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.

Karmic balancing


It’s been about a week since I wrote about my movie producer. When I wrote then it felt like an unlikely dream, the sort of thing you hear about once in a blue moon about some other guy. this time it was me, but I was still sceptical.

I’m not as sceptical now, and more has happened since. It’s at the stage where things are unfolding, but I don’t want to say too much. I’m sure something will happen, I’m just not sure what as yet. If it’s the full dream that something will be a book deal and movie. Weird, eh? I don’t expect that, though it would be nice, but I’m pretty confident that a book deal is likely and a movie is definitely on the cards.

I’ve been in constant contact with my movie producer. She is a passionate, intelligent woman, in ways seemingly a force of nature. I believe her when she says she can make things happen. She seems well-connected, with friends and partners spread across the industry in Europe and into Hollywood. She tells me how for 20 years she’s been reading one script a month, but reading my book takes her back to when she was younger and read for pleasure, when she was a questing individual searching for answers.

She has now laid out the plan for me. I won’t go into the details, mostly because it seems like tempting fate to do so. She tells me how she wants a screenwriter friend of hers to read the book – an Oscar winner. She tells of a partnership with a well-known high-end production company. She speaks of getting a particular actress interested in the story. I give no names now because I think it would be pretentious. And because, bad luck.

I feel as if I’m living parallel existence. In one I go about my normal life working and grousing about it. The other is mystery, the possibility of something I’ve written opening mighty doors to me and opening me to a life never imagined. Of course, it’s surreal. If any of this happens someone will have to make a movie of my life some day.

It is my story though, my doing. The luck is in finding the right person to make it happen for me, but they are my words, my genius as she would have it, that makes it possible. I tell myself not to believe, knowing it is the healthier perspective, but am swayed by her sincerity and passion. She believes. There’s no reason she must, but she believes in me.

As unlikely as it seems these things do happen. It might just be that this time it happens for me – and fair enough too, karma owes it to me.

Monthly blues


Despite how I’ve been acting and what I’ve written I’ve been feeling flat the last few days. It seems odd in light of the unusual ongoing conversation with my movie producer, which is both unexpected and exciting, but in a way too it help explains it.

It’s not unusual to experience a low after achieving a high. I wasn’t exactly ‘high’ after my conversation on Saturday, but it encouraged me to fantasise about the things I might be able to do, and the things I might be able to achieve. Though it’s a pleasant exercise it’s also a reminder of what you don’t have. In my case, I have very little.

So the conversation on Saturday may have been a mini-catalyst, but I think this was likely coming regardless. I have these periodic downs which are nothing to do with my pathology and more to do with my circumstances. I do very well to keep them at bay 29 days out of 30. I’m a positive, optimistic and aggressive person which means I’m generally moving forward – even if I end up going in circles. I don’t believe in feeling sorry for myself and if things could be better dwelling on it isn’t going to do much good. And in this manner I keep myself generally upbeat.

I think it’s unrealistic to believe I could maintain that 365 days of a year. I think it’s probably necessary to blow off steam or let it out at some point. So what happens is that everything I’ve kept at arm’s length, everything I’ve convinced myself is but a temporary condition, everything that I tell myself I’ll soon leave behind one day comes back to me. All that I’ve told myself may be true – but here and now the truth is that every day is a struggle. I scrape by but with little joy and rare fun. Suddenly I’m weary of the struggle, tired of having insufficient funds to buy groceries or enough to buy lunch. Every week I need to fend off aggressive creditors, and though I earn now than before every week I fall behind further in some metric. All of that finally gets to me and I succumb to it for a day or two – then rebound, for the reasons described above: I’m better off doing something about it than worrying about it.

This time my feelings are deepened by my situation at work. That’s no fun at all. I’m working in a dysfunctional environment where I can get neither answers or action. I feel futile. I’m sidelined and kept in the dark while an unthinking juggernaut rolls forward squashing everything in its path and aimed in the wrong direction. Lest you think I’m just grizzling I have one colleague now looking for another job and the other exasperated to the point of infuriation by the incompetence of the organisation. Right now I’m largely twiddling my thumbs – not because I have nothing to do, but because I’m waiting for a raft of responses before I can go on: decisions, answers, actions. I’ve pressed for them and now I’ve stepped back curious to see what will happen. So far, zilch.

If there is a final element it’s the very personal. Somewhere in the midst of all this I feel the other things I don’t have: intimacy, and a family. I have people I can speak to, but not that one person. And there is no family at all. Donna rang on Sunday to say that her mother might be dying. Though it should never be unexpected at her age it still comes as a shock. I felt immediate sympathy for Donna and recalled my own loss. My mother is gone and my father estranged – and I wondered at that. I’ve had an interesting life, but it’s been at the cost of other things. This morning on the train I watched as a father in his suit fondly re-arranged his son’s hair. The son was in his school uniform and it was such a simple thing and I’ve missed out on that entirely.

 

Yesterday’s chances


Right now it seems like I’m going through a phase of what might have been.

Yesterday it was the African, and how she had become a mother since I saw her last. There was nothing practical that I could have done, yet I felt it inside of me, that had I played it differently then this would have been different too. I couldn’t play it differently – and if I were to be completely honest, it’s probably only hindsight that makes me wistful about something I didn’t really desire.

Last night I found out that the opportunity I had to knock back about a month ago was mine for the taking. It was an interesting job, but I declined it because it because it was located many miles from here, distant from public transport, and practically impossible to get to without a car.

Again, it is one of those situations where there is little option – but that doesn’t prevent you from feeling it when you discover it might have been different. It’s not just the practical impact of earning real money again (double plus current), which would be huge, it’s the fact that I’d be doing real work again. Morally, that counts for a lot, and practically speaking getting back in the game again is the big leap that might change everything. It’s getting back into the game that is the hard part – once I’m there, if and when, then I can look to consolidate and capitalise on it. Potentially it means all the difference in these years to come. I have to get there though – and I had an invitation I had to refuse.

For the want of some wheels…

The positive is that obviously I’m still an acceptable candidate. In theory it’s only a matter of time. It’s finding the opportunities which is the hard part.