High maintenance


It was a pretty standard Saturday morning for me. Caught up for a mate for coffee and Danish, walked up the road to do my weekly grocery shopping, returned home to unpack it while I had some playlist going loud in the background. That done I wander into my study and tap on the keyboard to check out what’s news. No emails of note, no messages, but hello, on Facebook I find an ominous post.

It’s by my cousin, of course. He starts in by saying what a toxic life he’s had. Then he says had he not been denied the inheritance from his grandparents that went to his cousins instead he might have had a chance (was he talking about us, I wondered, or the other side of the family? We got nothing.) He concludes by stating that he’ll be ending his life later in the day.

As I read this my heart falls. There’s every chance this is a cry for help. And, though I don’t know him that well, it seems consistent with his attention seeking self-pity. But I can’t presume that and I know I can’t just sit there and do nothing.

I contact a friend to get an opinion. At the same time I report his post to Facebook. We agree I have to do something, but I’m not sure how you go about it. If I say the wrong thing it could aggravate the situation so after I get off the phone I call Lifeline. I explain the situation to them and they guide me through the process.

While I’m talking to them I tap out a message to him. I tell him I’ve seen his post. I ask him (redundantly, but you have to say something) if he’s alright. His response is immediate “Fuck off”, he writes.

I half expect that and ignore it. I continue. I understand you’re in a bad way, I write, but I’m here to listen if you need it.

Once more his response is immediate, and the tone has changed. He asks where I live.

I know I don’t want him coming to my place. I don’t want him to know where I live for fear that he’ll never leave. But these are desperate times.

I tell him my suburb, but also tell him that I can come to him. And, as I’ve been advised, I give him the number for Lifeline.

There’s no response to that and in fact it’s hours until he reads it. I admit, I feel some relief. I barely know him, and what I know of him I don’t like. But I can’t ignore him. I wonder if I’m being unfair. I may dislike him, but isn’t that unreasonable – like being annoyed by a one legged man because he limps?

In the meantime I call my father – the man I haven’t seen or heard from for over two years. My call goes to voicemail. Half an hour later he responds with a message. He greets me, then says he’s well aware of my cousin’s (his nephew’s) behaviour as he is always threatening to kill himself.

Somehow I am relieved by this, but unsurprised. Then I get angry. It’s the worst kind of emotional blackmail. I want nothing to do with him. When the dust settles, I resolve, I’ll block him.

In the meantime others have posted responses on his Facebook page exhorting him to think again. One person has even ‘liked’ the post.

There’s nothing more from him on Saturday, but on Sunday come a flurry of posts. Everything is different. Now he appears bright and positive. He announces plans. Then he starts uploading family photos going right back to his great-grandparents. His posts are eloquent – he’s clearly educated and intelligent – but they come in such a rush that I snooze him on my timeline.

I’m glad things are better. His behaviour seems to confirm theories on his mental state. I’m sour on him still. Good for you, I think, but leave me alone.

Today he contacted me again. He was friendly. I responded in kind. I suspect he was looking for information on a friend of mine that he remembers from when he was a boy, the guy with the red Trans Am. He’s not hard to track down – he’s a Facebook friend of mine, after all. And I anticipate that my friend now will be inundated with communications as the latest addition to his retinue. I’m sure this has been the pattern throughout. He consumes people until they’re exhausted with him before moving onto the next on the list. He uses them for the attention they can give him.

Maybe I’m being cynical. I can’t turn my back on him, not yet – but what I am is no more than the sympathetic bystander. I feel no stronger bond with him than with the people I work with, and less so than with many of my colleagues.

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Glimpses of how it was


Returning from my collecting my morning coffee yesterday I glimpsed a man wearing a quilted padded jacket. I have a similar jacket and you see them all over but the first time they ever registered in my consciousness was probably about 20 years ago when I was travelling in Italy, specifically in Florence. It seemed to me then that every second Italian male wore a stylish, elegant version of this jacket. And that’s the thought that occurred to me yesterday after that brief and incidental glimpse. The long forgotten memory was triggered and suddenly I felt as if I’d been punched in the gut.

Recalling Italy like that reminded me of how great it was to travel and in my mind was a diversity of memories. The pain was instinctive though with the knowledge that I haven’t done that for so long and, for all intents and purposes, it’s something I no longer do. That’s not by choice; circumstances have dictated that and though one day it may change I’m stuck here.

This was an existential pang. There’s so much I enjoyed about travelling, but being a dedicated and adventurous traveller was also a big part of my self-identity. Take that away from me and I feel staid and deprived. I miss the stimuli of different cultures, of being challenged along the way by a raft of things, and learning from the experience. I am left here looking along from afar.

