Another year older, nearly


It’s my birthday in a bit over a week and because of people coming and going and not being about I’m having an extended, though fragmentary, celebration of it.

Yesterday it started with a spirit tasting event at Cumulus, Inc with a couple of old friends. It was a beautiful, perfect day and spirits even before we touched one were pretty buoyant. We spent a few hours circulating in the crowd tasting this and that and chatting with the people behind these small brands and quietly getting intoxicated on the small sips of gin and whisky and rum afforded to us. It was all good. In the end, we topped it off with a cocktail and proceeded to our next stop.

We tried the rooftop at the Imperial but it was crowded and so ended up sitting at a table on Spring street drinking beer after beer and getting some bar snacks to help soak up a portion of it. The premiere of the new Harry Potter stage production was happening just up the road from us and we watched as a steady stream of people went by in either direction either coming from it or going to it. Some were dressed up like wizards or what not, and costumes that made no sense to me but would all the world to a Harry Potter aficionado.

Among the crowd were celebrities invited along to give the event a touch of glam, each one proclaimed by C as they wandered by, or sat at the restaurant nearby us. It was a stellar day for celebrity spotting, though no real A-listers unless you include the state premier.

We had all met working together at Shell more than twenty years ago, just down the road on the corner. We’ve been friends ever since, though in more recent times C has drifted away some – Cheeseboy still see each other every month, and often much more often. Still, it represented a reunion of sorts with many memories recalled and, as the beer settled in, deep and meaningful moments explored.

Somewhere along the line, the conversation turned to me. I’ve had a prickly relationship with C occasionally, though mostly on his side. He’s a man who imagines slights occasionally and in general, seems to often find my confidence – or whatever it is – as a challenge to him. Yesterday was free of that, perhaps because there was no audience, but he quizzed me once more.

We got talking about my writing and where that’s heading. I told him it was going well, but he was disappointed that I hadn’t written about my ‘experience’. Every time he sees me he commends me for having survived such a tough time. He emphasised yesterday what a compelling story that was if only I wrote about it – how, in his words, an intelligent, successful, private school boy ends up homeless and in despair, and recovers from it.

It’s a narrative to him, though his fascination seems genuine, as if he can’t really understand how such a thing can be – though he’s seen it with others. I think I represent some sort of mysterious cautionary tale. Of course, it’s not so simple for me having lived it.

I told him I would write the story one day, but only when I was ready for it. That wasn’t good enough for him. He leaned forward with insistence and it felt as if he was accusing of avoiding the subject, or skyving with it. I tried to explain. I’m too close to it still. Part of that it needs to properly ripen, when things are different, when there’s enough space between me and it that I can see it properly and not be affected by it. For now, it’s still a depressing thing and will remain so I reckon until I reach the next level – whenever that may be.

The discussion zinged hither and yon until someone at the end of the table felt the need to intervene with a comment, basically telling them to lay off me. We all smiled at that. It wasn’t serious, but in the conversation, I’d come clean. I’ve not been happy for eight or nine years I told them. I referred to how they go home to a family and comfort and security and all I have is a dog I love and small comfort and little security. I was complaining, I was just saying. I said your family is like a battery that replenishes you, except you don’t know it. You know it when you don’t have it anymore.

All of this is familiar to me, so it made no difference saying it. It was new to them though and it surprised them I think.

At one stage C had leaned forward when he was proclaiming my story and said I was smarter than he and Cheeseboy combined and that was the story – how does something like this happen to someone like me? I tried to explain but at the back of my mind, I wondered why he thought I was so smart. What makes me smart?

It’s something I wonder about sometimes in general, like I do other things. It’s curious because I know I’m primo intelligent but it just is for me and I don’t understand it because I can’t see or understand or even conceive of being any different. It feels so common that even if I am smarter than everyone else I don’t feel any different. And so I get surprised when people say such things or act in such a way and I wonder, what do they see? How is this thing manifested? (I know at work I’m perceived as some kind of brainiac, even by those who dislike me.)

