The Lowdown on the Lockdown Hearted: Your Handy Guide

To borrow the words of William Shakespeare: ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends’.  These words were attributed Henry the Fifth, who was attempting to inspire his soldiers prior to them storming Harfleur to get the last available rolls of toilet paper and beef mince.  Or, to put it as Yogi Berra once so memorably did, ‘It’s de ja vu all over again’.  Here we are, once more, in lockdown.  It’s a little deflating, I know, but temporary.  By now, though, we’re all kind of experts.

Traditions have developed. Firstly, everyone sees the announcement coming a mile off.  Despite this, nothing seems to prevent the customary panic buying the instant it becomes official.  It seems that people drop whatever they’re doing the moment the news breaks before throwing the green bags in the back seat and hightailing it down to Coles, Woolies and Dan Murphys.  Possibly not in that order.  It’s as though we demand the right to lose our minds before lockdown kicks off.

To be honest, I’m not sure who these people are.  Surely they can’t be the same people who stuffed their trolleys with every spare bit of two-ply they could get their hands on in the first lockdown? They must still have mountains of the stuff from last time.  Perhaps those who kept their nerve in previous lockdowns have decided to get the full pandemic experience and discover what it’s like to fight someone for a packet pasta swirls and half a kilo of mince meat.

The second part of the routine is that we have to dig out our masks again.  For me, I like to pick a different theme for my masks each time we have a lockdown.  Last time, I went with ‘the Ned Kelly’. Whilst fully Covid-compliant, I’ll admit now that it was a little uncomfortable, both for me and for everyone who saw me wearing it.  Something about seeing someone walking down the street with a metal bucket on their head makes other people nervous.  Apparently.  In addition to chaffing, it also drastically reduced my field of vision. Trying to buy fruit with a Ned Kelly helmet on is an absolute nightmare; believe me.

This time, I’m steering clear of bushrangers altogether.  Instead, for this lockdown I’ve decided to make a mask that I like to refer to as ‘the Tuckerbag’.  Based on the world’s most manifestly inadequate puppet and spokesperson for the supermarket chain ‘Tuckerbag’, my mask will both be a nostalgic celebration and a reminder that, once upon a time, shopping bags were made of truly recyclable paper rather than some kind of heavy duty plastic that probably has a half life that would rival plutonium.  

There’s a slight problem with the eyes.  I’m pretty sure the original ‘Tucker’ had eyes that were stuck on.  Stuck on eyes are no good for navigating the fruit and vegie section of the supermarket.  It’s bound to lead to trouble.  Worse still, in the event that I am actually able to find the supermarket whilst wearing ‘the Tuckerbag’ mask, there’s a very good chance I won’t be able to find my way back out again.  

The third part of the lockdown routine is the regular evaluation of exposure sites.  This serves two purposes: to see how close the nearest exposure site is to where you live and, secondly, to look with awe and quiet admiration at the busy social lives of others.  I do want to say that those who supply these details are performing an immeasurable public service.  But when I look at the list, I am struck by the fact that I really don’t get out enough. 

If I’m being honest, it’s hard not to be a tiny bit, well, judgmental.  In previous outbreaks, who amongst us didn’t read the list of exposure sites and see both ‘Dan Murphys’ and ‘Off Ya Tree’ and lift and knowing eyebrow?  Or wonder at the kind of person who visits multiple K-Marts in a day instead of using the internet like the rest of us do?  Yesterday, I saw that a shopping centre comfort station was listed as an exposure site for a ten-hour period.  My thoughts immediately went to the person concerned, hoping that there were multiple trips involved as opposed to a single, catastrophic visit.

My own lockdown traditions tend towards the idiosyncratic.  I have taken to getting changed after work just so that it feels different. In old movies, they’d often talk about getting ‘changed for dinner’.  It sounds kind of civilized.  Last Tuesday, I ditched a pair of jeans and a flannel shirt to put on a tuxedo before mealtime.  It was rissoles.  In retrospect, I may have overdone it.  I choose to look at the positives.

I am now a certified black belt in ‘Microsoft Teams’.  I also feel I know what to do when a lockdown is announced.  I’m disappointed – but who isn’t?  Nobody wants to be here and everybody wants things to get back to something like normal.  Which they will. But I marvel at the ability of people to adapt, to look out for each other and to do what needs to be done. If the horror-show that is the last twelve months has taught us something, it’s that we can do anything when push comes to pandemic shove.  Soon, lockdown will be a thing of the past and I can finally burn my Tuckerbag mask.  The day can’t come soon enough.

