The next stage

I’ve just spent the last hour plus watching the daily Victorian government COVID-19 briefing. I think most of Melbourne did the same thing. This was the big press conference announcing the plan out of Stage 4 restrictions and every one of us was hanging out for it.

Expectations had been dampened over the last few days, and I think the general belief was that the current restrictions might continue a while longer. That was true as it turned out, though with important modifications. Stage 4 restrictions were extended by two weeks, until the end of September, but the curfew has been put back an hour, exercise times doubled and, most relevant to me, a bubble was announced allowing for people living alone to have a nominated visitor to their home.

The plan after that is for a gradual easing, dependent on how the infection numbers go, but it’s pretty comprehensive.

I felt a bit emotional watching it. I’m fully supportive of the science that goes into making these decisions, and though we’re not out of it, it felt like a prisoner being told he would be paroled in a couple of months. Just have to see it through until then.

That’s much easier said than done, but I think the great majority of Victorians understand the decision-making and will abide by the conditions of it. The ratbags and the odd politician make a lot of noise, but it’s amazing how many of us are willing to knuckle down and do the right thing by each other. Throughout this period, where Victoria has been the outlier, and sometime pariah, that the isolation has bonded us closer together. There’s recognition that we really are in this together, and for us to get out of it means that we all must do our bit. It makes me proud in a small way – we can be better, and here’s the proof of it.

While restrictions will continue, it will get easier from here if infections continue to fall. It will be easier a week from today than it is now, even if only in a small way. A fortnight after that it will get easier again, and so on, through the stages towards what they call a COVID-normal stage – late November.

I want to make mention of something many thousands have commented on: how impressive Dan Andrews is. As you will know, I tend to be cynical of modern politics and politicians. In general, I think they’re a rum lot. And, as a character, I’m not much given to unvarnished admiration. Among other things, my ego rarely allows for it.

I’m all in for Dan Andrews, though. His press conferences are a master class. Despite every provocation, he remains calm and measured. His command of detail is flawless. He never flounders, never backtracks, and never buys into the politics. He is a communicator par excellence, and his unflustered authority acts as a balm – it’s no wonder he has such support. I don’t think I’ve come across as Australian politician so impressive since Paul Keating. He cops a lot of flak from the edges, and of course, from the Murdoch press, but he is the leader we need at such a time – and far in advance of any other in Australia, and certainly Morrison, who epitomises mediocrity.

There’s a push for him to go federal at some stage. I have a gut feeling that won’t happen, but I think it’s a sign of how nervous he makes the federal government in how hard they attack him. Morrison has released his lieutenants to go hard at him, and the government is actively briefing journalists against him. I think it might backfire.

In Victoria, we don’t have much time for party politicking right now. We’re living it, we know what has to be done, and much of the rhetoric against Andrews comes off as trivial and irresponsible. It makes his attackers look bad. I think there’s a lot of admiration for Andrews across the country, and some of the attacks by Federal on State governments lately will steel resolve.

All that’s for the future, if at all, what’s important now is getting through this. I reckon 95% of Victorians would agree.

Father’s day for some

It’s Father’s Day today. Even in lockdown, a lot of families are doing their best to celebrate, even if it’s just breakfast in bed.

There’s no father’s day here, nor any commemoration of any type. I won’t call my dad, I haven’t sent him a card. We reconciled – if that’s the word – a little over 12 months ago. We caught up a few times for lunch in the city when I was still going into the office. I think we’ve exchanged SMS twice in the months since.

Though he’s my father, I don’t really think of him as my dad, and that’s because we’ve never really had that relationship. When I cast my mind back, the only real sense of sharing that traditional father-son relationship was when we would go to the footy together.

In fairness, we did that for many years. Every Saturday we’d pack up and head out to Waverley or the MCG or – most often – Windy Hill, and other venues now and then. I remember that quite well, and particularly the drive home afterwards listening to the footy review on the car radio.