I was surprised at my reaction – I see men in quilted jackets all the time – but I understood once it settled in me. I relate it now from curiosity and to give an insight into moments that otherwise would probably go unremarked. There are many instances like this, across a range of aspects, that grate upon me daily. That’s just how it is and generally it’s subsumed in the routine of the day. It’s a condition of my current existence. This was different, for whatever reason.

I’m trying to change this naturally, to ascend to a place again where I can get on a plane and fly overseas for a holiday, or buy something indulgent on a whim. It’s a great motivating urge. We make progress, though generally only by inches, but at least recently I was finally permitted to have a credit card again – an encouraging sign, and a relief knowing I can now manage unexpected expenses. And yesterday I spoke to two recruiters with an arrangement to meet with one the week after next.

Family split


These days I dream every night and mostly in vivid detail, more than at any other stage of my life. I’ve given up thinking anything much of it. Occasionally I might dwell briefly on a dream, surprised more about the unexpected faces featuring in it than any deeper meaning. But then, as dreams go, they’re gone.

Last night though I dreamt of my step-sister and I woke up this morning feeling sad.

I was very close to my step-sister. When my mum married a second time we became an extended family. She was about 17 then and crushed on me for a while, which is probably not unusual in the circumstances. She wanted nothing more than to be part of a family again and she loved my mum, and as part of the package she gained a cool older brother.

As it turned out we hit it off naturally anyway. She was an attractive, intelligent, bubbly personality. Everyone loved her because she was so easy and natural with them. I don’t think she ever stopped crushing on me completely, but in return I grew very fond of her. (Even after she married I often felt as if she felt more in tune with me than with her husband). The truth of it is that in the extended family we were the two closest siblings, even though our relationship was purely by marriage. Certainly I was much closer to her in nature, in attitude, in personality, than I was with my own natural born sister. For many years we shared good times.

That all changed in the aftermath of mum’s death. The family split in two along bloodlines and her side of the family chose to challenge mum’s will. From principle as much as anything else, we resisted. The fall-out was that our relationship ended, even after a settlement had been reached.

I was sad at that but at the same time the dispute had soured me of families for a while. I accepted our break as a consequence of that.

In the years since we’ve had no direct contact. She made a late night call to me a few years ago that I didn’t notice till the day after. Last year I was surprised to find her following me on Facebook, and eventually I sent her a message hoping to repair the relationship. She never responded.

Catching up with my cousins lately I got some news of her. They’re still friends with her on Facebook and until recently, my Aunt told me, she had been sending birthday cards up. I knew she had split from her husband a few years back. They told me she had taken up with an older man in Queensland, where she lives. They told me she’d just returned from a visit to Melbourne.

I thought about her on the drive back from lunch. A lot of that time feels wrong and nothing will change that because a lot of that time was wrong. Looking back it was an ugly and terribly difficult time of my life. Not only had my mum just died and a conflict erupted over her will, but I was also broke and unemployed and almost certainly suffering from depression. I was a mess.

I understood the rupture between us at that time, but always felt as if I had more reason to be aggrieved than her. I would have accepted whatever was in mum’s will and all I was doing was defending her final wishes. It was my step-sister and her family who were challenging it.

We lost contact and she deleted me as a friend on Facebook. I understood that, but she also unfriended Donna, who had nothing to do with this. They were friendly and got on well, though Donna first and foremost was my friend. Once more, I can only presume it was that relationship that my step-sister could no longer abide. She became collateral damage and I never really understood why.

So now I’m dreaming about her and what I feel is affection and sorrow. We had a deep connection. I loved her, and she me. After losing my mother that was he next biggest loss I suffered, and they came as a double whammy. Clearly I’ve never got over that loss completely.

I’m tempted to let it go and accept it as one of the unfortunate mischances that occur in life. Sad, but there it is.

It’s an interesting case for me. I’ve never really been someone who’ll let fate dictate my life. That’s just not my nature. Common sense tells me to let it go, but I wonder how that will leave me feeling. No matter everything that’s happened to me I’ve never lost my sense of hope. Part of that is the belief that it’s better to do something than nothing. You have to try. It seems to me that if I let it slide then it’s an acceptance that there are no happy endings. As they say though, for all my grumpiness, I always vote life.

Don’t mention the war


I remember reading somewhere about Kafka that in all his diaries there’s not a single mention of World War One, which raged beyond the borders towards the last years of his life.

You can speculate as to the reason. Perhaps, as it would appear superficially, he had no interest in it. On the other hand, maybe it infuriated him so that he refused to write about it. Or perhaps his diaries were kept only for his most intimate thoughts.

Whatever the reason, I sympathise. I’ve studiously avoided comment on the federal politics, and the pending election, though it’s forever in my mind. No matter how many times I swear off it I can’t help but be a politically committed character. I eat it up, and sometimes it eats me up. I’m into economics and generally I’m fascinated by the political process. On top of that I’m passionate about getting the best deal for Australians. I get frustrated and infuriated by the basic and deeply imbued ineptitude of recent governments. More recently ineptitude has tended towards dodgy dealings, if not outright corruption.

