Isolation diary day 13

Well, we have passed the half way point in the four weeks. (It is only day 13 because we weren’t really isolated on Day 1; consequently I started the count on the second day.) It has been quite a busy day. As usual, we went for a walk after breakfast. Our route, however, was a new development. We walked up our street to Wattle Park, then headed first east, then traced a big arc back the other way almost up to Riversdale Road. Continuing south, we came out at the golf course club house, where we used to go for coffee before the current unpleasantness. I found the hilliness of this new route tiring; possibly I was still feeling the effect of having done a walk and a workout yesterday. It was a good time to be about, though. It was cool, only about 16 degrees, and pretty quiet. We saw a neighbour on our way home, who waved theatrically at us from the far side of the road.

When we got home, my beloved went back to work, preparing for a virtual staff meeting at 11.00. I had a bit more breakfast, then, as silently as possible, mixed up a batch of bread dough, and put on a load of washing. The bread was necessary because Woolies hadn’t been able to supply the loaf I requested in our last online shop. This is a minor drawback with the process. If the store that fulfils your order doesn’t have a particular line in stock, they just don’t supply it, and give you a refund. But it isn’t possible to nominate a second option in case your first choice is unavailable. You never know what they’ll have, however,  so if you order two types of bread you might get both. Why not just freeze one? I do this quite a lot, but at present the freezer is pretty chockers, already containing a gluten-free loaf for my beloved, batches of rice, chickpeas, pasta, meat, and so on. 

Anyway, I was well placed to knock up a loaf at home, having flour (both wheat and spelt) from a previous shop, and yeast, salt, and sugar in the cupboard. The recipe I have taken to using is for an oatmeal no-knead variety, which is easy and reliable. You can find it here; do give it a go! The recipe as it stands makes two loaves. If you don’t want to make this much, just adjust the quantities. But I reckon if you’re going to go to the trouble, you might as well get two loaves out of it. (Ease back on the salt, though. The recipe calls for a tablespoon, which is far too much. Just use 1 or 1.5 teaspoons, for one or two loaves respectively. And I put the yeast up to 2.5 teaspoons for two loaves.)

Apart from these tweaks, I make the recipe as it stands, but I use a roughly 20 cm square tin with a removable base. After the loaf cools down, I just cut it in half to make two rectangular loaves, slice both, and freeze one. This time I used a mixture of wholemeal wheat flour and white and wholemeal spelt, mostly because I had bits of the last two hanging around. I have also used chia seeds instead of half a cup of the oats; sunflower seeds would probably work well too. As you can see, this recipe is very forgiving. 

(Speaking of baking, I was puzzled to read about a lady complaining that she had plain flour, but wanted self-raising. She wanted someone to swap the latter for the former. Had she not heard of baking powder? You don’t even really need a sifter; just stir the baking powder into the plain flour with a fork.)

I had a minor contretemps yesterday when I thought of the poem, and was looking for my notebook in which to jot it down. It was nowhere to be seen — the notebook, that is — although some might think I was referring to the poem. My beloved sensibly observed that the notebook must be in our place somewhere. Am I the only person I know who can lose something after a fortnight in isolation?

I found another notebook, of course, but the experience was quite irritating. At various times I need to make notes for poems, bits of the memoir, things that I am told by various medicos, and general stuff. I have tried splitting a big notebook up into sections with sticky tabs, but it is hard to predict how many pages to set aside for each section. Using several notebooks is just a nuisance. Different stuff ends up all over the place, and is impossible to keep track of. And, particularly for poetry,  I need to capture what thoughts come my way before they evaporate!

What works best for me in these literary endeavours is a Japanese system called a Traveler’s Passport Notebook. (That’s how they spell it). This is basically a leather binder with an elastic strap that goes around it. This binder is about passport size, as the name suggests, so it readily fits in a jacket pocket, or the outside pocket in a backpack. The binder can hold five or six bound A6 size blank books, each on its special rubber band-type thing. Consequently the books sit nicely next to each other. (If you prefer, they can go one inside another, but I can’t imagine why anyone would want to do this.) There is also a piece of heavy thread sewn into the binder that you can use as a bookmark. The Traveler’s people also make a pen holder which clips onto the binder, which I have — no more hunting for a pen. With my trusty vintage Dymo labeller, which I found in the local op shop, I have made labels for each of the books. Genius! Now I can readily make notes, keep them all in the one place, but separate all the different materials. (This of course assumes I can find the thing.)

