Smoke in the city


I woke this morning to a heavy pall of smoke outside, low in the sky and much reducing visibility. It’s different to previous days. Last week it was hazy with smoke and there was a general smoky odour and quality to the air. This is much more distinct. You can almost taste the burnt wood, and the odour is much stronger.
It’s like when you sit around a campfire for a while and the smell of the fire infuses your clothes long after the fire has gone out. There’s the tang of burnt timber, not unpleasant in itself, except when out of context like this. This isn’t a campfire – this is the smoke from huge swathes of forests on fire. And it’s a health hazard. As I said, I can taste it on my tongue and in the back of my throat, and I feel a bit of sinus pressure around my eyes. It’s much worse for asthmatics.
The air quality is rated as poor in the city, and very poor back where I live, and it’s tipped to deteriorate further. It brings home the disaster very effectively. The light is a bit eerie, and the whole environment has a surreal feel to it, like in some dystopian movie.
But at least we’re getting some rain.

Too much civilisation


I live in a suburb where the people are generally well off and decent types. They’re well educated and engaged. For some reason, there’s a fair number of expats here too, and they’re much the same. Walking down the street, you’ll often get a smile and, occasionally, will be wished you a good morning, or somesuch. I’ve always thought that a pre-condition of living here was ownership of a bike and a dog. I have both, though only one of them gets any work.

I’ve been for a walk this morning with Rigby, and along the way, we found other couples – man and dog – out on this sunny Sunday morning. Yesterday, I caught up with Cheeseboy for a coffee. We sat there as people went by with their dogs tugging them along, occasionally pausing to get acquainted with Bailey, the Cheese’s labradoodle.

As I walked to the supermarket yesterday after coffee, I encountered more than a dozen dogs out for a walk or sitting at the feet of their owners taking in the sun while mum and dad had breakfast. I looked at every dog. Some, as I went by, I made that little sound in my throat that dogs know. A couple of times, I stopped to pat a dog tied up outside a shop waiting for its owner, some patiently, some keening with worry. Each time I felt myself powerfully moved by these dear creatures, which I love with all my heart. And a feel a kinship with their owners, as if we are a part of a brotherhood.

I’ve always loved dogs, but it’s true also that as I get older, I’m becoming more soft-hearted when it comes to animals in general. It troubles me how often they are exploited and abused. There must be a better term for it, but peering into an animal’s eyes, I can sense their innate ‘humanity.’ I can recognise each of them has a life. They have feelings, have fears and affection. That’s the sort of view likely to have you accused of anthropomorphism, which means to see – or treat – animals as human beings.

Let me make it clear. I don’t equate the two – broadly speaking, my feelings towards animals are untainted, whereas I have serious doubts about humankind. In some ways, my affection for animals is little different for what I feel for children. They have an innocence that is worth cherishing, but both are subject to exploitation by the less innocent, and generally are unable to defend themselves against it. To stand by and watch that exploitation seems against nature. It certainly doesn’t fit right with me, and less so every day.

I don’t know if I see things differently now that I’m older, or if it’s just become more exposed. What is clear to me now – a wiser man perhaps than I was before – is that exploitation of this type is an embodiment of hubris.

For centuries, human culture has viewed nature in all its variety as something to serve our appetites and ambition. It is a resource to be consumed, for profit like as not. Animals are expendable as beasts of burden and sustenance, and mother earth despoiled. That’s the chicken that’s finally come home to roost, and I need not expound on that further. It seems a very human thing.

I’m no purist – I like a good steak (though I eat less and less) – but I can’t accept that it’s destiny that makes us the pre-eminent species on earth. We may be the most intelligent of species and possess uniquely – so they say – ‘consciousness’ (I’m a skeptic), but it’s absurd to suggest it means anything more than a fluke of biology. The earth hasn’t been placed here for our benefit, and no amount of misguided destiny justifies abuse and cruelty.

I’m at the stage of life when I want no part of that, and it makes sense to me that we return to nature. It’s about respect. It’s in short supply all round, these days. Respect for each other, and respect for the world around us, too, and every critter a part of it. If there’s anything we need now, it’s humility – but even the well-intentioned seem to lack that.

