Approaching the bridge


Tonight is the company Christmas party at some glitzy venue down Docklands way. I thought twice about attending, but allowed myself to be persuaded. Like I keep telling myself, a free feed and booze is nothing to be sneezed at.

It’s funny because in the barren years I lived through one of the things I missed was the company Christmas party. It was not that I yearned for the event itself so much, rather it became a kind of symbol and reference point. I went about five years without an invitation – or opportunity – for any such parties, and it was a symbol of the situation I was in. I knew in myself that the day I had a party I could go to was the day I knew I was on the up again.

Last year was the first for many that I received an invitation in my inbox. I didn’t go because I had something else on, but it was enough that I had an invitation I could turn down. This year, though there are no such calendar conflicts, I was reluctant to accept once more.

I don’t think highly of the company I work for. I hate admitting that, but think they have dubious ethics, and pay lip service towards their employees. There are good people here, and there are some sincere and looking to change things. I hope they succeed, but they are coming from a long way back. I’m happy to support and add my shoulder to that – I’ll suspend my disbelief. But then of the people I like or am close to in the business there’s a few that have recently departed, and others not going tonight. I’m going for two other reasons.

The lazy reason is that I didn’t fight it when I was urged to accept, and went along with it when they put me on their table. Like I said, a few laughs, a good meal, a few glasses of vino is no bad thing – and may be a lot better than that, who knows.

There’s another reason why I can’t miss the party tonight.

On general principles I’m not sure if this is the right or wrong thing, and don’t feel comfortable sharing it here, but… There’s a girl. Just that, no more. We get on well, we like each other. There’s nothing more than that as yet, a budding possibility that maybe we’re both open to. It’s hard at work to get that going. You need to get away from the formal environment and to somewhere looser and free form. That’s why I think I must go tonight – because if I don’t I doubt it would ever get off the ground, but if I do it might take me somewhere altogether different.

So why am I only ‘maybe’ open to it. Like I say every time, I don’t want to get involved with someone at work. It’s messy, it’s awkward, and everyone has an opinion. I say it every time, and a good dozen times later I’m still saying it. It really gives me pause, but not sure it’s enough to veto.

The other reason is that I still feel a bit gun-shy about my circumstances. There’s a lot of embarrassing explaining to do, which I know I must, and part of me wants to – needs to – but it’s scary as well and I don’t know what to think. Making it worse in way is that I project a certain image. People have an idea of me which is very different from the reality. I probably exaggerate the importance of that, imagining the disappointment of someone who thinks I’m one thing and finds another. At the end of the day I’m me, aren’t I? independent of circumstances.

This is a bridge I have to cross, if not tonight, with this woman, then at a future date, with someone else perhaps. I have to move on, and maybe that starts tonight – and that’s why I’m going to the party.

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Fond remembrances


Off to a funeral tomorrow. The father of one of my best friends has died. I’m there to support my friend, but I knew his father also, a lovely, gentle, earthy man from the north of England. He was not young and his passing falls into the category of inevitable, but it’s no less sad for that.

My friend lives in Mullumbimby now, and I see him rarely. He called me when he came down as his father ailed, and we hoped to catch up but it was not to be. I haven’t seen him for ages, and when I see him now it will be at his father’s funeral.

I got the message last night. I wondered, as always, how to respond. I kept it simple and real. It’s a hard time and it’s not for me to make it harder. I felt sad though, sad for my friend, and his family – all lovely people, sad for his father, who I really liked, and finally I felt sad for myself remembering what it was like to lose a parent.

I’ll be there to pay my respects and support my friend. There’ll be at least one other mutual friend there. At the end of the day over a cold beer the memories will flow, and the sadness edged with fond remembrance. For a little while we’ll live with the knowledge of mortality. It will be real and gape within us like a precipice we can’t see over. There’s something enlivening in that, and as we who remain toast to our memories we’ll head home later grateful to be alive and among friends.

A weekend doing nothing


Since sending my book off my weekend lifestyle has changed big time. For every weekend for as long as I can remember I spent hours each day sitting at my desk writing. Once the book was in the mail there was no more need to do that.

My next writing project is an essay, and I spent a couple of hours making some notes and doing some research, but that’s been pretty well it. I made a decision to do as little as possible because I was curious as to how it would feel. What I felt was a bit lost. When you’ve built up such a solid routine it feels wrong when you step away from it. I felt lazy in a way, as if I was skiving off from important work to be a bum.

