Away from work


This makes the fifth day in a row that I’m home, but the first official sick day.

I organised to have Friday off because I had an appointment across town. That appointment got cancelled, but by that time the idea of having the day off was so welcome that I didn’t change it. Chances are I would have taken a sick day anyway as by the time I got home on Thursday I was feeling pretty crook.

The last couple of weeks the trains on my line have been cancelled because of work being done up the line at South Yarra. In replacement, buses have been running to the nearest parallel line. It worked okay, but inevitably it was adding between 30-40 minutes of extra travel each way. Each morning I would do that in some of the frostiest, wettest weather we’ve had for ages. When the trains weren’t cancelled or delayed, I’d get onto a crowded train within 5-6 minutes and luckily find a seat. It was much the same going home, except the routes and timetable seemed much more capricious.

I haven’t felt the full bottle for a few weeks but been well enough to go on with. It was dark and frigid when I boarded the bus to come home on Thursday night. I was aching and feverish, and a persistent cough had developed. I had little energy and wanted only to be warm and rest. Something was coming on.

I slept for about 9 hours that night and woke Friday feeling better. I had a quiet, pleasant day being lazy. It was just what I needed.

I felt okay on Saturday, too. We had a long-standing lunching arranged in Richmond. Unbeknownst to me, the trainless timetable had changed for the weekend, and rather than the buses going to the nearest available train stop they instead zig-zagged through the suburbs until finally arriving at Caulfield. From there I caught the train to Richmond, walked up to Bridge road, then caught a train to the venue, the Bouzy Rouge. I was about 45 minutes late.

I used to live nearby, and I’d been to the Bouzy Rouge several times, most memorably with mum on one occasion before she got sick. It’s an opulent place right up my mum’s alley, with a Spanish menu that combined the traditional with the modern. We had a fine old time sharing tapas before tucking into main meals and dessert. We had a few beers, a couple of bottles of Rioja, before finishing with a sweet and sticky PX. We laughed often and loudly, and though I would cough occasionally, I was doing okay.

We walked back along Bridge Road, stopping at the Mt View where we had a cleansing ale on the rooftop and taunted the losing Collingwood supporters, feral one and all.

I caught the train back with Cheeseboy determined to get home differently to how I left it. At Moorabbin, we got out of the train and walked about 30 minutes to his home. As we went along, I began to slowly fade. Arthritis in my toe started to flare, and my dodgy knee began to ache. Not happy was I.

I rested for about 15 minutes before walking the final 15 minutes home. I arrived there done in. I lay on the couch, feeling both mildly intoxicated and increasingly unwell – a bad combo. Later I figured by the GPS I’d covered about 15 km by foot.

I slept long again, but the next day I woke up feeling poorly, as I did for the rest of the day. I realised the jaunt the previous day had been a mistake. I had been recovering perhaps, though not recovered. My reserves were low and the strenuous efforts of the day before had wholly depleted me, allowing for the infection to steal a march.

The aches and pains had gone, but in its place was a deep-seated cough that worried at me every ten minutes or so. Occasionally I would be wracked and bent by them. My chest felt heavy and congested. It felt bad as if I was on the verge of something serious. I took it easy all day. I needed antibiotics.

I had an appointment with a dermatologist yesterday and ended up having a biopsy done on a rash on my leg. I was feeling better than the day before and, to my surprise, my chest infection seemed better. I had a lazy day again but planned to go to work today – stupid, I know, but sick days make me guilty.

I slept longer than I intended – something that never happens. I got up and felt distant from myself and without strength. I went back to bed, hoping that it would pass. Ten minutes later I got up again, but I was no better. I went to bed again and called work.

Lazy day again today. It’s still cold out, but for the first time in days, it’s not raining.

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Fathers and sons


I had lunch with my father yesterday. I hadn’t seen him for about six years and not spoken to him for about four, until recently. I didn’t know what to expect but was glad to be catching up with him again.

At my first sight of him, he was leaning on a walking cane. I’ve always been much bigger than him, but he seemed smaller again. He was still handsome, and there was plenty of black still among the grey hairs, but for the first time in memory, I thought him old. Fair enough, he is – by my reckoning 78. In my imagination, at least he seemed much different from when last I saw him. A lot can happen in five years.

