Rough days


Today is a rough day. It’s been coming on for the last few days. It’s what it’s like in these times. A few good days, a few indifferent days, a few bad days.

There probably is something merely cyclical to it, a propensity, or vulnerability after every so long. That’s how it was before. In this case, it’s been hurried on by circumstances.

I’m a very busy man at work. I’ve commented on that before. I feel pretty stretched thin at times, and at times I feel as if things don’t let up then I’ll end up burnt out. I give myself until Christmas when thankfully I have a break.

I’m on a bunch of projects and some of them high profile. I’m doing most of the work because, as I’ve mentioned before, it becomes easier to do it yourself than it is to wait for someone else to do it. There’s one project, particularly which is tricky and complex and there’s pressure from on high to get it on. I have to report up to the board regularly.

I don’t have complete control over the project because the build itself must be done by our vendor partner, who is very unreliable, both in terms of responsiveness and the quality of their work. To be fair, they’re just as stretched thin as we are.

For me, it’s frustrating because I can never get any traction. They’re slow to get things done and then it’s wrong anyway. There’s a great sense of powerlessness when you’re busier than is healthy and yet you must wait for others to respond and do their thing. And all the while the work piles up and the logjam grows.

On Friday it came to a head when we came to test the latest version and found it greatly lacking. I just want this behind me so I can move onto the next thing and have one less thing to worry about. Instead, I must go back to the vendor with the issues documented in detail, including the to-be, and, hopefully, come up with solutions.

At the same time, I have to manage the expectations upstream of me. I don’t want to rush anything into production that isn’t right, but I’m mindful of how much is riding on this. Then there’s the program of work this is holding up. And there’s a question in the back of my mind, why are we spending so much time on this when we seem certain to deploy a replacement application early next year?

To compound all this, I have no cut-out. There’s no-one I can turn to assist in any meaningful way and no-one who has the knowledge to provide another opinion of merit. It’s all on me.

I was exasperated on Friday, and the general fatigue that’s been present for a while closed in on me. I had an uncomfortable experience on Friday night and for most of the weekend felt wasted. It was certainly a physical sense, but also very much a mental thing.

That’s a big part of the problem with working from home these days – you’re always in your workplace. My home was my sanctuary before. I could leave my problems in the office and retreat to the secure environs of my home. Now that there’s never any variation – never any office time, not even any social time out – it feels as if my home has become infected by my work.

I’ve turned up to ‘work’ again today and done all the things I needed to do, including sending an email upstream flagging the problems we have, and potential consequences. I’ve touched base with the vendor, written documentation, sent emails, kept busy.

I’m buggered, though. I can easily see myself needing a break, and I guess it’s lucky there’s a couple of public holidays in the offing. What I really need is a proper break, as in a change of scenery: me, and everyone else.

I’ll pull it all together; I’ll manage a way through – because I always do. Doesn’t feel a healthy way to be, though.

Just as an aside, I mentioned a week or so ago how I felt a disconnect between the man who does the work and the man writing these words. I had a dream the other day. In it, I was with a friend, and we were waiting for someone else to join us. When he didn’t arrive, we went out searching for him. It was midway through the search that I realised that the man we were searching for was me! But here I was! Wasn’t I?

It was a curious dream and a curious feeling. What do they call that? Dis-association?

Hang in there


I get that this lockdown has been pretty tough, and getting tougher every day. And I appreciate that all of us are struggling with it to some extent, but some pretty badly. And I share the impatience of most people. But…

There’s no shortage of talking points around this. We’re bombarded every day by conflicting, hostile narratives and click-bait headlines, most of which make everything feel worse (the media’s reputation has taken a pummeling).

I have genuine sympathy for the premier and the medical professionals behind him who’ve mapped out the course out of this because they’re in an impossible situation. There are so many different opinions even among experts, let alone the self-styled ‘experts’ in the media and online that there’s no right answer for them. No matter what they say or do, there will be someone critical of it. In cases like that, it’s best to stick to your guns and hold the line. That’s what they’ve been doing.

