How it happens


Speaking of overreactions, I think some of the commentary over what happened yesterday at the Oscar’s ceremony verges on the absurd. Admittedly, it was a shocking event – in terms of being totally unexpected – but it is hardly uncommon. What made this different is that two famous people were involved, and it happened on live TV.

Should the police have become involved? It falls within their ambit, but that would have been a mistake. Should Smith be banned because of this? Once more, I think not.

I read someone claiming that the sight of casual violence being normalised like that would have repercussions. To be honest, that horse bolted long ago. Both casual and formalised violence is on our TV screens every night. It’s part of the problem that violence, in general, has been co-opted for entertainment, and the more graphic, the better. Feel free to complain about that, but it started long ago. It doesn’t excuse what happened yesterday, but it puts it in perspective.

I may be a special case, but my first reaction on seeing the footage was a surprised amusement. I’m the cool type, and it’s rare that anything will get me het up. It was basically a bitch-slap, much like you’ll see outside a nightclub any Saturday night. Smith portrayed Ali once, and had he struck Rock with a closed fist, that would have been a different matter.

Smith has since apologised, which is appropriate. I’m surprised more people aren’t taking Chris Rock to task because of his insensitive joke.

I suspect that my view of this is primarily informed by my generation. I don’t know what it’s like for kids and young people these days, but I know there is a cultural thrust that wasn’t present when I was their age. I’m aware of it and largely sympathetic as someone older, but it’s not ingrained in me. I’m liberal by inclination. I weary of some of the didactic, tedious commentary, but I’m in broad agreement with much of it. Even so, it’s important to me that I think for myself without reference to a structured position. It’s my habit to reflect and reason things through, using my knowledge and experience. As for what I feel, I firmly believe there should be no filters on your heart.

Laying in bed last night, I was reminded of the times I’d been in a confrontation. There’s not been many since leaving school, and mostly nothing more than some fierce verballing and a bit of push and shove. It may be shocking to the casual reader here, but I never shied from these confrontations and felt quite invigorated by them. I felt like cleaning out the pipes, but times were different.

Back in the day, it was important how you did this. It shocks and shames me these days to hear of some of the violent episodes perpetrated in the pubs and streets. It was a matter of honour that you wouldn’t hit someone when they weren’t looking; indeed, you’d never king-hit someone from behind. And you’d definitely never glass anyone. It probably sounds stupid, but half the time, the confrontation would be ended with a wink and a yeah, alright. It wasn’t that serious.

Two minor altercations came to mind. In one, we were in a pub in South Melbourne, Cheeseboy and me and a girl. We were playing pool. A group came in and started making comments. I was happy to shrug it off, but Cheeseboy took offence. There ensued a verbal confrontation that threatened to become more.

In a very Australian way, I looked on with barely a word. I was supportive of Cheeseboy, but he had it under control and didn’t need me jumping in. In between, we continued to play pool. I was ready to back him up if it came to that, and the others knew it in my body language. In the end, it never went beyond the verbal. I may have said something towards the end. They went away.

I’m walking down Toorak road on a balmy Saturday night in the other incident. Beside me is a mate’s wife, who is about 60% deaf. My mate and other friends are following about 30 metres behind. We’re talking when suddenly there’s the sound of men yelling. They’re yelling at us, at my friend particularly, making all sorts of improper and inappropriate comments.

They’re in a minibus, stopped at the lights and leaning out of the window at us. My friend can’t make out what they’re saying and thinks it’s probably something fun. When I stalk off to confront them, she starts to follow until I tell her to stay behind. The men, louts in their early twenties and probably half-pissed are delighted at my approach. Watcha going to do, big fella? I hadn’t thought about that, but I was open to pulling them through the window and teaching them some manners.

The thing is, I didn’t think about any of this. It was automatic – much as it seems to have been with Will Smith yesterday. My body took over. I went to them, full of disdain and cold anger. I had no fear. No part of me had begun to question what I was doing. It felt right.

In the end, the lights changed, and the minibus moved off with the hoots of the men inside it. I turned and went back to my friend.

