How to sledge


It’s cricket season again and the Poms are over trying to defend the Ashes. We’re two tests into the series and with them down 2-0 it’s not looking good for them.

Like every year I’ve watched the cricket pretty closely. I was pretty confident going into the series that Oz would reclaim the urn, but England have been more disappointing than I expected. Right now they’re on the verge of being a rabble.

In Brisbane they were well in it for three days before collapsing in a heap. In Adelaide they were behind right from the start, rallied briefly, before once more losing by a lot.

One of the ongoing conversations has been about sledging. It seems an issue most series these days. I’m not fussed much by it one way or another, mostly because it never really did much for me. If I was ever sledged it was more likely to fire me up than put me off, but mostly I couldn’t care less. I wasn’t much of a sledger myself, but only because I couldn’t be bothered. If anything I was more likely to sledge when I was a batsman than I was when in the field, though I stood by many times as team mates would sledge opposition batsmen. I found most of it pretty lame. The best stuff had some wit to it.

I remember I used to think you had to earn the right to sledge. Once you actually achieved something of merit then you could have a crack at the other team, but not till then. I still watch the coverage occasionally these days I find myself disapproving of some of the sledging – not so much because of what’s being said, but because it seems an unworthy or wasted effort. For me it’s rarely a moral judgment – though I adhere to the common convention that personal life should be off-limits – and more of a practical consideration.

As an Australian sledging comes easy. We’re notorious for it, but I don’t think our critics understand the source of it. I don’t know if it’s any different today, but growing up as a schoolboy I was subjected to sledging all the time, and gave it back to. Most of it was the good natured rough and tumble between friends and familiars, but the interaction day on day meant that the words came easily to the lips. Others might think it strange, but it was normal to abuse and mock within our circles.

I thought nothing of it myself until I went travelling and discovered that most cultures don’t have such a robust give and take. They’re gentler, with affection expressed You take it for granted until it becomes second nature. That’s why an Australian giving it, and receiving it, is so different to other cultures.

It says a lot about the Australian character I guess, and particularly Australian masculinity, a subject oft debated. That’s a discussion for another time, but fair to say this history of behaviour has informed so much of what we do and how we act – some of it positive, and a lot more not.

I suspect it’s not nearly as pronounced as it once was, but still for someone coming to compete against Aussies on the field this is something that must be adapted to. By the time an Australian cricketer dons the baggy green he’s endured years of ruthless sledging coming up through the ranks. He’s seasoned and hardy and tough, and most of it comes natural.

I think that’s one of the problems the English are having this tour, and past tours. They have made a focus of sledging, and have tried to compete in that area. The problem is that it’s not natural for most of them (Jimmy Anderson and Broad go okay) and so it is forced and mostly ineffective. Ultimately it’s become a distraction, and as an Aussie watching I reckon they would go better ignoring it and concentrated on the cricket. It’s our comfort zone, not theirs.

That’s something that gets lost in the cultural haze. I know the Indians in particular would get upset at the sledging they received. Because they had no cultural understanding of it they misunderstood the intent. I admit, as an outsider the nuances are easily overlooked. In my time at least, you’d go hard on the field and be best mates off it. Something might be said on the field, but it was never intended personally. The sole purpose was to upset the game. With the game done for the day it was time for a beer. It’s that mentality than means that Aussies are also more likely to shrug off sledging, until it crosses the line.

That’s where it has occasionally erupted over the years. Though it’s unregulated, sledging in Australian cultural mores has unspoken rules, primary among them that it’s not personal, and that after play all is forgotten. The problem is that cultures unused to sledging when confronted by it don’t have an understanding of those mores – and the boundaries they draw. Without those unspoken rules they will react to what they feel are unwarranted insinuations and lash out, sometimes crossing those lines – which is when the Aussies will become genuinely upset. It’s not playing the game after all.

All of this is pretty confusing if you’re not an Aussie, and fair enough to. There is something occasionally hypocritical in Australians complaining in those moments because the line they see so clearly appears so arbitrary to others. I know it because I was born to it, but I understand it may bewilder others not born here.

There’s a larger question about sledging. I’m not fussed about it, but that’s probably because a) I’m an Aussie, and b) I’m a pretty rugged character. I understand for the purist they may see it as being neither sporting or fair. As long as it doesn’t ‘cross the line’ I don’t mind it – in fact I think it’s just another element of the game. It adds an interesting edge, and another challenge to overcome.

