridge which spans over a river. The bridge had fallen. She sped to the second bridge tucked away behind a bend. It was damaged but still up. She closed her eyes and sped over it. Soon after she crossed that bridge collapsed too. Her house, right on the village square, was in ruins as was every building on the square. The school had completely collapsed.
She drove over to her husband’s winery. It seemed okay. He was there with their children. Jenny ran to them and saw the situation. The wine barrels had been shaken from their shelves and smashed to the floor. All his stock was destroyed. They had lost their home and their livelihoods in forty seconds. And insurance covered nothing.The entire region was without power. Pipes had cracked making whatever water came out of a tap undrinkable. Within a couple of hours, the army was mobilised as were their kitchens to produce three meals a day for the newly homeless and they erected tents on the soccer field and distributed winter-weight sleeping bags to give them somewhere to sleep. Most slept in their cars because of the cold.
The population of Damasi slept on the soccer field that night which was just as well because the next day there was another earthquake, shorter duration but equally strong. Two days later, there was another one. Whichever part damaged buildings were still up were now rubble.The quakes are still occurring. They will continue for at least the next two months as the earth tries to right itself after the collision of the tectonic plates. One month later and my cousin, her husband and two young sons are still sleeping in their vehicles. They are lucky. They have four. One regular car each, a delivery van, and a truck. They are sleeping a little easier since the government came forward with compensation packages and rebuilding plans. They’ve also offered to pay the rentals on any temporary home so my cousin and her family are about to move into a little house in a nearby town where at least they will have a real roof over their heads again while their home is rebuilt.
Those forty seconds changed the lives of many but for many more of us it gave us a break from living in the deep, dark shadow of Covid-19. The relief was brief and stark, a brutal reminder of who is really in charge on this earth. Nature. Just as Nature sends terror, she also sends hope through sights and sounds. The dull, grey skies are turning pink and white with blossoms bursting out of dry branches, and the birds are back. The squark of seagulls heralds the promise of summer which makes me imagine the feel of sand under my toes and the salty scent of sea spray. All my senses are being activated.
For the first time in a year, I heard children playing outside, giggling and babbling. We all know the children spent most of lockdown indoors with heads bent over a phone or tablet screen. You could feel their release at finally being allowed outside to play. They will return to school next week after months of lockdown. Hearing them outside again highlighted how surreal the life we are currently living really is. Things we once took for granted, blossoms, birds and babbling, today, for me, were sights and sounds so beautiful I now understand are sacred.
To vaccinate or not to vaccinate?I just received an email from the Greek government announcing they have received our applications for our vaccinations and for us to make our way to the nearest Citizens’ Bureau to proceed with booking an appointment. Do I fear side effects? No. I don’t fear poliomyelitis, tuberculosis, measles either – because I am vaccinated against them. For me, it’s a no brainer. I haven’t seen my children and grandchildren in almost two years. Being vaccinated means I will have an easier time travelling.
We have an aged, blind dog. Roy is 12.5 years old. He is a Cairn terrier about 12 kg in weight. All these factors are important in working out his life expectancy. How long will he be with us?
Once upon a time, we multiplied a dog’s age by 7 which would make him about 87 years old in our years. But many Cairns reach16 or 17 years of age – or 112+ human years. Some say, for smaller dogs you multiply by 5, so Roy would be 67.5 years. I think that is closer. Apart from glaucoma, Roy is a fit, dog: no arthritis, no diabetes, no cancer. I found a schedule online which measure life expectancy by dog weight. Roy is between small and medium and on this basis would be 66.5 years. Another method is more complex: That’s the natural logarithm method. Take the log of the dog’s real age, multiplied by 16, add 31 to the total. I used this method of calculation: Roy’s natural log is 2.53 … x16 and add 31; this makes him 71.5 years old. Roy is my age.
However, he now has a morbidity – for a dog – he is blind. So, what do I subtract from this life expectancy to get another estimate?
For us too, there is the question of life expectancy. How to work out the progress of our lives during Covid-19? Quite apart from having to spend 14 months dodging Covid-19, we have had to keep going mentally. And in the process of managing this hiatus in our lives we dabble even more with the question, not of how old we are, but how long we still have. Because that limited time just got gobbled up in an unexpected way. Many have suffered more than we have in Australia, but the hiatus is world-wide. Even if we are OK, others in the family are not. Our Zoom meetings reveal this changed universe.
