Surviving work


So, the other day I got an update from work advising me that my current work hours – four days a week – would continue. I’m now partway through my third month in this situation, but unlike previous updates, this didn’t have a review date. Presumably, that means it is indefinite, or until we return to the office, which is rumoured to be August/September (a friend of mine working at the Vic govt has heard unofficially they won’t be returning until 2021!).

There was a short questionnaire coming out of the office last week asking for our work preferences for when we do return. There seems a clear acceptance that it’ll be a long time until we return to the work behaviours of previous times, if ever. They asked, basically, how many days do we want in the office, and for our preference on which days. Quite a few people put just the single day, and almost every one of them selected to work early in the week. I said two days and gave Thursday/Friday as my preference – because Friday is chilled anyway, and if I want to go out for a drink I need to be in the city for it. And who wants to work on a Monday?

Financially, I’m surviving, though it’s getting tighter. The other day I did my sums and figured I was out of pocket about $2200 since the reduced hours were set (that’s the net of tax). That’s been offset by a reduction of rent of about $900, and other reduced living costs – travel, lunch/coffee, social stuff. The rent reduction is yet to be formally ratified, however, and has now ended. If for some reason they decide not to grant the application I’ll need to cough up $900 I don’t have. And though I’m saving money in some areas, I’m spending more in others – electricity, groceries, and so on.

I’m wary of what’s to come. The JobKeeper is due to end in September, which will put huge stress on employers. Standby for a second round of job cuts unless the government chooses to do something about it. I’m fearful that my reduced hours will continue beyond that and, worst-case scenario, that my salary will be seen as an expense that can be cut. Most of my job is value-add, but not critical to the day to day running of the business. This is ironic when you consider that right about now I was due to receive the promised promotion and pay rise.

Obviously, I’m reflecting on my situation, and casting an eye towards other prospects. Not many going around at the moment, which is no surprise.

I spoke to my immediate team leader earlier. Budgets have been approved, but he has no idea what it means for me. He suggested maybe I could check if the vendor I work with closely might have interest in engaging me on the day I’ve got off. That’s how much the world has changed – we’re actually encouraged to find other work in our stand-down period. In this case, it represents a fair conflict of interest, I would think. I wonder if the very fact he’s mooted it as an option is significant.

This is one reason I’m reluctant to use up my annual leave plugging the hole. I might need it if somehow I end up redundant. Right now there’s about $12K worth. That’d tide me over for a few months if push came to shove.

Stay tuned.

The new puritanism


It’s hard to argue that the world hasn’t degenerated into absurdity. Nincompoops like Donald Trump get elected, followed by characters like Boris Johnson. The US lurches from one embarrassment to the next, while England commits virtual suicide by voting to leave the EU. Climate change accelerates while half the world denies it, or seeks to build more coal stations. Australia burns while the PM holidays, a pandemic the like of which none of us has seen for a century cripples the world economy, kills thousands, and turns our lives upside down while nincompoops keep on nincompooping. Then, a noble cause erupts on the back of a tragedy. The Black Lives Matter rally’s take off, not just in the States, but across the world, and there’s hope that it might drive real change, but even that is hijacked by the absurd and the ridiculous.

As I was discussing with a friend the other day, it’s been a tough two years for the thinking person.

I’ve held off commenting the last few days because what’s the point? But some of this just needs to be recorded for posterity. These things really happened.

So, where do I start? I guess the tame end of it is the ongoing controversy about historic statues across the world. Some of it is perfectly reasonable, and high time at that. One thing revealed through this is how many complete cunts there’ve been in history, and damn the context. King Leopold II of Belgium, for example – hard to imagine a more evil bastard than him. Then there’s sundry slave traders and small fry racists and dickhead characters here and there probably not worthy of commemorating, and no loss.

But it’s the nature of these movements that they’re broad and indiscriminate. They’re ruled by outrage and emotion, not by sense. They get carried with a sense of overweening virtue matched by historical necessity. The combination negates anything reasonable, and the cause loses shape, control is lost, and statues are defaced on principle, regardless of notoriety. And the problem with all this is not just that it’s pretty mindless, but that it threatens to trivialise what are worthwhile goals, and possibly even discredit them.

You may not like it in your seething, hot mess of emotion, but the fact is that you’ve got to win the hearts and minds. That’s your battleground, not the politicians – they’ll go where the votes are, and if you sway the hearts and minds of the middle-class, you’ll drive change. And the middle-class want to believe.

Through this period, society has woken up to what’s happening and reacted to it. A lot of it is opportunistic and almost laughable. Some may be sincere, but there’s a lot that is ridiculous. Take, for example, the Fawlty Towers episode Don’t Mention the War, which hit the headlines last week because it was pulled from TV screens in Britain. Now, the point of shows like this is actually to poke holes in the shallow aspirations and behaviours of the Basil Fawlty’s of this world. It’s a farce with a big slice of satire. It’s not promoting bigotry in this case; it’s exposing it. Predictably, John Cleese reacted in horror to the news, and ultimately the program was returned to the screen.

