Isolation day 33

Just in case anyone has forgotten what is the point of social isolation, I just read an account in Limelight by Australia soprano Helena Dix on surviving coronvirus. (Apologies for cross posting.) This story was of particular interest to me as we heard Helena in 2017 singing Elsa in Lohengrin, for Melbourne Opera. The story has a wider potential interest, however, in that there just haven’t been that many accounts I have read recently by coronavirus survivors. Anyway, I post this FWIW.

We had a pleasant morning fiddling around outside. Our gardenia bed is starting to flower rather reluctantly. I am generally a bit late to get this going really well, and this year is no exception. Nevertheless, the sight of a few blooms stirred me to give the bed a light prune. After I get out there again, I will give it a good feed and a layer of compost. I also dug out the hedge clippers and gave the azalea hedge a haircut. We have a couple of rather ancient Confidor tablets left. (This seemed a brilliant thing when I first bought it, a combination of plant food and insecticide specifically designed for azaleas — one of the more difficult plants to keep away from scale and other diseases. Unfortunately, the last time I looked for Confidor, I was told they it been withdrawn from sale due to its containing neonicotinoids — substances found to be harmful to bees. This piece in The Conversation explains that background.)

With libraries being closed, like most people, I have been relying on the ebook collections of our local libraries. We live just outside the boundary of our former municipal area, which I will call Area A. The library branches in A are better located for us, so we rather cheekily have kept our library memberships going in that service, although we no are longer ratepayers in that council area. (I don’t believe Area A has reciprocal memberships with library services from other council areas.) When we moved five years ago, I also joined the service of our present council area, Area B. The library branches here are far less convenient for us to get to, so we hardly use it, but it is is handy for books not stocked in Area A. This works also for e-book offerings. Although they both use the Libby software, each offers e-books not available from the other library service. Fortunately, once one has logged in to Libby, it is pretty simple to switch between the two libraries and read books from both. I even managed to reset my password for the Area B service online!

One e-book I read recently was Nothing to be frightened of, by Julian Barnes. (This link points to the Penguin Random House blurb.) This is a series of reflections and literary excerpts about mortality. These are interspersed with anecdotes about his parents, brother, and other family members; these transform it into a kind of memoir. Partly under the influence of his father, who had been a French teacher, the book has a very French orientation; Barnes is particularly interested in Jules Renard. In researching this author, I stumbled across some excerpts from his journal here.)  I really enjoyed Julian Barnes’ book at first; it darts about in a way that is quite quirky, but always personal and elegant. Toward the end, I felt both his style and the argument of the book became more busy and difficult to follow. Recommended nevertheless, if the topic is not off-putting.

My beloved has headed off to have a walk with a friend in our local park. It has been very mild over the last couple of days, handy for getting towels (mostly) dry. I must head back outside to do the feeding, then come back inside to ready for lunch. (We did a big shop yesterday, so fortunately there is lentil soup and other things ready to go.) I might even get out for a walk myself later on, as I have most days — if I don’t manage this, a slight feeling of cabin fever can creep in.

Isolation day 30 (I think)

Ah, ’tis a bit hard for the old noggin when I skip a day’s posting. But that number seems right. Gosh — more than 4 weeks in isolation! The only people I have interacted with during that period in RL are my beloved and the assistant who took my blood sample on Monday. But everyone is staying calm and keeping isolated. The trend in new cases in Victoria is obviously encouraging.

Some of the following is shamelessly repurposed from an email — I hope the recipient will indulge me.

