A dilettante

Monday and Tuesday this week, the whole department had an offsite to discuss the year past and to discuss and plot the strategy for the year ahead. These are a yawn-fest for many people, and there are certainly dull and long-winded moments, but generally, I enjoy hearing about what’s going on.

There were a lot of presentations, naturally. I was involved in two of them.

I was in the office on Friday when I found out that our team was required to present something on Monday about the wins and learnings of the last 12 months. We were meant to make it light-hearted. When I asked my manager to check if he’d done it, yet he said no. The next day — Saturday — I got an email at 9am asking me to do the presentation.

I was a bit peeved. I’m sympathetic to my manager, who is overworked and a good guy besides. In fact, I’d planned to contact him to say I could assist if he wanted me to. As I wasn’t aware of the full brief, I had no plans to actually do the whole thing, particularly after complaining at lunch the previous day that I was sick of being taken advantage of by the company. Then this!

I did it, of course. By chance, Cheeseboy couldn’t make our regular Saturday morning walk (we went Sunday). Time opened up for me, and I decided to do it straight away, knowing that I’d be thinking about it all weekend otherwise.

It wasn’t so hard in the end, and it was a good presentation — the manager was thrilled with it. I used a running theme of Donald Trump, who is always good for a laugh. Of course, once I’d done it, my manager said I had to present it as well.

I never liked presenting or public speaking in general, though I’ve done a bit of it over a period. Like most things, it’s never as hard as you think it’ll be. Except I felt as if I’d struggled — probably not helped when I found that the manager had changed a couple of things that didn’t make sense when I came to present them.

That night I went home fuming at myself. For me, it seemed yet another example of how out of tune I am these days when it comes to the working life.

On Tuesday, I had to do another presentation. This was much better because it was my subject, and I know it backwards. Funnily enough, it was probably the biggest hit of the day. In a break soon after, and over a drink at a bar when the day was concluded, I had all sorts of dev types come up to me with their eyes shining and asking all their geeky tech questions. I think all of them want to be involved in a project which kicks off after Easter.

Afterwards, I reflected on how my project is probably the single biggest in discussion. All these other projects had been presented by managers. I was the only non-manager, but mine is the most pivotal. Once more, it highlighted the gap between what I do and my role and salary — though I Did subtly comment on that in my presentation.

The other thing it brought home to me is how different I am generally these days. In the past, I’ve been dismissive of dilettantes, mostly because I reckon you have to commit one way or another. You’re either in or on the fence. But when it comes to my job these days, I’m on the fence.

I think back to how I was in my heyday. It may be an exaggeration, but I feel as if I was implacable and inexorable. I had few doubts, was determined and driven, and generally hard at it. It’s why I rose up the ranks — you’d reliably expect me to get things done and to a quality standard.

At no stage did I ever get carried away with what I was doing. I’d always reflect to others that I wasn’t curing cancer, that it wasn’t world peace I was striving to achieve. I had a healthy perspective, but I was fascinated by the process, and utterly driven to do it well.

I think it’s true, I’ve always been more motivated by the process than the outcome. Get the process right, then the outcome will look after itself, and it was the process that was challenging and interesting. I was good with the process because I was competitive and because it engaged my mind and because I had an ethos of always doing my best.

So, what’s changed?

Despite everything, I still retain the confidence, though it doesn’t extend as far. I don’t have the same fascination for the process I once had, and maybe that’s because I’ve circled this block many times or because I’ve been through a lot since those days, but most likely, it’s a bit of both.

Fundamentally, it’s a job to be done, but it doesn’t engage me as it did before. There are bit and pieces I’ll get caught up in because they’re puzzles to be solved. I’m much more interested in the creative side these days. I’m still driven to do the job well, which is residual pride. I’m quite shocked to find I’m not nearly as competitive as I used to be.

This leaves me as someone very capable still, but without so many of my colleagues’ fervour. Most of them are younger and putting a career together and so see a lot of themselves in what they’re doing — this is their meal ticket. I was never like that — too laid back in that regard, too much perspective — but I’m even less so now. There’s a distance between me and what I do. I am a dilettante.

I wonder, once more, what this really means for me. What do I really want to do? I have no desire to be like them. The general inclination is to go about my work quietly and efficiently and get out of my way. That’s maybe all I’m good for now.

Still, it’s better than most.

The belated AFL preview

I got a message from a reader the other day asking why I hadn’t done my usual preview of the AFL season. Well, I forgot, that’s why. I don’t know if it still counts as a preview one round in, but here it is now.

For a start, let me just say that last season was the most disappointing season I’ve ever watched. I’m not pointing any fingers because there were plenty and obvious reasons for that. Let’s face it, it was a shit year all round.

The disruption to the season caused by Covid did a lot of things. Obviously, it broke the season into two parts. It impacted players fitness, and consequently, on the football quality, and the shortened quarters made it feel a bit Micky Mouse to this hardened follower’s eyes. On top of all that, coaches’ ongoing defensive mechanisms made it a drab and low-scoring spectacle.

