Disrupted and dislocated


Today is the sort of disrupted day that makes prognostications such as I indulged in seem irrelevant. I’m sitting in the French restaurant I visited a couple of weeks ago. French music is playing again. I have a hot chocolate in front of me and an almond croissant on it’s way. I’m killing time a head of a hyperbaric session at 12.30. Earlier, I was at St Vs for another scheduled appointment.

The appointment this morning was with an infectious diseases specialist. It puzzled me at first when I was reminded of the appointment. Bad as it is, cancer isn’t infectious at least. Then I remembered. They’d discovered I had an infection last time. I’m on a long course of antibiotics to treat it. This was a checkup.

It’s all very familiar to me by now. I see specialists of every stripe, confusingly so sometimes – who’s responsible for what? But, no matter, the routine is identical.

I sign in at the front door, as you must do at every hospital these days. Then I make my way to one of two waiting rooms where I register my presence. Quite often, the waiting rooms are full. Many of the patients are aged, and it appears more than half are obviously in a bad way. You sit up straighter. You try to project good health, as if to prove to the world that you’re just a visitor and don’t really belong. Hospital waiting rooms are dispiriting places.

On this occasion, I didn’t need to wait long. I was called in to see a doctor I hadn’t met before. He was affable and conscientious. He had a quick look at me but didn’t have much to add. He went through the scans of my last PET scan, which I found vaguely disconcerting. He pointed out the white patches which were plates, and loose clips which would remain in place forever.

It was clear he was a sceptic when it came to hyperbaric treatment, which put a dampener on things. Through the conversation, it became clear that there was still a long road ahead of me, and that I would be returning to them regularly in the years ahead, even if it all went well.

I left feeling chastened. That’s not unusual. Out in the world you can blithely believe what you want, but in hospital medical reality held sway. They’re always encouraging, but cautious in their prognosis. You remember fresh, nothing is certain.

After another blood test, I left. There was just short of three hours until my next appointment and there was no point returning home. I walked towards the CBD. I felt a little glum thinking it’s alright being positive, until…

It was quiet and there were empty shop fronts, but so much I recognised and remembered still. There was a time the Melbourne CBD felt like a second home to me. I knew every nook and cranny, was familiar with bars tucked down anyways and cute little eating places I shared with friends. For probably 20 years I reigned over that, but that time was gone forever I realised.

I looked through the front window of a favourite bookstore before entering The Hill of Content just down the road. I browsed the bookshelves, as I have hundreds of times before over the last 30 years.

As always, there’s the serenity of a library, made hip by the interesting music playing in the background. As I take down books to examine, the same chastening thoughts curl like smoke in the back of my mind. There’s a rising resistance however, until I bump up against the edge of ‘fuck that’ – so familiar and welcome. It’s lucky I’m a gnarly prick.

I felt better after that and so I bought a book, for old time’s sake. I wandered down to the city centre and then through familiar stores, making my way slowly towards the station. I was surprised to see so much demolished and new construction in their place.

Soon, I will return to the Alfred for my daily treatment (though none tomorrow). I suppose I’ll make my way home after that and I suppose I’ll rouse myself to do my job. That’s what I mean by disrupted, though dislocated may be a more apt term. After all this, what point work?

There is a point, though. I just have to recall it.

Unbowed


I visited the office on Friday for an all-team meeting. It was to be the first time meeting everyone since well before my cancer, and so I’d targeted it as something I had to attend.

I didn’t know what everyone knew of me, and figured there might be a bit of innuendo and mystery about my health status. I wanted to clear that up. I attended, not so much for myself, but so everyone could set eyes on me and see for themselves. I wanted to get it out of the way and move on.

I’ve been asked if I was nervous: not at all. It’s strange in a way as I have moments of self-consciousness now when strangers set eyes upon my imperfect visage. I’m much better looking than I was, and much better than I expected, but I still look a bit beaten up, and there’s a permanent blood stain at the corner of my nostril. One look at me and you know I’ve been through travails, and may be still. I dislike the attention.

I had no fear of that returning to work. I probably looked forward to it, and not only because I could tick the moment off. I wanted them to see me and know that no matter how tough it had been, I remained strong.

That’s more or less how it worked out.

