How to sledge

It’s cricket season again and the Poms are over trying to defend the Ashes. We’re two tests into the series and with them down 2-0 it’s not looking good for them.

Like every year I’ve watched the cricket pretty closely. I was pretty confident going into the series that Oz would reclaim the urn, but England have been more disappointing than I expected. Right now they’re on the verge of being a rabble.

In Brisbane they were well in it for three days before collapsing in a heap. In Adelaide they were behind right from the start, rallied briefly, before once more losing by a lot.

One of the ongoing conversations has been about sledging. It seems an issue most series these days. I’m not fussed much by it one way or another, mostly because it never really did much for me. If I was ever sledged it was more likely to fire me up than put me off, but mostly I couldn’t care less. I wasn’t much of a sledger myself, but only because I couldn’t be bothered. If anything I was more likely to sledge when I was a batsman than I was when in the field, though I stood by many times as team mates would sledge opposition batsmen. I found most of it pretty lame. The best stuff had some wit to it.

I remember I used to think you had to earn the right to sledge. Once you actually achieved something of merit then you could have a crack at the other team, but not till then. I still watch the coverage occasionally these days I find myself disapproving of some of the sledging – not so much because of what’s being said, but because it seems an unworthy or wasted effort. For me it’s rarely a moral judgment – though I adhere to the common convention that personal life should be off-limits – and more of a practical consideration.

As an Australian sledging comes easy. We’re notorious for it, but I don’t think our critics understand the source of it. I don’t know if it’s any different today, but growing up as a schoolboy I was subjected to sledging all the time, and gave it back to. Most of it was the good natured rough and tumble between friends and familiars, but the interaction day on day meant that the words came easily to the lips. Others might think it strange, but it was normal to abuse and mock within our circles.

I thought nothing of it myself until I went travelling and discovered that most cultures don’t have such a robust give and take. They’re gentler, with affection expressed You take it for granted until it becomes second nature. That’s why an Australian giving it, and receiving it, is so different to other cultures.

It says a lot about the Australian character I guess, and particularly Australian masculinity, a subject oft debated. That’s a discussion for another time, but fair to say this history of behaviour has informed so much of what we do and how we act – some of it positive, and a lot more not.

I suspect it’s not nearly as pronounced as it once was, but still for someone coming to compete against Aussies on the field this is something that must be adapted to. By the time an Australian cricketer dons the baggy green he’s endured years of ruthless sledging coming up through the ranks. He’s seasoned and hardy and tough, and most of it comes natural.

I think that’s one of the problems the English are having this tour, and past tours. They have made a focus of sledging, and have tried to compete in that area. The problem is that it’s not natural for most of them (Jimmy Anderson and Broad go okay) and so it is forced and mostly ineffective. Ultimately it’s become a distraction, and as an Aussie watching I reckon they would go better ignoring it and concentrated on the cricket. It’s our comfort zone, not theirs.

That’s something that gets lost in the cultural haze. I know the Indians in particular would get upset at the sledging they received. Because they had no cultural understanding of it they misunderstood the intent. I admit, as an outsider the nuances are easily overlooked. In my time at least, you’d go hard on the field and be best mates off it. Something might be said on the field, but it was never intended personally. The sole purpose was to upset the game. With the game done for the day it was time for a beer. It’s that mentality than means that Aussies are also more likely to shrug off sledging, until it crosses the line.

That’s where it has occasionally erupted over the years. Though it’s unregulated, sledging in Australian cultural mores has unspoken rules, primary among them that it’s not personal, and that after play all is forgotten. The problem is that cultures unused to sledging when confronted by it don’t have an understanding of those mores – and the boundaries they draw. Without those unspoken rules they will react to what they feel are unwarranted insinuations and lash out, sometimes crossing those lines – which is when the Aussies will become genuinely upset. It’s not playing the game after all.

All of this is pretty confusing if you’re not an Aussie, and fair enough to. There is something occasionally hypocritical in Australians complaining in those moments because the line they see so clearly appears so arbitrary to others. I know it because I was born to it, but I understand it may bewilder others not born here.

There’s a larger question about sledging. I’m not fussed about it, but that’s probably because a) I’m an Aussie, and b) I’m a pretty rugged character. I understand for the purist they may see it as being neither sporting or fair. As long as it doesn’t ‘cross the line’ I don’t mind it – in fact I think it’s just another element of the game. It adds an interesting edge, and another challenge to overcome.

In any case it’s another area the Australians are handsome winners in this series. What teams need to understand is that as soon as you react, you lose. It seems a truism, but it is so often forgotten. If it is seen to be getting to you then the Australians, far from backing off, will go harder. If you show vulnerability then we’ll be on you like a pack of dogs. And that’s what England have shown.

