Do you know this desire?

Typically I get on the train some time before 7.30am each morning and find myself a seat for the ride into town. Like everyone with winter come I’m swaddled in warm winter clothing and often a scarf. I have a set of headphones that shut out the world and through which I listen to music, and more often to audiobooks.

The trip into town is a quiet time. I just sit there. I watching the passing stations as we tick them off and cast an eye over the commuters boarding the train. Come Richmond, which is where I get off, the train is generally pretty full.

This morning I sat by the window. At Brighton a woman got on and sat on the seat diagonally opposite me. She was in her mid-20’s with long blonde air and fantastically leggy. She wasn’t beautiful, but was certainly alluring. She sat there and read through what appeared a document from work.

I checked her out and then looked back out the window. I checked her out again. As is almost always the case my mind set to racing.

I don’t know if it’s the same for everyone, or if to the same degree, but for me there’s a feeling of unexpected, but very welcome delight whenever I encounter an alluring woman. I’m infused with a sense of wellbeing, and almost always a feeling of positive vibrancy. I’m reminded what a marvellous place this world can be, and feel the urge to a piece of it besides. This sense, which is aesthetic, sensual and sexual, is life affirming.

I’m happy for the most part to feel this passively. It was not the occasion and to be honest I had not the desire to try more, and smarts enough to understand what is beyond my reach. To feel the warmth of this possibility is to believe in higher things. There have been occasions when I have acted though, and they are great memories – sometimes you just have to take that punt.

I wonder if what I feel is normal, or if it is commonly felt as vibrantly as I do, or if as urgently?

There was nothing special about the woman today. I felt no special connection to her. I was grateful for her existence, and admired her in much the same way as I admired those glorious thoroughbreds a few weeks back.

Grinding it out

So I had a day off sick yesterday and went to the doctor mid-morning to find out if it was just my chest again or something else besides. He wasn’t able to tell me a lot besides suggesting I get an x-ray, a blood test, and perhaps get onto a management plan to handle my chest. I came away feeling depressed, convinced that the problem is my chest and that it’s not going to go away in a hurry.

Today is the first day of winter and already I’ve had 2 months of my chest playing up. Any sensible person would realise that it’s unlikely to get any better as the weather gets cooler and more winter bugs emerge. I returned home thinking I just have to accept it. If it was an occasional thing then fine, I could lie low when it played up and continue on as normally the rest of the time. It’s different if it becomes ongoing. I’m never quite well, and sometimes, regularly, somewhat less than quite well. Practically speaking it becomes an impossibility in my circumstances to ‘lay low’ then. I don’t have that sort of sick leave to start with, and I don’t want to live like that besides. It means that I just have to endure that.

If it was mere discomfort then okay, I could probably grin and bear it. The problem is that when I’m crook I’m much less functional. You know how it is, when you’re unwell you can’t concentrate as hard or for as long as you can normally. On Tuesday I actually had to take myself off and lie down for 40 minutes I was feeling so off. I found a quiet corner of the lounge and lay on the couch and closed my eyes. It was good for me, and returned to work feeling a lot better. But I can’t do that every day, and the fact is that doing things makes it worse, but it’s doing things I get paid for.

Now that sounds pretty gloomy, and sums up how I felt for a bit yesterday. I felt I had no control over things. The whole outlook seemed depressing. But then maybe it won’t be as bad. Maybe I’ve just had a bad bout and in the next week or two the antibiotics will properly kick in and I’ll be free and clear again, as fit as a fiddle. Maybe – and that’s what has to happen. I certainly don’t want to go on a management plan, I’d feel like a fuckin invalid.

I wasn’t happy being at home. I’d have preferred to be a work and productive. From a metaphysical perspective I absolutely hate calling in sick. It always feels like an admission of weakness, if not defeat. The crux of it is that I am being forced into the decision by my body. I hate being forced into anything. I’m the sort who’ll say white when you say black. I’m the captain of this particular conveyance, or so I like to believe – until proven otherwise, when it goes down bad.