Nothing came of it, but something might have. Was it wrong? Part of me thinks you can’t let such behaviour go without acting – but then, I know a large part of that may well be my masculine ego. I think mostly I was shocked that people could be so disgusting towards an innocent and very kind woman who happened to be a good friend. My intrinsic reaction was rage. I couldn’t let it go unpunished. But this is me afterwards, trying to explain it. At the time, my body took over.

Perhaps it is wiser to turn the other cheek. It would have been wiser for Will Smith to do that. But sometimes, it just doesn’t sit right.

No excuses, no explanations, and that’s the point – right or wrong, sometimes things just happen, and you can’t know unless you’re there. That doesn’t excuse it. It’s just reality as we know it.

Becoming civilised


This is a Facebook post from last Thursday:

I got my first proper haircut today since July. It feels like a milestone moment.

When I started treatment my hair went grey and either fell out or stopped growing. I aged 15 years overnight and was not a pretty sight. But then it started growing again a little after Christmas and coming out a darker colour and I had hopes of becoming presentable at least one day. As I said to the hairdresser, I’m not ready to pick up again (that’s months away, ladies), but I have hopes of being a candidate again. I feel almost civilised.

I don’t know if people understand – I need to speak about these things, and the whole journey, in fact. It feels like a dream sometimes I can’t quite grasp. Did this really happen to ME? It feels surreal to have come so close to death and to feel the crippling effects of it still. The whole thing has been a marvellous, unfolding mystery, with not a day passing that something more is revealed to me. It’s a curious, life-changing time of revelation – how can I keep that inside me? And yet, how do I tell of it if I can’t understand it myself?

Day at a time, a week, a month, that’s how it goes, until – later this year – I feel somewhere back to normal and I might have a sense of what all this means for me. Today, my hair cut, my vanity is appeased at least, and I can look forward to a time when I can engage properly with the world I’ve felt so separate to.

Where to? How?


Last night I lay in bed with my head hurting and my breathing laboured, unable to sleep. Eventually I got up. I took a pill with a glass of water. As I stood by the sink my eyes went to the digital device on the kitchen bench, on which rotated some of my favourite snaps. The picture was of Rigby, and I stood there looking at it until it changed to something else.

For about 10 minutes I sat in the recliner in the living room, just resting. It’s where I sit to read sometimes or have a cup of tea. Mostly, before, Rigby would sprawl on the floor in front of me. I looked at the place as if he was there still. Sometimes, he would come and rest his head in the space beside my leg, looking up at me. My hand went to him.

I was in a bad way. I’m utterly worn out, physically and emotionally. I’ve got little life outside of home because I’m not up to it. I’m back working and doing my best, but I’ve lost all faith in the people there, and rouse little interest in the work I’m doing. And, Rigby is gone.

I wouldn’t feel that so keenly if my life was happier. I always had him, at least, and now I don’t even have him.

It’s funny how you still expect him, if only momentarily. I get out of bed and I look to him, knowing that he will follow – but he’s not there. Struggling as I was to sleep last night, I might have reached out and found some comfort knowing he was there. I miss his companionship obviously, and his love for me, and the love he created in me.

This is not about him though. I miss him terribly, but he’s a symptom of my current state, not the cause of it.

I need to find something to believe in. It’s hard. Physically, I’m not right. Work has failed me and the life I had before seems far distant. And Rigby, who could always make bad things better, is gone.

I’m doing things because I don’t know what else to do. And because I need to. I don’t want to fail. But what comes next? When? And why?

I need to find a way out of this mess but have to do it alone.

It’s mid-morning. I’m still in bed. I feel better than last night, but not great. I woke from an ugly sleep at about 9. I feel exhausted. I wish I knew more. For once, I feel incapable of navigating a way forward. What is right? What is wrong? I don’t think I can go on like this unless I have a sudden upturn in my health. But even then – what does it mean? There remain many unanswered questions.

