The new ‘COVID 19 Normal’

I’ve just spent the last half hour writing a rant. I’m relatively sure no one wants to know about what’s irritating me right now, so I’ve closed off that post and sent it to the draft bin.

One day, when I’m not so angry, I might being it out again and temper the language. I’m sure there have been days when you’ve been so annoyed at the stupidity of people that you too would want to vent your anger.

Neither the time or the place.

The point is, I have an awful feeling the world is going to hell. It never used to be like this. Life was normal once. You know, we were all battling along the majority of us hovering just above or just below the poverty line, but mostly above.

The Government sailed along making stupid decisions like it always does, increasing our incredulity in either the government or the opposition, because it seemed to me all they did was blame each other when something went wrong.

Coronavirus withstanding, the status quo is almost the same as before it hit, only there are a lot more people hovering below the poverty line, and as governments, reportedly looking after their people in a crisis, start throwing money around like it’s water.

I can’t complain, they threw some water at me and I drank it. I’m still alive becaise of the decisions the current ruling party has made over the course of the pandemic in this country, so I can’t complain. That is left to the opposition party who, for the first few months were silent, but now, have decided to question everything the government has done, or criticiser it for what it hasn;t done.

To me, no one is perfect, and it is a pandemic and none of us alive (except for a very few who wethered the Spanish Flu pandemnic) have any iidea what it’s like to live in such times. We are weathering it, we have lost relatively few people in the fisrt wave, and a lot more in the second.

That the second wave could have been prevented is moot. It happened. We have learned from it. I hope. Foolish mistakes are always accompanied by catastrophic results, and in the eventual wash up someone will be blamed. We live in a world where blame is essential to make ourselves feel better. I’m bot sure anyone will feel better about anything this time.

But, we’re not out of the woods. There is still a whole lot of scope for us to catestrophically fail again, because this virus is insidious, and a killer, and not just to those we know it will kill. We don;t know enough about it yet to know whether any vaccine will give lasting protection, or just a few weeks, like it seems to this who have had it and recovered.

They can get it again. Given the damage it does to some of the survivors, it’s like if it didn’t kill you the first time, maybe it will the second time around. Who’s compiling the results so far from those who’ve survived, or from those who have died? What underlying causes are the worst, who should be protected, and are vaccines being tested on vulnerable groups?

What will happen to those who are given a so-called vaccine in six, twelve or eighteen months time? How long have we been testing the current batch of vaccines, a month, two at most?

I worry that being in that vulnerable group, irrespective of vaccines tested or untested, that I’m between a rock and a hard place. Whoever came up with this coronavirus, whether manmade or from wildlife, certainly knew their stuff, because it seems to be it’s incurable, like the common cold, only with a lot more deadly effect.

I had a cold, I thought it was the virus, but no, it was just a cold. It was bad and I’m still recovering from the effects. Colds, as we all know, can kill. So can influenza. Neither of these have been eradicated, but can be vaccinated against, but you can still get it. This is the nature of such viruses.

So, we now live in a new world, a COVID 19 world where we are going to have to change everything we do, and apply a new level of care, and, unfortunately, suspicion, because the moment there’s a chink in the armour, the results will be catastrophic.

They’re are beginning to call it a ‘COVID 19 normal’ down here.

Limited or no overseas travel, limited interstate travel, a new level of public hygiene, with new laws and regulations? Pre COVIS we thought we were free, but that was just an illusion. Now, we’re still free, but the lines between right and wrong, once blurred are very, very clear.

Will this, eventually, be the fate of the whole world?

Where would I like to be today?

Long after you have been on a holiday and forgotten about it, basically those places you visited are just a distant memory.  And, the likelihood of getting back there is getting more remote by the day.
Let’s face it unless something calamitous happens to remind you, and generally not in a good way, they just become place names on a map.  For most of us, living a hectic life where there’s little time to think of anything else but the job, looking after the family, and rest, that generally sums up your day.
Perhaps, in the ensuing days, the only reminder that you actually had a holiday is the last of the washing.
So, what you need are little reminders that you actually went.  This might take the form of postcards or fridge magnets, but these tend to get lost among the everyday collections of bills and children’s paintings, drawings, and certificates.
And, there’s only so much you can stick on the fridge door.

But, there is another way.

If you stay in hotels as most of us do, they always, or nearly always, provide you with several very important items that can give us a little reminder of where we been and the associated memories, whether good or bad, but hopefully good.

