31 March 2020

Quarantine Day 10

Big pluses today:
The weather - absolutely gorgeous autumn day.
First on-line clarinet lesson - now motivated to do more, work harder. Constantly impressed by the IT skills of my teacher - have a look at www.justin-beere.com/claritones to see what a great range of resources he's providing so we can cope better with the lockdown.

Light relief

We get on the Jetstar chat line to organise a refund for a flight to Tasmania in April, booked back in February when life was still normal.
The following line appeared at the top of the screen.
'Hello, my name is Jesus. How can I help you today."
God was obviously on our side.
After Jesus had apparently worked the miracle of restoring the Frequent Flyer points we used, I thanked him, told him to stay well and wash his hands. He responded by wishing me a blessed evening. Must be the real thing.

30 March 2020

Quarantine Day 9

Very quiet.
Jetlag makes an overnight comeback, so we make a late start.
A bit of remote trouble-shooting of others' technology, one more successful than the other.
Another food drop - we are running low on tea and tonic.
Brief chat over the fence to our neighbour - is this allowed? We are the statutory 1.5m apart.
Cops come again, fortunately not while we are outside chatting.
We're still here, and doing the right thing. And quite well, thankyou.

29 March 2020

Quarantine day 8: Sunday is a day of rest

So we are one day into week 2. How was our day?

  • Since we can't go out, we have to give our week some shape, which we did by having a Sunday morning lie-in until about midday. Peter still has jet-lag so is a bit sleep-deprived.
  • I decided to have a Zoom-free day, but there were still the larger-than-usual number of phone calls and emails to deal with.
  • We are getting anxious about lack of exercise. Ordered an exercise bike on-line.
  • I cooked a curry and a pork casserole. Had to invent a recipe for the second one as I discovered I didn't have a couple of ingredients for my usual pork dish. Ate it this evening, and it was pretty good.
  • Have discovered that my clarinet teacher has created a whole website full of resources at www.justin-beere.com/claritones. I didn't really have much excuse for not practising before, but have absolutely none now.
  • Peter's daughter Barb and husband Scott did a drive-by visit. We stood on the front veranda, they stood in the street beyond the parked cars and we chatted at about 8m distance. Good to see them.
  • Still haven't really started on the To Do list, and still owe a couple of phone calls. Unless the coming week is very different from last week, there is not much chance of making any impression on the list before we get out of quarantine. Just as well we're not planning to go anywhere much even after next week.

28 March 2020

Quarantine day 7: still busy

Saturday and I thought things might be a bit quieter. Which they were, but only a bit. Spent some time struggling remotely with my sister-in-law's computer setup to achieve audio in Zoom. It would be so much easier if I could just pop down and see her...
Accomplished my usual Saturday task of completing The Times Listener cryptic crossword. It didn't take long - they need to make them harder now we are all stuck at home.
More emails, and I still owe at least one.
More phone calls, and I still owe at least two.
More work on the project to get U3A Port Phillip delivering courses remotely.
More lawn trimming.
Friends still depositing food parcels, or offering to do so. Thank you all.
Peter and I have started watching The Crown, which everyone else watched last year. Quarantine is giving us a chance to catch up with the rest of the world.
And here's a good take on Zoom:

27 March 2020

Quarantine Day 6: Excitement!

Still trying to manage over 60 emails a day, lots of phone calls, two Zoom sessions and a Messenger meet, while thinking up ideas to help the U3A Port Phillip community to stay connected, healthy and generally on top of things. I am really enjoying seeing all my friends in electronic meetings.

The weather today is beautiful, so we make an effort to get outside for some vitamin D. Peter takes the top drawer of his desk out into the sun to sort, I cut grass and trim plants.

But we do have some moments of excitement:

  • Our weekly food drop arrives, thanks to Rosemary, and we have a well-stocked fridge again.
  • Events cause me to break quarantine, very briefly.
  • We are checked out by the cops.
Fortunately items two and three don't coincide, and Peter is able to tell the nice policeman who bangs on our door at about 7:15pm that we are self-quarantining, doing the right thing, showing him the empty bags on our doorstep not yet collected by R as evidence that we're having our food delivered, not going out.

