Old TV

Last night, I finished watching the BBC series of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, starring Alec Guinness. It was made in 1979.

I suppose I must have seen it before. Certainly, I was familiar with Alec Guinness as Smiley (I used to picture Arthur Lowe as Smiley when I read the books, but Guinness is perfect). I have no memory of it otherwise, and the reason I chose to watch it this week was curiosity and because it is a great story – but also, nostalgia.

It always strikes me watching the difference between observing an era as defined by programs contemporary to that era instead of those made years later, looking back. Oddly, it seems to me that there is more detail in productions made decades after the actions portrayed. That’s probably because there’s such an effort in production design to make it authentic and to ramp up the atmosphere after the fact. Contemporaneous productions take it for granted, and it’s all very matter of fact.

Watching a BBC production from the seventies highlights some differences very quickly, starting with the aspect ratio. The video quality is poorer also – no HD in those days for TV. Otherwise, it’s a bit drab to look at – the colours used, the skies overcast – but then that’s both England and the BBC, I suspect.

Everything is a bit less glam, and I would guess that is authentic. England was struggling at the time, and much of the wealth and the polished lifestyle we’ve become accustomed to since would have been a very remote possibility. A lot of the interiors look like they could have been decorated by my grandmother.

I need hardly to say that the show was great. I’ll be watching the follow-up, Smiley’s People, sometime over the next few weeks.

Now that I’ve come across a whole bunch of old TV, it’s my intention to revisit a lot of it – and mostly out of fascinated sentimentality.

There’s a bunch of Australian mini-series from the eighties available for viewing. Mini-series were the big-ticket item back then, and there were heaps of them. I would have watched many, if not most, and to go back and watch them again would interesting to see how I respond to them all these years later. Do they hold up? What do I recall?

I’m also rereading Dune at the moment, about 30 years after I read it first. It’s good. I remember of it coming out in the eighties and thinking it was crap. There was a mini-series made of it in 2000 which I never saw, and have mediocre expectations of – but I’ll look to watch that also once I’ve finished the book.

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

The dreams I have

I dreamt last night that I was a contestant on MasterChef. I had been entered into the competition by friends and wasn’t happy about it. I felt out of place. Everyone was younger, and most appeared to be exhibitionists, rowdy with exhortations and positive vibes. There were a couple I’d become friendly with, but otherwise, it was foreign to me. No-one seemed capable of a meaningful conversation that didn’t involve food, and that left me feeling sour.

There was a food challenge – concoct a finger food involving chicken. Pretty simple. While everyone whirled about me coming up with their fantastic concoctions, I stood there like a shag on a rock. Since I was there, I had to come up with something good, but not just good – novel. That was the crux of it.

Then I started. On reflection, the recipe isn’t as novel as I hoped, but – given it was a dream – not nearly as ridiculous as it might have been.

I cut pieces of chicken into long fingers and then marinated them in lime juice and chilli. In the meantime, I crushed some cruskits and seasoned with chilli. Then I coated the marinated chicken in the cruskit crumbs and fried until they were crispy – the cruskits gave it a distinct crunch. That was the novelty angle. Then I served with a dipping sauce of sour cream with pomegranate and lime rind.

Don’t know how I got on with the judges. By this time, I had become fascinated by the recipe. I might try it some time – crunchy lime spiced chicken fingers.

PS I may as well record this in the same place – my dream the next night, which is unusual enough to be worthy of recording.

It’s in the last days of WW2, and I’m a German commanding a King Tiger (II) tank. The war has come to Germany and we’re stuck behind enemy lines trying to make our way to the relative safety of the west.

Though we are without support and against the might of the Russian army, for a warrior such as me, there’s a kind of exhilaration as we battle against them. Our tank is the most mighty weapon on the battlefield. Any opponent we strike is destroyed, but they seem unable to inflict serious danger upon us. Our major threat is being overwhelmed by numbers, which is a real possibility.