The classic movie Gone With the Wind is not so lucky. That was withdrawn from screening also because of its depiction of slavery. Where does this end? It may be a work of fiction, but the civil war, and the slavery they fought over, is a matter of historical fact. And if that movie what about the hundreds, thousands of movies – and books! – that portray unsavoury facts. It may be an unwelcome reality for many living today, but most of history is full of things to disapprove of, but you can’t just go and ignore it. The ancient civilisations – Egypt, Greece, Rome, etc., all had slaves. Serfs were a thing until a few hundred years ago. Then there are countless wars and oppression and violence perpetrated throughout this time. Where does the line get drawn? On what principle? On whose?

There’s talk of returning Gone With the Wind to the screens with a caveat before it starts. I assume that would count for hundreds of other programs also. Fine, if they must, but I wonder how much of that is necessary? Who watches GWTW as a how-to guide to slavery? Or to celebrate it? While acknowledging that we’re living through the stupidest time of the modern era, few people are so dumb as not to realise what they’re watching – a representation. And this is the danger of censorship – for this is what we’re talking of here – it’s anti-education when what we need is more education.

How are people to understand if they don’t see the context? How are they to appreciate history if we don’t represent it to them? I may be an idealist, but I reckon the best education is when one sees and learns for oneself. Knowledge comes when we make up our own minds, not when a popular construct is thrust down our throats.  Deny us that, feed us some politically correct codswallop, and we learn nothing.

I expect some common-sense to emerge out of all that, but just as I was beginning to relax, the latest news hit me. A preening bottleshop owner in Melbourne chose to signal his divine virtue that he would no longer stock the beer made by the brewer called ‘Colonial’. Get it? Colonial! We’re against that here.

For fuck sake, it’s just a fucking beer, and there are other interpretations of the word anyway. This brewer is innocent. Not racist. He just makes a decent beer. Now he’s the victim of this nonsense.

There’s been a predictable backlash, but the brewer is in a no-win situation. Either he continues trading as Colonial, and cops abuse for it, or he changes the name to something more politically acceptable and gets canned for giving in to the bullies. How did we ever get to this point? Because everything is one extreme or the other.

I don’t care one way or another what they call their beer, but I think it’s an unnecessary and trivial distraction from the main game. I want change. It’s overdue. We need reform and acceptance and education. That needs to happen in a practical sense – policies, laws, compensation. This other stuff is nonsense that runs the risk of alienating the cause. For many, I suspect, it’s the look of it that matters. For them, it’s the violence of expression that counts more than actual change. And if change eventuates, it’ll be derided nonetheless, or they’ll find some other target to attack. There’s a lot of look at me these days, and a lot of it’s cowardly and dishonourable.

This is what happens when you get purists – nothing is ever enough. And what we have today is a puritan class of the noble woke. If you’re not a part of their team, then you’re worthless. If you don’t agree with them, you’re obviously inferior and quite possibly wicked. They set the standards and broach no contravention of them. If you prove to be unacceptable to their cause, you’ll learn about it swiftly. Judgment is quick and violent, and a pile-on ensues. It’s nasty and unconscionable, in many ways.

Here I am – in many aspects, most perhaps, I believe in the same ultimate goals, but it’s the methods and their conduct I so often find unseemly. Yesterday, I watched online as somebody I think little of made a faux pas and then clumsily sought to extricate themselves from the mess. This was a so-called person of the left, but with some history – not someone I’d trust a lot, but then I wouldn’t care that much either. My policy is to steer clear of people like that. Everyone has an opinion. As long as it’s not too evil I don’t care much, and I can’t be bothered debating with them. That’s not the view of the mob. She was set upon as if by a pack of hyenas and torn apart, likely to never recover. I didn’t agree with her either, but gee, her sin wasn’t worthy of the punishment.

Then there was another, one of their own, excused for aberrant behaviour a few years back because he’d ‘fessed up and issued a public mea culpa and three hail Mary’s. He made himself abject, basically, and because of that – and because they like him, he’s cute, after all – he was forgiven.

I’d have told them to fuck off; I don’t need your forgiveness, you can shove up your arse. And that’s even if I did end up admitting my error. We have to live with ourselves and live up to our god if we have one, but I don’t see why any of us must kowtow to another.

Perhaps this is one reason it aggravates me so much. Not only is it anti-reason, it’s anti-individual. Many of these, not all, are not themselves. They’re a construct – a simulacrum – of who they want to be, or how they want to be seen – what is expected of them. In becoming a part of the collective something is sacrificed – an individual perspective, an independent mind. The urge to belong and to be seen as a good team player has a corrupting effect when we do or say things against nature just to join in. This seems encouraged, but it’s everything I don’t believe in.

