Sign of the times


I’m currently reading a book called Breakout from Stalingrad, by Heinrich Gerlach. It’s a ‘lost manuscript’ that ultimately became the classic The Forsaken Army, which I read as a kid. It’s told from the German side about the battle of Stalingrad and the encirclement, and ultimate surrender, of the German Sixth army. It was a massive battle and pretty full-on. About 300,000 troops were in the pocket when it started. I think only ever about 5,000 made it home years after the war had ended.

I used to read a lot of war books when I was a kid, but not so many now. This is a bleak read, but sort of compelling, too, like watching a catastrophe unfold in slow motion. Sometimes I think I’m going to set it aside because – no matter which side you’re on – there’s something tragic about the story. It’s the futility that gets to me, the utter hopelessness of their destiny. It’s like watching an old movie you know the ending of and dread every time. But I keep on reading because the author was there, this is what he saw and experienced, and because it’s unexpectedly moving. I’m about 300 pages through of about 650.

As I lay in bed last night reading, it occurred to me that the situation we’re in right now has parallels to the story. Sure, no-one’s shooting at us, we’re not starving or freezing to death, and we’re not at war. There is a lot of differences. But, like the soldiers there, we’ve lost freedom of movement in lockdown. We’re not at complete liberty. And we’re doing battle with an implacable foe. The Germans were surrounded in Stalingrad and, if you look at it, that’s sort of an apt metaphor for life in lockdown. We’re fearful of leaving our homes because of the coronavirus lurking in wait. In our case, at least, we’ve got hope – one day, you’d expect, we’ll achieve the breakout the Sixth Army never managed.

Earlier in the night, I’d bought a face mask online, in what is very much a sign of the times. It’s not something I want to wear, for cosmetic reasons as much as anything else, but I recognise the time is nearing when I’ll probably be obliged to. Healthy outcomes might dictate it also.

I’ve actually got two face masks already. Back in January, when the bushfires were raging and smoke was heavy in the air, I bought a simple face mask on impulse when I visited the chemist. I never wore it. Then I got a freebie face mask included in a delivery I received the other week – one of the basic, medical-grade blue masks. Haven’t worn that either.

If I can manage it, I won’t get to wear either of them. No matter how you spin it, I don’t think wearing a face mask is a particularly good look – but then there are really bad fashion takes, and those that are acceptable. The mask I purchased last night is decorated in a Koori motif, and is something I could accept wearing. Basically, it appealed to my vanity because it had a bit of style, a bit of individuality. If I’m to be seen in public wearing one, that’s what I want.

When do I get to wear it, I wonder? In my part of town maybe 1 in 10 people are wearing a mask, but we’re far from the hotspots. If I lived there I reckon I’d be wearing one now. The next few days will tell the tale. If the rate of infection stabilises or even falls, then we’re a chance. But if it continues to rise then we have a problem. My expectation is that the actions the government put into place the week before last should be paying off soon. We might see a modest increase, but I hope it starts to trail away by next week. A lot rides on this, and not just whether I end up wearing a mask.

 

Edit: by wicked coincidence, I’m also reading The Plague, by Albert Camus, currently. I started it quite innocently, without consideration for the times we live in. Perhaps it was a sub-conscious choice made.

In lockdown again


I had a dream last night that I usually would dissect. It seemed loaded with meaning and symbolism, but now that we’re heading into lockdown again what’s the point of dreams?

It was not surprising, but disappointing all the same, to get the news yesterday that we were returning to stage 3 lockdown for the next six weeks. That means to stay at home, limited interactions, no sit service at restaurants or cafes, and so on. The rest of Australia has closed its borders to us, and the infection rate is going through the roof.

I actually feel relatively state in my neck of the woods. There’s only one current confirmed case of COVID-19 in Bayside, and everyone here is pretty sensible. It’s pretty scary what’s happening on the other side of town, though. I get why we’re in lockdown, and I support it, but I don’t have to like it.

One of my frustrations is that I was planning to have a short holiday this month. Firstly I was going to visit a mate in Sydney, then another in Mullumbimby. That was scheduled for next week but got pulled when it was clear that Victorians weren’t welcome. Then the borders closed anyway. So, I thought, let’s go somewhere local. I figured I’d find a B&B somewhere down the beach or in the bush where I could take Rigby. I planned to do that the last week of the month and actually took my car in to be fixed so I could do that.