I sometimes wonder if people get taken in by the behaviours they take as markers of intelligence, but which aren’t in themselves anything more than quirks of personality. That’s not to say I doubt it – I don’t. I only really know it when I get things that others don’t, mostly to my surprise, and the speed of understanding things and the connections I make that are mysteries to others. I think maybe that’s why I write.

By now it is late afternoon and there’s an aroma wafting our way of what appears to be Tandoori chicken and eventually, we adjourn around the corner to an Indian restaurant where Cheeseboy and I have dinner sitting at a table outdoors, and C finally departs for another function, long after he planned.

It was a good, full day, carefree and fun and nostalgic. I guess that’s what birthdays should be.

I’m sharing a dinner with Cheeseboy next week – his birthday is the day before mine – and one other. Donna might attend that too. The week after it’s a night out with JV, who is otherwise away.

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Living the low life


I had the choice last night of attending a cool party in the city, a low-key barbecue close by, or just stay home. Guess what I did? I stayed home.

It bemuses me a little since I complain of a paucity of social opportunities, but then, I’m not going to force it. You feel obliged to do something on new years eve and somehow a loser if you don’t. I didn’t feel like going out last night though. I certainly didn’t relish catching public transport to and from the city with a million other (often drunk) members of the public. And so on the basis of doing what I want to do – rather doing what is expected of me – I went nowhere.

I fired up the barbie and made dinner. Then I watched The Maltese Falcon again. A little after 9pm I put on the movie I’d set myself to watch last night Bladerunner 2049. It’s running time would take me up towards midnight, and it was a movie I looked forward to re-watching.

Once more I was blown away by much of the imagery and set-pieces in the film. It’s great to look at. It’s a classic story too, though. As I watched I thought there’s something Dickensian about the storyline, even if set in a bleak, rainwashed future. Watching a second time with knowledge of how it all pans out added another level of insight.

It’s funny, though it’s deemed a classic and high-up on many best-of lists, I’m nowhere near as fond of the original Bladerunner – even though, on paper, it’s just my sort of movie. I watched it again six months ago and found my views on it unchanged. It has great moments, again, some fantastic set-pieces, the production design is fantastic, Ridley Scott is a fine director, and it’s got Harrison Ford – and yet I’m unswayed. You know what? I think – despite the story – there’s something cold at the heart of it. It’s an unfashionable view and I wish I enjoyed it more.

About halfway through last night I cracked a bottle of bubbles for tradition’s sake and drank half of it. The movie finished at about 11.45 and so I put a leash on Rigby and together we wandered down to the beach.

The idea was to get a good view of the fireworks over Melbourne. From Hampton beach, there’s pretty well an unimpeded view of the CBD. As it turns out it wasn’t as great as that by night.

A few other people had got the same idea as me. Cars had pulled over to the side of the road to check it out. On the beach, there were a couple of party groups, as well as a couple of cops checking things out. It was a beautiful night – cool without being cold, and the night sky clear so every star twinkled.

Midnight came and people cheered and cried out and the fireworks went off. They seemed far distant from our vantage point, small splashes of colour erupting on an oversized canvas. We could hear them though, and soon enough smell them too as the smoke wafted our way.

I stayed for about ten minutes, happy to have come, and then home, and to bed by 12.30

A Christmas ritual


As I do every year I caught up with Donna for our pre-Christmas celebration. We have cocktails, a meal, we exchange small gifts, we share stories of the past, talk about the future. It’s a very easy-going, celebratory few hours, and – like last night – we’re generally the last to leave.

The start of the night was different. As always, Donna was delayed and then late. I keep thinking I’m going to invoice her for all this lost time, but maybe not at Christmas.

Because I had time to kill I wandered the streets for a while before meeting her. It was a slightly sticky evening, with rain falling lightly in sporadic gusts. I searched for a Christmas card for Donna going from place to place. There were people about heading from work or out for their seasonal shopping. Shop windows were decorated with ribbons and tinsel and Santas, and the streets arrayed with coloured banners. There was a festive cheer all about.