I was early and went for a coffee. At the cafe, I ran into some women from the office who gushed over me. They asked questions and proclaimed how well I looked, as if surprised. One was kind enough to be shocked when she heard my age – she thought I was at least ten years younger, or so she claimed, and that’s with the beard I have now and the misshapen bits. Now, that’s more like it.

I was bright and even a little provocative. A tad raffish, and even a little flirtatious. I enjoyed the attention.

Upstairs, once we all collected, I had people greet me or pat me on the back as they passed by. I didn’t seek attention, nor to make anything of what had happened to me. I was there in the same capacity as everyone else, and when I came to talk to some made sure it was as much about them as it was me.

For a while, I’ve wondered where I’ll end up at the end of all this. Lately, I feel as if I’ve got a better idea of that.

For want of a better word, I’ve felt more vibrant. Serious illness tends to make you more insular. If you’re like me, you gather all your strength and will to resist it, physically and mentally. It takes discipline, but in the act of it you withdraw further into yourself and become – unsurprisingly – self-absorbed.

I don’t know why it’s changed, but I feel myself looking outward more often lately. I have no doubt about my strength or capability. In ways, this experience has given me insight into the stuff I’m made of. At the same time, I feel as if it’s cleared out some of bad habits and ways of thinking that were holding me back before.

Looking back over the last 8-9 years, I feel as if I experienced a series of traumas that inhibited me. I hate to admit to that, but the evidence is pretty clear in my inability to properly settle or believe in good things. It affected my personality as well, something that seems clear now that I’m feeling differently.

There’s no doubt I was scarred, and for good reason. But there’s no bigger scar than when you survive stage four cancer, and it appears to have over-written the previous scars in my mind. And surviving – well, it’s the best sort of scar, no matter the fear that led up to it. I’m a survivor.

I felt that on Friday. I stood there feeling dignified and strong. I felt people checking me out and I wanted them to know that – but it felt true.

I still don’t know what course I’ll take once I’m free of this, but feel sure I’ll be direct and uninhibited in my manner. I’ve always been direct, but in recent years it’s been tinged with anger. That’s gone, I think. I’ll be true to myself, without any second-guessing. It’s just a moment in time, but I feel elevated in ways – just as smart and strong as I ever was, but with a calmness now that was missing before (people have always commented on how unflappable I seem, but in recent years I often seethed beneath the surface). With that comes an openness, and even warmth, absent since my mother died.

All this is talk and there’s a long way to go, and there will be setbacks. But, at least, I can see now how things can be.

Just quietly, when the cancer is behind me, I have a feeling I might do great things.

Off road


For the last few months, an old photo has been coming up regularly in my feed. This is it, me, about 30 years ago, on a hunting trip up towards Broken Hill:

I’m young, fit, healthy, there’s even a hint of swagger in my posture. I had attitude, and more or less that’s who I’ve been throughout the years. Not as young maybe and, lately, not as healthy either – but they seemed incidental. Age is a state of mind. As for my health, that was very scary, but there came a time – perhaps too quickly – when I thought I’d make it out okay.

But now, it seems much less clear-cut. This picture comes up and I don’t know if it’s a taunt or a tease. My mind remains sharp, but my body is a broken thing for now, and my spirit is ailing.

I woke up this morning to the sun shining and could find nothing bright or interesting in it. I seem locked into this very unsatisfactory existence at the moment and don’t know how to make my way out of it. It dawned on me that life as we know it is generally one continuous flow. The seasons change, the years pass, the news on our screens updates, we shop, we eat, we socialise, we travel, we live. There are peaks to this and troughs, but it’s all of a piece, a seamless journey through time and experience, with nary a thought of it.

Except in my case, I got shunted off that road and into a solitary byway. Theoretically, I’ll join up with the mainstream again somewhere down the way, but I can’t seem to find myself there – or imagine such a time and place. Do I want to subscribe to that again?

I get flashes of it. I pretend. I’m back working part-time, though it’s not really working. Yesterday a friend visited and we had a day that in times before I’d have considered very nice – lunch, then an afternoon putting prints up around the house, and later a drink sitting in the sunshine, when another friend arrived.

This would have been an ideal day to me once upon a time. I enjoyed it as much as I could, but from early on felt handicapped by my physical state.

