Of consequence


For months, maybe over a year, we’ve been trying to organise a golf weekend away. It’s bloody hard work, either because so and so is busy on this date, or, more often, because no-one will make a call or commit to a decision. I’m the decisive one, by nature and inclination, but then I’m also the one without a family commitment, so it’s a lot easier for me.

The other two don’t make it any easier. One is deferential to keep the peace, and other is a procrastinator – both self-declared. (I’m a controller). It makes for a noxious, dysfunctional process, and some acrimony occasionally, but led finally to a round of golf last Saturday at Safety Beach.

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t live up to the occasion, but at least was an improvement on Friday when the temperature didn’t get above 15 and it rained all day. Saturday was maybe a degree warmer, and though pretty bleak, the showers were light and intermittent.

Golf was fun. We had a fourth and played Ambrose. For the first dozen holes, I felt like a robot needing a good oil. I was stiff and inflexible. It had been so long that some of the science had gone out of my game, and it took until about the 14th hole to begin visualising my play. I improved a lot on the back nine, but the 19th hole came at the right time.

We stayed in Capel Sound, which is really just a dressed up name for Rosebud. We went to dinner in Dromana and had a few drinks and JV was laying on his bead snoring by 9.30. Lights out for all of us by ten.

Yesterday we went to breakfast at the place I used to frequent during my banishment to Rosebud. We went to Arthurs Seat then, went for a bushwalk, before going down and up in the new cable car. To Red Hill, we went where we checked out a cheesery before ending up at Red Hill Brewery where we had a few beers and a fresh barbecued beef brisket roll, before heading home. It was lots of fun.

In between all this, other things were happening for me. Driving into Rosebud after the golf I recalled all the many years when I was a kid when we would head down the peninsula for a couple of weeks of summer holiday. I’ve been down many times since and not had the same strong sense of nostalgia as I did Saturday. It seemed strange to me that my memories were not of my last time there – my banishment – but of a time long before that. It was almost as if that experience had reset my memories. What I felt so profoundly was that it was so long ago, but felt so vivid. How can that be?

Soon enough though my memories reverted to that period a few years back when I ended up in Rosebud because I had no other place to go. The prevailing feeling was of dread. I endured it when I was there, you have no other option, but it was a stark existence. I stayed in a converted garage with a bathroom attached. Most mornings I would walk Rigby and end up at the same café on Saturday where I would have a coffee and sometimes a meal and a chat with the waitress. After that – nothing. There was nothing to do, no friends to see, no real life to lead. The one bonus from it is that it forced me to begin writing.

I felt it though. I could feel it in my stomach as we drove by. There was an abiding sense of loss. From where I sat I wondered how I had endured such a bleak life for so long. It seemed so empty and negative, so fucking inconsequential. And that’s what I felt looking back, that I lived a life of no consequence and was, by extension, a person of no consequence. How awful it felt remembering that. I gazed out at the passing scenery and wondered – for all the changes since – how much more consequential has my life become?

It wasn’t a negative reflection, simply an objective assessment. What makes a life consequential? It’s the things you do and the relationships you have, I think. As far as I’m concerned the only thing of consequence I’m doing is my writing, and even so the jury is out on that. As for meaningful relationships, there are few.

It was as if by jarring reflection I was forced to consider these values. As I said, it wasn’t judgemental. It was the sort of objective assessment we rarely undertake. When was the last time you thought about your consequence? Odds are you’re a long way ahead of me.

So I had a lot of fun but at the back of my mind was this, and lead to nothing that was new. I may ask new questions, but the answers are generally the same. That basically means situation normal, more work to do.

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The things that come back to you


It was a funny night last night. Rigby was unwell and throwing up, it stormed for a while outside, and later when I switched off the light I couldn’t get to sleep for ages.

After a month or two of sleeping very well, the last few nights have been ordinary. Last night I felt unsettled and restless. I felt it in my stomach as if there was something unwelcome I should be aware of. It teased at me. Naturally, it leads one into reflection.