It’s a cliché, but England would do better by not engaging, and doing their talking with bat and ball.


Before the flood

Not sure what to expect today. Weather reports are over the top. The weather chief last night said on a scale of 1 to 10 the rain we’ll be copping in the next few days is a 10. There’s a lot of hype and dire predictions. Someone earlier said it could be as bad as the Queensland floods a few years back, but I can’t believe that. After all the hot weather to get floods on the first day of summer is very Melbourne.

It’s strange to think there might be such tumult shortly. I got up at about 2am to let Rigby out. I stood in the back door wearing nothing. The sky was clear, it was still about 25 degrees. It was so still, I stood there wondering how it could ever change.

I prepared just in case. The last time we had serious rain the garage had an inch of water, soaking the boxes I had in storage there. This time I’ve bagged up the back door. I’ve closed up the house and headed off to work a little later than normal after another steamy night. It was warm still, but the blue skies of the last few weeks were wall to wall cloud. A few drops of rain fell.

I stopped for my Friday coffee and pastry on the way in and almost made it to the office before the rain fell. I reckon I was no more than forty metres from the front entrance of the building when suddenly a burst of large, heavy raindrops hammered down. I ran for it, fortunate that I had not dawdled longer.

As I said, I don’t know what to expect. For me the instinct is to downplay it – it’s rare that dire predictions turn out so dire. It happens though. I half expect my trip home tonight will be disrupted. Prahran station floods with any decent rainfall, and the 80mm predicted today will surely inundate it. By past experience that means crowded buses and halting progress through streets clogged with traffic.

We’re fortunate, I guess, that most of the rain will fall over the weekend. I can recall many years ago when I worked in St Kilda road when a sudden extreme downfall led to flash flooding. I lived in South Yarra then, across the road from where I worked. St Kilda road had become a virtual river and come home time I had no choice but to take my shoes and socks off and wade through water that reached just above my knee to get to the far side of the road.

I don’t expect that today, but then I don’t really know what to expect.

How about that heat?

I’m getting a bit jack of this weather. I had a friend early in the month complain about the cool weather we were experiencing. Be careful, I told him, before you know it you’ll be complaining about the heat. That time has well and truly come.
I think it’s ten days out of the last twelve that have been over 30 degrees, and one of those other days it was 29. That run is set to continue with another couple of days in the mid-thirties forecast, and I can tell you at 8.17am it’s already bloody warm. And it’s not even summer yet.
I don’t mind the heat, but I’d like a break from it every few days, and ideally cool nights. That’s another record we’ve broken – highest minimum temperatures. It’s very uncomfortable.
That’s how it gets – very uncomfortable. With no relief from the heat, day or night, the house becomes close and claustrophobic. Sleep suffers. It becomes a bit of an artificial environment.
I’ve spent good time in places where it’s just about 30 degrees every day, and often wickedly humid, but the relief comes with the sun setting, and with the sudden, surging storms. The heat here in Melbourne is static, and it’s only going to get a lot hotter.
For me it’s not a great day to be wearing a suit and tie. Another day I’d be doing as the sensible do and roll up to work minus tie and jacket, and sleeves rolled up. With a funeral to attend I’m dressed up like a store dummy.
I left the air-con on at home today, partly for Rigby, partly to keep the house cool for when I get home. I’m at work now, but head off at about midday for Mt Martha, and the funeral.

