Dialling down the lifestyle


It’s been a busy week, with all sorts of activities and meet-ups.

Last Wednesday night I met with Donna down at Docklands to go paddling a Dragon boat. We did that for a bit over an hour and it was fun, before adjourning to a nearby restaurant with our fellow paddlers for dinner.

I took Friday off to go on a hot air balloon. It’s my birthday this coming Sunday, and this was an early birthday present from the entrepreneur. I was out of bed at 3.30am and at Yering Station by 5.20. We were driven a little way to a nearby paddock where another half a dozen balloons were being prepared for take-off. It was a spectacular sight in the pre-dawn light to watch as these colourful balloons slowly inflated at the end of bright orange shooting flames. Soon enough we were in the air, the ground falling away and the landscape spreading far and wide.

I’d gone hot air ballooning once before, in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, which was spectacular. This was different but, for me, a very serene experience, and a lovely way to start the day.

The rest of the day was very indulgent, checking out a few wineries and sampling about 25 different wines, visiting a cheesemaker and later a chocolatier, finishing off the day with a visit to Four Pillars Gin and to a stone-fruit orchard. In between was lunch at Domaine Chandon, which was great. It was a long day, but much fun, with the added bonus and vibe of being on a schoolday.

The weekend was relatively quiet, but the last couple of days I’ve been to lunch with a couple of friends, and tonight am going to drinks with a friend I made first about 30 years ago – and seen probably twice in the last 15. There’s Cheeseboy’s birthday drinks on Friday, my birthday on Sunday, and the following Friday Donna’s birthday party – dancing on some boat out of the docklands.

It sounds all very enjoyable, but yesterday I got confirmation of something I had suspected.

I can’t recall if I mentioned it before, but a couple of weeks ago I had an ultrasound and some blood tests to check if I had one condition or another. The good news, as I discovered yesterday, is that I was clear of the worst case scenario – haemochromatosis. I’d figured that already, but it was good to have it confirmed.

Instead it was confirmed I had a relatively minor case of Fatty Liver Syndrome, which I had figured also. It’s manageable, and even reversible, but the hard part is that it’s going to impact on my lifestyle.

The way to manage it is with diet. Basically it means that all the things I like to eat I must now keep to a minimum. More pointedly, I can’t really drink a lot.

I don’t know if I drink a lot as is, but I’m certainly capable of it. When I’m not being social I might have 2-3 glasses of wine a week, and maybe a couple of G&T’s. When I’m social – which I’ve been increasingly so lately – I don’t really put a limit on it, though I don’t like losing control.

I’ve now got to re-think the whole thing, but don’t think I can start seriously on it until after the birthday season. For what it’s worth, I feel fine.

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Getting too old for this


It was a hot day Friday and ideal for a cold beer. At the end of the working day I made my way to the Arbory bar to meet with the sundry Dutchmen collecting to re-unite with another of their number, a legendary wild man now living in Singapore.

The Arbory is always busy, and a hot Friday night in the middle of summer is never going to be quiet. Gradually the group of us coalesced. There were no tables available, so we stood in between with the crowd in constant flow around us. We must have spent a little over two hours there, enough for 4-5 beers each.

We left approaching 8.30. One sensible decided to call it quits at that point, leaving five of us to go on to the Golden Orchid in Chinatown, stopping by the bottleshop on the way.

The Gold Orchid was evidently an old favourite of JK, who is a larger than life character with a heart of gold. He was greeted by the owners with the comment that they had not seen him in so long. We were led to a round table outside where JK ordered for us all: “twenty chicken, twenty beef and twenty pork satays,” he said, “and with extra sauce!”

We’d bought four bottles of wine between us, and a bottle of 25 year old rum. We started on the wine, a mix of Cloudy Bay Sav Blanc and a tasty French pinot. The satays came and were summarily demolished, before another lot appeared. The lazy Susan was dizzy with activity.

We were getting pretty smashed by now, but the conversation was good. One of the guys catches the same train as me in the morning. He’s a tall, conservative looking character, a Lib voter, he looks exactly what you’d expect a well to do Lib supporter to look like. That led to some good natured sparring between us, but also some serious discussion about energy policy, wages growth, and asylum seekers. We’re oil and water but it was an edifying conversation with mutual respect. By this time the wine has gone and we’re drinking the rum like it’s cordial.

Somewhere in the middle of this JK had enough. He’d been at it since Wednesday lunch. He told the story of how the previous night they’d spent $3,500 between the five of them at the Stokehouse. They’d gone to another bar after that, then another, before he got to bed at 5am – classic JK.

I don’t know how long we were at the restaurant, but I certainly know we were the last to leave. I caught the train home with Cheeseboy, sometime post 1am. I can’t remember being so tired. Cheeseboy wanted to kick on for a Turkish coffee at the Urchin bar, but for the first time in my life I said no. I got to bed and slept like a Pharaoh. I felt like a Pharaoh too on Saturday, awoken after thousands of years of dormancy. Very stiff, sore and confused.

The bitcoins I don’t have


I’m having lunch today with a woman who invested in bitcoins when they were way down low, and is now sitting pretty now they’re $28K each with a bullet. This is a minor sore point for me. I very nearly invested in bitcoin about 5 years ago. I even set-up a bitcoin account – which I retain to this day – alas, with no bitcoins in it. I don’t know that I decided otherwise, rather other things got in the way and the whole notion fell down the back of the couch, much like those other, much less valuable coins.
To rub it in I got a call about three weeks ago from a broker trying to interest me in bitcoin futures. Bit coins at that stage where about $11K. Now that’s a way to make a lot of money quickly, and lose it to. I still get these calls from people who somehow believe I’m still a man of wealth and influence. Of course I couldn’t invest in it – I had nothing to invest with. In this case though had I had the money, and had I invested, it would have been a lot of money made.
Whatever. It’s a story told every day. Regardless, it’s her shout today.

