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…

Happy birthday to me

If you haven’t figured out by now, yesterday was my birthday and the photos leading into this post are some of the cocktails I consumed in the process of celebrating it.

For once the night lived up to expectations. It’s been a beautiful patch of weather in Melbourne lately, and yesterday was no different. We rocked up to the bar in Highett at 6 and secured the prime window position, eight of us in total. As the night went on we each drank a bunch of cocktails (I probably had an even half dozen, plus about 4 lagers), tucked into some excellent Vietnamese fare, then a couple of large pizzas from across the road. There was even a late, but very passionate call for post-midnight kebabs.

It was a brilliant night. Like I said to the others, I’d be happy celebrating my birthday like that every year.

Saving best till last

By conventional standards new years eve was a bit of a fizzer for me. I was invited to 2 parties. One was in the ‘burbs and with no money and a car that isn’t going that wasn’t a realistic option. The other was to a party in the city, which I had resigned myself to attending without too much excitement. Then yesterday afternoon that party was mysteriously cancelled, leaving me at a loose end. I could have tagged along to another party, except I don’t tag along too well, so in the end I fired up the barbie, cooked up a hearty feast, and settled in for the night.

I can’t say I was too disappointed. I love an excuse for a good party, and enjoy socialising, it’s just that I’ve got to the stage of my life where much of NYE festivities seemed forced and formulaic. I’m happy to attend a novel or interesting event, otherwise it’s just a bit ho-hum.

I had a great night home anyway, and Rigby was glad of it.

I watched a bit of the BBL which was predictably spectacular. It’s a great product fantastically well done, even if much of it is forgettable. We saw a great test match conclusion the other day (yes, against the odds, Oz won), and in terms of substance a good test match is a full 3 course meal complete with wine. You get up from the table very well sated. Twenty20 cricket is the 2am kebab on the way home from a big night out. I love a good kebab though.

After that I settled down to watch I’d been looking forward to. Funny, I left it to the last night of 2016 to see the best movie I watched all year.

Nocturnal Animals is very intelligent and sophisticated thriller. I watched it thrilled by every aspect, and thinking this is a story I could have written. I don’t think that often, and I’m probably incapable of it anyway, but it’s the sort of story that appeals to the writer in me – it’s the sort of thing I would like to write.

So the writing is brilliant, acting great, direction just spot on, and even the music was just perfect. Tom Ford directed this. His previous movie was A Single Man, another fantastic film (and probably my favourite from that year). He has a distinct style if these movies are any guide. There’s an elegiac quality to his film-making. Different stories, but with a similar timeless feel to them.

Initially as I watched last night I was reminded of the noir-ish films from back in the fifties, but with a high gloss. As the story unfolded I thought it’s the sort of film Hitchcock might have delighted in – a sort of Vertigo-ish intrigue and layer of uncertainty. What’s really happening here? More than you figure.

Music plays a part in that. Often I find music intrusive to the action. It should supplement, not lead; it should evoke a mood, not explain it. Getting music right is a tough gig – there’s a lot of older movies these days that jar because the music has dated. What fit then doesn’t now. It should be timeless.

In both movies A Single Man, and Nocturnal Animals, the music has been notable, often lush, like in some of the great movies of the forties and fifties by composers like Dimitri Tiomkin, Miklos Rozsa and Bernard Herrman. Ford seems to see music as an important aspect of building mood and tension really effectively.

Most of all I can’t get over how smart a movie it is. It may not appeal to everyone because it has subtleties you have to be awake to to appreciate. It has a psychological complexity and a deep insight into human nature that draws you towards understanding. You begin to see where the dominos lead, and why, and the long-term but substantial consequences of our actions. It’s one of those movies I could write a thesis on.


Lost in reverie

I was in the office at 8 yesterday to attend a team breakfast for Christmas. We went to a groovy cafe in a cobbled laneway Melbourne is replete with. From outside there was nothing much to see, inside a converted warehouse made for industrial chic, which happily included excellent coffee and very good food.

The conversation at first was  about work and the different projects ongoing. We’re a small team – just the 4 of us – but I tuned out during this. I wasn’t much interested in talking about work in such surroundings, and besides I had little to contribute. They were other people’s projects. I kept mum about mine. As time passed the conversation became more general, and with Christmas approaching, more personal.

Back in the office I attended meetings and worked on a flowchart I was hoping to get right before the end of day. You know what I did at lunch. In the afternoon I made more calls and polished off some docs I’d been writing, and completed the first draft of the flowchart.

I popped upstairs to have the flowchart quickly checked out by the girl I’d sat with to get the info. She’s a sweet-natured and enthusiastic type who thought my flowchart was “amazing”. All good then. I got back to my desk to find an email my manager had sent out to the managers and team leaders about a project I’d been working on. I’d done a ‘fabulous’ job, she wrote.

I’m happy to take credit when it’s due, but I knew I hadn’t done the job she claimed – I’d just done the job that had to be done. She’s a lovely woman though, very much a people person – she thanks us at the end of each day for the work we’ve done. Likewise I knew my flowchart was hardly amazing (though admittedly it can appear so to people who suddenly see their job so graphically represented). It was the simple result of close listening, persistent questioning, and good note taking.

