As Victoria enters a five day lockdown designed to halt the spread of that dratted virus after its recent escape from a quarantine hotel, there’s a lot of kvetching going on.
Yes, it’s our third lockdown. Yes, we all saw this coming when the Australian Open was allowed to go ahead. Naturally, we’d all rather not. We’d all like to be able to do whatever we want to do. I know it’s inconvenient. I had to cancel my plans, too.
Still, there is nothing to be achieved by blaming anyone. Contrary to what some people like to say, our state government is not a dictatorship. They’re doing their best to manage a pandemic, balancing the health of the community with what millions of individuals perceive as their rights and needs.
The fact is, this virus is highly contagious, airborne and invisible. The pandemic is not yet over, and these things are going to happen from time to time. It may actually be a fact of life for the foreseeable future, even when we are careful about wearing masks, social distancing and sanitising everything. One of the fundamental truths of a pandemic disease is that it is not easily controlled: that’s how it became a pandemic in the first place. At best, it can be well managed.
At least it’s only five days this time, not months like the last one.
Even so, I have lost count of how many times I have felt the need to tell people to stop kvetching about it in the last 24 hours.
Kvetch is a wonderful word, donated to English from Yiddish in the mid-20th century. It is as satisfying to say as ‘bitch’ with far less possibility of offending anyone, and it is so much more expressive than other synonyms such as ‘whine’, ‘complain’ or ‘moan’.
Perhaps the only synonym that is as expressive is the one that my grandfather used when we were kids: “Stop your bellyaching,” I haven’t thought about that expression in decades, and it has just come back to me riding on a wave of memory and emotion. I think I’ll have to start saying that now, too.
COVID-19 restrictions were recently eased in our area, just in time for us to make the most of us both having four days off work.
We took the opportunity to sneak away for a break and headed down the coast with our friends, caravans in tow, phones switched onto silent, and four days’ worth of food, drinks and comfy old clothes ready to go.
At this point of 2020, we fully realise what a luxury four days away from home really is. After months of staying home, teaching from home, and only leaving home when absolutely necessary, the change of scenery was most welcome. Of course, Melbourne and its surrounding area are still under restrictions, so this is a privilege most people in my state do not have. I do feel sympathy for them, but not sufficiently to forgo the pleasure of my first real break since January.
We are camped at the little coastal hamlet of Yambuk on the south-western coast of Victoria. It’s a picturesque little spot, overlooking a lake that is kept separate from the ocean only by sand dunes. We can see the ocean beyond the dunes, hear it murmuring all night as we rest, and easily walk to the beach whenever we so desire. The lake has a bird population of a dozen gulls and one magnificent pelican, while our campsite has several blue wrens that keep us entertained.
Not that I need much for entertainment. I’m happy to gaze at the sea, or the birds, or watch the sun dip behind the dunes as dusk cloaks the countryside with a blanket of almost-but-not-quite-darkness, illuminated by stars and a full moon so bright you could almost read by it.
I had planned to record and upload a couple of spooky stories for Halloween, but the phone signal is so low, I can’t even upload images to Instagram unless I drive twenty minutes to a bigger town. This would usually frustrate me but, this weekend, I really don’t care. So, I put my phone down and decided I would also take a good break from screens.
I have taken the opportunity to walk, to nap, to read books, to do puzzles, and to sit in companionable silence with my friend. I have managed to get a few nice photos. I have taken time to contemplate the huge differences in my life between last January and now. I don’t know if this year has changed me, but it has changed lots of things for me.
I suppose I am stronger, but I don’t feel it. It’s going to take more than four days to heal that amount of damage, but at least I’ve made a bit of a start.
I’m very thankful for this beautiful place and the time off that made this little getaway possible.
Most of all, I am thankful for the people who are willing to nourish me physically and spiritually, and to hold my hand or encourage me while giving me time and space to work on myself. I am blessed to have some of those people right here with me this weekend, while others are still on the other side of closed borders. It may have been one of the most rubbish years ever, but I am richly blessed to have some amazing people in my life to help me get through it.
This post and its pictures actually uploaded after who-knows-how-many attempts. I had actually given up and put my phone down again, and noticed some time later that it has uploaded. And they say miracles don’t happen!
An open letter to Josh Frydenberg, Federal Treasurer and MP for Cooyong:
You have some nerve. Your outburst in Parliament yesterday was way out of line.
Yes, mistakes were made early on in Victoria’s management of COVID. And they got cleaned up. We’ve actually done a brilliant job, which you didn’t even acknowledge. But that isn’t the part of your speech to which I, and many other Victorian teachers, take particular exception.
