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.

Out for 99

We’ll probably get a warm day or two in the weeks ahead and days of pristine blue sky and golden sun, but I feel safe to say that the weather has turned. Behind us are the sunny months of Summer. Ahead are the dim days of Winter.

For the first time this year, I have the heater on in the house. Last night I swapped the light alpaca wool blanket I keep on my bed in the warmer months for the thick doona, which was last on my bed in November. It’s cold outside, and sporadic showers gust across the sky. I like it.

I don’t know if others experience it the same way, but I find my mode of thinking changes with the seasons. Perhaps not surprisingly, I become more introspective with the cooler weather, and my gaze shifts from the immediate to somewhere further into the future. I may be wrong, but I feel as if I do my best writing when the days are darker and colder, and I’m bundled up warmly in the cocoon of my home.

I was sitting in the window of a bar Thursday night sipping on a mojito with the weather near 30 degrees. By the next day, it was much cooler. From one day to the next, the seasons flipped. Summer will come again, the cycle will repeat long after I’m gone, but with the cool weather came the news midway through Friday evening that another era was coming to a close. Prince Phillip had died at the ripe old age of 99.

It’s surprising how much news this event has triggered. He’s been sick for a while, and it was hardly a surprise. And, geez, 99 – he did well! And yes, I know, the royals are always big news – but I was taken aback, as so many were, by the time devoted to his life and death in the news services and across the media.

For the record, I like him. He was famous for his gaffes, though he was much more than that. I enjoyed the fact that he was an individual when the fact of royalty seems to suppress individuality. He was of another time and way of being and had lived long enough and seen so much that he seemed indifferent to what others thought of him. That’s always an attractive trait, I think. I didn’t need to agree with him to appreciate his wit, and I would shrug my shoulders at much of his commentary. I prefer people to be themselves than be cardboard cut-outs.

I believe he had a strong heart and a great aptitude for duty. His was a tough job standing behind the queen, but he never failed in that duty. There’s something old-fashioned about that, and quite admirable. They were married for 73 years, and it’s clear the queen adored him, and his children cherished him. He’s one of those guys I’d have liked to have a drink with.

I read a story about him this morning which revealed his tender side. After JFK was assassinated, the royals went to Washington and were staying in the Whitehouse. One morning, Jackie was looking for her son, John Jr, and opened a door to find Prince Phillip playing and laughing with JFK’s infant son. It was a thoughtful, sensitive action of a man who loved kids and had a tender side rarely exposed to view.

He had a good go. It’s sad for the family. Soon, the whole era will be past us.

Old music videos

I watched a documentary on Peter Gabriel over the weekend, and a bunch of memories came back to me. He was one of my favourite artists of the eighties, certainly in retrospect.

I can remember one of his self-titled albums coming out in 1980 that caught my ear. A few years before, he’d released Solsbury Hill, a great song, but he hadn’t really registered with me (I wasn’t a particular fan of Genesis either). Then this album came out, and I heard Games Without Frontiers, which I really liked.

Back in those days, there was a strong culture of swapping cassette tapes. This was in the era before CDs. One of your group would go out and buy the LP and tape it for anyone who wanted a copy of it. We were big into music, all of us, and it was a big topic of conversation at lunch breaks at school, and after.

Drew Hayes (later, a barcode expert) had bought the album, I remember, and upon request, he taped it for me – I still have the cassette somewhere, I think, though I have nothing to play it on.

Peter Gabriel was an interesting, experimental artist. I loved his music, but I admired him for his adventure and attitude in general also. He was a man who took an active interest in society and culture and while his music reflected much of that, so too did his activities – he was an early promoter of World Music and creator of Womad. I reckon around d 1995 I went to a concert of his at the Melbourne tennis centre.

What I remember most vividly are his music videos. He was a real pioneer of music videos, creative and visually arresting and often quite quirky. He’s most famous for his Sledgehammer video, which must be just about iconic now.

It reminds me how different the times were in the eighties going into the nineties. This was when MTV burst onto the scene, and there were heaps of other music programs on TV, many of them really good.

MTV was revolutionary in its way. It brought music videos to the forefront, and a lot of money and effort was expended by artists in creating a visual show to go along with the music.

All of us watched these programs (Countdown obviously, and Soundz with Donny Sutherland, as well as MTV), which were more than just music videos. MTV was populist, like DJ’s on TV, and broad appeal. They would do interviews between videos and discussion and features. It’s all very dated now.

