Nasty Monday’s


Right now this feels the Mondayest Monday I’ve ever experienced.

It wasn’t so bad last week. I dragged myself to work, but I was at least reasonably well-rested, and I was curious to get back and see what had been happening, and what we had to do. It was a busy week last week – busier than normal for a first week back – but it was productive, too. Come Friday night, I dragged myself out of the office and through the rain to have a beer (or six) feeling well satisfied with my work.

The second week back, though is a different story. Not uncommon this, I think. Second-week blues is a thing, and I have it.

I usually wait until just after nine to get my first coffee, but I couldn’t wait that long today. I was feeling lost at my desk not wanting to be there and so, about 8.35, I went down to get a flat white – and today a double-shot because I needed it.

I’m thankful that it looks like it may be a quiet day (touch wood!).

I’m actually casting my eyes about for other opportunities, just to keep my eye in. I’m enjoying the work I’m doing here now and have some juicy projects all my own coming up. And, in pure business terms, they currently think I’m the bee’s knees.

The issue is that I’m still underpaid for what I’m doing and, now that I’ve re-established myself, reckon I can get out there with a reasonable chance of getting a better job. My goal by mid-year is to be earning around the six figures, but I think there’s a chance I can leap well beyond that.

Right now I’m sussing things out, here, in the office, and outside it. We have an offsite next week, and apparently, career progression will be part of the agenda. I’m a part of the best performing team in the department, and I’m seen as a safe pair of hands at least, and with some upside. Hopefully, that means I’ll get my opportunity here.

I’m happy to leave. I sort of like the idea of a fresh environment and opportunity. At the same time, I’ve now invested a bit here. I can see the fruits of my labour blossoming – click on the website and my work is visible. On top of that – not that I ever dreamt this would be a consideration – I’m coming up towards long service lead. Fancy that!

I’m having coffee with my direct lead today, and I’ll be reasonably upfront with him. I’m too old to play any games.

I’m happy to continue for the moment, nasty Monday’s aside. I’m keen to get these projects over the line. And in the nearer term, I’m finally looking at a holiday around March, maybe. That’ll be part of the conversation today as well. Nothing too ambitious – Tassie maybe, or maybe Margaret River, or maybe even up the coast the bushfire affected areas.

I remember because these things are true


I’m going through a patch at the moment when fragmentary memories come to mind seemingly without reason. They come as a surprise and, surprised, I dwell on them as if a novelty. Some of these things have not been in my mind since when they occurred. Years later, I get a different perspective on them.

One such memory was of me when I was a teenager and regularly clashing with my father. I don’t think we were ever close. The closest we ever got was when we’d go to the footy together year after year, but that was more companionship and a shared passion than true affection. My father isn’t the warmest character by nature and could be described as an alpha personality.

As a teenager, I sensed his need to dominate, and by nature, I rebelled against it. I say by nature, but I wonder if instead, it was something that developed in the abrasive interactions between us. Though we weren’t close, I admired him. He’d achieved a lot, was a mover and shaker, and was by far the most forceful personality in our ecosystem of family and friends. I respected his achievements, but it was the strength of his will that drew me. My father certainly wasn’t the most liked, but that wasn’t a consideration for me (my mother was the most liked, and so counter-balanced the equation). In my juvenile way, I liked that he was the man every one stopped for.

I might have liked it, but it didn’t mean I wanted to stop for him – or even heed him. I got it in my head that I would respect me more if I stood up for myself as an individual, and so I was an active resister. That was a naïve, idealistic belief – I’ve learned since that powerful people want nothing more than to be obeyed.

I look back, and I can admit I was probably a pain in the arse. I don’t know that I was ever really hostile, or even rude, but I was one of those annoying children who would ask why? And if the answer was unsatisfactory, or – more often – not forthcoming, then I wouldn’t cooperate.

That’s a stage a lot of kids go through. In my case, there was an element of wrong-headedness about it, but I can’t say I regret it much now. It was who I was.

Dad took another view. It infuriated him that I might defy him. I can hardly remember the things we argued about, but I remember how we would yell at each other and how, on occasion, it would lead to physical violence.

My mum always maintained my father treated me terribly. I never took that view. By and large, I believed that if I copped anything, then it was mostly because I provoked it, and fair play. I have the same attitude today. If you poke the bear, then you can’t complain if he gives you a swipe in return.

I suspect I’ve probably forgotten a lot, but I reckon too that mum exaggerated, and her recollection was likely coloured by how their relationship ended. We certainly came to blows, and by that, he struck me. He was the bigger man, my father, and I accepted it went with the territory – these were very different times – but I can understand now how someone in authority, the bigger man, should not act in such a way.

