Overtime


After all that, back to work.

Work has been busy. After all the issues and delays, we finally went live with ‘our’ project last week. It went as well as could be expected in the circumstances, which is to say that there were bugs and blips, which we’ve been working through since, but the core functionality works.

The go-live was greeted with a glee I thought inappropriate, but that may be that I’m a grinch. In my mind, this has been a very poorly run project, and there’s hardly cause for celebration or self-congratulation. If nothing else, celebration was premature given the work that still had to be done.

I’ve been working 8-10 hours, and that’s true even on the day I had to visit the Alfred to discuss my hyperbaric treatment. That night I worked till 10. I get paid for four hours a day.

In a sense, I don’t mind. I feel a sense of obligation to get things right – obviously, a sense not everyone shares. I enjoy the challenge of getting things right, and though it isn’t officially my project, I feel some ownership. As it will all revert to me to manage when I’m back full-time, that’s understandable.

What I resent is the expectation that I will do this, which is worse when others decline to do the same. I feel a bit used, especially when so much of what I’m doing is saving the PM’s arse.

Besides the various functional problems we’ve had to address post-live, another serious issue emerged a couple of days later. Without going into too much detail, we’re replacing one application with an alternative app and the general brief that it should be ‘like for like’. For the most part, it is – my design and architecture have been replicated in the new app. The fundamental difference is that they’ve added a contact form upfront, but no-one bothered to check with legal to see if that was alright, particularly regarding the privacy statement.

That’s a rookie mistake. It should have been done months ago if not last year. As I tell the guys, you have to tick all the boxes; otherwise, it will come back to bite you on the arse. So, of course, when we belatedly informed legal (after an argument with the PM), they told us that yes, it has to be fixed, and you have a week to do it.

For much of the project over the last few months, I’ve felt like a backseat driver. I could yell things from the backseat, but I didn’t have my hands on the wheel. Some of what I said was ignored, and some of it – belatedly – was acted on. I was absent for the first 7 months of the project, so I didn’t know all the discussions and decisions made, and none was documented. Some I was able to deduce, but so much more you don’t see until it’s in a production environment.

The PM stuffed up the legal thing, and it will cost money to fix it. I don’t think he’s told anyone above him, and our argument was about whether we should take it to legal at all. He wanted to quietly fix it. Me, I want to do these things by the book – besides, I might think what legal will say, but I don’t know. Let the experts do their job; we’ll do ours.

I find it hard to be angry with the PM. He’s a nice guy, and he’s out of his depth. He knows it, I think, which is why he’s made himself scarce, and I’ve had to work 8-10 hours every day. He hung up on me the day after we went live. I was still in bed when I got a call from a delegation of senior Ops stakeholders reporting problems and wanting to get them resolved. You may ask why they came to me rather than the PM, but maybe the answer is self-evident by now.

I did the right thing and called the PM to advise him of the conversation. We’re looking into it, he said. Well, I replied, it might be a good idea to tell them you’re doing that. You can tell them, he said, with unexpected heat. But I don’t know what you’re doing! I responded.

Managing stakeholders has been a problem throughout. The project team are poor communicators and seem oblivious of the need to keep stakeholders informed – not as if it isn’t project management 101. If nothing else, people need reassurance. Projects that impact your job are stressful for the people concerned. Best is to keep them informed all along the way and bring them into the conversation. Silence makes them nervous, and they begin to fear the worst.

So, yeah, I’m sooking a bit. It’s just that I’ve been trying to get the half-day I’m entitled to and maybe a day off in lieu, but I can’t do it because the PM isn’t pulling his weight. The guy who urged me to work longer when I still felt crook from recovery has taken two half days off in the last week and has now come down with Covid. It’s not that he was doing much when he was online, but it means I have to step up to save his project.

I don’t know if people understand, but up to the last couple of weeks, there wasn’t a day when I didn’t feel unwell by conventional standards. You get conditioned to it and work through it because you must. I lost the hearing in my right ear again yesterday and earaches with it. I thought, okay, I’ll take it easy Monday. I woke up with my hearing restored (and I think it’s okay), but I’ve got no choice but to work a full day because there’s no-one else available.