I picked up the car yesterday, just as the news came through that we were locking down. Scratch that holiday. On the way home, I dropped by the Cheeses on the basis that I didn’t know when I’d see them again. It’s all a bit of a blow, and worse the second time around.

My manager took a day off last week, and today he told me it’s because he was struggling mentally. I figure there’s a lot of that. I have my ups and downs, but nothing serious. By now, I know that I’ll endure anything. But again, it doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it.

Day to day I manage fine, more or less, but it gets tedious over a period. I yearn for some spontaneity. Some excitement – though there was an episode the other day worth recounting. I’ll do that another time.

Right now, plans have been cancelled for catch-ups and dinners. I don’t know when I’ll get out again. I don’t even know how this outbreak is going to play out. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see similar outbreaks across the country before too long. Everyone is pointing their finger at Victoria, but I think it’s the nature of the virus. We haven’t beaten it, just held it at bay. I think there’s a long way to go, and a few more twists in store.

Even now, I think this is bigger than what people believe. It’s human nature to seek closure, but I think we’ve rushed to do that, and often times in defiance of the evidence. We’ve managed it better here than most places, and the damage has been mitigated thus far – certainly in comparison to the catastrophic parts of the world. They’re heading for more pain. For us, unless we’re careful, the risk of that remains.

The discomfort of men


It’s Sunday, and I’m feeling more lazy than usual. After I took Rigby for a walk mid-morning I came home and thought about the things I planned to do, but my heart wasn’t in it, and so I ended up on the couch watching a movie.

I watched Lantana, which is a classic Australian film of sorts made about twenty years ago. Memories muddle over time, but I remember being deeply affected by the movie when I first saw it. I think I saw it at the cinema in St Kilda with a woman a few years older than me. I can’t remember her name, but I remember how casually sophisticated she was – full of stories and good living. We’d go out for dinner and the movies and would catch up for the occasional drink. We liked many of the same things, though we never ended up in bed together – our relationship wasn’t like that.

There was a particular scene I remembered from the movie that resonated when I saw it first and which stayed with me in the years after. The main character, a detective, is out for a jog on a Sunday morning. He turns a corner and runs smack bang into a man coming the other way, their heads colliding. After the initial shock, the detective turns on the other man and starts abusing him for not looking where he’s going – though he’s at fault. The other man cowers, then stumbles away. The detective, perhaps regretting his behaviour, picks up the other man’s discarded shopping bag and takes it to him. The man turns, weeping, and I remember the shock I felt at seeing that, like an electric charge. The detective feels something the same I think, but then – their faces bloodied – the detective comforts the other man in his arms.

This is a sophisticated movie. The story is complex and deep, the performances across the board are fantastic. Most of the characters are damaged in some way and some more than others. It’s a story about relationships and the entanglements we find ourselves enmeshed in, seemingly powerless to do anything about them. For me, it’s also about masculinity and Australian masculinity in particular.

The detective is at the centre of the story, and for most of it, he’s teetering on the edge, barely in control. He’s deeply unhappy and lost, trapped inside himself, inside the maze of expectation and inability to be vulnerable. Like a lot of men, his vulnerability is expressed through violence.

There’s a scene where he’s telling an acquaintance the story of how he ran into the other man on the street. He’s almost disdainful when he describes the other man weeping, claiming that even as he’s comforting him, he’s thinking, what a weak prick. The acquaintance asks, don’t you ever feel like crying. Yeah, of course, is his general reaction, but you don’t, do you? And this the acquaintance understands, you’re right, as if it’s a rule of male conduct: you don’t show it. He nods his head in that casual way as if it doesn’t need to be said: fair call.

It’s a beautifully revealing scene set inside a men’s urinal. And you know, I reckon most men, Australian men, anyway, and men of my generation at least would recognise that. We’re brought up to be hard and tough. To keep going regardless and not show anything. I recognised it the first time and hit close to home because it was set in a milieu I understood, contemporary Australia

I lay on the couch with Rigby snuggled beside me and watched and felt myself affected in the same way I was the first time. It’s the sort of story I’d like to write, with the nuance and psychological depth that makes it both raw and authentic to lived experience. The book I’m writing now is not dissimilar – there’s a surface story that propels the action along, but all the real stuff is happening beneath the surface.

