Lawrence


Another of the documentaries I’ve watched in recent times was about T.E. Lawrence – better known as Lawrence of Arabia. I’ve long found him a fascinating character, as have many thousands of others. He was so complex and enigmatic and managed to achieve remarkable things, yet lived out his shortened life tortured by his failures.

As most people do, I probably encountered him first through the movie based on his desert exploits. It’s a glossy, romantic, beautiful-looking movie with Peter O’Toole playing Lawrence. I don’t know how true it is to the man himself – probably not a lot – but it holds true to general facts. The battle scenes are vivid, and O’Toole and Omar Sharif (as Faisal) are magnetic.

Later on, I picked up Seven Pillars of Wisdom from a local bookshop and began to read. I don’t think I ever finished it – I should try it again. What I remember was the prose, which could be overwrought, but equally could draw you in. It was perhaps a bit too wordy for my younger self, but I took things from it. There’s a famous quote from it which for years I would hold up as a type of philosophy:

All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.

I still believe in the principle of it: it was who I wanted to be.

I have carried him me in the years since, as you do various characters, as I have Hemingway who I wrote of the other day. They’re characters that connect with you in some way – they intrigue you, or you feel a sympathy for their beliefs or personality, or, quite often, they excite an ambition in you. They become a part of your internal make-up.

What was it about Lawrence? Perhaps I’m drawn to complex characters. In his case, I think it’s the combination of high adventure and intrigue in the desert, like a boy’s own story, combined with the dense complexity of the man who was unable to accept that he failed his friends – not that it was his fault.

He was betrayed himself by the French and English governments, who betrayed the promises Lawrence had made to the Bedouin he led and fought with. The long shadow of that betrayal is the chaos that reigns now in so much of the Arab world.

In many ways, I find him a foreign character. If we ever met, I think we’d find little in common beyond curiosity and wonder. He was a repressed, closed individual. He was driven by inner demons and perhaps an innate rebelliousness. Whatever the reason, he seemed unwilling to accept the status quo presented to him – perhaps we might find common ground there, also.

I thrill to his desert adventures but suspect they were more cinematic than effective. I was in the desert he traversed some years ago, and which we see in the movie made of him – grand, breathtaking rock outcrops, like headlands, amongst a sea of sand. I tumbled down a dune, I remember and spent the night at a Bedouin herders camp. It was a memorable experience.

There’s no doubt that Lawrence was a bit of a strange character, but of the type the world needs more of – brilliant, idealistic, decent, honest, stubborn, and tough. He was a visionary with the ability to vividly articulate a purpose. He seems hardly the charismatic type, yet he was able to inspire the Bedouin tribes to a common purpose. Of course, he had his flaws and personal weaknesses, which he was intensely aware of, but we’d hardly bat an eye at them in our times.

He was naive and innocent too, which was his downfall, and the thing he could never get come to terms with. There are many worse things than that. In this case, what he saw as his failure changed history.

Papa the paradox


It’s a pretty dull life I have at the moment. The only time I’ve ventured out the front door since leaving the hospital is to return to it. I don’t have the energy to do anything more than the basics, so what I’m left with is a routine of reading and watching TV, listening to music or audiobooks, browsing the net, or writing here. There’s sleep, of course, and I look forward to the odd soak in a hot bath to bring solace to an aching body (I’d love a massage).

I’m very careful to manage my day, not doing too much of any one of those activities, lest I spoil it. I retain the ethic drummed into me when I was a kid by my parents about watching TV during the day – don’t, otherwise you’re a slob – but needs must in the circumstances.

When I returned home from the hospital, one of the things I did was to sit myself on the couch and watch a documentary series on Hemingway I’d recorded while I was gone.

I’m one of many millions who was inspired and influenced by Hemingway since I first picked up one of his books as a teenager. I was transfixed by the sharp, direct prose, which yet felt poetic. The stories – which I was drawn to first – also spoke to me in a way I understood inside, within my self, in a way I couldn’t explain to anyone else. They felt true.

