The next meal


From Thursday I’m running the show in my department as the manager will be away on holiday. Basically it means I’ll have a bit more work to do and a little less support, but it’s no big deal. I’ve done much more.

In general I’m much more positive on the work front. The new role has given me a much higher profile and on view to a greater range of people. I’m fortunate that I’m the sort of person who appears competent and in control (even when I’m not), and I get a lot of brownie points because of that. No matter what they think of me personally, most believe me to a reliable and capable operator. On top of that now I’m in a position to innovate – my sweet spot – and that’s going well also. Basically, I think I’m well poised for higher duties if and when they come along.

Ideally, when the next opportunity comes along, it’s elsewhere.

I’ve just come from having coffee with the RM of the chatbot business we’re a client of. I met him about 7 months ago and we hit it off right from the word go. He’s about my age, an ex big-wig at Optus who’s trying his hand at the gig economy – he works on a contract basis, with other irons in the fire. We’re similar types, though he’s more garrulous than I am. We’d happily share a beer or two, but in the meantime we’ve had a lot of coffee.

He’s moving into a venture of his own, which sounds fascinating and exciting. He’s sort of living the life I would if I could. In any case, he’s not sure about his tenure in his present role but we’ve committed to keep in touch. All that is very cosy, but he also raised the option of me doing some work in his new venture if and when it gets off the ground – “no promises”. And in reality I would expect nothing to come of it, but it’s nice to be wanted and encouraging to be considered.

A couple of weeks ago I caught up with the ex-Digital Manager from here for coffee down St Kilda road, where he works now. One of the first things he said to me is that he’s always looking out for opportunities for me. He’s one who thought I was under-valued and poorly used in my previous role, and was instrumental in me moving into my current role. One of the interesting things he said was that my previous manager was scared of me, which is why she would sideline me. I thought this myself, but it was interesting to get it also from someone else.

Besides looking out for me, he gave me some advice to follow up on, believing still that I’m still well short of what I’m capable of.

All of this leads me to believe that something will give eventually. I’ve broadened my network and there appears a great deal goodwill towards me from very capable people. You’d hope to think that’d translate into a job at some point.

There’s the moral aspect too. When I went through my tribulations I wondered if I’d ever come out of them. And if I did I wondered if I’d be the same man. I had serious doubts, which is normal I’d suggest when you’re coming back from homelessness and virtual bankruptcy.

It’s funny, you even question the things that should be beyond question. There were times I wondered if I was a fraud. If my previous achievements were a fluke or exaggerated. I questioned if I was really as smart as I’d thought I was, and if my experience was as valuable as I’d believed.

They call this impostor syndrome, and it’s quite common, I gather. That’s interesting in itself. I’d never really suffered from it before, but then I was like a shark that cruised the waters seeking my next meal.

And that’s the other part of it. Was I still a shark?

You know, attitude plays a big part. And when I call myself a shark it wasn’t in any unfriendly way – simply that I was always on the lookout for the next opportunity, and any doubt I had was quickly dismissed. I just did it.

The big question was if I still had that mojo? I’ve asked that a lot in recent years and the answer has been different every time. I think the answer is yes, but it’s different from before. And clearly others recognise it, too.

All this is reassuring, for my material prospects, and for my soul. I’ll wait to see what comes next, but I’m confident that whatever it is that I can do it.

A safe place


I was shocked at the depth of my feeling yesterday. For the first time in my life I felt despairing.

Sometimes you don’t always feel the full force of things until you name them. I think it’s great that people can be so more open about the state of their mental health these days, but I wonder sometimes if by saying it that you open yourself up to all its consequences. I’ve observed this a lot.

You see it in infants and kids who have minor mishaps and look to their parents. Generally they’ll start bawling when a parent makes a fuss over them, almost as if they’ve been given permission to feel sorry for themselves. Then there are parents who spare them a glance and play it down, “you’re alright mate”, and distress then is invariably muted. I’m sure we become conditioned by these experiences and it informs our behaviour.

By nature I was, and remain very much in the stoic camp. That’s a very Australian way, or at least it used to be. There’s a lot of risk that comes with that – bottling up emotions, losing touch with the inner self, being closed off to others. The danger is by never expressing distress, or even owning up to it, that it causes critical damage. We’ve come a long way, though.

