Me, myself and isolation: Big Issue Australia vendor Mark’s lockdown diary

The lives of millions of people around the world were transformed when countries shut down in an attempt to halt the spread of coronavirus. For Big Issue Australia vendor Mark, who is based in Adelaide, lockdown was spent fending off boredom, watching TV, talking to friends and family on the phone and dealing with… pigeons.

Week One

Today The Big Issue stopped selling to the public. I am without a job, without a purpose, and the world has gone to hell.

A virus has spread across the planet and forced us into isolation with only the promise of the occasional trip to the supermarket and a little outdoor exercise every day. We have been told to stay home.

So be it. I think I can survive on my disability pension. I might have to cut down on the smokes and eat a little less, but I’ll be right. Right? Sure, my boarding-house room is a little small, but I have just invested in Netflix, have plenty of books and can always ring family and friends for a chat. I’m sure I won’t get too bored. How bad can it get?

Week Two

Every morning I put on Sunrise to watch the latest news: I watch the updated case and death tallies, as well as info on the latest restrictions. I find myself watching a lot of news.

It’s partly the need for information. A part of me also has a morbid fascination with death. Why is this? I’ve always been a fan of disaster movies, but I don’t think I actually want one of those scenarios to happen. Perhaps a brush with death makes us feel alive; makes us grateful for whatever life we have left? A shared experience like this might even bring us together. Or perhaps this morbid fascination is born from fear?

It’s time for my daily walk. I have been walking most days for exercise; it helps with my mental health. When I get back maybe I’ll turn off the TV and get into a good book.

Illustration by Jessica Singh

Week Three

I find myself sleeping more. It’s partly because when I sleep I can’t smoke. But it’s mostly a lack of motivation that sees me sleeping through the day.

I’m still watching a fair bit of news. Poor old Italy is in bad shape — most of Europe in fact. And America. They’re going from worse to ridiculous. I’m glad I’m here in Australia, that’s for sure.

My mum gave me my first face mask as I have a doctor’s appointment coming up and she thought I might need one for the waiting room. I don’t know if I’ll use it. I always scoffed at the young students who would walk past me on my pitch all masked up; thought it was overkill. But I should listen to my mum, she used to be a nurse and she’s usually right.

The pigeons are back! Our boarding house recently moved on all the pigeons as they were pooping all over the balconies and courtyards. This morning, however, I found two fresh white ablutions on my balcony, the first for ages. I looked up and saw five of them on the roof of the building directly opposite. Really, fellas?

My balcony has become my sanctuary. I often go out for fresh air, to listen to the sounds of the city and to occasionally talk to my neighbours who are doing the same thing. Dodging poop makes the experience far less enjoyable. I’ll have to keep an eye out for them and shoo them away before they have a chance to redecorate. That’s a 24-hour job. Great.

Vendor Mark [Photo by Nat Rogers]

Week Four

This morning I lay awake in bed staring at my big toe for a good 10 minutes. Oh dear, motivation is low. I am sick of the news and rarely check it anymore: too depressing. Also, I think I have finished Netflix. At least I’ve finished the stuff I wanted to watch. I have Stan now though. I got it for Breaking Bad: I have always wanted to watch it. I also got an Xbox, but it’s failed to grab my attention the way games have in the past.

Bored. So bored.

I often get to 10am and wonder how the hell I’m going to get through another 12 or so hours before bedtime. I find myself pacing up and down in my little room. I’ve been ringing people a lot, just to talk. I ring pretty much everyone in my contacts. Most of them don’t pick up; I think they’re all sick of me ringing. Except Mum, she always picks up.

It must be time for a walk. Maybe I’ll walk into town and get Hungry Jack’s. I’ve got a spare buck or two.

Later that day…

So I went to Hungry Jack’s and headed over to Rundle Mall to eat my meal on one of the fancy new benches. No sooner had I taken my first bite than a pigeon appeared at my feet. Bloody pigeons! Within seconds another three had joined him, each one a bit more daring. These birds were starving. There must be fewer food scraps for them to eat now that people haven’t been around for weeks. Another five or so flew in from different directions, and one jumped up onto the bench. The leader, I assume. I had laid out my chips on the Hungry Jack’s bag and he wasted no time in helping himself to one. Right, this means war!

There were probably 20 or 30 at my feet by then, as I had accidentally dropped a few scraps of lettuce from my burger. I was fighting a battle on two fronts. The leader had been joined by three or four others and they all started taking pot shots at my chips. I gave them a big shoo! and flicked my hand at them. It didn’t stop them though. I decided to leave but, as I gathered my things and stood up, I spilled most of my chips on the ground. It seemed like every pigeon in the CBD arrived at once: feathers, beaks and chips flew everywhere!

I made a dash for it and didn’t look back. I caught the first bus home and had to lie down for a bit.

Illustration by Jessica Singh

Week “I Can’t Remember What Week It Is”

And here I lay. Yes, I have got up since the incident in the mall, but it’s becoming harder and harder. Sometimes I play music and let it soak through me as I lie in my bed. I like classic rock, so there’s a lot of The Doors and Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Metallica and a sprinkling of Red Hot Chili Peppers.

I do a lot of daydreaming. Some of it is positive: I think about what it will be like to get back to work, see my regulars, and earn a living again. Mostly it’s negative though: where is the world going? When restrictions are lifted, will the infection rates rise again?

Sometimes I’ll slide back to sleep. I can fly in my dreams, but I’ve noticed this is harder to do at the moment — sometimes I barely get off the ground. A lot of my dreams are in the vast vacant countryside, or if I do make my way into a town or city there’s no‑one around. I know what these dreams are referring to: Adelaide seems more and more deserted each day.

Right now, although I’m awake I’m deflated, depressed, lethargic. Arms and legs dangling over the edge of my single bed. I’m staring at the air-conditioner.

I hear a scratching noise on my balcony. I know immediately what it is. Bloody pigeons! But I can’t summon the energy to get up and shoo them away. Scratch, scratch, scratch. Here I lay.

Week Eight (I’m pretty sure…)

Carpe diem my mum always taught me. And I’m trying. Most days I get up at a reasonable hour and eat a decent breakfast. I go for a walk and give my mum a call to check how she’s going: she has struggled as well over the past weeks. Family and friends seem to be answering my calls more often too, which is nice. I sometimes go for a second walk in the afternoon, which is slowly reducing my waistline. Hooray!

The rest of my time is spent on Facebook and Messenger, watching Netflix and Stan, playing a bit more Xbox, reading, listening to music and only occasionally watching the news. And what I see on the news is much more promising: restrictions are slowly lifting, South Australia has no active cases, and the footy will be back on soon, albeit to crowdless stadiums. Go Crows!

This morning after my walk I headed to my balcony and noticed a pigeon out there. We both froze as our eyes met. Please don’t poop, I thought. But suddenly, like an epiphany, I realised a little bit of pigeon poop wasn’t such a big deal. My balcony would no longer be one of only a few ways I could be free of my four walls.

“Fred,” I said aloud (I had decided to call him Fred), “poop away.” You be you, I thought, because pretty soon I’ll be able to be me. I looked out at the city skyline and at the beautiful blue autumn sky. I took a deep breath. Yes, soon I can go to the movies, get a beer from the pub, see my nieces and nephews and hit the streets to sell a Big Issue or two. So poop away Fred. Poop away!