Entirely me

I left home today when it was still dark, heading for work. It had rained overnight, and though cool, it wasn’t cold. At that time of morning – just on 7 – it’s quiet and sleepy still, with most of the world yet to properly rouse. Walking the suburban streets there’s a sense of agreeable aloneness.

It was early for me because these days I’m sleeping so well. I’ve slept well most of my life, and for most of my life took it for granted. Then in the last 18 months I found my sleep deteriorating. From never waking up through the night I became someone whose sleep became disturbed, waking up two or three times or more a night. I suppose for many people it represents a normal sleep, but for me it was foreign. This disturbed sleep coincided with a blocked sinus I experienced nightly. In recent months that’s improved some after acupuncture, and still more again with a new nasal spray that has cleared me up very well. From a sleep quality averaging about 72% it’s now up about 88%. I feel better for it all round. With my sleep more efficient it becomes easier to get up early (though I’ve been sleeping longer on average).

In any case I rocked up to my local station this morning as the sky slowly brightened and the sleeping homes gradually woke. As I do every morning I found myself a window seat on the right hand side of the train with my headphones on listening to an audiobook. As the stations were ticked off the train slowly filled. It’s quiet generally, most people at that time of day happy to ease into the maelstrom, and still very much in their own world. About me the seats fill. For the most part I take no notice unless there’s someone interesting. Otherwise, like everyone else, I’m happy to peer out the window waiting for the moment I must exit the train and head to work.

When the train pulls into the city the sun has properly risen, but the light is opaque, and a few heavy drops of rain randomly fall. I like this time of day. There’s not the bustle in the streets that 20 minutes later will be in full force. There are a few, like me, early to work in a mix of business formal and Friday casual. There seem to be a lot of backpackers wondering around with backpacks laden. There’s probably no more than usual, it’s just that they more visible – less diluted – in the smaller crowds. They poke around uncertainly, looking for somewhere to sit down for an early breakfast or coffee.

I clack-clack down the laneways and arcades I take to get to work. I’ve got my heavy redwing boots on and a thick p-jacket with the collar turned up. I feel free. I look about and absorb so much and so much of it I know from my own experience, and what I don’t adds to me. It’s one of those occasions when I feel most especially me, and what a privilege it seems.

Climbing into the lift in the building a girl working on my floor smiles at me and wishes me a good morning. We speak lightly, gently joking, both of us anticipating a long weekend and glad its Friday.

Then I’m at my desk, PC on, my good mornings said to the sparse crowd there, and today out again for an early coffee, flirting with the French girl from La Rochelle.


Free and about

I took the day off yesterday to go to the doctor. I have a doctor about 5 minutes’ walk from where I live, and I’ve been visiting him when I have an ailment. He’s a pleasant enough character, though entirely without charisma. He’s tall and spindly and with a hawkish nose that puts one in mind of a minor Dickens character. I dare say he’s competent, but he’s also inclined to diffidence which – in my book – is for certain something you don’t want in a doctor. A doctor should possess authority, preferably of the type borne from experience and learning – they know what they’re doing and are not shy of making a call. This doctor is tentative, inclined to seek my feedback on his cautious diagnoses. I go to a doctor because they are an expert in a field that I’m not – I want them to give an opinion and propose a treatment. I may have the right to veto, but I don’t need a vote.

And so yesterday I visited my old doctor in Camberwell. Given that’s a 50 minute drive from where I live then it just about rules out half the day, and given half a day I may well as well take the full eight hours.

And so I rocked up to see my old doctor at 10am yesterday.

It’s important you trust your doctor, and I trust her all the way. Experience has been that she is thorough and diligent and conscientious. She’ll follow up, and has the confidence to either propose a treatment or refer me to a specialist. She’ll make an educated guess, but if she can’t be sure she’ll do what she can to either confirm or rebut it. On top of that she’s very cute.

