Have I been missing owt, not going out?

My dear wife and I had hoped to escape the city for Easter, although we’d already consigned that idea back to “future plans” as the Covid-19 pandemic rumbles on. Last year, before the first lockdown, we were looking forward to the prospect of a trip to Krakow, and when we postponed that, we had considered whether we should do that this Easter. However, we knocked the idea on the head as being too fanciful somewhere in that little chink of light between second and third lockdowns (2nd lockdown: November 2020; 3rd lockdown: Christmas 2020 until early February 2021). But we still harboured a desire to escape Vienna at Easter, quietly confident that we would have been immunised, and the shadow of Covid-19, if not disappearing rapidly out of view behind us, would be becoming peripheral. (As it turns out, I will shortly receive my second jab, while my wife, as a teacher has already had hers).

My wife hung up her headset ahead of the Easter break from school, and turned off her laptop, and pronounced that she was off out for a walk through the city. We’ve barely made it to the city centre in the last year, so I duly joined her. We’ve not been able to enjoy meals out or head off for drinks, and keep our social encounters strictly limited. When the weather is good we head out for walks, but when the weather is less pleasant we are still largely at home. The S45 was out of service just before Easter, so I took to driving over to Hütteldorf a couple of times, as the trek through by bus and underground is just that too far in a tight fitting FFP2 mask. More frustrating about April, and to a lesser extent also May, has been the fact that the weather couldn’t even make its mind up – we have seen it be 20°C one moment with glorious sunshine, and the next it has been around zero. I had to continue my Winterdienst at the start of April but was grateful for the distraction in an otherwise uneventful time. However, I was confident enough that my decision to change back to summer tyres in the last week of April was not a hastily premature one.

I thought I was “coping just fine” and managing the upheaval relatively well, and was staving off another visit from the black dog (it was sleeping in its kennel, snoozing and doubtless dreaming of a juicy bone (must have been the steak)), but just recently the isolation away from friends has started to take its toll. I still helped a couple of infirm friends with their grocery shopping, delivered in as contactless a fashion as possible (bagged up and placed on a kitchen table, to allow them to unpack it without heavy lifting or bending). My social contacts were limited to phone and video calls. The latter, however sent me close to toppling over the edge into the abyss.

I can’t do those Zoom calls with fifteen different windows and everyone starting to talk in the 0.2 secs someone talks to draw breath. Most of my older friends fortunately don’t have the technical paraphernalia to Zoom. I still make one exception – my fortnightly sibling Zoom call, with my brother and sister. My brother and I both remark that our “kid” sister seems to live in another dimension, and lunges between “creative spurt” and “creative block”, but hopefully is not needing “creative accounting” to remain solvent.

Just before Easter, I decided that I needed to take a break from it all – but of course Vienna was lurching into a lockdown, and therefore the only way to have a “break” was to go offline. I have felt that this last year, even for someone whose smartphone is not glued to his hand, has been far too consigned to living online. It wasn’t my intention to disappear for as long as I did, however, my absence ended up being a longer one that I had anticipated. I announced that I was “off out for a stroll baht ‘at!” in late March and ended up not surfacing in the virtual world until 12 April, like a submarine coming up for air, when my replacement phone arrived.

I also stayed off the Internet at home for 16 days and went back to a state of “telephonic undress” that I hadn’t enjoyed since I got my first mobile phone, and remember embarking on more than 2 decades of checking I had my phone on me. I took a healthy stack of paperbacks down from a shelf and read and drank coffee and escaped to the worlds of John Le Carré, George Orwell, and PG Wodehouse and rewatched some DVDs that hadn’t been looked at for several years, many of films I had first seen in the 1970s and 1980s. There was no drip, drip, drip of news content, and consequently it was Friday evening on 9th April before I heard about the Duke of Edinburgh having passed away at the venerable age.

Having typed letters to Elderly Aunt for the last few years, I realised I would be forced to handwrite in clear and large writing, so thought better of it and instead called her twice. I almost wished I hadn’t as I heard more of the radio in the background than I heard of what she was saying. For the last year and a bit, my dread has been that she would be struck down by Covid-19 and die alone, and I would feel guilty that I hadn’t found a window of opportunity to travel to see her one last time. She is now fully immunised, which must have been a logistical achievement in its own right. She’s clearly not lucid, and she did inform me that my mother wasn’t returning her calls, and I had to ask her which number she had and waited as she returned with an address book containing a number I remember from the 1980s. I said I would call her later when I’d found the correct one.

Just as I was going to get back online with a vengeance, my computer duly decided to pack up – I expect it was also suffering from over-use and Zoom frying its circuits. As an old skool consumer, I really wanted to be able to go out and poke a computer with my finger, to feel the springiness of the keys, pick it up, check how the trackpad was, hook up a mouse and generally put a new laptop through its paces. But of course it was all “Click & Collect”, which I do not do so willingly. And giving that my laptop had crapped out, I knew I would need to take some time finding out how to get everything off my old laptop’s hard drive (in particularly my logins from my browser) and fortunately nephew brought round a nifty little case into which the SDD could be fitted from my old laptop. So now that Austria is opening up, I am also once again cooking with gas and am back in the virtual world.

And then today, the sun rose over the Cottageviertel, and I had the possibility to go for a drink or food again, as it was the day of the grand reopening here in Austria (unless of course you are Lord Vader in Vorarlberg, my Twitter nemesis, and have been dining out since a while back…). However my wife and I have pledged that we’ll stick out the next ten days before we go out, and first up are going to have a lunch with wine, rather than any drinks. And we won’t be going out to restaurants like mad, but will take it as a treat. We’ve found that we have stopped taking things for granted over the last 15 months. Fortunately, re-reading old books have helped me feel that I have not missed owt, by not going out. True to form it rained. And I might have had to be within the proximity of Chancellor Kurz had I ventured to the Schweizerhaus, which was also reopening today, having in the past gone to its more traditional mid-March season opening.

However, to close on a happier note, it has not been entirely gloom and doom. While packing up some stuff in some newspaper, I discovered the classified adverts in the Bezirkszeitung – that will be a subject for my next post, dear readers.

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