I’ve been watching footy for a while, and I reckon that footy has dropped off quite a bit. Everyone raves about Richmond, but I think they’re winning in an era where there’s not a lot of quality competition. The game itself is less interesting to watch – dourer, less skilled. For my money, there was no more entertaining decade of footy than the 1990s, but no greater quality than the first decade of this century (Essendon, Brisbane, and Geelong much superior to any team coming since).

So, I’ve had my grizzle and rant; now I’m about to say something more positive. I know we’re only one round in, but I reckon I saw a few games on the weekend better than anything I saw last year.

The games are now back to regular minutes, making a big difference, but the real change has come to some heavily criticised rule changes that I’m all-in with.

After many years of talking about it, the rules committee has finally dropped interchange rotations from a maximum of 90 to 75. It may not sound a lot, but it means that players fatigue sooner, that structures break down, and the game becomes more open.

The other rule change had everyone complaining in the pre-season. I held off on my criticism to see how it played out in the season proper when players have adjusted to it. Judging by round one, it’s a real winner.

The big change is that once a defensive player has settled on the mark, he can’t shift from the spot until the umpire calls play on. This gives the player much greater freedom to play on, take ground, and generally generate speed in the game. It’s a change that encourages teams to be more daring and expansive in their play. It worked a treat.

Like last year, Richmond and Carlton played off in the first game of the season. The score deviated just one point from last year – but the game was a completely different spectacle. Last year it was boring and unadventurous – this year, it was a racy game of give and take. There was still plenty of pressure, but it was more individual than structural, and it seemed to me that the skills were better in their absence.

Even my team managed to kick 8 goals in a quarter.

So, to the actual preview. I have no hard or fast opinions this year. I’m not sure if last season is a great guide for several reasons. But I have to go on something.

If I was to tip a premier now, I’d go Port Adelaide. They went close last year, and they’ve improved their side since. I suppose I should put Richmond up there, but I still think they can be found out. I reckon St Kilda will surprise a few teams and challenge at some point but aren’t ready for top honours yet. I wonder if Geelong fired their last shot last year. They’ve loaded up on quality veterans in the off-season, but I reckon they’re too old. West Coast – I can’t get a bead on them, though I’m sure they’ll look mighty good at some point. Very dangerous on paper.

Brisbane is a team that looked good last season, and many pundits are tipping them this year. I’m not so sure. Certainly, they’ve lost their status as preferred finals team since they acquired JD, who I now despise. I’m not sure they have consistent quality across the field, though they’re well-coached, and Joe is dangerous. The Bulldogs are my smoky. They’re a funny side. Very strong in the midfield, much weaker in defence, and with a so-so attack. They rely on slick ball movement and their midfield cutting opposition to pieces. Not sure if it’s a combo that can sustain finals success, but it could be fun to watch.

I think Collingwood will slide after a horrific off-season. They’ve lost some quality and seem incapable of kicking goals. Personally, I think they might do better with a less dour coach. Speaking of coaching, can’t see GWS being anything until they get rid of Leon Cameron. He’s driven a team of stars into the ground.

Of the rest, I don’t think there’ll be any great surprises. Swans have recruited very well and had one of the best coaches in the caper. Won’t make finals, but expect a solid year. Hawthorn – no; North Melbourne – definitely no; Adelaide – no, but with some promise. If Freo gets a fit side on the park, then they’ll have some good wins. Hard to know which way the Suns will go, but they’re improving.

As for my team – Essendon – I’m not as pessimistic as I’ve been in recent times. I think the coaching changes are positive, and we’ve recruited very well. We lost some top-line players over the off-season, but I think we’ve got some up-and-coming young players too. We’ll have some good wins this season but finish down the ladder. We’re building for a challenge in a couple of years, and with more development and more high draft picks, I’m optimistic for 2023.

That leaves Melbourne (I’m not commenting on Carlton). Never really know what to make of them – I think most of their supporters feel the same. I picked them to go close to winning it a couple of years ago, and they tumbled down the ladder. This year? I think they might make a charge in the back half of the year and possibly sneak into the eight. They’ve got some quality players, but they’ve struggled on the outside and up forward. Think Brown will be a good get when he’s fit, and the outside is better.

So, my tips:

Port Adelaide (premier)




St Kilda













North Melbourne

Stages of life

I finished a book last night, which I think must be the best historical fiction novel I’ve read. Augustus, by John Williams, is the story of the Roman emperor by the same name. It’s told from multiple points of view in letters and diary entries and feels as authentic as anything you’re ever going to get in this genre. I’ve read a few books like this in the past, and though some are entertaining, they generally feel a bit contrived and as if the author is putting words into the mouth of these famous characters.

Williams is doing the same, except that it reads as if these are genuine documents, and each voice unique and individual. It helps greatly that Williams – who also wrote Stoner – is a very good writer. He’s dealing with the historical record – the murder of Caesar, the civil war with Marc Antony, the various controversies and conspiracies of the age – but to re-imagine it so vividly, and with such convincing realism, is a great feat.

