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Wound willy nilly into a fat tail event

What a punishment, egad. A forced morning meander through the Sydney autumn.

Back in March when E, forcibly exiled from her beloved film studies in the UK, squeaked back in under the closing portcullis, we had little choice but to quarantine at the farm. (The alternative was my Newtown share house, but with people still going out to work it was impossible sensibly to isolate). It was autumn, not yet cold on the Southern Tablelands but no longer hot either. Nights of minus nine or ten were coming, I knew. And a tin shed offers precious little in the way of thermal inertia. So we got to work insulating and lining the walls. Little did I know this small disobedience would strap us into the fat tail of a ruin event.

(The ruin event, according to Nicholas Nassim Taleb, is one with a non-zero probability if irrecoverable losses. You might survive one or two such events but when they become repeated and more frequent, as is predicted for pandemics, extinction becomes inevitable. The “fat tail” is describes a catastophe whose consequences grow and spread in time, instead of diminishing, making an exit wound far worse than the entry.)

Before the lining went on, a certain amount of plumbing and wiring was essential. Connector tubes for lights, power-points, taps. That sort of thing. Naturally, they had to be inspected and that was when things started to go pearshaped. Council had not visited the site before – not even to issue a DA – and the building inspectors, when they did come, seemed to be on both sides. On the one hand, they said the work was fine and we should continue lining the walls. On the other, they said we should have not commenced work at all, implying that we should therefore halt. All of which contradiction came couched in a jungle of bureaucrat-ese. So there we sit, with this confusing, unresolved and cold(!) state of affairs, unable to proceed with sufficient plumbing for hot water, wiring for light or the additional solar capacity necessary for heating.

And that was how things sat when – out of the blue, literally – we had three rainy days in a row. Now, rain is good, yes. Six months back we craved it. But being off grid puts you in this interesting conflict. You want grass, and soil creatures, and all that. But you need sun. Without sun, there’s not coffee, no hot water bottles but, by far the most intolerable, no comms. Phone and wifi both vanish, taking tv with them. So worshipping Ra the Sun God seems a very reasonable option. 

Naturally, that very day, E had a final online exam to complete for her UK university. They give one chance, and only one, to complete. Wifi of the reliable and plentiful variety was therefore critical. We turned everything off including the freezer. We dug in. We prayed for sun. Beneath our anxious gaze the battery rose from six to ten percent and then to 19%. And yes, she managed. The exam was done, we cooked on the fire and slept. But when, next morning, a heavy drizzle blanketed the land, when the battery was still too low for coffee and a Herald deadline loomed, we were forced to decamp for the city.

My city life too has been problematised by pandemic. Bad enough to lose two-thirds of your income overnight (I hope temporarily). Compounding that, though, is the fact that my housemates, even more financially devastated, are being forced to deacquisition the house we’ve shared happily for a year. So I’m flat-hunting again. And although I trust this is also on a temporary basis, it is kinda tricky with no clear idea of whether you’ll need one bedroom or (for stray offspring) two and even less idea of your immediate-future income. Plus, although everyone says “it’s a buyers market,” things are still quite exxy and the one cheap flat I’d seen that was also decent went in a flash.

And yet, despite it all, our small, tribal on-foot flat-hunting exploration of some of Sydney’s enchanted nooks and crannies on a classic and glorious Sydney-autumn morning made everyone semi-delirious with its irresistible magic. Maybe it’s still too soon to leave Sydney?

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