At 82, Glenda Jackson Commands the Most Powerful Role in Theater – The New York Times


I wanted to comment on this. Not only is it a very good profile piece it’s on one of the actors I grew up following. Even as a boy I was drawn to this sort of feminine personality – strong, intelligent, articulate, somewhat irascible. I guess I’m drawn to anyone who is completely themself, as Jackson always has been.

Listening to her in this was fascinating, and I found myself echoing many of her sentiments in my thoughts. To me they seem familiar and true.

One last thing. Referenced throughout is Shakespeare, and Jackson’s role as King Lear. Her commentary on his writing drew me close. I was in general agreement, though she voiced opinions I’d not formulated for myself. More specifically, her words gave substance to some of the themes of what I’m currently writing. It was reassuring.

Anyway, read this, and check her out.

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Mulling it over


On Friday, as I prepared to head out for lunch, I contemplated dropping in on my dad. I haven’t seen or spoken to my father for about three years I reckon, maybe longer. I haven’t missed him much and even when we were talking we didn’t have much of a relationship. I don’t miss him, but I miss that functional relationship. It can feel pretty solitary when there’s no family network to lean upon.

Funnily enough, I was heading out to have lunch with a branch of the family I rarely see, my aunt and uncle and my cousins. They’re all decent, sensible people, unpretentious in every way. Growing up they were the modest wing of the family while we were glam – social, ambitious, striving, curious and challenging. I was very much of my family, but I found theirs almost an antidote to the occasional complexity of life on my side of the fence. It was lovely to see them again and it was a fine lunch.

The lunch venue was about ten minutes from where dad lived, though where exactly I didn’t know. I searched for him but couldn’t isolate him from the rest so never visited. Perhaps it was for the best – a friend tells me turning up on his doorstep like that might not have been the best idea. I’m not sure I agree – in ways I think it might have been the best way. And anyway, you can’t give up being ballsy.

So I didn’t visit him and mulled it over on the weekend. I didn’t seek a reconciliation as such, but I was conscious that he was getting older and anything was possible. I didn’t want to be the man who missed the important moments because of some petty dispute.

I wrote an email to him in which I expressed some of this:

We’ve had our differences but there’s nothing either of us can change or undo and I don’t waste my time thinking otherwise. Fact of the matter is we’ve never really been in each other’s lives, which is why this separation has been seamless – for me, at least.
I hope you’re well and healthy. Regardless of how we left it, I don’t wish for anything but good stuff for you. That’s what I wanted you to know. I don’t want you to think I’m bitter or angry. I’m none of that. Life’s much too interesting – and challenging – to be looking backwards.
I don’t know what I expected from this. There were times I have been bitter knowing what I was deprived of. Then I was disappointed that he didn’t fight harder to save our relationship. I think he was scared, so unlike the man I knew. As I said, there’s a time for being ballsy.
These now are no more than very gentle regrets. As I express, none of it can be changed now and perhaps that’s all I needed to say. I don’t think I could ever be close to him but I’m perfectly capable of being friendly and supportive.
So I sent my email and about nine hours later it came back to me, undeliverable. That was strange given I had sent it to an email address attached to his domain, and address I’d used before. So I tried another address with less hope and this too bounced back.
That’s where it stands. I can take it as the world telling me to give it away or I can try to source a current email address. That too I will mull over.

Places of the spirit


Of course, there are things that run through my head all the time. Often I think I must write about that, but mostly I never get around to it. Until there’s such an application that taps directly into my mind that will be the case.

Today I want to specifically reference the fire that has consumed Notre Dame, in Paris. I feel for the French, and the Parisians particularly, for whom this must feel like a blow to the soul. It feels an unreal event, an affront to nature, something that could never happen and should never happen.

I first walked into Notre Dame about 21 years ago. I’ve been to many cathedrals in my time, but this has always been my favourite. I’m a history buff and knowing that so many momentous events had happened right here was a thrill in itself. There was a deeper, darker connection than that though. I remember standing beneath the high roof surrounded by the immense stone columns and peering at the beautiful stained glass windows and feeling humbled by the meaning of it all. It felt a great spiritual moment.