The brief breakout went like this:
I go to the garage to put rubbish in the bin. When I open the door from the garden, I find the electronic garage door is open. I pause wondering how it got that way, then decide that the first priority is to shut it again, so I press the button. But before it closes, the cat shoots in from the garden, through the garage and out the slowly closing door, with me in hot pursuit hoping to grab him before he disappears. Not quite, I'm only in time to see him disappear under a parked car. Cat owner on knees beside car. Cat taking no notice of incitements to come out. When cat finally moves, cat owner isn't fast enough getting off her knees to catch him before he gets under the next car. Game continues for three cars before curiosity about a neighbour's gate gets the better of him and I'm able to grab him. Of course the garage door is by now firmly shut, and I don't have a remote with me, so I have to sprint round from Little O'Grady Street to Finlay Street, clutching 9kg of cat, and then knock on my own door to be let in again. Just as well the cops weren't checking then.

26 March 2020

Quarantine day 5

Still spending most of the day on phone, answering emails, being in Zoom meetings, organising the use of Zoom for my local U3A, or helping friends get Zoom.
Hoping the flurry of social activity will quieten down next week, so I can finally make a start to the To Do list.
Definitely not bored, but it is nice having a cat when you're in quarantine:
Which reminds me, we are now just about through jetlag, last night nearly a normal night's sleep.

25 March 2020

Quarantine day 4

Good things about quarantine:
  • You don't wreck the skin on your hands with constant washing.
  • You can dress in soft pants. I'm still in jeans, but, but my friends are advocating this.

Bad things about quarantine:
  • You have to put on make-up because you realise that otherwise on Zoom your features are invisible.
So how was my day?
  • Three Zoom meetings, about 60 emails (ignoring the spam) and I lost count of the phone calls today.
  • Food stocks holding up - food drop today but only of a couple of things which my neighbour hadn't yet delivered from the list I sent home.
  • My friends all seem well, and are coping, mostly by hunkering down in the homes or beach houses.
  • My desk still looks like a tip.
  • I haven't had a long enough period of quiet to get any clarinet practice done - rats!
  • No progress made on recording my Shakespeare lectures.
  • I've still got jetlag - awake from about 4:30 until 6pm. Read a great new book called "This is Shakespeare".
  • Getting to be a more expert Zoom user, but now know that it isn't particularly suited to a singing group rehearsal.

24 March 2020

Quarantine day 3

Good things about quarantine:

  • You only have to look OK from the shoulders up (for Zoom).
  • If jetlag gets you and you sleep half the day, it doesn't really matter.
  • The garden gets weeded whenever you need fresh air.
  • You connect with all the people you've been meaning to connect with for ages, but haven't got around to.
Bad things about quarantine:
  • You spend a lot of time sending emails, on the phone, or Zooming.
  • You spend a lot of time trying to assist your friends and family to get started on Zoom so that you can see their happy smiling faces when you talk to them
  • You have to get 3 meals a day
  • There still seem to be far more things to do than there are waking hours in the day.

Quarantine Day 2

Prospects for having a tidy desk by the end of quarantine period not good. I seem to have spent most of the day on the phone or on Zoom. More virtual meetings to come Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and there are still several people to ring and email.
I did at least start on the task of adding narration to the PowerPoint slides for my Shakespeare lectures, so they can be delivered electronically. This pandemic is giving me a lot of exercise running up learning curves.

22 March 2020

Home! Quarantine day 1

Slept again on the flight from Singapore, hoping to minimise jetlag. No problems finding a taxi at Tullamarine - we are in the house before 7am. It is full of food and flowers, thanks to neighbour Rosemary, and clean and tidy, thanks to housesitter Chris who has also kept the cat happy - he is pleased to see us but not excessively so.
Bags unpacked, washing done. Now to make the lists of Things To Do while in quarantine. I fear that it will exceed the number of days available.