What thoughts it leads too is an endlessly fascinating subject to me. How does one thing get linked to another? Why does a general sense or feeling call up something seemingly totally unrelated? Is it random? Or is there some true sense to it?

Life has random elements, but I’m generally inclined there is some meaning to it, even if obscure. In this case, I suspect it’s not the details of the thing that matter, it’s the feeling they engender. What is recalled is not the facts, but the emotion. Today’s emotion resonates with an emotion in the past, and what follows are the thoughts associated with it. So I reckon.

What I remembered was a seminal moment in my life many years ago.

I’d been in love with Berni and for about 3 years we’d been on and off. She had wonderful qualities, a mighty heart, a generous spirit – but she also struggled often. A shocking episode abroad with a man had left her with trust issues, and poor self-esteem. At its best, our relationship was vibrant and happy. She had a great sense of humour and took great pride in giving me a rollicking hard time. I thought we would marry, and in fact, I recall one day sitting down with her to map it out. But then, for seemingly no reason it would become hard. It was the cycle of the moon, every four or five weeks she would plunge into despair and I would hang on for dear life. It was very hard and I used a lot of my energy trying to reassure her and make her feel better about herself and about me. That makes me sound noble, but on reflection, I doubt I was as good as that. At times I was exasperated, even angry, sometimes I felt despair. I loved her though and though we must have broken up ten times over the years we made up nine of them.

This story is about the last time when we failed to. I remember it was like yesterday. It makes me so sad and the thought recurs to me all the time – what if things were different? What if I’d done this instead of that? We might have married, who knows, but more importantly she might be alive today.

I always felt as if I was working on Berni. Over time I felt as if her default mood had improved to the extent that she could hope to be properly happy. I remember the day she told me she trusted me. That was such a big moment. I felt as if most of the hard work had been done and we were happier than we’d ever been.

But then I heard about a skiing trip she was going on the next weekend. I had no problem with that except that she hadn’t told me – I heard it from someone else. I felt a little put out and wondered if I was justified. I didn’t want to make a big deal of it but it sat in my stomach like an undigested meal. In hindsight, I can see it was another attempt by her to assert her independence, but I don’t know if I recognised that then.

I didn’t do anything at first, but coinciding with this she had begun to withdraw again. I was so sick of it, especially now when I felt as if we might be past it. I understood – she couldn’t be hurt if she didn’t get involved, but I was a part of that and she – she had to get beyond it if she ever hoped to be happy.

It was a Wednesday night in the middle of winter that I got in the car to drive to her place. I wasn’t sure what I was doing or if I was right. I wanted to talk to her about what was going on but feared that might be the worst thing to do. I was unsure, but the whole thing was taken out of my hands.

I parked outside her home and sat there for 5-10 minutes just debating the pros and cons. 50/50 I would just drive away. Instead, I got out of the car and started walking up a street. I got to the end and turned and was halfway back when a car drove up the street and stopped beside me. Two men got out. What are you doing? They asked. I was salty even back then and said who wants to know. They flipped their police badges at me and said they had someone report a suspicious character sitting in his car and come to investigate. They asked to see my ID and what I was doing there. I explained my girlfriend lived just there and that we’d had an argument. Fine, they said, get in the car – we need to check the story with her.

That’s the last thing in the world I wanted but there’s no arguing with a couple of cops. I got in the car, we drove down the street, and we knocked on the door. “Do you know this man?” they asked when she opened the door. She confirmed she did. The first words out of her mouth after they had gone was to ask – quite reasonably – “what the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

That pissed me off. I’d done nothing wrong and I’d just been sitting in the back of a cop car. I felt tainted. We argued, to and fro, and I stormed out, that’s it, all over.

And it was. We saw each other occasionally after, and when I cooled down I knew I still loved her – but every time it looked like we might reunite something would happen.

This changed me. I was distraught. I’d been an exuberant personality beforehand, now I became guarded. I had suffered so deeply that I knew I couldn’t face that again so I made myself strong by building a wall. It’s crumbled a bit in recent years, but the remnants remain.

