Concerning my heart


Today I’m not at work, but I was out of the house by just after 9am. I had a couple of medical appointments, first stop at the dermatologist to get the stitches removed from my calf. On the way there Donna called, and we spoke on the handsfree as I drove catching up on the news and updating her on the day ahead.

I was at the dermatologist for about 20 minutes. My other appointment was in Camberwell, but I was way early. I sent a message to a friend hoping to catch up for coffee, then began driving in the general direction of my appointment. With no response from my friend, I stopped in Malvern and went to a coffee shop I knew from when I had the shop. The woman who owns it is an acclaimed pastrycook, and we got friendly when she would come to the shop for a massage after a long day of cooking.

By now it was a beautiful winter’s day. It was sunny and the sky a washed blue, the colour of my jeans. It was not warm, but the sunlight took the edge off the cold. It seemed to me a classic Melbourne winter’s day, the very best sort.

I read the newspaper and had a flat white and a chocolate brownie, and then I was off again. I drove down roads I drove down every day when I had the shop, and I remembered it all. I’ve hardly been through that way since. Years on it feels as if that was a pocket of time that was all-consuming then but is now far distant from me. I never quite understand how things can change so much though it makes perfect sense. How is it that something can be all one thing, and then none of it at all? That’s what lives are.

The doctor I’ve been seeing the last couple of years is about a five minute walk from home, bulk bills, and is good to get my prescriptions renewed. He’s a nice guy, but a bit of a duffer. As a doctor he’s tentative, asking me what I think we should do. I’m no dummy, but I don’t have a medical degree, and I go to the doctor wanting them to tell me what we should do next.

As it happens, he’s away from a month on a European holiday, and so I called up to make an appointment with my old doctor. If she were not so far from home, I’d see her still. She’s very capable and conscientious. She doesn’t dither. She’s a lovely woman as well, and the half dozen years in which she was my regular doctor, we became friendly. She’s a good person who also happens to be very attractive.

I told her why I was there, and she told me she was concerned. I had explained to her the little episode the week before last when I woke up in the middle of the night short of breath and with pains in my chest. Next time, she said, call an ambulance.

She organised an ECG while I was there, as well as a blood test, and I had to give a urine sample. She referred me to a specialist to get a stress test on my heart and organised for a monitoring halter. That happens next Monday. In the meantime, the ECG was normal, and in actual fact, I feel fine. I’ve had no recurrences since and my morning heart-rate has slowly come down since, though it’s not entirely back to normal. My blood pressure is the best it’s been in over a year.

These are things I need to do just to be sure. I’d rather be early than late. On the balance of probabilities, I reckon the test next week will come back fine. I’ll be told to take better care of myself, and that’ll be it, though I’ll be considerably lighter in the pocket.

 

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Subjective truths


I read something yesterday which is self-evidently true, and yet is something we overlook – as we do so much that is otherwise clearly right.

Basically, the statement was that once you have the power to control understanding, then truth is whatever suits your cause. It makes of truth something malleable. If I have all the facts but only release a portion of them, then it’s that portion that becomes the truth. I shape the truth to my purposes, and as there is nothing to contradict, it becomes an accepted reality.

I guess this is the essence of much propaganda over the years, but it’s sharper now because there are fewer today who stand in opposition to today, and many more too indifferent to ever question.

This is why we need an independent media and a populace capable of critical thought, willing to ask questions. Without them, we live in the fraudulent reality of so many totalitarian states, and the Orwellian dystopia becomes real.

We’re not there yet, but even now in the so-called free world, liberty is being redefined as something narrower. Opposing views are being sidelined, abetted by a compliant, self-serving media. Opponents are ridiculed and shamed. Newspeak abounds, and you only need to log into Twitter to be confronted by groupthink – though at least there it’s democratic.

This is why Trump became president. This is how Brexit defied the odds. It’s why the coalition was re-elected here – fake facts are asserted as truth while real facts are said to be false. This is why Assange is being persecuted, and others like him, because he threatens the power of the establishment by revealing their lies.