In any case it’s another area the Australians are handsome winners in this series. What teams need to understand is that as soon as you react, you lose. It seems a truism, but it is so often forgotten. If it is seen to be getting to you then the Australians, far from backing off, will go harder. If you show vulnerability then we’ll be on you like a pack of dogs. And that’s what England have shown.

It’s a cliché, but England would do better by not engaging, and doing their talking with bat and ball.

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Approaching the bridge


Tonight is the company Christmas party at some glitzy venue down Docklands way. I thought twice about attending, but allowed myself to be persuaded. Like I keep telling myself, a free feed and booze is nothing to be sneezed at.

It’s funny because in the barren years I lived through one of the things I missed was the company Christmas party. It was not that I yearned for the event itself so much, rather it became a kind of symbol and reference point. I went about five years without an invitation – or opportunity – for any such parties, and it was a symbol of the situation I was in. I knew in myself that the day I had a party I could go to was the day I knew I was on the up again.

Last year was the first for many that I received an invitation in my inbox. I didn’t go because I had something else on, but it was enough that I had an invitation I could turn down. This year, though there are no such calendar conflicts, I was reluctant to accept once more.

I don’t think highly of the company I work for. I hate admitting that, but think they have dubious ethics, and pay lip service towards their employees. There are good people here, and there are some sincere and looking to change things. I hope they succeed, but they are coming from a long way back. I’m happy to support and add my shoulder to that – I’ll suspend my disbelief. But then of the people I like or am close to in the business there’s a few that have recently departed, and others not going tonight. I’m going for two other reasons.

The lazy reason is that I didn’t fight it when I was urged to accept, and went along with it when they put me on their table. Like I said, a few laughs, a good meal, a few glasses of vino is no bad thing – and may be a lot better than that, who knows.

There’s another reason why I can’t miss the party tonight.

On general principles I’m not sure if this is the right or wrong thing, and don’t feel comfortable sharing it here, but… There’s a girl. Just that, no more. We get on well, we like each other. There’s nothing more than that as yet, a budding possibility that maybe we’re both open to. It’s hard at work to get that going. You need to get away from the formal environment and to somewhere looser and free form. That’s why I think I must go tonight – because if I don’t I doubt it would ever get off the ground, but if I do it might take me somewhere altogether different.

So why am I only ‘maybe’ open to it. Like I say every time, I don’t want to get involved with someone at work. It’s messy, it’s awkward, and everyone has an opinion. I say it every time, and a good dozen times later I’m still saying it. It really gives me pause, but not sure it’s enough to veto.

The other reason is that I still feel a bit gun-shy about my circumstances. There’s a lot of embarrassing explaining to do, which I know I must, and part of me wants to – needs to – but it’s scary as well and I don’t know what to think. Making it worse in way is that I project a certain image. People have an idea of me which is very different from the reality. I probably exaggerate the importance of that, imagining the disappointment of someone who thinks I’m one thing and finds another. At the end of the day I’m me, aren’t I? independent of circumstances.

This is a bridge I have to cross, if not tonight, with this woman, then at a future date, with someone else perhaps. I have to move on, and maybe that starts tonight – and that’s why I’m going to the party.

Fascist extremes


The very notorious Milo Yiannopolous visited Melbourne the other day, and very predictably there were demonstrations and conflict at his appearance*. I rolled my eyes and sighed when I saw it on the news, knowing it was inevitable, but hoping for a more meaningful response.

Milo passes for a highbrow among the lowbrow right. In reality he’s just a bunch of re-hashed slogans and reactionary posing – posing it what he does best. It’s enough to excite and incite the easily excitable and often combustible right wing loonies. It does much the same for the left.

More than anything else Milo is an agent provocateur. I suspect nothing delights him more than riling up the ‘snowflakes’ and soft edge of the left. He targets soft options such as feminism, and Islam, using extravagant language and often extravagant gestures. It’s enough to give his hangers-on a leery hard-on, and to whip the left to a frenzy.

This is the pity of it really. Milo is best ignored. He’s not an intellectual. He has no original thoughts. He is a persona. He is a poster child for a position, a provocative and slightly outrageous character designed to stir the pot. That he does very well, and unfortunately, as we saw this week, it’s rare that the left he so despises doesn’t fall for it.