Places like Notre Dame are living reminders of the wonder and mystery of our existence. We live in the moment so much these days, but Notre Dame had stood for almost a millennia. It teemed with life and history. With luck, it might have gone on for another millennium, or more. I guess that’s true for many such buildings and there are dozens of others who have left me just as impressed – but not so spiritually engaged. Notre Dame felt like a living place to me, not just of history but of humanity as well. I think of only one other place off the top of the head I felt so moved, the Pantheon in Rome.

Notre Dame has not been completely destroyed they say, though the spire has fallen and no doubt the wondrous stained glass is gone – as well as the old, middle-aged wooden structure. It will be rebuilt, as it must, but will it be the same place?

Update: it appears that while the roof and spire have gone and much structural damage otherwise, the bulk of the stonework has been saved – in fact, photos from inside are almost eerie with the area around the altar a pile of blackened ruins tumbled from the roof, while most of the nave seems untouched. Most importantly – and almost miraculously – the famous, magnificent rose stained glass appears undamaged.

This week


I love a social life, but I also crave ‘me’ time. I love to be out among the bright lights eating and drinking well, talking, laughing, flirting, but I also cherish the quiet moments when I can curl up with a good book, a good movie, or listening to tunes whipping up some culinary feast. There are days I’m happy to see no-one, do nothing, and many days I barely walk out the door. I love the fizz and pop of a night out on the town, but in my heart H is a solo beast who plays at being one of the pack.

Last week was a social week. I was out for dinner and drinks twice and had a great old time basking in the balmy evenings and downing pisco sours. Another night a friend visited me and we ended up at a wine bar. And on another occasion, I drove an hour to get to the other side of town to have lunch with cousins and my aunt and uncle in the salubrious Eltham Hotel.

This week I look forward to being sedate. It’s the last week before I go back to work. I’ve achieved a lot this break but there are still things on my list. I’ll tidy them up and once they’re done what I’ve got left is a week of reading and writing.

It’s a warm, sunny day. I’ve just come from coffee up the road and posting a card to my nephew for his birthday (due to arrive before it for a change). I’ll give Rigby a walk later but otherwise, I’m home for the day.

These are the things I must do: update this blog; scan a few more pics; call up the doc about an ultrasound I had yesterday (suspect there’s a problem with my toe); call up the local salvos about donating some stuff; pickle or preserve something; and take my old massage shop manager to the doc tomorrow. Jobs something in there as well (have a live opportunity with NBN but don’t have the telco experience).

I have mixed in this last week of my leave. In some ways, it will be harder than ever returning to work. It could have gone either way, but in this case my absence has solidified my feelings about the office being unprofessional and slapdash. I wish it wasn’t so. I’m disappointed nothing more substantial has popped up in these weeks. There’s not a lot about. If I’m patient something will eventuate, however.

Have I resolved anything in myself? You have to understand I live an intensely interior life, especially when I’m writing. My real life refracts my writing experience, and vice versa. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to write. That’s especially true of this book, which has a dense psychological perspective. I want to get it right, though I know it instinctively. Once I write it out I often find that instinctive knowledge becomes conscious knowledge. The act of writing drags up things from deep within me I sense more than know. When it hits the light it becomes true in a way and I can look upon the written word and understand it for myself (sometimes I think there’s a form of automatic writing at work). I reflect upon it as an individual. It informs my perspective and potentially my behaviours.

What I’m saying is that while I’ve given little direct thought to my situation it is thrown into relief by what I write. It has a heft I cannot shrug. In a way it feels like a dark secret – I am the man who writes this; I carry this within me.

It’s little wonder that writing is therapeutic for me, but as yet I don’t know the fullness of what it means.

Returning to the fold


Some of the things I set out to do on this break have gone by the wayside, thus far anyway. Other things I’ve neatly ticked off. And then there’ve been unexpected eventualities. This week, particularly, is a week of reunion and reconciliation.

Last week I called my Aunt. I’ve not seen her or any of her family for years, and the occasions they’ve invited me to attend I’ve refused. They’ve probably thought me rude and aloof, but there were reasons for this. One was purely practical. They live 90 minutes from where I do and a couple of times I’ve been invited to events when my car was off the road and I had no way of getting there. The other reason is that I’ve had no wish to run into my sister or father, also invited to these things.