She’s got kids and was married, but no longer seemingly. From day one we had a good rapport and as time went on it became a mutual, though unspoken attraction. We’d digress into other conversations and laugh together. She’d gently compliment me on something or other, and I’d do the same to her. It was very easy and at one time it felt as if it might go beyond the surgery. Without saying anything directly she’d made it clear her marriage was over. It was around grand final day and we spoke about the big day and the associated celebrations. I remember she mentioned how she had to take the kids out for a kick but didn’t really know how to go about it. That was my cue to say something, but I didn’t yet feel it my place.

I hadn’t seen her for about 18 months before yesterday, maybe longer. We commented on that catching up. She’s still attractive, though her hair is now different, and the ring on her finger is gone.

She did her stuff professionally, sent me for some tests, and then I was on my way.

I wandered around Camberwell a little just for nostalgia’s sake, then hopped in the car again to head home. Driving across town was surprisingly enjoyable. It’s nice to be mobile again, nice to be doing familiar things and going familiar ways. When you’re without a car of your own your personal geography alters. It’s limited to the basic radial pattern of the public transport network. Getting on the road literally jumps the tracks. You can go anyway you want. You can act on a whim. Your view of the world is refreshed and enlivened.

Back home I pottered around attending to domestic tasks and other things I had set myself to get done – primary among them was getting my MCC membership entirely renewed. That required getting the arrears paid. Luckily I got my compo payment yesterday morning and yesterday was the cut-off point for my membership. A day late and I lose it forever. Fortunately I got in just under the wire, which means for the first time in about 5 years I can walk into the MCG as a member. Might do it tomorrow. It’s another step closer towards normality.

Later I had a long overdue massage, then took Rigby for a check-up at the vet – he’s in very good health.

It was a nice day. I felt free and very much myself.

The lover, the diplomat and the warrior

These days mostly my weekends are pretty standard affairs, and often I’m fine with that. I don’t need to be on the go all the time painting the town red, as once I did, and besides, I’m committed every weekend to doing a certain amount of writing, and I need a certain amount of space and time set aside to do that.

This weekend just gone I managed to do my scheduled creative writing (and fine it was, too), while managing to get out and about and having a fine old time of it.

It’s funny, our Friday night had been organised a week or so ago, but come the evening I’d have been happy stopping at home and having a quiet night of it. I felt weary and lazy. Just goes to show. Not only was it a grand ol’ night, I fired up as well.

We went to a new tapas bar in Hampton street, JV, Cheeseboy and me. I was first there. It was a chilly night and the restaurant was lit up brightly and full of people. It was a welcoming environment, loud with conversation and the lingering aroma of wood smoke. I was approached by the waitress who enquired if we had a booking. We didn’t. She was sceptical until the owner, a Frenchman, stepped in. I knew him from another bar he used to have, an industrious, passionate guy full of Gallic enthusiasm. He smiled at me and hooked finger at me, leading towards the back and a long communal table at which there were people sitting at either end. He winked at me. “The boss,” he said, ushering his wife and her friend from one end of the table to make room for us. And that’s where we sat all night, the last to leave.

I had a cocktail and then Cheeseboy arrived in a fine old mood, then 20 minutes later JV who had a cocktail too, before we set about the menu. We ate well through the night, and drank well too consuming a few good bottles of good Spanish rioja between us, plus a glass of PX compliments of the owner. The conversation was often raucous, occasionally puerile (in the best way), and sometimes profound. Bate in the mood he was suffered from a case of playful tourettes, which just happened to kick-in whenever the waitress walked by, purely coincidental. That, of course, led to much hilarity.

Towards the end of the night the conversation returned to JV’s experiences with the forum. After some to and fro we had categorised each other in broad terms – Cheeseboy was the self-proclaimed Lover, JV the Diplomat, and I was the Warrior.

For some reason the focus had shifted to me, perhaps because of the extremities of my recent experience – certainly I’m the outlier when matched with a couple of suburban husband and fathers. It returned to the winning formula concept, and JV was keen to consider what mine had been.