The other side of it is to feel victimised. I think it’s healthy to voice how you feel, but equally I think there are times when you have to make a stand against it. The danger is losing the sense of agency in your own life. By putting your emotions in the spotlight there’s the risk of magnifying them.

Look, I’m no expert so take what I say with a grain of salt. I know there have been occasions over the last 18 months when I’ve really struggled and felt as if I couldn’t face the world. There were occasions I opted out, and that was good because it took the pressure off me. Sometimes you just know putting yourself in that spot is going to make things worse and it’s sensible to take a step back.

There have been other occasions though when I’ve felt just as bad but knew I had to front up. Sometimes you need to do it to prove it to yourself. You know that if you step away now then it’ll be harder the next time not to. Sometimes you need to make a stand. It’s not always possible, but sometimes – I think – you just have to grind through it. And though it’s hard afterwards you know what you’re capable of. Sometimes you have to fight it, not give way.

This is what I think and it’s true of me, but I’m sure everyone is different. All of us are made differently and have different experiences. In my case it’s years of conditioning and a bloody-minded attitude that makes me think twice – but today I’m able to admit to a frailty I would’ve been too ashamed too only a few years ago. I think that’s the healthy balance – a pragmatic acceptance of what it is.

And so I return to my revelations yesterday. Up till recently I believed my ‘issues’ were personal, and so I had to address them at a personal level. It’s only in the last few weeks that I came to think that a large part of my issues were symptomatic of the times we live in. I’m disaffected and alienated from the world about me in many attributes, and while there’s a personal element to it, it’s also becoming quite common. What I feel is felt by many others.

Knowing that changed a lot. Writing it out as I attempted to yesterday (very inarticulately) made it very real. As I wrote I felt the sentiment infect me. The more I wrote the worse I felt. Afterwards, I felt morose. Here was true existential anxiety.

The problem is that I feel powerless in the face of these forces. I will analyse and resist and set out plans of action to address the issues that impact upon my personal self. I’m diligent with that, driven even, unwilling to concede. But what can I do about climate change? How can I overcome corruption and apathy?

What upsets me most is not the cause of these things, most of which I can do nothing about – it’s the symptoms of it, which I feel with equal powerlessness.

The world is in the grip of series of catastrophic trends. In a healthy society you would expect there would be force and will to combat them – and maybe once upon a time there was. But not now. That’s what demoralises me. To my disgust and sorrow I’ve come to believe that nothing will happen. Why would it? What’s going to change? Who is it to drive change? Who?

In any case, I fear it’s too late now. There’s a sense of hopelessness mixed in with disgust. It’s undone me.

I think back now and think the critical moment came after the federal election in May. I approached it with such anticipation. Here was the moment I was waiting for, an enlightened government. I could believe in least some things getting better. Instead the same shonky politicians were returned and it was not just disappointment I felt, but a bitter betrayal. The betrayal was as much by my fellow Australians as it was by the politicians. I lost belief at that point, and it’s all been downhill since then.

I’m fine today. You get through. These are the facts after all, I just have to deal with them. But I understand now why people turn to drink – to drown out the disappointment. I’m not about to do that, but I need something away from the state of the world to take comfort from.

I’ve always been wary of such distractions. I wanted to know the truth, and confront it. I felt like a warrior. I would look upon my friends with families and was happy for them, but I also observed how it turned them inward. That’s natural, after all, your prime concern and priority is your loved ones. Single people like me could afford to be cultural warriors.

Lifestyle is a different thing. Lifestyle is the opium of our times. I’ve succumbed to it myself. We’re a society that consumes things at a rate never seen before – consumer goods and gadgets, social media, big occasion TV, and so on. We set out schedules by what we can consume and enjoy.

It’s very seductive, but the Game of Thrones isn’t real life. Lifestyle insulates us from reality, and maybe that’s a big reason we’re now in the state we’re in. Everything got too easy and comfortable.

That’s what I need though: ease and comfort. Indulgence even. I don’t think I can ever give away the cultural warrior stuff, and don’t think I want to – it’s a kind of brain death. I’m strung out and exhausted though. I need to be loved and supported. I need to re-integrate myself into the community. I need to heal inside and start to hope again. I need something, somewhere, someone I can go to and feel safe, and I haven’t had that for a long, long time.

