Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

It’s been a helluva time. First we had long, hot, dry weather. Water restrictions kicked in to Sydney. For much of the inland areas, water restrictions had been in for months. Some areas were down to the last dregs in the dams and were looking to be evacuated. We were cracking jokes about it being so dry that the trees were chasing the dogs.

Drought-affected parkland in Canberra. These areas are normally irrigated and green.

Then, in July, fires began. They really kicked along in August and September until it seemed that the whole state was burning. We had been horrified at the deliberate burning of the Amazon rainforest, but now we saw our own country burning over a much greater area. At one point there were fires in every state of Australia. Billions of animals burned. Species on the brink of extinction. Lives lost. Firefighters included; one was killed when the fire truck he was in, was flipped over by a fire tornado. Just think about that for a minute — a heavy fire truck, really heavy. And fire tornado. It is what it sounds like — a small tornado made of fire. And they drive fire trucks in and around these, because someone has to fight these fires. And they are volunteers. Our firefighters are so tough, they can kickstart jumbo jets. And that’s just the women…

Early regrowth after fires.

Just when we thought the fires would never burn out, it began to rain at last. It took a couple of weeks of rain to begin to have significant impact on the worst fires. More weeks of rain before they were under control.

What happens when we get so much rain? We get floods. And so much rain — in two days, we got a year’s rainfall. And we had weeks of it. Our roads flooded. Landscape so recently burned had little to hold the soil when the mud slides began. Before we left for Darwin, we drove out on our only access road to find trees falling and blocking it. In the torrential rain people would get out of their cars to try to help drag fallen timber out of the way, but the bigger stuff needed the fire brigade, who had only just returned from the fires and now had to wield chain saws in the rain.

Random volunteers try to clear a fallen tree in the heavy downpour.

The floodwaters rose even while we were away, and when I first saw the unbelievable screen shot from the traffic camera of a SUV trying to drive through fast-flowing three-metre-deep floodwaters near our home, I thought it was a Photoshop job. But it was real. Unstoppable Aussies again. The idiocy was witnessed by one of our traffic cameras (hence my screen shot). I thought it might have been useful if his licence plates were able to be read, so police could notify his next of kin. No bodies were reported downstream, however. It is believed he was able to reverse out. Not surprisingly, despite appeals, the driver has not come forward.

Photo taken from public feed of traffic camera. The deepest part of the road was three metres underwater.
It is believed that the driver managed to reverse out.

Two weeks later while we were driving across Victoria, where we had hoped to travel inland to visit some areas in need of a bit of friendly tourism after the fires, we were blocked by fallen rocks and mud slides.

First the famine, in the form of a severe drought. Then fires. After that, the floods.

And now, pestilence. The sudden rise of novel coronavirus in Wuhan Province in China has now spread to the rest of the world. In some places it’s still clusters only, but it’s now just a matter of time. We’ve seen panic buying, misinformation, complacency followed by political panic, and now we worry about all the economic fallout from so much disaster. Toilet paper is chronically in shortage. Jokes on the radio (we always use humour even in dire situations) have indicated that toilet paper is now like gold. It’s been dubbed ‘craptocurrency’ or ‘buttcoin’. Images of people playing poker with rolls of toilet paper as currency have lightened the mood. I saw a video clip today of a man paying for a cup of coffee with individual sheets of toilet paper torn off a roll. When the barista objected, the customer tore off another sheet, leaned forward and folded it into the barista’s pocket as a tip. Barista happy at last. Joke.

Supermarket shelves emptied of toilet paper. WHY?
Empty shelves. Different day, different supermarket.
The trolley is full of plastic wrap accumulated from multiple pallets of toilet paper.

Fire, Famine, Flood, Pestilence.

With each disaster, it was the worst for a hundred years. Or in existing records. With each, it came closer to home.

Now it’s time to re-think. Fire, Famine, Pestilence and Death. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

A cartoon appeared that showed the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Pestilence was carrying a huge supply of toilet rolls. One of the other Horsemen said to him, ‘Dude – really? Not cool!’

New laws have come in, enforcing social distancing in clubs and other public venues. Last night we were in a club for dinner and noted the tables spread far apart, with half the number of chairs. There were very few people. One family was in the corner, collectively keeping their distance. My husband and I sat side by side but away from others. We share the same space at home. But the manager came up to us and asked us to please observe a two metre radius.

I said, ‘We’re married! We share a bed! For us, we choose to sit together here too.’

The manager replied, ‘We could lose our licence if people sit too close together. Please move apart. What you do at home is your business there.’

My husband got up to move to a distant table. Trying to keep things light, I called out to him, ‘I’ll text you!’

In the corner, the young children were climbing all over their parents. One was sitting on his dad’s lap. How can you explain social distancing to small children? But laws are laws. The manager squared his shoulders and headed over to the family.

We collected our pizza, took it home and snuggled up together, eating pizza in front of the TV.

Today in a different club, on a day when you have to wait in line for a table, the staff outnumbered the customers. By evening, when the place would be full of people ordering dinner, there were no customers at all. On a Saturday night.

A lone lunchtime customer — my colleague before our meeting. Note the ‘social distancing’ of the tables.
When we came out of our meeting room at 4.30 pm, the club was empty of customers.

In the drought, in the fires and in the floods, we saw how our countrymen have pulled together. A few hoarders notwithstanding, if we continue to support one another as a community we will get through this as well. But we’re in for a rough few months. Some people joke that someone somewhere has been playing Jumanji again.

It’s getting harder to joke, although I feel we need humour to save our sanity. Right now, I’m more anxious than I was the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And I don’t get anxious. Not these days. Not normally. But this is the ‘new normal’, we are told.

I have a memorial service for an old friend tomorrow. Not a funeral, that’s no longer possible. The body has to be privately cremated, when the body is released. The chapel is likely to be spread thin, according to new laws of social distancing. When my friend died six days ago, the restrictions were only forecast, as an advisory. Now they’re much more stringent and getting stricter all the time. I’m glad he didn’t know.

Tomorrow at the funeral I won’t be able to hug anybody. Not get close. Not offer the comfort I feel I need to. Not be comforted.

I might not be travelling again for a while. With weird shortages, such as the apparent run on toilet paper, every trip to the shops is an adventure into the unknown.

Even driving to the shops is becoming pointless and, as with other countries, even that may soon be denied us. For writers, lockdown gives us a chance to get some work done. No distractions, no excuses.

I will still be blogging. Feel free to travel vicariously through my memories.

A thought to hold onto — there are only four horsemen of the apocalypse. Aren’t there?

Final note: in Terry Pratchett’s Thief of Time novel (Discworld series) there are Four Horsemen of the Apocralypse (note spelling). There used to be a fifth horseman, Ronnie Soak (Kaos spelled backwards). However, he quit before the group became famous and now works as a milkman.

Maybe they’re putting the band back together…

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