By my reckoning, the business owes me between 80-100 hours of work I haven’t been paid for. It would be easier if they weren’t so fucking blase about it.

Hopefully, by the end of the week, everything will have settled. I’ve done a lot to make the PM look good, but I also think that a lot have recognised my value through this, and I can only hope I get some reward for that.

It’s done


There was a chill in the air last night when I walked out the door, and the comforting tang of woodsmoke. It was quiet, peaceful. The sun had just set, leaving – for the moment – a fiery golden line on the western horizon. I walked down the street to collect my take-away Thai rugged up in a fur lined leather jacket, well aware of the moment and the gravity before us in the night ahead. I returned home to watch it unfold.

Long story short, we won. By we, I mean the people of Australia, and I think that’s probably true regardless of who you voted for. Gone is the government demonstrably corrupt and generally out of touch. It was a government of mediocre talent that achieved remarkably little of note through its tenure. They leave us worse off than when they began. They quadrupled our debt and have left nothing to show for it. Heavy industry has gone, and we have more holes in the ground. It was a government that narrowed our moral and ethical horizons and put self interest above the greater good. It was a dirty, incompetent government lead by a dirty, incompetent prime minister.

Now they are gone.

Just as I have for many years, I sat before my tv and watched as the story unfolded seat by seat. The two big stories of the night are the utter decimation of the Liberal party, and the irresistible rise of the independents. They add up to a change in government and a new PM – Anthony Albanese.

I feel we are witnessing a watershed moment in Australian politics. The Liberal party are on their way to irrelevance unless they change their ways. Judging by the post election commentary, the solution is to move further to the right. That defies logic and sense. They lost because they abandoned the moderate heartland of the Liberal party of old, leaving it to the independents to fill the void.

There’s nothing to the right for them except further irrelevance. It’s a cold, harsh and meaningless wasteland. It doesn’t work in Australia. Leave it to the nutters.

I wrote when Turnbull was deposed that I could see the Liberal party splintering because of the nonsensical conservative push within the party. In a sense, that has happened. There are few remaining Liberal moderates remaining after yesterday. The true moderates are wearing teal. The remaining members are grouchy conservatives, partnered with a National Party conservative by nature, but unable to ever claim power in their own right. After this, the LNP have become fringe. They won’t ever reclaim power until they broaden their church again, or if.

What this election tells us is that there’s a split between metropolitan and country Australia and, more roughly, a divide between north and south. Labor hold the cities more or less. Once their constituency was the working class; now it’s the educated professional class.

The outer suburbs trend more conservative the further you get out, right into the bush, we’re the National party holds sway for the most part. That’s true for North Queensland as well, and anywhere with a latitude above Brisbane.

Queensland has always been a strong bastion of LNP support, but surprisingly the Greens took some seats from them in Brisbane and in the south of the state.

Then there the independents. I think they’re a great thing. I think democracy thrives on diversity and questions being asked of the ruling power. By all appearances the independents- all women – are an outstanding bunch of candidates. They’re high achievers in life who are grounded in experience without the burden of overweening ego. I expect them to be reasonable and to push strongly for a fairer society better equipped to address the issues we face today. I voted for one, and she got up.

The big issue is climate change, and was a central point of difference between the Liberal government and the Labor party and independents campaigning against them. It will be priority number one with the new government, supported by the independent and Greens. I expect a bold and ambitious plan.

The other popular policy is regarding integrity in politics, aka corruption. There’s strong support to do something about that also, and it appears we’ll have a federal integrity commission before too long. This is big. I know, I don’t want to see or hear from Morrison again, until he appears in the dock before a federal ICAC. They’ll be selling tickets for that.

The cost of living and the economy generally are big issues, but harder to address. We’re buffeted by world events and have been saddled with public debt of about a trillion dollars. It’s an amazing amount when you consider nothing has been built or created from the 800 billion the LNP government added to it.

Debt must be managed, as must cost of living and housing affordability. The fortunate thing is that we have the best qualified treasurer for many years assume the position in Jim Chalmers. He’s a deeply impressive person and will be prime minister one day, in my opinion.