When I got my hands on it — it was in a jacket pocket — I wanted to be able to find it the next time I lost it. So I ordered a few more bits and pieces for it, including a transparent zipped pocket. Thank goodness for the internet! I plan to put a Tile device inside this pocket. This is a little bit of electronics that works via Bluetooth, and is intended to help you locate your keys, phone, and so on. (I don’t tend to lose those things, but I have misplaced this notebook before.) This may sound a tad both OCD and OTT. However, I find losing things monstrously irritating. My memory is so bad, I almost never remember where I left something. Anyway, all these schemes keep me off the streets, so to speak, and I’m doing my bit for the economy! A win-win! 


Isolation diary day 11

So I called yesterday day twelve! Big deal! As most of you will have found, one day resembles another to a fair degree. Back when the isolation started, I actually cut a post-it note in half, and stuck it on our kitchen calendar to mark the current day. I stuck the other half of the post-it on the nominal last day of my sentence. Of course, the latter date, whatever it is, falls in April, so the two yellow bits of paper are on different pages of the calendar. (They will soon be on the same page, however, and start drawing ever closer.)

I slept in a bit this morning, until about 7.45. After breakfast, coffee #1, and a few other things, we headed out for our walk at about 11.00. This was rather later than our usual excursion, and had gotten quite warm by then. (On the weather report this evening, I see that was about when the maximum of 26 degrees was reached.) We did our usual route in reverse, probably just for a change. (By the way does anyone know why people have started saying “Change it up” recently, instead of “Change it around”, or just “Change it”?) Anyway, when we got back it was time for another coffee, then lunch. Coffee #2 was better than its predecessor. I still had some grounds in the container this morning, so I ground a smaller quantity of beans, which turned out to be fewer than I needed. (I am still getting these settings right; I might need to turn the quantity dial to 2 cups, and press it twice.)

We entertained ourselves during lunch with an episode of State of play on Stan. Afterwards I managed to place our second online grocery order through Woolies. For some reason, the their web site wouldn’t accept the password that I had set previously. So I had to reset it — twice, or possibly three times. Each time I was sent a message containing a reset code. I had to click on this code to be taken back to the web site, where I would reset the password. The messages were quite slow to get through, and all filed underneath each other in my email inbox. I managed to open a message twice, and click on a link I had aleady clicked on, so had to go through the reset process all over again. I finally managed to log in, retrieve the list of items I had ordered last time, add a few more, and place order #2. There was a delay right at the end for some reason I couldn’t fathom. After a few goes I worked out that I had to supply the CV code, or whatever it was, for the credit card. (This was unexpected. As far as I can remember, when I order something using Chrome, this code is usually stored in the browser.) So it all ended up taking about half an hour. Still, it is better than trooping along there in RL.

For a bit of light relief after all that, I played one of Mariss Jansens’ CDs that I hadn’t previously played: his newer recording of the Shostakovich Leningrad symphony.  This is probably the longest of the Shostakovich cycle, and undoubtedly the heaviest. I will have to go back to the earlier one, part of his complete set — I think the performance that time was done with the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra. The newer one was with the Bavarian Radio Symphony; being an SACD, it is superbly recorded, if rather low in volume. I will give it another go before deciding which I like better. This symphony gets very loud; anticipating this, I hadn’t turned the amplifier up quite high enough. I will turn the wick up a bit more next time!

We didn’t get any new appliances today, but we did get some rain. Also, possibly inspired by the Shostakovich, I wrote a poem.

See them coming

During the pandemic
that everyone knew would be declared
we stayed home and cooked
watched TV
not the news.
When we let ourselves out for walks
we crossed the road when people came.
They did it too.
No-one had to pretend to be cosmopolitan
everyone was a stranger
we could avoid them openly.

A white cat hovers in our driveway
on the damp concrete
next to the nandinas
it can see the street but still
climb the fence.

It’s one of about four
which used to pace around our courtyard
then they stopped coming
it’s like the Berlin Wall dissolved overnight
and there was nothing any more to patrol.


