Earthly hopes

I’ve just had breakfast on Christmas morning, some poached eggs with mushrooms on toast, and opened the few presents I’ve got (though more than last year), and Christmas carols are playing. Soon enough Rigby and I will go for a walk down by the beach, which might become a tradition. He received his gift this morning too and happily gobbled it up, but I don’t think he has much idea about Christmas.

There was a patch this morning of about five minutes when I felt a bit sad. I had reflected on years past, how from too early the phone would be ringing and it would be mum on the phone as happy as a child wishing me a heartfelt Merry Christmas. It would be all action after that, preparing for the day ahead, then getting in the car with my bag of pressies and bottles of bubbles that were always my responsibility. I’d be at mum’s by 11, and earlier if I was going for breakfast. I’d be greeted exuberantly, but then put to work helping with the grandiose preparations. Gradually the house would fill and resonate with happy voices and the cries of excited kids. Eventually, we would sit down with a drink in our hand and whoever was the designated Santa of the year would hand out presents from under the tree. I figure it’s a familiar scene a million times over.

Around noon today I’ll be setting off for a Christmas lunch in Canterbury. I intended to have this day alone but was tricked into this. Probably not a bad thing. I gather it’ll be pretty low-key, but with some drinking.

Listening to the carols this morning there was one that I stopped to listen to closely. Carols are so familiar as to be muzak, and it’s rare even as we mouth along with the lyrics that we really listen. Most of the lyrics are idealised, good-natured, but hardly intimate. An exception is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – at least to me. Perhaps it’s the times, but I listen to the lyrics and they’re something I want to believe in, and therefore become more personal for me. It’s a quieter, less exuberant song, smaller in scale and therefore more earthly. I have a very good version of it by Nora Sagal.

Otherwise, I like Carol of the Bells, purely for the melodic purity of it. There’s a lot of good versions of this, but the a capella version I have by Pentatonix is hard to top.

That’s my Christmas. How’s yours? Hope it brings you wisdom, compassion and joy.


Aspirations to the conventional?

Had a few beers, and knocked over a few pins yesterday afternoon at a Christmas function for the management level staff in our team. I was ambivalent going into it. It chafed at my democratic spirit – I’m happy to party, but to have a party exclusively for management seemed both unfair and elitist. Then it was the venue. I voted for a sit-down lunch at some you beaut barbecue restaurant at Crown; the riff raff voted for Strike. Then, of course, there was the crowd I was joining, most of whom I would never dream of socialising with.

So okay, that’s a bit unfair, if not maybe a tad snobbish too. Mea culpa. And actually there are about 4-5 I’d happily have a beer with, and most of the others are okay types. There are a few though I think pretty ordinary – generally from the call centre, promoted from the floor and taken to the job with either a tyrannical zeal, or sloppy indifference. Neither endear me by nature, and I reckon I could write a paper on how people take to positions of authority. It’s a bit like the nouveau riche and old money; one needs to splash it around to prove it, the other accepts it with a modest grace.

But I digress. I hadn’t played ten pin bowling for about ten years, and was pretty rusty but did okay – came about 4th out of 25. Then there was karaoke, way too early in the day for that, and much too sober. I abstained, reflecting that alcohol not just removes the inhibitions to stand up and belt out a cheesy song, it also does something for your hearing. There are beer goggles, I guess there are beer ears too. Half cut the voices of your drunken mates inspire hilarity more often than not; sober, and it’s just noise.

Finally we stepped out and had a few beers sitting around, which was much more my speed. I can be pretty laconic, but I don’t mind joining in when the conversation gets interesting. I found myself at a table where there were some interesting personalities and different perspectives and the hand-brakes were off.

It was around this time that I found myself glancing more frequently at one of the women there. Strictly speaking not a member of the team, she’d been invited along as the HR representative who deals with us. She’s an attractive woman, dark haired, long legged, she was also one of the HR people I butted my head against early in the year. We have a complicated relationship now.

It made me think. I wasn’t about to try anything, but I couldn’t help but feel something. It is ever the way. I don’t think it will ever change, that I’ll ever mellow. It’s hard wired into me. It complicates things, but at the same time I’m glad of it. It feels like life. It feels like you’re carrying a loaded gun, and with it comes danger. Desire, ultimately, is an act of aspiration, and no more so than the competitive lust that I feel so often.