If you like this sort of stuff then you should do yourself a favour.

Near the end of the book, Augustus is ruminating in a letter to a friend as he feels his life coming to its close. He reflects on the people he’s known, the friends he’s had and lost, the great moments of history he was part of. He writes as a man, as Octavious perhaps, as he started, rather than the great emperor Augustus history knows him as.

There’s a passage there which feels very true and wise, and resonated with my experience of life to this point:

“The young man, who does not know the future, sees life as a kind of epic adventure, an Odyssey through strange seas and unknown islands, where he will test and prove his powers, and thereby discover his immortality. The man of middle years, who has lived the future that he once dreamed, sees life as a tragedy; for he has learned that his power, however great, will not prevail against those forces of accident and nature to which he gives the names of gods, and has learned that he is mortal. But the man of age, if he plays his assigned role properly, must see life as a comedy. For his triumphs and his failures merge, and one is no more the occasion for pride or shame than the other; and he is neither the hero who proves himself against those forces, nor the protagonist who is destroyed by them. Like any poor, pitiable shell of an actor, he comes to see that he has played so many parts that there no longer is himself.”

― John Williams, Augustus

I certainly experienced and felt the full force of the first stage, that as a young man. It’s all about adventure and questing and insatiable appetite and curiosity and proving yourself. Life is a wondrous mystery.

I’m in the middle of the second stage. Parts of life feel tragic. I look back upon my earlier days, and I’m amused by my naivety, though impressed by my idealism and sensual gusto. I wonder at the value – and futility of it all. I’m much more measured, looking at things from the outside rather than within them. I question the point of it.

I look forward to the final stage as described here – seeing life as a comedy. I can believe in this. I feel as if it’s close now and as if I may already have experienced some of this. It would come as a relief to shed the burden of the belief I carry – though that seems harder to believe. It seems to me that if this stage is true, then it explains why they say the last 20 years of life are often the happiest. It’s a letting go.

I don’t think I can ever completely let go – and I don’t think I want to. But then, I’m still in the middle stage.

No more chickening out

The March4Justice events took place yesterday all over Australia. Thousands of people, women mainly, joined together to protest the mistreatment of women by men and the historic injustice which is epitomised right now by the actions – inactions? – of the government in response to various rape allegations. It really is inexcusable.

I hope that yesterday will mark a turning point. In many ways, it was inspirational. I watched the events in Canberra and the great speech given by Brittany Higgins, the woman who started all this by reporting her rape in Parliament House. I thought her speech was right on the money and very moving. Right now, she’s a figurehead at the front of a great movement, but in years to come, I think she may be seen as a cultural icon.

The same might be said of Grace Tame, who was named Australian of the year in January. She’s an imposing, quite fierce woman who was subjected to grooming by a teacher when at school and since has become a mighty voice in standing up for women’s rights. Indirectly, she was responsible for Brittany reporting her rape. It was the occasion of the Australian of the Year awards that Brittany heard her speak and saw her with the hypocrite PM, which inspired her to speak up.

I think we’ll see a lot more of Grace Tame – I think, and hope, she has a great future ahead of her. There are so many impressive women these days.

What’s happening in Australia is being echoed around the world. In New York, the governor, Mario Cuomo, has been hit by repeated allegations of sexual harassment. In London, the murder of a woman has caught the imagination, as sometimes these cases do. It turns out the alleged murderer was a police officer. Outrage is widespread, and vigils held – ironically, disturbed and dispersed by the police. There is a groundswell of anger around the world, the common theme being enough is enough.

I had half intended to join the Melbourne March yesterday. I was wary of how I would be received as a solo male. Most would accept me, I believed, and I thought it was important for men to stand up for the cause, even though we’re the object of the anger.

Come yesterday, I still wasn’t sure if I would attend. Should I go? Would I be intruding? In the end, work was my excuse to stay away.

I regret that now. I wasn’t sure for many hours, and then I realised that I chickened out. I’m disappointed in myself. It’s not about me, but each of us has the responsibility to share our support when we can.

Underlying this is fear, I think. The last few years have been cause for much angst and reflection. That’s been hammered home over the last month, and I feel myself strongly reconsidering my own behaviour over many years. That’s a good thing, but not easy.

As men, we have to accept some brutal truths: we scare women. The arguments thrown up about ‘not all men’ are ridiculous and miss the point altogether. Maybe it isn’t all men – but all the perpetrators of this are men. It’s perfectly understandable if women feel nervous and afraid. It’s a bitter pill for a man to swallow, but when you consider that so many women have been victims of sexual crime or harassment, that so many have felt uncomfortable or intimidated over many years, and that most resort to a range of tactics to avoid this discomfort, then the conclusion is inescapable. We’re the problem.

I don’t think any sensible man would disagree that we’ve got it easy – though how easy never really registered to me before. Basically, I go through life without feeling a moment of fear. The prospect of violence or harassment is not even on my radar. I blithely go about my things, oblivious of how different it is for women, and how my unthinking swagger may look to the women about me.