So there’s all of this in me and the night comes and the darkness and it’s cold out and I’m colder still because my temperature is down and I look about and see things. My health weighs on my mind. I know that the particular condition I have is not going away and, if I’m not careful, becomes degenerative. I’m sitting there and I can feel my breath coming in and going out and it’s not smooth, but it’s easier than it has been and a lot easier than it will be if things go bad. And that’s what’s in my mind – not this year, but the years still to come. How am I supposed to manage if it goes south? What sort of life is that? And suddenly I’m angry.

Give me a fuckin break, I think. Fairs fair, enough is fuckin enough. I’ve been unemployed, homeless, and near bankrupt. I’ve lost pretty well everything I had, which is a bloody lot. I’m in an underpaid job which at least is much better than what I had before. I live in a cramped box, with just enough money to put food on the table, but no more. I’ve got debt coming out of my ears, a car I can’t afford to register, let alone insure, and need medication I can’t pay for. I suffered the death of my mum followed by the legal wrangles after her death – and the subsequent estrangement from the other side of the family; and now, without my sister and father, have only my nephews and niece for family. Now this – a chronic fuckin condition which threatens to jeopardise that small amount I have left.

It was pretty grim. I felt it for hours and there was a fair dose of self-pity in it. Fair call though really, what have I done so wrong to cop all this? Finally I settle. I always do. I’m weary of it, but there is no choice. I have to survive. To survive it means I have to deal with it. Grind it out, that’s what I do.

It’s not enough to simply endure. I need to do. Doing gives purpose and meaning to life. Everyone needs it. That’s one reason I write, because it’s mine. Because it elevates me from the muck I’m mired in. Fucked if that’s enough though. I don’t want to live off that scant hope. I can’t simply look to survive from one day to the next in the hope it will get better, because it won’t. I have to make it so – and I’m so tired of that. (Enduring all I have has made me stronger perhaps, but I couldn’t survive it a second time). But then I can’t stand the thought of bowing out defeated. What will my epitaph be?

I wasn’t happy, but, as I do, I began to make plans. I set myself targets. Prime among them is my health. I can’t do much without that and so I must look to enhance it. I’m not a doctor and medical science is not something I can control, but I can strive to live healthily, and with more prudence than currently I do. Surely if I achieve some measure of that then I can mitigate the worst of my condition. Step 1. Then there’s the rest of it. I need more, more money, but more purpose too. I’m lucky that put me in the right job and I can achieve both. That’s step 2.

Experience tells me that when you set goals they need to be quantifiable. Airy fairy, vague aspirations don’t cut the mustard. Put a number to it. Put a date. Set yourself and measure your progress against the target. Make it a contest.

This I’ve done for the first two of my targets, but the third, I’m afraid, is very airy fairy. I don’t even know what it is, or how to find it. It remains an underlying truth though. Step 3 – get more joy in my life.

Moments in time

I was commenting to someone the other day that I’ve created such an ingrained routine that I don’t know what I did on my weekends before I started writing. It’s probably been 18 months now since I began writing both days of the weekend, without fail. On Saturday I’d go about my usual tasks, read the paper, catch up for a coffee perhaps, do my grocery shopping, some housework, a load of washing, maybe play for an hour with my iTunes just for fun, before knuckling down to write. Every so often I’d get up, stretch my legs, put the washing on the line, make a cup of tea, and check the footy scores, before getting back to it. Time flies, and there’s a grand sense of actually achieved something.

Sunday’s are not much different. After all the usual morning stuff I retire to my study, Rigby at my feet under the table, and set about constructing a little more of the fictional world created in my mind.

