A half-century of reading

When I started reading, way back when I was a little boy, I was started off with the Enid Blyton books. First, there were gentle fantasies such as The Magical Faraway Tree before I progressed onto the quiet adventures of the Secret Seven. These were stories about kids – seven of them – joining together on holidays or some such and having a jolly amount of fun together munching on tongue sandwiches and getting into all sorts of quiet adventures with smugglers and the like. Quite inoffensive, but a lot of fun.

As I grew older, though – perhaps 7 or 8 (I was a precocious reader and started at age 4), they became a bit too tame for me and predictable, which is when I progressed onto the Famous Five series of books. The formula was very similar, just updated for an older audience, and they were five rather than seven. Once more, they got into scrapes and adventures, discovering conspiracies and unveiling crooks. It was all very wholesome and British, quite old-fashioned, in fact, though strangle I can’t help thinking of Scooby Do when I recall those stories.

I can’t remember how old I was when I progressed onto fully adult novels. I don’t know if there was a young-adult genre those days, but if there was, I probably skipped right over it. I was a good reader, not only in the sense that I read a lot, but I also absorbed much and understood more than my years would normally allow.

Everyone loves a reading child. There seems something noble and good in it. I was greatly encouraged all along my reading journey. My mum was a good reader and would make sure there was an adventure or two in the Christmas stocking every year and would take me along on her monthly visits to the library.

My maiden aunt was the other who went out of her way to encourage my reading habit. Every birthday and every Christmas, I would get at least one book from her, wrapped in her signature style – in silver, or occasionally, gold glossy wrapping, tied up in ribbon. She always bought non-fiction – histories and biographies and so on – as if she wanted to encourage my curiosity. Later she would sign me up for subscriptions to interesting magazines. I have a lot to thank the adults in my life for nurturing my love of books.

I reckon it was by the time I hit high school that I was reading adult fiction. Mostly I read spy thrillers and adventures. Alastair MacLean was one of the early passions. I devoured his books, one after the other. I suspect it started with HMS Ulysses, which I found on my grandfather’s bookshelves. I still think it’s probably MacLean’s best pure writing – more novel than escapist adventure.

Thereafter I would pick MacLean books up from Eltham library – South By Java Head, Night Without End, When Eight Bells Toll, and all the rest of them, not forgetting, The Guns of Navarone. They’re broad stroke adventures featuring capable men thrust into positions of crisis by unfurling events – crime or disaster or war. They battle villains with brain and sometimes brawn. The villains are generally clever, sinister types, the dark side of the coin. There’s nothing particularly complex about most of the plots, but as many of them are written in the first person, you become intimate with the protagonist and his mind. Almost always, there’s a scene when the hero and the villain face each other, and the details of the dastardly plot are revealed, which, surprise, the hero always manages to foil.

I don’t know if they write books like that anymore. There’s a bit of Boy’s Own about them, though they’re definitely adult-oriented. I think partly that’s because the times we live in are not simple as they were then, and many books of similar intent are made complex to the extent of being overwrought. Or else, at the Matthew Reilly end of the scale, they’re made silly and comic book. I think MacLean was a better writer than most comparable writers today.

There were other writers of similar type I discovered along the way when I was a boy. Desmond Bagley was one, and Hammond Innes, and then there were the old spy thrillers of Eric Ambler and the more modern spy thrillers of Adam Hall’s Quiller series, which I gobbled up as soon as they hit the bookstores. Then there was Len Deighton and, slightly later, John Le Carre.

By the time I hit 14-15 I had started to move onto more serious literature, including a Russian phase when I read most of Dostoevsky, and some Tolstoy and Turgenev. The rest is history.

I recall all this now because, on a whim, I picked up an audiobook version of MacLean’s Night Without End the other week and have been listening to it in breaks from work ever since.

It feels a bit simple now, in a way. However, that’s part of the strength of the story, which is classic – plane crashes in the snow far from civilisation with a murderer on board, nearby a scientific station where the protagonist takes them on a journey through the bitter cold towards safety, all the while trying to unmask the villains.

There’s a great deal of nostalgia – I would’ve read it 40 years ago at a minimum. But it’s a rollicking adventure too. It’s not intellectually taxing, but for escapist entertainment, it can’t be beaten. Reckon I’ll try another again soon, and perhaps something by Bailey – The Golden Keel, perhaps. Then there are the Quiller books which, at least, I reread every 10-15 years.

