February 2020: I had just finished a board meeting at the property technology startup that I was working with, and it felt good. The numbers were heading in the right direction, we had traction. It was going to be a good year. In an excellent demonstration of the developed and developing world dichotomy, it was easy to ignore the early murmurings of a virus in Asia as something happening “over there.”
March 2020: The virus in Asia was becoming hard to ignore. Cases had spread to the USA, Europe, the UK, and Australia. Real estate listings, which drove the proptech’s revenue, had fallen off a cliff as people became paranoid about having diseased humans inspecting their house. The federal government closed the borders, and the state government closed the pubs. On the TV news, there were pictures of people queuing outside social security offices to register for unemployment benefits. There was a sense of impending doom. Embarrassingly, I wore gloves and a mask when shopping at Aldi to avoid infection.
By late March, just when Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a 2-week lockdown — “two weeks to stop the spread” — I met with the founders of the proptech, and we agreed that I would resign as the future of the business was uncertain. Autumn was cold and wet, with clouds hanging low and heavy over the hills. Suddently, I was unemployed and had at best a few months’ cash in the bank account. The kids were homeschooling, which meant watching YouTube videos. They were delighted; I was alarmed.
My wife and I started going for long walks at the Hamer Arboretum and hiked up to the rocks that overlook the valley, hearing the Lyre Bird calls. In the forest it was tranquil with no evidence of the human chaos. But without work and worried about money, I was listless and drove the family crazy.
“You need a project, Jon,” my wife told me. “Do something with the kids. Use the time to build something.”
So we decided to make a chicken coop. With half an acre of land, we had the room, and with lots of wood in the shed, we had the building equipment. The only thing we didn’t have was a plan or the skills.
It kept raining, and it was colder than normal. It was like the weather had decided to lockdown. Streets and motorways were empty. City buildings had emptied of workers. The lights were on but the people were working from home with Netflix, Zoom, and wine. Our politicians appeared for daily press conferences with serious faces and spoke about keeping us safe from ”this dreadful virus”. The TV news showed pictures of body bags in New York and Italy.
A terror was coming, and we were building the chicken coop.
We built a frame, and the kids took turns drilling in the screws, enjoying the thrill that comes with using power tools, seeing metal rapidly screwed into hardwood. The frame was raised mostly straight but not square and featured a jaunty pitched roof. We calculated that there was room for 5 to 6 chickens. My son thought it could do with wheels. “Good suggestion,” I said.
All it needed was a place for the chickens to roost and some stairs, or what I like to think of as the chicken promenade; a place for the ladies to go to and from their roosts.
Then I started working on a couple of contracts — consulting. Hustling. Not fully employed, but not fully unemployed. Less listless with the busyness of emails, Zoom calls, and strategy.
The financial anxiety started to ease; money was coming in. The virus was impacting the obese, aged, and immune-sensitive, and we were lucky enough to be none of these.
The chicken coop sat in the carport, missing the roosting boxes, the promenade, and chickens.
“You need to finish the chicken coop, Jon,” my wife would say.
“Yes,” I would respond, with no intention of completing their. The project had stalled and the kids, like me, had moved on.
We were locked down, but I was working and wehad food, wine, and warmth. The chicken coop was a project born of terror and anxiety and sat in the carport as a sculpture representing the chaos of the virus.
“We are the virus,” my wife would tell me when we passed people walking alone in the forest with their dogs wearing a mask. I would nod in agreement; maskless.
We still don’t have chickens.