And so this brings me back to the Christmas party last Friday night. I went there thinking that given the opportunity I might make a romantic move. As it turns out it was not really a night of such opportunities, and I figured that out pretty early on – she was on another table, and the noise made intimate conversation awkward. Everything was in motion, people coming and going all the time, being pulled away to dance, or get a photo taken, or to talk with someone else, all of which meant there was little chance of continuity.

I was happy to save it for another time. Instead I devoted my attentions to enjoying myself. The theme was gangster, and to my surprise I found as part of the entertainment there was a dance troop. They danced a few numbers, changing into different outfits and performing to different songs from the 1920’s and thirties. It was well done, but the girls were the stars of the show – and once more I felt that familiar stirring. One particularly I watched, drawn by the look of joy on her face as much as I was to her long legs and good looks. The desire I felt was much more platonic – I was interested on what led down that pathway, and I think a big part of desire is curiosity and opportunity. They are different doors we may open, but mostly pass on by – though not always.

It made me consider my situation standing there. There I was thinking I wanted to get close to one woman in particular. I had reservations because of my circumstances, but they could be overcome without too much issue. Still, something in me shrunk from the possibility – as I have so, so often – and I wondered if I should just accept it and live as I always have, poking my head into different doors, indulging my curiosity, following up on opportunity. Maybe I just wasn’t meant for the sort of commitment required, maybe for me it was always going to be episodic. Little adventures, enough to keep me interested.

Naturally I had to stop to think about that: why must it be that way?

I don’t know when or how it started, but there came a moment when I realised I didn’t want to be like everyone else – this is going back decades, when I was still a kid. I was happy to be out of step, and figured more often than not that if I was on a different path to most people then that was likely proof I was heading in the right direction. There’s a bit of exceptionalism in this. Everyone likes to think themselves a little special, but I think I genuinely believed it. Because of that I always pitched myself higher. I was going to do this or that. I had to do these things to justify that opinion. It wasn’t hard for me because I was also incredibly competitive, and on a superficial level I probably achieved something along the way.

Of course it’s an illusion. I might think myself gifted, special, made for a higher purpose, but at the same time there’s a part of me that knows that’s self-indulgent bullshit – get your hand off it H. You go on though because you realise it’s only with that belief can you hope to fulfil that expectation. You defy your doubts almost out of perversity.

Hand in hand with this is an utter reluctance to be conventional. It’s in your mind, you don’t want any part of that, and it informs not just your perspective, but behaviour. There’s an element of substance in it – the fear that once you accept a ‘conventional’ lifestyle that any hope of being exceptional is lost. The self is in large part sublimated to the whole, and personal ambition takes a step back. It makes sense. I look at my friends married now with kids, and while I feel a certain envy I see that in the transition they have set aside perspectives I feel I couldn’t live without.

It’s natural for a parent to be insular. As an individual it’s easy to venture into the world with nothing to lose but yourself. There’s a recklessness in that which makes for vivid engagement. As a parent you become a part of an entity. You look more inwards than outwards, not just to protect and provide, but for inspiration and motivation. I understand that – it makes sense. And there’s something lovely in that.

Is that me, though? That could be my challenge now. I like being inquisitive. I like being aggressively questing. I like variety and difference, like the sense of unknowing I look to overcome, like the feeling that regardless of the tribulations I experience along the way that I’m moving forward, becoming more. I fear becoming conventional and losing that – and perhaps then it’s better to find comfort and knowledge with different types, different people along the way, blondes and brunettes, doctors and dancers, Christian and Buddhist, Australian and otherwise. In the kaleidoscope of experience there is something very alluring to me – which brings me back to yesterday afternoon and pondering the HR lady.

I wonder all of this, but as I write it there is some deep part of me that recoils from it: I don’t want to give up on the sweet dreams of love and affection, of a true family. And yet, as I get close to the possibility of it I shrink back. This is the impasse I have to resolve.

The trick is to reconcile individual aspirations with the desire to be part of something greater than I alone. I want to continue to look outwards, be curious and assertive, while be a proper partner and – if it comes to it – father. It must be possible to be both. There’s always compromise, but must there be sacrifice? I suspect it will be a negotiation within myself, and probably only possible with the help of others. From here on in I can only be completely honest with myself and others – that’s the necessary requirement. Accept the conventional, strive to be more.

