Clutching at straws: 1


I’ve adjusted quickly to the idea of cancer. It’s not that life feels normal, just that I’ve accepted the fact of it. There’s no real choice in the matter if you’re at all pragmatic. What are you going to do? Deny it? Can’t see how that helps much.

I’m not dwelling on it, though. I know there’s some deeply uncomfortable times ahead and some pretty gruesome details, but there’s no point in focussing on that either. It has to be done, end of story. I’ve made my mind up that I’ll do whatever needs to be done. Beyond that, now’s not the time to worry about the details.

It’s probably helped by my state of health. There’s still pain, but it’s much less and quite different from before. Had I been feeling like this from the start, I reckon I’d have gone to the doctor much later in the day.

At its worst, my whole head was in pain. The main hotspots were in my sinus, through my cheek, to the corner of my jaw, and in my gums. But there was also shifting headaches, which would move from my eye to my forehead to my ear and the back of my head. Sometimes, they were simultaneous.

For the last few days, the pain has been localised to my nose and sinus, though not always present, and to the corner of my right eye. I still take painkillers, though in smaller doses, and the pain across the board is not nearly as severe as it was.

Also, this coincides with my nasal congestion clearing. From day one of this, I felt blocked on the right side of my face. I was certain that there were large amounts of mucus trapped there, exacerbating the pain. The cancer was there – I figure – but I was only really aware of it because of the congestion, which tightened up the right side of my face. It would press upon the cancer, but also on the nerves to my teeth, and so on, causing the pain.

The congestion started clearing straight after the biopsy. Whether it was the anaesthetic, or the suctioning they did, or a combination of both, but from that moment, the mucus seems to have loosened and begun to flow again. I began to sneeze, expelling more mucus. In the end, most has been removed. I have a slightly runny nose and no blockage – and what I feel now is purely the pain from cancer.

Of course, this is a theory, but it puts a more positive spin on the situation if it’s accurate. The widespread and severe pain I was experiencing made the cancer seem more serious perhaps, and perhaps more advanced. But if it was the catalyst for more conventional sinus pain, then perhaps it isn’t as advanced as we feared.

My health has improved in general. I’m not nearly as tired or foggy, but that will be because I’ve reduced the level of painkillers in my system. Before, I’d be in bed by 9.15 most nights because I felt so run down. Then I’d sleep for 10 hours and wake up groggy. In the last few days, it’s returned to normal almost – I’m in bed by 10.30 – 11pm, and I wake up easier in the morning.

I’ve had very little appetite over the last 6-8 weeks and no interest in food. I’ve probably averaged slightly over one meal a day in that period and, unsurprisingly, have lost weight. Now my appetite is back, and food is much more enjoyable.

Then there’s sex. That’s pretty much a theoretical than practical concept for me these days, but I’ve always been quite driven in that regard, but for most of this, I’ve had zero sex drive. I felt a little embarrassed by it. But now it has returned. What’s life without sex, or even the possibility of it?

Basically, I feel pretty strong and healthy at the moment and look it, too. It’s probably illusory, but it will probably hold me in good stead in the hard times ahead. I’m a powerful man, and I’ll need every bit of that strength. I am okay.

I have an appointment on Tuesday at St Vincent’s hospital for a PET scan. It will take about two hours and is a full-body scan to find where most of the energy is being consumed in my body. The theory is, that’s where the cancer has got to.

I feel much more positive about this than a few days ago, mostly because it doesn’t feel as if anything unusual is happening in my body. There are no symptoms, no unusual pain or discomfort, no blood. But, not counting chickens yet.

Otherwise, I’ve got the move all organised, the house is about 80% packed up, and I’ve made the calls to arrange the transfer of utilities and internet and so on. The cleaning is booked, and I’ve got people to call on for help should I need it.

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.

Metaphysical desires


After having a grizzle the other week about how every opportunity seemed closed off to me, I had a chat last week with management. It all came about because my team lead, a truly decent human being, recognised that I deserved, and maybe needed, more. He spoke to one manager, and then in passing, mentioned it to the department head. When she spoke to me, she had ideas and suggested I speak to my manager.

A lot of things are on hold currently, which I understand. The view is that I’m getting antsy about being denied what was promised to me. It’s not as simple as that – yes, I want my just rewards and am generally set by default to seek more; but, likewise, in reality, I’m not as motivated or ambitious as I used to be. There’s a lot of push-pull in me these days and will be until I reconcile it entirely. Regardless of that, there’s the very practical consideration that – having been wiped out – I need more to stash away for when retirement comes. Even so, if someone could guarantee me a relatively modest $120k pa, CPI linked, over the next 10 years, then I’d probably take it – even though I can earn much more than that.

The discussion, when I had it, didn’t touch on the metaphysics of my situation. The metaphysical rarely gets a mention when it comes to career development, and maybe that’s a good thing. It’s confusing enough without it.