I tire easily. I have no strength or stamina. I feel like a lie down half the time. My hearing is shot and I have pain and messy inconvenience with my head. There’s a permanent stain of blood at the corner of my nostril my vanity has given up worrying about.

I enjoyed the concept of yesterday, but my head hurt and I was so weary I felt ineffective. This is always the case now, with overwhelming fatigue a bonus (I’ve cut down on painkillers hoping to control it).

Despite yesterday, I feel so alone. This is where I really miss Rigby. I thought so often yesterday, I wish Rigby was here, imagining him with my friends. I wake up and he’s gone still, just when I need him most.

He was a great and necessary comfort to me in the hard days post-surgery and through treatment. He’d always be around, and even if he just needed my attention, he was a distraction. When he felt me fraying he’d come close and put his chin on my leg peering up at me, or cross his paw over my arm. He was there to snuggle with and talk to. Even the routines were so familiar as to be warming.

I miss his eyes on me and his affection and his distinct personality, and I miss the affection I would give him.

I need him most now, but the fact that he’s gone only makes the need more keen.

Somehow, I have to break free of this barren existence I’m stuck in. Someone said that recovering from cancer was like suffering PTSD, and maybe that’s what I’m experiencing.

I feel pressured into the work I’m doing, uncertain if it’s a commitment I can keep given the ebbs and flow of my health. In the meantime, I’m just not ever feeling any better, and life is hard. As for most of this time, I feel outside of life and the general pattern of being. I watch from the sidelines as everyone else zooms by with their seamless life.

I hoped to do this when I was healthier, but I don’t know if I can afford to wait. I’m thinking about visiting and staying with friends in Mullumbimby or Noosa. I think I need a change of scenery. I feel stuck in place and haunted by memories I could do without. I need something to jump-start an idea of a new future. A refresh and reset. Not sure how effective it will be with me still feeling shithouse, but can I afford to wait?

I trust that the day will come when I feel okay, though I’m less confident of that now. Whatever, it can’t come soon enough.

Medical update


I’m back taking painkillers again, though it’s not anything to be concerned about.

The operation on my hip and groin left much of the area numb and immobile, from my waist to my knee on the right side. That has gradually reduced in extent, which enabled greater mobility. It’s now reduced further, and some feeling has returned, including pain. The scars have healed, and no dressings are required now, but I feel a general ache with occasional sharp pain, gone before I know it.

The mountain of food I’ve been eating is finally having an impact also, to the point where I wonder if I’ve regained some weight.

For some reason, most of the weight I lost was from my legs and (now) boney arse – perhaps because I wasn’t using them? I also lost the love handles, but now I’ve developed a modest belly.

It feels as if all the food I’ve consumed has quietly worked at knitting my damaged body back together again. It’s taken a little while, but I’m stronger now, and it feels as if the systems that govern my health and wellbeing have stabilised. Long way to go yet, but the signs are good.

I still feel as if my head is thick – swollen, congested, misshapen, and generally out of whack. My vision is slightly impaired out of this, particularly when reading. All of this made me feel somewhat out of it post-surgery, and though I’m much more with it now, there are limitations.

I find it a lot easier to receive information than process it. It’s not that I’m incapable of it – I can string ideas and thoughts together, as you see here. It’s more a matter of energy. Most of the small reserves of energy go towards managing the daily tasks needed to get by. If someone asked me to do some work, I reckon I’d be exhausted within 10 minutes. I used to write, but I have no inspiration now. It affects my reading even, which I now do in short bursts (I’m listening to many audiobooks, which is easier).

I hasten to add, it’s made no difference to my interest in things or passion – just in my ability to follow up on them.

All this will pass, though I don’t know when. The swelling looks likely to be an issue for months to come, and with that, my vision will likely remain impaired. I can’t expect any great clarity to return while I’m undergoing treatment. For now, my focus is the physical and becoming more capable whilst replenishing my strength in anticipation of the gruelling treatment to come.

Get through that, and there’s an open road before me.

Necessary aberrations


I had no intention of turning this into my cancer diary. A few months ago, the idea would’ve been unthinkable. A few months later, though and cancer dominates my life.