Cheeseboy and I discussed this on our walk on Saturday morning. Both of us are in middle age and lived through a lot. Both of us were pretty social when we were younger. Both of us recognised how oblivious we were of others might feel.

I can sit here and state I’ve never knowingly harassed or sexually intimidated a woman, but that’s just my perspective. I cast my mind back. I’ve known a lot of women and I don’t recall any circumstance when I thought the woman was unwilling – but certainly, asking consent was never even a consideration back then. And how do I know if a woman just went along with me because it was easier to give in than resist?

These are very uncomfortable considerations. I can hardly contemplate that I wouldn’t know – but maybe I didn’t know, and that’s very real when you have a head of steam. I’m very sure I would not have gone on had I known my attentions were unwanted. All of this makes me uneasy. Generally, I feel ashamed at how pathetic we are as men.

I think I’m a decent human being. For as long as I can remember, it’s been important to me to treat people as individuals and grant them the respect they deserve. I can’t conceive of some of the behaviours I hear of now, and it’s distressing to me also. But.

I’m part of the problem, regardless of whether I’ve transgressed. Ignorance, silence, are not an excuse. I’m sure that I’ve used language I shouldn’t have. And I only have to think back to how I was as a young man when I thought that getting a lot of sex was a sign of my virility. It’s an immature attitude, but not uncommon, and it objectifies the experience and, by extension, objectifies women. And it’s embarrassingly juvenile.

I’m more mature now and much more aware than I was. It’s the passage of years and lessons learnt that have brought me to this place, but it shouldn’t take middle-age to get here.

It’s great and necessary that women are now standing up for their rights as a human being. I hope we have a culture now where men will be called out for their inappropriate behaviour. In the short term, I think that’s the most effective way to change behaviour. Longer-term, it comes to education and common decency and good role models. This is where we fall done. None of this in school and role models are flukey – and sadly, if our government can’t get it right, what hope is there otherwise?

This is a humbling experience for any man with a conscience and any level of self-awareness. It doesn’t count for much, but I’m sorry if I’ve caused hurt or harm. From here on in, it’s our responsibility as men to treat women with the respect they deserve and to call out anyone who doesn’t. That’s all I can say now.

The thinking man

By chance, I happened across the following quote by Blaise Pascal soon after posting yesterday:

“The human being is only a reed, the most feeble in nature; but this is a thinking reed. It isn’t necessary for the entire universe to arm itself in order to crush him; a whiff of vapour, a taste of water, suffices to kill him. But when the universe crushes him, the human being becomes still more noble than that which kills him, because he knows that he is dying, and the advantage that the universe has over him. The universe, it does not have a clue.

“All our dignity consists, then, in thought. This is the basis on which we must raise ourselves, and not space and time, which we would not know how to fill. Let us make it our task, then, to think well: here is the principle of morality.”

It’s relevant to what I wrote yesterday, how it is thought, awareness,

I write this, yet even in the hours since I wrote yesterday, I have felt the tingling allure of instinct alone. There’s a rawness that is seductive. It is in thrall to age-old reflex and knowledge that feels pure at times: I feel, and I do as I feel.

In times like these, part of it is that it seems unfiltered, uncensored, and therefore more untainted and honest. There’s a physical form to it, at least my experience of it – though I am a sensualist. I can feel it in my bones and muscles, in the stretch and exertion, the strength and bounce, the latent power in me that, in the end, goes beyond the body.

There’ve been occasions that I’ve felt as if I should return to that self – to the animal inside me. When you’re as thought-addled as I am, something as simple as just being can be intoxicating. And on those occasions, I recall the sense of living – being – within my sensations, shining with my pure self and feeling it all the way to my pits.

I always used to say that my life was ruled by a combination of ascetic thought and excessive indulgence, and it would take turns.

What Lawrence wrote of in his book was not addressed directly to that excess (though I think he knew it well), but rather to the pathway to it. The Australians he wrote of possessed the shining health of working beasts – uncomplicated, casually indifferent, possessed of an easy strength, and without the burden of history. That was then perhaps, and explains why in that war and the one that came after the Anzacs were such good soldiers (I am reading a book of Australian war correspondence currently, which is why this analog comes to mind). It seems to me the characters in his book were an extension of the diggers in the trenches – happy warriors with a ruthless, intimidating edge.

Not all of that is true any longer. Nor is there much use for such a character these days. This returns us to what Pascal said and what he claimed as the basis of morality: thought. It’s thought that elevates us beyond the beast of burden; it’s thought that makes a world for us, now and into the future.

To give way to instinct and passion is tempting, but it’s the thinking man this country needs now – as many other countries do also.

Reflections on a rainy Saturday afternoon

It’s Saturday, and I’ve been for my long walk with Cheeseboy and the dogs, and Rigby has had his swim. A steamy morning has become a wet afternoon, ideal for taking it easy and relaxing with an old movie. That’s what I’ve done.