The first is a writing pad and pen.  You don’t get much paper on that pad so it’s only good for writing down plot points, if you’re a writer like me, particularly if you’re in an overseas location.

The second is the toiletries, like hair shampoo and conditioner, along with other items, like soap and bath gel.  These invariably have the hotel name and sometimes location on them, but often the hotel name is all that is needed.

Of course, some hotels are different, like the Hilton, because every Hilton has the same pen and the same toiletries, so with these hotels, you’re going to have to have a good memory, or as I do, take the pad.  It has the hotel’s address.

With other hotels, like the Bruneschelli in Florence, or the Savoir in Venice, they have their name on both.

Some people will use the toiletries and therefore will not have a keepsake reminder, or they may not see the use in taking the pen or the pad that comes with the room, but I suggest you do.

Then, when you least expect it, there will be that little reminder of where you go been and hopefully, it will bring back good memories, and that, for me, is on the shower.

Like today.
I’m in Florence.
Well, for the duration of the shower, that is.

Meanwhile, space is waiting…

Back on the spaceship, after a last glance at the screen, and what we’re heading to:

It’s debatable whether we’re going to get out of the doc.

The Captain requested me to go down and personally find out what’s going on, and I’ve just risked like and limb in the elevator that wasn’t working properly not 24 hours before. Now, the doors having opened, and after a huge sigh of relief, I step into the maelstrom.

The engine room, if it could be called that, looks like a shopping mall at Christmas, with the centre piece looking like a set of constantly strobing lights, and around it, people with computer pads, looking for answers.

I doubt whether it was going to be in the central computer system because it was new.

Whatever happened to paper manuals? Oh, sorry, that was so twenty first century.

I feel like I’m walking against the tide until I see the Chief Engineer, hands in pockets, not look in the least peturbed.

No, he’s not Scottish. To be honest, I’m not sure where he comes from, I hadn’t the time to get acquainted in the shot time we’ve all been aboard.

He sees me coming. I’m surprised he knows who I am.

“Captain send you?”

He broke away from one of his assistants, and turned towards me.

“He could have just asked you himself?”

He shook his head. “He doesn’t work like that. Prefers the personal touch.”

“What’d happening?”

“Everything and nothing. New modifications are not infallible, so it’s just a glitch. The builders are on it, so we’ll have an answer soon.”

“Your opinion?”

“Doesn’t pay to have opinions, only answers.”

A wave from the other side of the room was accompanied by a change in the strobing lights, and a different sound.”

“Good news,” he said. “By the time you bet back to the bridge, everything will be fine.”

The activity hadn’t lessened given the resolution. “You sure?”

“Nothings written in stone. Try crossing your fingers.” With that he left me, and I headed towards to the lift.

© Charles Heath 2020

Searching for locations: New York from a different perspective

It is an amazing coincidence that both times we have flown into New York, it is the day after the worst snow storms.

The first time, we were delayed out of Los Angeles and waited for hours before the plane left.  We had a free lunch and our first introduction to American hamburgers and chips.  Wow!

I had thought we had left enough time with connections to make it in time for New Year’s Eve, like four to five hours before.  As it turned out, we arrived in New York at 10:30, and thanks to continual updating with our limousine service, he was there to take us to the hotel.

The landing was rough, the plane swaying all over the place and many of the passengers were sick.  Blankets were in short supply!

We made it to the hotel, despite snow, traffic, and the inevitable problems associated with NYE in New York, with enough time to throw our baggage in the room, put on our anti cold clothes, and get out onto the streets.

We could not go to Times Square but finished up at Central Park with thousands of others, in time to see the ball drop on a big screen, exchange new year’s greetings, and see the fireworks.

Then, as luck would have it, we were able to get an authentic New York hotdog, just before the police moved the vendor on, and our night was complete.

The second time we were the last plane out of Los Angeles to New York.  After waiting and waiting, we boarded, and then started circling the airport waiting for takeoff permission.  We stopped once to refuel, and then the pilot decided we were leaving.

This time we took our eldest granddaughter, who was 9 at the time, and she thought it was an adventure.  It was.

When we landed, we were directed to an older part of the airport, a disused terminal.  We were not the only plane to land, at about one in the morning, but one of about four.  The terminal building filled very quickly, and we were all waiting for baggage.  The baggage belts broke so there were a lot of porters bring the baggage in by hand.