There’s a lot of people who don’t read these days. I sometimes wonder if it’s dying away as a pastime. It seems to correspond to general literacy. All of this is a pity. I try to encourage where I can, but it feels like a forlorn hope mostly. I’m lucky. I was handed this gift when I was just a small boy, and for the half-century since have enjoyed thousands of hours of reading. I don’t know who I’d be without it.

Time to be

I had a dream last night that I was in a new relationship with a woman. She was tall and dark-haired with intelligent eyes and raw sensuality. I found her very attractive, but she seemed familiar to me also as if she was an amalgam I’ve known and been drawn to before or those I’ve imagined.

Despite her sensuality, there was something reserved about her, much to my frustration. She was the cerebral type, deeply engaged with the community and passionate about the affairs of state and society that come to dominate our health and wellbeing. In so many ways, we were a good pairing. She had interests in the same things I did. We could talk intelligently across a range of subjects, and, for the most part, our beliefs were aligned.

I was frustrated because, though I was sympathetic, she took these passions and interests too far, leaving too little for the earthly pleasures that mean so much when you’re with someone you like.

It seemed to me that the difference between us is that I could switch off, whereas she never did. There was a time and place for matters of the mind. As for the issues and controversies that dog our times, it’s fine to be passionate, but there’s also a time to take a break from it.

Here was this woman, alluring and attractive, a worthy, warm-hearted character, yet she never allowed herself to relax when I, as her partner, wanted to relax with her, wanted to discover her in the quiet times far away from the noise and clamour of normal life. I wanted to be with her, and only her, and yearned for the intimacy of body and mind that seemed denied to me.

I appeal to her in the dream, urging her to let go and be present. Don’t think – be! I tell her. Open to me, I tell her, let yourself feel, let it flow and happen. I murmur to her, asking if isn’t this something she wants? I tell her how I feel about her, how she warms my heart just thinking of her, how I yearn to be inside with her, to share and be as if one mind. Connect with me, I tell her, forget everything else, and with a glint in my eye, tell her how much she turns me on…

Curious to think what this dream might mean. There are elements familiar to my life and times – thought-addled, with too many causes and issues to be passionate about. Yet, I am someone who can switch off and indulge in the sensual – if only there was something in my life now to indulge in. That’s another element. My desire is no less than it has ever been, but there is no woman in my life, nor even the hint of one.

I’ve come to believe that one of the things that have had a detrimental effect on my wellbeing through the Covid period is the lack of meaningful contact with women. That might sound strange or even trite, but I believe it to be true. I hesitate to use the word virile because it’s not an exact fit, but it’s as close I can get to describe my outlook for most of my life.

Virile suggests that my relationship with women is purely sexual, which it isn’t. I’m no shrinking violet. I’ve enjoyed lots of sex over the years, but really, that’s just a subset of something more substantial. For whatever reason, I’ve always been drawn to women (and yes, some of that will be sexual and sensual). I’ve enjoyed the difference – the different way of thinking and feeling, of seeing. I’m not one of those men intimidated or dismissive of those differences – I embrace them because I learn something so often, because it stimulates my mind and senses, and because curiosity draws me on.

What that means is that I’ve had a lot of female friends, not all of whom I’ve been involved with. My life has been infinitely richer because of this. If I’m honest, I’d suggest I prefer the company of women to men generally. I’m rarely surprised by other men, though sometimes disappointed. Women make me think.

While all of that is true, I miss the incidentals – the fun, harmless little flirtations and banter. The teasing sense of wonder when you meet someone and get to know them. The curious sense of adventure and the gentle musing after the event. What does it mean? Will it? Won’t it?

There’s been zero of any of that in the last 14 months. There’s barely the opportunity for it working from home and with routines so predictable. I miss it.

I don’t know what to do about it. I resist any phone methods of meeting anyone. No internet or apps for me (been there, done it a million times). That leaves very few opportunities. I need it, though, in my soul.

My mate Fozzy reckons I’m looking good, and it’s funny to think how reassuring that is – I don’t just need an alluring woman (perhaps one like in the dream) to agree with him. Like I urge her, time to open up – time to be.

A day at the footy

For many years I would go to the footy almost every week, from when I was just a child with my dad, and later, by myself mostly, for a stretch of 25 years or so as an adult. I go less these days because I live further away and because other things have come into my life, but I still try to get to 4-5 games a year, and I rarely watching on the TV when I’m not there.