I’m of the view, old-fashioned as it may be, that we should be teaching people how to think, not what to think. Give them the tools, the principles, the basic building blocks of knowledge, and they’ll come to understanding, and even wisdom, in their own way. And it will be much truer. That takes some strength of character, but I’m of the belief that if anyone learns right they’ll know in themselves the difference between right and wrong. That’s where it should come from – from inside. From being your true self. That’s what every person should aspire to – to be completely and truly themself.

But I digress.

The militant left is insular and hypocritical. And sickening, in a way. They demand obedience and suffer from many of the excesses they claim of their enemies. I want to believe, but I’m a moderate and believe in reason and just cause. For the priggish and shallow they’re complexities they have no time for, and they lack the self-awareness to know it. And a sense of humour, that’s rare too – but to appreciate humour you must appreciate light and shade, and that’s what’s lacking.

Craving movement


It’s interesting to chart the progress of working in isolation, especially now that most of the restrictions on us are easing. Regardless of any of that, I probably won’t make it back to the office until late August/September, and so the basic form and routine will change little.

In the early days, it was a bit of a novelty working from home, as it was for most people. It led to household experiments me as people looked to keep busy, and to explore the possibilities of being home fulltime. For a while, there were myriad social media tropes as every man, and his dog tried making their own bread or dabbled with other alternatives. Banana bread was a thing for a while. About this phase, a lot of us got into the habit of a nightly drink or two, and home-delivered alcohol sales went through the roof.

I never made my own bread – why bother if I could get a superior loaf at the local baker? I made some banana bread, though and made other cakes also given the opportunity. What I really got into was the ritual of cooking my evening meal.

I like to coo,k and I like to eat, but working in the office limits the time you have to do it as fully as you might like. I’d generally cook something up on the weekend that would be good for 3-4 meals over the next few weeks. I’d whip up lighter meals during the week, or get something out of the freezer. Much as I looked forward to a delicious meal, the keyword was convenience.

Suddenly, working from home, I had a lot more time on my hands. I used it to plan, prepare and cook up much more ambitious meals. I’d pore over my list of saved recipes figuring out what I’d cook next. I’d go out and shop for it, and generally make a start on the recipe during my lunch break. By the time I knocked off at the end of the day I’d pump up the Sonos playing Spotify, or maybe an audiobook, and I’d cook up a storm.

I ate very well. Too well, probably. The food was great, the recipes were bold, I’d make my notes and so on, but I’d be doing this 4-5 days a week, and I had to eat it all. The result was that I ate too much. At the same time, I was drinking too much. And in between, because of Easter and the rest of it, I’d have some chocolate or nibble on one of the cakes I made.

That was then. I twigged finally that I didn’t need this much food. I enjoyed cooking, but it was overkill for me. Over a period, I scaled back on my cooking. At the same time, I slowed my drinking (about once a week now, rather than every day). I cut the chocolate out altogether. Basically, I exhausted the phase and moved to the next. I’m sure it was the same for many others.

Another thing I noticed was that people became much more expansive on Facebook, particularly. It makes sense. We’re no longer able to see each other face to face and so other mediums take up the slack. There’s a fundamental need to connect and express. Facebook is an easy option because it’s right there. People who had been quiet for yonks started to pipe up online. We all began to comment on each other’s posts. There was a lot of banter, even mild and friendly abuse. I reconnected with people I’d had hardly seen or spoken to for years.

I did my bit in all this. I began to say more in general, most of it light-hearted. Then I started my sandwich of the day/week post in which I’d make a fancy sandwich, take a picture of it, and then add in my comments and description, much of it tongue in cheek. That inspired many to respond in the same manner. It was very good-natured and enjoyable. To a degree, that continues – I posted about the chicken katsu sandwich with tonkatsu and wasabi coleslaw just last Friday – but I sense it’s starting to trail off a bit now.

I sense that what was a pure need before has been diluted since as we’ve found other alternatives to posting things online – that is, we’re out and about more and meeting face to face.

And yet, it’s still quite foreign. This is where I’m at now. I’m doing more, but what is lacking in my life is the real spontaneity you get when you set out each day to go to work. The opportunity for chance encounters and unexpected conversations is greatly reduced, and I miss that. Everything is pretty predictable and routine. It’s rare still that something happens off-plan.

I miss women, and the pleasures of flirting, and moments of delight and wonder, and even possibility. When nothing is different, there’s no real hope because what you have is what you have. Hope is about what you don’t have and the yearning possibility of attaining it. Until the time returns when I have the opportunity for different things, hope will remain – more or less – absent, or at least, no more than generic. This is the picture, and here I am in it. Things need to start moving to make things happen…

 

Tilda and Rocky


I had a lovely dream this morning that made me sad when I woke up.