Being of liberal disposition I’m disappointed that so many of similar disposition are so gullible. Starve Milo of oxygen and his message goes no further than a few grubby types. Turn up waving placards and chanting slogans and dead-set that will draw out the fascist element only too eager for confrontation. Once that happens it becomes news, and Milo’s poisonous little message gains traction. It’s dumb, and he aint worth it.

There’s something else about it which troubles me. We live in an age of extremism. Outrage comes easy. Those sort of things are generally dumb, and it’s no different now. One lot yells yes. The other yells no. That’s pretty well it. There’s no intelligence in it, no reason.

So okay, maybe reason is a bit much to ask for, and while I understand and support there are occasions when a stand must be made, when a demonstration is necessary, the best that can be hoped for from it is that a point is made. I wonder what the point was the other night.

In this case I find myself agreeing with something Milo said: that this was an attack on free speech. Unlike others, I don’t believe that free speech should be unfettered – there are limits, and boundaries that should not be crossed. Though I have varying faith in the application of such ambiguous laws, I’d rather rely on them than the skewed perspective of those for and against.

I think Milo is a fool, and his followers worse than fools. I think most of what he spouts bigoted claptrap. As a general principle, however – like Voltaire – I support his right to espouse his views as long as he doesn’t cross those lines. This is what we call democracy. The moment we deny him that right and try and shut him down we become the fascists we’re so busy deploring.

It is a time of extremes, and so often the extremes join at the end of the loop. It’s all reaction and outrage, all personal offence, and no intelligence.

There was an interesting survey the other day about the government we want. People are sour on politics, no surprise there. The surprise was that 20% of respondents were open to a dictatorship – benevolent, I presume. That was a shock to me, though I imagine many have no real conception of what it means. But then, I presume, those who responded like that are open to a dictatorship that accords with their political leanings, either left or right. As long as we’re running the show it’s all good.

This marries up to the behaviour we see at these events, the lowbrow left battling the lowbrow right, the socialists doing battle with the brownshirts, chanting slogans and throwing rocks. There’s nothing democratic in it, and little sense.

* This was a pretty lame event, as are so many events like it. It only ever becomes something more when the drama begins to seethe. In this case the drama of left wing anarchists confronting right wing idiots was elevated by the presence of a large (riot) police contingent, guaranteeing good air time on the nightly news. Not worth reporting, but, how much ‘news’ these days is really worthy of the term? But that’s a rant for another day.

It’s pretty ordinary and depressing, even banal, which is fine until it hits our TV screens and becomes a thing.

The next book


I’m not far off beginning my next book. The plot has been in the back of my mind for the last six months. It was lightly sketched, with just the major plotlines and protagonists in the frame. I had no notion of how the narrative would actually proceed, and no interest in that point in figuring it out.

In the 6-7 weeks since I sent off the manuscript for my first book I’ve made a conscious effort to pull back from my writing. I needed a rest from it, and a few fallow weeks might do me good. It didn’t stop me from completing a short story, but for the most part I attended to other things.

It didn’t stop me from thinking though. The exercise of writing solidly and working on the single piece of work for 18 months or more has had the effect of activating a part of my mind previously neglected. My skills as a fiction writer are greatly enhanced. I can see more clearly, plot more directly, can – as required – be more ruthless. The process seems to have its own momentum. Though my writing has trailed off, I feel as if there is a part of my mind always at it, always adapting and ever improving. I suppose this is what happens when you shift from idle dabbler to committed enthusiast. I expect there will be further improvement, and I’m curious to know where it leads. I’m pretty sure it will be to something decent.

Almost without conscious thought I have found my mind shifting to the new book. It is there lurking always, somewhere close to the forefront of my mind. I’m happy not to poke at it too much. It evolves of its own accord without me doing much, and occasionally something of it will enter my conscious mind. It will sit there, a curiosity. If I have a moment I’ll turn it over in the hands of my mind. I’ll check to see what reflects off it. As if in unfamiliar streets I’ll poke my head around a corner wondering if this is the best way forward; then I’ll move on. I’ll close my eyes and back to sleep, and the internal navigation system will take over.

The result is that what was sketched out before is becoming filled in. Tricky plot points have been resolved. The road ahead extends further every day. The voice becomes more compelling.