What was put to me was an opportunity for a new role in a different team that would give me increased responsibilities and a bigger pay packet. In theory, not bad. Then I was told there was no budget for the role – which is new – until next financial year. At that point, the whole discussion seemed a waste of time. Then he said, well, let me have a chat and see what I can do. The inference was that maybe he could swing it much sooner. He said he’d get back to me in a couple of weeks.

As anyone who’s been reading this blog will know, this left me with confused and conflicted feelings. There’s a lot happening in this mental space. There is paradox aplenty.

I’m getting over it generally, but a recurring issue is that no-one really seems to know what I’ve done or am capable of. They’re all very complimentary of the work I’ve done with them, but I don’t think one of them has set eyes on my CV. That’s a tad disappointing, even if only at a very basic level. I claim not to care much for what people think of me, and I think that’s mostly true, but don’t we all have a fundamental need to be recognised as what we are?

I don’t know how many times I’ve looked on and thought, I’ve done that before and I could do it better. It sounds a bit snooty but I end up shrugging my shoulders and moving along. Times are different now and there’s not nearly the rigour around getting things done as there used to be, and maybe that’s why experience is overlooked. I’m steeped in practices and methodologies, but the whole principle of them has gone out of fashion. I’m happy to adapt and have, but I’m not about to forget the things I know, and it seems a waste in general and a pity that no-one bothers to check if there might be someone more qualified.

At the same time, I’m subject to people that in an earlier phase of my working life would’ve been reporting to me. I can accept that pretty well most of the time because I know that I don’t want that anymore necessarily – but nor do I necessarily want to defer or take instruction from someone who knows less than I do. I can be a bit snappy then, and experience is that people soon recognise it and let me go.

All this is true, in my mind at least, but it’s also ego. It’s the ego that puts the sauce on the objective fact. I know that. It’s what I’m trying to get away from. Let it go is what I tell myself, and after a bit of wrangling generally, I do.

These are practical considerations overlaid by the part of me that strives for more and new.

Then there’s the soul-deep part that has no part of the conversation but looks on wistfully. I don’t know how much of this is me, and my circumstances, and how much of it is stage of life. It can be interpreted as a mid-life crisis, and a lot of it aligns with that. But then, I think some of it comes from having endured what I have, been deprived of nurture through that, and coming out the other end and viewing conventional aspirations as being pretty hollow. To be honest, there was always a bit of that in me, even when I was living the high-life. Having endured the low-life since, it got reinforced.

What it means is that in my soul I want something more than a good salary and a handy sounding job title. I want to be doing something worthwhile to me. Paradoxically, I think a part of that is being my best self.

There’s a comment a friend made a few years back that’s haunted me in the last few days. He said he admired me because, like Kobe Bryant – his hero – I could invent my own shot. When I think of that the urge is to let myself go. Twirl the dial to 11. Go for it.

I just don’t know how real that is. Is it legitimate to start with? And is worthwhile if it is? Is it pure ego again? Or is that the opportunity I turn my back on because I’ve become modest?

Very strange. I don’t think there’s ever been a time in my life when I’ve known myself less well. The broad strokes I get, the history, but I don’t know who I am really, nor who I’m supposed to be.

Not the film I want to see


Like many Victorians at the moment, I have an uneasy feeling about the coronavirus. A few weeks ago, we had a couple of days of zero infections. Within a week those numbers had shot up, and now the risk is that they may get out of control. It’s a reminder of how infectious the virus is.

Last week a group of postcodes were locked down to try to contain the spread. These were the suburbs where hotspots had emerged, thankfully far from where I live (though somewhere I lived a dozen years ago is now locked down). Yesterday, the drastic action was taken to lock down individual buildings – the housing commission towers in the inner north. There were 108 new cases reported yesterday, and 23 were in these towers. They’re crowded, with few lifts and shared facilities, and so somewhere where the virus can easily spread and catch hold (as it did in similar blocks in NYC).

This latest action has attracted raucous opposition and controversy. The inhabitants of those buildings are migrants and people at the bottom end of the socio-economic scale – basically, the disadvantaged. The fact that police have been brought in to maintain what is a strict lockdown has drawn heavy criticism. It’s seen as intimidatory and unnecessary.

The government is in a no-win situation. We’re now at this point because of the mismanagement of quarantined returned travellers. The government must take some responsibility for that. Regardless, whatever they do has someone getting on a soapbox to complain about. Early on, they were criticised for being too strict and urged to relax some of the constraints. The government held firm. Then, when finally, the restrictions were eased, the critics came out blaming the government when cases of infection began to rise. Now that the government is cracking down again, the critics are saying that it’s unfair.

I can only speak for myself, but I’m sure many have the same view. I support the actions of the government to contain the infection because I think it’s necessary – and it’s backed up by medical advice. In circumstances such as these, what’s needed is firm and decisive action. The clock is ticking, and the consequences are catastrophic if you get it wrong. Far better, I think, to err on the side of caution, even if it means severe restrictions. Look around the world. We’ve been lucky, but it takes hard work and strong leadership to stay that lucky.

I’ve been disappointed in much of the rhetoric around the lockdown of the housing commission buildings. Till now, excepting the loonies, much of the commentary and perspective has been even-handed and foundered on medical advice. Now, much of it is being seen and commented on through a political lens, and much of it absurd.

