Disengagement


For the last couple of days, I was at an offsite session with work. It was a very instructive period.

On both days, I got there about mid-morning as I was coming from my hyperbaric treatment. It was held at a plush venue in one of the office towers in the city. The last time we did this was about March in 2019, and then Covid struck.

It was the usual mix of activities – strategy sessions, games, presentations, guest speakers, team exercises, and reviews. Back when we had it last time, it made for a change from the daily humdrum, but these days it’s quite novel. We hardly see each other anymore, and any gathering is unusual. On top of that, so much has changed, the department has grown, and there are many new faces.

Typically, these events are upbeat and self-congratulatory, and even a tad gung-ho. I’ve never been a great fit for this kind of event because I’m of a different nature. Bear in mind I’m an IT person working in Marketing, and we’re pretty much oil and water. I can tolerate the happy-clapping, but I will never be passionate about making money for other people. That’s the subversive in me coming out.

That was true again this time, though more pronounced than previously because of my recent experiences. Where before, I might have shrugged my shoulders at it, I saw it more cynically yesterday. I was there, slightly damaged, feeling a bit of an outsider, looking at it all as if through a pane of glass.

I actually do well at some of the activities because, by nature, I’m more direct. I feel too cool for school sometimes, but then I get impatient and intervene. Sometimes – previously – I’m coercive, working with people to draw out the essence of their idea and gently coordinating until a solution is achieved. Yesterday, I was more strident.

Later I wondered if my cynicism was unfair. People take meaning from their work, and they’re lucky. It’s not for me to judge that. I may have loftier notions, but who am I kidding? To each their own. I was always out of step – happily so – but I feel foreign to it now. My own is different.

This was only the second time I’ve been with the extended team since I got sick. I’m healthier than before and, in many ways, seem roughly normal. I don’t think about it a lot, but it becomes awkward at times.

To start with, I don’t know what people know of my recent trials. When they ask how I’ve been, what do I say? It’s a real downer to tell them I’m recovering from cancer, but I don’t want to lie either, and if they know and I say nothing, aren’t I being disingenuous?

It pisses me off there was no official notification back when it all started. They said they would but never did. Had they done so, the sting would have gone out of the tail long before. People would be curious, but they may just as likely be happy to see me up and about.

I have no problem with people knowing. It’s the truth, after all, and I’m alive still, so it’s a better story than it might have been (I wonder sometimes what story work would have come up with if I had perished from this?). And, I’d rather be open about it than hiding it away. It actually does me some good to talk about it.

It turns out that some people knew, and others had no clue. Many had noticed my absence and thought something was amiss but didn’t know what. For me, nothing could be worse than rumours and innuendo, but in the absence of hard information, that’s what happens. I can’t tell you how pissed off I am about how it was handled. All the pressure was put onto me.

And so, it came up yesterday, and I faced the dilemma several times, not knowing exactly how to respond. In every instance, I was honest – but you don’t know how much to say, and you’re conscious of what the other person is feeling and how awkward it is for them to respond, which becomes difficult.

What’s ironic is that we had sessions about exclusivity and accessibility on Thursday, some of which felt personally relevant and was a reminder of how none of that happened with me.

We had drinks last night, and it was another interesting and instructive experience. I found it hard because with my diminished hearing, I had to lean in hard to make out what people were saying amid the background noise.

The other side of that is that I found myself having to try extra hard to make myself understood. One guy had earlier told me how much my speech had improved since the last time he spoke to me a few months ago, which was gratifying. I’m probably overly self-conscious about my ability to speak clearly, but in the noisy environs of a busy bar that becomes very relevant. I could see people struggling to understand what I was saying, and a little bit of me died each time.

What happens? You begin to disengage. You don’t put yourself in that position of embarrassment. It runs counter to the articulate and social person I’ve always been. I feel diminished.

Shortly before I left, I got talking to one of the women there, someone I’ve always liked, a thoughtful, sensitive person with great depths. She knew I’d been away, but not why. I told her. The bar had emptied a little by then so I didn’t have to strain so hard. I sensed that she wanted to talk to me, but in the end, I walked away.