I wish we were coming out of this quicker, and with more certainty, but the intermittent flare-ups along the way worry me. They’re proof of how quickly this thing can get out of control. In the wash-up, it seems very sensible to me that we err on the side of caution. An extra week or two now is better than further months in lockdown if we don’t get it right.

That’s a very sensible, level-headed take on the situation. I understand when others aren’t so level-headed. The media is very unhelpful – really, their motivation seems not to enlighten but to inflame. And many are directly affected by lockdown. If I were the owner of a small business or in hospitality, I’d be chafing too. And then there is common folk just doing it hard.

I read a lot of comments like that on social media. It feels quite foreign to me. I know we live in times when to share is second nature, but there’s so much I read I wouldn’t dream of sharing publicly. I don’t know if that says more about me or others.

It may also seem a strange comment from a man writing on his publicly accessed blog. I’ve been pretty candid here for many years and have made a point of not holding back when it comes to the uncomfortable stuff. My defence is that I write this anonymously, though in this day and age it’s probably not that hard to find out my true identity. More fundamentally, I write this for myself, and it’s a fundamental part of my mental health because by writing I will often lance the boil, and as I lay down these words I find an understanding lacking before. It’s therapy.

I guess the point is, I don’t write for clicks or likes. If you read this or not is a matter of indifference. I’m not rapt up in how you respond or what your reaction is. I’m insulated from that, whereas that seems the very essence of so much social media these days: not just look at me, but see me. And acknowledge it.

I’m sure there have been theses written on the topic, but I suspect the difference is generational. I grew up without any social media, and in a time where computers were new-fangled and the internet unimagined. I was never conditioned to be so transparent with every feeling and event in my life.

I often feel uncomfortable reading the intimate news of strangers. I can understand people being more open on something like Facebook when the audience is hand-picked friends and acquaintances. Still, it’s puzzling on a site like Twitter to read of every raw and intimate detail of a strangers life and mentality. Mostly, I don’t want to know about it.

That stands by way of caveat when I say that I don’t want to act the victim. Terrible things are happening, but I refuse to be cowed by them because this is my life. It will be what you make it to be. I’ll deal with the facts of it, but I won’t pander to the base elements of the situation, nor give in to hysteria or self-pity. I don’t intend for that to sound harsh – these are my decisions.

How others feel, or choose to feel, is their business, and they have my support. I just don’t need to read about every woeful detail of it. I may be wrong, but I think we have a duty to each other to stay strong. And we’ve done that mainly – just a little more, just a little longer.

A tribute to Rigby


Everyone thinks they have the bestest good boy in the whole wide world. Dogs are so friendly and loveable and affectionate and generous that it’s very easy to think your hound is extra special. The truth is that all dogs are extra special – it’s just that some are more special than others.

I know, I’m as bias as any dog owner, but I reckon my very own Rigby is the greatest dog in the history of great dogs. I think think this more than you might expect, but I was reminded of it over the weekend.

A friend of mine in Perth has been umming and ahhing over getting a dog. I’ve been urging him to make the commitment and get one, and it didn’t take much. He’s been looking at dogs over the last few weeks and sending options and asking for feedback, and so on. Over the weekend he sent me a pic of a very happy looking Kelpie cross that’d caught his eye. He wanted my opinion, starting with, she’s no Rigby, but…

Rigby is the standard. He’s crazy, but he’s smart too. He’s always been handsome, but with a lively, winning personality, which is what I love most about him. He really has a distinct character which is by turns quirky, affectionate, inquisitive, excited, insistent and entertaining. I swear he has a sense of humour, and he’s very human sometimes – which is how he sees himself, I’m sure.

We are in fact a bit like an old married couple, we know each other so well, our rituals and routines and funny little eccentricities. One of the plusses out of this lockdown is that I’ve been able to spend more quality time with him. You feel some responsibility as a dog owner to provide your mutt with the best possible life. I’m sorry occasionally that I haven’t given him a family to play with, but he seems content and happy.

Typically, he’ll be curled up on the mat behind me as I work. Every half hour or so he’ll get up and come to me, the clatter of his wagging tail under the desk as he nuzzles at my hand for attention, or rests his head on my knee. As always, he’ll follow me from room to room whenever I get up. And, like all dogs, he knows when it’s time to be fed or for his afternoon walk, and he’ll remind me gently, but insistently.