I left work at a little before 5 and had a couple of beers with a colleague at a bar downstairs. He’s a guy I went through training with, smart, decent, hardworking. A top bloke. We talked of general things, but the conversation kept coming back to work. He’s still doing the job that I used to, and hates it much as I did. He’s more patient than me, “not as outspoken as you are” (his quote), but he is now fretting about the things I did – the utter inflexibility, the management style, the unreasoning rules, and so on. My manager is soon to become his, and I told him things would improve.

I caught a train then to Canterbury. I’d been invited to a birthday/Christmas party by mum’s closest friend. I see her 2-3 times a year, largely because I’m her last connection to the woman she adored.

I was early, so had to kill time. I dawdled down Maling road looking into shop windows. It was all familiar and well-known to me. Mum and my stepfather Fred had living within walking distance for near on 10 years. I had even lived there a while myself when I came back from my 2001 trip, homeless and unemployed just as 9/11 struck.

I walked by and towards the residential areas. Canterbury is a lovely suburb with beautiful homes and well-mannered, well to do residents. The broad streets are lined by great, sprawling trees that overarch into front yards and the street itself. The familiarity grew in me. It was as if I could close my eyes, retrace my steps and diverge just a little before knocking on a door and stepping into a different time, the smiling face of my mum greeting me.

I had stopped in front of a little shop in amid the houses. It was a Christmas shop, closed now, but with a window full of decorations and Christmas paraphernalia. This was new to me, but pausing in front of the window it made me think of the decorations of my youth. It was so vivid to me. It was a space of moments I felt tick by one by one as I felt in the midst of them. There was no-one about. It was just me remembering and looking into the shop window with a bag slung over my shoulder. The thought occurred to me that I had only to stick my tongue out and I would taste it, spicy and sweet.

Eventually I made it to the party and told my stories and listened to theirs. There were people there I hadn’t seen for 3 years, and 3 commented on how good I was looking, so I knew I had changed since then. It was a good night but I had to get home by train and feed Rigby, and that was an hour or more from the door. I left at about 10.45. On my way out I was waylaid by the hostess, and by another woman who had known and loved mum too. Let’s have a drink for her, they said.

To them I am my mum’s legacy. By being close to me they can be close to her. I understand that’s why I’m there (though I get on well with all), and I’m happy to give them that. It would seem cruel not to. I get something in return though. In a strangely parallel way they represent the last of mum to me, because they are the only people who have active, well nurtured memories of her.

On my way out a man stopped me, the husband of one of mum’s old work colleagues. “I looked at you,” he said, “and I wondered why you looked so familiar. But I can see now because you have the same bone structure as your mother. You’re just like her.”

I was surprised. Most people see my father in me, as I do myself. It was a kind thing to say nonetheless, and I was grateful.

I walked the empty streets back towards the station, bumping into someone I knew in Maling road. I waited and finally caught one train, then another, among the drunks and dissipated and the others lost in reverie.


Next Christmas

For those who aren’t wondering I’ve decided not to take up my aunt’s offer of spending Christmas day with them. More than likely that means I’ll spending the day alone with Rigby.

When I’m asked what I’m doing for Christmas I tell a white lie and trot out the usual family story thing. I’m not embarrassed by it. In fact it’s something that seems to embarrass others more than it does me. I understand in a way. On the face of things spending Christmas by yourself seems kinda lonely and pathetic. It’s not how I feel though. This is my choice. If I wanted to I’d be spending the day with the 15-20 others I’ve been invited to be with – I’ve chosen not to because it feels more right.

I know if I put it around that this was happening I’d probably get other invitations – but that wouldn’t be right either. I have very particular notions and memories of Christmas. It was a special day because I was at the centre of a very loving family. I was with the people who wanted to be with me. We all shared in this.

That’s the thing, for me anyway. I could pretend and go along, but it wouldn’t be the same. Fact of the matter is no matter who invites me I’m going to be on the edge of things. I’ll be watching them celebrate their family Christmas and it’ll be nice and sweet and I’m dead set certain they’ll bend over backwards to make me a part of it – except I won’t be, and know it. It matters as much that I’m there as it matters that I’m not, and that sums it up.

Now that’s nothing about being bitter or sad. I accept it for what it is, and understand it entirely because I spent most of my life celebrating those lovely family Christmas’. There’s an essence of that which maybe you only understand when you don’t have it anymore. It’s a sense of loving inclusion and shared joy, mixed with anticipation. There’s a ready smile on your face because you’re partaking in a ritual rich with family lore and tradition. You know how it goes, and that’s half the charm of it. It’s so entirely predictable in its way, but lovingly so – and you’re a part of it. You’re a piece of the ritual.

There’s no possibility of replicating that in my circumstances now, so for me there’s no point trying to pretend otherwise – and there’s an argument the trying to only makes the absence keener.

And if that’s not good enough for you the sheer logistics mean I can’t get there.

I’ll be doing things leading up to Christmas, but the day itself I’ll celebrate it by myself, and I sort of look forward to it. I’ll cook up the Christmas fare and crack a bottle of bubbles and get half tanked having a total slob day like I never do. And I’ll remember things, and I’ll reflect.

Last year it was sad; this year it will be different. I’m on the way back, and I have big plans. This is a moment. Next year is next phase, and next Christmas a different story.