As I walked to the train afterwards, I regretted that. You know how sometimes you think of things you should have said after the moment has passed? Generally, I say those things at the time, but they’re in the way of wit. Last night I regretted not being more open with her.

I have this great idea of being more transparent and authentic with others. It appears one of the great lessons from this experience – and yet, with a sympathetic audience, I failed.

At the time, you feel awkward. I’ve experienced the hardship, but I don’t want to make it about me. I know how tricky it is to respond to something like that, and I don’t want to burden others with my story. Yet, I feel there are some people happy to learn.

I had the chance to be quite honest last night with someone I respect and who has the sensitivity to accept and understand, and I walked away. When it comes down to it, I feel embarrassed, which is not something I deserve.

The week before


I’ve had my next surgery confirmed for next Wednesday. It won’t be much fun, but I’m looking forward to it. They’ll be removing the plate and other fixtures from my cheek and mouth and patching the exposed bone with skin grafts from I know not where. I should be out of hospital on Friday and on a liquid diet for the fortnight after.

I’m hoping this will be the end of the pain; that, after this, I’ll be able to open my mouth to it’s full extent; and that there’ll be no more nasal infections. I’m just about at the end of my tether at the moment – more impatient than anything else, but then I did wake up this morning half-closed because of swelling.

I’ve done about half an hour of work today and am now taking the rest of the day off. This is to make up – just a tiny bit – for all the extra hours I’ve been working. And because I’m worn out.

I’ve had problems sleeping lately. Every second night on average, I don’t get to sleep until the wee small hours. The other night it was after 4am. The main reason for this seems to be an overactive mind.

I turn the light off and my mind is full of thought. Some of it is current stuff, thinking about work and the things that need to be done, and so on. Some of it is random memories that return to me for no apparent reason. Some of it is the usual wonder about the state of my health and the journey that has led me here. And some deals in possible futures, most particularly, future conversations word by word.

Yesterday, I tried meditation for the first time since I was about 27. I’ll have another session today.

And tomorrow, I have the long-sought-after, long-planned, ritual steak for lunch.

This was to be recognition that I was well again, but I’ve jumped the gun because I was so impatient. I’ve invited the same crew who were intended for my last supper – a steak – booked the weekend before surgery to remove the tumour. That lunch was cancelled because of Covid, which was unfortunate and somehow poetic.

It won’t be the same tomorrow, but I look forward to it. I’ll have to cut my steak into itty-bitty pieces to fit it in my mouth, but it will be worth it. Good to see the guys again for what will surely be an afternoon of many laughs.

Out in the world


Since I was diagnosed with cancer 10 months ago I don’t think I’ve been busier than I’ve been the last week and a half. I’m weary, but I’ve enjoyed it.

It’s been a time of reunion as much as anything else. I had a friend from Mullumbimby down visiting his family. He was here for about nine days and visited three times. We had breakfast together twice and went on a drive in his EV the other time. We walked down the beach deep in conversation. Just as we used to, we discussed politics and ethical dilemmas and the morality of social media (so okay, we never used to discuss that).

He’s a gentle soul with a generous spirit and a quirky sense of humour. I was very grateful for his time and attention. He’s a great bloke.

Today, I had brunch with a mate visiting from Coolum with another mate from across town. We spoke of old times and how our lives had diverged. It was cool but the sun was bright and once more we walked along the beach afterwards.

It was Easter last weekend, and on Saturday I went with a friend to Sorrento. This was quite a trip for me. For the previous ten months, I’ve barely gone anywhere. The places I’ve gone – to and from the hospital, the city a few times, and the local area – have become repetitive. A trip down the coast to a summer hotspot on a sunny day was a great change.

We had lunch at the Sorrento Hotel, which was full but pretty average.

I had an interesting conversation with an acquaintance joining us. While everyone else was off somewhere else, she told me how she had been following my cancer commentary on Facebook. She hadn’t commented but thought it was great. It was surprising for a man to be so open, she said: I was very articulate.

I’ve wondered what people think of my rambling posts, but some positive feedback lately has reassured me. I knew what she was saying. I’m conscious of how much I’m revealing but it doesn’t worry me. That by itself is quite a change to my pre-cancer self, and I’m very comfortable with it. I said that to her. I told her how I had come to realise that you can be vulnerable without being diminished by it.