The movie is not so old – 1986 – but it’s a movie I’ve been thinking about watching since I discovered it on Prime a month or so again. It’s an Australian movie – Kangaroo.

I think I’d seen the movie before, in the nineties perhaps, but it’s the book I remembered better. It’s perhaps one of D. H. Lawrence’s less known works, however, it’s an interesting novel, especially for an Australian reading about his country through the eyes of a famous English novelist. When did I read it? I’m not sure. The mid-eighties, maybe. I can picture the paperback in my mind – I have it somewhere – an old Penguin edition in white.

I read the book with the fascination of a young Australian male wanting to discover something of the identity I belonged to. Much of the history I knew – Sydney in the years after WW1 – we had studied it at high school. I knew about the New Guard, which is reflected in this piece, knew of the history to come in a period after the novel – de Groot slashing at the ribbon on the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the colossal figure of Jack Lang, the premier of NSW when the depression came along.

I read it with the fervour of a young man wanting to soak up and learn as much as I could. This was an era when I also read many of the existentialist novelists like Sartre and Camus when I searched through the words and works of great authors for something I could believe in. Kangaroo was more personal because it spoke to the place I had come from.

There was much I recognised in the novel, though not all of it pleased me. It’s in the movie, too, though with less articulation and none of Lawrences’ intense mental ramblings.

The book’s main character is Richard Somers, transparently a proxy for Lawrence himself – a controversial writer with a German wife who exiles himself from England, coming to Australia for a new start. All this Lawrence did also. In the book, Somers encounters a neo-fascist organisation of ex-diggers led by a charismatic former general code-named Kangaroo.

They seek to draw him in. They intend to re-make Australia, do away with the unions and the socialists, and make a world something loosely based on mateship and sacrifice.

There is something in Somers that is drawn towards this. Kangaroo demands love from him, and there’s something seductive in such an entreaty. In the end, he can’t, as we know he cannot, and nor does he join forces with the union movement on the other side. Ultimately he departs the land.

The politics of this I found less interesting than the human elements. The world at that time was rife with such movements – fascists in Germany and Italy and other places doing battle against socialism and those who had betrayed them. There was the New Guard in Australia, though it never amounted to much; the spin on it in this version is that it was based on brotherly love.

More interesting to me was the coming together of Somers with his Australian neighbours. He rejects the country on an intellectual level but is drawn to it sensually by fascination and desire. It’s the vitality that captures him, a sun-bronzed physicality that is essentially practical; a sensual, unassuming masculinity. Like many who live in their mind, he is attracted by those who act – and the Australian men he portrays in this are all of that type. They’re canny, robust characters with blunt natures, though capable of sophistry. To do comes easily to them, to act and be, even if it comes down to violence. They are raw spirits, as seen through his cultivated eyes. (Jack Calcott, as played very well by John Walton in the movie, embodies this).

Reading all those years ago, I recognised the type, and it made for a conflict in me. Much is admirable in that character, and it’s a character the world has come to love – easy and amiable. It’s what is lacking from it that dismayed me.

I share some of those attributes being an Australian, and I’m glad of many of them – the directness and honesty, the casual masculinity, I think. But, very clearly, I’m someone for whom the life of the mind is precious.

It’s all very well to be peopled by men of action, but it’s the thinkers that take us forward. It’s what fails Somers in the end – there needs to be more to it than this. We need more than instinct – there needs must be thought and reflection also, and imagination. I read it back in the eighties and recognised then the suspicion of anything fancy or intellectual – as if they were a bit dodgy, a bit soft.

We have moved on from then, and it’s not as pronounced now perhaps, but it still dismays. How I wish we had an intellectually curious culture like France or Germany. I’d love for us to engage with ideas and make the discussion of them a public affair. I yearn for that personally, and I believe it’s what we need as a nation at a cultural and intellectual level.

This movie triggered me for those reasons, but mostly because it got me thinking of our government. It has been a deliberate ploy from the day that Howard assumed power in 1997 to discourage that kind of curiosity. I think John Howard, a very stiff and proper type, felt uncomfortable with such things, but there were also excellent political reasons for it.

If people don’t think they won’t question. If we pander to their appetites and speak in their language, they won’t stir to make trouble. If we give them someone to vent their fear and hostility against, they won’t turn it on us.

With this current government, we have reached the apogee of this. It feels like a betrayal of what we could be and should be, and Morrison ultimately a subversive who is prepared to pander to our baser selves to the detriment of our cultural soul. He cares nothing for that, perhaps because he is without qualities himself – a shallow, opportunistic man who seeks only power, not justice. Like many, like Cheeseboy today, I hate him. I hate him because he is mediocre and selfish and without a skerrick of true patriotism.

I hate him because he is deliberately anti-intellectual and is happy to mock such pretensions as if they were unworthy. He plays to the simple mentality, and it suits him if we aspire to nothing more ambitious or worthy than a comfortable living. Our leader should be seeking to elevate us, as a nation and as a people, but such a nation would have nothing of such a superficial nonentity as him (and much of his party), and so instead, he manipulates opinion to his own ends. He is deplorable, as so many recently have been.

