‘It’s nice that I had the time’: What I learnt during lockdown

‘It’s nice that I had the time’: What I learnt during lockdown

December 31, 2020

When the coronavirus struck and the city was forced to shut down, many Melburnians vowed to learn a skill or take up a hobby. With all the free time, why not write that novel or invest in a sewing machine?

As the days rolled on, many abandoned their intentions of becoming bilingual or learning to paint as scrolling through endless news stories or online shopping replaced their once-high ambitions.
Some were able to muster the motivation to do something different. Here are their stories.

Sam Estrada with her home-made pottery. Credit:Chris Hopkins

The new ceramicist: Sam Estrada, 24, Elsternwick

Architect Sam Estrada used the extra time to explore pottery. After seeing an ad on Instagram for a take-home pottery set, she decided to try it out.

‘‘I wanted to try a different art medium just to challenge myself and give myself kind of something to motivate me in the mornings,’’ she said.

Inspired by ancient ceramic styles, Ms Estrada would wake at 6am and begin the day with a morning pottery session – a time in which she would otherwise be commuting to work.

It was ‘‘just something to do to get myself to stop looking at a screen’’. But pottery didn’t come without its difficulties.

‘‘It was such a shift in the way of working and communicating … that was a bit difficult since [architecture] is such a collaborative process,’’ she said.

‘‘I found that anything I tried to make using a pottery wheel was extremely difficult and I realised that I much prefer hand building,’ she said.

‘‘I’m definitely taking wheel throwing classes soon.’’

The habit has stuck and Ms Estrada even saved money on Christmas presents. She made her own. ‘‘Everyone was covered!’’ she said. ‘‘I’ve had so many friends requesting things.’’

Roberta Arnolda discovered a global network of knitters.Credit:Eddie Jim

The virtual knitter: Roberta Arnolda, 63, Box Hill

Retiree Roberta Arnolda’s desire to take up knitting led her to a global network of like-minded people. Living alone for the first time and cut off from her various community groups, Ms Arnolda missed those she loves most.

‘‘It was a bit lonely. I missed my children, I missed my Mum, who I have a great relationship with, and my sisters and brothers,’’ she said. After joining an online group called Melbourne Drunken Knitwits, Ms Arnolda became involved in an ever-increasing number of virtual knitting groups in Australia and around the world.

She soon found herself participating in online ‘‘sit-and-knits’’, ‘‘knit-and-chats’’ and ‘‘sock-alongs’’ where she could create with people as far away as Britain, Scotland and the US.

Her particular Everest has been a fiddly hat pattern. ‘‘I’m almost done, but I’ve had to unpick rows and re-knit as I keep dropping stitches!’’

What struck Ms Arnolda about the people she knitted with was the kindness they showed to each other. ‘‘There was a blind lady who lost her husband and didn’t have help with translating her patterns to braille to do them, and somebody in the group arranged for somebody to help that lady.

‘‘There’s a lot of compassion and a lot of generosity,’’ she said. ‘‘That is what fills my heart more than anything.’’

Ms Arnolda has managed to keep up her knitting and even plans to meet some of her fellow international knitters once travel is permitted again.

Trinity Ross learnt yoga during lockdown.Credit:Jason South

The yoga guru: Trinity Ross, 20, Toorak

Student Trinity Ross took up yoga to deal with the stress of lockdown. Living without her parents for the first time, she said yoga gave her a sense of comfort when she couldn’t get a hug from her Mum.

‘‘I thought, ‘what’s a good way to keep myself a bit sane during this period?’,’’ Ms Ross said.

‘‘COVID is so unchanging and everything around you is chaotic and flustered. It’s really nice doing yoga because it can make you feel you’ve got a sense of control.’’

Ms Ross taught herself vinyasa yoga, which focuses on smooth transitions between poses, by watching YouTube videos. Her shining accomplishment: being able to do a full headstand.

‘‘It’s nice that I had time to pause and slow down and not rush … rather than thinking, ‘I’ve got to go and run off to a dinner’.’’