Wise words

I always think that hot weather in Melbourne has a different nature to hot weather in other parts of the world. A classically hot day in Melbourne is a heavy thing. It sits upon the landscape pressing it down. When you’re a part of that landscape you feel it keenly. It has a sharp and incessant quality. Shadows are clearly defined, and the sun is as painted in the corner of the sky, ever shining, ever beaming like a heat ray. It seems inescapable and static. The only difference is when the north wind blows, which is wicked and hot; and those moments of relief when the weather finally breaks.

I experienced the hot Melbourne weather standing at the bus stop in Frankston yesterday waiting to be picked up. I watched the comings and goings: the buses stopping and starting up again, the locals passing by or entering into the station concourse, some with their shirts off, and others waiting, like I, to be collected. I was the odd man out, not just in the heat, but in Frankston in general, dressed in a suit and with a silk tie with scarlet flowers on it.

I was picked up by a friend and we drove the short distance to the chapel where the funeral of my friend’s father was about to commence. On the way we chatted, catching up on old news. It was cool in the car with the air-con going full blast. Driving down the beach road we looked out over the beach and the distant escarpment at Mt Martha, both of us commenting on how idyllic it was. It’s like a painted scene, I said, the colours rich and deep, the sea blue, the sand a rich beige, and the trees atop the escarpment a dusty green. Later it reminded me of something Rupert Bunny might have painted, a timeless, eternal landscape where ladies might once have promenaded with parasols in their hands, while today yachts scud across the water and boys in board shorts cavort.

The chapel was full. Later I was told they had double the crowd expected. The overflow spilled into another room where the service could be watched by video link. We stood at the back of the room overlooking the seated heads. It was an elegant scene, different from the sterile chapels I’ve attended in the past. It was an old house with high ceilings. A modern chandelier dangled brass orbs. A row of windows let in the light from outside. Across the road and through the trees was the beach.

As funerals go it was a good funeral. I had my own memories of my mate’s dad, a kind and considerate man with a spark of wit. He had always seemed so robust. In my memory I saw as a kind of Harry Andrews type, salt of the earth, though with a bit more levity. Whatever my thoughts of him were it was clear he was held in great esteem by very many. My opinion of him seemed validated by the crowd: he was a man of quality.

I listened as the celebrant gave the conventional eulogy, before one by one his sons got up to share their memories. This was incredibly moving. It was clear he was a much loved father. The memories shared were vivid, sometimes funny, and often poignant. Their grief was articulated in different voices, and at times it threatened to overcome them.

It’s funny, I felt glad to be there to witness. It was real and true. It was sad that he was gone, but wonderful he had existed. I felt a kind of pride at being part of the human race he had been part of. But then I couldn’t help but feel envy too. I listened to the stories of these grieving sons and wondered what I could say on behalf of my own father. I had nothing to compare, not even the smallest thing. Once more I felt a sense of being deprived. How might it have been had I a father like that? I wished I could feel so deeply, could love so much – and yet, timely as it was, when I contacted my father by SMS the other day to tell him I had to record him as a next of kin I didn’t even receive an acknowledgement. That bus has long departed.

We ended up at the Dava hotel next door. You relax. It’s a different vibe, the tie is loosened. It’s an open bar and you share a cold beer with people you haven’t seen for years. The stories flow, memories are recalled. I had forgotten some, but remembering them again they seemed just like yesterday. How does time fly? Was that really twenty years ago? There seems something strange and wonderful about it. You look around. One of your friends is unchanged. You yourself are little different. But others are older, greyer, bigger. Men now, not boys, but when did that happen?

Here we are in a funeral though. If that was behind us, then ahead was this. I stood in the chapel thinking that I will be here again sometime, and one of my friends I share a beer with today might be in the casket – and one day it will be me. But that’s in the future, now is remembrance.

It’s the nature of funerals that while it is a sad occasion we celebrate by remembering. The connections that have dissolved or disconnected by time and distance in that brief period become real again. Moments are shared and recalled, laughter blossoms, stories are told.