Most of my memories of our clashes are vague, but I remember one such when I was about 16, and we were living in Sydney. I can’t remember what we argued about, but I know it was a Sunday. One thing led to another, and he struck me with a clenched fist. The next day I went to school with a black eye and claimed I’d been hit by a cricket ball. Pretty classic.

Within a year, it all changed. One day we clashed again, and this time I was the bigger man. I cocked a fist at him, and I remember everything going still. This was back in Melbourne, in the living room of our house in Lower Plenty. He looked at me with steely eyes and said something along the lines that “the day my son raises a fist to me is the day he’s dead to me”.

For the next 3 months, he ghosted me. We lived in the same house, and he wouldn’t even look at me, let alone say anything – I know this is a time that wounded mum.

In the end, she left him, and that was part of the reason why. Not surprisingly, I went with her while my sister stayed with my dad – who now had started talking to me again. Years later, I came to understand that he had severe hang-ups about me, while – then at least – I was just a kid acting, more or less, like a painful kid.

I can date my unwillingness, or inability, to submit back to that time. The question is whether I was born that way or made it.

The other memory is much happier, more innocent, even inconsequential.

It’s years later. I’m out in the world about 23 or 24 and feeling at the peak of my physical powers. I decided to learn how to tap dance.

I used to admire dancers like Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. They made it look so much fun, and the movies they made doing it so joyous. I thought, I want a piece of that, and I began lessons in a dance studio in Chapel Street.

In the end, I only attended 3-4 classes, though I learned enough to do some basic tap steps and moves, some of which I still use.

What I remember is that of the class of 7-8, there was only one other male besides the instructor, and he was just about the opposite of me – a slim, slender, retiring type. I was so full of male juice that I could barely comprehend someone like that. I wanted nothing more than to cut a swathe through life, and one had to be bold and fearless to do so. It was another type of naivety.

I felt so commanding. I was strong and fit, and I moved well. I remember, I wore a charcoal grey tank-top to class, a favourite by Saba that showed off my build. I was tall and lean, but my bare shoulders were balls of muscle, and my biceps as big as melons. As we skipped across the floor, I could feel vitality flow through me, like electricity.

As you can probably gather, I was pretty cocky. In my defence, I was also smart and sensitive off-screen, but it was hard to contain the abundance I felt. It didn’t help being in a class full of fit and attractive women. I was in my prime and knew it.

That’s a memory that hadn’t come to mind in all the years since, until Wednesday night. It happened though. I was there.

Sorry about that, Buck


I read this morning of the death of Buck Henry. He was 89 and, to be honest, I had presumed he was long dead given such a long career.

As someone who watched a zillion episodes of Get Smart growing up, his name is very familiar from the credits. He and Mel Brooks were the creative force behind the show. I loved that Get Smart, and I’m still known to repeat lines from it occasionally (would you believe…?), not that anyone ever recognises the references anymore.

Buck Henry also wrote The Graduate and What’s Up, Doc? which are both great movies, as well as Catch-22. I remember The Graduate as one of those movies that, when I was about the same age as Benjamin in the movie, was influential in how I looked at things. The scenario – hooking up with a sexy suburban mum – was of general interest, but counter-balancing that was a couple of scenes – one when Benjamin is in his new scuba gear at the bottom of the pool disconnected from the world, and the other the final scene in the back of the bus when it dawns on them what they’ve done – and what they’ve committed themselves to.

The Graduate is a classic, but it’s more than just a coming of age comedy. To be fair, the movie is very faithful to the book, including much of the dialogue.

What’s Up, Doc? is my very favourite comedy of all time, I reckon. I’ve watched it heaps of times and laughed like a loon every time. It’s just about the perfect screwball comedy.

He was also a good comic actor – a meek-looking, dweeby sort of character in glasses, put upon, sometimes bureaucratic, and occasionally rebelling against the stereotype.

He’s a part of my cultural development and so I remember him.

How we come together


I need to write something more about the response to the bushfires.

There have been millions of dollars pledged to support services from both in Australia and internationally. Everyone has come together, from kids in the street baking and selling off cookies to raise funds, right up to big-name sportsmen, entertainers and business figures donating millions of dollars. There’re charity drives and auction events, as well as one-off concert and sporting events with all proceeds going to the supporting charities.

Offers have flooded in from governments abroad offering any assistance possible, and fighting the fires is a multi-national force of firefighters from Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada, and doubtless others.

At my work, as it is the case for hundreds of other organisations, we have set up hotlines for those affected. We’ve begun fund-raising events across the business, with the company pledging to match our donations dollar for dollar. Business’ across the country have made donations or pledged profits.

I’m part of a local community group coordinated through Facebook that has been quickly put together. I watch with wonder as they organise the different activities. Initially, it was donations of food, water and clothing. Then a whole battalion of people hopped on their sewing machines to make pouches and mittens for the wildlife injured in the fires. Others are making protein balls for the injured animals, thousands of them, and sourcing gum leaves for the koalas to feed on. Food packs are prepared for the firefighters, each with a message of support included in them. Others volunteer to deliver all this to those who need it. And this is just one community group – there must be dozens more.