I remember the day after I had my episode – two weeks ago today. After a night of drama I lay in my bed with my arms outside the covers parallel to my body and stared at the ceiling.

I lay like that for hours, not sleeping, so denuded of vitality that I couldn’t do more than blankly stare, taking in th3 dim sounds of activity around me.

I had no energy, nor any interest, in doing anything more than that. What little strength I had was needed in making good all that I had lost in the night previous.

I was conscious of this and despairing in a way that a man so inquisitive and mentally active could be reduced to something only a little more than vegetative. It was that which roused me to try something finally. It was later in the afternoon by then. I had lain still for maybe 6 hours. I reached for my phone and headphones and searched for music I could passively listen to. A little later, I began to send a message or two.

One thing I learnt in hospital is that activity begets more energy. Once you start – once the rust is shed – you find the energy to do more. Often, it’s the first step that is the hardest. It was like that on that day, and I found once I started, I began to loosen up. Within an hour, I was out of bed and sitting by the window, just to prove it.

I’d never felt like that before. That it was only two weeks ago feels surreal considering I’m now home and sitting on my couch.

I look at this time as being outside of life. Everything is abnormal, but hopefully, it will pass. It’s something I must endure while regular life is suspended. It’s a necessary aberration, and I hope cometh the new year that I can look back at a block of 4-5 months and think, thank God it’s over.

Very soon


I’m writing this sitting in the hospital waiting room, waiting to be called in and advised of the biopsy results and, in the best-case scenario, have the surgery I need firmly scheduled. I’ve been waiting about 80 minutes.

I’m quite used to it by now. This is my third visit and the shortest wait has been 90 minutes. It’s a cosmopolitan, motley waiting room. Most are working class I would guess. There are people of all ethnicities and others seemingly from the fringes – a man with his jumper inside out, an angry person, and others you look twice at. Some are old hands it seems, quietly reading a paperback as they wait, but others fidget it play with their phone. The only person talking is a man calling up his address book to tell them of his dodgy oil pump. I know the story so well by now that I could tell it myself.

Me, I sit quietly.

I was slow to wake up again this morning. When I got going finally I was to the railway station early, planning to catch up with colleagues for lunch before my appointment.

It’s a cool day. It rained overnight. A plump pigeon in mottled brown and white pecked at the ground, hobbling from what looked like a club-foot (club-claw?).

I listened to an audiobook as the train slid through the suburbs. I’ve been listening to audiobooks last thing before I sleep and often when I wake. It’s easier than to read the old fashioned way, which I would normally.

Last week I finished listening to an Alistair McLean classic When Eight Bells Toll – perfect listening for the borderline infirm. The book I’m listening to now is very different – A.S Byatt’s Possession.

This is a much more intricate piece of writing, much distant from MacLean’s bombastic and unlikely adventures. It seemed perfect, however, as I journeyed in. It’s lovely, sensitive writing that inspires reflection, which is very much in sync with my mood.

I caught up for lunch at a Uighur restaurant where I was bright and to the point. My colleagues know of my situation, but the last thing I wanted was to appear frail and vulnerable.

And now they call my name – only to tell me the results are delayed. The analysis has been completed, but not yet validated or written down. Did I mind waiting a little longer? It won’t be long…

So I wait again. I’ve nowhere else to be.

PS Voiceover: and then he found out he had cancer.

Looking out the window


I have a friend, Cheeseboy, who returned to Melbourne a bit over a week ago and has been in hotel quarantine since.

We’re in contact regularly. He’s by himself in a small room he can’t leave, so, naturally, he gets a bit restless with it.

I remember I was out somewhere when he returned. The call came through on my mobile phone on a Thursday night, and though I had expected his return, it came as a surprise to see his name flash up on screen. He was on the bus taking him from the airport to his hotel. I could hear the creaks and groans of the bus in the background, the air breaks as they came on, the change of gear as it accelerated. It felt kind of surreal, but it also reminded me of much much more innocuous times when I’ve been on an airport bus – often, heading for unpredicted adventure.

We had a zoom chat for a couple of hours last Saturday, then connected again later to watch the A-League soccer – him in his hotel room, me at home (I had to pause my broadcast to sync). It’s pretty odd.