And in the passage of this time, I believe that I have used up more of my remaining life than 14 months. That is, I have aged more than 14 months. The sense I once had of my age has been disturbed. Why? It’s as if the parameters of my life have changed. Maybe I have less control, maybe I have spent too much time reading about ways of death or near-death experiences of Covid-19 sufferers. I have purchased an oximeter, recommended medicines and vitamins and a stock of basic foodstuffs – all for Covid-19 survival. We are on the cusp of old age and the media’s concentration on the ‘elderly’, on ‘morbidity’, on ‘shielding’, revolves around a discussion of the odds of our survival.
So, what do I multiply the 14 months by to get my true age? 2x? 3x? Some days it feels like this. Normal was a long time ago. Old age and its mental and physical restriction were not yet upon us. Now they beckon.
In May 2020, The Washington Post published an article on this:
‘We are not only sheltering in place but aging in place.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has exhausted us. Time feels heavy and draining. Tuesday was a week. April seemed an eternity. Grief, anxiety, tedium, loss of control, restriction of movement, none of them rejuvenating, are part of our regimen.’
‘Looking at ourselves during virtual cocktail hours with friends on Zoom, we now notice our wrinkles, the flesh hanging on our necks and the double chins on display when the camera is pointing up, the grey and even white roots exposed, the shaggy beards and fuzzy eyebrows — and we look someplace else on the screen. That isn’t ourselves we are seeing but a version of ourselves the virus has revealed, a version we thought we had rejected but secretly fear is really who we are.’
Today, I met with 3 friends – all published writers and poets. All of an age. And they agreed with this premise. The time of Covid-19 has prematurely aged us. One said she feels worn out by writing and will not take on any major task as she now has the sense of being unable to finish it. And then there was her comment that Donald Trump had made it worse. The stress of his Presidency, his denial of the severity of Covid-19 and refusal to lead, and then the anxiety of the ending of his term made her anxious. And this anxiety has not lifted.
When we took our dog, Roy, to Gavin, the vet specialist in ophthalmology, we expressed concern about how Roy would adapt now he is blind. Gavin said dogs were different to us. Roy would not look back and mourn the loss of his eyesight, nor would he anticipate a future where he would be unable to see. Gavin believed that blind dogs – those not in pain – make the most of the lot they are dealt. If he is well cared for, he will not be suffering with the weight of the knowledge of his blindness.
It is we humans who bear the psychological strain of loss, of looking back, comparing our Covid-19-altered lives to what might have been and looking ahead anxiously.
WE’VE just passed 23 March, the day the first UK lockdown began in 2020. The charity Marie Curie named it a ‘Day of Reflection’, and encouraged a minute’s silence at noon and distanced candlelight vigils at 8 pm. Reviewing my own twelve months, I see a satisfactory adaptation to practical matters: full initiation into working from home; shopping – deliveries and in person – sorted; a more extensive exercise programme than pre-lockdown; and other activities slotted in. I’m a busy person.
But there’s a blandness about life, a bit of Groundhog Day vibe, and there’s loads missing – the variety of happenings and stimuli, both planned and unexpected, that existed in the life before have diminished hugely. Social interaction is rarely by chance and largely online. The loss of spontaneity and surprise, and the limitations to human relationships, let alone the uncertainty that comes with a pandemic inevitably have their impact psychologically and emotionally. I notice my heart becomes heavier more easily, and that it requires fewer things these days to make me anxious. I think about my mortality every day – no bad thing, but a new one.
There is a changed quality to human interaction and a big contrast in styles. On the one hand we have frontline workers (NHS, social care, domestic violence helplines … ) who have stepped up to engage big-time and in profound ways with the public they meet, and others (supermarket staff, refuse collectors, bus drivers … ) continuing their usual service to keep things going. On the other, the pandemic has forced us into smaller contexts focused on our own needs and survival in alien circumstances, with not much time for or trust in others. There is a popular opinion that emergence from our current state into whatever evolves will be a difficult process, whether encumbered by over-enthusiasm or timidity, whether approached with an expectation of ‘getting my life back’ or with the daunting prospect navigating that emergence without a loved one.
