Fond remembrances


Off to a funeral tomorrow. The father of one of my best friends has died. I’m there to support my friend, but I knew his father also, a lovely, gentle, earthy man from the north of England. He was not young and his passing falls into the category of inevitable, but it’s no less sad for that.

My friend lives in Mullumbimby now, and I see him rarely. He called me when he came down as his father ailed, and we hoped to catch up but it was not to be. I haven’t seen him for ages, and when I see him now it will be at his father’s funeral.

I got the message last night. I wondered, as always, how to respond. I kept it simple and real. It’s a hard time and it’s not for me to make it harder. I felt sad though, sad for my friend, and his family – all lovely people, sad for his father, who I really liked, and finally I felt sad for myself remembering what it was like to lose a parent.

I’ll be there to pay my respects and support my friend. There’ll be at least one other mutual friend there. At the end of the day over a cold beer the memories will flow, and the sadness edged with fond remembrance. For a little while we’ll live with the knowledge of mortality. It will be real and gape within us like a precipice we can’t see over. There’s something enlivening in that, and as we who remain toast to our memories we’ll head home later grateful to be alive and among friends.

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A weekend doing nothing


Since sending my book off my weekend lifestyle has changed big time. For every weekend for as long as I can remember I spent hours each day sitting at my desk writing. Once the book was in the mail there was no more need to do that.

My next writing project is an essay, and I spent a couple of hours making some notes and doing some research, but that’s been pretty well it. I made a decision to do as little as possible because I was curious as to how it would feel. What I felt was a bit lost. When you’ve built up such a solid routine it feels wrong when you step away from it. I felt lazy in a way, as if I was skiving off from important work to be a bum.

Then this last weekend came and I had an excuse to do nothing. We celebrated Diwali at work on Friday, and I hoed into the assorted Indian tucker like the true cosmopolitan I am. Somewhere along the way I partook, literally, of a dodgy curry, and knew about it from about 3am Saturday morning, and every 90 minutes thereafter.

I was supposed to get my hair cut Saturday morning, but it seemed an unsafe proposition and so I cancelled. The local farmers market was on and I took a chance betting I could get back inside 90 minutes and I went along.

I love farmer’s markets. There’s always such a good vibe, and the produce is generally top notch. The farmers market in Sandy is always busy, with lots of kids, and more dogs than you could point a bone at. I went without Rigby because I didn’t want to manage him as well as everything else, but there were plenty of mutts whose eye I caught..

I did my usual shopping, buying some artisan bread, gourmet snags, a couple of herb seedlings, as well as an indulgent choc brownie. I was out of there within 40 minutes and heading home along the beach track.

Once more I thought how good life is in Australia, and particularly in a place like where I live. Leaving the market I heard the sounds of distant song, a choir it sounded like, singing Consider Yourself, from Oliver Twist. I walked a little way along the path until I came to a clearing. I stood on the high headland looking back towards the yacht club. Down below was a community choir of some ilk giving a performance to a collected crowd. Why it was I didn’t know, but I was happy that such a thing might occur.

I walked on, looking out towards the bay where just offshore a yacht race seemed to be in progress, and passing by good citizens with their beautiful dogs.

It’s no exaggeration to claim that a bit of my heart melts every time I see a dog. I love them to death, and each time I saw one I felt a little better, no matter the churning in my gut. It seems to me that a dog’s life span is shorter than ours because they manage to cram in as much delight, love and affection in their dozen odd years as we do in our seventy. They are a much purer expression of happiness than what we are, and we can learn a lot from them.

I got home just in the nick of time. I gave Rigby a hug and spent the rest of the day and much of yesterday being a bum. Fact is when you’re crook like that you don’t have much motivation to do more, and little energy. I felt a little lost, but ultimately spent most of the weekend watching a movie on Foxtel, or reading.

Next weekend I intend to get back to some routine. Today, I’m well again just in time for work.