It’s nice to revisit a film you admired before and find it stacks up still. It’s not always the case. If you haven’t seen it then maybe you should check it out.

Not the film I want to see


Like many Victorians at the moment, I have an uneasy feeling about the coronavirus. A few weeks ago, we had a couple of days of zero infections. Within a week those numbers had shot up, and now the risk is that they may get out of control. It’s a reminder of how infectious the virus is.

Last week a group of postcodes were locked down to try to contain the spread. These were the suburbs where hotspots had emerged, thankfully far from where I live (though somewhere I lived a dozen years ago is now locked down). Yesterday, the drastic action was taken to lock down individual buildings – the housing commission towers in the inner north. There were 108 new cases reported yesterday, and 23 were in these towers. They’re crowded, with few lifts and shared facilities, and so somewhere where the virus can easily spread and catch hold (as it did in similar blocks in NYC).

This latest action has attracted raucous opposition and controversy. The inhabitants of those buildings are migrants and people at the bottom end of the socio-economic scale – basically, the disadvantaged. The fact that police have been brought in to maintain what is a strict lockdown has drawn heavy criticism. It’s seen as intimidatory and unnecessary.

The government is in a no-win situation. We’re now at this point because of the mismanagement of quarantined returned travellers. The government must take some responsibility for that. Regardless, whatever they do has someone getting on a soapbox to complain about. Early on, they were criticised for being too strict and urged to relax some of the constraints. The government held firm. Then, when finally, the restrictions were eased, the critics came out blaming the government when cases of infection began to rise. Now that the government is cracking down again, the critics are saying that it’s unfair.

I can only speak for myself, but I’m sure many have the same view. I support the actions of the government to contain the infection because I think it’s necessary – and it’s backed up by medical advice. In circumstances such as these, what’s needed is firm and decisive action. The clock is ticking, and the consequences are catastrophic if you get it wrong. Far better, I think, to err on the side of caution, even if it means severe restrictions. Look around the world. We’ve been lucky, but it takes hard work and strong leadership to stay that lucky.

I’ve been disappointed in much of the rhetoric around the lockdown of the housing commission buildings. Till now, excepting the loonies, much of the commentary and perspective has been even-handed and foundered on medical advice. Now, much of it is being seen and commented on through a political lens, and much of it absurd.

These crackdowns have been given a racial and class slant because the suburbs locked down are more commonly migrant parts of Melbourne and nearer the bottom of the economic ladder. That’s doubly true now that housing commission flats have been added, with many now saying the inhabitants are being victimised because they’re disadvantaged. The use of police has also been slammed, with some pretty ordinary commentary towards them.

The reality is that this is an imperfect situation because we’re dealing with a dynamic and emerging risk to the community at large. The government must react swiftly to contain, and hopefully get ahead, of the infection. It’s not pretty because it’s unpredictable and because it’s better to do something now than wait to do it perfectly. These are extreme times and the political spin given by some verges on the imbecilic in the circumstances.

I’m sure the government will address and do everything it can to ease the fears and make this as easy as possible for the people impacted by this. I would guarantee that community workers and health professionals will be there to support and comfort the vulnerable people living in those towers. The government is good at that. I feel as if some of the criticism has been way premature, and some of it blatant grandstanding – and already there is commentary coming out of the buildings that they’re happy that something is being done to help them.

The fact is, right now, none of us knows where this is heading. All we can do is hope and do what we can to contain it. We could be at the start of something terrible, or these actions may curtail the spread and in a week or two, eliminate it. Because we don’t know we can’t afford to go easy. It’s tough, but it’s necessary, and if it means that the rest of us go into lockdown again, then I would support that.

I don’t know about others, but I look upon this with a mix of dread and fascination. It feels like a bit of a trope, the opening scenes of any number of apocalyptic ar zombie movies, especially now it’s in the towers. We all know how those movies turn out.

To live is not enough


A few days ago, I searched out the obituary of a man I’d never heard of until the day previous. I’d read a piece he wrote that stirred and resonated with me – not a story, but a piece of nature writing that was familiar to me because I’d experienced similar in my own past. It was beautifully written, and by itself, that was enough to mark it out, but what really hit home was a point of view that I could share with all my heart. I believed as he did and, as he wrote, felt as he did, too. The piece of writing was called The Gift, by Richard K. Nelson. It contained pure grace.

