In control


It’s just after 5pm, and I’ve knocked off after what feels like another busy, but productive, day working from home.

As it has been the last few, it’s a pretty day. The sky is blue, the temperature mild. Streets are quiet too, but then that’s the new normal.

It’s too early to say if I’ve formed a new set of routines, but it feels quite comfortable and seamless. Much of the routine is set for me. Every morning I have scheduled team meetings at 9.30 and 10.15 via Teams to catch-up on what’s going on. Today there was a much broader online catch-up at 10.30 for the whole department. I was on mute throughout as I didn’t need or want to say anything. It came as a distraction to me, and as I listened, I continued to work.

What becomes clear in times like these are the different ways people operate. It’s been said that extroverts will struggle in this current environment, and I can hear it in the too enthusiastic contributions to these meetings. I get nothing out of that. In fact, to be honest, I find it mildly irritating. There’s a lot of frivolity and mucking up, much more so than normal. These are abnormal times though, so it’s permitted and I turn a blind ear to it.

There was a clamour at the end of the meeting to make it a weekly thing. If today is anything to go by, there’s not much meat on the bone, but it’s not about that. It’s about contact and connection, and probably a lot of things I wrote about yesterday. The everyday routines are slipping away, and in times like this – for many – a meeting such as this is like clinging to a bit of wreckage in the sea after the ship has sunk beneath them.

I’m self-motivated, self-directed, self-sufficient. I draw from the inside, not externally, which paints me as a typical introvert. I prefer to be independent and do my own thing. Working from home presents no great challenge to me as I don’t need to be led or told (and prefer not to be). It works well for me now, and probably will continue to, but it’s something I need to be wary of.

My instinctive reaction today was typical. I get nothing out of what seems to be an artificial frisson, but then I’m the man who’ll do go it alone even against the best advice. I don’t like being needful or dependent or entangled, but it’s meant that when I should have asked for help in the past, I never did. That was a mistake, and something I need to be better at in general.

Today I got plenty of exercise, and perhaps I have those routines in place. This morning I went for a walk up to and behind the shopping centre, and to Hampton station. I climbed the stairs of the overpass and returned the way I came, just to make it a bit more strenuous. This afternoon I took Rigby for a walk in the sunshine. As it stands, I’ve completed a bit over 7,000 steps today.

I’ve also made a big pot of tomato sauce, and dinner is in the oven. Tomorrow I plan to make myself an omelette for breakfast before my first meeting. I feel in control.

 

Day two


Now that I’m working from home for God knows how long I’m facing the same challenges as thousands of others having to suddenly adapt to it.

I’ve done it before, and once FT when I had my own business, so not a huge stretch – though all the stuff around it is very different.

I’ve often found it much more productive working from home. There are not the distractions or interruptions of the office. You won’t waste time going up and down in the office (I race between floors), nor the general pointlessness of meetings. You work to your own natural rhythm. I generally start early-ish, then might drift off to have a shower or breakfast. Often times, I find myself to caught up in work that I look up and find hours have gone by. I’m always having lunch late. And sometimes I’ll work in the evening also, dipping in and out.

I’ve got my home office sorted after taking delivery of another monitor yesterday. I’ve got a Surface Pro, which is nice and portable, but not ideal for heavy-duty working – I’ve got it hooked up to two monitors in the office. Here I’ve got the one.

I think it’s important to create a routine in situations like this and to make an effort to remain active. I wake at the same time as I would if I was going to work. Instead of showering and getting dressed I make myself a coffee and check the important email from overnight, and respond as needed – I’m working if an offshore team. I’ll head back to bed for about an hour then catching up on news and social media, and maybe a chapter of the book I’m reading (currently, James: Varieties of Religious Experience).

I have online meetings first thing, but after that, I make an effort to go up the road to get a take-away coffee, while I still can. I’ve set myself goals in terms of activity, and won’t walk out the front door until I’ve had at least a thousand paces under my belt. I’ve got a bunch of exercise rituals I’ll tick off through the day, and I’ve committed to a minimum of 6,000 paces daily – at work, it’s nearer to 10,000, and around 13,000 more recently.

Here there are no stairs to climb, no place to roam come lunch, nobody to see – I’m not allowed. I go for my morning walk, and I walk Rigby in the afternoon or evening.

I plan to take a break around 4pm to do some cooking – a rice pudding, today. Tomorrow I’m making zucchini and feta fritters. For dinner tonight I’m having a homemade pizza. I also have a bunch of ironing to do around 5.30.

I’ll do a bit of work after that, have my dinner, and maybe I’ll have a hot tub after that. I was severely fatigued up to this morning, but some good rest has had a restorative effect. I still fancy in a bathful of radox tonight.

I’m umming and ahhing over my appearance. I dress casually through the day, naturally. But the haircut I had booked for Saturday has been cancelled, and it might be a while until I get my next one. I might go long then.

I’ve carried a beard since Christmas, but I thought I might shave it off in lockdown, which sounds counter-intuitive. It’s a close-cut beard that makes me look rugged – very much like a Viking. It also makes me look about ten years older because it’s predominantly grey, with pale sandy blonde bits. I like the beard, but I like seeming younger, too.

This is day two. I reckon there’s probably another month of this at least, and possibly much more. Whatever I do now will evolve into something more, as will the situation itself. I have a job now, am busy, but as the situation deteriorates – as we all know it will – what will come?

The old cliche, one day at a time.

Easing the weary


One of my aims this holiday period is to recharge my batteries. There have been times this year I’ve felt very weary, both in mind and body. It’s no real surprise I feel fatigued. I haven’t had a real break for years. The best I’ve done is a week here or there when I don’t stray from home. And, besides everything else, there’s been the ongoing struggle, which is wearing in itself.