I’ve done not much else but watch and offer my moral support. I know that a lot of people think me cool and nonchalant, and I’ve been guilty of being cynical over the last year – but I’m inspired by this activity. We see the best of human nature when our community is threatened, and instinct drives us to help each other out.

I needed this. I doubted, but now much of my faith has been restored. These are terrible times, but the response has been glorious,

In the classic words of Jeff Fenech, I loves you all.

Ghosts of Christmas past


I switched the light off last night and went to sleep listening to mournful, hopeful, slowly swelling music of Henryk Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony.

I slept well, better than usual lately, but like most nights recently my sleep was full of dreams. That seems a feature of the last few months. Sometimes I feel as if I have dreamt all night long. The dreams are of the usual variety, some strange and surreal, some happy, some sad, some just quirky. The dream I remember from last night was sad.

The only reason I make mention of this now is that it seems a telling dream.

It’s Christmas time, I’m an adult, but younger than I am now. As in most dreams, the scene and perspective switches rapidly and there appears little in the form of a linear narrative. The moments I remember, however, are revealing.

There’s a sombre mood throughout. It’s Christmas day, but I’m heading off somewhere. At one stage someone says Merry Christmas to me, but there’s no-one there – I’m all alone. In the next scene, I look out the window and my step-father is there, smiling at me. He’s been dead for a dozen years, but he pops up here and there in the dream, like a Christmas ghost.

A moment later I’m speaking aloud as if there was someone there to hear me, as if it has dawned on me: “I need help.”

I’m meant to be travelling, but before I do I drop by my mother’s house – she’s still alive in my dream. And my stepfather is there again, alive and sitting in a lounge chair. I go to speak to my mum, who seems surprised, and perhaps a tad irritated, to see me. Her hair has a purple tint to it. She stops to check why I haven’t left yet, busy otherwise with Christmas day festivities.

Her Christmas guests I know well enough in the dream to nod at (I don’t recognise them from my conscious life). They’re not family and I have no connection with them, but my mother is hosting on Christmas day, rather than me, her son. In the dream, I’m saddened by it. Eventually, I leave.

That’s the dream.

Smoke in the city


I woke this morning to a heavy pall of smoke outside, low in the sky and much reducing visibility. It’s different to previous days. Last week it was hazy with smoke and there was a general smoky odour and quality to the air. This is much more distinct. You can almost taste the burnt wood, and the odour is much stronger.
It’s like when you sit around a campfire for a while and the smell of the fire infuses your clothes long after the fire has gone out. There’s the tang of burnt timber, not unpleasant in itself, except when out of context like this. This isn’t a campfire – this is the smoke from huge swathes of forests on fire. And it’s a health hazard. As I said, I can taste it on my tongue and in the back of my throat, and I feel a bit of sinus pressure around my eyes. It’s much worse for asthmatics.
The air quality is rated as poor in the city, and very poor back where I live, and it’s tipped to deteriorate further. It brings home the disaster very effectively. The light is a bit eerie, and the whole environment has a surreal feel to it, like in some dystopian movie.
But at least we’re getting some rain.

The hollow man exposed


It’s raining today. It’s only light rain, but it’s been falling on and off for the last few hours. It’s been a dry year and rain is always welcome in Melbourne, but it’s really needed to the east of here, and in heavier doses.

After the horrors of yesterday, any weather relief is welcome for the firefighters. There are still many communities under threat, and loss of property is widespread. I heard it was raining in Canberra today (after their hottest day on record yesterday), and it seems the more moderate weather conditions will prevail over the fires in the east of the state, and over the border. It will come as some relief, but it’s a long way from what is needed.

It’s a strange time. There was heavy smoke from the fires on Thursday, and since to varying degrees. We’ve been subjected to the eerie lighting that often comes with bushfires, and fiery sunsets. There have been fires on the outskirts of Melbourne, but we’ve been largely untouched. Life might almost be normal except there’s not a soul here that isn’t caught up in the unfolding catastrophes.

I find it difficult. I watched the cricket yesterday, but I was continually checking the news on the fires, either on the ABC or twitter. I reckon I’d have done that every five minutes. The pleasure of the game was much diluted because of that. Regardless of what Morrison says, it’s times like these you get a true perspective.

It seems incomprehensible that I could be sitting there safe and sound while at every moment the fires consume the land and property. In Victoria alone, there’ve been a thousand firies fighting the blazes. There’ve given up their time, and many of them have lost their properties and there on day and night and I’m sitting there watching the cricket.