Isolation diary day … err, 12?

OK, technically, my isolation started on Monday 16th of March — the date of my last consult with the oncologist. I have tended to think of Tuesday 17th, however, as Day 1 of the isolation proper. This is partly to do with having done some food shopping and — shock, horror — had a coffee out, both on the way home. One neither could nor would do the latter now. Anyway, for these reasons, the Monday didn’t feel like a day in isolation. But who’s counting? 

I knew that the new coffee grinder was coming today. We chose the delivery option “Someone will be home” instead of the more usual “If no-one’s home, we will deliver to the nearest Post Office”. (This was so my beloved wouldn’t have to schlep up the street and possibly break social distance at the local sub-post office.) She had a chiropractor appointment this morning, so I knew I had to be back from my walk before she left, to be home for the courier. I therefore hot-footed it out after breakfast, pacing out my usual route up the street to Wattle Park and back. (I often combine this with a turn around the oval, but there was a number of other people already doing this, so I cut my expedition slightly short. It still came to about 25 minutes.)

All this finagling was unnecessary, as it happened, because the courier left it on the front verandah anyway, ringing the doorbell to alert me to its arrival. No signature was required; times being what they are, this was fine by me. So I unpacked it from its double box packing and set it up in the kitchen, with the result you see below.


Although technically all these thingies are the same colour, the grinder proved, on first installation, a paler blue than the toaster and kettle. The somewhat sordid reason for this slight mismatch was that we have had the last two for about eighteen months, in which time they insidiously took on a faint kitchen-y patina. This in turn is as a result of being next to the cooktop, on which I make a stir fry every week. I also sit the pressure cooker right in the corner shown above, bang in front of where the grinder is now. This also gets an outing at least every week, cooking lamb shanks and so on. (Yes, we do have an exhaust fan, always switched on while any of these operations is carried out. Obviously the fan isn’t very efficient. Hey — it’s a 20 year old kitchen!) Anyway, giving the more senior appliances a going-over with Jif rendered them more worthy of sitting next to the spanking new grinder.

This gadget leaves the old Gaggia in its dust, as it were. Grinding up the first coffee was like stepping into the GT after five years trundling around in the twenty-year old Fairmont. The Smeg stores beans above the grinder. One selects the amount that one wishes to grind (determined by the number of cups one is making) and the fineness or coarseness of the grind that is desired. The grinding is started at a press of the button, at the conclusion of which it switches itself off! All that remains is to remove the (cunningly non-stick) receptacle underneath, twist off the lid, and pour the grounds into the Aeropress. So, I offer this modest palindromic caption: Smeg are now, won era Gems!

Another busy day was fitted around the installation of the new appliance. My beloved is working from home, as mentioned, and is by now well ensconced at our dining table with her laptop. A week or so of working in a kitchen chair proved hard on her back, however. (She had coincidentally strained this in a yoga class not long before the isolation period kicked in.) In one of our walks around the neighbourhood last week, I picked up a laptop stand from the nature strip(I gave this a good wipedown with bleach to keep everything nice.) In combination with a Bluetooth keyboard and a proper chair, this had the potential to make her setup more ergonomic.

To this end my beloved drove in to work yesterday, to pick up her office chair, and (she thought) a proper keyboard. She came home with the chair and keyboard, but the latter was fatally missing the USB dongle needed to connect it with the laptop. So, after another trip in today, she collected her usual keyboard. This connected mysteriously to the laptop without any apparent assistance. Bingo! The laptop stand was pressed into service, and an Instagram-worthy setup was thus created. This image, together with that of her IT in-house consultant and barista, was duly shared with her colleagues, all of whom are reinventing the wheel in like fashion in their search for the perfect WFH setup. 

Music has been something else that has been fitted around all this unpacking, installing, ergonomic and technological wrangling, and general coffee making. I did manage to play one of my favourite recordings of the Sibelius Violin Concerto yesterday, though, the one with Hilary Hahn, the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and Jukka-Pekka Saraste. This is quite a stately reading, much more lyrical and searching than any of the Heifetz recordings I have heard. Hahn and Saraste might not be in any hurry, but they generate quite some tension, and are wonderfully recorded by DGG. Hahn is such a beautifully clean player, with immaculate intonation, but it is never just technique — she seems always to be thinking the music through. After that I played the Shostakovich 6th Symphony with Jansens, a different performance from that in his complete set. (In that cycle it was played by the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, whereas the one I heard yesterday with with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.) In both, indeed in everything Jansens does, tempi seem just right, all the lines are beautifully balanced against each other, and the music always has a direction that seems to come from within.   