I used to think the pendulum would swing back. I was more optimistic then. A part of me is bitter these days. I’ve lost faith with much of what is termed the common man. Like many, I used to think he was a fundamentally decent and reasonable person, but I have my doubts now. We have become more selfish and insular, less curious and compassionate. We don’t quest as much, or risk. We are dulled by lifestyle and easy gratification that yet has made us envious of others.

This is the cycle that concerns me. I don’t know how we change it unless with the shock that comes from having gone too far. Inside, most people remain decent, but we’re more easily bought off now, more willingly gullible, more ready to believe the worst.

When I was just a boy


I was reading last night a book in which ex-AFL players described the first time they picked up a football. There were some colourful stories. Many had come from the bush and told how they’d played imaginary games among the cattle, or used a silo to practice their high marking. Some, pre-1950, had come from disadvantaged circumstances and described how they had scrabbled to play the game, many of them using a makeshift, handmade ball, rather than the real thing. More recently – from about my vintage on – the stories became more familiar to me. They spoke of the footballs coloured in club colours – I remember so well – and kicking in the street.

It got me remembering when I was just a kid and enraptured with the game. I had forgotten but now recalled, how on twilit evenings I would go out into the backyard with my footy and by myself would imagine whole games, inclusive of commentary.

We lived in a developing suburb. The back fence was wire and beyond it was paddock in which horses would occasionally graze. There were a lot of kids in the street – five to one side, about ten to the other (with more to come), and a few over the road. It made for competitive games of street cricket and occasionally untidy sessions kicking the footy too and fro on the road. There were three of us who were the eldest who set the agenda, with everyone else following. That was still to come though, I think, when I started kicking a ball around the backyard.

There was a copse of straggly gum trees in the backyard, and a pool against a side fence. These presented constraints on the playing field, but occasionally would represent imagined opposition. Taking the ball, I would run with it in the yard, baulking trees as if they were lunging opposition players, or steering the ball between them as if they were goal posts. Up and down I went, commentating aloud “…and H takes the ball and dodges around one player, then another, he kicks for goal…and it’s a goal. Great play, H!” To which I would add in some crowd noise.

I ran to exhaustion, the fantasy game consuming my imagination, kicking little chip kicks or handballing, blind-turning past invisible opponents and bouncing the ball until it got too dark to play.

It was a fond experience recalling that last night. I’ve seen kids do similar, totally enraptured by the fantasy, and it always warms the heart. I imagined what I would have thought had I seen myself play back then. It seemed a thing of blissful innocence. Briefly, I wondered what my parents must have made of it peering out the back window at my strange antics. I imagine there was both affection and humour in the sight.

I was about eight then, cute as a button. And that was me – not the person looking on, not the parent watching, that was me, in that small body, full of dreams and fantasies, imagining a world I was to come into one day, imagining myself – as small boys do – as the star of some fantastic scenario. It seems awfully sweet.

After I put the book down I wondered at the context of it. I can barely recall the first ever AFL game I attended, against Melbourne I think at the MCG. My memory is impressionistic, of colours and movement and unexpected noise. Later we became members and we – my father and me – would go to every home game at Windy Hill, and quite a few of the away games. I remember so much still of that, which went on for about a dozen years together, right from searching for a parking spot to the kids selling the footy record outside the ground and the radio afterwards on the way home the Captain and the Major mainly, with Jack Dyer in his irascible way commenting on the game and giving his ratings of the players.

Then there is the game itself. Most of my memories seem to be against Richmond for some reason, even when very small – I was sitting in the stand above the day of the infamous Windy Hill brawl. And I remember a game against North Melbourne when they were at their peak, and we stormed home with the stand thrumming with feet beating against the wooden floor and the chant going up “Ess-en-don…Ess-end-don…” and for a kid, it was absolutely intoxicating. I remember a headline in the paper the next day, or the following week’s record, “Essendon burst North’s bubble.” I remember Ken Roberts kicking the ball over his head for a goal from the point post and Alan Noonan – my favourite player – muscled and tanned, his skin gleaming with oil, a big moustache in a handsome face playing forward for Essendon.