One part of the terminal was just a sea of bags.  To find ours our granddaughter, who, while waiting, sat on top of the cabin baggage playing her DSI until the announcement our bags were available, walked across the top of the bags till she found them.  Thankfully no one was really looking in her direction.

Once again we kept our limousine service updated, and, once we knew what terminal we were at, he came to pick us up.  This time we arrived some days before NYE, so there was not so much of a rush.  We got to the hotel about 3:30 in the morning, checked in, and then went over the road to an all-night diner where we ordered hamburgers and chips.

And a Dr. Pepper.

It’s heating up

Round about now, in our part of the southern hemisphere, spring is nearly a month gone and leading into October, we start having hot days.

Today, is is going to be 30 degrees Celsius.

This is the calm before the storm, because round about now, we not only have to contend with the heat, we also have the humidity, sometimes reaching 100 percent.

Those days, every move you make, causes endless perspiration.

So, best not to go outside if you can avoid it.

Some years ago we out in air conditioning and it’s been great for summer. Then, the climate change became a factor in everything, and saw huge increases in the cost of water, and in particular, electricity.

Our bill for summer frequently topped a 1,000 dollars for the three months, and getting worse every year.

So, last year we put on solar panels. What a difference. The air conditioning costs very little and our bills are now about 300 dollars for the three months.

More money then for holidays.

Watching the ice hockey has put in my mind a trip to either Canada or America, to coincide with the Maple Leads playing. In Toronto, if they play there it costs a small fortune for tickets, last time over 1,800 dollars, and they lost. As it happened when we were in New York, they were playing the New Jersey Devils, so we jumped on the train and went. It cost 280 dollars, and they won.

I think there’s a message there.

New York, here we come.  Soon.

Aside from the lure of ice hockey, there’s the cold. The idea of minus 19 degrees may faze some people, but not us. If you can imagine endless days at 35 degrees Celsius with 100 percent humidity, you would understand why we prefer to be anywhere but home.

But, of course, there’s quite a few places where ice hockey is played, and where it is equally as cheap to go and see them play, so I’m checking out the draw.

And I can check put some new locations for my stories.

That’s what I call win-win.

Searching for locations: Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China

Some interesting facts before we get out of the bus…

Tiananmen Square or Tian’anmen Square is in the centre of Beijing name after the Gate of Heavenly Peace, a gate that one separated the square from the Forbidden City.

The Square contains,

   the Monument to the People’s Heroes
   the Great Hall of the People
   the National Museum of China
   the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.

The square is about 109 acres and was designed and built in 1651, and since then been enlarged four times since, the most recent upgrade in the 1950s.

The Monument to the People’s Heroes

This is a ten-story obelisk built to commemorate the matters of the revolutions.  It was built between August 1952 and May 1958.  On the pedestal are reliefs depicting the eight major revolutionary episodes.

The Great Hall of the People

This was opened in September 1959, and covers 171809 square meters.  The Great Hall is the largest auditorium in China and can seat up to 10,000 people.  The State Banquet Hall can seat up to 5,000 diners.

The National Museum of China

This is one of the largest museums in the world and the second most visited museum in the world after the Louvre in Paris.   It was completed in 1959, and sits on 65 hectares, and rises four floors.  It has a permanent collection of over 1,000,000 items.

The Mauseloum of Mao Zedong

This was built shortly after his death, and completed on May 24th, 1977.  The embalmed body of the Chairman is preserved and on display in the center hall.

My own observations
This is huge; one of the largest public squares in the world, and if you’re going to walk it, like we did, make sure you’ve been exercising before you go.  It covers 44 hectares, borders on the Forbidden City, and has a memorial to Chairman Mao in the center of it.  But you cannot go near it, it’s fenced off, and it is guarded.

That’s both the statue and the square as there are random guards marching in random directions all the while watching us to see that we don’t misbehave.No one wants to find out what would happen if you jumped the fence around the statue, but I’m guessing you’ll have a few years to contemplate the stupidity of your actions with some very unhappy government officials.

Around the edges of the square are huge buildings, on one side is the museum 

and on the other is the Chinese equivalent of parliament.

Around the sides are also large gardens

At one end, where the Forbidden City borders on the square, there’s a huge flag pole flying the Chinese flag, and this too like the monument is fenced off, and guarded by members of all of their armed services.  No tanks rolled out during our visit much to our disappointment.  There is no entrance to the Forbidden City from the square

At the other end is the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, which was closed the day we were there, as was the museum. 

