Six months ago, I wrote about a year of working from home. At the time, things were going well in Melbourne. Since our long lockdown we’d largely had the great summer we were promised. There had been a couple of scares, including a five-day lockdown, but most mask requirements were gone, we were able to have 100% capacity at the office, and were planning to return to full-time in mid-April.
Well, that lasted around six weeks, before lockdown #4 struck. There were a few opportunities to return to the office in June and July, but since mid-July it’s been back to working from home again.
So I wanted to talk about a (non-)typical week: Last week. A week in which I admired cygnets, saw deer, was chased by chickens, discovered a WikiLeaks bus, and even managed to get some work done.
The most interesting day was one that had been meant to rain all day, so I hadn’t expected to get up to much. Then it turned out to be sunny at lunch-time, and I seized the opportunity to go for a walk including passing a nearby lake.
It’s spring here, and I’ve seen ducklings about, but it must have been a couple of years since I last saw cygnets. I wasn’t expecting them, but I was happy to stop and admire (and of course take photos!)
Yes, we have black swans here.
There were also views of the farmland and the hills:
Deer, chickens, a van, and a view
Another lunch-time, after walking through national park I was climbing up a rarely used road to see the view:
And I know there are deer about the area - on the outskirts of the forest they’re probably at least as common as wallabies, and I’ve even seen them on my property a couple of times. But I still wasn’t expecting to find four of them casually grazing in someone’s garden:
Further up the road there were chickens roaming free and foraging by the side of the road. One in particular seemed very interested in me, and once I’d passed them it continued to follow me:
I assume it associated humans with being fed, and was hoping I had something good to offer. But I don’t really know.
Even that didn’t prepare me for the vehicle I encountered down the road:
This was on a back street, not by the side of a main road or anything like that (I was - wisely, in my opinion - avoiding all main roads). So I assume the van was at home and wasn’t particularly out to persuade me.
Encountering the crowds
It was a warm and sunny spring day, so I got an icecream then walked to one of my favourite nearby parks. I expected it to be somewhat busy, but still wasn’t prepared for the number of people out and about. Nor was I prepared for the many cars parked here, there, and everywhere. Though I gather it was school holidays, so with that and the weather perhaps it’s not that surprising.
There were people picnicking. Socialising. Fishing. Swimming. Walking dogs. Basically, looking like they were having a relaxing time and catching up with others during a long lockdown. There weren’t a lot of people wearing masks, but that’s probably OK (and also something the authorities should expect once they permit picnicking).
Emerging from the quarry and away from the crowds, I got to the top of some steps and went “I’m sure that was harder than usual and that I’m breathing more heavily than usual”. Then realised I was still wearing my mask. The strenuous exercise exemption is there for a reason, folks!
Actually socialising myself
Another day I had the chance to have lunch with my brother. As with the picnics above, in the great outdoors and without masks.
There was plenty to talk about, and all too soon it felt like I had to head home and get back to work. But it was lovely to have the chance.
What else did I get up to?
Well, given I’m talking about working from home, I should note that I actually did get some work done. It just doesn’t make for interesting pictures or good stories (or at least not ones I should share publicly!)
Working from home does give me a little more flexibility to have experiences like the ones I’ve described, but it can also mean late nights.
I went grocery shopping, and discovered an American import:
I watched (from home) the Australian premiere of The Atom: A Love Affair, and the following Q&A with a panel including the film director (all the way from the UK!).
I read some books. I listened to some audiobooks. I tried to keep up with family and friends.
Here on the blog I worked on multiple drafts, each one abandoned for the next, until I got to this one. Maybe I’ll get back to some of them, maybe I won’t.
The reason I raise these things is because I think it’s important to emphasise: A week of work from home is a week of my life. Yes, it’s somewhat restricted, particularly during lockdown, but I haven’t had to give up all my interests or abandon all my responsibilities.
Was that really a normal week of working from home?
Pretty much. For me, walking the local area has been an important lockdown coping mechanism, and it’s led me to many different experiences.
No previous week had all these particular experiences, and I don’t expect any subsequent week to have them either. But there were other experiences. If I’d been writing this in previous weeks I’d probably have had pictures of one or more of:
- New leaves
- A re-activated teddy bear hunt
And that’s just what I can think of in the last couple of months. I’m sure if I went through my photos I’d find more.
So what else happened last week?
The NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, resigned after NSW’s corruption commission announced the investigation that has been hanging over her for a year.
The Australian Prime Minister made the strongest announcement yet about the resumption of international travel once vaccination targets are hit. It’s expected to begin with NSW in mid-November, but I expect Victoria will sign up to it when eligible.