I went again yesterday. It was the first time I’d been to a game since 2019. Last year was a wash-out because of Covid, which is a pity because it broke the run of about 38 years in which I’d been to at least one game. But anyway, back again, and it was good to be there.

There’s a routine and ritual to these occasions. For about 10 years, I lived within walking distance of the MCG, which was our home ground at the time. If it was a Saturday arvo game, I’d often cook up a batch of soup in the morning and have a bowl with some crusty bread before heading out. I’d walk along the banks of the Yarra, listening to the footy preview through my earbuds to the radio. It was about a half-hour walk, and as I got close, I’d see the gathering crowd streaming toward the ground and cars with scarves hanging out the windowing that way.

I’d buy my footy Record and would think about stopping at one of the food caravans to pick up a bite to eat before entering the ground, though I’d that more often on the way out (there was a spicy chicken roll I was always partial too; otherwise there were always the jam donuts, piping hot). Inside the ground, I’d go to my reserved seat and say hello to the people I’d got to know from sitting in the same spot every fortnight.

It was different yesterday but recognisably related. I got on the local train with about another 20 footy supporters decked out in some recognisable club regalia – for some very odd reason, every one of them supported the same team as me, though they may not have known it. I wore my lucky jocks and a pair of red and black footy socks for anyone sufficiently keen-eyed to spot them,

The train filled as we drew neither until it was standing room only, and then disgorged 95% of the passengers at Richmond station. The exits were choked as hundreds of footy lovers got out at once. Once outside the station, the road was closed off, and the usual teenage kids were selling the footy Record. I always buy one and am one of those anal types who record every goal and mark down the score at every interval. I’ll reference the crowd number too and scribble the length of the quarters. I’ve been doing it since I was a boy, and you don’t unlearn that.

Remarkably, the Record is still $5, though you can’t buy it with cash anymore. I joined the crowd, fighting against it sometimes as I circled the ground to the members’ far side. Inside the ground, there was the accustomed hum of an expectant crowd. It’s the sort of thing you forget until you experience it again.

Because of Covid, we now have allocated seats, which is great in my view. I hate that the MCC is walk up and people save seats by draping scarves and clothing over, though they’re not supposed to. An allocated seat is fairer, and I hope it stays that way even when restrictions are eased.

I sat next to a Carlton family. Almost typically, they were of Italian stock. The mum sat next to me, an anxious type who would clutch at herself when things got tight or went wrong. The other side was a bunch of girls and a single guy, all about 20, half for each club. I was the killer in between, all by himself.

For most of the game, you probably wouldn’t have guessed which team I barracked for. I watch with grim concentration, rarely getting caught up in the emotion of it. At the start of most quarters, I might growl a guttural Carn the Bombers as the siren sounds, and occasionally I’ll abuse an umpire – Ray Chamberlain was on yesterday, so plenty of scope for that. Late in games, I might rise in my seat wielding a triumphant fist or add my voice to the condemnation ringing around the ground.

No one ever gives me any shit at the ground. I suspect I’m forbidding. I’m hard at it, but I’m reasonable, too. I got talking to the Carlton mother and helped her climb into her seat. Other times I’ll get into a routine of banter, which is one of the joys of attending games in person. I always stay to the end, regardless of the result, because I refuse to be cowed.

So I did yesterday, though we lost a close one. It was an entertaining match and, though we lost to a hated rival, I enjoyed the day immensely. It felt like old-fashioned footy, and we could easily have won it – and probably would have but for the mistakes we made, and Ray. But that’s footy. I’m very encouraged by the direction we’re heading in.

The mood is always different after the game. On the way in, everyone is expectant and focused on what might unfold. There’s a tension that keeps everyone to themselves. After the game, the tension releases. The game is done, the result known, and we’re either celebrating or licking our wounds. On the train, the mood is a lot looser. People laugh. Banter is exchanged, most of it good-natured. We settle back into life. There’s always next week.

Bring them home

I’ve sat here for the last minutes wondering how to start this post. The dilemma, I felt, is that I didn’t want to bang the same drum as in numerous other posts in the past. Nor did I want to sound too harsh or critical. Believe it or not, I don’t enjoy writing negative posts. The problem is, there’s a lot of negative stuff to write about – but it’s dispiriting to grizzle.