We shook hands and talked as I led him to a cafe off to the side of the State Library. It was a cold, grey day – every day lately has been. I had to slow my pace to match his hobbling gait, looking back over my shoulder to check I wasn’t getting too far in front of him. I felt the awkwardness of being able-bodied with someone who isn’t. I slowed, paused, idled as if fearing my relative agility was an affront.

Over lunch, we caught up on all the things that have happened in the years between. He’s happily ensconced in Eltham, in a home he cherishes. He has his dogs and once or twice a week he’ll catch up socially with people he’d met through Probus. He’s up early every morning (5.30am), as always he has been, but he returns to bed with a cup of tea and stays there until about 9am catching up with the news on his tablet.

We didn’t always get on before, but he was always a force to be reckoned with. He had a keen mind and inquiring spirit. He still has that, though we look upon things from different perspectives. He was always someone on the go, as well. He was one of those people you can never imagine not working, and he achieved a lot professionally right up to Managing Director. Even at home, he always had something on the go. I can remember him working in the garden, or fixing something or other, or just cleaning the barbecue. He did everything with intent.

He told me he still worked in the garden, but in the same breath admitted it was the loss of mobility that hurt him most. He could only work for a little bit at a time, and a neighbour helped out with more strenuous activities. He lived at the end of a long, steep drive which he couldn’t navigate on foot. I listened, observing for myself, saddened that he could not be the man I remembered.

Later I realised this is probably a moment most men will experience. One day they look at their father and with idealised memories realise that man has gone. I’ve long been more physically robust than him, but he could hold his own. Now, though his mind is willing, his body is failing. And in the heart of that, there’s the chill reflection that ‘one day that will be me’.

He has arthritis and other ailments he didn’t elucidate. I suspect he’ll go on for years yet, but that the deterioration will continue. I can’t imagine him every losing his keen mind.

That’s always how we’ve engaged. It’s never, ever been a warm relationship. The best I can remember is when its been companionable, but then rarely. It’s mind to mind we’ve connected. We have different beliefs and perspectives, but similar attitudes and attributes. We might argue the point, but both sides of the argument will be lucid and considered, and each of us recognise that.

He asked about me, and absent an ulterior motive I was completely honest. This is what’s happened, this where I am, this is where I hope to get to. I admitted to him it had been a struggle and it was only just now that I felt like life might be returning to some minute semblance of what I used to consider normal. I guess in a way I was like him, accepting of what had happened knowing it couldn’t be changed. There was always the future, though – different for me though, than for him.

We spoke a little of my cousin and he filled in some of the gaps I didn’t know, or had known once and long forgotten. Suffice to say it’s a very tawdry tale that reflects poorly on most.

We left and I walked him to the tram stop to return home. Before I had the chance to speak, he said something along the lines of must do this again soon. I told him I was glad to have seen him again. We shook hands, and I let him go.

The cost of free speech


I don’t know that I’ve written much about Julian Assange over the years, but he’s always been someone I’ve taken a keen interest in. He’s a divisive figure, particularly so after the 2016 US presidential elections. Many blame him for Hillary Clinton losing.

If you discount the disengaged and uninformed – always the biggest part of any society – then people fall into one of two opposing camps when it comes to Assange, and Wikileaks in general. You either support the purpose of Wikileaks, to expose what is hidden and make news democratic; or you see it as the crime that governments purport it to be and a dangerous tool in the wrong hands.

I’ve always been of the former view. I haven’t always been comfortable with the methods, or the consequences, but Wikileaks has done much more good than ill. As a natural democrat, I want our governments to be held to account. Shining a light on shady dealings and shonky practices is never wrong. And when those practices are often corrupt or illicit or plain old anti-democratic then we as a people are entitled to know. When it comes to information I’m a socialist: we’re all entitled to a share of it.

Wikileaks was revolutionary. They exploded onto the scene, and their revelations had a profound impact on international discourse. The scale of information previously hidden was a shock to almost everyone.

Since then they have been under attack by international governments, particularly the US, been constrained by the combined efforts of financial corporations, and been subject to prosecution whenever the US got their hands on them. Chelsea Manning was imprisoned. Another whistleblower, Edward Snowden, fled, and now lives in exile. Assange himself until recently had taken refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, until he was kicked out after seven years. He’s now ill and in an English prison, battling extradition to Sweden on dubious rape charges, and ultimately to the US to face charges of espionage. That would be the end of him.