Then this last weekend came and I had an excuse to do nothing. We celebrated Diwali at work on Friday, and I hoed into the assorted Indian tucker like the true cosmopolitan I am. Somewhere along the way I partook, literally, of a dodgy curry, and knew about it from about 3am Saturday morning, and every 90 minutes thereafter.

I was supposed to get my hair cut Saturday morning, but it seemed an unsafe proposition and so I cancelled. The local farmers market was on and I took a chance betting I could get back inside 90 minutes and I went along.

I love farmer’s markets. There’s always such a good vibe, and the produce is generally top notch. The farmers market in Sandy is always busy, with lots of kids, and more dogs than you could point a bone at. I went without Rigby because I didn’t want to manage him as well as everything else, but there were plenty of mutts whose eye I caught..

I did my usual shopping, buying some artisan bread, gourmet snags, a couple of herb seedlings, as well as an indulgent choc brownie. I was out of there within 40 minutes and heading home along the beach track.

Once more I thought how good life is in Australia, and particularly in a place like where I live. Leaving the market I heard the sounds of distant song, a choir it sounded like, singing Consider Yourself, from Oliver Twist. I walked a little way along the path until I came to a clearing. I stood on the high headland looking back towards the yacht club. Down below was a community choir of some ilk giving a performance to a collected crowd. Why it was I didn’t know, but I was happy that such a thing might occur.

I walked on, looking out towards the bay where just offshore a yacht race seemed to be in progress, and passing by good citizens with their beautiful dogs.

It’s no exaggeration to claim that a bit of my heart melts every time I see a dog. I love them to death, and each time I saw one I felt a little better, no matter the churning in my gut. It seems to me that a dog’s life span is shorter than ours because they manage to cram in as much delight, love and affection in their dozen odd years as we do in our seventy. They are a much purer expression of happiness than what we are, and we can learn a lot from them.

I got home just in the nick of time. I gave Rigby a hug and spent the rest of the day and much of yesterday being a bum. Fact is when you’re crook like that you don’t have much motivation to do more, and little energy. I felt a little lost, but ultimately spent most of the weekend watching a movie on Foxtel, or reading.

Next weekend I intend to get back to some routine. Today, I’m well again just in time for work.

A wanted man


Just for the record, I should report that up to a couple of weeks ago there was a warrant out for my arrest. Apparently.
I had no idea. I only found out when I visited the magistrates court to discuss a matter and was informed of it. I was bemused – I’ve never been a wanted man before. I suppose I felt relief to knowing that they hadn’t caught up with me. I was able to square things away, and I’m no longer wanted.
How it happened in the first place is an interesting story, and highlights just how fucked some things are.
The warrant was issued because of some unpaid traffic infringements. I had consulted with some community lawyers last year regarding these infringements, and they were to appeal them on my behalf. This coincided with the sheriff’s office going quiet. I presumed that they were connected.
Earlier this year, and then a few months ago, I followed up with the community lawyers to check on progress. I hadn’t heard from them.
Turns out for reasons never properly explained to me that they had never submitted my appeal. I was not best pleased, but it’s hard to be critical of a service when you’re not paying for it. They’ve jumped to it since, and very efficiently, but it left some outstanding items I didn’t consider until visiting the court.
Turns out the reason I hadn’t heard from the Sheriff lately is because they were sending correspondence to my old address. I arced up at that. Hang on a sec, I updated my address with Vic Roads as soon as I shifted, I told them. That’s when I was told that there is no link between Vic Roads and the infringements court/sheriff.
I blinked at that. Why wouldn’t they share a common database if, by definition, they have common customers and are both government authorities. It makes sense, right up to the point that I just took it for granted – but, silly me.
So what has happened is that 1. my lawyers didn’t do what they were meant to do, and never told me about it; and 2. the sheriff kept sending letters I didn’t receive; leading to 3. a warrant for my arrest.
Happy days.

