Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 24

I was not a sporty child. Or, to put it another way, I never understood why someone would sit back and watch a game when the latest Harry Potter book had just come out. Why put yourself through the tedium of a ball being kicked back and forth when you could lose yourself in Ron, Hermione, and Harry’s magical exploits? This perspective did not win me as many friends as you might think.

But I was raised right and when it came to AFL (the Australian Football League for any non-Australians reading), I knew I supported the Hawthorn Hawks. When the attributes of my team were questioned, I knew to parrot back lines I had learned to defend the honour of my team.

“No, [insert opposition team here] are worse at playing the game.” Got him.

Hawthorn Hawks

My father and older brother were passionate supporters and observing their excitement made me want to get into the sport in the same way. From the outside, watching them watching a match was like seeing someone riding a rollercoaster, pulled along on the exhilarating highs and gut-wrenching lows. But every time I settled into the beanbag on our living room floor, determined to enjoy the game in the same fashion, I would watch the kick and catch of the ball, hear the referee’s whistle and then wait for game play to resume, and after ten minutes would find my interest wandering and, invariably, I’d be asleep by the second quarter. 

In my defence, you couldn’t really find a better source of white noise. The muted roar of the crowd, the drone of the commentators, mutterings of “You bloody goose” from my father and the odd screech of “Kick it! Kick it!” from my nerve-wracked mother all wove together to hypnotise me into sedation. Maybe that was the origin of my need for rain sounds in order to fall asleep? I’m sure if I could go back in time and make a recording of our living room of a Saturday night, I would never have a problem getting a good night’s sleep again.

My parents reasoned that perhaps what was missing was the immediacy of the sport, the smell of the crowd, the dazzle of the flood lights, and the slap of skin as two players collided, and so we regularly drove down to Waverley Park to watch the mighty Hawthorn Hawks in action. I would proudly adorn a beanie and scarf bearing my team’s colours (brown and gold, definitely not yellow, and definitely not the colours of the human digestive and urinary systems as many of my classmates not-so subtly insinuated), and would take my place amongst the sea of supporters also decked out in our noble colours. 

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And, to be fair, I loved the experience. The hot pies with sauce, the cans of soft drink, bags of chips, and sitting with Damo and making each other laugh all combined to make these matches incredibly memorable. The game I mostly ignored, but sitting in that grandstand, I got some of the best reading done of my life. When driving home, Dad would ask if we’d enjoyed ourselves and we’d all chorus “Yes!” and he’d look satisfied until I’d elaborate by telling him what a great book I’d read during the match, and then I’d see a disappointment come into his gaze that I never quite understood. Maybe he was wishing he’d taken the opportunity to read a good book too?

But having grown up, I now see the value in sport. It’s not just a game of kicking a leather ball between sticks (again, for any non-Australians, that is the primary objective of AFL), it’s about the competition, the community that grows around that competition, and the chance for a community to get a win now and then. Sport can be a distraction in the best way as it allows a person to switch off from their intimate worries and care about something bigger than them and yet something that doesn’t ask a lot from them. 

Right now, for the first time in my lifetime, there is no sport to watch, no victories to tally, no team for a community to get behind. At a time when we could all use the distraction of sport more than ever, we have been deprived of it, and I know for those people who used it to vent and switch off, they are feeling its absence. 

There is no easy fix for this. The sacrifice of sport is done to ensure the safety of the very community that supports it. My only suggestion would be to transfer that passion and that pride to those who are still out there, working hard and playing the game until our world can return to normal. Instead of your sports club, cheer on the teachers, and the supermarket workers, and the delivery men and women, and the healthcare workers. Applause when you see the number of cases drop and cheer when the recovered return home. These are the wins we can get behind and celebrate, and we can do so knowing that each victory brings us closer to the day when we can return to our sports where the stakes aren’t so high. 

Tomorrow: Transportation.

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 21

A fun little fact about me: I often suffer from insomnia (maybe fun was overselling it). Not every night, and not so severely that I’m so exhausted during the day that I end up in wacky situations wherein I’m on a date and fall asleep face first into my soup bowl and come up sputtering, my date asking if I’m okay, and I deliver some witty line like “Sorry about that. It just smelt so good, I couldn’t resist”. Look guiltily to camera B. Cue the canned laughter. But it happens enough for it to be a thing.