There are myriad other challenges. It won’t be easy. I think I speak for many Australians though when I say I fell I can breathe again. It’s like a dark cloud that has hovered above us for years has finally cleared. I can begin to hope again, and maybe begin to feel some pride once more that I’m an Aussie.

It’s time


Today is Election Day in Australia. A lot of us have been waiting for this day for a long time – three years to be precise, after the great disappointment of last time. I feel sure the result will be different this time, and finally, we’ll be rid of the worst, most corrupt government in our history. It’s a moment to savour – though I shouldn’t get ahead of the result.

With the Election Day finally, there’s no more campaigning, no more political advertising, rabid journalism, no more sham, pretence and dishonesty. Not for a little while, anyway. Truly, election campaigns are a thing from hell, dispiriting and overwhelming. I’m a political animal, but I switch channels when a political ad shows on TV or political news comes on. I can’t stomach the inanity and shallow, often biased commentary. Now we’re free of it.

Much in that nature, Scott Morrison was heard to say early in the campaign that Australia was the greatest country in the world. Lest he is exposed as a turncoat in tabloid headlines across the nation, the opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, was heard to pronounce the same soon after.

These are motherhood statements. By ritual, I reckon most leaders and would-be leaders say much the same thing in countless countries across the world. It’s meaningless drivel, of course, but I guess it’s intended to confirm their bona fides as a leader and affirm their commitment.

Not every country can be the greatest. I don’t even know what the criteria for the ‘greatest’ is. It’s an empty sentiment made up of bluster and insincerity. I don’t even know if it matters much, but, in any case, surely what defines the best and greatest is a matter of subjectivity?

It’s my subjective analysis that Australia is not the greatest country in the world. It pains my partisan heart to admit that, though it’s pretty clear that any claims to such a position have gone downhill in the last 10 years.

There was a time when I might have proudly believed there was no better place on earth than the lucky country. Even now, with the benefit of hindsight, it seems fair to claim that Australia of the late eighties and early nineties was not only a great place to be but a genuinely decent, egalitarian, progressive nation on top of it.

All that changed when Howard came into power in 1996. He was a small man in mind and body who seemed to resent the years his ambition had been thwarted. I don’t doubt that he was always innately conservative, but the years watching shinier, more articulate candidates get ahead of him had formed a view of the world that was crimped and narrow, and brewed a suspicion of anything original or daring or interesting. He set us back decades by discouraging progressive opinion and encouraging a bigoted, paternalistic perspective. He started the rot that has led us to the obnoxious, corrupt politics of the current government. It’s no wonder I hate John Howard, though I despise Morrison also and think him clearly the worst prime minister we’ve ever had.

Now that we’re on the cusp of electing a new government, there’s hope that everything will be different. Indeed, in key aspects, there’s strong evidence that long-overdue action will be taken concerning climate change, integrity, aged care, and so on. We await with bated breath.

I want to return to the concept of the ‘greatest’ nation for a moment. I know it’s a bit silly and spurious, but I also believe that, as a nation, as well as individuals, we should always strive to be better. A little ambition is no bad thing, and it’s been too long since we had some authentic national aspirations. The thing is, it doesn’t happen by accident. High minded speeches won’t do it. It takes action. And it takes belief – the belief that we can all share in and shoulder our portion of the quest.

That’s the challenge now. I hope we have that ambition as a government. We know what not to do – anything the government of the last ten years has done, which has made us petty and small-minded and reduced the stature of our nation in the global community. So, that’s the easy part, and there are obvious pathways towards becoming a healthier nation.

Despite all the positive policies and progressive initiatives, it seems to me we can never be anything like great until we mend our society. There are too many rifts and divisions, many of them actively fostered by a government that has favoured political advantage over the greater good.

We treat our poor, disadvantaged and elderly with disrespect and disgrace. Add to that the treatment of refugees and our first nations people. In many instances, they have been used as political pawns. I’m sad to say, it’s an attitude that has permeated sections of society.

We’re to blame for that. It takes authentic leadership to light the flame and show the true way forward. We haven’t had that for many years. It’s true in much of the world. The disenfranchised have been neglected and left to brood and rebel, exiled from the benefits of society.