Isolation diary day 7

Wow, what a busy day yesterday was! We had both slept in a bit, so my beloved skipped the walk and got straight down to work after breakfast. (I got my walk in, listening to ABC Classic on my Blluetooth headphones.) A second coffee was my reward, and the rest of the morning passed with doing three loads of washing, making myself some lunch, and similar domesticity.

In the afternoon I had a scheduled teleconsultation with Dale, one of the exercise physios from the practice where I did my exercise classes. As part of the package, so to speak, they had provided me with a gym session via the PhysiApp platform. This allows the exercise physio to design me a program, complete with videos showing the proper form for each exercise, and the capability for me to enter my data each time I work through the program. So Dale just modified some of these exercises in order that I could perform them with the equipment I have at home. We were able to speak to each other via my phone through the PhysiApp app. (I had to get out my headphones so that I could hear her properly, but these worked really well.) She could see whether I was doing everything correctly and provide feedback. The call was a bit interrupted, as first my phone started running out of battery, then her laptop! The connection was restored, however, and its objectives completed. Assuming I keep doing them, these exercises will allow me to maintain condition while I am confined to barracks. 

(The physio practice also uses Zoom in order to allow other class members in the same situation to have a virtual exercise session, during which they can see and hear each other. This occurs at the time in which the class was held in RL. I’m not sure whether I will do this tomorrow, but I probably will in future. It’s good to keep in touch with the fellas as and when possible.)

Communications were running hot yesterday! When my beloved had knocked off for the day, she rang our super fund to get some information about some of her investments that had dropped alarmingly. After a fairly lengthy phone discussion, we had a pow-wow about what the information with which we had just been supplied.

Basically, our balances are about where they were eighteen months ago. As we had read elsewhere, the bottom of the market is never a good time to sell out. Fortunately, super contributors in Australia now (as of a couple of days ago) have the option to reduce their minimum pension draw down from 5% to 2.5%. It seemed a good idea to be emptying the bathtub a bit more slowly. The relevant form to accomplish this was emailed to her to be filled in and returned. (Other changes could be made via the fund web site.) We may have to make some adjustments to my pension as well; again, this is something I can do online. These phone calls and discussions took a fair time, but it was a very worthwhile exercise in that we now have a much better grip on what our best course of action is in the current financial situation. 

I needed some “me” time after all this interaction! After a sit in the study I made us some dinner, and we watched State of Play on Stan. This was a British thriller, made in 2003, about a parliamentarian caught up in a mysterious murder plot — you get the drift. The cast is very good, though; John Sim, David Morrissey, the wonderful Bill Nighy, and Philip Glenister, who seems to specialise in seedy, grumpy detectives. We probably saw it on free to air, but if so, it was 17 years ago! All the London locations are very atmospheric, and the dialogue up to Beeb standards. After all the excitement I slept rather poorly, so am happy to have had a quiet day today.

Isolation diary day 6

Today kicked off with a real expedition. We had to be out of the house to give our cleaning lady an open go. I hadn’t driven the GT for over a week, so I decided to give it a run up to the Dandenongs. So we headed up the highway through Ferntree Gully and took the familiar left turn up the mountain.

The last time we had ventured this way was about eighteen months ago, when we had the loan of a very large Benz for the weekend. Readers will recall that I won sixth prize or so in the annual 3MBS-FM prize lottery. A free hire of a Benz was the prize that time. We had requested one of their sedan models. That weekend, though, they were trialling a Sunday opening for the Grand Final, and consequently wanted to keep a few smaller models for any punters who wandered along. Consequently we got a monstrous GLC four wheel drive, all $90,000 worth. I liked it rather a lot, but it was too large for my beloved, so we thankfully gave it back to the dealer the next day. Mercedes Benz Toorak must have known we weren’t prospects, as they never called us to ask whether the experience made us feel like putting it in our garage for keeps. 

