Sunday, May 17, 2020

Holed up in the mountains

In a time of pandemic, if you can't be on a small island off another island, then being holed up in the mountains might just be the next best thing. While there are some daily things I miss - coffee sitting down in cafes, a quite drink or meal out - in many ways life in lockdown is not all that different to how I lived before. Perhaps I need to take a closer look at what I really miss.

When Australia’s capital was established it was deliberately tucked away in the mountains, far from the coast and any likely threats, such as a Russian invasion – or possibly undue control from the two warring states of the time, Melbourne and Sydney. A recent walk one morning round the foothills of Mt Majura, on the edge of Canberra, underlined that Canberra is indeed sited amongst the mountains, with views of the looming Brindabella Ranges in the chilly distance.

Brindabella Ranges, looking South from National Arboretum.

Now that we are under siege from a new threat – this time an invisible virus – this location seems somehow apt. If we didn’t have flights of politicians regularly materialising here we’d be insulated from most of the worst aspects of what passes for daily life in the rest of the nation, while still able to remember when we travelled elsewhere and what we liked most.

When I was away on Kangaroo Island – back when endless bushfires were being replaced by a pandemic as our daily threat, I told a friend newly returned early from London, who was self-isolating near the Bay of Fires in the North East of the island, that the best place to be during a pandemic was on a small island off another island. Unfortunately Tasmania has not fared so well since then, but since I was born and grew up there, it still looks appealing. If you can’t be on a small island, there are feasible alternatives – a lot like a Canberra hot air balloon, soaring above the perils of daily life, the Canberra bubble has never looked so appealing.

See also
Beyond a joke – surviving troubled times
‘We live in troubled times – but then can anyone ever say that they lived in times that weren’t troubled? For most of my life Australia has suffered mediocre politicians and politics – with the odd brief exceptions – and it seems our current times are no different. Australia has never really managed to realise its potential. As a nation it seems to be two different countries going in opposite directions – one into the future and the other into the past. It looks as though we’ll be mired in this latest stretch of mediocrity for some time and the only consolation will be creativity, gardening and humour’, Beyond a joke – surviving troubled times 
Early onset forgetfulness – what day of the week is it?  
‘There used to be a time when a test for dementia amongst the elderly involved a series of questions. The first one was ‘who was the Prime Minister of Australia?’ After one too many leadership spills, this fairly quickly went out the window. The other question was ‘what day of the week is it?’ I must admit that increasingly I am losing the ability to answer this question correctly’, Early onset forgetfulness – what day of the week is it?

Raiding the pantry
‘A few weeks back I returned from a two and a half week regional road trip through Victoria to Adelaide and Kangaroo Island. When we left, people were being encouraged to visit fire-ravaged regional centres to help boost local economies. By the time we were on the way back everyone was being urged to stay home to help reduce the spread of pestilence. We had heard about hoarding and food shortages and we had seen the empty shelves, usually filled with toilet paper, everywhere we passed. As we headed home, I pondered exactly how long we could survive on what was already in our pantry – how many meals we were already sitting on as a result of routine shopping before that time of hoarding and excess,’ Raiding the pantry

Noise-cancelling the modern world
‘For Christmas this year I received a novel present – a pair of some of the best noise-cancelling headphones in existence. They are extremely effective. Given the state of the world, I am happy not to hear any of the noise it produces’, Noise-cancelling the modern world.

Australia - 7-day weather forecast
‘A distraction from the heat, fire, and smoke that have become the new normal in Australia, Internet memes track the ongoing failure of our mediocre political masters. After a Christmas of bushfires, everything is black, particularly the humour’, Australia - 7-day weather forecast.

Feast of Stephen revisited
‘As Christmas seems to be speeding towards us once again – with all the hope it holds out for the survival of the embattled retail sector, it got me thinking. In ‘Good King Wencelaus’, that carol from my distant childhood, there is an intriguing line, ‘good King Wencelaus looked out, on the Feast of Stephen’. I thought, what is this feast, which happens to bear my name? When exactly is it? Well…it is Boxing Day. Now I do realise it, I am determined to celebrate it in the style it deserves’, Feast of Stephen.

Adjusting to reality #1 – peaks, troughs and snouts

‘It seems government allows just enough time to forget what it has done before it begins to repeat it. It would be easy to go along with popular prejudice and believe that the private sector is more efficient than the public sector. Unfortunately both are efficient and also hopeless in their own way. At least we get to vote about the broad outline of what the public sector does – and laugh at it. With the private sector, all we get is to laugh at it. Or cry’, Adjusting to reality #1 – peaks, troughs and snouts.

Internet memes – swirling around the virtual universe
‘Internet memes seem to appear and disappear on the web, digital visitors swirling around the virtual universe. Where they come from or who created them is hard to tell. There are no secrets or possessions on the Internet. Seeing some of these memes got me thinking. I thought perhaps I could produce my own memes and have some fun. Perhaps it’s the new future for the arts – social media postcards – but with humour and creativity’, Internet memes – swirling around the virtual universe.

Bring back the Romans
‘Our political system is having a lot of problems and lately I’ve been thinking that we could do a lot worse than bring back the Romans. Since they were around no-one has managed to do a good job of empire. The Americans had their moment but they seem to be making a real mess of it nowadays. Politically the Senate wouldn’t be much different. The Emperor Caligula made his horse a Senator and we’ve done better than that. So, no change there. No, on reflection it would be a good move. I think we should bring it on and the sooner the better. Now all we need to do is find some Romans and get the ball rolling’, Bring back the Romans.

Wide brown landing
‘Some days you realise suddenly that Canberra was deliberately located in the mountains. Perhaps it was fear of Russian invasion - imperial rather than communist. Perhaps it was to avoid overlap with the two warring imperial powers of the time - NSW and Victoria. Whatever the reason, Canberra sits well up on the top of Australia, on the long road up to the Snowy Mountains, where Australia finally reaches its peak. I've made two unsuccessful attempts to see the National Arboretum, finding the gates locked and no way in. Yesterday on a cold Canberra day I finally found it open, thanks to Canberra's annual festival of flowers, Floriade. I'd finally made a successful landing at the Arboretum. I was very impressed’, Wide brown landing.

Cures for the common cold
'Even in the heart of the modern world, down in the deep streets of contemporary urban life, folk medicine is still strong. Have you noticed when you mention you have a cold, how everyone within listening distance starts to list off the various fool-proof remedies which are certain to cure you, or at the very least make you feel human again', Cures for the common cold.

Articles in the series ‘The island to the North’

The island to the North – the islands to the North East
‘The awkward relationship between Tasmania and the island to the North is not the only clumsy relationship between islands in this part of the world. The history of the ties between the island to the North and the islands of the Pacific is even more troubled’, The island to the North – the islands to the North East.

The island to the North – turning the map upside down
‘Our geography teacher would turn the map upside down to make the point that we were conditioned to see Asia above Australia, implying that gravity was a factor in human migration patterns and to illustrate the Australian fear of the Yellow Peril, ready to pour down from Asia and inundate the almost empty island to the South’, The island to the North – turning the map upside down.

The island to the North – disappearing worlds
'Islands are easily overlooked – Tasmania is an island that periodically disappears off maps, sometimes there, sometimes not, at the edge of consciousness, at the end of space.' The island to the North – disappearing worlds

The island to the North – a nearby foreign country
‘Sitting by a roaring fire in a wintry pub in Tarraleah I found Tasmanians liked to call Australia "the island to the North". We are neighbours but sometimes I wonder if I am behind enemy lines’, The island to the North – a nearby foreign country.

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