In lockdown, exercise means doing tai chi at home via Zoom, or walking round the nearby blocks time after time. Now, finally, the fully vaccinated can play a little croquet. One day recently I was overtaken by nostalgia for more athletic times…. So much so that I took to rhyme….
FIT AT ANY AGE
Survived the childhood trauma,/ The last pick for each team,
I keep hoping, now much older,/ To fulfil my fitness dream.
My tai chi moves are just okay,/ I stroll around the block,
I muddle round at croquet/ and fail to beat the clock.
Arthritic and asthmatic,/ Excuses ever mounting,
Shortsighted, unathletic/ 78 and counting…
But do I lose heart, do I sigh/ At losing all the time?
Never! I remember/ The glory of my prime.
At the Beulah Park Sports Day,/ 1989,
They marvelled at our triumph/ My friend Lynette’s and mine.
Oh, what an exhibition/Of pluck and nerve and grace
To fulfil our life’s ambition/ And come first in a race.
Our ankles taped together,/ Our four legs ran as three,
Three-legged champions/ My friend Lynette and me.
In case you think we’re fibbin/ The proof is here to see:
A green winner’s ribbon/ For Lynette Wright and me.
‘Before all this’, as we’ve been saying in our house for several months, I used to check online news every morning. During Australia’s bushfire season 2019-20, I’d start with ABC and Sydney Morning Herald, and, depending on the news, message family and friends in NSW to see how they were coping. Canadian news – CBC and the Toronto Star – was next on my list, and news of the virus was gradually making headlines.
By February, with the pandemic threatening, and my planned May flight to Sydney in question, I got a bit obsessive around online news, most of which was frighteningly bad. Opinion pieces and social media were the worst, and I had to stop reading them. Then on March 16 Canada went into lockdown, and I spent the first two weeks wondering if I had the virus, having been on crowded buses and in a busy restaurant just days earlier.
Early in ‘all this’, I was concerned about Australia’s seemingly slow start to enforce restrictions, while Canada appeared to be dealing with the crisis relatively effectively, with a fairly sane and sensible prime minister. Sadly, that situation was soon reversed, and Toronto is still in Stage 2 of a three-stage plan to reopening, averaging about 30 new cases daily.
Obviously, I’m not on holiday at Manly this year.
Like many regular swimmers, I despaired of finding a substitute when Toronto’s indoor pools closed. Jogging kept me fit, but offered none of the joys of water, as Julia Baird’s Phosphorescence and Roger Deakin’s Waterlogged eloquently describe. Toronto is on the shores of Lake Ontario, the 13th largest lake in the world, but in March, the water is close to freezing. At the end of May, after a lot of online research about size and thickness, I ordered a heavy-weight wetsuit on Amazon. By then, water at Toronto beaches was about 10 C. Swimming in a 5mm wetsuit is a challenge – one swimmer on my Facebook swim group aptly calls his a sausage suit. It kept me warm but was not a tight fit and bulged in strange places. It seems that I should have paid twice as much for a suit designed for swimming, with thinner material on the arms and legs. The plan is to buy one now that stores are open, so that I can have a longer open water swimming season this year.
It’s possible that most Australians reading this will not know anyone who caught the virus. I personally know of only a few. Two of my UK colleagues at Emerald Publishing were quite ill in April, as well as two young Toronto women, friends of my son and daughter-in-law, and one university colleague.
My generation tended to self-isolate, and retired University of Toronto faculty have stayed in touch through weekly Zoom ‘coffee times’ and regular online presentations replacing the monthly in-person talks. Weekly online meetings of a group called Oasis (a secular community, see <torontooasis.org>) also nurture my mind and spirit. Cyclists have benefitted, with Toronto creating new cycle lanes throughout the city, and closing the major lakeshore highway to cars every weekend. The so-called ‘new normal’ might not be as bad as it seems.