I felt like I shared something with him then, but at no other time. More often as I grew up I was aware of a distance between us. Much later I discovered that he felt I was a rival to him when it came to mum. Eventually he came to blame me for their separation and divorce. I hadn’t the sophistication to understand that when I was a kid, but I was very aware that we weren’t friends, and there was no warmth between us.

No-one could describe my dad as a warm man. That wasn’t his thing. He was smart and fierce and determined and ambitious. He had his moments, but rarely could you say he was an easy personality. There was no whimsy in him or silliness, none of the things that lighten life up. He has no real patience for that kind of stuff, though occasionally he’ll be caught unawares and break into laughter.

There was a time I felt quite bitter at what I’d been deprived of. I’d look upon happy families and the affection shared between fathers and sons and feel a pang. Many of my friends are fathers and I observe the love and devotion they show to their children and it’s heartwarming, but poignant for me knowing I had experienced none of that. I knew no better when I was a boy, but as a grown man it seemed dreadfully sad that I’d missed out. Sometimes I would wonder what impact it had on my development as a man.

In more recent years, I’ve let the bitterness go. What happened – or didn’t happen – was unfortunate, but none of us could go back and change it. Sometimes I hoped that my father would come out and acknowledge his failures as a father, but that kind of self-knowledge is beyond him. Nor is he one to readily admit fault.

I don’t feel any particular acrimony towards him and would welcome a more intimate connection, even at this late stage. I don’t believe in it though because I don’t believe he has the humility to be that man. I haven’t contacted him for the occasion because it would feel hypocritical of me, and because I’ve given much more than he ever has.

Ultimately, that’s a big part of the issue. For years, before I knew anything of what he really felt, I made every effort to be closer to him. I believed in him as a concept, and even admired certain aspects of him – his smarts and a basic integrity. He never really reciprocated and, I think, pretty well accepted it as his due. I was a far better son to him than my sister was a daughter, but while she was showered with praise and affection, I got neither. Never have. To this day, I can’t recall an easy word.

These last few months have confirmed a general belief. When we got together again last year I was glad to put things behind us. It’s easier to let things go than to hold onto them. We got on reasonably well, but on a certain level we always did. Father and son never worked for us, and we were never friendly, but we could meet at a cerebral, intellectual level. And it appeared that he was less inclined to judge – nothing I did was ever good enough before. But having re-established contact, it’s been left to me to maintain it. He won’t pick up the phone, he won’t send a message, and I think that’s consistent with a general lack of humility that has ever been the case. It’s my job to make the effort, and I’m not buying that anymore.

Today doesn’t make me sad, but I wish things had been different.

What we have

I don’t know about others, but I like the sound of the whistling wind. It’s been windy most of the last week. Yesterday, the wind was moderate at ground level, but in the treetops it was crazy, bending and shaking, the leaves rustling and the wind sounded like the ocean. Then, morning and night, I listen to the wind whistle outside and wonder what it is that makes it whistle. It’s one of those things that if you stop to think about for a moment seems strange in a good way. You sometimes forget how much in the world is marvellous.

I was out before walking Rigby, the breeze whipping at me. The weather is warmer, and I was in short sleeves – a t-shirt overlaid with a fleecy vest. We walked up to the main road, a bandana around my nose and mouth and a beanie tight on my head. We encountered mothers with their sons zooming by happily on scooters and other dogs, always curious and wary of each other.

It’s been a better day. Yesterday was diffuse; today focussed. It felt much more productive today and organised. In between working, I took short breaks. I snatched minutes here and there watching the playoffs. I broke up some hard rubbish and took it outside. I gave the barbecue hotplates – which I used on the weekend – a thorough scouring. And I continued the quest to clean and rid myself of unnecessary stuff – why do I need two or three of the same thing? Over the last few months, I’ve disposed of many things and consolidated others. My study has never looked so sparse.