Every day I have tears in my eyes, and not just once but 10-12 times a day – with every news report I read or see, every development.

I’m inspired by the resilience of the people on the ground. It’s a terrible time but – with notable exceptions – this has brought out the best in our community. It breaks me up every time, and it has restored much of the faith I’ve bled in the last nine months. People are good when they’re allowed to be. They’re strong and generous and decent. It’s such a cliche, but it’s true – this is the best of us.

We’ve had thousands of people displaced by these fires, many of them stranded and requiring rescue. No complaints anywhere. Everyone looking out for each other. It’s a terrible experience but there’s no time for self-pity. We’re all in it together.

The community response, in general, has been incredible and heartwarming. Stories of Sikh and Muslim communities travelling to affected areas to cook and provide food for firies and refugees. Homes being thrown open to take in those who have lost their own home. Shops giving away food and supplies to those who need it. And hundreds – if not thousands – who have donated food and supplies to the effort. To top it all off has been the donations made to the relief effort not just here in Oz, but across the world.

Then there are the firefighters. Most of them are volunteers. Many of them have been fighting fires for months now. These are people you work with and see in the street. They’re normal folk with a strong sense of duty. They fight on, getting little rest, facing horrendous conditions against an implacable foe. Their lives are at threat. As I said, there’s many who have lost their own homes in the fight. And yet they go on. I’m humbled by them.

I don’t know if they’re fighting a losing battle, but they won’t give in. These are terrible fires though, and that adds to the drama and the emotion of it. We’ve had terrible fires before, but generally they’ve been contained and extinguished within a few days. Even Black Saturday, when 173 people died, all the damage was within a devastating period of time. These fires haven’t stopped though, and listening to one of the CFA commanders yesterday he reckons we’ve got another eight weeks of this. Remember – we’ve yet to hit the peak of summer.

It almost feels as if we’re doing battle with a malevolent spirit. It feels – to me at least – like a battle between virtue and cruel indifference.

For all the good, there is also a woeful tale to tell – the Australian government.

I’ve complained about them before today. I’ve been complaining about them for years really, and much of their response hasn’t surprised me all that much. It’s a terrible government led by a shallow and opportunistic mediocrity. There’s more, though, and the latest even surprised me.

At long last yesterday, the government announced that the ADF would be drafted in to take an active role in the fight and that firefighting aircraft would be brought in from abroad (finally). It was very late – a month ago, and much of the damage inflicted might have been prevented – but at least it was happening. Morrison attempted to portray himself as the man in control, and in doing so had no shame in throwing the NSW government under the bus by suggesting they hadn’t sought the assistance he was providing. I’m not a fan of Gladys, but unlike Smoko at least she’s turned up every day and tirelessly did all she could in the effort – but she was expendable.

Then it became very clear that the government’s motivation wasn’t the welfare of the people or even doing the right thing. No, this was all about damage repair and saving some political skin, and maybe even gaining some advantage out of a horrendous situation.

Within minutes of the announcement, they’d released an ad onto social media extolling their efforts, as if it was they who had taken control of the situation. To compound it the music chosen for the ad was upbeat and cheery at a time when large swathes of the country were on fire, people were homeless, and some perished. But wait, this wasn’t an announcement but a paid political ad for the Liberal party complete – I kid you not – with a link to donate money to the party.

It was obscene, and goes to show how absolutely out of touch the PMO is with the sentiment of the nation – and how morally bankrupt Morrison is. I’ve always believed that his first priority as PM was to seek political advantage, and everything, including the Australian people, came second to that (at best). This stripped it bare, though. This, transparently, was all about him. He’d recognised he was in deep shit and tried to extricate himself in the most clumsy and tone-deaf fashion imaginable. Not surprisingly, the world came down on him, including vicious words from measured and moderate commentators. I can’t bear the sight of him. As a human being, he’s a disgrace. As prime minister, he’s a coward and a traitor.

I think my views are shared by many. In the last 24 hours more bitter and violent reactions to Morrison have made it to air. I find this unusual. TV news is generally conservative in this regard, but I guess they’re read the tea leaves and assessed the mood of the nation, even if the PMO hasn’t. To make it worse, it’s the firies now spouting vitriol, calling him fucking useless, and worse, and another – a seemingly mild-mannered middle-aged woman in the RFS – urging him to stand out. This was his fault. That’s what half the country thinks.

I don’t think he can recover from this. His only chance would be a mea culpa, pleading some forgiveness. That’s not in his nature though, and with so much of the country afire I don’t the nation is in a forgiving mood. (Don’t rule out a spread in a Woman’s magazine in the next few months looking to humanise him and explain his inner/secret torment/pain).

The Australian public have finally seen Morrison for what he is – a weak, ineffectual human being without scruple or humility. Basically, a scumbag.

In the meantime, the fires continue.