Plague – 2020

I did not contract the plague. None of my family caught it. I did not lose my job. I did not lose my home. No one I knew died.

I did lose my lifestyle and I did have mental health issues, and although my loss is trivial in the scheme of things, I can mourn my own personal losses.

My year commenced in the usual way. Travel. January sees a trip to Echuca in Victoria. A flight to Melbourne, picking up a car to drive to Echuca to visit old friends – the matriarch who lives in New Zealand and is my oldest friend, a fellow child bride from the 1960’s, and her family. Catching up with the matriarch’s family from Echuca and London was very special.

So far so good.

National Council of Women Australia day lunch in the strangers (strangers!!) dining room at NSW Parliament in January – not celebrating the invasion. Instead, an aboriginal welcome, and very impressive aboriginal speakers.

My life is looking good. I fly to Cairns on 24 January to attend Tash and Luke’s engagement party in Atherton on 25th January. Spending time with the family was such a pleasure, and the engagement party was a most joyous occasion.

Bronwyn and I went off to Port Douglas for a few days at the Sheraton Mirage resort. Floating about in the lagoon around the resort, with a vino in a mug, made for a most relaxing “float”.

A day out on the Barrier Reef on a Quicksilver Barrier Reef Cruise was a highlight of the Port Douglas visit. Bronwyn signed up for a snorkelling trip outside the barriers. Not to be outdone, I signed up as well. Thank you Bronwyn, I would never have been brave enough to do that on my own. Sheer magic.

Moving on to early March, attending a discussion on the Status of Women and International Progress on Women’s rights, and a discussion on Surveillance and Privacy little knowing these would be the last social engagements for a long time.

I was travelling to Tasmania on 24 March, for a week of travelling around the State. By then things were going a bit pear shaped. Valiantly I fought to the end, but the Tasmanian Government slammed its borders shut. This certainly solved the argument about whether to wear a mask at the airport and on the plane.

My usual trip to Europe in April May started to look a bit dicey. Not to worry. August will do. In March the Australian Government introduced a ban on all overseas travel as an emergency requirement under the Biosecurity Act, by way of a determination by the Minister for Health. There was no review by Parliament. Preventing citizens leaving their country is extreme. Australia was one of the few democracies in the world which banned its citizens from leaving the country indefinitely, and still is. The initial determination was made when little was known about the threat the virus posed. Tests to detect the virus were still being developed. When the initial determination was made, perhaps the consequent breach of human rights was no more restrictive or intrusive than was necessary in March.

The determination continues to be renewed. By now, almost 10 months later, the determination is far more restrictive and intrusive than is necessary if citizens are happy to be tested prior to leaving and prior to returning, and are happy to pay the quarantine costs.

An exemption to the travel ban was available on various grounds, the most relevant of which for most people was on humanitarian grounds. Citizens soon discovered that even the imminent marriage or even death of a family member did not constitute humanitarian grounds.

The Australian Government applied a cap on the number of people who could arrive in Australia per day – due to the lack of quarantine places. There were a very large number of Australian citizens stranded overseas, unable to get flights back because of that cap. Hence the travel ban has continued. The plight of many of the stranded people is dire. Jobs lost, visa’s expiring, homeless due to vacating rented accommodation, only to find their flights cancelled when they get to the airport. Arrivals from overseas cannot self quarantine (well unless they are celebrities or certain privileged persons). Hotel quarantine has had some spectacular failures. Surely citizens should be able to return and quarantine at home. Electronic monitoring and random checks should be at least as effective as hotel quarantine.

My diary from March onwards is best ignored. Everything was cancelled. Nothing happened for several months.

From initially assuming that this plague would go the way of the bird flu, and others, I moved on to obsessively following the news, and watching with horror at the speed at which it moved and the lack of resources of most governments around the world. The images of people being “sealed” into their homes in Wuhan were very disturbing. The stories of the dead being left in their homes in Italy were equally disturbing, as were images of the consequences of the policies of various governments, including the US and the UK.

The number of deaths in aged care homes were appalling. Even worse were comments along the lines that they were old and were going to die soon anyway, and the like.