Back to this morning, and the GT proved just the vehicle for the windy roads leading up to Mount Dandenong. We stopped for a coffee at Olinda; my beloved made the purchase, which we consumed in the car. (It was drizzling, and quite parky for, err, is it late summer? Early autumn?) Our return was as uneventful as the outward leg had been, and the route led us conveniently to Canterbury Road. My beloved went to the pharmacy in Maling Road, and joined the queue lining up to be served in the doorway. (This pharmacy is only a small establishment; I think the idea was to regulate the number of punters per square metre to the present rather draconian level.)

While she was thus occupied, I leaned against a post on the far side of the road, trying to look as if I had something useful to do. This charade was bolstered by the appearance of an elderly gentleman, who headed in my direction carrying a white cane, then did a 90 degree turn a few feet in front of me, obviously intending to cross the road. I was able to scuttle up to his elbow, scan the traffic in both directions, and advise him that it was safe to cross. (As Dad would say, quoting G&S: giving artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.)

Back home, my beloved got to work, like all her colleagues — only the CEO is physically in the building today. (Is this allowed under OH&S? At RMIT, if you wanted to work late, at least one other person had to be there , in case you fell and broke your leg or something equally inconvenient. But CEOs appear to be invulnerable.) Phone calls were fielded by us both. In my case it was my writing buddy Graham, a fellow labourer in the memoir writing vineyard. We are guide, mentor, philosopher, and friend to each other in this intermittent endeavour.

This evening our very first online grocery order is to be delivered. This service is not available to any except the most deserving, into which category we appear to fall. A few of the things I requested are not available, something about which I was forewarned. (Substitutions have been made in a couple of cases.) Yesterday we received a delivery, also a first for us, of fruit and vegetables from our local greengrocer. A couple of the mangoes were sub par — fortunately, we have ordered some from the supermarket as well. With this exception, getting our grub this way was extremely convenient. The order was placed by SMS, the payment effected (as real estate agents like to say) by bank transfer. So we are managing to keep ourselves fed without a lot of effort.  

Libraries are all closed not, of course, so I have reactivated my Overdrive account from our local public library for reading e-books. There is a fair number that I have either downloaded or placed holds. I am going a bit slowly with our current book group book. (Meetings of the group are suspended, along with most other things, until further notice). The book is No friend but the mountains, by Behrouz Boochani. It has undeniable authority and terrific urgency, but I find I can’t read it for very long. 


Isolation diary, days 4-5

We have just been for what seemed a mega-expedition! I had previously discovered a nice walk a couple of kilometres away, through Gardiners Creek reserve. (This walk leads to Glen Iris Road, where my beloved’s dietician has her practice. I walked to the practice through the reserve, about a ten minute walk, from Burwood Highway.) So I thought we would do a version of this today. This time we drove down to Glen Iris, parked, and walked through the reserve. On the far side of Glen Iris Road is a nice cafe, where my beloved got us a couple of take away coffees. (We had brought our Keep Cups, but had to get them in the ideologically unsound paper ones.) It was a bit drizzly, so we found a picnic bench with a roof over it and had our coffees overlooking the oval. There was quite a number of people out with their kids, walking their dogs, and so on. It was lovely to have the fresh air, and something new to look at. On our way home I went to the ATM and got out some cash.

Yesterday, it seemed a while since I had done any serious cooking. (I hadn’t been to the shops since Monday, the day on which I was confined to barracks.) So last night we had some lamb shanks, which I had taken out of the freezer yesterday. My beloved did a supermarket crawl yesterday morning, and fortunately was able to get quite a lot of what we had on that list. We will also be getting a delivery from the local greengrocer today, fulfilling an order that we texted to him yesterday. 

It’s surprising to hear that things like meat are running short — most butchers get supply every day. The one in Maling Road, Canterbury, seemed to have plenty (admittedly that was on Monday, and there were plenty of people in there then). From what my beloved said, some things are becoming easier to get: she was able to get a couple of packets of pasta and the same of pasta sauce. How much is available may vary from area to area, depending on how well the supermarkets are enforcing limits, and who is doing the kind of crazy panic buying I heard examples of. There is quite a good article in The New Daily about how to source groceries online.

