Saturday, March 21, 2020

On the Beach

I have an odd habit of humming songs that, later, I realise, have something to do with the situation I'm in. I first noticed it when, as a teenage boy, I realised I was both lost on the Paris Metro, and singing the Beatles song "Help".

These days I keep noticing that I'm singing something that begins, "The man from the television walked onto the train, I wondered who he's going to stick it in this time..." and it only just occurred to me that it's an Elvis Costello song called "Waiting For the End of the World".


Life in Melbourne over the last couple months was pretty quiet, once the bush fires were done and the air became breathable. I was being a dad to a four year old (while his mother was on tour), and reading, and writing. I went to Perth and did a reading, I went to Adelaide and drank Penfolds Grange Hermitage 2008, saw my dog Lola and was given a Doctorate by the University of South Australia.

I was waiting for Amanda to return from New Zealand, when we would have a short end-of-Amanda's-14-month-long tour holiday and then go home to Woodstock. Amanda would rest after tour and I would ramp up and go back to work.

Then I got a phone call from Amanda, asking me to pack up the Melbourne house and fly out early the following morning, in order to get to Wellington before midnight the following night. If we got there after midnight, compulsory 14 day isolation would be needed.  We flew to New Zealand (Marissa our nanny flew home to Woodstock, but fortunately Xanthea, who had been assisting me and Amanda, volunteered to come out with us -- an enormous relief as I had, with Amanda's bags, too many bags  to get easily into and out of an airport with a small boy).

So we landed in Wellington.

Amanda did the final gig of her tour to an empty church, and I popped in and read The Masque of the Red Death from the pulpit and, later, Goodnight Moon. (The venue, St Peter's in Wellington, was really wonderful and the people were so kind and helpful.) (You can watch it all here.)

We drove to the house Amanda had rented (it was meant to be just her, and her old friend Kya and Kya's three daughters for a couple of days while Ash and I were in Melbourne. Now it was all of us for a week.) And then the request came in from the NZ government to self isolate if you'd flown in from abroad. So we've been isolating for the last five days. It's not hard: we are in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes we walk on the beach, keeping our distance from people if we see them.

In a couple of days Amanda and Ash and Xanthea and I move somewhere more houselike and continue to isolate, and Kya and her daughters go home and isolate there.

And I feel so lucky that I'm with my family and that the three of us (and Xanthea) are together.  I had thought if I stayed in Melbourne, Amanda would be able to come back after her tour, but that wouldn't have happened. Countries are locking down borders and planes are being cancelled. So coming to New Zealand with Ash was indeed the wisest thing I could have done.

I'm not sure how long we are going to be here in New Zealand. I know I'm doing a lot of conference calls, and having a lot of Zoom conversations. I'm watching some things get delayed, and many of the readings or talks I was meant to be doing in the next few months are getting cancelled or postponed.

I'm worried about my friends -- the ones who aren't writers are all in jobs where they need to interact with large groups of people, which means they are all out of work now, with jobs suspended or cancelled, with income that's gone away. Amanda and I are putting four or five families up in our place in Woodstock -- mostly refugees from New York, with some refugees from Boston. I hope they are all right.

I've said that anyone who wants can use my books right now -- read them online, or post them, or entertain children or loved ones with them. It seems like a sensible thing.

And I think I may actually get some writing done.

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