I ended up buying a card from Dymocks, which was brightly lit and buzzing with shoppers. I was in a buoyant mood and wished the shop assistant a merry Christmas, as she did me. Upstairs I crossed over Little Collins thinking this is a great time of year; I love this.

I made my way to the venue for the night, a new rooftop joint called Red Piggy. I was way early and sat at the bar with a Vietnamese beer and chatted with the bartender, a woman from New York. We discussed cocktails and spirits and why she likes Australia so much and how sad it was my friend was late. Hope she’s worth it? We’ll see, I told her.

Then Donna arrived and we adjourned to a table in the corner and had a cocktail each and ordered from the menu. For the next few hours we sat facing each other not pausing in our conversation. I’ve known her a long time now and she knows all my foibles, and occasionally exploits them. We share many memories, including those of mum, who we spoke of last night.

It was a lovely night all round. This is the thing this time of year. Everything is so concentrated, so familiar, one thing after another. That’s why you get sad. The memories that are spread out evenly over the rest of the year here come one after the other. You recognise the form of things – so well known – without enjoying any of the blessings. But last night I could. We’ve been doing this for years. This is one ritual that has survived. This is mine. Good enough.

Being a woman’s man


I’ve never aspired to be a man’s man, though I’m sure there are many who see me like that. I can play the role well enough, and a lot of it comes easy. At work I mix easily enough with the blokes, stopping to chat about the footy or cricket and portraying some classic Aussie persona both laconic and sardonic. I can settle over a beer or ten and happily chew the fat about classic male subjects such as sport and work reminiscing about times shared in the past. That I have a confident, strong aura, and perceived to be independent of mind, means that I portray a masculine authority that papers over a lot of the cracks.

I’ve never really been terribly interested in it though. Sure, it can be fun and the conversation of passing interest, but generally its superficial too. This is one of the pities of masculinity, that we rarely engage in the deep and meaningful with each other, and when we do it’s generally awkward and uncomfortable. It’s sad to think that as men that intimacy man to man has been bred out of us. Even when we choose to we’re generally poor at it. It’s easier to skate across the surface with a ready laugh and a glass of beer. Of all my male friends I think there’s only one I have a truly candid relationship with, and I barely even see him.

I wish this was different, particularly given the challenges of recent years. I can’t say I’m particularly good at this either with other men, but it’s a different story with women.

I was at a party last Saturday at which there were a bunch of people I knew quite well but hadn’t seen for a while. It became familiar very quickly and easy and all the rest of it. I ended up sitting between two women, which suited me fine as I was a bit weary of the blokey carry-on at the other end of the table.

What resulted was a series of very authentic and open conversations. There are probably a variety of reasons why this happened. Everyone knows of my struggles and I think that makes it easier for others to be vulnerable with me. I’m a good listener, too, and trust comes into it as well. I think a lot of this plays to my natural self. I’m reflective by nature and I think women particularly see me as thoughtful and sensitive. This is not something new.

In a lot of ways, I think I’m more naturally a woman’s man, as opposed to a ladies man (though I’ve been accused of that). I’m interested in those things. I’m curious about what moves and motivates people. Cause and effect are fascinating to conjecture. And I care too, really. I understand that each person has a life, it has weight and complexity and, to them at least, is precious. You can’t help but respect that.

I’m wary of generalisations, but generally, women have a closer, more intimate relationship with their deeper self, and are much less wary or self-conscious of it than men. I think many women wish more men were as sensitive and as open as they are. That’s where I play well. I am interested, I am sensitive as well as curious, and I’m respectful of their feelings. Both women the other night gravitated to me, and at the end of it expressed the hope of catching up again soon.

This is why I miss all the female friends I used to have. It’s a different conversation and a different way of being. As I get older I realise that more and more I become a woman’s man – because it’s more real.

