Monday, 19 July 2021

Online groceries ...

 Well, today has brought the not unexpected news that we will be in lockdown for a few days more.

Problem that, because if you live in a rural community and are limited to a 5km radius of home you are limited to the (admittedly rather good) local supermarket.

The real problem is that while they have most things that we need they don't have everything, and when I went up this morning to buy some things that we had run out of over the weekend they were clearly having delivery problems, with some items not on the shelves.

The obvious answer is online grocery shopping with one of the majors.

It used to be that online grocery shopping was a bit of a pain - only one of the duopoly delivered and then only on certain days, but since the pandemic hit, things have improved with both of the usual suspects delivering most days.

Now, the last time we used online grocery shopping, we still lived in Canberra, and it might have been 2015, or possibly even earlier.

However, it was quite a tour de force - we were in Singapore on our way back from Europe, and we realised we'd be coming back to an empty fridge.

So while we were waiting, we sat down and made an online shopping order to be delivered the morning after we got back.

This worked really well, after all the online ordering system didn't care where on the planet we were, which meant we were able to get a pantry full of basics delivered without having to stagger round a supermarket in a jet lagged state on a Sunday morning.

We're not only fussy about fresh fruit and veg and like to have a good look at what we're buying, we also like to make things from scratch where possible, so once we were back in Canberra we found we didn't really use online ordering apart from the odd click and collect order in the run up to Christmas.

And, as I said, when we moved to the country, and where might think online ordering would be a natural - after all, it's how we buy a lot of things, even pre pandemic - it was let down by limited delivery options, meaning that every couple of weeks we would make the 80km round trip to a big Woollies or Coles to stock up.

And that is how it was until the current lockdown.

During the long lockdown last winter we could make the trip as we live in a rural area were not restricted (within reason) as to how far we could drive for shopping. 

In practice, we restricted ourselves to the small Coles in Myrtleford, as it was less busy, and didn't drive to one of the bigger, busier stores in Wodonga as we would normally. 

The other periods of restricted movement since last winter have been short enough to  manage with buying locally.

So, this afternoon, we sat down and logged into one of the majors online ordering systems.

As we hadn't used it for eek years it had of course forgotten all about us, which was probably fortunate, as we didn't want our shopping ending up at our previous address in Canberra, but we had the usual happy ten minutes sorting out a delivery address, payment method, linking our loyalty card etc, etc before doing battle with the beast.

Of course, some of the stuff that's usually available in the stores isn't available online, and we forgot some things, and of course there was the lunatic rule that we couldn't add a bottle of cheap cooking wine because if you ordered alcohol it could only be delivered when the bottle shops were open, despite ordering in the middle of the afternoon, but we got there.

We got most things, so now we await the appearance of a large refrigerated truck later this week ...

[Update 22/07/2021]

Well, the delivery process was really smooth.

The company sent a text about 0630 the morning of the delivery with a more accurate estimate of when we could expect our delivery, and the truck arrived bang in the middle of the new delivery window.

Everything, apart from broccolini, was there and they'd warned us about that, and everything was pretty well packed and in good order.

As always, there were a couple of stuff ups on my part - the wrong size of washing machine detergent, and only a single bag of coffee, but we can live with that.

In fact, lockdown or no lockdown, we might continue with the delivery service, on a rough calculation the cost of delivery is around the same as the cost of the petrol we'd use going to get the stuff ourselves ...

Saturday, 17 July 2021

Lockdown, rain and parrots


Yesterday, Friday, here in Victoria we went back into lockdown. 

Only five days hopefully, enough to let the contact tracers get on top of the outbreak.

So, fully masked, I went to our local supermarket to do some shopping for the weekend. 

The car park was the usual Beechworth mix of elderly Subarus, battered Toyota pickups, the more day to day Kias and Hyundais, plus a leavening of Porsche and Lexus four wheel drives – one of the things I love about Beechworth is the social mix – everything from gnarly old farmers to ladies dressed as if they were going to lunch at the Hyatt, rather than getting long life milk at the IGA.

Despite being the first day of lockdown, the supermarket was pretty well stocked – the only thing that seemed to be in short supply was long life milk – and while it was busier than usual it was by no means rammed the way it would have been at Christmas.