This is the symptom of my times: I’ve lost faith in humanity. As individuals, as people who share smiles and good wishes and walk our dogs, there is little to complain of. But as a collective, we have become dire.

If there were a vote tomorrow about who should go on, people or dogs, then I’d vote dogs because they are by far the more pure being. That’s where I’m at.

Faux summer days


It feels like summer, not because it’s especially warm – it’d be about 16 degrees outside – but the sky is blue and the sun shining and, as I sit here, I can hear one neighbour going about his mowing while another has the whipper-snipper out. Sure signs. All I need now is the waft of some barbecue aromas (and maybe the cricket on in the background), and I’ve got pure summer cliche, just like so many others in the past. Some things never change.

In reality, this is the dead time before summer. It’s not winter and, despite all signs, not summer either. I think they call this spring. It’s a bit of everything and I don’t mind that, especially as the days grow longer, and you can see things coming into bud. You get a bit of a skip in your step this time of year because winter is over. Finally, enough is enough, though enough is just right too – I like winter, but steady, boy.

For someone who views the calendar through a sporting lens, then this is a bit of a dead time. Footy’s over, cricket hasn’t begun proper. The A-League re-commenced last night, but it’ll take me a while to get back into that. Likewise the NBL, which I’ll keep an eye on without ever getting too excited. There’s motorsport, but, nah; and the horse racing season heats up now – I’ll get into that in a couple of weeks.

It’s a convenient opportunity for me to catch up on things then without distraction. I did a solid shift working from home yesterday, but still managed to take down a few boxes to the local Salvos. There’s a bit more of that sort of stuff to do, as well as the well-timed spring cleaning I rarely get to in any season of any year. And there’s my writing.

A couple of weeks ago I exclaimed to some close confidantes that I’d be finishing my book that weekend. But then I got crook and by then had lost the plot anyway. I did some more work on it last weekend. This weekend I’m a chance to finish, but don’t hold your breath.

I’ve got plenty of time now without distraction and if it’s not this weekend then almost certainly it’ll be next weekend. That’ll be a moment, though it’s only a first draft and I already know so many things about it I want to change. That’s why it’s a first draft.

Once it’s done, I’ll stick it in the bottom drawer and take from there the MS I prepared earlier – the first book, ripe for a final re-write and polish. That’s how it goes.

In the meantime, might fire up the barbie.

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.

Early hours


I had an early breakfast before work today so was out of bed by 6.30. It was dark still outside as I readied myself for work.

The sun had not risen yet when I walked out the front door. There was a stillness to the air that was only deepened by the occasional random raindrop falling from the sky. For the first time in months we’d had decent rain overnight. I’d lain in bed listening in surprise to the rain rushing down. Before 7am the roads were still slick with it and, judging by the occasional puddle, the rain must have been substantial.

Normally I take a shortcut to Hampton station, heading down laneways and cutting through carparks. I had more time available today and so I walked up to Hampton street where I was certain of having cover should the rain some again.

The street was stirring as the day slowly lightened. A shoe store blazed with light advertising its goods, still hours away from opening. Farther along the newsagent was taking deliveries and preparing for the day. Good morning, he said to me as I passed him by. At the green grocer they were laying out the kerbside stands they would fill with produce. The butcher was getting ready too, and the bakery was already trading.

There are few people around at this time of morning except for those who have a living to make. It’s a separate world to what I live in, mostly overlooked and taken for granted. I’d rather stay in bed than get out of it, but I enjoy these sojourns and the insights they provide me. I feel aware of the world about me and, by extension, aware of myself. It lends perspective to the routines we unthinkingly follow day by day. The air is fresh too, and there’s a sense of awakening. The newness of the day is not yet rubbed off, and for a change you can enjoy it.

At the station the yellow lights reflected off the rain dark platforms. In either direction train tracks stretched straight and long. City bound the platform was sparsely populated by commuters silently waiting. Then the train comes and each of us shuffle onboard and find a seat, not a word spoken.

At my desk now feeling full after a big breakfast with a friendly colleague. I’d happily nap now but ahead of me is a full day before the journey home.

