Family relations

I caught up with my younger nephew for lunch last week. I’d seen him a couple of months before when we went to the footy together, and in the time between he seems to have grown more. He’s 16 and about 6’3”, with the frame of someone who will grow a few more inches yet and fill out into a powerful physique. Right now he is very lean, as I was his age, and in fact everyone says he looks like me, though I don’t see it completely. He’s a lovely, gentle, sensitive kid, but he’s also had issues with his self-confidence.

We’ve always been close. I love his sensitivity, which is a greatly under-appreciated quality. I guess I appreciate having someone to care about too, and want to guide and support him as much as I can.

I’m an important person for him, I think. His father died a few years ago, but even before that he was absent, living in England. There are no male figures in his life but me, and at times it’s been hard for him without someone to lean on. He basks in my affection, and draws strength from it. I am family, but remote and disaffected from his mother, and it would be simple for me to fade away – not that I ever would. That I choose to remain in contact and speak intimately with him is a form of reassurance, proof that I see something in him worthy of love.

We had a pizza each in the Emporium, my shout, while I asked him questions about school and what he wants to do next, his friends and potential love interests. He was quite open with me, I think because these are conversations he can’t – or won’t – have with anyone else. I skirted any questions relating to his mother or grandfather, not really interested in any case, while in reply he asked questions of me about work, and what I wanted to be when I was growing up. Afterwards we went for a walk.

It felt strange in a way. He will grow into an impressive looking man, and even now he’s well ahead of the curve – Donna says she sees my nephews much as she did William and Harry growing up (my other nephew is tall and good looking also, though less so, and has done some casual modelling). He is taller than me now, though I’m still much the bigger, and beside him grizzled, and even wise. I feel older about him, and remember that the years are ticking. I realise how it must be as a parent and the feeling of passing things on. There’s no sense of loss in that, rather extending something which you already possess.

That night, or the night after, I dreamt of his mother. It’s been a year since I’ve spoken to my sister, and haven’t missed her at all. We always had a difficult relationship, and after we broke I acknowledged that I had never liked her. It was her doing – she took offence at an honest answer I gave to a question from her. She said she wanted an honest answer, but really what she wanted was an answer that confirmed what she hoped for. I had done that in the months before, but when I failed to on this occasion she took offence. She sent a bunch of very nasty SMS to me, and that was that. I haven’t missed dealing with her difficult personality.

I hadn’t dreamt of her once either, which was significant. I missed the kids, but she was out of sight and out of mind. Meeting with my nephew brought her back to me, though the dream was innocuous.

Then yesterday I returned home from work to find an interesting envelope in my letter box. Mail has become relatively rare these days, and personal mail almost non-existent. The envelope was coloured and across the front of it in fancy ink and script was my name and address. I opened it inside the house and found in it an invitation my aunties 70th birthday in December.

I’ll go, and I’ll be happy to go, and look forward in particular to see my cousins. But it also means that I’ll encounter my sister. I suppose it had to happen sometime, but really I would have been happy to put it off permanently. I’ll be civil and polite, I’ll happily break bread with her, but no more than that. There are family things I have been excluded from, and I’ve had to make separate arrangements in its stead. I’m not someone who holds grudges, but nor am I someone who will sweep things under the carpet. Even if my sister knows she has done wrong there is zero possibility of her apologising, or even admitting to it – my sister is one of those people who have never been wrong. Under those circumstances I am unwilling to return to a phony and convenient family arrangement.

It should be an interesting night, but I’ll have Donna there to lend support.


So maybe I’m paranoid, but I don’t like being watched

I’ve just got to put on record my disagreement with the government’s request to access every drivers licence photo and ID from the states. For me it’s another step down the path towards a surveillance state. The justification put forward is obvious – to safeguard us from undesirable characters and prevent terrorist attack. To do that means that we, the citizens, will be subjected to real time facial scanning. There are many who think that’s a small price to pay, including every state government, who have rolled over on this meekly.