I’m guessing that living in a rural area people are used to stocking up in case they can’t get into town because of bad weather, and now, fifth time around, view a lockdown as something to take in their stride, just like a bad winter storm.

This time lockdown has coincided with days of incessant rain that would have kept us inside anyway – too wet to go for a walk or ride my bike, too wet to work in  the garden or indeed do anything outside.

Normally, I don’t feed birds in winter – having been a cat keeping household for years  I simply don’t believe in putting temptation in the way of resident felines, but since we’ve been catless for a few months now our garden has become a refuge for native finches and parrots who come down from the mountains in bad weather to feed on our birch trees.

This morning, when I got up, there was a solitary bedraggled parrot feeding in the birch trees in the back yard, and he looked simply buggered. When I went out to get a fresh bag of coffee from the outer fridge in the workshop he hardly stopped to look up and kept trying to cram in as much birch seed as possible. Later on, he was joined by a pair of lorikeets and some rosellas, and they just simply sat together in the tree, no squabbling or fighting, all trying to find enough to eat.

That decided me. The birds are obviously struggling this winter, which so far has been unusually cold and wet.

Next time I go to the supermarket I’m going to get some wild bird food. As I’ve said this isn’t something I normally do, but the birds are struggling.

And it’s not just the parrots – the native finches are taking advantage of any break in the rain to root around in the leaf litter for something to eat.

So at the risk of encouraging magpies and currowongs it’s time to give the native birds a little help …



Saturday, 26 June 2021

Happy 5529!

This week saw midwinter's day here in the southern hemisphere, and of course the start of the Inca and Aymara year, the new year being 5529 by their count.

Ever since I briefly worked for CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems division, where we had pancakes on midwinter's day - because that's what the scientists stuck on the ice apparently had - I've felt that we should mark midwinter's day in some way, if only to enliven the gloom of midwinter. 

Every year we've made plans, or actually every year we've made the same plan, make a large traditional Scottish New Year steak pie, invite some friends over, light the outdoor firepit, and stand around talking, drinking whisky and claret.

And every year, for some reason, it hasn't come off.

This year was no different.

Our reason this time was that J had to go back to Melbourne to see her surgeon. When we first went down, we went on the train, but since then we've had a coronavirus outbreak and a lockdown, so we decided to drive and stay in a small European style aparthotel close to the hospital.

We chose an aparthotel as it had a kitchen, meaning we could cook, or at least heat up takeaway or ready meals if all the cafes and restaurants were still closed. (While it was a worry when we booked, lockdown had eased sufficiently so it wasn't a problem by the time of our visit).

So, off we went to a strangely quiet city - yes, there were still trams, trains and traffic, but nothing like the normal levels of traffic. People were still hunkering down, and while there were cafes and restaurant open, none of them were really that busy.

J's meeting with her surgeon went well - and given that the initial course of guided steroid injections to reduce internal swelling in the hip joint and allow the tear to heal naturally hasn't worked, it's going to be surgery in two weeks time - one of the odd side effects of lockdown is that a lot of people have cancelled or delayed elective surgery.

I guess some people don't want to risk a hospital stay, making it relatively easy to get what is a fairly minor procedure scheduled.

We had originally planned to go to the French Impressionist exhibition at the NGV in the afternoon, but the opening had been postponed because of lockdown, so after J's appointment, we walked down through Treasury Gardens to the city for some socially distanced shopping and then back to the hotel.

That night we treated ourselves to dinner at a small Italian restaurant half way between the aparthotel and the hospital.

Up till then the weather had been cold and damp - typical Melbourne winter weather - but the next day the weather changed bringing heavy rain.

We drove back via Healesville, Alexandria and Mansfield, all the time just ahead of the rain.

We'd planned to stop for a coffee and a cake at the Mansfield Coffee Merchant, but we'd forgotten they were closed midweek, so rather than loop round via Benalla,  we foolishly pressed on through Tolmie, over the mountains to Whitfield.

The rain caught us up outside of Tolmie and we had a fairly unpleasant drive through low cloud down to Whitfield, and then home through increasingly heavy rain.

The next day I'd planned to go down to the pharmacy for a day's documentation, but the weather was so appalling - nearly 60mm of rain overnight - I cried off, which was just as well as the dishwasher which had been limping along finally decided to die and squirt water over the kitchen floor.

