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

Covid Times 3

when we were still allowed to gather, we spread out photo by Paul Kavanaugh

All day the helicopter drones on. It is checking on the cruise ships, hovering over ahead like a sticky fly. It is the background to an otherwise peaceful day. A man picks olives on the oval – last year there were groups of people doing this. Now, just one lone man with a tarpaulin. Then there is the drug-affected woman who is lurking in the driveway, then raiding the lemon tree of every green lemon – about thirty of them, then tipping the bins over and strewing the rubbish all over the verge. Fremantle. This could happen in non -Covid times too. It’s more a Fremantle thing.

I finish the spherical jigsaw and we call it the COVID globe.

Cases: 278 Western Australia, 3635 Australia wide.

Italy: 660 deaths in one day. More than 80 000 infected. We are still a long way from “going full Italian”.

The background noise of Covid is beginning to normalise. It is just there now. A dread, but not as urgent, or pressing as before. Everything is finding its new normal. Hand washing has become routinely diligent. I am aware of every time I touch my face. Soon we will be able to see if the social distancing measures are actually flattening the curve at all. Any effect to the rate of infection will take 7-14 days to be seen.

I can no longer bear the sound of Norman Swan’s voice – once so beloved to me. I have to switch him off. He is so foreboding. Too doomsday, although I think we will all owe him for marshalling us so obediently.

Our son does not need to learn to be socially distant – it is encoded in him. If anything he needs to learn to be able to hug, and be hugged, but it can’t happen now. As Uni has all gone online he has had the opportunity to make new friends taken away from him. Social isolation is enforced, but replaced with excessive contact with your parents. Not good for any teenager. Sometimes all three of us are like a boil about to burst.

Viral load – the new term I learn – how much virus you are exposed to at the point of becoming infected can effect the severity of the illness that follows – hence why you want to avoid being close to lots of infected people at the one time like what might happen in a hospital situation for doctors and nurses. You want your health professionals to be able to wear masks and gowns, to be able to protect themselves.


It seems that WA might be so good at their control measures that we flatten the curve so much that there will not be a safe time to release the pressure, or take the foot off the brake. So many euphemisms.

Pumpkin – so much pumpkin. We order a box of vegetables that are picked up from a nearby alley. There are heirloom tomatoes of all shades of orange, red and green. They pop in your mouth. But there are kilos of pumpkin too that when cooked is dry and tasteless. Covid food.

The daily infection rate has slowed considerably since the increased rules came into effect. First we are told to keep to the 4 square metres of space per person rule and venues work out the numbers of patrons they can have. But that quickly changes and they are forced to close. Now there can be only TWO unrelated persons together, outside of family, in social gatherings. Many businesses are asked to stop trading. We now maintain the distance between the neighbourhood adults but the frequency with which the children interact could make this null and void. Balls are still kicked, boomerangs still thrown and hands still held.

Spain overtakes Italy in a daily death toll of greater than 800 and the pain and exhaustion on the medical workers is hard to watch. Disused buildings become morgues. People cannot hold funerals.

In Australia and world-wide there is innovation as companies that used to produce something else now make face masks, gloves, hospital equipment. Takeaway containers turn to N95 masks. Ansell stocks go up in value. PPE – we all know what it stands for now. Gin distilleries become hand sanitiser manufacturers. 3D printers will make ventilators. Car manufacturers make respirators. Retired nurses and doctors are asked to rejoin the health system and the private hospitals will become public if needs be.

Our anaesthetist neighbour says the system is ready. Hospital workers have had their flu shots. Elective surgery has been cancelled. Now they wait. Check their facebook.

The Artania ship is docked and refuses to leave. As immobile as a toddler who has plonked down on the floor, unwilling to do what a parent has beseeched. She has 450 crew on board and wants to wait another two weeks before leaving. Our state premier sounds exasperated and wants her pushed off shore, like a paper boat sent down stream to fall apart on the rocks. The infected could overwhelm us if they all become ill. But they also can’t be sent to sea to die.

I now have a corona virus App and can see in a couple of clicks how many cases we have in WA: 392, Australia wide 4860.