That went on for years. Players came and went, the memories shifted and updated, and though it was full in me as a boy and the memories vivid I had little conception of the broader game until 1977, the year the grand final was first telecast live. Till then the finals had largely past me by. I might hear a game on a radio, and once the next door neighbours took me to a final (Richmond vs. North Melbourne) at VFL Park, but we were more likely to be riding our bikes somewhere.

That changed in 1977 when North Melbourne took on Collingwood and I watched the game with my best mate in our lounge room. Peter Woody was a Collingwood supporter, but I hated them even then. At ¾ time in that game, it looked like the Maggies would break the drought, but then the Kangaroos, inspired by Barassi, stormed back. It was only a late goal by Twiggy Dunne – I can see it now – that ultimately allowed Collingwood to draw the match. And so the next week Peter Woody and I sat where we had the week before and watched the replay, and the Kangaroos win it easily. From that moment on, I understood the game in a broader context – not just moments, but the meaning of it.

Free days


I woke this morning after a good nights sleep with the rain falling in a gentle, steady hush. That was a couple of hours ago, and it’s rained for most of that time since. Today is a free day, a public holiday with nothing I must do or anything I must be. Together it made for an easy peace of mind as went about my holiday rituals – coffee in bed with a book and an iPad, the dog close by, nestled into the curve of my body as I sat up on my side, or leaning against my back behind me.

As always Rigby is alert to everything even with his eyes closed. He knows the routines and the little tells he reacts to immediately – the picking up of my glasses from the bedside table, the snap shut of a book when I have finished reading, the book being replaced on the pile beside the bed – and he is up immediately, standing on the bedclothes with his head turned to me, before leaping down to the floor and turning my way expectantly. It’s the dregs of the coffee he’s after, the dregs he drinks every time cleaning out the coffee mug, just as he has for many years since. Both of us are creatures of familiar routine.

It feels fine to be free of obligation, and I wish there were more days like this. Though there is nothing I must do, I know what I will do. I’ll read a little, write for a while, and towards late afternoon I will cook. With the food in the oven or on the stove top slowly cooking I’ll fire up a hot bath and laze there reading my bath book while Rigby attends me bath side, licking the soap from my skin as he’s so inclined. I’ll wash my hair and shave my face in anticipation of the working week. For a few moments I’ll reflect on this and that: some of my best thinking comes in the bath.

Then it will get dark. I’ll eat my dinner with the TV on and by then I’ll be resigned to the fact that I must work tomorrow. Depending on how the day has been – particularly, how the writing has gone – I’ll feel either satisfied or searching for more. In either case, my mind may be busy with thoughts and conjectures. I’ll wonder at things, at words and probably at life itself, then possibly the latest footy scores. With work ahead, I’ll be aware of the things I intend to do. I start refreshed, as I do every week, as if this week I can change things, that the frustrations I’m victim of will clear, as if all I need do is keep going, persist, stay true and strong. Bending to the situation is not a consideration, and never has been. I’ll succeed on my terms, or fail, but it’s not obstinacy that informs that but irrepressible optimism.

Yesterday was a different day. We had arranged to drive down Red Hill way and attend the annual Winter Wine thingy. We’ve done this before, though for many years. I caught a train with JV to Frankston were we were picked by Donna on the way through, a couple of her friends with her. We spent the afternoon going from one winery to the next, though fewer than I hoped for. Navigation let us down once or twice, and a late, extended lunch at T’Gallant meant that by the time we left most of the openings had closed. I missed out on Manton’s Creek and Aringa Estate and one or two others I wanted to attend, but never mind.

I got home near 8pm last night, glad to be home and with Rigby again.

Under pressure


I woke this morning to find a friend from Perth had left me a message in the early hours of the morning. He’d just been to see a new movie, he explained – The Professor, starring Johnny Depp – and something about it had reminded him of me. There was a note of concern in his message I thought, though the words were straight-forward. He asked if I was okay.

