Monday, 30 March 2020

Review: Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (2010)

I wrote this review of Wolf Hall just now for my Goodreads account.  Since it's easy to cross-paste the html , that's precisely what I'm going to do.

I've marked this book as "finished" although "abandoned" would be more accurate. I got to p.357 and then just flipped through the last half with growing irritation.

I have difficulty seeing how this book got such rave reviews when it came out. The writing is instantly forgettable and the characters little more than clichés (A religious bigot? check. A scheming harpy? check. A tortured but good man? check.) Cardinal Wolsey is at least mildly interesting, but as he's dead in the first half of the book His Eminence really can't redeem it. Don't believe me? Give me a quotable line from it. Neither can I.

More troublingly though, the book isn't particularly historically accurate despite which some people will no doubt think it is. I find this alarming, having met people who wanted religious liberties restricted based on a belief that The Da Vinci Code was factual (I also once worked with a man who thought that Game of Thrones was historical fiction, but that's another story). The dangers of all of this become clear when one considers that the Thomas Cromwell trilogy seems in large part to be Hilary Mantel giving her personal prejudices creative expression.

Despite the foregoing, I'm grateful for one thing. I'm typing this review during the Covid-19 pandemic. The 600+ pages of Wolf Hall will stand me in good stead if the toilet paper runs out.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Ghost town dispatch

Well, the shutdown is starting to kick in noticeably.  I overslept this morning and wasn't on the tram to work until about 0900.  This is what it looked like -

It hadn't changed much three hours later.  How do I know?  Well, like everyone else in the office the whole sense of impending trouble was wearing me down a bit.  By midday I decided that what I needed most was some hot food and some air.  I went up to Seven-11 and bought a sausage roll and some sandwiches.  This is what Queen Street looked like -

Queen Street, Melbourne, 24 March 2020

The city, in short, is a bit of a ghost town.

More restrictions have been announced this evening, although so far nothing that's likely to put me off work ... yet.  My own perception though is that we may run into problems before the epidemic runs its course.  Based purely on myself and my co-workers, I fear an awful sense of demoralization will creep in, with the endless news cycle of bad news and the cancellation of the sporting fixtures that do so much to give people something else to care about for a few hours each week.

I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing to ponder, but I suspect that the Covid virus itself may be the least of our worries compared with the economic dislocation and the sapping of human confidence.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Living in Interesting Times

As the writers of Zombieland said, it's amazing how quickly things can go from "bad" to "total shitstorm".  This weekend has ended with us all heading off into the unknown.

Saturday saw me give groceries a miss in the morning: there seemed no point going to a live-action version of Dead Rising.  Instead I went out for a good long run which turned into a half-marathon distance outing.  I've blogged about it here (it's actually a decent post!).  I went up to get groceries and do laundry about 4pm.  I was expecting to find a Venezuela-style wasteland with empty shelves.  There certainly were some empty aisles, but it was very uneven.  There was as much fresh produce and tinned fish as ever.  Nearly as much bread as usual.  Minimal toiletries.  The Indian food section was basically untouched.

Some types of chocolate from the same maker were all gone and the others seemingly all still there.  The same could be said of the Mexican food section.  One had the impression of people panic-buying highly specific items.  This leads me to think that the public aren't worried about actual scarcity, but about the inconvenience of not having their specific preferred product when they want it.

After I'd done laundry I came back and was ironing my shirts when the pager went off for a missing person search.  We ended up with nearly forty members from Northcote, Essendon, Broadmeadows, Port Phillip, Malvern and Footscray Units taking part.  I'm happy to report that the subject was found safe and well (just lost).  I found myself part of the three person management team on this one which was very interesting.

I slept late today and had a wonderful, very chatty facetime with the girls (mainly Rachel) and took them on a tour of my neighbourhood.  They're a little bored being in lockdown and so I'll try and come up with more fun things like that to do with them. Rachel asked what cartoons there were when I was their age; she followed up by observing that "they were all black and white back then weren't they?"  How old do you think I am Rach?!?