It seems this is a common activity through these days of lockdown. I think it’s as much psychological as it is practical. We’re in isolation, and it feels virtuous to unburden ourselves of earthly possessions. By necessity, we live an austere existence these days, and while on the one hand, we seek to soften that with our online shopping and Netflix binges, we let go with the other hand what we have come to understand is unnecessary to our happiness.

For everything that’s happened, I feel lighter now. I also feel a lot of things shifting in and out, good and bad, but there’s a process of consolidation which is liberating.

In a minute it’ll be cocktail hour – probably a G&T. I’ll look towards dinner. Tonight I’ll be reheating leftovers of a French chicken casserole. I’ll have an audiobook playing through my Sonos as I get organised – at the moment I’m listening to The Martian. The rest is predictable. All of it is really, but it’s what we have.

The WFH challenge

Working from home, I sometimes wonder if the people I’m dealing with are off sometimes doing something else. I’m sure that’s a great temptation, and pretty easy, too. I reckon most people I deal with are diligent, and some probably working harder than they were back in the office. There are a few who are harder to track down often, and you wonder if they’re sitting on their couch watching the NBA playoffs. No judgment from me if they are.

It’s not anything that occurs to me. I’m sometimes reluctant to drag myself to my desk, but I never think of not doing it. You could call it a good work ethic, but really, it’s an ingrained habit, more in my body than it is in my mind. This is what I do, so I do it.

I’ve been reconsidering that in the last week. I wondered if it might not be better for me if I took it a bit easier, even if I just broke it up a bit. The sheer repetition of sitting at the same desk every day and attending the same meetings becomes numbing. There’s an instinct to break free of it, to shake off the routine and assert some agency in your life. When there’s nothing else, no getting out and about, no socialising, no variety or unpredictability, then it starts to feel a bit close.

This morning I stayed in bed 10 minutes later than I normally would. It felt strange, but then I had to get up for a meeting. I’ve thought about taking 10 minutes every hour to go off and do something for myself – or at least get away from my desk. When the weather improves, I’m considering taking my laptop and working on the patio, just occasionally. And today I actually took some time – twice – to catch-up with the aforementioned NBA playoffs. It was good, sitting on the couch, cheering on the Celtics when they got over the line, then watching the Jazz narrowly lose to the Nuggets. (No skin in that game, but I’d have preferred the Jazz to win because of Joe.)

The point is, I got way from the narrow perspective of my desk and the computer screen in front of me. I shifted my mind away from work stuff and allowed for some spontaneous entertainment. Man, if I can’t do that from home just a little bit, then I’m wasting the opportunity. And, truly, I think I need it.

We’ve been told that we’ve earned some time in lieu because of the good and hard work we’ve been doing from home. There’ve been some good business results, and my stuff accounts for a fair proportion of that. It’s nice that gets recognised.

It’s harder working from home not from a motivation point of view, but because the things that are simple in the office become manual trials working from home. I can’t just wander over to someone’s desk to ask a question or see something. I can’t work with someone cooperatively as I would before. It’s either more challenging or not even worth bothering with. You cut more corners working from home, but you also do more because it’s left to you.

I’m considering changing my routine altogether – starting later and finishing later too and mixing up my day between work and the things that take me away from work.

In lieu of leadership

Last night in Salon magazine, I read an interview with a former GOP strategist who turned against the Republican party when Trump was elected. He’s now an active member of the Lincoln Project, who are basically disaffected Republicans who oppose Trump because he has trashed the values of the party. They’re old school types who uphold traditional virtues by force of character, and whose strident opposition to Trump is an attempt to redeem a version of America they hold true.

The interview was blunt and surprisingly scathing. Here was a man who had dedicated his professional life to the Republican cause. He’d been there when Reagan was president, the Bushes, and through the McCain and Romney campaigns. Then Trump came along, and he lost all belief.