As so often, when I come across something that takes my attention, I want to know more. Probably half a dozen times a day I’m tapping at a device or in my browser searching for more information on this or that. I discovered that Nelson was an eminent anthropologist and writer who had passed away just a couple of years before. I read about his life and recalling the piece I had read formed an impression of him – confirmed by the picture shown of him, a pleasant-looking guy with longish blonde hair, a red-tinged moustache, and a look in his eye as if to say, okay, take my photo then.

He was a man who had an evident passion for his work and believed in an almost metaphysical version of nature if the piece I read was any guide. He’d written about heading out in a canoe to an island with his dog. His family was back on the mainland in a secluded home. He was on the island to hunt for deer, which was their sustenance when winter came. The descriptive writing is rich, but it’s the mind and attitude that hooked me. I don’t want to simplify it, but it was the perspective of a man who felt himself a part of nature, and not above it. Too many are oblivious to it, or view nature and all its bounty as a right to be exploited (an attitude that is ruining our planet, and our mentality). He saw it as a gift and was careful to pay it the respect due to it – as he learnt from the Inuit.

Yes, he gets a deer. Then on the following day has an encounter that is lovely, and he’s sensitive enough to know how lovely and rare it was. I could feel it, too.

There’s a couple of things in this that I unpacked in my mind in the days that followed. I had a visceral reaction to it, to begin with. I could feel it in my stomach, like something that was meant to remind me. When I thought of it, I felt in a heightened state of grace. I could understand it. I could believe it. I was sure that his take on the nature around us was as true as a thing as I could conceive of. We are a part of nature, and it has wonders in it, if only we open ourselves to it. The other side of this, unfortunately, is that the rapacious way of the world as it is leaves me increasingly bruised. Maybe things should be a certain way, but they’re not, and I doubt they ever will be. In the meantime, what we have taken for granted slides away from us…

The other thing I felt was raw envy. That was how to live: to be in life, to feel it trembling around you like a gift, and to be passionately involved in what you believe in. His work had substance. It meant something. He’s gone now, but reading his obituary, it was clear his life was well-lived. That’s what you aim for.

But once more, I found myself examining the life I’m in now. I’ve always been restless and curious, and always keen to see what was around the corner. I had a lot of fun because of that and learned much, but I’m at a stage of my life that what I’ve done before feels inadequate to what I need now. What I need is to feel engaged and my work worthwhile. I want substance, I want meaning, I want to feel as if I’m achieving something worth doing. To live is not enough.

This is not new, and it’s far from the first time I’ve written about it. I feel as if that if I do nothing, the conveyor belt will carry me forward through dull comfort until one day it comes to an end. It may well be pleasant enough in its way, but that’s never been enough for me.

I had a project go-live last night. Most of it went fine, but I was on my computer last night and this morning and sending emails and messages because a few things were off. I was frustrated that it should be left to me to discover these things when the vendor should be doing QA before ticking it off. It occupied about 5% of my mind. It will get sorted. I’ve given directions, set deadlines, and etc. It’s what my life is now though, even when it all adds up to some supposedly great thing for business. Mayhap, but there’s no grace in it.

I was watching a program during the week set in Berlin in the fifties, and the thought occurred, why don’t you just take off to a place like that and make something happen? I like Berlin, but could equally be another place. Shake it up and see what comes of it. Maybe. I don’t know how practical it is – I have no money. And I don’t know in the end if a metaphysical problem can be resolved geographically. But at least it would be different.

I got told yesterday that I’m back FT starting next week, and that will make things easier financially. Stick around, and it will probably get better. I still have the issue of a two-speed perspective when it comes to working – not caring about it in the same way and ready to cut it some slack, until my ego intrudes and starts making demands, and that cycle again and again. But it’s just my ego – I can do that better, I should be doing that, why won’t you listen to me – while I don’t really care that much.

Like everyone who has a yen to look, I just need to find what’s right for me – what will fill and satisfy and give value to the days I have left. That’s all.

