Remote work from the gay pub

Friday lunch at the Wickham, Brisbane’s local gay pub, is one of my favourite new traditions.

I’ve been intending to go on Fridays because it’s a great spot, there’s plenty of places to work, and it helps keep the lights on at a place that’s important to me. This is where I’ve met a lot of my friends, done a lot of growing as a person, and really it’s a nice spot to be.

It’s been wet, and I’ve had other commitments so I’ve only been twice in the past month but each time it’s been great.

Last night my friend R arrived after work and we stuck around for a few drinks which turned into a bottle of wine back at my place, where he stayed on the couch for the night (he lives on an island, it’s a trek).

For a person who “doesn’t drink” I have a low grade hangover this morning. Coffee is brewing now.

This is part of how I’ve been getting a bit more experimental with how I’m approaching remote work in a pandemic world. There’s a bunch of picnic shelters down by the river that I’ve been working at from time to time, and the local coffee shop has pretty good outdoor seating. Depending on my meeting load it’s not always possible to do, but I think it’s important to get out and be a part of the world.

“I’m quitting the internet,” or a social media strategy for a better you

I’ve been avoiding the news. Not that I’m trying to be less informed, but my multiple times a day habit of checking for updates wasn’t doing my head any favours. There’s just not that much information I need to know.

For the past few months I’ve been coming round on the idea that Twitter is having the same effect on me.

A grungey black & white Twitter bird over the text repeatedly asking 'what's happening'

Back in the early days of the pandemic a mutual snapped at me for posting a terrified prediction of what’s to come. Yes, the cascade of political bullshit led us right to where we are today. But the thought stuck with me and I’ve been a lot more careful about what and how I post. Because truly what good is sending my anxiety out into the world when all is going to do is multiply?

So lately I’ve been trying to bring back the old Twitter. Posting nice things only: photos, experiences, memories. Trying my damnedest to turn the tide back to that rose tinted place that I enjoyed all those years ago. An old friend messaged me to tell me that they appreciate it, which honestly was the wildest thing because I never explicitly said what I was doing, they just picked up on the vibe. But at the same time they confessed that they’re burnt out on social media and don’t post any more. I get it.

Occasionally I’ll post something I’m passionate about: climate solutions, LGBTQ rights, or a combination of the two, usually in the form of encouraging we get rid of our corrupt, trumpian government. Those ones land the hardest, and it seems it’s more often my friends who miss the point and hassle me about them. Maybe I’m not as eloquent as I thought? Or maybe people are tired and that’s how it manifests.

Positive vibes only. Advocate for good.

Another dear friend posted recently, “this place is toxic and we all have Stockholm syndrome. I promise you it’ll be okay if you step away, even for a little” and it’s pretty fair.

I have a muted word list that scrolls almost the length of the universe, from politicians to Dutch words, tired memes, covid terms, crypto, a bunch of keywords from my own industry, and some commonly used smarmy phrases that are generally up to no good. “Allow me to explain”, “buckle up”, “thread 🧵”.

The one thing that gets me though is the fomo. I appreciate the phrase “extremely online”, because yeah that’s me. Extremely. Same as I’ll check the news multiple times a day, I’ll check the tweets constantly. Rather than spend a second with my own thoughts, I’d much prefer to immerse myself in others. I’ve always said I prefer the Twitter app because there’s something inherently sticky about it: it feels good and makes me happy. That’s by design, but it’s the sugar high before the crash rather than a genuine fulfilling enjoyment. Someone liked the post you retweeted!

But ultimately this is where my friends are, I don’t want to step away completely. But I do want to cut back and try to mitigate some of the worst effects. So there’s two things I want to try:

  1. Only check it once a day. Maybe on my lunch break? Sometime I can enjoy it, without losing the entire day to it.
  2. Sit with my thoughts. Organise them in other ways. Keep a journal.

This blog post actually sprung out of number two. Initially it was going to be a series of bullet points in Google Keep. Some new year’s rulin’s. But I realised that’s not the only way to compose my thoughts, and this kinda serves as one of those “I’m quitting social media” posts that I usually think kind of feel like a cry for help hah.