Alex and I have a pretty set pre-bed routine: do the dishes, read for a bit, lights off, snuggle down and watch an episode of a comedy show until we feel sufficiently drowsy to commit to another night of rest, asleep by ten. Winning at life.
#earlytobedandearlytorisemakesamanhealthywealthandwise 

But about once a week we’ll go through this procedure, Alex will whisper a goodnight, roll over, be asleep in approximately four seconds, and I will lay there in the dark quietly resenting my sleeping wife, already knowing that the sandman has overlooked me yet again. Now, I’m not a great sleeper on the best of nights, but usually if I wait it out for about an hour my body gets the message that I’m not just killing time here and I’ll pass out. But on an insomnia night, it’s as if my ability to transition into unconsciousness has been turned off. And the worst of it is, I don’t really know why. 

The easy solution would be to blame the ol’ ball and chain for stealing all the blankets, but the Austrians are a sly people and have gotten ahead of this problem by agreeing as a culture that everyone gets their own doona. As such, Alex curls up all cosy in hers and I burrito myself in mine and nobody wages a silent tugging war for major territory rights over the duvet.

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Another go-to explanation could be that I have nagging doubts and anxieties keeping me awake, only I’m not really all that anxious a person. I have considered that perhaps I have squished and crammed my anxieties deep into my subconsciousness where they are bubbling away beneath my notice, robbing me of sleep when attempting to slip into that altered state of consciousness, but if that is true, and all it costs to have anxiety-free days is a little lost sleep, then I am reluctant to rock that boat.

So, rather than deep and profound dives into my subconsciousness to challenge the foundations of my id, I play rain sounds on my mobile phone. A duct-tape solution, maybe, but it works like fifty percent of the time. 

I figure that with everyone holed up inside watching endless news cycles about the growing number of cases and deaths, and given that the future is an unknown entity and the ability to make plans and feel secure has been robbed from us, I’m probably not the only one losing a little sleep at the moment. I’m not one for bragging, but I’ve been struggling with sleep for years now and have put in my 10,000 hours, which makes me something of an expert. As such, I will happily walk you through a few techniques I use to wrestle my way into dreamland.

  1. Make it rain! As mentioned, I use an app on my phone to simulate the sound of rain. Having a consistent noise to focus on can stop the inward focus of cyclical thoughts, of replaying your to-do list, or reliving that time in 7th grade when your crush caught you picking your nose and you told her you were only scratching it and tried to prove it by putting your finger up there again and this time all her friends saw too and you realised you made a terrible mistake only it was too late, far too late.
    Instead, your focus turns outwards to the peaceful pattering of rain.
    Of course, it doesn’t have to be rain. Some people enjoy the sounds of a babbling brook, crashing waves, whale song, or the wind. Some also claim to enjoy falling asleep to the sound of radio static, but these people are clearly psychopaths. Don’t trust those people.
  2. Mattress mathematics. People have stated that maths puts them to sleep, so why not turn that to your advantage! The classic option is to count sheep, but having an endless queue of livestock marching through my imagination isn’t a particularly restful image for me, so I count my breaths. This also helps me focus on taking long deep breaths, which has been shown to help bring on sleep. Doubling this up with the rain sounds will help as the noise from your app will drown out the sound of your deep breathing in case you share your bed with someone who is just straight up mental about breathing sounds coughAlexcoughcoughIamdefintelytalkingaboutAlex. Cough.
  3. Have fun with futility! Lay awake staring at the ceiling and consider the enormity of the universe and the scale of time that has passed before you winked into existence, and hold in your head for just a fraction of a second how infinitesimally minute and short-lived your life is against the backdrop of everything. Once full comprehension of how small and powerless you are is achieved, a sense of peace will wash over you and you’ll be snoozing like a baby in no time! (Disclaimer: This technique can have the opposite effect on some individuals and result in lying awake in a cold sweat until the sun comes up. Use with discretion.) 

Losing sleep at a time like this is a completely normal, some might say even logical, reaction to life in the time of COVID. It’s easy to get caught up in the anxiety wave of statistics and uncertainty and to just get dragged under. For some, the slowing down of life has opened up pockets of time that didn’t exist in their previous hectic routines, providing space to contemplate fears and scenarios that were normally buried under the next item on their to-do list.