I caught up with my mates younger brother, a lovely, knockabout bloke (they’re all lovely, a great family). He had struggled in giving his eulogy. When I shook his hand after the service he was still grief stricken. Now, at the reception, we shook hands again and with a smile said “as soon as I saw you H I had to laugh, you remember…” and off he went recalling a moment I had forgotten altogether (from my mates wedding) that I remembered again and laughed with him. Fancy that, we thought.

I threaded through the crowd, catching up with the eldest son, and then my mates mum, while being introduced to others. Outside the sun blazed down. The sea could be seen from the upstairs bar where we stood. As it had in the chapel the air-con struggled.

At the end I felt enlarged inside. I had awareness. Life was bigger than I remembered and it ends with death. It had boundaries, but the boundaries gave it meaning. I had commented to one of the sons he must be proud at the turn out and the testament it was for his father. He told me his father lived by the precept in 7 Habits of Effective Men – live like you want be remembered at your funeral. Yes, I thought, wise words – but what would people remember of me?

Our time travels with us

I was reading a review before of a book I’d like to read. Other Men’s Daughters is a re-release of a novel originally written in 1974 by one Richard Stern. It was controversial then, but praised for the quality of the writing. In the review, it is presented as an intelligent and insightful piece of work.

Stern died, aged 84, a few years ago. This little tidbit is casually reported in the review, but to me, reading seems most relevant. I have not read the novel, but in reading the review of it the novel seemed true to another time, now past. It’s not that the themes were no longer relevant – stories such as this continue in life. Rather it focussed on something in such a way that is no longer true to this time. Perhaps more serious than others, the book appeared a part of the Roth and Updike style of writing about relationships and sex. What were probing questions then now appear settled or discarded arguments.

Updike in recent years has been decried by some contemporary critics, with the inference being that his writing about sex was archaic, juvenile and even sexist. The new guys know better. And Roth has given up writing altogether. Needless to say, I am a great admirer of Updike’s stories (not so much his novels), which are beautiful things; and have read most of Roth’s oeuvre, and think him a master. Literature should be timeless, but clearly, there are trends that come and go, and times – and mores – that are described, then lapse. Is it just me, but are Updike and Roth old-fashioned now? Could there be an Updike or Roth – or indeed a Stern – these days?

I wondered this as I read the review, doubting that such a book would be written now, or even if anyone would be much interested in it now if it were – except, perhaps, to question and vilify any uncomfortable aspects of political incorrectness.

At the back of my mind is Tom Petty. Tom Petty died yesterday at age 66. He is another of those artists I grew up listening to. He is another thread from the soundtrack of my life, unravelled. And in fact, his era had passed too, though he still recorded and toured. He was mainstream once, though still critically acclaimed, his music was no longer part of the rotation, and his name no longer resonant.

It seems to me that as we pass through time we carry our own time with us. We learn to look a bit differently perhaps, our eyes take on new lens, but by and large, our perspective remains as it was when it was formed – in my argument, through our late teens and early twenties. It’s the burgeoning stage of our life full of discovery, sensation and rugged education. It can be modified, refined, it may even mellow, and rarely it may be inverted – but it is the same thing in different ways.

What it means for people like me is that I can look upon many things today and find myself weighing them against things I knew before. Nothing is entirely fresh because it is another representation of what I have known before, though the comparison is often puzzling. It means that the things that were important to you before remain true in you, even if they are no longer in vogue. Very little becomes irrelevant with the passing of time, regardless of what some critics would tell you.

That’s why a book like this resonates with me, because it was true when I was made. That’s why Tom Petty means something, never mind he hardly gets played anymore. None of this makes me old-fashioned or retro, it simply means I can see things from more than one angle, and with a lifetime of context.

Flickering moments

I slept unusually long last night, though it seems that come Sunday night the week catches up with me and I need an extra hour of sleep to make it good. I switched off the light at 10.30 and woke up a little before 7 (typically I’m lights out 11.30, up at 6.45). I woke and felt in no hurry. I give myself leeway on a Monday morning because who wants to rush anywhere then? Certainly not if it’s to work.

Eventually I get on the train and it’s a bit fuller than usual because it’s later than customary. I sit there and do the usual thing, idly watching the comings and goings while listening to an audiobook.

