This week


I love a social life, but I also crave ‘me’ time. I love to be out among the bright lights eating and drinking well, talking, laughing, flirting, but I also cherish the quiet moments when I can curl up with a good book, a good movie, or listening to tunes whipping up some culinary feast. There are days I’m happy to see no-one, do nothing, and many days I barely walk out the door. I love the fizz and pop of a night out on the town, but in my heart H is a solo beast who plays at being one of the pack.

Last week was a social week. I was out for dinner and drinks twice and had a great old time basking in the balmy evenings and downing pisco sours. Another night a friend visited me and we ended up at a wine bar. And on another occasion, I drove an hour to get to the other side of town to have lunch with cousins and my aunt and uncle in the salubrious Eltham Hotel.

This week I look forward to being sedate. It’s the last week before I go back to work. I’ve achieved a lot this break but there are still things on my list. I’ll tidy them up and once they’re done what I’ve got left is a week of reading and writing.

It’s a warm, sunny day. I’ve just come from coffee up the road and posting a card to my nephew for his birthday (due to arrive before it for a change). I’ll give Rigby a walk later but otherwise, I’m home for the day.

These are the things I must do: update this blog; scan a few more pics; call up the doc about an ultrasound I had yesterday (suspect there’s a problem with my toe); call up the local salvos about donating some stuff; pickle or preserve something; and take my old massage shop manager to the doc tomorrow. Jobs something in there as well (have a live opportunity with NBN but don’t have the telco experience).

I have mixed in this last week of my leave. In some ways, it will be harder than ever returning to work. It could have gone either way, but in this case my absence has solidified my feelings about the office being unprofessional and slapdash. I wish it wasn’t so. I’m disappointed nothing more substantial has popped up in these weeks. There’s not a lot about. If I’m patient something will eventuate, however.

Have I resolved anything in myself? You have to understand I live an intensely interior life, especially when I’m writing. My real life refracts my writing experience, and vice versa. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to write. That’s especially true of this book, which has a dense psychological perspective. I want to get it right, though I know it instinctively. Once I write it out I often find that instinctive knowledge becomes conscious knowledge. The act of writing drags up things from deep within me I sense more than know. When it hits the light it becomes true in a way and I can look upon the written word and understand it for myself (sometimes I think there’s a form of automatic writing at work). I reflect upon it as an individual. It informs my perspective and potentially my behaviours.

What I’m saying is that while I’ve given little direct thought to my situation it is thrown into relief by what I write. It has a heft I cannot shrug. In a way it feels like a dark secret – I am the man who writes this; I carry this within me.

It’s little wonder that writing is therapeutic for me, but as yet I don’t know the fullness of what it means.

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Remembering my birthday


I woke up this morning and it took me ten minutes to remember it was my birthday. It’s not that I’ve overlooked it. I shared in a birthday celebration Saturday night and there’s been plenty of other reminders along the way. These days though my birthday seems purely a social thing, an excuse to get together and have a drink. The deeper remembrance of what it actually means has passed into history.

I had passing thoughts over the weekend related to that very idea. I recalled a time when my birthday would come along and my mum, ever exuberant, would call me at the first opportunity and sing happy birthday to me. I would raise my eyebrows at it at the time, but it was heart-warming to be reminded I was so loved. I have no kids to wake me with breakfast in bed, and not even a family these days to share a quiet celebratory meal with, either out or a nice home cooked meal by mum. And presents, of course. I don’t even consider presents anymore, though once I would be curious with anticipation of what goodies the day would bring me.*

This is a difference. Birthdays now are single events when once they were part of a continuum that took in years of history and remembrance and family memory.

With all that said, it didn’t take long this morning to be reminded that it was my birthday. I was waiting for the train to arrive when I got my first message. I’ve had about another dozen since wishing me a happy birthday. My offsider, returned from holiday, came in with a bag full of pastries to celebrate; and the women I work with have very kindly cooked up a storm over the weekend for a birthday lunch together today. I’m grateful for that and more touched than I thought I would be. And I’ve just listened to a voicemail in which Donna sings happy birthday to me.

I’m not doing anything tonight but there’s another birthday celebration on Friday night – Donna’s – so it’s a busy and festive time all round.

*To be fair, I got a lovely bottle of Mamre Brook shiraz on Saturday night, and Donna doubtless will have a gift for me. And the combination of cocktails, Mexican food and friends Saturday night was great fun.

Another year older, nearly


It’s my birthday in a bit over a week and because of people coming and going and not being about I’m having an extended, though fragmentary, celebration of it.

