A Question Mark Hanging Over All Of Us

Let me say at the outset, I’m not a fan.  Questions don’t belong on billboards, not ever.  As hapless commuters whiz past, they’re confronted with a demand for an answer but without any opportunity to supply it. Such is the nature of traffic. There’s barely enough time to absorb the question, much less cogitate and produce an answer of any value. It’s simply unfair on everyone. But this billboard was especially heinous.  

It was bright yellow with big black text ALL IN UPPER CASE WHICH IS VERY, VERY ANNOYING.  The billboard seemed to be questioning the need for lockdowns or vaccinations or both in combination when it’s still possible to contract and pass on Covid.  Or something like that.  There may have been a gratuitous aside about winged monkeys or a complaint that cereal boxes rarely come with free toys anymore, I can’t really remember – it all happened so quickly.  And whilst there’s a very simple answer to the billboard’s Covid question (‘Because science’ springs to mind), the banal nature of the enquiry was only one of its problems.

There was way too much text on the billboard.  It was as though someone had vomited random words that had then been put on display as a warning to others against the dangers of drinking seawater. Or similar.  There were words all over the place. The first chapter of ‘Lolita’ has fewer words than this obnoxious billboard.  It was the advertising equivalent of using a loudhailer to scream at the moon whilst pushing a shopping trolley. It read like something you’d expect someone to mutter under their breath as they wrap themselves in a space blanket shortly before smearing their body with peanut butter as a protection against the wrath of the sun god.

But that wasn’t the worst of it.  For all that text and all that UPPER CASE screaming, the question lacked one, fundamental thing. A question mark.  It’s one thing to deny Covid.  It’s another thing completely to deny the need for punctuation.  Somewhat ironically it begs the question; what kind of deranged non-punctuating pervert leaves a question mark off the end of a question?  (See what I did there?  I put a question mark at the end of my question.  Granted, the author of that pitiful billboard would consider that showing off, but there are standards to uphold.)

Brace yourself – here’s where it gets super dodgy.  This catastrophic upper case, punctuation-denying piece of anti-science word vomit bore the name of a political party.  The name of that political party featured the words ‘United’ and ‘Australia’ right next together without even a hint of irony.  How odd it is that such a divisive statement should come from someone who declares themselves interested in unity. Clearly, abandoning question marks is the least of their problems.  Any organization who misapprehends the meaning of the term ‘united’ is going to struggle with even the most basic medical advice, starting from ‘don’t stick a knife in an electrical socket’ right through to ‘don’t inject yourself with bleach to ward off coronavirus’.

We’ve come so far and given up so much to get here.  Billboards like this from people who struggle with basic sentence structure are more a form of heckling than anything else.  Indeed, the billboard could just as easily have featured a hand with a single raised finger and communicated much the same sentiment with the added bonus of not having offended the laws of grammar.

It must be said that there are quite a few interstate politicians who seem to be making these kinds of noises. Mostly, they come from parts of the country that have been relatively unscathed by the pandemic.  They’ve given up little, when compared to everyone here.  My only hope is that they don’t start turning up here in an ill-fated attempt to capitalize on people’s frustrations.  On the plus side, though, they won’t need to catch a plane to get here; having clearly decided to do all their travelling by bandwagon from this point on.

I was talking to a friend of mine who’d received multiple text messages from a particular politician spouting sentiments that they, no doubt, believe are billboard worthy.  She found it distressing and I think it’s understandable.  There’s something awful about being told by someone that everything you’ve endured or sacrificed over the past two years was for nothing.  To have someone attack that sense of consensus is upsetting.  I honestly believe they don’t know how much harm they’re doing. 

I have a question of my own. Should people who defy the laws of grammar be permitted to run for high office?  The answer, of course, is ‘no’ but that’s unlikely to deter them from doing so.  Enough’s enough.  I’m going to get myself a big old bucket of paint and put that question mark at the end of the billboard myself.  And, while I’m there, delete the word ‘United’ – which I’m beginning to think may be a simple spelling error – and replace it with ‘Untied’.  That would make more sense.  If those responsible for the billboard are reading this – assuming you can, in fact, read; consider replacing the billboard with a mirror and take a long, hard look at yourselves.  Just saying.

When Your Grocery Trolley Is A Handcart to Hell

You’d think I’d have gotten the gist by now.  After months of practice, I’m still no better at it. I’ve studied them, poked and prodded them, sent samples down to the lab, soaked them, baked them and even set fire to them (albeit by accident – don’t leave anything next to the hotplate!). But despite my extensive and, some would say, creative research, I still have not mastered the whole face-mask caper.  