It explains Trump, the rise of the extreme right and white supremacy, and it explains the anti-vaxxers.

In Victoria, in the last couple of years, we saw the value of a community that pulled together in service of the common good. We made hard sacrifices knowing what we did was for something bigger than our individual selves. In many ways, it was inspiring.

That’s what we can be. What it takes is a narrative we can all believe in and share, knowing that we are part of it. There are many policy levers that must be pulled if Albanese becomes PM later tonight, but over and around, that is healing the wounds of our community, tending to our national weal.

It’s a tall order, but I think it’s mighty helpful that we appear on the verge of electing a genuinely decent human being to the top job to replace a man who is nothing more than a contemptible turd. Example counts for much. Time will tell. It’s time.

Life inside a lie | The Saturday Paper


The government Scott Morrison leads has achieved less in three terms than perhaps any other in Australian history. What it has accomplished has largely made the country worse. It has dismantled an effective carbon price, antagonised China, cowed the national broadcaster, diminished the broadband network. It has confected a national circus on gay rights, alienated allies,
— Read on www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/opinion/editorial/2022/05/21/life-inside-lie/165305520013930

Every word of this is true. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Today is our chance to remove this stain on on our society.

Natural and assumed selves


One night last week while I lay in bed reading I had classical music playing in the background. The first piece was by Ravel – his Piano Trio in A Minor. Tinkling piano is overlaid with sinuous violin – very Ravel. It’s a thoughtful, quiet piece that draws you in with the sense that there’s something going on beyond the music.

I would pause occasionally in my reading to listen more closely and the thought occurred naturally in me: this how I want to live. But what did that mean? I think that I wanted to live with music like this playing a more central place in my life – slowing me down, encouraging me to be thoughtful and to peer into the depths that the hustle of everyday life keep us too busy to look into. I wanted to be present, in the moment, as I was as I listened to the music.

I probably could have said the same thing at multiple stages of my life, though mostly there were other things that drew me away. This time, it feels as if the time is right. I’ve reached the end of the path and, if I chose, that’s the direction I could turn to.

The next day I had an early appointment at the hospital, after which I went into the office, where my team had gathered.

That afternoon I had a meeting with a vendor we have an vital relationship with. Also there was the head of digital, and my direct boss, B.

I used to have a great relationship with B. He’s a very decent human being, affable, intelligent, mostly authentic. The relationship soured a little bit when I was sick. As I’ve written, I felt neglected and sometimes forgotten. When we spoke it often felt as if he wasn’t listening completely. I felt he was a stooge for the company, more inclined to their interests than mine. He was certainly very clumsy with some of his language and behaviour.

It took the gloss off our relationship but I excused most of it on the grounds that he was very busy covering my role as well, and that he was just one of those people poor at managing awkward situations.

I returned to work in February to find the project he had inherited in my absence had been mismanaged. Conscious of my part-time status and the fact that I was no more than an interested bystander now, I tried to influence and direct the best I could to plug the holes and get the project back on track. I even had to step up at one stage and managed to get a few things done.

Overall, it was too late to make much difference, and I felt at times as if my interventions were seen as unwanted interference. I understood that and was sympathetic – it was an awkward position for both of us. Sometimes I was ignored, at other times my suggestions were rejected (wrongly, as it transpired), and occasionally they would be followed up.

By the time we met with the vendors last week I felt uncomfortable to the point of being disenchanted. By that time the go-live date had been postponed twice, and issues had emerged threatening the next deadline. The issues were those I had warned of and raised months before but had been fobbed off or ignored.

I sat in the meeting and realised that I had lost faith in B. He sat there with a grin on his face making comments that were not quite correct. Beside him, I was more incisive and direct – I know the product backwards. Then there was the head of digital, who favours B.

I understood why. B is a nice guy. He’s reliable and he won’t rock the boat and there’s a little of the unconscious martyr in him – you can load him up with work and he’ll get it done without complaint. He’s smart too, though it’s of a particular type. He has a technical mind and that’s how he sees the world. He’s blind when it comes to the operational, and even the functional. His thinking runs in a straight line, which is great for some roles, but not for others. Above all, he’s biddable, and I think that’s why he’s in favour.