One of the interesting things I found was that he admitted there’d always been a dark side of the Republican party, but it had been held in check – that is, until the events of 9/11. We all know what happened, but he contends that was the beginning of the end for the Republicans. The hawks were released on that day, and the dark side took over. Then along came Trump, and corruption, racism, and the politics of hate became the order of business. He calls it anti-American.

He is bitter in his condemnation of Trump, who he calls a gangster, and of GOP, whose only concern now is power and retaining it. In his reading, the Republican party has effectively lost its soul. He forecasts a bleak future for the party as a waning force, a party for white voters only.

I would commend you to read the article. It’s powerful and candid and, for an American, pretty bleak. There’s no happy ending being portrayed here, though he urges a vote for the Democrats. The poison has been released into society and the coming election, as he sees it, is the most dangerous time in American history since the Civil War.

It’s a fascinating read. It’s hard to get your head around how extreme the situation in the US has become. I’ve watched the events unfold over the last week and I shake my head at how it has so degenerated. The footage of the black man shot seven times in the back by a police officer was almost surreal, here on prime-time TV. You wonder, how could that happen? Then, you see all the white supremacists get up in their combat gear taking to the streets with their automatic weapons, unhindered, in opposition to the BLM protests, and it feels like a dystopian movie you’re watching – but this is America! Then one of them, a 17-year-old kid no less, shoots and kills a couple of BLM protestors – and is called a hero! (For those who know their history, it reminds me of Horst Wessel, who became a martyr and rallying-cry for Nazi Germany.) The whole situation there is obscene.

I wonder at the election, too. I’m sure there’ll be some attempt to corrupt the voting process, even as a ploy (which is described in the article.) Trump – and certainly his supporters – will not go quietly, and there’s a long record of corruption. Biden should win, but so too should have Clinton – and Biden is not the most compelling candidate. And though Biden leads the polls, it’s shocking to read that Trump is the more popular among white males – how can that be? And, even if Biden wins – and he should – then Trump has a few more months in power to create carnage, and you can’t rule out his supporters taking to the streets in protest, and worse. America is a country divided. I don’t know how they recover from this, because the poison’s gone deep.

Australia is not the US, but there are many parallels, as there are in other parts of the world. It’s the description of GOP of being only interested in power for power’s sake that resonated most because I think that describes the LNP here. It used to be different. There was a time that public service was a noble pursuit and that the highest aspiration of our government was to make a better life for its citizens. Nowadays, that comes a distant second to ensuring that power is claimed and then maintained. Policies are contrived not to advance the nation, but to further the interests of the ruling party and – most importantly – the vested interests who support them, and then to marginalise the opposition. The number one priority of the LNP is to stay in power forever, and whatever it takes.

I sense that not everyone believes or understands that. It’s the kind of ignorance that allowed for a Trump to be elected in the first place. There’s a complacent disinterest, rarely challenged these days by the media, which is mostly either lazy or part of the problem. So much either is unreported, or barely reported, and the government swats away unwanted scrutiny. There is so much to report on that if even half the Australian people understood it would make a difference.

Take superannuation as a current case in point. The superannuation guarantee, introduced by the Hawke/Keating government, has been a tremendous success since it was introduced. It means that millions of Australian workers have a relatively secure income once they retire, and don’t have to rely on the pension. It’s also created a great fund of savings which are reinvested in infrastructure projects, and so on. It’s a driver of growth and wealth.

By far, the most successful superannuation funds are the industry funds, generally run by the unions. Their fees are much less because they’re not designed to make a profit, unlike the private funds are and, for whatever reason, their returns are always much better. I have my money in an industry fund and am very happy with it.

The problem for the government is the union aspect. Having so much money at their disposal gives the unions clout the government wants to destroy. Never mind that millions of individual Australians benefit from this, it’s not in the government’s interest. For a few years now the government has been undermining superannuation generally, and industry funds particularly – they even had them dragged into a Royal Commission (which found nothing untoward). It’s obvious the intent of the government is to weaken the superannuation guarantee, even though it benefits working Australians and the economy in general. As so much with them, it’s ideological. If they can crush the industry funds, by hook or by crook, then their political cause is advanced, and their opponents debilitated.