We shelter in the ruins of a village one night. Around dawn, I sense the enemy approaching. I rouse the crew so that we can make a quick exit. Unfortunately, it takes minutes longer than it should for us to get underway. By the time we do, the enemy is behind us and, as we roll towards the outskirts of the village, we can see a dozen Russian tanks coming in the other direction. We appear trapped between two forces.

I curse and change direction. I’m defiant, but years of battle, of death, have left me bitter.

The enemy has not spotted us as yet, and we hide in the ruined streets of the village edging our way towards a potential escape route between them. Finally, we make it through, our engine’s noise and crashing through the ruins unheard over the massed engines of the Russian tanks.

When it appears we have reached some safety, I turn on my 2IC. He had been slow to pack up when I commanded it. He had doubted that the Russians had closed so near. He is a good man, capable and compassionate. He cares for the men, as I do, but in a different way.

I am a tough leader. I know to be compassionate means sometimes being harsh. My sole objective is to lead the crew to safety, and there are no compromises. I remind him that next time I give an order, he is to follow it without question – they can come later. I suggest that he trust my judgement and instinct, my experience, which is far greater than his. And I give him the very practical instruction that for everything he unloads from the tank he must put something back, and that we must be ready to break camp within a maximum of two minutes, that’s the rule.

I don’t know if we make it to safety – the odds are against us – but I’m a believer it can be done. I won’t surrender or give in. The dream ends there.

What I’d like

As I took Rigby on his afternoon walk yesterday, I gave thought to my immediate future. In a little over a week, I’m back in the job, and I can’t say I’m looking forward to it. The break from the daily routine seems only to have reinforced some of my misgivings. I still see things pop-up in my thread regularly, some of which I respond to with a directed action or comment. All of it feels tedious and familiar. I’m jaded and weary by the same things again and again and have little appetite for a return to it.

Still, I must, though the other job remains a possibility, as do others. I’m not locked in, and that’s important to remember.

The reality is that I must return somewhere, but if there’s a silver lining, it is that at some point soon my pay should be increased – either the long-promised and overdue pay rise at my current workplace or starting somewhere else. There was some reassurance thinking that, and as I walked along, I calculated what would be an acceptable minimum increase.

I did my sums, factoring in a desire to move from my current home at some point into something bigger and better, the prospect of a proper holiday somewhere, and a need to begin salting some dollars away for the rainy days a’comin’.

I figured that I needed a minimum of an extra $14K on my existing salary. That’s probably a few K more than my alleged pay rise, but the other job is offering approximately $25K extra. An extra $14K would allow me to budget for an extra $100 a week rent, and for the bigger, better home that would allow, and the consequent uplift in quality of life. It leaves enough over to grow in my bank account, especially when you consider my various, sundry debts should be paid off by late next year – that’s about an extra $250 month freed up.

It’s a pittance really, but enough. When I think of the years ahead when I’ll be living in retirement, I’m still well short of what I need, but that’s an incentive to be creative. The important thing is, get it right now, and build upon it. I have to make a start.

That’s the practical side of things mapped out, more or less, and so my mind turned to the less tangible.

Probably for the last week I’ve imagined finding someone I could talk to about such disparate topics as Richter’s recomposition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, the works of Erich Maria Remarque, and the peccadillos of Australian test selection, just as an example. And throw in discussions around food and wine and politics and the state of the world, and pretty well most of the stuff I take time out to write about here.

Sure, I’ve got people I can discuss Test selection with – I did that the other day – or the footy. I’ll have occasional conversations around what’s happening in the world and the state of politics, but generally, they’re fleeting. I don’t think I ever talk about books, and though music is an occasional point of discussion (though not nearly as much as when I was 30 years younger), there’s only one person I know of who would even know who Richter is.

Certainly, there’s no single person I know who can embrace such a diverse range of subjects and converse knowledgeably on them. I was about to say how much I miss it – but I’ve never really had it. The best I’ve ever had it is experiencing quadrants of these conversations with different people. It would be lovely to discover it in someone this year. It would make my heart full.