By itself, this is a sad story but there’s a tragic kicker.

We went our separate ways and didn’t see each other. My life went on, I had other flings without giving myself to anyone, I travelled and lived. I thought of her sometimes hoping that she had found the happiness that had so eluded her. I loved her still, loved her soul, she was someone I had cherished. I wanted her to be good.

One day I’m speaking to a friend on the phone and he asks out of the blue, whatever happened to Berni? I was sitting at my desk and on impulse typed her name into google. To my great surprise, a result came up – a funeral notice.

I was shocked. Over the next week, I did all I could to discover what had happened. Eventually, I got onto someone connected to the cemetery. He told me much as I had suspected – that she had taken her own life.

I think something broke in me then. I felt so miserably sad for her. Such a tragic life. And I thought – if only it had been different. If only we hadn’t broken up. If only the nosy parker hadn’t dobbed me and the police take me to her door. If only I’d been more reasonable. If only I’d gone to her the next day and told I was sorry. There were hundreds, thousands of if onlys. I felt responsible, at least in part.

I visited her grave after that. I had too. I drove to the country and spent the night in the town she grew up in and stood by her grave. I’ve never forgotten her. Ever since I’ve felt as if I should make my life worthy of her too – as if I had to live for her as well as me. It’s one of the things that has made me endure and be brave – I could fail for myself, but I couldn’t allow myself to fail for her.

It’s an awful story and a tragic life. It was in me last night. Writing it today I feel it deep. I wish I hadn’t started now – the sadness abides. It’s a true thing though and perhaps more than anything else this has made me into the man I am today. I wonder if that’s why it was in my mind last night – and what it means.

The tree-house era


Looking out the train window this morning as I headed into work something I saw triggered a memory. I don’t know what it was I saw; perhaps it was something I overheard or read. In any case, a seemingly random memory popped into my head fully formed.

The memory took me back to my childhood, when I was about 12 or 13 years old. We lived in a suburb called Lower Plenty. Our house was architect designed and I remember when I was still in primary school how dad would pick me up after school and together we would visit the property as it was being constructed. Then we would head back to Thornbury, where we still lived.

I was about 7 when we moved in, maybe 8 – I think my first year of primary school in Lower Plenty Primary was grade 2, though it was probably six months after I started there we actually moved. It was a young suburb, a lot of vacant land and most of the families young. In our street, we were surrounded by Catholic families with more kids than you could poke a stick at. On one side were the Jennings, who topped out at fourteen or fifteen children a decade or so later – there was already half a dozen when we moved in. On the other side was the Woodward’s, five of them, including my best mate from my childhood, Peter Woody, a year older than me, and probably a foot taller at some stage. I was on the smaller side until my mid-teens, and Peter W was always big – he ended up a big-framed 6’ 8”.

All of this meant I had a great childhood. We played cricket in our backyard, kicked a footy around in the street, rode our bikes around everywhere, and generally got into a lot of mischief and strife – which included fights with the Edwards street gang, and building billy-carts and once, a raft. Very Huck Finn.

The memory recalled to me was of a tree-house we used to congregate at. It’s funny to remember. When you’re a kid you don’t have the same boundaries you have as an adult, much less the same inhibitions. The tree hut was in a large, sprawling pine tree which was growing on the other side of the fence line in a strangers property. It was easily accessible, however, and so we were undeterred.

It was a grand tree-house, over three levels at the top of the tree, really top shelf as far as tree-houses go. I remember working on it while the sun shone down. Mostly it was Peter Woody and me, the radio would be playing while we hammered and sawed. It would be school holidays and I remember the big song at that time was by Crystal Gayle, Don’t It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue. I loved that song, and the rare occasions I hear it now it recalls that time to me. I didn’t hear it this morning though, at least not consciously.

There was a large parcel of vacant land directly over our back fence – which was just a bunch of wires. At different times there was a horse grazing in this paddock, and at other times it was our playground. There was a time when we would excavate holes and construct roofs over the top and call them forts. That was fine until we discovered that spiders and other creepy crawlies liked these players too.