21 March 2020

Going home: Heathrow to Singapore

Slept most of the way on QF2. Now masked up in Changi Airport, waiting for the next flight. Less than an hour to boarding by the time we find our way to the gate so not worth finding the Qantas lounge. just sitting in gate lounge keeping 1.5m from others.

Going home: Deal to Heathrow

Another quiet morning swapping stories with Robbie. We eat lunch together in the flat, and then we take to the road and have a painless journey to Heathrow. Can't work out how to tell the built-in GPS exactly where we want to go, but fortunately Google Maps has no trouble finding "Hertz, Heathrow", so we don't even have any issues finding the place to drop off the Volvo. Shuttle bus to the terminal, where we are able to complete the exercise of upgrading from Premium Economy to Business Class using Peter's Frequent Flyer points, so we are now sitting in comfort in the Qantas Lounge after a very pleasant dinner (in a restaurant area, waiter service, nice). Roll on the next stage.

20 March 2020


We take the tank (aka Volvo XC) into Canterbury so our friend Robbie can get a new SIM card for her dongle and thereby reconnect to the world. We do the "Park and Ride" exercise that makes visiting mediaeval walled cities by car really easy.
Robbie tells us that Canterbury is empty - no crocodiles of French school children, no other tourists either. While Robbie is in the Vodafone shop we find a lovely French cafe that is still serving coffee in china cups rather than in take-away cups. We return there with her for lunch when she's finished with Vodafone. We do some more shopping, finding carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes but no common or garden spuds, no garlic, and hardly any soap. We buy wine, olives and biscuits for cheese - no shortage of non-essentials (or are they? Personally I'd swap a packet of pasta for olives any day, especially the Marks and Spencers ones we bought which were delicious).
We drive back the pretty way, not via the motorway, giving Peter the opportunity to test his narrow-lane driving skills, judging whether you can make it to the next passing place each time there is an oncoming car. Back in Deal we decide to have fish and chips for tea. Peter buys 3 serves of fish and 2 chips, thereby solving the potato shortage for Robbie as the three of us fail to eat all of even one serve of chips. We think the rest will freeze and microwave quite nicely.
We're now about to settle into Robbie's sofa bed for our last night in the UK. I can't believe it's only a week and a half since we left home. So much has happened. And not happened. A month ago I thought that we would be between Reykjavik and the Faroes tonight. Now we're just happy to be starting our journey home tomorrow, even though were going to be in quarantine for 14 days when we get there on Sunday. The blog may continue for that fortnight to give me another thing to do.

19 March 2020


The virus has driven friend Robbie back to the UK from Lebanon, where she is a volunteer teacher in schools that are currently shut down. A plus for us, as it enables us to visit her in the little flat she rents in Deal, and lives in when not working overseas or visiting Australia, where she owns a house in Trentham.
On Wednesday morning we have our last breakfast at a cafe in Winchester where we've become regulars, pack up and catch a train to Southampton Airport, where we pick up a hire car. P has ordered a Kia, but when he's finally finished the 15 minute exercise of filling in paperwork, he's presented with the keys of a Volvo XC turbo, a huge car with all the latest in electronic gizmos. It's so different from anything we've driven before that it takes us 20 minutes and a bit of Googling while sitting in the carpark before we know enough to adjust mirrors, turn off the radio and the windscreen wipers, and get it to move. But finally we're on the motorway and we have a very comfortable drive to Deal. 
Robbie tells us that there are shortages in Sainsbury's in Deal, so we stop at a convenience store en route where we are successful in acquiring eggs, but not potatoes, the other staple she is missing.
Once in Deal we catch up on news of friends and family, then ignore the request to self-isolate and go for a walk along the front. It's a lovely walk beside a shingle beach and a calm sea where someone is sailing a yacht. We see the local lifeboat being retrieved, and the memorial to Julius Caesar who landed on this spot in 55BC. In the distance we can see ferries still coming in and out of Dover, probably with freight rather than passengers. We meet several friends or acquaintances of Robbie's - it seems that oldies here have decided they still need a walk once a day. There is conscious social distancing, no hugging. Back at the flat Robbie cooks us roast lamb, the first evening meal we've had for several days, as we've been avoiding restaurants since Monday. As her flat is tiny (living area, one bedroom and bathroom over a big double garage) and her table is about 1.5m square it's hard to stay 1.5m apart, but we are being reasonably circumspect.
We stay here until lunchtime  tomorrow, when we'll set off in the hire car for Heathrow. Hopefully there will be a Qantas flight at 8pm as scheduled to bring us home.