  • Cutting to the chase — I spoke to my oncologist, Dr P, a few hours ago. All good! The PSA is still 0.02, the same score as the previous test. (Earlier ones had been 0.01 for quite a while, so I asked if this new score was anything to worry about. He said it was within measurement error, and still undetectable.)
  • I hadn’t expect to see Dr P until Monday. When I saw him last, he said our next appointment would be a teleconsultation. So I rang the practice this morning to confirm this. When I got through, his extremely switched-on assistant said “Oh, Guy! I saw your bloods come in — I’ll just ring Phillip and see if he can talk to you now”. I said “Fine” (grabbing my notebook, and wrestling the pen out of its little loop). Anyway, Dr P and I had a teleconsult then and there, over in about 1 minute. (This was a win-win; I got my results a few days early, he now has one less phone call to make over the weekend.)
  • He then put me back to the assistant, with whom I made the next 2 appointments  — these could be 3D, or teleconsults: TBC. His PA is really very efficient — a shout-out to these super-organised folk everywhere for how they keep all of us punters turning up on the right dates. It’s not just a matter of making appointments, but co-ordinating the latter with treatments as well. (This is the sort of job of which I would make a total dog’s breakfast.)
  • My next Zolodex implant is still taking place next week in the day oncology unit at Epworth East. (I don’t think they have worked out a way to do these by a teleconsult yet!) My appointment time has been put back, doubtless to allow better separation between patients. The Zolodex usually follows every second consult with Dr P — assuming the blood test gives the right result. The actual implantation only takes a minute, and that will be it for another 12 weeks.
  • I had a pretty poor night’s sleep again last night — awake before 5.00. (I did have a doze in the study before taking my beloved in her coffee.) She and I managed to get out for a longish walk this morning, which was great. There was a light drizzle, but then the sun came out. I have done nearly 7,000 steps, just over 5 km.
  • To celebrate the good news, my beloved and I had fish and chips for lunch. Very nice — I am feeling slightly liverish and absolutely stuffed.
  • My shirts arrived from HBs. They are lovely. One is a bit big — although they are both the same size — but that is a risk associated with ordering online. (I did look at the size guides, but they weren’t a lot of help.) I could possibly exchange it for the next size down, but that would be a hassle to have to post it back — even if such exchanges are still done. They are the kinds of shirts one layers up, however, so being a bit over size is fine. I will probably wear the bigger one over a light jumper or long sleeved t-shirt, etc., like the mysterious “shacket”.

Isolation day 28

  • I have an appointment with my oncologist, Dr P. in a week’s time. Yesterday I was feeling quite anxious ahead of this appointment, and was quite tense and emotional. This anxiety always seems to dissipate when I have the blood test that precedes the appointment.
  • So I was quite happy to set out early this morning to have my blood test. There was only one patient in the queue ahead of me; he was wearing a mask. I always find there is something soothing, somehow, about the ritual of having a blood sample taken. It could be partly the contact with the pathology assistants, who are always pleasant and matter-of fact. (We all know our roles in this drama and what is expected of us.) I had drunk a couple of glasses of water before I left, and one of assistants exclaimed approvingly: “Look at your lovely plump vein”.
  • After I got home, we went out for the morning to get out of the way for our cleaning lady. We had had quite a bit of rain overnight, and some of this was still around when we set off. My beloved had the idea of driving to a large park, Summerhill Park, in Glen Iris and going for an hour’s walk. This would take us past a nice cafe where we could get a takeaway coffee. There is a covered area in the park opposite the cafe, with several tables and benches; we planned to have our coffees there if the rain persisted. (There was quite a queue at the cafe, however, so we decided to have one at our next stop, in Camberwell Junction.) There was quite a number of people walking along the path in Summerhill Park, and the one it connects to further to the west, Ferndale Park. Many were out with kids in prams, dogs, or both. It was a friendly atmosphere; people seemed a bit more aware of social distancing than in Wattle Park, our usual hangout.
  • My beloved then drove to Camberwell Junction, where we stopped for a coffee. The cafe is on a walkway between the car park and Burke Road; there are several seats along this walkway, and we sat on one of those. It was a little bit breezy, but we were equipped for a cool day. The coffee was very good — my first for the day. After that my beloved headed off to the supermarket for some groceries, while I sat in the car, read my emails, made some phone calls, and listened to the radio for a while.
  • We got home with the groceries, whereupon my beloved headed off to her workstation for a while. I made us some lunch and we watched an episode of Deutschland 86. I hadn’t liked this series quite as much as its predecessor (Deutschland 83) at first, but I am enjoying it now. The second series is set supposedly in South Africa, Angola and Namibia, as well as in Germany. The photography of all these places is beautiful, and exploits the contrasts between the harsh light of the African countries and the dull, rather drained look of Germany.
  • My beloved returned to work for an hour or two. (She had received a call from a colleague just before lunch, which made me realise she is part of the “always available” workforce.) I downloaded an app from Telstra which allowed me to draw a map of our wifi coverage. This map, and a couple of different tests of our upload and download speeds, confirmed my impressions of the still fairly new NBN service. In a place the size of ours, our (basic) plan allows us to watch streaming video in high definition and browse the internet, with only occasional dropouts. Given that there is one more person using the wifi, for four or five hours a day longer than before the isolation began, this is a pretty fair result.