So what to do? I can only say it as it is – or how it seems to me, anyway. So let’s get the ranting part out of the way early. I’m about to criticise the government again. I can hardly describe how much I deplore them. So many of them terrible people, and I wonder why so many to the right of politics are so ugly – ugly, mean-spirited, narrow-minded and spiteful souls. Add to that racist, which isn’t news to anyone who pays any attention (the sad minority), but this time they’ve made it law.

Covid has been a controversial time, and that’s not really surprising. With so much happening so quickly and so much at stake, it’s terribly difficult and hard to act without making a mistake here or there and with any consensus. If you’re sensible, you accept that. The negativity pisses you off, but you roll with it; the stupid noise made by anti-vaxxers and anti-lockdown protestors you rationalise as a lunatic fringe; even the bungling of the vaccine roll-out is met more with a sigh than with anger.

What can’t be supported are the wilful decisions made for an obscure political cause and the decisions not made for the same reason.

Though the vaccine roll-out is a disaster here, we’re in a pretty healthy state in Australia relatively. We need to pick up our game or else get left behind, but our citizens – those resident at least – have good reason to feel pretty safe.

That’s not the case in many parts of the world, and in some parts, it has become catastrophic – Brazil being one, and India another.

The news services have been full of reports from India where hundreds of thousands are newly infected every day, where the sick spill onto the streets, where there’s a shortage of vaccines and oxygen, and, most horribly, the dead are burnt on makeshift biers in suburban streets. Someone I work with has come down with it, as has his whole family. These are terrible times.

In response, the Australian government announced a travel ban. No one can enter the country from India, not even our own citizens seeking to get home. They then doubled down by announcing that anyone caught flaunting the ban would be subject to huge fines and potential jail time. In effect, they’ve made it illegal for Australian citizens to return to their home country from India. So much for the rights of citizenship.

For me, the single greatest failure over the last year is the inability, and seeming unwillingness, of the Australian government to repatriate citizens to our home in a time of dire crisis.

I think, for the government, it’s another political hot potato that’s easier to deal with by doing nothing. Expat Australians are out of sight and out of mind, they figure, and their votes don’t amount to much anyway. Why exert yourself on their behalf when there’s the risk of Covid?

To be fair, it’s been a long time since an Australian government took responsibility for our citizens abroad. I always had the idealistic notion that as an Australian citizen, if ever I got in trouble overseas, the government would help. How wrong I was! Regardless of stripe, successive Australian governments have failed in this regard. Some of it is political – Julian Assange being an example of an individual whose rights as a citizen have been found wanting when weighed against political alliance (i.e. diplomatic toadyism). The rest is apathy.

I know there are Australians right now who agree with the government, certainly regarding the travel ban from India. They argue the risk of bringing in people from such a dangerous environment risks infecting the broader community at large. That’s a fair argument, but it highlights the abject failure of the government to act before now.

To start with, Australians wishing to come home should have been able to get in long before now. There shouldn’t be a queue, but the stories are rife of ex-pats unable to get flights back, lose bookings because of scarce seats, or be charged a fortune to get back. Remember, the government promised that the backlog would be cleared by last Christmas. Not even close.

Even so, and if we accept that virus of some type will remain in the community for years to come, then we should have made a start on the infrastructure to support that reality. Had we acted last year, we should have been in a position now to bring our people home.

The government did nothing and shows no sign of doing anything. Once more, it’s the state governments who take the lead. Both Queensland and Victoria have proposed purpose-built quarantine facilities in the country. There’s another facility in the NT standing empty. There’s even Christmas Island.

It can hardly be disputed that we need these facilities. They have to be built. As we’ve learned to our cost, Hotels are not made to house sick and contagious people.

We should have these facilities now and, failing that, should be building them now. And a truly inclusive government would be seeking to bring its citizens home by any means – charter flights and the RAAF seem obvious options. No sign of that happening in the foreseeable future, when this is something that should have happened last year.

Now we have made it a crime to come home. Make no mistake, this is a racist act. Most of those affected by this ban are Indian-Australian – people with different skin colour to the Australian prime minister. Can you imagine the same ban being imposed on people from a western country? No. It’s a decision consistent with much in this government. We’ve had hundreds of thousands from western societies overstay tourist visas, while people who come in desperate straits on leaking boats are exiled for years on end to places like Manus Island. The difference? None of them is white.