Things happen to everyone. It’s a part of life. Things may happen to me but I don’t become them. They’re real, like the weather, and like the weather, I must take account of them. But, sunshine or rain, I remain the same man.

While I was down there I arranged to catch up with friends I hadn’t seen since before all this. They’re now living down there permanently.

The sun was shining and the streets teeming with day-trppers when I found them sitting outdoors at a cafe with a bottle of wine. I was with them for half an hour and it was lovely.

Part of it is me opening up to the world again. They set eyes on me and reckoned I didn’t look too bad. They asked questions, and I told stories, and at the end of it, we kissed and shook hands, and then I was off home again.

Then there’s been work. Ironic after what I wrote last week that this week I’ve had to step up and do some of the things I described and said I wouldn’t do. I’ll write about it another time. Suffice to say, I’ve worked double the hours I was scheduled to. I didn’t mind.

Pushing on regardless


Probably for the last 6 weeks particularly I’ve been looking ahead yearningly, expectantly, to a time when I might consider my state of health and being as ‘acceptable’.

In my mind at least, acceptable equated to minimal pain and much greater capability. I expected to be stronger in body, to the point I could walk down the street without fear of potential collapse. The pain I was less fussed about, though fully expected that I would breathe easier and the congestion I’ve suffered from would be gone, and probably with it the swelling.

From a purely cosmetic point of view, I hoped that my hair would begin to regrow as the swelling came down, and that I would get greater command of my mouth.

In the last couple of weeks there’s been a series of events that suggest nothing is as simple as that. I guess I knew that already, but I hoped for the best.

I ordered a new bed about two months ago. It was meant to be delivered within a fortnight, but a part was missing. I had to chase it up, and when they finally delivered it a month later they didn’t put it together, as requested. I slept on a blow-up mattress that night and then went into hospital for the next four nights. They finally returned last Wednesday to set the bed up.

I’ve spoken of my time in hospital. I picked up very well in there, but almost collapsed leaving the place. I‘d picked up diarrhea, which undid all the good work. I was frail for days after, and the congestion returned. My head would spin as my body sought comfort.

In the meantime, my work advised they’d paid nearly $1,000 to my account in error: could I please pay it back? It was a blow to my budget, but pay it back I did.

All this time I had my eyes on a trip to Sydney I’d booked in more hopeful times. As the day approached I was afraid that I wasn’t up to it. I feared that I would get there, take a turn, then be stuck. I was determined to make it, but wasn’t sure if it was wise.

It seemed even the gods were against me when I got to the airport on Friday. The flight left at about 11am; by 2pm it was back in Melbourne. A storm cell in Sydney had prevented landing. We sat on the tarmac for another hour, before finally we jetted off again. I arrived in Sydney at about 5pm.

The last couple of days I’ve spent in the Blue Mountains. It’s been very pleasant, though it’s tested me. Because I came away with a purpose I’ve wanted to do things, and I’ve been 2-3 more times active than before.

I tend to think of that as a good and necessary thing, though I’m not always certain. I feel like an invalid much of the time. Like a faulty part. I hate that and I push against it. It would be easier to stop, but if I never try how am I going to get ahead?

There was an episode on the way up which is symptomatic of much. We’d stopped at a second-hand bookstore to browse. We’d been there about 20 minutes and I could feel it wearing at me. Then I suffered one of the dizzy spells as I clung tight to a bookcase. In my head was some kind of crazy notion I was trying to figure out, as if it might cure my ills. I was like that for about 10-15 seconds before I came to. I had realised it was nonsense and knowing that broke the chain. I blinked, feeling weak and scared, but back in the world.

Otherwise, I need to take regular breaks to sit down, even if I’ve only been standing. I’m breathless often, occasionally without having exerted myself. But then I think, I can only get fitter by pushing the envelope – and I’m doing over 4000 paces daily, up from under 2000.