I need and want change desperately, but if I haven’t written about it it’s because I can’t bring myself to put into words the tangled thoughts and sheer passion I feel. I’ve chosen to keep it separate, as I expect Kafka did. I can’t keep silent forever though.

The election is on May 18. Labor are poised to win, which will be a blessed relief. In recent years it’s been the case that you’re more likely to vote against one mob than you are to vote for the other. This time I’ll very definitely be voting against the incompetent and spiteful Morrison government, but equally I’ll be voting for the Shorten alternative.

To Morrison first. I’ve long held that he is a blathering fool and the election campaign has done nothing to dissuade me from that view. He holds to Pentecostal teachings but – like so many of the self-proclaimed devout – is a moral vacuum. His priority first and foremost is to secure his political future, by any means available, including outright lies. Everything is secondary to that, including the good of the people he governs for. It explains the lack of political substance or vision and the repetition of old tropes designed to incite fear and cause division.

It’s an interesting question who I hold in more contempt, Tony Abbott or Scott Morrison. Abbott has the virtue at least of being an honest fool. He had an ideology that he held to, bereft as it was. Morrison has no other ideology than to be re-elected. He’s as slippery as an eel. He believes in nothing but his own survival and everything is fodder for that. You could make a strong argument that makes him more despicable than Abbott. Both are shallow vessels. Unfortunately, both have led governments short on talent and morality.

I’ve never been a fan of Shorten – he’s capable of back-sliding as well – but he has a talented team behind him, and is a parlaying a policy agenda more sweeping than anything since the Hawke-Keating years. He gets high marks for being bold. As it happens, I’m all in for pretty much he’s advocating as I think it will make Australia both fairer and ultimately more productive. It’s been a long time since I was so excited by a set of policies. Not since the great man himself, Paul Keating.

The two high-profile proposals relate to Franking credits and capital gains tax.

Right now the Australian government pays about $6 billion annually as tax refunds on franked dividends to people – generally self-funded retirees – who have paid no tax in the first instance. In essence they get a refund of something they never expended. Australia is the only country in the world that does this, and it only applies to a small percentage of wealthy individuals who could well do without it. Unfortunately it takes from the government coffers money better spent on schools and hospitals and infrastructure that will benefit all. On multiple levels it’s a rort that has to go.

The proposed change to capital gains means that it can only be claimed on investment on new dwellings. To my mind this closes a loophole and encourages proper economic activity by encouraging investment in construction, rather than currently the ring-a-ring-a-rosy of investment in existing dwellings. These allowances should be of benefit of all, not just those who choose to invest. Right now it’s money for nothing. In the future it’ll still be free money, but out of it the economy will benefit in new construction, jobs, and economic activity.

Outside of that there are some great initiatives such as properly subsidising childcare. Right now the costs of childcare are so crippling, and workers underpaid, that it’s easier for many to be stay home parents than being at work. This will enable them to be gainfully employed and the economy as a whole will benefit. Dumping franking credits allows for this.

On top of that treatment for cancer will now also be free, and Medicare extended to include dentistry for pensioners – an obvious, but overdue, change.

Perhaps the biggest and most critical difference between the parties relates to climate change and the policies to mitigate it. The LNP, beholden to lobbyists and corporate donations, are stuck in a fossil fuels zone. They’ve blocked or reversed all initiatives to encourage alternative energy options. This is the big killer for the government, not that they really understand. Besides actually promising to do something about it, Labor are advocating for electric vehicles and schools with their own power generation.

This election the Labor party has finally become the progressive party it was when Hawke and Keating changed Australia for the better. We can’t afford for them to lose. And this is the last I’ll write on this until after the election.

Early hours


I had an early breakfast before work today so was out of bed by 6.30. It was dark still outside as I readied myself for work.

The sun had not risen yet when I walked out the front door. There was a stillness to the air that was only deepened by the occasional random raindrop falling from the sky. For the first time in months we’d had decent rain overnight. I’d lain in bed listening in surprise to the rain rushing down. Before 7am the roads were still slick with it and, judging by the occasional puddle, the rain must have been substantial.

Normally I take a shortcut to Hampton station, heading down laneways and cutting through carparks. I had more time available today and so I walked up to Hampton street where I was certain of having cover should the rain some again.

The street was stirring as the day slowly lightened. A shoe store blazed with light advertising its goods, still hours away from opening. Farther along the newsagent was taking deliveries and preparing for the day. Good morning, he said to me as I passed him by. At the green grocer they were laying out the kerbside stands they would fill with produce. The butcher was getting ready too, and the bakery was already trading.