Last week I wanted to make that good. My call probably came as a surprise but was well received. I proposed we catch up for lunch at a time suitable to them. Later I suggested a venue – the Eltham Hotel – which I knew very well once upon a time, but haven’t been back to for decades. Tomorrow I catch up with my aunt and uncle and two of my cousins. They seem to be quite excited, and I’m much relieved – this is the right thing to do.

Then on the weekend, I received a call from a long-lost nephew living in Brisbane. He had contacted me out of the blue the Christmas before last after a gap of more than twenty years. I’d attended his father’s funeral back in about 2003, but he didn’t attend, nor did his sisters, nor his mother, my uncle’s ex-wife.

I’ve had erratic contact with him since that contact. He’s clearly intelligent and a passionate supporter of Labor politics, openly gay, but seemingly troubled. His call to me was disturbing in ways. He was unhappy and hated Brisbane he told me and wanted to get away from his mother, who he still lived with. He seemed to have no close friends and he admitted he basically had Aspbergers – unsurprising in retrospect given his feat of memorising the Brisbane street directory when he was a kid. His speech was faltering, doubling back on itself and almost stammering at times, though the stammer was not syllables but words, which he would repeat 2-3-4 times before going on or doubling back.

I found it hard knowing what to say. All I could be was encouraging and supportive, but the conversation – in my ears – was awkward as he repeated himself and failed to pick up verbal cues. He wants to move to Melbourne after he does his Masters and I told him to call me whenever he needed to.

When he asked about my sister and father I reluctantly conceded I had no relationship with them. That was all I wanted to say but he pressed on, oblivious to my discomfort. The conversation turned to his father’s death and something he said sparked a vivid memory in me, that of my father – a hard-arse, strong and intimidating – breaking down as he gave the eulogy for his younger brother, distraught that his children weren’t there. My cousin had expressed regret at that – he wanted to go but his mother wouldn’t let him – but long afterwards and in the days following that memory lingered in me.

It seemed ironic to me that if my father died tomorrow then I might never know and not be there for him. I wouldn’t want that. I’ve been mulling it over ever since but done nothing about it as yet. I suspect I’ll wait until after my lunch tomorrow to decide, but I’m inclined to send him an email relating to him some of this story and let him know that I would be there for him should he want it. It’s the right thing to do but it doesn’t mean we get buddy-buddy.

Last night I spoke to a friend who lives interstate. We spoke for about an hour about current events – sport and politics mainly – as well as shared memories. Funnily enough, he made reference to a skiing trip many years ago which was a part of the group of pics I digitised last week.

Finally, an old friend is visiting town. I caught up with him for dinner on Tuesday and will again tonight and tomorrow. We were very close once but had a falling out. In the years since I think he’s learned a lot, as have I. We made no reference to our division but caught up as two men who knew each other well. I know well his faults, but I always cherished his gifts also – a sharp mind, but most particularly a deep sensitivity when he allowed it and a generosity of spirit. I can have conversations with him I can have with no-one else and I’ve missed that.

He’s back living in Australia now after many years in Asia. He’s not settled in Melbourne but perhaps that will happen. In the meantime, we’re getting to know each other again, and he getting to know again the people and places that loved him.

Old photos


What I have done in the last few days: I fixed a faulty clothes dryer; I dealt with a creditor after having referred them to the ombudsman; I’ve begun my ‘spring’ cleaning in the house, as well as in the garage; I had a blood test and sorted out my medical appointments; and, naturally, I did some writing. On top of all that I started scanning some old, pre-digital photos into the system. All and all it has been a satisfying week so far.

Digitising the prints yesterday was an interesting experience. I started with pics taken in the early nineties. I didn’t scan every print – there are too many of them – just those I thought worthwhile or, as Marie Kondo would have it, gave me joy. There were a lot of memories, naturally, and familiar, much-loved faces now departed.