The truth is, like many dogs, he is much loved, and it makes a big difference. He knows no different but to be spoilt and fawned over. My mate from Perth has long thought Rigby is the greatest dog, and even Cheeseboy over the weekend commented on what a great companion he’s been.

It’s funny how familiar we are with each other. We only have to glance at each other occasionally to understand what’s next. Like a lot of dogs, he’s a creature of habit. As I lie in bed, he’ll curl up in the lee of my body as I read, or else lay against my body with his head resting on my hip. In the morning he’ll cross from ‘his’ side of the bed to mine, as if on the clock, and I’ll make room for him. And as I finish my morning coffee, he’ll leap from the bed to lick out the cup – he loves a latte.

I guess I want to pay tribute to him. I often wish he could speak. If he were a human being, I’d pretty well think he’s the greatest.

For me, throughout, he’s been a great comfort and occasional solace. I would never have survived without him. There were times I felt as if he was all I had in the world, but that was a wonderful thing.

He’s getting on now, but still very strong and healthy and full of personality. He tugs on me like a sleigh dog when we go for our walk. I’m hoping come the new year that I might move into a larger home with a garden he can roam in. I’m also thinking about getting another dog, a puppy for me, but also Rigby. I expect he might get a bit jealous of the attention a new puppy would get, but I also think he’ll share his love and protective nature. I think it might be a good thing for all.

When ignorance fails


Bit of a bombshell yesterday in the ICAC (anti-corruption) hearing in NSW when the NSW premier was called to the stand and revealed that she’d been in a lengthy relationship with a former parliamentarian accused of dodgy dealings.

Naturally, it caused an uproar. Most were flabbergasted by the news. A good many said that she must resign (but with different motivations), while others claimed that her personal life shouldn’t come into it.

I don’t really want to comment on the rights and wrongs of it. It’s the human interest angle that fascinates me. Generally, I’m of the view that the personal lives of our politicians have no bearing unless there’s evidence of criminal or corrupt behaviour, or if it risks the integrity of the office. Everyone’s entitled to a life of their own, and if they choose to engage in behaviours a bit different to the rest of us, it’s nobody’s business but their own.

For me, morality barely comes into it, though I might form an opinion on someone if something saucy is exposed. Having an affair with another man’s wife or if you’re into threesomes, or even if you get a blow job from an intern in the Oval Office, should make little material difference to your ability to do the job.

Gladys is ‘guilty’ of none of those. She’s a single woman who found companionship with a fellow parliamentarian. I’m sympathetic towards her. While others rail at her foolishness or accuse her of corruption, I see a person subject to the same very human whims and desires as most of us.

It’s very simple for people to look at everything through a political prism. In that way, everything becomes good or evil, and there are hard lines – and rules – that separate one from the other. That’s why you see a lot of grandstanding and people getting on their high horse, because the landscape has become so toxic, and because, for many, this represents opportunity. Some will rail against this in one person but excuse in another.

There are more sensible commentators, thankfully. They are independent-minded and clear of the muck. A lot of them are sympathetic but declare that Gladys should probably go because she’s perceived to have turned a blind eye to the dishonesty of her partner.

I doubt very much Gladys is corrupt. I think she has limitations as a leader, but I’m not sure that integrity or dishonesty are among those. Her faults, in this case, were human. If she chose to overlook his faults, she did so as a woman, not the premier of the state. She has a heart too, and hopes and fears and the need for comfort and the desire for love. Unfortunately, this may be one of those occasions where the premier can’t be separated from the woman.

Whether she survives this or not, I think her leadership has been fatally wounded. In politics, perception so often becomes a reality. In this case, the truth is that she was intimate with a man shown to be corrupt, and who tried to use her to further his own cause. I truly believe she wanted nothing to do with it, but she did nothing to stop it. Ignorance is not always bliss.

Replenishing


This pandemic, and lockdown, in particular, has been challenging in many ways. I sense, in Melbourne, that some people are getting close to the end of their tether as the infection rate very stubbornly hovers just above where we want it to be. We yearn for restrictions to ease and freedom to be returned to us, and it’s close enough to be tantalising – but no more than that.