Since, we’ve caught up a few more times, including an hour or so last night, as well as exchanging messages throughout the week.

As you would expect, his is a quiet life. Pretty dull and uneventful actually, which is want in your hotel quarantine, I expect. He gets his meals delivered at regular intervals (5pm for dinner!), heralded by a knock on the door. He was to wait a bit then to collect it from his hotel doorstep. He hardly sees anyone, and his only personal contact is for his regular covid tests. He’s got a window that looks out over the Westgate freeway, and sometimes he’ll describe the traffic.

He has his laptop and so has returned to work remotely – as everyone else is. He’s hired an exercise bike to get some exercise and does laps of the room every day until he’s done 5,000 paces. The room is pleasant, the food not bad – though all in paper bags – and he has access to the internet and pay-TV. He orders in a real coffee occasionally and bought a bottle of wine last week. He thinks he might swap out the standard breakfast of cereal for bacon and eggs on Sunday. For a cost. He’s out next Friday, by which time hopefully all of us are out of lockdown.

He feels pretty safe, though bored and itching to get out and see his family again. I’m keen to see him too as he’s one of my best mates and I’ve missed our Saturday morning walks, as has Rigby. When we catch up next – perhaps next Saturday – he’ll have a lot to tell me, and though the routine will be familiar, so much will have changed since we last walked together – about six weeks ago.

These are definitely strange times. I imagine a time somewhere in the future when covid is a memory and we all feel safe to move around and travel and live what we used to call a normal life. I’m hoping such a time will come – I expect it will, though not the same, and in the background will be the lurking threat. But still – something different to now. How will I feel then? How will I look back upon this time?

I remember sometimes my travels to exotic places, so vivid at the time and full of experience. I cherish those memories, and there are parts of it that remain vivid to me. But still, even the vivid bits sometimes feel foreign. I was there, I did these things, I felt them, and though they were rich in memory they become one dimensional. My memory is of the feeling, but the feeling itself is lost.

Will it be like that for this pandemic? Will I look back upon it with a sense of lived experience, or will it appear to me as a strange and unlikely event? Will I feel it still? Or will it just be words? And how will it leave me? What will I have learnt from it? Will I be different in the end? When it finishes – when I get out and about and live freely – what will I feel? Relief? Liberation? Anger? Enlightened? Will I step-change into a different state of mind?

All such speculation is premature. We’re not out of it and won’t be for a while yet – and maybe we never will really. Maybe this is just the first in what will be a succession of battles with evolving biology (not to mention climate change, etc). What is the point in even wondering? Because to wonder is to hope, and to hope is to be human. And because, at some point, we must begin to conceive of what comes next.

I can’t wait. I need for there to be more, and I think that’s the same for millions.

Girding for the real world


It’s a beautiful day in Melbourne. Near perfect really. I’ve not long returned from the first walk of the new year with Cheeseboy and the dogs along the beach. The sun is bright and warm, the sky an uninterrupted blue – the sort of weather that recalls seasons past of blazing sunshine, the beach, cool drinks and barbecues.

On our return leg, we stopped at the hole in the wall cafe we often do and ordered some smoothies. We got talking to a retired couple, who were the typically well educated and amiable types that inhabit the neighbourhood. They admired the dogs and spoke of their children and the world we live in today. They told of how their globe-trotting children had returned to Melbourne to live, knowing this was the best of worlds. We all agreed how lucky we were to live in such a place, safe from so much strife and with the glories of summer upon us.

So much of this is baked into our cultural memory. I sit here in a pair of shorts with the Sydney test match on TV in the background. Later, I’ll visit a friends place for a cool beer or two and a barbecue dinner. Tomorrow is back to work.

It’s work that gives me misgivings, though it should be easier now than in years past. I’ll stay in bed until I feel right to get up, I’ll throw on a pair of shorts (36 degrees tomorrow) and wander into my home office, where I’ll flick on my work laptop for the first time in over three weeks.

I expect to take it slowly. I have no great appetite for the job. I’ve been keeping tabs on things and clearing off my emails on my phone, and have been a silent witness to a few dramas in my absence. In a way, it’s good, as it demonstrates the sort of things we must contend with regularly. But I’m jaded by it, too. All of it is so familiar as to be stale in me now. I don’t want to return to the same things, like Groundhog Day. I seek something fresh.