Sleep and mental health are a tied knot, so do try and take some measures to ensure you’re able to switch off at night. Meditate before bed, keep a normal schedule, try and exercise throughout the day, and, if necessary, do what the Austrians do and get two blankets for the bed. It may seem like a sacrifice of intimacy with your spouse, but you won’t care when bundled up like a burrito and sleeping like a baby.

And if all that fails, then at least lay back, relax, and listen to the rain.

On Friday: Celebrations. (Tomorrow is Alex’s birthday, so I will be dedicating the whole day to fulfilling my husbandly duties towards the birthday girl).

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 18

I think it’s only natural, four weeks into self isolation, to feel the boredom creeping in a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I love my wife’s company and the activities we do together in our home, but the conversation about what you did that day grows a little stale when what you did was spend every waking moment within a three metre radius of each other. It’s hard to regale my wife with a funny story about the day’s events when her response is, inevitably, “I know, I was there.” Even worse is when you find yourself telling a story that she told to you only yesterday, and that you told to her the week before, and you realise you’re trapped in an endless feedback loop of story swapping that is likely to drive you both mad. The upside being, if we were to go mad, that at least we’d have something new to talk about.

The recycling of stories all comes down to a lack of stimulus. With social interactions being whittled down to the bare minimum, there’s no longer any fuel to keep the fires of interesting anecdotes burning. It’s gotten so bad that I find myself longing for the days when I would use public transport, when mentally unstable men would approach me and ask if they could light my hair on fire or when drunk chicks would vomit on the carriage floor only for the neighbouring passenger’s dog to start lapping it up (both true stories), because then at least I would have something to talk about.

The other day I found myself alone in the living room and I realised that if Alex were to walk in at that moment and ask what I was doing, the only honest answer I could give her was “I am standing in a sunbeam”. 

The day before that, a man was walking past our apartment with a young puppy and I watched that puppy like a stalker whose object of his obsession just strolled into binocular range. And when the man and his dog eventually ambled out of my field of view, a part of me mourned the loss.

Just yesterday, Alex suggested that we take down and wash the scrim that hangs in front of our windows and I was excited, excited, at the suggestion. Ladies and gentlemen, no one should be excited by the prospect of washing scrim. Surely, the early signs of insanity are talking to yourself and getting a small thrill when considering putting your gauze curtains through a gentle spin cycle.

The obvious solution to this boredom, and to staving off insanity, is to entertain yourself, but given our resources are limited to what is currently on our properties, that means getting creative.

My father is waiting out the end of the world on a five acre block of land on the outskirts of Traralgon. He has decided to combat his boredom by revitalising his veggie patch and, much to his joy, while doing so he discovered some potatoes had managed to grow despite any active cultivation on his behalf. In what can only be assumed was an effort to keep his mind stimulated and himself entertained, Dad then proceeded to make a potato man from his findings, starting with a simple mock-up before deciding that features were required and adding eyes and facial hair.

Now while some may claim that making a small friend from fresh produce is, in fact, a sign that his sanity has already slipped, I instead choose to see it as an effort on my father’s part to bring some levity into the lull. Of course, he did then proceed to dismember his new friend and boil him in oil, so that does make it tough to make an argument for his mental faculties.

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Photo credit: Peter Robb

Please note that the eyes are still present, as if my father wanted to be able to lock gazes with his tiny friend one last time while he fried. Another strike against his stability.

One of the methods my wife and I are using to combat the boredom is to set up small competitions with one another. With the Olympic Games being cancelled, it’s now up to us to fuel the spirit of competitiveness and in that vein we are currently in the middle of a battle to see who will use up the last of the toothpaste. The rivalry is waged silently, unspoken, with each of us stepping up to the line every time we go to brush our teeth. There will be no awards, just a sense of shame for the loser who is unable to wring a final blob of paste from the tube, and a sense of victory for the winner who discovers a new tube the next time they attend to their dental hygiene. 

Toothpaste Olympics

Whatever strategies you’re using to beat away the boredom and to cling desperately to your sanity, I suggest getting creative, find merriment in the mundane and excitement in the everyday, and if you do happen to make a little friend along the way, do your best not to eat them. As the poet said, “That way madness lies” (King Lear Act 3, scene 4, 21).

Tomorrow: Introvert vs Extrovert.

(P.S. For those of you wondering, our scrim looks great now.)

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 15

Well, here we are in the fourth week of social isolation and despite the utter weirdness of it all, despite saying a thousand times to just about everyone I encounter “it’s just so weird”, the human ability to habituate to a situation is kicking in and it’s all starting to feel…normal. Which only makes sense, in a way, as this is now, on a global level, the new normal. 

