Another scorching day


When I was a kid, I used to love the hot weather. The hotter, the better. You’re pretty carefree as a kid, and I took the baking summer days as an excuse to hop in the pool and splash around. In a funny way, I was pretty patriotic about it, too. I loved it that we had it hotter than most places on earth, and believed it made us more rugged and hardy as a people. When you’re that age, you have a pretty immature grasp of the world, and it comes to you simply – which is much of the charm of being a kid. I guess they call that innocence.

When I cast my mind back, I can recall many a hot day, the sky a pure blue and the sun blazing down. Every year for ages we’d go down the peninsula for our summer holidays straight after Christmas. For the most part, we stayed in Blairgowrie, which remains a great spot today. Hot days then were an excuse to go to the beach, and mostly the surf beach at Gunnamatta. I was a good swimmer and would go out beyond the breakers and look back towards the beach as the swell would gently lift me before crashing down upon it. I’d swim in then, body-surfing the last bit of it, and it was a thrill.

Back home we’d play street cricket or go on long bike rides, or else hop in the pool. We had the only pool in the street, and the neighbour’s kids would often join us for hours of shenanigans. It was an above ground pool, four feet deep, and I can remember dad putting it up bare-chested in the summer heat. In my small way, I helped – wielding a shovel as dad excavated the ground before levelling out the surface, and then holding things in place as dad put the pool up.

My last memory of those hot days are the meals mum would prepare. Often it was salmon patties with salad. I hated salmon patties. More often, it was a straight, seventies style, salad. There’d be a hard-boiled egg, grated carrot and (Kraft) cheddar cheese, a slice or two of tinned beetroot, maybe some potato salad, a selection of cold cuts, and the tomato, white onion, cucumber combo steeped in vinegar. How many people remember that?

It’s many years on now, and my perspective on hot days has switched around completely. I dread them.

We’re looking at another 43-degree day today, which is a total waste of time. Unless you’ve got a pool or are at the beach, there’s nothing to do, and it’s probably even too hot for that. Instead, you’re confined indoors, the air-con going steadily and the blinds and curtains drawn shut to keep the heat out. It’s gloomy and artificial.

I’ve been out, and for the rest of the day, I expect to take it very easy. I reckon I’ll end up pretty bored, but I’ll probably do a bit of reading and, if I can rouse myself, maybe some writing.

Quite aside from being unpleasantly hot, in recent years the heat has brought with it angst and existential pangs. The simple days of my summer youth now seem very innocent. Times have changed.

On days like today, when it is windy as well as hot, I fear what else it may bring. The bushfires are ongoing in NSW, another has sprung up in WA, there’s the risk of the SA fires re-igniting, and here, in Victoria, an area the size of a small US state has received evacuation orders because of fire. I fear for and pity the fire services once more called out to deal with these catastrophes, and I hardly bear to think of all the wildlife that will perish.

There’s no such thing as just another hot Summer’s day, anymore. Each day is loaded with portent. Summer has become an existential test. Where this is all heading I don’t know, but I’m not optimistic, and often I find myself wondering “what have we done?”.

And with that comes blazing anger, pointless and impotent. The leaders we elected to act on our behalf have betrayed that trust. It’s not the first time that’s happened, but this has disastrous consequences: our very future rides on the decisions made by these people. But leadership is either absent, inept or inherently corrupt – or a combination of all three, as we experience it here in Oz. I can’t overstate my contempt for these people. One day, I hope, they are held to account for they’ve done – and didn’t do. That may be small satisfaction as chances are, come that day it’ll be too late to do anything about it.

People I’d have a beer with


I really enjoyed reading this, and you can add Wittgenstein to the people I’d have liked to have met – and maybe even have had a beer with. No higher honour than that.

He’s portrayed her quite differently from what I’ve previously read. There’s some explanation for that in the text, about how Bertrand Russell put it about that he come out of the war a bit of a wreck. I’m pretty sure that Wittgenstein was an unusual character, but I reckon that most genius is. He seems to be well-balanced, though I’m sure he suffered from some of the same challenges the rest of us do. A man like him is always going to rouse opinion and be subject to unusual scrutiny and analysis. And, through the years, reinterpretation. No wonder he’s a character hat’s coloured some of the commentaries about him also.

I don’t know the truth of him because we never met, but I’m happy to consider him a man first, who also possessed an unusual insight into the forms the world took, and which he challenged.

