Culburra Beach, January 2021
Three moments of 2020
A warm evening in Melbourne in early February. Just before the whole idea of giving experiences as presents died, we gave V “a trip to the BBL cricket final in whatever city it’s taking place in” as a birthday present. That turned out to be Sydney, so instead we took him and A out of school one afternoon and flew to Melbourne to see his team lose a semi-final.
In the business class lounge before flying down, we told the kids “all this food is free” and they raced off and returned with two plates heaped with plain crackers. At the match A cried for many overs because “the big things” (the mascots) weren’t coming to dance near her. The next morning we took them to Brunetti in Flinders Lane and they both thought it was the fanciest restaurant they’d ever been in.
I’ve spent the rest of the year citing this trip as the reason I am going to say yes to everything, forever.
The first day of March, getting an email at work to notify us that international travel was to be immediately cancelled, until further notice.
I’d like to say that I was among the visionary types who were watching the news with growing alarm from January onwards and stocking up on masks and hand sanitiser, but while I was aware of COVID from January onwards, I, along with many of my colleagues in Australia (but not in Europe, not by March), honestly thought this was a pretty severe overreaction.
At that point, international air travel, as a normal thing, only had about a week left to live. Within two weeks I was begging a staff member on a temporary rotation to fly out while flights from Australia still existed, and he probably only made it by a day or two.
A very cold weekend in late June, lying awake in a tent on the Central Coast listening to Andrew and V talk about ancient history by a campfire while trying to get warm in my bedding.
In April, I had taken the six months of COVID restrictions prediction to apply to the then-status quo, and told the kids that we would go glamping to celebrate the end of restrictions on regional travel. The kids were very taken with the idea of “glamping” (“it’s glamourous camping”, they told any other child who would listen, as soon as they were allowed to see them. I imagined looking at the stars finally in late spring. Travel restrictions were lifted in June and my restriction pessimism thus saw us glamping before the end of the month.
For all that it was cold and we were underdressed for it, it was a happy weekend, not least for V in discovering that he adores looking at fires with his Dad.
Three meals of 2020
Birthday dinner for Andrew at Bennelong. We had bought tickets to see The Necks at half price from someone who couldn’t make it, falling on the night of his birthday, so our dinner reservation was last minute and had to be at the bar, not at a table, and we watched the chefs assemble our food. It concluded with chocolate cake, melted in the middle.
Any number of delivery dinners from Cantina Bar, my birthday being the second one and the one where I settled on my order now and forever, specifically Chile Relleno in honour of The Good Place and fish tacos with jalapeño in honour of jalapeño. For a month or so there, jalapeño seemed to be the only source of endorphins I had available to me.
Chicken Provençal from Le Coq, at home in our courtyard for our wedding anniversary, with a bottle of red wine from our cellar such as it is, the details of which I no longer remember.
Three photos of 2020
Three pleasures of 2020
Watching A, my less physically adventurous child, conquer the children’s rope courses at Treetops. She was so proud she narrated a 15 minute instructional video to me while she completed the hardest course.
Silly cordial and champagne cocktails with my family sitting in the sun at my parents’ farm in May, a solid nine months before I would have predicted it was safe to see them.
Swimming. Pools were closed or limited for several months, I enjoyed returning to patiently hauling up and down a lane most weeks.
Three news stories from 2020 (COVID)
The work of Chinese doctors and medical researchers who shared news of COVID 19 with the world; particularly Professor Zhang Yongzhen and the late Dr Li Wenliang.
Italy’s quarantine of the north, the second great quarantine/lockdown I was aware of after Wuhan, and a pointer to how things would go from there (unexpectedly, by the standards of international public health advice at the time). Australia went from celebrating having 86,000 people at the final of the women’s cricket world cup that same day, to closing its own borders not two weeks later, this remains in place today.
The effectiveness of the mRNA vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, beginning with Pfizer’s announcement in early November.
Three news stories from 2020 (not COVID)
As with last year, the bushfires, which continued into January and got worse for some weeks: East Gippsland, the NSW South Coast, Kangaroo Island, people fleeing along country roads without fuel available. “Are you from the media? Tell the Prime Minister to go and get fucked, from Nelligan!”
Black Lives Matter. In its Australian form, it was more muted and most visible was a giant debate about whether the protests led to COVID transmissions (probably not).
No charges were laid following Tanya Day’s death in police custody in 2017. Charlie Mullaley’s family was denied an inquest into police actions on the night he was kidnapped, assaulted, and murdered by his mother’s partner. The inquest into the death of Wayne Fella Morrison continues, you can donate to the family here.
The release of the Brereton report into alleged war crimes by Australian special forces in Afghanistan. See also the work of Samantha Crompvoets with veterans to uncover some of the allegations. With possible criminal proceedings to come, a great deal of information is still restricted.