It’s starting to feel normal to be in my apartment for twenty-three hours a day, every day, conducting all facets of my life from this vantage point like a spider in its web. Only, you know, without all the creepy cocooning and liquifying insects thing. 

It feels normal to have an office station set up where our dining-room table used to be and to eat every meal from our laps on the couch (to be fair, eating on the couch was a pretty regular occurrence in our house, so that bit didn’t take quite so much adjustment). 

It’s now feeling so normal to exclusively wear sweatpants that I am almost dreading the day when I will be asked to wear stiff slacks again that do not have happy and forgiving elastic in the waist.

Part of this readiness to accept the normality of it all is that there are perks amongst the sacrifices of a lockdown. I like being with my wife everyday. There’s a reason I picked her, beyond her mean culinary skills and cute butt, and that is because I like her. I like her company. She is my best friend and makes a great COVID buddy.

I also like not having to catch the U-Bahn every morning. Even before the threat of catching the coronavirus, squishing up to random members of the public was not a favourite pastime of mine. These days I can have a short lie in, slide into my well broken-in sweatpants, and walk down the hall to my place of work. The only person I have to squish up to is Alex and that is a favourite pastime of mine. 

I like talking to my family more. With everybody trapped indoors, they’re not out doing things away from their computers (like crazy people), which means the window where I can see and communicate with them is much wider. I have unfettered access to them, they have no excuse to decline, so it’s a win win!

Of course, a lot of aspects of our new normal are hard. While a video chat can scratch an itch, it’s no replacement for the real thing. This weekend, Alex’s friend Christina very kindly offered to swing by and deliver us some raspberry tiramisu that she had made (and ladies and gentlemen, it tasted as good as it sounds). We had been baking ourselves (another perk of living in the time of COVID: a surplus of home-made baked goods) and so we arranged for an exchange of merchandise. But, with restrictions in place, this exchange, of course, had to take place as carefully as possible.

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The sense that we were dealing drugs was stronger than ever (only better, because instead of drugs we got tiramisu). We buzzed Christina into the building while waiting behind the front door, watching through the peephole as she came and laid the product on our doormat. Once she had taken the required three steps back, we opened the door, snatched our score, and deposited our own goods to the mat before retreating into our hallway. Christina scanned the area, saw the coast was clear, and made the grab. We traded waves and greetings and then she was out of the building, off to deliver goods to her next customer. 

Now normally when Christina comes by we don’t leave her standing out in the hall like a leper begging for scraps, but instead invite her in, give kisses to cheeks, share a coffee, and generally behave like people who actually care about one another. But this is not normally, this is the new normal.

A recent aspect of the new normal that is proving hard to swallow is the latest measures announced by the Austrian government. As supermarkets are the last bastion of social interchange and, therefore, virus interchange, the government decided to do what they could to shore up this weakness without having to close them down all together. They have stated that only a limited number of customers will be allowed in supermarkets at any given time, that all surfaces and trolleys will be regularly disinfected, and, the pill that has the hardest time going down, everyone entering the store must be wearing a face mask.

To be clear, I admire the Austrian government for being proactive and doing what they can to demonstrate they are trying to care for their citizens. The challenging part of this situation is the sheer alienness of covering your face when in public and the apocalyptic feel that hits when everyone you see is decorated with personal protective equipment. 

The upside for Alex and I is that my mother-in-law is a whizz with the sewing machine, so, given we had to dress like it was the end of days, at least we could do it in style.

Monika made the masks with offcuts from her husband’s shirts, and as Rupert wears very nice brand-name shirts, it’s comforting to know I’m walking around in a Hugo Boss mask. Even in these trying times, I’m a slave to fashion.

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The new normal is not always a comfortable fit and bedrock change is rarely something anyone welcomes with open arms. But while we are stuck in this alternate version of reality, it’s worth focusing on the perks, on the video chats with family, avoiding sweaty commutes, having intimate time with your partner, and wearing fashionable facial accessories. 

By tolerating the hardships and allowing ourselves to see the good amongst the bad, we can navigate our way through the new normal and back out into just normal.

Tomorrow: The Great Outdoors.

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 13

Sometimes, of a weekend, when Alex and I have enjoyed a lie-in, I will come drowsily awake and roll over to face my wife. She will smile at me from her nest of blankets and I will smile back, and her first words of the day to me will be, “I need to eat.”