Off road


For the last few months, an old photo has been coming up regularly in my feed. This is it, me, about 30 years ago, on a hunting trip up towards Broken Hill:

I’m young, fit, healthy, there’s even a hint of swagger in my posture. I had attitude, and more or less that’s who I’ve been throughout the years. Not as young maybe and, lately, not as healthy either – but they seemed incidental. Age is a state of mind. As for my health, that was very scary, but there came a time – perhaps too quickly – when I thought I’d make it out okay.

But now, it seems much less clear-cut. This picture comes up and I don’t know if it’s a taunt or a tease. My mind remains sharp, but my body is a broken thing for now, and my spirit is ailing.

I woke up this morning to the sun shining and could find nothing bright or interesting in it. I seem locked into this very unsatisfactory existence at the moment and don’t know how to make my way out of it. It dawned on me that life as we know it is generally one continuous flow. The seasons change, the years pass, the news on our screens updates, we shop, we eat, we socialise, we travel, we live. There are peaks to this and troughs, but it’s all of a piece, a seamless journey through time and experience, with nary a thought of it.

Except in my case, I got shunted off that road and into a solitary byway. Theoretically, I’ll join up with the mainstream again somewhere down the way, but I can’t seem to find myself there – or imagine such a time and place. Do I want to subscribe to that again?

I get flashes of it. I pretend. I’m back working part-time, though it’s not really working. Yesterday a friend visited and we had a day that in times before I’d have considered very nice – lunch, then an afternoon putting prints up around the house, and later a drink sitting in the sunshine, when another friend arrived.

This would have been an ideal day to me once upon a time. I enjoyed it as much as I could, but from early on felt handicapped by my physical state.

I tire easily. I have no strength or stamina. I feel like a lie down half the time. My hearing is shot and I have pain and messy inconvenience with my head. There’s a permanent stain of blood at the corner of my nostril my vanity has given up worrying about.

I enjoyed the concept of yesterday, but my head hurt and I was so weary I felt ineffective. This is always the case now, with overwhelming fatigue a bonus (I’ve cut down on painkillers hoping to control it).

Despite yesterday, I feel so alone. This is where I really miss Rigby. I thought so often yesterday, I wish Rigby was here, imagining him with my friends. I wake up and he’s gone still, just when I need him most.

He was a great and necessary comfort to me in the hard days post-surgery and through treatment. He’d always be around, and even if he just needed my attention, he was a distraction. When he felt me fraying he’d come close and put his chin on my leg peering up at me, or cross his paw over my arm. He was there to snuggle with and talk to. Even the routines were so familiar as to be warming.

I miss his eyes on me and his affection and his distinct personality, and I miss the affection I would give him.

I need him most now, but the fact that he’s gone only makes the need more keen.

Somehow, I have to break free of this barren existence I’m stuck in. Someone said that recovering from cancer was like suffering PTSD, and maybe that’s what I’m experiencing.

I feel pressured into the work I’m doing, uncertain if it’s a commitment I can keep given the ebbs and flow of my health. In the meantime, I’m just not ever feeling any better, and life is hard. As for most of this time, I feel outside of life and the general pattern of being. I watch from the sidelines as everyone else zooms by with their seamless life.

I hoped to do this when I was healthier, but I don’t know if I can afford to wait. I’m thinking about visiting and staying with friends in Mullumbimby or Noosa. I think I need a change of scenery. I feel stuck in place and haunted by memories I could do without. I need something to jump-start an idea of a new future. A refresh and reset. Not sure how effective it will be with me still feeling shithouse, but can I afford to wait?

I trust that the day will come when I feel okay, though I’m less confident of that now. Whatever, it can’t come soon enough.

Que sera


First thing Tuesday morning I went into the hospital to get the PET scan that would tell if any cancer remained in my system.

I had one of these before, not long after being diagnosed. Though I was in much pain I was still able-bodied at that point. I caught the train in and did as directed as they prepared for and then executed the scans. It was a time of great suspense, and perhaps fear. The results of the tests would reveal how far the cancer had progressed and how far it had spread. On that the prognosis would hang. It was literally a matter of life and death.

On that occasion the blessed outcome was life – probably. I don’t know if these tests hang by such a critical thread, but the worst-case scenario would reveal untreatable cancer. That’s unlikely. Most likely – according to the blithe doctors – is that I’ll be given a clean bill of health.

