Outside the schema


The world has a funny way of squaring things up. Even as I wrote my post yesterday I wondered if I was being completely fair. It was true enough, but there was a touch of hubris to it. But then, within a couple of hours, that hubris was repaid when I got a message from a colleague advising that he had feelings for me. That’s right, he – a him.

Being a devout heterosexual I barely account for the possibility of homosexual interest in me. It doesn’t fit in my schema because I can’t really conceive of, let alone imagine it. That’s despite receiving occasional, but regular, come ons from men through the years. I reckon I’ve been propositioned maybe half a dozen times – maybe more – ranging from the forthright to the affectionate to the purely physical: an unexpected caress or pinch. Some, in hindsight, are quite amusing because of my innocent naivety. At the same time I remember one particularly vivid invitation when I was informed that I’ve never experienced a true blow-job until it’s been performed by another man.

Yesterday I was completely blindsided. It came from a work acquaintance I had pegged as being socially awkward but well meaning, and very likely a virgin. I’d never thought twice about his sexual preferences. Even less could I have imagined that he might be drawn to me.

I was flummoxed at first, but quickly gathered myself. Ok, I said. I was conscious that he had put himself in a delicate position. Part of me wondered why he had bothered to tell me – surely he knew that I was interested only in women? But then I thought again. Life is neither as linear or as straight-forward as that. I’m sure he does know, but this is an expression of self – the truth, if you like, his truth. And so I suggested we catch up for coffee. That hasn’t happened yet.

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Incompatibilities


Just before I woke this morning I had a pleasant dream featuring an alluring woman. Though the dream was in an entirely different context, I realised as I woke that the woman in my dream was someone I used to work with. I wasn’t surprised altogether. We hadn’t been particularly close, though we flirted a few times. What she had was an earthy sexuality. Dark and vivacious, she was womanly in all the best ways. She’s one of those people you just know would be into sex.

It was a pleasant enough dream but it quickly fades. I’ve had a million saucy dreams over the course of my life. It’s nice to reflect, then you get back to the real thing.

On this occasion though, it made me think of the woman I have coffee with.

I’m none the wiser yet as to what she sees in me, though it might simply be down to my impressive good looks and charming manner. It’s not something I’ll normally dwell on, except that she seems an exception. I know the women I go for. I know the women who go for me. And while she might share some attributes with those women, she most definitely doesn’t others.

I enjoy having coffee with her and our conversations, but I’m not greatly drawn to her. It’s not that she’s unattractive – she’d be considered a reasonably attractive woman. It’s rather that she seems to entirely lack those elements that had me dreaming of some forgotten ex-workmate. There’s no sex vibe. To be clear, I don’t mean anything particularly raunchy by that, I just mean that frisson that emerges even just between acquaintances occasionally. It’s an indefinable thing, and generally with anyone you get to know it’s there in some degree, even if only occasionally. With her it feels absent.

I had to wonder if it might equally be me, except the feedback I get and general experience I have is that it’s quite strong in me. I’m one of those men that women know likes them. I like sex. I’m always being considered a ladies man without lifting a finger to substantiate it. My appetites are undiminished and I reckon you can always sense that vibe. And if I doubted it then the friend I had drinks with the other week confirmed that just about word for word.

This is the thing, really. The women who like me generally sync to that, among other things. I think it’s a basic element of compatibility: you get each other on a chemical level. There’s much more to it than that, but I think that’s pretty central. I’m also a strong character, smart and confident, and that’s a type too. I’ve got a hard edge that’s hard to miss, even if I’m essentially kind and decent. The point is, I think this lady appreciates my intelligence and seemingly is fascinated by the life I’ve led, but I’d have thought those other parts of me would be more foreign to her. I mean, I can be brutal without even thinking about it, whereas she appears a softy. (I loved a softy once, and admired her sensitivity and grace, but we also had a mighty vibe between us. She had IT.)

If my life attests to anything it’s that I don’t really have much idea about women, and maybe that’s the lesson from this: desire doesn’t follow a formula. Or it may be there is no desire and I’ve got it completely wrong. It’s not something I’ve thought about in this way until now. I’m not sure what I think. I know what I feel – not much.

I’m intrigued enough to go on. I wonder if I’ll happen across a secret that’ll make everything clear?

