Aug 022020

Essential Covid-19 non-essentials (by Maralyn Frances)

I wake up to the memory of yesterday's Coronavirus infections in Victoria, 428! Staring at the ceiling, I think that we are almost certainly heading for Stage 4 restrictions. Time for some decisive action, so I sit up in my nice warm bed and make a list. Then, I consider my options: medical centres, pharmacies, veterinary surgeries, greengrocers, butchers and supermarkets will stay open, even in such dire circumstances (we can't let the populace starve to death before the virus gets them, can we?) but pet shops will almost certainly not be open. That decided, I leap out of bed, figuratively speaking, more like a cumbersome roll, actually, and head for my shower.

For some reason, I'm sure some unforeseen disaster will prevent my shopping as panic sets in. I dress quickly and load Jess into the car. Jess is the second member of my two-people family, which comprises a two-legged person (me) and a four-legged person (her). She needs some new balls to tide her over any impending lockdown. Now, having seen Jess's reaction to others of her species, some feeble-minded wit, thinking they are hilariously funny and original, might think that she has enough balls for six dogs, but I'm talking about the toy variety.

On the way to the nearest pet shop at South Morang, I suddenly remember that I have forgotten to eat breakfast. I have had no breakfast! This is a truly disturbing indication of the severity of the situation! NO BREAKFAST! Never in the Frances Family Annals has such a thing been recorded, not that much has been recorded at all, of course.

I fed Jess her chicken drumstick at the crack of dawn when she woke me up with an unblinking stare, several centimetres from my face, but then I forgot, an hour later, in the excitement of the headlong rush to the pet shop, to fortify myself. This is concerning. Is it an indication of an increase in the speed of dementia, which I'm certain is waiting around some corner to pounce on me?

Anyway, despite my enfeebled and unfed state, we make it safely to Best Friends Pet Shop. I leave Jess in the car, since she would make short work of any other poor, innocent, furry customer, and I head inside, sporting my surgical mask. I feel silly wearing it. This is only the third time I've PPE'd up. The first two times my glasses fogged up, which is a bit of a deterrent. To my chagrin, I am informed that I have the mask on upside down, with the wire bit under my chin. It's amazing how much better it works now that I have it on the correct way up.

Three girls are hovering near the register, all anxious to serve me. Who knows, I might be the only shopper they see all day. Other customers might not realise the disaster they are inviting if we aren't allowed to even walk our dogs, let alone if they don't have enough toys to keep boredom at bay. Watch out chair legs, especially expensive velvet covered ones! Not that I need to worry: most of my pieces of furniture are Savers Specials.

I can't find the tough, pimply balls that Jess favours so one of the girls graciously consents to show me. But, horror of horrors, there's only one blue ball left. My baby will just have to put up with the only other inferior ball, a red one. Moved to guilt by my lack of ability to fulfil her needs adequately, as a responsible parent of a canine should, ("My German Shepherd, my responsibility", my car sticker reads), I lash out on a colourful rope ball, a rope pull toy and a bag of dried kangaroo liver pieces. In principle, I am opposed to feeding pets parts of our beautiful national symbol, but needs must. This situation calls for extreme action and selfish self-interest wins out over ethics.

I walk up to the register where the helpful girl eyes my mask suspiciously. "I'm smiling behind this", I say, pointing at the offending object, worn this time the right way up, and crinkling my eyes at her over the top. She is unimpressed. Hmm! No sense of humour. I make it out of the shop, pet trophies in hand, after handing over half the value of my house. Opening the car door, I toss the rope toy inside to a waiting Jess. She, too, is unimpressed and ignores it.

I sigh and head for the Bridge Inn Shopping Centre, to buy, what else? Mincemeat for Jess at the butchers there. I then head for Chemist Warehouse and spend the equivalent of the other half of my house on vitamins for me. Reaching home, I make a coffee and then unload my purchases. Jess has finally deigned to chew her new rope ball. Half an hour later, as I finish my coffee, having put my shopping away (I use my own bags of course), I glance at my girl happily gnawing away on her bed in the lounge room. To my annoyance, the brand-new tight rope ball has morphed into a strange creature with a round body and two hanging black legs. Jess's mattress is littered with little discarded clumps of dark material. It took all of three quarters of an hour for her to wreak this destruction. I point out to her that it's just as well I love her! I'm not sure this translated very accurately into canine. She stops her chewing, wags her tail and gives my hand a warm lick.

I glance at the wall clock. It's too late for breakfast, so I cook myself some lunch, chicken schnitzel and salad. Satisfied at last, I now feel up to dealing with the situation in the loungeroom. Jess has taken her strange rope creature outside. She wants me to play with her. I toss the soggy object a few times. Then I return indoors to gingerly pick the sad little remnants of her once beautiful rope ball off her mattress. And so goes another day in Stage Three lockdown. I wonder what 'unprecedented' events Stage Four will bring? Either way, even if the ball met the dust or rather the jaws, Jess and I are well prepared.