Yesterday afternoon we watched Edwin Drood on Stan — I remember this being broadcast a few years ago. The service certainly works well though our Chromecast. We will possibly get Netflix as well, which is pretty cheap, about $14 a month. One can just go month by month on both Stan and Netflix, which are also unmetered through Telstra broadband. So far our NBN speed has been up to the additional demand of people doing extra streaming and working from home. (One can always download shows from Stan and watch them offline.)

Many arts organisations are throwing open their streaming doors, as it were, and making concerts available. There is a round-up of these in the Limelight article . We had tickets for Lohengrin though Opera Australia, and I had a subscription to the Musica Viva coffee concert series in the Recital Centre. All of these are of course cancelled. (I have my fingers crossed for the Brisbane Ring Cycle toward the end of the year.) The Limelight article also lists a new initiative, the Melbourne Digital Concert Hall. This is to sell virtual tickets for concert performances, starting on the 27th of this month. This is a really enterprising way of giving Melbourne artists an audience unable to hear them in RL. 

Of course there is more classical music (and every other genre) on streaming radio services than one could ever listen to. We have a TuneIn Radio app in our living room stereo, giving access to hundreds of stations like the ones on this list . (You don’t need a TuneIn subscription; just point your browser at any station. Or, if you have a Google Assistant-equipped device, say “OK Google, play [name of station] on Tunein”.) Some of these internet stations just play chunks, i.e. one movement of a work, then another, all from unrelated works —  a bit like community radio programming. A bit of experimentation will yield a reliable shortlist.

Isolation diary days 2 & 3

Yesterday was the second day of the self-isolation. It was quite busy, somehow. We went for a walk after breakfast, aiming to get out before it it got too hot (although it stayed cloudy until late in the afternoon). After a rather weak coffee, of which more later, I cooked a batch of marmalade, and did a load of washing. Then it was time for lunch.

After that, I did miscellaneous things. Yesterday I had set up a free three-month trial of Stan (the streaming service). I remembered today that our Blu-ray recorder is connected to our wifi, and has a set of services (as it were) pre-baked into it. I found that Netflix is one of those. The cost of a monthly subscription is not great, about $15 or so for the standard plan. So I will probably set that up as well, and see how it compares with Stan. (One can just go month by month with Netflix now — as I’m sure many of you know!)

Getting back to the coffee: I have found it difficult, for the last couple of days, to get a strong enough one. I thought the beans were going off. This was odd, as I keep them in an airtight jar in the cupboard. So I put some more in, but this made no difference. (I have a little formula for tablespoons of beans per mug: two and a few.) It was as if some of the grounds were finding their way into the base of the grinder.

Hold onto that thought! On inspection, I found a 2 or 3 centimetre long hole in the bowl of our vintage Gaggia grinder. The design of this is such that, once the beans are ground, it is necessary to scrape them out of the bowl. Obviously over the decades, this had worn through the bottom of the receptacle. Once I unscrewed its base, I found that about half a cereal bowl of grounds had collected underneath the motor. I retrieved these and picked out a few bits of ground-up plastic. They will do me for tomorrow.

We decided to retire the old ragazza from duty and get a Smeg grinder. (We could have anything, as long as it was pale blue, to match the kettle & toaster.) Fortunately the correct one was available online from David Jones, so no need to break quarantine. The Smeg is no doubt a superior device, with a removable bowl. I quote from the DJs web page: “The anti-static system ensures even distribution of coffee in the chamber and guarantees a simple clean at the end of each use with the accompanying brush.” One can even store 350 grams of beans in the top bit! I just hope it fits under the cupboard. (We reasoned that, if it didn’t, we would get a refund.) Until it comes, I have made a running repair to the bowl of the Gaggia with a few bits of sticking plaster. 

This morning has gone similarly, minus the marmalade. (I am still using up the old one, so can’t report on the last batch yet.) My beloved had a conference call — with an international participant, no less! She has been beavering away at the dining table every day, requiring only intermittent technical assistance, and a few coffees. (My beloved has to have decaf, which we buy pre-ground. Mine is made from beans, which is more of a hassle, but having fresh grounds each time is worth it for me.)