Time to get on the tear


Someone started a discussion about poetry in our book club yesterday, and I was quick to add to it.

I don’t read a lot of poetry. It’s not because I don’t like it, rather I’m pretty selective and hardly get around to it. Good poetry affects me quite powerfully though. It opens me up. It smooths out the jagged edges and eases me into a different way of thinking and feeling. I believe more after I’ve read good poetry, I’m both gentler and more sensitive. Poetry is a way for me to transcend present reality and to enter into infinite possibilities.

Last night it led me to look back on this blog. I’ve posted about poetry now and again and copied out individual poems. I wanted to return to them, not just to the poems themselves but to the person I was in those moments. I wanted to read of the context and state of mind.

For some reason I had a particular poem by Pablo Neruda in my head and figured it was about 10 years ago I wrote of it. I started a little over 11 years ago, from midway in 2007.

What happened is I got caught up reading of those times and entering into the mindset I had then. It was an eventful time for me. I had a busy social life plus I was falling in love.

I was surprised by how well I described it all. I found myself really liking the man I was then – clearly intelligent, confident, digressive but original, a little cheeky, very masculine. Naturally, I couldn’t help but compare the man I was then to the man I am today.

It’s a bit unfair really. None of the shit had hit the fan then. I was on a comfortable salary – about double what I’m currently earning – working at a job I really liked. I had great colleagues and I was both respected and admired. I had a fair whack of authority then, working either with the CFO or CEO, and was given my head to do whatever I thought needed doing. There were times then I think I was brilliant – brilliant in the sense that I wasn’t just competent, I was innovative and daring, and it all worked.

Because I had money as well as the inclination I had a busy active life. I knew a lot of women, and it seemed like a lot of women knew me. I had fun with that, but as I am now I was the loyal type. I would flirt, but because my desires were elsewhere mostly I let it go there (not quite always). I had every reason to be confident about the future, and indeed in years to come, I would flourish for a while.

I have to admit, I don’t think I like the man writing these words as much as I liked the man writing here 10 years ago.

I think the big difference is that there’s not nearly as much joy in me now as there was then. I don’t think I’m any harder than I was then – and I was pretty formidable – but the mix has changed. I carry the scars of battle now, and if I’m no harder then I’m less joyous. Unsurprisingly I’m come out of my ordeal grimmer than I was before, and perhaps warier.

It might be different if I had the same opportunities now as I did then – I’m sure it would change a lot. But then I have changed in that way.

Back then I was digressive and interesting, heading off on fascinating tangents. I don’t see those tangents so clearly now. Because I’ve been so focused on getting myself right my digressions have been personal. I’m often conscious even as I describe how I must do this or that how self-indulgent and whiny I’ve become.

I’m not whining now though. It’s good to go back and read because it reminds me of my essential self. It’s fine to make plans – and I think I’m on the right track – but let’s not forget to have fun.

Amid all the necessary changes I identified earlier this year was one dedicated to becoming more expansive and charming, as I once was. I’ve noticed a change in that regard over the last couple of months, and others have commented on it. I’m not as I was then, but there are recognisable aspects and generally, I’m much more open and spontaneous with my colleagues, and more so with some.

This is the thing: it doesn’t take much to change things. I’m still the same person I was then, just adjusted differently. I need some readjustment – though it’s not as simple as that.

I’ve got two sides of my soul. One is more intense and ascetic, disciplined and responsible. The other is more spontaneous and irresponsible, extroverted and extravagant. For many years I would alternate between the two, almost consciously – I would write about it. I’d go on the tear for a while partying hard, socialising here there and everywhere, flirting like there was no tomorrow, all very Rabelaisian. Gradually I would weary of that and eventually would retire to a more thoughtful and quiet life, enjoying the small things and reflecting on what it all meant.

For the last 6-7 years, I’ve been the ascetic. Life jolted into that situation and stuck me there. There’s been little opportunity and small excuse to cut loose. I won’t say it’s made H a dull boy, but it’s made him very controlled.