It’s frustrating, and psychologically challenging at times. I feel old and helpless; it will pass, I tell myself. I’m self-conscious about my appearance and wary of speaking too much – it comes harder than before, and with a thicker tongue. None of this is like H of before, and that’s the thing hard to overcome.

I don’t hide from it, though. I accept what is because I have no choice. I can’t hide away. I can’t take the easy option. I have to push, hoping it will get me where I need to go sooner.

I enjoyed my time in the Blue Mountains. Most of it we spent in Blackheath, where I have memories of a previous visit 30 years ago. I’m eating much better, which is a plus, but still not getting much joy out of it. In theory, I’m becoming stronger.

I’m back now at my friend’s house in Wahroonga. It’s very leafy and serene here. I’m sitting out on his deck typing this, in between reading. I might take a nap soon. It’s good to get away. Good to see familiar faces again, and to take in an environment far different to the stultifying world I’ve been stuck with these last four months. I return home on Friday.

Bros


We’re back in lockdown for a week as of 8pm last night. At about 4.30, I got a call from Cheeseboy telling me that he’d planned to organise a drink with me Friday night but, as that was no longer an option, why not tonight – sneak one in before the deadline?

I was in bed and not feeling much like doing anything, but I said yes. Opportunities for me to get out and see people before I go into surgery were diminishing anyway, and with lockdown, very little remained possible. I’d organised lunch on Saturday at a steak restaurant. Bit of a last hurrah and the final to get something decent I could chew on before being restricted to a liquid diet. Now, that was cancelled too.

It was a good decision to join him. We went to True South, which is walking distance from home. It was packed with people with the same idea as us. There was a raucous, almost festive atmosphere, full of good fellowship. It had very much the last supper vibe, with people opening up to between tables, laughing and joking with bitter humour at yet another lockdown. We’re old hands at this now. No-one likes it, but most of us understand why.

We were there for a bit over two hours. We had a couple of pints eat, a bowl of fries, and a couple of pinot noirs – including some shelf stuff the proprietor let us have knowing that for the next week, he would be closed to custom.

I was grateful to Cheeseboy. Gratitude is a recurring theme over the last month or so. I’ve been blown away by the kindness of friends and acquaintances. The Cheeses have been particularly good, supporting me through the house move and providing help at every turn. I expect when I return from the hospital that Mrs Cheese will have rallied her network to provide me with the pureed foods I must sustain myself on. She’s also coordinating with a nutritionist friend of hers to put together a meal plan. Cheeseboy also promises to do a few things in the new home while I’m in hospital – including, he reckons, selling my dining table, too big for the house.

While the practical help is a boon to me, the moral support really fills me with humble joy. It fills me with warmth.

So it was last night. We sat there having a drink, as we have a hundred times before, and the conversation, more or less, was like we’d had a hundred times before. The exchange of easy friendship lends perspective to what I’m fighting for and gives me strength.

We laughed a lot, as always. At one stage, we got talking to the people at the next table. The woman there thought we looked like brothers. Yes, he’s my Dutch brother, I told her. It’s the first time that’s happened. We don’t really look alike outside a few generic descriptors – both have glasses, our face shape is probably similar, both with a light fuzz on our cheeks and both greying, though he has the edge on me. People say he looks like George Clooney, which I don’t (though some claim I have his personality), and I’m about four inches taller than Cheeseboy. We are brothers in spirit, though. This is what you live for.

At 7.33, the proprietor came out to say the place would be closing in five minutes. Some had beers in plastic cups so they could finish them outside. Cheeseboy and I, we left at about 7.40.

It was a good experience in a lot of ways and probably emblematic of the times.

Exalting in experience


As I don’t really have a close family, I don’t get gifts for my birthday, and there are no family get-together’s as there were in the old days. The only birthday present I reliably get is from Donna because she’s a birthday head. At my age, I’m not over-fussed about getting presents, and experiences mean much more to me – they’re the things that stay with you long after conventional gifts wear out or fade away.

This year the gift I got from was an experience.

We met in North Melbourne Thursday night, just around the corner from where I lived about 13 years ago. She was caught in traffic, and so I sat in the restaurant chatting to the middle-aged waiter while I waited.