Isolation day 26

  • Better night’s sleep, thank goodness. Only 6 hours 11 minutes, but 1 hour 11 of deep sleep; relatively quite good.
  • We went for a walk this morning. I had been thinking about an alt route to the one we usually do. This worked very well, and was also longer than usual. (I have done 9,300-odd steps, about 6.7 kilometres.) On our way back we bought a couple of takeaway coffees on our way home, from a local cafe next to a little park, where we sat and drank them. The sun even came out, in rather mingy Melbourne fashion.
  • When we got back I made salmon patties for lunch. My beloved was hungry, and didn’t want to wait for those, so heated up some leftovers from the freezer. This filled her up, so she didn’t want any lunch. I had a couple of the patties with some burrito and a piece of toast left over from breakfast.
  • After lunch I listened to most of an MSO concert on ABC Classic. This was one which the orchestra played to an empty Hamer Hall; apparently over two thousand people registered to listen to it, greater than the capacity of the hall. The program was a work by Deborah Cheetham, the Schelomo rhapsody for cello and orchestra by Bloch, and Scheherezade. The Rimsky was very well done, with a fine concertmaster solo from Dale Barltrop, the MSO co-concertmaster. Gee, they are a good orchestra; all stood down for the duration, poor things. (You can stream this concert from the ABC Classic web site for a few weeks.)
  • After the third movement of the Rimsky I wondered if my subwoofer was working correctly. I had bought my speaker set (Dali Ikon 2, Mk. 2) from the Brotherhood store in Camberwell Junction about four years ago. They had come with no manuals, of course, but I subsequently found one online for the subbie, and printed it out. It was this that I consulted this afternoon. The manual had such a miniscule illustration of the control panel that I had to get out my big magnifying glass to read it. Of course this panel is tucked away at the back of the speaker, so the direction in which the knobs turned was reversed from the illustration. I think I improved the set-up.
  • Meanwhile my beloved was doing some work at her workstation. After that she went to meet a friend at the park at the end of our street.
  • It was quite a sunny morning, so I optimistically changed over our towels, washed the old set, and hung them out on the clothesline. They didn’t dry notably; it was really quite still, and the sun became very elusive. So I dragged the towels back inside and chucked them in the dryer. At least they are all dry now.
  • I have left my beloved watching The Little Drummer Girl for the second time on SBS On Demand. We have had quite a retro German wallow with that and Deutschland. Looking forward to a new Mystery Road on ABC TV tomorrow night.

Isolation day 25

It’s been a lot of fun for me to be writing all this stuff. Doing the more regular posts seems to have shaken a few things loose in the literary brain. However, apart from a few poems, I’m not getting much other writing done, and I need to put in more time here.

Now that we are more used to how the days are going to go, as well, things are more routine. So from now on, until the end of the isolation, I will put these updates in point form.