I wanted some exercise so I went out for a walk along the Merri Creek trail.  I emerged somewhere in Fitzroy and happened to spot the Pinnacle Hotel.  As I was having a drink I saw the news that Victoria will go into shutdown from Tuesday as an anti-Covid measure.  I duly ordered another beer and some chips on the grounds that this might be my last chance to do so for a while.

And now, I'm really not sure what happens next.  At work tomorrow I'll scan my time limits for the next few weeks and see what needs to be dealt with extremely urgently.  Nobody seems to know what quite will happen or how long the shutdown will last.  I can't go up to the farm, so I guess I'll be confined to barracks.  Happily, I've done the laundry and have enough food for a bit over a week.  As best I can tell this has never happened before in Victoria's history, even in wartime.

Despite the inconvenience, and the risk of being unemployed for some extended period, it's a fascinating time to be alive.

Friday, 20 March 2020

Covid, Parents and Guilt

It's Friday evening, and I'm sitting here at my digs in a bundle of guilt.

Regular readers will know how on any given weekend I'm likely to be found working on the parents' farm.  That, indeed, was my plan for this weekend, until over the last ten days Covid-19 sent the world into a state of acutely nuts.

In what world should this be necessary? 

Well, I spoke to Dad by phone earlier today and said that I really wasn't keen to come up: both he and Mum are pushing 80, and neither is in the strongest of health.  As I ran the numbers, if they pick up Covid, their chances of dying are somewhere between 20-30%.  I feel fine, but the way I live means there's a decent chance I'll carry it up with me: I work in the CBD.  I use the tram once or twice a day.  I live in a house with ten other people.  Since this thing can be transmitted in the absence of symptoms, I'm a pretty bad risk.

None of which altered the disappointment in Dad's voice, or the guilt I'm feeling over letting him down.  I help people.  It's what I do.  If I don't do it, then there's really not a great deal of value in me.  And now, the best thing I can do for my folks is not to do the thing that principally does help them.  This, flatly, sucks.

What sort of illness seems purpose-built to corrode the bonds that should exist between people?

Sunday, 1 March 2020

Everything to plan - and yet ...

Last week was a bruising succession of court work and litigation.  By the time Friday got here I was barely functioning and decided to give the farm a miss for the first weekend in ages.  It was meant to be a rejuvenation weekend, although I suspect I’ve kind of failed at that objective.

Before and After
On Friday night I was keen to clean up my office, which was a blizzard of papers.  Some were in piles, some in drifts and some in my in-tray.  In the event, I left the office a bit after midnight and walked home.  Dinner was a slice of pizza and a potato cake I bought on the way.

Saturday kicked off as usual with laundry, groceries and ironing.  It was a sunny day of 24°, which meant perfect running weather.  I got the tram to St Kilda to crank out 21kms on the gorgeous track by the water (full story here).

St Kilda Beach
I bought an ice cream and got the tram home for a shower and then went for a beer at the Empress.  It was a good combination of sour beer and case law to read.  I think I can see a way into an article I’m trying to finish!

Empress Hotel, Fitzroy
I headed back to my place and had a healthy salmon-heavy dinner.  I set up a new blog to cover “Road to Wollongong” posts and crashed out to sleep a bit after midnight.

I slept a good eight hours but still woke up tired.  Hauled my backside out of bed and went to 9am Mass.  After Mass I hoped to FaceTime with the girls but they were tied up.  I waded through a bunch of SES paperwork instead and prepared my notes for training the new recruits on Wednesday (I feel tired just thinking about it).  It was a shame to waste a good day and so once I was done I got a tram to South Melbourne Beach for some sun, swimming, beer and chips.

South Melbourne Beach
Inadvertently I'd timed it perfectly.  My shoulders got a bit burned on yesterday's run and so it was good today to have the sun occasionally very bright and sometimes softened by clouds.  I had a couple of swims and lay back to read Wolf Hall and listen to my Calm app.

At 5:30 I decided it was time for refreshment and I walked across Beaconsfield Parade to the Bleakhouse Hotel for beer and chips.  Well, me and Thomas Cromwell...

Bleakhouse Hotel, So. Melbourne
Finally, back here to my digs.  I should feel rebooted but in honesty I feel nearly as tired as I did when the weekend started.  Happily this week is a slightly less mental than last week, so I should be able to get myself back to normal working order soon!