Setting aside ‘warrior’ mentality, and even the self-belief that Donna had espoused in me, JV was eager to back to a time before anything extreme had happened, when I was much like them. He postulated that I got ahead thanks to a cosmopolitan sophistication – someone who could speak confidently on a range of subjects and who embodied a way of life in which food and literature and travel and politics where beacons.

I was surprised. I could recognise myself in his description, but did it amount to a ‘winning formula’? I thought not. I considered for a moment, casting my mind back to those halcyon times. I was dependable I said. You could trust me to take on anything and do it well. I inspired trust. I was very capable and willing and determined and ultimately confident enough to have a go at anything, and it was that mentality that drove me forward. As I said it it seemed true. And I wondered, did it remain true?

The next day I caught up with an old friend visiting from Mullumbimby. He was staying at his mum’s in Safety Beach. If not for my car we would have missed each other, but with some reluctance I set out for the drive down to the peninsula (65km). Aside from some car issues, and a wrong address, it was fine. Caught up for a beer with him at his mums before we ended up at the Dromana pub where we caught up on all the news.

I was home by 7.30, just I time to see the Bombers take on GWS, and beat them.

All round, a good weekend.

Old Budapest

I got home late last night full and weary and feeling generally worse for wear. Too much of everything pretty much had got to me, but fair to say it doesn’t take as much as it used to.

I sat on the couch and flicked on the TV. I made a call, switching between channels with mute on. I stopped when I found an old movie, Hello Dolly, being shown on one of the old time TV channels. I froze it while I chatted.

I was off the phone in half an hour and, tired as I was, proceeded to watch the last 30 minutes of Hello Dolly.

It’s one of those movies that holds a lot of memories for me. I must have seen it a half a dozen times by now, maybe more. It’s such a joyful movie that anyone who doesn’t like it can only be a bum. It has great music, a fantastic cast, tremendous set pieces. And Barbra Streisand.

She’s the other connective piece of memory. This movie, and others like it, were movies that I would watch with my mum. In later years we might call up to tell each other turn on the TV now, Funny Girl is on, or something like that. And mum loved Barbra Streisand. It’s impossible for me to see or hear Streisand without thinking of mum.

I love her too. What a fucking voice! And what a star she was! You watch Hello Dolly and the music and her singing is out of this world, but then even when she’s not singing she’s compelling in her characterisation. But it all comes back to her singing. I don’t know of anyone I’ve listened to who has a better voice, on top of which some of her vocal stylings are just fantastic. And the songs, the old standard, great stuff.

Weary as I was I watched and I couldn’t help but be happy and glad to be alive. I remembered mum but it was good stuff, and a joyous show reminds you what a marvellous world it is.

Earlier in the night I’d caught up with my very generous friend who had a free ticket for a preview screening at the Classic Cinema in Elsternwick. I had a cocktail first – yeah, I know – then watched the movie, which was okay. It was dark and cool when we came out of the cinema, and a wind blew in from the bay that was fresh and lively and promised rain.

For years I’ve passed by a Hungarian restaurant in Glen Huntly road – Budapest – and thought, I must try that someday. Last night I finally got around to it.

Fortunately they had a happy hour menu, and so I ordered a Winer Schnitzel they promised would overhang my plate – and they were right, it did.

I wasn’t hungry when I ordered, and when finally I managed to consume the whole bloody thing I was absolutely stuffed – but in a good way.

We parted ways at about 9.30 and I waited on the platform at Elsternwick for my train to arrive. The wind was fresh still, the night vibrant and I felt full of a dark energy. I’m alive, I thought, I’m fucking alive and here I am.

The meal at Budapest had reminded me of long ago days when I wasn’t much more than a kid and I would go to a friend’s house and share meals with his family. He’s Jewish, and his mother was a Hungarian Jew who had survived the concentration camps, the only member of her family other than her sister who did.