I have no idea if I will be able to keep this up, and I’m sure my thinking on it will evolve. But it genuinely feels like a really positive thing right now so I’m keen to give it a go.

I’m miserable but I’m fine

This is a bit of a rant. Please skip it if you don’t want to feel worse.

The Omicron variant is tearing through Australia’s workforce, from health care and child care, to agriculture and manufacturing, to transportation and logistics, to emergency services.

The result is an unprecedented, and preventable, economic catastrophe. This catastrophe was visited upon us by leaders — NSW Premier Dominic Perrotet and Prime Minister Scott Morrison in particular — on the grounds they were protecting the economy. Like a mafia kingpin extorting money, this is the kind of “protection” that can kill you.

Jim Stanford @ The Conversation

It’s been a bit of a time. But not at all unexpected.

When we followed Morrison’s “plan” to open everything up for Christmas right as Omicron was tearing through the population vaccinated and unvaccinated alike it reminded me a lot of watching Europe slowly fall. Cases popped up in Italy then Germany then the south of the Netherlands, getting closer and closer while governments did sweet fuck all. Catastrophise much?

Merry Christmas I guess.

Mt Tibrogargan out the train window

I took the train to visit my parents over the holidays. It was a calculated decision: go early in the spike or not at all.

A few weeks earlier I’d grabbed a handful of RATs in preparation for things to come (who would have thought they’d become like hen’s teeth) so I was feeling okay about the risk. But on the train, despite being law, a majority of folks and one staff member just took their masks off once we were underway.

It reminded me a lot of the repatriation flight back from Europe: twenty five hours and eighteen thousand kilometers in a metal tube heading into the unknown. No idea whether the air I’m breathing will be what kills me. A resolve to mask up and sleep the entire journey until hunger overrides everything and I slip the mask off for long enough to scarf down the little airplane meal while trying not to breathe.

Christmas was fine. I spent a couple of days working from the side deck which was somewhat optimistic considering the temperatures were hitting the mid 30s. But truly my parents live in a wonderful place and I really appreciated the greenery. It sort of inspired me to fix up my own courtyard in the new year.

A laptop and water bottle on a table, looking out over a garden

I’d made a personal resolution to vlog my christmas, and given my Sony camera just stopped working I had to do it on my phone. For some reason the Sony had an exhausted battery & wouldn’t charge using the cable I took with me, but it sprung right back to life when I got home.

The vlog was kind of interesting because excluding a few medicated moments I was a wreck for the entire holidays. I wasn’t really happy with the video, it was a bit disjointed and the quality wasn’t up to my standards. But people seemed to enjoy it, and I was surprised by how many different bits folks picked out as their favourites. So in the end even though I was too caught up in my own stuff, recording the little moments to tell a larger story kinda worked. Note to self.

Because of the massive rise in case numbers, rather than catching the train my folks drove me home. They stayed a night at my place before visiting every single family member within three generations.

Since then, like seemingly the majority of Brisbane, I’ve been on lockdown lite. It’s not that places are closed as much as there just aren’t any places I want to go right now. So I’m laying low, just waiting for the next thing. Surviving.

But like seemingly the majority of the world I’ve also been fixing up my little corner of it. I already installed screens last year so I can keep the insects out and naturally cool my apartment. At the end of this month my proper curtains are being installed. I finally got around to putting up some cute fairy lights, and when the outdoor chairs I had my eye on went on sale Ben convinced me to unload my wallet and get em. So after about 6 months this place is really turning into home. It’s my little oasis. I couldn’t be happier.

An outdoor patio, with two garden chairs and LOTS of plants

So to speak. It’s been a slog. I feel like Australia is now in the throes of that first wave most of the rest of the world experienced in 2020 and it’s really shown what we’re made of. There’s no protein (let alone meat) in the supermarkets, the ones that are even still open. Test and trace collapsed within days, and fucking Smirko do-nothing Morrison is looking to win the next election despite presiding over the entire shitshow. It’s rough watching all this stuff that we knew was going to happen, yet somehow nobody planned for, all the while having to just plug on and keep working like everything’s fine.

