March is always a busy time of year for me. It’s my birthday month, but it so happens to be the birthday month of so many of my friends too. I’m not really one for astrology, but I’ve also been intimate with a quite a few women born in March, including two with birthdays either side of mine.
This year my birthday celebration was limited to a birthday cake at work, and dinner out at a local Vietnamese restaurant. I’m not a major celebrator in any case, but this year anything I might do was overshadowed by Cheeseboy’s 50th birthday – his birthday is the 3rd, the day before mine.
To celebrate his birthday we went down to one of my favourite places in the world, Red Hill. It’s long been a notion of mine that I might end up living down that way. There’s something enchanting about the area. It’s not a long way from the city, and the sea is close by too, but then you turn off the freeway and it feels you’re in a different world – a world of rolling hills and winding roads, thick woods and vineyards. There’re some great wineries down that way, but good cheese and delis, good produce all round, as well as good coffee. All the staples of civilised society.
In this case we gathered at one of the other necessary staples, a decent brewery. The Cheeses had rented the house at Red Hill Brewery for the weekends festivities. I drove down with a friend and got there about 2. Mr and Mrs Cheese were sitting down to a late lunch and a tasting paddle of the local beers. We joined them, buying a pint of our own. We stayed there all afternoon, contentedly drinking while the crowd of visitors came and went about is, festive one and all.
It was so pleasant just to sit there and enjoy ourselves without thought of anything. We didn’t need to be anywhere. There were no nagging kids. We didn’t have to drive. There was nothing pressing upon us. Our minds were clear of need, allowing us to sit back and enjoy the passing moments without distraction. How rare is that? It’s like taking a whiff of pure oxygen after breathing the ordinary stuff.
By the time we adjourned to the house next door we were well on the way to being addled. I’d had maybe five pints by that stage, which was fine, except I was the one cooking. When you’re half addled you don’t think to be concerned. You just do it.
Next door we cracked some bottles of wine, red and white, and began intermittent preparations for our dinner. I’m a proud and ambitious cook. I love food, and like most Melburnians these days take a great interest in it, except that I’ve always had that interest – when I was 19 I briefly contemplated becoming a chef. I’m also a bit of a show off, or maybe just a lair, so I was happy to cook for a crowd, but very keen also to make it extra good.
Somehow what emerged was more than good. Everything was near perfect. We had a butterflied chicken brined overnight that when cooked on the barbecue took on the flavours of the grill, but remained so tender and juicy that it was great eating by itself. The steak too was full of great flavour, and the various sophisticated salads I put together were a hit too. I was relieved. Part of me was surprised that it had come together so well, and to the minute – but it felt right too, as if it was always going to be. The consensus was it was better than restaurant meals they’ve had lately.
Of the rest of the night I have but fleeting memories. We drank more, and more again. At some stage there was dancing, and a battle between contemporary dance music, and the more nostalgic music of the eighties and nineties, favoured by us blokes. We stood around a brazier of glowing redwood sharing memories and stories and moments of absurdity. At about 2am we made it to bed, after about 12 hours drinking straight.
The next day was slow, obviously. We had breakfast together and went our separate ways. That night I had my Vietnamese dinner when I might have preferred stopping home. On Friday night I attended Donna’s annual birthday extravaganza, and next week there’s another birthday.
Last night I was over the Cheeses again sharing a barbecue meal with them. They thought last weekend was a great success, and it was. I asked at one point if he’s had time to reflect now he’s tipped past the half century. He’s not a big one for reflection, and his circumstances secure and comfortable. He’s a proud husband and father, has a lovely home and a stable job. For him the priority is health and relationships. He’s not career driven now, not that he ever really was. Part of his great charm is his ease and content.
I always imagined getting to this age – I’m two years older than him – that this would be a time of easing down. In the distance there’s a finish line of sorts, retirement and the rest of it. In theory most of the heavy lifting has been down, and now is the long, slow wind down.
That might be true for many, even most, and it seems the case for Cheeseboy. It isn’t for me though. Much of that is my recent circumstances. Five years ago I was sitting pretty and looking towards a pretty comfortable retirement some day. I was ahead of the curve. Then everything happened. I lost all that, and more, then endured years when nothing happened and survival in itself was an achievement. (I figured the other day that I’m a million dollars worse off than I would otherwise have been, at least, and probably close to a million and a half).
Practically speaking I’m in a position where I can’t ease down. Even so, I wouldn’t want to.
I always had a lot of hunger and ambition. Often times there was a hard edge to that, and so things would progress. I rose through the ranks because I had intelligence and intent. That was always in me, but looking from my current perspective it seems pretty conventional, and incomplete in some ways.
My circumstances have activated something in me. You get used to having to do everything. You put in the hard yards because you must, whereas before you didn’t have to. That process has made me mentally fit in ways I wasn’t before – hard times either make you or break you. I feel keenly the loss of those years in which I went backwards. It feels very wrong, and I want to right that. Most particularly though the thing that has changed is that I am doing things for myself.
All of us have ambitions and passions and ideas we think we’ll get around to ‘one day’. Mostly though that day never comes. I was no different. I was ripe with ideas from when I was 17. I always wanted to write a book. I did a lot of things, but there were a lot more things I never began. It was too hard, or the time wasn’t right, or whatever – the usual crapola. The difference now is that I’m doing the things I said I’d always do. I’m making it happen.
It’s a good feeling no matter how it ends up. I’m full of it now. There are so many things I want to do, there are not enough years. No matter what happens, I can’t see myself winding down for many years, if ever – and I don’t want to.