I’m profoundly disappointed by the general reaction to all this. As an Australian citizen, he should expect support from the Australian government, but that has been sadly lacking. It is as I expected, unfortunately – everyone knows the government is in the pocket of the Yanks. It’s just plain wrong.

Assange lost a lot of support after Hillary was beaten. In my mind, much of that is irrational. He’s accused of being in cahoots with the Russian attempts to subvert the election. Personally, I would understand if he was bitter towards Clinton given some of her rhetoric regarding him, but I hardly think he’s a Trump supporter. What he released might have been controversial, but none of it was untrue. In general, Wikileaks has acted without fear or favour, but the dump of information regarding Hillary’s emails lost him a lot of support.

This has also seemed to me an emotional reaction. As a darling once of the left, he broke their hearts by being seen as turning on one of their own. It was wasn’t meant to work that way. As long as he was attacking the establishment and the right-wing governments around the world, he was a hero; as soon as he turned on someone on the left of the equation, he became the villain. So he has remained, but the truth knows no allegiance.

Who knows what happens to him now, but he’s in a dark spot, and the actual purpose of Wikileaks has been lost in the prosecution of Assange.

I’m more sympathetic to him than most. It may be that he comes from my home town, and very much a product of it. There was curiosity value a few years back also when a friend looking at my dating profile on OkCupid found that Assange was highlighted as someone similar to me. There’s no doubt he’s a maverick. He’s complex and challenging and strong-willed. It may be he’s hard to like, though there are many devoted to him. I admire his independence and determination and resolution in seeking out the truth. He’s clearly highly intelligent, but also uncompromising and blunt, which does him no favours. I don’t know that he can be easily summarised, but that’s in his favour. End of the day whether he is likeable or not is immaterial, though it is something he will always be judged on.

He is a great figure of our times. What he has done has not all been good, but overwhelmingly has been. We should be thanking him for the truth he brought to bear. Instead, he is forgotten or dismissed. Odds on he’ll ultimately be extradited to the US where he’ll face trumped-up laws that basically infringe on free speech and the profession of journalism, and every chance he will be undefended by those who owe him a debt.

Ironic it would be that he is prosecuted by the type of tyranny he sought to expose to the world.

Being bold


There was a moment last week when I felt self-conscious and unhappy. I was unwell – I’ve been suffering from spells of vertigo – I was tired, the doctor had just told me that I should look after myself better, and for once I contemplated the fact that I’m getting older. Added to all this was the knowledge that I’m not living the life I want to live, and not even the life I’m capable of.

Of course, I’m always trying to change that. Though I’m not sure what more I can do I’ve taken the doc’s advice on board (the vertigo has cleared), and I met with another recruiter last week to discuss my situation. As with every recruiter I’ve met with he was positive, but nothing much seems to come from it. But anyway…

This is not intended as a grizzle session. All this is by way of background because, as always seems the case, I bounce back strongly. I don’t deny any of those things, but regardless I remain a bold and robust character. I plough on.

There have been times I’ve wondered at the value of that. I wondered if my character had the effect of papering over aspects I’d be better off facing up to. But then I’ve never been one to shy away from hard truths. I acknowledge they exist, but it’s neither my nature or intent to wallow in them. If there’s something wrong, I’m better off making it right than feeling sorry for myself. The hard part is making it right.

This manifests as an attitude, but it’s natural to me. I’m not sure what comes first, the attitude or the belief, whether my nature informs my mind or my mind directs my nature, or if in fact they’re one and the same thing, but here I am, a week after that moment and I’m as just a virile character as I’ve ever been.

Over the last year or so, I questioned the reflexive nature of this process. I’ve always bounced back. Always been resilient. And at times have felt that sense of purpose surge through me like a shot of electricity. That’s happened hundreds, if not thousands, of times. It was like I’d get to a point, and a failsafe would trip and off I’d go, almost unknowingly. I wondered, what would be left if that wasn’t there?

It was not that I sought to suppress it, rather I wanted to go on without expectation or reliance on it. I told myself, feel it. Let it take you and see what you learn and muscle through it. It was an attempt – in my mind – to be a more authentic self (which is a false dichotomy because there was nothing false about the process). Put it another way, it was like an athlete who wins on natural talent who is unsatisfied because there’s not enough of ‘him’ in it. I didn’t want natural, unthinking ability take me there – I wanted to work through it mindfully.