We deserve better leaders than this. We deserve to think and wonder for ourselves. We deserve to live in a country enlarged by possibility and the excitement of becoming more as a people. A true leader would encourage us to become bigger, not smaller.

I think ultimately, the likes of Morrison will be found out. I think we live in a time when many established attitudes are being challenged and turned on their head, despite the likes of Morrison. Bit by bit, old ways of being and thinking are being chipped away at, as they must be. We live in a time when leadership has come from below because there’s such a lack of it at the top.

As an Australian and someone who always wanted to be proudly known as an Australian, I hope this movement catches here as well, as there are signs that it will. In the end, we need the leadership from above to seize the moment to allow for all of us to be better. Right now, that’s just hope, but I live for it.

Funny, I started off writing about an old book and movie and turned it into a diatribe. Everything is political these days.

On the other side

There’s nothing like visiting a hospital to make you grateful for your good health. Sure, we grizzle occasionally about the inconveniences of aching bones or a dodgy back or even a persistent sniffle or a stomach bug. Still, they’re small beer, you realise once you walk the antiseptic corridors of a general hospital, and you see the old and frail, the bent and failing, the patients in walking chairs or with tubes in their nose or coming from their body. To see people made feeble by illness is a levelling experience, and no more so than when you realise for many that this is the terminal stage, and it’s never going to get any better than that.

It’s at once both very humbling but also very scary. There but for the grace of God, you think, not knowing whether this might be in your future also. And you leave the hospital gasping in the fresh air, grateful to be healthy, no matter those inconveniences, grateful to be able to walk in the sunshine unaided and to see friends and live life unfettered by ill health. For a while, you remember, and then it slips from your mind.

I think it’s similar when it comes to mental health, though it’s normally not so clear.

I have complained in recent times, and in recent times have felt myself withdrawn and put upon occasionally and enshrouded in gloom I didn’t want to believe in. I battled at it as if caught in a net and tried in characteristic fashion to think my way out of it – as if the spirit could be healed by the intellect. When you’re in the middle of these episodes, it feels quite difficult, but I understand with perspective that these are inconveniences of the spirit. I am waylaid, but I am healthy. Others are not so lucky.

All this comes to mind because a friend of mine is struggling, and I fear for his future. He’s always been prone to these things. He’s as smart as they come and can be totally charming when he’s up and about and occasionally a total boor. He’s sensitive by nature, which I always think of as a gift bestowed upon us, but it’s a gift with inherent risk. It opens up a door in us through which heightened experience and insight may enter, but on the far side of those is the shadow that can be debilitating – doubt and despair and withering disappointment.

My friend is one of those who can be up and buoyant and occasionally manic, but also almost immobilised by melancholy. When he’s like that, I worry that he won’t look after himself as he should. He becomes apathetic and listless. His thoughts are morose and pessimistic.

He’s got health issues now, which require discipline from him, but I doubt he cares enough to make the necessary effort. When I last spoke to him – he’s interstate – he basically shrugged his shoulders, and he had cancelled on something we discussed he needed to do.

I feel some responsibility for him, maybe because I think I know him better than anyone. And because I know I can help.

My issues seem trivial alongside his, and my perspective is shifted.

I realise that while there are things I need to overcome, they don’t threaten my existence – far from it. I realise how resilient I am and remember the storms I have weathered. I know that no matter how bad things appear, there’s a part of me that will remain true and strong. I’m not made for that terminal failure because I have a bedrock of self-discipline mixed in with self-belief and a perverse pig-headedness.

I might indulge in lairy risk from time to time because it’s fun, but there’s something measured at the heart of me. I’ll do the right thing because it’s my nature, and it seems something that others have recognised in me for many years. I’m seen as reliable, steadfast, trustworthy

And strong. I can be strong for me, but I want to be strong for him now also. Right now, all that constitutes is touching base with him regularly and remaining bright and positive. Nothing negative, no judgement, everything encouraging. And it means opening up and engaging with my true self. He needs to know that he’s loved and that life is a gift that needs to be embraced. I’ll be there when he comes around and knows it for himself.

A royal shitshow

God knows I could care less about the Royal family. Nothing against them personally, but I’m an ardent republican, and just the idea of inherited privilege is obscene to me. Plus, the incessant publicity and general fawning over their every move is tiresome. Good on ’em, but I have no more interest in their weddings, their children, their travels, their prognostications than I do any other family, and the commentary on them is even worse.

Then there’s the gossip, which is constant and has now become a very big thing. I have to admit some passing curiosity this time – much the same as if overhearing some tawdry tale down the pub.

