Well, here we are: careering through the festive season in the wake of one of the most miserable years in living memory. Or was it? Granted, we’ve all had enough, haven’t we, of virus talk, testing regimes, lockdowns and now mandates. We’re tired of the bickering over vaccinations and whether the unvaccinated should be summarily executed, or not.
The early days of the pandemic were kind of fun – or at least interesting. We were glued to our TV screens, absorbing the latest COVID numbers and grave warnings by haggard premiers and health ministers. Some of us dove into the internet and became overnight experts on all things viral and vaccination. Others spent their days exhausting everything Netflix and Stan had to offer. Many of us felt lonely, depressed and disconsolate.
But in the middle of all this there emerged a whole new world of boredom-busting activities. Old hobbies were dusted off and complete novices took to painting and drawing, gardening, and shed building. For the first time in years, I had a go at using an electric saw and even tried my hand at electric sanding. My partner went as far as purchasing a leaf blower, which, according to the instructions, was easy to use, but which I found impossible. Each time, the leaves would end up scattered anywhere but the neat pile for which they were intended. I ended up using a rake.
I even had a go with an unwieldy hedge trimmer: a large, vibrating device with a crocodile’s snout that should only be used in an emergency. Suffice to say, after I finished, the hedge looked as if it had been attacked by a herd of wild elephants. Undeterred, I then took to my ageing Chinese-made lawn mower, only for the wheels to fall off before I could get it out of the shed.
Although a terrible failure when it comes to anything mechanical, I did gain some pleasure from the hammer drill. This splendid device is a must for anyone holding a grudge. It’s guaranteed to exhaust all your violent tendencies. After securing the drill ‘bit’ into the ‘chuck’, I approached a breeze block wall with fierce determination. The experience, let me tell you, borders on the erotic. Such is the ferocious jack hammer action, that the bit overheats and begins to emit plumes of smoke. This is followed by a violent juddering that encourages a soft yet purposeful entry into the cavity of the breeze block. My testosterone levels soared as a feeling of triumph swept over me, until my partner pointed out that, ‘you’ve drilled in the wrong place, dear. The hole needs to there’.
I soon got bored of cumbersome tools, and decided to rediscover my legendary culinary skills. Armed with a recipe, I headed to the supermarket only to find most of the shelves empty and lacking the essential ingredients I needed. Just as I was about to stomp off, I spotted one of the best gastronomic creations in human history: baked beans. The last time I partook in this delicacy was in the 1970s when, as a destitute student, I would place large dollops of what looked like orange grapeshot onto two slices of toast, topped with cheddar cheese and a liberal sprinkling of pepper. It still tastes great but it’s vital to remember that baked beans (phaseolus vulgaris) are in fact steamed, and each tin of over 450 beans is loaded with sugar, salt, additives, and it’s produced by a fast-food conglomerate. Romance over.
Time of revival
The revival of things long forgotten has been a feature of the pandemic experience. Things like: hanging out with the kids, playing board games, going for long walks, talking to long lost friends, or simply being still, meditating, or reminiscing and day dreaming. It wasn’t like this for everyone, of course. Not by a long shot. The shit work still had to be done; people still needed jobs; services had to be provided. We know that the poorest were most impacted by the lockdowns and that some peoples’ rights, especially in more disadvantaged communities, were trampled on. Many lost their jobs, domestic violence increased, as did substance abuse and alcohol consumption – including my own! Tens of thousands of people were exiled. The pandemic exposed the fissures present in Australian society – the three million or so in poverty (including 700,000 kids), the plight of precarious employment, the creaking health system, unaffordable housing and the enduring inequities experienced by First Nations people.
The sad reality is that while some of us were fortunate enough to indulge in various distractions during lockdowns, others did it mighty tough. And continue to do so. It’s always been thus, has it not? I think of the many intellectual grandees of the past, or celebrated politicians like Thomas Jefferson, whose claim to fame came on the back of others doing the shit work for them. Jefferson, for example, had slaves working for him, while some of the great enlightenment thinkers had domestic servants doing their dishes, washing clothes, and the rest. I’m not suggesting that everyone in lockdown was so provided, not at all, but you get the point. So, my Season’s Greetings go to all the sight unseen, underpaid, exploited, and often unappreciated ‘unpeople’ – the cleaners, labourers, sweat workers and countless others who help make the world go round.
Happy festive season!
PS. My dear mum was a cleaner in a cancer ward for years. One of my best mates has just lost his casual job at uni. My other mate is washing dishes for next to nothing.