This is another little story about my train trip into the city this morning. It’s becoming a genre of its own, but I think that’s because in that space of time and making that journey you are in a state of transition, from the comfort of home to the density of work. In between you are in a neutral space, not quite yet up to speed, but receptive to the dawning day. Everything is fresh again, and though it’s far from being a conscious thought, with the new day everything becomes possible again.

This morning I sat there in the usual way. Across from me sat a mother with her son. The woman was middle aged, plain, a little plump. She was dressed in a heavy black winter coat, and in general her dress was more functional than stylish. Like so many women she had a big, black leather handbag, from which she took a copy of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend.

Her son was about 10 years old. He wore a dark duffel coat with loops for buttons. He had an old fashioned haircut, like a fighter pilot from the 1940’s. It was cut short at the sides, with a distinct part and his hair neatly combed across the top of his head. Did he comb his hair, or did his mother for him, I wondered?

I’m listening to a story set in Morocco and I’m remembering my own journey there, how Casablanca was boring, Fez interesting, Marrakech fantastic, and Essaouira funky, but at the same time I’m curiously pondering the mother and her son. Is it school holidays? I thought not. What brings them out then? It appeared as if they were set on a trip together to town, for reasons I could never discern (they stayed on the train as I got off at Richmond). I recalled that these brief forays into the city when I was his age were like an adventure to me, remembered how with mum we might go shopping for school books or clothes or something altogether different and then end up having lunch in the Myer’s cafeteria, or perhaps somewhere like the Hopetoun Tea rooms.

As I’m thinking this the boy looked around curiously. He was not accustomed to the peak hour train crowd. There wasn’t much to see though, and soon he retrieved his own book to read – something called Bomber Boys.

There is something about such scenes that make me feel incredibly tender. Perhaps there is something nostalgic about it that recalls moments just as I described when I might have shared such a journey with my own mother. But that’s only a small part of it. I don’t know but it seems such simple scenes undo me – and it is the simplicity of it that does me in, or rather, the simple modesty of it. You see in something like that the established pattern of love and affection. It is known, felt, perhaps overlooked by the boy, but real for the mother. You imagine the small worlds, the boy spying the book he was interested to read and contriving to own it, the mother out shopping with her son and spotting the coat she decided to buy for him. Then there is the mother reading her book. You imagine this is an escape for her, a little bit of time all hers. I wondered, what does she think when she reads such a book? What does she feel? Is it just entertainment, or does it tug at something deeper?

And of course there is something in the very modesty and conservatism of her dress that becomes poignant. I don’t know what it is, but my imagination works overtime. Is that her nature? Or has she sacrificed something to be a mother? Or is it a reflection of self-image? Perhaps because I’m bolder in style and ambition I am often abashed by those who are not. I want to get around them. Celebrate yourself, I want to urge them. It doesn’t matter what other people think – or more aptly, what you think other people think. Live for yourself.

I feel that and it cuts deeply, but I know also there is something condescending in it – and besides, who am I to tell anyone how to live or what to feel? They know their life. Doubtless they are happy, more or less, with it. Not all lives are big, nor should they be, but it doesn’t make them less true, and what value fruitless striving when all you need and want is beside you?

I think it is the recognition of that which moves me. It puts me in touch with a corner of myself that is deeply felt, but neglected. I am straightened up and humbled by the simple truth of what I see, and envy, in a sly way. I feel strongly the urge to acknowledge it, to reach forward and look in their eyes and bless them – or ask for their blessing.

A loosening

I dreamt last night that I was offered a redundancy, which I happily accepted. I woke early and contemplated that and other things before wide awake getting out of bed early. I was out the door a little after 7. It was still dark outside, though by the time I had made my short walk to the station there was a glow in the air from an imminent sun. It was quiet, solemn. The car park with the bus station behind the shopping was all lit up by yellow tinted lights against the dark sky, but besides a solitary bus no-one was about. In the air was the aroma of something spicy and sweet being cooked at the bakery.

At that time of morning there’s not quite the crowd at the station. When the train came I quietly found my seat and, as before, listened to my book. The stations go by. The train fills. I’m contained within my headphones though. It’s a very interior world. That time of day encourages a sort of introspection – it’s a rare person who has the energy to be garrulous before 8am. And though the train becomes crowded most others are like me, and there is little conversation.

I listened to the narrative. I looked out the window. Coming into Middle Brighton I witnessed a fiery sunrise spread across the horizon to the east (the right side of the train – I realise now I always sit on the right), reminding me that every day is unique.

I’ve got an existential restlessness. That’s not news for me. It’s not bad either. I always reckon you’ve got to be wide awake to your life otherwise it slips by without you noticing. Everyone’s different, but for me I want to do things. I’m not content to be comfortable, or even secure, which may be a surprise given my recent experiences, but somehow those experiences rather than making me more fearful have instead released me from conventional expectation.