  • Yesterday I played one of the Super Audio CDs from the Mariss Jansons set with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra — the 5th Symphony of Mahler. I really enjoyed this reading. The SACD recording has a noticeably wider dynamic range over a regular CD — the bass drum has a real thump. All the wind solos are amazingly well balanced against the orchestra — a Janssons specialty. The famous Adagietto begins with a Mozartian delicacy, but he gets the fiddles to really dig in for the middle theme — quite thrilling.
  • My sleep was pretty crook again. My little device measured the total shuteye at 6 hours 20 minutes, which is not bad. The shortfall, as ever, is the deep sleep — only 46 minutes.
  • My beloved did another solid stint at her workstation — about four hours this morning and a few after lunch. Her work is going to be moving its catalogue and other files to another server, so there is some tidying-up to do in these files  beforehand.
  • While she did that I listened to the radio — there was a Wagner program on 3MBS-FM. This inspired me to haul out our Solti Ring Cycle set and get out the discs which explain the leitmotifs, the short musical motifs which depict characters, concepts and places in The Ring. This is a great time to play through these discs and get an overview of how these devices stitch the cycle together.
  • My main morning activity was cleaning off the boot prints our gardener had left behind on the pavers in the courtyard, following his visit on Wednesday. I did this by first flooding the area with water, giving the marks a gentle scrub with a detergent solution, then doing a final rinse. (These kinds of marks on concrete pavers can become hard to shift, if not gotten onto fairly soon.)
  • We ventured out a while after that to get some groceries and meat. Things were pretty quiet in Middle Camberwell and Maling Road. My beloved did the actual getting as usual. (No doubt people think I am being a total MCP when I stay in the car.) I was reading No friend but the mountains, when there was a thump against the rear bumper bar. I was supposed to be keeping an eye out for her return, but had become engrossed in the book — my bad! (Coincidentally, Behrouz Boochani was describing queuing up for the dining room at the Manus Prison.)
  • Lunch was some brown rice and a burrito bowl. I had made the rice a few days ago and frozen a few portions; the burrito I made yesterday. Basically a vegetable casserole, this had broccoli, celery, tomato, red onion, garlic, red kidney beans, and smoked paprika. (Like most such things  it reheats well, and the ingredients are very flexible. Whatever you use, it is a good way to get one’s veges.) It is meant to be served with avocado and a squeeze of lime juice — I only had the latter. I cooked it in the multi-cooker, so there was only one pot to wash.
  • I thought of some lines for a poem and scribbled these down. I’ll post this when I get a PhD in fiddling around to make the line indents do what I want!
  • I was going to go for a walk with my beloved, but she wanted to finish something off at her workstation. So I went by myself. The weather is quite mild, about 17 degrees, with a nice fresh breeze. I have racked up nearly 6,000 steps, about 4.3 kilometres.
  • It’s wine o’clock!

 

Isolation day 24

I keep meaning to share this gem of science, and forgetting, so I am going to lead with it. The eternal conversation about the superior side on which to hang a toilet roll has definitively been settled. University tests show that having the roll hanging down on the side away from the wall — the “away side” — is the way to go. (This conclusion was reported in Lifehacker; the institution in this case is the University of Colorado. However these findings were published, if they were, they are referred to in the Lifehacker piece only as a “study”. The conclusion does not seem based on empirical evidence — although I might have that the wrong way around.)

Anyway, what was the reasoning behind this recommendation? If the roll is hung on the wall side, there is a greater possibility, when someone tears off a section of the roll, that the hand thus occupied could brush the wall. If that hand is contaminated, bacteria could transfer to the wall. Once there, they could transfer to any hands which brush the wall in future. Seems reasonable! Of course, washing one’s hands after using the toilet — for 20 seconds, as as we all do— would presumably remove any such contamination. However, to avoid a hazard in the first place is usually a good idea. 

This was a day on which a lot of unconnected things happened. One which I was looking forward to was the first ever Zoom meeting of my regular coffee get-together. A couple of people had trouble connecting, particularly for sound. As the person who had blithely suggested we transfer to the digital realm, I felt as if I’d bitten off way more than I could chew. In spite of calling the people affected, nothing I suggested seemed to work. However, the problems resolved themselves. People seemed to enjoy chatting and catching up. Meetings using the free version of Zoom are only supposed to go for forty minutes, but they kindly gave us unlimited time. (No doubt they hope to encourage us to shell out for the full-strength version.) Anyway, the get-together continued for over an hour. As the person who had set up the meeting, it was within my power to bring it to an end. After I finally did so, feeling like a party pooper, a message showed up promising the same largesse if we scheduled the next meeting NOW. I obediently did so.