While the rest of the House was congratulating the people of Victoria on crushing the curve and bringing the numbers back to zero, you chose to be ungrateful. That little tantrum of yours would make a two year old proud.
Your assertion that your children missed out on six months of schooling is highly offensive to every teacher in this fine state who has gone way beyond the call of professionalism and duty of care to ensure that our students did not miss a single thing that we were able to provide for them.
Were my colleagues and I merely dreaming all the extra work we put into setting up online classrooms, doing extra courses in online safety and classroom management, monitoring our students’ wellbeing and mental health, in addition to all the usual planning, preparation and teaching we have been doing all year? Did we imagine the eye fatigue and headaches from being in online classrooms all day, doing all our marking and reporting online, meeting with colleagues and conferencing with parents online?
You have been able to do your job almost completely normally all year.
We have had to completely reinvent ours, while at the same time being required to switch from face to face teaching to online classrooms, then back, and back again, sometimes at only a few days’ notice. We’ve done it without tantrums, without complaints, and without pointing fingers at people who were also trying to do their best in otherwise uncharted territory.
Victorian teachers have proven to be dedicated, resilient, and incredibly versatile this year.
And I will tell you one thing that is absolutely certain: the students at my school did not miss six months of school. They had their full timetable, every school day, complete with teachers and teachers aides, differentiated lessons, roll call, and individual help whenever they needed it.
Don’t be firing your nasty little aspersions at Victorian schools and the 100% committed teachers in them, Mr Frydenberg, even by inference.
We do not deserve that. We are exhausted, our patience has been pushed to the limit, and we are still going. We are not in the mood for your petulant tantrums.
It’s high time you gave credit where credit is due, learned some gratitude and grace, and got on with doing your job while we continue to do ours.
Face to face teaching is back in full swing in Victoria, with all students over the age of 12, and all teachers, required to wear masks.
The kids generally don’t like wearing masks, and I totally get that. Still, that’s not an excuse for defiance. It’s currently a legal requirement, so whether or not we like it is a moot point.
Most of the students are quite cooperative. Some kids, though, are getting sneakier— or perhaps just less conscientious— about wearing them properly. The challenge for teachers is to find ways to remind them without being awkward or, even worse, coming across as nagging. As anyone who has tried to get a teen to do something they don’t want to will attest, that’s only ever going to create more resistance.
As I am wont to do, I have reverted to humour in addressing the problem.
When a student has their mask pulled under their nose, I tell them “don’t fly the flag at half mask”.
When someone is not wearing a mask, I say, “Oops! Your face is naked.”
When the mask is sitting under their chin, I tell them to “pull their face pants up.”
In a quiet classroom environment, or if I want to remind someone without drawing attention, I simply make eye contact, hold my hand horizontally near my chin and lift it to above my nose.
These responses engage the students by surprising the m and making them think about what I’m saying. They generally respond with a smile and then comply. The occasional student tries to argue, which invariably ends in disappointment for them.
I am always happy when it works. I was also very pleased when, while I was on yard duty, I heard one of my students tell another kid to pull his face pants up. I smiled with great satisfaction and whispered, “Good work, kid! Keep it up!” Nobody noticed, though, because I had my mask on.
Irony occurs when one thing is expected, but the opposite thing happens or turns out to be true.
When the audience knows or understands something that the characters in a story or on stage or screen do not, that is called dramatic irony.
It should be noted, too, that an event or outcome being ironic for one person or group does not preclude it being predictable for other people
Both irony and dramatic irony are much-loved devices for writers, but they do not only exist in literature and film.
In fact, one could argue that the reason writers use these techniques is because they know that these things happen in everyday life, and that people love it when they do. The profundity of natural irony, dramatic or otherwise, is like crack for writers, who are often keen observers of human nature and behaviour.
Irony is a powerful thing. It can evoke all sorts of responses, ranging from pity to laughter to judgement, depending on the perspective of each onlooker. It can bring about self-pity, humility or significant changes in attitude and behaviour for those who experience it.
When well executed by an author, irony creates plot twists and complications that add depth and complexity to a story, but which also make the experiences of the characters relatable and intriguing for readers.
When expertly executed by the universe, though, irony can blow one’s mind.
Likewise, Trump denied the existence or threat of the virus and casually dismissed the illness and death of thousands of his own people. He refused to wear a mask or observe social distancing, he insisted on holding social events and campaign rallies against all medical advice. That he has tested positive and ended up in hospital with the virus is loaded with both types of irony.