I remembered that time so well but there was a disjoint. It was all so real, yet these people were gone and that time lost to me. It was real, I remembered it, but it felt unreal also. I looked in my face, surprised to find myself so handsome. This is me, I thought, that was me. And now here I am today.

There was a sense of how time slips by, how it changes. I posted something to Facebook about how one day its sunshine, next day rain, and it seemed true. Looking back it feels innocent and even looking at how I was then – open, smiling, a fine figure of a man – I was surprised at the difference, though really I ought not to be. What you realise is that it was all ahead of you then and now it’s mostly all behind you.

I caught up with a friend in Prahran last night to catch a comedy show. I caught the train in sitting by the window quietly brooding and listening to old songs from about the time the photos were taken. I had a refreshed sense of self. You walk around oblivious most of the time, ignorant of anything but the moment and the self you represent at that time. But I had perspective yesterday. That was then, this is now. That was who I was, this is who I am. And what I had knowledge of was of all that has happened since.

I was in love when these photos were taken, though it had gone bad. Not that you can see that in my face. I look like a nice guy. But then there was a journey after that and most of it was fine and if not fine then it was interesting and me throughout, the one constant, but changing in ways I never understood.

I got off the train and stood waiting for a tram. This felt familiar, as did the locale. I’d lived a few hundred metres up one way, over Dandenong road, for a year. And the other way, in South Yarra, I’d lived in my own apartment for about seven years in total. I lived there when the photos were taken, and this street, Chapel Street, the shops and bars and restaurants, I’d paraded by them for years on end, stopping now and then, going in here and there, indulging in this and that, part of the streetscape myself.

Now I got on the tram. I was the same man near 30 years on, the same holiday beard now as I did then, hardened now, more cynical perhaps, less forgiving, certainly less open.

How things might have been different. What if I’d made up with the girl I loved and married her as we had spoken of? What then? But we didn’t, she went on to die of her own hand, and here I am today.

It sounds sort of bleak but I didn’t feel that. I felt robust and full. I’ve made my way, I have my style, this is who I am – this is who I became. But at the same time were highlighted things that I otherwise overlook as just being normal. I had looked at my handsome face and wondered why I wasn’t more aware of it then – but I always did okay, as the saying goes. And I have ever since, more or less, but in a certain way that felt stark to me standing on the tram.

I’ve always been sexually driven, so I thought, but I wondered how I was then. And I was then too, but I was also romantic and impossibly tender. I was a good man. Since I’ve been with I don’t know how many women, hundreds, and a part of me has been closed off and even if I have charmed often in that period or seductive and interesting I’ve been the man women would happily fuck but not necessarily settle down with (with exceptions). And I recalled a woman telling me how I intimidated her – not in any harmful or nasty way, just my surety, my lack of doubt, my invulnerability.

Later, after a few drinks and a show, I sat there and there was another woman I wanted to fuck, no different to any other time. It’s fine to feel virile but is there always a point to it? You could argue that sex is a nihilistic act. It’s a moment in time in which you bury yourself in another. Then it’s over. That seemed the point sometimes but, even so, the urge returns all by itself.

I didn’t fuck the woman last night. There was no chance of that, just a passing whim.

I still have a lot to offer. I’m still presentable. I’d like to be more how I was then, regardless of how formidable I’ve become since. I don’t know if that’s even possible or, if it is, how I do it.

Growing up with the war


About a month ago I picked up a heavily discounted book and, having paused for a moment, went on to buy it. The book was Comrades of War, by Sven Hassell, and if I paused it was because I read it many years ago and was unsure whether I wanted to read it again.

Ultimately, that was the reason I bought it, from a sense of nostalgic curiosity.

It seems to me that when I was growing up Sven Hassell was a best-selling writer in his genre. World War Two was much more recent, though long before my birth, and it still had some relevance in the everyday lives of people – many of whom had fought or lived through it. There were movies made of it and documentaries and I recall that my father would have delivered Parnell’s History of the Second World War, which I would read through for years to come and many times over. On top of that, I remember my grandfathers telling me stories of their war years. It was before my time but it was still there.