It’s all about the politics. And by politics, I mean power.

Last night I tuned into Q+A. I used to watch it a fair bit until it went off by inviting nonsense, partisan panellists to the show. Last night I watched because it promoted that it would be tapping into the wisdom of older Australians – but really, I watched it because I saw Kerry O’Brien would be appearing.

For many years, O’Brien appeared in many guises across the ABC, but generally as political commentator and host. He had an aura of integrity, a fierce, probing intelligence, and was a vivid communicator. He’s become revered since, much from a sense of nostalgia I figure, as the ABC he was part of is not the ABC today. And the ABC commentators today, or indeed any commentators, are not what he was – bracingly honest and stubbornly intelligent. He held public figures to account and wouldn’t accept the mealy-mouthed response that is common today.

Oh, those were the days! You didn’t know any different then because the standard was uniformly good – though O’Brien was always most eminent.

So, I watched, wanting to see him again and hear his views. He didn’t disappoint. As always, he cut to the heart of things. It’s a pity he’s lost to us as a commentator. He spoke on a wide range of issues, but there was one thing he spoke of which goes to the nub of the ‘problems’ we have today: a lack of true leaders and leadership.

We don’t have leaders anymore. We have partisan hacks, by and large. And, these days, it’s the rare journalist who calls them out on their nonsense. I suspect that things will have to get really bad until we understand it, by which time it might be too late.

The same groove

In a few days, it’ll be Spring. We’ll have survived Winter. It’s a lovely sunny day today, as it was yesterday – though, in between, we had rain and gale-force winds that lead to power failures across town and trees crashing to the ground. You wouldn’t know it now.

Then it’s the weekend. It’s Friday afternoon, and though the distinction means less than before, I’m still glad to have a couple of days off. There’s no pub tonight. No wine at the wine bar on the way home, no dinner out. In about an hour I’ll pack up and walk into the next room and that’ll be it.

I’m tired. As I’ve said before, I think it’s mental. You need colour and distraction to keep the mind active. When you slot into the same groove day after day, you grow stale, and so does your mind.

Right now I’m dreaming of holidays away. I sent a message to a mate before suggesting maybe we should plan a trip to somewhere exciting or cool next year. I presume that’ll be possible again one day. I need something like that to look forward too.

Everyone says that lockdown has been tougher the second time around and I’m starting to feel it too. I can understand how, for some, it’s debilitating. It’s boring, and it feels pointless.

One day we’ll look back on this time with wonder. We’ll see it as a turning point because even if we get through it healthy, there’ll be a lot of things changed forever. I suspect we might look back at it in much the same way I look back at being homeless. We’ll wonder how we managed and will shudder at the prospect of ever enduring it again. It may seem worse in retrospect than it did at the time, but I’m not sure that’s not just a trick of the light.

Tonight I’ll cook my dinner. It’s the lockdown special I think, spag bol. If I don’t watch the footy afterwards, I’ll watch a movie. Tomorrow is said to be another bright day, and so I’ll be early out to walk Rigby by the beach with Cheeseboy and his Bailey. The afternoon will be a bit of this, a bit of that: a bit of housework, maybe some cooking, the footy perhaps, and hopefully some writing. Then dinner and another movie.

Sunday…I cook breakfast, that’s the main difference. I’ll write. I’ll walk Rigby. I’ll catch some of the footy. I’ll watch a movie or a show.

Sheesh. Maybe I’ll open a bottle too.