There is little doubt that 45’s illness is a plot twist that he didn’t see coming.
One would hope that his treatment with highly experimental drugs that others with the illness haven’t had access to doesn’t end up doing more harm than good. That would also be ironic.
Personally, I find it impossible to feel sorry for him.
My empathy lies with all those Americans who suffered the disease and who lost loved ones to it while he proclaimed it as fake, and with all those who cannot afford the instant access to hospital care and fancy drugs that he can.
This post reminds me of the lessons I’ve been doing with my Year 8 History class about Medieval Europe and the Black Death.
My students were very interested in the plague, and surprised by the fact that this was when quarantine, social distancing, and the wearing of masks became the go-to modes of dealing with contagious disease. They were also surprised by the time it took the Europeans to understand the importance of basic hygiene, and how very long it took to develop good medical knowledge.
These lessons were highly relevant in These Times, and helped the kids to understand why we’re being reminded to wear masks, wash and sanitise our hands, and keep away from other people. It was good to be able to discuss how relevant history can be.
We all agreed we are incredibly thankful for modern medicine, science, vaccines and health care.
It does strike me as bizarre, however, that with all the scientific and technological advances we’ve made, we still have to remind people to wash their hands. Some things, it seems, never change.
In this time of Covid 19, when we don’t know why it seems to affect men more than women, and some ethnicities but not others, it is interesting that back in the 14th century the tsunami of the Great Pestilence of 1348 was followed by lesser waves that differed in many ways from the original. The first of these, in the England of 24 Edward III (January 1360 to January 1361) was called the secunda pestilencia and appeared to affect mostly the very young, babies and adolescents. Women were not affected in the same way.
The Chronicle of the Greyfriars of King’s Lynn notes: “…In that year  began a plague among Londoners at about the feast of St Michael, where at first infants…
There are many ways people have found to refer to this era of Covid-19 and all its baggage: widespread testing and temperature checking, social distancing, hand washing and sanitising, and the wearing of masks.
One of the most common is ‘these times’ and variations on that — these strange times, these difficult times, these awful times, and so on. There are myriad adjectives one could choose, although some are more socially acceptable than others.
Recently, I’ve observed that people have started to capitalise the term as These Times in blogs and social media posts.
This interests me, because of the way in which the language is being ever so slightly adjusted to add weight and significance to the term. Those capital letters are acting as an intensifier.
Intensifiers are those parts of language that add strength to what we’re saying or writing. Words like ‘absolutely’, ‘completely’, ‘terribly’, the commonplace ‘very’ and even the humble little ‘so’ are all intensifiers. Some people use expletives to do the same job, especially in spoken English. The meaning of the sentence doesn’t change if they are removed, but the sense of degree or importance in the words around them isn’t necessarily communicated if those intensifiers are not present.
By capitalising those Ts, writers are communicating their assumption that their readers will know exactly what they’re talking about. And, in These Times, there is little doubt that they will.
While I’ve been on my own grief journey recently, many others are experiencing grief of their own. And in this time of social and travel restrictions in Australia and elsewhere, people’s sorrow and grief is being complicated by distance and isolation.
I have seen this happen multiple times within my own circle of family and friends in just the past few weeks.
My brother in Canada lost his own brother a couple of weeks ago. It was unexpected, and therefore an enormous shock.
Talking with my brother and trying to support him via instant messaging has been a blessing for both of us – to share the pain eases it somehow, if only slightly. But what I really wanted to do was get on a plane and go there to hug him and support him in person. Even if I couldn’t go immediately, the knowledge that I’d be there at some point soon would encourage him enormously.
Sadly, it’s just not possible. My state is in lockdown. We are under strict conditions for leaving home. International travel for personal reasons is not possible. Heck, going anywhere at all beyond my local supermarket or pharmacy in the time of COVID-19 is ridiculously problematic, and probably not really safe given my lousy immunity. As it is, I have to stay here and he has to be there.
He knows I’m with him in spirit, but it just doesn’t seem enough. I know how hard it was to lose a loved family member and a close friend within five days of each other, and his brother was both those things to him. I know how hard it was to deal with the trauma, and I had my family around me. I’ve been painfully aware of the fact that he lives on his own, some distance from the rest of the family, and hasn’t had the close support that I’ve had.
After losing our father in June, my sister has lost two good friends and another friend she has known for more than forty years in the space of a month. I’ve been able to talk with her and listen to her express her shock and sadness, but I haven’t been able to hug her or help her in any physical way because we’re hundreds of kilometers apart.