It's an old Smeg dishwasher that came with the house, meaning it's at least six and looking at it, possibly ten years old. 

While it had probably been quite classy in it's time, it had been becoming increasingly erratic and clearly was due for replacement, and not really worth repairing.

So yesterday we had a belated midwinter celebration, just the two of us. A decent bottle of wine and a pork roast. It was still raining so we couldn't stand outside by the firepit and look at the stars, but we still had a nice time.

Maybe next midwinter's we'll finally get to do the steak pie thing ... 

Saturday, 5 June 2021

Out of lockdown, for now

 For the moment, here in regional Victoria we're out of lockdown - free to travel, but masks are back and there are still restrictions on cafes and restaurants, and of course we now need to sign in with QR codes everywhere we go.

Melbourne, of course, is a different story, and still has a restrictive lockdown.

Yesterday, the first day of the restrictions easing I took J to the Wodonga vaccination hub for her Covid shot - a chest infection meant that vaccination had had to be delayed a couple of weeks, but we've both now had our first shots of AstraZeneca, after which we went and did our supermarket shopping.

The whole QR code business at the supermarket - I was dreading long queues and people finding that they didn't have the right app or that their phone was incompatible - didn't eventuate.

There were plenty of people on hand to ensure that the check in process flowed properly. 

It never ceases to surprise me how many people still have older smartphones (including amazingly windows phones) because they still work and all they do is call and text, and perhaps the occasional email.

Everyone was complying with the mask regulations and socially distancing - we've been here before and people basically know what they're doing.

So, for the moment we're in a sort of limbo. The Dow's documentation project has of course paused with no date for a restart as yet. Something like normal life has resumed, and we wait and see how long it takes for things to improve ...

Saturday, 29 May 2021

Hello lockdown, my old friend

 Well, lockdown again.

As always it comes with a mixture of relief and irritation. Relief because attempts are being made to bring the situation under control and irritation because, well no one wants their life being taken away from them.

Prior to this latest incident we'd had a good run and life was almost normal. 

Masks were no longer required except on public transport, and while you had to sign in with a QR code everyhere, things like the local theatre group's staging of a 1950's comedy drama could go ahead, and what's more, you could stand and talk to people, and even have a drink (!) at the interval, just like things used to be.

And that of course is the problem this time around. A return to something like the normality we used to have seemed to just be in reach, and then this, like an unexpected dousing by a wave when surfing.

Sometimes they come out of nowhere and you just have to go with them.

For the moment, life is on hold. The early music concert we had been looking forward to is cancelled. Sackbutts probably don't go well with controlling virus dispersal, although strings are fine. We still hope that both the Shakespeare and Australian ballet performances we had booked for in August will run.

Further out, things like a trip to NZ we had been planning for next year, are, for now, unaffected. And of course, by then we will have been fully vaccinated and possibly have received some sort of a booster shot, meaning that we will almost certainly be able to make the trip, even if certainty is not quite what it used to be.

But for the moment, it's lockdown.

Yesterday, the first day of lockdown, I went to collect the mail, and for the first time in weeks, I had a choice of parking spots outside of the post office - no tourists or day visitors - and of course none of the chaos of farmers backing impossibly big trucks out of parking bays and needing the width of the street to clear other vehicles.

The local supermarket was busy, but any panic buying had been and gone, and we were more or less back to normal.

But we've been here before, and even though it's a pain, this time around we know what to do to manage lockdown ...

Monday, 17 May 2021

Covid shot!

 It is a truth universally acknowledged that the Federal government's vaccination roll out has not been an unalloyed success.

The whole idea of having GPs administer the jab hasn't worked well. For example, our GP practice isn't even administering Covid jabs. 

J used the federal government's booking system to find another local practice, phoned them up and was told "we're only doing our registered patients but we'll put you on a waiting list" and has heard nothing since.

My own attempts to book via the federal government's booking system have been equally frustrating - being told that injections were available at a practice in Culcairn, a 100km across the border in NSW, was not helpful, nor were the inane emails I got after registering reminding me to book a vaccination.

I'm trying mate, I'm trying.

However, the state government here in Victoria has opened a number of vaccination clinics, including one in the old Coles' supermarket in Wodonga.

Strangely enough you can't book online via the federal government's booking system, you have to call them, but at least it's a 1800 number.