 

Edit: thinking about this, what I seem to be describing is a classic mid-life crisis. Because I’ve had so much shit go down I tend to ascribe so much that’s happened to that. It’s easy to blame irregularities on that, but maybe it’s time for me to let that go. Shit did happen. Residual shit exists. It’s legitimate to ask questions. There are things. But, maybe I should accept things for what they are rather than blame them on things I can’t change. I don’t resile from anything I wrote above – but maybe I should accept it for what it is and deal with it as it is, and not the shadow I imagine.

Another week in iso


As far as living in iso goes, this has been an interesting week. I’ve actually got out of the suburb twice, experienced a power failure through most of the daylight hours, been crook, and even lost my glasses before miraculously finding them again. On top of all that I’ve got a go-live tonight (and I’m working today because of it).

Last Friday night, I took the train to Richmond and met up with my manager for dinner and beer at the Richmond Club Hotel. Had a chicken parma, a pint and a glass of wine, on top of metaphorically rubbing shoulders with a broader community (we’re very careful not to rub shoulders literally). We chatted about work and life in iso, before popping across the road to the Corner Hotel where we were ushered into Bandroom 2 and sat at a trestle table where we had another pint.

Most years, most Friday nights, the pub would have been heaving with people and real-life bands would have been preparing to perform before a packed and boisterous crowd. On Friday, we sat at one end of the table while a middle-aged man with his Asian toyboy sat at the other end (they objected to our presence, but spacing rules were enforced). At another table, a group of tradies in fluoro caught up for an end of week beer. It was pretty empty otherwise, and pretty antiseptic too – a far cry from the frenetic, sticky carpet days the Corner is known for.

That was last Friday night. Yesterday morning, I ventured into the city for the first time since leaving it in March. Usually, my train is standing room only, but yesterday there would have been 30-40 empty seats in the carriage. It was sparse in the city too, and the building where I work seemed almost deserted. I caught the lift to my floor to find that there were tarps everywhere and two of the doors closed off and tradies painting and renovating the toilets. Good time to do it, I guess.

In the office itself, there were only two other people. One had been working there throughout this period. The other had only returned the day before and was planning to come in a day or two a week, lockdown permitting.

I was there in part out of curiosity, but the main reason was to pick up the dock for my laptop. I was very diligent when I packed up my desk a few months ago. I thought I’d taken everything with me I needed, but I left the dock behind. At that time I thought we’d be gone 2-3 months and I could live without it. And, mostly I have, outside some flickering on the second screen. It’s coming on to four months now since this started, and with recent outbreaks in Melbourne, I don’t know when we’ll get back into the office – September t the very soonest, I would guess, and that presumes that the current outbreak is contained. That’s a big if at the moment.

So anyway, I figured if I’m going to extending my work from home, then I may as well set up properly. And so into the city to pick up the dock.

I was about an hour in the office, during which time I attended a couple of online meetings.

On the way out of the city, I stopped at a couple of stores to replenish stuff I can’t get locally, then caught a near-empty train home. Strange times, indeed.

Otherwise, had a low-level stomach bug most of the week, which was enough to prevent me from writing sooner. I just felt a bit off, and enough that you can’t be bothered doing things you don’t have to do.

On Wednesday, I was in the middle of a meeting at 9.35 when my internet crashed. I returned to the meeting using my phone, then went and investigated.

Turns out a fuse had blown. Replaced the fuse, but no-go. The fuse had blown so severely that the wiring leading to it had burnt out too. A strong scorched odour permeated the air. That meant that while my lights worked, nothing else did – no internet, no fridge, no stereo, no oven, no TV, no microwave, no coffee machine, and no anything else that plugged in. I worked from my phone and iPad but had to charge them up with a battery to keep them going.

A sparky came late in the day and put in an interim solution, but needs a new fuse box. No matter, with darkness coming on I had a heater that worked and a TV I could watch.

That same day I went for a walk with Rigby late in the afternoon. It was a sunny day, and I wore sunnies with my usual glasses clipped over my shirt. On returning, I went to exchange my sunnies for my glasses and found they were missing. I had a fair idea of what might have happened and so retraced my steps – twice. I figured that after cleaning up after Rigby the glasses must have come loose, and I was confident of finding them. Nup. As you’d expect, that pissed me off, especially since they had a graduated lens and old ones don’t.