I’ll be honest the thing that’s kept me going for most of the year is making to-do lists. Simple things that I can pick up to break myself out of the absolute listlessness that’s underscored this latest wave. That, and I finally fixed my bike so I’ve been enjoying riding after work. Bike rides are on my list.

Bikeway, the go between bridge, the Brisbane Skyland in the background. On the left there's street art on a column for the coronation drive overpass, painted with geometric symbols and a pair of drag queen eyes.

When Dad was here he mentioned the tap water tasted disgusting, so I ordered a water filter jug along with some other items I needed from Kmart. When the water I’d been hoarding in the fridge ran out I realised that yeah, it does taste disgusting. The ABC says it’s because of rainfall and algae, natural and harmless. But my first thought went back to that article at the start of the pandemic outlining that probably a week into our supply chain failing we’d lose water treatment. Catastrophise much? But the jug arrived and while I’ve never much been one for filtered water, that first sip was heaven.

So this is what back to normal looks like I suppose. I’ve been trying to plan what my future looks like from here, but there’s not a lot to look forward to at the moment. New curtains at the end of the month? Everything else is just treading water and remembering to breathe.

The Big One

There’s this general understanding in Brisbane that at some point we’re gonna have The Big One. A coronavirus wave of berejiklian proportions, then all this *gesticulates* is going to go away.

Plans are made spontaneously, things we’ve been putting off are happening now. We’re all living in the moment and making the most of whatever time we have left.

Things will come good again, of course they will. But we’ll never forgive Morrison for the bungled rollout, or the NSW Libs for letting it spread (quite deliberately) in the first place.

A memory from quarantine

When I came back to Australia and went into hotel quarantine, probably my only complaint was that I had no way to wash my drinking glass. Bar soap, as it turns out, not good. I asked and they sent up a thing of dish washing liquid which I kept ever since.

It’s been refilled a bunch of times and at some point the cap fell off and went missing. It’s been over a year and it was never designed to be reused as much as it has been but it was a small kindness, and as stupid as it is I’m getting emotional throwing it away.

I’m very grateful to Victoria. For putting me up, but also giving me a thing of soap when I needed it most.

Flight

I was in the shower today and a low-flying plane flew past the window and startled me. Partly because I wasn’t expecting anything to be up there in that clear blue sky. But I also realised that my little escape from the continent has left me with an aversion to air travel.

Sure, airports always sucked but a trip in an aeroplane used to have this excitement of adventure about it, a chance to climb into the tube and escape from reality. But now all that conjures is masks, hazmat bags, the unforgivable malice of the person leaving their mask down over their nose. Being stranded in a foreign country as the world ends.

It was one of those little culture shocks to be back in Brisbane and see a plane flying overhead for the first time like everything’s fine. It was like a little omen, there to remind us of our hubris. They still startle me, and I didn’t know why. But perhaps now I do.

Between corona and the climate I would happily never step foot in a plane again. I don’t think that’s realistic. But it’s a feeling.

Just a little thing about lockdown

It was a bit of a surprise to wake up this morning and find we’re heading into lockdown.

After developing a case of the sniffles and going for a test the night before, I’d preemptively cancelled all my weekend plans already. But it’s different when it’s official, you know?

I always joked that moving into a proper house with a yard was a reaction to living isolated in a shoe box in Amsterdam. That the next lockdown I would be stocked and ready. Turns out despite the physical preparation I still wasn’t there, mentally at least.

At work in between tickets I would check the ABC News live blog for updates. It’s a bad habit, of course there aren’t any, but in a time when we don’t know anything, even the smallest scrap of insight seemingly means something.

Part of me just wants to jump forward a couple of weeks when we know the outcome of the outbreak. Skip to the end of the book and read the last page. Do things turn out ok?

But I’m doing fine. It’s been raining, so I’m very cosy on the couch under the doona. I have a naan dough and some curry ready to go tomorrow and we’re making pizza for date night on Sunday. Everyone on Twitter is talking about the Star Trek finale, so maybe I’ll put that on now and tune out for a bit.