Dreams and long hair

I think the hardest thing for me being in lockdown is the utter sameness of life, from one day to the next, and from week to week. There’s nothing that disrupts the monotony because the opportunities for variety are so limited. You could do a time-lapse of my life right now, and it would be a suite of scenes repeated again and again. For me, it makes the routine of life close to meaningless because you recognise in its sheer repetition. It’s no different from life before – except that before there was padding in our life to hide the fact, and enough variety to make it less critical.

The other thing, obviously, is the lack of human connection. I see Cheeseboy every Saturday morning when we walk our dogs, but other than that it’s incidental contact with people in shops, and through remote meetings – if you can call that a connection at all.

As I’ve expressed before, I accept it, but I don’t have to like it.

I had a dream last night, which, when I woke up, left me feeling more positive. The details are blurry, but I remember I did a lot of moving around in the dream and that a lot of it was work-related. There was an incident when I’d been called away to do some urgent work and had to briefly relocate. I was returning with all my stuff under my arm. As I passed by a woman said: “you’re a good looking man, man”. Then I was joined by a friend who helped me with my stuff – in actual fact an Essendon footballer, Michael Hurley. When I got back to my (company allocated) apartment, I found someone else had moved there. He’d pulled rank and taken over the vacant property when they were short of space. He said I’d have to find somewhere else. I knew better.

I didn’t make a fuss, I just dumped my stuff on the floor and made a quick call. A moment later he got a call from the top asking him to vacate and leave the place to me. He was bitter and complained about my ‘friends in high places.’ I just shrugged. I knew my work was essential, and it was valued, which is why I knew this would happen. Then I woke.

It felt like the old me in the dream. A me I used to take for granted. And I woke still feeling that sense of being valued.

It puts a different spin on these sterile days. I’ve been growing my hair long – haven’t had it cut since before started in lockdown back in March. I started off curious and without any great need to get my hair cut since I was working from home. It had a symbolic element to it also. This was reverting to type, I thought, to my natural and untamed self. It was an assertion of independence in a way, of individuality. Isn’t it strange where we search for symbolism, and where we find it?

I feel almost the opposite now, and it’s been coming for a few weeks. I now look forward to getting my hair cut (I can’t until we’re out of lockdown). Besides looking a bit tidier, it would signify a brighter future – a redo, a start again, a let’s get out of this lockdown and live once more vibe. There’s the symbolism I’m reaching for.

It’s all probably a bit strange and empty, but in times like these, the vague meaning of dreams and invented symbolism take on a greater significance. If it feels good, I’ll take it.


Metaphysical desires

After having a grizzle the other week about how every opportunity seemed closed off to me, I had a chat last week with management. It all came about because my team lead, a truly decent human being, recognised that I deserved, and maybe needed, more. He spoke to one manager, and then in passing, mentioned it to the department head. When she spoke to me, she had ideas and suggested I speak to my manager.

A lot of things are on hold currently, which I understand. The view is that I’m getting antsy about being denied what was promised to me. It’s not as simple as that – yes, I want my just rewards and am generally set by default to seek more; but, likewise, in reality, I’m not as motivated or ambitious as I used to be. There’s a lot of push-pull in me these days and will be until I reconcile it entirely. Regardless of that, there’s the very practical consideration that – having been wiped out – I need more to stash away for when retirement comes. Even so, if someone could guarantee me a relatively modest $120k pa, CPI linked, over the next 10 years, then I’d probably take it – even though I can earn much more than that.

The discussion, when I had it, didn’t touch on the metaphysics of my situation. The metaphysical rarely gets a mention when it comes to career development, and maybe that’s a good thing. It’s confusing enough without it.

What was put to me was an opportunity for a new role in a different team that would give me increased responsibilities and a bigger pay packet. In theory, not bad. Then I was told there was no budget for the role – which is new – until next financial year. At that point, the whole discussion seemed a waste of time. Then he said, well, let me have a chat and see what I can do. The inference was that maybe he could swing it much sooner. He said he’d get back to me in a couple of weeks.

