Free days


I woke this morning after a good nights sleep with the rain falling in a gentle, steady hush. That was a couple of hours ago, and it’s rained for most of that time since. Today is a free day, a public holiday with nothing I must do or anything I must be. Together it made for an easy peace of mind as went about my holiday rituals – coffee in bed with a book and an iPad, the dog close by, nestled into the curve of my body as I sat up on my side, or leaning against my back behind me.

As always Rigby is alert to everything even with his eyes closed. He knows the routines and the little tells he reacts to immediately – the picking up of my glasses from the bedside table, the snap shut of a book when I have finished reading, the book being replaced on the pile beside the bed – and he is up immediately, standing on the bedclothes with his head turned to me, before leaping down to the floor and turning my way expectantly. It’s the dregs of the coffee he’s after, the dregs he drinks every time cleaning out the coffee mug, just as he has for many years since. Both of us are creatures of familiar routine.

It feels fine to be free of obligation, and I wish there were more days like this. Though there is nothing I must do, I know what I will do. I’ll read a little, write for a while, and towards late afternoon I will cook. With the food in the oven or on the stove top slowly cooking I’ll fire up a hot bath and laze there reading my bath book while Rigby attends me bath side, licking the soap from my skin as he’s so inclined. I’ll wash my hair and shave my face in anticipation of the working week. For a few moments I’ll reflect on this and that: some of my best thinking comes in the bath.

Then it will get dark. I’ll eat my dinner with the TV on and by then I’ll be resigned to the fact that I must work tomorrow. Depending on how the day has been – particularly, how the writing has gone – I’ll feel either satisfied or searching for more. In either case, my mind may be busy with thoughts and conjectures. I’ll wonder at things, at words and probably at life itself, then possibly the latest footy scores. With work ahead, I’ll be aware of the things I intend to do. I start refreshed, as I do every week, as if this week I can change things, that the frustrations I’m victim of will clear, as if all I need do is keep going, persist, stay true and strong. Bending to the situation is not a consideration, and never has been. I’ll succeed on my terms, or fail, but it’s not obstinacy that informs that but irrepressible optimism.

Yesterday was a different day. We had arranged to drive down Red Hill way and attend the annual Winter Wine thingy. We’ve done this before, though for many years. I caught a train with JV to Frankston were we were picked by Donna on the way through, a couple of her friends with her. We spent the afternoon going from one winery to the next, though fewer than I hoped for. Navigation let us down once or twice, and a late, extended lunch at T’Gallant meant that by the time we left most of the openings had closed. I missed out on Manton’s Creek and Aringa Estate and one or two others I wanted to attend, but never mind.

I got home near 8pm last night, glad to be home and with Rigby again.

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Away from work


This makes the fifth day in a row that I’m home, but the first official sick day.

I organised to have Friday off because I had an appointment across town. That appointment got cancelled, but by that time the idea of having the day off was so welcome that I didn’t change it. Chances are I would have taken a sick day anyway as by the time I got home on Thursday I was feeling pretty crook.

The last couple of weeks the trains on my line have been cancelled because of work being done up the line at South Yarra. In replacement, buses have been running to the nearest parallel line. It worked okay, but inevitably it was adding between 30-40 minutes of extra travel each way. Each morning I would do that in some of the frostiest, wettest weather we’ve had for ages. When the trains weren’t cancelled or delayed, I’d get onto a crowded train within 5-6 minutes and luckily find a seat. It was much the same going home, except the routes and timetable seemed much more capricious.

I haven’t felt the full bottle for a few weeks but been well enough to go on with. It was dark and frigid when I boarded the bus to come home on Thursday night. I was aching and feverish, and a persistent cough had developed. I had little energy and wanted only to be warm and rest. Something was coming on.

I slept for about 9 hours that night and woke Friday feeling better. I had a quiet, pleasant day being lazy. It was just what I needed.

I felt okay on Saturday, too. We had a long-standing lunching arranged in Richmond. Unbeknownst to me, the trainless timetable had changed for the weekend, and rather than the buses going to the nearest available train stop they instead zig-zagged through the suburbs until finally arriving at Caulfield. From there I caught the train to Richmond, walked up to Bridge road, then caught a train to the venue, the Bouzy Rouge. I was about 45 minutes late.

I used to live nearby, and I’d been to the Bouzy Rouge several times, most memorably with mum on one occasion before she got sick. It’s an opulent place right up my mum’s alley, with a Spanish menu that combined the traditional with the modern. We had a fine old time sharing tapas before tucking into main meals and dessert. We had a few beers, a couple of bottles of Rioja, before finishing with a sweet and sticky PX. We laughed often and loudly, and though I would cough occasionally, I was doing okay.

We walked back along Bridge Road, stopping at the Mt View where we had a cleansing ale on the rooftop and taunted the losing Collingwood supporters, feral one and all.

I caught the train back with Cheeseboy determined to get home differently to how I left it. At Moorabbin, we got out of the train and walked about 30 minutes to his home. As we went along, I began to slowly fade. Arthritis in my toe started to flare, and my dodgy knee began to ache. Not happy was I.

I rested for about 15 minutes before walking the final 15 minutes home. I arrived there done in. I lay on the couch, feeling both mildly intoxicated and increasingly unwell – a bad combo. Later I figured by the GPS I’d covered about 15 km by foot.

I slept long again, but the next day I woke up feeling poorly, as I did for the rest of the day. I realised the jaunt the previous day had been a mistake. I had been recovering perhaps, though not recovered. My reserves were low and the strenuous efforts of the day before had wholly depleted me, allowing for the infection to steal a march.

The aches and pains had gone, but in its place was a deep-seated cough that worried at me every ten minutes or so. Occasionally I would be wracked and bent by them. My chest felt heavy and congested. It felt bad as if I was on the verge of something serious. I took it easy all day. I needed antibiotics.

I had an appointment with a dermatologist yesterday and ended up having a biopsy done on a rash on my leg. I was feeling better than the day before and, to my surprise, my chest infection seemed better. I had a lazy day again but planned to go to work today – stupid, I know, but sick days make me guilty.

I slept longer than I intended – something that never happens. I got up and felt distant from myself and without strength. I went back to bed, hoping that it would pass. Ten minutes later I got up again, but I was no better. I went to bed again and called work.

Lazy day again today. It’s still cold out, but for the first time in days, it’s not raining.

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.

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.