I preferred the more highbrow programs, though I’d generally have MTV on in the background over a weekend. It was an era when music was taken very seriously. There would be quite earnest hosts introducing music with an in-depth analysis of the artist, their influences and often a deep selection from their albums (my favourite was Rock Arena, and Nightmoves was good, too). I liked that. I loved the music, but I wanted to understand, too.

It’s quite different now. There’s plenty of music on TV these days, but the majority of it is wall to wall videos, one after another. There’s very little analysis nor musical context. And the videos aren’t as cutting edge generally because there’s no real call for it – it’s a bit old-hat these days.

I still watch these shows, but generally in the background, and I’m much more likely to have Spotify playing – which, at least, has some musical IQ in its back-end.

It’s a big difference though it feels to me. It was woven through the culture then. We’d all watch the same programs and would speak of them together in the weeks after. I’d pick up album tips and discover artists, and I’d learn more about the artists I enjoyed. It was immersive. I miss that.

It’s all memory.

Incompetent and corrupt

When Tony Abbott was Prime Minister, I never thought in my life would I witness a worse government or leader or the country. His government did a lot of damage to this country by unwinding reforms and cosying up to the mining and fossil fuels industry with the resultant legislation. Abbott was almost a complete fool, but if he had a virtue, it is that he was true to his convictions. Unfortunately, his convictions are almost entirely nonsense, but he was an authentic fool.

Here I am, just a few years later, revising my opinion. This is the worst government we’ve ever had, and Morrison our worst PM.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why the ALP doesn’t hammer the point again and again, in every interview and public appearance, in parliament and out of it, that this is the most corrupt and incompetent government in Australian history. It’s true.

It’s a government full of untalented hacks and opportunists. They haven’t an original idea between them and no rigour in anything they do. Essentially, I think it’s a lazy government full of dozy ministers who don’t have the energy, aptitude or desire to put in the hard yards. They govern by a narrow and discredited ideology, happy to spout outdated slogans and take the short way to any outcome.

Then there’s the corruption, which seems indisputable. They’re a venal lot. I don’t know of a single minister who puts the people’s interests ahead of his own. They’re happy to pocket the millions of dollars from interest groups to peddle their policies in parliament, to the country’s detriment (mining, fossil fuels, superannuation, etc.). They elevate tired old party hacks to positions of influence and power, to look after their own, and to perpetuate their power base.

Democracy is a grey area when it comes to the LNP. Since they’ve gained power, they’ve loosened the checks and balances that keep our society healthy and fair. They’ve acted unconscionably in lying or obfuscating about matters of public interest and altering the record to their advantage. Transparency is at an all-time low because it suits the government. Much of this is reflected in Australia’s fall down the rankings in the corruption index.

The very manner they conduct themselves has had a terrible effect on Australian society. There’s no accountability and no consequence for the litany of misdeeds and bad behaviour numerous ministers have been exposed. It undermines trust and respect, and it sets a terrible example to society as a whole. There was a time – believe it or not – that to be a minister in an Australian government was a position of merit, and they were paragons of behaviour. Fuck that, not any more.

This extends to their conduct in parliament, which is deplorable. The so-called leader of the land, Scott Morrison, will regularly turn his back on the opposition when they stand to speak. It’s the sort of disrespectful behaviour I would expect from a juvenile. More seriously, a government member will frequently call to the speaker that an opposition spokesman not be heard, thus quashing inconvenient dissent and killing the democratic principle, bit by bit.

I’ve never despised anyone as much as I despise Scott Morrison. He hasn’t even got the virtue of conviction. He’s a hollow, cunning character whose only interest is gaining and maintaining power. He’s a soulless, shallow being without conscience or integrity. I suspect, deep in his heart, that he knows that he’s a fraud – and because of that, he’s all talk and announcements and little consequential – or effective – action.

This is now being exposed to wider view. He got away with managing Covid and was even applauded by some sections of the media, when in fact, he did very little. He handed over the responsibility for managing the outbreak to the states, who ran with the ball. The other policies of note, such as jobkeeper, were pushed by the union movement principally and the states, to which the government grudgingly acquiesced.

Now, in light of the disastrous roll-out of the vaccine, the government is proving how incompetent they are.

We were promised 4 million vaccinations by the end of March – there were 700,000. It continues to crawl along with many essential workers and elderly still without vaccination, and winter on its way. Their latest prognostication is that all first-round vaccinations will be completed by October, but even that seems wildly optimistic.