I read his novels, more than once mainly, and some biographies of him, and he’s remained a strong influencer, though it’s a long time since I decided that I didn’t like the man.

After watching the documentary on him, it’s hard to reconcile the paradox of the man. By many accounts, he was a boorish, bullying, blowhard capable of cruelty and indifference. Yet, he could be great company also and, when engaged, a man capable of generosity and kindness.

If I had a time machine, I’d love to go back and meet him, but I don’t think I’d want to spend much time in his company. He’s just the sort of man I like least.

But then there’s his writing. Everything missing in his human persona is there in his writing. You wonder how a man so caught up in his own myth could then write so truly and with such insight about the human condition? In his writing, there is so often the wisdom that comes from a deep knowledge of how people act and react, their flaws and strengths, their fears and desires. There’s a stark simplicity in his writing that yet reveals so much. Particularly early, there’s a great sensitivity.

That’s the Hemingway I’d love to know.

So, how do you reconcile this? Was it that he was only capable of this sensitivity when he wrote – that it was somehow an unconscious talent the act of writing revealed? Or was it that he only showed himself in his writing?

Hemingway was clearly a very complex individual, and there seems little doubt that he was beset by mental health issues from a relatively early age. They worsened over time, were indulged and pampered, and exaggerated further by his heavy drinking. In the end, he was almost a caricature.

He was haunted by his father’s death and came to hate his mother. I feel sure that he was terrified of following in his father’s footsteps with deteriorating mental health and suicide. I suspect he tried to overcome those fears with the boasting and tall stories he told of himself in later years as if to distance himself from any of that. I’m certain it also fuelled his creative self and his writing.

I’m no psychologist, but it appears that Hemingway was deeply insecure at heart and reacted to (rejected) that with his overtly masculine behaviour. Whether he ever admitted it to himself, the truth was different, and I suspect he sensed it. That’s where his writing came in. His writing was a way to tap into that sensitive inside and express it. It was something he needed to do.

Because he himself felt so much, he understood much. Most of this was rejected in his public life, though he was said to be a good father. But it was fertile ground for his story-telling. This is where his insight came from – a keen observation of the world and people around him, filtered through this deep and painful knowledge.

When his writing failed him, he killed himself. I understand the impulse, though it was ugly how he left his wife to find him (he was far from thinking clearly). He was a gruff, oversized presence, and he could sustain that for as long as he could write. It was the one true thing for him. When that left him, there was nothing left for him. His meaning collapsed.

I’m no psychologist, and I’m probably way off, but that’s how I see it, from my observation of life and myself. It seems such a great pity that he could never integrate the writer in him with the man the world knew – though I’m sure, from the love he enjoyed, there were great periods when it shone through privately.

Planning for Paris


Surprising how much I’m enjoying the Olympics this time around. They’re the most unusual and unlikely Olympics ever held, but I think that actually adds to the appeal.

Like so many, I was sceptical that they should even go ahead, but it feels now from my perspective that it’s exactly what the world needs.

There are no crowds of any note and most of the coverage is commentated by remote hosts in the studio. It’s very much in tune with the times. But what is different is that for once we have a global event that the whole world can engage with.

These last 18 months have been like no other. Everything has become smaller and local. Few of us are travelling anywhere – including interstate – and that means that the global events that periodically tie us together have either been absent, or much reduced. Even movies, the theatre, etc, have been heavily affected. We’re living through a strange time. Life redacted.

But then the Olympics come along, against all odds. And, against all odds, they somehow capture the imagination. The competition has been splendid, and that’s much of the reason, but I think as a collective this is what we have yearned for – a stage in which we are all represented, as once we took for granted.

One of my revised ambitions is to live in Paris for 6 months in a few years time. When I thought I might die all I wanted to do was live – and live in the true sense of the word. I love Paris. I love European culture. Go out on a limb, I told myself. Aim to live there, if only for a while.