COVID-19 is very confusing for some dogs in Sydney and my pooch Sam is one of them. Sam, a pure-bred black and tan Kelpie, was born on a sheep station in the Snowy Mountains six years ago, and when I first saw her, at the age of eight weeks, she and her five siblings were alreading mustering recently born ducklings into jam tins that had dropped into their enclosure.
By the time she was six months old she had all but mastered the art of mustering sheep — but she was suddenly whipped off to the urban surrounds of Darling Point, whre there have been very few sheep for more than 150 years. Most evenings for the past five years, I’ve taken Sam to Yarranabbe Park, a stretch of parkland that skirts Rushcutters Bay on the south shore of Sydney Harbour, for her second big run of the day. She loves the park, partly because she sees a few of her doggy friends but mainly because each day a steady, if small, stream of humans walked along the harbourside pathway.
A couple of years ago when a bout of heart maintnance slowed me down for a few months, Sam worked out how to keep herself active and amused. She would pick up her tennis ball, lope over to the most likely looking perambulator and drop the ball at their feet. She would then back away about five metres and fix them with the Kelpie stare – the classic sheepdog pose of arse up, head down and one paw tucked to her chest. It worked about 70% of the time and her ball would be thrown. The sucker would then discover that if you throw a ball once for a Kelpie, you are expected to keep doing it time and time again. And it is not easy to wear out a Kelpie.
But on March 16 Sam’s world was wrecked by the bloody COVID-19 virus. That was the day Gladys the Cruel started to shut down New South Wales. At first we were told to keep a distance from each other, but then Our Glad sooled the coppers onto us and said we couldn’t leave home without a reasonable excuse, and worst of all, she shut the gyms.
Shutting the gyms in a city of five million people made the parks a nightmare. Yarranabbe Park went from seeing 30 to 40 walkers each afternoon to seeing thousands. Great muscle-bound lumps of sweaty and puffy humanity were packed shoulder to shoulder on the paths, and the grass was covered with perosnal trainers and their victims attempting to do push-ups or master the plank. Sam was totally confused. She quickly discovered these new people were too busy to notice a dog. Those who stopped when confronted by the classic sheepdog pose paid no attention to the tennis ball at their feet. They thought she was about to attack them and rip out their sweaty throats.
They grabbed their mobiles phones and rang the cops.
We moved to another park well away from the harbour – but now the personal trainers have discovered it too.
At the end of March, Sam and I slipped down to the Snowy Mountains to do a bit of trout fishing — but the local coppers ordered us home. Fishing, even on a totally isolated river, is not a Gladys-sanctioned activity.
I was out of home for April. Renovation. A plan made late last year. Looking back, who could have envisioned the novel beast on the horizon?
Thought it was strategic to move out close to home to oversight proceedings. It turned out I didn’t venture out, much less oversighting.
I stayed in a temporary home in the land of sacred homes. Mary McKillop Place in the next street, every second building is an Australian Catholic University campus. But a sacred shelter I didn’t feel my neighbourhood was.
I went for solitude walks in St Leonards Park, young fathers pushing strollers, few people shared my space…except, came late afternoon, joggers started to pound the paths, working off their strangely isolated work day of Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
I ducked into grassland to hide from their enthusiasm, acutely aware of Norman Swan’s estmation of the air power of these human moving machines. We shared the same health goals but for the quarter centry that separated our births. They will have a lifetime of struggles ahead of them. Those muscle-proud legs will run strong against life’s headwinds.
Life became somewhat tentative. Decision Fatigue is the syndrome they name it. Take it easy, take it slow, every interaction with the ouside world calls for deliberation.
So Corona, look what you made me do in this valley of time. I became a bit tentative approaching my trusted tradesmen until they showed me, in my absence, how they patiently restored my 19th century home for it to last another 100 years. I was a little shy with my elderly neighbour until she was the first to mask up to shield both of us.
Depending on our perspectives, this can be a tiny glimpse of humanity, or indeed a huge deal showing me the irreprssibly positive power of community, our Aussie community.