Coincidentally we also had our gardener over to get rid of of some ivy and clear the gutters. (Social distancing was maintained at all times, and the usual coffee break was foregone.) His arrival preceded the group chat, and overlapped with it. When he had finished, however, I slipped away from the camera for a few minutes to bid him farewell. (I gave him also a packet of muesli bars with which to fuel the rest of his day.) The courtyard now looks presentable, and a hoya plant which had been disappearing from view has at least a fighting chance.)

Interspersed with this was a ring on the doorbell. My Basic Box of groceries, ordered after some humming and haa-ing, had arrived from Woolies. (Actually it was packaged in two boxes — but who’s counting?) This was a decent assortment of pantry staples — pasta, pasta sauce, tinned fruit and fish, a box of oats, jar of jam, and so on. (There were some nice chocolate wafers as well.) The Basic selection will handily supplement the fruit and vegetables we bought this afternoon, and the more specialised groceries that we will get tomorrow.

Throughout all this excitement my beloved kept working away in the meals area. Last night I had the idea that, if she turned her workstation (our dining table) around 180 degrees, she would be warmer on two counts — first, for being closer to the heating vent, and second, without having a glass door at her back. The new location will incidentally have the advantage of a better view, looking through the said glass door onto the courtyard. I was getting ready to carry out this project this morning, when she told me she had already done it — you go, girl! She kept her head down until a break for lunch, followed by a bath and a quick trip in the car to Ashburton for fruit and veges.

On our way back from that modest outing, we had a moment of a kind that only occurs between people who know each other well. We were chatting about my previous trips to Ashburton. On these occasions it was my habit also to browse around some op shops, then go for a coffee and a bun. I acknowledged these last indulgences had been perhaps too frequent for the sake of my silhouette. The discussion then turned to a couple of shirts I had ordered online from a well-known Melbourne gentlemen’s outfitter — during their Easter sale, of course! My beloved observed sensibly that, if I had not ordered the Extra Large size in these garments, I could exchange them for bigger ones. When I had recovered my composure, I was able to assure her that XL had been the size selected.

Isolation day 23

Spoiler alert — some of this post is based on an email. We are all recyclers now!

I have always found Easter a tricky time, somehow. We always used to get to Easter Saturday and think “Okay, so what happens now?”. It’s still challenging, but for new reasons.

Yesterday started out perfectly, with an Easter egg from my beloved. It deteriorated, however, after a couple of culinary implosions. I baked a couple of loaves, from a recipe I have used many times, but they both sagged in the middle. Had we not been watching Deutschland 83 at the time, I might have given them the extra five minutes they probably needed. The rotten things wouldn’t even slice properly. I struck back by putting one loaf in the fridge, to slice up the next morning when it was a bit stale. (This actually worked well; I must remember it for saggy loaves in future.) The second loaf I put in the freezer.

Later, I was cooking lamb shanks for dinner in the pressure cooker. These shanks were about the biggest I had ever seen, and I couldn’t fit them all in the cooker. (I had to reserve one, which I cooked in the wall oven the next day.) At the end of the cooking time, when I opened the pressure cooker vent, a hideous amount of white fatty stuff spewed out. This sprayed all over the tiles, the toaster, kettle and so forth. The cooker must have been a bit full, and the shanks were pretty fatty, so this eruption was fairly undesirable! When I made my toast this morning, the corner was still faintly redolent of lamb shank. I left the top of the cooker soaking in a detergent solution so that the pressure valve wouldn’t be gummed shut.

What made it even worse was that I had cleaned up that very corner of the kitchen a few hours before, after using the pressure cooker to do a batch of chickpeas. (That earlier emission was only steam, but there was rather a lot of it, and it condensed on the benchtop, in the top of the cooker itself.) Over the last few weeks I have been using the cooker as a kind of Swiss Army knife in the kitchen. As well as chick peas and shanks, I use if for rice, various soups, steaming vegetables, and so on. I see I will have to resort to the stovetop and convection oven a bit more.