Up to this morning, I would have replied that I was well enough, not great but getting by. It was funny timing getting his message because this morning I was awake at six knowing something was wrong.

The first time I woke up, it was at about 3am, and my breathing came hard. Given my nose now blocks most nights and the frequent chest infections I have that’s not unusual in itself, except on this occasion there was another cause. Every twitch, every slight shift, every movement I made set my heart racing and I found almost that I couldn’t breathe fast enough. That lasted for a while, and even after I’d fallen asleep then woken up early, I felt some residue of it, though it had settled.

For the last couple of years, one of the things I do on waking is to check my heart-rate. All throughout it’s been between 70 and 80 bpm. About two weeks ago it jumped and hadn’t come down since. It hasn’t been less than 90 bpm since.

Then I consider my blood pressure. Ever since I can remember, it was always 120/80. Like clockwork. Then, about 7-8 months ago, it jumped to something like 150/95. In all the readings since it hasn’t fallen below 140/80, and it got as high as 170/95 at one stage. I’m now temporarily on medication to control it.

The thing is, there’s no apparent reason why these have jumped. I have a few niggles here and there and had a minor case of fatty liver, but otherwise, I’m physically powerful and relatively fit.

As I do, I’ve read up on these things, and there was nothing I could really trace back as being a cause. There was one, stress, which is a leading cause of high blood pressure, but which I dismissed. The narrative goes I’m not a stress carrier, and in my mind, I always pictured people suffering from stress as being harried, overwrought characters barely keeping their head above water. Even in the worst of times – and there have been some shockers – I was never like that.

Regardless, there’s no doubt I’ve endured stressful events – homelessness for one, near bankruptcy, and, even now, work. Stress manifests differently in me. By nature, I’m anything but passive, and so I react robustly. I seek to do things, to change things. I want to get my hands on the wheel and wrench it the other way. I’m clever, and it sometimes comes out in wit that can be pretty corrosive. I can’t let things take their course without looking to intervene, which adds to the problem – because mostly there’s little I can do. And so the frustration builds.

That’s my situation to a T at work. I returned to work on Wednesday, feeling pretty motivated. Within half an hour I’d checked in on work and projects I’m involved in to check how they’d progressed. The answer was that they’d progressed not one whit, because either the person who needed to make a decision hadn’t (no-one makes decisions anymore), or because somebody had derailed the process for their own ends, or simply because everyone was so disorganised and confused or timid that nothing could be done.

If it was just on this occasion I might have rolled my eyes and groaned, but it’s invariably the case, and very quickly my good mood had turned sour. It was worse because there was nothing I could do, because, for reasons I can only conjecture, I’m precluded from doing the things I’m trained for, and best positioned to do. My professional frustration is longstanding and bitter.

This then, I finally realised, was probably a serious cause of my health issues.

As I walked around this morning doing my shopping, I realised there was another part of it I hadn’t considered. I’ve always been existentially restless. In the past, I managed that by travelling. I sought authentic experience and to immerse myself in real things foreign to my own culture. I wanted to look and learn and understand. I sought to feel. It was sufficient to get some of that existential angst out of my system, but now it’s built up again.

This is not something I’ve been able to do for many years because I can’t afford it. Even when times were good, I understood the simple lives we led were constrained. We live in boxes from which we occasionally venture. I’ve been aware for years now how small my life has become, and I’ve endured it on the premise that one day it would be different. I’ve been fortunate that my writing gave me an outlet. If I couldn’t venture physically from my box then here at least intellectually I could for a short distance.

All of this has now come to a head, I feel. With my health suffering, I have to ask what my options are? Obviously, the top priority is a new job, but that’s been a priority for a while without result. I can’t go on where I am, but nor can I go on without something.

I think a better job and more money would make a significant difference. It would relieve the pressure, give another outlet, and cash would give me options not currently available to me – such as travel. I’m positive my health would greatly improve.