There are other things I wish and hope for, and things I need to sort out. I don’t have resolutions, but I’m happy to call some of these – the financial – as goals.

Next week will come, and more things after it. I don’t know all that’ll come my way, but there will be possibilities to explore and experience. Now’s not the time to be passive.

A matter of conviction

One of my character flaws is that I like to control things – or, at least, be in a situation where things are controlled. It’s not hard and fast, and it applies much less to social situations than professionally. And the truth of it is that some things are best enjoyed without control by letting go – but those are rare.

I’ll feel uncomfortable sometimes when situations are confused and unmanaged. It’ll frustrate me, and if no-one steps in to take control, I’ll often do so myself. Note, it doesn’t have to be me managing things – I’m very happy for someone else to take the lead, just as long as some order is restored. In my experience, most are unwilling or uninterested in taking that part – and into that vacuum, I’ll step.

It’s one reason I find myself taking the lead in things so often, or directing the conversation. It seems convenient, as oftentimes, others are happy to fall into line once a direction has been set. I admit, there are elements of a control freak in me.

It’s much less obvious in a social setting. When everyone’s talking at once trying to decide what we’re going to do or where we’re going to go, I’ll often jump in to hush their baying voices and break the deadlock. I’ll seek consensus by leading the discussion. Generally, I’m the one who’ll go and speak to an official or organise things formally. In actual fact, it pisses me off sometimes that it’s always me, and often I’ll encourage others to do that instead. But, people fall into roles, and mine is as the organiser, for want of a better word.

On Thursday night, at the restaurant, I became frustrated by JV because I thought he was being wishy-washy. It was such a trivial thing – waiting to be led to our table – but it was the lack of decisive action that riled me. It was unreasonable and unusual, and I knew it even as I urged him, repeatedly, to do something, but it didn’t stop me from doing it.

It was a small thing and soon forgotten, but afterwards, it seemed significant. This is the sort of thing that happens when I’m under stress – it’s behaviour that is symptomatic of something deeper. In this case, I was unwell and had been feeling it for a while. I was tired, and I had other issues I was dealing with, and continue to. Basically, I’d have preferred to be home, but that’s no excuse. It’s not how I want to be.

As I do, I seek patterns. In the time since I’ve paired this moment with our tour of the vineyards on Wednesday.

Wednesday was benign, but it was also indicative. I noticed throughout the day how every winemaker was mainly addressing themselves to me. I thought that was because I was the most curious: because my gaze didn’t shift from them as they spoke and I listened to them with intent. I asked questions of them, genuinely interested. I was a good audience.

But then I realised that this was happening even as we walked in the door. I was the one that they went to first as if my presence was greater than the others. I thought, intent communicates itself. If you have a purpose, people observe it, even if they don’t consciously understand it. I was the one that entered their space boldly, and so to me, they turned.

These are probably related attributes. It’s possible to be one without the other, but I’d suggest there’s generally a high correlation between the two, as they are different aspects of the same thing.

What did I make of this? I wondered how much of this was instinctive behaviour, and the answer must be ‘most of it’. That’s important to note because I’ve been feeling very vulnerable for a while, but it appears that it’s not evident to others. In my mind, I see myself as much frailer and uncertain than ever before. It embarrasses me sometimes. Occasionally I feel a kind of shame. I feel diminished, and as if I’m a lesser man.

It tells me that how I see myself and how the world sees me are two different things. It tells me that no matter how I see myself, many of my ‘old’ behaviours persist. What then, is the truth? Is there a truth? Is it one single thing? It comes back to the question that has dogged me for a while now: who am I?

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but it’s always been important that I’m strong and masculine. It’s as if that’s the persona I found suited me best as I was developing and adopted it as my own. What are the attributes of that? Calm, decisive, brave, resilient, honest, steadfast, generous, determined, perhaps a little stubborn, and with some fierceness thrown in there. They’re not a bad set of qualities to aspire to, but the point is – I needed to be that man, and any variation from it was a blow to my psyche.