I know what you’re thinking – if a tree falls in a forest, does anybody hear?  And, quite possibly, why did they ever mess with the formula for Barbecue Shapes?  (It was destined to end badly for all concerned.)  But you’re also thinking – what kind of fool struggles to wear a face mask?  All you need to do is loop the elastic over your ears, ensure the mask is facing forwards rather than backwards, and away you go.  That’s where you’re wrong.

I wear glasses.  In fact, I’ve worn glasses since I was a teenager.  And it’s been fine, up until now.  But what the last miserable eighteen months has taught me is that wearing a mask and glasses simultaneously is pretty much impossible.  I can get by without them if I’m just walking around, but I am totally incapable of reading anything.  At all.  

When you’re wearing a mask, glasses fog up.  They just do.  Instead of lenses through which you can see, they become entirely frosted over in an instant. This has proved especially impractical when shopping.  Once, I’d prepare an inventory (something I refer to as a ‘shopping list’), travel to the supermarket and purchase the things I’d already decided on.  It sounds simple, but it worked for me.  Having glasses that fog up because I’m wearing a mask makes this somewhat simple act a whole lot more complicated.

I’ve now officially given up. By which I mean I’m now no longer wearing my glasses to the supermarket.  This has resulted in a number of challenges.  Firstly, there’s the issue of the list itself. Whereas once, I wrote my shopping list on a small piece of paper that I kept in my pocket.  I’ve now had to go with something bigger so I can increase the size of my writing.  For this reason, I’m using a bed sheet.  

Because I’m now using a bed sheet on which to write my shopping list, the first thing I need to write each week is ‘bed sheet’.  Permanent marker is nothing if not unambiguous in terms of what it does, and I need a new sheet each week to replace the last.  But despite the fact that my list is now written in letters that are the size of a three year old child, I still have trouble reading the list without my glasses.  Which is disappointing, given that if left on an oval it could probably be read from space.  This means that shopping has become an essentially random act.

My list begins with the basics – rice, bananas, yoghurt and milk.  However, last week I returned from the supermarket with shoe polish, string, a litre of prune juice and pigs’ trotters.  Back home and with mask off and glasses on, I shuddered as an image of the calamitous sandwich that results from such a cavalcade of ingredients took my mind hostage.  It got my entire week off on the wrong (pigs’) foot.

This is so much worse than simply not being able to distinguish between full and low fat.  I am getting the wrong products entirely.  The first hint of this comes when I reach the checkout and the eyebrows of the person working there begin to rise. As a result, I started avoiding the human checkouts in favour of the ‘self serve’ version.  Even there, the checkout lit up like a poker machine as I tried to scan what turned out to be a bucket of tripe.  Somewhat ironically, I’m making a complete spectacle of myself because I don’t have my glasses.

I’ll admit I’m feeling listless.  By which I mean I’ve now given up using a list at all and am simply using either my intuition or, if you prefer, ‘the Force’.  Clearly my intuition leaves a lot to be desired and I’m beginning to regret dropping out of my Certificate III Jedi Training course.  Today, I returned only with tea.  I swear I bought things at multiple locations within the store, but have returned only with enough tea to see me through the rest of my life.  Granted, there are some variations as to the type of tea, which is nice, but it won’t make for much of a sandwich.

There will be some reading this, screaming at their newspapers as to why I don’t order on line whilst I still have my glasses and let the food come to me.  It’s a fair point, but I’m reluctant to give up a legitimate reason to leave the house at this time.  Instead, I’ll need to embrace the randomness of it all and make the best of things.  It’s what we’re all doing, really.  

I’ve been working all day in the kitchen trying to whip up something tasty, but I’m going to need a much larger whip if I’m to succeed.  Using tripe, stock, potatoes, string and a pomegranate, I’ve been boiling the whole thing up for the last twelve hours and the time has finally arrived where I can no longer avoid tasting it.  I raise the spoon to my lips.  The results were, predictably, offal.  Glasses or not, I should have seen that one coming.

From Pandemic To Pan-Pipes: Haven’t We Suffered Enough?