Normally I prefer to do things online than play telephone tag, but I've got to say this was a really good experience.

After going through a couple of layers of menus I ended up talking to a guy who was really clear and helpful, and who booked me in a couple of days later. I was genuinely astounded how simple it was.

There was supposed to be a confirmation email sent out, but it never got to me, so I phoned them again this morning to confirm, especially as the first consultant had said to take a copy of the confirmation email with you.

Again the help desk guy was really helpful, confirmed that I was in the system, read back my details and added "Don't worry about the confirmation, sometimes the system doesn't process the emails properly".

So off we went to Wodonga to do our weekly supermarket run and then to the clinic. The set up looked like any picture you've seen of a vaccination clinic anywhere - black plastic chairs, plastic injection cubicles,  handwritten signs in magic marker, people to take your details, nurses to administer the injections and a post injection waiting area with a couple of paramedics on standby not to mention a couple of security guys really to keep the check in queues running.

The whole experience was really good. No one likes injections but the whole vaccination system worked really well.

J was so impressed that she asked if they could do her as a walk-in. They couldn't, but they gave her an appointment for when we're next doing our supermarket run.

And after the vaccination?

I felt a little bit spacey and not there afterwards, and my arm hurts a bit and my temperature's up. All normal, and certainly no worse than I've felt after some of the precautionary injections I've had for travel to Laos, northern Thailand, or to the jungle in Borneo.

I can't answer for states other than Victoria, but if you live in Victoria I'd suggest using the DHHS vaccination service - go to to make a booking ...

[Update 20 May 2021]

So, how do I feel a few days after my shot?

In a word, fine.

The spacy feeling I had after the shot disappeared during the afternoon, and I cooked dinner as normal. I blithely thought I was going to be one of those lucky people who have little or no reaction.

Not true.

The next day I had some soreness around the injection site, a headache and I felt like the muddleheaded wombat, vague and had difficulty concentrating.

Paracetamol fixed the headache, but later on in the morning I began to have chills and sweats a bit like you sometimes do when you have the flu and your body has difficulty regulating your temperature.

Most of the symptoms were gone by the end of the day, but I did start needing to wee a lot as obviously my body was trying to clear stuff out of my system.

The urination wasn’t excessive, just rather more than usual, but after 24 hours or so everything was back to normal.

And today I feel fine. In fact yesterday I felt fine apart from needing to go to the toilet more than usual and had a day working down in Chiltern on the Dow’s documentation project.

I had the Astra Zeneca vaccine simply because it was the only one on offer as it is the only one that currently we can make here in Australia. 

If I’d had a choice I’d have had one of the mRNA based ones purely because there’s some slight evidence that they provide greater protection against some of the newer variants. From friends overseas I understand that the reaction from the Moderna vaccine is no better or worse than the one you get from Astra Zeneca.

All the principal vaccines work well and seem to prevent serious illness – in fact if you ignore western technological arrogance and look at the data you see that the Russian Sputnik-V vaccine which is heterologous – meaning the second shot is different from the first – may provide better overall protection than any of the Western vaccines – but we are only talking about one or two percentage points between any of them so it’s nothing to get stressed about.

As it is, given the mutability of the virus, I wouldn’t be surprised if we all have to have regular shots just as we have with the annual flu shot …

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

We went to Melbourne ...


... on a train!

We had more or less given up on the train - slow, often late, and sometimes replaced by a bus at short notice.

Which was a pity, because when we had used it in the past, it was not unpleasant - slow, tedious, but pleasant enough, just not good enough to be relied on if you have a meeting or an appointment at the other end.

Now, if you've been following the dogfood tablet saga, you'll know that J managed to injure herself doing yoga, and we've been spending a lot of time in doctor's waiting rooms and local medical services companies.

The upshot of our various scans and visits is that while the cause of the problem is apparent - a small labral tear - the solution wasn't.

So the suggestion was that we go and see an orthopaedic surgeon who specialises in arthroscopic (keyhole) surgery for an assessment.

Amazingly we got an appointment within the week, so we took it.

This of course caused a problem, we're quite busy people, especially so this week. but we could manage a day trip without staying overnight. As J has injured her hip, we would have been unable to share the driving - it's around a 600km round trip - and I was reluctant to drive the whole journey given it's winter and often bad weather.