I’m itching now to be at it, but have decided to hold off still longer. I’m curious to see how far this can go. There’s a part of me that hopes when I go at it that it will flow from me complete and composed. There are words in me now, phrases, tones of voice, moments. I jot some of them down, and am tempted to do the rest for fear of losing them – but the picture is not yet fully developed. Let it be. Let it happen, let it present itself to me. There will be a power of wrangling when finally I set about writing it proper, I know that well enough, but it will – I hope – come with the force of an established truth that needs only to be interpreted.

I don’t know. This is what I hope. For now it’s an experiment – I’m still a novice at this. One way or another I will begin soon enough. Regardless of everything else in my life, the knowledge of it is both exciting and satisfying.

Before the flood


Not sure what to expect today. Weather reports are over the top. The weather chief last night said on a scale of 1 to 10 the rain we’ll be copping in the next few days is a 10. There’s a lot of hype and dire predictions. Someone earlier said it could be as bad as the Queensland floods a few years back, but I can’t believe that. After all the hot weather to get floods on the first day of summer is very Melbourne.

It’s strange to think there might be such tumult shortly. I got up at about 2am to let Rigby out. I stood in the back door wearing nothing. The sky was clear, it was still about 25 degrees. It was so still, I stood there wondering how it could ever change.

I prepared just in case. The last time we had serious rain the garage had an inch of water, soaking the boxes I had in storage there. This time I’ve bagged up the back door. I’ve closed up the house and headed off to work a little later than normal after another steamy night. It was warm still, but the blue skies of the last few weeks were wall to wall cloud. A few drops of rain fell.

I stopped for my Friday coffee and pastry on the way in and almost made it to the office before the rain fell. I reckon I was no more than forty metres from the front entrance of the building when suddenly a burst of large, heavy raindrops hammered down. I ran for it, fortunate that I had not dawdled longer.

As I said, I don’t know what to expect. For me the instinct is to downplay it – it’s rare that dire predictions turn out so dire. It happens though. I half expect my trip home tonight will be disrupted. Prahran station floods with any decent rainfall, and the 80mm predicted today will surely inundate it. By past experience that means crowded buses and halting progress through streets clogged with traffic.

We’re fortunate, I guess, that most of the rain will fall over the weekend. I can recall many years ago when I worked in St Kilda road when a sudden extreme downfall led to flash flooding. I lived in South Yarra then, across the road from where I worked. St Kilda road had become a virtual river and come home time I had no choice but to take my shoes and socks off and wade through water that reached just above my knee to get to the far side of the road.

I don’t expect that today, but then I don’t really know what to expect.

Wise words


I always think that hot weather in Melbourne has a different nature to hot weather in other parts of the world. A classically hot day in Melbourne is a heavy thing. It sits upon the landscape pressing it down. When you’re a part of that landscape you feel it keenly. It has a sharp and incessant quality. Shadows are clearly defined, and the sun is as painted in the corner of the sky, ever shining, ever beaming like a heat ray. It seems inescapable and static. The only difference is when the north wind blows, which is wicked and hot; and those moments of relief when the weather finally breaks.

I experienced the hot Melbourne weather standing at the bus stop in Frankston yesterday waiting to be picked up. I watched the comings and goings: the buses stopping and starting up again, the locals passing by or entering into the station concourse, some with their shirts off, and others waiting, like I, to be collected. I was the odd man out, not just in the heat, but in Frankston in general, dressed in a suit and with a silk tie with scarlet flowers on it.

I was picked up by a friend and we drove the short distance to the chapel where the funeral of my friend’s father was about to commence. On the way we chatted, catching up on old news. It was cool in the car with the air-con going full blast. Driving down the beach road we looked out over the beach and the distant escarpment at Mt Martha, both of us commenting on how idyllic it was. It’s like a painted scene, I said, the colours rich and deep, the sea blue, the sand a rich beige, and the trees atop the escarpment a dusty green. Later it reminded me of something Rupert Bunny might have painted, a timeless, eternal landscape where ladies might once have promenaded with parasols in their hands, while today yachts scud across the water and boys in board shorts cavort.

The chapel was full. Later I was told they had double the crowd expected. The overflow spilled into another room where the service could be watched by video link. We stood at the back of the room overlooking the seated heads. It was an elegant scene, different from the sterile chapels I’ve attended in the past. It was an old house with high ceilings. A modern chandelier dangled brass orbs. A row of windows let in the light from outside. Across the road and through the trees was the beach.

