Books and travel ….???

During our near “self isolation” I’ve been turning to some of the books on our shelves.

Normally I spend far too much time on travel books!   There’s quite a library of these on our shelves, and although some are getting dated, much of the basic information remains of interest, and I dip into them from time to time.   I guess you could call me an “arm chair” traveller.

However, recent events have suppressed the urge to travel, even in my arm chair.   The urge was fading, anyway.   I mentally checked the bucket list of places still on my travel “to do” list, and came to the conclusion that none of them were critical “must sees”.  I’ve been fortunate to have seen a lot of places over the years, both as an  “organised” and “independent” traveller, so perhaps it’s time to wind back.

True, there are quite a few places left that I’d quite like to see – but they’re not  “must sees” any more now that the world has suddenly got a lot more complicated!   I’m not saying that I’ll “never again” travel, and we don’t plan to sit at home for the rest of our lives.  But there are plenty of places around Victoria and elsewhere in Australia for pleasant breaks, and perhaps we’ll be thinking of these rather than overseas, unless there’s a particular reason to travel further afield.

In the meantime, the travel books are still sitting there.   They haven’t been sent to the op shop – yet!

A cashless society (4) – and COVID-19

I’ve posted about a “cashless society” before, and I remain somewhat dubious.  Yes, the idea has merit, but I have concerns about (a) transaction costs; and (b) collection of data.

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, Coles have been openly encouraging the use of “contactless”, and at Officeworks and our local servo, cards have become the only form of payment.  Woolworths also encourage it, in that their “card only” self-checkouts greatly out-number those that can accept cash (and provide “cash out”).  And the contactless limit has been doubled (to $200).  Are these stores pushing us into using less cash only during these strange times?   Or will they continue to do so after the current scare ends?

These larger stores don’t impose a surcharge when you use a card.  There are costs in handling cash, so the use of cash isn’t cost-free and this is presumably  taken into account by these stores when comparing the transaction costs imposed by financial institutions for card transactions.

But in smaller shops (such as coffee shops) there’s often a surcharge of 1.5% or sometimes more, even when I use a debit (not a credit) card.  And the fact that there’s to be a surcharge is not always clearly displayed.  Sure, I have some sympathy for these smaller establishments, as I know the “contactless” technology is owned by Visa and Mastercard, and their charges apply even where a debit card is used in a contactless way instead of a credit card (as Aldi point out).  Some small places use a third party technology supplier who add their own margin in addition.  These places don’t have the bargaining power to negotiate the better rates that are available to the big guys.  Just the same, paying a surcharge doesn’t go down well with me – especially if cash payment isn’t available.

Nevertheless, even I have taken to using cards more than previously, if for no other reason than there’s sometimes no alternative.   I know that many people don’t seem to mind a surcharge for the perceived convenience of “contactless”.   But if, as in Aldi, there’s going to be a surcharge for a contactless payment, but not if the card is inserted and a PIN entered, then I use the latter even if it means I have to touch the terminal to key in the PIN.  And I have no intention of going fully “cashless” either;  there are some transactions (especially small ones) where cash, to my mind,  remains appropriate.

Technological development

“Necessity is the mother of invention”.   Is that an accepted saying?    I seem to remember it from my youth.   I was comfortable with having “plateaued” technologically, but tough times bring new challenges.

As I’ve previously blogged, I’ve had to get up to speed on the management of websites, and now C, who is in near lock-down in the US,  has insisted that we communicate via “Zoom”.

With the COVID-19 lock-down, there’s been more activity on the website, so there’s been quite an amount of work required to keep it up to date and to modify it cater for the nature of the material that needs to be posted.

I’m still getting my mind around Zoom, but seemingly the basic task of participating in on-line meetings isn’t too challenging.  However, as we mainly use desktop computers at home, so far we’ve confined ourselves to watching others and allowing them to hear (but not see) us.   In fact I was quite content for us to remain unseen!   However, I was told that this “wouldn’t do”, so I have had to acquire a basic webcam – although the idea of looking “presentable” when at the computer is a new concept for me.