I’ve done that. I think I gained a lot from the exercise, but it was hard work. What’s happened in the last week isn’t that though. It’s that natural, reflexive buoyancy, and this time I’m willing to accept it.

It’s a gift in a way. I wouldn’t be here today without it. And I know it wouldn’t be possible without some innate strengths – being smart for one, calm by nature, and defiant by inclination. And they take off.

I’ve learned the lesson I needed to, and now I’m happy to let things run their natural course. They make me a bold, confident man, full of ideas. Despite everything I’m not one whit cowed – in fact, the ‘everything’ I refer to has opened me up. What I’ve left behind is the extraneous frippery which these days makes me even more direct than I was before, and less inclined to be the diplomat. It’s not that I don’t know how – once upon a time I knew every lever to pull, ever button to push, knew how to shape my words and modulate my voice. There are times I still do, but mostly these days I just want to say it how it is. And, though I’ve always sprinkled my speech with swear words, I’m much less inhibited now than I was before.

I feel it in other ways that are so familiar, and in ways, quite joyous. Flirting, for example. There are occasions I feel like a heat-seeking missile, and it’s a great vibe. I love to flirt, love to look into another set of eyes, love to feel that frisson and the possibility that comes with it. And there are times it’s satisfying to call someone on their shit. There’s a lot of shit that goes on these days, and I won’t abide it. I won’t always say something (though often I’ll question it), sometimes it’s just a look as if to say I know that’s shit, you know that’s shit, don’t shit with me.

There are many other elements – I feel super switched-on, super observant, super sensitive, super smart – but the bottom line I’m infused with a sense of purpose and direction, even if it is only in service of tenuous goals.

The truth of it is that I’m not living the life suitable to my capabilities. This life is unsatisfactory. I am getting fucking older, and there are niggles and time isn’t about to run backwards and happy conclusions aren’t about to flow like milk and honey might. There are no fucking guarantees. I know that. That’s the cold, hard truth and that’s what grips me at times – but then I know it is in me to, that capability exists, I’m strong and smart and even if things aren’t as I desire them it’s in my power to change them.

In a way that epitomises precisely this feeling, and the value of it.

The quirks of family


It’s a tiresome subject, but I have some updates on my cousin, as well as an unexpected development to come out of it.

I made the mistake last Thursday contacting my cousin to see how he was settling into Melbourne. I thought twice, even thrice, before doing so. He’s done nothing to endear himself to me in the short time I’ve known him. He’s graceless and rude and with a mighty chip on his shoulder. I’ve not said a cross word to him yet he’s walked out on me once, told me to fuck-off on another occasion, and otherwise imputed that I had benefitted at his expense. Basically, I don’t like him. On top of that he’s a manipulative opportunist and I was afraid he would seek to take advantage of any contact.

I contacted him nonetheless, setting all that to one side. The family connection means nothing to me, but I’m sympathetic to anyone less well off. And, I figured, I’d only seen him at his worse, at the bottom of the curve so to speak. It seemed unfair to judge him on that. He was entitled to get another go.

Unfortunately he was true to form. I started off bright and friendly. As always, he responded within seconds. He didn’t answer my question, instead launching directly into an interrogation of his own. Did you know what happened with our grandparents will? Did you get an inheritance? Where do you work? What do you do? What are your qualifications? What’s your office address? Are you on Newstart? Why does your side of the family have money when my side doesn’t? Where do live? What’s your address?

I should note that some of these questions were repeated 3-4 times, and came rapid-fire, before I had a chance to properly answer – even had I been inclined to. They came, one after another, until there was a line of them scrolling down the page.

At first I was patient, looking to answer appropriately. I was suspicious though, and soon his interrogative tone began to piss me off. I refused to answer the contentious questions for fear of further inflaming the situation, and because I felt no need to explain or justify. I let him go on until he petered out.

Throughout this I had the fear that if I gave him too much information it would be used against me. I was sure had I given my address he’d have shown up on my doorstep. Likewise, I was fearful of him turning up to work and either demanding to see me or making accusations against me. There was in his tone something hostile and resentful. It’s clear he believes we – being my side of the family – have derived some magical benefit denied to him. It makes him angry and sneering. Amid all his tendencies he’s also narcissistic and superior.

