(Image: Private Media)

In our Missing Voices series, Crikey is asking for older readers’ experiences of the pandemic.

Gina Ward writes: When the pandemic arrived, it felt as if I’d been training for it. I used to go for a five-hour walk every week but plantar fasciitis had put a stop to that, first because I had to wear a moon boot and then because the boot had thrown my hip and knee out of whack. I used to love travelling round the world, but the anti-tourist graffiti in Venice had hit me where it hurt, so I was in the process of deciding to take REM’s advice to “stand in the place where you live”.

And my retirement hobby had accidentally prepared me to accept the idea of a global catastrophe. Having realised that I just didn’t get the 21st century, I’d taught myself to read non-fiction, instead of my usual thrillers, and over the past few years I’d internalised the fact that the world was effectively being run by a few young or youngish American guys whose motto was “move fast and break things”.

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So when the epidemiologists told me that COVID-19 was targeting people over 70, I asked my 71-year-old self, “Do you feel lucky?” and got the answer: “No, I feel breakable.” I live near the harbour in Wollongong but most of the people who walk there aren’t into social distancing, so I settled for walking round the balcony of our fifth-floor flat, looking out at the sea and the escarpment, the Rear Window-style flats opposite us and my partner’s balcony garden.

As lockdowns go, it wasn’t bad. I emailed, phoned or Skyped a bunch of old friends I know well enough to talk freely without being face to face. I read all the books in my library pile and ordered more on my Kindle. My partner drove me round the Illawarra so I didn’t forget what the wider world looked like, and brought home treats to supplement our supermarket deliveries. I figured I could do six months of that, easy.

Then, on September 1, I did a quick count on my fingers and realised the six months were up. It’s time to renew my subscription to lockdown — but I’m not sure what to sign up for. The WHO’s best hope is that the pandemic will last for less than two years. A shedload of economists say we have to go back to business as usual right now, if not sooner. So where do I fit on that spectrum? Do I think the COVID-19 figures for Wollongong add up to an acceptable risk? Or do I want to wait for a vaccine that can immunise me against the rona’s life-threatening effects? Do I feel lucky?

Rosemary Jacob writes: I was born to live in the tropics, as I discovered when I emigrated from the UK at the end of 1970 to settle in Darwin.

Cosmopolitan and generally tolerant of all comers, we know we need to protect Indigenous people, whose co-morbidities (how the pandemic has broadened our medical knowledge!) make them susceptible to COVID-19, meaning we needed to shut our borders early.

Now 84, with a comfortable income, I am acutely aware of how fortunate I am to be here. I have ordered some masks in case we get infection in the community but have yet to wear one. We pay lip service to social distancing, having had no community infections, and in June we were able to return to playing bridge with real live people!

I admire Dan Andrews’ compassion and despise Scott Morrison’s ignorance of what it means to be a leader. The latter just wants to be liked by powerful people, while the former wants the best for the helpless citizens who rely on his decisions.

Penelope Nelson: I am 77 and my husband 80. This is week 24 of having our wings clipped by COVID-19 — getting close to half a year. A lot has changed in our lives. We had to cancel a planned holiday in Ireland. After quite a long wait, Flight Centre secured refunds for us from Qantas.

We had to adjust to a home-focused existence: more time together; few chances to meet friends; so many events cancelled. We do count our blessings, which include liking each other’s company.

My main concern in 2020 is distance from the rest of my family. My sons, daughter-in-law and granddaughter live in the United States. I’ve found the raging pandemic there a worry, but they have been working at home and staying safe. I’ve always thought I was only a day away from them. Now it may be a year or more. Worse thoughts occur to me. What if I don’t see them again?

In March I set up a shared blog called Balcony Fever. The title came from all the balcony gatherings in March in Italy and New York, with people saluting their health workers with music and cheers. Our own balconies, it seems, are less community-focused. Most of my neighbours use their balconies rather seldom. I sometimes survey the nearby balconies, Rear Window fashion, and am lucky if I see one person on an exercise bike or someone reading a book.

The website has attracted talented contributors, with varied topics — our newly confined lives, family history, anecdotes and even my submission to the royal commission on aged care.

We will hope for an early vaccine for the virus. A return to normal travel between states and countries. The chance to meet our friends again in restaurants or at concerts. And an aged care system that respects individuality and provides high quality options.

Crikey is calling for readers in their 70s and beyond to share their first-hand experiences of the pandemic. To contribute, write to us at boss@crikey.com.au with “Missing Voices” in the subject line.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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