Around the world, vaccinations are going gangbusters. We’re on the bottom of the table by a fair margin. We bought time by keeping infections to a minimum but have squandered it with our incompetence. For the life of me, I can’t understand how you can fuck it up so badly when you have so much time to prepare – and the experience of other nations to draw upon. The blueprint for this should have been drawn up months ago, and all the necessary pre-work checked off well in advance. And yet, here we are.

The problem is that the government views and responds to everything within a political context – how does this make us look, and how can we leverage this? They overlook the practicalities because that’s not their priority nor, apparently, their skillset.

We’ve seen this in their terribly botched, insensitive response to the accusations of misogyny and sexual harassment. It’s all about the appearance of things, unwilling at any point to accept responsibility or take action. It’s all talk and poorly done, at that.

They can’t get away with spin when it comes to vaccinations. It’s their responsibility, and though they’ve tried to blame the states, the states have bitten back. They just don’t have the competence or the structure* to deliver such an important piece of national health.

Bizarrely, the slow pace of vaccinations means that the opportunity to re-open borders is delayed because we won’t achieve any form of herd immunity until well after most countries.

I just hope the Australian people wake up to how terrible this government is. Slowly, I think they’re coming around – and even the media is beginning to stir. It’s up to Labor to do the rest.

*This is a discussion for another time, but I suspect that many of our problems are because the public service has been gutted (and politicised in part), and so much now been outsourced. Bad policy all around, but true to ideology. Schmucks.

The things we keep

From what I can tell, there are many through the pandemic and the various states of lockdown who have taken the time to re-organise and reset their home. It’s a convenient occasion to do so, but I can’t help thinking that it’s a psychological reaction to the times. Locked in, uncertainty all about, and peril at the door, it seems natural that people would attempt to assert some order on their life, however, they can. There aren’t a lot of options, but the decision to spring clean is one of them. Out with the old, and what remains is re-sorted and classified.

I know of a few people who have done this, Donna foremost among them, and I’ve had several unusual conversations on the subject – that is, unusual if these were normal times, but quite standard these days.

I’ve certainly indulged in this, though it could easily be argued that it was long overdue in my case. I’ve got a lot of stuff generally and, while not a hoarder, am inclined to hang onto things.

Early days, I spent a lot of time going through stuff. I threw out or gave away a fair bit from my kitchen and study, and even books, of which I still have boxes full of them. I sought to get rid of the containers in my study with bits and pieces spilling from them and spent a lot of time going through the various clippings I’d collected over the years and either tossing them in the bin or digitising them. All of this is ongoing, and there’s a permanent pile of stuff by my front door that I’ve either got to throw out (including DVDs and CDs) or stuff I’m waiting to get the proper storage for (my old photos).

The other day I came across another cache of stuff dating back to the late nineties, I reckon. It was interesting to go through it and a bit lame, too. There were a bunch of work emails I’d printed out, most of the type that people used to send (but no longer) of jokes or interesting stuff. I still chuckled at some, but to the bin, they went.

Then I came across a poem I’d printed out. I couldn’t recall doing it, and all these years later wondered what it was that inspired me? Was it a woman? Was it a simple appreciation for the poem? Or was it something else?

We do that, and me more than most – we squirrel things away. I guess most people don’t save poems, but I’m a sucker for good poetry. For many years, I had a party trick I’d trot out occasionally whereby I’d recite Byron’s poem, So We’ll Go No More a Roving from memory, line by line.

As it happens, the poem I came across the other day is another by Byron (who is a favourite, along with Donne and Marvell, Yeats, Rilke and some of the modernists like William Carlos Williams and Cummings).

As I’m about to toss this in the bin also, let me first record the poem here for posterity:

When We Two Parted

When we two parted
In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.

The dew of the morning
Sunk chill on my brow –
It felt like the warning
Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame;
I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame.
They name thee before me,
A knell in mine ear;
A shudder comes o’er me—
Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
Who knew thee too well—
Long, long shall I rue thee,
Too deeply to tell.
In secret we met—
In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?—
With silence and tears.

How many moments like these in our life, where we’re so moved to write something of it or read something meaningful and copy it out? And how many of them are forgotten? I’m grateful at least that for the last 20 years, almost those moments have been recorded here, more or less, even those now passed from mind.

It’s a beautiful poem.

Wrong beer

Just a small note. I watched the movie The Dry the other night, starring Eric Bana. I thought it was excellent – better than the book, actually. As an Australian, it had a lot of evocative imagery – a drought oppressed land, dry river beds and dusty soil and stark gum trees standing against an unshifting blue sky. Likewise, the script felt true to nature – laconic, abbreviated conversations with verbal shortcuts where a few words mean a lot.