The things you learn, or don’t

I came across this article by chance. I’m an online subscriber to the NYT, and I spend a lot of time reading their stuff, but I hadn’t been aware of this piece until I read a comment about it on Facebook.
Strange, the comment was very negative. The commenter was very worked up by the article, thinking it disrespectful and inappropriate. People getting worked up on social media is no news, so I was prepared to skip over it until I read some of the comments responding to her. They were bemused and articulate, and I was intrigued.
There’s a lot in this article I agree with – in fact, I can’t think of anything to take issue with. The writer touches upon themes I have written about myself, and feel strongly about. He references his father as a role-model and guide when it comes to respect and gentlemanly behaviour, and ponders if in the years intervening that guiding principle of conduct and behaviour has gone from life.
My father was not like the writer’s father, but nevertheless I absorbed key lessons from both my parents, and grandparents. It’s often said today that I am well mannered. I’m even called a gentleman occasionally. It’s not anything conscious, I simply act in a way that became second nature to me many years ago – with respect and grace. I wouldn’t want to be any other way.
That attitude informs much of my behaviour. I’m a strong character, and sometimes quite forthright, but generally it’s couched within respectful guidelines. The very thought of preying on the vulnerable, of exploiting my strength or authority for personal gain or pleasure is anathema to me. I would be deeply ashamed at the very hint of having done so. This is not how I was born, it was how I was made.
I wonder, pretty much as the writer does, if we are being made differently now. Like many others I’m prone to believe it’s a generational thing, but that’s too simplistic. I believe that kids today probably getting the same life education as I did, but clearly there are many of my generation, and indeed throughout every era, who have acted counter to gentlemanly principles.
I grew up to respect my elders, to defer as appropriate to other opinions, to be courteous, well-mannered and thankful. I grew to appreciate the different backgrounds and outlooks of people, founded in my childhood education, and broadened by life experience. If I didn’t know already, I appreciated how people in general should be treated, particularly those less fortunate, and women – for whom I had an early and enduring fondness. I’m sure there have been frequent occasions I have erred, felt occasional regret, but for the most part I have been guided by the instincts I gained by education.
That education is not available to all, and perhaps less now than before. That’s no excuse though. People should know what is inappropriate, even if they have not had the benefit of that education. I’m convinced that in our heart we know when we do wrong, even if we won’t face it. That’s part of the education though too, facing it – and taking responsibility.
These are difficult times, not only because of the uncertainty and unrest around the world. We have lost faith and belief (in a spiritual, not religious sense), substance has been subsumed by sensation, knowledge by fake news, insight by entertainment. The boundaries have shifted, lines blurred and sensation dulled.
We have always had in us to transgress, but for those of us lucky had that trained out of us. Those lessons are rare now, and examples fewer. In an age of loosely defined principle one domino tips over the next, and it spreads from there.
Fortunately it has now tipped over into a critical phase. The pendulum reached its apogee and finally it was said, this is enough. Those women who have stood up can make the change society needs. We can learn again, the hard way, but hopefully for keeps.

Unearned fatigue

About 20 odd years ago there was the image of the (Swiss?) marathon runner at the very end of her tether slowly staggering towards the finish line at the Olympics. It wasn’t a pretty sight, but she made it. I feel a bit like that right now, but my finish line is Christmas.

I’m struggling at the moment. Struggling physically. It’s not any one of my minor ailments, just a general and deep seated fatigue. I could easily have taken a day off last week so bad was it. By Friday afternoon it was so extreme that I was bumping into things.

I’ve been bone tired before. Sometimes it’s the after effects of heavy labour, mostly in hot weather, but mostly I’ve felt like that when travelling. I walk everywhere when I travel. I reckon it’s the best way of discovering a place. I’m a good walker too and can go days of it without any ill-effect. It does add up though. If you’ve been away for a while and have made a pattern of walking far and long it gradually erodes your energy. That’s manageable, until you head off and for two, three, four days go out and do it again. I can walk up to 25 kilometres in day. Do that a few days in a row after a month or so of similar and one day you wake up heavy and slow and not wanting to do a thing.

The difference with that is that it’s an ‘earned’ fatigue. You’ve put in the hard work and this is the consequence. Whenever I’ve felt this on my travels I’ve taken that as a sign that I’m due for a soft day. I’ll head out for a treatment maybe, or do the quieter things I’d already planned. I’ll indulge myself laying by the pool or by the bar reading a book or chatting with the locals. Sure you’re tired, but fair enough. Next day you’re good again.

This is not like that. This is not earned. I reckon all the petty frustrations and philosophical conflicts, as well as the open disagreements, and not to mention the daily struggles to get ahead, have got to me. They’ve jammed me up and dragged me backwards. Look, I’m fine emotionally, a little frustrated, a little pissed off, a little over it, but I roll along and no-one would know and I would hardly feel it normally. That’s the thing though. These things have become a normal state of affairs, and the ultimate effect of that is now physical.

I had an extra quiet weekend hoping to recoup some energy. I can’t sleep in like I used to though. I’ve always been a champion sleeper, but in the last month have really struggled, which could be related to the change in weather. I seem incapable of getting some meaningful rest. Come this morning and back to work I feel the same cobwebs, though not nearly as bad as Friday.

Thank God for Christmas is all I can say. If it wasn’t looming I’d be really struggling – but then, perhaps it’s the sight of it that has given me the staggers. Who knows? The idea is that I make it to Christmas, take a few days off to hopefully refresh, and hopefully re-appraise. Something has to give.

Different strokes

As I walked to work this morning I encountered a man, I think, talking to his bike. He had propped it against a bike rack and stepped back to check its alignment. He was in his mid-forties, bearded, and seen better days. Coming close you could sense a mild case of derangement. He muttered to himself, or to the bike, I couldn’t tell, dissatisfied that it wasn’t quite aligned right. He would glance from the bike to somewhere on the other side of Elizabeth Street, like a surveyor making minute corrections. As I watched he would step forward and make some subtle adjustment to make sure the bike matched the mysterious alignment he sought, but stepping back he shook his head again muttering, still not satisfied. I wondered what it would take to make him satisfied, but by then I had walked by.