Yesterday it started with a spirit tasting event at Cumulus, Inc with a couple of old friends. It was a beautiful, perfect day and spirits even before we touched one were pretty buoyant. We spent a few hours circulating in the crowd tasting this and that and chatting with the people behind these small brands and quietly getting intoxicated on the small sips of gin and whisky and rum afforded to us. It was all good. In the end, we topped it off with a cocktail and proceeded to our next stop.

We tried the rooftop at the Imperial but it was crowded and so ended up sitting at a table on Spring street drinking beer after beer and getting some bar snacks to help soak up a portion of it. The premiere of the new Harry Potter stage production was happening just up the road from us and we watched as a steady stream of people went by in either direction either coming from it or going to it. Some were dressed up like wizards or what not, and costumes that made no sense to me but would all the world to a Harry Potter aficionado.

Among the crowd were celebrities invited along to give the event a touch of glam, each one proclaimed by C as they wandered by, or sat at the restaurant nearby us. It was a stellar day for celebrity spotting, though no real A-listers unless you include the state premier.

We had all met working together at Shell more than twenty years ago, just down the road on the corner. We’ve been friends ever since, though in more recent times C has drifted away some – Cheeseboy still see each other every month, and often much more often. Still, it represented a reunion of sorts with many memories recalled and, as the beer settled in, deep and meaningful moments explored.

Somewhere along the line, the conversation turned to me. I’ve had a prickly relationship with C occasionally, though mostly on his side. He’s a man who imagines slights occasionally and in general, seems to often find my confidence – or whatever it is – as a challenge to him. Yesterday was free of that, perhaps because there was no audience, but he quizzed me once more.

We got talking about my writing and where that’s heading. I told him it was going well, but he was disappointed that I hadn’t written about my ‘experience’. Every time he sees me he commends me for having survived such a tough time. He emphasised yesterday what a compelling story that was if only I wrote about it – how, in his words, an intelligent, successful, private school boy ends up homeless and in despair, and recovers from it.

It’s a narrative to him, though his fascination seems genuine, as if he can’t really understand how such a thing can be – though he’s seen it with others. I think I represent some sort of mysterious cautionary tale. Of course, it’s not so simple for me having lived it.

I told him I would write the story one day, but only when I was ready for it. That wasn’t good enough for him. He leaned forward with insistence and it felt as if he was accusing of avoiding the subject, or skyving with it. I tried to explain. I’m too close to it still. Part of that it needs to properly ripen, when things are different, when there’s enough space between me and it that I can see it properly and not be affected by it. For now, it’s still a depressing thing and will remain so I reckon until I reach the next level – whenever that may be.

The discussion zinged hither and yon until someone at the end of the table felt the need to intervene with a comment, basically telling them to lay off me. We all smiled at that. It wasn’t serious, but in the conversation, I’d come clean. I’ve not been happy for eight or nine years I told them. I referred to how they go home to a family and comfort and security and all I have is a dog I love and small comfort and little security. I was complaining, I was just saying. I said your family is like a battery that replenishes you, except you don’t know it. You know it when you don’t have it anymore.

All of this is familiar to me, so it made no difference saying it. It was new to them though and it surprised them I think.

At one stage C had leaned forward when he was proclaiming my story and said I was smarter than he and Cheeseboy combined and that was the story – how does something like this happen to someone like me? I tried to explain but at the back of my mind, I wondered why he thought I was so smart. What makes me smart?

It’s something I wonder about sometimes in general, like I do other things. It’s curious because I know I’m primo intelligent but it just is for me and I don’t understand it because I can’t see or understand or even conceive of being any different. It feels so common that even if I am smarter than everyone else I don’t feel any different. And so I get surprised when people say such things or act in such a way and I wonder, what do they see? How is this thing manifested? (I know at work I’m perceived as some kind of brainiac, even by those who dislike me.)

I sometimes wonder if people get taken in by the behaviours they take as markers of intelligence, but which aren’t in themselves anything more than quirks of personality. That’s not to say I doubt it – I don’t. I only really know it when I get things that others don’t, mostly to my surprise, and the speed of understanding things and the connections I make that are mysteries to others. I think maybe that’s why I write.

By now it is late afternoon and there’s an aroma wafting our way of what appears to be Tandoori chicken and eventually, we adjourn around the corner to an Indian restaurant where Cheeseboy and I have dinner sitting at a table outdoors, and C finally departs for another function, long after he planned.

It was a good, full day, carefree and fun and nostalgic. I guess that’s what birthdays should be.

I’m sharing a dinner with Cheeseboy next week – his birthday is the day before mine – and one other. Donna might attend that too. The week after it’s a night out with JV, who is otherwise away.

Saturday morning rituals


As much as I like to think myself a free spirit I am, like most people, a creature of habit. This is no more evident than on Saturday mornings.