It was an Italian restaurant I’d been to before, but my memory tantalised – I couldn’t remember when it was or who I ate with. How long have you been here? I asked him. Fourteen years, he said. I figured I was there last about 10 years ago, though perhaps it was before that. It annoyed me that I couldn’t remember. Almost certainly, I was there with a woman.

I was drinking a Vermouth Spritz when Donna arrived. It’s her birthday next week, and so we exchanged cards. Both of us write more than the conventional birthday wish, and so we each took the time to read the birthday prognostications of the other. We had a share plate for entree then pasta for main. We got out of there about 8.20, later than we should have – dessert came late.

Guided by the GPS, we made our way to the next stage of our journey, a mystery location in West Melbourne. We were due at 8.30, but the GPS played silly buggers and took us somewhere different. By the time we made it, we were about 6-7 minutes late.

We were ushered into a nondescript building in the industrial backstreets off Dynon Road. We were led upstairs by an usher who urged us to remain quiet. We could hear the music coming closer, the graceful strings of violin and cello.

We were made to pause at the top of the stairs, pending a break in the performance. We looked across the crowd to a dais lit by electronic candles on which a string quartet was playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. This was Donna’s gift to me.

As a movement ended, the crowd applauded, and we were led to our seats just off to the side of the stage. The music began again. Autumn. There was something exalted about it as if it came from a different plane. We were in a broad space – a reception centre normally – with the rustic feel of a country barn. Exposed wooden beams crisscrossed the ceiling, lit by the shimmering light of the candles. The quartet – all of them young, elegantly dressed Asian women played the evocative music of Vivaldi.

Everyone knows the Four Seasons, even if they don’t know they know it. It has become a part of popular culture, heard everywhere from commercials to soundtracks. All of it is memorable.

In the breaks between movements, the cello player would describe the scene to us, whether it be Autumn, Winter, Spring or Summer. A picture was sketched for you, which was then painted in by the music. You see it and feel it.

I fell to wondering about Vivaldi as I listened. I imagined him in his long-ago time composing the piece, a time before anyone had yet heard it. I wondered how he conjured the notes out of thin air and then imagined him playing on his violin, experimenting with it, wondering where it should go next. Then, one day, it as done – and into the world, it went, and somewhere, some time, the first performance of it – lauded, I imagine, and acclaimed. The beginning of it, and here we were, in the upstairs of a remote building in faraway Melbourne in a time much distant and Vivaldi long gone.

So much of the piece is vibrant and familiar, and in a setting like that, it etches itself across your memory. My favourite part is Winter, perhaps the moodiest movement of the concerto. It insinuates itself into your mind. I was sitting there on a hard dining chair, surrounded by people from all walks of life silently beholding in the most unlikely of venues, the candles flickering and the musicians bent to their instruments.

It felt like life, tenderness and beauty and unfettered mystery and infinite possibility. This has been true always. It’s what inspired Vivaldi and draws us an audience to him and to others. It’s there now, but we only come to sense it occasionally, the sublime.

It was a great gift and a memory that will abide – even, in years to come, when we laugh about getting lost. These are the things you live for.

Out in the world


Up to yesterday, I hadn’t been outside the suburb since March. I hadn’t caught the train since then and certainly hadn’t sat down for a drink of any type at a venue. That changed last evening when I hopped on a train and travelled to Richmond to catch up at the Corner Hotel with a work colleague.

Restrictions are easing, and though it’s no simple thing going out for a drink, at least there are options now. This came about because the colleague – theoretically the team manager – was starting to feel antsy stuck at home with his family and wanted to get out. We agreed to meet somewhere in between we could both get to by train. Richmond was the obvious solution, and so I booked a table Thursday for last night.

Unlike in days past when you’d just rock up and snaffle a beer even if only standing room, there’re a few conditions these days. As there are restrictions on the number of patrons you’re required to book first. Then you’re restricted to two hours maximum, and if you’re having a drink you must also have something to eat. Then, when you turn up, they must take down your details just in case there’s an outbreak of COVID-19 and they have to trace you.