Please use your elbow to open the train door

Looking out the train window. Brisbane City in the background. Sticker on the window: "Please use your elbow to open the train door"

A Queensland Rail/Translink sign on the door to a suburban Brisbane train reads:

Looking out the train window. Brisbane City in the background. Sticker on the window: "Please use your elbow to open the train door"

COVID-19 (Coronavirus: Please use your elbow to open the train door.

I caught the train back from an appointment this morning. It was fairly empty, there really aren’t many people around at the moment. In Brisbane the trains are still running normally, but buses can only be boarded from the rear.

On preparing to leave

I started packing today. Sorting through my drawers and throwing out stuff I don’t want, and packing away things I want to keep but won’t use any time soon.

I’ve always felt like I’ve had one foot out the door at any given time, but this is different. Europe has broken me. The coronavirus has broken me. There’s nowhere I’d rather be than home and it took being cut off to realise.

I have barely left the house in two months. Maybe longer. I was musing with Shawn today that I miss “places”. The thrill of being somewhere else for a bit. Somewhere not “indoors” in this tiny box with a computer in it.

Two computers. I don’t know what to do about work, but I hope I can swing a remote gig. I don’t know when I’ll even be able to get home. The “last” Qantas flight out of London leaves tomorrow and it’s full, I checked just in case. The other day I broke down on a call to Shawn because part of me wonders if I’ll ever get home at all.

Someone is having a party and I need to get to sleep because I have work tomorrow. I put on a thunderstorm over the speakers tonight to drown out the music

Heading back to Australia in times of Coronavirus

It has been SO hard being in Amsterdam away from my partner, friends, family and all the people I love during the pandemic and I need to fix that. So in some very bittersweet news I am returning to Australia.

As far as I know the only flights to Australia are repatriation flights from Hong Kong, Los Angeles, and London via Qantas. I missed the first round of flights, but another 6 opened up from London and after speaking to work I decided I wanted to be on one.

The TLDR

  1. 14 day quarantine on arrival into Australia
  2. Organised on a state by state basis, and rules constantly in flux
  3. Up to 2 "care packages" can be picked up from within the city by staff. Not all items are allowed.
  4. Non-perishable grocery deliveries allowed from Woolworths
  5. Laundry quota twice a week
  6. Once a week supervised outside exercise allowed
  7. Free internet access 🎉 as well as movies

I've scanned the documents outlining Victoria's quarantine procedures as of May 23 into a Google Docs folder.


Getting to London

Getting to London was not difficult from Amsterdam because The Netherlands doesn't have any measures preventing travel.

The UK seems to be accepting folks with the same visa restrictions as before, providing they have a valid onward journey. I couldn't find this information anywhere online and only found out when I was unable to check-in online.

At the KLM check-in desk I was able to check-in by showing the details for my Australia flight, even though it was on a different day. Others were not so lucky. One man in the queue was advised to "book a train or a bus ticket" before he was allowed to check into the London flight.

On the London side I passed through the automated security check with no hassles at all, and didn't speak to another human.

Uber in London doesn't seem to have any real preventative measures in place, but the taxis in the cab rank had sealed partitions between the driver & passenger which made it an easy choice.


Checking into the repatriation flight

Before check-in, Qantas sent a COVID-19 health screen form which could be filled out online at the check-in desk.

In addition to the obvious "do you have COVID-19" question, they also asked:

  1. Are you diagnosed or suspected to have pneumonia or COVID-19 infection?
  2. Have you been in contact with someone that is a suspected (being tested) or confirmed a COVID-19 case in the last 14 days?
  3. Have you been on a cruise ship or in a shared accommodation setting such as a hostel in the last 14 days?
  4. Do you currently or have you recently felt unwell with any of the following symptoms:
  • Feverish, fatigued or aching
  • Cold or flu like symptoms such as runny nose, cough or sore throat
  • Shortness of breath

I'm not sure what answering yes to any of these would mean because again I couldn't find info about it online.