These crackdowns have been given a racial and class slant because the suburbs locked down are more commonly migrant parts of Melbourne and nearer the bottom of the economic ladder. That’s doubly true now that housing commission flats have been added, with many now saying the inhabitants are being victimised because they’re disadvantaged. The use of police has also been slammed, with some pretty ordinary commentary towards them.

The reality is that this is an imperfect situation because we’re dealing with a dynamic and emerging risk to the community at large. The government must react swiftly to contain, and hopefully get ahead, of the infection. It’s not pretty because it’s unpredictable and because it’s better to do something now than wait to do it perfectly. These are extreme times and the political spin given by some verges on the imbecilic in the circumstances.

I’m sure the government will address and do everything it can to ease the fears and make this as easy as possible for the people impacted by this. I would guarantee that community workers and health professionals will be there to support and comfort the vulnerable people living in those towers. The government is good at that. I feel as if some of the criticism has been way premature, and some of it blatant grandstanding – and already there is commentary coming out of the buildings that they’re happy that something is being done to help them.

The fact is, right now, none of us knows where this is heading. All we can do is hope and do what we can to contain it. We could be at the start of something terrible, or these actions may curtail the spread and in a week or two, eliminate it. Because we don’t know we can’t afford to go easy. It’s tough, but it’s necessary, and if it means that the rest of us go into lockdown again, then I would support that.

I don’t know about others, but I look upon this with a mix of dread and fascination. It feels like a bit of a trope, the opening scenes of any number of apocalyptic ar zombie movies, especially now it’s in the towers. We all know how those movies turn out.

Anzac Day in iso


Yesterday was Anzac Day, one of the biggest, most feted days on the Australian calendar. It’s the day we commemorate the memory, and pay tribute to the Diggers who have fought for us over the years. Every year there’s a dawn service all over Australia, in the big cities such as the Shine of Remembrance in Melbourne, and in the little towns and hamlets dotted across our vast expanse. There’re similar services in other parts of the world, in London, in the battlefields of France, and at the place where it all began, Gallipoli (where I attended in 2004).

For a hundred years veterans have marched the streets with their comrades of war, cheered on by crowds grateful for their sacrifice. Many of them are old and frail, wearing their best suits with medals splashed across their breast telling the story of long ago campaigns and feats of courage. Afterwards, many of them will adjourn for a beer and a catch-up, or a round of two-up somewhere, or will even head off to places like the MCG, where another great contest will unfold.

Every year that happens, until this year.

This year the lockdown means we couldn’t congregate and remember. There were dawn services in the cities which no-one could attend, and the streets were empty of marchers. The old diggers didn’t meet up, and there wasn’t even a game of footy to go to.

In its place came what might become a new tradition. We were asked as a community to be out of our bed by sunrise and at the end of our driveway with a lit candle in our hands. To those who were able, it was encouraged they should get out their instrument and play the Last Post as the first rays of sunshine came over the horizon at 6.03am.

I was there. I set the alarm and was up in time and with Rigby stood at the end of the driveway, not knowing what to expect. What happened was slightly eerie, but very moving. Up and down the street, you could see flickering candlelight. To my great surprise, the poignant notes of the Last Post wafted in the air to me, first from one direction, then another. It was cool and solemn.

Across the road from me on the diagonal was a family, parents with children under ten – it was hard to discern in the dim light. I felt so touched to see them. I imagined, as I do, the conversation of the night before and the children excited knowing they would wake to this. I felt so proud of them, the parents telling the story of the occasion and imparting the importance of it, and the kids wide-eyed with wonder. Now they stood with candle in their hand with maturity beyond their years.

It was the same everywhere it seems. The occasion struck a chord, and much of the community responded, including most of my friends on Facebook, it seems. It was a lovely gesture. Standing there yesterday I felt so pleased to be part of it. It was an expression of solidarity and common cause. While we’re there for the Anzacs, what draws us together is the sense of belonging that we all need.

In the past, I joined the march wearing my grandfather’s medals. That was an experience like no other. I was proud to be there with my nephew, proud to represent my grandfather, proud to be part of such a noble movement. And I was astonished at how it felt and to have people applaud as I went by. I felt as if I was part of something momentous, and I had a share in it.

Many times over the years I’ve written of Anzac Day. It’s an important day in my life also. Often I would make my way to the MCG in the aftermath of march and settle in to watch a game of footy with 90,000 others. It was always such a chilling occasion. The crowd would silence. The Last Post would be played once more. The commands of the soldiers attending would ring out in the packed stadium. Then, at the appointed moment, a roar would engulf the place.

There was none of that yesterday, but in times like these, you try to make up for what you don’t have. After a long walk with Cheeseboy in the morning, and jobs around the house, late in the afternoon I settled down to watch a replay of one of the greatest Anzac Day matches of all – the famous 2009 match when Zaharakis kicked the winning goal in the dying seconds of the game.

Times are different now, but yesterday was a good Anzac Day.