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.

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.

Different people, different parties


Last Friday I attended Donna’s birthday party at a city bar, six days after I held my own birthday party at a suburban bar. I celebrate my birthday once in a blue moon, but Donna does it religiously, year after year. Superficially it appears we celebrate in similar ways – picking a cool bar or restaurant to host it – but in reality our celebration styles are very different.

I’m not really a celebrator. I have a much cooler disposition. I’m social and generally affable, but I’m reserved too in the sense that I pick and choose my friends, and am not inclined to overshare.

Donna is a born celebrator. She’s bubbly and gets a kick out of being the hostess, and loves being the centre of attention. She’s got that social detachment going, all small talk and giggles, but she’s more open than I am.

Whenever I organise one of these things I try and keep it small. Picking the right venue is a big thing, but so too is inviting the right people. I want only those I consider real friends about me, and in general have ideas about what the perfect number is. Too many and the crowd diffuses; too few and the conversation lags and there is too little stimulus. I had 8 to my party, which I think is around the sweet spot.

Being a different person Donna tends to select different type of venues to me. I like the classic Melbourne style, intimate, cool, with a bit of attitude. Donna loves going to those bars with me, but tends to go for the aesthetics when picking a birthday venue.

She also invites many more people than I do – I think she invited 30 odd to her birthday, of which approximately 20 attended. Her close friends were in attendance, but so too were colleagues and what I would call acquaintances. I think a fundamental difference between us is that Donna wants to put on a show, whereas I want to enjoy the show.

There’s problems in having too many attend. For a start they tend to clump into groups, which can be anti-social. Secondly, acquaintances and colleagues will come and go. They’ll arrive later and leave earlier. They’re there to have a drink and share it with someone they like, but not love. To my way of thinking it starts off unfocused and loses energy as the night goes on. Put another way, Donna prefers the breadth, I much prefer to go deep.

My party finished up when the bar closed, and even then there were calls to take it elsewhere. By 9pm Friday most of Donna’s guests had left, and even the venue was on the wane.

As I seem to do every year I urged her to move on elsewhere to re-capture the vibe. Parties are like living organisms. They’re dynamic things that peak and then fall away if you’re not careful. There’s always a moment when you have to make a call – but somehow Donna always seems to miss the moment. I’ve never been to a good party of hers because they always lose energy and die away. I was gone by 9.30 on Friday, at which time everyone was just standing around.

I probably won’t bother with a party again for a few years. I’m not really fussed, but if I’m going to do it then I want to do it right. For that it means keeping it intimate and somehow raw (as can only be between good friends), and finding the right space for it.

Some of this can be explained by different personality types. Donna would be edging into the extrovert part of the spectrum. She draws energy from crowds mostly, which is why she invites them. I’m pretty well line-ball extrovert/introvert. All the tests I do show an even split, up in some areas, down in others. Crowds don’t give me energy, but nor do they take it from me. I can roll with it, and sometimes roll with it pretty hard, but I tend to think myself more introvert, if only because I need me time and enjoy it. It makes sense that I would go for the intimate over the rowdy because it’s a deeper experience.

Walkin’ the dog


Had a simple, but very nice evening last night. It was one of those nights that affirms what a privilege it is to be alive.

Weather in Melbourne over the last 2 weeks has just about been perfect. Sunny every day, the temperature has ranged between 26 degrees and 34. Yesterday it was 32.

I had arranged with Cheeseboy earlier in the week to take the dogs for a walk together. He sent me a message as I was on my way home from work to check if last night was good. I told him yes.

He came by last night with his crazy dog Bailey at about 8. The four of us walked to nearby Hampton beach and up towards Sandringham. It was a majestic evening, still warm, and very pretty. The shot I took of Sandringham yacht club sums up the beauty of the evening – it’s a photo taken with no filter applied, just as it was.

We’d been walking for about half an hour I guess when ol’ Cheeseboy said how about a drink? Well, I was up for that except, as I told him, I’d left all my money home. That’s okay he said, my shout.

We cut up from the beach and towards Hampton street. Brown Cow, and old haunt of hours, was heaving with people given the balmy weather. We tied the dogs up then sat outdoors under the clear night sky, within sight of the dogs, and started on our first pint.

We had 3 pints each in the end of Little Creatures. The conversation ranged far and wide while the dogs played together or gazed at us, or were set upon by fond bystanders unable to resist the allure of two cute dogs.

I kept an eye on this thinking on the lost opportunity this represented. Most of the people happily cooing were women, and some very handy types too. Rigby is a Labrador, which is a beautiful dog, and a chocolate, which makes him even more beautiful, but even for a chocolate Lab Rigby is particularly handsome. He’s like the Brad Pitt of dogs, he just doesn’t know it. He draws a crowd.

I’m half hoping that Rigby is getting phone numbers for me, but know he isn’t, And then I happen across the notion of next time pinning a piece of paper on him with some tear off strips saying If you want to meet the owner of this beautiful dog call…

I don’t know how Rigby would feel about that. He wants me for himself. He is a wonderfully devoted, affectionate boy, and I guess I reciprocate. So after a few beers and a few laughs on a lovely balmy night I untied him from his post and headed home, parting from Cheeseboy halfway down Hampton Street, till next time…