This morning started out better, scoring a goal in the IT support stakes. Along with her laptop and proper keyboard, my beloved had brought home a huge monitor from work weeks ago. After some experimentation I was able to hook this behemoth up to the laptop. This rig now takes up most of the dining table. I even connected her laptop to our printer, through our wifi. She did a morning’s work, then had a lamb shank, potatoes, and greens. (Yep, the one that wouldn’t fit in last night.) I took the meat off one of last night’s shanks and put it in some vegie soup that I had made a day or so ago. (Yep, in the pressure cooker.)

We watched an episode of Escape to the Chateau while we had that. (The show turned out to be one we had seen before — Channel 9 is putting them to air in seemingly random order.) The day turned out lovely and sunny, but I just felt more and more out of it. My sleep has been disturbed for — a week? two? I really can’t remember. Anyway, my beloved went back to work while I went and slept, only for about 45 minutes. This little sleep was really refreshing, though, and I felt much more positive.

In this vein, I stumbled across a short video on The Guardian by a psychologist, Lea Waters, about how to encourage positive thoughts and feelings. Finding this was fortuitous (and fortunate, in that I was feeling particularly lousy). Anyway, I recommend it. Some of the things she talks about:

  • giving yourself a break from the information overload about the pandemic;
  • making a playlist of songs that have positive emotions or lyrics (OK, I didn’t do this);
  • thinking about times when you were happy (apparently the brain is not good at distinguishing between past and present, and you might fool it into being happy now);
  • looking for things in your situation for which to be grateful; and
  • talking to the people with whom you are in isolation about things that you are enjoying reading, listening to, or doing. 

If this all sounds a bit happy-clappy to you, well, go on enjoying being a misery guts! It’s a free country. I can say, though, that I felt better when I did some of the things mentioned above. A walk with my beloved down to the park was a help, too. I am grateful that I have her to go for a walk with, and told her. And the day stayed sunny. 

All of this emotional stuff is stirring things up creatively, a bit, though. I wrote a poem yesterday that I am still fiddling with. (It’s about trams — I should call it Saved by the bell.) And on my way home I made a note of a couple of lines that came to me, that I expanded and scratched around with when I got home. Yep, I remembered to take the notebook on our walk. Tomorrow will be another sunny day; there will be sheets to wash and a Zoom exercise class. Talk about the universe in a grain of sand!

 

Isolation diary day 22

Ay, caramba! I won’t say “how time flies, when you’re having fun”. It has been fun, in part. Making plans, and exploring how something new will work, is always more interesting than just doing it, day in, day out. Everyone’s probably more in the latter phase now. Certain things are just a bit easier, like getting food (even loo paper, apparently). Is that because suppliers, like supermarkets, have regulated their businesses to help more people get more of the stuff they came for? Or is it because we’re more savvy about how these new arrangements work? Probably both. Notably, things that were never in short supply, like fuel (as far I know) never made the news. The reports about empty shelves in the supermarkets made “panic buying” a self-fulfilling prophecy.

We were running a bit low on some stuff ourselves, so did a second food shop this morning, getting some stuff also from the pharmacist. I rode shotgun, as usual, while my beloved did the hard yakka. I had a nice time sitting in the car having a coffee that I had taken with me, listening to ABC Classic, and buying some stuff from the Melbourne Museum shop. (25% off, BTW — ends tomorrow! Yes, that is a plug.) We got home, put the comestibles away, had some lunch, and watched another ep of Deutschland 83. (These links will point to a useful service I found called JustWatch, which is a free database of what movie or TV show is showing on which streaming service or free-to-air channel.) Afterwards we read the paper, and listened to the lunchtime program on 3MBS-FM. 

My beloved felt like some exercise, so we got togged up for an expedition. (Herself put on her vintage sheepskin coat, beanies, scarves and gloves, I reached for my puffer and the other bits.) It was quite refreshing, actually — cold, but not freezing. My puffer has a hood, but I had fortunately thought to grab a brolly for my beloved. (It got well used, with some quite lengthy showers.) After a few circuits of Wattle Park oval, we thankfully headed for home refreshed, energised, and invigorated. Cocooning is great, as long as you can get out and stretch your legs occasionally — within the rules, of course! 7,500 steps again.