Me, I hate the idea of being tracked. I don’t want my face being scanned over and over again as I go about my business. It’s an infringement of my civil liberties to start with, but the practical implications are pretty scary too. The government in the past has made a big song and dance about keeping such details secure, but information has been leaked, and details shared with other government agencies. What happens when this stuff gets hacked? Where is the line drawn – who will have access to this information?

Ultimately there is an existential threat as well. Nearly 30 years ago there was an uproar when the government tried to implement the Australia Card – an ID card. That was a step too far for civil libertarians, and most of the public agreed. The idea was scrapped. Thirsty years on we’ve gone far beyond a simple, dumb ID card. With CCTV on every corner, government access to our metadata, and now this, our personal privacy has been reduced to the size of a postage stamp (not to mention Google, Facebook, tracking, etc). To a degree some of this is unavoidable, but it should be minimised.

This is how it happens. It becomes a domino effect. Once you relinquish that first right the others become further threatened. One after another you lose these things, small things often, but in totality they add up to a lot. That is what we are facing now. Once we have relinquished something we have lost it forever. Where does it end? At what point will we be asked to produce ID on the streets – as only a couple of years ago Abbott’s Border Force did on the streets of Melbourne?

We have given the government the tools to monitor and control us. In the hands of a benign government there should be little to fear, but should we degenerate into an autocratic state then there is every reason to fear that what has been wrought supposedly to defend us, will instead be used against us. In this day and age, who can guarantee that won’t happen?

Expanding and contracting

One of the many things that confound me today is the apparent need for so many to say anything just to be saying something. What I’m referring to is the trivial, pointless and occasionally childish intercourse between people who might in another circumstance know better. It’s most prolific on the internet, and particularly in internet forums, where contributors dash off a line or two between thinking and encourage others in so doing. It’s a strange, mental regression which I have little patience with. Words are precious, why waste them? Who hasn’t had to wade through pages of nonsense that might have seemed clever at the time, but in retrospect is nothing more than inane? The jewels, the hard information and genuine wit are sparse and deeply buried.

I am pre-disposed to such an opinion. By disposition, I’m more laconic than most and have become more so as the years pass by. I haven’t always been completely so, and understand the tendency to be garrulous sometimes. When you’re younger, when you’re exposed to the full scope of life for the first time, it bubbles over in you and demands urgent expression. I get that, and there is something endearing about it, but my experience is that it pales over time, and in my case at least, leads one to more sardonic ways.

In saying this I run the risk of sounding like a curmudgeonly old man, which I can’t rule out. I grew up being told that if you don’t have anything worth saying then don’t say anything. I haven’t always abided by that, but on the occasions I haven’t I generally regretted it not long after. I always knew when I was being stupid, and it caused no end of disappointment. These days if I err, it’s on the side of silence – except when I get grumpy, when I can be very profuse and eloquent, and occasionally profane (and which is enjoyable).

I’m aware also that in crucial ways I am different from most people. I’ve never sought the kind of acknowledgement that some conversation invites. I have no need of validation, and if someone agrees or disagrees is, in general, a matter of indifference. Of course it’s a different story with people close to me, but to the world, in general, it’s very true.

What it boils down to is that I have no need to say anything unless to request something, share something meaningful, express an opinion I think worthwhile – or to be courteous. Perhaps I can add to that the need often simply to get something external from the internal, but little of that is nonsense. You might argue, but most of this blog falls into that category.

This becomes relevant not just as a general observation, which is what prompted this post, but also in my recent decision to be ‘more charming’.

That decision was based on the notion of taking things down a notch or two, but after writing it last week I had to stop to think what it actually meant, and then my personal history with it.

Firstly, my personal definition of being charming equated to not much more than being more expansive. I can be clipped, and am known to be direct. There are occasions when I change that up, but that’s generally limited to my friends, or when I’ve found someone to flirt with. As much as anything I found I had no interest in being charming anymore. Whose opinion was so important that it mattered? Too few.

Yet I have made a decision to let things go and chill more and to indulge in whimsy and charm. For me, that’s no more than being expansive – speaking aloud the things that I might otherwise simply think.