I may get the results today, and it’s a biggie, I know, but I find myself not nearly as interested in the outcome as everyone else. I hope it’s good news, but if it isn’t I’ll just get on with it.

This is indicative of how I feel generally at the moment – unmotivated, disinterested, and wondering what the point of everything is. There has been a touch of this since around Christmas, but losing Rigby really nailed it.

Obviously, I’m grief-stricken, but there’s also the objective reality that my enjoyment of life is less with him gone – maybe 20-30% less. I’ve outlined most of the reasons why, but the one thing that I haven’t referred to is that all the love and affection I felt and would give to him has shrivelled up now that he’s gone. I needed that, and now I feel totally alone.

I remember in December when I was away writing about how I needed mental and intellectual stimulation, and how I’d missed it. It felt like the missing ingredient, and I was determined to reclaim it.

That was true, but a month or so later, I’m not interested. The same essays I read then with fascination now seem too dry and academic in the face of human loss and grief. Likewise, I’m uninterested in writing.

What this highlights to me is how we need a balance of emotional and intellectual stimuli. Add in spiritual, if you like. We’re all different, and so the ratios will vary from person to person. As I’ve found out, get the ratios wrong and life becomes a misery.

I felt quite positive when I wrote that in December. At that point, I had no idea that Rigby was unwell and ignorantly presumed that the emotional sustenance he gave me would continue. It was only a few days later that I discovered I was wrong.

As it stands, the scab will harden and ultimately the wound will heal, though the memory will remain. I’ll learn to live without what he gave me, though that seems an unsatisfactory solution. I’ll probably find myself returning to the dry words of scholarship and finding momentary distraction. I’ll get by, but really, it seems to me, if I mean someday to live meaningfully that I need to rebalance somehow.

For now, I would benefit just by having someone around. There’s nothing I need to say particularly, but it would be nice to have the option. It might seem strange, but Rigby filled that function, too. He was constant companion and the curious recipient of my occasional commentary. He seemed to understand. The grief I feel is compounded by the fact he’s not here to comfort or to listen. I’m closed in, and very sad.

Hanging on


I’m still angry and I don’t know if I want that to change. It’s quite a leap from someone who has always tried living by stoic principle, but even Job cracked the shits.

I’m sad as well as angry. There’s no getting away from that. There’s been such a flood of emotion that it’s hard to separate the strands of my grief. Bitterness is the least of it. Guilt is fading as I come to accept that I took the only reasonable option, but there is abject grief that Rigby is gone. I miss him every moment and wonder how such a pure and decent spirit is allowed to fail. I realise that for the last 13 years I have had the closest of companions, but now I am left on my own.

I question the value and purpose of everything. Together with my cancer, my life feels dead in the water. In time my emotions will normalise, and I’m smart enough to know that in my current state it would be unwise to conclude anything, or decide on anything. My sole focus now is to get well again – then I can figure things out.

This morning I read my blog from a year ago. Things seemed so different then. I could never have imagined that cancer was coming my way, and my life had a pattern to it that was pleasant enough without being completely satisfying. I had a lot of questions, but had an unquestioned confidence in myself, body and soul. I can see myself then, and see myself in my words, and it feels very foreign now.

I always felt a kind of physical confidence. I was tallish, strong, capable. I was laconic and thoughtful, but had an easy way about myself in public interactions. Those who knew me better would encounter my intensity at times, and the fierceness that went with it occasionally. I could be so hard, but to the casual observer I was relaxed and easy-going and maybe even kind. I questioned much, but never much doubted my ability to bend things my way. I think that was true of me for many years.

I am a shadow of that man now. Physically, I’ve lost 90% of my muscle. I’ve gone almost completely grey, and my hair has become finer (and has yet to regrow in patches). I’ve aged 15 years in the last 12 months and any trace of handsomeness has gone. I’ve become an ugly old man.

I’ve lost the hearing in my right ear and walk with a limp that may become permanent. My face remains swollen, and much of it without feeling. I’m in constant pain. And I can’t open my mouth more than halfway and it’s painful to eat.