The end is nigh


I started watching Years and Years during the weekend and boy, did it strike a chord. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s an English program that looks at a family group based in Manchester. It starts off in present-day and then tracks the family for the next 15 years (our future) as the world and society deal with a series of challenges – political, economic and social.  It’s pretty full-on, but what surprised me most is how much it aligned with my vision of our dystopian future.

I don’t know why, but I imagined that I was a bit of a pessimistic outlier. I’ve never really been a pessimist, but the last few years have hit me hard. It’s only a couple of weeks ago I realised how alienated I had become from the world I live in. Most of what passes for discourse these days is superficial and antagonistic, and there’s fuck all intellectual enquiry. I have serious fears about our climate future, and in the back of my mind figure we’ve just about run our race. Politically we’re up shit creek, and that’s most of the world. Authentic leadership is a lost art, and in its stead, we have a variety of shonky and inept characters whose prime motivation is self-interest.

I used to think that would change, but I reckon the only thing now that’ll upset this wretched status quo is a catastrophe, and I’m not sure I want to wish for that. Politicians govern for the here and now. t’s all about political advantage and while there’ve always been shysters like that, there were fewer of them before and you could rely on them getting the arse at the ballot box. My idealistic soul held true to that right up to the federal election in May, then choked on the reality. The shysters were re-elected, and it killed a part of me. What chance do we have when we don’t boot out the charlatans when we have the chance? After that, we deserve what we get.

I still wonder how many are as bitter as me, but it was a surprise to find how many others are disillusioned and lost in these awful times. That’s the thing about being disaffected and alienated – you feel on your own and as if no-one else could feel what you do. It’s comforting that others might, but so depressing also.

I haven’t watched the full series yet, but what I’ve seen marries up very realistically to what I see of the world. The most out-there premise is a Trump re-election, but who’s going to bet against that after last time? It’s like a play where the characters take the stage and extend their performance from what we know to what becomes realistic conjecture. We know that Trump is a nutter and that Putin a machiavellian schemer – let them play out in the years ahead, what happens then? China is in there, and the contentious South Sea islands, as well as refugees and racism and labyrinthine social channels and fluid identity and language. And the continued rise of authoritarianism, let’s not forget that.

I was surprised that Brexit seemed played down – presumably, it happens, and I expect it will be worse for England than this portrays. The biggest surprise – in what I’ve seen so far – is that climate change is only a peripheral player. There’s reference to tsunamis being a modern invention, but beyond that, not a lot. Perhaps that’s in episodes to come. It’s all quite depressing.

I wonder if climate change was played down because this is an English program? If it was Australian then I ,think climate change would be front and centre, because as a nation it’ll likely hit us harder than most parts of the world.

There are few Australians walking down the street these days that don’t believe in the reality of climate change and global warming (those who don’t are at home with their heads in the sad, or in parliament). I’m always shocked when I come across a doubter. Forget the science, I’ve experienced the difference. Most of us have. It’s both warmer and more volatile these days, and the scale more tumultuous. Extreme weather events are no longer unprecedented.

It’s November and the, first bushfires started weeks ago, and more massive fires on Friday. The scale and ferocity of these are unlike we had before, and summer hasn’t even started yet. Prolonged droughts have contributed to this, and the damage compounded by governments who refuse to believe in climate change, and so don’t prepare for it (and defund those who might fight it).

Hundreds of homes have been lost, people have died. The images are apocalyptic. But this is the world now. Even if we do something now it’s not going to get better for years, and will get worse first. But then we’re not doing anything really and this is the best of it. I hate to say that’s my attitude, but it is. I’m like the people who wrote Years and Years. I’ve lost faith in our leaders and any real intent to make a difference. It would be nice to think this was a dystopian warning shot: watch out, this’ll happen unless you do something! Unfortunately, I’m now of the belief that when finally something might be done it’ll be too late to make a difference.

I believe I was born at a good time, and those after me less fortunate. I had the best of childhood, I think, and grew up to straddle generations. I had carefree years and was full of belief in myself and the world. I’ve lived to see the decline of all things that make for a healthy civilisation. I’ve lived a good life and there are years of good living ahead, but in the shadow of looming catastrophe – that’s not something I’ve ever felt till now. I will go and, unless there’s a miraculous intervention, it will get worse for those who stay. They’ll never know the life I had, or those before me. And then? Personally, I think there’ll be a breach. Something will break and much will be lost. What comes out of that is anyone’s guess.