The government doesn’t care. It’s political for them. It’s a sad thing to admit, but it’s a decision that plays well to their constituency – the casually racist, indifferent, uneducated rump who respond best to slogans and mindless claims of patriotism, which the government specialises in.

It’s shocking, but none of it surprises me anymore. It just makes me sad.

False economies

I looked in the mirror this morning and thought I looked 10 years older than I did a year ago. Obviously, it’s been a tough year, but there’s a bit of catching up in that, too – I still look a few years younger than my true age. I’m much greyer than I used to be, though, and that makes a difference. Combine it with a few days of not shaving,, and there’s a rugged, prickly look to me, albeit the bristle is mostly grey also. This time, I thought, I look like a polar explorer, a Scandinavian – a Nansen or an Amundsen, fair complexioned and austere.

I went out for morning tea, trying to vary things up. I went to the local cafe where the glam people go – ironically, most of the staff look like they’d rather be out surfing. I had a flat white and a friend and watched the comings and going around me. On the way back, I stopped at a dentist.

If it’s been a tough year, then there’s much ado about my health. I spent an extra 90 minutes in bed yesterday morning trying to restore some energy to my body. When I was up and about, I sent an email to my boss telling him I would put my health first for a change. That meant I would sleep in when I need to, would lie down if I was feeling unwell, and would take the sick days that otherwise,, I’ve been working through.

I’m no better than when I last reported, though it’s a day to day proposition, and medication makes a difference.

I’m booked in to see an endocrinologist next month. The cost associated with that isn’t helping me feel better, but I think it’s long overdue – it was recommended by a specialist 18 months ago. I’m hoping they can find something, though what I really need is some decent rest and time away from things.

Then there’s the dentist. About a fortnight ago, I started to get pain in my right upper gum at the back. At the time, I also experienced some sinus pain and thought it might be related to that. I took some antibiotics, and both the sinus and the gum pain went away, except that as of a few days ago, the pain in the gum had returned.

Who likes dentists? Nah, not me either. I saw one about 2 years ago. He gave me a filling and recommended the other I’d need doing, including a crown. Because I couldn’t afford any of that, I never went back.

These are false economies. I can’t put things off because they’ll come back, and they’ll come back worse. Half my problems now are that I’ve taken shortcuts.

I’ve booked the dentist and accepted that I’ll be out of pocket a bit and thousands if I get a crown. Likewise, the specialist will set me back also. It brings tears to my eyes, especially when I was hoping to go away for a few days. And it makes me bitter because if I was being paid what I deserve, none of this would be a concern – in fact, some of it might never have happened.

As they say, shit happens. A friend has offered a line of credit to me, and this time I’ve accepted it. Get my health right first, then I can think about my finances.

Shorten the ground

I’m about to say something that would get me into trouble if I shouted it too loud: I find AFLW disappointing.

AFLW is the women’s AFL league, which has been going for a few years now. I’m all for the concept of it. I love footy generally and fair enough that women have their own league. And, I quite enjoy a lot of women’s sport – cricket is top-notch, as is soccer, and women’s basketball has been great for years.

The caveat with all that is that there isn’t the ballistic, powerful element that can make it so electrifying in comparison to male sport. That’s why skills-based sports like soccer and cricket translate better than, say, footy. There are some mighty skilled exponents in women’s sport. Rarely is it as explosive as men’s sport.

AFL footy is a game of skill, but there’s also a great physical component to it. Relative to other players, that still plays a part in women’s footy, but it suffers compared to the male equivalent (with the possible exception of someone like Erin Phillips). The reality is that women aren’t as fast or as powerful as men are, and it makes for a different game.

The AFLW grand final was over the weekend, and I watched the last quarter of it. As with most times I’ve watched women’s footy, I thought the skills were pretty ordinary and a lot of decision-making poor. There are some great moments and feats of individual skill, but they’re rare. I get infuriated watching men’s footy, but it’s compounded when I watch AFLW. The standard has definitely improved since the league began, but I also think you can see better park footy.

I know that sounds harsh, but I think the women are disadvantaged by how the game is played. At best, the women playing are semi-professional, and they’re never going to reach the heights until it becomes a full-time, professional sport. Proper training, diet and nutrition, specialised coaching, and so on would make for a much greater spectacle – properly fit competitors with decent skills would make for a much more fluent and high-scoring game.