I’ve noted the security issues, but I don’t think there’s anyone out there who would be interested in eavesdropping on anything that I’d be involved in.

Day procedure

I had to have a minor day procedure in the hospital.   Things were pretty quiet there because the “non-urgent” procedures had been cancelled.   However, all the staff seemed to be still on duty, although there were plenty of empty cubicles etc.

They told me that they were preparing for the “worst case” virus situation, and like the rest of us, were uncertain what this might involve, or when it might be.

My experience involved quite some time waiting, first in a lounge area, then on a trolley in a waiting area, then the trolley was moved to a theatre waiting zone.   It’s definitely a labour-intensive “production line”.  There were different staff members in each area, who weren’t fully occupied because things were so quiet.   I was glad that I had been  given a tip that I could take a book to read while on the trolley.

The trolleys are lined up close to each other in the waiting area, separated only by curtains.    So you can’t help hearing other patients describe their ailments and medications.  It’s certainly true – hospitals are full of sick people, many with multiple issues.  I don’t want to sound “judgmental”, but it does seem that it is this demographic that must be more susceptible to the COVID-19 virus.  The jury is still out, of course, but in just a few countries, the strategy has been to isolate this demographic and have less restrictions on the rest of the population.

The recovery process seemed more stream-lined:  wake-up on the trolley, then quickly moved to a seating area (post-fasting coffee and a sandwich), and then ready to be collected.

It’s good that we have modern medical procedures, but even so, they’re not without a degree of “hassle”!

The virus and life (3)

Obviously life is, well, “different” for all of us for the time being during these strange COVID-19 times.   But what to do while at home?

I acknowledge that we’re far better off than people who are confined to hotel rooms – in some cases, after having first been on a cruise ship for longer than they intended.   Here, we’ve got a garden and ready access to all our “things” and very good internet access.   And we’re permitted to get out and about for exercise and to the supermarket, although we’ve been trying to observe the spirit of the rules and have been restricting ourselves to “necessary” outings.

Needless to say, we’re missing our restaurant outings.  Somehow, I can’t get my mind around the idea of having full meals home delivered.   Indian, Chinese or pizzas, maybe, but otherwise why not cook at home?   In fact, on our evening walks, my impression has been that there are fewer food delivery drivers out there than in normal times.  I judge by the number of buzzing bikes passing by, so I admit that this is a subjective assessment and perhaps not reliable.  I would have expected there to be more deliveries, and I know the restaurants hoped there would be.  But perhaps when people have more time at home, they are more inclined to prepare their own meals than when their lives are busier?

I’ve been spending more time on the computer, but in normal times, I don’t watch much TV (apart from the news), and this hasn’t changed.  I am re-reading some of the books that have been gathering dust on the shelves. And I’ve had a few share transactions this year so I’ve already done most of the CGT calculations for them.  Normally, that would be left until the last possible minute!

Auctions in the virus era

I went to a nearby auction on the first Saturday after after the reality of COVID-19 virus life had set in, but before auctions were ruled out.    In the following days, auctions were banned so this may have been the last auction I’ll see for some time.   It was much quieter than we have come to expect.

There was a sign at the doorway about the virus, but not a large crowd. The property hadn’t been modernised at all, so it didn’t have that “wow” factor that many of the places in this area have.  In fact, its appeal was that it still preserved almost all the characteristics of the 1920s (when it had been built) – even an external laundry!

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But it was on a full size black of land and clearly had “potential”, so the vendors would have been disappointed that there was only one bid.  Whether this was because of the idiosyncratic nature of the property, or the subduing effect of the virus, I can’t say.

Be that as it may, we got the customary follow-up call from the agent, and were informed that the property had been sold after the auction, for a price that I would have thought was perhaps “OK” given the characteristics of the property.

Now, more restrictions have come into effect.   There was an auction scheduled up the street from us, but the sign was quickly changed to “private sale”.   Then, within a day or so, a “sold” sign appeared.   I can only speculate as to why things moved so quickly, and as to the price.