Notes from the Bunker: Living La Vida Lockdown

There ought to be a term for it.  For lack of an alternative, I’m going with ‘Pfizerized’.  As of last week, that’s what I am.  Not only did getting vaccinated give me some peace of mind, it also provided me with a legitimate reason for traveling further than five kilometres.  I was so excited to be going anywhere that I hung my head out the window, kelpie-style, to enjoy to full sensory experience of motion.  For I am not enjoying lockdown.  Not at all.

On Monday, I started to look forward to bin night.  Which is on Wednesday.  As a general rule, I consider bin night a chore; something that must not be forgotten rather than something for which I am breathlessly counting down the hours. After a week of lockdown, the idea of having a legitimate reason to walk down to the end of the driveway and back again was a giddy thrill I hoped would sustain me.

Tuesday, in a word, was a surprise.  As I made my morning commute – which now consists for walking from the kitchen to the study whilst trying not to spill my coffee – I felt I was being watching.  As my head snapped upwards and I duly spilled my white with one all over the floorboards, I noticed a fox standing at my backdoor, staring in.  For a moment, each of us looked at the other, unsure of what to do.

There are foxes around the neighborhood, but this is the first time I’ve been stalked by one.  Clearly, lockdown has emboldened the animal kingdom more generally.  Sensing weakness, some of them have decided that now is the time to assert themselves and launch their take over.  The fox seemed nonplussed and sauntered around the backyard before disappearing behind the shed.  Possibly to get more foxes by way of reinforcement.

Finally, the big day arrived. To make the most of it, I put on my dinner suit and casually strutted down the driveway with both the regular bin and recycling bin.  I live in an area where the local council gives you a regular sized recycling bin, but a smaller regular bin that is somewhere between an adult sized wheelie bin and a Coles mini-collectible.  It fits enough garbage; it’s just that to wheel it around, you’d ideally be no taller than four feet.  Mind you, I’ve never met anyone from my local council who, for all I know, may all be Oompa Loompas.

Despite the awkwardness of carrying my regular bin whilst rolling the recycling bin down the driveway, I found that my neighbors had put their bins out already.  Meaning that I had completely squandered my only chance for meaningful human contact for the entire week.  I resolved to message my neighbors and synchronize our watches so that, in future, we could make the most of one of the few sanctioned reasons for being outside.

Thursday was the big one. That’s the day I’d allowed for take away food.  Forget Uber Eats. I wanted the full experience of walking somewhere to pick up a meal.  Masking up, I put a bag under my arm and began purposefully striding towards the main street; passing as I did, my empty bins which I hadn’t taken in because I was saving that for a special occasion.  I was on a mission.

I’m a big believer in the whole ‘QR Code’ thing.  So much so, that I’ve installed them at the entry points to every room in my house, despite the fact that I live alone.  Even an early morning trip to visit the water closet isn’t complete if I don’t scan in.  You can’t be too careful.  As I continued walking to the main drag, I clutched the phone in my pocket, ready to whip it out and do my duty.  As I approached the entrance, I pulled out my phone to find a message that said it was ‘disabled’ except if it was an emergency.

This was unexpected.  A phone is currently the passport to pretty much everything and I had no idea which buttons I’d inadvertently pushed to achieve this result.  It was unclear how long this telephonic paralysis was going to last.  I was also unsure whether picking up a kebab would constitute an emergency as such, although I was kind of peckish. 

Luckily, the phone unlocked itself and I was able to scan in and get dinner.  Although, that said, there was a brief moment of awkwardness when I’m sure the person serving me said it would be ‘forty dollars’ which, unless you’re at an airport (and, let’s face it, none of us are), is quite a lot for a kebab. It then became apparent that between the mask and Perspex screen, I’d simply misheard him.

As of Friday, the fox is yet to return.  It’s another five days until bin night and there’s not a whole lot to look forward to.  I’ve taken to wearing my dinner suit all day, every day.  I can’t be sure, but I think it’s making other people in Zoom meetings feel uncomfortable.  For now, though, I’m taking some assurance in being fully vaccinated and in knowing that others are keen to get theirs also. It will all be over soon. Or, at least, I hope so.  We need to get out of this thing before the foxes get a chance to mobilize and take over once and for all.