That’s where I’ve found myself in recent times. For many years I think I embodied many of those virtues, though my perspective is biased. The important thing is, I believed I did. In more recent times, that belief has waned. And I guess that is at the core of my recent problems – the loss of belief, and with that, a sense of identity. I’ve lost conviction.

I guess one solution is that I could become that person again, or at least, convince myself that I was. I could go on my way blithely then, as I did for years before. I have no issue at all in becoming that person – I think he’s fundamentally a sound character, but it’s not as easy as wishing it. The important thing here is not how other people see me, but how I see myself.

The healthier solution is to remove the meaning from it. Be that man, by all means, but remove the soul-deep need to be him. In a way, this is what I’ve been trying to do for the last couple of years – to remove myself from moral need.

We’re talking about the ego, which places unreasonable expectations on us. As soon as we feel the need to be something, or be seen as something, then our ego has us in its sway. It’s human nature that we are subject to its claims. Such is vanity. But are we fully ourself if a tyrant within us demands all for itself? I see it in others sometimes, am embarrassed for them, and wonder what others see in me.

I don’t know how to do this – how to separate myself from my ego. I’m sure it can’t be done completely – the ego has a role – but I’m guessing that recognising the need for change is a good start.

This is an ongoing challenge, but if I’m to find peace, something that must be overcome. I won’t always be well behaved, but if I’m to find my way I feel sure humility is a key to it.

New year, but…

I guess the news here is that Covid is back in Victoria. Not a great surprise, even after 61 days being free from it. It came from Sydney, where the outbreak has been awfully mismanaged – though unmanaged might be a better descriptor. It was almost inevitable, especially at this time of year, that the virus would make it’s way over the border and infect us once again.

There’s a lot of cranky Victorians today. Most of their anger is directed at Gladys, who has failed to mandate mask-wearing in Sydney as the outbreak continued to spread. Her communication has been unclear and wishy-washy, and often at odds with itself. Watching from this side of the border, Melburnians have been wringing their hands and exhorting them to make mask-wearing compulsory, and tighten restrictions – even lockdown. (They haven’t because of brand management, I suspect, and because Gladys is too weak to stand up to the PM – I feel sure that NSW is following his directives.)

Too late for that now, though had the NSW government acted with more certitude sooner I suspect this would all be over by now. As it is, it’s out in the community and spreading across the nation. Borders are closing again, naturally, and restrictions tightening.

So far, there are eight reported cases of community infection in Victoria. The source is a returned traveller from Sydney, and it caught hold in a Thai restaurant only a few kilometres from where I live – and about eighty metres from where I had dinner last night, in Black Rock.

All this had an impact on New Years eve plans. I wasn’t planning a big one anyway, but after the news yesterday there was no way I was going to attend a crowded bar or pub, as was the plan for later in the night. As it was, we had a good dinner, returned to someones home for a drink, and I left a little after 11 – I was in bed with the light off at 11.35. So much for the new year.

I’m hardly upset by that. I don’t feel obliged to celebrate just because of the date. Today will be an easy day.

It’s common to reflect at the start of a new year, and there’s more to reflect on now than most years. I have no resolutions but for general intentions. My biggest priority is to get myself healthy, physically and mentally.

Physically, it’s a worry. There are two issues. Firstly, sleep. I used to an Olympic standard sleeper, but it’s gone way off over the last 6-9 months. I hoped this break would help, but it hasn’t. I stay longer in bed, but I sleep no better, and oftentimes, my sleep is diabolical. It leaves me weary all the time and generally lethargic. I don’t know what to do.

More concerning is my digestion or metabolism or whatever it is. I reported a while back at how bloated I was feeling – well, nothing has improved. If anything, it’s got worse. It’s a very uncomfortable feeling, as most of you will know. It’s got so bad that every time I eat it ratchets up as if I’ve just consumed a big three course meal.