The last time I was at the Corner Hotel was towards the end of last year. We got there at about midnight and the place was heaving with people. It was very different yesterday. Our slot yesterday was between 5pm and 7pm. The pub was sparsely populated. Though it was early for dinner we ordered a meal with our pint. We had a second pint and then it was over.

It was good to get out. I’m fond of my manager. He’s a Malaysian-Chinese who’s been living here about 30 years. He’s no more than 5’3″, but stocky, with a shaven head and a ready smile. There’s a twinkle in his eyes often, and smile lines at the corner of them. For some reason, he always reminds me of Yoda. He’s a very decent and generous human being – one of the good ones.

It seems strange to get so excited over a very tame couple of hours at the pub, but it’s better than doing nothing, which has been the default setting these last few months. It’s strange how time so readily expands and contracts according to circumstances. Many times I’ve been out on a big night and wondered where all the hours have gone. Last night the time passed in a leisurely fashion, and though it was still early when I headed home, it felt sufficient for what it was. The train was mostly empty, and on the way home I stopped by the supermarket to grab the block of chocolate I suddenly needed.

More to come.

Coming together


Monday afternoon on the Australia day holiday I caught up with Cheeseboy and off we went to a Bushfires Support event at a bar in Black Rock. It was going off in Black Rock. It was a bright, sunny day, and the clientele had spilled out onto the pavement. The windows had been flung open at the venue, and a live band playing songs from the seventies and eighties had the buoyant crowd bopping. It was very festive.

There was a distinct demographic present. More than 50% of the crowd would’ve been over 60, well to do and friendly. I looked about and rubbed shoulders with them, occasionally stopping to have a short conversation, and I could see my mum there, and my stepfather.

Mum would’ve been in her element. It was her sort of music, and she was never shy of having a dance. Such a friendly, social person would have quickly engaged with others around her and Fred, my stepfather would have been right at her side.

I bumped into an acquaintance there, then friends of Cheeseboy happened by. A woman was going around selling raffle tickets for charity, as well as a ticket to an old fashioned wheel. She insisted we buy our share of tickets then demanded that I spin the wheel – she’d cottoned onto me, while another, more matronly type, took a shining to Cheeseboy.

None of us won anything, but we were happy to sip on our pints of Pale Ale and join in the vibe. It was one of those occasions when you were proud to be an Aussie. Everyone was working for free. Half the profits from the beer went to charity. The prizes had been donated. Even the sausage sizzle went to a good cause.

This is what I remember. For all the fervour around Australia Day, most Australians are very decent, generous people. Maybe it’s a bit more skewed one way than the other down my way, but the spirit of community and pulling together was very strong. All of it was very Australian – bright and optimistic, a smile, a laugh, a clap on the back. Very open.

This is what I remembered. This is the best of Australia, just as the community response towards the disaster has been the best of us.

We can act on the things that need to get done, but let’s not forget the basics in the meantime – with few exceptions, we’re a friendly lot happy to embrace others as a rule, and to put in the hard yards for each other when we must.

Not my scene


On Tuesday night I caught up for a drink with a friend I hadn’t seen since late last year. She was at a bar at Southgate, Left Bank, with her husband, and I was there by 5 o’clock.

After about three beers, I was thinking about heading home. It was only meant to be a catch-up, and I had to get home to feed the dog. Then someone brought back another beer for me, then another after that and then my friend said, we’re going next door for dinner.

She’d been on the phone to her brother, who is a multi-millionaire business owner, and who just happened to be at a restaurant nearby having dinner. Come along, he’d told her.

At this stage, I tried backing out again. Gotta go home, I said, have a great night. But then she demanded I join them and her husband, a lovely guy, said I may as well join them. You might find it interesting he told me. Besides, it was a free dinner. So I joined them.

We found my friend’s brother in a private room with his friends and hangers-on. Apparently, he has a standing booking and turns up 3-4 nights a week for dinner. Hence the private room.

I looked about. As I already knew, it wasn’t my scene. There was a group of about six sitting around a round table, a married couple from the business and a few gay friends of the host. Bar one, they were pleasant. The host himself I’d met him a few times before and always found him a charmless character. He’s gay, short and plump with a nearly bald head and small eyes. He’s one of those people who don’t seem to say much but looks out on his entourage, occasionally speaking in a closed-mouth sort of way.