Of consequence


For months, maybe over a year, we’ve been trying to organise a golf weekend away. It’s bloody hard work, either because so and so is busy on this date, or, more often, because no-one will make a call or commit to a decision. I’m the decisive one, by nature and inclination, but then I’m also the one without a family commitment, so it’s a lot easier for me.

The other two don’t make it any easier. One is deferential to keep the peace, and other is a procrastinator – both self-declared. (I’m a controller). It makes for a noxious, dysfunctional process, and some acrimony occasionally, but led finally to a round of golf last Saturday at Safety Beach.

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t live up to the occasion, but at least was an improvement on Friday when the temperature didn’t get above 15 and it rained all day. Saturday was maybe a degree warmer, and though pretty bleak, the showers were light and intermittent.

Golf was fun. We had a fourth and played Ambrose. For the first dozen holes, I felt like a robot needing a good oil. I was stiff and inflexible. It had been so long that some of the science had gone out of my game, and it took until about the 14th hole to begin visualising my play. I improved a lot on the back nine, but the 19th hole came at the right time.

We stayed in Capel Sound, which is really just a dressed up name for Rosebud. We went to dinner in Dromana and had a few drinks and JV was laying on his bead snoring by 9.30. Lights out for all of us by ten.

Yesterday we went to breakfast at the place I used to frequent during my banishment to Rosebud. We went to Arthurs Seat then, went for a bushwalk, before going down and up in the new cable car. To Red Hill, we went where we checked out a cheesery before ending up at Red Hill Brewery where we had a few beers and a fresh barbecued beef brisket roll, before heading home. It was lots of fun.

In between all this, other things were happening for me. Driving into Rosebud after the golf I recalled all the many years when I was a kid when we would head down the peninsula for a couple of weeks of summer holiday. I’ve been down many times since and not had the same strong sense of nostalgia as I did Saturday. It seemed strange to me that my memories were not of my last time there – my banishment – but of a time long before that. It was almost as if that experience had reset my memories. What I felt so profoundly was that it was so long ago, but felt so vivid. How can that be?

Soon enough though my memories reverted to that period a few years back when I ended up in Rosebud because I had no other place to go. The prevailing feeling was of dread. I endured it when I was there, you have no other option, but it was a stark existence. I stayed in a converted garage with a bathroom attached. Most mornings I would walk Rigby and end up at the same café on Saturday where I would have a coffee and sometimes a meal and a chat with the waitress. After that – nothing. There was nothing to do, no friends to see, no real life to lead. The one bonus from it is that it forced me to begin writing.

I felt it though. I could feel it in my stomach as we drove by. There was an abiding sense of loss. From where I sat I wondered how I had endured such a bleak life for so long. It seemed so empty and negative, so fucking inconsequential. And that’s what I felt looking back, that I lived a life of no consequence and was, by extension, a person of no consequence. How awful it felt remembering that. I gazed out at the passing scenery and wondered – for all the changes since – how much more consequential has my life become?

It wasn’t a negative reflection, simply an objective assessment. What makes a life consequential? It’s the things you do and the relationships you have, I think. As far as I’m concerned the only thing of consequence I’m doing is my writing, and even so the jury is out on that. As for meaningful relationships, there are few.

It was as if by jarring reflection I was forced to consider these values. As I said, it wasn’t judgemental. It was the sort of objective assessment we rarely undertake. When was the last time you thought about your consequence? Odds are you’re a long way ahead of me.

So I had a lot of fun but at the back of my mind was this, and lead to nothing that was new. I may ask new questions, but the answers are generally the same. That basically means situation normal, more work to do.

Just simple


I was invited to the Rising Sun Hotel on Sunday to catch up with some friends. I accepted, mainly from a sense of duty. I’d rather be home on a Sunday evening, and I set myself to write through the afternoon. They were people I was overdue to meet up with though, so I agreed.
As it turned out I managed to produce some meaningful stuff before I headed out at about 3. I got there a little after 20 minutes later and walked in to a crowded bar with a three piece band playing the corner. It was loud and festive. The band was excellent and played a good selection of music, and I joined my friends at a long table.