So the train seemed to be the answer. A longer day than driving, but overall less tiring.

So what was it like?

The train was much the same as ever. We've been promised new Vlocity trains, but Covid has delayed their introduction, so it was still the old coaches and loco combo.

Given J's injury, we went first class rather than economy as you get reclining seats and more space. It wasn't quite as extravagant as it sounds as with our senior card discounts (it pays to be old sometimes) a pair of first class returns was only twenty bucks more than economy.

The night before it rained like buggery and it was still raining heavily when we left, which I felt vindicated our decision to take the train instead of driving.

The train was clean, and if it wasn't for the signs reminding you to social distance and wear a mask throughout the journey, it would have been like pre-covid times.

We had been promised a buffet on the train, but in the event there wasn't. Nothing to do with covid, it was just V/Line being V/line.

First class was only half full, and when I walked into economy in search of the mythical buffet and coffee, economy was just a empty, possibly more so.

Despite stopping for about ten minutes to let us admire a view of a rain swept paddock somewhere outside of Tallarook, the train was more or less on time, and I've got to say if it wasn't for a lack of coffee and having to wear a mask, pretty pleasant.

Coffeeless, we jumped on a Metro train to Flinders Street, from whence we went in search of brunch.

Melbourne was noticeably less busy than in previous times, fewer cafes were open, and those that were were less busy. After brunch we went to the big city department stores in Collins Street and J told me the story (again) of when she worked for a fashion house between school and uni of wheeling racks of finished dresses up laneways to the delivery docks of various stores.

Both DJ's and Myer, the only two stores we actually visited, were pretty empty. I'd almost say more staff than customers, and in DJ's all the momentarily idle staff had clearly been briefed to greet customers and say 'Welcome back'.

Then a Metro train out to Epworth hospital and the consultation, which was a reasonably positive experience with a suggestion of an approach that might avoid surgery.

By the time we'd done all that it was a bit after three and the train home didn't go until six. As it was cold and damp we were a bit at a loss what to do so we went to the NGV for a bit.

V/line have a twitter feed for each of their services and helpfully advised that there was again going to be no buffet car on the Albury evening service - for once my twitter obsession had a purpose.

This gave us a problem. Previously it had been quite easy to pick up something reasonable to eat on the train back from one of the takeaway food franchises in Southern Cross station, but, when we got in this morning we'd noticed that a lot of the food outlets - mostly those that do interesting food like sushi, panini and baguettes had gone - leaving only the usual suspects.

So, instant decision, back to Collins Street on the tram and then walk back through the laneways between Collins Street and Flinders street in the hope of finding somewhere for a glass of wine and something to eat.

Despite it being a little before five, a lot of the cafes one might have expected to be open were closed or closing up. Fortunately Cafe Andiamo, where we'd had brunch (it had been meant to be an early lunch, never mind) was open and had tables free, so it was a mushroom pizza (D) and positano style squid (J) and a couple of glasses of wine. Possibly not the best we could have done, but enough to give us that 'Aah' moment before the journey home.

The journey home was tedious.

The train was running late, and it was dark - in fact it revealed that just how extraordinarily dark the Victorian countryside is outside of townships, many of which fairly minimal street lighting.

I'd brought a book to read, but that didn't work as my glasses kept steaming up due to the requirement to wear a mask, so we played with our phones, talked, and played 'I spy with my little eye' among other silly games.

There's no wifi on our current crop of V/Line trains, but one thing I did notice was that on most of the line there's now pretty good Telstra coverage meaning that if we'd actually wanted to use the internet we could have taken our portable internet modem with us.

The train was even emptier than it was on the way down, perhaps a bare third of the seats taken.

We arrived into Wangaratta about twenty minutes late. While there's a connecting bus to Beechworth, we'd driven down to the station and left the car in the station car park for the day, meaning it was only a half hour drive home for a glass of something and some nibbles before bed.

So, how would I rate the experience?

Tiring, in a word.

The precautions against the spread of covid are inevitably irksome, but they are well enforced, and everyone seems to understand the importance of social distancing, mask wearing and hand sanitiser. The trains, and the stations, are clean, in fact cleaner than they used to be.

I'd have no worries about using the train again, but if it was possible, I'd go down the day before on the lunchtime train, take an overnight bag, and stay somewhere in the city rather than do the whole journey in a single day ...