I had forgotten all about that. That other H, he’s a lot of fun. I’ll know things are good when I get back to being him.

No small things


I went to the footy at the MCG with Cheeseboy on Saturday afternoon. We had a fine day sitting high up in the members stand watching an exciting game, and adjourning to the nearest bar for a quick pint before the game and at half time. The only downside was the result.

We caught the train back afterwards with it full of folk like us in their footy regalia returning home as we were. There were as usual a lot of families, generally fathers with their sons, though occasionally a complete family out for a day at the footy. It’s good to see and very familiar to me. I’ve been on trains like that a thousand times before and looked upon happy, smiling kids cavorting in the colours of their favourite football team. As a kid I don’t recall ever catching the train with my dad to the footy – we always drove – but later as a teenager I would be travelling solo among them.

Sitting behind us was an old man who opined on the game we had just attended. Like me he was an Essendon supporter. I didn’t set eyes on him, and presume he was old – somewhere north of 70 – by his voice and manner. Every so often I would listen in, finding little to disagree with. I imagined him a tall, spare, dignified man on the edge of austere. It was in his voice, which was assured and intelligent. I liked him. I respected him. In my imagination he had a lifetime behind him of barracking for the same club as me. He had paid his dues and along the way learned a thing or two about the game. As I got off the train at Hampton I thought, that’s me in 20 odd years.

Walking onto the platform at Hampton I felt a moment of unexpected emotion. That doesn’t happen to me much. I’m sensitive, but it leads more often to reflection, even contemplation. As you know, I think things out. Saturday I didn’t have time for that. Ahead of me was a trail of people having got out of the train ahead of us. It was a well-known scene. I cast eyes upon them then I felt a brief but intense mistiness. As I followed Cheeseboy it cleared and I began to wonder at it. It didn’t take long for me to realise that I had hit another long delayed milestone that day.

I used to go to the footy 18 games out of 22, and for near on 35 years, from when I was just a kid. By the time I encountered my difficulties I’d slowed some, but still probably managed 10 games a year, most of them at the MCG – my MCC membership was one of my most cherished possessions. Once my difficulties hit it slowed more. I couldn’t afford to go as much and my MCC membership lapsed, plus I was living a pretty unsettled life. I probably went to 2-3 games a year.

Now things have improved I’m not going to any more games really. A lot of it is that I still don’t have the spare cash, but much of it is now habit. I watch every game, but it’s from the comfort of my home.

In May this year I finally got my MCC membership reinstated after nearly 5 years dormancy. And this is the milestone, which I was oblivious of until I stepped onto the platform at Hampton railway station. Saturday was the first time in 5 years that I’d attended the footy as a MCC member. Watching the footy from the salubrious surrounds of the members was not the point – the point was that I had regained something I had lost, and thought lost permanently at different times. The milestone was that I had reclaimed one more small thing along the way to reclaiming something of the life I had lost and hope to regain.

It was one of those days Saturday. Getting off the train – all happening then – Cheeseboy invited me to have dinner with the family at a nearby restaurant. I visit them at home regularly, but am wary of intruding too much upon their time or hospitality. Not unusually I made my excuses at first, claiming I couldn’t afford it. Don’t worry, he said, we’ll shout you. Still feeling a little tender I agreed.

I sat with them and had dinner and what this means to me is hard to explain. I’m close to them and they have been great friends to me over a long period of time. I’m very grateful to them. These days it means much more because I don’t really have a family of my own. I’m familiar with the forms of family life because for many years I was well and truly immersed in it – family lunches, birthday celebrations, mothers day, barbecues, Christmas, and so on, my life was full of such occasions. As you do, I took it for granted. Then, with the death of my mother, all of that ended. If there was any doubt then the rupture with my sister terminated all bit the most random contact. Effectively I have been cold turkey on all forms of family contact for about 6 years.