Once he’d subsided I quietly muted him. I had made up my mind that in time, once things had settled, that I would block him.

Then a friend of mine – the friend he had cottoned onto – asked if I’d seen his most recent Facebook posts. I hadn’t, and when I went to check found that he’d unfriended. I quietly rejoiced at that. He’d saved me the trouble.

In the meantime he’d posted a scathing take-down of his mother that ran to paragraphs. My friend sent me screen-prints and they were nasty. Regardless of truth they’re not the sort of thing that should be shared on a social media site for every friend and family member to read – but then I’m old school.

The next day my friend contacted me again telling me that my cousins sister had responded to his posts very eloquently. He sent me copies of those too. In them she basically refuted everything he’d claimed, adding that he had been abusing their mother for years, to the point she was afraid of him. There was reference to constant demands for money, among other more ambiguous, troubling references. It was quite compelling, and his response feeble. And he unfriended her as well as me.

So, that’s where I’m at with him – better off in a different orbit altogether.

But then there’s something else that came out of this episode. People often say things happen for a reason, but mostly it’s a case of applying a retrospective interpretation to explain a fortuitous happenstance. Sometimes it’s an easy thing to do.

When my cousin threatened suicide I contacted my father. He didn’t answer but responded with a message. That was our first communication for about four years. Having called him his number was now on my recently dialled list and on Wednesday the week following my bum inadvertently called him again. I caught it before he answered and disconnected. Awks!

That afternoon I was in a meeting when my phone rang. It was my father returning my call and leaving a message.

That left me in a quandary. I couldn’t ignore him, but nor could I tell him I hadn’t intended to call him – that would be too rude. I called him late in the day and explained that I’d been calling to update him on the situation with my cousin. We talked for about ten minutes beyond that when he explained his lifestyle – busy and unusually social. Maybe he’s mellowed. At the end of the call, unsure what to say, I said “catch up soon,” as you do. And having said I knew I had to do it.

Long story short we’re having lunch on Friday. Let’s see what happens.

Time to endure


In Sandringham, on Saturday I walked past a bottleshop with a chalked sign outside proclaiming that if the LNP won the election the full purchase price of anything bought today would be refunded. At first, I took it as a rusted on Lib supporter, but as I reflected further I figured it was just a commercially savvy owner trying to spur sales. That’s how confident he was the Libs would be out of government. Well, he was wrong, as was just about everyone else, including me.

It was a horror show watching the count unfold. Right from the start the pundits were bewildered. For years Labor had been in front in the polls. Leading into election day they were ahead 51-49, and even the exit polls conducted on the day were showing a 52-48 advantage. But as the numbers came through they were different from that.

There’s going to be a lot written about this, and already has been. In the wash-up Queensland pretty well cost Labor the election – it was a disaster. Not only did they fail to pick up seats there, but they also lost seats they’d held. A couple more seats lost in Tassie were unexpected, and while Victoria swung to the ALP it was smaller than expected and didn’t have the cut through it might have.

Right now the coalition is poised to just get a majority, maybe. As a passionate advocate for change, this has been a killer for me, the only positive being that finally Tony Abbott is out of the parliament.

It’s hard to explain how devastating this was for me on Saturday night. It was like having served a prison sentence on the day I was finally to be released they said, no, sorry, you’ve got to serve another three years. I had serious concerns about my mental health. I didn’t want to get out of bed yesterday. I didn’t want to come to work today. I didn’t want to face the world.

I was disappointed in the result, naturally, but it went beyond that. I’d proclaimed this the most important election for many years because it was a contest between ideas and no ideas – and no ideas won. In itself that was depressing, but the message from that was clear – if you want to win an election its best to present a small target and go negative, as the LNP did. They gt elected on a platform of no policies and lies. It worked, and it shouldn’t, and the probability is that it will condemn us to mean spirited election campaigns for years to come.

On top of that, it hit me thinking about all the good things that won’t happen now. All the good policies that were killed off. I’d have thought climate policy would have been enough to swing the election, but inexplicably wasn’t. We won’t get the federal ICAC now either, not with any teeth.