Lockdown Five: The Assignment Miami Beach Parallel

Lockdown number five.  As sequels go, we’re definitely heading towards the shallow end of the pool. Nothing good ever came of installment number five.  Looking at this purely from a ‘Police Academy’ point of view, that puts us in ‘Assignment Miami Beach’ territory.  I could bore you with plot details, if there were any, but it’s enough to say that this particular sequel didn’t even include Steve Guttenberg; whose absence rendered it something worse than pointless.  

There’s a law of diminishing returns.  It’s a law even more powerful than the one that requires you to wear a mask whilst at the supermarket so your glasses are continually fogging up as you attempt to read your shopping list.  I, however, am determined to make this lockdown count.  Forget learning a new language or acquiring a new skill. I refuse to squander this lockdown by adopting an on-line fitness program – a pointless exercise that involved actual pointless exercise.  No way.  This time, I’m surrendering to binge watching.

When I was a kid, ‘binge watching’ referred to what you ate when watching television rather than the act of watching television itself.  Eating Milo straight from the tin whilst watching ‘The Fall Guy’ was as close as I ever came.  But in this era of content on demand, ‘binge watching’ means something else entirely, even if it is still best done with a tin of Milo and a spoon to hand. I’ve got my work cut out for me.

I’m not sure how, but I’d never seen ‘The Sopranos’.  It’s meant to be one of the greatest shows of all time and whilst as someone who used to regularly watch ‘It’s A Knockout’ I treat such claims with skepticism, it’s time I filled that particular pop culture knowledge gap. But I plan to mix things up. Rather than solely indulging in something new, I plan to engage in nostalgia also.  Which is why I’ve dusted off my DVD collection of ‘A Country Practice’; all fourteen seasons spanning some two hundred and two separate discs.  That ought to fill a five-day lockdown nicely.

‘What?!’ I hear you cry. ‘You’re not using lockdown for a Police Academy marathon?’  Put simply, no I’m not.  That’s because I saw ‘Police Academy Five: Assignment Miami Beach’ at the cinema.  Every smutty joke, ribald innuendo and moment of acting so hammy that if you slapped two pieces of bread around it, you could call it a sandwich, was projected onto a forty-foot screen.  That was nearly thirty-five years ago and all I can say is that I’m yet to fully recover.

Lining up a bunch of DVDs to watch feels like I’m stepping back in time.  Nowadays the idea of getting up to change one disc for another seems like an incredible burden.  But for all the convenience that streaming offers, you never get buffering when you’re watching something on DVD.  There’s something to be said for that kind of reliability. Specifically, ‘phew’.

A couple of days into lockdown and I’m finding ‘The Sopranos’ kind of tense.  To balance that out, I’m swapping between Tony and the gang and the lovable characters from Wandin Valley.  Esme Watson is the ying to Paulie ‘Walnuts’ Gualtieri’s yang. I don’t want to put it too highly, but watching two entirely different series simultaneously feels like it may be an act of genius.

I need to disclose something at this point – I’m terrible at watching television.  Don’t get me wrong; I like movies and TV shows. It’s just that I struggle to stay awake.  For me, watching a film involves me viewing (and enjoying) the first forty-five minutes before waking up as the credits roll.  Invariably, various plot points have developed whilst I’ve had my eyes closed and I’m confused.  After all, it’s not as though I’m re-watching ‘Police Academy Five: Assignment Miami Beach’ for which being unconscious is probably highly desirable, with the added bonus that you won’t miss important plot developments because there aren’t any.

 I’ve been enjoying both ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘A Country Practice’. However, as is my way, I’ve nodded off a few times mid-episode.  At times I’ve been kind of befuddled.  So much so, that I’ve started to blur the lines somewhat and treat them not as two separate shows but a single series.  Dr Terrence Elliott sitting down with Big Puss at the Bada Bing.  The bit where Fatso the Wombat is promoted to ‘captain’ before becoming a rat (being a furry quadruped probably made the transition an easy one.)  And I’m still reeling from the episode where Bob and Cookie get clipped for heisting a truck full of plumbers’ overalls on the outskirts of Wandin Valley.  

However long this lockdown lasts, at least I’ll have made the most of it.  As overwhelming as being separated from friends and family is, I’m mindful it’s all for a bigger purpose.  Besides, things could be worse – you could be stuck inside watching Police Academy Five on a continuous loop.  Soon enough, we’ll be able to celebrate.  Or as Tony Soprano once so memorably said to Sergeant Frank Gilroy as they enjoyed a counter meal down at the Wandin Valley public bar; ‘It’s almost time for turkey sandwiches!’  So true.