Being old school


I got into work this morning and found that a heater had been left on overnight. It happens most nights. Muttering under my breath about it I switched it off, as I do most mornings. My team lead noticed my muttering and asked the question and I explained how I have to turn it off every morning and what a waste of energy and money it is and don’t people turn off after themselves anymore? He smiled at my affable grouching and related how his grandfather would mutter similar imprecations, and how he’d been brought up to think much the same. He’s about my age, and at that moment we were a couple of self-deprecating grumpy old men.

A few minutes later after I’ve logged in and doing all that first stuff – checking emails, messages from overnight, system issues, etc – he speaks up again. He’s reviewing some data fixes we’ve proposed for which I’ve done the documentation and he tells me he doesn’t have to change a thing, just cut and paste what I’ve written. It’s a compliment of sorts and I tell him, well, I like to be thorough. And he replies that he’s the same and we both agree wistfully that we’re old school and unspoken in that is the thought: haven’t things changed.

I wonder sometimes if my experience makes me a bit of a dinosaur in some ways, but the reality is that it stands me in good stead. It means I have an answer often when others don’t because I’ve done my homework and because I like to understand things. I have a creative mindset and realistic enough to know that shortcuts are necessary sometimes and that just doing it is occasionally the best option. And I enjoy that because I like to do. But, I come from a process driven background. There are ways to do things. There are structures to adhere to. I’m nowhere near as anal about it as some, but the irony is that when once I might have been considered on the looser end of that scale now times have changed such that I’m one of the more rigorous. And I haven’t moved an inch.

There are trends and fashions in everything, including business practice. The trend right now mirrors agile, even outside of IT and projects. It’s become a way of doing things across the board – a quick moving, lightly touching, low documentation way of doing things. I have nothing against Agile per se and think it’s just right for certain projects but – and I always say this – horses for courses. One size doesn’t fit all. Properly speaking, you should define the problem first and identify the right solution for it rather, as it often appears the case now, having a cookie cutter solution and attempting to fit the problem to it.

I guess this is an attitude that makes me old school at least. I’ve walked into an environment where nothing has been documented because no-one considered that anything you build will also need to be maintained. Knowledge is held in people’s heads or in scattered emails and user stories. There is no coherent understanding, let alone a baseline. If you put everyone in the same room and extracted what they know you might piece something together, like a jigsaw, or more likely a version of Frankenstein.

Trends come and go, and I expect this will moderate, as trends do, but I also think it mirrors the times, just as I mirror my times. I was brought up such a way that now makes me old school – turning off lights when I leave the room, closing doors after I open them, doing what I’ll say I’ll do, and doing things in a rational, methodical and thorough way.

Horses in the dark


It was a clear and mild last night, and I was in the city after an early dinner and heading towards a freebie play at the Malthouse.

We caught a train down St Kilda Road and got off at the Police Memorial. We walked down the street and travelling parallel with us on the road were a couple of mounted police on their horses. They clip-clopped along at a steady and reassuring pace, unbothered by all. I continued my conversation but had half an ear on the horses.

I was filled with affection. What wonderful beasts, I thought. There was something unperturbed and totally relaxed about the horses as they ambled along as if they had done this a hundred times before and were content with the life they had been gifted. It was a dream for their riders, too, I thought, imagining that this was something they had always wanted to do.

They were heading back towards the stables, I figured, which were nearby. I imagined what happened then – saddles removed and harness, given a brush down before a feed. Then the night ahead in their spacious cubicles, the odd clip of a hoof on the floor as a horse shifted, the sighs and gentle whinnies, and the quiet, companionable conversations between them in the dark.

They veered away as we went on. I looked in their direction feeling a quiet glow. That was something good.

The older I get, the more I come to love animals, and I’ve always loved them – and horses are one of my favourites.

The death of a legend


I was sitting on my couch last night watching TV when the news came through that Bob Hawke had died. He was 89, I knew he’d been crook for some time, but the news still struck me hard. I think much of Australia, on both sides of the political spectrum, had the same reaction. It was only after he was gone that I realised I had loved him.

Bob Hawke will probably go down as the greatest Labor Prime Minister ever, though he himself idolised John Curtin. I think there’s a strong argument that he’s our best Prime Minister ever of either persuasion. Together with Paul Keating, Hawke transformed Australia. They were a bold, reforming government with a vision of Australia that was innovative and ambitious. Somehow they managed to deliver most of their agenda. No other government has ever done so much, and it set us up and left us in a stronger place.