As funerals go it was a good funeral. I had my own memories of my mate’s dad, a kind and considerate man with a spark of wit. He had always seemed so robust. In my memory I saw as a kind of Harry Andrews type, salt of the earth, though with a bit more levity. Whatever my thoughts of him were it was clear he was held in great esteem by very many. My opinion of him seemed validated by the crowd: he was a man of quality.

I listened as the celebrant gave the conventional eulogy, before one by one his sons got up to share their memories. This was incredibly moving. It was clear he was a much loved father. The memories shared were vivid, sometimes funny, and often poignant. Their grief was articulated in different voices, and at times it threatened to overcome them.

It’s funny, I felt glad to be there to witness. It was real and true. It was sad that he was gone, but wonderful he had existed. I felt a kind of pride at being part of the human race he had been part of. But then I couldn’t help but feel envy too. I listened to the stories of these grieving sons and wondered what I could say on behalf of my own father. I had nothing to compare, not even the smallest thing. Once more I felt a sense of being deprived. How might it have been had I a father like that? I wished I could feel so deeply, could love so much – and yet, timely as it was, when I contacted my father by SMS the other day to tell him I had to record him as a next of kin I didn’t even receive an acknowledgement. That bus has long departed.

We ended up at the Dava hotel next door. You relax. It’s a different vibe, the tie is loosened. It’s an open bar and you share a cold beer with people you haven’t seen for years. The stories flow, memories are recalled. I had forgotten some, but remembering them again they seemed just like yesterday. How does time fly? Was that really twenty years ago? There seems something strange and wonderful about it. You look around. One of your friends is unchanged. You yourself are little different. But others are older, greyer, bigger. Men now, not boys, but when did that happen?

Here we are in a funeral though. If that was behind us, then ahead was this. I stood in the chapel thinking that I will be here again sometime, and one of my friends I share a beer with today might be in the casket – and one day it will be me. But that’s in the future, now is remembrance.

It’s the nature of funerals that while it is a sad occasion we celebrate by remembering. The connections that have dissolved or disconnected by time and distance in that brief period become real again. Moments are shared and recalled, laughter blossoms, stories are told.

I caught up with my mates younger brother, a lovely, knockabout bloke (they’re all lovely, a great family). He had struggled in giving his eulogy. When I shook his hand after the service he was still grief stricken. Now, at the reception, we shook hands again and with a smile said “as soon as I saw you H I had to laugh, you remember…” and off he went recalling a moment I had forgotten altogether (from my mates wedding) that I remembered again and laughed with him. Fancy that, we thought.

I threaded through the crowd, catching up with the eldest son, and then my mates mum, while being introduced to others. Outside the sun blazed down. The sea could be seen from the upstairs bar where we stood. As it had in the chapel the air-con struggled.

At the end I felt enlarged inside. I had awareness. Life was bigger than I remembered and it ends with death. It had boundaries, but the boundaries gave it meaning. I had commented to one of the sons he must be proud at the turn out and the testament it was for his father. He told me his father lived by the precept in 7 Habits of Effective Men – live like you want be remembered at your funeral. Yes, I thought, wise words – but what would people remember of me?

How about that heat?


I’m getting a bit jack of this weather. I had a friend early in the month complain about the cool weather we were experiencing. Be careful, I told him, before you know it you’ll be complaining about the heat. That time has well and truly come.
I think it’s ten days out of the last twelve that have been over 30 degrees, and one of those other days it was 29. That run is set to continue with another couple of days in the mid-thirties forecast, and I can tell you at 8.17am it’s already bloody warm. And it’s not even summer yet.
I don’t mind the heat, but I’d like a break from it every few days, and ideally cool nights. That’s another record we’ve broken – highest minimum temperatures. It’s very uncomfortable.
That’s how it gets – very uncomfortable. With no relief from the heat, day or night, the house becomes close and claustrophobic. Sleep suffers. It becomes a bit of an artificial environment.
I’ve spent good time in places where it’s just about 30 degrees every day, and often wickedly humid, but the relief comes with the sun setting, and with the sudden, surging storms. The heat here in Melbourne is static, and it’s only going to get a lot hotter.
For me it’s not a great day to be wearing a suit and tie. Another day I’d be doing as the sensible do and roll up to work minus tie and jacket, and sleeves rolled up. With a funeral to attend I’m dressed up like a store dummy.
I left the air-con on at home today, partly for Rigby, partly to keep the house cool for when I get home. I’m at work now, but head off at about midday for Mt Martha, and the funeral.