There was a jarring moment in the movie, though. The Bana character, Falk, is given a beer, and it’s a Budweiser. Maybe that was done for the American audience, but I can hardly think of anything more inauthentic than that.*

I don’t think I’ve ever drunk a Bud in Australia, let alone been handed one. My local bottle-o has about 200 different beer varieties, local and international. If there’s Budweiser there, then I haven’t seen it (though I think it’s available at Dan Murphy’s). Most beer drinkers I know turn up their noses at it.

If you want to be authentic, then situated in a rural town in Victoria, the beer should probably have been a VB – though most of us turn up our noses at that, too, nothing is more Aussie.

But then, the guy that handed the beer to him turned out to be the villain, and maybe that’s the clue.

*Apparently some Budweiser is actually brewed here – tastes different, apparently. Still doesn’t make it legit.

Never be the same

Now that we’ve had 30-odd days free from locally acquired Covid infection, we’re all clear to return to our offices to work in Melbourne. That’s the theory, though it appears very few are getting anywhere close to that. There’s still some caution and uncertainty, and after working from home so long, most of us have become used to it. Tap any average Joe on the shoulder, and chances are that he’ll tell you that he’s happy to return to the office for a day a week, maybe two, but any more than that would be a return to the dark ages.

I’m much the same. I can manage two days a week at a stretch, but just the thought of anything more than that feels hard. We’ve all settled into routines working from home and found ways to make it feasible. It’s far from perfect – I’d rather meet face to face than via a screen, and managing projects with disparate groups of people is a real challenge.

But then, there’s the time saved not having to commute and the convenience of being close to home. There’s the option for parents to pick up their kids from school and to have family meals at a respectable hour. Its loosened boundaries and introduced flexibility that was unimaginable a little more than a year ago. It’s also blurred the boundaries too, but nothing is perfect.

I don’t think we’ll ever get close to the 100% target ever again. The working convention broke in this pandemic. Forced to make do and work from home, we discovered it was actually possible and liberating after generations of workers making the drear commute to and from work each day, like automatons.

Still, there has been a general drift back to the office as the circumstances have improved. In my office, we are rostered for one day a week, though it’s not mandatory. There’s an acceptance that things have changed and that it’s permanent. Logistics play into it also. It’s no small thing gearing up for a return to the office after a year away from it. I was involved in the development of a return to work app late last year. We’re now hot-desking, though that introduces disinfecting challenges. And, even if we were all made to return to the office, there’s no longer enough desks for us all.

I’ve been back to the office perhaps half a dozen times this year, most recently last Wednesday. It’s a strange feeling. We return as a team, but across a floor that could accommodate perhaps 120, no more than 10-15 sit. I visited the 18th floor on Wednesday, which is where I used to sit. This contains the call centre normally, and closer to 150 people back in the day. On Wednesday, there was not a single soul to be seen. Tumbleweeds drifted down the empty corridors.

My brief experience working back in the office is that it’s a bit pointless. At this stage, it feels tokenistic. There’s no real benefit to being back in the office when the people you need to speak to and meet with are still at home. The idea of returning as (small) teams seems sensible, but in reality, has little real value. Certainly, we take advantage of the situation to schedule meetings and planning sessions, but they’re small plusses. There needs to be a more sophisticated solution.

Nonetheless, I’m glad to be back, though – out of practice – getting myself out of bed and organised, for it is more of a struggle. A day away from home and in the office adds a bit of variety to my schedule and introduces a hint of unpredictability in what is otherwise a very predictable routine.

I catch the train in the morning as I would before, only now I wear a mask, and every day is Friday casual. I sit by the window with my headphones on, just as I ever did, but even with the trains are getting fuller, there’s a distinctly different feel to it. I feel like an outlier.

By comparison to the days before, the city is quiet. The shop where I used to buy my coffee has been closed for a year. Many other shops are also shut, and the streets are not nearly as busy as before.

I’m glad to go out on my lunch break and visit places I would before, but it feels very different. In days gone by, I almost had a weekly routine – lunch one day with a friend, coffee with another the next day, then a selection of shops and stores – and the market! – I would rotate through one week to the next. In retrospect, it felt like a system, a habit almost, comforting in its predictability. But then, most things were predictable then (and sometimes I would complain at it).

