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A question

Updated: Jul 21, 2021

"What’s the one thing you did [in lockdown] that you won’t change?" Rachel Cooke - The Observer

As Sydney plunges into lockdown and here in Melbourne we cross our fingers and hope that it won't happen here yet again, I came across that question in last week's Guardian newsletter. And it gave me pause for thought.

That sign in the window above, appeared early on in Melbourne's long lockdown last year. It's still there. I pass it when I walk back from the shops. And every time I notice it I tell myself to indeed try to be kind. During that long lockdown there were many more such signs, and little quirky things, such as these.

I try to do those too. I also try to speak at least a few words to people I pass on my walks. If they look receptive that is. It's surprising what response that sometimes creates.

The kids chalked lots of rainbows on the pavements. People put teddy bears in their windows and on their fences - some are still there - although rather bedraggled after all this time. The little messages though seem to be disappearing, and the quirky things too, although the Eltham chooks seem to be proliferating. There are not quite as many people out walking either, but then the gyms are open again and so the gym junkies can return to their earlier and probably rather more rigorous fitness routines.

I am still walking but then I was doing that before lockdown because I recognised that I needed more exercise. But yes, I do speak to a few more people on those walks.

Lockdown walks, however, did up the ante on my photography efforts. Because everyone else was in lockdown and the grandchildren were trapped at home, we instituted photography competitions for a few weeks. I would set a theme - red, lines, reflections were some I remember - and we would all take photographs on that theme. The competitions did not last all that long - I suspect the grandchildren were not as interested as I - but it did stimulate me to look more carefully at everything I passed along the way on my walks. Even when I was wandering around the garden and the house. And then, when given a blank desk diary at Christmas I decided to try and take at least one photo every day to document my life. And, amazingly, I have more or less kept this up, having missed just a very few days in the year so far - three I think. To show you what I mean about noticing things you that might not otherwise notice - here are a few examples. The natural world always has something new and beautiful of course, but the very ordinary does too. Next time you are standing still, just look around you and see what could possibly be photographed. Look down, look up, look sideways they say. And look close up I would add. And never forget the editing tools at your fingertips these days.

None of this really has much to do with lockdown however, although I will continue to take photographs.

And none of that had anything much to do with food. However, my other lockdown changes mostly do.

Top of the list would have to be the Zoom cooking classes. I think this may have been a suggestion from one of my oldest granddaughter's teachers - they were home schooling at the time. But this has been hugely successful. When lockdown ended they ceased, although the occasional home cooking class still happened, but when the last lockdown started my son decreed that this was something he wanted to continue every Sunday as an ongoing process because he wanted his boys to cook the dinner once a week.

When this was passed on to the children themselves they were all delighted, which is very gratifying. It's slightly in abeyance at the moment because of other school holiday commitments and birthdays, but it will return. If you have grandchildren I would highly recommend it. Because now we have Zoom - which may well have made its founder a fortune off the back of the misfortune of the pandemic - but which nevertheless has saved so many people from complete isolation. To be honest I'm not sure whether my grandchildren have learnt all that much in the way of cooking, but nevertheless it has been a joyous thing for me and satisfying entertainment for them I think. So yes I shall be continuing this.

What else food related has changed since lockdown? I confess I have always been a bit of a hoarder, and so my pantry was already very well stocked when lockdown began. I could have survived for at least a month, probably more, on what was in there, although fresh food would not have been available. Maybe I should have changed to being a backyard market gardener - but no, I know my limitations. It just doesn't happen for me. However I did resolve to use up some of that stuff lurking in the pantry. Alas I have not made much progress on that. It's a sort of two steps forward one back thing.

"I hope that the firm determination not to waste anything, born of the first weeks of the first lockdown when shopping was suddenly such a slog, will stick, too." Rachel Cooke- The Observer

I suspect because of lockdown there have been a lot more articles and posts and programs about not wasting food. Well that's what it seems like to me, but maybe it's something in me that noticed them. Anyway I have certainly taken more interest in different preserves, and doing more with every bit of the vegetables I buy. Witness the pear and grape vinegar I made. I was quite proud of this - it looks nice and it actually tastes nice too. I also have started chopping into fine slices and using the stalks of all the soft herbs I might be using in a recipe and I count that as a fairly major contributor to the flavour of whatever it is I am cooking. Now that's something I shall be continuing to do. For my birthday I also bought - it was an exchange for the book I was actually given - Use it All - from the Cornersmith ladies which has lots of preserving and wastage avoiding things in it. A post is coming on that. Then there are other articles I see here and there. I was asked by my granddaughter about making cheese, and we are going to have a go at that soon. Halloumi perhaps. And I really am going to try making apple jam. Maybe lemon and carrot jam too.

My next thing is not really something that I have done much as yet, but which I feel I should. As we all know the hospitality business has been hit hard by lockdowns. We did take advantage twice of Mercer's dining at home options and I think we will do it again some time, even though we can actually go there to eat again. But really we should support our more modest local restaurants and take-aways more I think. Perhaps a vow of doing one or the other once a month? Not very ambitious - or helpful really - I know, but something worth doing I think. Particularly as we are unlikely to be travelling anywhere overseas any time soon. Maybe not even in Australia.

Rachel Cooke spoke of maintaining a home restaurant kind of atmosphere - nice cutlery, nice crockery, flowers on the table, etc.

"I found then that a few love-in-the-mist, cut from the garden where they grow like weeds, and shoved in a pot, buoyed me up at suppertime like almost nothing else – though a candle, or a slab of butter on a pretty plate are just as good, out of season ... The rites of the table lend order to our lives and express our gratitude for whatever’s on it – and somewhere between the two of these things, perspective can usually be found." Rachel Cooke - The Observer

Like gardening I'm not very good at this either, and I should try more often, and not just for the big treats like this Mercer's at home meal. It's rather like eating outside in the summer because it makes you feel like you're on holiday. I should certainly do more with the flowers. The weedy oxalis is blooming again and it's actually rather lovely. I might pick some to go with our leftover dinner tonight - or rosemary - that's in bloom.

Truth to tell, here in Melbourne, we have not seriously been affected by the Pandemic. So far I should say with all fingers and toes crossed. We live in a very lucky and privileged strata of society in what is possibly the luckiest country in the world at the moment. We panic when we get more than 1 new case of COVID and shut our borders and homes. But even in the most severe part of the lockdown we could still go to the supermarket, and we could still go for a walk, even if it was within a limited range of 5km. Well I don't walk more than 5km at a time anyway. I suppose the worst things have been not being able to meet up as much as we would like with friends and family - and I have not been as good at using Zoom as I should have been. And also of course we have not been able to travel - which is very, very sad - not just for the entertainment value of it all - but also for the opportunity to meet with people of a different nationality living a different kind of life and experience that life, however superficially for a short time.

"The self-help gurus instruct us not to sweat the small stuff. But I think sweating the small stuff makes the big stuff more manageable." Rachel Cooke - The Observer

I think I would slightly reword that to be to appreciate the small stuff. There is so much joy and fulfilment to be found in the small stuff. Leave the big stuff to those more able than you.

And do please tell me what you will continue doing after lockdown that you did/do in lockdown.


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