Jul 222020

When people I meet ask where I live, and I tell them, Wattle Glen, they invariably reply, “where’s that?” Few Melburnians seem to have heard of Wattle Glen. Rarely does it make the news, Wattle Glen is such a quiet and peaceful place.

For 45 years, we have enjoyed living on the side of one of Wattle Glen’s many hills, surrounded by trees. We are visited daily by a variety of native birds and sometimes by kangaroos and even the occasional echidna. In the morning, we are wakened by the kookaburra, who also announces bedtime in the evenings. Silence rules the night hours, and summer nights are cool, even when Melbourne swelters.

Wattle Glen is not the place for ‘keeping up with the Jones’, here we like to do our own thing. Houses tend to be individual, not conforming to suburban fashions. They are tucked into their environment rather than showing off to passers-by.

Over the years, we have rambled around the district, however these rambles have become regular walks during Covid-19 lockdown. The back roads of Wattle Glen are ideal for isolation. We pass few people along the way and, if more than three vehicles pass us, we say, “the traffic is heavy today”.

Our favourite walk is ‘around the block’, around 6 kilometres, where the streets have evocative names such as Silvan Road, Valley Road, Moonlight Road, and the houses occupy large bush blocks.

We see, perched on a hill, a white house with a verandah facing the sun. With lovely views in all directions, most houses around here have verandahs. Opposite is an aged care home, with its rooms at the back overlooking a ferny glade.

Next we pass an old cottage in its original state – probably a former orchardist’s house – surrounded by its wood pile, vegetable garden, ducks and goats – its inhabitants living ‘the good life’ in the bush. Further along is a ‘ranch’ nestling into the hillside, with a grassy meadow and pond in front.

Along the road a bit, you can buy ‘pony poo’ for $2 a bag – too heavy for us to carry up the big hill ahead. There are crimson rosellas along this stretch, and magpies warbling to cheer us on as we pant up the hill, while horses watch us from their paddocks and frogs croak in the gully. At the top of the hill is a kind of seat for us, where we sit to recover our breath. We are now half way. Continuing on, we pass meandering driveways leading who knows where.

It is an easier walk downhill to the more ‘suburban’ part of Wattle Glen, were houses are closer together, some clinging to the hillside. Here we can stop at Pepper’s Paddock Store for a takeaway coffee to enjoy in the park. The last leg includes walking along the main road, then up the hill to our own little haven.

I’ve told you about Wattle Glen, but please keep it a secret. We want to keep the place to ourselves.

Jul 142020

I am the proud owner of a lovely new red Mazda 2. Last week, I went out to my car to attend an 8.15am doctor's appointment. I thought that I'd get in early so that I didn't have to wait. Much to my dismay, my car would not start. I checked the gears, and all controls, to make sure that I had everything right, but it was not starting.

Worried that time was getting on, and not wanting to be late, I phoned a good friend to ask her to give me a ride to my appointment. A croaky voice answered the phone and I explained my situation. She just laughed – a lot. You see, two weeks earlier, she had been in the same situation with her car battery flat and had a 9.30am (much more civil time) doctor's appointment. She stopped laughing enough for me to explain that I really DID have an appointment, and my car really would NOT start. She had thought it was my idea of a prank! Anyway, although she admitted that she was still in bed, like the good friend that she is, she agreed to help me out. She picked me up from home, drove me to the doctors and then returned me home. We both couldn't believe that my two week old car would have such a problem. Had I bought a lemon?

Upon returning home, I called Roadside Assist and they arrived in around 25 minutes. A pleasant young man looked under the bonnet, hooked up some leads to the battery, and investigated. I gave him the keys so he could try to start it. I watched on eagerly. Then, he smiled and asked me if I had another set of keys? I did, so I went inside to grab the spare keys. Then it dawned on me: I had been using the spare key for my husband's car!! Of course it wouldn't start! That is surely the risk of owning two Mazda cars, that both have 'push button' start. Had it been a good, old fashioned actual key, I would have known immediately the error of my ways.

I sent the young mechanic on his way with a big smile about the silly blonde woman in Eltham who could not start her car.

Jul 142020

Wind blows.
Somewhere in an attic
A sad abandoned kite tugs,
Restless under the weight of bidden sleep,
Dreams of rumba rhythms and
Ay ay ay a conga combinations.
Tail twitch, cloth whisper,
High flying kite.

Rain falls.
A sail boat dry docked
in an old toy box listens,
Feels seas move round her desert moorings.
Imagines oceans to invest in,
Sirocco moons to move by.
Rudder twitch, cloth whisper,
Dream afloat boat.

Sun shines.
A broken doll catches a stray beam
Through a crack in the old shed door,
Dreams of new dresses, tea with friends
In rose scented summer gardens,
Anticipates the breath of kisses.
Wings twitch, cloth whisper,
Little ray of hope shine doll.