What’s strange is that I started in my role appointed by the previous head of digital. He was disdainful of B and planned for me to take his place. But then he left. I wasn’t unhappy. I liked B and I was pretty sure I didn’t want his job.

But now, sitting there, I felt a kind of disgust. Not for him, but for the situation generally. I had realised a little while before that I was tired of hiding my light under a bushel. No-one knows what my experience is or the range of what I’m capable of. For the most part, I’ve kept silent, unsure of what I wanted.

With my health slowly returning I realised that I no longer wanted to hide away. I had no ambitions. There was no scheming in it. I just wanted to be honest with myself and others. And I sat there listening to people who knew a fraction of what I did, while I had a fraction of their authority. Let me tell you, it’s frustrating to listen to uninformed nonsense when you’ve made a living off what they’re talking about.

Yesterday, the project went live. It was good enough, no more. I was embarrassed to be part of it. This morning, as I lay in bed, I had a delegation of key stakeholders contact me rather than B, reporting issues. I can only guess they came to me knowing I would do something about it.

I spoke to B and ended up telling him he had to do a better job. He’s my superior. He hung up. I dealt with the issues while he spoke in platitudes. He laughed with the vendor. He spoke of what a good job had been done and how we must celebrate. Pardon me if I’m churlish, but I want nothing to do with it. I can’t celebrate a project done badly with mediocre results.

So we return to where we started. I want to live differently. And I’ve lost faith in B, and quite possibly my job in general. These seem to be compatible notions. In theory, at least.

In the real world, I’m not so sure. In the real world practicalities apply. I have to make a living. I have to earn a wage. What’s especially important for me is to put aside as much as I can for when I retire. That’s an urgent requirement.

In the real world I have to put up with B, I think. I’ve lost some respect for him, which makes it hard, but I still like him as a person. The sensible thing would be to stick to the original plan – hang in there until I qualify for long-service leave – maybe a year? – then defongerate.

Maybe then I can begin to live differently. I’m still as smart as I ever was and no-one disputes that. There’s a lot I can do, though it’s much too late to change career. What I can do now is prepare myself for different things and perhaps begin the transition, mentally at least. I know some things I must do and there seems no good reason why I shouldn’t start now.

It means that I have to be patient though, as well. I’ll be honest, upfront, I’ll be myself, but there’s no value in rocking the boat too much at this stage. What feels strange is that I’m very good at what I do, which seems very different to how I want to be. My assumed self is accomplished and authoritative, but what I long for is to be my natural self – or so it seems to me – who is a very different man.

There is a new head of digital starting in July so who knows what changes that brings. I know right now that if anyone attempts to clap me on the shoulder for a job well done on this project, I’ll shrug them off. Unearned praise is no recommendation.

Roy


I can’t believe that I’m here again about to write about the death of another Aussie cricketing icon. This time it’s Andrew Symonds, dead at 46 after a car accident.

He follows on from Dean Jones a couple of years ago, and Rod Marsh and Shane Warne within days of each other earlier this year. Every one of these players had notable careers on field, and were larger than life off it. They were big characters with a great presence. Each of them are sadly missed.

Andrew Symonds, or ‘Roy’ as he was known, is quite possibly the best fielder I’ve ever seen. It’s between him, Ponting and Viv Richards.

Symonds was a big man with amazing agility and athleticism. As an infielder he had an amazing reach and a great knack of hitting the stumps to run batters out. In the outfield he was quick with a great set of hands and a bullet arm.

That’s his great claim to fame, but he was a more than handy batsman who was devastating on his day and one of the biggest hitters you could hope to see. He was at his best in the limited overs fixtures which suited his all-round skills – he was also a very clever bowler. At his best, an absolute match winner. He played in Australia’s World Cup victories in 2003 and 2007.

Many commentators and just about all his teammates have said what a great bloke and team man he was. I think most of us in the outer could sense that. With his dreadlocks and zinc cream and the big smile he was a favourite of many. He was one of those guys you barrack for. You wanted him to do well.