I find some of his methods, explained in this piece, particularly attractive. He appears a free spirit, indifferent to the petty characters who sought to take him down, and confident in his beliefs.

Have a read:

https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v41/n22/jonathan-ree/the-young-man-one-hopes-for

The truth of things


It’s a popular pastime to put together a list of people you’d invite for dinner. I’ve been working at my list for years, adding names to it very carefully and only after long consideration. A lot of people reel off names quickly, commonly referencing movie or sporting stars. Not me. By and large my criteria – never stated till now – is for people I can imagine having long and interesting conversations with. They’re people who either by their experience or intellect have a story to tell or an insight to share. Marilyn Monroe isn’t on my list (but Mohammed Ali might be).

One of the names on my list will be unknown to most people, but is an easy pick for me: Victor Serge. (Here’s an interesting and descriptive article on his life and times):

https://thepointmag.com/criticism/a-hard-case-victor-serge-notebooks/

For mine, Victor Serge is one of the most fascinating characters of the last century. He lived a vivid life in exciting times and was brave enough to take a position on the events he was caught up in.

I found him through his writing, though that’s only one aspect of him. His books, autobiographical in essence, deal with the Russian revolution and its aftermath, and with the tumultuous times, he witnessed and was a participant in. His writing is candid. He presents as someone committed to understanding the truth of things, and not just the form of them. He was an anti-Stalinist, and while there is a strong humanist element to his books, they’re marked by great insight and intellectual depth.

Reading his books, I liked him – or, felt great respect at least. He’s one of those writers who would make me occasionally stop to think about what he had written. For that reason alone, I could imagine having long, stirring conversations with him.

Of course, he’s long dead, and exercises like this are not much more than indulgent list-making – fun all the same. It highlights a gap in my life though – who do I have to speak about these things with? I don’t reckon any of my friends would have a clue who Victor Serge is. Those conversations happen only in my head, and sometimes make an appearance on these pages.

It’s a pity. I like to ask questions, but there’s no-one to ask them of. Instead, I think on them. I wonder, I examine, but the debate is internal. It seems an obvious thing to me that one should engage in the broader questions of existence – history, culture and thought. These are our times, this is our life, and even if you don’t find it fascinating, then at least you must see something vital in addressing these themes.

So I say. In the meantime it means my public life goes on with very little of my private life on display.

I sometimes think that being a person with these interests locked away and invisible sets you apart. Everyone has a secret life, but these things, outside of your self, give you a perspective that few others share. That may be indulgent twaddle, but I find personally that my take on things is more detached because I have a broader view. Perspective takes on a literal sense then because everything is to scale – what looms large to many you see as being small and fleeting. It’s all happened before, and it doesn’t really matter that much anyway, and it will be resolved. There’s no advantage to such a perspective, it seems. The opposite may be true when the prevailing view is to the contrary.

It dilutes the take, but when everyone is manic and fraught, you run the risk of being viewed as a dilettante.

Stand up


I feel like I’ve done enough this week. It’s a bit after 2pm on Friday and I’m grinding to a halt.

It’s been a busy few weeks in general, and this week fractious on top of that. I’ve been holding the fort against the heathens in Sales. They’ve been battering at the ramparts demanding to get their way, but I resisted them because their way was chaos and, in this at least, I believe in and represent order. Ultimately I prevailed, but it was a bruising experience and it’s a good bet I’m not on their Christmas card list.

Doing my job properly meant for me to stand-up against them, though I don’t really have the authority or back-up. It was the right thing because it was the only way to ensure the integrity of our systems, and because there were others who felt the same as me but didn’t have the voice. It was right on principle also, because if processes are there to be subverted by bullies then you have anarchy.

All of that is true in itself and sufficient to have held firm, but there is another reason beyond that which is individual. I do a job, I represent a role and a set of duties, but I’m also a man with my own principles and standards. Never mind anything else, I won’t allow myself to be bullied and are contemptuous of those who would try. I represent myself ultimately, separately to my job title.

In my mind this is the right of every person. It doesn’t matter what job you do or where you are on the socio-economic ladder, we’re all entitled to respect and to stand up for our dignity. It seems to me that many lose sight of this. Your job is just a job. The amount of dollars in your wallet are a convenience or an inconvenience, but says nothing about your character. Where you fit in the hierarchy has bearing on what you do, but has nothing to do with your value as person. Your integrity, your beliefs, your standards, are personal to you and independent of everything else. Unfashionable as it is today, these are things that can’t really be bought and sold – though that’s up to the individual.