Finally, and most devastatingly, I felt betrayed by the Australian people. For years I’ve thought and believed the best of them. When they’ve been called racist or disinterested I’ve said no, that’s just a few bad apples spoiling it for the rest of us. This election was lost because of self-interest and ignorance. People were either selfish or uninterested or ignorant. This was like a gut punch to me. I wanted to think Australians’ were better than that, but I was wrong. I don’t know if I will ever really recover from that. I know that half of Australia basically voted for the ALP, and most people I know, but I can’t get over this sense of vast disappointment. I don’t think I’ve ever been more disappointed.

Gradually you adjust. In the short term, I’m avoiding politics. I can’t face that smug, shit-eating grin of the buffoon we’ve got for PM. I need to look after myself for a while. Then I have to choose but expect despite the shame I’ll end up doubling down. I can’t give up the fight.

In the meantime, Labor must pick itself up and learn from its mistakes. Shorten has announced he will step down and the leadership seems a choice between Albanese and Plibersek. I think Albo should have been made leader when Shorten was. Had he I expect we’d have a Labor government today (antipathy towards Shorten a big factor in the election). I like Albo, he’s passionate and authentic and smart. But I think his moment has passed. Plibersek is smart and tough, I’d be voting for her. If Wong was in the house of reps I think she would be the best choice, but that’s not an option. A smoky for the future is Jim Chalmers. Maybe it’s time to give him a run – perhaps as deputy.

The other lessons come from the election campaign. I hope Labor aren’t scared off and will stick by their guns. Be bold. Don’t go down the narrow road the Libs have taken. Just do it better.

Better means properly articulating policies better, as Keating and Hawke once did. Bring the electorate with you. Take them on the journey.

The one policy that killed Labor was the franking credits, which the Coalition called a retirement tax. Many people voted against a policy that would have no impact whatsoever on them. They were scared into making a rash decision. Explain it better – it affects only a minority, and then those who are independently wealthy. Sell the benefits – we get $6 billion back into the coffers for schools and roads and hospitals and – hey! – guess what, it’ll pay for your dental care as a senior. But nope.

The other thing that’s riled me is the refusal by Labor to defend themselves against the lies of the Coalition. This has been going on for years, the most egregious being that Labor are bad economic managers which is repeated every campaign. This is a myth that needs to be killed off for the good of the party going forward. The evidence is that Labor are better economic managers, and you only have to point to Hawke/Keating to see excellent economic management. More relevantly perhaps, all the ALP had to do when the Coalition pointed to the deficit Labor created (on the back of the economic stimulus during the GFC) was that since coming into government that the Coalition has doubled it. Go hard, don’t stand for it.

Now I’ll go quiet for a while and lick my wounds.

A beautiful day for an election


It’s a beautiful day to change the government.

It was bloody cold first thing this morning, as it has been for the last couple of weeks, but the sky was clear and blue and the sun bright and quickly it warmed up.

I had an early appointment to get my hair cut in Sandringham. I chatted with the hairdresser as he snipped away. I’ve been going to the same place for 5-6 years now and we know each other well, but today I discovered he was a Liberal voter. Like many, he confessed he didn’t follow politics and didn’t know much about it, but as “a small business owner” he always voted Liberal.

I drove back to Hampton after and, parking the car, walked up the road to the nearest primary school. Even from a distance, I could smell the democracy sausages being cooked with onions on the side. I was there for that, and no other reason. I waved my hand at the how to vote cards presented to me as I walked the gauntlet. At the sausage stall, I was exuberantly told there was a plethora of choice, I could have anything I wanted for $3. “Democracy in action,” I responded, similarly exuberant.

It’s been a wearying and occasionally dispiriting election campaign, but there’s something about how elections days are done in Australia that is splendid. It’s a tiresome act in many ways, but the democracy sausage has become iconic. Add in the stalls manned by volunteers selling cakes and the like for the local school fund, the banter along the way, and there’s a light-hearted, almost celebratory fizz to the day.

I had an invite out tonight, but tonight is one night I never go out. Any time there’s an election I’m there in front of my TV watching every development. I’m all in. This time around that’s especially true. This is a watershed election. This is the chance to remake Australia – or slide back into the mire. I’m confident we’ll see a change of government.

There’s always the footy on the other channel, just in case.