Imagine that – the feeling you have after a big Christmas dinner perhaps, unbuttoning your pants to ease the strain and finding a good seat to vegetate in undisturbed while your meal is digested. That’s okay, you’ve earned that, and it’s only a few days a year you get to feel it – except, for me, I feel it every time I eat now. It’s as if my stomach has reduced to the size of a walnut and everything fills me up.

I churn and brew. It makes sleep even more difficult, and everything else problematic. Basically, it means that I’m eating less – averaging one meal a day, with perhaps nibbles in between. It mitigates the frequency but doesn’t fix the problem. And, perversely, I’ve ballooned.

I’ve wondered if it was particular foods that did it, but there seems no pattern. I stuck to proteins, and had the problem, then went off them, and it continued. It might seem frivolous, but it takes the edge off every activity I do. I’m short of energy and the will to do anything much. Altogether, I feel worn down.

I’ll get on top of it, but I’m just not sure how. I made some poached eggs for breakfast, and my intention now is to fast until tomorrow. It’s a shot in the dark, but my doctor is away, so it’s all I’ve got right now.

In the meantime, it’s 2021. I’ll make other plans, whenever…

Just thinking aloud

Yesterday, we visited the Morningtn Peninsula wineries. It was a lovely day.

The weather was ideal for it – clear blue skies and warm enough to wear short sleeves, but not warm enough to get hot. It was by way of a day trip as none of us – JV and Donna and me – are having a holiday away this year. And the wineries are always good value.

It’s a little know fact that whenever I imagine myself shifting out of the city – which is more and more often – it’s down to this part of the world, particularly Red Hill. It’s always seemed ideal too – distant enough from the city to make a difference, but close enough for a commute; there are good food and coffee, not to mention great wine; and it’s a particularly beautiful part of the world – rolling hills thick with tall gums and gullies with picturesque ponds nestling in them, interspersed vineyards and vines climbing slopes, and orchards of cherries and strawberries and other fruits. Through all this, the road winds mysteriously.

It seemed a lot of Melbourne had the same idea as us. I think we were first up and about, but soon thick crowds were dogging our footsteps. We started at Hickinbotham, where I bought a couple of bottles of Tempranillo (served delightfully chilled, as I’ve never tasted it before). It was a rustic landscape. A couple of dogs greeted us happily as we walked up, and the tasting was in what appeared a converted barn, with a restaurant at the front of it.

From there we went to Polperro. This is the vineyard where the Cheeses married 15 years ago (almost to the day). It was called something different then, but I remember the day very well. We sat out on the lawn yesterday with a platter of cheese and a glass of wine each, looking out over the vines and a shallow valley with a pond in it. It was charming, and the moment near perfect. I sat, I reckon, just about where I stood 15 years as best man the day of the wedding.

We were about an hour there and then, against the others protest, stopped at Paringa Estate. They make one of the best Pinot’s in Australia, and I wanted to sample it again. Their other wine is similarly exceptional, and I walked out with a bottle pinot noir and JV with a Viognier.

Lunch was well overdue, and everywhere we’d visited had been booked out, and when we got to Montalto were told they had no capacity for 90 minutes. We went next door to Tuck’s, and had a meal of deep fried chicken with a cider, overlooking all the green. Then home.

I wanted to size things up while I was down there. Everything is on the table currently, and a big one is a possibility of relocating. With work from home, it’s become much more feasible to live out of town. I spoke to others about it. We live like this maybe five days a year. It would be different living here, I said, but still, the average daily satisfaction than it is living the burbs. And, living in all that tranquillity, visits back to the city would take on a different, more exciting, character.

I think both could see my point. If we free ourselves up from old habits and routines, old ways of thinking, then what becomes possible?

All I can say now is that it was one of the best days of recent times for me, and I felt privileged to have access to such serene beauty. We really are fortunate.