Maybe, sooner than you think, I’ll be one of those characters waving a placard prclaiming the end is nigh. Maybe this time it’ll be real.

Next stage


I’m working from home today because most of the office has taken the day off the day before the Melbourne Cup, and there’s no point me being there. I’ve been busy, but working from home is always pleasant.

About the time I’d usually be getting ready for work I lay in bed with a fresh-made coffee and read. Something I read caught my eye. It was something about how, when people hit a certain age, they suddenly stop to reflect. They’ve reached the stage where the life they’ve known is transitioning into something different. The kids are grown up maybe, or the house paid off, or maybe they’ve reached the limit of their ambitions. They begin to consider where to next? What do they want now?

This hasn’t happened to me, but probably because my life has been disrupted. I’ve been so busy scrambling to catch up and fighting for what I have that there’s not really been the time to think of that. I can’t afford the luxury, regardless. Had none of the adventures of recent years occurred then chances are I’d be sitting back in the next few years mapping out the next phase of my life. I’d have money in the bank and property in my name. I’d be comfortable enough to feel a little indulgent, knowing that I was pretty well set-up. The reality is totally different now because of those adventures, but so be it. Inshallah.

I read and it didn’t worry me because I’m well reconciled with what happened. I’m busy trying to make good at least fraction of what I lost, and that’s been my focus. Reclamation. That’s going to take a while and so I hardly think of other options but very vaguely – dreams I might write a best selling novel mayhap, or notions that I might branch out and take advantage of the gig economy. Just notions though, nothing concrete, and nothing in the immediate future.

But then I read this and it struck me that I’m at that age, too, even if my circumstances are unusual. And sure, I have to be pragmatic and hard-nosed, but does that stop me from being bold in my personal choices? It’s a narrow road I’ve set myself. Pretty Calvinist, and though I can be dogged, I’m not of a puritanical mindset.

Translated, it means I’ve got to keep my nose to the grindstone but maybe it’s time I become more expansive in my personal life.

Touch wood, I think I’ve got work sorted now – I’m on an upward path, I’m re-building my network, I’m well regarded and have people looking out for me. I reckon it’ll look after itself and I expect my salary to steadily increase. Without an act of god I’ll never get back to where I was, but I can repair a lot of the damage in the next ten years.

That leaves the life of my mind and heart. I finished my second novel yesterday. By this time next year, I expect both will be in the market and to have made a start on a third. My social life is improving, though not a shadow on what it was. I don’t know if I want that now anyway, but I wouldn’t mind eating out more. I’ve got to travel again, but not yet. Gee, I miss it, though. Have to be financially circumspect still – no can do.

Two top things on my list then – a better place to live. This is well located but small. And I have to get amongst it again. There are women that like me. Some are married, so cross them out. Another is keen but I’m unsure of her. Maybe I should try her. But then there are the little flirtations I engage in before withdrawing. Maybe I should be going for those. You second guess yourself, though. You don’t have enough dollars. Or maybe you think you’re too old. Maybe that’s true, but if they’re willing, why shouldn’t I be?

In the end, it’s a state of mind. The old me didn’t think twice. He just went for it. It was a natural thing as it isn’t now. I’m too Calvinist 😉

It mattered less then because I had plenty of time and lots of everything else – family, security, fun. Now there’s less of everything, but it makes it more pressing, I think, and maybe more precious.

They’re timely considerations. Reckon it’s time to press down on the accelerator.

Then one day it’s gone


One good thing recent protests have done is to draw out the government. After the protests last week Morrison made a speech condemning their actions and questioning the rights of the protestors, further suggesting that legislation may be required to limit the damage of boycott action by basically making it illegal.

It’s laughable in a way. How do you police that? If I choose not to buy one brand of beer or jeans or choose not to shop at a particular shopping chain, then what’s the difference between freedom of choice and a political boycott? How does the Gestapo make that distinction – or is guilt simply assumed and applied en masse?

Of course, it’s ridiculous but much more than that it goes against our democratic principles. I’m putting a lot of faith in that statement – our democratic principles – for while I believe they remain true to the people, and intrinsic to our democratic history, there’s real doubt that the government of the day cares for it at all.