There are few people around at this time of morning except for those who have a living to make. It’s a separate world to what I live in, mostly overlooked and taken for granted. I’d rather stay in bed than get out of it, but I enjoy these sojourns and the insights they provide me. I feel aware of the world about me and, by extension, aware of myself. It lends perspective to the routines we unthinkingly follow day by day. The air is fresh too, and there’s a sense of awakening. The newness of the day is not yet rubbed off, and for a change you can enjoy it.

At the station the yellow lights reflected off the rain dark platforms. In either direction train tracks stretched straight and long. City bound the platform was sparsely populated by commuters silently waiting. Then the train comes and each of us shuffle onboard and find a seat, not a word spoken.

At my desk now feeling full after a big breakfast with a friendly colleague. I’d happily nap now but ahead of me is a full day before the journey home.

Just like old times


When I had my own consultancy business I used to attend regular networking functions as a means of meeting prospective clients and promoting myself. By and large I disliked these events. I’m not made for the superficial glad-handing that is part and parcel of these things. I don’t like to blow my trumpet too hard and hyperbole is not my go. Some of these events can be pretty feral. Most people are reasonable and friendly, but there are occasions you’ll struggle to get your hand back after a handshake, and it goes without saying that everyone wants something out of you.

I always made a point of going to catered events because it was only tolerable with a drink in my hand (though – to be fair – I met many interesting people, and even dated one). And I wouldn’t go unless there was an interesting speaker.

A good speaker or subject would drag me out even when I wasn’t trying to sell something, and this was another essential aspect of these get togethers. I presumed the opportunities of getting new business from these events was minimal, and was proven right, but the opportunity of learning something new and important and interesting was always an allure. It was my way of keeping across things as generally the subjects were cutting edge.

I went to another such event last night, the first in ages. I got the invite out of the blue as way back when I attended their previous meetings. It was in the city, there was beer on tap, good cheese and tasty hot food and – as it turned out – the topics were both useful and interesting (cyber-security in its different guises, and SD-WANs).

I sat there listening with my mind ticking over trying to put things into context and imagining how I would apply these learnings in a real world situation. I connected these things with other things I knew, putting together a conceptual picture. This is what I’m good at, but it’s not dissimilar from the process of writing whereby I take in information piecemeal and begin layering it, using my imagination to make connections and fill the gaps in between.

Before and afterwards I did the usual glad-handing, though without much commitment. I was more interested in hearing other people’s stories. As I did I found my mind whirring once more. Responses came automatically to my lips, experience informing my words. I heard myself and was surprised by authoritative and knowledgeable I sounded. It’s not that I don’t know, it’s just that it’s so rarely called upon these days that I forget I have that knowledge. Come the moment there it was, and I found myself much like the guy elevated to a higher level who finds his performance lifting to match the challenge.

I left thinking about much I miss actually using my brain in that way. Feels an awful waste, but whatever.

I walked to Flinders Street station in my suit. It was getting on towards 9pm and it was dark and city crowds dispersed for the day. In a way that was familiar as well – how many times have I headed home after dark coming from a CBD bar or dinner, or an event like this? Hundreds of times. Back in the day I’d have grabbed a potato cake from the platform kiosk for some sustenance on the homeward journey. Those kiosks are now gone in the name of alleged progress, so instead I indulged myself in a bagful of lollies from the lolly shop on the concourse. I chewed on them decadently as the train took me home, a book in my ears and an attractive woman across from me.

Same shit


I’ve been back at work short of a week and while it hasn’t been that bad nothing really has changed. I’m almost certain I’ve never worked for a less competent organisation than this. Even the simple things they manage to fuck up.

An example of that is an event they held last Friday night for more senior staff to celebrate an event. These happen occasionally and I generally attend, though often they’re pretty dull affairs. On this occasion I had no idea of the event until about 4.30 on Friday when a colleague on the other side of the building called me to see if I was going. What’re you talking about? I asked. He answered as if I should already know all about it, but I’d not heard a thing.

I went and had a chat with the organiser, a lovely woman I often share a laugh with. She told me she’d been delegated the task by my manager. She’d sent out the invitations excluding me, and others, upon instruction. She’d got some feedback and been forced to invite some of the others that had missed out, and had actually made the point of asking my manager if I should be included, along with my offsider. The answer she received was a strong no.

In effect this meant that my counterparts in other areas were invited, but we were left out without explanation. Now, I wouldn’t have attended anyway, but this is really poor, though typical of the place. It’s woeful management and I intend to bring it up in my next meeting with my manager. As it turns out my offsider had felt similarly aggrieved.

This sort of episode makes me shake my head, but I don’t take it personally. I don’t really care at that level. It riles me from a professional point of view though. Get it right! It’s not as if this was particularly challenging.

Otherwise there’s a bit of action stirring with recruiters. The digital manager here gave me a list of people to contact and they’ve been receptive – nothing’s better than a qualified referral. Let’s see what happens.