Worth doing


In an hour or two I’ll be heading home for the weekend, then will be off for the next four days after, returning to work Friday.
I’m not doing anything exciting, and not going anywhere. Instead I hope to finish up the book to the point that I’m happy to send it off into the world for its onward journey.
Besides that I plan to search for a potential business partner for the start-up that’s been mouldering for the last two years. I’m still pretty passionate about it, and I hate the idea of just letting it go. Don’t really like letting anything like that go. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing.
I’m not sure what the best way is, but I know I want someone passionate and altruistic. Obviously big bonus points for relevant skills and experience. Need to trust them too, that’s a biggie.
Otherwise it will be the usual, do a bit of cooking, do a bit of reading, etc. I cracked a tooth the other day, and so a visit to the dentist might be on the cards as well.
In about 20 minutes I’m having a phone interview with a prospect new employer.
As for the existing employer I’ve given them fair warning today that if they haven’t come up with something by the time I return Friday then I’ll be making a formal complaint, but internally and externally.
Tonight and tomorrow I’ll be watching the footy. The finals have started and it’s a great time of year.

A card player’s journey


When I was a kid every summer for years on end we’d head down to the beach somewhere as a family after Christmas to spend two weeks lounging in the sun, body-surfing, and generally taking it easy. Looking back from this distance it seems like a special time. It has a glow to it in memory. It was family time, a time when I still felt the innocence and joy of being an irresponsible child yet, riding my bike and mucking up and accepting all the simple pleasures of that hedonistic lifestyle as my very due. It has novelty value now also, because it has become so unfamiliar.

One of the things we would always do is play cards in the evening. It wouldn’t be every night. We’d go out sometimes, or else there might be something on TV – likely sport – to watch. It was a regular occurrence though, perhaps every second night. We’d play 500, either solo or in pairs, or else another favourite game called Oh Hell (aka American Bridge). We were kids, but we took to it easily and had a lot of fun playing. Over years I acquired a proficiency in playing cards in general, and took great pleasure in the skill required to play a winning hand. I can safely say that playing card games is one of the things I’m very best at.

Later, as I got older, the occasions when we would play cards became much less frequent. Becoming a bloke some of the games would change also. I haven’t played 500 for a long while, and Oh Hell only infrequently in the years since, but I’ve played plenty of hands of poker with the boys, and the odd casino card game. The only variation to that was when travelling, where a pick-up game of cards was always likely waiting for a plane or sitting on a train. I remember 10 years ago travelling through Egypt and Jordan I fell in with some keen card players. We would play Hearts at every opportunity. Most of them were good players, but one of the girls – an alluring Kiwi – was an exceptional player. I loved pitting myself against her, and had many hours of pleasure sitting on a dhow playing, or in the shade of palms at a red sea resort, or in the hotel lounge, and sometimes even in the bus.

Now I’m learning Bridge.

How this came about is that a few weeks ago I’m at the Cheeses for dinner when afterwards Mrs Cheese says to Cheeseboy, what are you going to do? The inference was that he had no hobby or diversion, as he should, and I was the reference point – a keen writer after all, and a cook on top of that. To be fair to Cheeseboy he is not without interests. He’s coached the local junior soccer team for years now, and once was a keen cyclist. In any case in response to his wife’s question Cheeseboy blurted out: Bridge.

I admit to being confounded at that point. I know Cheeseboy pretty well, and we’ve been mates for years – but I had no idea of this secret interest. I think Mrs Cheese was just as taken aback.

Turns out as a kid, just like me, the old Cheeseboy had been a keen card player. Like me he spent years playing cards with his family back in Holland. He enjoyed cards but, as with me, finds little opportunity to play.

Somehow in those minutes after I told him that if he wants to learn Bridge then I’d keep him company. As always Mrs Cheese, who is extremely diligent and efficient, found a local club where we could learn and play, and made sure that Cheeseboy organised it. Last night was our first lesson.

In the weeks leading up to the lesson we would josh around in anticipation of it. Let’s face it Bridge, and Bridge players, have a certain reputation. I took the mickey from myself by suggesting I might find a ‘foxy’ widow who would look after me. We joked about playing with a glass of sherry or Pimms, only to discover that tea and Arnott’s Family Assorted was strictly the go. In one thing our expectations were proven absolutely correct: we were the youngest there.

We rocked up and had the ladies at reception quickly flirt with us, commenting on our relative youth. Inside we were introduced to our fellow trainees – all older couples – and our trainer, a very proper type, as befitting the game of Bridge.

I’m not sure we were entirely approved of. Too much levity. We’re mates and have a lifetime of chiding and gentle abuse. It was novel to us, and amusing in its novelty, especially in the myriad rules. One of the other guys at the table joined in the banter.