This is my way of explaining that, in our house, food is a very serious thing. 

In a sense, it’s ingrained into the culture over here. An Austrian tradition that takes place across the country every lunch time in every office building (back when people worked in office buildings) is the habit of saying “Mahlzeit!”. As we learnt yesterday, German is a very literal language, and literally translated Mahlzeit means “meal time”. 

Now, the convention of giving a pleasant greeting over a meal is not one unique to Austria, but this expression caught my attention as it isn’t solely used when someone spies you about to tuck in to your lunch, but is said broadly anytime from midday until about two pm every time anyone encounters anyone else. You could be catching a lift, heading to a meeting, or making a beeline for the bathroom, and along the way you will be met with a round of enthusiastic “Mahlzeit!” Just a whole nation walking around hallways and offices calling out “Meal time! Meal time!” like excited three year olds.

Food is very important to the Austrian people.

Given that restaurants, fast-food joints, cafes, and bars are all on a global hiatus, a lot of people are now finding themselves also having to care deeply about food and food preparation as they contemplate the prospect of opening their own eatery, also known as cooking at home. 

Luckily for me, my wife’s deep passion and concern for food has translated itself into her being an amazing cook. With a back-catalogue of delicious and traditional Austrian meals, she can step into the kitchen with a handful of ingredients and step back out with a hot and nutritious meal that is a delight to eat. The ten kilograms I’ve put on since moving here from London is a testament to how much I enjoy my wife’s cooking.

I have taken on the role of apprentice in the kitchen and am slowly learning her mysterious Austrian arts, and am proud to say I can now independently whip up a mean batch of Nockerl should the need call. I don’t want to brag, but Alex and I have even released our own cookbook.

Cookery the Austrian Way

The only physical copy of this book was gifted to Peter Robb for Christmas.

As a rule, we mostly cook at home, even when there’s not a worldwide pandemic on driving us into apartments like moles underground, and so far we haven’t had too hard a time adjusting to the new restrictions. We try our best to eat cleanly during the working week, having a small breakfast, small lunch, and a home-cooked dinner that usually incorporates a little of everything from the food pyramid. On Friday nights, however, having completed a full working week like good boys and girls deserving a treat, we indulge in a little takeaway.

Luckily, some restaurants are currently keeping their kitchens open and still doing delivery, so we are still able to sit back to some pizza, wine, and a movie at the end of the week. My thanks go out to these delivery men and women, these savoury-smelling saints, for ensuring I can still partake in my feast of grease and fat.

The deliveries themselves have gone from the friendly drop-off of an evening meal to something more akin to a drug deal. Last Friday, for instance, we received a call confirming the address and were told the delivery would take place in five minutes. We waited, palms a little sweaty with excited nerves, and each of us jumped when the doorbell rang. We checked the peep hole, saw the coast was clear, and opened the door to find our package waiting for us on the doormat. Glancing around, we spotted our delivery man slinking out the building’s doors and he threw us a sly wink and a smile before disappearing like a wraith into the night. We hurriedly collected our goods and retreated indoors to the couch for a hit of that sweet sweet junk food. 

On the weekends, we go for a two-meals-a-day system, which allows us to eat to our fill without feeling too guilty about it later. A big breakfast/brunch ties us over until a slightly more carb-heavy dinner than we would normally have during the working week. Last Saturday, I was feeling fancy and so whipped up a batch of crepes (crepes are really just flour, eggs, and milk, so not fancy at all, but they come from France so I let myself feel fancy when eating them).

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Snacks are also important, so we keep a collection of fruit in the house to tie us over between meals. And when an apple just won’t cut it, I find eating a handful of grated cheese straight from the bag when Alex isn’t looking really gives me the protein hit I need to get through to dinner. 

With no social outings on the calendar for the foreseeable future, mealtime is now the highlight of the day. So whatever you’re dining on during the time of COVID, I recommend a balance of something good and something good for you. Make sure you enjoy it. And make sure every day between 12 and 2 you shout “Meal time!” at anyone you see.

I also recommend a piece of my wife’s cake. If you sneak up to our back window, we’d be happy to slip you a piece as if it were a baggie of Mary Jane.

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Tomorrow: Literature.