In recent years, he’s become a commentator, notable for his dry wit and insight. He was such an Aussie – laid back, a straight shooter with a laconic sense of humour, and living the great dream of the outdoors. He was his own man, a gifted life that ended tragically and prematurely.

So sad that we’ve lost so many great names lately. It seems hardly conceivable, and you have to wonder why. I guess it’s just bad times – three of them died well before their turn.

Up to me


I haven’t wanted to write about my surgery last week, not because it was bad, but because I was weary of the story.

Nothing went wrong, but it didn’t go entirely to plan. I was meant to have a plate removed from my cheek and the exposed bone in my mouth and nose covered by a skin graft. The plate had been removed when I woke, but the bone was still exposed.

It turns out that the bones in my face had been damaged by radiotherapy, making them fragmentary, which explains why the screw came loose. It’s why they didn’t continue with the skin graft. It also meant I got out of hospital a day early.

I was a bit deflated initially. I thought – unrealistically – that I’d come out of hospital with most of my ailments cured. Now I was faced with more of the same, plus bone damage and the genuine possibility that I’d require full-on bone reconstruction to repair it.

Ultimately, they had another plan for me. From Tuesday next week, I begin hyperbaric treatment. I’ll have 30 sessions of it, the idea being that it will accelerate natural healing, and the bone will repair and skin re-grow across the exposed bone. It will also have other health benefits.

I’ve been back to the hospital the last couple of days meeting with plastics and ENT specialists. Yesterday, I met with the surgeon who removed the tumour from me in August last year. I took the occasion to ask what I could expect a year from now and what everyday life should look like in five years.

No-one has a crystal ball, and there’s always the possibility of cancer returning (I have another PET scan in June) or another health issue arising. Let’s assume none of that happens. What he told me made it clear that I’ll never get back to what I was before, which I knew, but it was chastening to hear it spoken aloud. He made it clear that some things would never repair, and I’d have to live with that. I do things every day now, and I have for the last 10 months, which I’ll probably need to do forever – though hopefully with less frequency.

It was what I needed to hear. I can reasonably expect some more improvement, but not as much as I’d like. But what can you expect when you’ve had cancer? To survive is a bonus.

There’ll be more treatment, and I’ll continue to see doctors, but I felt as if it was a bit of a handover. They’ve done their best; now, it was up to me to take it further. Rather than feeling a victim of the condition and being dictated to by it, I now feel I can take control.

I’m a lot fitter and stronger than I was earlier in the year, but there’s a way to go. I can do something about that, and it will make a difference. I can be mindful of my health and do the exercise I must, and hopefully, I can improve my situation bit by bit. A lot of it, I think, comes down to mentality and attitude.

Up till now, I feel as if I’ve been tossed around by fate with little agency in the matter. Cancer dictates one thing, and the doctors weave their magic in defiance of it. In between, there is me, doing my best to keep my head above water and a positive mindset. Now I can take responsibility.

After surgery last week, much of the pain I felt has gone away, and there’s been a slight improvement in function. More will come, but there’s probably a hard limit. What I can’t push through, I’ll have to workaround. Ultimately, I’m determined to live life on my terms. That means travelling again and women once more and living the pleasant social life I had before. It means a lot more too, but we’ll come to that.

Be prepared


I don’t know why, but I’m often surprised at how methodical and organised I am. I’m known for it amongst my friends, and I expect it myself. It’s just that it seems contrary to the right brain attributes I have. I can’t complain. It seems a nice balance.

I’m reminded of this by my preparations for hospital tomorrow. I’ve packed my bag and laid out the clothes I’ll be wearing, just to save time at 6.30 tomorrow morning.

I’ve changed my bed, done all my washing and done the shopping necessary for my post-op diet – eggs, milk, yoghurt, and so on. I’ve run the dishwasher, tidied the house and loaded up the recycling bin ready for my neighbour to put it out on Thursday. I’ve charged up all my devices and downloaded extra books to my iPad. I’ve even done the vacuuming.

Basically, I’ve done all the things I need to do to if I want to return to the house and do nothing. That may be the case, and I’m ready for it.