There are people like that sprinkled throughout the big city these days, so much that they are no more than a passing curiosity. A few moments before, walking through the Bourke St Mall, a coloured man sitting on the steps of the old GPO was playing an odd tune on a whistle, before breaking into a rich and boisterous laugh as he finished. Before him we wage slaves dressed in our suits and fine clothes crossed backwards and forwards barely giving him a second look. As I passed him an unmarked police car travelling down the mall gave a whoop of its siren as crossed into Elizabeth street, and our man gave a loud cheer of encouragement.

There are different lives all over. I’m sitting in a cubicle eighteen floors up with the glow of a monitor in my face and a fresh bought latte by my right hand. My day is tapping is tapping at this keyboard and going to meetings.

Old hotel rooms

I was only thinking the other week how I wished I had taken more photos of the various accommodations I’ve had travelling all over the world. I’ve got a million pics, and a lot of the conventional type. I mean, you go to Paris you’re going to take a pic of the Eiffel Tower just to prove it aren’t you. I’ve got the Taj Mahal, the pyramids (including the Sphinx), the Colosseum, the Great Wall, Petra, as well as instantly recognisable pics from London, Hong Kong and New York. A lot of them are great pics and no regrets and all that, but really, what traveller doesn’t have those pics? By and large they’re interchangeable.

What’s unique are the intimate and spontaneous photos right time, right place and good framing. That and the different rooms you’ve inhabited over the course of your travels. I don’t think I have a single pic of a hotel room, yet it’s the sort of thing that ties so many memories together.

I was reminded again on Friday night when I watched The Passenger again. It starts out in some small and unnamed village somewhere in Saharan Africa. The character played by Jack Nicholson returns to his hotel room after a frustrating jaunt through the desert. It’s hot and barren. Goats wander the streets. Overhead fans swirl. All of that stirred various memories, but it was his room which recalled vague recollections of similar accommodations in my travelling past. His room was stark and functional, a place to sleep but not to linger.

As I watched I tried to recall the occasions I had been in a room like that. Once in Singapore I thought, and another time in Ho Chi Minh City. Barcelona too. I remembered checking into a hotel room in Florence and how I felt like crying when shown to my room – bare concrete floors in a single room with a steel frame bed and no window. Even the shower didn’t have a screen. I checked out after one night.

Doubtless there have been many other rooms like that, but they tend to blur and merge, hence the wish to have recorded them somehow. I’ve stayed in all sorts of rooms, and some of them very good. In Hoi An I got a much discounted price on a fabulous room overlooking the ocean. It was a French resort just opened and I got the opening special. I remember the Japanese girls in the room next to me too. In Ho Chi Minh, on the way back from a trip down the Mekong Delta, I stumbled into a plush hotel exhausted from the trip and weary from weeks of being on the move. I didn’t care what I had to pay, I just wanted a decent bed. As it turns out I was upgraded to the Vice Presidential suite for the cost of the normal room, and it was heavenly.

There have been rooms I’ve shared, and on two occasions a bed I’ve shared with a mate because there was no other space. There have been cute rooms in quaint old buildings in Paris and Berlin, but I’ve got no photos of them either. In fact so many rooms have slipped entirely from memory. There are many places I’ve been for which I’ve got utterly no memory of where I slept. But then as I think that something returns to me – in Bodrum I think, a room with a balcony that faced seawards and, I recall, a stormy night and the grey residue of it the morning after. And I recall a night sleeping in a tent with the Bedouin in the middle of Wadi Rum. And yet so much is lost to me.

The movie goes on as this unspools in my head and Nicholson’s character moves from place to place, to rooms that seem familiar to me, as they must for any seasoned traveller. Slowly the movie grabs hold of me, I recall it, having seen it years before at the Astor, watching it comes back to me as memories of the rooms did. It’s an Antonioni movie, a great story that if it was remade today would be much flashier, but his low-key style suits it better, drawing you in, normalising it somehow so that it might be a memory.

The story is of a man tired of his life who assumes the identity of an acquaintance he meets in the African hotel. The man dies, and dragging his corpse into his hotel room the Nicholson character exchanges papers, leaving his old life behind. It turns out the man he has become is a gun runner, from which many complications arise. I wondered, would I have done this? The answer is no, except maybe right now I would.

It ends pretty much as I remember it, in another of those stark hotel rooms.