As anyone who’s been reading this blog will know, this left me with confused and conflicted feelings. There’s a lot happening in this mental space. There is paradox aplenty.

I’m getting over it generally, but a recurring issue is that no-one really seems to know what I’ve done or am capable of. They’re all very complimentary of the work I’ve done with them, but I don’t think one of them has set eyes on my CV. That’s a tad disappointing, even if only at a very basic level. I claim not to care much for what people think of me, and I think that’s mostly true, but don’t we all have a fundamental need to be recognised as what we are?

I don’t know how many times I’ve looked on and thought, I’ve done that before and I could do it better. It sounds a bit snooty but I end up shrugging my shoulders and moving along. Times are different now and there’s not nearly the rigour around getting things done as there used to be, and maybe that’s why experience is overlooked. I’m steeped in practices and methodologies, but the whole principle of them has gone out of fashion. I’m happy to adapt and have, but I’m not about to forget the things I know, and it seems a waste in general and a pity that no-one bothers to check if there might be someone more qualified.

At the same time, I’m subject to people that in an earlier phase of my working life would’ve been reporting to me. I can accept that pretty well most of the time because I know that I don’t want that anymore necessarily – but nor do I necessarily want to defer or take instruction from someone who knows less than I do. I can be a bit snappy then, and experience is that people soon recognise it and let me go.

All this is true, in my mind at least, but it’s also ego. It’s the ego that puts the sauce on the objective fact. I know that. It’s what I’m trying to get away from. Let it go is what I tell myself, and after a bit of wrangling generally, I do.

These are practical considerations overlaid by the part of me that strives for more and new.

Then there’s the soul-deep part that has no part of the conversation but looks on wistfully. I don’t know how much of this is me, and my circumstances, and how much of it is stage of life. It can be interpreted as a mid-life crisis, and a lot of it aligns with that. But then, I think some of it comes from having endured what I have, been deprived of nurture through that, and coming out the other end and viewing conventional aspirations as being pretty hollow. To be honest, there was always a bit of that in me, even when I was living the high-life. Having endured the low-life since, it got reinforced.

What it means is that in my soul I want something more than a good salary and a handy sounding job title. I want to be doing something worthwhile to me. Paradoxically, I think a part of that is being my best self.

There’s a comment a friend made a few years back that’s haunted me in the last few days. He said he admired me because, like Kobe Bryant – his hero – I could invent my own shot. When I think of that the urge is to let myself go. Twirl the dial to 11. Go for it.

I just don’t know how real that is. Is it legitimate to start with? And is worthwhile if it is? Is it pure ego again? Or is that the opportunity I turn my back on because I’ve become modest?

Very strange. I don’t think there’s ever been a time in my life when I’ve known myself less well. The broad strokes I get, the history, but I don’t know who I am really, nor who I’m supposed to be.

Four men talking around a fire

You’re going to have to indulge me today. I’ve mentioned quite a few times now how the revolving photos from my Google device catch my eye. It seems there’s a different photo every week that draws my attention, and for various reasons. Sometimes, it’s pure nostalgia, even sentimentality. Sometimes, it’s surprise at coming across something I had forgotten, or wonder at beholding something familiar in a completely different way. Occasionally there’s an intangible emotion that has me looking twice.

I think that’s the case with this image. When I look at it, I think how well composed it is. It feels such an Australian picture, out in the bush with a kettle dangling over a fire, a few men chewing the fat, overlaid by the haze of woodsmoke. I look at it, and I’m reminded of one of the classic bush paintings by McCubbin or Roberts.

I’d only be guessing when and where this was taken. I remember in the early/mid-nineties we went into the high country of Victoria, around Whitfield, to hunt deer. It was a miserable few days. It hardly stopped raining, and at one stage it appeared our campsite would be flooded. We never saw a deer and spent most of our time huddled around the fire reading or talking or drinking. I was there with my step-father and step-brother, who both got sick, which was no surprise given the conditions.

