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Old Melbourne


It’s easy to develop a fat arse when you work at a desk and so most lunch breaks I’ll go for a walk. I’ll head out in any direction with some destination in mind. It could be the Vic Market or the Aldi, it might be a book shop or department store or a little boutique. I’ll aim to walk for 30-40 minutes at least, rain, hail or shine.
Yesterday I set out for the Hill of Content book shop at the top end of Bourke Street. I’ve been going there since I was a kid, and recall – I think – actually visiting with my bibliophile grandfather. It’s a beautiful store with the just the right ambience for fine literature to nestle in. These days I browse the shelves without buying anything much, such was the case yesterday, but I had no intention of buying. I went for the walk and to survey books I might want to buy one day.

After the Hill of Content I walked the short distance to the Paperback Bookshop, which likewise has been there forever. It’s very different from the Hill. It’s small and inelegant but crammed full of nourishing books. I reckon I’ve been visiting it for 30 years and probably bought 30-40 books from there in that time. As much as anything else it was good to be back in such a familiar and warm environment. Once more I bought nothing.

Between the two book shops is Pellegrini’s, another Melbourne institution. Pellegrini’s has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. It was a couple of weeks ago when the alleged terrorist threatened with knife in hand, injuring some, and killing one – the co-owner of Pellegrini’s, Sisto Malaspina.

You’d have to have been living under a rock not to have heard of this. The outpouring of grief at the death of an iconic Melburnian has been immense. Everyone had a Sisto story, including me, such was his influence on the café society in this town.

Yesterday Pellegrini’s was shut. Not far away a state funeral was in progress for Sisto. Still, there was a small crowd outside the restaurant, loitering there and peering in the window and taking pics with their phone. There’s a strange, ghoulish aspect to many people that I can’t come at. I admit I looked twice at Pellegrini’s as I walked by but I wouldn’t dream of stopping. That’s just a bit too shabby for me, and somehow disrespectful.

Why it’s always good when Collingwood loses


There was a lot of talk last week before the grand final about who neutral supporters should follow in the contest between the Melbourne team, Collingwood, and the team from interstate, the West Coast Eagles. A few naïve souls, as well as many hopeful Collingwood supporters, proclaimed that as Victorians we should set aside our tribal hostilities and barrack for the local team. Fat chance that. Those tribal hostilities trump any regional loyalties, slim as they are, and it’s odd to me that anyone might think different.
We love our football teams, we identify with the history, the guernsey, the colours, and the players. Over time rivalries blossom as our team takes on others, and tribes clash. A great part of the joy of following a team is in getting the better of bitter rivalries. We take great joy from our team’s success, but we also celebrate the failures of our rivals. It happens everywhere, in every sport and in every land. It’s human nature.

That’s not an issue for the inoffensive teams in the comp. That’s why most of Victoria plumped for Footscray a couple of years ago. Perennial losers, no-one was about to get their nose out of joint if they won for a change. And certainly, in that case, we would support the local team over the interstate.

That was never a chance this year. Every right thinking Victorian hates Collingwood – the wrong think Victorian’s barrack for them. The thought that Collingwood – a team I don’t mind – could very well win gave me goosebumps. But I note that Fremantle captain when asked who he wanted to win said “anyone but the Eagles.” See, it cuts both ways.

In fact in the lead-up to the game I postulated my ideal outcome: Collingwood lose to a kick after the siren from a dodgy free kick. And, you know what, that’s just about what happened.

It was a great game. Probably the best grand final since 1989. The maggies got out of the blocks quick, as they have all finals series. They led by up to 28 points in the first quarter, before the Eagles got the last two, very important goals. From their on in they gradually ground Collingwood down. They hit the lead briefly in the third quarter and scores were level at the break. Collingwood jumped quick in the last again, kicking two goals in a minute. The Eagles pegged one back before Collingwood got another – all in the first five minutes. From there on in though the Eagles took a stranglehold.