These days I can only go for lunch with a workmate. Cheeseboy unexpectedly cycled past me in Swanston street the other day on the way to work, but in general, the friends I would catch up with for lunch or coffee are home now. Some of the shops I would visit are no longer there. And in general, there’s none of the bustle or urgency I remember, none of the big-city vibe of people rushing from here to there, the clang of tram bells, the toots of car horns, the ring of the GPO clock – everything has slackened.

There are people, but no-one’s in a hurry, and anyway, there are only half the people there were. Everything has slowed. You get none of that jolt of being part of such a large, living mechanism. The blood isn’t flowing as it did before, and the beat is much slower.

It will improve. No doubt, more and more people will return to the office in some form, and that’s a good thing. It will liven up again – but I don’t think things will be the same again, or not for years, anyway. Under cover of a pandemic, a revolution has occurred. Things have to be re-worked – re-imagined – if we want to get back that vibrancy.

I’ll be curious to see how all this has panned out in five years time.

Nothing is forever

I’m glad to have the day off, but Good Friday must be the most boring day of the year. In a way, it’s good in that it forces you to slow down and attend to the simple things. In celebration of that, I didn’t climb out of bed until nearly 10 am. Later, I’ll check on the footy perhaps, though I expect a dull match, or do some reading or watch a diverting movie. There’s always housework, and then there’s my writing – I have to get to that.

It wasn’t always like this. There was a time I loved Easter. I recalled it yesterday as I took Rigby for his second walk of the day. This time, we went in the direction of the beach. It was a warm and sunny afternoon, and around the time, I thought, when once I would have been gearing up for a long Easter weekend away.

For many years, the extended family would gather at the property at Yarck at Easter to celebrate the relationship between us. It was a lazy, easy long weekend. If the weather was cool – and I always reckoned Easter marked the seasons’ turning – then the pot-bellied stove would be on non-stop. We would sit around, reading in recliners or playing board games at the dining table. There’d always be drinks come around 4 o’clock – beer and then wine; and often a glass of sherry over lunch. Dinner was an extravagant affair, with each family group responsible for separate days, and all of it washed down with the best wine.

There were occasional day-trips, and most years, we’d make it to the Mansfield fete on the Saturday. There’s a picture of me riding a camel there, and one year my sister bought a pet goose (which later disappeared).

On Easter Sunday, naturally, there would be an Easter egg hunt. In the early days, the young adults, like my sister and her husband, my step-sister and me, would take part. I won every year for some reason if winning is to be measured by the most Easter eggs collected. Later on, it was exclusively for the kids.

Orchestrating much of this, and exuding delight throughout, was my mother, who took an extraordinary pleasure in having her family around her. She was the life force that made Easter such a memorable occasion for all of us, for her delight would infect us. Beside her was her husband, my step-father, who found late in life the same pleasures as my mum took, and because of her. He would stand by watching, a smile on his face, urging and supporting.

For me, it was a serene period of rest and reflection. I would try to get away early on the Thursday before and drive the 130 kilometres (about 2 hours) to be there in time for dinner. In later years, I slept in the log cabin in the corner of the property. I loved that. I would retire to it late at night, coming down from the house and likely taking a piss in the bushes on the way. In the morning, I would have a coffee in bed reading before heading up to the rest of the family.

I would read a lot – maybe 2-3 books over the weekend – and would take the time to think about life. What I thought about, or who has passed from memory, though I do recall occasions when I’d be struck by a passing conjecture that I’d wonder at through the day.

There was always work to be done too, and tasks allocated – gardening perhaps, cleaning up the tennis court, or mending a fence, or chopping firewood – there was always that. But then we might spend an hour in the spa with a bottle of bubbles, or have a game of pool.

There’s so much in this I miss. I miss my mum and, just as much, I miss what she represented. I miss my step-dad, who I loved and felt loved by. I miss my step-sister, K, who I lost after my mum died and the family exploded. And I miss the meaning of all that, the love and affection, the casual joy, even the sense of tranquillity, which is entirely absent these days.

It was always a bit sad returning to Melbourne at the end of that. The property at Yarck was like a sanctuary for all of us. It was a place outside of the world in which we could be ourselves and together. It was much commented on how calming and restful it was just to walk in the door. I felt safe and happy and loved there, always, and I think it was the same for everyone.

On the drive back, I would follow the familiar road feeling relaxed by the weekend but already looking ahead to the week ahead and returning to regular life. Another year gone, but Easter would come again, and so too would Yarck – until one year it was no more, and nothing left of that life.