18 March 2020

And still in Winchester

Weather back to cold and grey, but no rain. We do Places of Interest today: the Great Hall and the City Museum, so now we know we're tramping about on 2000 years of historic settlement, from the Romans onward.
Although the papers have headlines like "LOCKDOWN" splashed across them, things still look pretty normal here. Streets are full of OAPs ignoring the decree that over 70s should stay home. There is no unseemly squabbling in supermarkets where the shelves seem reasonably well stocked (although I didn't actually check out the loo rolls). There were a herd of school kids in the Museum. Cafes are reasonably populated by people sitting at tables less than 1m apart.
Tomorrow we are going to catch a train to Southampton Airport, pick up a hire car and drive to Deal to visit an Aussie friend, thereby contravening another of the self-isolation rules. But our friend says there's no sign of locals deserting the streets of Deal yet either. It all leaves you wondering whether some people are being overly cautious or some not cautious enough. We're trying for the middle ground: we are going to do our remaining travel in the UK in a car rather than on PT, and if we go and stay with a friend we can stop eating in cafes and restaurants.
We will quarantine ourselves in Oz for the mandated 14 days. I wonder how things will be by then?
This blog might continue through the quarantine period to give me one more thing to keep me occupied.
Alfred the Great

17 March 2020

Meanwhile, in Winchester

What a great choice this turned out to be. Winchester is such a beautiful and historic town.
Much of Saturday night and Sunday morning is taken up with digesting the decisions by the Australian and UK governments, which mean we have to self-isolate whether we go or stay. Plan B of catching trains around Scotland now looks risky and everyone is starting to urge us to get home while we can. Once we decide to do that there is an hour-long battle with the Qantas website (which could win prizes for user-hostility). In fact it feels longer than that by the time we manage to book a flight. We then head out for a much overdue breakfast. The weather is cold with regular showers, but after a post-prandial rest we go to the Cathedral for Evensong - lovely music and a very sensible sermon for troubled times. After a walk up to WestGate and around that end of the city, we return to the hotel and collapse - after the stress of decision-making and replanning in the morning, we are too tired to even head out for a meal.
Monday is a lovely sunny day and we make the most of it with a visit to the City Mill, and a walk along the Itchen river to the Hockley Viaduct. On the way back I climb St Catherine's hill for the view, Peter waits for me at the foot. By the time we get back to town we feel we've earned a couple of beers at the Wykeham Arms, opposite 600+ year old Winchester College. We are now back in the hotel gathering strength to go out to dinner.
High density housing for crows