My eyes light upon a man a few years older than me in a suit. He seems much older than me, but that’s always hard to judge, and something I tend to think more often than not regardless. In any case he has about 10 kilos on me and is silver throughout, hair and beard. I don’t really take much notice of him but for his leather satchel. It’s a quality piece, but what catches my eye is the strap, which at one point has frayed to the point that it looks like but a thread holds it together. I wonder, why has he not replaced it, or least made some effort to mend it? I imagine when inevitably it will part. What will he do then? My mind slips into speculative mode. I wonder when he bought the satchel, and where that was? What was his life then? What did he think and feel? What has changed?

The train carries on and at Middle Brighton a blonde woman slips into the seat diagonally opposite me by the window. At first glance she is attractive, fine featured, shapely and well dressed. She has a stern countenance though, a look that discourages easy conversation. It’s probably just an unfortunate case of a harsh resting face (I know that my resting face intimidates people), but I can also see how she will age into a hard faced old woman if she is not careful.

After that first glance I take little notice of her. She spends most of the trip staring at her phone as if she is angry with it. But then she puts the phone down and looks out the window. I catch her reflection in the glass and look again at her face. She has the most striking eyes. I wonder what colour they are, somewhere between blue and green I think, but with a crystalline purity. They are just eyes, but I wonder what they mean. What does it feel like to have eyes like that? Maybe it makes you angry, but I doubt that. I want to know more about her. Like the man she has a story.

I look out the window. Richmond station has passed and we are edging into the city past Margaret Court Arena. A spontaneous memory comes to me as the train passes beneath Fed Square. I remember a moment, many years ago. I’m with a woman, she’s Italian, with lush, dark tumbling hair and a wide mouth that smiles a lot. She thinks I’m the bees knees, but I can’t recall her name. We have just watched an old French film at ACMI and are getting some fresh air during the intermission. It’s a warm night and this girl looks into my eyes and takes my hand, and presses it down under the strap of her paints and there between her legs warm and inviting.

Look beyond

Our experience of the world is personal. We see through eyes that are skewed by temperament, experience and state of mind. Ultimately our response interacts and reflects upon those elements.

That’s true of each of the little moments and events that make up our experience of the world, and it’s true also when we begin to string those moments together. They’re like atoms that bounce off each other in our self, heading off in unexpected directions. Together they make for an ever evolving experience of life, and it’s unique in each of us.

I have an example of that, but need you to bear with me as I attempt to link seemingly disparate moments into a coherent and very individual whole.

On Saturday morning I discovered that a popular sporting commentator over many years – Drew Morphett – had passed away at the age of 69. Drew was a particularly affable character, full of energy and life which he brought to the commentating job. He was a spritely character impossible to dislike, and also very good at his job.

I was returning from my weekly grocery run when I discovered this, and I was both surprised and given to further consideration. There were three distinct phases.

The first, quite transitory, was how Drew had always reminded me of my uncle. They had a similar look, both eternally youthful with dark hair that tended to curls, and of almost identical vintage. My uncle, quite a tragic figure, died about 15 years ago of cancer.

The second thought was how many people seem to be dying these days. Of course people are always dying, and as I walked home I wondered if it was just my experience of it that made it seem the number had increased. It made sense. The older you get the more people you are aware of, and a greater number of your contemporaries, and those you grew up around, reach the age when death becomes a possibility. I wondered if that’s how it is as you get older, ever more aware of mortality? It hardly enters your head when you’re young. You feel invincible and, even so, death is decades away. But then the decades dwindle and one day death appears like an oppressive inevitability.

The third consideration was remembrance of Drew Morphett himself. I grew up listening to him commentating on footy particularly, him and Doug Heywood, Geoff Leek, Doug Bigelow, and so on, great names, now all gone. In particular I recalled when I was just a kid still in school when as a family we moved from Melbourne to Sydney when my dad got a transfer. We lived in leafy Gordon in a lovely house and occasionally I would go next door to the Meggitt’s where I would baby-sit for them. What I remember best about that was sitting down in front of the TV once they had gone and watching The Winners on the ABC. That was 1980, and how the years have flown.

Then it’s Sunday and all day I’m flat. Is there a reason? Probably a million reasons – life is still tough, and there is very little emotional nourishment. Still, that has been the case for ages, and I manage to override it. In itself that becomes a source of dissatisfaction. To the world I appear intelligent, confident and strong. I am those things perhaps, but I am much more besides. Even those who know me and my circumstances see that and take it on face value, even though beneath it all it is a grand struggle. That’s on me, I should share more, but I want nobody’s sympathy, and besides, the stubbornness and defiance I had long before any of this buttresses the appearance of being on top of things.