The next Olympics are in Paris in three years. Now, isn’t that convenient? It seems to me the great opportunity – or excuse – to combine a visit to the Olympic games with a residence in Paris.

That’s my goal.

Spit in the eye


A mate and I have been joking about me setting up a meth lab if I get the wrong news this week. I’m no Walter White, and I don’t have a family I need to provide for, but it seems to me that the only sensible response to such bad news is to be bold. If they tell me I’ve got the big C and this is the prognosis, the last thing I want to do is eke out my remaining time timidly. In the face of such a stupendous prognosis, I think you must act stupendously.

I don’t know what that would be necessarily, though I’m pretty safe in saying I won’t be cooking meth. And, even if it is Cancer, it doesn’t have to be terminal – and I’ll do everything in my power to fight it off. But doing the same thing as I’ve always done, counting down to the last day? No way.

They’re brave words, and in reality, it would be a lot tougher than making a few grand statements. Presumably, there would be physical constraints – the illness itself and the treatment for it. And, quite possibly, financial obstacles also. But, I won’t go quietly.

I hasten to add, I don’t think this is something I’ll need to contend with – not yet, anyway. It’s probably foolishness, but I feel more confident all the time that it’s just a papilloma, and the sooner we get it out of me, the better.

It occurred to me in considering all this – and I’m doing a lot of thinking! – why does it take something huge like this to act? Why, when it’s almost too late, do we grasp that to live with meaning that we must act?

I’m hoping this is a wake-up call for me and a shot at a second chance. If I get clear of this, I must try to live a life of purpose. Like most people, I’ve ambled along through life, taking it for granted. I’ve had some great adventures and unforgettable moments and experienced wonder along the way, but so have most people. Unlike most people, I don’t even have the comfort of a close family to make me feel I have achieved something important.

What I’ve become aware – or been reminded of – is that everything has an end date. You know it, but it’s so far away, so vague, that it never registers in you until such a time as this. You realise that everything you see, everything you do, everything you hear and feel, will one day become null and void. On Saturday, walking Rigby, I passed by a construction site, and the aroma of freshly cut timber filled my nostrils. It’s a great smell, but I was conscious that I may not get the chance to experience that much more again.

I’m one of those people who would live forever if they could, from curiosity as much as anything else. I think about the things I’ll miss once I’m gone – the science, the music and literature, the books, the sense of an open world still to be fully discovered. It almost hurts to think these things would go on without me.

I’m probably being melodramatic – that’s what you get with an imaginative sensibility. I think I’ll be lucky. I’ll get that second chance and the opportunity to fully appreciate everything I’ve mentioned – and in a way, that would be a gift.

I can’t commit to anything yet, and though I’m quite relaxed, there’s also a tense expectation in the background. I think I know what I need to do if the news is good, but until I get it, I can’t believe in it too much.

Maybe today.

Body and soul


I want to add this: I feel a form of dissociation in this illness, my mind from my body.

It’s my body that ails, but the I who writes this – the mind if you like, even the soul, the intelligence, the ‘me’ – is a hapless passenger within the body. That ‘I’ can’t live without the body, but I feel separated from it. In this state, I recognise how powerless I am, and with that comes a sense of helplessness. I’m like an observer of my own decline, frustrated that I can do little to prevent it.

This existential split may well be accurate in some way – our body is a vessel animated by the spirit that guides it (though, without complete control) – but it’s foreign to our everyday understanding of ourselves. When we look in the mirror, we accept that what we see is us.

It’s particularly odd for me, I feel, as I’ve always felt such a strong sense of physicality. I’ve felt the brute force in my muscle and bone and considered it a part of my identity. Like many kids, I yearned to grow tall and strong, and when I did, it seemed the vindication of my will and proof of my power. When I was younger, and at my athletic peak, there was something splendid about it, though now I might call it preening vanity.

I’ve felt my strength, nonetheless, in my broad shoulders and chest, in what I could do, in how I could impose myself. Yet, now, no matter that I look as robust as ever, that body ails, and I look upon it.