I had a daughter, Tilda, who everyone called Harry for reasons no-one knew. It seemed apt though because she was a happy, intelligent, confident kid, always with a smile. She radiated kindness and wisdom, and everyone who met her came away thinking that she would make her mark in the world. She was one of those rare people that others gravitate to and cherish.

She’d befriended a stray dog that became our pet – a handsome, tan coloured dog, a bit like a Viszla, though with a bit of mongrel thrown in. On it’s back it had five small discolourations that looked like stars, lighter than the surrounding skin. Tilda – Harry – had named him Rocky.

I was so proud and happy, so grateful, to have a daughter like Tilda. For someone like me, who’s lived a solo for much of my life, and therefore independent and egocentric, it was a welcome and surprising sensation. There was something self-effacing in the experience. I’m just her father, and it was enough for me to put aside my ambitions, my striving, my sense of having to act and do. All of that seemed small and irrelevant to me then, puny and petty and self-conscious. What need had I of any of that? I had Tilda. She was my legacy and my gift to the world. For the first time, I understood what it was like to live for another.

I woke with an ache. There was about a time, about ten years ago, I was determined to become a father and thinking I had to find a surrogate. That never happened. And I was reminded of the women who had set themselves for me, so determined and certain that they would win me when I knew they never would. I was ‘unwinnable’ – too independent, too contrary, I didn’t want to be won. This morning I wondered, as I have before: what if I had allowed myself to give way? What I lacked was humility, and the capacity to see myself as a part of a whole, rather than as a single whole.

Without judgement


So, the latest is that Winston Churchill is being brought to heel by the woke forces of the earth. Revisionist commentary now has him classified as a racist and his statue duly defaced. How much that actually means is an open question. In Bristol, the statue of an eminent slave-trader ended up at the bottom of the river, and good riddance to him. But then, so too was a statue of Gandhi – Gandhi! – vandalised because he too – and who knew? – was a racist. I guess that sums up the collective mentality of the mob in heat.

I’m not here to defend Churchill – he doesn’t need me – but rather to deplore the recent practice of dragging down significant figures. It’s mindless and simplistic and bloody arrogant, too. It’s symptomatic of an era when critical thought is barely a concept, and it’s all about the raw feels.

Churchill was racist, much in the same way as many of his generation were. That’s not to excuse it, but it places it in context. The younger Churchill had something in common with Boris Johnson, I reckon – a gift for self-promotion, high self-regard, and a tendency to put their foot in it. That’s where the comparison ends. Even on his worst day, Churchill had more class, wit and intelligence than Johnson on his best. And anyway, the young Churchill matured.

There’s no doubt that Winston said some awful things, and made some stupid mistakes. Some of them were pretty racist, certainly by today’s standards. But, you know, he did some pretty good things, too.

What man is without flaw or fault? Look hard enough, and there’s always something to find. I’ve no objection to a fair appraisal, but to be fair it needs to embrace the man as a whole. That doesn’t happen a lot these days. Individuals are picked apart and every flaw magnified under the social media spotlight. It becomes fashionable to join the throng laying into the victim of the day – as if no-one else has ever erred, and regardless of the legitimate achievements of the victim in question.

In this era of extremes, every misshapen part is taken as the whole. There’s no nuance or critical judgement. To transgress one more invalidates every achievement, or so it seems. Churchill is a racist, and therefore a bad man – never mind that he stood alone against the forces of fascism. Never mind that he uplifted a generation by his example and by his rhetoric. Never mind that he actually opposed the bad guys doing evil racist things. No, in the new accounting it comes a distant second to the evils of his person. Wait until they hear he was a misogynist as well!

Anyone with any sense knows that Churchill was a great man. The world would undoubtedly be a different place today without him, and possibly quite radically so.

I’m not excusing Churchill, and I’m certainly not downplaying racism. What I’m calling for is a bit of balance and common sense. We need to learn how to see people in their totality, as once we did.

None of us is faultless. If you want the truth of it I’m probably a little racist myself (though I tend to think much of what is called racist is actually rooted in cultural difference), not by intention, but by instinct. I’m sure I’ve made racist comments in the past or looked upon someone differently because they were different from me. Again, it’s not who I mean to be, but I haven’t always been as virtuous as I am now. I know in places far distant that I’ve gravitated to my countrymen on occasion because we came from the same place, which is perfectly understandable while clearly showing a cultural bias. I guess that makes me imperfect, but human – hands up who isn’t?

We’re complex beings formed by our experiences and torn in conflicting directions by the forces around us. We absorb and deflect. We submit, and we defy. We develop and grow. If we are to accept that as true then we must also accept that people make mistakes, they act without judgement sometimes and sometimes without knowledge, they change.