It’s the end of the week and there is a mental reclining into the weekend. I wake, whenever, feed Rigby, make a coffee, and go back to bed where I catch up with things – Facebook and Twitter, the newspapers, and whatever book of non-fiction I’m reading at that time (fiction is for bedtimes).

Somewhere between 9 and 10 I’ll get out of bed and get myself ready for the day ahead. Sometimes that includes a walk for Rigby, though mostly I leave that for later. It always means a trip to the local shops at Hampton for my weekly shopping.

I enjoy this. In fact, I look forward to it. Maybe it’s because it’s such a simple thing. All week I’ve been catching the train to and from work, and in the office have done battle (truer than just a throwaway line). The simple task of shopping for groceries at my cosy local shops is a form of mental cleansing. So off I go.

I’m pretty organised. I have a fair idea each week of what I’m going to buy. About 80% of my shopping is to plan – replacing things I’ve run out of, the weekly staples like bread and milk, and the ingredients I’ve identified for my cooking in the week ahead.

I walk around with about ten recipes in my head I plan to make. Depending on what I feel like and the weather will determine which recipes I select for the week ahead, though generally one will certainly be meat, and hopefully another meat-free. The recipes I browse each week on sites like the NYT, and some I will add to an app on which I’ve got stored about a thousand recipes of all types. I’ve made about 300 of them.

So when I go out I have in mind what I will make and the ingredients I need to make them. Mostly these recipes are new to me and I’ll rate them afterwards. Most recipes score a three, but it’s my hope to get about a hundred recipes with a rating above that which will be the staple of my diet going forward. That’s a fair way off – I’m an adventurous cook and a fussy one, and I’ve got no more than twenty odd recipes that score that well.

So I set out. Occasionally I’ll catch up for a coffee with Cheeseboy on my way, but mostly I’ll head directtly to the shops.

I’ll know if it’s going to be a big shop or a small shop. If it’s a small shop I’ll take the red cloth shopping bag I bought in Hong Kong fifteen years ago. It has memories for me, not just from when I bought it – from the markets on the far side of the island – but of the many occasions I’ve used it, and how, once, mum repaired it for me.

If it’s a big shop I’ll take with me the very sturdy L.L.Bean canvas bag. It holds a shitload, as they say, and can bear a greater burden than I’ve yet tested it with.

First stop is the supermarket. I’ll be about half an hour in there buying my groceries. Next stop is the greengrocer. Most of my meat and vegies I buy from Vic Market during the week, but often I’ll need to supplement my stores with something extra. Finally, I get my weekend bread. Mostly it’s from Baker’s Delight, which embarrasses me some, though it’s adequate bread at a reasonable price. Sometimes I’ll walk a bit further and across the railway line to the French bakery. Sometimes I’ll pick up some artisan bread from the greengrocer. Regardless, there’s always bread of some type – a baguette, something sourdough, maybe some Turkish bread, or something grainy and/or seeded (today it’s Turkish rolls). There’s always bread though, that’s my ritual too.

I’ll head back then. If I’m bold or have some loose change I might stop for a coffee somewhere, but mostly it’s straight home.

At home, I’ll unpack the food while listening to music (today it’s Peter Gabriel). Recently I’ve got in the habit of including a milk drink in my shopping and will drink that while I put things away and then, once that’s done, cleaning the kitchen proper, to cap off the routine.

At some stage, I’ll make myself a sandwich and sit down in front of this thing to catch up with my emails, check out some recipes, browse some music. Today I’ve interrupted that routine, but not broken it. Now it’s back to the kitchen for the cleanup.

My street


Last week, an old townhouse up the road and across the street from where I live was demolished. They were there a few days with an earth digger dismantling the property. This is not uncommon these days. Properties are always being torn down to be replaced by shmick new apartment complexes, and I expect something similar will appear here.

One morning on my way to work I passed by. The house was gone and cleared away, but the tractor was at work tearing apart bit by bit an old tree in the corner of the property. It tore one limb from the tree, then another. I walked on, feeling uneasy, as if I was witnessing something fundamentally wrong. I didn’t want to see anything more. By the time I returned that evening the tree was gone, the block vacant, and the tractor carted away.

Yesterday after getting home I put on a pair of shorts then when out to the bins at the front of the property with some rubbish. A skinny old man with a floppy hat was standing there looking up at the sprawling old gum tree in the nature strip. He turned at my approach and said affably. “Great old tree, isn’t it?” I agreed it was. Unwilling to be rude I lingered a little longer talking about the tree. He told me he believed it was this or that particular type of gum tree, but would “have to smell the leaves” to confirm it was. He picked up a handful of fallen leaves and inhaled from them. Nodding his head he said, yes it was as he thought. At that moment a woman approached.