I’m not going to go into the details because I couldn’t be bothered, and you’d have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the latest. If you’re reading this in some far-flung future, Google it. (Let me know if this leads to the long-awaited Australian republic).
Basically, Harry and Meghan had their royal version of Brexit, what – about 18 months ago? – and have been living in California ever since. Relations have been strained since, and innuendo, as ever, swirling around. Now they’ve come out swinging in an interview with Oprah, the most controversial accusing some royals of racism.

I’m a sceptic by nature, and it’s rare I take anything at face value. If someone proclaims something, I’ll generally take it as opinion, or perhaps conjecture, and very rarely as fact. In this case, one party have made a claim, and I’ll reserve judgement until the other party responds with any substance.

My gut feel is to be dubious. I suspect that half-truths and spin rule the day. Things probably happened in some form, but not necessarily as described or as insidious. And really, it’s a lot of very entitled people grizzling about other entitled people. There’s not a lot of self-awareness or humility on display.

Though I’m not a fan of the royal institution, it’s bloody hard avoiding the royal family. As an Aussie, I’ve pretty well grown up with them. It would be practically impossible not to have an opinion on them personally, and overall the opinion would be positive.

I don’t think there should be a Queen, and certainly not one that rules over Australia as well – but I can’t help but admire the queen. I think she’s a very decent and public-spirited person, and I suspect a quirky sense of humour. Prince Phillip is a bit of a cracker but pretty harmless. Prince Charles, likewise, perhaps a bit of a duffer but well-intentioned. His son, Prince William, seems another of the same ilk, decent, well-intentioned, well mannered, and self-sacrificing. The less said about Prince Andrew, the better, and then there’s Harry.

I always liked Harry. He had a bit of a spark about him. I reckoned I could have a beer with him. Good on him for escaping the clutches of duty and obligation. You can’t blame him for that – but you can’t have it both ways. At this moment, I think of him as a bit of a naive dope.

This brings us to Meghan, his wife. In my observation, she’s struggled to be popular right from the get-go. That probably comes from being a bit of an outsider to the whole royal biz – American, an actress, and not one of the standard landed gentry they roll out to marry off to royal personages.

I’m never one to join the clamour. I’m more inclined by principal to be out of step – it suits my temperament, and I think you’re more likely to be on the side of right. And I wasn’t interested in having an opinion.

I still couldn’t care less, really, but I have to confess that I never warmed to Meghan. It’s certainly not because of any royal bias – there’s something about her that leaves me cold. It could be just her way, but – excepting a few occasions – she’s never come across to me as someone particularly sincere or genuine.

I’m embarrassed to write that in a way. I don’t want to be one of the crowd agin her – and there are a lot violently agin her. If it were not for the royal circumstances and the family she married into, it wouldn’t matter at all. People are all sorts, but not all of us are in the public eye.

I trust some version of the truth will come out eventually. I doubt there’s any real racism in the royal family. I suspect it’s more of a case of verbal clumsiness, but I don’t know. In general, I believe the royal family are decent, but I accept the establishment can be hostile and unforgiving. I do not doubt that Meghan suffered their snootiness and resentment on occasion, not to mention having to contend with a feral press.

In short, there’s been a definite shitshow, and I reckon that Harry and Meghan have some genuine grievances. But I also believe that they haven’t helped themselves much and probably exaggerated the worst of it. And I think it’s pretty poor form to air your dirty laundry on national TV like this, though it’s also very modern. I don’t know what purpose it serves except that it is self-serving, and it’s hardly dignified. And I think it’s poor to make strident allegations when the alleged perpetrators are constrained in their ability to defend themselves – not to mention hypocritical to say so much without giving the detail that might prove it. Basically, it’s flinging mud.

I’ll keep an eye on what happens now, but it seems to me that Harry and Meghan have the life they want now – what more is it they’re after?

Back writing

Last week was busy with birthday celebrations and appointments, and it was all fine except that I don’t like to squeeze so much into such a short timeframe. It was different before. There was a time I’d be out two or three nights a week, plus whatever I got up to on the weekend. I was younger than and life was different generally, and one advantage I had that mostly I would go from work to whatever social escapade I had planned – drinks or dinner, with someone I knew, or on a speculative date.

It’s the nature of my life now that it will become quiet again for the next 10 days or so. It would be better to spread the festivities more evenly, but in winter we sow and in summer we harvest.

Yesterday was the Labour day holiday, so at least I had the occasion to catch-up after days full of movement and excess. Yesterday I watched an old TV program on YouTube – The Invaders – and had a nap in the afternoon listening to Richter’s take on the Four Seasons. Later in the day, I wrote.

There was a patch of about 3 months I got out of the habit of writing. I lost the groove and felt barren of inspiration or even the basic capacity to put words together in any pleasing combination. Interestingly, it seemed not to affect my writing here.

About three weeks ago, it came back to me. It was a Thursday night, and as I was reading, I found imagery coming to me and the words to describe it, all related to the book I’m writing now. I know how well these things are lost, so I set aside my book and noted them down. Since then, I’ve got back into a pattern of writing, and it feels both less complicated and quite satisfactory.