Jun 162020

Here is a stretch of pure white sand. There is no one else here, just me, on this beach of pure white sand. It is, perhaps, just a wee bit too early for other walkers. Or am I the first one who has ever walked here? What a fancy! But that is how it feels. I have taken a few minutes to walk here by myself before the holiday chaos begins – a little meditation time.

There are no other footprints apart from those of the birds. There are a few silver gulls, for once not squabbling amongst themselves as they often do, and a bevy of sooty oyster catchers, who sometimes scurry along as though they are being chased by tumbleweeds. My own footprints tag along behind me. They make deep hollows where the sand is smooth and malleable as silk, soft runaway slightly sun-warmed sand. These treads disappear quite quickly, sucked back into the earth – trickle, trickle down flows the sand back over where I have walked until only a slight disturbance can be seen, a small pitted indentation.

As I move down to the ocean’s edge, my footprints gradually gather stability as the sand becomes damper and dun coloured. Finally, there is a firmness to them, each curve outlined, each toe discernible. No one else can claim these footprints. They are mine, firm in the damp sand. Closer to the ocean, where the sand becomes a camel coloured hue, my footprints fade in the gently lapping tidal water. The sea is still a bit chilly. On the faraway horizon the point where sea and sky meet is, today, ill defined. The blue on blue is almost indistinguishable and a faint shimmering heat haze is already beginning to tremble, distorting this line. There are no clouds. The sun owns the sky. Today will be very warm, a good day for the beach.

She claims everything, the sea. If you build a sandcastle, she will finally claim it. She will eat it and swish her lips for more. Please do not forget your towel, a shoe, a spade or, heaven forbid, a favourite book! Anything at all that you forget, she will take for her own. On calm days this is a gradual possessing, little lick, licks. She will sniff, sniff around the forgotten like a dog wary of a stranger’s treat, getting closer and closer until finally she accepts the offering then, GULP! There you are – gone!

Just so with a footprint in the sand. Eventually an incoming tide will have mine, covering my tracks with a swill of water and sand. So that I might begin to wonder if I had walked there at all and, if not, how did I get there? But then, noticing my footprints in the firm sand out of reach of the sea’s still approaching tidal lips, I will realise that I had not been dreaming. I did walk there after all. What silly fancies I have sometimes!

But today the tide is an ebb tide and it is calm. It is a silver sand beach with an untroubled whispering, ebbing ocean – tiny little whispers of waves, or wavelets maybe is a suitable word for the water today. I like whispers, little whispers leaving frown lines on the beach where the water whispers in until, tired of whispering in, the ocean takes a little breath back a bit. Then in she flows, breathing out to whisper and build another frown of sand until, eventually, the beach is marked by continuous frown lines to show that the day has been calm with sea and tide, the ocean is only singing little whisperings and not being noisy and crass.

On stormy days, when the tide returns, cross and crass, she will bang and crash into everything. She will dash the driftwood and sea weed ashore in large heaps as if to say "Take it! Take it all ——– BACK! Have it all ——– BACK!" She will charge ashore with flotsam and jetsam (including your forgotten treasures perhaps), with a TISH and a TOSH, before rushing back recklessly to find some more of her unwanted.

But not today thankfully. Today the sea is just full of little whisperings and she only nibbles neatly at my footprints until finally they disappear. Now the sun is fully awake and the beach is warming up. The sea will soon be warmer. There are people arriving to pick a good spot for the day ahead. There is the gladsome noise of children. A dog is barking. There are kites to fly if the wind picks up, cricket to play, buckets and spades for sandcastle building and picnics to eat. There is the smell of suntan lotion and mosquito repellent. There is my family marking off our spot. My husband waves, breaking into my musings.

I had been marvelling as I walked along this sandy beach at the wonder of my footprints being chewed on slowly by the sea because of a whim of the moon.

Now it’s time for family fun. I wave back.

Apr 212020

If you want to go full blown karaoke, download the music without the singing.

Don’t gather round people
Whatever you do
Don’t go to the theatre
the footy, the zoo
the café, the bar
the cinema too.
If your life to you is worth saving
Then you’d better start thinkin’
Or you’ll all get the ‘flu
For the times they are a’changing. Come pollies and leaders
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
Keeping socially distant’s
For one and for all
The battle outside it is ragin’
But our doctors and nurses
They won’t let us fall.
Tho’ the times they are a’changin’ Come writers, musicians
And you who can act
Come all of the artists
Who gave what we lacked
The painters, the sculptors
The mirror’s not cracked
You’re all needed now more than ever
We’ve time now to look
And to listen to you
For the times they are a’slowing. Come men and come women
Throughout the land
Be kind to your neighbours
And lend them a hand
Without touching, of course
Because touching in banned.
Your old road is rapidly agin’
When you build up a new one
Make sure it is planned
For the times they are a’changin’. The line is not drawn
The curse is not cast
The other side’s waitin’
The virus won’t last
The present now
Will later be past
With the old order rapidly fadin’
A much wise order will be our new task
For new times are a’comin’.