My arthritic back is becoming stiff with cold as I lie spread-eagled on the bitumen and just gaze up at the pristine sky. I glance over to my left at Trevor a few yards away. Trevor is also prostrate on the bitumen. He says, “I remember once I had a holiday and the sky was a bit like this colour”. Beyond Trevor I can hear the signal bells of the rail crossing as the morning passenger train heads down to Melbourne. The train is almost empty. If I squint a bit without my glasses I can see, on the other side of the rail crossing, the Great Northern Hotel, now closed and reduced to a takeaway. How sad. I remember some good times there.
Traffic on the Midland Highway is light today and mainly consists of small trucks, delivery vans and the odd car or bus so the fuel fumes don’t worry us much. A stray police car slows and has a good look at me and Trevor and all the other eighteen masked persons lying on the basketball course in the cold clear early August morning.
It surely must look like a massacre from the police car. Or some futuristic terminus of geriatric junction. Or a movie set. But they move on.
“Roll onto your right side and bring your left leg up and cross it over your right”. Okay, okay! Much grumbling, groaning and silently mouthed expletives as all twenty of the Senior Exercise Class attempt to change position on our mats--- on the bitumen--- on the Benalla Netball Court--- in mid-winter---in the early morning. Dedicated die-hards we are and all determined not to enter into aged care in the foreseeable future. If there is a future.
The Covid 19 pandemic that is devastating the world is having an impact here in Benalla (almost at the bottom end of “the world”). We are about to go into stage 3 restrictions of the Government mandate on health protection from this deadly virus that will change our world forever and I have to confess I don’t want to miss one surreal moment of it. This is our last class. Previously we were adhering to stage 2 restrictions which meant we could not attend our gym indoors and have been using the netball courts to achieve the “social distancing” rules that go with maximum gatherings.
Well that was a good thing you know. We discovered we did not need a gymnasium building with the walls lined with mirrors. Most of us are around 70+ years of age and who needs a mirror that often at this age. If any muscle is going to ‘ripple’ we take that as a miracle not an aesthetic compliment. So our class engenders a lot of laughs and if you can still laugh at yourself well you know you’ve made it to ‘graceful ageing’ with some degree of sanity. The freedom to bounce around the court with plenty of space, great views and fresh air pumping in and out between squats and lunges gives us a sense that we are not redundant yet. We can enjoy the moment.
But back to change of position ---on the mat ---on the bitumen ---with the left and right legs a tangle as one tries to work out left and right upside down in reverse or whatever. What a view! (Not us.) Out there. Beyond the footy oval there are the gorgeous blossoms of early spring and the cattle which prompts continuous commentary by the farmers amid our group. Sometimes it is so foggy in the early mornings we can barely see each other and, apart from the laughter or groaning, our steamy breaths are the main indicators of social distance.
This class is “do or die” for me. I cannot imagine anywhere the setting could be more perfect. Where else but Benalla in August 2020.
after resumption in smaller groups of 10 following the easing of Stage 3 Restrictions -
Photographs taken on October 2 2020 by Bev Lee and Liesl