There are four sculptural groups installed outside the mausoleum.

Other than that, it’s just another square, albeit probably one of the largest in the world.  It can, we were told, hold about a million people.

There are so many things I haven’t done

Does it really matter, you ask?

Perhaps not, but now seems to be an appropriate time, past the age of 65, to take stock.

We have achieved a lot in the last 15 or so years once the children had grown up and could look after themselves.

Unlike a lot of more modern couples who are doing the traveling in their 20’s and 30’s then having children, we chose to do it the other way around.

To me, it seemed easier to deal with teenagers when we were in our 40’s rather than our 60’s.  With the benefit of hindsight, I can truthfully say we were right.

We were older and wiser when we traveled and more aware of the dangers around us, sometimes overlooked or ignored by a youthful devil may care attitude.

But, in saying that ….

No, I don’t think I’ll be getting to see Mt Kilimanjaro, observing the wild animals in the Serengeti, climbing Mt Everest, or seeing the ancient pyramids.

Which is a sad state of affairs given the world has changed so much in recent years and has pretty much ruled out going to a lot of places, and in particular, the middle east, and because of COVID 19, just about everywhere else.

But, if it is ever possible before I die, I still want to go to the Greek Islands, and, Santorini is at the top of my travel bucket list.

We’ve been to London.  We’ve been to Paris and Euro Disney.  We’ve been to Rome and seen the ancient ruins.  We’ve been to Vienna, Schonbrunn Palace, and, particularly for us, a visit to Swarovski crystal world, near Innsbruck, we’ve been to Salzburg, and been on the Sound of Music tour.

We’ve been to Florence and loved it, we’ve been to Venice and loved that too, and we’ve spent a few days in the heart of Tuscany, and want to go back for longer, much longer.

In fact, that’s the second item on the travel bucket list.

We’ve also been to Singapore and Hong Kong, at first out of necessity as an airline stopover, but then we went back to see the city and tourist, and non-tourist attractions.

I will not forget staying at the Hong Kong Conrad hotel as a Diamond Hhonors member.  Oh, the memories.

We’ve also stayed on the French Riviera, in a timeshare apartment in Antibes where every morning when out back you had a view of the shimmering Mediterranean if the sun was out.

Nice, Cannes, Monte Carlo, the billionaire’s yachts in Antibes harbor, Monte Carlo and ‘that’ casino, taking the same drive along the coast as Grace Kelly did in To Catch a Thief, and feeling like James Bond arriving for a new adventure, minus the half-million-dollar sports car.

But, now, crashing back to earth with a very hard thump ….

Travel in the future is looking difficult for both of us, not only financially but from a health aspect.  We are both not as sprightly as we used to be.

Yet given the restraints and if it is at all possible, aside from the Greek Islands and Tuscany, the next items on the list are:

Germany, visiting both Berlin, from a cold war aspect, the Brandenburg gate springs to mind, and Munich at the time of the Octoberfest.  As a beer drinker that is also high on the bucket list.

Scotland, more so since we’ve started watching Outlander, and besides being a beer drinker, I am also partial to a good Single Malt, the Whiskey trail.

Ireland, because my wife’s previous name was Murphy and at some point, in the long distant past some relatives emigrated to Australia, and she would like to visit the country of her forebears.

But with the current state of the world, our health issues, and that all-important requisite money, or the lack of it, perhaps it’s time to visit other parts of our own country.

Perhaps it’s time to do a culinary trip, particularly down south.  It’s practical and achievable and safe.

And it’s a big country.

Living in a winter wonderland, not

Living in a more tr temperate climate where the days of winter are anything from 18 to 23 degrees Celsius, sunny, or overcast, without a hint of rain.

Rarely is it so cold that a combination of wind and rain can chill you to the bone, as it does in the southern states of this country, Australia.

Today is one of those days, sunny and with an almost cloudless blue sky.

Yet I love winter, the real winter where the temperature is so cold your face starts to freeze, an experience I had one January in Chicago, or where the temperature is hovering just above freezing and there was snow everywhere.

New Yorkers I discovered do not like this very much, understandably so because it interferes with their daily lives and livelihood, but to us tourists from those warmer climes it is manna from heaven.

3-foot snow drifts in Central Park, a place where a child can easily make a snow angel, these are aspects of winter we may never see where we live.

The closest we are going to get is a classic wood fire, where we can sit by and watch the flames dance while it keeps us warm.  Nights here do get cold, sometimes.