It now seems so empty – and so illusory. However, the truth is that if my body fails, I can’t separate myself from it. ‘I’ will fail with it.

It brings to mind another dream not so long ago. I am on my deathbed when someone comes with a proposition. They can take my mind and everything that makes me who I am – my memories, attitudes, experiences, and so on – and give it eternal life in the cloud. For all intents and purposes, I will go on, even as my body gives way.

I’m sceptical of it in the dream. Who doesn’t want eternal life? But what is life without the physical means to give it expression? And, is it truly me, is it truly life, when all that is left of me are those intangibles?

It’s an interesting philosophical question, just as at this moment it’s an interesting experience. The body, at least, allows for a sensory experience of the world about us. Without that to interpret, how much of our true identity continues? And, without hope of physical affection, does that not make us a different proposition?

Is there an answer to this? Probably not. I am the mind that ponders these thoughts and conjectures possibilities. There’s no doubt – I think – that it’s my curious mind that defines me as an individual. Right now, it’s that mind that tries to make sense of the gulf I feel between mind and body – and must accept that without one, the other is pointless.

Always gone


I got a message last night from Donna at around 7 saying that her mum had just passed. It wasn’t a surprise. We’d spoken on Friday. At that point, her mum had stabilised and was showing some promising signs. She was still in an induced coma, however, and couldn’t breathe by herself;f. As Donna updated me, I kept thinking about mum and her last days. You want to believe, but the best evidence I had was in my eyes. No matter what anyone told me, I knew mum was on the way out. I asked Donna what her gut feel was. She hesitated before answering that she didn’t think her mum would make it out of hospital.

I haven’t spoken with Donna yet. Last night she was with her family, and this is a deeply personal time. I dropped her a line to tell her I was available anytime to talk if she needed that and any help I could provide.

I remember when mum died. It was entirely expected, and when I heard, I just felt a deep sadness that she was gone. I was like an automaton that morning. The reality is that when someone dies, there’s much that needs doing. I spent most of the morning on the phone, updating family and friends and speaking to the funeral directors.

Some people cried when I told them. Others were quiet and sympathetic. I was controlled. It was in me, but I had set it aside. I remember I heard the news at about 7am on a Saturday. It was too early to call any but the closest of relatives. I made those calls then headed up the road, wanting to get out of the place. It was sunny and blue-skied. I went to a cafe that was empty of people and had coffee and a light breakfast. Then I returned home and to the business at hand.

In the afternoon, Donna turned up on the doorstep. I was so grateful to her. I was by myself. I’d done most of the things I had to do, but I had no one to talk to. That evening we ended up having dinner at the Thai restaurant around the corner from where mum had lived. We’d been there so many times before over so many years. It had been a favourite. It seemed apt to be there again, though in very different circumstances.

Donna and I exchanged messages this morning. She said how she had been preparing for this moment and how, more than anything, numb she felt. I told her that that’s how I was pretty much all the way to mum’s funeral. I was so busy. I had to do everything. It was easier to keep busy and postpone my grief, though I felt sad.

Then, the funeral came and went in an explosion of movement and colours, tears and laughter and memories, and a house afterwards cluttered with post-wake debris. That’s when it hit me: I felt desolate.

I don’t know what the current arrangements are, but I hope to attend the funeral in support of Donna. Unfortunately, Covid restrictions may prevent that, as well as my medical situation potentially – I see the specialist tomorrow and may be straight into hospital after that for all I know.

For Donna, her life has changed now. She has already said how her mum’s relationship was the most important in her life, and now her mum is gone. I feel for her. I know what it’s like to have such a strong presence stilled, a voice now unheard. She’ll think of so many things she’ll want to share with her mum, and the instinct to call and chat will remain strong for ages to come (I still remember my mum’s phone number).

It’s a hard thing to get your head around, that someone who has always been there will never be there again.