At least we’re not sick. We’ve been lucky in Australia, and even in Melbourne, where it’s been worse than anywhere else. I don’t know if we fully understand that, but it’s a pretty hollow claim when you’re one of those who got sick from this or have a family member who didn’t survive it. We’re not out of those woods yet, but it’s better than it was.

From a purely financial point of view, this pandemic has been devastating to many business owners and workers who’ve had their hours cut, or lost their job altogether. For thousands of people across Australia (and many more around the world), this pandemic represents a cruel twist of fortune.

I’ve been well throughout this. It’s probably the healthiest I’ve been through winter for many years. Psychologically, there are ups and downs, but I figure that’s probably normal and to be accepted. There’s no great joy, and I’m a fair way off my buoyant best, but when so much is closed off to you, then you cop it sweet and be thankful you’re no worse off.

The anomaly, for me, is the financial side of it. Knowing how many are struggling, I’m reluctant to admit than I’m better off now – by a fair margin – than I was going into this.

Most of it is in savings on expenses that I’m not incurring living from home – travel and social costs (coffee, lunch, the occasional night out), not to mention no hair cut for 7 months. I’m spending more on groceries, and my utilities will be higher, but that’s more than offset by the savings. I did a rough calculation and reckoned I’m saving about $500/month, net. Add in a tax return, and I’m in a financial position not known for about 10 years.

It means that I have money in the bank and my credit card is just about paid off. Like pretty well everyone, I’ve done a lot of online shopping through this period. Initially, it was an expense to get myself ready for working from home – another monitor, an office chair, various cabling, a USB port, and so on.

I then gradually moved on to replenishing my home. I never pay full price for anything, and there’ve been good deals throughout. A lot of my stuff was old or worn-out, and so I set about replacing, and sometimes augmenting my goods.

I started with simple things. I bought a few pairs of good jeans to replace the tattered ones I had. I knew they’d get a good work-out. After that, I turfed out my old shoes and got a couple of new pairs to get around in. And I bought some much-needed clothes for the office, not realising that I may not ever get back there.

I bought a new, much better microwave oven to replace the old one I got nearly 20 years ago. The latex mattress I had was near 20 years old too and making me sick. I managed to get a replacement QS mattress for the price of a single, and I’m much more comfortable now.

Since I do so much cooking I’m fussy about my tools and kitchenware, and strategic about what I need to get. I have an idea in my head of what needs to be replaced or updated and bit by bit I did that through this period, adding in some cast-iron, and last week picking up a new steel bin to replace the shonky plastic bin I’ve had for years,

Over the weekend I ordered a new kettle – half price – to replace the broken and scaly kettle I’ve had since about 2007. I’ve bought sundry other things – storage stuff, a new pillow, a wallet that holds my phone, etc.

And so on. Nothing too expensive, outside the mattress, but even that was half-price. I feel a bit more adult now. A little less tawdry. Things wear out or get pretty battered. I guess that goes for me as well. At least there are some things I can replace.

It feels odd. I’m locked at home and have little life, but around me, the bits and pieces are being refreshed and replenished. So it is with most everyone else, too. Home delivery is like a new sport these days and a pretty lame form of entertainment. But it’s something.

The absence of imagination


The federal budget came out the other day, and I’m not here to write about it because it was predictable and disappointing. As usual, all about tax cuts as if they’re the panacea for all ills, and directed to the top end, as usual. No kick-along for renewable energy and nothing about climate change, no social housing, the arts were either forgotten altogether or had budgets cut, and bugger all for the less advantaged – unless you’re under 35 and unemployed, in which case your benefits come at the expense over the over 35 dudes.

It’s predictably mean spirited and politically charged. It’s more about re-election and looking after their mates than it is helping those who need it (outside the tax cuts, which are spurious anyway, advantage high-income earners, and will inevitably come at the cost of reduced services). Above all, it shows an abject lack of imagination.