At school, there were other kids, war buffs, who knew one thing or another about arcane subjects such as the Spitfire and the Hurricane, or about the U-boats. I was into tanks more than anything else and at one time could tell you everything about the T-34 or the German Panther, and many others. I would search through bookshops and occasionally pool my pocket-money to buy a book about tanks or fighter planes and sometimes fiction. LPs or war books, that was my thing.

Somewhere along the line, I found myself inclined towards the German side of the story. When I was very young I had a customary hate of Germans until one day my grandmother took me aside to tell me not all Germans were bad. It was a relief as one of our family friends had married a German, Joe, who I looked up to.

That conversation opened something in my mind. It gave me permission to look dispassionately at the history. I’d always been fascinated, but nothing was more fascinating than the Nazis to a boy. I still remained interested in the basic hardware of war, and much of the best of it was German, and as I read more, as I became older, I found myself drawn into the story of the German war, fighting on multiple fronts, often against overwhelming odds, and frequently in the most difficult of conditions. My particular fascination was the war on the Eastern front, possibly the most ruthless and devastating war of all time.

I grew to have a grudging respect for the common German soldier. I had to admit the Wehrmacht was a formidable, resilient army, more capable – at least in the first half of the war – than any of the Allied armies. That they survived and often triumphed for so long was testament to their skill and courage, regardless of the ideology they fought in service of. That they were essentially doomed was an extra layer of mystique.

About this time there seemed many novels and memoirs of WW2. A lot of them were written from a German perspective – it seems I was not alone in my interest. Sven Hassell was perhaps pre-eminent of those authors and I snapped them up. Though a lot of it is gruesome and confronting it had an allure to a precocious young teenager. Most of the books written from a German viewpoint shared an attitude – cynical, fatalistic, and threaded through with dark humour. They fought to survive, and for their comrades, believing in the most part that they were on borrowed time. None ever owned up to being a Nazi idealist and most were bitter and disparaging towards Nazi ideology and leadership, and almost all felt disconnected from the society at home. Their battles, their travails, their suffering and the horrors they observed had cast them out from the world they had come from.

For a kid, this is heady stuff, and much more complex than the heroic tales of the ultimately victorious allies which read, in comparison, as boys own. There are pathos and tragedy in the tales from German authors, dark in every aspect regardless of wit or attitude.

Hassell was the perfect writer for a kid because his characters were so memorable. As an adult, they seem almost as caricatures, and I think I sensed that as a boy too. I doubted his books sometimes, unable to reconcile the different tales and changing characters, but I read them all voraciously. Comrades of War was the first of his books and the book I liked most because it felt the most real, but it’s a different experience reading it now from then.

I went on to read other German books. From my grandfather’s shelves, I plucked a few books of Willi Heinrich, most notably Cross of Iron. There was another book which became my favourite of this genre, The Torrents of War, by Igor Sentjurc. I still have a paperback of it, the pages yellowed, the spine broken. I think it’s quite an obscure book but it’s full-on, unrelenting, unforgiving, as so many of these books are.

When I was about 15 I discovered The Forgotten Soldier, probably the greatest of these memoirs. I read that again and again until it fell apart. I got given another as a gift some years ago I’ll look to read again soon. This is the classic book of the German soldier on the eastern front, vivid, tragic and poignant.

There were other books I read, many about the U-boat war, which I was similarly fascinated in. Iron Coffins, I remember was one, but there were others I’ve now forgotten, plus The BoatDas Boot – which is another classic I’ve read many times, moved on every occasion.

As an adult, I got into the stories and books of Heinrich Boll. They all capture the humanity of trying to survive another day in a world made bleak and terrible. They draw you out of your comfortable chair and place you in this foreign world which was yet so real once and so true.

This is a big segment of my life. This was something I was drawn too and have never forgotten since. The darkness of these tales may inform my writing, who knows?

I’ve just finished reading Comrades of War, forty years after reading it for the first time. Today it feels episodic, an attempt to tell the story of a whole war in a little over 200 pages – but then, I raced through the last hundred pages, and felt the same sadness I did when I read it first. You come at these things differently after all these years. It doesn’t mean the same. You read with different eyes, informed now by your own experience and exposed to a world unavailable to the naive kid I was then. It’s a different experience, but worthwhile.