Then yesterday, walking to the station on the way to the office, what do I find on the pavement where I was looking the night before? My glasses. I was confused. How did I miss them? I wasn’t checking the nature-strip mainly, but I’d have walked past the glasses had they been there. Did I not check the pavement? But I was sure I did. No explanation, but the good news is that I can see again and don’t need to cough up for a new pair.

I’ll take it as a sign.

I despair


The other night I spat the dummy and posted a rant to Facebook. What tipped me over the edge was the most recent round of cuts inflicted on the ABC by the government. There have been cuts just about every year since the Coalition came into power, despite the explicit promise back in 2013 by Tony Abbott that there wouldn’t be any – a brazen lie. The national broadcaster, ingrained in our culture, cherished by many, and lauded most recently over the bushfire season because it ‘saved lives,’ has been the subject of an ideological battle because they fear the combination of good sense and balanced reporting is damaging to their brand. And, to a degree, they’re right. They accuse it of being bias towards the progressive side of politics, but the truth is the ABC has been bending over backward (too far) to appease an unreasonable government. The real damage done is that most people who watch the ABC are educated, intelligent and reasonable – and what educated, intelligent, and reasonable person is going to look upon a corrupt government but with disdain?

It accords with a general theme of this government, sponsored by the hard right and the diabolical IPA. I’m utterly convinced that the primary goals of this government are to maintain power by any means and to reshape society to ensure that they stay in government for years to come. To do so they must disarm their natural foes – the intelligentsia, the educated, the progressive. To achieve this they diminish the channels in which their foes can express or be heard. They manipulate university funding so that quality will inevitably decline, and tilt it away from the humanities subjects that teach critical thought and historical perspective. They’ve long been an enemy of science, ignoring it altogether in the case of climate change, and sidelining it generally – the CSIRO, our peak scientific body and an absolute treasure trove of invention, had further cuts inflicted this week as well.

It’s all about dumbing down the nation and making it compliant so they can say and do what they want without scrutiny, and so that their mates get a free ride. You might think I’m overly paranoid and cynical, but the existence of a Donald Trump as American president shows anything is impossible – and much of this is right out of the Trump playbook. (The government even gave a job to the former head of Trumps border force last week).

Anyway, this is what I said:

I don’t know where to start. The government’s been after the ABC for years, and the latest cuts might have terminally gutted it. This is on top of more cuts to the CSIRO today, and the farcical changes to university funding last week. I’ve had it with a low-brow government that devalues science and learning, and hobbles diversity of expression. Don’t tell me it’s not political. It’s a fucking disgrace, and I haven’t even started on the environment and climate change. I’m calling it out. This will kill the society we cherish and I’ve had enough.

It was a bit more emotional and less measured than usual, but it stacks up.

It’s funny I put it on Facebook, where it’s more common to post cutesy memes and photos of nights out than it is anything too political. Twitter is the home of the crackpot rant, but that’s probably why I didn’t post it there – I don’t want to be just another Twitter crock jumping on my soapbox, and something like this wouldn’t raise an eyebrow there. On Facebook, it has more impact because it jars more and because the people who’ll read it know me personally. Many of them agree.

I’m seriously concerned about what’s happening to this country. Many of the things I love about it are being eroded by government and a mendacious media. Much of what I value and believe is being trashed by an anti-intellectual government more concerned about their wellbeing than the wellbeing of you and me. The fabric of this place is being frayed by constant snips to it. Disgracefully, these most recent cuts come under cover of the coronavirus and in a time when services like the ABC and CSIRO are most needed, and when we should be investing more – if only for the good of the economy – not less.

I was willing to hope that the government and Morrison might have learned something in this crisis but, to be honest, I never really believed it. I was right to doubt. Now’s the time for the opposition to throw away the rulebook and stop playing nice. This is the future of the country we’re talking about; there are no second chances. It won’t happen though because they’ve lost their purpose as well as their cojones.

Days of our iso-lives


It’s a bit scary how one day blends into the next at the moment. The days get marked off with not much to show for them. As far as I can tell, the only minor difference is the weather, and what I choose to have for dinner.