A wanted man


Just for the record, I should report that up to a couple of weeks ago there was a warrant out for my arrest. Apparently.
I had no idea. I only found out when I visited the magistrates court to discuss a matter and was informed of it. I was bemused – I’ve never been a wanted man before. I suppose I felt relief to knowing that they hadn’t caught up with me. I was able to square things away, and I’m no longer wanted.
How it happened in the first place is an interesting story, and highlights just how fucked some things are.
The warrant was issued because of some unpaid traffic infringements. I had consulted with some community lawyers last year regarding these infringements, and they were to appeal them on my behalf. This coincided with the sheriff’s office going quiet. I presumed that they were connected.
Earlier this year, and then a few months ago, I followed up with the community lawyers to check on progress. I hadn’t heard from them.
Turns out for reasons never properly explained to me that they had never submitted my appeal. I was not best pleased, but it’s hard to be critical of a service when you’re not paying for it. They’ve jumped to it since, and very efficiently, but it left some outstanding items I didn’t consider until visiting the court.
Turns out the reason I hadn’t heard from the Sheriff lately is because they were sending correspondence to my old address. I arced up at that. Hang on a sec, I updated my address with Vic Roads as soon as I shifted, I told them. That’s when I was told that there is no link between Vic Roads and the infringements court/sheriff.
I blinked at that. Why wouldn’t they share a common database if, by definition, they have common customers and are both government authorities. It makes sense, right up to the point that I just took it for granted – but, silly me.
So what has happened is that 1. my lawyers didn’t do what they were meant to do, and never told me about it; and 2. the sheriff kept sending letters I didn’t receive; leading to 3. a warrant for my arrest.
Happy days.

A card player’s journey


When I was a kid every summer for years on end we’d head down to the beach somewhere as a family after Christmas to spend two weeks lounging in the sun, body-surfing, and generally taking it easy. Looking back from this distance it seems like a special time. It has a glow to it in memory. It was family time, a time when I still felt the innocence and joy of being an irresponsible child yet, riding my bike and mucking up and accepting all the simple pleasures of that hedonistic lifestyle as my very due. It has novelty value now also, because it has become so unfamiliar.

One of the things we would always do is play cards in the evening. It wouldn’t be every night. We’d go out sometimes, or else there might be something on TV – likely sport – to watch. It was a regular occurrence though, perhaps every second night. We’d play 500, either solo or in pairs, or else another favourite game called Oh Hell (aka American Bridge). We were kids, but we took to it easily and had a lot of fun playing. Over years I acquired a proficiency in playing cards in general, and took great pleasure in the skill required to play a winning hand. I can safely say that playing card games is one of the things I’m very best at.

Later, as I got older, the occasions when we would play cards became much less frequent. Becoming a bloke some of the games would change also. I haven’t played 500 for a long while, and Oh Hell only infrequently in the years since, but I’ve played plenty of hands of poker with the boys, and the odd casino card game. The only variation to that was when travelling, where a pick-up game of cards was always likely waiting for a plane or sitting on a train. I remember 10 years ago travelling through Egypt and Jordan I fell in with some keen card players. We would play Hearts at every opportunity. Most of them were good players, but one of the girls – an alluring Kiwi – was an exceptional player. I loved pitting myself against her, and had many hours of pleasure sitting on a dhow playing, or in the shade of palms at a red sea resort, or in the hotel lounge, and sometimes even in the bus.

Now I’m learning Bridge.

How this came about is that a few weeks ago I’m at the Cheeses for dinner when afterwards Mrs Cheese says to Cheeseboy, what are you going to do? The inference was that he had no hobby or diversion, as he should, and I was the reference point – a keen writer after all, and a cook on top of that. To be fair to Cheeseboy he is not without interests. He’s coached the local junior soccer team for years now, and once was a keen cyclist. In any case in response to his wife’s question Cheeseboy blurted out: Bridge.

