Saturday, August 15
A late afternoon walk at Harmers. Matilda pulls me up the sand dune, straining every muscle. At the top two blokes and a little foxie are enjoying a very private happy hour, looking out over the bay as the sun sets. We snap our masks on, and laugh conspiratorially. “Ave a good one,” they say, and salute me with their tinnies.
Sunday, August 16
I wake feeling unnaturally cheerful. A good day to take a load of green waste to the tip. It’s only when a masked man comes out of the office that I remember. Oh, there’s a plague! The tip man sees my confusion and masklessness. “Go over the back where no one can see you.” He waves me on. “You can pay next time.” Bless you, Mr Tip Man.
Tuesday, August 18
I can’t shake the thought that in an overcrowded world, there’s something to be said for a plague that overwhelmingly kills old people. I speak as an old person. Give the earth a break. We have to die of something. Once pneumonia did the job. They called it the pensioner’s friend. Now the doctors just fix you up and send you home.
Gill has got her mojo back. In February she was in rehearsals for her new production then we went into lockdown. She's waited patiently for six months. Now she’s in talks with Inverloch film maker Mick Green about turning it into a series of short films. She has that distracted look she gets when she’s thinking about how the scenes will fit together.
Wednesday, August 19
I give a bunch of freesias to Toby, my five-year-old neighbour, who’s swinging on the gate. “Haven’t you got any blue ones?” he complains. “Just smell them,” I say. A grin spreads across his face. “Smells like … cake.”
Thursday, August 21
I return home to find a car parked beside the reserve and a masked stranger digging out the freesia bulbs with a trowel. A woman of my own age, old enough to know better. I tell her the freesias belong to the neighbourhood. She takes it with good grace. “I thought I was being a bit cheeky, but I decided to give it a go,” she says.
I watch a Finnish film, The Other Side of Hope. No sex but lots of casual touching. The innocent full-frontal hugs, the naked handshakes. “Cheers!” people say. “Love you!” They clink their glasses and hug. How come we didn’t realise we were having such a good time?
Sunday, August 23
Jill who sends me a photo of her London-based daughter and family on holiday in Sicily. They’re staying with friends in a rented villa for two weeks. Jill says they were desperate to get out of London. Both countries have recorded close to 40,000 deaths and around 1500 new cases a day. There was no quarantine at either end. It’s as if they’ve stopped worrying.
Monday, August 24
A phone conversation with Val in Inverloch. She’s in her 80s, has limited mobility and is in constant pain. She’s also one of the most cheerful people I know. I sometimes wonder if I should convert to her religion but I suspect she was always this way. She’s having a good lockdown. Her daughter Susan brings her everything she needs and she gets out every day on her electric scooter. She zooms (in the old-fashioned sense) down to the Inverloch jetty to see what’s happening, on to Pensioner’s Corner for a yack with the fishermen, and returns home via the caravan park, motoring through the new estate right up to the fence of the paddock where the roos are grazing. “Hello,” Val says, and they look right back. She loves the way the big bucks protect the family. “How could I ever get bored?” she asks me.
Liane spots a woman in her sixties getting out of her car. “She has her facemask hooked over one ear and is in the process of hooking it over the other one. I saw she had lipstick on. Why???”
Tuesday August 25
I Zoom into an event of the Phillip Island Story Gatherers Festival, along with about 70 others. Not a bad audience for a winter night! Laura Brearley is talking with Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir, Boon Wurrung Senior Elder and linguist, and Lisa Kennedy, Trawlwoolway artist, story-teller and author. They discuss the books and festivals they’ve worked on together, Aunty Fay’s words, Lisa’s paintings, Laura’s songs. Aunty Fay is almost single-handedly reviving the Boon Wurrung language. She tells Laura that Country comes alive when it hears language being spoken or sung and shares some words with us. Ngarnga – dha Listen, Biik (Biik) Country (Earth), Yinga - dha Sing. Sitting alone in our bedrooms and living rooms, we mouth the words that call to this beautiful place we call home and feel a kind of unity. More please!
Wednesday August 26
More than 771,000 viewers from around the world tuned into the first live stream of Phillip Island's penguin parade last night. Nature Parks CEO Catherine Basterfield reckons the little penguins have missed having the crowds watching them every night. Can that possibly be true?
A visit to my hairdresser. The salon is familiar and unfamiliar. As I enter, Amelia takes my temperature, asks me how I’m feeling, then writes my reply on a chart. The waiting chairs and magazines have gone. Alongside shampoos and conditioners, they’re now selling home-made masks. Lynne made some for herself and her staff and then her customers asked if they could buy them. She says some of her older customers haven’t really got the hang of the mask business – they pull them out of their handbags and they’ve got lipstick on from last time they wore them. I have to take my mask off and hold it over my nose while Lynne cuts my hair. We both start giggling. Our world has gone crazy!