When Terrence Met Grandpa: The Ultimate Puppet Slap Down

 History is filled with them.  Meetings between two disparate people; brought about by fate or design, all for the greater good of humanity.  The premise seems simple: awesome plus awesome will inevitably equal even more awesome than was previously thought possible.  Scientists refer to this as Einstein’s Theory of Relative Awesomeness. The examples are obvious.  

Dolly and Kenny were so wonderful when brought together that all either needed was a mononym; surnames being surplus to requirements. Garry Kasparov and Bobby Fischer were, ironically enough, best known by their surnames.  Maybe that’s the difference between music and chess. Godzilla and King Kong – need I say more?  All of them perfectly terrific in their own right, but driven to even greater heights of brilliance when brought together.  Sparks will fly.  Rainbows will appear.  All is well in the world.  I suppose this is what I had in mind when I introduced Grandpa to Terrence.

Terrence is a puppet.  That’s not an insult; just a statement of fact.  Terrence is a puppet made by my nine year old nephew, TJ.  Put simply, Terrence is a thing of splendour; furry, blue and perfectly formed.  He is magnificent.  He does, however, have something of an attitude and can, at times, get a little lippy.  Which is quite an achievement when you consider that he doesn’t have any actual lips to speak of or, for that matter, with.

Lately, Terrence has been appearing at family functions. These are now keenly anticipated. Terrence’s shtick is to invite questions from the audience which, when you’re surrounded by members of your family is brave beyond belief.  (It may only work if you’re holding a puppet – I don’t plan to find out.) Both the questions and the answers are entirely improvised.  It’s genuinely thrilling.  It should come as no surprise that TJ handles things wonderfully well. He is, after all, a second generation puppeteer.

As charmed as Terrence’s life has been, Grandpa’s has been cursed.  Instead of being coaxed into life with care, precision and an eye for detail, his creation was marred completely by my cack-handed, miserable attempts to sew.  It’s difficult to put into words just how shoddy my workmanship was.  Which is why this article also comes with a picture.  And just as it can be said that a picture says a thousand words; in this case, each of those words features ‘house’ as the second syllable. 

I’m not sure why my efforts were as desultory as they were.  For those too busy to absorb the full horror of the photo, try imagining what the Mona Lisa might look like if Leonardo da Vinci had been blindfolded, spun around a dozen times before being handed a brush and told to get painting.  The results would be vastly different to those currently on display at The Louvre.  I’m not saying I was blindfolded, nor am I comparing myself to da Vinci. Rather, much like Leonardo himself, I’m just trying to paint a picture.

Unlike Terrence’s energetic performances, Grandpa’s appearances were marred by severe lethargy, fueled by my apparent inability to hold my arm above my head for more than a couple of minutes at a time.  They were never going to meet as equals. But despite the obvious problems, my father returned my puppet to me after thirty years for the purpose of me gifting it to my nephew.

Bringing two people – even if they’re generally great – doesn’t always work out.  Consider the duet ‘When Something Is Wrong With My Baby’ by John Farnham and Jimmy Barnes where two brilliant singers take a Sam and Dave classic and commit an act of musical butchery so heinous that, to this day, the opening bar causes vegans to shudder.  So it was when Terrence met Grandpa.

As I pulled what remained of my puppet from the coffin-like box my father had placed him in, my nephew appeared more alarmed than impressed.  My brother insisted that we take a photo of the two puppets together.  We sat on the couch and I slipped my hand into the puppet to hold it upright.  As I reached for the mouth, I could feel that the foam had disintegrated into a fine powder and it began running down my arm.  As I described how unpleasant a sensation this was, my brother comforted me by suggesting it was probably the result of spiders nesting in the head. It was agreed that I would hold the puppet by the back of the neck.

After the photo was taken, my father turned to my nephew and asked whether he wanted to keep my ‘Grandpa’ puppet.  My nephew, with a slight look of fear on his face, gently shook his head.  I returned Grandpa to his box and the box to the boot of my father’s car when his back was turned.  Looking at the picture, I can see that my nephew is unsure of what to make of this monstrosity.  I wonder if the whole unfortunate episode will get a mention next time Terrence entertains the family.  Perhaps not.  It’s for the best.