At one of Marie Curie’s recent online discussions, ‘Are we really in this together?’, speakers highlighted the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on the disabled and those with learning difficulties, and how Covid-19 and the death of George Floyd have raised awareness of the many facets of racism in the UK. Some communities have suffered more change and are having to make much more adaptation than others, usually the communities already afflicted by ten years of spending cuts. There is talk of learning lessons, having independent reviews and producing reports, received with a heavy dose of scepticism that anything will actually change. We’ve been here before. There is some optimism though that neighbourhood initiatives set up to support those in need during the pandemic will endure, and may even contribute to the development of ‘compassionate cities’.
This one year anniversary gives pause to think about the 126,000+ UK citizens who have died with Covid-19, and the potential number of related bereavements. There is huge concern about possible delayed trauma both for the bereaved and for healthcare workers. The experiences – exceptional and overwhelming – that many have been exposed to will not be assimilated quickly or easily into life narratives, and people will need help. Let’s all reveal and exercise our compassionate parts, and make ourselves available.
I’VE just had two weeks of something that looked oddly like a cold – congestion, tiredness, etc. It made me think, first, that I have been very well this year and that this illness has been out of the ordinary. A fact confirmed by the local hospital that has reported that influenza and gastro-intestinal illnesses have dropped drastically – a side effect of all the social distancing and hand sanitiser.
Second, though, it made me wonder how I had got an infection – given all the social distancing and hand sanitiser, how had I managed to catch an infection from someone else? And if I could catch a cold like this, how had I escaped a Covid infection or how close had I been to getting a Covid infection?
In the last blog I was bemoaning the lack of an approaching light from the end of the tunnel. The roll-out of the vaccine in Europe has been so slow that I wondered when it, the solution to all our current problems, would ever get to me. Politicians were telling us that this is a marathon, the immunisation of the whole population, not a sprint, but they seemed to be missing the point that even a marathon will never be run if it never starts. Slowly, slowly, stop – as fears were raised about the Astra Zeneca vaccine the French government joined other European countries in suspending the delivery of the vaccine. Amid reports that some batches of the vaccine were going out of date and being thrown away, the immunisation programme was halted because a few people encountered blood clotting problems. Statistically, it was within, or less than, the normal number of people who experience these problems but the anti-vax hysteria and scepticism meant that vaccinations had to halt. There was a strong suspicion that politics was being put ahead of science in this case – and cast further doubt on the EU’s ability to cope sensibly and adequately with this emergency.
The irony, for me, was that after wondering when I was going to get the vaccine, I was injected with the Astra Zeneca vaccine just days before its use was suspended, leaving me wondering if I was going to get the second dose! Now normal service has been resumed, so my second dose in June should be OK – unless there is another scare …
And how did I get the jab? We were walking the dogs at 9 am one morning when the doctor phones to ask ‘would you like to be vaccinated?’ Would we!!?? So at 11 am there we were, sleeves rolled up, receiving the vaccine. Not in the designated age group, not using up an opened bottle of vaccine – it was just that our GP was going down her list of patients and we were next to benefit from one of the two bottles of vaccine she gets each week. No orderly progression through the age groups or through the categories of at-risk patients here – this is France and this is the French way!
Cases of Covid are rising in France as I write, with the death rate steady at around 300 a day. The vaccination programme is going slowly, partly because people are reluctant but more because there is not enough vaccine to go around – we seem to be sending a lot of what we manufacture to the UK rather than using it ourselves. Paris is back in lockdown for four weeks and we continue to live with an overnight curfew. The third wave is here – though it is increasingly hard to talk about waves when the viral flood feels continuous.
Jonathan Merrett, Sallèles d’Aude
IT’S now over a year since the first Covid-19 case (5 March), and death (27 March), were recorded in South Africa. On that second date a severe lockdown was announced and a few observers suggested that ‘life would never be the same again’. I believe them to be correct in spite of optimistic pronouncements about returning ‘normality’, encouraged by vaccination.
We are now at a stage where people should know enough about the risks and their mitigation to make their own decisions. Many will have concluded that social interaction can be deadly and will change their behaviour forever with consequences both for them and society. Of course we have always been vulnerable to other people’s germs (I contracted TB in the 1980s and only found out by chance some years later from an X-ray), but not in modern times anything as virulent as this. Medicine will gradually reduce the danger, but not to the extent of eliminating much significant, recently learned cautionary behaviour.
