The things we take for granted

Trailer for As Good As It Gets

I’d heard about the movie As Good as it Gets long before I ever saw it. Back then it was often cited in screenwriting classes as a good example of screenwriting. I don’t know if it still is. When I finally did see it, I enjoyed it. It’s a film about an obsessive-compulsive romance author (Melvin) who falls in love with Carol, a waitress at the café he goes to every day. He’s the type who has to sit at the same table every day, too, right down to glaring unpleasantly if someone is in his seat, until they move.

Carol has an ill son, and she spends a lot of time looking after the boy.

Even thought I enjoyed the movie, one thing I never understood was why she didn’t take him to a doctor and get him tested.

I mean, I knew in a subliminal way, that it was expensive going to the doctor or to a hospital in the US, and that health insurance is tied to many people’s jobs, but knowing that and realising the consequences can be two different things.

It wasn’t until the introduction of Obamacare—and its attempted dismantling by the current US government—and then the onset of COVID-19, when we started to hear lots and lots of stories about the impact lack of medical care has on US citizens, that I finally got it.

We take for granted that those of us who live in Western cultures have similar lifestyles. And we do, mostly. But we assume everything is the same when it’s not. Here in Australia Carol’s son would have undergone a battery of tests by now, and given she was on a low wage, it most likely wouldn’t have cost her much.

We judge others by our experiences, particularly when they seem to be exactly like us.

In many ways, this can be more of a problem than someone in a completely alien situation. The things we take for granted are often the things we understand the least.


Fitness during COVID-19

Getting fit with Ring Fit

COVID-19 update

How is your version of the pandemic going?

Here in Victoria we are now officially in a state of disaster. We’re in lockdown for six weeks. We can buy food (maximum of once per day), go out for medical or care purposes, and for one hour of exercise. Oh, and we have a curfew.

What’s the first thing many did? They went to the supermarket and bought the toilet paper and staples.

This is the third time! You’d think people would have learned by now. Although some have, because the queues to the liquor stores were easily as long as those to the supermarket. 😊

I admit to being surprised at the number of people who are convinced the whole coronavirus thing is a hoax. Sensible people I expected to be more logical about it. Seemingly smart people who buy into conspiracy theories and government plots and other way-out things. Including the number of people who are convinced that the laws don’t apply to them.

We’ve both been working from home six months. It’s life now. We’re still working, at least. I am working longer hours than ever, sometimes on the weekends as well, which is why there was no blog last week.

But … we are exercising more.

One of the problems we had was that due to work commitments we found it hard to get out during the day, and by night it was dark. It’s not so much fun walking in the dark in winter, and now we have the curfew, too. Some days we didn’t even walk as far as the shop (which is next door to our house). We ended up buying a Ring Fit (and a Nintendo to play it on), and we’ve exercised solidly for the last two weeks. It takes a lot more time out of the day, but it’s fun, and we’re stretching our muscles.

Right now it’s totally ow, ow, ow after each session (and the next day, too), but it’s working better than going for walks.

But this wasn’t supposed to be a blog about COVID-19, even though it’s turning into one. At least historians and anthropologists will have plenty of information online when they’re researching the impact of COVID-19. (For the historical records my thoughts/emotions currently veer between “I can’t believe how many gullible, selfish people are out there”, and just plain exhaustion.)

The newsletter is late

That same exhaustion has delayed our July newsletter, which is half completed and has been for a month. It should go out in the next day or so.

Still, on the positive side, if you haven’t signed up for the newsletter and do now, you’ll get two in a row. The initial welcome letter, and this one. 😊

I’m off to do some Ring Fit.


I was planning …

I was planning I’d be in New Zealand right now for WorldCon. The best laid plans. 🙂

Anyway, I volunteered to moderate a panel via Zoom. Let’s see how we do. If anyone is interested, it’s all about character names, and it’s on today, Wednesday, 5pm New Zealand time.


Hugo nominees

A couple of days ago I logged in to vote for the Hugo awards.

I start by reading through the Best Novel nominees. Normally I know most of them, and there are usually one or two I like a lot.

What’s this? I haven’t read any of them. Not a single one. This is the first time that’s happened, and I read a lot of new work over the last year. None of what I read made it into the ballot.

I move onto the next category. Best Novella.

You have to be kidding me. I haven’t read any of those, either.

