Covid Times 4

White Cockatoos feast on street olives

The streets of Fremantle are largely deserted except for the homeless and depauperate. They mill. They don’t maintain social distancing. They don’t comply. Their benches have been plastered with signs saying CLOSED but they peel these off and sit anyway.

White cockatoos are masters at mass gathering, from the lemon scented gum to the olive, eating the fruit and partying. Mess makers. Squawkers. Marauders.

It is Easter and the church services are happening online. The annual street arts festival has been cancelled. The town is eerily quiet and the streets invite being walked on, smack down the middle. Our own street is usually busy with pool-goers but it has been idle so long that we feel we own it. We walk on it, skate on it, play ball on it, the dogs even sleep on it. The side walk has not been blown of seed pods so it is carpeted by the crunchy droppings. At night, as the street lamp catches them, they shimmer like discarded fish scales.

fish scale leaves

We experience the hottest April day ever and the beach is very enticing. People go, of course they do, but they spread out. They veer from each other, as everyone is perceived as potentially contagious, carrying the lurgy, deceitfully in their sputum, on their hands, in the vapour they emit. A friend tells me it took several years following the Spanish flu for people to begin engaging freely with others again. How long will it take for us to remove the “stand here” lines from the supermarket floor after this has passed? When will the Keep Cup be allowed to touch the milk frother’s nozzle? Will cash be ever handed to you again?When will you no longer wince as some one extends a hand towards you or offers you a receipt that you then refuse?

But as much as people try to avoid each other, they also crave what they are missing – companionship is deeply healing and people want to say hello. They want to smile and have a conversation unfettered by perspex and closer than 1.5 metes. Somehow the replacement virtual world has yet to feel tempting. I prefer to brood, unhelpfully.

My own anxieties have switched focus from disease to loss of income. I don’t fear becoming ill, but I do vex as pay checks dwindle and income seems to be out of my control. I think of anxious dogs and how I tell clients anxiety is so much worse when an animal feels a lack of control and predictability. I am such an animal now – my life has lost its rudder, and one week can be very different from the one before. As a list-maker, as a person who loves order and routine, I find myself all-a-jangle and sometimes close to weepy. My son tells me it is Easter and I should stop fretting. But this goes by unheeded. What’s wrong with you Mum? That oh-so-helpful question to the ill-at-ease. We argue instead about what happened to Jesus on the various days of Easter while eating more baked goods with cream from a spray can. At night I can’t sleep as I lie awake with the machinations of the various ideas I have to make my income more reliable. I try to stop thinking, but immediately find myself at the beginning of the spool once more, working through the same problem. Graham tosses and turns too but he is sleeping. He is reading Camus’ The Plague and I wonder if he dreams of pestilence.

Our neighbourhood has been baking, and all sorts of sticky cinnamon creations, eggs and sugar, are divvied up to be tasted, smuggled across the no-mans-land of the driveway. Covid contraband. Yeast is toilet paper, when it comes to scarcity, and Kate discovers that her current yeast is only expired by 8 years in the midst of the buns supposed rising. Not rising. Paul has bought ten kilos of flour. Food Works has yeast – he has a kilo of it now. We bake, despite the weather. Ovens heat kitchens. Tommy spins with sugar and chocolate.

We finish watching Tiger Kings but is has no soul. In the end it lacks warmth. There are no human characters to care about. The demise of the people, fuelled by their own greed and narcissism, is souring. At the very end the lead character, Joe Exotic, is remorseful that he has deprived two chimpanzees of each other’s company and physical touch for ten years. He has caged them separated from each other. One of the last shots is of the apes, finally rehomed to a better zoo, embracing, their hug so human it hurts.

Graham and I watch A Ghost Story and I am moved and nurtured by the beauty of the long slow shots, by the lack of dialogue, by sombreness, by the strange unfolding. Film and story wrap around me. I remember that story is everything. Weave with words, with images. Afleck mumbles. Rooney eats. They nuzzle. Lips, softly, on nape of neck. It is surprising and spectral and fitting for the Covid times.

Then comes the call for Pavlova on the narcos’ driveway.

Covid Contraband

Grey t-shirt and Jeans


Today I heard the tail end of Mark Zuckerberg saying he wore the same thing every day to cut down on his cognitive choices. Wearing a grey t-shirt and jeans on a daily basis gave him one less thing to think about. Rather than it limiting him, it freed him.