I took a break in recent times from the novel to write some stories – well received stories by my testers. I’ve since returned to the novel for a forensic examination of it, line by line. Can I improve that line? Generally I can. Sometimes it goes bigger than that. I’ll subtly re-shape, or re-write some dialogue. I’m doing it non-sequentially because I don’t want to be drawn too deeply into the story – this is mostly about the brushstrokes. This week it was chapter 2; a couple of weeks ago it was chapter 4; next week it will be chapter 14. Once I’ve completed my first draft of the re-write I send it off to my most critical reader and he’ll come back with corrections, questions and ideas. I’ll make an assessment of those and then complete the final draft of the chapter. I reckon so far that the final version is a marked improvement on what I started with – more direct, but more intimate also, leaner, stronger.

(I’ve told the movie producer to hold off on her stuff until I have completed a version I’m happy with. It’s academic as it was unlikely to move that quickly anyway, but there was always a sense that there was a premature – but exciting – rush).

Yesterday was a bit different. For the last week or so my health has been sub-par. I’d had a heavy cough that refined itself to a thinner cough. As it became thinner I felt it more. I felt as if there was a lump in the middle of my lungs, and the usual aches and pains. Yesterday that was clear, but I felt something viral. I was off, as if hungover. I had no energy, felt fuzzy, and couldn’t focus to write. What to do then?

That’s how things have changed. Once upon a time I never wrote on the weekend and was always occupied. Now I had to search for things to occupy me, though no real shortage of options. I read for a couple of hours lying on my bed with Rigby snuggled close. I ventured out into the cold and wind needing to take Rigby for his walk, and when he returned I reclined on the couch and watched an old movie – The Day of the Jackal.

Of its type, a classic, and always fascinating, and very well made. Watching it was an act of nostalgia too, as so many things are these days. I probably watched this movie when I was about 20, and probably another 2-3 times since then. It was familiar, though having read the book also I had that in me.

The thing is that these things remain static, while everything else around it changes. Once the movie is made it’s locked in place. The actors age and die. The world portrayed in the movie moves on. We, the viewers, change also. Movies like this become touchstones, moments in time in which we are recorded also. Then the next time we see the movie, identical to as it was before, we sit in a different chair, our hair is longer, or greyer, our lives have changed and people around us added to or subtracted. And this too becomes a moment in time.

Never better

There’s been a lot of talk this season about how close the footy is, and how even the competition. There’s no one stand-out team, and though the Lions are now clear bottom, no terrible teams, as there have been in past years. In the middle of the ladder there’s a log-jam of teams on 5 wins for the season, but top is only 7. As it stands there are about a dozen teams in clear contention for the top 8, and perhaps a couple more that might yet surprise.

That’s been a feature of the early part of the season. Powerhouse clubs like Hawthorn and the Swans started the season in diabolical for. The Swans lost the first 5, but have now won the last 3 and are looking ominous. Hawthorn have been flogged a few times, and though they’ve now won 3 games I reckon they’re shot for the reason, and very likely for years to come.

On the field the footy has been exciting too. I read a stat yesterday along the lines that over the entire course of the 2016 season only 17 teams won after being behind at half time. We’re not even halfway through this season and the current figure is 25. Momentum swings have been a feature throughout the season, typified, perhaps, by the Cats-Bulldogs game last Friday. The Bulldogs let at quarter time; in the 2nd Geelong kicked 6 goals to nothing; in the 3rd the Bulldogs kicked 6 goals to 1; and in the last the Cats fought back to win, kicking 7 goals to 3. On Saturday Collingwood trailed by 40 points at one stage before defeating Hawthorn comfortably, and Richmond twice have lost on the last score of the day (once after the siren).

That sort of reversal has been reflected in how the season has gone. The Tigers won their first 5 games of the season; if they lose this Saturday they’ll have lost the next 5. Geelong likewise won the first 5, before losing the next 3. Adelaide were flying, everyone’s pick for premiers after winning the first 6 in dominant style before being flogged in the next 2. And last year’s premiers have fumbled their way to a 5-4 start to the season.

There are aspects of the game that can be improved – umpiring interpretation for one thing – but overall AFL footy is a great product. I can’t think of a more spectacular sport in the world. The skills and athleticism are fantastic, and a tight season like this really highlights how compelling a sport it is.

