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. 

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

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.

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.


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 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. 


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.)

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 4

I first learnt of the spread of the coronavirus through the media, which is of course the logical place that the majority of us go to discover what is taking place in our world. Except of course when it isn’t and is instead a putrid quagmire of self-serving fear-mongers, inflating issues to pump us full of anxiety and squeeze us for our attention and money. 

Which, in case you’ve been a bit preoccupied, is the current order of the day. On some of the cheaper and dirtier rags *coughdailymailcoughcoughheraldsun*, the most common headline screams “KILLER VIRUS!”. Now, I will not argue that this virus has taken many lives and therefore in a literal context fits the label killer virus, but I will argue that beating people over the head with this terminology doesn’t aid in creating an atmosphere of rational and informed awareness, but instead induces an environment of all-out panic wherein morons end up squabbling over rolls of toilet paper. 

And context is vital here. For the majority of us, contracting COVID is not a death sentence. It’s more of a hibernate-in-your-bed-and-get-your-partner-to-bring-you-food sentence. For the vulnerable in our communities, those with pre-existing conditions and the elderly, it is a very real threat, which is why I’m currently shacked up with my wife instead of cuddling up to her Oma. This context allows us to treat this situation with the seriousness it deserves without succumbing to the savagery and insanity of what has been the equivalent of Mad Max set in supermarket aisles with shopping trolleys and the last of the good pasta. 

The second problem with the media is that it is not always concerned with a little thing commonly referred to as “facts”. Sensationalist media has resulted in widespread xenophobia to anyone of Asian ancestry, regardless of if the person subject to the abuse has even been to China, much less Wuhan, in their lives. The media has fuelled this with a series of outlandish tales that range from the virus being bred in Chinese labs to “reports” of the source of the virus being from a Chinese bat soup. Some papers have even had the gall to state that the rapid rise of cases in Italy was due to Chinese big pharma deliberately seeding infected people into Europe. Others believe the situation gives them the right to make racist puns, such as “Chinese Virus: PANDAmonium”. 

I wish I was kidding:


As idiocy tends to breed idiocy, the eventual outcome has been a backlash at innocent Asian people and moronic moves such as parents refusing to let Asian doctors treat their children. The list goes on, but it gets more depressive as it does, so let’s call it there.

While we are drowning in this fetid sea of media, there is a life raft that I believe we can all cling onto: More media! I should be clearer: Different media!

I’m referring to the best kind of media, good media, which is of course books, movies, television, podcasts, and, technically a repetition on the theme of books, but I like them and am even a member of a club honouring them, and this is my blog not yours so I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway, audiobooks.

Using media to combat media: sometimes you have to fight fire with fire, baby. 

Here is a current list of the good media that is being digested in our home to help drown out all the bad media:

Each morning after completing yoga and while enjoying a bowl of overnight oats, I watch 15 minutes of an episode of HBO’s Watchmen. I then commute to work (two strides from the couch to the dining table) and launch into my work day. If the work I’m doing can be done with half an ear, I listen to podcasts. Currently, I oscillate between No Such Thing as a Fish, 99% Invisible, Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, Anthropocene Reviewed, and Comedy Bang Bang. And, as an always safe back up, relistening to The Ricky Gervais Show, which, beyond being hilariously funny, has the added benefit of having been recorded almost twenty years ago and so contains no mention of the coronavirus in case you’re in need of a palate cleanser.

Lunch sees me dropping back into another 15-20 minutes of Watchmen (in the bedroom or on the balcony to ensure the blood-curdling sounds of my mastication stays well away from the delicate ears of my wife). 

After our stroll, Alex and I sit down to a tasty dinner and an episode of BBC’s Sherlock, not to be confused with CBS’s Elementary, which is also very good. It’s hard to go wrong with a genius British consulting detective. This is approximately my fourth or fifth viewing of Sherlock and it only gets better with each watch. I would recommend it to anyone, up to and including Alex’s aforementioned Oma.

While drawing after dinner, I plug my headphones back in and get an audiobook rolling. At the moment, I am listening to Stephen King’s The Shining. I am enjoying it, but realised too late that it may not have been the most appropriate choice given my current voluntary incarceration and its themes of isolation and a man’s deterioration into madness (allworkandnoplaymakesjonnyadullboy). I swear not to go mad and chase Alex with an axe. Where would I even get an axe, all the stores are closed.

My wife spends this time also enjoying a book, but in the more traditional sense, with her eyes. I would tell you what she is currently reading, but she eats her way through books so fast that it’s impossible to say. If reading books were a sport, she’d be an olympic athlete. If she is a bookworm then she is one of those monstrous sand worms from Frank Herbert’s Dune (for those of you playing at home, Dune was one of The Audiobook Club’s most recent reads. Or, to be more accurate, listens).

While holed up indoors keeping clear of COVID, the vulnerable, and Omas, I whole-heartedly prescribe a healthy course of good media while steering mostly clear of bad media. And if you must wade into that bog of eternal stench, try to stick to official sources and journalists you can trust, who make it their business to monger truth and not fear.

On Monday: Shopping.

(And because today’s post was a bit of a heavy one, here’s a picture of some ducks I took the other day, because, you know, who doesn’t like ducks. Have a great weekend, everyone.)