This is not news, though perhaps it’s only now that people are waking up to it. The statements by Morrison have been condemned and rightly seen as an attack on our right to free expression. This attack has been building for years, and the truth of it is that today we lack many of the rights that we had a decade ago. Government policy has become much more intrusive and repressive, all of it justified by contrived threats on our national security. Today the government can read our emails and track our movements. I was reading yesterday about facial recognition technology being used in some schools. There’s a push to have a national database of identity drawing on all states data and, most importantly, the photos taken for various licence categories. We’re but a hop, skip and a jump from being a surveillance state.

Add to that a generally inept media which is, nonetheless, constrained from reporting so much in the national interest because of government restrictions – witness the recent raids on journalists by Federal police. Then there is the absence of laws to protect whistleblowers, who are more likely to be prosecuted by exposing corruption and fraud than be rewarded for it.

Much of this has happened by stealth – an opposition too afraid to oppose, and generally a media either compliant (News Corp) or inneffectual, means that the interrogation of these policies hardly occurred. There was little of it made in the press, and even less that disturbed the general torpor of the Australian electorate. And that’s how it happens. Little by little, you lose your liberties until one day you wake up and find you have precious little left.

It suits the government because they control the narrative then. These are politically motivated. If you can shut down the avenues for free expression and identify the dissidents then who is left to oppose you? With a feeble media and an enfeebled middle class, where does the resistance come from?

I remember I was embarrassed when Tony Abbott became prime minister. He was everything I didn’t believe in, but I recognise now that at least he believed in something. Then Turnbull came along, a great hope for those of us passionate about society. Here was an intelligent, decent man, who also turned out to have no idea what was happening behind his back. What a disappointment he turned out to be. Now we have Scott Morrison, and I’m not sure, but it’s possible that I hate him most of all.

I don’t know that Morrison believes in anything but his own personal god. He is pure politics. A cynical Trumpian. He governs only for advantage and isn’t a leaders arsehole. There’s something particularly soul-numbing about people like him. He likes to get around and to be seen as a man of the people, but the reality is that his sole ambition is for power. He leads a do-nothing government more intent on wedging the opposition Labor than developing policy, more intent on serving his industry donors than the Australian people. (As I’ve been arguing a long time, we as a people lack true representation. It’s the opportunity that Labor are too timid to grasp – break the nexus and do what is right rather than what is merely politic.)

Then there’s Peter Dutton in the background pulling all these strings. I reckon the average man in the street has a better idea of Dutton than his party colleagues do. This is a man fundamentally lacking in moral decency. He’s a despot in waiting. I have no doubt that he has his eyes on the top job still, and if ever he achieves it, then Australia will become a tyranny.

People are objects in his world-view. They are tools to be exploited. He has the rigid perspective of a dictator – anyone who isn’t for him must be against him. It’s an attitude that informs recent calls by him that the unemployed found protesting should have benefits stripped from them. Here combined is the vision of a society where surveillance is so pervasive that one can’t protest without being identified, and so punitive that to do so is to have your rights denied. That’s effectively a police state, and a senior minister is saying it. How does this opinion go unchallenged? And yet, more or less, it’s gone unreported.

The scary thing is that this is the man who runs Homeland Security! A man like this shouldn’t be in parliament, and he should certainly be nowhere near running our security agencies. It’d be funny if it wasn’t so terrifying.

We’re the frogs in the pot of water. For years now the water has been getting warmer, but we’ve become acclimatised to it. What would have been shocking before is but the temperature of the times now. I wonder now if finally, we’re starting to feel the heat? I hope so. As a humane, open society, we can’t survive much more of these oppressive policies. Time to make a noise.

How not to protest


For most of the week, there have been quite violent protests at the Convention Centre where an international mining conference has been in progress. Hundreds of protestors have picketed the place hurling abuse and accosting attendees, upset at the impact mining has on climate change. Dozens of police, some with horses, have wielded batons and pepper spray fending off the protestors.

Right from the start, let me say it’s protests of this type that give me a sick feeling. I’m sympathetic to the cause and believe our politicians, and many of our industries are climate criminals. However, I think protests of this type are close to imbecile.