The Itchen

Hockley Viaduct

Reflections on the cruise that went nowhere

Although it is disappointing to have our entire trip plan fall apart and have to return prematurely, we are glad we came this far. 
We will remember our two days and nights on the Astoria with affection, and will almost certainly take up the offer from Cruise and Maritime Voyages of a discount on future cruises.
We had grave reservations about the whole cruise thing, but this one would have been great if it had gone ahead, and not just because of the enticing itinerary.
For a start, the Astoria is a charming ship. She is a pocket liner, shaped like a real ship, lots of brass rails and a generally old-fashioned feeling (she is 75 years old). She is to be taken out of service at the end of this year, so it was last chance to see...
Second, the crew were wonderful, especially during the trying period when no one knew if we were going or not.
Third, the other guests were almost universally interesting, people you felt you'd like to get to know better. They were almost all English, and they'd all travelled a lot. Many had lived o/s at some point. Many had been to Australia. And they coped with uncertainty and disappointment with good humour and consideration for the crew.
It felt rather like U3A afloat. Even though we were on board for less than 48 hours, we joined the choir and were singing in 3-part harmony in one rehearsal, attended a lecture on marine life, enjoyed two evening entertainment sessions (and did some dancing). I located the gym and went in search of a fitness class, but it had either been cancelled or was all over by the time I found it. Most of the passengers were fit anyway, perhaps it wasn't needed. Some of our fellow choristers put together a song which they performed on the last night to thank the crew. Sung to Rod Stewart's Sailing, it was "We're not sailing". These were not whinging Poms, rather the sort who deal with crises with patience, fortitude and humour.
My only remaining reservation about cruises relates to dress. A number of the passengers who stayed on board for the second (and last) night came to dinner in evening dress, dinner suits for gentlemen, glitz for ladies in various forms. Not sure that anything we had in our luggage would have passed muster. In future I think I might be able to winkle an evening dress into my bag if I left out a couple of jumpers, but a dinner suit for Peter? Takes up much too much room.

We give in...

Ok, ok. Things keep changing. Now we will have to self-isolate for 14 days when we get back. (Food parcels welcome, leave on doormat).
And Boris is threatening to make ALL 70+ year-olds self-isolate "for months" whether well or ill. Not sure if that applies to oldies from the colonies, but we're not waiting to find out. 
Flying kanga will bring us home at the end of the week, leaving London Friday, arriving Sunday. Assuming the sky doesn't actually fall in before then.
So see y'all on or after 5 April.

15 March 2020

Not Poole, but not Belfast either

On Thursday evening we are told  that the ship will leave on high tide mid-afternoon Friday, one day later than scheduled. Rumours fly about all Friday morning on the Astoria, but it isn't until well after lunch that they announce that the cruise is to be "curtailed", because our destination ports are starting to ban entry of cruise ships.
We are disappointed but not surprised. We console ourselves with scones, jam and cream, and later a pre-dinner drink and our complimentary bottle of wine with dinner, as we work on our Plan B. About 2/3 of the passengers disembark as soon as the cancellation is announced, but we have the option of staying until morning, and as we have nowhere to go, we stay for another free dinner and night's accommodation. And it really is free because the cruise company is giving us a full refund AND a big discount on any future trip with them. Surprisingly generous - I hope it doesn't send them broke.
We begin contacting the various friends we were planning to visit post cruise. We are aware that we may be seen as a health risk, so we aren't really surprised that by dinnertime two friends have said "pass" and one hasn't responded. But a long shot email to a friend who is usually out of the country pays off - the virus has prompted her to return to the UK and she will be pleased to have us stay with her in Deal next week.
On Saturday morning as we are packing to leave, we decide that a weekend in Winchester is an attractive idea, and that's where we are now. Winchester is a lovely old town. The Royal Winchester where we are staying is a sixteenth century building close to the town centre. Once checked in we stroll the pedestrianised High Street where there is a Saturday market to poke around in. Later when we go to look at the Cathedral I find there is a performance of Bach's B minor mass tonight. I go online, buy a front row ticket (probably thanks to a virus-driven cancellation) and spend the evening listening to a top performance of a glorious piece of music in a beautiful cathedral. If I were home in Australia, it would have been cancelled, and I'd have missed the wonderful Hanover Band, not to mention the Southampton Philharmonic Choir and a collection of impressive young soloists. 
So we may not be in Belfast, but things are pretty good. Skin on my hands may fall off from excessive washing, but no other health issues so far.

