The federal capital city where I live is such a spacious city (is there another city on earth with so few persons per hectare, where the average citizen so often feels like a solitary pelican in a wilderness?) that there is enormous novelty in seeing Canberrans doing some teeming and milling.
I live close to the Garran Covid-19 Surge Centre where at the moment people are teeming, milling, queueing in pursuit of their Covid-19 tests.
As a phenomenon this is strangely attractive for those of us who in this excessively immaculate, underpopulated city miss the bustles and jostles, the roars and smells of the crowds of real cities.
But the surge around the Surge Centre is creating some minor local traffic difficulties at which, while I am driving, I find myself doing some minor cursing.
It is not like me, and, readers, do you find in these unusual times that you are doing more cursing than usual? If so it may be all the fault of this f#%$&@! pandemic.
For the Wall Street Journal Anne Marie Chaker has investigated the phenomenon. She writes that "Pandemic stress ... [is] making many of us swear more. 'It is a perfect swearing storm,' says Michael Adams, a linguist at Indiana University Bloomington Denver-based Inversoft Inc.'s CleanSpeak profanity-filtering software unit. The unit's software is used by companies that host online communities and other discussion forums. Adams says he volume of filtered words has more than tripled in the past 18 months."
And Ms Chaker makes illuminating mention of the findings of Richard Stephens, a research psychologist. He studied the effect of emotional language on pain management and found that undergraduates were able to submerge their hands in icy water for 40 seconds longer, on average, when they uttered a curse word of their choice repeatedly. Stephens says that by arousing part of the nervous system and elevating the heart rate, cursing induces a stimulation that can have a pain-alleviating effect.
That is a finding that surely rings bells for almost all of us. How spontaneously we swear when the bee stings, when the thorn stabs, when the cricket ball hits us in the nether regions.
Just this week I stubbed my toe while walking in the Arboretum and for a moment the air around me, already blue under a perfect sky, was turned bluer still by my spontaneous outburst of bad language.
And Stephens' finding are true not only of physical pain but political, moral pains. These days whenever our prime minister is on the TV news I find myself turning my head away, cursing. One does this instinctively because, somehow, it alleviates some of the pain of the excruciating Morrison prime ministership.
Still with the pandemic, but with Christmas too, this time of celebration of the Birth of Our Redeemer and of the extra pandemic necessity of wearing face masks has had an unusual coincidence in this columnist's many-splendoured life.
To my collection of face masks decorated with reproduction of the great paintings of the Old Masters I have just added a mask made of Pieter Bruegel the Elder's The Census at Bethlehem (1566).
Jesus was born in Bethlehem because mightily-pregnant Mary and her husband Joseph were obeying an imperial decree requiring everyone to go to his or her ancestral town to be registered.
Bruegel's Census painting is immensely moving. Unlike the grand Nativity paintings that make the Holy Family the haloed stars of an angel-enriched supernatural show, in Bruegel's Census nondescript Mary (riding a scruffy donkey) and nondescript Joseph are just anonymous folk in the teeming scrum of a busy corner of a town engaged in the busy busyness of census taking.
The scene, now I think of it, is eerily, poignantly similar to today's teeming scenes at the Garran Covid-19 Surge Centre.
In Bruegel's masterpiece one has to go looking for Mary. I mean no blasphemy when I say the painting gives a kind of Where's Mary? challenge reminiscent of one of those Where's Wally? puzzle pictures.
This is touchingly humanising. The painting's Mother of God is just one of us, just like us required to queue, and jostle and wait and worry when emergencies and governments require us to do some undignified thronging.
I am an atheist now and shouldn't care about these Christian things; but somehow I do, perhaps because it is Christmas, because Bruegel's painting (available on a Covid face mask!) is so poignant and because the pandemic's anxieties are tenderising even the normally most irreligiously sceptical of souls.
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.