I was never much of a star when it came to mathematics. I wasn’t hopeless, by any stretch of the imagination, but numbers didn’t come as easily to me as they seemed to for others. I now wish I’d paid more attention. I’m sure there was a lesson on Venn diagrams, but chances are I was too busy staring out the window at the paddock next door to the school. So far as I was concerned, I didn’t need fancy drawings to demonstrate relationships in probability. I saw things simply then. Either they were a ‘sure thing’ or, alternatively, ‘pigs might fly’.
With lockdowns, bubbles and travel restrictions, there has never been a better time to master the Venn diagram. Moving to a fifteen-kilometre radius has begun to open up new possibilities for seeing the people that you love. Weirdly, it means you end up meeting somewhere that’s entirely unfamiliar to you and the person you’re meeting. The only thing taking you to that particular spot is that it so happens to falls within your area of overlap. So it is that millions of people are picnicking in unfamiliar parks just so that can see each other after months of separation. Worse still, picnicking in areas that are not fit for purpose, solely on the basis of overlap.
Today, I’ll be picnicking in Patterson Lakes. It’s an area with which I am almost entirely unfamiliar. I assume there are lakes there, but I could be wrong; to the best of my knowledge, there are no ‘springs’ in ‘Caroline Springs’ and nothing at all resembling ‘deer’ in ‘Deer Park’. (To be fair, perhaps the ‘springs’ are not a reference to an aquatic feature but a general air of optimism. Like ‘Caroline Springs Eternal’.)
But Patterson Lakes just so happens to be half way between me and my brother and his family, and there’s a small sliver of land we can both stand on together for a short period of time. Mind you, we’ll need to keep our balance – if either of us falls over, we may well tumble beyond our fifteen kilometre limit.
Every time the rules change, I draw a new set of Venn diagrams. Because I’m close to the beach, a lot of my radius goes to waste. Unless, of course, I want to use my freedom to row out into the middle of Port Phillip Bay. It must be said that rowing out into a huge body of water is an ideal way to spend time on your own. It must also be said that, in lockdown, spending time on your own is in ample supply and getting more of it is not currently high on my list of priorities. Usefully, fifteen kilometers takes me just off the coast of Williamstown, where I’d very much like to be. All I need to do is build a boat using whatever I can find lying around the house and order a megaphone online and I’ll be ready to row on over.
Residents taking their morning walk will pause as they spot a small vessel made from cardboard floating off the shoreline. I’ll have sought to draw attention to myself with flares, but not having a flare gun available to me, I’ll have worn a pair of denim flares which, although eye catching in one sense, are less effective than flares that are shot up into the sky when it comes to getting attention. That said, there are few people who wouldn’t stop whatever they’re doing to gaze with slack-jawed wonder at the sight of denim flares flying across the sky and on into orbit. But, sadly, neither pigs nor flares can fly.
For years I’ve had a picnic blanket in the back of my car. Why that was, I can’t say – it’s not as though I’m prone to conducting emergency picnics. That said, that blanket’s had more use in the last two weeks than it ever has. The fact of carrying the picnic blanket under your arm is a signal to all that you are engaged in a legitimate activity and are acting within the rules. Sitting on a picnic blanket is like being in an embassy, where there’s the chance of removing your mask for a moment to eat. And a chance to see someone’s face, if just for a fleeting instant whilst they’re feeding it.
But Venn diagrams don’t always tell the whole story. There are things we can do that reach across those boundaries and make distance vanish, if only for a moment. Last week, I received a pig. It didn’t fly to me; rather, it arrived by post. It was, in actual fact, a drawing of a pig on a homemade card sent to me by my nephew, Tyler. Underneath the drawing were the words, ‘I miss you pig time’. It arrived at exactly the right moment, in that it turned up exactly when I needed it most.
The card is now on my fridge. I’ve even kept the envelope because it means that much to me. If I had a boat, I’d probably row down to Patterson Lakes this afternoon using my picnic blanket for a mainsail, thus getting exercise whilst seeing my brother and his family.
For all the restrictions and hardship, I am in awe of the ability of people to overcome it. Whether they do so by way of a surprise box of groceries or a hand-made card, it all makes a profound difference. Even with my limited mathematical skills, I know that one plus one may equal two, but some things add up to a whole lot more.