Magic and wonder

I read this morning that the author and naturalist, Barry Lopez, had died.

I’ve read a lot of his stuff over the years. He was a luminescent writer with a keen eye and an open heart. He’s known for his writing on the natural world, but he also wrote more conventional stories. In either case, his prose was sensitive and drew you close inside the essence of the tale.

I think this happens when you have an extreme sensitivity to the world about you – not as something you travel through, but exist within. As a naturalist, he was drawn to detail and understanding context, and the result of that was naturally spiritual.

When you realise that everything has a life and purpose, that the world around us and we within it co-exist within layers of dependencies, then you begin to see a depth of meaning that eludes most of us, most of the time.

I was always found his writing illuminating, and often enlarging. He had a way of showing the wonder in enchanting things. He was one of those writers I would occasionally set aside midway through just to contemplate what I’d just read – to feel it full in me and abundant, to capture some of the truth of it and hold it in me for a while. And that was true for his stories as well as his naturalism.

He was 75, which seems relatively young, but I envy how he saw things, and the delight it must have filled him with.

By chance I’m reading a book by another naturalist right now, Richard Nelson.

He shares with Lopez a lovely lyrical gift of seeing and describing that is almost spiritual. It seems to me to be truly close to the natural world is a humbling and spiritual experience, and it’s there in their words. There’s a weight of meaning that is the very opposite of superficial. In all cases, a forgotten virtue – respect – is essential.

Reading this book, I’m reminded of the years I would go camping with my step-father and hunt for game. Mostly, we’d be far from civilisation. We’d stop in places where we were the interlopers and surrounding us raw nature. I would feel it every time I heard the call of an animal in the night, or see their tracks in the morning, or see the great gusts of cockies fly through the air before settling to cackle at us. The nocturnal thump and scrape, the movement in the bush felt as much as seen. And the owls in the trees looking on, hooting at their desire, and the wedge-tailed eagles majestic high in the blue sky as they circled and swooped.

We visited some out of the way places – out past Narrabri in the hills, the back of Bourke in red soil country, in scratchy brush and drought lands and places green and rugged. Just being there felt eye-opening, because it was a life very foreign to what I knew and understood in the city. I was a sensitive kid, and I felt these things, sitting in the fork of a tree overlooking it, or later by the fire with the scent of wood smoke in the air and deep night beyond the circle of light. Often it felt wondrous and bigger than anything I had ever understood.

There’s a morality to that world you can touch when you’re awake to it. You fit into it. That’s very present in the words of Lopez and Nelson, and most naturalists I’ve read. There’s an innate humility when you realise that life is all around you. I wonder if part of my problem is that I’m feeling an increasing disconnect from that sense of morality.

We live in an age of rampant hubris, and when our arrogance has become so extreme that we are destroying the environment we are part of and killing our future. This is what happens when you feel you are above all life and the environment is there to serve you. This happens when there is no balance or perception, when life is consumption, without magic or wonder.

Seasonal variations

It’s not yet 8am on Sunday, but I’m up and about feeling restless. With a bit of luck, I’ll find my way back to bed after this.

It’s a couple of days after Christmas and, before me, a couple of weeks of vacation time. This morning I made a couple of decisions I’ve been stewing on.

I was expecting to travel down the coast to Wye River to spend time with friends. I’ve opted out of that, basically because I can’t really face it. I’m not really in a social mood and troubled enough that the thought of being among people for a few days is too much to contemplate. The trip away might be beneficial in other ways, but the effort at pretence becomes a burden when you’re in this place.

I also had an invite to an NYE dinner party I’d have been happy to attend – the food is guaranteed to be top-notch, and the company (all strangers to me, but one) sounds interesting (I can put on a show for a few hours). I’m not going though. It sounds corny, but I feel a responsibility to JV, who is by himself. We’ll likely have a lame NYE together, but I can’t abandon him.