The economic foundation they set has seen us through some dark places since, but sadly the social and cultural direction they set – liberal and enlightened – has been waylaid by successive governments since. It’s an argument for another day, but had Keating not been defeated in 1996 Australia today would be a different place, and a better one. Enough survives however, the legacy remains.

Many contemporary Australians wouldn’t know that, but despite having left office in 1993 Hawke remained a public figure and became a cultural icon. Pretty well everyone loved him because he was a good bloke. There was no pretence to him, his compassion was authentic, and he was as he seemed, a garrulous, charming larrikin who epitomised the attributes we Australians like to think we embody.

For me, I remember much more than that. When I heard of his death last night I sent a text to a friend I knew who would be similarly affected. We spoke for a while and for the rest of the night exchanged SMS as we watched the coverage on TV and remembered. There was some mighty nostalgia at work.

The first election of any kind I ever voted at was the 1983 federal election, the election which Hawke beat Fraser. If I remember right it was held on the day after my birthday. I don’t know how it happened, but I was already deep into politics. I think a personality like Hawke’s probably encouraged that. I’d grown up with him being the president of the ACTU. He was immensely popular throughout the country. He was tough and smart – people forget how smart he was – with the boundless, inspiring confidence of man who knows he’s smart. He was without pretence though. There were no airs or graces to him and I doubt anyone ever doubted his genuine passion for the cause. I think many Australians could see something of themselves in his unabashed Australian-ness. He gave us permission to be ourselves.

That carried through to his prime ministership, though by now he had progressed from open neck shirts to fine Italian suits. He went into government with the imagination to create a better Australia, and the will to achieve it. We were all lucky that he had a man by his side – Paul Keating – who had similar imagination and drive. Together, and with possibly the best cabinet in Australian political history, they forged a new Australia.

Throughout that time he was on our TV screens and in our collective imaginations. He lives on in vivid memories, in great moments we all recall. He was someone we liked, someone we could be proud of. For all his great abilities what I cherish most about him was his compassion and decency. He was a truly good man who couldn’t abide injustice or bigotry. He stood for good, as no leader for many years has. He opened Australia up and made us look outwards, and in so doing embraced others with less opportunity, or disadvantaged by circumstance.

I can recall him crying on national TV, which he did several times. He was an empathic, sensitive man, and that only endeared him more. They’re the best people.

I look back and I remember sunny days and good times. Australia was burgeoning, we had belief, life was sweet. And we were lucky – how lucky we’ve only come to realise – to have leaders of the finest quality. We live in an era of pygmies, but Hawke was a true giant and a fine man. I’ll miss him.

PS It was good to see Hawke reconcile with Keating in the last few weeks ahead of this election. They are an iconic duo. It’s sad to see Hawke depart before seeing Labor win on Saturday, but his timing is impeccable otherwise. He always knew how to milk the political advantage. Australia is awash with sentimentality today remembering the prime minister they had once and what he stood for. That will stand today’s Labor in good stead.

Up for grabs


Getting ready for work this morning I was listening to an interview with Kevin McHale. For those that don’t know, McHale was a great power forward in the NBA who played for the title winning Celtics in the mid-eighties. I remember him well, tall and pale skinned with a mop of dark hair, he seemed destined to play for the Irish themed Celtics. Later on he became a commentator, which was what the interview this morning wall about. It was a terrific interview.

Naturally much of the conversation revolved around the current NBA finals series, which is coming to a crescendo. A good three or four minutes was spent discussing Kawhi’s buzzer beater against the Phillies in the seventh game of that series.

It’s already a famous shot, but in time it will become one of those moments in folklore. The shot itself, the seconds ticking down to zero, the high degree of difficulty shooting from the corner with the Sixers tallest player, Embiid, guarding him. The ball had to loop high to get over him and landed on the front rim of the hoop, bouncing straight up the height of the backboard, and coming down on the same rim. This time it took a forward bounce, hitting the front of the rim on the far side, before plopping into the basket. Time has stopped, the crowd is hushed, the fate of two teams, two cities, all wrapped up in the bounce of the ball. It goes in, the crowd erupts, and the Raptors win by two.