This is what I really want to talk about. If there’s ever a time to get creative, then it’s now. We’re in the middle of a historic moment. This pandemic is something none of us will forget and which will be written about as a turning point – for good or ill is up to us. This is a moment in time when we must act, and with so much money being splashed around, it’s one of the rare instances when bold and innovative thinking might be rewarded.

The problem is that the conservative side of politics isn’t geared that way – certainly not in the 21st century. I could argue very persuasively that hard ideology and pragmatic politics holds them back, but I think the reason goes deeper than that. I actually think the modern conservative mind is fearful of the chaos of creativity and incapable of grasping its transformative power. And, it makes sense in a way.

When I was growing up and asked what the difference was between Liberal and Labor, one of the first things I was told is that Liberals are for gradual change whereas Labor sought swift and bold change. Right from that moment, I was drawn towards the left because it was sympathetic to my temperament and was in accord with my own desire to make a difference.

I’m not making a judgement in saying that. Many people are more comfortable with gentler reform. And not everything calls for a drastic overhaul – gradual change is actually sensible in most instances. What I am saying though is that a government leading the way must be able to shift gears when the situation calls for it. It’s like a footy coach who must shift game plans according to the players he’s got and the state of the game. Being stuck in dogma isn’t going to help you in times of volatility, which is what we have now, which is when we must act – and should do with boldness.

How I’d have loved to have been the Federal treasure putting this budget together! Here was the chance to make a real and long-lasting difference. Here was the fork in the road – one way led to more of the same (which we already know doesn’t work), the other way invited imagination and painting a picture of how Australia might be. Here was one of the few bona fide opportunities to do some nation-building. (and what a great phrase that is – what do you do? I’m a nation builder. Swell!).

It didn’t happen. It’s a missed opportunity, but more relevant now is the fact that I don’t think the budget will do the trick it’s intended for. You see, a lot of the nation-building stuff would super-charge the economy because it requires us to spend money and transform the way we do things. It’s like setting off a chain reaction. Instead, the government are spending money – or at least, growing the deficit – but it’s on the back of relatively modest infrastructure projects, and reducing revenue by cutting taxes (and hoping taxpayers will spend the extra money in their pockets).

One last thing. At a time like this, something that might have caught the imagination of the public and given them something to believe in, and even hope for, is just what the doctor ordered. We got none of that.

I said it then, I’ll say it again now: the LNP winning the election last year was a national tragedy.

Working the project from home


I think there’s little doubt that working from home is more difficult than in the office and, arguably, makes you busier also.

My experience is that I have to do more of everything. About 60% of my work is project-based. In a normal project with a team around you, you might do about 50% of the stuff as project lead. I reckon that’s up around 80% since we started working from home, and a lot of that is extra ‘running around’.

The main reason for this are issues around communication and being face to face. Outside of scheduled meetings, you’ll need to correspond and contact others, and occasionally you’ll need a prompt response. In the office, if someone doesn’t respond to a message or phone call then I can walk across the floor to speak with them directly. That’s not an option now.

It really depends on the individual, but I’ve found a lot of people are either slow to respond or non-responsive in general. I don’t have the option to tap them on the shoulder, so in the absence of anyone to help I’ll often spend time figuring it out myself. When there’s no-one to delegate to, you can’t delegate.

It’s the same when trying to explain concepts or discuss an issue. In the office, you can look at a screen together or draw something up on a whiteboard. It’s easier by phone when you connect, but imperfect. When you’re doing it by Teams and there’s a gap of hours between replies, then it’s torturous.

I’ve always been big on visual aids because that’s how I think. I’m a wiz at Visio and creating flowcharts and diagrams is second nature to me. They become ever so more important in times like these because, in a sense, they replace the whiteboard. What it means is that I must put more effort into creating these and putting together documentation so that we, in our disparate locations, have a common understanding of what we’re working on.

I guess the other thing is that in the office you’re basically dealing with two different locations – the office and the office of the vendor partner. Now that we’re all working from home there are multiple locations to deal with. I can’t see what’s going on and, as a control freak, that eats away at me.

There’s an interesting psychology here I haven’t touched upon: why aren’t people more responsive?