It’s like a poison inside you and sometimes you can taste it and then I wish others understood. It’s not easy. I struggle. I have to fight for everything. I’m so tired. I need tenderness. And so on. And even then as I use wit to hide the fact I feel disaffected that no-one understands. Why can’t they understand? Can’t they see me inside? Can’t they see I hurt?

There was an episode last week that epitomised this. I’m having lunch with a female acquaintance. She’s got this idea of me, one of my personas I guess. She told me months ago when she first met me she felt intimidated by my intellect. Now she seems to think me a force of masculine nature. I try to correct her. I’m not as hard-driving as that, and even if I was there are other parts to me. I feel two dimensional when there are worlds inside me. I’m sensitive, I’m tender, I’m kind, I’m compassionate, why is it that no-one ever sees anything but dominant masculine traits?

And so this feels like a betrayal that I pay no mind to until I taste the poison.

I wander about Sunday doing things and trying to get excited, but know if there is a source for the current state of affairs then it is my job. I feel betrayed. I have been let down and poorly treated, something my manager would agree with. I have had to fight for what should be my right. I struggle to get things done when no-one is interested. I never thought I’d say this, but I have become de-motivated and listless. I am burnt out and quite possibly depressed, because nothing has meaning for me.

So, it is, but no-one is going to do anything about that and so I put it at arm’s length, as I do. I feel it, but won’t indulge it. The day drifts into night. It’s dark outside. I think of how all there is seemingly is memory, as if there is nothing now worthy of it. People die and it recalls to me times when things happened and meant more. My life is looking backwards and warming myself on the memories of better times.

As if to emphasise the point I end up watching The Fisher King on TV. This is another of these elements. I know I watched it not long after it first came out in the early nineties, and that it meant something to me. I watched it then and something stirred in, what it was and why I don’t know. Still, I watch it again knowing that and hoping, I think, to feel something again. And once more I’m aware that I’m harking back to another time. The boy who baby-sat for the Meggitt’s became the man in the thick of things watching this movie as if it meant something, and to the man I am today looking back and wondering at the path that led me here, and at the path that leads away.

I went to bed last night and pulled from my bookshelves one of Robert A Johnson’s The Fisher King and the Handless Maiden.

Dare I say it there was a time when I read books by him, and Campbell, Eysenck, Bly, and Antony Storr. Back then it was a form of investigation. I was curious. I wanted to understand. This was through the late eighties and the early nineties. Now I took to this book to understand myself, and my ‘wound’.

There was no magic. I knew it all. It was inside me. I can know things and they make no difference. I can’t heal myself. I turned off the light and went to sleep. In the morning I woke and went to work.

Something has to change, I know that. Work is dead to me, and maybe fatally. I’m applying for other jobs, but, well… In the short term I plan a short break, a week, just to get away from it and freshen myself up, but not until I know what’s happening with my job. It’s a little thing, and only temporary, but it’s something. I need something more beyond that though. I need something meaningful. And maybe I need to be understood. Above all I need some nourishment for the soul. All of this ends one day, and I don’t want this to be the tale. There is more out there, and more in me, I just have to find it.

Of course, you know by tomorrow I’ll be that force of nature again. Look beyond it.

Not fade away

I’ve got a heavy cold right now that makes me feel as if my head might pop at any moment. My nose is blocked, and I can feel the pressure behind my eyes and in my ears. I took the day off yesterday because I was sneezing all over the place, and because I had a new oven being installed. I spent the day quietly on the couch or in bed and in between working at the novel. Being crook is a nuisance, but I’m back at work today.

At the end of the night yesterday I was lying on the couch contemplating bed when instead I clicked on a movie to watch I’d recorded last week. Travelling North seems to me one of those forgotten movies. A zillion movies get made every year across the world and some will be remembered for decades to come, for the right reasons, or wrong, and most will fade into the past. A few, for reasons I can’t understand, get lost in the past. Travelling North is a worthy movie, but one of those lost movies. Who here has ever heard of it, let alone seen it?