Every day counts


A couple of week’s ago, Donna’s mum went into hospital with what appeared to be heart-related issues. She ended up having surgery. It seemed to go well initially before her mum began to struggle. She was rarely conscious and struggled for coherence when she was. Ultimately, she was put onto oxygen.

Throughout, Donna was worried, naturally. With lockdown, she couldn’t visit her mum as she would have normally, and she had the age-old problem of getting information out of the doctor. We were on the phone with each other every couple of days, and she was updating me by text whenever she could. Then, last Thursday night at 9.30, she received a message from the hospital saying she should come in.

Messages like that are ominous. It’s hard not to believe the worst. She sent me a message as soon as she got it, and I thought, as she did, that maybe it meant this was it.

Donnas’s mum is 83. At some point, it will be it, but she’s had a fair go. That doesn’t make it any easier. Losing your mum at any time is hard, and it will be particularly devastating for Donna. It will turn her life upside down and loosen the remaining family ties, I expect.

I won’t say this is a triggering event for me, but it certainly brings back memories of my mum and the loss I suffered. As we spoke, I would reflect on that, and Donna – fully conscious of my loss (she loved my mum) – would draw on that. This is something we could share.

It made me think about the stages of life we all go through. There’s a stage when all our friends are getting married. Then there’s the stage when they have their first child. After that, we go through the big anniversaries and milestones together – the 40th and 50th birthdays and the random momentous events outside of that. We’re at the stage now when our parents begin to pass away. Cheeseboy lost both of his in the last 9 months. Donna’s mum is ill now, and her father already gone.

This is something I thought about, feeling a little cheated. My mum, a healthy, energetic type who might have lived to a hundred otherwise, was instead denied life prematurely by the big C. I feel as if I was robbed of ten years at least – crucial years as it turns out, years that might otherwise have been filled with love and affection. But death is a part of life.

At some point, the stage will be when friends and acquaintances themselves begin the final stage of life. I remember my grandparents and how they would check out the death notices and obituaries in the newspaper every day. It seemed awfully morbid to me, but I imagine there must come a time when it becomes very relevant. They’ve long since gone. One day it will be my contemporaries. One day it may even be me.

In the meantime, Donna’s mum is hanging in there. She’ll be in hospital for a while, and there’s a chance she may not make out of there. She survived the latest crisis, though, and, last time I heard, was on the improve. I’m hoping for Donna, but I’ve heard the story before. A terminal relapse is not uncommon, but on the other side of that, she could live another ten years. Every day counts.

Emotional scurvy


It rained yesterday afternoon, and the sky was dim and dark long before night fell. The evening was standard for me. I had some dinner and flicked through the TV stations before settling down to watch a couple of episodes of Mare of Easttown.

It was only just on 10 when I finished watching, and I thought I’d go to bed and spend an extra hour reading. I was due for a new book, and there was nothing in my bookbag, so I went into my study to survey my bookcase. I had it in mind to return to an old favourite for a change.

I looked through the shelves, assessing options. You want a book to suit your mood. Sometimes that’s serious fiction; sometimes it’s something more escapist. I plucked one book from the shelves and considered it a moment before recalling I’d recently caught a glimpse of the (poor) movie made of it in the seventies. I put it back, leaving until the memory faded.

The books on these shelves are my very favourite books. To look at it is to be reminded of times past when you first discovered them – even to recall the occasion when you bought them. You remember the many times you would spend hours in the cloistered environs of a good bookshop, gathering books to buy. There are stories about the stories.

Abruptly, I felt a sense of fury. Standing before all that richness, they appeared to me so many lost moments and promise unfulfilled.

I would read, back then, as if I was an explorer searching for and discovering new wisdom – new to me. I felt enriched by the experience, as if with every book I read, something was being added to me. It seemed a noble thing and, naively it seems, I thought it must mean something. Would it make me a better man? Perhaps not, but it should make me a more rounded one – or so I thought.