There was an example the other day when I was telling a colleague in a different department how I was the sole remaining member of the group I had been part of. I told her that I was like the last of the Beatles, likening myself to Ringo Starr, though much preferring to be John because he was much cooler, but not an option now that he has so long departed. It came out naturally and she looked at me and laughed.

There was a time when I was like that all the time, and a thousand times over. It was when I was younger and discovering the myriad delights of being a young, intelligent, curious, healthy and virile male. How good was this? I could go on all day, riffing – quite eloquently, I think – about anything that came to mind. I had recently discovered the beauty of words and my mouth was full of them, and I used them well. It got so that people around me would smile and laugh, and lead some to suggest I should be on the radio, or even have my own TV show.

Looking back now it seems a novelty that wore off by the time I was 30. I still had the words, but the wonder faded, life happened, and I became less inclined to share – to be expansive. With that the open personality I was slowly closed, though never completely. Though I was wary of showing it, I was a sensitive soul who believed in vulnerability – it’s where life flourishes. I grew harder though too, more measured and less spontaneous. Occasionally I would indulge in those larks showing off how clever I was, but less frequently, and when I did it was entirely for my own benefit. It was rare I sought to impress anyone unless I was attracted to her. (And for balance, my personality was sufficiently bright to be compared to George Clooney just a few years ago).

That’s how it has become, compacted, I imagine, by years of struggle and strain. I’m tough as old leather and I think give something of that out. I’m respected and maybe even admired, but not understood (there are people I work with who think me a lovely, kind person, it must be said). I banter, sometimes I tease, but end of day I’m a set of eyes that miss little and say little besides something to the point or some throwaway wit.

I think it will be good for me to be more expansive. It’s probably what I need. It brings colour back into my self – but I’m never going to say something just to be heard. If I have so many words in my life then they must have value, and if not value, then wit. That’ll do me.

Our time travels with us

I was reading a review before of a book I’d like to read. Other Men’s Daughters is a re-release of a novel originally written in 1974 by one Richard Stern. It was controversial then, but praised for the quality of the writing. In the review, it is presented as an intelligent and insightful piece of work.

Stern died, aged 84, a few years ago. This little tidbit is casually reported in the review, but to me, reading seems most relevant. I have not read the novel, but in reading the review of it the novel seemed true to another time, now past. It’s not that the themes were no longer relevant – stories such as this continue in life. Rather it focussed on something in such a way that is no longer true to this time. Perhaps more serious than others, the book appeared a part of the Roth and Updike style of writing about relationships and sex. What were probing questions then now appear settled or discarded arguments.

Updike in recent years has been decried by some contemporary critics, with the inference being that his writing about sex was archaic, juvenile and even sexist. The new guys know better. And Roth has given up writing altogether. Needless to say, I am a great admirer of Updike’s stories (not so much his novels), which are beautiful things; and have read most of Roth’s oeuvre, and think him a master. Literature should be timeless, but clearly, there are trends that come and go, and times – and mores – that are described, then lapse. Is it just me, but are Updike and Roth old-fashioned now? Could there be an Updike or Roth – or indeed a Stern – these days?

I wondered this as I read the review, doubting that such a book would be written now, or even if anyone would be much interested in it now if it were – except, perhaps, to question and vilify any uncomfortable aspects of political incorrectness.

At the back of my mind is Tom Petty. Tom Petty died yesterday at age 66. He is another of those artists I grew up listening to. He is another thread from the soundtrack of my life, unravelled. And in fact, his era had passed too, though he still recorded and toured. He was mainstream once, though still critically acclaimed, his music was no longer part of the rotation, and his name no longer resonant.

It seems to me that as we pass through time we carry our own time with us. We learn to look a bit differently perhaps, our eyes take on new lens, but by and large, our perspective remains as it was when it was formed – in my argument, through our late teens and early twenties. It’s the burgeoning stage of our life full of discovery, sensation and rugged education. It can be modified, refined, it may even mellow, and rarely it may be inverted – but it is the same thing in different ways.