Three sensations from 2020
Hearing loud crying at 11am every day. I switched roles at work just as schools closed—in NSW, they just recommended children be removed, but even so—and so Andrew took leave to help the children with school. 11am was around about the time that my US-time meetings wound up and I took some time to sit downstairs with A and calm her from the morning of crying in frustrating over English lessons. She also remembers these couple of months as “the crying time”.
Struggling to see the edge of a cliff on the Blue Cow traverse at Perisher. It was very nearly a true whiteout: I couldn’t see the next trail marker from the current one and had to shuffle along trying to stick to the left, away from the drop-off. It felt like a very short run. A little later I went to the top of Pretty Valley, not far away, assuming somehow that it couldn’t be so very very white, and discovered other people were using me to as visual guidance because I was wearing bright orange and was willing to attempt turns.
Headwinds while cycling the Bay Run, by far my most common route this year. Particularly, in recent weeks, hot headwinds, like cycling into an oven, or like sailing with the wind on a warm day.
Three sadnesses of 2020
Pandemic deaths. I hardly ate in the second half of March and barely slept thinking about Italy and Iran. Things have only got worse since then for deaths, but at some point I had to stand down to a more distant relationship.
Every time I got to break my kids’ hearts a little bit, or a lot. Our holiday is off. Our rescheduled version of the same holiday? Also off. Your grandmother is suddenly seriously ill (my son, unexpectedly furious, grabbing a pillow and punching it over and over and over while crying). Your cousins aren’t coming to visit. Your football season isn’t going ahead. Cricket try-outs are indefinitely postponed. You can’t see your friends. It’s been so much easier in Australia but even then, 2020 sharpened the knife and handed it to me many times.
People implying that pleasure is morally suspect and therefore its loss should not be mourned. Julia Marcus wrote really well about this, several times—Quarantine Fatigue Is Real, The Danger of Assuming That Family Time is Dispensable—as did Zeynep Tufekci (“[y]ou’d think from the moral outrage… that fun, in itself, transmits the virus,” quoting Marcus).
It’s a joke-but-not-really to say that I’ve started identifying as a hedonist in response. Temperamentally I’d normally handily win any “least likely to be a hedonist” prizes you have going, but I’ve certainly become clear that joy and community and pleasure are a primary pursuit and that being deprived of them is a major civil liberty infringement (even when public health concerns are so great that they win over civil liberties for a time).
Three plans for 2021
Getting a COVID vaccine! It seems like this won’t happen until mid-year for Australians of my age, although maybe there will be a pleasant surprise there. But I’ll make a day of it (likely twice) in some fashion. Maybe wear a fancy hat.
The same beachside holiday I was planning to take last year, in exactly the same week a full year later. (It was postponed first by the January fires and then by COVID travel bans.) However, it’s a little less than a week away and there are a couple of active COVID clusters in NSW right now, so who knows?
Resuming sailing. We didn’t sail much at all in 2020 for obvious reasons and likely need a substantial refresher. The goal of this is to sail in the Whitsundays and at the moment I won’t cross a state border in order to be at sea for three days; the chance of being met with border closures on return is much too high. But hopefully by spring, travel to Queensland is a normal thing to do again.
Three hopes for 2021
Approved and deployed COVID vaccination protocols for children. It’s upsetting that this seems to be so far behind. With potentially more infectious variants popping up I would think it will be difficult to reach herd immunity (even assuming vaccines dampen transmission) without vaccinating children.
Using my passport. I believe this was the first calendar year since 2011 that I spent entirely within Australia’s borders, and by the end of February it will almost certainly be 12 months entirely within NSW’s borders (the ACT counts as within!). I just want to stand exhausted in some poorly managed queue and answer pointed questions about my exact intended activities over the next few weeks, is that so much to ask?
Breakfast at the office. It’s partly reopened and I’ve gone in several times, but they don’t serve breakfast at the moment, and it’s not a buffet in any case. I miss dumping natural yoghurt all over a cold hard boiled egg and thin slices of tomato and pretending that that’s a normal thing to do.
The end of March was the season of the five reasons. It was also the beginning of the ongoing wet year. Each day we met our exercise (and general outdoor) quota by walking down to the nearest park and cycling: in V’s case riding his new mountain bike over wet turf and in A’s case, carefully paddling and balancing her pushbike as she learned to ride carefully down a hill.
On the way home on one trip, we heard, metres behind us, a small voice saying crossly “I bet that little girl”—A—”is allowed to…!”