We love pulling down tall poppies. There’s joy in exposing their feet of clay. It makes us feel grand. It’s cheap and nasty, though. Who among those tearing at Churchill could hope to do half of what he achieved? Wiser to understand none of us is perfect – and to measure the man on his actions.

 

I’m adding this addendum a day later after thinking about it overnight. I don’t retract anything I wrote yesterday, but in and amongst this mess I think there’s a great opportunity to come to terms with our past. We can’t disavow history, but we can hope to better understand it as something more than written down in books. I commented yesterday that Churchill was a man of his times – and it’s his time, and other times, that bear consideration.

If we are to take Britain as an example, for all their rich and storied history, for every victory, there was a loser. Many of those losers were weaker civilisations and peoples – weaker militarily, that is. That is the story of the times, of colonisation and imperial might, and the subjugation of the many for the economic benefit of the few (some things never change). It’s time that Britain – and other nations – to acknowledge that past, which includes slave-trading. You can’t change history, but you can face it square on (without prejudice – we can’t go down that path). This is what happened, this is what we did. It’s an exercise often proves cathartic for individuals, and may do also for nations. Certainly, the victims of this would applaud it.

Australia has wrestled with similar questions for many years now with regard to the aboriginal people. There was a breakthrough in the early nineties when the Federal Labor government pushed through Mabo, which was a landmark case of recognition. More symbolically, the Rudd Labor government issued a long overdue apology to the aboriginal people for the ills done to them by successive generations of white Australia. Nothing has happened since then, largely because we have a Liberal government who believes in little of this, unwilling to admit to fault or responsibility. It’s time now for formal recognition of the indigenous people in the constitution by way of a treaty. In this time when the headlines scream Black Lives Matter and myriad stories of violence and mistreatment, addressing these matters to put in place legal protections to prevent and redress is overdue.

There are plenty of statues being pulled down which don’t deserve to stand, but the bigger picture is not the individual, but the society that made that individual and allowed for them to flourish. It’s not about denying that history – it’s done, it can’t be changed – but understanding it and the context in which it belongs. This would be a healthy outcome.

What not to do


I don’t know what annoys me most about the Federal government – the rushed, ill-considered policies; the abject lack of imagination; or the corrupted, partisan economic and social policies that advantage cronies, mates and donors.

The $60B they ‘found’ the other week remains unspent, despite all sensible commentators urging them to spend. In the meantime, they’ve announced that childcare subsidies will be ending in a month, just like that (and, contrary to their promise, the JobKeeper provision will be ended for the industry also). It’s an expensive policy and it can’t go on forever, but it seems to be premature ending it while we still haven’t returned to work and the economy is tanking. Extend it a few months, then consider how components of the policy can be maintained, or funded differently, on a permanent basis. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that making childcare more affordable (if not free) has economic and social benefits. It’s a policy dictated by circumstances, but why not take the good from it and convert it into new policy? It doesn’t have to cost as much, and surely there are other – more creative – options to sustain it? This decision epitomises the government’s determination to ‘snap back’, even though the crisis continues and it’s hardly feasible. The world has changed, and we must adapt to what it is rather than hopefully return to what it was.

Last week a new stimulus package was announced. The HomeBuilder policy aims to stimulate a building boom by offering subsidies. The theory is fine, but the conditions are nonsensical, and the targeting fundamentally wrong. This is an example of a very poorly considered policy decision, combined with the everpresent motivation of currying favour with its constituency.

Basically, if you earn under $125K, but plan a renovation of your home with a quoted value of more than $150K, then you qualify to have $25K of your bill paid for by the taxpayer. It also applies to new home building, but only if the value exceeds $750K. Now, for a start, how many will actually qualify for this? It makes for an impressive-sounding announcement, but the number of people in this very narrow qualifying niche will be fuck-all.

It’s pretty immoral, too. Very clearly, this is targeted at people who can afford a $150K renovation at a time when there are homeless people on the street when unemployment is sky-rocketing, and there are actually people in the bushfire ravaged areas of Australia who are in dire need of a replacement home. Sure, let’s get construction happening, but why not target areas of real social need?

The political angle backfired regardless. It’s been widely and reasonably panned. And the political aspects are so transparent that it’s been treated with disdain even by those who might qualify. What the government needs to understand is that people aren’t as greedy and selfish as they hope them to be. In actual fact, there’s a strong social conscience in the aspirational classes, who are often progressives. I had conversations over the weekend with people wealthy enough to consider this, but who are just as disgusted by it as I am.

There’ll be more announcements to come, and it’s interesting to think about what they may be. The RBS wants JobKeeper extended beyond September, but I sense the government won’t do that. Then there are inevitable decisions to be made over JobSeeker which are bound to be controversial. It doubled when we went into lockdown, but the government – I’m sure – intends to return it to its pre-COVID-19, below-the-poverty-line rate. This would be immoral and stupid but neatly fits the government’s MO.

