It's the season for sneezing and coughing and my god I miss COVID so much.
Not the disease, of course, that's still around, doing its darndest. My own experience of COVID was not too dreadful (cough, headache, fever, cancelled anniversary dinner) but I still can't find anyone who can explain why my knees hurt during those two fateful weeks in January 2022.
Was it me tramping around Lake St Clair in the days leading up to getting COVID or was it COVID, which arrived three days later?
Nah, what I actually miss is the COVID era (CE). We all know what that is - it began at the very first time we heard there was an untameable coronavirus on the rampage, on sea and on shore, and it ended when governments, federal and state, decided we could abandon all caution - and all precautions.
Why do I miss CE? During that time, we grew up quite a bit. We learned to love our own company.
We discovered the hidden-track treasures in our radius.
We stopped shaking hands (I always hated it. Men think it's hilarious to grasp and squeeze. I once bought a twisty plastic thing to improve my grip and either it didn't work or I didn't do enough work).
Most gloriously, we learned about handwashing (20 seconds, and no, wiping on your back pockets is not hygienic. You don't even know what those back pockets have rubbed against).
The kindy kids in our circles taught us about sneezing and coughing into our elbows, the little sweeties. We discovered that it was perfectly OK to socially distance in queues.
It is not, I repeat, not necessary, to attempt to physically bond with the person in front of you.
In fact, keep away from me right now. C'mon, back off.
Crucially, our bosses discovered it was not necessary for us to be sitting under their noses for us to do our jobs efficiently.
We discovered we do not want sneezers and coughers in our offices. Most of us have discovered we do not need to soldier on - and those of us who are insane can keep their insanity and germs to themselves. Sure, work while you are coughing up a lung but please do it in the privacy of your own home.
But the COVID era is over and more's the shame.
Here's what's happening now. I'm on the bus a few weeks back and a woman is coughing uncontrollably. I'm struggling not to turn around and stare. I cannot tell you how much I hate being sick but I resist goggling.
Turns out others must have given her the evil eye and she says, defensively, it's not COVID. As if that's OK for her to be spreading her germy germs everywhere so long as it's not COVID.
On that bus, I am the only person wearing a mask. I like to blame my grandchildren, with whom I play lick and run while we all cackle madly, for every illness I get but this time, I have a feeling, it's Ms IT'S NOT COVID.
I was, on the whole, a good COVID citizen. I masked up. I stayed within my acceptable radius. I washed my hands until the skin fell off and then I learned to moisturise.
I did not have visitors to my house even though it broke my heart. Equally I did not visit others. At the time, two of our kids and one of their kids lived with us so definitely nothing to complain about in that respect but it was still hard.
I have to confess though, that I was a hoarder of toilet paper - 36 rolls - and of rice, two kilos. Some beans. Strangely Promite. I was insane by my standards but not compared to someone I know who went to the supermarket every day for fear she could not get her favourite pasta.
Hoarding, even in that minimal way, was a way for me to feel like I had some control over my life.
I asked Swinburne University's Julian Oldmeadow, a psychology researcher, who were the goodies and who were the slightly less compliant.
Oldmeadow led a team examining compliance with health advice at the start of the COVID era.
Of the one in five Australians not prepared to give up seeing their friends, 60 per cent were politically conservative men whose mental health was not in good shape.
About half of us did everything we were meant to do. We washed our hands. We distanced ourselves from others even when it was hard. We took vaccines. We used the COVID-tracing app. We checked in and we checked out.
University-educated women with good mental health, high trust in others and a high identification with being Australian made up nearly 60 per cent of the goodies. We wore masks.
And in those days, we trusted people who wore masks. Pre-COVID we thought mask wearers were dodgy as.
Now, post-CE, we are returning to that weird mindset, says Oldmeadow. Or, more precisely: "The positive perceptions we had of mask wearing during the pandemic appear to be wearing off ... whatever the reason, our data suggest people trusted mask wearers more than those who didn't wear masks during the pandemic, but now that increased trust is gone."
As author Tracey Spicer found to her horror on a recent plane trip: "The person sitting next to me on the plane said I was creating 'public fear' by wearing a mask."
I've had a good look at the recent round of FluTracking data (join up! It's a public good) and it looks to me like we are returning to pre-COVID levels of colds and flus, with respiratory illness increasing week on week. That crashed during CE.
Good thing we still have WFH. Any chance we could all start wearing masks again at least until summer? Or at least stop bumping into me at the bakery.
- Jenna Price is a regular columnist and a visiting fellow at the Australian National University.