For the next three hours or so I shared a bottle of red with the husband in between chatting about the footy and the state of our polity, as well as a recent trip he made to study in Oxford. Between us we would often look away from the band to the screen in the corner showing the big match between the Demons and GWS. Often I would find myself singing along to the tunes or keeping time to them, recalling times before when the songs were fresh and new and the performers themselves – names back in the eighties – were contemporary.

I felt near enough the youngest there. It was a crowd of 50-60-70 year olds, locals mainly I figured, come down for their regular Sunday afternoon fix. As the afternoon went on the small open space in front of the band filled with dancers, mostly women, well-preserved, energetic and joyous. I watched, imagining the journey that had brought them to this place. Later in the afternoon more husbands and fathers joined in, clumsier in their movements, less attuned and more structured.

I veered between a subtle melancholy and a pleasant reverie as I looked on. On the one hand I feared becoming as they were. It seemed to me, unfairly perhaps, that life had become less urgent and in its stead was something more narrowly defined and easily managed. It may be when I get to that stage of my life I feel the same, but this far out it spooked me. Fun as it was, and even though I seek to live smaller, I never want to lose that striving edge. I don’t ever want to be complacent, though I understand it very well. I don’t judge them, but I don’t want to wind down, no matter how pleasant.

But then on the other hand I found myself smiling at their joie de vivre, the sheer sensual pleasure they took from joining with friends and dancing. I admired it and felt warmed by it. My perspective was overturned. Here they are making the most of life and enjoying it – what can be wrong with that? Besides, haven’t I done just this a thousand times before? It seemed ridiculous to me then that I should ascribe a deeper meaning to something so simple, but it says a lot about me.

I was there nearly four hours and drove home afterwards in the failing light. It seemed so long since I had done this that I took pleasure from being on the open road and free to drive in any direction. As it turned out I only drove home, though I did contemplate stopping on the way back to pick up dinner.

That was Sunday, and in a way this is why I write – nothing is simple to me.

A winter weekend


Friday night was the annual wine tasting event down at Docklands, and as I have for the last ten years odd went along with JV.
It was as these events go, pretty standard. We sampled the wine, nibbled on cheese, and speculated on what we would purchase. Last year JV was wiped out by 9pm. This year he paced himself better, though come the end of the night he was ready to tumble into a warm bed.

For whatever reason I’m a much better drinker than JV, and indeed most people, as good as the very best. By that I mean I’m relatively immune from the effects of alcohol. That’s not to say I don’t get pissed, but it takes me a lot longer, and at a blood alcohol level that leaves many people tottering I’m as steady as a die. There are people who claim to have never seen me drunk. They’re wrong, but it’s an easy mistake to make.

I was in a good mood, which made me flirtatious. There weren’t a lot to flirt with and, other than with the wine director, those energies were directed into the fascinating conversations I had with the winemakers about their craft. You go from one wine to the next and one is as simple as the day, and the next full of complexity and mystery. It’s an act of alchemy which with my scientific bent I’m endlessly curious about. Why is it so? How does it work? What’s the secret? Is it the soil? What’s the difference between picking early and later? And so on. I reckon I’d love to be a winemaker for the fascination alone.

Afterwards we went to a Turkish restaurant nearby wgere we had the usual combination of grilled meats and break, hearty stuff every bit of it. It was a bit after ten by the time I got home, just after the final siren of the footy.

I stayed up to watch the replay and hit the sack some time after midnight and slept like a log.

It was a wintry weekend best spent indoors with rain and hail and piercing winds and even snow in parts. I didn’t even get to walk Rigby, and had the heater cranked to eleven.

The brief period I made it out early Saturday morning it was sunny and blue skied. I shared a Danish and coffee with Cheeseboy and did my shopping. It had started to spit with rain by the time I got home and thereafter it was the classic weekend, reading and cooking and writing and watching the footy and thinking about women. Can’t complain.