The game itself was fascinating, unlike anything I’ve played before. It has common elements, but what makes it different is that you play virtually with a 3D perspective. Playing cards over the years I’m used to watching cards closely, and my opponents. You keep a rough count of cards whilst figuring out your own strategy, and scrambling to deploy alternative tactics as needed as the cards fall in unpredicted ways. A lot of it is predictable though if you’re thinking straight and haven’t missed anything. The game is in your head.

Bridge has the added complexity of having to play two hands, yours and your partners when you’re the bidder. I found this additional requirement tested my ability to keep everything in my head. It was almost as if by taking on this also something had to come out. It was quite a challenge, but I assume a challenge I’ll adjust to.

In any case I learned the game okay, albeit in an incomplete version – other bits are added in next week. The one game when I was the bidder was testing, but worked out well. These are the sort of things I like to master. As always, it feels almost like a direct challenge to my intellect. I enjoy those challenges greatly, and I love winning. I can’t ever imagine ever being part of a Bridge club, so my playing career may be brief, but before I part from it I want to get it absolutely right.

I may even absorb the etiquette.

Power and beauty


I had an invitation to visit a racing stables yesterday in Glenhuntly. I have a friend who has had an interest in racehorses for 10-12 years (including Caulfield Cup winner Elvstrom), and he’s been trying to drag me in for most of that time too. I’m not in a position to do anything like that, but I took up the invitation to attend yesterday to catch up with him and his family, and out of curiosity. It was an unexpectedly satisfying experience.

It was a lovely day and a brunch of sorts was put on, before the trainer stood to talk up the racehorses in his stable as they were paraded by for us. Later we had a full tour of the stables, which was interesting enough in itself, but the bonus was that we could get up close and personal with the horses. They seemed just as curious to see us as we were to see them. They watched on with interest as we gathered, offering there head for a nuzzle or gently nibbling at my jacket sleeve.

They are magnificent beasts, but up close you really appreciate the grace and beauty of these animals. I doubt there’s any such thing as an ugly horse, but these are the true thoroughbreds. There was a dignity to their bearing, as if they understood their privileged status. Their coats were shiny, like satin, and every one of them powerfully muscled. To be in their presence was to understand their coiled potential. At rest they were like athletes between events, with an edgy languor. Trackside you get but a general impression of their athleticism, but to be there stroking their flanks, to observe their powerful hindquarters and the definition of their muscles is to understand that they are made to gallop, built for speed. To run fast is their raison d’etre, and to anything else would be a betrayal of their purpose.

I was profoundly moved. I felt a kind of Nietzschean sense of order and reason. But then as they were paraded around I was moved by their pure grace. I’ve always loved animals, but as I get older that feeling becomes deeper, and feels more meaningful. I know that animals are not as innocent as we make them out to be. I spoke to the trainer earlier and he had mentioned how someone had said if only horses could talk, but, shaking his head, he said they were enough trouble with talking too. They were like people, he said, they had their own characters and personalities.

Still, I am drawn to something unspoilt in them. Uncorrupted. We use and exploit them; we use and exploit each other. Animals are true to their souls. That is different things for different beasts. I am regularly moved by the unashamed devotion of Rigby, and it is true of most dogs. They give without expectation of receiving. They give because it is their nature, because they take pleasure from it.

For these horses it seemed to me they well understood the whimsical possibilities of the power and grace god has granted them with. They remained individual, and equally capable of returning devotion. Like all of us perhaps, they yearn for affection. Unlike many of us, they yearn for it without shame. More and more I think, animals are the best of us.

Which is not to say there is not much good in us too, and more admirable in its way because so often it comes in spite of resistance. I met with my friend and his wife, met his kids, all of them good people. Then towards the end one of the stable staff came up to me, “remember me,” she said.

I had watched her without recognition as she had paraded one of the horses. Now as she spoke to me I knew her. There was a café on the corner from my massage shop where I would get a coffee every morning, and often every afternoon. They got to know me and I grew friendly with a couple particularly. One was this woman – barely a girl then, bright, attractive, and generous natured. We shared a joke most days and a bit of gossip. She followed me on Instagram. I sensed she came from a privileged background, but was very down to earth. Now she was working at a stables.

We spoke for about 10 minutes. I was glad to see her again. She told me how this was her dream, about how she was out of bed by 3.15am 6, and sometimes 7 days a week. For me it capped off a fascinating morning, and it felt as if I had closed a loop. It’s good to meet with good people again, especially as I’d never the chance to say goodbye before.