I see two particular problems. The first one is that this is an indiscriminate protest. Had it been a conference of coal miners, it would have made sense. This was a conference of miners of all different types. Now you’d have to be particularly blind to suggest that all mining should be banned. Like it or not, the fabric of our day to day life is composed of materials very often mined from the ground. The cars we drive, the pots and pans we cook with and the plates we eat from, the chips in our phones and watches and PC’s, the planes and trains we catch, the buildings we live and work in – all this and much, much more, rely on our mining industry. I’d suggest every one of the protestors either carried on their person something that had been mined or had something at home. It’s just stupid.

Add to that, not everyone attending the conference was actively digging things out of the ground. I saw one person interviewed (after being abused and harangued by the protestors) revealing that they were actually a sustainability expert. And in fact, that’s what this should all be about. We can’t stop mining; we rely on it too much, and even if we could, the world economy would fall apart. What it should be about is sustainable mining – mining that has minimal impact upon our environment and ecology; and looking to source alternative materials to replace those mined.

So that’s the first thing – it’s a dumb protest. But secondly, how it was conducted was plain stupid also.

Wave your banners, cry out your chants, even non-violent obstruction, absolutely ; don’t, democracy in action. But when individuals trying to go about their business are abused and manhandled and spat on, then that’s a no-go. I may be showing my age now, but save that for the real criminals, not our fellow citizens. It’s plain bad manners, and it plays very poorly in the burbs.

That’s the real stupidity of this. The protestors are probably celebrating today, saying what a good job they did disrupting the event, when, in fact, their real achievement was to drive the wedge deeper between them and middle Australia. It’s all very well to be sanctimonious and be ringing with idealistic fervour, but I’d have thought the purpose of protests such as this would be to send a message to the average Australian that could be understood and appreciated.

If there was a message then it was lost in the general noise of the protest. Many of those middle Australians sitting in their lounge rooms watching the news would have been offended by the way the protest was conducted. Only the converted would have approved, and surely they’re not the desired audience? As someone broadly sympathetic, it’s this woeful stupidity that disappoints me most.

Unfortunately, that’s the flavour of the times. I’m perhaps a member of one of the last generations capable of discerning nuance. By nature, I seek to assess and understand, but few others do these days. Movements are broad tabloid headlines without subtlety or sophistication. They’re emotional rallying calls with scant relationship to the rationale that inspired them. Thus there is violence between opposing forces and very little debate. And so if I disagree with you, I’m not someone who has a different opinion; I’m instead an evil person to be despised and abused. There is no middle ground anymore, very little critical thinking, and bugger all civility.

I have to say this is one of the things that causes me the most disquiet these days. Not only because it is so ugly, though that’s true, more so that it’s virtually impossible to come to a reasoned understanding when we’re so caught up in hurling abuse. Like it or not, change has to be negotiated in a democracy. Make the argument, don’t just state it.

The protestors this week fell into the trap that much of the progressive side of politics has in recent years. It’s why Trump got elected, why Brexit twenty-year-olds for, and why Labor lost the election. The progressive extreme is violent and noisy, and they offend the average bloke. In a way, Morrison and his ilk are right when they speak of the silent majority. They can be persuaded, but they’re over being hectored and abused and told what to think and feel by the sanctimonious left. How do they react? They defy it with their vote, just as they’ll defy the purpose of this protest in their opinions.

Now I’m guilty of this as well. I was bitter after the election defeat here and despised those I thought responsible for it. There are many reasons that Labor lost, and I’ve articulated that previously, but a good part of it was that middle Australia was sick and tired of being talked down to by self-righteous twenty year olds. And it was the same in Britain before us, and States before them. In effect, it was a vote of protest.

If we intend to win these people over it must be through reason, but that’s why I despair, because reason is so scarce these days, and it’s not getting any better.

The times as they were


I don’t know what connects these, but in my mind, these two small things from yesterday appear linked.

I got a call in the morning from a friend who loves up near Byron Bay. He was in town and wanted to catch up for a beer later. We met at an earthy, excellent bar in Moorabbin called Grape and Grain, where we started on some boutique beers sitting on a couch in the corner.

Even before he shifted up there, he looked the part of an alternative, backwoods type. Tall and thin, with dark wavy hair that in the years since has grown longer and greyer, and a thick, greying beard that makes him look like a prophet from the Old Testament. He’s a good man, a good soul, sensitive and honest and passionate, even if a little absent-minded occasionally, a man too gentle in some ways, too idealistic and out of step with the striving, pragmatic world around us.