I was at his home for Christmas dinner. If you recall, I was ambivalent about being there. I was right to be, as it turned out.

I got there, we exchanged presents and had a drink. While JV prepared the dinner he’d so carefully planned, his daughter went upstairs to play. About 45 minutes later, we could hear loud, theatrical sobs audible over the sound of music playing. JV went to investigate and returned shrugging his shoulders. He suggested his daughter was unhappy she wasn’t getting the attention she thrived on.

After another 45 minutes, we heard the same sobbing. He went to check on her again and returned grim-faced. She’s going home, he told me. She’d called her mum already, asking to be picked up because she felt ‘unsafe’.

I was shocked and angry. We were about to serve up the dinner JV had crafted with so much effort. As his daughter is intolerant of many foods, it had been put together to cater for her – now it was just the two of us eating it, and pretty miserable it was, too.

His daughter has been over-indulged forever, particularly by her mother. Because she has special dietary requirements, she tends to be picky with everything, and a tendency to feel special due to it. I’m reluctant to condemn an eight-year-old child – kids will be kids, and they’ll grow out of many childish foibles. The problem is that she’s now an only child growing up with her parents separated and well aware of the power that gives her. Ever since I’ve known her, she’s been the same – a bright but entitled brat. JV is well aware that she has to change.

I felt so sorry for him – his first Christmas as a single father and putting his heart and soul into making it right – only to have it ruined very cynically by a child who felt she wasn’t being indulged enough.

I left early feeling flat. It was enough for me to remind myself that I can’t have another Christmas like this. It was a weary acceptance without any heat to it. I felt sad for JV; me, I can take it.

Yesterday was a lovely lazy day sitting on the couch, watching the Boxing Day Test. Towards the evening I felt melancholy again, but I recognise it as the seasonal variant, as it was on Wednesday. Christmas is hard for many people. I wouldn’t say it’s hard for me, though it was one year. More often, I’ll have moments when it comes to the surface, and I’ll be pervaded by sorrow.

There’s no mystery to it. I have a lot of memories, and many of them lovely, but all those times have passed, and I’m reminded of the people I loved who have gone, and the happy occasions I’m no longer part of. It’s a part of my problem, perhaps, that I’m able to swallow it up generally and rationalise it in my mind. It’s how I’ve endured for so long and kept going one step after another, but I’ve come to believe that it’s unhealthy in the long-run. I carry it with me like a stone, and sometimes I feel it. I need to dispose of it and move on.

I don’t expect any revelations over the next fortnight, but I hope to come to some understanding within myself. I’ll busy myself with day trips and reading and writing, knowing that I must return to the grindstone soon. All I want, really, is an idea of what I really feel, and what I really want.

A Christmas bone

It’s Christmas morning, and so far I’ve had a coffee in bed and read for an hour, exchanged a message with a friend, replied to a work email, and had a shower. We went for a walk then, Rigby and I, much as we would on a Saturday morning – only it’s Friday now, and Christmas as well, and Cheeseboy and Bailey weren’t there waiting for us.

Still, I stopped at the cafe, which is our usual meeting point. It was open for the morning, and as I have for weeks on end went to order a coffee – which they well and truly know by now. After exchanging a Merry Christmas, they convinced me to buy an almond croissant also. A few minutes later, one of the staff we’ve come to know well, a French woman, came out to us with the coffee. “Made with love,” she said.

We’re home now, and will be until later in the afternoon. I’m happy to keep to myself. I have strong memories of Christmas past, and I think it was the memory of that which cast a shadow on Wednesday. It’s become a Christmas ritual of my own, the melancholy recalling happier days, and loved ones now past. I’m back on the straight and narrow now.

While I was out, I exchanged friendly nods with passers-by and Christmas greetings. Going out and coming back I observed a kid of about 10-12 zipping around the block on his (presumably new) motorised skateboard. I remember that feeling myself, though it’s many years past now. One year I got a bike, and as soon as we’d finished unwrapping presents I was out on the road with it, showing it off to friends and getting a load of the exciting stuff Santa had left them.