The hospital called me late this afternoon to confirm the details for tomorrow. Surgery should take about an hour, so I should be back in my bed in good old 5 West by lunchtime. It’s not known at this point how long I’ll need to recover – check with the surgeon tomorrow.

Quiet night ahead, including all the necessary fasting. The next time you’ll hear from me is when it’s all done, and I should know then how successful the procedure has been. For now, one last thing: gotta book the Uber for tomorrow morning.

Counting down


It’s a couple of days until I go back into hospital. I’m there early on Wednesday (7am), in a couple more days after that, and then home in time for the weekend and recovery. I’ve been told by a few that I’m wildly optimistic if I expect to be well enough to return to work on Monday. They’re probably right, but I tend to be bullish on these things because I want to believe in good outcomes. Some have said I’ll be out of action for up to a month, but we’ll see.

It’s a peculiar period counting down to surgery. Mostly surgery is something to be dreaded, but I’m looking forward to this, just as I was the surgery last year to remove the tumour. It’s because it’s necessary, even essential, and so you put aside the fear you might have and what to get it done ASAP and get on the road to recovery soonest.

It’s a pragmatic attitude. I remember last year there was a part of me pretty scared at what was to come. I hoped it would be successful, but the surgeon had made it clear there was no guarantee. Then there was the thought of being under the knife for 14 hours. A lot can go wrong in that time. And it gets in your head at times, the gruesome and gory details of what they will be doing while you’re under.

Last year it was my face they pretty well operated on, and I would occasionally wonder what I would wake up to. Even if perfectly successful what scars would I be left with?

This time it’s my mouth, but that doesn’t make it a whole lot easier. The solution, then as now, is not to dwell on it too long. It has to happen, so be it.

I remember the days narrowing last time as surgery approached. Without it, I would die a painful death, and so for all my occasional qualms, I was reasonably relaxed as the date drew closer. I was very conscious of the uncertainty, however. This was a big moment in my life. I hoped for the best. I expected it. But still… I was very conscious of a before and after.

There was a natural trepidation. In three days, two, one…it would happen. There was no stopping it. No going back. The bell would ring, the time to step up would come. And I remember that morning waking, still dark outside and a chill in the air.

My lift arrived and it was all very low-key as if nothing momentous was about to happen. Neither of us spoke of it. The streets were quiet as we drove in and then I was there. I parted as if normal, giving Rigby a last pat as I left. I was told later that Rigby was in distress as I left him.

The key thing was I was about to get a cancerous tumour removed. That had become the predominant consideration. I hated having it in me. It scared me. I imagined it throbbing inside me as it grew, its insidious tentacles reaching further inside me as the days went on. Surgery could not come soon enough, if not too late…

I don’t have the same fears this time. Surgery will be much less complicated and nowhere near as long. It will be delicate and tricky. They’ll need to take some skin from me somewhere for the graft. I’ll probably wake up sore, and there will be some ongoing incapacity because of it for a while. But then, fingers crossed, it will be over too.

Two more sleeps. Another hospital stay. But – and let’s believe in the best outcome – after this I’ll be able to open my mouth wide; the swelling will subside and my speech restored to normal; the pain will go, and with that the infections I must deal with three times a day; and though I fear further scarring and nerve damage, I should look more normal after this. The misshapen cheek and nose – in truth, not terrible – will hopefully back to something like before. I will be symmetrical again.

We hope. Put aside the thoughts of surgery. This is why it must be done.

Final judgments


One night, lying in bed, not falling asleep, I was thinking about Shakespeare and about Macbeth specifically. I’d read some commentary on the eponymous character, which I thought too simplistic. Macbeth is a fascinating character, but to say he’s all about gaining power is to discount the complex psychology of the man.

It’s the sort of conversation I’d very happily conduct over a glass of red, but it’s not what I want to kept awake by.

As these things do in the murky depths of night, that passing thought morphed into a distant memory. The sort of obscure memory I probably haven’t been exposed to since the time it was created – over 40 years ago.

I find it strange it can be so long ago because so much of it remains fresh. I remember myself then very well, though I was still just a boy.

I was at school in Sydney. Turramurra High School. It was year 10, I think. We’d moved from Melbourne to Sydney after term one of school because dad, the managing director of a plastics company, was transferred up.