Looking back, it feels like the fall of an empire. When you’re in the middle of it, you can hardly imagine it ever ending. Then, afterwards, you realise that for every beginning, there is an ending, and though it endured for about 15 years, nothing is forever.

No fish for me

I took Rigby for a walk this morning down the Main Street. There was a line extending out the door at the fish shop, hemmed in by temporary bollards placed there for the occasion. Things never change, I thought. Good Friday tomorrow, and the good folk are out to get their seafood for the day.

It brought back memories. My family was hardly religious, but we would avoid meat on Good Friday year after year. It was a convention we were happy to abide by, though occasionally I would grumble as a teenager.

A grown man now, I still do it, and I’m an atheist! I think there’s a nostalgic bent to it. It’s these rituals of family life that keep us warm, even when there isn’t a family to share it with. The main reason I do it, though, is out of respect.

I used to call myself agnostic, just to keep an open mind and to be a little less blunt about if anyone ever asked me. The reality is that I can believe in something for which I can find no credible evidence, but that’s okay. I’m an atheist, but I’m hardly bolshie about it.

For that reason, I’ll be sticking to meat-free food tomorrow out of solidarity and respect. I don’t believe in it, but I’ll respect your beliefs. These are personal, individual things.

In fact, the plan is to make some latkes for lunch – if I can find matzo meal somewhere.

Be more doggy

The Cheeses went away last weekend, and so I ended up dog-sitting Bailey. I did it with trepidation. My place is quite small, and though the dogs know each other and get on well on our weekly walks, there’s been tension before. And, in a way, it’s like being asked to look after someone’s child. You don’t want to fuck it up.

Bailey was a bit discombobulated initially, which was understandable. His folks had abandoned him, and though he knew Rigby and me, he was the interloper.

For the most part, Rigby seemed unfussed, though a couple of times he got a bit possessive and territorial. Always an affectionate dog, he became more so. When Bailey engaged with me at the start, Rigby would push himself forward, and he didn’t want Bailey getting up on the bed – that was his spot.

Over the weekend, Rigby became more relaxed with it. In fact, Rigby appeared to make an effort with Bailey more often, gently engaging with him, as if to say, how you going, mate? Bailey, who is a bit more snarky generally, wasn’t always responsive.

I had to watch out at mealtimes as they’re very different. As a Lab, Rigby will gobble up everything. Bailey is much less focused on food. Rigby always prompts me at mealtimes and gulps down his food in a matter of seconds, whereas Bailey was happy to let his food sit in the bowl until he was ready for it.

That represented a huge temptation for Rigby. He knew, instinctively I think, that it wasn’t his to eat, and so while he’d keep a keen eye on it, wouldn’t attempt to snaffle it. It might have been different if I wasn’t in the room, but it made me fret more than I wanted to. Come on, Bailey, I’d tell, eat up! When he did finally, Rigby would always inspect the empty bowl and give it a few licks, just for good luck.

Then it was our walks. These are two dogs with very different walking styles. Rigby might be getting older, but he’s quite muscular and always striving to get ahead. Bailey, by comparison, is happy to amble along and occasionally behind. Rigby likes to stop and sniff, which he regularly does, whereas Bailey generally was happy to maintain a steady pace. Rigby generally will go to the left but will suddenly swerve and zig-zag. Bailey would go to the right and would often go around the back of me to get there.

All of this meant that leads were frequently tangled, and dogs, and occasionally me. I’d have to pirouette often, or step around or over, or tug the dogs into line, or switch hands. It was a real challenge.

I had Bailey for two nights, and he was well behaved, though a little confused, I think. Outside of our walks, we had a quiet weekend. At the end of it, I felt especially loving towards Rigby.

I’ve long thought that dogs are the best people and Rigby one of the very best of all – devoted and loving, sensitive and gentle, entertaining and fun. Early in the weekend, I had the opportunity to see the difference in behaviour towards another dog. There was a definite rivalry. It seemed to me that to each other, dogs are probably more like what we are – and they save their best behaviour for us.

But then I observed how Rigby mellowed. He was reassured perhaps, realising that Bailey was no threat, and began to see Bailey in more brotherly terms. He would go up to Bailey to check in on him, like a good neighbour – or host. He would lay his head close or, gently snuffling, extend his snout to Bailey, undeterred by rejection. There was kindness in this. It affirmed to me the innate decency of dogs, which he epitomises. He’s a lovely, gentle, affectionate boy, and I couldn’t adore him more. And I was proud of him.

And now he’s barking! Someone at the door? Must go!