I didn’t need to be asked twice.  As soon as it was announced that I was eligible to receive a vaccination, I was on to the hotline to make a booking.  As was every other member of Generation X, it seemed, resulting in a complete annihilation of the phone system.  Often, people complain about how long they were on hold – for the first three days of trying, I couldn’t get to ‘hold’.  Instead, I was unceremoniously dumped, with the encouragement to try again at a later time.  Then, on day three, everything changed. 

On day three, I made it to ‘hold’.  Which, I feel, is the telephonic equivalent to reaching the base camp of Mount Everest. There’s still plenty of climbing to be done, but at least you’re somewhere.  Having overcome the seemingly impossible hurdle of ‘getting to hold’, I now had to face the next challenge to my sanity – hold music.

What better way to soothe the jangled nerves of a frazzled public than with hold music?  And, given most of  the callers were Gen-Xers who came of age in the grunge era, what better way to relax them than with pan pipes? On a loop that plays over and over again, possibly for hours.  

This was thoughtless.  The least they could have done was to supply pan-pipe versions of classic grunge era songs.  Had the pan-pipes been performing a version of ‘Rooster’ by Alice in Chains, it would have been okay.  Instead, it was all weirdly mystical and filled me with an overwhelming urge to climb Hanging Rock.  Apparently, the ‘pan’ in ‘pandemic’ is actually short for ‘pan-pipe’. Who knew?

After forty minutes, I was sucked out of the third circle of hold without warning and delivered to an operator whom immediately asked me for my name.  Still reeling from the after-effects of forty minutes of pan-pipe music, I instinctively answered ‘Miranda’ before correcting myself.   After a minute or so of niceties, the operator asked me where I wanted to be vaccinated.  In a panic, I answered, ‘the arm, if possible’. All the images on TV had been of dignitaries presenting their biceps for vaccination, but maybe this was just for show and that, in actual fact, the needle went somewhere far less photogenic.  This put ‘vaccine hesitancy’ in a whole new light.

Turns out the ‘where’ was geographic rather than anatomical.  I had a choice of Prahran, Springvale or Cranbourne.  I was booked to appear at the Cranbourne Golf Course. I was surprised by the venue. I was also a little concerned – I hadn’t played golf in over twenty years always had an awful short game. I instantly imagined arriving only to be informed that there were only a few remaining doses left, the recipients of which would be determined by way of a playoff.  I wouldn’t stand a chance.  I confirmed the venue, but forgot to ask which hole.

I now had about eight days on which to work on my putting.  However, having been informed that  I would need to go to the golf course, I began to have doubts as to whether this was, in fact, correct.  My sister had been vaccinated in Cranbourne, but had gone to the local Turf Club, rather than the Golf Club.  Golf and racing are completely different sports; there really ought not be any confusion.

To be sure, I rang the hotline again.  This time, I sat on hold listening to what I was certain was a pan-pipe rendition of ‘Spoonman’ originally performed by Soundgarden, courtesy of the Pakenham Pan-Pipe Ensemble.  As the pan-pipes weaved their particular magic, I was suddenly wrenched from ‘on hold’ and delivered, shaken and a little disoriented, to a waiting operator.  I was told that the call may be monitored for coaching and quality purposes.  It seemed ironic that people who use pan-pipes for hold music should be concerned with quality.  

I quickly confirmed that I had a booking and that I’d been given the wrong venue in the first instance.  Throwing my five iron to the floor in disappointment, I was informed that I should, indeed, be heading to the Turf Club.  I decided to dress like a jockey in order to blend in. I’ve never really been to a turf club before, and I’d hate to stick out.  Granted, it’s rare for a jockey to be over six feet tall, but you’ve got to make an effort.

Arriving at the car park, there were dozens and dozens of people my age locking their cars, donning their masks and heading for the entrance.  Those without a mask were drinking coffee.  It says a lot about Melbourne’s love affair with coffee that drinking a flat white is a recognised exception to a public health order. 

As I approached the entrance, it occurred to me that this was the pandemic’s version of the Big Day Out.  Doubtless, the Pakenham Pan-Pipe Ensemble would be headlining the Main Stage, tearing the roof of with their version of ‘Enter Sandman’.  The whole thing ran like clockwork. I’d say it was like a well-oiled machine, but I’m yet to encounter a piece of machinery as awesome as the vaccination centre at Cranbourne.  The staff were, frankly, impeccable. I’m supposed to rest but, for some reason, I feel an uncontrollable urge to listen to pan-pipes.  Getting vaccinated felt like a tangible step out of the pandemic.  I can’t wait for the next one.