This break has not had the desired effect of freshening up. I hoped that both physically and psychologically, a few weeks away from the job would act as a tonic for me.

Physically, I feel drained still. I’m not sleeping as well as I should, though I suspect there is more to that than simple relaxation. My health has been up and down though it may be settling down despite another episode last week. (In the absence of a decisive diagnosis from my GP I’ve self-diagnosed myself with dyspepsia, and self-medicated myself for it).

Psychologically? I have no interest in my work. Whether it’s just the job or a general condition, I don’t know. I feel a bit cynical about the place. In the past, I would push past it. That was the difference: for years and years, no matter how I felt, I would suit up for the challenge. Now I wonder why.

I finished reading The Island Inside yesterday. I had tears in my eyes as I closed the book. There seemed so much wisdom and grace within its pages, and I realised how much I missed those things. They’re in short order worldwide, and their absence makes for existential pangs.

So much in the book evoked memories, for I have experienced nature in the raw and breathed it in. I’ve felt the spiritual curiosity and sense of communion that nature inspires when we open ourselves to it. I count myself fortunate to have had the opportunities to experience that, and the sensitivity to be aware of it.

In the vastness of life, the problem is that returning to a job such as mine feels so small. It’s not irrelevant, but it feels it. If I do it, then it’s because I must – but I can’t take it seriously.

I feel sure this is what so many feel when they a mid-life crisis encroaches upon them. I may have encountered this sooner in the normal course of events, but was distracted clinging onto the wreckage trying to survive. I have survived, more or less, and now this.

It may be a phase, but it feels true – but perhaps that’s how it works, as it does for much of life: we reach an accommodation with the truth. Ultimately, life demands pragmatism. I teeter on the edge between them, yearning for the pure air of ideal knowledge and the pragmatic need to push forward, to overcome.

I have options, at least. Let’s see what unfolds over the next few weeks. In the meantime, work must be.

Recipes of my life


Had things gone just a little differently, I might well have become a chef. I can remember a night at my grandparents home when I was about 18, and they had invited over a relative who was a cooking instructor at William Angliss. He was there because there was talk at the time that I might train to become a chef.

I was a good cook even then and had an interest in food in general. I didn’t understand it until later, but I’d been spoilt. My mum was an adventurous cook. At a time when many families stuck to the standard meat and three veg mum was making curries and stir-fries and ambitious French casseroles, and so on. Most nights, we had dessert. The only clue of how unusual this was, was when my friends would make a point of telling strangers of my mother’s cooking: “guess what they had for dinner!”

So, I was exposed to a wide variety of food, and my palate had well adapted to spicy and adventurous flavour couplings. I enjoyed it from the purely sensual perspective – it was fucking delicious! But it piqued my curiosity as well because food has history and heritage. It belongs to cultures. If you’ve got an open mind at all, then you can’t help but be fascinated.

I was fascinated. I wanted to know more. And I was curious about how flavour was created and how things went well together, like a chemist mixing a concoction. Naturally, I tried it myself, and the more adventurous and interesting the better – and that remains as true now as then.

Somewhere along the line my interest and aptitude for cooking were noticed, though I don’t remember ever having a particular conversation about it. Apparently, it was obvious that it might become a career choice, and so the meeting was set-up with some distant cousin.

I can remember the night and quizzing him extensively as he spoke about the industry. We sat in the front – formal – loungeroom of the house in Strathmore. He was surprised at the range of my questions and commented to my grandmother how much more advanced I was than the kids he normally dealt with. It stuck in my mind because I was of the age when the sense of self is developing. He was a decent man doing a favour, but clearly, he had a passion for the business.

In the end – obviously – I chose not to take up cooking as a career. It seems very mature in retrospect. I reasoned that I enjoyed cooking and I didn’t want to spoil the pleasure of it by making a profession of it. I think also, I saw myself, and my future, in a different way.

I didn’t stop cooking, though. It’s remained a great pleasure, and I’m still a bold and adventurous cook. It’s clearly a passion, though I love the eating too. I’m urged occasionally to go on MasterChef, though I’m not at that standard. A few years back, there was an idea that Cheeseboy should team up and go on My Kitchen Rules. I wasn’t keen on that either.