Initially there was the idea that ‘we’re all in this together’. This lasted, possibly, for one lockdown. There are now clear signs of serious schism. Put simply – perhaps simplistically – there are those who demand that governments protect them from the virus and accuse officialdom of murdering their grannies. In the other corner are people demanding their rights, including hugging their grannies whenever they feel like it. Bridging this divide looks impossible and ultimately it will have political consequences.
Covid-19 has also encouraged authoritarianism and managerialism. Stand in a queue outside a bank and you will be ordered about mindlessly by someone in a uniform. Go to work and you will be hedged around by rules and regulations that are contradictory and applied to suit certain agendas. This is all for your own good; it always is.
And then there are the opportunistic organisations and individuals. Why, for example, can I use my local public library and provincial archives in much the same way as I go shopping? But I am not allowed into the library or even the grounds of the university. All face the same virus and challenges to manage it. I would suggest that working from home is a highly elastic and desirable concept in certain quarters.
Whichever way you turn, freedom and access are becoming more limited. This was already happening before March last year, but disasters whether of public health or finance accelerate and accentuate trends. Similarly, social media abuse and dirty political tactics (in South Africa this pops up as the doctrine of perpetual racial crisis) blossom still further.
It took nearly ten years for the political consequences of the 2008 financial meltdown – right wing populism – to take root. This disaster has been much more devastating, but more urgently managed, so maybe a similar time frame will operate. By that token, before 2030 we can expect to see serious change that at present is confined to the realm of imagination. But it’s unlikely to be encouraging.
‘Easter is good to go’ says Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on the news from Queensland. Did anyone tell her that it will come and pass, whatever, without her being able to stop it? What she really announced is that the 3-day sharp lockdown in Greater Brisbane is not being extended and Easter gatherings and celebrations can continue with many conditions. After an amazing 35,000 tests only one new community case was recorded in Queensland yesterday (and 9 new cases in hotel quarantine).
However, as with many Covid-19 outbreaks this will not have been in time for thousands. Many people have already cancelled their Queensland holidays: their hotels, their restaurant bookings and other entertainment. And because the outbreak, which was connected to staff members of Brisbane’s Princess Alexander Hospital, spread, there have been flow-ons into northern NSW. In all, there are 100 ‘exposure’ sites. These infected people certainly get around.
One of the 18 infected people travelled from Brisbane 165 kms south over the border into NSW, to Byron Bay, and attended a hen’s party and infected at least one person there. Byron Bay only has a population of around 10,000 people but it is a major holiday destination with, perhaps, the best all-year weather in Australia (Sorry – only when there aren’t floods).
And so, the famous Byron Bay Bluesfest Festival has had to be cancelled. Scheduled for April 1-4 they had expected 15,000 people to attend each day – and 100,000 over the whole show. Byron Bay would have welcomed a few days of musical celebration after the floods that devastated the area only 2 weeks ago – and the internet remains full of heartbreaking images of destroyed cars and homes, drowned and drowning animals from northern NSW.
This is the second year in a row Bluesfest has had to cancel at short notice. However, they are to reschedule and have asked ticket holders to hang on to their tickets. Bluesfest has been going since 1990 and has had outstanding performers. They have an excellent Spotify playlist called ‘Bluesfest 2021 playlist‘. Enjoy the sound of the Aussie Blues!
There are prices to pay for these years of Covid-19 and losing a holiday or being unable to go to a blues festival is nothing in the light of the suffering across the world. Australia is stumbling forward: half open, mostly safe, but still complaining. Australians love to complain and our ABC radio is full of complaints. It’s a reason not to listen to the news. When you are of an age, you don’t want to hear people complaining all the time. A long time ago, my father, born in 1911, would to say to us when we complained, ‘Worse things happen at sea’. I am not sure what that was about but I think he meant that the world is full of unexpected disasters beyond our control. Accept that and deal with it. He came from a generation of stalwart and resourceful people.