For me it was exotic to visit on their Sabbath, to break bread with them and give thanks. I was as white bread as you can get, open minded, but a 5th generation Aussie kid who’d gone to a private school, who followed the footy and cricket, born to a middle-class family and inheritor of their values. In my early childhood I’d lived in an area full of migrants, but later had re-located as the good times came to an area full of white professionals.

I was open minded though, and curious, and often fascinated. I remember visiting with my friend his Aunt, his mum’s sister, who lived in Bondi. She was a vivacious woman with strong opinions, with some of the sensuality I associate with Hungarian women. Stepping into her flat jammed packed with heavy furniture and mementoes of her childhood was to step into a Central European alternative reality.

I remember the coffee, thick and strong and with a syrupy residue left in the cup when you finished, and the pastries and poppy seed cake and so on. My mate was spoilt, and as his friend I was indulged too.

These were strong, good memories, long unconsidered. For me it epitomises what life is about, the variety of expression and culture, the different views, the rich experience of contrast and curiosity. There are those who frown upon such difference, who believe our experience should be constrained only to what we already know – what nonsense is that? Easy to pity such people, but easier still to despise them.

Heading home all of that was in me, and I guess it lended itself to my experience of Hello Dolly. In between though I called up that friend, told what I’d remembered and together we reminisced about days long gone, another age – his mother is dead now, as his aunt – and another time in our life. Both of us enjoyed that.

A hard earned thirst

Wednesday afternoon in the middle of what feels like a busy week. There’s a lot on my plate at work, and very typically I enjoy it. It’s invigorating to be challenged, to be well used, to juggle different options, different priorities, different expectations, without spilling one of them. I’m pedestrian when things are pedestrian, but I rocket when the heat’s on.

Of course the concept of heat is relative. I’ve been a lot busier than this in past incarnations, and worked on things much more demanding. For this place though it’s an uplift, and the work itself is sufficiently challenging to keep me diverted. I find I’m capable of keeping many different – occasionally competing – ideas in my head. Just to be able to do that, and know that I’m capable of it, is very satisfying. If it can be done I want to do it.

At some point in the next couple of hours I’ll pack up my desk feeling content with a good days work and roll out of here to catch up with friends for a drink at Collins Quarter. I’m meant to have reduced my alcohol intake over the last month, and while I’ve had good intentions a roll-call of social events has made it pretty challenging.

I’m now officially limiting myself to five drinks a week, which sounds fair enough. But when I go out like I did on Friday night and have five cocktails, as well as a beer and a few glasses of wine, it’s no more than good intentions.

The clock has reset and I’m back in credit for five drinks, but when I’m out tomorrow night and Friday as well then it requires significant willpower.

As they say in the classics, one night at a time.

I’m generally so disciplined. I’ve cut down my chocolate from a block a weekend to one block in the last two months, and reduced my overall sugar intake by about 50%. I’ve cut carbs, and virtually eliminated flour from my diet (I plan to make sensible exceptions). The drinks are harder because I share them in a social environment with friends. It’s natural and enjoyable, but I think I’ll need to find a satisfactory booze replacement that doesn’t contain sugar.

Until such a time I can reassure myself today at least that I’ve earned a drink or two working hard.

How the sums add up

Went after work on Friday for drinks with JV. Donna joined us later.

We started at Union Electric sipping cocktails in the upstairs extension. I was in a buoyant mood and the cocktails helped that along nicely. After an hour or so Donna joined us for another drink, before we headed out for dinner at Ombra.

Had a good meal and interesting conversation. Donna left us to visit a friend and JV and I went to Long Son for another cocktail. Then home, James.

Had a fun night, but there were a couple of notable things to come out of it.

First is just an observation – I’m in the middle of one of those patches where I’ve become very interesting to the opposite sex. I’m enjoying it. You notice it at first in the lingering glances and friendly smiles and eye contact, and the prickling knowledge that others are aware of you. Often there’s even a sense of deference. Everything seems to revolve around you, with others waiting to take their cue. Conversation follows, and the rest of it.