All those fantastic hours engaged with a book felt lost to me. They were gone, of the past, and no longer relevant, as was the ethos that led me on. I read more than ever now, but without that glow of enlightenment. And what came of it? Nothing, it seems, not even anyone I can share it with or hand it down to, as I inherited my grandfather’s books.

I went to bed and read a book I found under the bedside table. Throughout, I had this lingering sense of discord. Not dissimilar to the other night, I wondered what the point of living was? You consume to live, whether it be food and beverages, fancy furniture or car, and programs like Mare of Easttown – but where was the higher purpose? Does such exist, or is it just a fantasy?

The funny thing is that as all this goes through my mind, there’s a motif that recurs to me repeatedly. It’s the sense of disconnect I feel between the public and private me. I see myself with others, and I’m always in control, not just of myself, but often the discourse generally. I’m smooth and easy, as if from habit, a strong, resilient, seemingly confident character, turning the conversation whichever way. It’s the person people have come to know and expect of me, and perhaps even admire, but so often these days, it comes to me as something strange.

That control comes easy to me. I don’t need to think about it. I know the tropes and the behaviours are instinctive. It’s not false, but nor is it absolutely true. Why I wondered, does it return to me so gratingly all the time? Is it that I want to relinquish control? But then, I knew, I would try to take it back. Was it exhausting being that way? No, not really. So what? And I thought, it’s because underneath all that there’s a vulnerable human being, but no matter how I ache to do so, I can’t seem to express it.

I’m at a disconnect with myself, and I realised as I lay there I’d become bored with myself – and wouldn’t I be? Nothing is happening.

I don’t believe there’s a meaning to life. If you’re happy to live a safe and happy life, then good for you. It’s not my thing though, never has been. As always, in these moments, I find myself drawn to the edge. It’s what I miss, and the absence of it has been exacerbated by Covid because there’s been nothing to fill the void.

What I need is to live more rawly. I would do that before when I travelled the world, which was a necessary antidote to domestic life. That sense of discovery, and the unpredictability of it, was like a tonic to me. Of course, none of that is possible presently.

And women. There’s a lot to unpack there, but in former times, when I read books for what I could learn from them, women were so much a part of my life. Not one. Sure, I miss the flirtation and all that, as I’ve said before, and the spontaneous and unlikely encounters. Right now, what I miss now is peering into another’s eyes and seeing possibility there. That, and more primitive, life-affirming moments – the teasing sense of anticipation, the first kiss, the amorous fumblings and the snap of elastic on a pair of panties, the moment that you know that yes, I’m here, this is happening, isn’t this good and soon following the absolute surrender to the moment.

Options are limited, but I need the things I do to have some value – to feel as if they’re a part of the journey. Because of Covid, or perhaps not, it feels as if that journey has paused, or I’ve been waylaid. I need to get back to simple experience – not life as observed on a TV screen, but life felt and experienced in the raw. Without it, I feel as if I’m experiencing a kind of emotional scurvy.

Night thoughts


I lay in bed last night with lights out trying to sleep and wondered if I might not be better off giving it all away – job, lifestyle, easy habits, lazy routines. It triggered a reflection – where did it go wrong? And so my mind went back, searching for the moment when I went left instead of right?

They were dire thoughts and the product of pain. My whole mouth ached and throbbed, and I wondered if I would manage to sleep at all. Chronic pain is diabolical because it attacks the mind as much as it does the body. It makes pessimists of all of us. When you can’t get away from it comes to cloud your mind and judgement.

I shouldn’t speak too loud, for I managed to sleep soon after, and mid-morning the day after, I feel better than I have for some time. By now, generally, I can feel the ache resonate through my jaw (it seems to have spread), building towards something I can only manage with painkillers. Today, I have awareness, but it merges into the background if I turn my mind from it. Let’s hope it stays that way and continues to improve.

The day after, I still find myself pondering the scattered and hysterical thoughts of last night. I recognise their provenance, but I still wonder if in extremity there is some wisdom to be gleaned?