I remember I read Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard sitting by the fire, and it seemed particularly apt to be reading it in such circumstances, and therefore special. I can’t say it was a fun few days, but I remained healthy, and it was an interesting time.

The terrain in the photo looks like that trip. We were camped nearby a stream with hills steeply climbing up from our campsite, thick with scrub. That’s not our campsite though, and I don’t recall that moment – that’s me in the red. My step-father is out of the picture and was obviously behind the camera. My step-brother is the man in the middle standing and wearing a drizabone. I don’t know the man on the right in the hat. The man sitting was our guide, I think.

But, it could have been another time.

I leave it here as a piece of Australiana. I feel like I could reach out and touch it.

And what does the prang mean?

I was in a dream where I was a consultant as part of a team pitching for a new job with a client. The pitch was a joint effort between two different entities partnering for the work, and I was engaged by one separately to assist with the proposal and presentation.

The dream begins when we’re all returning after the pitch. We’re all jammed into the one car. I’m in a smart suit and am content I’ve done my bit well. It’s me in an earlier guise when I was younger and more ambitious and at the cutting edge of things.

Next to me is a woman who is a member of the other entity. She’s in her early thirties perhaps, professional and attractive. A lawyer, I think. We strike up a conversation. She tells me a little about her work, then refers to the blue University of Melbourne clipboard sitting in my lip (which I possess), assuming that I graduated from there.

In the dream, I only did a semester (just as in real life), and I have an internal debate whether to admit to that and go down the long-winded and uninteresting path to explain it. I figure I’m never going to see her again – my job is done – and so I basically nod my head without making any comment. It’s an omission of convenience, though it troubles me instinctively.

The next thing is we’re in a minor prang. We all get out of the car and find it’s undrivable. We mill about waiting for a taxi or something, and while we’re waiting I go with the woman to a nearby cafe for a coffee.

We get talking some more and we find ourselves warming to each other. We’re more than just acquaintances thrown together making polite conversation. We’re now genuinely interested in what the other has to say, and I find myself drawn to her, as she seems to me. She’s warm and smart and kind, just the sort of person I want to know, and perhaps get close to – and it feels as if the same feelings are dawning on her.

We laugh easily as it goes along, but in the back of my mind, there’s my faux pas about Melbourne University. It’s a small thing really, and something that can be easily explained without embarrassment, but I don’t feel that. I feel like I’ve lied to her. I feel because of that, she might have the wrong idea of me and that our warm relations are based upon something false. It’s an over the top appraisal of the situation, but you know what it’s like? Everything has more meaning and greater bearing when you figure you might like someone.

It plays on me still when we get news from the others waiting outside that word has come through: we got the job! Everyone is festive. We decide to have a drink together. It becomes clear now that I have some sort of personal relationship with the principle of the entity that engaged me. He’s a kind of father figure, and clearly very fond of me. He starts praising me to the group in general, but particularly to the woman. They’ve all cottoned on that the woman and I have become friendly and the mood is of amused encouragement – let the young ‘uns go!

Not surprisingly, I become a tad embarrassed by his effusive commendation, especially when he gets things wrong, or exaggerates my achievements. All of this seems to pile on top of my original lie. The woman smiles. She’s enjoying it. There’s a teasing affection in her as she observes my discomfort, and it feels as if we’ve achieved some kind of casual intimacy. It’s great, but what am I going to say?

That’s the dream. There are a few things in here to unpack, but I won’t do a public analysis. The key elements, to me, is that this is a previous version of me – a long way from where I am today. And the lie, if you want to call it that, which could be symbolic of many things, but perhaps alludes to not belonging, or perhaps to an embarrassment I’m unwilling to admit to. There’s plenty of those. Then there’s the father figure – it harks back to earlier days also, and to relationships and affection long gone. And the woman? I suspect she’s more generic, though representative of a deeper desire. But what do I know?