Updated: Aug 15, 2020
Greetings from the depths of lockdown stage 4 in Melbourne. It’s only week two, impossibly. It’s hard this time round, isn’t it, fellow Victorians? Even knowing that this is the right and wise thing to do, and doing it willingly, and embracing masks-as-accessory whenever we leave the house. It's a drag, but without the sequins and make up, and leaves you feeling as flat, dull and grey as cheap office carpet.
I don’t know about everyone else, but for me life feels like this gelatinous, amorphous mass (it is possible to be gelatinous and amorphous, and many other things besides, all at the same time. Thanks for the discovery, COVID-19). I’m just trying to deal with each day as it comes. I’m happy if doesn’t shoot out of my arms like one of those impossible to hold things with jelly in the inside (okay, I’ve forgotten words, too), before the next day wobbles around. My brain flickers from one thing to another like our stupid cat jumping on imaginary bugs in the grass, and not catching them, because they’re not there.
So I haven’t written a blog in a while, because really, what’s the story? Where’s that lovely, clear narrative arc? How do I package up all this *gestures helplessly* into a funny/inspiring/thought-provoking/even-just-coherent slab of words? I. Really. Don’t. Know. I have brain crumble, and I humbly proffer crumbs.
Thank God I have a real story to write, by which I mean a genuine made-up story with a world I can control, and characters I can’t always, but that’s okay too. There’s a real sense of relief at sinking into my two worlds - Victorian London with a twist, and another weird parallel city called Donlon - and tackling the problems there. Publication date for book 1 is (thankfully) in February 2021, so maybe the world will be nearer to a 'normal' by then? Maybe? I’m deep into the re-write for book 2, which is due to go to the publisher at the end of September, and patching plot holes and wrestling with narrative arcs gives me a sense of control I don’t have in other areas. It’s nice to have somewhere else to hang out.
There’s the research too, which is more or less done at this stage but there’s always something to check, or a new idea that needs exploring by purchasing another obscure book on the interweb (hello the oddly captivating Hyde Park: Its History and Romance by Mrs Alec-Tweedie, published in 1908). Mrs A-T delivers stern little nuggets like this, on Elizabeth I: “Pinched and old and yet rouged to the eyes, she was vain to the last.”
Some other passages that gave me joy:
“King Henry VIII was addicted, in spite of his size, to taking immense leaps by the aid of his pole, and there is a quaint record of an accident on one of these occasion when following the hawk over swampy ground. His pole broke and, failing to clear a muddy brook the King fell headlong into the oozy slush, where he would have been suffocated but the for aid of his attendants. What an amusing spectacle this pompous monarch must have made, mud-besmeared, being hauled out of the mire by his servants."
Or on Bloody Mary - “Queen Mary, Tudor Queen of England, has not come down to us in a social light. Bloody Mary, as she was known, rarely went far afield and her only association with Hyde Park seems to have been the unusual number of people she hanged at Tyburn.” Elizabeth I also had a particularly “Tudor abruptness in dealing with undesirables.” (Tyburn was the site of the infamous gallows that used to sit around where Marble Arch is now, on the edge of Hyde Park).
On the mighty Elizabethan ruff - “Mens’ ruffs never reached the extravagant size of the ladies’ attire, but they grew to such an extent that Elizabeth considered it necessary to order that any beyond “a nayle of yard in depth” should be clipped. The edge of the ruff was called a “Picadilly’ - hence the name of the fashionable street abutting on Hyde Park today. When there were practically no houses there, a ruff shop kept by a man named Higgins existed and was called a ‘Picadilly.” (A nayle, or nail, is one sixteenth of a yard, or two and a quarter inches.)
Or - “Of course, as Queen Elizabeth had sandy-coloured hair, that also became the fashion, and ladies dyed their tresses and painted their faces. This curious old Queen with her enamelled complexion and flashing eyes, her love of dress, her endless admirers, her hard-hearted and level-headed administration, is reported to have danced an Irish jig only a few days before her death.” You just never know when gems like that will be needed.
And also, we're in the midst of Melbourne Writer’s Festival! HAL-le-lujah! They’ve put it all online and it’s fantastic. Missing the vibe of queueing to have your literary heroes sign books, and bumping into people you know, but there is a LOT to be said for having Alexis Wright, Ben and Michelle Law, Anne Enright, Julia Gillard, Kate Grenville and other amazing souls with you in your living room while you curl up with a glass of red under the soft blanket, wearing your daggiest tracky bums.
And our winter of discontent is coming to an end, quite literally. We’re now in Djilba, the Noongar season that sits between late winter and early spring. The Noongar nation is the land I grew up on in WA, but other Indigenous nations share the six seasons. It makes much more sense than the four we still try and shoehorn this climate into. All the non-native trees recognise the good sense of it too, as they start flowering and leafing much earlier than they would in the northern hemisphere. Djilba’s colours are black, blue, green, yellow, with my favourite golden wattle trees wafting glorious yellow fluffy clouds all over Brunswick. (There’s a fascinating website here, chockful of wisdom and Indigenous knowledge, if you're interested. Their newsletters are well worth a read, too.)
Today on my walk I was struck anew by the beauty of this time. Flowers exploding everywhere in full scent and colour; three fluffed up fledgling mynah birds squashed together on a branch, maybe for their first flying lesson; and six gorgeous male budgerigars flying at each other in a flurry of bluepinkgreen, while the coveted brown female sat looking a bit fed up on the side. The sky was sharp blue and the gum tree trunks had swirls of cream, pink, yellow, brown and black brushstrokes. It made me just stop, and stare. Life does go on, and even winter ends.
This too will pass, as Big Mama Nature reminds us. Hang in there, fellow lockdowners, and take your comfort where you can. Be easy on yourselves, and remember Just One Thing can be enough for a day. Recharging and resetting is as important as anything else, and right now we’re forced to do that. It's a time of wiping slates clean, starting anew, and not just because of spring. We can collectively imagine the shape we want our post lockdown world to be. Decide what to leave behind, and what to pick up. There’ve been some great talks on this during Melbourne Writer's Festival, actually. Just imagine if all the excellent minds reading this put them together to do just that? Because we're living through something exceptional. I don't think the whole world has ever hit pause, like this.
A collective costume change could be in the wings. It's time to plan our most fabulous outfits.
Love to you all (and especially the Year 12 students, who’ve had their final school year and all its fun, milestones and ‘lasts’ ripped away from them, leaving only the tedium of remote learning and solitary, hard work. I see you, you amazing young adults, making the most of what you have. Your time will come!).
Stay safe, stay well. xx