Scoring is one of the big issues with AFLW. The winning team Saturday scored 6 goals over the course of the game. That’s a decent quarter score for a men’s team, though there was also an 8 goal quarter over the weekend. Better skills and fitness would make some difference, but the rest of it is physical.

The reality is that because women aren’t as strong as men, they can’t kick the ball as far but are playing on the same sized grounds. End to end, it would probably take a male team 3.5 kicks to cover the distance. For women, I reckon it’s about double that. The average bloke can kick it 45-50 metres, and some can hoof it much further. For women, it’s probably 25-35 metres.

These are physical constraints that aren’t going to change. It seems obvious to me that women should play on fields a good 30-40 metres shorter than the men, which probably means you reduce the onfield team to 16, down from 18.

I reckon you’d see scoring improve by about 40% if you did that, which would make for a much better spectacle, and it makes sense.

Women’s footy will improve on its own as it matures more, but I think it can be helped out. I’ll be happy to watch then.

The Kooyong colt

When the news came through yesterday that ex-Liberal party leader and prime ministerial aspirant, Andrew Peacock, had died, I thought about my dad.

They’re more or less the same generation – Peacock perhaps a couple of years older, and that makes a forceful point in itself – so much so that I sent an SMS to my dad asking how he was getting on. Peacock is of a generation and era that my dad belongs to, which was current when my father was at his peak. Peacock is gone now, and others, and soon enough, those remaining will pass, such as John Howard (good riddance), and at some point, my father, too.

The news of Peacock’s death resonates for that reason, but for other reasons also.

In the mind of many, he represents a lost opportunity for the Liberal party. In the seventies and eighties, he was the glamour boy of Australian politics – handsome, charming, witty, not a little vain, and very capable. When Labor was in power through the eighties, Peacock vied for the Liberal party leadership with John Howard.

They were very different characters and hated each other’s guts. Whereas Peacock was polished and hob-robbed with movie stars and on the international stage, Howard was mousy and conservative, dour and very much the accountant he was. Those were the superficial differences in style, but underneath were differences much more fundamental to the future of the Australian Liberal party.

Peacock was what they called a small l liberal – a dying breed these days. He was reasonable and socially progressive and beholden to no ideology. Though later Howard would claim direct descent from the Menzies years (legitimately, in some instances), Peacock better embodied the sense of fair play and common decency of earlier times.

They swapped leadership several times and, at different times, ran for prime minister. Peacock was famously lambasted by Keating as the soufflé that wouldn’t rise twice. And Howard was commonly thought of as a failure and an unimpressive little figure. In between, John Hewson ran for the Liberal party in 1993 and lost. After that, there was a succession of leaders while Peacock bowed out of politics altogether and ultimately left the field to Howard.

As we know now, Howard won the 1996 election on my birthday celebration (there were tears at the party, and a few angry words, and finally some soothing tokes). He reigned for 11 nasty years and changed the course of Australian life and politics (much for the worse), as well as the Liberal party.

Menzies wouldn’t recognise the Liberal party today. It has little in common with the party he started 80 years ago. It’s now hard-core conservative, more alike to American conservatives than the Tory England of the Churchill era that Menzies championed. It’s reactionary and narrow-minded, much like Howard himself, though these days it lacks his rat cunning. It’s the party of bullies and entitlement, of which corrupting and lazy incompetence is a natural by-product.

It might have been different had Andrew Peacock prevailed all those years ago. He’d have taken the Liberal party down a different path – kinder, more democratic, less self-serving. It’s a party I might have contemplated voting for as a reasonable alternative. These days, nothing less than a brain injury would see me vote LNP.

The era of Peacock also happens to be the era I grew up with politically. I was dimly aware of the dismissal of Whitlam in 1975 by the Governor-General, so momentous was it, but politics didn’t really take with me until the eighties.

I wouldn’t say I grew up in a political family, but we were a family who took an interest in the goings-on around us. I recall in the seventies, we went to Surfers Paradise during the school holidays and stayed in a high rise on Cavill Avenue. One night, dad was in the pool late and met Phillip Lynch, Malcolm Fraser’s first treasurer (before Howard, funnily enough), and returned telling the tale. That piques my interest, but it was only really about 1982 that I began to follow it keenly.