I could credit this turnaround to many things. It was bound to turn, and I knew that all along. I pushed at it, but I also told myself to be patient – you don’t lose it, it’s just that sometimes it goes on vacation.

Helping it to return was the correspondence I had with a friend’s mother. I think I mentioned how she discovered how I wrote and wanted to read something? Well. she read my first book in about a week and was full of it. She told me how I must get it published and good it was and how much she liked the style, and so on. It was gratifying, but while I don’t dismiss such commentary, I hold myself to a higher standard. I don’t want something merely good enough to publish – even if she thinks it’s much better than that. It has to measure up to what I expect of it, which is nothing to do with its commercial prospects.

Still, just the to and fro in answering her questions and responding to her exuberance. was enough to get my creative juices flowing again. I began to think of the book I’m working on now, the second book, and where I was stuck – about a third of the way into the second draft. That’s when it returned to me.

I’ve been writing since and relatively pleased with the output. On Sunday, I had lunch with the boys. At one point, we each said what we’d do if we had enough money to get by without seriously working. One said he’d set-up a men’s shed. Another said he’d get into fashion. The third said he’d like to get into dancing (which was mind-blowing – he’s never shown much interest or aptitude in it previously). They all assumed for me that it would be writing, which was pretty correct.

Once more, I was urged to get something published. I figure I’ll get around to that when I get this book finished – though it’s not nearly as simple a matter as that.

Exalting in experience

As I don’t really have a close family, I don’t get gifts for my birthday, and there are no family get-together’s as there were in the old days. The only birthday present I reliably get is from Donna because she’s a birthday head. At my age, I’m not over-fussed about getting presents, and experiences mean much more to me – they’re the things that stay with you long after conventional gifts wear out or fade away.

This year the gift I got from was an experience.

We met in North Melbourne Thursday night, just around the corner from where I lived about 13 years ago. She was caught in traffic, and so I sat in the restaurant chatting to the middle-aged waiter while I waited.

It was an Italian restaurant I’d been to before, but my memory tantalised – I couldn’t remember when it was or who I ate with. How long have you been here? I asked him. Fourteen years, he said. I figured I was there last about 10 years ago, though perhaps it was before that. It annoyed me that I couldn’t remember. Almost certainly, I was there with a woman.

I was drinking a Vermouth Spritz when Donna arrived. It’s her birthday next week, and so we exchanged cards. Both of us write more than the conventional birthday wish, and so we each took the time to read the birthday prognostications of the other. We had a share plate for entree then pasta for main. We got out of there about 8.20, later than we should have – dessert came late.

Guided by the GPS, we made our way to the next stage of our journey, a mystery location in West Melbourne. We were due at 8.30, but the GPS played silly buggers and took us somewhere different. By the time we made it, we were about 6-7 minutes late.

We were ushered into a nondescript building in the industrial backstreets off Dynon Road. We were led upstairs by an usher who urged us to remain quiet. We could hear the music coming closer, the graceful strings of violin and cello.

We were made to pause at the top of the stairs, pending a break in the performance. We looked across the crowd to a dais lit by electronic candles on which a string quartet was playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. This was Donna’s gift to me.

As a movement ended, the crowd applauded, and we were led to our seats just off to the side of the stage. The music began again. Autumn. There was something exalted about it as if it came from a different plane. We were in a broad space – a reception centre normally – with the rustic feel of a country barn. Exposed wooden beams crisscrossed the ceiling, lit by the shimmering light of the candles. The quartet – all of them young, elegantly dressed Asian women played the evocative music of Vivaldi.

Everyone knows the Four Seasons, even if they don’t know they know it. It has become a part of popular culture, heard everywhere from commercials to soundtracks. All of it is memorable.

In the breaks between movements, the cello player would describe the scene to us, whether it be Autumn, Winter, Spring or Summer. A picture was sketched for you, which was then painted in by the music. You see it and feel it.

I fell to wondering about Vivaldi as I listened. I imagined him in his long-ago time composing the piece, a time before anyone had yet heard it. I wondered how he conjured the notes out of thin air and then imagined him playing on his violin, experimenting with it, wondering where it should go next. Then, one day, it as done – and into the world, it went, and somewhere, some time, the first performance of it – lauded, I imagine, and acclaimed. The beginning of it, and here we were, in the upstairs of a remote building in faraway Melbourne in a time much distant and Vivaldi long gone.

So much of the piece is vibrant and familiar, and in a setting like that, it etches itself across your memory. My favourite part is Winter, perhaps the moodiest movement of the concerto. It insinuates itself into your mind. I was sitting there on a hard dining chair, surrounded by people from all walks of life silently beholding in the most unlikely of venues, the candles flickering and the musicians bent to their instruments.

It felt like life, tenderness and beauty and unfettered mystery and infinite possibility. This has been true always. It’s what inspired Vivaldi and draws us an audience to him and to others. It’s there now, but we only come to sense it occasionally, the sublime.

It was a great gift and a memory that will abide – even, in years to come, when we laugh about getting lost. These are the things you live for.