I admit to being confounded at that point. I know Cheeseboy pretty well, and we’ve been mates for years – but I had no idea of this secret interest. I think Mrs Cheese was just as taken aback.

Turns out as a kid, just like me, the old Cheeseboy had been a keen card player. Like me he spent years playing cards with his family back in Holland. He enjoyed cards but, as with me, finds little opportunity to play.

Somehow in those minutes after I told him that if he wants to learn Bridge then I’d keep him company. As always Mrs Cheese, who is extremely diligent and efficient, found a local club where we could learn and play, and made sure that Cheeseboy organised it. Last night was our first lesson.

In the weeks leading up to the lesson we would josh around in anticipation of it. Let’s face it Bridge, and Bridge players, have a certain reputation. I took the mickey from myself by suggesting I might find a ‘foxy’ widow who would look after me. We joked about playing with a glass of sherry or Pimms, only to discover that tea and Arnott’s Family Assorted was strictly the go. In one thing our expectations were proven absolutely correct: we were the youngest there.

We rocked up and had the ladies at reception quickly flirt with us, commenting on our relative youth. Inside we were introduced to our fellow trainees – all older couples – and our trainer, a very proper type, as befitting the game of Bridge.

I’m not sure we were entirely approved of. Too much levity. We’re mates and have a lifetime of chiding and gentle abuse. It was novel to us, and amusing in its novelty, especially in the myriad rules. One of the other guys at the table joined in the banter.

The game itself was fascinating, unlike anything I’ve played before. It has common elements, but what makes it different is that you play virtually with a 3D perspective. Playing cards over the years I’m used to watching cards closely, and my opponents. You keep a rough count of cards whilst figuring out your own strategy, and scrambling to deploy alternative tactics as needed as the cards fall in unpredicted ways. A lot of it is predictable though if you’re thinking straight and haven’t missed anything. The game is in your head.

Bridge has the added complexity of having to play two hands, yours and your partners when you’re the bidder. I found this additional requirement tested my ability to keep everything in my head. It was almost as if by taking on this also something had to come out. It was quite a challenge, but I assume a challenge I’ll adjust to.

In any case I learned the game okay, albeit in an incomplete version – other bits are added in next week. The one game when I was the bidder was testing, but worked out well. These are the sort of things I like to master. As always, it feels almost like a direct challenge to my intellect. I enjoy those challenges greatly, and I love winning. I can’t ever imagine ever being part of a Bridge club, so my playing career may be brief, but before I part from it I want to get it absolutely right.

I may even absorb the etiquette.

Absent mothers


It’s Mother’s Day today and all over Melbourne, all over Australia, and probably all over the world families are gathering together to celebrate it. It’s one of those rare days that seem to galvanise everyone into doing something.

I’m not, but that’s because I no longer have a living mum. I feel a little sad at that, and quite left out. Everyone I know is doing something today, and had mum still been alive that we would have done something also.

I have so many memories of Mother’s Day, and it’s clear to me now that I don’t have a mother to celebrate it with that I took much for granted. It was not quite routine, but it was certainly regular, like Christmas.

Now that I’m in this position I realise how much hinges on our mothers. Mothers are the lynchpin and centrepiece of family. They draw us together and give us reason to be thankful. They house our love, and give it back to us in spades. When the rest of us are too lazy or forgetful it’s they who will rally and bring us together, because that’s their pleasure – to be together with us, and our joy is theirs.

I see now how families fray and drift apart when the mother is gone. We become individuals, rather than members of a larger entity, the family.

I miss mum, certainly, but I miss much more than that. I miss having a family, miss that overlooked sense of being loved, miss these functions. Days like today you feel denied entry to a club that everyone else is part of. It is what it is though. At least I know it now.

Happy Friday


If I’ve got to work then this morning for me was the ideal kind of morning. I would bottle it if I could.