I contemplated this morning letting the rake in me loose. It was a very considered, un-rakish thought process. One might even call it rational, which is my abiding temper. I’m always the most responsible and reliable, generally the smartest, or near enough, and close to the most driven and determined. There dwells inside me another side that has long been repressed, by circumstances I guess, though there has been a deliberate inclination to set it to one side.

I wondered if it were now not time to let the rake in me to return to the surface. There is much joy in that persona, and for so many reasons, and it might serve me well in my relationships – I feel as if I’ve been tethered for so long. It frees the mind in other ways too. It might be a bad thing to be a little less responsible, a bit more unpredictable. It might serve as a kind of mental detox and free me from the spurious obligations of duty. In so doing it may give me, and my life, a little kick-along.

I don’t know. As I said I considered it in purely rational terms and, even so, don’t know if I could just turn it on like that. It is tempting though. I know I need to freshen up. I have become disappointed and disapproving, and none of that does me any good.

A fling, a mental loosening, might be just the thing.

June 7

It’s just occurred to me that yesterday was B’s birthday, dear and long departed now, the woman I loved and wanted to spend my life with at one point. I wish she was still around, still walked the earth, even if I had nothing to do with her.

I always remember, even if, such as now, I remember after the fact. I always want to remember. She is worth my reflection, and much more. In this case perhaps there has been another prompt.

I had a long dream last night that in large part was about death. The details are scratchy now. I had some kind of terrible, fatal disease we were in a race against time to cure. It was a rare disease that when you get to a certain age the sun eats away at your flesh, like acid. The day approached near and there was a sense of frantic inevitability that became resignation. Even then there was the hope a cure might be found before too much damage was done. The surprise came in that when the day came, and after, nothing happened. There was relief at that, but a tortured confusion as well.

The dream was a result – I think – of news I heard late last night that a girl I had gone to school with had on Tuesday night committed suicide. I had but vague memories of her, but it came as a shock still. She was happily married and had two boys, but had apparently suffered from depression for years.

It’s been a tough few weeks, but this made it more personal. Watching the nightly news I often find tears in my eyes, either depressed by tragedy or uplifted by acts of virtue. Lately there has been more tragedy, though there are always fine people.

Last night I felt tears in my eyes at the news of the two Australian women murdered in the London terror attack. The closer you can identify with victims the more personal it seems. I didn’t know either of the women and they lived in different states to mine, but they are of my culture, they grew up in the same environment as I did, would recognise the same touchstones that perhaps someone from somewhere else could never. If I had met either one in London chances are we might have exchanged a greeting as Aussies. Now what they had is stopped. It’s so unfair, so senseless, not just for them, but their families too, and for all the victims and their families. (It’s a great curiosity that of the 8 people killed in the attacks in a huge city such as London that six of them were foreign).

There was another news item about a man who had campaigned against the Catholic church and the cover-up of child sex offences. His own daughter had been a victim and had later killed herself because of it. This man had been instrumental in taking the fight up to the Catholic diocese, and by all accounts was a much loved man of exceptional character. His was a state funeral, and a worthy one. I felt tears come to my eyes listening to the tributes to him. I was sad at his passing, but grateful that such people exist – and hoping that one day that I might measure up to such an exemplary standard.

In winter, these are the times.


Random encounters

The last few days I’ve been witness to a couple of random moments which piqued my curiosity.

On Saturday afternoon I caught up with Cheeseboy for lunch. It was a pure winter’s day, cool, but the sky a pristine blue, and the sunshine like crystal. It was very pretty, and so we chose to sit outside at a café at the end of my street.

We sat and talked about all the usual stuff, about work, about our plans for the weekend ahead, about a golf weekend we’ll never have, gossip about mutual friends and, of course, sport. As we sat there going about our very prosaic activities a couple sat at the next table over from us, right in my eyeline.

He was a handsome man of about 30, dark skinned and vaguely exotic. She was an attractive woman of about the same age with curly brunette hair. At first glance I thought them a recent couple out for a coffee on a Saturday afternoon.

Cheeseboy and I continued our conversation. I paid no special attention to the couple, but as time went by it was impossible for me not to notice that they weren’t talking. They had coffee delivered to them, but not once did I see them exchange a word of conversation. They sat there awkwardly, neither seemingly willing to break the silence, but both apparently very conscious of it.

The man sat facing me, the woman was in profile. He looked out towards the road, and occasionally glanced backwards her, but without seeming intent. She seemed the more stricken. She looked straight ahead, her expression grim.

Finally I looked up and saw she had begun to cry. Her eyes were large and moist and had taken upon that puffy look that came with tears. She continued to look straight ahead, and still there was no conversation. It appeared that the tears had sprung from a deep well. She sat there knowing without a word having to be spoken. He knew too, without needing to comment. I was witnessing the end of something, and I wondered what their story was.