I assumed that the question was about seeing friends or grandparents or having competitive sneezing parties, so called back to them to ask what they wanted to know. The father said not to mind but I insisted and he said “she wants to know if that little girl is allowed to eat mushrooms growing on the street”, allowing me to comfortably assert that A is not allowed to eat mushrooms found growing on the street. Neighbourhood norms, cemented.
Most of the apple orchards around Orange, once the major growing region in Australia, have been converted into vineyards, or in the case of Mayfarm Flowers, a flower farm. Their crop of apples from the doomed trees was storm damaged in 2019, and so they opened them up for picking, with most of the apples being shipped to Sydney for donation, and pickers allowed to take away others for free.
NSW is encouraging all people with any symptoms of COVID-19 to be tested. Since I have what I assume are seasonal allergies, I meet the testing criteria and probably will continuously for months to come, so I’ve had a few tests. Curious? Here’s what you need to know.
Test access has got much easier. I’ve heard from several people that they don’t understand how to get tested, because a friend of theirs tried in March and their doctor flat-out declined to refer them without clear signs of pneumonia, so what is this stuff and nonsense about how everyone with symptoms should get testing?
If you want to learn about tests before you get one, try and find someone who got tested recently to share their experience. Here’s mine:
- no referral is required
- testing is readily available and swiftly administered
- results are often available same-day
Check the date and location on anyone’s testing story before deciding testing sounds too hard and inaccessible.
You can get tested, in many places without a referral. Here’s the testing sites.
Here’s the testing procedure at the drive-through clinic I went to:
- drive up
- a person in full PPE approaches the car and takes your personal details: name, address, phone, email, symptoms, employment status (do you work in health or aged care, or no?), risk factors (recent travel, contact with known or suspected cases)
- you drive forward to a second person who reads the details back to you
- that person does the deeply unpleasant thing you’ve probably seen videos of where they put a swab up your nose and into your sinuses, wave it around, and withdraw it a couple of seconds after it becomes really really difficult to tolerate
- you drive away
- you are asked to behave as if you are positive until you get that result. This means strictly staying at home and minimising contact with household members.
- later that day you get a text message asking if you opt into result-by-text and if you do, usually some hours later you get your result.
I asked them what they do with children and they said, as of late May, for children they are doing throat swabs rather than nasal ones.
They only acted a little bit startled when I reported that I had had a runny nose for 12 weeks. (Some guidance on how regularly to get re-tested with symptoms that don’t change would be handy!)
I’ve not been positive (and hope not to be prior to vaccine or effective anti-virals!) so I do not know what additional things happen if you are positive, presumably contact tracing and fairly high levels of health monitoring kick off from there.
If you do want a doctor to examine you, look for a “Respiratory Clinic” on the same page that lists the testing clinics. The respiratory clinics are clinics where the doctors are already wearing full PPE and have good patient isolation set up (eg, no waiting room, you wait in your car). This saves you and your regular GP considerable fuss around them needing to don full PPE and change their waiting practices for you, and are a good place to head with cold/flu symptoms this year.
These photographs were taken on 28 December on Bells Line of Road, which runs between western Sydney and Lithgow. Bells Line of Road is the northernmost of two road crossings of the Blue Mountains between Sydney and western NSW.
Wildnerness and parts of towns were badly burned for a long stretch between Lithgow and Bilpin on Bells Line of Road in the days leading up to and including December 21 by the Gospers Mountain / Grose Valley fire complex. The road re-opened on December 25.
The December 31 2019 eastern bushfire catastrophes were concentrated far to the south east from where these pictures were taken; they were in the South Coast of NSW and East Gippsland in Victoria. These two areas are also currently considered most at risk in the upcoming January 4 heatwave, with tourists asked to leave the South Coast and the evacuation of Kosciuszko National Park (January 2), following the evacuation of East Gippsland (December 29).
Fires are expected to continue in Australia until there’s substantial rainfall.
Supporting firefighters and affected people
Donations are accepted by, among others:
- People displaced, rebuilding, or cut off from food supplies:
- Rural and bush fire fighters, staffed mostly with volunteers
Most affected areas rely heavily on the tourism industry for income, planning to visit after the fire period is also likely to be helpful, you can check NSW road closures and warnings at Live Traffic. Judging from Bilpin on December 28, take cash, phone lines and cell towers aren’t restored until long after power is.
Three moments of 2019
Tacking a sailboat towards Kurnell in pretty strong winds (for the size of boat) and successfully starboard rounding a mark. And many other sailing navigation moments that I did far worse at than that one.
Lying in an influenza fever dream in the middle of winter, dreaming that the illness was a dimly glowing grey sword about 3 metres in length. Waking long enough to ring the travel agent before dawn to cancel the next morning’s flight to the US.