Work has been on my mind for many months and the source of anger, frustration and disappointment. To some degree, I’ve also been working under duress – from the psychological impact of my despair and battling the combined physical ailments dragging me back.

The simple thought came to me last night: if it causes you so much unhappiness, why do you keep doing it? It seems a very sensible, clear-headed question to ask. The obvious and conventional response is if not that, then what? I can’t afford to live without working, and who’s to say the next job – or any job – will improve my state of mind? It was a tempting notion last night, though, and it is today also. The answer is: I don’t know.

When you’re feeling crook and having such thoughts it’s easy to get into a depressive spiral. It’s very easy to wonder where it all went wrong. How did I get here? And so, very thoroughly, I went back in memory to find where I took a wrong turn.

It’s very easy to nominate some of the big-ticket events, even though not all of them were in my control. There were things that had a catastrophic impact on my wellbeing – mum’s sad death, being embezzled, the loss of my family, and homelessness ultimately. But mum would have died no matter what decisions I made, and I’d likely have lost the other half of the family just the same. As for the others – who knows?

To my surprise, I happened upon a decision I made back in 2004. I was contract consulting at the time and had just come off a job where I had travelled to Hong Kong and NYC to implement a new finance system for a client and remotely supervised the roll-out in Auckland, Singapore and Dublin. I was lauded for the successful completion, and my name must have gone around the traps, for soon after, I got a call from the head of a consulting firm offering me a job – in Brisbane.

To put it in perspective, I wasn’t the conventionally ambitious type, but I was hungry – hungry to do it my way, have fun, and maintain my individuality. I was a bit of a machine and hard at it, and I wanted riches and fame, but I was also focused on living well and enjoying the journey along the way. I wanted only to do interesting things, to soak up life and experience, and learn. Paradoxically, for a guy without a formal qualification, it was a philosophy that had served me very well.

I probably ummed and ahhed and debated the decision, but it seems to me my mind was made up pretty early. It seems surprising now, but I thought I was making the sensible decision. Sensible! I’d never had any concern for that! I figured once I got into a permanent consulting role, I’d be set. I thought it would underwrite my career from that day forward. It was, I figured, the strategic move – but it was also the conventional move, and that wasn’t my thing.

In reality, I left my family and friends for a (dull) city where I knew no-one, the job was boring, and I suffered under the constraints that professional services place on you – every billable minute, every mercenary concept, and a conservative mindset. I wasn’t made for that – I was better being free-range.

I returned after a year and was glad of it. My career didn’t suffer from it – I went on to flourish and make many more dollars doing things my way before I crashed and burned. You could argue it was no more than a blip in the scheme of things, but it was the wrong call, and I wonder what might have happened had I chosen to stay?

Back in 2021, perhaps I face a similar choice. It feels closer than you think. I have 7 weeks of leave up my sleeve, and just the thought of tossing it in and getting myself right, body and soul, before the next challenge, is enticing.

Bring them home


I’ve sat here for the last minutes wondering how to start this post. The dilemma, I felt, is that I didn’t want to bang the same drum as in numerous other posts in the past. Nor did I want to sound too harsh or critical. Believe it or not, I don’t enjoy writing negative posts. The problem is, there’s a lot of negative stuff to write about – but it’s dispiriting to grizzle.

So what to do? I can only say it as it is – or how it seems to me, anyway. So let’s get the ranting part out of the way early. I’m about to criticise the government again. I can hardly describe how much I deplore them. So many of them terrible people, and I wonder why so many to the right of politics are so ugly – ugly, mean-spirited, narrow-minded and spiteful souls. Add to that racist, which isn’t news to anyone who pays any attention (the sad minority), but this time they’ve made it law.

Covid has been a controversial time, and that’s not really surprising. With so much happening so quickly and so much at stake, it’s terribly difficult and hard to act without making a mistake here or there and with any consensus. If you’re sensible, you accept that. The negativity pisses you off, but you roll with it; the stupid noise made by anti-vaxxers and anti-lockdown protestors you rationalise as a lunatic fringe; even the bungling of the vaccine roll-out is met more with a sigh than with anger.