It’s Friday to start with and that’s always a different vibe. The finish line is just a few hours ahead of you and the long week almost behind you. You’re in casual clothes and looking forward to a sleep in the next day. I always reckon there’s a completely different feel in the office come Friday, and it’s all positive.

We’ve had marvellous weather the last month. With a few exceptions each way the daily temperature has been between 25-28 degrees, which I think is the ideal range. Each day is sunny, every day is blue skied. It gives a skip to your step.

This morning I was in at work early. I say early, but it’s around the same time every day – around 8am, give or take. I walk in the door, flick on my PC, quickly check my email, then today I was off to get my coffee.

That’s a regular journey, though mostly I don’t pop out until I’ve been at work for half an hour, and generally it’s to one of two nearby coffee shops with the brew is top and notch and the crowd three deep. I don’t mind the wait. It allows me to clear my head.

This morning was a bit different. I got word that Short Stop – a nearby shop selling top shop donuts – was having a promo in that every purchaser would get a free donut. I’ve hopped into that before, and so after checking my email I was out the door again to beat the queues.

There was a queue as it happens, but not nearly as daunting as it would become. The coffee there is excellent so I ordered a latte to earn my free donut, and ordered (and paid for) another donut just for good luck – a maple walnut butter donut. I waited for about 6-7 minutes before I was out of there with coffee and bag of donuts in hand.

That’s when I cottoned on to how good it was. I walked down Little Lonsdale back towards Elizabeth Street. The sky was a lovely pale blue, the sort of sky you so often see hot air balloons lingering weightlessly. I was in my shirt sleeves and the day ahead promised more sunshine and blue skies. It was Friday, I had a couple of donuts and a good coffee, and a productive day in the office working on the things I want to work on – and tomorrow I could sleep in.

I slipped back into the building, for once quite content to be there.

Dark horse


Last week I ran into an acquaintance at a city café (Little Mule) at lunchtime.

I sat across from her and ordered a short mac and we caught up the news since we’d last seen her. I’d bumped into her on the street 6-7 months, but the last time I’d seen her properly was probably NYE 2015. I see her comings and goings on social media, but we hadn’t had a conversation for many moons.

In the course of our ensuing conversation I made mention of the book and the movie producer’s interest and the rest of it. She looked at me strangely and delved deeper searching for details. Finally she shook her head and said she had to ‘re-calibrate’ herself. “This is you being excited, isn’t it?”

Very little flaps me and I had to give a wry smile at her question. I accept that outwardly I appear calm and unexcitable. And in this case I’ve deliberately damped down my expectations – bit still, it is fascinating.

She spoke about the man who would interpret Obama’s anger – how his quiet and certain calm would translate into seething anger when interpreted by someone less inhibited. I’m not inhibited, I’m just focused and laid back. I’ll get excited at the right time, and if the occasion warrants it I might try on something ecstatic. Stranger things have happened.

Right now the time isn’t right. I’ve got a few people reading the manuscript now and for some reason I take more from their feedback than I do from some distant movie producer. They know me after all, and I know them. JV, who is the biggest reader among them, got back to me saying it’s a ‘good read’. That’s reassuring.

I still think it needs work and a proper editing, but I’ve taken a break from it. I’m writing stories for now, and after that I don’t know what. I’ve already got an idea for another novel, and ideas/creativity is in abundance right now.

I said nothing of that to my acquaintance. I don’t say more than I have to, and often – according to some – not even as much as I should. I may be prolific on this site, but perhaps that’s because I’m so circumspect in person. Strange to think what someone who only knows of me from this site would make of me if we met in person. I don’t know you and you’d probably find me genial, but guarded – but at least you know what goes on behind the façade.

I certainly have my moments, and will riff about anything when on form and in the mood, and sometimes will go hard when I’ve got the scent of something controversial or the taste of blood. Otherwise I’m quite happy observing and keeping my counsel. The days of speaking for the sheer delight of it are long passed, and I’m happy to be a dark horse.