Then yesterday I’m in the lift returning from having picked up a coffee. In the lift with me were a couple of guys who work for the NBN (I always wonder why they don’t get out of the lift a few floors below and don’t walk the rest of the way, a la their tech model). As it transpired both of these guys were Filipino. They chatted about their respective weekends before one said he was heading back to the Phillippines on the 25th for a month. No kidding said the other, I’m heading back there on the 29th for a month too! Really, the first one said, I’ve got to go back for my grandmother’s 90th birthday. Get out of here the second one said, or something similar, I’m going back for my grandmother’s 90th birthday too! Both burst into laughter, and I couldn’t help but smile too.

The lift doors opened and they got out before I could find out if they had the same granny.

Another voice silenced

I couldn’t believe it when I heard Chris Cornell was dead. It couldn’t be true I thought, just one of those internet rumours that later turn out to be rubbish. It wasn’t a rumour, though. It was true.

It’s funny, I just wrote about him in passing the other day. As I did I wondered at the music still to come from him, thinking, at least he would do some good stuff. He won’t though, not now. He’s gone.

I saw him about 5 years ago at the Palace theatre with a couple of mates. He was great. He had that mighty voice, the best voice in rock music, but he had presence too, and humour. He was a good bloke.

That’s what makes this harder in a way. There’s a great sense of loss that another of the voices I grew up has now been silenced. That feels a real thing, but even so, it feels a little different with Cornell. There’s a lot from that great generation of musicians that have passed on, but – without being rude about it – many that didn’t come as a great surprise. Many had troubled or volatile lives, many with a history of substance abuse, many who – despite their fame – who lived on the edge. Chris Cornell was not like that – at least he didn’t appear to be so.

He always appeared to be very fit and healthy. Though he had lived in the heady world of rock music there was never any suggestion that I knew of that he lived dangerously. He had his moments with drugs and alcohol, but seemingly without the self-destructive intent of so many others. He seemed happily married and perfectly grounded. He was revered and successful, but he seemed real too, the sort who easily met my criteria of someone I’d have a beer with.

It’s emerged this morning that it was suicide. In a way it makes sense of things – how does a fit and healthy 52 year old die? It makes it even sadder though, and I’m at a loss. It’s an awful tragedy.

Last night it was in my head all night and I went to bed feeling an indeterminate anger. I lay there trying to figure it out. Maybe it was because it seemed so unlikely – or at least, so wrong. Maybe it was because it was another good person gone – and too many lately. Maybe it was more personal – I grew up with Soundgarden, and later Audioslave, and Chris Cornell was a regular voice in my ear. He is of my generation, almost exactly my age, and he has gone now while I remain and I tried to riddle that. Finally there was a sense that as time goes by it feels as if my team becomes depleted and me – and people like me – are left remaining, clinging to memories of a time fast fading, and the people of that time plucked from us one by one. Once it was our world, now it is not – and the world is much changed.

That night at the Palace I surreptitiously taped some of his performance. I have a heap of his music on my iTunes, but I reckon those recordings, more intimate, more gritty, will come to mean more to me because I was there and he spoke to me that night, as he did to hundreds of others, and many thousands more through his career. That much we share.

On a final note it seems I am writing a lot lately about people who have passed away. I wonder at that myself. It feels abnormal, but wonder if the frequency will remain at this level. Are these the times? I don’t want to write so much of these things and I’ve decided to refrain when I can. I’m not here to write eulogies, and it’s too damn depressing besides.

Tender desires

One minute you feel a bit of swagger, there’s a pretty girl on the train and you try and catch her eye. You feel the familiar things and you wonder at it just a little. After all you’ve been through the swagger is still there, still natural, never far away, and yes, okay, there’s something a little lame about it, but, what the heck, you feel a nostalgic affection for it too. The boy you were lives still.

The next minute you feel tender. You’re walking away from the train and ahead of you is a little girl of no more than 7 or 8 in her cute little school uniform. The crowd is thick rushing from one platform to another and she glances around searching for her father. He is beside me, tall and bearded and in fashionably casual clothes, like a creative consultant of some description.

They get on the same train as you and something about the picture affects you. You wish them happiness and joy. You wish the little girl a long life of happy moments. It feels so true and lovely, as if you have caught glimpse of something you normally overlook.

That is me. Different desires, low and high, both true. Swaggering and tender both, and maybe a few other things besides.

Goodbye to PM

It seems there’s someone of note dying every day these days. Again, it’s probably quite normal. I’m getting older too, and the generational bubble I grew up within are getting to that point – not to mention the big name outliers a generation older.

Mark Colvin was not one of those big names, and I reckon that most people who read this today won’t know who he is. He was an exceptional journalist and fascinating man. I interacted with him a few times on Twitter, where he was quite active, but it’s his voice I remember.

For many years Mark Colvin was the voice of PM, the daily radio program on the ABC covering current affairs and politics. His was a rich, melodious voice, and as a commentator and interviewer he was erudite, intelligent and incisive. It seems to me his was a voice I knew very well, though I was only an occasional listener. Now that voice is silent.

It’s sad – he died before his time – but as he said, it’s been bloody marvellous. Our misfortune is that we lose a voice of reason and a man of intelligence, in a time when both are in short supply.