What it means for people like me is that I can look upon many things today and find myself weighing them against things I knew before. Nothing is entirely fresh because it is another representation of what I have known before, though the comparison is often puzzling. It means that the things that were important to you before remain true in you, even if they are no longer in vogue. Very little becomes irrelevant with the passing of time, regardless of what some critics would tell you.

That’s why a book like this resonates with me, because it was true when I was made. That’s why Tom Petty means something, never mind he hardly gets played anymore. None of this makes me old-fashioned or retro, it simply means I can see things from more than one angle, and with a lifetime of context.

Well done, Tiges

So, Richmond did it. In hindsight, it seems it was inevitable. I even had that feeling last week, my head was saying the Crows were the better team, but the Tigers might be irresistible. And that’s pretty well how it turned out.

My reservations about Adelaide proved to be spot on to. Richmond stifled them, closing down their run and creativity. That was always going to be the crux of the contest, but there was a strong school of thought that the Crows skill and precision would overcome that. That was wrong.

Richmond turned it into a first-half arm wrestle, and that’s the one game style the Crows can’t play. They either win – handsomely – playing their style, or more rarely lose – comfortably – when it fails. They’re incapable of grinding out a victory, and so Richmond turned it into a grind.

I’ll get to Richmond, but I have to say that Adelaide was pathetic. There have been some one-sided grand final wins, but few losses have been as insipid as the Crows. They barely gave a yelp. They didn’t try anything, they didn’t fight back. They played without any physical presence and good players few and far between – and most of their big name players very poor.

To some degree that’s a failure of coaching. I think Pyke is a very clever coach, but he’s predominantly cerebral, if not scientific. When the science breaks down he seems at a loss. There appears no plan B, and no inspiration – surely when the game is slipping away you’d try something different? There’s no tomorrow: try something.

It’s true to some degree of the players too. I found their inaction and lack of initiative frustrating. Back in the day, someone would have turned around to start a fight, and there’s great value in it. To start with it shows an intent sadly lacking. Secondly, it’s an opportunity to disturb the pattern of the game and get some momentum. Finally, it might fire up the team.

There was very little on-field leadership, and when I heard that Crows players were arguing amongst themselves at halftime I knew it was pretty well game over. This game was over a long away before the end, even when the scores were closer.

As for Richmond, they played like men on a mission. It’s how they’ve played the whole final series. They carried the momentum from the previous finals and crushed the Crows with it. It was a hugely committed, disciplined effort. They hungered for it so much more.

As I said the other day, this is a great testament to Dimma. I was so happy for him. He’s a genuinely nice bloke but has been underrated when in fact he is very shrewd. This his reward for persistence and intelligence.

It was late in the game I realised I was barracking for Richmond. They deserved it, and that counts for so much for me. Footy is a game of effort as much as skill. Then I saw Benny Gale – a lovely, very smart bloke – in tears I was so happy for them. There is romance I sport, and this was a win for the romantics.

It reminded me of a truth I had overlooked. I was happy for Adelaide to win because they were inoffensive to me. I have a much greater emotional connection to the Tiges though because I have grown up with them in the comp, have been rivals with them and often times jousted with their rowdy supporters. There are limits to the connection. I have a similar history with other traditional clubs, but it doesn’t translate to support. Richmond is a big club, but I’ve never hated them – maybe it’s because they wore a sash too, or because they were never really a threat. But I dislike Collingwood, despise Carlton, and hate Hawthorn, and could never in a month of Sunday’s barrack for them.

Well done Tiges, you’ve made a lot of people happy.

Tiger versus Crow

I’ve got the TV on in the background tuned to one of the footy stations taking in the pre-game. It’s Grand Final day, a big day in Melbourne, and this is just the start of it. I’ll be out later to suck on a beer or two and watch it with some friends. In the meantime, I’m happy to soak up the growing vibe in bayside Hampton, and I’ll be particularly interested in watching some of the TAC stars go round – tomorrow’s champions.

I’m tipping Adelaide today in the big one, and though it’s only by a slim margin, I hope they win too.

Adelaide should be a clearer favourite, but like many I’m wary of what Richmond can do. If the final was decided over best of three then I reckon the Crows would take it 2-1. When it’s just a single match anything can happen.

