The Wave - A Reflection
I’ve written a lot about COVID19 and its impact on Bradism at a micro - down to the legume - level, but I’ve touched less on the macro. I have also been reading The Splendid and the Vile this past week which is a narrative retelling of Churchill and the Battle of Britain, sourced by Erik Larson from a multitude of personal diaries and other secondary sources. I’ve found it fascinating.
South Australia marked the end of all known cases of coronavirus yesterday (for how long, who knows) and I thought it was a good a time as any to reflect on the events of the past few months, and hope that someday perhaps a narrative retelling of Coronavirus might feature some of my words read in the audiobook in a suitably formal Adelaide accent. I wanted to remember what the new normal was before it became the new normal.
I flew domestically to Brisbane in early January, not fully appreciating it might be the last opportunity in a long time to stand in a packed queue at an airport; sit shoulder and knee to shoulder and knee in an aeroplane seat. I’m not sure where breastfeeding in the back row of the plane will land in the new normal, but back then I just read my book and watched the outback stretch by without a second thought.
At the hotel I stayed at with my brothers we had a stack of board games. Steve had brought Pandemic, but something we shared in our hearts meant it was the only game we didn’t touch that weekend.
From an Australian point of view, previous attempts by the world to spawn a pandemic during my existence have petered out well before they affected my life beyond something I read on a news website while drinking a smoothie, or eating cereal and yogurt. In February 2020 it became clear to me COVID19 was something different. Maybe it is South Australia, where isolation is almost like elevation, that allows a perspective different to other places in the world. COVID19 was a wave, a zerg creep spreading through the transport hubs of the world towards Australia, Adelaide. In late February in the office I was advising my team to buy sanitiser, and wash their hands. Actually I did that last year too, but in mid-March when the stores were all out and every craft gin distillery was horizontally diversifying I felt a little bit proud to see one litre tubs of sanitiser on each of my staff members' desks. Of course by that time almost all of them were working from home. On my final day in the office - March 25 - it did cross my mind that I could probably harvest a few gallons of sanitiser from the hundreds of empty desks on my level alone, to augment my income throughout the economic apocalypse which was sure to come.
The first wave broke over Adelaide that week of March. Seventeen cases, 31, 38, it seemed inevitable that the virus would run rampant, there’d be exponential growth in infections, everyone would shit blood and die, I’d never eat four bean mix again. I felt relatively safe myself. I already had exceptional hand hygiene, I protect my personal space on public transport and I keep my mouth shut when I’m walking. Back then it wasn’t as evident that surface transmissions were so potent. It was hard not to take a little delight in the available seats on the tram in peak hour, or the quietness of the gym despite knowing these were signs of circumstances that could negatively impact me and my family immensely. (Though the squat rack always seemed to be occupied regardless.)
And then the staying home intensified. For weeks all we did was stay home, other than essential trips once or twice a day to the supermarket, or Big Box Hardware, or some other shop to buy the things we'd need to continue staying home. (Plus extra trips back to the supermarket due to half the shopping list being out of stock that morning. To be fair, at the time I did unfortunately have to deal with two homes). The streets were quieter during my morning walks around the block. South Road as desolate as the toilet paper aisle at the shops. The malls were empty. The parks were empty. It felt not like everyone was staying home, but that everyone had been eradicated. Like most westerners I’m more familiar with zombie movie tropes than I am with epidemiology and while I wanted a more comprehensive understanding of the latter the day to day experience was like the former.
Venturing out to the supermarket in particular felt like being a hunter/gatherer when man first picked up tools. Survival instincts flushed me with adrenaline. Free hand sanitizer flushed me with adrenaline (and sanitizer). You could trust no-one. Everyone was a carrier. Supermarket shopping had already been an all-senses experience before COVID19, satisfying my lizard brain with food and my monkey brain with bargains and pretty colours. Now it took on a new dimension, triggering gambling pleasure centres. Getting discounted steak and not having coronavirus a week later felt like a jackpot.
April turned into May and staying home became less intense, and more normal. New routines emerged. I walked thousands of steps without leaving my neighbourhood. We stopped experimenting in the kitchen and live streaming events we wouldn’t have gone to in normal times anyway. On Zoom even the managers had stopped wearing collared shirts.
Everyone else in Adelaide must have been getting used to staying home too. The new daily cases kept going down. The testing coverage expanded, hunting for the infected and coming back with nearly nothing. Somehow - with respect to the handful who lost their lives and livelihoods - in South Australia the first wave hadn’t even touched the goolies. There’s almost, almost the feeling like we missed out on the adventure. 2020 FOMO. I’m sickened and heartbroken for some of the cities I’ve had the privilege of visiting in the past, and thrilled my state has been relatively unscathed healthwise. I recognise these thoughts are irrational, survivor’s guilt, the implication I’m a bystander in the universe. But honestly I wouldn’t want to be any other place in the world this year. At least so far, it’s only May after all. Who knows what twists the remaining seven months of 2020 have in store? Maybe a second wave, the collapse of society, the rapture - dinosaurs raised from their graves, roaming the earth. That banana fungus taking out Cavendishes. I’m counting nothing out. Maybe 2021 is going to be even worse?
What I hope is that there’s a vaccine, we all learn a valuable lesson and all subplots are wrapped up in a satisfying way. I will settle for the world going almost back to normal, but there's more hand sanitiser everywhere and everybody else is as hesitant to shake hands with people as I am.
Whatever happens next, I’ll try to journal it.