A Hardware’s Day’s Night

In the past fortnight, I’ve been to the local hardware store four times.  As someone for whom such a trip is, at best, an annual excursion, this is quite the turn of events. But despite the vastly increased frequency of my visits, I remain none the wiser.  The whole experience is as mystical and as unfathomably mysterious as ever.  I appreciate that terms like ‘mystical’ and ‘mysterious’ are seldom used in reference to a store that sells lug-nuts but there is a simple reason for this: I am not a handy man.

By ‘handy man’, I don’t mean someone with a Mario-style tool belt who’s available to perform odd jobs around the house or, alternatively, leap over barrels maliciously hurled across a building site by a gigantic monkey.  Not at all.  Rather, I mean I missed out on whatever genetic makeup is necessary to be able to distinguish between a left-handed hammer and a right-handed hammer.  If I’m being honest, they all look the same to me.

For me, going to a hardware store is like going to another country; one where everyone else speaks a language I don’t.  I live in fear that, at any moment, someone will say something to me I won’t comprehend and I’ll be left to simply shrug my shoulders, grunt in reply and point. At best, I feel like an imposter even for being there, which is why I tried to dress the part for my first visit and purchased a checkered shirt, gumboots and chewing tobacco in the hope that I’d fit in seamlessly.  I also bought a pair of denim overalls to add, so I hoped, to the overall effect.  (Incidentally, I may well start a band called ‘The Overall Effect’ where all the members wear denim overalls.  I might even write a song called ‘Overall’ to the tune of ‘Wonderwall’.  I’ll keep you posted.)   

Turns out, people who frequent hardware stores do not chew tobacco.  Instead of making me fit in, it made me stick out like a sore thumb that, presumably, had found itself on the business end of a left-handed hammer.  Spurting tobacco juice through the gaps in your front teeth like some kind of hillbilly whale is frowned upon if not outright prohibited by the proprietors.  Indeed, it was after one such nicotine-laden liquid expulsion that I was encouraged to buy a mop.

Before making my second trip, I decided to do a little research.  By looking at websites, I discovered that people who visit hardware stores are, without exception, delighted to be there, as nothing else could account for the wall-to-wall smiles on the faces of those present.  Also, I learned that when members of the generally public interact with staff members, one of them is always holding something whilst the other is always pointing.  But as I continued my research into the products themselves, I was left more confused than ever.

Even objects that I consider to be relatively basic come in a near-infinite number of varieties.  Much as in nature, you can refer to a ‘bird’ or, if you prefer to be super-precise, a ‘Slender-billed Flufftail Gruiforme’, so it goes with almost everything at a hardware store.  I’ve no idea what a ‘Fernuggin Nut’ is, much less the heightened circumstances that might necessitate it being pressed into service.  How a ‘Shaka-shaka Wing Wang Doodle Cordless Drill Bit’ is used is, I feel, best left unanswered.  The less said about the ‘Lolly Gobble Bliss Bomb Two-inch Adapter’, the better.

There were some objects I recognized, even though they appeared in a different context.  I, for one, was unaware that a ‘Dutch-oven’ was something you could purchase for the very reasonable price of one hundred and seven dollars and fifty cents.  Who’d have thought? I feel misled.

On my third trip, I took my brother.  In the genetic lottery, my brother scooped the pool when it came to being handy.  If you were to give me a set of instructions and ask me to construct an infant’s cradle, I’d fail on every level.  There’d be nothing to show for my efforts other than a pile of splintered wood and smoldering wreckage.  My brother, on the other hand, built his own crib as a newborn using a cordless power drill.  He also added a small gazebo and a feature wall.  Show off.

If hardware stores were a principality, my brother would be King.  As it is, he walked into that place like he owned it and other patrons doffed their hats and referred to him as ‘your Majesty’. With confidence and great certainty, he navigated through the aisles like someone who knew exactly how and when to use a Fernuggin Nut.  Within minutes, he had retrieved me from the small base camp I had established over near the outdoor furniture settings and we were on our way. 

The fourth trip was showing off on my part.  Having received a royal pardon from my brother, I returned to get a Shaka-shaka Wing Wang Doodle Cordless Drill Bit before surrendering my inhibitions completely and splurging on a Dutch Oven.  As I write, I am surrounded by a sea of instructions and bits and pieces of everything and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that I’ll never figure out how to put them all together, despite my left-handed hammer.  After all, I am not a handy man.