We, on the other hand, had a festival last weekend and it was not disrupted by rain nor by Covid-19. Indofest is an annual Adelaide festival. ‘Indofest-Adelaide is a vibrant community festival celebrating all things Indonesian.’ Covid-19 rules called for many adaptations: only 2,000 people were allowed to attend – registering was required – entry and exit areas were separated – many Covid Marshalls stood around in yellow jackets and sanitizer bottles were displayed on every table.
Indofest 2021 was a joyous occasion: families camped, shared meals and listened to music on the grass of Pinky Flat, also called Tarntanya Wama, beside our Torrens Lake in the centre of Adelaide. Once upon a time this was where the local Aboriginal people camped.
I was very aware of this as I listened to the gamelan percussion ensemble playing: all of us new immigrants enjoying this land together. A ‘welcome to country’ had been performed during the opening ceremony by local Kaurna people.
Looking back and forward – this country desperately needs immigrants as our population ages and declines in number. (2020 growth1.18%. average age 37.9yrs).
For sure, the Lucky Country needs more people. I listened to a representative of our Dept. of Home Affairs make a speech to Indofest attendees about how Australia welcomes immigrants. She went on to discuss the importance of social cohesion, our shared history, Australian values and the English test for citizenship.
For this article I had a look at Australia’s immigration website for applicants for permanent visa – not refugees. It is not for the fainthearted nor for those whose English is not their primary language. Apparently 70% give up on attempts at immigration. The wait is long and BTW you cannot get married while you are waiting. Oh – you must be under 45 years of age.
So, if you want to come to the lucky country, the way is long and the entry gates are narrow …
The disasters keep coming. We keep telling ourselves in Australia that we are the lucky country. Covid-19 has not devastated our country; the numbers of dead are low – 909 with under 30,000 confirmed cases. Our lives have been little affected when compared with others. And vaccinations are now underway.
Yet Australia remains a country of extremes. At the beginning of 2020 we suffered the worst bushfire season in living memory. That summer is now called the ‘Black Summer’. Over 18 million hectares were burnt, almost 10,000 homes lost, and 479 died (including smoke inhalation). The toll on our wildlife is hard to comprehend. Billions of creatures died. In terms of cost the fires are estimated to have cost Australia 103 billion AUD. This is our ‘costliest natural disaster to date’ (Wikipedia). No one can count the cost of the CO2 emissions.
No sooner had the fires abated than Covid-19 arrived.
And now we have another disaster: floods. This is the result of the La Niña (little girl) weather pattern. Until recently this was OK – cooler summers and more rainfall, nothing extraordinary. And then a week ago, a weather system came down the east coast, settled and intensified – from Sydney up to Queensland.
A severe weather warning was put out for the entire NSW coast. Dams could not contain the inflows and rivers overflowed onto floodplains that for over 100 years had been thought to be flood-free. (Some 134,000 people had settled on these flood plains over the decades.) The rain came with high winds and high tides along the coast. The Defence Force were called out to help evacuate thousands of people. Animals were swept into the swollen rivers. Some farmers lost their entire dairy herds to the flood. Facebook was used to post images of rescued horses and cattle as well as dead animals washed up on beaches. One iconic video showed an intact house floating down the Manning river near Taree: the owners were due to get married that day.
The quantity of rain is hard to comprehend. Rivers rose up to 16 metres.
‘Rainfall totals in excess of 400 mm were reported along the coastal areas and Central Tablelands in New South Wales, and a number of locations in Queensland’s central and south-east coast districts. Locations in the Hunter and Mid North Coast districts in New South Wales received over 600 mm of rainfall, including the highest weekly total of 991 mm at Bellwood in the Mid North Coast, which has exceeded the long-term autumn rainfall average less than one month into the season.’
Our annual rainfall for Adelaide is an average of 520mm and Sydney is 920mm a year.
The Australian insurance council has declared a ‘catastrophe’ for NSW as over 11,00 claims have been filed. However, I heard that many people could not afford the expensive flood insurance.
And now for the mouse plague. The generous La Niña rains allowed grain farmers to have a bumper year. And with this came an explosion in mice numbers in inland NSW and Queensland and the plague is moving south. Female mice can breed every 6 weeks and can give birth to 50 pups a year. The images are confronting: mice streaming across the fields at night in their tens of thousands. People are trapping 500 mice a night. Hay reserves held in barns are being destroyed. Locals describe the swarming mice as being in ‘biblical proportions’.