I had a glass of wine and thought twice about ordering a steak, uncomfortable to accept the generosity of someone I hardly knew. I joined in the conversation, but mostly I observed. In my imagination, I considered how 3-4 times a week the host holds court like this, watching on as others enjoy the fruits of his hospitality. It sat poorly with me all round. I’m old school in a lot of ways, but, you know, I’m not above accepting the occasional freebie if someone really insists. Sometimes it’s not worth making such a fuss about. Next time, you think. But to turn up night after night knowing that your meal – and your company – was being paid for is a different thing.

I get how people like free things. And a free meal in a nice restaurant is a treat. But to do it, again and again, makes it seem cynical. Worse, though – for me – would be the sense of being owned. Rented, at least. And I think that’s likely a part of the appeal for the host. He knows their price, and he can easily afford it. He watches them eating from his trough and takes pleasure from it. It’s just money after all, and he has plenty of that. In exchange, he has power.

And yep, I may be being unfair and judgemental here, and just plain wrong. Maybe it’s not the same people all the time. Maybe they’re generous in return in their own way. Or maybe they’re just happy knowing it gives the pleasure host to entertain them – it’s made round to go round, as my grandmother used to say. It’s all perspective. To each their own. It’s not for me, though.

Despite this going through my head, I ended up ordering a steak. I wasn’t going to starve myself on principle, and I intended to pay for it.

In the end, I ate it but never got to pay for it. As I was finishing my meal, a fierce argument broke out. “Come on, mate,” my friend’s husband said, pulling me from my chair, “I’ve seen this before”.

We took our wine and left the room, sitting out in the restaurant proper. I knew it was a volatile family, and my friend herself was subject to fierce emotions. We drank our wine while it was explained to me that once these family conflicts start, they couldn’t be stopped. Best to get out of the way.

Long story short, we were soon gone. I had only the opportunity for a quick goodbye as I grabbed my coat and bag, ushered away from the fractured atmosphere. Then I was walking to the station.

The night only compounded itself from then. No trains were running on my line, and the three Ubers I ordered one after another never arrived. In the end, I got a taxi home for twice the price, and long after I should have been.

Trust and affection


I went out for a drink last night with one of the women here. Spring only sprung a couple of days ago, but it’s started well. It was a balmy evening for this time of year and we sat atop the Rooftop Bar above Cookie and shared a few pints looking out over the city skyline.

The woman I went out with refers to me as her ‘boss’ to anyone who asks, though I only supervised her for a brief period. She’s a lovely, bubbly personality, good hearted and generous natured. She has a loud voice and a laugh that belies her small stature. She’s a fond character who tells me she ‘loves’ me, and that she’s ‘proud’ of me, and so on. Much of our relationship is me teasing her or her teasing me.

Last night’s drinks have been on the cards for a few weeks, but was hurriedly brought on by a strange rivalry with one of our co-workers. To hear her describe it it seems she and this other guy got to talking about me over lunch. Somehow it escalated into a competition between them as to who I liked more, who liked me more, and who had the earlier friendship. I had to ask her twice, but that appears to be the true story. Last night she took the opportunity to send triumphant messages to her rival, though I told him I was open to bribery.

Among the things discussed last night she told me that knowledge that I’d once been homeless was now reasonably general. I didn’t mind so much, but I was surprised. She was quick to tell me that it was nothing to be ashamed of and that everyone thought it was admirable how I had survived and recovered. That’s why she was proud of me.

I had lunch with the other woman yesterday, and we have a coffee date tomorrow. I didn’t have plan to have lunch with her, I saw her sitting downstairs and said hello and she asked me to join her. She told me a bit more of her story, advising she’s very careful who she shares it with. The obvious question then was why she was sharing it with me? I guess there might be an obvious answer to that, too, but still – she hardly knows me, she likes me for whatever reason, and what is the basis for her trust? Unless it’s a speculative gesture – I’ll trust you, this is who I am, how will you react, and what will you tell me? Not much, as it turns out, but only because the time wasn’t right and she had to go back to work.