You see, much of what I was then was buttressed by my physicality. I took stairs two at a time and felt mighty. I was vain. I liked to dress well, and never doubted myself talking to a pretty stranger. I had a mind, but I also had the stature to impose it. Or so I felt.

Some of that may return to me, but I’m not holding my breath. I will get stronger. The hair will regrow. I might even get some of my hearing back. I’ll never be the same again though, and that’s what I will need to adjust to. It may be a good thing, though I remain pissed off.

Of course, vanity is such a superficial thing – but we are all made up of vanities. I suspect we adjust them as we go through life, tempering our expectations whilst trying to remain humble. Usually, the adjustments are small. It’s hard when they’re as great and as sudden as I’ve experienced. Your whole sense of self is disarrayed.

I think most of us live off the stories we tell ourselves to get by. They’re necessary fictions for an easy life, but it’s no surprise when we crave the authentic. I sensed that before, but the last 6 months have laid things bare. I need different stories; or perhaps, no stories at all.

I need to remake myself in the months ahead, assuming I get the all-clear next week. My health will improve, I’ll feel more able, and I’ll look to re-enter the mainstream. I need to take what I’ve learned to inform the new man I must become. I have to believe that there is something then worth living for. I need to hang on until then, no matter how testing it feels – especially now my greatest booster is gone.

Right now it all feels pretty raw. Everything feels exposed. Vanity and delusion, and the one thing really worth anything in my life taken from me. I have a lot to answer for and explain perhaps, but I’m still bloody angry.

Reset


On Boxing Day, I got a call from the bloke I shared a ward with after my surgery. We’ve spoken maybe four times since leaving hospital. His condition was similar to mine, though not as acute. In hospital, we’d banter and bag each other over our football affiliations. Like me, he’s had a course of radiotherapy since, but no chemo.

I’m glad to speak to him and maintain the bond, but he seems especially keen. I can understand as serious cancer surgery and shared recuperation makes for a heightened sense of difference. It’s like we’ve been in the trenches together.

As before, he extended an invitation to come visit him in Tasmania at any time, and I might take him up on the offer one day. At some point – hopefully in the next couple of months – I’ll recover to the point of feeling relatively normal, albeit with limp and other scars (including hearing loss).

There’s a lot I’m preparing myself to adjust to. I’ll never be handsome again, which is a blow to my vanity. The limp will likely fade, but the hearing loss – which I find difficult – is likely permanent. Much more than that, there’s a psychological adjustment.

It’s lonely having cancer when you live alone. It’s probably lonely regardless because cancer makes you an outlier. People look at you differently, and often treat you differently. It’s understandable, perhaps even necessary on occasion, but it only accentuates the sense of being an invalid. As an independent type, I find it difficult, but it’s hard to argue the facts.

I’m not about to make any final judgements, but I have the strong sense that this experience has exposed how much we rely on the pleasures of lifestyle to paper over a lack of real purpose or authenticity.

I’ve had no lifestyle – it’s been beyond me – and, in a sense, felt as if I’ve had no life. Sure, I’ve missed the things that made living pleasant, but found in its absence there wasn’t much else.

I don’t want go get too esoteric. There’s still much to play out. The one main takeaway is that there’s no real intimacy in my life. I sure could have used it on the struggle back, but even in the everyday sense, there’s no one I can share my feelings without reserve. No one I can close my eyes with knowing they’ve got my back. The person who wants to be there, as I would be for them.

Without the shared experience I don’t know that there’s much sense of purpose, though doubtless it varies. If life is just lifestyle then there’s no real thread. Everything just happens, fun, perhaps, but forgettable. Just things.

The scare with Rigby last week and being a Christmas orphan (I did make it out for lunch) has highlighted this sense, but not warped it.

Christmas was a time when you felt loved and embraced. In truth, I had that year-round, but it shone through come December. I experienced a casual intimacy now absent. I am truly loved by a dog now who follows me from room to room and is my constant companion. But that’s it, and at threat.