She was my next door neighbour. I’d see her around but we’d never actually came face to face. She was dressed casually and had a towel spilling over the edges of a large shoulder bag. She had paused deliberately to meet me. “Hi,” she said, “We’re neighbours. I’ve seen you but we’ve never met. My name’s Eva.”

She had a slight accent and combined with her blonde good looks I thought she might be Scandinavian or Eastern European. Somehow I’d never considered as anything else but Aussie on the occasions I’d seen her. I’d found her alluring right from the get-go, not just attractive, but seemingly with a lively, vivacious quality that resonated with me every time I saw her. Yesterday she smiled at me, friendly and wanting to engage and I found it a gracious quality.

I introduced myself and then made the obvious comment that she’d been to the beach, adding “good day for it.” She agreed, we parted, see you around.

Living the low life


I had the choice last night of attending a cool party in the city, a low-key barbecue close by, or just stay home. Guess what I did? I stayed home.

It bemuses me a little since I complain of a paucity of social opportunities, but then, I’m not going to force it. You feel obliged to do something on new years eve and somehow a loser if you don’t. I didn’t feel like going out last night though. I certainly didn’t relish catching public transport to and from the city with a million other (often drunk) members of the public. And so on the basis of doing what I want to do – rather doing what is expected of me – I went nowhere.

I fired up the barbie and made dinner. Then I watched The Maltese Falcon again. A little after 9pm I put on the movie I’d set myself to watch last night Bladerunner 2049. It’s running time would take me up towards midnight, and it was a movie I looked forward to re-watching.

Once more I was blown away by much of the imagery and set-pieces in the film. It’s great to look at. It’s a classic story too, though. As I watched I thought there’s something Dickensian about the storyline, even if set in a bleak, rainwashed future. Watching a second time with knowledge of how it all pans out added another level of insight.

It’s funny, though it’s deemed a classic and high-up on many best-of lists, I’m nowhere near as fond of the original Bladerunner – even though, on paper, it’s just my sort of movie. I watched it again six months ago and found my views on it unchanged. It has great moments, again, some fantastic set-pieces, the production design is fantastic, Ridley Scott is a fine director, and it’s got Harrison Ford – and yet I’m unswayed. You know what? I think – despite the story – there’s something cold at the heart of it. It’s an unfashionable view and I wish I enjoyed it more.

About halfway through last night I cracked a bottle of bubbles for tradition’s sake and drank half of it. The movie finished at about 11.45 and so I put a leash on Rigby and together we wandered down to the beach.

The idea was to get a good view of the fireworks over Melbourne. From Hampton beach, there’s pretty well an unimpeded view of the CBD. As it turns out it wasn’t as great as that by night.

A few other people had got the same idea as me. Cars had pulled over to the side of the road to check it out. On the beach, there were a couple of party groups, as well as a couple of cops checking things out. It was a beautiful night – cool without being cold, and the night sky clear so every star twinkled.

Midnight came and people cheered and cried out and the fireworks went off. They seemed far distant from our vantage point, small splashes of colour erupting on an oversized canvas. We could hear them though, and soon enough smell them too as the smoke wafted our way.

I stayed for about ten minutes, happy to have come, and then home, and to bed by 12.30

Boxing Day traditions


I know right now a bunch of crazies are duking it out at the Boxing Day sales but gee, I couldn’t think of anything worse. My Boxing Day tradition is very different. It’s a time to chill, a day to put the feet up after the exertions and excesses of the day previous, a day to quietly review gifts given, to tuck into the plenitude of leftovers and – above all – to settle down in front of the TV for the start of the Boxing Day test match.

This year there’re leftovers, but not so many gifts, and though I fed well throughout the day the excesses were kept to a minimum. As for exertions? Quite.

I’m set, all the same. I’ve been out, bought some milk for my coffee, plus some avocados and a good loaf of Turkish bread for lunch of leftover chicken in sandwiches. As I write this the national anthems are being sung before the start of the test match. I won’t stir much from here on in.

Yesterday was predictably modest. Lunch was good, but I went easy on it. I watched some Netflix, then a Bergman movie. Initially, I was going to watch Wild Strawberries, but upon reflection decided that wasn’t a good option, being all about regret after all. Instead, I settled for The Seventh Seal.

Somewhere amid that I had a nap and did some reading, before hopping in the car and making the short trip to JV’s. It was low-key and pleasant there. They’d returned from a predictably full-on family day. We had a glass or two of wine, fired up the barbie, and talked long into the balmy night.

That was enough for me Christmas Day. Until then I was feeling it a little, but that ticked it off.

Today I’m spot on. No dramas. All the related pressure of the festive season has dropped away. I can be a normal person again.