13 March 2020

Poole - still

Absolutely nothing to do with any virus, Corona or otherwise. We are still in port because the ship has not yet passed some Coastguard inspection. Usually they give passengers staggered embarkation times so that the process is smooth and quick, but with inspectors still on the ship, we all queue up in a waiting room and the boarding process takes hours. Initially we are told that departure will be delayed from 3pm until llpm. Just recently a second announcement to say we'll leave 24 hours late. I reckon they'll skip Belfast to get us back on schedule.
I have been eating circumspectly, laying off wine and coffee to avoid seasickness, all for nothing.
Astoria, berthed in Poole

Things to look at while not cruising

12 March 2020


Night accompanied us around the world, leaving us behind in a pink dawn just as we reach London at 6:20. Exit from Heathrow absolutely painless, no special checks. Thai Airlines do have a special video on what they are doing to minimise risks, and we are invited to report to a doctor at Heathrow if we feel ill.
Which we don't, so after a strengthening coffee we find our way to the Central Bus Station and on to the 205 bus to Poole. A dreary circumnavigation of Heathrow making more stops, a struggle through traffic and roadworks on the M25, then a fast run down the M23. Signs of recent heavy rain, waterlogged and flooded fields, rivers running high and fast. Cold, windy, patches of rain and sunshine, but Spring is in the air. Patches of daffodils, bright gorse in flower, and the bare trees are smudged with the green of lichen and new leaf buds.
We explore Poole thoroughly on foot after checking in to Quay House, energy holds up until mid-afternoon, when we feel we need a rest.
Risk management conundrum: do you risk falling down stairs by not hanging on to the potentially virus-contaminated handrails?
Travel trap: don't hang on to unused currency for the next trip. Peter brought £75 with us but when he tries to use a fiver to pay our fares on a local bus in Poole to get us from the bus station to our accommodation, he is told it is no longer legal tender, replaced by new notes in the last twelve months. We try a bank, who send us to the Post Office, but no one will change the notes unless we have.UK bank account. Or you can post them to the Bank of England and wait three weeks (really?). When I see an HSBC bank in the High Street, I wonder if an HSBC credit card will do, and to our surprise it does, and we swap the lot for nice new plastic ones.
Quay House, where we stayed

Thames Street, where Quay House is located

The Old Customs House, where we wait for the cab to take us to the ship.

11 March 2020

Bangkok - so far, so good

Plane from Melbourne was half empty, which is a bit weird these days.
Masks a bit more prevalent here in Bangkok airport, but not universal. Most (all?) staff are masked, which makes interactions with them and the attendants on the plane a bit impersonal.
Packing rule: wear the bulkiest pair of shoes to keep them out of your bag. So I'm sitting in tropical Thailand in boots intended to keep feet warm in Iceland.
Beginning to get that spaced out feeling when one has been up too long. Looking forward to a kip on the next flight.

10 March 2020

Yes, we're really going

Despite all the doom and gloom news, we are at the airport, in a nearly empty Air New Zealand lounge, waiting for our Thai Airways flight to Bangkok.
We had another moment of doubt about going because another family member who has been ill for a couple of weeks was deteriorating, but he went into hospital yesterday, and at least is now getting some treatment. So we are a little less concerned about him, and can go back to worrying about what could happen to us.
At the airport, mask wearers are in the minority, although one of the check-in girls wore both mask and disposable gloves. Here in the lounge there is a chap in mask and Akubra, making him look like someone from a very old Western.
There is another couple our vintage here, but from their accents I would guess they are homeward bound, not brave (or foolhardy) travellers to foreign parts like us. Will be interesting to see how full the plane is.
We have packed bulk cold weather gear: thermals, warm pants, sweaters, waterproof overpants, jackets, beanies, scarves, hats, gloves, boots, even crampons in case Iceland lives up to its name. Even so our combined carry-on baggage weight was a mere 22kg.
Will blog more regularly than I usually do, as we know that many are concerned or curious about how the venture will go. So watch this space 

06 March 2020

Here we go again...

After a few days of wondering whether it was sensible for a geriatric couple to launch themselves on to a cruise boat when COVID-19 is sweeping the globe, we've decided to go. Four days left to do all the things I couldn't put my mind to while the decision was in doubt.