Stay tuned.

Taking up space


Like a lot of people in this time, I’m continuing to downsize and go through things in storage sorting things out.

I figured out last week I never use the colour laser printer I have, and therefore I don’t need it. That I’m giving away to a good home.

I’m also in and out of the garage where the boxes I have in storage. I ferret through them one by one, throwing some things out, re-organising and finding a new home for others.

The other day I came across a box I’d described as Work books. Opening it up I found a lot of the books I’d purchased over the years on subjects related to work I was interested in – project management, intranet design, SharePoint, Six Sigma, process design, productivity, and so on. There were also a bunch of ring binders. These contained loose leaf info that either came as part of a certification I’d done – Prince 2, a PM diploma, as well as various technologies I’d picked up along the way such as Greentree and SharePoint. There was a folder that contained data on all the best intranets of 2010. And so on.

I kept the books, all bar one about SharePoint 2007 – and perhaps I should get rid of the Access manual also. Everything in the binders I detached and put in a pile to throw out. At the end of it, I’d freed up another box of stuff and lightened the load.

I looked at the pile of rubbish. What does it mean? I thought. I’d hung onto a lot of it thinking it might come in handy again one day. And I was genuinely interested in a lot of that stuff. Now it was just taking up space.

It seems a bit sad, but I think it’s an acknowledgement that I won’t need these things again. It feels like a bit of a metaphor. I’ve got a lot of that stuff in my head, but it seems of no more use to me there than in the box.

It feels like the cycle of life. We grow and gather to us information and knowledge. We use that to grow more, to build upon our expertise and experience. In time there accrues to us a sense of abundance. The things you have gathered have value. Slowly, time moves on. Some of the things you knew go out of date or become obsolete. Or it’s been so long since you’ve worked with it that it’s no longer relevant. The value of what you know becomes less, notwithstanding that you have a lifetime of learning and practice behind you. There’s a natural rise, then a fall, and you let it go.

I don’t know if I’m reading too much into it. I feel very sensitive to these things now, like a spider at the corner of a web. That’s where I am, but it’s in the rubbish now. I think that’s fair enough.

The course of time


I wrote last week about how I’ve changed from what I used to be, how I don’t have the patience or will, the appetite, to go as hard as I once I would without a second thought. I wrote that on Friday, but it was in my mind all of Thursday. That night, as I went to bed, I found myself going back to my childhood and when a lot of this started.

It feels as if time and recent experience has given me a different perspective of when I was a kid. I would recall it in fragmentary bursts before. It would be colourful and lively in my memory, all golden, but. Thre was little connecting it into a narrative of development. Maybe because I’ve looked deeper into myself in recent years, I now look back differently.

Sometimes I see a photo of myself as a young teenager and struggle to understand how he and I can be the same person. I can close my eyes and picture any number of photos very similar in type. I’m a cute kid. I have floppy, chestnut coloured hair, an infectious, innocent smile, and clear blue eyes. I even have freckles! For the early part of my high school years, I was undersized for my age, and it was something I hated. I don’t know where or how I got it into my head, but I always wanted to be tall. Then one year, when I was about 16, I must have grown 4-5 inches, becoming a tall, lanky, paled skinned, and somewhat awkward kid. I wasn’t as pure cute as I used to be, but I went from being one of the shortest kids in the class to one of the tallest.

I always think my childhood was happy, but I think it’s more accurate to say that I was lucky that I had close friends and had many adventures – the sort of stuff that Spielberg puts in his movies. WeE lived in a deloping outer suburb where there was still a lot of bush and wild tracks. There was a heap of kids in the street I grew up in, but I was one of the eldest and so I, along with two others about the same age, became a leader. We went for long bike rides and built tree-houses and played street cricket and constructed makeshift rafts to sail the Plenty river and played games and kicked the footy, and so on. My best mate in those days was my next-door neighbour, Peter Woody, much taller than me – he topped out at about 6’8″. We did everything together, not all of it legal, but it was all in fun and from a sense of daring.

We had built our house, and I remember while it was being constructed how dad would pick me up from the local primary school and take me to the property to see how it was going. This was the early seventies. It was a good home, and even after a stint in Sydney for two years when I was about 15, we returned to it. I had a loving and close extended family, but looking back the family unit I was a part of was dysfunctional – and I wonder how much that impacted on me. My mum had had a nervous breakdown and was emotionally frail, though very devoted. Ultimately she would leave my dad and take me with her. My sister was a nasty brat who tyrannised my mum. My dad was the big businessman who worked long hours and travelled overseas and had an aura of impatient accomplishment. We had little relationship outside of the footy we would attend together most Saturday afternoons. In my final year of school, he actually stopped talking to me for a few months because of some slight (I cocked a fist at him in an argument).