Ms Ross has been able to keep up with her practice, but admits it could be difficult to sustain when her life returns to normal.

‘‘I might just be running around having so much fun that I might forget a little bit,’’ she said. ‘‘I think I’ll always definitely be coming back to it just in times when I really need it. It’s just something to lean on.’’

New baker Ben Handicott.Credit:Simon Schluter

The sourdough baker: Ben Handicott, 49, Pascoe Vale

Ben Handicott, writer and father of two, tried his hand at baking bread because the extra hours at home gave him the time to bake a morning loaf instead of buying one.

‘‘I’ve always been a cook,’’ he said. ‘‘It was just the opportunity, the time. For baking you really need to be around for it.’’

Strictly a sourdough baker, Mr Handicott maintained his own starter culture. He soon branched out from loaves into bagels, doughnuts, pretzels, babkas and cinnamon rolls.

His biggest challenge was getting it up to the standard of store-bought bread.

‘‘Everyone buys sourdough from various bakeries around. Getting a loaf of bread to look like that takes time.’’His daughters didn’t mind much, especially when Dad baked sweet treats.

‘‘They’re happy to eat it,’’ he laughed.

‘‘They prefer it when I make babkas and cinnamon rolls.’’
Working from home for the foreseeable future, Mr Handicott is confident he’ll be able to keep up his bread baking.

‘‘It might be less frequent because I’ve pretty much been baking every day during lockdown,’’ he said. ‘‘But I think it’s doable.’’

Bronya Doyle learnt to do bullet journalling during the lockdown.Credit:Penny Stephens

The pro-diarist: Bronya Doyle, 26, Geelong

Student and theatre enthusiast Bronya Doyle found structure in bullet journalling. The internet trend takes fastidious organisation to the extreme.

A bullet journal includes sections for to-do lists, keeping a calendar, tracking physical and mental health, and short-term and long-term goals.

After years of seeing ornate journals on Pinterest, Ms Doyle finally had time to give one a go. ‘‘I was always so scared of ever starting it because I’m such a messy writer and it takes a lot of focus for me to really make stuff laid-out and pretty,’’ she said.

Bullet journalling helped Ms Doyle plan her days and set goals.

As paid work dried up and the virus spread, the therapeutic nature of journalling kept Ms Doyle’s spirits high and her doom-scrolling at bay.

‘‘I was just scrolling for hours on end without any purpose … so it really kept me not only off the doom-scrolling but like, OK, we’re making structure and there is going to be a future, even though you’re not working right now and you’re not hearing from your job.’’

Although she’s managed to keep up her journalling, Ms Doyle admits it’s been hard as things have returned to normal.

‘‘It’s definitely dropped off now things have come back, but I definitely try to do it at least once a week.’’

Valerie Sung with her children Evelyn and Elissa.Credit:Simon Schluter

The head chef: Valerie Sung, 44, Camberwell

Paediatrician and mother of two, Valerie Sung picked up some new cooking skills during lockdown. With two children, Elissa, 10, and Evelyn, 7, at home, she was looking for ways to keep them entertained.

She found classes online that she could follow, and asked her daughters if they would be interested. ‘‘My kids really got interested in cooking because of Junior MasterChef,’’ Ms Sung said. ‘‘So when I asked them whether they wanted to do this they definitely said yes.’’

The most difficult recipe they attempted was butter chicken.

‘‘I’ve never cooked butter chicken before,’’ Ms Sung said. ‘‘I cook really simple things usually and we had to buy 20 different spices.’’

Cooking with two children wasn’t always easy and Ms Sung had to guide them every step of the way. Some things were still above their skill set. ‘‘It wasn’t exactly stress-free. As a parent I had to supervise them at the stove, with the fire on,’’ she said.

Ms Sung hopes to make cooking with the family a long-term commitment. ‘‘It definitely sparked my kids’ interest in cooking,’’ she said.

‘‘They ask to be involved in the kitchen now.’’

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