But as for a white Christmas, we have to travel to the other side of the world for that.  Good thing then that their winter coincides with our Christmas and, here, generally the hottest days of the year.

In fact, hopefully by this Christmas, we might come your way, or if there’s no relief in sight, perhaps the next.

For two reasons.  The first, I really do want to see the Maple Leafs play at home, and win, and Red Lobster in Times Square – no more needs to be said!

Back on the bridge of that rickety starship

The only things moving on this voyage out into the unknown, is the planets.

When we were last on the bridge, the chief engineer, yes, we still have them in the 24th century, was telling us it was a no go.

When you’re standing on a ship that cost more money than you can imagine, and then double that unimaginable amount, and realise it would normally build two other smaller ships, then you can be assure someone very high up sitting in an office somewhere, but wishing they were in your place, would be anything but happy.

I was lucky that I didn’t meet him during the recruitment process, only later on an inspection of the ship just before the handover from the builder to Space Command.  It was not the first, but the first of a new class.

And, with several of the junior officers with a passion for history, came back with a simile for our predicament.  When new cars were created, way back in the 20th century, the first of the series always had teething problems.  Thats why you didn’t but the first of a series.

We didn’t have that luxury, but here’s the thing, it was based on an earlier model with a few new engancements.  It was one of those enhancements that was the problem.

A few minutes after the Captain went to his quarters, his voice came over the speaker system. “Number One?”

Ok, I have a name, but trying to get the Captain to use it might be difficult, what with regulations, and his rather stiff manner, each of which might get in the way.

“Sir?”

“Go down to engineering and get a report on progress.”

I could do that over the internal comms.  What was going on?  Belay that thought, I was not going to question an order.

“Yes sir.”

I glanced in the direction of the second officer, and he nodded, getting out of his seat.  He would take charge of the bridge, even though we were going nowhere.

He walked over to my position, and I headed for the lift.

Automatic doors.  It was not an innovation, but when I came aboard a week ago, they were not working properly, so using the lift to me was a leap of faith.

A few seconds later and what might have been from the top to the bottom in a skyscraper, the lift slowed, then stopped.  The doors didn’t open.

No panic.  Just wait, and breathe. There you go. The doors opened…

…onto utter chaos!

© Charles Heath 2020

Where to go in winter to finish that damn book!

All in all, this is just the place I was looking for to write into a story.  A perfect blend of fact and fiction could make this into something else, or just plain hiding in plain sight.

If you are not skiing, not hiking, not horseriding, and have come for the fishing, this is the place to be.

Except…

There is something about a summer resort town in the middle of winter.

Or maybe it’s like this all the time.  After all, I have been here in Spring and Autumn and it was just as deserted on the main street.

And not just deserted it is almost like a ghost town, and I suspect the few people that are here are the few hapless tourists wandering about wondering where everyone else is.

It’s about 2 pm and we are heading for the local Coffee club for lunch and coffee.  It might be past lunch but I don’t think that’s the reason why there are so few customers

There is just no one here.

Perhaps it’s probably a different story on weekends when the city people come down for the snow and are passing through.

But, essentially, Taupo is a holiday town, and if you take a closer look, all you will see is cafe’s, dining establishments and motels.  A quick tour of the shopping center shows more shops are closed or vacant than there are open.

It’s not surprising that a lot of businesses cannot survive, because to stay in business, you need a steady stream of customers all year round, not just in Summer.

Unlike their winter counterparts, the ski resorts who seem to have a different working model, take as much as you can while you can, they only have to operate a few months of the year, use non-permanent seasonal workers, and can adjust if there’s no snow.

An indication of just how much custom there is in Taupo in winter is trying to organize horse riding.  Admittedly it is rather cold for both humans and horses, but not every day is a loss.  We sought out the local Taupo horse riding establishment and found it closed for Winter.  Understandable perhaps, but the more telling point was the fact it had a big sign up “Business for Sale”

I don’t fish, and aside from water sports, a summery thing to do, there is precious little to do there in winter, which could have it’s benefits.

Hmm.

Hang on, if I really want to disappear, and can’t be bothered doing anything else except a walk to the nearest cafe for a cup of coffee, and be away from all the distractions long enough to finish a book, this is the place to go.

it’s just a pity with the COVID restrictions, we can’t go anywhere, even New Zealand.

I guess I’ll have to find something closer to home.