I’ve always thought that I was pretty much the most normal of us, but my view on that has shifted in recent years. On the outside, I think that probably appeared the case. While things bubbled along at home I continued to have my adventures. I had my struggles, though, I think. I feel as if I struggled for confidence back then, and for years to come. I would deny it, ashamed even to think it might be true as if it was unmanly. I was a smart kid at school, but a terrible student. I was the sort of kid who’d turn up to do a test one week and get near-perfect marks, and the next week do another and be mediocre. I never studied, and my homework was cursory. I wasn’t interested in that, but there was an element of unconscious rebellion in it.

What was I rebelling against? What did I want? I think I took for granted my ability. I’d always managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat when I needed to, and I gave it no thought until we moved to Sydney, and I was required to do an aptitude test before commencing school there. The result of that was that was declared to have ‘well above average’ intelligence. I can still remember the moment being told that and a sense of dawning realisation. Once it was in my head, I became conscious of it. It was like my get out of jail card – I was well above average intelligence, I’ll be right.

I think there was some striving for identity. I was neither popular or unpopular at school. I was good athletically, I was smart enough, and I played most of the school sports. I think I was a nice, decent kid. But I remember times when I’d act up. There was a famous occasion I debated with my teacher in English class and was banished from it. Another occasion I was told off by my science teacher in the middle of a test because I’d got out my comb – I had a fold-out comb, just like the Fonz – and began to comb my hair when I finished before anyone else. On another occasion, I opened a classroom window and climbed out of it while the teacher was writing on the blackboard, and walked home (that was maths, and I hated maths).

Then there was the moment that changed my life, and which I found my memories gravitating towards last Thursday night.

It was my final year of school. It would have been about August, a few months shy of the exams. We’d had an economics test as a trial for the exams and had our results read out in class. I did okay without doing great – about 75%. It was good enough, but I’d achieved it without putting any work into it. While everyone else slaved away over their books in study period, I’d be out on the oval kicking a footy around (earlier in the year I’d actually skipped an economics class to kick a footy on the oval the classroom overlooked, and I knew it). On this day I’ll never forget, we were walking out of the class after the results were released one of my classmates (Ian T), turned and said to me with some bitterness “if only you’d study, H”.

There was a moral judgement in his words. Where’s the justice if his best effort was just good enough to achieve a mediocre mark when someone like me – lazy and indifferent – could swan in and without apparent effort do better? The inference was clear – if I put in the effort I might be anything. I’d done nothing and even so, had got a few marks better than he had – he, who diligently spent every available hour studying. I probably shrugged my shoulders then, but when I crashed and burned a few months later at the real exams, they were words that came back to haunt me.

I’ve never forgotten. There was a great lesson in that and, to my credit, I heeded it. It took me a while, but I realised that being smart wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t unmake the mistakes I’d made, but in time I learned to put the effort in and to apply the intelligence I had to a work ethic I learned. It almost became a thing for me, for many years to come. I was still capable of being brilliant, but that was a cheap trick I couldn’t take credit for. The kid that turned to me in the corridor at school was much more worthy than I was, and I recognised that. Character means taking on the hard yards. It means staying the course and doing the right thing before doing the easy thing. And it recognises that every effort counts. I used to glory in all that. I used to think I was harder than anyone, would go further, stay stronger. It was a belief system that contained its own validation, and which became self-perpetuating. Until I came tumbling down.

Which brings me to today. My failures over the last twenty years or so are not from a lack of effort, or intelligence, but judgement and hubris. I accept that. It was that ethic that kept me strong when things were bad because I refused to submit to despair. This was a test that I needed to pass. And I did, more or less. But now I find that I don’t have the conviction I had before, and with it, the appetite for the effort required has waned. It’s not because I fear hard work – recent events have proved the opposite. It’s more a mental thing, as if I have lost belief in the point of it. I’m fudging it still and getting away with it, but more and more I’m reverting to those old ways when I’d rely on natural talent to get me through.

I can only believe there’ll be limits to that, as there were before. And I have to wonder, in light of all this, if I’m on the right path? And – if I’m not – which is?

And, just to be clear, I don’t think this necessarily a bad thing, just a true thing. And if it’s indeed true, then I need to adapt to it.

This side of history


When it was announced last week that there would be rallies this weekend in support of Black Lives Matter, my first instinct was supportive, but then I wondered about it in context of the pandemic and social distancing.

That’s the conundrum state governments faced leading into the weekend. We’re still under strict social distancing protocols, and it’s been drummed into us, again and again, the dangers of a second wave. Around the country, the state authorities took different attitudes, with the PM also weighing in.