I’ve had a pretty lazy time since Christmas. I had to do things leading into it – people to see, things to do, a book to write. For the last few days, I’ve taken it down a notch. Yesterday I watched the cricket all day sitting on the couch. I managed to scan a whole heap of old photos to my Google albums while doing that. I’ve been reading in-between times, and going to bed early, and eating more sensibly. It’s all good, except I feel crap.

The fact is I’m sleeping poorly. The quality of my sleep is down, and I seem incapable of sleeping in – no matter that I have all the time in the world. To make things worse, I’m waking up aching and sore. My right shoulder is a knot of tender muscle, and my hip is so twisted that I can barely walk straight. I think the verdict is I need a new bed. One day. In the meantime, maybe a massage.

It’s pretty normal at this time of year to reflect on where you’ve been and to look ahead to where you want to get to. That’s me, too. I’ve got a bunch of headline aspirations, but it’s all subject to my state of mind.

The thing is, it’s hard to get too adventurous when you’re feeling crap, and it’s time I did something about it. Time isn’t an issue – I’ve got about seven weeks of annual leave clocked up – but money is. The reason I’ve got so much leave is that I didn’t want to waste it doing nothing, so I never took it. One day, I would think, when I have money again, I can take a proper holiday.

There’s merit in the idea, except I may never get to go on holiday again at this rate. At the same time, there’s a serious discount on the benefit when all you do on your time off is lounge around the house. Particularly when it’s this house.

This is the conundrum. I’ve soldiered on and got a lot done just by hanging in there, but I don’t think I can take it much further until body and mind are refreshed. But how?

I still have another week off and it may be I ease into to it better than I’ve done thus far. Otherwise, I’m actually thinking about going back to work early, just so I don’t waste the days.

I’ll worry about all the other things I want to get done when I feel better. All I have right now to make myself better are good habits and attitude. To that extent, I’m further refining my diet – more veggies – and cutting down on the booze. And get some regular exercise in the mix. These are things I can do – and so it’s salad for the next few days (once the Christmas leftovers are gone!).

It’s Christmas Day


I woke the usual time this morning, and it took me a few moments to realise it was Christmas Day. It seemed much as usual. It was quiet outside and the light pale. There were two messages on my phone. One was from a friend overseas, and the other from one of my nephews and I responded to both. Then I did just as I would on any normal day. I fed Rigby and let him out. I made a flat white for myself. And I went back to bed to catch up with the news and social media on my iPad, and then to read.

It’s funny how your mind plays upon you at such times. This a perfectly acceptable and pleasant way to spend a morning. The problem is that it’s Christmas morning and even as I read I could recall the dozens of years when I would be with up with my family bright and early as the kids (including me, as a kid) would tear into their presents. We’d look on, Christmas carols on in the background, a festive cheer in our heart, and a glass of bubbles in our hands. I knew something similar to that was happening all over Australia at that moment, and soon much of the world.

It’s not what I had that that weighed on me, it was what I didn’t have.

To be fair, it’s half by choice. This year, as others, I’ve had invitations to share Christmas celebrations. As most years, I’ve politely declined. Christmas is a time of rituals and family. You might not see some of your family from one Christmas to the next, but on that day you pick up just were you left it. You know how it works because you’ve done it so often with these people. You slip into your part, knowing it backwards, because this is who you are in your family. You know by rote the traditions, the schedule, even much of the conversation. It’s comfortable and easy and a day where you can just relax and be grateful.

I can’t just insert myself into in a situation like that – no matter how welcoming my hosts are – because while I may not be a stranger to them, I’m a stranger to their rituals. Whether I’m there or not makes no difference to their experience of it, regardless of their affection. I’m welcomed, but redundant. And for me, I’m looking in on something that I once had myself and the reminder of it only grates. There’s no way that the Christmas celebrations of others can nourish me in the same way that our own celebrations once did, and looking upon it the absence grows keener. It’s easier for me to do nothing than it is to pretend otherwise.

I hope that doesn’t sound churlish. I’m grateful to those who think of me at this time of year. And it probably sounds sadder than it should. I’m aware of what I’m missing, and it gives me a hollow feeling. I can hear the kids next door now. But it’s only what I’m missing that ails me, not what I have.

It’s a gentle feeling, more a sense of waste than it is of loss. I know it could be many times worse, and know there are many thousands who have nothing on this day. And I know that there are firefighters out there giving up their Christmas with family to fight fires on behalf of all of us.

I’m up now and the few, modern rituals I have are being played out. Once I was dressed, I took Rigby for his walk. On Christmas morning I normally take him down the beach, but the railway crossing has been blocked off. We walked the other way, looping back up to the main road. Yesterday, it was chaos. There were traffic jams coming out the supermarket carpark. Today the streets were empty. It was quiet. The odd car went by, a single pedestrian, and all the shops bar one were closed.

I’ve since had a piece of egg-nog and white chocolate cheesecake for breakfast while I opened my present (from my nephews and niece). I gave Rigby his Christmas bone. I might open a bottle of bubbles in a moment. As usual, I’ll use the occasion to cook up a feast. After that, unlike previous years, I plan to work – to write. Then it will be Boxing Day, and catching up with the woman who invited me to be with her today.

Unfortunately, my plans to go down Wye River later in the week have been aborted as my dog-minder had to fly out abruptly to visit her sick father. Instead I’ll get my rest and read plenty and write, and may even go onto work for a day. I have no interest in NYE at this stage – I would’ve been away for that – but I’m sure I’ll rouse myself to some effort. My main priority is to recharge my batteries, and maybe even finish the final draft of my first novel. You never know though, anything could happen.

Merry Christmas to you all. I hope your heart is full to bursting.

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.

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.

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.