For Better or Worse, Music is the roadmap to your soul

I have a lot of CDs.  For those who don’t remember, CDs (or ‘compact discs’) were how you purchased music back when people still bought music rather than rented it.  Hard to imagine now, I know.  I used to buy CDs weekly.  Each Saturday, I’d take a trip to the store and make what I hoped would be wise and judicious selections.  I’d fossick around for hours before marching up to the counter. As I did, I’d always be looking for some flash of recognition from the person tallying my purchases – a small facial inflection that said ‘this person really knows their stuff.’  I don’t know why approval is so important when it comes to music, it just is.

My purchases were a mix of the well-researched and pure, gut instinct.  It might have been an article I’d read about the band or a review in a music magazine that piqued my musical interest.  Or the cover.  More often than not, I wouldn’t have heard the songs before buying them.  It was a leap of faith into the musical unknown.  An act of curiosity designed to expand my horizons.  Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t.  There are definitely some CDs that were played once in the car on the way back from shopping and were never played again. 

The role of CDs in my life has changed.  I used to have a box of CDs that I carried around in the car, swapping out the contents based on my taste at the time.  I did this to ensure that I had access to high quality music whenever I was driving.  Traffic lights were opportunities to change discs.  During this time, I mastered the art of being able to swap CDs without looking.  In my house, every flat surface was occupied by a small pile of CDs, waiting patiently to be played.  No more.

I was in high school when compact discs first appeared. It was in a music class and the teacher spoke of CDs as if they were an invention that would rival penicillin in terms of sheer usefulness to human kind.  I couldn’t tell you the name of the piece, but it was classical music rather than pop.  The teacher put it in and pressed play before a look of pure serenity came over his face.  This, he claimed, was nothing short of a miracle.  The difference, it was said, was quality.

I was a tape person at the time.  Most kids were.  I owned very few records and generally avoided them.  The record player was located in the living room. This meant that music played on the record player would be music the whole house would have to listen to. There are seven people in my immediate family – the chances of consensus on anything, much less music, were slim to none.  My father owned records by the Randy Van Horne Singers and of the Beatles once predicted that ‘people would never tolerate that kind of rubbish’; he wasn’t going to think much of the things I wanted to play.  In Venn diagram terms, there was nothing to work with.

Music is personal.  Which is why tape decks were so vitally important.  I had a tape deck in my room and there I could listen to anything I wanted.  I could also tape songs I liked off the radio.  This was an art in itself.  You had to have the tape cued up and leap upon the ‘record’ button within the first two seconds of your song coming on.  Sometimes the disc jockey would ruin it by talking over the intro.  (Surely they knew they were ruining the home taping efforts of teenagers everywhere when they did this.  Maybe that was the point.)

I was proud of my efforts.  Every mix tape was a work of art and the latest tape was always the best one I’d ever made.  I don’t know what became of those cassettes.  I’m not sure I even own a tape deck now.  It goes to show how far the cassette has fallen – from indispensible to relic within a couple of decades.  

As I packed my CDs into boxes this week, I was confronted by every choice I’d ever made on those Saturday mornings.  Some I was proud of.  Some were mystifying.  More than just my musical taste at a particular point in time, these CDs were tangible evidence of the person I was trying to be.  They were like musical fingerprints.  

A box set of Maria Callas because I wanted to understand opera (not sure I succeeded, still trying though).  A copy of ‘What’s Going On’ by Marvin Gaye because it was reputed to be one of the greatest albums of all time (which it is).   Dave Pike’s ‘Jazz for the Jet Set’ because the cover had a lady with a fishbowl on her head.  (Which, apparently, was enough to prompt me to buy it.) What owning a copy of Aaron Carter’s debut album says about me is not worth thinking about.  Yikes.

Being reminded of all those decisions is kind of melancholy.  But the strangest thing about packing up my CDs is wondering whether I’ll ever see them again.  There was a time in my life when they were organized on shelves in alphabetical order and in categories.  Now they’re housed in cardboard.  It’s quite the fall from grace.  Packing them away is an oddly melancholy experience. But they served me well. Doubtless they’ll be packed away for some time yet.  Maybe they can hang out with my cassettes and exchange musical war stories. I get the feeling that my CDs and cassettes would have a lot in common.  Rock on.