I’m a resilient dude. It is what it is, I accept it. I don’t mope or feel sorry for myself. Still, sometimes I miss it, and certainly on the key dates. The Cheeses aren’t my family but I can feel something of that by proxy simply by sharing in some of their occasions. They’re very good like that, especially Mrs Cheese. I sit their feel it and remember and it’s very pleasant just to be amid it.

It was like that on Saturday night, which was really a low-key event. I felt humbled by it. Yesterday I sent them a message thanking them for sharing their life with me. It’s no small thing.

First steps


H is in a benevolent mood today. It’s been a productive week at work, and while work isn’t everything it keeps the embers aglow. I’m of the type that needs to achieve things to feel satisfaction, muddling through or ticking boxes or cruising on auto-pilot is not my thing. It’s a bonus if the things you achieve are of a particularly clever nature. That feeds the ego and justifies ambitious expectations.

I had a break-through with one of my projects yesterday which should make a big difference. It means I can probably wrap it up a lot quicker than anticipated. It was a leap of imagination that did it, enabled by finally having some obstacles removed from my path. Some way to go but on the right track.

Satisfying as that is, more satisfying were the first few steps towards building a greater engagement in the office.

It may surprise some, but this is something I’m pretty passionate about. Everyone deserves opportunity. Everyone deserves a chance at being their best self. Everyone should have access to a work environment that is safe, welcoming and empowering. Everyone is an individual, and everyone deserves to be recognised as such.

I get really sour sometimes in places like this were staff are either treated as children, or as drones. It comes down to poor leadership and management mostly, as I touched upon yesterday, but there are structural faults that allow for it as well.

I’m lucky because I have a strong sense of self and am naturally independent, I don’t fit into any moulds. Not everyone is as fortunate and it’s common for people to be squeezed into round holes, never to emerge. I just don’t believe in that. This is a human life! We should be free to find our own shape and speak our own words – and you know what, most organisations would benefit from it.

I’ve achieved a lot over my professional career, including much I would describe as clever and creative, and sometimes things much against expectation. All of that, as I said, is good for the ego. None of that factors in to what my most satisfying experience has been – taking a dysfunctional, underperforming team and turning them into a happy, driven and successful team of achievers. It sounds corny, but the pleasure I got from the pleasure of my guys then was like nothing I’ve experienced before. It’s a cliché, but the term heartwarming is very apt for the sensation I experienced back then – and now still, as I reflect upon it.

Managing a team of people is different challenge to creating an organisational environment in which people can thrive, but there are common elements.

About 10 years ago I worked in a place where the IT manager, a buffoon, was fired on the spot by an exasperated CEO who could take it no longer. Both the manager and his team had underperformed for ages and were disdained throughout the organisation. I was called into the office straight after, had explained what had just happened, then asked if I was willing to take the job on (as well as my current job).

Was I ever! I had watched on with dismay as the IT function had been ground down into a virtual irrelevancy. I had my own ideas of how it should operate and what could be done and so I was in like Flynn.

First thing I did was to undo some of the constraints. These were all IT professionals, everyone of them competent in their own right and willing to do more, but inhibited by a demeaning structure. I sat down with each and every one of them and spoke to them man to man to get an understanding of what they were feeling, why they got into IT initially, and what they wanted to do. I asked for their ideas as to what was wrong and what we could do to fix it.

I wanted them to be part of the solution. Nothing would work without their buy-in, but the cost of their investment was trust and recognition – these were pennies well spent and easy to give over.

I gave every one of them a responsibility. I made them accountable for something. That something was aligned to their skillset, their experience, their desires. One guy became responsible for infrastructure. Another was given application management. A third was told he was going to be the SharePoint guru and these were the big plans I wanted him to get started on. The younger guys were given helpdesk, but told they were responsible for the efficient management of it, and given responsibilities shadowing the other guys. Each person walked out of that meeting knowing what was expected of them, and empowered by the knowledge that they would be exercising their expertise productively. They were delighted every one of them.

My role in this was to facilitate. I set agendas, I defined strategies, and I reached out to the business, but the guys were involved. I was by no means a technical IT expert and made no claims to be – I made it clear that I was relying on them, but they had my full trust.