As a pseudo Sixers fan I wish it was otherwise, but Kawhi Leonard is one of my favourite players and really elevated his game in the playoffs. They went through and the Sixers went out, while in the other playoff series my number one team, the Celtics, went out to Milwaukee. I reckon the results would have been the opposite had the Celtics matched up on the Raptors, and the Sixers on the Bucks, but you play the game you’re given.

The Bucks now take on the Raptors for the Eastern divisional title. They’ll take on the winner of the Warriors/Trailblazers series in the west.

The Bucks/Raptors contest is enticing just to see Leonard go up against Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo is my pick for the MVP, though they’ll probably give it to Harden again (overrated in my book, but that’s another conversation). I reckon the Bucks will get up in six games and probably take on the Warriors.

The Western conference finals is a different ball game with the two back courts going up against each other. Curry is a hall of famer, but I loved Lillard both as a player and a personality. The Trailblazers have been brave and will take a game or two off the Warriors but can’t see them winning unless Kevin Durant – another great play-off player – doesn’t make it onto the court. I’d like to see the Blazers win the whole thing, but nah.

That would leave a Bucks/Warriors final. Warriors have been there so many times and won so often it’s hard to go against them. But, this time I reckon the Bucks might have a slight edge.

That’s what I’m thinking now, but it could be completely different. I’ll be watching. For mine the NBA is one of the great competitions in the world and shits all over the other American sports.

Crash and burn


A lot of talk about the final series of the Game of Thrones, now being broadcast. Much of the commentary has been negative – too violent, lacking in logic, literally, lost the plot, and so on. Having been an avid watcher of the series for many seasons now I agree entirely.

I’m far from being one of those GoT geeks who can recite chapter and verse every plot development and nuance over every season. I took delight from the show for the same reasons as most people. Here was intricately detailed world with a strong backstory and engaging characters and a myth to lead us on. It was beautifully designed throughout and well-acted, with wonderful set pieces and changes of fortune we could believe in. We all had our favourite characters. It was a world we could immerse ourselves in.

This last season was widely hyped. Here was to be the culmination of years of story development. Instead what we’ve been given appears to be a rushed resolution. What might have been better served over eight episodes has been squeezed into five. More fundamentally, aspects of the back story have been forgotten or dropped altogether, and inconsistencies in motivation and behaviour have taken the story in an unsatisfactory direction. Most obviously, the story has been overtaken by huge set-piece battle scenes and incongruous violence, as if suddenly pandering to a different audience that have stuck fat from the first.

It really does feel a rush job.

Take Daenerys. She’s always had tendencies towards megalomania and even cruelty. They were always hairline cracks in her personality. Come this season they’ve suddenly become wide breaches, dictating the direction of the story. She has become the mad queen all at once. So okay, maybe this was always going to happen, but the haste with which it’s happened is jarring.

Then there’s Jon Snow. If there’s meant to be a central hero of the show he’s probably it. He’s always been the decent, reluctant type who’ll always do his bit. Fine. But in this series he’s become basically a softcock, slow on the uptake and as wet as a lettuce leaf. Supposedly it’s from love for Daenerys, but gee, it’s an unconvincing love story.

You have other characters acting counter to their established nature, and all the lovely, intricate threads of myth and foretelling have seem to be all lost – unless they’re to make a belated appearance in the last episode.

What we have instead is this violent, almost nihilistic portrayal of a world bent on self-destruction. It’s a bleak, dispiriting vision full of special effects and grand sequences, but empty of purpose.

I’ll be watching the last episode next week hoping for some miraculous and satisfying resolution to what appears right now a steaming mess. I can’t see it happening, though I’m pretty sure were the story goes from here.

Long running shows sometimes go off the rails as they run out of ideas. In this case it feels not a lack of ideas but rather an artificially rushed ending, as if they had to be somewhere else and couldn’t be bothered tying up all the loose ends. Let’s just burn them all instead.

I’ve seen this before. I used to watch the Walking Dead for years but gave up on it about 18 months ago, for similar reasons. The violence had taken over from the story of survival. At one stage the show seemed almost fascist in its depiction of violent might. That came to a crescendo but wasn’t played out properly, and thereafter was just lame.

Oh well, there’s bound to be another cracking series to come along soon.