One of the funny things is that I have a vision of myself in years to come, comfortably retired, and taking my cooking to another level. With time on my hands and a decent veggie garden, I figure, I take it up a notch and make it one of my things.

There’s a part of my nature very diligent and driven and, like many men, I’m a listmaker – even if it’s only in my head. I’ve been collecting recipes for years, much as my mum did before me, and thousands of others.

I’ve just spent the last 45 minutes looking through old recipe magazines while listening to Spotify. I have a thing if there’s a recipe I like I’ll fold down the corner of the age to return to. Today I went through the recipes and tore out the pages to set aside.

I have hundreds and hundreds of these pages around the house. I’ll be lucky if I make 10% of them. On top of that, I save recipes online. I have an app with 1200 recipes I’ve added to it, and which I methodically work through making a couple of new things a week, adding my notes and a rating to each recipe. I have a dream one day of having a hundred magic recipes that a lifetime of cooking has distilled into the very best.

It sounds domestic. It is, but it has a history. It has meaning outside of food because memory is in there too, and culture, and maybe a little sentiment – a recipe in its own way.

The next stage


I’ve just spent the last hour plus watching the daily Victorian government COVID-19 briefing. I think most of Melbourne did the same thing. This was the big press conference announcing the plan out of Stage 4 restrictions and every one of us was hanging out for it.

Expectations had been dampened over the last few days, and I think the general belief was that the current restrictions might continue a while longer. That was true as it turned out, though with important modifications. Stage 4 restrictions were extended by two weeks, until the end of September, but the curfew has been put back an hour, exercise times doubled and, most relevant to me, a bubble was announced allowing for people living alone to have a nominated visitor to their home.

The plan after that is for a gradual easing, dependent on how the infection numbers go, but it’s pretty comprehensive.

I felt a bit emotional watching it. I’m fully supportive of the science that goes into making these decisions, and though we’re not out of it, it felt like a prisoner being told he would be paroled in a couple of months. Just have to see it through until then.

That’s much easier said than done, but I think the great majority of Victorians understand the decision-making and will abide by the conditions of it. The ratbags and the odd politician make a lot of noise, but it’s amazing how many of us are willing to knuckle down and do the right thing by each other. Throughout this period, where Victoria has been the outlier, and sometime pariah, that the isolation has bonded us closer together. There’s recognition that we really are in this together, and for us to get out of it means that we all must do our bit. It makes me proud in a small way – we can be better, and here’s the proof of it.

While restrictions will continue, it will get easier from here if infections continue to fall. It will be easier a week from today than it is now, even if only in a small way. A fortnight after that it will get easier again, and so on, through the stages towards what they call a COVID-normal stage – late November.

I want to make mention of something many thousands have commented on: how impressive Dan Andrews is. As you will know, I tend to be cynical of modern politics and politicians. In general, I think they’re a rum lot. And, as a character, I’m not much given to unvarnished admiration. Among other things, my ego rarely allows for it.

I’m all in for Dan Andrews, though. His press conferences are a master class. Despite every provocation, he remains calm and measured. His command of detail is flawless. He never flounders, never backtracks, and never buys into the politics. He is a communicator par excellence, and his unflustered authority acts as a balm – it’s no wonder he has such support. I don’t think I’ve come across as Australian politician so impressive since Paul Keating. He cops a lot of flak from the edges, and of course, from the Murdoch press, but he is the leader we need at such a time – and far in advance of any other in Australia, and certainly Morrison, who epitomises mediocrity.

There’s a push for him to go federal at some stage. I have a gut feeling that won’t happen, but I think it’s a sign of how nervous he makes the federal government in how hard they attack him. Morrison has released his lieutenants to go hard at him, and the government is actively briefing journalists against him. I think it might backfire.

In Victoria, we don’t have much time for party politicking right now. We’re living it, we know what has to be done, and much of the rhetoric against Andrews comes off as trivial and irresponsible. It makes his attackers look bad. I think there’s a lot of admiration for Andrews across the country, and some of the attacks by Federal on State governments lately will steel resolve.

All that’s for the future, if at all, what’s important now is getting through this. I reckon 95% of Victorians would agree.