Unexpected things I’ve learned in COVID lockdown (and want to keep in my life)

Tim Richards has found plenty to love about lockdown life.

Tim Richards has found plenty to love about lockdown life. Photo: Getty

The most surprising thing I’ve discovered during the COVID-19 lockdown? How well this apocalypse is being catered. In TV shows and movies featuring end-of-the-world disasters, the protagonists are usually pictured eating rats or shooting each other for tins of baked beans.

By comparison, here in the Melbourne CBD we’ve been lashing out on top-quality produce and imported treats, as well as takeaway meals from top restaurants. Neither Mad Max nor The Day of the Triffids prepared me for this focus on food quality (what else is there to spend money on?), and it’s something I’d like to retain within reason.

Here are other lessons I’ve learned:

1. Shopping for food can be a pleasure

My wife, Narrelle, and I were some of the first people to sign up for online grocery shopping 20 years ago, so it was a shock when Coles and Woolworths temporarily ceased their delivery services. The solution? Visit speciality markets and smaller independent supermarkets.


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It’s been a delight to walk to the Queen Victoria Market and buy fresh limes and tomatoes, along with stuffed olives, fine cheeses and excellent bread. I want to keep money and time aside to keep shopping small and local.

2. Exercise doesn’t have to be a grim chore

I used to hit the gym two mornings a week before work, the only time I could guarantee I’d be free. In this era, however, I’ve been examining the weather forecast, identifying the best day of the week, then walking for a couple of hours and work be hanged.

Because I’m a freelance writer I have that flexibility; but if more of us end up working from home some of the time, perhaps I won’t be alone. Rambling through parks and past the charming architecture of inner-city streets has been good for my mental health.

3. I don’t need to go out for coffee

Tim Richards has swapped cafe coffee for a long black on the couch. Photo: Getty

Instead of heading out before work to a local café, I’ve been sitting on the sofa with my own filtered coffee and an iPad, reading the news and scrolling through social media before “going to work”, ie moving to the desk three metres away. Relaxing, and also more productive. I might shift my outdoor coffee breaks to the afternoons in the post-virus era.

4. Home cooking can be delicious

With two freelance writers at home all the time, we’re cooking almost every meal –  and it’s been great. Generally we create breakfast together, then I make lunch and Narrelle makes dinner. We’ve been trying out new recipes, using top-notch ingredients and generally appreciating home-cooked food far more.

5. Being vegetarian isn’t difficult

For five years we’ve been officially vegetarian, but in reality more “flexitarian”, especially when travelling. During lockdown we’ve gone full-on vegetarian again, as we don’t buy meat in the grocery shopping and would only eat it while out and about. I like being thoroughly vego again, it feels healthier; especially when you consider the virus probably originated from a meat-related source.

6. I don’t really need alcohol

With pubs off-limits, giving up acohol hasn’t been hard. Photo: AAP

Without intending to do so, we’ve almost given up drinking. Though we’ll have a glass of wine with a meal that calls for it (red with pasta, white with stir-fry), we’ve never drunk much at home, saving our drinking for gatherings of friends at local bars and pubs. With those places off-limits, we’ve hardly touched the stuff.

7. Talking to friends is better than liking their posts

Socialising by video hasn’t been perfect. The technology can be flaky, and for some reason the process leaves me with a sore neck and shoulders for days. But it’s been good talking face-to-face with friends and colleagues, particularly those living overseas. Also, making simple voice calls to friends has been a “back to the ‘90s” delight.

8. Ignoring email is good for you

I used to do this anyway, but the crisis has helped by decreasing my incoming email to near-zero quantities. My mantra for a happy workday is to not open the email at all until after lunch, so you don’t get drawn into dancing to other people’s priorities. The lockdown email drought has been a good reminder to focus, by deprioritising such distractions.

9. Attending streamed cultural events is fun

I’ve learned to love the live-cast. When the Melbourne Digital Concert Hall came online, presenting one-hour concerts in order to employ musicians, Narrelle and I booked two Saturday night performances. We bought quality snacks and a bottle of Chandon Brut, dressed up to the nines, and enjoyed the music and the bubbly in the comfort of our living room. I’d do that again, especially for events in far-off cities.

Don’t get me wrong – when the danger has passed and we can return to cafés, pubs, cinemas and theatres, I’ll be there. But this crisis has taught me valuable things about keeping life simple and prioritising the things that really matter: whether that’s a truly spectacular goat’s cheese, or spending time with the people you love.

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