Thursday August 27
I spend the day helping to dig a garden. It’s hot and I’m soft and flabby from a lazy winter, but it’s satisfying work. It's late afternoon by the time I finish and the storm clouds are gathering. I grab Matilda for a quick walk in Tank Hill before the storm but it’s already too late. As we cross the lane, the wind is shrieking and the trees are reeling so we head home. The house is shuddering and groaning. Matilda lies at my feet and shakes. I’ve lived in this house for almost 10 years and never experienced a wind like this. It’s awesome in the old sense of the word. Gusts of 158 km/h are recorded at Wilsons Prom.
Val is watching Dan and worrying. “He’s been there for more than 50 days. Look at him – his clothes are falling off him.”
Onelia comes out of Tank Hill with a handful of wildflowers she’s picked on her walk – daffodils, forget me nots, freesias. She has no sympathy for Dan: “He’s the one who got us into this! He’s power crazy. Telling us what we can and can’t do.” She’s had enough of the lockdown. She misses her grandchildren and thinks it’s time to open up again. It’s not as if it’s the young ones who are dying, she points out.
Message from Amelia in the city. Each Friday we exchange photos of our COVID lives. I send her a photo of Matilda and me beside a fallen gum, casualty of the storm. Amelia replies with a photo of Melbourne Central shopping centre, the shops closed, the escalators empty. She writes “These pics are of our beautiful city being so bare. It hurts my heart that we have come to this and I really pray that we are not forced to be in a state of emergency for another 12 months.”
Saturday August 29
All day long, the sound of children playing in the bush. Swinging from a rope tied to one of the tallest gums, playing hide `n` seek, sliding down the banks on bits of cardboard. Where do they come from? I rarely heard children playing before the lockdown. What will they remember of this time? A magical time when they played all day, mercifully free of adults?
I meet a stranger in the woods, a friendly chap who stops to talk. He’s living with his sister and brother-in-law a few houses away from me. He tells me he loves Wonthaggi, everyone’s so friendly. I ask him where he came from. Ringwood East. “It’s spot the Aussie there,” he adds, and almost winks at me. Ouch! As usual, it’s only later I think of what I should have said. “So how do you spot the Aussie?”
Sunday August 30
Gill calls in for coffee on her way home from the Inverloch community market. She brings her own coffee scrolls from the market as well as home-made salmon and camembert quiches for my dinner. A perfect guest.
Monday August 31
A first – joggers in Tank Hill. I hear them approaching and pull to the side of the narrow hilly track to let them pass. The first is shouting to his mate, “I always thought he was a pussy, know what I mean?” The second sees me and swallows his reply. I’m left to ponder what he did mean. That the bloke confirmed his suspicions by doing something extra pussyish, like picking flowers or playing a mandolin? Or that he surprised everyone by tackling the armed robber and showing he was no pussy?
Tuesday September 1
Thank god for rich people behaving badly. In March it was the millionaire skiers who returned from Aspen flaunting their fake tans and taut muscles. Now it’s millionaire yachties casting off from Brighton, leisurely tacking up the east coast to the Gold Coast, swimming, sunbathing, sipping champagne and probably grazing on foie gras and truffles. The news unleashes a cathartic wave of outrage. Those bastards! Just as we were falling apart, they’ve brought us together again.
A text from Vilya. “Have you seen the moon?” It takes me a while to work out what she means. There’s a slight mist so the moonlight shimmers. But then I see the halo radiating out into the sky. As Val put it, “How could we ever be bored?”
Wednesday September 2
I call in to Chill Bill for a takeaway coffee. Fiona and Sophie have just reopened after a three-week shutdown. They used the time to put in a servery hatch for takeaways, thanks to a council COVID grant. “Nice hatch!” I say. “Scooter’s really missing her,” Fiona replies. Eh? It’s a mask misunderstanding. We can’t hear each other. The cat’s gone missing and Scooter (the dog) is in a deep depression about it. Look out for a lost-looking young black cat with a white diamond on her chest, last seen in Campbell Street.
Speaking of lost pets, where has Saunders gone? The case moth took up residence with Vilya and Martin during the first lockdown in March and has kept them a kind of company ever since, slowly making his way around the garden. (They call Saunders him but it’s just a guess.) I could never spot Saunders but Vilya had developed a knack of picking him out among the twigs and leaves. He was last seen on a rosemary bush. The next morning, the branch he’d been on was snapped and Saunders was missing. Martin suspects he’s now part of a magpie or raven’s nest. Wherever you are, Saunders, go well. You brought joy in a bleak time.