It was an English class I remembered. Miss Betts was the teacher, quite young, not yet 30, I would have thought.

I’m trying to remember the books we did that year. Was A Catcher in the Rye one of them? I had the habit then of reading these books in my own time, which was quite often after we were examined on them. I was a great reader and had no problem with the task; it was just that I didn’t like to be forced.

I got by mainly on the strength of classroom discussions and picking up the key details. It rarely had a significant impact on my exam results. Later that year I would read catcher and love it, but there were other books I liked less well – The Chosen, I remember, by Chaim Potok and The Inheritors by William Golding. Off the top of my head, I can’t remember the other books, though there would have been many. We did the Greek plays by Sophocles in my final year, back in Melbourne, and Richard III in Miss Betts’s class.

We performed the play in class. By that, I don’t mean we got up on stage and acted. We sat at our desk and read the role assigned to us when our part came up.

I can imagine it probably made for some motley performances. I doubt I was any better – I was no thespian. Nonetheless, I was given the central role, that of Richard.

I wondered why I was made Richard. I had the sense at the time that Ms Betts favoured me. Was it because I was new to the class and from Melbourne? Or was it because she saw something different in me? I’m sure she would have approved less of me had she known about my habit of not reading prescribed texts until after I should have (I was actually quite proud of this).

Before entering the NSW education system I had to complete some pretty extensive testing to assess where I was up to and how intelligent I was. I’m sure I’ve written of this before. Until that point I had no real awareness of my intelligence, or lack of it. I’d occasionally blitz tests with near-perfect scores, but it was erratic, and I didn’t wonder at it one way or another. I was a kid and had other priorities.

Something changed after I took those tests. I remember my parents being taken aside and being told that I was of “well above average intelligence”. Of course, they shared it with me, no doubt wondering why I hadn’t shown it on a more consistent basis. I can only say I was a rebellious kid.

For me, suddenly I was aware of something I hadn’t thought twice about previously. In a way it felt like a burden, like something I had to live up to. But in another way I was chuffed. I certainly didn’t want to be average, and the thought that I was smarter than the rest of the kids appealed.

When I look back, it was one of two seminal moments of discovery in my school days. I lost my innocence a bit. From that day forward I’ve been aware of the advantage gifted to me.

I think Miss Betts saw that in me. For all I knew, maybe there was a report on me that she’d seen. Perhaps I stood out in the class I’d been allocated. I seem to think that English classes were graded, and, despite my results, I’d been put in one of the lower graded classes. THS were one of the best schools in the state, and perhaps they thought they knew better.

Lying in bed unable to sleep, I remembered all that. I remembered the play. It was the first time I’d been exposed to Shakespeare, and it sparked a lifelong love for his genius. I was proud to play Richard, but I was also fascinated by the dark convolutions of the play.

I was 15. There’s a lot going on at that age. I was the newcomer and relative stranger. I remember copping some low-level grief at being a ‘Mexican’and about ‘aerial ping-pong’, as they liked to describe Aussie rules footy. I made friends soon enough, though, one of whom is still very close. I’d had my lusts before – I was precocious in that regard – but look back with special fondness at some of the ripe attractions I felt in that year.

Here I am now. I realised the other day that I’m at the page, possibly exacerbated by recent events, when you look back and wish you could ‘redo’ some moments. More keenly, you wish you understood better back before, and appreciated the wonderful moments more keenly rather than brushing them off. When you’re young, there’s always more. Whatever you’ve had, there’ll be more to come. And for a long time, it’s true, just as it’s true now – just that the more is less than what it was before. And the decisions you’ve made before now dictate what is to come. Or maybe not.

I know that probably sounds a bit grim. Consider it no more than a fair appraisal. I can’t redo things. There’s so much that I wish had been different. But not to be and no point dwelling on it. I’m alive now, awake and alert. I have more time to come now and an awareness I didn’t have before. I can make a difference still.

And there, in a nutshell, is the sort of stuff that flows through my mind unimpeded as I try to sleep. It’s all there – the memory, the conjectures, the revisions, the leaping sense of wonder and flights of logic, and the final judgment.