I can tell you almost exactly what day will be like because it barely changes. My eyes open at about 7.15, I make my coffee, feed the dog, and return to bed to catch up with the news and listen to the radio and maybe read a little. By 8.30, I’m dressed and sitting in front of my laptop. I have meetings until about 10.30 and might have a cuppa in between. Sometime between 10.30 and 11am I head off up the road for my morning walk. I go over and back the railway overpass to get my heartbeat up and then start back. Yesterday I actually stopped for a coffee at that stage, but that’s rare. More often, I’ll stop by the greengrocer or supermarket to top up on supplies.

I’ll work solidly till about 3pm once I get home. I might take a half-hour off over lunchtime and start on the night’s dinner. After 3, depending on pending calls and meetings, I’ll take Rigby out for his afternoon walk. By then he’s pretty well anticipating it and giving me the hurry up. We’ll walk for about 20-25 mins, varying the route to keep it interesting, and Rigby stopping every few metres to sniff at something unexpected and fascinating.

There’ll be things to catch up on when I return. Maybe a late meeting, or a call to make, or loose ends to tidy up. I’ll work up to about 5-5.15pm.

This is my favourite part of the day. Mostly I’ll be cooking or preparing dinner. I’ll crank up the Sonos and listen to a playlist, or more often an audiobook. Right now I’m listening to the first book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If I’m in the mood, I’ll pour a glass of wine or make a G&T. One or two nights through the winter, I might change this routine by running a hot bath at the end of the day.

I’ll eat dinner watching the news. From there on in I’ll be watching Netflix or Foxtel or maybe even playing a DVD. Depending on what’s on I’ll finish up with that anytime between 10pm and 11.30pm. Whatever time it is I’ll hit the sack then and read for up to an hour – in the evening it’s fiction. I’ll switch off the light, go to sleep, and do the same the next day.

There’s nothing wrong with it, or unpleasant, it just feels as if I’m not getting anywhere. But that’s life for the moment, particularly as COVID-19 has sparked up a little in the last week. This is how we live.

Vanity projections


I gave into vanity over the weekend. To be fair, that’s always an uneven contest. I’d love to dispute it, but I’m always mindful of how I look (despite indications to the contrary). Many to most things I couldn’t give a fuck about, but looking ugly, that’s a no-no.

And I was looking ugly, no two ways. I got sick of looking in the mirror every day and seeing an old man looking back at me. My hair was at that untidy, in-between length, and the iso-beard – well, I was starting to look like Ernest Hemingway. Not as silvery-white as his beard, but nearly as fluffy. I was prepared to endure a period of relative ugliness. I’d steeled myself for it – but then it got too much, and in one fell swoop I shaved the beard off.

The good news is that it made a big difference. The full beard made me look about my true age, which is getting fucking old. The problem (or the blessing) is without it, I look about ten years younger – and I’m accustomed to looking younger. In the raw looks department, you’d have been reaching to score me as a four before I shaved – now I’m about a seven if I squint hard.

I haven’t got rid of the beard altogether. I’ve got a mo and an artfully shaped small beard on my chin and running a little way along the edge of the jaw. I intend to shape the chin beard further into a blunt point. It’s greyish still, but in a noble sense, he said hopefully.

It may be that this improved appearance coincides with my hair looking better – though whether it looks better, or only appears to look better now that the beard has gone, is philosophical conjecture. It’s not where it needs to be yet, but getting there.

Anyway, my ego is happy now, for the time being. I feel a little dashing again. I know I shouldn’t 😦

From history


After dinner last night I was in the mood for a long movie I could immerse myself in. I scrolled through the films on my hard-drive searching for one that would resonate with me at that moment. It’s a peculiar chemistry. Sometimes, obviously, you feel like one sort of movie over another, according to mood and biorhythms – say a comedy over something too serious. Sometimes the opposite. Even so, they’re broad categories, and it takes something more to decide you (though there have been times nothing has spoken to me). I go on gut-feel, instinctive reaction. It’s like looking into a woman’s eyes and sensing possibility there, or more – and nothing at all.

Last night’s winner was Lincoln, the Spielberg movie on the president. I’d watched it before and enjoyed it well enough without it leaving too deep an impression. That was not long after it came out, and maybe it felt time to review it again. It suited my mood in any case, and the need to engage with something that might stir the mind. I wasn’t looking for distraction, I wanted to think. It was only much later did I realise how apt a choice it was given the BLM rallies in recent times. If that had any influence on my decision, then it was purely unconscious.