From obsessively following the numbers to avoiding all news of the plague, I decided to stop following the plague news items. That was difficult. Nothing other than numbers of infected, numbers of dead, speed of transmission and political point scoring seemed to be newsworthy.

Only time will tell which approach to dealing with the plague was the most effective. Elimination (will it wreck the economy and leave following generations with a huge debt – and is it possible without locking everyone up), control, with occasional lockdowns (more deaths, but was this economically more effective) or lets go for herd immunity, (with a huge death toll and unknown consequences for the economy).

During the first lock down period, the images appearing of deserted cities made me think of Neville Shute’s book “On the Beach” where everyone died of radiation exposure, country by country person by person Walking around the neighbourhood was a surreal experience. People scurried across the road if they saw someone coming in the other direction. Mostly the streets were deserted. There were jokes about dogs being sick to death of being taken for so many walks every day. Scoutie though is up for a walk any time anyone needs exercise. Hunting lizards several times a day is Scoutie heaven.

I became preoccupied with planning what I needed to do to stay sane – well as sane as I was at the beginning of the plague. Ramp up the reading. Order boxes of books on line. Decided to spend a few hours each day reviewing various reference books, and learn more on the topics covered.

Whilst this kept me occupied for a while it soon felt quite pointless – just doing something to fill in time. A few days staring at the ceiling in despair followed this realisation.

Conducting several games of scrabble at a time on line was fun for a while. One by one, people got tired of it until no one wanted to play.

Next, a massive jigsaw puzzle. I was given this puzzle in 2012 It was in six parts, and until 2020 I had managed to complete two of the parts. I am now nearing completion of the fifth part. If I get to complete the final part any time soon, I will almost be ready to start howling to the moon.

The giant jigsaw puzzle

Bentley came to stay in March. Bentley’s arrival provided a distraction. There were now two dogs to take for walks around the block. Lizard hunting by 2 doggos meant much longer walks, and so more time away from home.

As the months of 2020 went by, one grey day after another, staying in bed seemed to be a rather attractive proposition. One can run one’s life from bed – so long as someone brings you a coffee early. Reading the news (oh joy – more updates on the plague), attending to one’s banking and shopping, sending and reading emails and reading books. Researching for travel blogs. Why bother to get out of bed.

I increased family history research to learn about the places the ancestors had lived, the lives they may have led, and the historical events which occurred during their lifetimes, for the purpose of writing blogs. Travel blogs were written more frequently, and the research for these was interesting.

Gardening usually occupies a considerable amount of time. It did seem however that whenever I finally motivated myself to get out in the garden it was raining, hailing or blowing a gale or all of those things.

Wine consumption increases. So does cheese consumption. Thank goodness for Cheese Therapy – Blessed are the Cheesemakers.

Feasts abounded. Let’s face it, what better consolation to alleviate the sheer greyness of life in the days of the plague than to eat, drink and be merry. So we ate, drank and were very very merry at times.

It was fascinating to observe the manner in which people were dealing with life’s new realities. The stoics gritted their teeth and “got on with it”. Some people became totally obsessed and fearful, to the point that the plague was all they could talk about.

People started stockpiling food, and rather weirdly, toilet paper. Some of the stockpilers of toilet paper, when challenged, said they were buying for their friends and family as well. Reminded me of the “just asking for a friend” scenario.

The virtue signallers came into their own. They did not stockpile toilet paper. They only purchased what they required for the week. They told us how many times they washed their hands every day, and how they managed social distancing and wearing masks, mentioning how many people they saw who were not as diligent as them. It was bad enough seeing the government’s childish exhortations to wash hands. It was excruciating to hear the virtue signallers day by day, blow by blow sternly lecturing the less diligent.

The judgmental ones were out in force – they were closely related to the virtue signallers in a lot of scenarios. They were not bothered by facts and/or reason. Politicians were up there with the judgmental ones. They appeared to be a great deal more judgmental of those who were not of their political persuasion. The Prime Minister (Liberal) and his groupies castigated the Victorian Premier (Labour) for closing the border, but praised the NSW Premier (Liberal) for doing the same. The sheer hypocrisy of such behaviour does not appear to be apparent to the PM.