Summer/autumn, autumn/winter


For the first time since the year began – and probably since about October last year – I pulled on my pair of Red Wing boots this morning, thus signifying winter. When I walked out the door it was 11 degrees outside and, besides my boots, I wore a woollen jumper and a padded jacket.

I’m a believer in global warming and climate change in general. You’d have to have rocks in your heads these days not to, though naturally many with gravel for brains deny it. All the same, it seems to me winter pretty well comes the same time every year.

This is not true winter, of course. Autumn is a season of transition, from bright summer to austere winter. In my memory, almost all of March is what I’d describe as summer/autumn, which has been the same this year – warm, bright days more often than not. Then, about the last weekend of March – often coinciding with Easter, and with the end of daylight saving – the weather will turn, it will become autumn/winter.

The days become cooler. The clouds crowd in. We’ve had no rain practically all year, but this morning it was steady for a few hours, and will come again soon.

We’ll still get the odd warm day and throwback to summer, days in the mid or even high twenties, but they’ll be past too in a months time.

I don’t mind too much. It’s been a bloody hot summer, plus I love my Red Wings, and prefer winter fashion to summer. And – I reckon – I write better in this weather. I’ll enjoy the cosiness for it over the next few months but reckon, come August, I’ll have had my full of it. Just as well we have seasons.

Wilting


For two days running now we’ve had no air-conditioning in my corner of the office. Both days have been 30 degrees and muggy, and combined with a crowded office and the heat coming off monitors it’s made for a fetid and uncomfortable workplace. Small compensation has been a portable air-con running, much too small for such an area, and the provision of icy slurpees each morning. By the end of yesterday I was feeling utterly drained, and my shirt was limp with perspiration.
It all adds up, this. You get home and fire up the air-conditioning and it’s nice, but then you go to bed and your rest is incomplete and you return to work weary, only to find once more the air-con is off.

Where I sit gets the worst of it, right on the corner facing the sun, and today quite a few people have decamped to sit at vacant desks on the other side of the building. It’s a bit like a ghost town this area.

I worked late in these conditions last night before heading off to a nearby bar after work with one of the girls here. We sat on a rooftop sipping on cold beers while the dark clouds gathered overhead and the distant rumble of thunder could be heard. After three beers the thunder was closer and we left. I was glad to go. I like a drink and all that but I was fading and wanted to get home before the rain – tipped to be a month’s worth – tumbled down proper.

Lightning streaked across the sky while I waited at Richmond station for a connecting train and rain – much less than forecast – began to fall. Fortunately the rain had eased off by the time I got off at Hampton station, and started again almost the instant I walked in my front door. I didn’t get a drop on me.

I’ve got things to report, etc, but am too tired and apathetic right now to comment. Will get to it.

Enough with the heat


I’ll tell you what I’m sick of: hot weather. Today is actually reasonable, 24 or something, but it’s been bloody hot more often than not.I read this morning that January was the hottest month on record in Oz, following on from the hottest December on record. Personally, I can’t remember a hotter January in Melbourne.

It’s funny how such fierce weather can be so pretty. January was a beautiful month. There was hardly any rain, though there was a picturesque thunderstorm on Wednesday, few clouds, and the sky has been that very Australian blue. We need rain though, as always, and too many hot days lead to exhaustion and ill temper.

I find it trying, but I can live with it. My heart really goes out to all those beasties who have to endure this without the comforts of home. On those really hot days, I close the back door with Rigby inside and leave the aircon running for him. It also means I come home to a relatively comfortable environment, and it’s easier keeping the place cool than making it so.

January we had two days of about 44 degrees Celsius, a couple more in the low forties, and probably eight or nine days in the thirties. For most of the month, I had only the bedroom aircon working. The main aircon actually conked out on the first of the 44 degree days. I was able to sleep okay with the aircon in the bedroom but I’m never completely comfortable sleeping with it on. It dries out the air and makes for a lighter sleep and most days I would wake up weary. Tack a few days on end like that – and mine is a hot home – then it begins to add up. And it’s the same for pretty well everyone.