Adelaide have been the best team all year. At one stage I had some minor queries about them, thinking they were possibly frontrunners. They’d been in few close matches and lost them. Like a lot of South Australian teams of the past, they were free-flowing, fast and skilfull, but I wondered if they had the resilience to respond when challenged. Then they came back from being 50 points down against Collingwood to draw. It was a great effort, but didn’t completely answer the question – when you’re down that much you’ve left with no option but to go for it, which is very different from scrapping out a narrow victory. I still wonder a little bit, and favour Richmond if it becomes an arm wrestle, but overall think Adelaide are too good to let it become that.

The Crows gave us our biggest pasting of the year in Adelaide, but it was the return match in Melbourne that left me convinced they were the best team in it. We surged and surged again in that game, but each time Adelaide pulled away with slick and efficient footy. That’s the word that best describes them for me. They can play some dynamic, exciting footy, but above all they are efficient. With the forward line they have, that efficiency is generally sufficient to convert into a good win.

There’s no gainsaying the Tigers, though. They improved throughout the year. They’ve got probably the two best players on the field, but they don’t bat nearly as deep as the Crows. As I wrote last week their success is a testament to a playing style that capitalises on team strengths. They are ferocious around the ball and quick with ball in hand. They play disciplined footy, but I suspect their comparative inefficiency to cost them.

In everyone’s books, they’re a great story. For most of the year, I’ve sat across from a hard-core Richmond fan, and each Monday been made to endure his stories of how the Tiges have changed, and how well they’re doing. Early on he spoke with hope but lacked conviction. Then, as Richmond passed most tests, his belief grew in accord with the respect the football world slowly gave them. For so many years a joke and a disappointment, Richmond was finally being respected.

For me, their coach has to take much of the credit. I’ve always thought Hardwick underrated. He’s a raw sort of character who wears his heart on his sleeve, often with a rueful smile. He’s been there through the ups and downs and copped some blame for that – much of which he accepts. I’ve always been of the view that it’s been the recruiters who let Richmond down, not the coach. He took teams to finals who weren’t good enough to win them, but in truth weren’t really good enough to make it there in the first place. He took what he was given and moulded it into a unit better than its individual parts.

The mistake he made was dropping his original game style and trying to adopt the style so successfully played by Hawthorn. He didn’t have the players to do it though, and Richmond became a stultified team without energy. It’s only now that he has radically changed styles again that the team has leapt forward. He’s embraced the shortcomings of the list and made something unique out of it – even now, today, I would suggest that for talent Richmond is in the 5-7 range, the difference has been coaching.

If Richmond is to win then I’d be happy for Dimma. He was a great defender for my team and premiership player twice over. He was one of my favourite players back in the day because he was such an uncompromising – and occasionally brutal – footballer. He seems like an affable character off-field that it’s easy to forget he was one of the toughest in a very tough team. I’m happy for him.

I certainly don’t count Richmond out today. They’ve got momentum, and momentum counts for so much in sport. There’s a whiff of the fairy-tale to their rise, much like last year with the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs were perennially unsuccessful, whereas Richmond is royalty fallen on hard times. Once they roared and were mighty, only to become mangy and mediocre. This is their rise again, and don’t the tiger fans love it.

I concede that a victory for Richmond today would have some poetry to it, but it’s only occasionally that the sporting gods allow poetry to affect the result. I’m wary of what happens if they win. It will be mayhem and jubilation and, just quietly, Richmond fans will be even more insufferable – if that’s at all possible.

I don’t mind if they win, but I think the Crows will, and hope it too – they deserve it, they’ve been the best team all year. And Adelaide is – for me – one of the less offensive sides. They’re reasonable and respectable and, as an Essendon man, one of the clubs that treated us with respect through our dark days. Besides, they’re Cheeseboy’s team, and he wouldn’t allow me to do anything else.

Adelaide by 19 points

(I hoped to write about Dustin Martin today as well, but time and space have got away from me – suffice to say he is a mighty player and an interesting character. I have a lot of time for him because I reckon there’s a gentle heart that beats inside of him. And he’s a great story.)