Had they kicked the goals they should the Eagles should have taken the lead with ten minutes to go. As it turned out the game was much the better for their inaccuracy. A extraordinary passage of play with about ninety seconds to go led to a mark taken by Sheed on the boundary. It was a low percentage spot to kick a goal from. Maybe one in twenty would be kicked normally. On this occasion Sheed’s kick was dead straight and the Eagles took an unlikely lead. They were never threatened after that, and so went the premiership.

It was a just result. The Eagles were clearly the better team on the day. They were jumped early, but controlled the game thereafter.

The contention regarding the goal was regarding an alleged block that allowed Sheed to take the mark. I thought the umpiring was excellent throughout the game (not something I’ll say often). They let things go, which always makes for a better game. It was a borderline free in my view. Given that there’s about a 50/50 split in opinion I think it’s fair it was let go. In the wash-up the Eagles were disadvantaged by the free kick count, but it’s gratifying to hear the Collingwood fans squeal, and to see fat Eddie (a great reason to dislike the pies) go red in the face.

Becoming easy


It’s a sunny Thursday a couple of days before the AFL grand final, which means tomorrow is a public holiday. That means I can go out for a few drinks tonight and tomorrow I can sleep in. I’ve also applied to have Monday off, so I have a four day weekend.
Because tomorrow is a day off we’re having a casual dress day in the office today. At lunchtime there’s a handball competition in the break room, as well as free pies, pasties and sausage rolls to celebrate the occasion. I’m in a t-shirt, feeling relatively mellow, and look forward to a free pie later and, even more so, a drink after work.

It’s been a productive week for me. As I promised, I set aside the things I couldn’t change. I’ve withdrawn from the things – and the people – causing me grief. I’ve concentrated on my work and on the people around me I value. There’s some adjustment in this – I still itch – but I think it’s the right thing, and it seems to be working well. Touch wood.

In the ebb and flow of all this your eyes alight on things and for a few moments you contemplate. You accept you shouldn’t be so disappointed by mediocrity and compromise, not at your age. And you wonder whether you should even be an environment when questions of it arise: you wonder whether it’s time now to move on in a more substantial way. No hurry for that, something to ponder over a period, and more so as other pieces fall into place. Some of those pieces are people. You fall back, and you see the people about you, friends and friendly acquaintances. Now you’re not expending futile energy you have the mindspace to better appreciate them, and to engage with them. The pleasure that inspires comes as a small surprise. A lot of it is on the surface, fun and sometimes flirtatious, easy words and manners, authentic and light. There’s a part of your mind which is never shut-off which, at times like these, lights up still more because it seems all of a piece. Who am I? What do I do? What do I want? And some of that want is very personal.

It feels like a settled thing. After all the doubts and misgivings, the to-ing and fro-ing, it seems that I’ve accepted at least some of the things I want. Not written in stone – the names may change – but I’m good for what I reckon now.

The funny thing it frees me up a little, maybe because it’s not so intensely mysterious anymore. It frees me up, but for the most part also it means I’m happy to navigate between most possibilities. I’ve become that easier person I aspired to be earlier in the year, as I once was always back in my twenties. I’m light-hearted, fun, witty, maybe a little acerbic. I engage. I’ve always been more popular with the women here than the men, probably because I like them as a gender more. But of course a woman always knows when you like them as a woman, even platonically, and it adds some frisson to the dialogue. That goes two ways.

I mentioned the other week how there was a gap toothed woman who had started who I found some connection with. I really like her, she’s fun and smart and a bit cheeky and she likes me. It’s always nice when they like you. She has a partner so there’s nothing in it, but she can’t help but smile when she sees me. I like her too, but even if she wasn’t partnered up I wouldn’t be interested in anything more than friendship. That doesn’t stop me from flirting, and I get on a bit of a high from the whole, sheer fun of it, as she does too, I think. It feels like great, innocent fun.