P.S. If anyone was enticed and intrigued by Austrian cooking and our very professional cook book, you can download a pdf copy here: Cookery the Austrian Way.

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 11

I realised that in my post about media, and more specifically the part discussing good media, I left out an important facet of this genre: Music.

I, like 99.8% of the population, enjoy music of one kind or another (I think the 0.2% is made up of people who were born deaf and sociopaths). Music is an outlet, a way of tapping the pressure valve and letting out some of the steam. And so in a time when the whole world seems tight with pressure and ready to burst, a bit of an outlet is no bad thing.

I generally listen to folk music about sad things and introspection that I think is beautiful and my wife finds depressing. She is more into upbeat music that puts a tap in her toes and a wiggle in her butt. While I greatly appreciate a good tapping toe or wiggling butt, particularly when the butt in question is my wife’s, I find that what really leaves me in a better state of mind is a song that is synchronised to some inner sadness, music that resonates with something that’s troubling me and by doing so, by being able to say “hey, yeah, that’s what it feels like”, I’m able to leave some of it with the music and walk away feeling lighter, with a spring in my step and a wiggle in my butt. 

A few people have made the point that now that everyone has some time on their hands, it is the perfect opportunity to learn an instrument. I play the guitar and I wholeheartedly endorse this statement. Playing an instrument for me is a form of meditation. My brain becomes so engrossed in the mechanics of it and the mental concentration that everything else just sort of falls away. And when the music spills out and I know that it’s my hands making it, it’s a wonderful thing. 

It is not always a wonderful thing for Alex, however, who has now heard the rotation of my six favourite songs so many times that sometimes her eyes dart between my head and my instrument in a way that makes me wonder if she’s planning to introduce the two in a more intimate fashion. She was kind enough to gift me the guitar, so really, a certain amount of the blame rests with her. 

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Obviously, the ability to learn an instrument depends on what instruments you have at your disposal during your lockdown. Guitars and pianos are always good, and a violin played well is an uplifting thing. If, however, all you have at your fingertips is a recorder, the instrument of choice for primary school kids because whoever set the musical curriculum is an agent of evil here to make people suffer, then I’d probably recommend you leave it to the professionals. That’s not to say that with time and practice a recorder isn’t capable of making beautiful music, only that you will never get to that point as the housemate you’re socially isolating with will stuff the recorder down your throat long before you develop any sort of proficiency. Or whichever orifice of their choice.

One of my favourite musicians, a Bristol-born gentleman who performs under the name of Passenger, has seen fit during this span of dislocation to reach out from his own hideaway and provide anyone who is interested with a living-room concert. Given that all forms of live entertainment are currently under lock and key, being able to engage with an artist and enjoy their skill, to close your eyes and let go of some pressure, is a beautiful thing. He has been performing live for the last two Sundays, and is kind enough to put the recording up on YouTube for those who missed it.

As it is just him in his home and not a team putting together a production, the intimacy of the performance is ramped up. There are hiccups in the video where the wifi struggles, which I find charming as it really captures a facet of this time and this moment. In the future when the internet will be as stable and steady as any other utility and we’ll download movies just by thinking of them, kids will not understand the concept of lag, much as kids today don’t understand the pops and whistles of a record, or the concept of a record for that matter. 

But to me, this just adds to the authenticity and earnestness of the performance. This is no big-budget arena, just a man stuck in his living room like the rest of us, reaching out through the tools he has, a guitar, a laptop, and a low-speed internet connection, to try and infuse a little happiness and warmth into our isolation. 

Despite the limitations, his voice and guitar comes through pure and clear, singing his melancholy songs in a way that reverberates with me. And as an added bonus, he’s also quite funny, so you get a bit of comedy thrown in if the music isn’t enough of a draw.

Give it a listen, if it’s not your thing, or it doesn’t touch you, then that’s okay, it just means you’re dead inside and have the emotional range of a potato.

Whatever genre of music you like, be it k-pop or Norwegian death metal, I recommend turning up the volume, releasing some pressure, and of course, wiggling that butt.

Tomorrow: Language.

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 8

Health. It’s what the current game is all about. The health of ourselves, our loved ones, our communities, our pets. Actually, no, the pets are fine. In fact, they are loving this whole thing. Really making lemonade out of the lemons that is the human race being trapped indoors all day.

But while we have all barricaded ourselves away in an effort to preserve our health, we have to be careful while enacting these precautions not to neglect our health (seems contradictory, right? She’s a right gordian knot, this health thing).