These are the things I need to consider in the months ahead. I live alone and haven’t worked for nearly 6 months, and I don’t think I want the role saved for me. I have some friends who’ve been great, and others that have disappointed me. I will likely recover physically, though I’ll never be the same again. And I have the choice – continue as I have for year’s, or make a change?

This is the time, perhaps. Time for a hard reset. I’m in limbo now, between worlds. At some point, I will have to move on. Recognising the need for a change might be the easy part – manifesting it much harder. It has to happen, though. If I am given the gift of survival, against the odds, then it only has real value if I live it properly.

Getting back to it


When I was packing for my trip to Sydney I threw the in a book of Clive James essays: Cultural Cohesion. Yesterday, now in Blackheath, I bought his final book of poetry in a local bookstore: Injury Time.

I’m a great admirer of James, but in this case, reading two of his books at the same time is largely coincidental – though it becomes meaningful.

We’re in an Airbnb in Blackheath and last night, after returning from dinner, I sat on the couch and began to read his book of poems.

I don’t know of any writers more clever or learned or versatile than Clive James. His poetry tends to sit a bit lower on the totem pole, but I’ve always found it engaging and affecting. I like poetry without being an aficionado, but I believe that James is one of our greatest poets ever.

The name of this collection alludes to the state of life he found himself in as he wrote it. Having been diagnosed with cancer some years before, he found himself living beyond the decreed span of year’s forecast to him. He suffered the effects and lived through the uncertainty of disease that could – and certainly wood – tighten it’s grip at any time. His time is up, pretty much, but he finds himself on the pitch still pending the final whistle: injury time.

As always, I was drawn in by the easy command of language and the evocative imagery. He’s an intellectual, but while there are splashes of the high falutin’, what sheets these poems homes often are the colloquial references that hit the right spot.

Nearly all these poems touch upon looming death. There’s memory and reminiscence in there, as well as a stock-taking. It would be poignant at any time, but I felt it much more so myself given my own situation. I may well follow the same path and I didn’t want to know it – but I read on, understanding it, feeling it also. And, of course, it finally caught up to him.

There’s so much I could excerpt from what I read – so much that is telling and true, so much that evokes an easy, democratic image that sticks with you long after. How’s this:

The Reaper sobers you. You will be stirred
By just how serious you tend to get
When he draws near and has his quiet word.
His murmur is the closest you’ve heard yet
To someone heavy calling in a debt.
No gun, no flick-knife: none of that gangster thing.
Just you, him, and the fear that you might die…

Like a heavy calling in a debt…brilliant. There’s a lot of brilliance in these poems, and a lot that leaves you pondering.

I went to bed, where I read from his essays for half and hour. Lights out, my head was abuzz with thought. I’ve missed this, I thought. Even just browsing the bookshop for 40 minutes earlier in the day felt like a return to something neglected lately, but once so familiar and vital. Here were words about me and knowledge, eons of experience and the projection of lives lived and lessons learned and perspectives formed – not to mention the sheer creativity and imagination on display.

I once lived within that. My mind was something I nurtured. I delighted in learning. I felt I was on a journey, and part of a grand tradition which, for ten years past perhaps, I have strayed from. But this is me, I thought in the dark. I have to get back to this.

In the morning, I picked up the book again and read some more. I’m fascinated and curious by what I read or learn, but the sum total of what I discover about how Auden’s homosexuality informed his poetry or Robert Lowell’s technical development as a poet doesn’t make me a better man one day to the next. What is vital is the train of thought and conjecture it kicks off in me. I’m in the maelstrom suddenly. I’m reminded of the possibilities of art and the endless speculations it leads to. It feels important because it echoes life and our attempt to harness it. And I am part of that again, my mind darting off in different directions, vibrant and resonant – connected once more.

This is what I remember. It’s what had forgotten. To gain knowledge is fine, but it’s a quest without end. More important is to untether the mind and find yourself searching without constraint. To feel that utter richness of infinite possibility, and wonder. It’s the rediscovery of wonder that counts. It’s what all creativity springs from. It’s what I have to get back to.

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.

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.