We talked about all the usual things, about politics and the deplorable state of world affairs, about his family and life up north and about what’s happening to me. Surprisingly, there was little about sport, but shared memories of times we would go out together on the prowl, surprised to find they were 20-25 years ago.

I recalled a night I nearly got in a fight with a guy at the Prince of Wales because he kept dancing into me. I was in a mood over a woman and happy to express myself verbally, at least. It was unlike me – I’ve always been pretty controlled – and there was another guy with us – what was his name? Stuey, that’s right – who convinced me otherwise. We recalled going to the Corner Hotel to watch Weddings, Parties, Anything and pinging coins at the stage, a bit of a ritual, and seeing Hunters and Collectors at the Palais.

One of our haunts back then was the Provincial Hotel in Brunswick street, where we made an unlikely pair trying to hook a date. Now and then, we’d get in conversation with a couple of girls, whereupon my mate would start talking about politics or the environment while I rolled my eyes at him: time and place, mate, and this aint it. That was him, though, committed in every fibre.

Once we dated a couple we met there – or somewhere – and ended up one night watching Shakespeare in the Park at the Botanical gardens – The Taming of the Shrew, I think. We spread a blanket and had a basket of wine and cheese and what not. I remember looking at the woman with my mate thinking, ‘he’s in’. But he wasn’t interested. He always wanted a relationship but wanted it to be right.

Eventually, he met someone, and they married and had beautiful twins, now grown up (they’re at uni in Melbourne now, and he was here to visit them). His wife turned out very different from him, and they divorced, and he remarried a lovely woman. He’s been up there about 18 years now and has found his groove.

So we were talking about the old days, happily recalling things we’d forgotten. He asked how I’d been going and offered the standard compliment about how well I’d done to survive. I told him how things had changed for me since and suggested that maybe I’d become a harder man since.

He responded straight off to that in a manner foreign to his usual way. “You always had something hard in you,” he said as if it was fact.

I was surprised at how emphatic he was. It made me wonder. Now, there are probably few people in the world who think better of me than my mate, so it wasn’t necessarily a negative judgment. It made me consider our relationship in a different light though, and particularly those memories. I was the organised, decisive one. I had a stronger personality. I was just a mate, though, and suddenly I’m wondering if he saw me as fierce. You just are, then you realise that others see you differently from how you see yourself.

It’s all perspective, and it’s all relative. Compared to him, I probably was hard, and maybe that informed his opinion, but it was not something I was conscious of being. Driving home later, it lingered in my mind as things like that do. But then he had followed up his comment by saying he actually thought I’d mellowed since.

Then last night I had the news on. One news report showed a medical expert talking about something. I glanced at her and thought she looked familiar. Then I saw her name and yep, I remembered her.

You forget a lot of things. Not altogether, maybe, but because they’re not essential or particularly vivid, they slip back into the part of the memory not easily accessed. ROM instead of RAM, for the geeks out there.

I had sex with this woman maybe 22 years ago. She was from Sydney visiting, and we used to have these long, fascinating conversations full of wordplay. That was something I was able to do then (and have little patience for now) that many women of a particular type would find alluring.

We had dinner and a bottle of wine at Pellegrini’s in the middle of winter before we crossed the road to where she was staying, the Windsor Hotel. She took her clothes off there and I remember her body – tall and slightly awkward, pale skin and full breasts and distinctly unshaven. And the other thing I remember was how disappointingly drab the room was for such a grand and famous hotel.

Here she was again, twenty-two years later, looking not much different and an expert so well esteemed that she was being quoted on TV.

Maybe that’s what my mate meant. I had dozens of episodes like this. Fleeting encounters, flirtatious at the edges but basically sexual in nature. It was mutual, but it was easy for me because I could compartmentalise so well. I reckon I had 10-12 years like this and I’d probably have this type of experience 6-8 times every year, maybe more, in between having more considered relationships.

What can I say? I enjoyed it. Mostly.

My friend was always and remains an idealist, through and through. We connected on that level because we had similar interests and beliefs. I was an idealist, too, as I am now, but I wasn’t as innocent as him, and where he wore it on his sleeve at all times, I would pack it away when it wasn’t relevant.

Either way, I was always direct. Truth be told, I enjoyed the grit of reality and that burgeoning sense of self in earthly desires. I had a mind, but I had a body too.