COVID tensions bring on a wave of snark

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The streets of St Kilda to Port Melbourne are a little like living on Sesame Street.

Walking along the seafront or weaving through the streets you are usually going to see someone you know from local sport, the school community, the cafes or the parks.

These suburbs by the sea encourage an outdoors lifestyle.Credit:Getty

These suburbs by the sea encourage an outdoors lifestyle of walking, cycling, running, catching up, looking for dolphins, watching the kite surfers, peering between rocks for penguins through the gates at the sea end of St Kilda Pier.

Outside of lockdown there will be children kicking the footy in Albert Park and friends having a walk and talk around the lake. The basketball hoops at the local state primary schools are always in high demand.

This all changes in lockdown, of course. The tension that lockdown exercises upon all of us infects us with a certain snarkiness towards those neighbours whom we suspect might not be “doing the right thing”.

No community is immune from these tensions. Even the good folk of Sesame Street famously turned on each other during an unfortunate outbreak of “Mine-itis” which temporarily stopped them sharing; a cautionary and clearly memorable lesson for all.

A woman exercises near St Kilda beach.Credit:Jason South

Last year in lockdown a shouting match across the lake revealed a confrontation between a woman and a group of three women, the solo walker objecting loudly to the number of people in the group. The shouting changed nothing.

The other day, smiling at a grandmother in the street whose grandson had left her momentarily, the grandmother hastily explained that her grandson had gone back home to get her mask. No explanation was necessary, yet her reaction revealed her concern not to be thought to be doing the wrong thing.

On the seafront, two men parted company with a hug and only then did one man reach for the mask in his pocket. Maybe they had just finished a run. Maybe one had asthma and couldn’t breathe with his mask on while walking. It’s better not to judge.

On the other side of the coin, it’s also good not to go out of one’s way to show how virtuously compliant one is.

Walking on a near empty beach but pointedly and unnecessarily looping away from anyone coming in the opposite direction is liable to cause offence. A bit of common sense and courtesy goes a long way.

When the lockdown ends we want to still be on good terms with our neighbours.

Or to borrow from Sesame Street again, those people that you meet, when you’re walking down the street. You know, those people that you meet each day.

Melissa Coburn is a freelance writer.

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