Later today, I’m off to JV’s for a Christmas dinner. He wants me there, so I’m happy to attend, though I feel a bit funny about it.

Initially, his parents – from Sydney – were due to be there also and I was happy to attend. I have great affection for his dad and was happy to join their small party. They never made it, and now it’s just me with JV and his young daughter. I feel like I shouldn’t be there – I’m not family – but recognise how forlorn it would be just the two of them acting it up for Christmas – this is his first Christmas as a father and single man. I’ll be there then, getting in the festive spirit, or acting it out, anyway.

Other than a friend in Sydney, I haven’t contacted anyone today. After the mad headlong rush first thing Christmas morning, I expect that I’ll start getting messages through on my phone and Facebook. I’ll respond with good cheer, and in fact, as I write this, I have Christmas carols playing in the background.

I have things to do before then. I’m bringing a dish and must make it first. I might make some egg nog, just for the hell of it. And I have yet to give Rigby his gift – a delicious big bone to chew on. What more could you ask for on Christmas Day?

Steeped in melancholy

I went to the city late yesterday to do some last-minute shopping and catch up for dinner with a friend. I sat in a pub with a beer in my hand, waiting for her before we had dinner at a Korean barbecue joint.

She offered to drive me home afterwards, and when I refused, she insisted. I sat in the passenger seat watching Melbourne pass by my window, and it struck me how long I’ve been looking out upon this town. I think it was the changes I observed that brought it to mind – old buildings demolished and built in their place, historic facades kept while the innards were gutted, and so on. Among it all, there was still much familiar.

As I looked out on the passing parade, the thought occurred to me: we’ve grown old together. You become a part of the city as much as the city becomes a part of you, and it seemed reassuring. What seemed strange was how much remained vivid to me. When I was young, I looked at older people and pretty well figured their memories must be in sepia, so vast the gap in time seemed.

The game is not so vast from my vantage now, and so much fresh in me – as if I might have stepped from that moment to this without interruption. But, it’s not as simple as that.

Looking out the passenger side window, I spotted an apartment building that looked familiar. Was it this, or one very similar, I wondered? It didn’t matter, it was in the area – and what I remembered was sharing a bathtub with a brunette about 2am on a weeknight, her name escapes me. She dropped me off in the city for work early the next morning, the one and only night I spent with her. I never saw her again.

Driving on, we passed through East St Kilda, close by the poky little flat in Crimea Street of the woman I first fell in love with. I spent the weekend there in 1988, close on after a work party the first time we got together. It was a wondrous, romantic weekend we spent most of in bed together, first in our underwear, and then without it. (Coincidentally, it was where I first discovered it was practically impossible to fuck in a bath). I remembered waiting for the tram late on Sunday that would take me home, and being filled with possibility. It was the first time my heart ever caught.

We drove through areas near where I’d lived at one time or another, and by places I’d shared moments drinking or eating, laughing or loving.

I wonder why I made no reference to this as we drove, but it never occurred to me. It’s rare for me to travel through such parts as a passenger, but as a passenger, you have a different perspective. I looked out upon it as if it was a theme park of my own memory. Why did I choose not to share any of it – until now? I don’t know.

I was in a receptive mood. For reasons unknown, I was struck hard by a bout of melancholia from mid-afternoon yesterday. It’s an internalised state that sensitises you to memory and nostalgia. You see in a different way; you feel more deeply.

Though the memories seemed so detailed, I struggled to understand how I’d travelled from those times to this. In keeping with my state of mind, I felt aware of everything I had lost along the journey. I’m not one for regret, but once or twice, I wondered if I had done something different how things might have turned out? And, momentarily, I yearned to be back in those times so that I could look out with those eyes and feel with that heart and have hope unfettered by reality.

In the end, it’s episodes like that which steel my resolve. It’s nice to have memories, but much more important to make new ones.