The settings in me are different now than they were before I was homeless. Life can seem a game when things are good, but once you’ve experienced the strain of survival, you realise how precarious everything is. In a way it frees you up. I was always the swashbuckling type, but with a wink and a nod. These days it’s more grim. I have no time for petty indulgence. I see in curves and angles, in 3D, but I act in straight lines. I’m still as generous and kind as I ever was, but I’m also more blunt. And deep inside me is this yearning to express myself, in every medium and perspective. I feel bound though, struggling against ties, I could break if I chose to, but afraid of the outcome if I do. I don’t live naturally.

After my friend’s message, I looked up the movie he was referring to. It’s about a professor who is diagnosed with a terminal illness and abruptly changes his ways, living for the moment and opening up. I could understand my friend’s allusion. I had broken free of my shame last year and opened up, and it was a liberating experience. Now it seems a job part done – I need to go further.

For now, I must mind my health. There’s little I can do about work this moment, but I can live more healthily. That seems my only option, and from here on in, until I get better, that’s what I’ll do. And I might look to see my old doctor, the doctor I trust.

Not so smug now


Given what’s happened this week – raids on the ABC HQ in Sydney by the AFP, another raid on a News Ltd editor in Canberra – it’s apt that I wrote about Julian Assange just last week because this is all of a piece. What we have are governments – the establishment – seeking to control the narrative. They claim, as they always do, that it’s in the national interest, but really it’s about censorship. It’s about seeking, or preserving political and personal advantage, about protecting shoddy dealings and hiding away corruption and incompetence. Above all, it’s about intimidation, which is what these raids were all about. The message is loud and clear: if you’re a whistle-blower we’re going to get you, and if you’re a journalist then you’re in their targets too. It’s a national disgrace.

I can’t express how angry this makes me feel. Why am I so angry? Well, I’m upset, naturally, at the hit to our democracy and threat to free speech. I’m very afraid of where this is leading, and where it may lead. Mostly I’m furious because over the last ten years or so many of our civil liberties have been steadily eroded by governments justifying it with weasel words about terrorism and threats to national security. Here and there voices have been raised in objection, but too few, and quickly drowned out. I’ve been one of those voices, protective of my civil liberties and fearful that what starts as a few seemingly minor restrictions to our rights become a movement, and combined lead us to a state of intimidation. That’s the lesson of history, not paranoia, but our politic and our media had declined to such a state that no serious opposition was ever raised. Now we have raids on our national broadcaster by our federal police. The media as a collective are screaming blue murder now, but excepting a few instances, and a few journalists, the irony is that the laws they now suffer from went unexamined when they had the chance. And that’s why I’m bloody angry. I just hope it’s not too late.

I have become powerfully cynical these days. That’s what becomes of disappointed idealism. The election broke my heart. My better self seeks to forgive, but I can’t help but despise the selfish and the dumb who voted in this government. I don’t know what would happen if I cornered one of those dozy cunts, but it wouldn’t be pretty. Soon enough they’ll recognise the error of their ways as the economy tanks, as they find they’re not entitled to franking credits, and as Morrison, Dutton and his cronies continue on in their corrupt, undemocratic and self-serving ways – but what good is that? Remorse won’t cut it. Their sloppy indifference has condemned us all, and for that, I can’t forgive them.

For me, this is somewhat existential. I’ve always been a proud Australian. Generally, I like Australians, as most of the world does, but I’ve come to question what we really have to be proud of? This is a big blow to my belief systems, but probably a necessary corrective. How I resolve that going forward, I don’t know, but I’m sure I will.

In the meantime, it’s this lax scrutiny which has led us to a place where our democracy is in danger. We’re not alone in this. As we see with Assange, whistle-blowers and those who seek to expose the truth are at threat all over the world. This must be resisted. Once, it was the totalitarian states guilty of this, and we would sneer at them from our smug democracies. Now our democracies are adopting the tricks of the police states we despised. Sadly – and I never thought I’d say this – Australia has now become one of the leading offenders. It’ll get worse unless we do something about it now.