It’s an Australian movie starring Leo McKern and Julia Blake and based on a David Williamson play. It has a solid cast and is well made and is clever. It’s not a movie that should be forgotten, which is one reason I recorded it. It came at me as a novelty. Oh yes, I thought, I remember that movie. I wonder how it plays now.

I probably wouldn’t have cared, except that I saw this movie at the cinema when it came out. I remember it very well. I went with a mate to see it at the Roseville Cinema in Sydney. For dinner before we went to a Black Stump restaurant. In retrospect it seems an unusual movie for us to have elected to watch, but we both enjoyed its modest pleasures. That was a while ago, I knew, but when I saw it was from 1987 I felt a mild flutter of wonder. I knew it was from about then, but I realised that was 30 fucking years ago. 30 years! How does that happen?

Back then when I saw it first the actual storyline would have had no direct relevance for me. It’s the story of a couple of retirement age driving up from Melbourne to a new home in the north of Queensland. They go from the hustle and bustle of the city to a laid-back lifestyle in a tropical setting. It’s a well-worn trail, with thousands of retirees making the trek from the southern states to the tropical climes to warm their bones with their working life done. I was not much more than a kid then and all of that was many years distant, if at all – and I doubt it ever crossed my mind.

That time is 30 years closer now. I’m still a way off and very much doubt that I would go north – it might be pretty, but I’d miss the conversation and the culture. Regardless, there will come a time in the next 20 years when I will need to consider what I’ll do. If not travelling north, then what?

Who can say? A lot can happen in 20 years, and I hope it does. I’ve changed in the 30 years since I saw the film. Back then everything was ahead of me. Right now a lot of it is behind me. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve lived an interesting life, and occasionally a big life. My desire is for that to continue, though it’s harder now. I still want to feel that vibrant urgency, still want to be relevant – I don’t think I can live without that.

That’s my problem with retirement. I accept that I’ve a harsh perspective on it, but that’s because I’ve observed it so much. I’ve watched retired husbands – long careers behind them, but past – trail after their wives in the supermarket. Just recently there’s been a bunch of press on retirement and aged care homes, and none of it good. But I’ve also listened in as retired couples have lauded the facilities and activities of their retirement villages. They make it sound like landlocked cruise ships with lawn bowls and cards and group activities, and so on. Perhaps that’s as it should be – but it’s not for me, and I can’t imagine a time when it will be.

If you ask me I’ll tell you I want to stay independent to the end. I want my own home and space, want to make my own decisions and live life as I choose too. The Leo McKern character in the movie is a retired civil engineer and ex-communist. He’s done things and has become a curmudgeonly old man. Well, excuse me, I think that’s exactly as it should be. Live on your terms, and fuck convention.

There will be plenty who object to my suppositions and to each his own. What it feels like to me is that to settle into a retirement home of any sort is to accept the fact of eventual death and to wait for it in comfort. I don’t accept it, and I won’t wait for it.

For me, right now, it’s simple. I’m happy to live simply. Have my home, a vegie garden, a dog, and hopefully a partner to share it with. That’s to start with. But you need more than that if you are not to become one of those lost husbands dogging their spouses heels in the supermarket because they have nothing better to do. You need something for yourself.

I know this because I have always needed that. I’ve been strident because I wanted to feel life and engage with it. It has become my nature and it won’t change just because I might retire one day. You need to do, or at least attempt to do. All your life you have contributed to society, if only modestly – why should that change now? So okay you tell me, because you’ve retired, because those days are gone, because now it’s time to rest and enjoy. Enjoy what though? The ethereal pleasures of playing bridge and going to the theatre?

I believe that you must put in as much – if not more – than what you take out. A life living as a valued member of the community builds that balance up, from which you withdraw as necessary. At retirement the deposits cease unless you make an effort otherwise. You begin to draw from that account and what fun it is to start with – but then it pales, doesn’t it? For the active mind I’m sure, it would. To take without putting back becomes a superficial existence. What meaning acquired over lifetime of rich experience evaporates in the artificial sunshine of retirement.

I want to keep putting in until the day I die. For me it means in that little house with the vegie garden I must do something more. For me that will be writing, but probably something else to. And if I could I would live like that starting tomorrow.

I can’t disengage. I can’t put things at arm’s length. This is what you have to remember. When you die you don’t come back. This is it. Why waste it? Why become irrelevant? Live all the way through I reckon.