There are different reasons for this. I think for some working from home allows for some personalities to revert to type. That means they’re either oblivious of the messages sent to them because they never check, or they’re happy to put off a response. Some people may be sitting on the couch. Others, I suspect, are struggling with lockdown generally, which is blunting their effectiveness.

Me, I’m much the same as I am in the office. I sit here alert and hard-driving. I’ve actually thought I should take it easier. Relax, you’re at home. Occasionally I’ll take time out to catch part of a playoff game or read a book, but the itch is always to get back to my desk. I send messages on Teams and by email, I’ll make calls, via Teams, or on my phone to the vendor, and I’ll even send SMS or WhatsApp messages when I’m not getting anywhere.

It may be that I have to accept that it’s not going to be as efficient when working in the office. I know that. I just can’t seem to accept it. It eats at me and I get grumpy. It feels sometimes as if it’s an excuse for some – particularly the vendor – to ease back. By my reckoning, projects are about 40% less effective than before – and maybe that’s a fact of life.

You go, girl!


With the weather improving, and some hope of getting out and about before Christmas, I’ve started to gear myself up for life out of lockdown.

The first thing I’m doing is more exercise. I’ve managed about 7,000 paces daily while in lockdown, which is a reasonable effort given the constraints. On top of that, I’ve done sundry exercise. But I’ve also eaten well and my general appearance hasn’t been foremost in my my mind – evidence, my hair.

It’s got to the point that it matters more. It’s a funny thing. When I was working every day and putting on a suit and doing all the conventional stuff I used to crave letting myself go. I would imagine some variation of isolation – manning a lighthouse, say – where I could let my hair grow and my beard flourish and dress for comfort more than style. It wasn’t just a matter of lazy convenience, it spoke to me in a more primal sense. It seemed truer to me, more authentic. Such is the vanity of men.

I’ve let that happen, more or less, over the last 6 months. My hair is long and wavy. I don’t have the beard I had earlier in the situation, but it’s generally about 10 days between shaves. And I get around in jeans and comfy knits through the winter, and t-shirts as it warms up.

What I miss now is a sense of style, and my true sense of self, and the vanity wrapped up in that, has begun to assert itself.

When I was younger and doing the rounds I used to think of myself as a kind of corporate bohemian. By that, I figured I had a serious job and a good suit, of which I was proud, but I also had an attitude. The attitude would manifest itself in my outlook and wit, and a slightly rebellious, vaguely outspoken nature. It was in my personal style too. I always liked clothes and fashion and invested in good quality stuff that bespoke a kind of masculine, sometimes elegant, occasionally rustic, dandy. I didn’t mind standing out – in fact, I enjoyed it.

I’m not at that stage now, but I feel a desire to express myself more definitively, as I did then. I’ve been well dressed throughout my career, even in more recent times when it’s been tougher – but it’s been more subdued. Now I feel like re-asserting a personal brand based on style and maybe a little attitude, like before.

Part of that is getting myself trim for the summer months, and so I’ve added a bit more exercise to my routine and made an effort to eat more sensibly. I do a set of push-ups, squats, and even starjumps every day to get my heart rate going. I’ll eat when I’m hungry and not just because it’s there.

When we’re out of lockdown I’ve got a decision to make about my hair, but I’m inclined to get it cut. Long hair has always felt like freedom to me. It symbolised the very attitude I speak of – slightly irreverent and independent. At the end of the day, it’s just hair, and right now it’s thick and wavy.

It may seem a bit trivial, even self-indulgent, but I think it’s important to mark the transition from self-denial to self-expression. We’ve endured this time and we deserve, and may even need, an outlet that is personal.

For me, it means I want to look good, if only in my own mind. I’ve survived, this is my reward, and this is the self I want to stand for. Wry wit and a confident style, that’s the go.

As it was, it will be


I’ve just returned from my daily walk to the local shopping strip. It’s a lovely sunny, warm day, and the occasion of me wearing shorts out for the first time since March or April.

It was lively up the shops, so much so that it felt a bit like an old fashioned Saturday morning. Most people are home these days, but at the same time, most venture out only cautiously. I imagine it’s the sunshine that’s drawn them out, and the proximity of a sunny weekend in prospect – time to stock-up on barbecue ingredients.