It wasn’t till we got to the Best Novelette section that I found a story I had read. That was Sarah Pinkser’s The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye.

So I don’t know why, but I am so out-of-touch in SFF this year.


When your science fiction isn’t science fiction any more

I have been reading with interest J. Scott Coatsworth’s SF/F Magazines Wait Out The Great Pause, over on the SFWA blog.

Coatsworth’s articles are about how science fiction and fantasy magazines are dealing with COVID-19 and some of the possible future effects. He also links to two articles by Neil Clarke, from Clarkesworld.

Toward the end of part part 2 of Coatsworth’s article, publishers and editors talk about the type of writing that might come out of this current crisis.

 “I am very curious to see what the literature is that comes out of this event … BCS in late 2016 received more stories than usual featuring dystopian worlds or autocratic governments. I expect to see a similar reaction in writers’ work from this pandemic …”

Scott Andrews, editor-in-chief and publisher of Beneath Ceaseless Skies (BCS)

I agree. I am curious, too. And it’s not just science fiction writers who will be writing about pandemics, now. All writers will. Because this is no longer part of a potential future any more, it’s real. It’s now. It’s life.

So if life now is what we science fiction authors used to write about, what will we science fiction authors write about next?

It is the nature of good science fiction to extrapolate from the now and take potential futures all the way to extremes. Right now, some of those extremes are more dire than they have been in a long while. There’s plenty of room for dystopias and pandemics yet.

But what else?

Here are some types of stories I’d like to read right now.

Hopeful futures. It would be nice if some science fiction started to go the other way. When the world seems to be digging itself into a hole, a little escapism in your off time makes a good balance. I want some light, fun books to read.

Not just in science fiction. Fantasy, too.

Less fantasy based on so-called historical ‘fact’. I’m fine with horses and swords, but no women sitting on the side in their long dresses, cooking and doing the dishes, and non-white races as slaves or servants. Give me a world where everyone is equal and your job doesn’t depend on your colour or race but on your ability. Where people can sleep with whom they like, no matter what sex they are. You’re writing fantasy, for goodness sake. The only rules you are bound by are those in your book.

Plus of course the old faithfuls. Please give me funny books. Not necessarily laugh-out-loud, but fun stories. And characters. Give me characters to love and care about. Actually, it’s not that different from my last wish list.


More days pass

Are you still in lock-down? Our restrictions were easing—first we could go out in groups of five, then up to twenty—but once people started going out, infections started to rise. Here in Victoria we had seventy-five new cases overnight, which is our fourth-highest ever daily total.

I did go to the shops yesterday, however. I went early, as I’d seen the pictures of the crowded shopping centre near us. I have to say, yesterday everyone was social distancing really well. But the numbers are still going up. And people are starting to hoard toilet paper again. You’d think we’d have learned from the first time around.

I’m staying put a while longer. I’m not getting much exercise, but at least it’s warm inside.

We’re settling down into a better writing rhythm, which is nice. COVID-19 certainly interrupted that. For a while it seemed as we couldn’t write anything. All our old ideas came across as junk, and as for new ideas—they didn’t happen. Now we’re writing more consistently, the ideas are coming more consistently, too. Lovely little gems that we want to write now.

That’s the writer’s life, isn’t it. Pretties, all around, trying to distract you.


I’d rather be …

I’d like to be cruising right now

My friends know how much I love cruising.

“So,” they say. “I bet Coronavirus has changed your opinion about cruising.

Not at all.

Cruising Cruising has always had a chequered history of infections. With so many people packed into a small space all takes is one person to a infect a whole ship.  Before coronavirus there was norovirus, and even just the flu. They’re all similar, they’re all around. 

I admit we’ve been on some cruises where people got horribly sick. We took our mother on one – and we were genuinely worried by how totally the bug that went around the ship knocked her out. It was a nightmare trip, yet Mum enjoyed it, bug and all.

You also see stupid, thoughtless behaviour on ships. The last few cruises we’ve been on the cruise lines have had signs all over the ship to the effect of, “The only proven effective protection against norovirus is washing your hands with soap and water. Hand sanitiser doesn’t work.” Yet still you see people go into the lunch buffet without washing their hands. Most of these don’t even bother with hand sanitiser either.

But a couple of hundred people cramped side-by-side into a tiny space on an aircraft isn’t any better, and I’ve caught more bugs pre- and post-cruise than I have on board the ship.