It turns out that spending all day indoors, away from things like fresh air and sunlight, and dangerously close to things like boredom and a well-stocked pantry, can have serious health ramifications. The problem boils down to a loss of routine. 

As an example, during my trip to work, I used to deliberately take the stairs and not the escalator when leaving the U-Bahn, meaning I would climb four flights before I even made it to work. A shining beacon of health and fitness, I know. But without the usual routine of my morning commute, I now only need six strides to make it from my bedroom to my bathroom, and then a further four strides to make it to my workspace/dining room, and then that’s pretty much me done for the day. Between the journey from bed to office and a number of trips to the toilet, a number that is determined by how well hydrated I am and what sort of effect the overnight oats is having on my digestive system, this new routine, as the judgemental fitness app on my phone keeps pointing out, only has me doing maybe ten move minutes a day. Koalas sleep twenty-two hours a day and still manage to move more than that.

But if routine is the problem, then routine is also the solution (again, seemingly paradoxical, but I swear there’s calculation in the chaos). This new style of living requires the drafting of a new routine, and when sketching out the blueprint of this routine, it’s important to build health into the foundation of it. 

I’m sure by now you are all sick to death of reading graphs and watching instructional videos on how to wash your hands (but these are super important, so if you haven’t seen them, go out and watch them until you’re sick to death of them), so I thought rather than rehash something that has already been thoroughly hashed, I’d go through some everyday tips that you can incorporate into your new routine to ensure we all come through this as healthy as possible. 

1) Start each day with a fresh breakfast: I recommend a bowl of my wife’s delicious overnight oats (as previously detailed in Chapter 2 of this series). Of course, in order to have my wife prepare you a bowl of her delicious overnight oats, you would first have to do what I did and travel overseas, accept her invitation to visit her during your travels, awkwardly start up a romantic relationship while her parents are in the next room, commence a long-distance relationship, maintain this relationship over a four-year period, eventually propose to her by writing her a book, marry her, and finally move to Austria and rent an apartment with her. Given that, it’s probably easier just to make your own oats.

2) Work out before work: Prior to committing to sitting at your dining room table in front of a laptop for the next eight hours in a position orthopaedic surgeons call “woefully unergonomic”, try moving your body a little to shake out those kinks and to give your vertebrae a breather. Alex and I do a short yoga session each morning, but you can do whatever turns you on. A run, a series of stretches, a short work-out routine, or a bout of competitive wrestling with your spouse will all get the blood pumping and preserve your musculoskeletal health.

3) Resist those seductive snacks: If you’re anything like me, the minute you step into your place of habitation, you can hear the whispers drifting out from the pantry, reminding you of that still half-full bag of chips waiting for you, or the block of chocolate you swore to yourself when buying you’d save until the weekend. Living in the time of COVID means rarely leaving your home, which means those snacks have all the hours in the day to tantalise and tempt. If the new routine includes eating your body weight in snacks each day, then a very different person may come out the other side of social isolation. 

4) Eat those snacks, baby! Your mental health is also incredibly important and will be tested during times when you’re deprived of family, friends, and some good old physical contact. So if the need hits, if you’re feeling flat and need a pick-me-up, then you dive into those snacks headfirst and guzzle them up as if fat and sugar were oxygen.

5) Vitamins for vitality: One of the best things you can do to stay healthy and support your immune system is a well-balanced diet including a range of foods that contain vitamins A, B, C, D and E, and the minerals iron, zinc and selenium. Of course, in times where selfish muppets are clearing out the vegetable stands of your local supermarket, this can be a challenge. If necessary, you can supplement your diet with some multivitamins. My wife favours a liquid mixture called Metavirulent that tastes and feels like bleach draining through my sinuses and across the backs of my eyeballs. She swears it’s good for me.

Whatever shape your new routine takes, be sure to factor in health, both of the physical and mental variety, look after yourself, look after anyone who’s with you, and by doing so we can win this game.

Tomorrow: Environment.

(For actual advice without all my silliness, check out my cousin and his fiancee’s health and fitness facebook page. Nikki and Dom have a wealth of information between them and more motivation and energy than two kids who have just slammed back six sleeves of wizz fizz. You can find videos, exercise instructions, and, let’s be honest, a certain level of silliness. But they back their silliness up with expert knowledge so you come out on top.

You can find their site here.)