Famous last words…


I’ve been meaning to write about the cricket world cup for a while, and as it’s now started better get onto it before it gets away from me.

Let me put it up front. I think Australia will play New Zealand in one semi-final, and England will take on India in the other. Would expect Australia to win and probably England, then Australia in a canter in the final, much like 1999.

England have been the hot favourites for ages. They’re playing at home and are the best performed team over the last couple of years. I have queries on them on a number of levels.

Firstly, I wonder if they have a plan B. Their A plan is mighty, but it won’t go all their way this tornament and you need to scrap sometimes and find ways to win ugly. I also wonder if their attack is penetrating enough. Then there’s the mind side of it. Seems to me in England their side is either the best in the world or the worst, and that goes for all sports. They’re either as cocky as hell or disdainful. Right now, and for a while now, they’re as cocky as hell. I wonder if a few results going against them might affect their mentality. That’s where the tournament play of a world cup makes a difference, and where Australia has always excelled.

It’s basically matchplay and it sorts out the men from the boys. You need to have continuity and professionalism and a hard-edged belief. Even in 1999, when Australia struggled early, they didn’t waver and after a couple of immense results against South Africa had a walkover in the final against Pakistan. Every other winning campain (and there’ve been five in all) there’ve been steely eyed to the point you never thought they could lose.

England talks themselves up like that, but I don’t see it in them yet. That belief comes from getting it done in all conditions against all opponents. It’s that lack of belief that has undone an otherwise excellent South African team several times. It’s the sort of belief that England has never come close to attaining, but will have earned it if they walk away with the cup this time.

I think they’re good enough to make the final, though it won’t be as easy as they think.

I’ve put a line through South Africa – likewise, lacking penetration without Steyn and x-factor with de Villiers. Pakistan are mercurial, as always, and may fluke it, but don’t think so. I put the Windies in the same category. Sri Lanka aren’t nearly good enough, and while Bangladesh and Afghanistan are willing – and capable of pulling off an upset or two – they don’t have the depth of talent.

That leaves New Zealand, India and Oz.

I’ve nominated the Kiwis because they generally show up and, like Australia, are good tournament players. They’re even across the park and when it all clicks can be very dangerous. They’ll win the games they should and might sneak another game. Good enough to make the semis, not good enough to go further.

India are an easy pick because they’re jammed with talent and have the best ODI batsman and bowler in the world playing for them. They should make the finals easy, but I’ve got question marks over their temperament when it gets to the pointy end. They’ll overcome that at some point, just don’t think it’ll be this time.

That leaves Australia. As an Australian I could be accused of being bias but, given our record, it’s hard not be bullish. We’ve won this five times before. We have belief ingrained into us. Come the cracking whips no team has been steadier – in fact, no team has lifted more when its had to. On top of all that I think this squad may have a point to prove.

With Smith and Warner returning it’s as good as any squad out there. If I have any question marks it’s not over the quality, but the composition of the batting line-up. Are Smith, Marsh, Khawaja too similar a player? Do we need a big hitter between them? I’d be tempted to shuffle the batting order a little, but that’s dependent on Stoinis finding some good batting form. Nonetheless, Warner, Finch, Smith and Maxwell are among the best ODI batsmen in the world.

They’ll hold the game for us and make it competitive, but it’s the bowlers who’ll potentially win it. I think the Australian bowling attack is clearly the best in the comp. It’s a cutting edge all the way through and that’s what you need. It defines Australian philosophy too, different to most of our rivals. They set out to beat the opposition, not outlast them.

England may have the best record over the last couple of years, but no team has a better recent record than Australia. Counting the warm-up matches they’ve won ten in a row – including India, three times; Pakistan, five times; and England, once.

That’s ominous form and the world knows it. My only reservations are if the bowling attack goes off or gets injured, and if the team has been together long enough to make it happen. Still, my money’s on Australia.