Of course I’ll be careful next time I go, but it’s not going to stop me cruising. Not at all.


Ghost doorbell joins the ghost phone

I’ve lost track of how many weeks we’ve been working from home now. The weeks are running together. Here in our little corner of the world they’re relaxing restrictions somewhat, but it hasn’t made much difference to us. We’re still not going out much. We’re certainly not going anywhere near our local shopping centre, which has been packed the last two weekends.

Time is whooshing by. So much so I didn’t realise until tonight that I had totally forgotten to post a blog last week.

It doesn’t bode well for leaving work and writing full-time, which I’d love to do one day. In my dreams. Right now I have a good job, it earns reasonable money, and I enjoy the work. What more can you ask? Except for more writing time. This job is full-on, and I find I am working late nights now more than ever.

Enough about work.

I told you a few weeks back about our ghost phone. It still rings, by the way. Now it’s been joined by the ghost doorbell.

That’s right. Now the doorbell is ringing, too.

It’s a wireless doorbell. The button, which has a small battery, is outside, but there are no wires to the chime. The battery for the doorbell button was flat, so we took it out to replace it. Then we realised we didn’t have another battery, so we left it off until we could buy one next time we went shopping.

While the battery was out, the doorbell started ringing at weird hours of the night and day. There’s never anyone there when we check, of course.  And the ringer still doesn’t work.

Today we put a new battery in. We’ll see what happens now.



Autumn started with a cold. Autumn finished with a cold.

In between was three months of social distancing and the world going crazy while we watched.

The second cold was worse than the first. Sherylyn ended up with a painful, hacking cough deep in her lungs. We thought—hoped—it was a cold, but some of the symptoms, like that cough, were worrying. Worrying enough to look up the COVID-19 site and see if she should be tested. Yes, she should.

I had caught the cold a week after she did. Sore throat, continuously sneezing, and my nose wouldn’t stop running. The COVID site said I should be tested, too.

So at lunchtime we took ourselves up to the local drive-through testing station. We’ve driven past it before, on our way to the supermarket, and cars have been lined up out of the car park, waiting. But this day there were only two cars in front of us. We were soon at the front.

By this time, the cold medication I’d taken had kicked in. I wasn’t sneezing any more, my nose had stopped running and I could swallow without pain. I didn’t feel too bad. So I’m sitting in the car answering all these questions about symptoms. Sneezing, runny nose, sore throat. And I’m showing none of it. I felt like a fraud. Sherylyn, at least, had to turn away occasionally to cough into her arm.

The people doing the testing were lovely, by the way. Helpful, friendly, and they didn’t make one feel a fool.

Then came the test itself. I don’t know how many of you have been COVID-tested, but here’s our experience.

They stick an extra long cotton tip into your mouth, right toward the back of your throat and take two swabs. Gag time, big time. You can’t help it.

When that’s done, they use another cotton bud and stick it way, way up your nostril and twirl it around for a count of ten. The only problem was, the meds had cleared up the nasal liquid in my throat so well that they couldn’t get anything out of mine. So the lady doing the swabbing tried it in the other nostril.

Not fun. Not fun at all.

Both of us came home and could still feel it hours later.

Then next day, just under 24 hours later, we got an SMS, saying they found no traces of COVID-19. Amazing timing, especially when it’s supposed to take up to five day. Melbourne Pathology must have been working 24/7 to get the results so quickly.

The finding was such a relief because this time there was that niggling doubt.

So here we are, certified COVID-free. (Well, technically, it’s no traces, but let’s not quibble shall we.)

How is your lockdown going? Victoria, Australia, is relaxing restrictions gradually. As of 1 June restaurants can seat diners, provided there’s no more than ten people in the restaurant and the groups socially distance from each other. The first footy game was played.

Me, I’m staying out of it a while longer. It’ll be takeaway and cooking at home for a few weeks more. Let’s see what happens after the first rush of people going out.

Stay safe.



James and the Giant Peach — cover from the Scented Peach edition 2018.

I am absolutely loving Taika Waititi’s (and celebrities) reading of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach.

James and the Giant Peach, episode one.

If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor. Watch it. It’s awesome.

I’ve seen three episodes so far, and the fourth has just been posted.

James and the Giant Peach, episode two.

It’s part of a charity to raise money for Partners in Health. You can catch it on YouTube as they put it up.

I’m off to watch episode four.