Trust is a mighty powerful thing. I would support them every step of the way, but in return expected them to fulfil the trust placed in them. It’s rare that people don’t, but unusual for people – average managers – to understand. Trust is a gift given by me to you, and creates a hopeful obligation in the recipient. Few want to disappoint that.

I always the best sort of authority is no show of authority at all. It’s the mistake that many junior or managers make, feeling the need to demonstrate they are the boss. True authority comes with a sense of humility – in your hands are the lives of these people – but for many managers those people are playthings.

I never worried about being the boss. I knew they trusted and respected me. We got on well, could share a joke, and I took them all out for drinks soon after starting, but no-one was in any doubt that I was the man – and that’s how they wanted it. I was hard, but fair, but I took the pressure off them too and gave them space to do what they did best. In no time we turned the department around. By the time I left them morale was sky-high, performance had hit the roof, we had engaged with and earned the trust of the business, and had a bunch of exciting projects on the go.

For me I appreciated how much people want to be themselves. If that’s all you offer then people will be drones and the quality of their work will reflect that – but if you recognise them as individuals, each with unique qualities, and acknowledge them, then there’s no limit to what they can achieve. This encapsulates my philosophy on engagement, and indeed leadership, and explains why I’m so passionate about it.

This is what I want to introduce here. It’s a tall order but you have to start somewhere. This week I wrote and posted something to the constituents detailing what we’re about as an engagement committee and what we hoped to achieve. The possibilities thrill me.

Independent spirits


On a cold, wintry day last week I headed out for lunch with a friend at Hawkr. I went by it at first, conditioned to go to the market when I head off in that direction. I backtracked and soon enough was enjoying a very nice lunch.

Nothing remarkable in this at all, except in the overcast, cool surrounds of that Melbourne winter’s day my mind was unaccountably cast back about 30 years to a time and place very different.

It’s fascinating to wonder what triggers such unlikely memories. Here I was in the middle of winter in Melbourne and my memory was of a summer’s day in Sydney. Specifically I recalled a time when I trained to become a cocktail bar-tender. I must have been about 21 at the time. There were a bunch of us in the class, maybe about eight, and I was one of the eldest there.

This was in the heart of King’s Cross, and I can remember still the name of the course – Alex Beaumont something, something, but not the name of the instructor.

I was living with my aunt at the time in Watson’s Bay, and as it turned out the instructor lived in Watson’s Bay also. He was one of those very cool characters who you imagined had lived an interesting, if not exotic life. He was in his mid-forties I guess, fit and with a handsome, well lived in face with – in retrospect – a Humphrey Bogart vibe. He was a professional cocktail bartender who had plied his trade all over the world and doubtless had a great time doing it. He was a level-headed character studious in teaching us the tricks of his trade. I remember him telling off a couple in the class who were goofing off, and in spite of the difference in our age he seemed to connect with me. Perhaps I seemed the closest in spirit to him.

One night after the class had ended we went back to his place together. I was flattered to be asked. I remember he lived further along towards South Head, past Doyles, in one of the cute cottages that overlooked the beach. He had a wife or girlfriend who wasn’t there, but who he had spoken of often. She seemed his long-time partner in crime, a fellow traveller close in spirit. He called her always by a nickname, Flea, or something like that.

Though she wasn’t there I felt her spirit. I was young and adventurous and my imagination was vivid and I was curious about such a woman thinking that she was probably the sort I would like to know. But then he was of a type I would happily emulate as well, the free-spirited individual who lived for experience.

We sat on his leafy patio in the sunshine sipping on gin and tonics while he told me his stories (now forgotten), and I attempted to shape into words my expectations of the world ahead of me.

And that was it, that was the memory that came to me that day, and has every day since. Why is that?

Lot of water under the bridge since and much I might have hoped for that day will have come to pass. I’m a long way on from that young man, though he is still recognisably within me. I wonder if the appeal of the independent spirit has come to resonate in me and trigger this memory – it’s always been there, sometimes nearer, sometimes more distant, but never absent.