The added bonus is the Bombers are on the rise – looking good boys.

Death of a Moomba king

It’s a fact of life that the older you get the more frequent comes the news that a notable figure from memory has passed away. Often times it’s no more than a curiosity. People die, even faded movie stars. It becomes more pointed when you know, or have met the person, but for me – outside of family – no-one closer than a forgotten acquaintance has died. Occasionally the news will come of someone dying that strikes home a little harder than the rest. They’re the figures that have resonated with you in a personal sense. They evoke a time or a slice of life. Or else they were someone you admired, even idolised, now gone forever. Sometimes it’s someone whose death seems incomprehensible, as if they always seemed outside of mortal laws – the irrepressible force of nature, the larger than life personality, the dominating character.

Lots of people die. It’s good for a news bulletin and a bit of kitchen conversation. Cheeseboy and I used to have a crass competition whereby we would nominate who we thought might die in the next 12 months. Extra points for the unlikely candidate. Sad, but true, even the deaths of notable figures from culture and history are soon accepted and forgotten. A person living yesterday is dead today. After the tributes life goes on, and next week they are of the past.

Who and what we remember is largely up to us – our individuality, our memories, our personal response. There have been some big name deaths in recent times, and some of them quite shocking. For me, personally, the deaths – and lives – that linger in me are that of David Bowie, who I admired greatly as both man and artist, and I suspect John Clarke, as I wrote of just a week or two ago. This was another death this week the long term impact of I don’t know yet; it’s immediate impact was significant, not just for me, but for all of Melbourne.

The death of Lou Richards shouldn’t have been a surprise for anyone. He was 95, and having lived a celebrated life his death is not the tragedy that it often is for others. Still, it became headline news here in Melbourne, and was subject to immediate and ongoing comment and tribute. He was such a Melbourne icon, and so well loved, that he is to be given a state funeral. He would love that.

Lou Richards, or Louie the Lip as he became known, is a legend in Melbourne. He was an ex-footballer who moved into media when it was still pretty primitive. Short, cheeky, generous natured and very funny Lou became a favourite quickly. He transcended eras. He started in the black and white days and ended his TV career just a few years ago. He was ever present, a football personality who had a much broader appeal. He was much loved because everyone could see what an utterly good bloke he was, no airs and graces, no pretensions, no real ego. Part of his shtick was to put himself in humiliating circumstances. He earned his nick-name by making outrageous promises – if so and so win this week I’ll eat my hat sort of thing. Except he didn’t eat any hats. Upon losing one such bet he had to piggy-bank an oversized VFL footballer down the street. On another occasion he had to cut the lawn of one with a pair of nail scissors. He had spaghetti poured over him, pizza rubbed into his head, buckets of icy water tipped on him, and so on. He became famous for it. Everyone laughed, and everyone loved him for it.

As a diehard footy fan I grew up with his face on my TV screen, his voice coming out of the TV, and his column in the Sun. He would commentate the match of the day for years and years – I’ll forever associate him with the game in that era, and unforgettable for me is his call of the 1984 GF when my team fought back dramatically in the last quarter to win, and Lou’s excited voice calling it.

Back in the day when the AFL was just the VFL it was a smaller, cosier thing. Games were played on Saturday afternoon and that was it. Saturday night you’d come home to watch the replay – a quarter each of the best games. On Sunday it was all about World of Sport.

My particular memories of this are after my parents split. My mum had moved out and I went with her. On Sunday I would go to dad’s for lunch. More often than not it would be a roast, and on the TV would be WOS.

I was having a laugh about it yesterday with a colleague. We recalled the woodchop competition, the handball, the cyclists riding off. It was a homely, almost amateur affair, but that was much of its appeal. Most of the presenters were ex-footy players, some dating from the forties, and others more recently and flamboyantly retired in the seventies. The coaches would come in from the games previously and be questioned about what had occurred on the field. Later the football panel would convene and amid much laughter and jibes would discuss the games.