This I remembered from when I was a lot younger and better looking, but I’m getting it again. I look okay – better than I have – but I expect much of it is attitude and confidence – which brings us to the next thing.

JV attended the Forum/Landmark recently and we sat and discussed some of the things he got out of it. He explained the concept of the Winning Formula – the instinctive fall-back position we have to get what we want, or where we feel most comfortable.

For JV he said his winning formula was to please people to avoid confrontation. Donna said hers was her interactions with other people and her soft skills in that area. So what was mine?

You know, I couldn’t answer directly. I made a quip about having some losing formulas, then finally offered up my intelligence. It’s rare that I feel myself intellectually flummoxed, and I actually enjoy the challenge of surmounting complex ideas and systems. I tend to think of it as my ace – there’s nothing I can’t get my head around and master. I can see and think my way through things.

Donna had a different take, though it’s not unrelated. She said my winning formula was self-belief.

She has long lauded my confidence but I haven’t taken much notice of it – maybe because I’m aware of the moments of doubt and frailty. I can appear a certain way, but it’s far from being 100%, and even so there’s a good component of fake it till you make it.

Self-belief I think is slightly different. If confidence is the outward expression, then self-belief is the wellspring from which it flows.

I know that I could never have survived my troubles without a fundamental faith in myself – call it self-belief. In that context it us a defensive attribute. But as Donna offered that up, and JV has no cause to disagree, I stopped to wonder where this self-belief has come from.

I remember many years ago I struggled with my confidence. I was the type of kid who would try and overcome it by acting differently. I was never timid, though I could be shy. My habit then was to defy it, as it has been ever since with anything that challenges me.

Somewhere along the line it changed – from having little confidence I became someone with the confidence to take on anything. I agree, it has empowered me along the way to challenge myself to greater achievement, and even to greater risk.

You could argue that my self-belief was forged in the act of doing things and achieving them. I put myself out there, was recognised for my efforts, and over a period consistently rewarded with promotion and responsibility. I could see that others valued and trusted me. I also discovered that I was smarter than most people. Was that it?

Perhaps it was, but there’s a difference between quiet self-confidence and ringing self-belief. I achieved the latter, not all of which can be easily explained by keeping score. The answer is I don’t really know, unless there is something innate in me which was fed by my relative success.

So here I am today and as I reflect on that I think my travails lately have strengthened me having survived them. I am more tender, but I know also that I have the flexibility of mind to endure most things. Certainly that leads to self-belief, but I wonder if I am accorded this almost by exception? For me I’ve done the sums and they add up to good reason for self-belief; where in others, for their own reasons, they factor in elements that lessen the sum?

On the road again

Surprisingly upbeat today, despite having had to hand over exorbitant wads of cash to pay for my car service. If you recall the engine had blown and the timing belt was cactus also, both requiring replacement, plus sundry other repairs. I had budgeted for quite an ugly figure, but the sundry other repairs added up to more than I imagined. Bottom line is that the invoice was thousands more than I expected, and effectively has wiped me out – in fact I still owe some.

I collected the car this morning and at least I can say it was a lovely, smooth ride on the way home. It would want to be. It’s not as good as new, but the replacement engine has about half the k’s of the old one. What happens next really depends on what happens next with me, but general idea is to drive the car around for about 18 months, then look to trade-in – perhaps for a non-European car.

It feels good to drive again. It feels good to have the option available once more. The cost is just part of life.

It hurt last night when I got the news. It kyboshed a few plans, and the waste of spending so much on getting a car repaired bit deep. You adjust though. Today there’s more of a blasé attitude of fuck it, shit happens. With that is a sense of release. Damage is done and I’m pretty up, singing under my breath and sometimes aloud, Kaiser Chiefs particularly, but some Warren Zevon too. I feel pretty energised actually, go figure.