A friend lost his uncle this week, and be there to grieve with his family because his uncle lived interstate and our border is closed. It doesn’t matter to the authorities how close he was to his uncle, nor do they care that his uncle was a father figure for him and helped raise him. The rules apply to everyone, regardless of personal circumstance. It’s understandable, but it makes the pain and misery so much worse.
It’s not just immediate grief that is complicated by distance, either, My beloved late friend’s husband and son have both had birthdays in the past couple of weeks, and I would have so loved to be there to support them as they struggled with not wanting to celebrate, and not being able to see the rest of the family because their lockdown restrictions are so tight. They’re all dealing with curfews, stay home orders, and only being allowed to travel within five kilometres of home for essential purposes. It’s not so restricted here, but nobody is allowed to visit Melbourne for social reasons, so that’s that.
The result for all of them, and for everyone experiencing grief in the time of corona, is a vicious cycle of mental and emotional distress as sorrow and isolation feed on each other. The effect on one’s wellbeing is profound.
My heart aches for everyone in that situation. I can’t imagine how much worse it must be for those who have actually lost loved ones to the virus and haven’t been able to be with them, or with their family members as they grieve.
We are all struggling with the impact of the virus and the social restrictions it has brought to our lives, but let’s remember that there are some who are really, really doing it tough. It certainly puts the inconveniences of wearing a mask outside of home and sanitizing our hands fifty times a day into perspective.
It may not seem like much, but a phone call or message to someone can make a huge difference in their day and in their mental and emotional health. Being willing to care and to listen is an act of love and support of immense value.
Yesterday a friend posted on Facebook that living in quarantine conditions “turns people into a**holes”.
My response was that this was true, but only for those already so inclined.
Thinking more about it since then, I have come to the conclusion that this extended quarantine/lockdown is proving to be an intensifier. It brings out the true colours that underlie each person’s character and makes them more evident.
Those who are inclined to be selfish have been increasingly inconsiderate of others. Those who sulk at not getting their own way have done exactly that, usually all over social media. Those who tend to be angry have been. Those who tend to resist being told what to do have defied the rules and done as they pleased.
On the other hand, we have also seen plenty of evidence that recent adversity has brought out the best of humanity, too.
Those who tend to be generous have definitely been so. Those who advocate for the underprivileged have done so relentlessly. Those who are kind and thoughtful have shown more kindness and thoughtfulness, often to the very great surprise and gratitude of others. The levels of commitment, giving, service and going the extra mile have been inspiring.
What we are seeing is more of each person’s true colours.
It’s also becoming evident that we will see even more of the same while social restrictions and slowed economies continue.
It is important to understand this because we should not be making excuses for anyone’s bad behaviour. We should not be dismissing things we would not normally accept or shrug off. And we certainly shouldn’t respond to appalling behaviour by explaining it away with lines like “they are under pressure”.
All that does is enable people to continue being nasty, with little fear of consequences for their words and actions.
We are all under pressure. Many of us are struggling one way or another. We are all missing people, places and things we love. We’re just not all being horrible about it.
The Australian federal and state governments are, like those all over the world, currently considering how to phase the country out of strict social isolation and start getting back to business. All we know for sure at this point is that it will happen in stages, with the strictest rules being relaxed first. Each state will decide when to implement each stage.
As states roll back some of the social restrictions we’ve been living under, there are a few key things we must all remember.
Easing restrictions doesn’t mean the virus is gone. It means that the levels of infection in the community are low enough that the hospitals will have capacity for anyone sick enough to need a bed and a ventilator.
We will still have to socially distance for the foreseeable future. That’s probably not an entirely bad thing.
Hygiene will still matter. In fact, hygiene has always mattered. I have often marvelled that is 2020, despite how sophisticated and advanced we may think we are, it has been necessary to tell people to wash their hands and not to cough or spit on people.
People matter more than convenience or entertainment. Some of us might be itching to get out to the football, the pub, or the cinema. Others just want to not get sick. Restrictions are being lifted in stages to balance so that the interests and priorities of both groups, so it’s important to still follow any rules that remain in place.
Some people have thrived while working or learning from home. The opposite is also true. All those extroverts who are dead keen to get back to “normal” need to realise that any anxiety they have felt while having to stay home was actually a very real case of the shoe being on the other foot. Introverts and people who suffer from social or workplace anxiety had had something of a reprieve over the past few months and might be dreading work or school going back to the way it used to be.
Patience and consideration of others are crucial life skills for everyone. Even when the need for isolation has completely passed, we all need to be understanding of how others feel.