Dad was always a Liberal voter, and more so now – he’s got more conservative as he’s got older, which is the pattern, they say. We’re poles apart, more so now than ever, especially since I seemed to have bucked the trend and become more progressive each year.

I remember well the politics of the eighties, which was often great theatre and pretty exciting. It was also a time of fundamental change that re-shaped Australia – for the better, in this case. Being a young man of ambition, I was right on board with it. I admired Bob Hawke and thought that Paul Keating was the best thing since sliced bread – still do. That government was full of talented politicians hungry for change. I don’t think there’s been a government in my time nearly as talented or as intellectually capable as the Hawke government of the eighties.

And on the other side were the Libs, trailing in the wake of Hawke and Keating and trying to stay relevant. Peacock was one of them, always stylish and with a swagger that suggested that he had a rich life outside of politics. Not so much Howard, who I think was trapped within his resentments. It was that resentment that drove him and the bitterness of the eighties that soured his outlook and made him the wretched prime minister we all had to endure.

Peacock escaped that. He had a grand and interesting life and was a decent, honourable bloke on top of it. He’s dead at 82, but it was a good go.

How we rolled

Walking back from the shops the other day, I spotted a couple of young teenage boy with a homemade Billy cart trying to get going on what is a pretty level road. It brought back memories.

I reckon it’s ages since I last saw a billy cart, but when I was a kid, they were all the rage. I remember mine very well, as it was pretty well a deluxe version – it even had a brake (more usually, you would break with the heels of your shoes).

I can’t remember, but judging by the construction, there must have been some adult involvement in constructing the thing. Outside the breaks, it was pretty typical of most billy-carts – old pram wheels, ideally smaller ones at the front, bolted onto a box in which you sat and connected to the front wheels via a length of timber sufficient to reach with knees half bent. There was a loop of cord connected to either end of the front axle to allow for steering, and, in my case, there was a hand lever brake on the right that, when applied, would fix a block of wood to the rear wheel.

Most of us had billy-carts then and would spend time fixing them up and racing them. There was a lot of kids in our street and so a fair bit of competition, but as I was bigger than most and had the primo billy-cart, I would win most. We lived in a culture de sac that had a good slope on it so that you could get a lot of speed up and momentum after the initial push-off. A sweeping turn to the right – maybe a 70-degree curve – would bring some riders to grief if they were going too quick. It made it really interesting, though.

That was back in the day when various prangs and accidents were part and parcel of growing up. I remember once riding a scooter down the footpath of the same street. I got to the end of the street to find a hole where the pavement should be and a block of bricks preventing any exit to the right. I crashed, and later on would proudly count about 30 odd different scrapes, bruises and cuts on me.

Another time, I remember, we were building a tree hut in the neighbour’s pine tree. Somehow we’d got an old door up the tree, which we planned to use as the floor. It hadn’t yet been fixed in place when I climbed on top of it, planning to put a few nails through it. Not to be. Before I could do anything, the door began to slide out from under me, taking me with it. We came crashing to the ground below with me basically surfing the door down. It was a crazy, surreal feeling, like a disaster unfolding in slow-motion, but pretty heady, too. I’m not sure if I somehow found myself under the door once we hit the ground. I can remember the ringing in my ears and a sore head – I was probably concussed – but I shook it off, and we went back to it. I was about 10 then.

Then there was another occasion, the same street, we were playing kick to kick with the footy. WE would do that plenty in the winter months. I was probably 10-12. On the corner was a big water tank behind a high, barbed wire fence. Someone kicked the ball into the enclosure, and I climbed the fence to retrieve it.

It was not unusual for mischievous boys like us to go where we weren’t meant to (there was the time we nearly burnt down my old school – another story), but this time it didn’t work out so well. Getting over the top of the barbed wire, I managed to snag my wrist on it. The skin tore as I freed myself. I retrieved the ball, kicked it back, then climbed back over the fence.

There was a fair bit of blood, but I was happy to continue until the father of one of my mates suggested I should get my parents to look at my injury. I don’t think they did much. Put a band-aid on it, probably. I was out kicking the footy anyway within 10 minutes.

I’ve still got the scar – about 15 mm long and jagged. I’m pretty certain I should have got stitches, but that was how we rolled then.

Foggy brains


I read this, and much of it made sense to me. I’ve seen this in others over the last 6-9 months or have had them describe it to me. I suspect this is quite a common experience in the aftermath of extended and repeated lockdowns.