Arriving halfway down the Ruined Castle ski run at Falls Creek, and surveying it, finding it rather steep, and doing it anyway. Also enjoyed the carpet required to speed me up to catch its chair lift after.
Three meals of 2019
We went back to Quay for a last minute 20th anniversary meal. We were thus in the “be out early” seating with the 6 course meal; they added the Poolish crumpets, which were the only thing missing, as a special surprise.
I wound down a team at work — transitioning our projects to another location — and had a farewell picnic for team members past and present. This involved my favourite caterer Sydney Picnic Co, the Grumpy Donuts I’ve been buying the team for a couple of years whenever there’s an outage, and the views from Ballaarat Park.
Chilli margaritas and veg wedges at Corner Bar; our days of sailing lessons wound up early enough to fit these in before school pickup.
Three photos of 2019
Three pleasures of 2019
Walking. Because I twisted my ankle badly in April 2018, I spent most of last year with limited range and for much of the year outright pain when I exceeded it, and tearing a rotator cuff later in the year didn’t help.
Gently kayaking up Currambene Creek with my daughter in front desultorily adding to the paddling, sliding through the mangroves.
I loved the Apollo 11 documentary, which I saw on a badly needed short notice day off work — something I’ve had to do a couple of times this year, managing two teams and quite a few outages — at Dendy Circular Quay. I spent the first viewing uncertain how much if any of it was file footage versus re-creations. (One thing about the file footage; it’s unlikely that a re-creation would think to have so many people people waving and mugging at the much rarer cameras.) I rang Andrew immediately afterwards to debrief the whole thing over the phone, and took him to see it the following week.
Three news stories from 2019
Tracey Spicer, #MeToo, NOW Australia. See The Leaders Of Australia’s “Time’s Up” Movement Made Big Promises They Couldn’t Keep and Tracey Spicer accuses three women of defamation after ABC #MeToo documentary. You could do worse than following Nina Funnell and Nareen Young on Twitter.
Australians working with local councils to get climate emergencies declared. This could be anywhere on the spectrum of “completely for show” through to being a local part of global change. There’s a lot of power in local.
Three sensations from 2019
Rotting seaweed slick and sticky on my feet approaching the beach during our January holiday. This was otherwise an excellent holiday with only a few minutes of disgust, worse because of having to coach children over it.
Hot and seemingly-still air surrounding me as I sailed downwind. Because we learned to tack first, I got used to sailing into the wind, breeze in my hair, triumphant balancing at the bow, and so on. Downwind — with the wind — feels very still and stifling.
Lethagy as I plodded 6 kilometres down the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail north of New York City, through the autumn leaves. I really wanted to mark a travelling Saturday some other way than huddling exhausted in my hotel room, and I don’t regret it, but the outdoors was hard won that day.
Three sadnesses of 2019
It’s a gentle sadness, but my entire family now lives in one town, and I live in a different city and I imagine I always will. I’m also emerging from the young-child chrysalis, and feeling keenly how long and hard I will need to work to rebuild a social circle.
In the same way that I spent much of 2013–15 dealing with bad stuff that happened to me in 2012, I’ve spent much of this year being sad about things that happened in 2015. The hardest half-decade of my adult life, and as a result the following years have been the saddest.
Noting that sadness and wanting pity aren’t the same thing, I’m sad the tech industry, which I’ve either been in or orbited for twenty years, is harming the world.
Three plans for 2020
I won’t count it as one of the three, but I’d love to have less plans. I’ve just spent the last month drowning in planning holidays, and holiday care, and work transitions, and child sporting commitments, and early departures to get ahead of bushfire risk, and packing, and unpacking.
I’m not sure if it’s a plan or the fates, but I feel like we’re even odds for finally taking our kids to Canada; V would like to see Japan as well, and they’re sort of near each other in no sense at all, so maybe we’ll do them in one giant trip.
We’re going on another (seaweed adjacent) beach holiday in a week, assuming the fire risk is acceptable (and this is a real question). I plan to find some good fiction to read; might be hard to top reading through the Imperial Radch triology on this year’s holiday.
It’s the year to get the payoff for the sailing lessons, which is a sailing holiday with the kids. I view it as camping, but without tents. Or sleeping on the ground. And with added water.
Three hopes for 2020
I feel oddly optimistic about the world this week, a gloomy week in a gloomy year in a gloomy decade. Profound sadness hasn’t done me a lot of good in terms of action, so I hope that continues.
Some form of career change: I don’t mean leaving tech for healthcare (I think about this all the time, but only to remind myself I’d be practicing independently long after my 50th birthday), but right now I’m mostly challenged in a “there aren’t enough hours in a day” way rather than the “have to learn a new way of thinking/doing” way and I much prefer the latter.
Rain. Lots and lots of rain.