We watched the last episode of Stateless a few nights ago. This series dramatised some of the stories behind the perilous journeys undertaken by asylum seekers, and the conditions under which they are detained in Australia. (See the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre policy statement on community based processing.) The involvement of actors like Cate Blanchett,  Yvonne Strahovski, Asher Keddie, Marta Dusseldorp, and Dominic West indicates that this is a serious dramatic enterprise. It was very well done. The stories are compelling.

Yet it was something we initially had to brace ourselves to watch. For me this is because we know that the policies and practices shown in this series, and which are widely supported by the Australian electorate, are plainly inhumane. Neither of the major political parties in Australia dares to even try to humanise how asylum seekers are treated, for fear of being described as being “soft on border control” by its evil twin. Yet to apply for asylum in Australia is a right enshrined in international treaties such as the International Declaration on Human Rights and the International Declaration on Refugees. We have been signatories to these monuments of international law for decades.  

After watching this show, I hauled out my library copy of No friend but the mountains, by the Iranian author and detainee Behrouz Boochani. I had started this before, but abandoned it at the beginning of our self-isolation. (It was borrowed for our book group, the meetings of which are suspended for the duration.) Watching Stateless gave the book a context, however, that made it impossible for me to overlook it any longer. Like the TV series, it was something about which I realised I had a bad conscience. No friend but the mountains was the recipient of a Victorian Premier’s Literary Award last year, winning the Victorian Prize for Literature, and the Prize for Non-Fiction. Even if it were not a good book, though, the circumstances in which the manuscript was created (as a series of text messages on the author’s mobile phone) claim our attention. Boochani wrote it this way for fear it would be confiscated. Prisoners in concentration camps and the like have used clandestine measures to write books in wartime. (Is this really happening in Australia? In peace?) The result is something that takes some getting used to, but has tremendous urgency and authenticity. I don’t think I have read a book like it, and intend to finish it this time. 

Isolation day 21

Yes, past the three week mark today.

It was a bit of a weird day, but good. I know readers find our routine as fascinating as we do, so you will remember that we normally go for a walk after breakfast — particularly if the sun is out. This morning was unusual in that my beloved wanted instead to do some weights, then some gardening. So we both did an exercise program, then some weeding and pruning in the front garden. I thought I might get the towels dry, so while we were so occupied, I put a couple of loads of washing on. Of course the change came through early,  as soon as I’d hung everything out. So I had to haul the towels back in and put them in the dryer — something we rarely use. (I generally just put them on clothes racks, which are positioned over heating vents.) 

After lunch my beloved passed out for a few hours, and I played Act 1 of Parsifal. This is obviously a suitable choice for Easter — the Good Friday music in Act 3 is one of the most beautiful passages in the opera, and indeed in Wagner overall. We had seen a concert performance of this opera a couple of years ago in Sydney, with the incomparable Jonas Kaufmann in the title role. I’m so glad we went to see him. Around that time he announced his intention to not travel so far from his base in Germany. Of course, for the foreseeable future, I won’t be travelling anywhere, so I may not get to see him again. This was one of the best opera performances I have seen. The SMH critic, Peter MacCallum, gave it 11 out of 10. (Kudos, BTW, to my former music teacher for arranging the tickets.)

Parsifal is of course Wagner’s final opera, and one that I recommend for anyone for whom the Ring Cycle is just too drawn out. Someone observed about Parsifal that it is an opera about religion, rather than a religious opera. I think that is true. It examines Christian values such as compassion and redemption, but in a rather detached way. More importantly, the music is luminous, exquisitely beautiful, and scored with great transparency. I played a wonderful recording made at the Salzburg Festival in 2013, conducted by Christian Thielemann. (This is made more poignant for me by the death a few years later of the lead, the South African heldentenor Johan Botha.) 