I had only a dim recollection of the movie. though I knew the general thrust of it. Watching it this time, I was struck by a couple of things I don’t remember feeling the first time around.

This time I found myself admiring Daniel Day-Lewis’ seamless performance. It may as well have been the true Abe Lincoln on-screen because there was nothing visible of the actor. I imagine that takes a powerful gift of humility and dedication. You see actors who always ‘play themselves’, and to some degree, that is true of most. Most actors have their idiosyncratic ways – gestures, tics, habits. Most of them absorb it into the performance, but some never transcend themself. The great actors are different. They become the character they portray. To do so must take imagination and the rare ability to subjugate oneself to the art.

To admire the performance of Daniel Day-Lewis was, in a way, parallel with admiration of the man he portrayed. Now, I don’t know how true a rendering of Lincoln we see on-screen to how he was in life, but there’s plenty of history and commentary that give us a fair idea of who he was. We know he was a monumental figure in American life. We know what he looked like, and we gather his folksy, wise ways. We know he was a man of fortitude and persistence. And we know that his death was mourned by thousands of Americans, unlike any president until Kennedy. Even many of his opponents mourned him.

In this movie, as portrayed by Day-Lewis, he is a man of great humanity. We know that to be true, I think, though it never stopped him from prosecuting the war against the south. What drove him to do that was his innate sense of justice. As cruel as the war was (and it was more terrible than most), it was necessary to bring justice to his country. We see that in the movie,He had a clear-sighted determination that most of his advisors and contemporaries lacked. He navigated his way through party politics and bigotry and ambition, knowing what must be.

Earlier I spoke of acting and how ego plays a part in it. I think Lincoln probably had a decent ego, but it was in balance within him. Most of the battles with ego occur inside us, striving to be ourselves or to prove it. Lincoln had no need to prove anything, and so his path is gentler, willing to be open and humble and ever-sensitive to others, but never veering from the course of action set himself. It feels as if he takes in people with his folksy manner and home-spun stories, but he is cleverer than any of them. Gradually they come to realise that. He was a great man and a wise leader, and you wonder what further difference he might have made had he survived the assassin’s bullet.

As always, when I see portrayals like this, I feel wistful. Oh, to have such leadership now. I can think of no-one in the world today, with the possible exception of Angela Merkel, who approaches greatness in any regard. Many have gone the opposite extreme – more terrible than we deserve.

Remembering Lincoln now given the tumult of BLM is timely. It was an education to watch and listen last night with knowledge of how it is now, and what’s been happening. What would Abe do about it? He would act with generosity, grace and wisdom – i.e. the opposite of what we’re getting.

These are times we can take lessons from a couple of great American presidents.

I was reading about FDR during the week, and how he came to power with the depression in full swing. The election that year was him against the incumbent, Herbert Hoover, who had presided since before the depression started. Hoover was of the austerity school of economic theory. He believed that private industry would drag America out of the depression, and steadfastly refused hand-outs or economic stimulus. Come the election the American people had enough of that and booted him out in a big win to Roosevelt.

FDR set about doing just about the opposite of Hoover. He’s famous now for the New Deal, which dragged America – and possibly the world – out of the great depression. What dd he do? He spent money by the barrel-load. To the millions unemployed and living in poverty, he gave hope, as well as the means to survive. He ploughed millions of dollars into great stimulus activities, the most notable being the Hoover Dam. In effect, he gave the economy a financial transfusion that got it up from its deathbed.

What’s less well know is that a few years later he reckoned the economy was safe, and at the Treasury’s insistence it was time to balance the books, and spending was cut. What resulted was something that came to be called the Roosevelt Recession in 1937-38. The reduction in government spending and investment led to a sharp economic downturn. It was only when Roosevelt defied treasury and launched into a new spending program that the economy began to recover. Money creates activity which makes more money.

This should sound familiar to anyone following the economic discussions today in light of the pandemic, though it’s a conversation that has raged since the 1980s. This is what we face now.

In Australia, JobKeeper and other stimulus packages are like a mini-version of the New Deal, but already the government is threatening to turn it off. If history is any guide – and most economists – then we know what will happen if they do that. This is not something we can risk for ideological reasons, or because our leaders lose their nerve. Go hard and keep going until we’re through.