In my case I hold true to those values because they’re mine – the one thing that really is. Everyone has the same entitlement, and I wish more were more aware of that. You are yourself: be that person.

Too much civilisation


I live in a suburb where the people are generally well off and decent types. They’re well educated and engaged. For some reason, there’s a fair number of expats here too, and they’re much the same. Walking down the street, you’ll often get a smile and, occasionally, will be wished you a good morning, or somesuch. I’ve always thought that a pre-condition of living here was ownership of a bike and a dog. I have both, though only one of them gets any work.

I’ve been for a walk this morning with Rigby, and along the way, we found other couples – man and dog – out on this sunny Sunday morning. Yesterday, I caught up with Cheeseboy for a coffee. We sat there as people went by with their dogs tugging them along, occasionally pausing to get acquainted with Bailey, the Cheese’s labradoodle.

As I walked to the supermarket yesterday after coffee, I encountered more than a dozen dogs out for a walk or sitting at the feet of their owners taking in the sun while mum and dad had breakfast. I looked at every dog. Some, as I went by, I made that little sound in my throat that dogs know. A couple of times, I stopped to pat a dog tied up outside a shop waiting for its owner, some patiently, some keening with worry. Each time I felt myself powerfully moved by these dear creatures, which I love with all my heart. And a feel a kinship with their owners, as if we are a part of a brotherhood.

I’ve always loved dogs, but it’s true also that as I get older, I’m becoming more soft-hearted when it comes to animals in general. It troubles me how often they are exploited and abused. There must be a better term for it, but peering into an animal’s eyes, I can sense their innate ‘humanity.’ I can recognise each of them has a life. They have feelings, have fears and affection. That’s the sort of view likely to have you accused of anthropomorphism, which means to see – or treat – animals as human beings.

Let me make it clear. I don’t equate the two – broadly speaking, my feelings towards animals are untainted, whereas I have serious doubts about humankind. In some ways, my affection for animals is little different for what I feel for children. They have an innocence that is worth cherishing, but both are subject to exploitation by the less innocent, and generally are unable to defend themselves against it. To stand by and watch that exploitation seems against nature. It certainly doesn’t fit right with me, and less so every day.

I don’t know if I see things differently now that I’m older, or if it’s just become more exposed. What is clear to me now – a wiser man perhaps than I was before – is that exploitation of this type is an embodiment of hubris.

For centuries, human culture has viewed nature in all its variety as something to serve our appetites and ambition. It is a resource to be consumed, for profit like as not. Animals are expendable as beasts of burden and sustenance, and mother earth despoiled. That’s the chicken that’s finally come home to roost, and I need not expound on that further. It seems a very human thing.

I’m no purist – I like a good steak (though I eat less and less) – but I can’t accept that it’s destiny that makes us the pre-eminent species on earth. We may be the most intelligent of species and possess uniquely – so they say – ‘consciousness’ (I’m a skeptic), but it’s absurd to suggest it means anything more than a fluke of biology. The earth hasn’t been placed here for our benefit, and no amount of misguided destiny justifies abuse and cruelty.

I’m at the stage of life when I want no part of that, and it makes sense to me that we return to nature. It’s about respect. It’s in short supply all round, these days. Respect for each other, and respect for the world around us, too, and every critter a part of it. If there’s anything we need now, it’s humility – but even the well-intentioned seem to lack that.

This is the symptom of my times: I’ve lost faith in humanity. As individuals, as people who share smiles and good wishes and walk our dogs, there is little to complain of. But as a collective, we have become dire.

If there were a vote tomorrow about who should go on, people or dogs, then I’d vote dogs because they are by far the more pure being. That’s where I’m at.

Things pass, but they’re never gone


A couple of months ago I ordered in a book from a rare and secondhand bookstore in London. The book was The Torrents of War, by Igor Sentjurg – one of the better novels to come out of world war two, but long out of print and hard to find.

I first discovered this book many years ago – shall we say 40 years? My grandfather was a gentle, learned man whose passion was books. At my grandparents home in Strathmore, a whole wall in the living room was given over to bookshelves crammed with hundreds of books. We were regular visitors, and on school holidays I’d spend a week there with my grandparents. I can remember bits and pieces of my visits there – the roast meals, my grandmother’s Anzac cookies, a day out shopping with my grandpa, my grandma driving an old silver Holden. I remember the elegance with which my grandfather always dressed, and the severity of my grandma (doted on me nonetheless).