In Queensland and SA there was an acceptance of the cause. In the two biggest states, Victoria and NSW, there was more angst. In NSW there was a court injunction to declare the protests illegal, later overturned. In Victoria, a more progressive state, there were warnings and threats of potential arrests for breaching protocols, but there was no effort to prevent the rallies.

By this time, I was well onside. I’d reflected and on balance considered the risk worth taking, though I know many who take the same view. The time is now, history can’t wait for the moment, and the cause worthy. My only concern was the rallies might in some way turn violent, which would undermine the whole message.

As it turns out, the rallies were almost a complete success. Around the country, hundreds of thousands of Australians rallied in support of the cause, both in the US and here as well, where it’s nearly as bad. Almost completely, the rallies were free from violence, and very few arrests made. Again, except for distinct exceptions, the police and the protestors were well behaved. In fact, it seemed awfully well organised, with just about everyone attending wearing a mask and attempting to maintain a social distance. Masks were handed out and sanitation stations setup. I’d call it a complete success but for one awful incident that marred the occasion.

In Sydney, after the march had finished and protestors were heading home, and without any sense or logic, a contingent of the NSW police chose to pen a group of protestors in Central Station, where they attacked them with pepper spray.

This is inexplicable and wrong on so many levels I don’t know where to start. What was the point of this? The rally was over, the protestors were heading home. And why would you choose to do this on such an occasion? The rallies around the world were sparked by the death of George Floyd, and the litany of police brutality that preceded it. Why prove the point on such a day? All of that is putting aside the morality of the act. The police are meant to protect, not provoke and attack.

In the scheme of things, it was a small act – a few dozen police, a few less protestors – but it appeared planned. Media were prevented from entering the station to witness the attack – we have phone footage to thank for the pictures we have. Paddy wagons were lined up. Was this an independent act of retribution? Were the police slighted by the rallies and chose to show who was boss? Any way you look at it, it’s insane and immoral. I’ll be interested to see what the fall-out is if any. There’s enough to go on in the footage to charge some officers.

If it was to happen anywhere, then it’s no surprise that it’s NSW. The police minister, who has a history of brutal opinion, should have been fired after the bushfires fiasco when he didn’t do his job. That never happened, which attests to the weakness of Berejiklian, who is unimpressive and defensive in so many ways.

In the rest of the country, there was barely a murmur. Some state governments actually praised the conduct of the rallies, and sprinkled here and there police officers took the knee in support.

I’d have preferred if Dan Andrews came out more strongly in support of the protests, though it’s hard for him given his hardline on restrictions. It’s the right side of history. As it turned out, the Victorian police arrested no-one and issued no fines, despite their threats to do so. They’ve since come out and said they’d fine the organisers, which is a token and meaningless gesture. I don’t expect that to happen, nor should it.

I hope these rallies resonate and things change. That’s the point of them.

Out in the world


Up to yesterday, I hadn’t been outside the suburb since March. I hadn’t caught the train since then and certainly hadn’t sat down for a drink of any type at a venue. That changed last evening when I hopped on a train and travelled to Richmond to catch up at the Corner Hotel with a work colleague.

Restrictions are easing, and though it’s no simple thing going out for a drink, at least there are options now. This came about because the colleague – theoretically the team manager – was starting to feel antsy stuck at home with his family and wanted to get out. We agreed to meet somewhere in between we could both get to by train. Richmond was the obvious solution, and so I booked a table Thursday for last night.

Unlike in days past when you’d just rock up and snaffle a beer even if only standing room, there’re a few conditions these days. As there are restrictions on the number of patrons you’re required to book first. Then you’re restricted to two hours maximum, and if you’re having a drink you must also have something to eat. Then, when you turn up, they must take down your details just in case there’s an outbreak of COVID-19 and they have to trace you.

The last time I was at the Corner Hotel was towards the end of last year. We got there at about midnight and the place was heaving with people. It was very different yesterday. Our slot yesterday was between 5pm and 7pm. The pub was sparsely populated. Though it was early for dinner we ordered a meal with our pint. We had a second pint and then it was over.

It was good to get out. I’m fond of my manager. He’s a Malaysian-Chinese who’s been living here about 30 years. He’s no more than 5’3″, but stocky, with a shaven head and a ready smile. There’s a twinkle in his eyes often, and smile lines at the corner of them. For some reason, he always reminds me of Yoda. He’s a very decent and generous human being – one of the good ones.

It seems strange to get so excited over a very tame couple of hours at the pub, but it’s better than doing nothing, which has been the default setting these last few months. It’s strange how time so readily expands and contracts according to circumstances. Many times I’ve been out on a big night and wondered where all the hours have gone. Last night the time passed in a leisurely fashion, and though it was still early when I headed home, it felt sufficient for what it was. The train was mostly empty, and on the way home I stopped by the supermarket to grab the block of chocolate I suddenly needed.

More to come.