Images from our ABC are confronting. The ABC reports that hospital patients have been bitten by the rodents. Those of us who dislike the idea of ONE mouse in the house would freak out!
Apparently, mouse control is an expensive business and winter crops are threatened.
Meanwhile, I have been reading a couple of books that have darkened my view of the world. The first is the Booker prize winner, The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. (Why has McCarthy not been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature?) I first read The Road soon after it was published in 2006 and I remember I spent a month affected by its story. His vision of the post-apocalyptical world is devastating to say the least. I re-read it this month to give a presentation to my reading group. And the re-read is worth doing as I was prepared for the horror and could appreciate the beauty of the relationship between the man and his son. And what poetry is in his language! But still, it is a depiction of the end of times and the loss of civilisation. How thin a veneer is our behaviour in this society?
The other book is Plague by Wendy Orent (2004 Free Press). Orent covers the 1,500 years of plagues across our world and wrote of the dangers that lay in wait for us (prescient!). Her presentation of historical accounts of plagues is mind-blowing. This is history that was not taught to us. How slow it was for humans to realise that the fleas on rats were the vectors of the plague. Alexandre Yersin in 1894 and Jean-Paul Simon in 1898 made the breakthroughs. It was not until 1947 and streptomycin that a cure was available. For centuries people believed miasmas (bad or night air) caused the plague. All this is not long ago and we might have made medical advances but it seems that we quickly became complacent.
The Adelaide Festival finished a week ago and our Fringe Festival finishes tomorrow, after 31 days of events.
Tickets to the main festival are not cheap often AU $40-150 a show. This year the main Festival shows have been more modest, with fewer international performers – for obvious reasons. However, in spite of this, the Fringe Festival has been nothing short of amazing. They had over 300 venues and 1,200 shows and the prices are very modest, around $20-30 a show. The shows are often short and the audience, with appropriate social distancing, very small. The Fringe Festival is not-for-profit and the performers are often young and suitably enthusiastic. These are not major productions but robust and entertaining and, because they do not require a big setup, they are often set in interesting venues such as the Botanic Gardens, small restaurants, the Museum and in the dedicated venue called the Garden of Unearthly Delights. The East End of Adelaide is the centre of the Fringe Festival and the streets and cafes located in that area are overflowing every night. The Fringe is very much a young person’s festival: risqué, experimental and challenging.
I’m embarrassed to say we did not attend any Fringe events. I am resolved that next year I will make an effort. I did attend another main Festival event: a single show at Festival Hall: My Name is Gulpilil. David Gulpilil, only 67 years old, is very frail with lung cancer. This was a retrospective of his life and his extraordinary film career.
The show was a sell-out. David himself was helped on stage for a few minutes and was able to say a few words: that this was the story about his life. I have seen many of his films. David has a remarkable acting ability. Quite exceptional: the merest movement of his eyes or body is captivating. Charismatic.
But it is a sad story as well. In 1969, aged 15, he was plucked from his tribal family in Northern Australia as the filmakers wanted an Aboriginal boy who could dance, sing and hunt. The film was Walkabout and it became a sensation. This catapulted David out of his childhood home into the heady world of international stardom. The rest is history. He is perhaps the best-known Australian actor. His career has spanned 47 years and in every role he has been impressive. Sadly, his life has been blighted by alcohol and drugs. A lifetime struggle.
After David had left the stage, he spoke to us through the film and commented on his current situation. He can barely walk to his postbox from his front door.
During the opening credits we saw the old man walking away from us down a dirt road, flanked by empty fields. Beyond him, also walking away from us, on the other side of the road, was a single emu – a strange bird, stepping slowly and carefully with its huge feet, in no hurry. (BTW David can do a traditional emu dance – it’s on YouTube). Then David stopped, paused, turned around and walked back towards the camera: just like the emu, slowly without concern, content. David did not look back, but beyond him, the emu stopped, turned round and walked towards us. It was uncanny.
I believe we go to festivals for moments like that: unexpected, unexplainable and memorable.
‘A man who loved his land and his culture and took it to the world.’ – this is how he wants to be remembered.
David Gulpili “We are all one blood. No matter where we are from, we are all one blood, the same“.