I’m happy to be this man, a man people like, a man some might even find alluring, but a man also decent and honest. I got called a go-getter the other day. In the same breath I got called roguishly good looking. Both compliments please me more than they should, but I accept that too – vanity is a flaw, but an acceptable, largely inoffensive flaw. I hope it’s one of the things that make me endearing in a way, oh H, he gets so full of himself sometimes, but he’ll never let you down.

That’s the point. I can be all this. I can clap myself on the back, I can flirt, I can open myself up, I may even engage in the occasional dalliance, but end of day I hope I’m true, and I hope that whoever it ends up being will indulge these other aspects with some affection, and love me still for my individuality and honesty and the devotion I bring.

This is one thing I want, and I’m closer to it now than for a long time.

All that jazz


It was a disappointing weekend of footy finals and after a few beers with the boys on Saturday afternoon watching the second of the games I set footy aside and reclined on the couch to watch a movie.
The movie I chose this week I think is a classic, though perhaps not as widely recognised as it should be. I don’t remember the first time I watched All That Jazz, and all I took from that were fragments. The next time I watched it was about eleven years ago, I reckon. It was a Sunday night and I was flying out the next morning for a week of work in Darwin. I watched as I ironed and packed, before I settled down to watch the movie properly. It had a vivid effect on me.

I think this is a great film. I love Bob Fosse as a film-maker, and reckon he’d have been interesting off set too. He has a distinct style and sense of adventure. Another of his movies, Cabaret, is also a favourite, but he was cutting edge throughout. It’s interesting that given his background as dancer and choreographer how that might have influenced his film making.

All That Jazz focuses on a choreographer much like Fosse, a character called Joe Gideon, played by Roy Scheider. He’s a dissolute genius, a chain smoking womaniser and heavy drinker, living right on the edge. The movie focuses on a show he’s preparing for, while in the background he is putting together a movie of a comedian (based on Lenny Bruce – and a movie Fosse himself made a few years before). The comedian riffs on death, and on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ seven stages, which becomes a theme. Around him are the people in his life – a mediocre dancer he’s having an affair with, the loving girlfriend he’s cheating on, his dancer ex-wife and daughter, as well as the investors in the show.

It’s a high-wire life and he lives it recklessly, almost daring it. Throughout the first half of the movie it jumps between these scenes, with the odd fantasy diversion. There are some brilliant set-pieces, fantastic imagination at play throughout. It’s daring and inventive, but in the second half of the movie it really becomes an artistic expression.

By then Gideon has had the inevitable heart attack and is in hospital. The movie takes on a psychedelic vibe as it alternates between fact and fantasy, with Gideon confusing the two. His life and background are explored as his health declines further, leading into the final musical number with Joe Vereen singing Bye, Bye, Life to Joe.

The whole movie is a tour de force, and I can think of few other films who carry such an imprint of their maker. It’s brilliant.

It’s funny what you remember. Things stick in your mind. For me there were three things I recalled whenever I thought of the movie before watching it on Saturday. In my memory the scenes featuring the comedian were more significant, like a commentary on Joe. There’s another lovely scene when the girlfriend and the daughter perform to Joe to Peter Allen’s Everything Old is New Again. Then there’s the final scene, where Joe’s life and death are played out musically.

All of this melded into my mind creating an overall impression. They were the elements my psyche was drawn to, and I think influenced one of the ideas for a novel I’ve had in my head for the last 18 months.

This novel is more extroverted and fantastical, and in fact occasionally when I stopped to think about it I was reminded of another movie, Fellini’s . It was only after watching All That Jazz again that I realised the influence of that, unknown till that point. In fact the two movies have many elements in common, so it makes sense. Both protagonists are auteurs, of different types. Both are troubled, intense souls living on the edge. Both movies feature fantasy elements and a sort of cinematic stream of consciousness. Both, in their way, are intellectual movies – movies that provoke and explore and ask questions. And both have a distinct directorial perspective with an autobiographical inspiration.

Funnily enough that’s pretty much how I conceived my novel too. I love that stuff.