Some of us have more anxiety over clothes’ choices than others, but even if this gives you little stress, it can still be possible to imagine that ridding yourself of having to choose can be a good thing. A liberating thing. Sometimes this is why I would like to shave my head.

Just as the monastic life and a hairless head gives the monk more time to meditate.

I think about school uniforms and the way individuals still attempt to put their personal stamp on their dress style. The skirt shorter than allowed. The hat more bent and battered than supposed to be. The untucked shirt – a duck tail. Some of us strive to choose. But does it equate with making us more content?

Ridding yourself of choices, the program goes on, relieves stress. Even small decisions take mental energy. For this reason I am thankful to have never discovered make-up. I never have to decide on lip stick, eye shadow, powder.

I start to think about this concept for dogs. When we give anxious dogs cues to follow that result in predictable outcomes for their actions we take away some choice. This can be reassuring and decrease their stress. Modern behaviourists also like to give dogs choice. We like to give cues and signals as opposed to commands. But this is not to say that choices are easy for dogs. It does cause them stress. Especially if doing one thing ends in a result that they cannot predict. One time they jump on Johnny and everything is fine, the subsequent time they get yelled at. The next time Johnny is over there is stress around his visit. Should I jump on him or not? What will happen if I do? Perhaps I might nip him and see what happens then.

Watch the dog without direction. The one with too many choices. He is a bouncing jerking mess of mayhem. He is all over the shop – pawing, licking, barking, whining. He is seeking information as to what to do. But no one has taught him to be calm. No one has rewarded calmness in him. He is trying on lots of outfits. Red shirt, blue pants. Green top, corduroys. Loafers, no runners. Top hat, cap.

Make life simple and predictable for dogs to give them back some calmness. Give them some cognitive space. Let them be a grey t-shirt and jeans type.



Rubbish Man Jogger


An Autumn morning. A splatter of rain. Spits really. The boy is excited. He loves rain. It hasn’t rained for years, he says. It can feel that way. A sky permanently blue. A sun a constant burning white. Today the sky is filled with storm clouds and there is the crack of thunder in the distance. A sky of substance. Something to look at and make into animals. Somewhere else it rains. Here a few drops dry instantly on the pavement.


From my verandah I see a man hopping on one leg up the steep embankment of the park. He is not injured. It is not the hop of a lame man. It is a vigorous hop. I watch him to see what he will do after he reaches the crest of the bank. He jogs now down the slope on two healthy legs. He weaves in and out of the eucalypts, occasionally bending down to pick up rubbish. He is the rubbish-man-jogger. Daily, on the oval, he performs his series of exercises mixed with the task of collecting food wrappers and tin cans. His jogging shorts are pulled higher on his waist than those of a regular jogger. The shorts are old and thin, worn constantly. He has no fat on him. His muscles are always working, if only at a trot. Up close you can see the tension in his face. In his neck you see the sinuous muscles of a man under strain.


Maybe this jogging is his meditation. It keeps him calmer than he would otherwise be. I imagine him as a tightly wound clock. Does he count his steps too?


I am leaving the house and come across him again – this time outside my house weaving his expert steps between the bollards that line the park. How large do the blades of grass appear? He has his head down, intent on purpose, but he senses me there and raises his head and smiles and waves. We exchange the wave of pedestrian and jogger. In his hand still is the collection of waste he has collected from the park. He will deposit it in the bin shortly, and then run on.


I wonder about him while I wait for my train. Something about him reminds me of my father. It could be the high pants. It could be the loose skin over muscles straining hard. It could be his work ethic. His doggedness. His assault on the hill on one leg. I see his tight tendons. Everything at breaking point. A mind stretched taut?


I miss my train by seconds, still fumbling with the notes at the ticket machine, as the train pulls up. I mutter a Fuck to make me feel better. It does nothing. I try it again a couple of times. Fuck fuck fuck. But in truth I am not late for anything. I have a date with books and words and texts. Twenty minutes later they will all still be there. In the library, joggers are not.


And it means the train will be empty. Only the late people. And ones who bring their bicycles. A middle aged woman wearing a shirt with paws on it – giving her away as a volunteer at the dog rescue, asks a younger man in high viz gear, cradling a hard hat, How is it that you are that handsome? then quickly steps off the train. Never on the 8.40am.


A nice morning for the jogging rubbish man. Man jogging rubbish. Jogger man. Rubbish man. Hopping up hill.