Lou Richards was a central part of that cracking jokes and teasing his sparring partners. ‘Captain Blood’ Jack Dyer was his main combatant. I loved Jack. He was a famous and fearsome Richmond ruckman from the thirties and forties. A great player, he was also notoriously tough. He had become an irascible and outspoken football commentator with a unique way with words. He was another central figure of that time – I would listen to the ‘Captain and the Major’ on 3KZ to and from the footy on the car radio with dad. Such strong memories. Probably the third of that lot was Bobby Davis, who was an ex-Geelong player and coach. The three would host League Teams, another institution.

For years and years I watched WOS and the footy telecasts with Lou commentating. Later he switched to channel 9 where he would feature on the news, and on the weekends sporting programs. At some point through this he was named King of Moomba. You know you’ve made it as a Melburnian when that happens.

Lou was a feature on our TV screens for 50 years. Before that he was captain of Collingwood. He led a full, momentous life. Like so many others of my generation I witnessed a good part of it – and in that strange way he stood witness to my life. He was a decent, lovable, irrepressible character and with his death something ends. For a Collingwood man he was a great bloke, and I can’t say better than that.

Reasons to watch this

A couple of nights back I started watching 13 Reasons Why, the TV show that everyone is talking about right now.

In brief it’s about a schoolgirl who commits suicide, but not before sending out a bunch of tapes to selected people stating the 13 reasons why she did it. What it boils down is the mistreatment and bullying of her by friends and class mates, each of whom receive a copy of the tapes for their troubles.

The narrative focuses on one boy who comes home from school to find a box waiting for him on his front door step. He’s an awkward, geeky kid, sensitive and decent, and passionate in his own small way. From the outside you’d call him a good kid – but he’s on the hitlist.

He listens to the tapes and follows the instructions left for him and becomes tormented by doubt and wonder and the harsh reality of what occurred to a girl he had a secret crush on. He rushes trying to find out more, tortured by the knowledge that somewhere on the tapes he features.

It’s well done and compelling and, as it goes on, not altogether comfortable viewing.

Watching you wonder how much is objective truth, how much is reliable – it’s all from the dead girl Hannah’s perspective, so distraught that she is about to end her life – yet there are others who claim it’s not the whole truth, or that it’s not true at all.

All the same it’s clear that some unpleasant things were done to her – she was stalked, one lowlife kid claimed falsely to have had sex to her, another – a gentler soul – upset by her lets people believe he did the same. She is accused of stealing boys away from their girls, or conspiring in something untoward. As she says the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in far off South Africa cause storms elsewhere. It’s these combination of these events that made her life unbearable.

Like most people I find stories of bullying pretty distressing. It offends some notion of justice and fair play in me, and each time I hear such a story I feel like wrapping the bullied person in my arms and telling them it’s okay, it’s not you, ignore them and you’ll grow up to be the wonderful person you’re meant to be. I feel so tender, and so helpless at the same time. More than most things some bullying is just diabolical. (Terrible for the children, but a terrible thing for the caring parent).

It’s not as simple as that though. Yes, there are clearcut cases of bullying which are deplorable. Some bullying is unwitting though I suspect, in much the same way that offense can be. I think that’s particularly true of children, capable of great cruelty, but also so caught up in their own lives and fluctuating feelings that they frequently become oblivious to the feelings of others. Adolescence, volatile hormones, doubt, wonder, mystery make for rich cocktail of feelings. From the outside what appears to be wrong is to the perpetrator simply an expression of their own complex feelings.

There are many who are bullies as children who will grow to be bullies as adults. Others, their social development not yet fully evolved, who will commit acts of bullying they’ll grow up to regret and redeem.

I’ll continue watching as I’m fascinated to learn more and understand – I fear though it’s moving into areas I’ll find very distressing. It’s a worthwhile watch though, particularly for parents. I was never bullied at school, but the opportunities for it then were much fewer than there are now. I think every parent should be aware of this and conscious of being alert for it – whether a parent of the bullied, or the bully.