Norman Swan is on Skype because he likely has a cold. We await his result. Italians seem joyful from their balconies. They sing. The Spanish too applaud their health care workers from their windows. Little European dogs wearing harnesses can be lowered to the grass below to relieve themselves and then be hauled up.

I am doing consults in a warehouse. Sometimes it is me and the client, the dog and then, via Skype, another related client and another trainer. It is cumbersome and a bit distracting. We talk over one another. It is not personal and feels detached. At the end of the consult when we turn off the technology the in-the-flesh client and I feel a sense of relief. Just us. I can make eye contact when previously I was intermittently screen watching. We can speak at a normal volume and without people watching, interrupting, looking strained and perplexed. As a friend said – being a veterinarian is about a relationship – not that easy remotely.

Hours are spent learning to use new technology for teaching and it is exhausting and largely unpaid. Animals will not be touched. Students will be required to learn by watching others and this is not ideal. They will need to catch up later when the world begins again. We are all waiting, as if at a bus stop for a bus that is not running and without it we cannot get where we want to go, but we can’t leave the bus stop or else we might miss the bus when it does finally come. So wait we must. Sigh we do.

TV shows watched: Better call Saul – with its long quirky shots, Kim with her school girl pony tail, adobes in Alberqueque ; Ozark – blue film, southern drawl, goldilocks Ruth, ice cool Marty, the duplicitous Wendy and the robotic Helen, cartel money. What a field day the feminists would have analysing this; Homeland – crazy eyes Carrie with her rubber face all contorted, Max gunned down in a long shot ; Hard Quiz – ridiculous silliness, sneering; Revelation – sinister priests with white false teeth loose in their mouths talking about jacking off boys. Middle aged men so damaged by the abuse they suffered that they are forever broken. News. 7.30 report. No sports news. Weather – what will Irena be wearing tonight? Jasper watches reruns of NBA best games ever, shows where NBA players compete against each other via video basketball games, Bad Grandpa.


WA 400 cases, Australia wide 5133. The number of cases being reported each day is falling and so therefore the curve is flattening. Less hockey stick. More hillock.

In the shops we are beginning to know the drill. To avoid each other. When confronted by a shopper not following the arrows on the floor you might step back, leer at them. At the check out there is a perspex screen between the attendant and the shopper. Everyone gives everyone else a wide berth and I wonder how permanent our distrust of each other will become after weeks to months of practicing this social distancing. The other day a client proffered a hand shake, out of habit, and I found myself recoiling. How strange it will be to handshake again.

The white cockatoos still screech. The clouds still make themselves magnificent. The rain still wets the pavement. The Artania sits still waiting. Petulant and refusing to move. From her bows and balconies messages saying, “Thank you Fremantle” hang. “We love you Fremantle.” But the love is all one way.


Walking the dog on a day where the season is changing. Mornings are cooler now. Sky pewter. There are many people out, as this is one of the things they can still do – with their families, or one other being. The river is quiet compared to last week when people in groups still took to the water in boats. Now single fishermen and stand up paddlers or canoeists dot the river. Dogs are loving this COVID nasty as their people pay them extra attention. At poo collection time there is the problem of not being able to moisten your fingers to rub the poo bag so it will open and then the problem of not being able to touch the bin lid to rid yourself of the poop bag. The playground is abandoned. The skatepark empty. The drinking fountains are switched off and this means no dog water either. Still he checks out the dry container and looks at me, perplexed. His single Covid worry.

Norman had the common cold.

Child care becomes free.

The Artania is allowed to stay for the two weeks she asked for.

WA 436 cases – 55 of them from the one cruise ship, The Artania. 18 people in intensive care. Compare this to New York City where there are over 630 deaths in one day. Make shift morgues. Field hospitals in Central Park. As the world becomes overwhelmed with the virus we are just in a waiting pattern. Our infection rate is low and the death rate piddling to other nations. Our isolation is serving to protect us. Our borders have become hard and we are asked not to even move between regions. We see our family, do our essential work and shopping and that’s all. I am learning to operate by telehealth. Our preparedness may seem overzealous but at least our health professionals may be spared the decision making that has been required in the countries whose systems have been overwhelmed. More and more it seems our doctors won’t need to choose between who is ventilated and who is turned away.