I feel as if much of it is true for me also. It was only the other day that I described my own foggy brain. I sensed no cognitive decline or inability to think or concentrate, and I think these pages attest to that. What I have felt, particularly when it comes to work, is an unwillingness to extend myself mentally. I feel that’s more by inclination than it is a functional deficiency, but it fits the pattern.

What really stuck with me is the need for rest and the probability of burning out without it. I think I’m burnt out now, but that doesn’t mean it can’t get worse. I feel badly in need of a rest – but then, I think I said exactly the same thing on Monday, and in the months before.

In reality, I’m about to embark on a big muthafucker of a project that’ll keep me busy and fully engaged for the next few months. I’ll manage, but it might get ugly by the end of it.

Hanging in

I’ve taken the day off from work, reporting in as sick. It’s not that I’m particularly unwell, just very rundown. I seem to have been reporting that for months, but if you never do anything about it, then it won’t change. I need to replenish. One day isn’t going to do it, but it’s better than forcing myself to work.

Most days, I feel off to some degree; it just varies by degree. As I’ve reported previously, I have persistent stomach problems. For the last 8-9 months, I wake up feeling quite uncomfortable, some days worse than others. Sometimes it fades within an hour or two. Sometimes it takes longer. It’s pretty low-level but persistent.

My head gets foggy, too, though I don’t know if that’s for lack of sleep or otherwise. Pretty well always, I have that sense of ‘tired eyes’. Mostly I feel a subtle pressure around the back of my head and to the forehead as if I’ve worn a cap – or skullcap – too tight for my head. Again, more inconvenient than painful, though it wears me down. And there’s the ‘awareness’ in my shoulder blades and back of my neck, like when you have a cold.

None of this by itself is serious enough to keep me from work, which is probably part of the problem. Working from home means that you show up to your desk on those occasions when otherwise you’d have made the call to stay home. I soldier on through the week, turning up to my desk, but come the weekend, it feels as if it hits me harder when I relax. Some weekends I feel totalled.

I don’t think there’s anything serious. I suspect it’s probably a lot of little things rather than one thing and that most of it could be filed under burnt-out. But, I can’t go on like this – there’ll come the point when I’ll fail.

I went to the doctor last week. I don’t have a lot of faith in him. He’s a nice enough sort of guy but a bit timid when it comes to making a call. I feel as if I need to feed him ideas and remind him that he’s the expert. He seeks my permission when I want him to be decisive and confident. That’s why you have experts – to make the decisions you’re not qualified to make.

He sent me for a few tests – an ultrasound on my stomach, a blood test, and a urine sample. I also had an x-ray on my left hand – I think I might have arthritis developing there (which comes after a very innocuous fall a few years ago).

I wonder how much of what I’m experiencing. I know there’s a bit of a feedback loop between the physical and psychological in some circumstances, and this is one, I think. If I got my body right then, I think my mind would clear quite a bit also. And if some of the uncertainty was taken from me, I think I’d feel fresher in the body.

The fact remains, I’m tired and I think I need a rest or, better still, a break.

I suspect what I’m experiencing is probably quite common. When I was in the office last week, I caught up with one of the managers, who’d returned from a couple of months of leave given to him by the company. What he described was similar to what I’m experiencing. The whole Covid thing got to him mentally, at which time he got sick also, and then, near the end, picked some infections that prolonged his break by another couple of weeks.

In a way, I envied him. At least he got to have a break. That was never a possibility for me because there’s no one else who can do my job at what is a very critical time. It was never an option given to me.

I don’t know if I’d get much out of sitting at home for 6-8 weeks. I’m sure I’d replenish some of my physical stocks and get some energy back, but what I really need is a change of scene. My mind needs to freshen up as well.

By instinct, my memory harks back to the days when I’d hoist a pack on my back and head off to some foreign place. I’d mix with exotic cultures and wrap my tongue around foreign languages and immerse myself in a world different from my own. I’d explore and have adventures, hop on and off trains and busses, mix with the locals in their bars, eat their food and make my way to the places important to them. I was ever myself, independent and resourceful, totally engaged and very much alive.

It seems to me that’s the ideal therapy for what ails me. Of course, it’s pretty well the one thing impossible at this moment.

I’ll make the best of it, and try and find a way.