I managed to get the aircon fixed last week (on the same day I had a specialist appointment costing me $380; got my car aircon regassed; and had my bathroom taps replaced – on a 38-degree day). This weekend we have another 35 and a 39 forecast.

This sort of weather is made for staying indoors where it’s cool, or socialising out in the sunshine. I spent Sunday afternoon wading up to my knees at Hampton beach before having a few beers, some wine, and some take-away fish and chips with some friends on the foreshore.

This is what summer should be, only there’s too much of it. This is all over Australia and it’s hard not to think climate change and global warming, and be fearful. I wonder what those born today will have to endure in years to come. There’s no real reason to believe the small-minded politicians all over the world will ever wake up to the fact and actually cooperate in doing something to prevent this. By the time they do it’ll be too late. Hands up who disagrees? Barring some technological miracle, I figure that in a thousand years’ time we’ll be pretty well wiped out. All our doing, too.

The smarter state


I remember the last state election I was staying in Rosebud. I voted there and in the evening my entertainment was watching the election broadcast. By coincidence I was once more in Rosebud over the weekend when the latest election took place.

I was busy out and about through the day but caught up with latest reports and results as they filtered in as I sat down for dinner. Very early on it was a clear that Labor where going to bolt it in. As it turned out that was spot on. The Libs in Victoria have been decimated and Daniel Andrews and his government given a ringing endorsement. It’s well deserved.

I’m a big fan of Daniel Andrews. I was a sceptic when he took on the role of Labor leader but I’m a convert. As premier he’s done what few of his predecessors have managed to do. He’s set out an agenda and delivered on it. It’s been a bold, innovative agenda too – removing level crossings, starting on the much mooted but forever delayed metro tunnel, he’s brought in assisted dying legislation, the safe injection room in Richmond, has championed safe schools and initiated a ground-breaking inquiry into domestic violence – among many other things.

Andrews has made things happen and my admiration on that front is shared by many Victorians. That’s a big reason he got so many votes on Saturday: he does what he says he will do, and he does a lot.

That’s not the only reason he go re-elected. The Libs, both federally and at state level played into his hands.

The rank dysfunction federally, the policy confusion, the stupid booting of Turnbull, along with an embarrassingly buffoonish PM don’t go down well in Victoria.

At state level Matthew Guy is a uncharismatic, slightly shifty character it’s hard to warm too. He might have had a chance, however, but for the ridiculous policy direction and campaigning.

Their slogan for the campaign was ‘Getting back in control’. I guess they’re trying to make a point, but fact is most Victorians would have laughed at the idea that things weren’t in control. The corollary of this slogan was law and order.

Law and order is a classic election theme, especially for the conservative side of politics. The problem in this case is that the scare tactics so much in play over the last twenty years have worn thin. It’s taken a while, but people are beginning to see them for what they are – hysterical attempts to inflame outrage and fear. Most of us have become cynical, if not disgusted, by the hyperbolic attempts to politicise what are matters of humanity.

It might work in Queensland, but there’s no chance in Victoria. Victoria is the most progressive state in the land. Victorians are not prone to knee-jerk reactions and will make their own judgement. Much has been made of this post-election, but I think it’s true. The Liberal tradition here has always been small ‘l’. We are liberal by inclination. With the Liberal party swinging to the unpalatable right a successful Labor party becomes a much more attractive option. Add to that a pretty handy protest vote directed at Canberra there’s no surprise it was a Labor landslide.

What is surprising is how the Libs have been ignorant of this. None of this comes as a surprise to the man on the street. I’ll tell you what’s important – climate change matters and we should be doing more about it, rather than playing politics. Education and transport matters. We’re tired of the demonization of asylum seekers and pity the children marooned offshore, and we’re cynical of the dog whistling regarding Muslims and ethnic groups – the likes of Dutton and Abbott have been disastrous in Victoria.

I expect the Victorian result will be largely replicated come the federal election next year. The Libs show no ability to learn and Morrison is a fool of the highest order. And I expect the lunatic right wing fringe will continue to hold the party to ransom. Reality is they’re too damn stupid to deserve power. I thought Abbott was a shocker, but Morrison comes a close second.