When my beloved surfaced, she had a late lunch, and we watched Fake or Fortune. It was time then for a drink, the ABC news, and another Deutschland 83. During the last of these the wifi started slowing down occasionally, although only for a few seconds. This was the first time I noticed this happening since we had switched over to NBN about six weeks ago. Last week the laptop in the study disconnected a few times from the wifi. After reading some Telstra discussion list messages, I went to the settings for the NBN modem router and switched off the band steering. (This allows the modem to switch between 2.4 and 5 GHz speeds. The latter is obviously faster, but can be problematic for devices further away from the modem.) I switched the setting back on again, in the hope that this will reduce these slowdowns. No doubt, with everyone staying put for Easter, everyone is streaming Stan, Netflix, and so on all at once.

Isolation day 20

Well, I had an expedition all by myself this morning! And I got to dress up in adult clothes — proper trousers, my black RMs, and a jacket! The purpose of this outing, officer, was to see my GP in Camberwell Junction. I usually allow half-an-hour for this trip, which I find this leaves time to find a parking spot, and walk to the practice. This morning I was there in ten minutes, with more than twenty minutes to go until the appointment time.

At the risk of repeating myself, as a high risk category patient, I had been instructed to wait in my car until called into the surgery. While doing so I had time to pair my mobile phone to the GT’s audio system. I get very few calls in the car, so going through these steps hadn’t been high on my to-do list (which was why I’d left it until this morning). Incidentally, using a phone while driving has been found a significant driver distraction, even using hands-free. Apparently it adds a hazard factor equivalent to drink-driving. I reasoned, though, that having the mobile paired up would at least allow me to quickly reject a call by pressing the red phone icon on the dashboard. 

I was duly called and entered the surgery. I had been expecting to see a crowded waiting room full of people sneezing and hacking in all directions. There was no-one in there at all. The reception staff were all gowned up, with those transparent shields around their faces. I saw my GP, obtained most of my prescriptions, and got a flu shot as well. This was a pleasant surprise — we had been told the practice had none in stock. (This was not quite correct: they had no freebies for over 65s, but they did have some for which they were charging a small sum.) They were definitely out of the pneumonia vaccine, though, free or otherwise, and I was added to the existing queue for that.

I headed home, where I had a coffee and the rest of my breakfast. Then my beloved and I headed out to get a rather intimidating list of groceries. I waited in the car like the last time, but used the time to make a phone call and send an email, then listened to ABC Classic for a while. My beloved appeared steering the trolley; I assisted with transferring the contents thereof to the car, then took the trolley back. (Loo paper seems to have returned to the shelves, incidentally.)

It is remarkable how the previously mundane act of food shopping has come to require so much of her and my energy. This is a surprisingly complex phenomenon: when I look at it closely, I can see three factors behind it. The first is that I can’t do the food shopping myself, as I used to. I therefore need to involve my beloved in these outings as well; this means in turn that the shopping expeditions need to be fitted around her work. The second is that doing the regular food shop is a concrete task that can, for a while, restore normality. The pandemic has become such an attention sink, and has brought so many changes to so many people’s lives, everyone is getting change fatigue. So it is a relief to focus on something familiar and mundane. The process needs to be done a bit differently for a time, but we still get to fill the cupboard and fridge at the end of it. There is an atavistic reassurance in knowing that, for the next few days at least, we have food and drink. The third may not be a factor for households where no-one was in the paid workforce. For us, however, there is just a bigger volume of food involved now. We are now preparing and consuming three meals a day at home, seven days a week. More meals means more food, more prepping, and more cleaning up. As I posted previously, the dishwasher fills up, and the compost bin needs emptying, just about each day

Anyway, when we got home, I made some lunch. While we had that we watched another episode of Deutschland 83 on Stan. We had somehow missed watching this on SBS free to air; there is now a second series, Deutschland 85. Deutschland 83 is well worth catching up on. The episodes are beautifully filmed and art directed; the East German households are chock full of chunky ceramics, patterned wallpaper, busy light fittings, velvet couches, mid-century wall units, and so on. Performances and scripts are all strong. Afterwards we went for a walk up to and around the park, in the lovely sun. With all these outings I racked up over 7,500 steps for the day, around 5.5 kilometres.

Theoretically next week is my last of isolation. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if it lasted for longer than that. We are somewhat getting the hang of it now.