There’s a vivid memory of one day being dropped off in Joliment near the Hilton hotel with my grandpa and walking to the MCG the day of the Boxing Day test when Kim Hughes struck a magnificent hundred, and Lillee bowled Viv Richards on the last ball of the day. I remember the garden – roses in the front, and fruit trees in the back my grandfather had grafted one on another – and taking the border collie, Lassie, for walks in the evening. I remember how he would measure me against a piece of timber, scratching in it my latest height. How tall am I? I would ask, and I remember the last time he measured me before he died telling me I was six foot and three-quarters of an inch – how I cherished those three-quarters of an inch!

All this was true.

An abiding memory is my grandfather’s books. I was a book-loving kid and I would browse his shelves every time I visited, plucking books from the shelves to check out, returning some, and taking others to read myself. Often I would find myself in the rear bedroom that had been my uncles growing up, but which I would sleep in when I stayed. The bed had drawers beneath it, and a rug across it broadly striped in yellow, white and red. I would lay on the bed with the book on the floor and my grandma going by would say, “can you read that? Aren’t your eyes good!”

One of those books was The Torrents of War, but there were many others too. Forty-odd years later I own some of those books, history mainly, but also grandfather’s books on Muhammad Ali (I was with him when he bought the Wilfrid Sheed book) – I wish I had spoken to him about Ali – as well as the Sentjurg paperback. Its pages are brittle and yellow now, and the spine cracked from decades of reading, a keepsake rather than something I could read – and so ordering in a replacement (the same edition, the same cover) was as much an act of remembrance as it was of literature.

All this is recalled to me now because I began a book this morning about the great Australian correspondent, Alan Moorehead. Moorehead was one of the very best war correspondents covering the second war. It was a great observer, which he would render in evocative prose. He came to write several books thought to be classics now, but an author seemingly long forgotten – a man from another age.

My grandfather had Moorehead’s Nile books. I can’t remember if I read them, but I can picture them on the shelves still. No doubt I pulled them out and browsed through them (and I was curious enough to read Moorehead’s classics on the North African war as an adult). Memory was at play, but so too was imagination. These old books became a part of life in my mind, long passed.

Once upon a time, Moorehead would have been almost a household name. I imagined my grandfather, younger, hale and hearty, a doting father, a dedicated employee of the PMG, a quiet man of refined tastes and routines, spotting the Moorehead’s as they were being released and thinking to himself, that sounds interesting – must buy that. And he would, as he did for decades, his one real indulgence.

That was real world for him. Real life. And it was for Moorehead then in his own way, scratching out his books in a life that was current and vibrant – no matter how dusty and distant it appears now.

It’s not that you forget that there’s a time and a history before ours, but it doesn’t have the same pulse and vibrancy of today because, well, it was long yesterday. It doesn’t feel quite real because you weren’t there to see it. What was current and present and often in the balance has passed now into history. The outcome has been determined, the characters no more than names long gone, and all of it given a solemnity by being recorded history books and literature. It’s all true, but it has a flavour of hearsay because it’s not now.

It’s good to remember – and not just remember, but feel it – how there was a time before and it was real and people lived their lives as we do and probably thought much as we do and even if times have changed, and tastes and desires, then there are universal truths that persist, and probably do going back millennia. My grandfather would get out of bed and catch the train to work (probably an old red rattler), as I do, he followed the footy and cricket, and even if the players are different, it’s much the same. He read his books and made his plans and nurtured his children, and it was all real for him, though he’s been dead nearly forty years.

One of the things I inherited from him was a leather-bound scrapbook in which he had cut and glued newspaper articles of the day – the fifties mainly, the sixties – little home improvement projects, and carpentry tips, gardening, even architectural design. It’s always fascinated me because it was of another life – and now I could imagine him reading an article in the Argus and thinking, I’ll do that, before cutting it out and putting it in his scrapbook.

One day there may be someone reading this from a time when my today seems long distant and me, long gone. Let me tell you – I lived. Sometimes the days went fast, but mostly just one at a time. I can hear a bird sing as I write this, and the sun is shining. This morning as I walked by the foreshore, the sea seemed particularly briny. There are things in me – but you know that if you’ve read the stuff that comes before – as there was my grandfather, though I don’t know what they were. We all look, some of us see, we feel even if sometimes we’d prefer not to, we hope and cheer, grizzle and grumble. The trivial looms large before falling away, and the great bewilders us.

These are my times. And now I’m going to make myself a sandwich for lunch.

Next stage


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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