What can’t be supported are the wilful decisions made for an obscure political cause and the decisions not made for the same reason.

Though the vaccine roll-out is a disaster here, we’re in a pretty healthy state in Australia relatively. We need to pick up our game or else get left behind, but our citizens – those resident at least – have good reason to feel pretty safe.

That’s not the case in many parts of the world, and in some parts, it has become catastrophic – Brazil being one, and India another.

The news services have been full of reports from India where hundreds of thousands are newly infected every day, where the sick spill onto the streets, where there’s a shortage of vaccines and oxygen, and, most horribly, the dead are burnt on makeshift biers in suburban streets. Someone I work with has come down with it, as has his whole family. These are terrible times.

In response, the Australian government announced a travel ban. No one can enter the country from India, not even our own citizens seeking to get home. They then doubled down by announcing that anyone caught flaunting the ban would be subject to huge fines and potential jail time. In effect, they’ve made it illegal for Australian citizens to return to their home country from India. So much for the rights of citizenship.

For me, the single greatest failure over the last year is the inability, and seeming unwillingness, of the Australian government to repatriate citizens to our home in a time of dire crisis.

I think, for the government, it’s another political hot potato that’s easier to deal with by doing nothing. Expat Australians are out of sight and out of mind, they figure, and their votes don’t amount to much anyway. Why exert yourself on their behalf when there’s the risk of Covid?

To be fair, it’s been a long time since an Australian government took responsibility for our citizens abroad. I always had the idealistic notion that as an Australian citizen, if ever I got in trouble overseas, the government would help. How wrong I was! Regardless of stripe, successive Australian governments have failed in this regard. Some of it is political – Julian Assange being an example of an individual whose rights as a citizen have been found wanting when weighed against political alliance (i.e. diplomatic toadyism). The rest is apathy.

I know there are Australians right now who agree with the government, certainly regarding the travel ban from India. They argue the risk of bringing in people from such a dangerous environment risks infecting the broader community at large. That’s a fair argument, but it highlights the abject failure of the government to act before now.

To start with, Australians wishing to come home should have been able to get in long before now. There shouldn’t be a queue, but the stories are rife of ex-pats unable to get flights back, lose bookings because of scarce seats, or be charged a fortune to get back. Remember, the government promised that the backlog would be cleared by last Christmas. Not even close.

Even so, and if we accept that virus of some type will remain in the community for years to come, then we should have made a start on the infrastructure to support that reality. Had we acted last year, we should have been in a position now to bring our people home.

The government did nothing and shows no sign of doing anything. Once more, it’s the state governments who take the lead. Both Queensland and Victoria have proposed purpose-built quarantine facilities in the country. There’s another facility in the NT standing empty. There’s even Christmas Island.

It can hardly be disputed that we need these facilities. They have to be built. As we’ve learned to our cost, Hotels are not made to house sick and contagious people.

We should have these facilities now and, failing that, should be building them now. And a truly inclusive government would be seeking to bring its citizens home by any means – charter flights and the RAAF seem obvious options. No sign of that happening in the foreseeable future, when this is something that should have happened last year.

Now we have made it a crime to come home. Make no mistake, this is a racist act. Most of those affected by this ban are Indian-Australian – people with different skin colour to the Australian prime minister. Can you imagine the same ban being imposed on people from a western country? No. It’s a decision consistent with much in this government. We’ve had hundreds of thousands from western societies overstay tourist visas, while people who come in desperate straits on leaking boats are exiled for years on end to places like Manus Island. The difference? None of them is white.

The government doesn’t care. It’s political for them. It’s a sad thing to admit, but it’s a decision that plays well to their constituency – the casually racist, indifferent, uneducated rump who respond best to slogans and mindless claims of patriotism, which the government specialises in.

It’s shocking, but none of it surprises me anymore. It just makes me sad.