A card reads: COVID-19 Health Screen Approved

Heathrow was a total clusterfuck. Security took about 30 minutes and it wasn't possible to social distance because of the layout of the queues winding tightly back on each other. This didn't stop them from putting up signs advising you to do so, and thankfully almost everyone was wearing masks.

Once cleared, there was a final health check to measure temperature, etc before we were given a little green pass and allowed to board.


Flying to Australia

A yellow bag with a biohazard label

Upon boarding the flight we were handed a yellow biohazard bag containing spare face masks, hand sanitizer, a pen, an immigration card & several spare bio bags.

Contact was kept to a minimum, and after meals any remaining garbage was only collected in the bio bags.

The flight was a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, which had three groups of three seats per row in economy. People were distanced at one person per three seats, and spaced so that nobody was sitting directly in front or behind anyone in the next row.

We were all required to wear masks, and they say the HEPA filters take out the majority of nasties so it's about as safe as you can get locked up in an airplane for 22 hours. But of course, nothing's a given.

I remember being relieved they did anything at all. There was no info on the Qantas website about it so I was preparing for the worst, but it was well implemented. I felt a lot more relaxed on the plane (aside from the woman sitting near me who kept taking her mask off and wearing it on her chin. Some people!)

I got to see both a sunset and a sunrise. Watching the sun come up through the tinted Dreamliner windows was beautiful: a giant purple-red orb rising through the clouds, looking like a fiery gas giant in alien solar system.

Sunset from a plane window


Melbourne via Perth

Since the flight to Australia is too long for conventional aircraft, there's usually a stop-over somewhere in Asia or the Middle East. None of the countries that I know of are allowing transit at the moment. Instead the flight ran directly to Perth to refuel before continuing to Melbourne.

The stop in Perth was brief. We didn't leave our seats, we just sat waiting for the crew to change over and the refuel to finish. I lost track of the time because I was sleepy, but Flightradar24 says it took about an hour and a half.

The final leg of the trip to Melbourne was fairly uneventful.


The Crown. Or in Spanish, La Corona

What happens when you land in Australia?

The very first thing is another temperature check & health screen. This wasn't the quickest procedure, so we queued in the aerobridge while this was taking place.

Once cleared we were given a detention notice from the Victorian government, letting us know that we would be quarantined for 14 days which we were required to sign.

A state of emergency exists in Victoria under section 198 of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (Vic), because of the serious risk to public health posed by COVID-19.

You must proceed immediately to the vehicle that has been provided to take you to the hotel. Once you arrive at the hotel you must proceed immediately to the room you have been allocated. You must not leave the room in any circumstances

Finally, we were given the information about the hotel we would be staying in. In my case, the Crown Metropol in the center of Melbourne which was cordoned off especially for this.

After that we were herded onto the tarmac and boarded buses directly to our hotel. There was no social distancing on the bus, but we were required to wear our masks through the whole process.


The quarantine

The hotel is a quarantine zone so nobody other than staff and occupants are allowed in.

When the bus arrived we were shepherded off one at a time and given our room number, a care package of various snacks, toiletries & necessities, and many pages of documentation about how things work.

This was the first time I learned anything solid about ANYTHING to do with the quarantine. Before now I'd only heard rumours.

As I understand it's a rapidly evolving situation, and it's managed on a state-by-state basis which is possibly why the Federal government has no information for travellers.

I've scanned the documents outlining Victoria's quarantine procedures as of May 23 into a Google Docs folder, which has a lot more info on how everything works.


My experience

Through this time I've been an anxious mess but now that I'm in the hotel I'm finally starting to relax.

The hotel room is bigger than my apartment in Amsterdam by a large margin so even though I'm locked in I'm feeling much less cooped up.

The meals so far have been pretty good, all things considered. There's far too much food provided at any given mealtime, but that leaves plenty of other items for snacks in between.

The hotel, security, and health staff have been absolutely amazing and I'm so grateful to be able to come home. The amount of love and support and human connection I've had from everyone while in isolation this past week is truly overwhelming, and I'm beginning to feel that just maybe things are going to be okay <3