Here in Victoria we hit the made up 80% first dose target, and so had our limit for exercise and shopping extended to 15km. On working days that doesn’t affect me at all, but on Saturday I did go to a park I’d been wanting to return to that was just within the 15km radius. I also saw a beautiful sunset, then got caught in pouring rain after dark and far from my car (though fortunately less than 15km from it).
Then on Sunday we started daylight savings time. This week, both sunset and darkness are over an hour later, and it definitely makes the working day feel different. Spring is here, and summer is coming.
One of the things my brother and I were talking about at lunch was the definite feeling of déjà vu.
Here in Melbourne, we’ve been here before. In 2020 the government started talking about the need to be open for Christmas back in August. As it got to spring, the weather was getting warmer. The days were getting longer. We were going to have a great summer, and things were going to be better in 2021.
And, to be fair, I think it’s true we had a great summer despite a few scares. However, 2021 has again seen much of winter spent in lockdown, and we’ll be well into spring before it’s eased further. It’s been said that we’ve spent more days in lockdown than anywhere else in the world (though I think it’s hard to compare when different places in “lockdown” have had different restriction levels).
Have no fear, though! Once again, we’ve been assured that Christmas is going to be OK and next year will be better. I certainly hope that happens, but will wait and see.
The biggest difference is that our re-opening plans are based on vaccination numbers and “living with Covid”, not on driving case numbers to zero. And I hope that means the freedoms regained are a little less fragile. But it’s also likely to mean more restrictions than there were in, say, CovidZero Victoria in April. I hope there are no more lockdowns in store for 2022, but I’m really not sure it will be “normal”.
Currently, the official “end of lockdown” is tied to when we reach 70% of the adult population fully vaccinated (probably within a few weeks). This time last year, we were a couple of months past the peak, and starting to think what re-opening would look like. By contrast, yesterday we actually hit our highest daily case numbers ever (2.5x last year’s peak, and higher than NSW’s peak a month or so ago). And I doubt it’s the peak.
This is already putting strain on hospitals, and that’s going to increase. So, while the government is still talking about restrictions easing in a few weeks, I wouldn’t be surprised if closer to the time they decided to restore fewer freedoms than currently planned, or even delayed the re-opening altogether.
So what can I do?
Politicians, in their focus on “doing the right thing”, have sometimes suggested that the outcome is in our hands. But it’s really not. Particularly when living in a suburb far away from the hotspots, as I have.
It’s not that I couldn’t have caught Covid here, because of course I could and still can. I wasn’t sorry that that made it less likely that I got it, but it also meant that no amount of virtue (or vice) in me was likely to change the progress of the outbreak.
The actions I’ve taken that I suspect had the biggest impact have all been mandated by the government: Not attending concerts and theatre productions (cancelled), not going to family gatherings (banned), and, of course, working from home when able.
The new action available this year is getting vaccinated, and vaccine supply has been high enough in the last couple of months that it’s been a real possibility. I’ve only been eligible for 1.5 months and wasn’t first in the queue for a booking, but am still getting my second dose tomorrow.
That certainly contributes to the state vaccination effort, but we’re over two months in and my action won’t do much to make lockdown end faster. So what can I do? Really, just survive it, and help those around me to do the same.
I know that I’ve had it easier than many others, but I also know that over multiple lockdowns I’ve had to develop strategies to help me cope. And that’s led to experiences like the ones described in this post. I’ve had to find ways of keeping up with and supporting people I can’t meet up with in person. None of that will end lockdown, but it’s still important just to get through it.
Like I said in March, I never wanted to work from home. I was glad to return to the office full-time in April, and at the time I hoped it would continue - even if I did say “for all I know I might be back to working from home in May”. I’m pretty sure back then I wouldn’t have expected October to be like this.
Maybe in an alternate world I’d be fully vaccinated now and preparing to head to a much-improved US after six months of working full-time in the office. That was always optimistic: Though there was talk at the start of the year of completing the vaccination program by October, I don’t think I really expected international travel (except possibly to New Zealand - and even that’s off the table for now). But I’d hoped that we’d got away from long lockdowns, and that masks were out while work from the office and concerts and community theatre were here to stay.
However, that’s not the situation we find ourselves in. And I know that I wouldn’t have had the experiences I’ve described without working from home.
I’ll be glad when restrictions ease, and I’ll be glad when I can go back to working in the office, but for now I’ll continue to take the opportunity to experience the world around me. And still get work done, of course.