As I walked towards the greengrocer it made me feel wistful remembering this is how it was once. Like so many things now, you return to what was familiar with a new appreciation.

There was hustle and bustle as the sun beamed down. Some, in exercise gear, walked or ran the streets. There was the usual bevy of dog walkers. The sausage sizzle wasn’t happening outside the butcher’s, as it will on a Saturday, but a few doors the seafood shop was selling cones of squid.

In about a half-hour I’m joining JV for lunch. He’s my bubble buddy, so it’s perfectly allowed. He’s picking me up and we’re going to Black Rock where we’ll get some takeaway and sit on the foreshore enjoying it. This will be the first time for months that I’ve enjoyed a social meal out, though it’s still pretty tightly restricted.

I’m encouraged and hopeful. The sun is out, so are my neighbours, and I’ll be doing something soon not dissimilar to what I used to when I took it for granted. Summer is coming, and so are better times.

Who I don’t want to win


This time of year the AFL season is usually done and dusted. There are a few hangovers and annoying fans persisting, but for the rest of us we’re looking towards what comes next – and hoping for a better go next season.

It comes as no surprise to learn that this season has been like no other. At this point, the season has been running for 7 months, with a big gap between the first and second rounds and a few weeks still to go. Normally finals are the province of September – this year it’s October, and the first game played last night.

I can get fired up at finals time. It’s a great contest to start with, and the game itself goes to another level. Then there’s the hype and expectation, not to mention the vibe that infects the streets of Melbourne.

Sadly, there’s another infection now which means that Melbourne – the beating heart of AFL football – has been sidelined. No surprises, no complaints, we’ve known for a while that we’d be watching from afar, but it makes a material difference to the entire feel of the competition. I just hope the good folks in Queensland are experiencing it.

The bottom line is that I’m not as fired up as I would be normally. Some of it’s because it’s been removed from us. I guess another part of it is the abbreviated nature of the game with shorter quarters and much lower scoring. It’s not nearly the spectacle that it used to be, but not all of that can be blamed on the pandemic. And, I would argue, the standard is yet to match previous years, because of interrupted pre-seasons and modified training.

I’ll be watching, however, as I was last night. My team isn’t in it so my interest is to some degree academic but, as any Victorian will tell you, that doesn’t stop me from having distinct views on who I’d like to win it – or, more accurately, who I don’t want to win it.

There are naive and inexperienced followers of football who think that in a national competition we’ll always support the local team. You couldn’t be more wrong. In reality, you end up barracking for the least offensive option. If you can manage to find a local team that fits that criteria then well and good, but often tribal rivalries will nix that. We’d rather see an interstate team win it than the hated cross-town rival.

The best combo is a local team that’s had little or no success and is due for a win. Bonus points if they possess humility, or have ‘character’, regardless of past success.

For that reason, I’m hoping St Kilda will win it this year. Like a lot of Melbournians I’ve had a soft spot for them for ages. They’re a bit of a larrikin club with a semi-tragic history. Their one and only premiership is famous for the wobbly kick that scored a behind in the dying moments, winning them the flag in 1966. More recently, they’ve played in four grand finals for three losses and a draw. With a bit of luck, they should have beaten Geelong in 2009, and they would’ve won the draw in 2010 but for a dodgy bounce.

On top of that, they’ve had a mix of great players – more than many clubs – and great characters. And the stories about the culture are pretty legendary. Plus Saints fans tend to be a bit different.

I hope they win it, but they’re a longshot.

Who do I definitely don’t want to win it? Well, the favourites, definitely – Richmond, who are as annoying as hell, and Geelong. And Collingwood obviously, goes without saying, but reckon they’re a bit of a longshot too.

After St Kilda, I’ll be backing Brisbane, who are a roughy. Then maybe West Coast Eagles and the Bulldogs (who I find annoying).

I actually think Port Adelaide are a lock for the Grand Final and a good chance in this compromised season. If I were to tip it, I’d say they’ll play off against the Tigers – unless the Lions can sneak in.

We’ll know on October 24. No grand final barbie this year I think, but I’ll be watching.