There were the people in denial – like me – who kept thinking that it would all be over in a couple of months, every couple of months. We then moved onto longer time frames for it being over. If I couldn’t get to Europe in April, then August would be fine. It will certainly be possible for Christmas. If not, I would go to New Zealand. Then I couldn’t even leave the State, so have to finally face reality. It won’t be over any time soon. Vaccinations won’t be available for a while and there is no point in planning anything because the Government won’t let you out of the country, the States slam their borders shut without warning, and hot spots are declared even in your own suburb, State/City.

At the end of July, I escape from Pymble. A few days at Coledale Beach, just south of Sydney. It felt like a “get out of jail” card, with great thanks to KT and JTH.

Towards the end of August it was possible to attend a lunch, at which a guest speaker gave a presentation on Millicent Preston, an Australian feminist and politician who was the first female member of the NSW Legislative Assembly. Attending this lunch, even with the plague restrictions, was a joy.

By October, with plans to be in London for the arrival of my first great grandchild, I am sure that I shall get an exit visa on humanitarian grounds. When both grandmothers are rejected, I am reminded of my unimportance in the scheme of things. The maternal grandmother finally receives an exit visa on humanitarian grounds. She is unable to travel (despite business class bookings) because even though she had a confirmed return flight, there was no guarantee that the flight would not be cancelled.

My great granddaughter was born in London just before Christmas. Not being there did not diminish the joy of her arrival. After all, this was not about me. It was all about the creation of a new family unit.

Who would have thought that a visit to Coffs Harbour would have been so exciting. At the end of October I was fortunate to be able to share a week with family in Coffs Harbour. This visit was special on lots of levels, but particularly being able to visit Briggsvale near Dorrigo, where my father worked in the late 1930’s. It was all the more poignant because my father had contracted polio as a child, and spent some time in an iron lung. As a young child in Auckland in the late 1940’s, I remember being in isolation due to a polio epidemic. I can still recall standing at the front gate and calling across the road to the children opposite. I can also still see the water sparkling at Takapuna Beach, which was only a couple of minutes away, and not being able to go to the beach.

The house benefitted from the inability to travel. It acquired a new bathroom. It got itself a new coat of paint, outside and inside. Lots of little repairs, and lots of maintenance. The roof, not to be outdone, has signalled a need for repairs. The garden is looking splendid.

The body politic did not cover itself in glory throughout this year. Sadly we have become accustomed to politicians lying, so very little of what they said was believed by me. “We are following the science” they say. The “science” is never disclosed. The science must be different in different places. Wearing a mask seems to have a different science depending on the State. The science seems to discriminate between big sporting events and the small number of people I can entertain at home.

Keeping the black dog at bay requires a lot of effort. Travel planning for 2021 has a wedding in Atherton to attend in May. I saved the date months ago. Hoping for a NZ bubble before that. July August, Europe.

Shorter term on keeping the brain alive is Egypt. Some years ago I had one of the more memorable adventures of my life visiting Egypt. I acquired numerous books, and planned to learn a lot more. My fickle self took over. I moved on to the Caucasus, but before I had really got into the history, it was time for Iran and the Persians. The Hittites took up a lot of my attention, followed closely by Russia and the Mughal empires. Eastern Turkey and Mesopotamia required my attention. Back to Egypt – all I have to do is narrow down “Egypt”. Well not all I have to do. I have to deal with motivation and procrastination. I have turned procrastination into an art form. No need to do this today – tomorrow is another day. Who would have thought “tomorrow” would be another several hundred days.

A sample of the books I acquired about Egypt.

Staving off the black dog has been a battle. Lots of exercise helps. Lack of motivation does not. Fitness levels have dropped alarmingly. The gift of a fitbit, and a competitive streak are now taking care of the lack of motivation. Begone black dog – the sword of Damocles is hanging over your head.

Losing my lifestyle is trivial in the scheme of things. Mental health issues can be dealt with. Not being able to travel is not life threatening.

Documenting my year has made me realise how fortunate I am, and has helped put my losses into perspective.

That does not mean that I cannot still mourn.