One nil

Like a lot of the country, I stayed up late last night to watch Australia win the first Ashes test against England. In the end, it was pretty easy.

You couldn’t have predicted this on the first day. Not long after lunch, Australia had fallen to 8-122. In the end, we made 284, thanks to the tail wagging mightily and an out of the box innings by Steve Smith. It was a handy effort considering, but come the turn of the innings we were 90 runs in deficit and lost the openers in quick time. From there on in it was all Australia.

The batters played committed aggressive cricket. Smith played another great innings for his second century of the match, Wade made another hundred, Head a fifty, and the tail went the tonk big time. Coming into the last day England needed not much under 400 to win, and a whole day to bat if they wanted to survive. In the event, they didn’t make it to tea.

It was another committed effort, this time by the Australian bowlers. Lyon got six wickets, Cummins four, but all were good. England was bereft and demoralised, all out for 143.

This was a great win, and particularly satisfying. In his first test match after the ban, Smith reminded everybody why he’s the best batsman in the world and probably one of the best ever. And in the face of a feral and hostile crowd, the Australian team became a tight and determined unit. By the end of the match, I’d suggest all the carry-on and abuse affected the English team more, while it served to steel the purpose of the Australians.

It’s particularly nice to win in these circumstances. Off to Lords now, where Australia has an excellent record, and where Starc will likely be unleashed. This is a good team.


Monday morning

I had that dread feeling going into work this morning. It was superficial, I knew, but it was indicative of my current state of mind.

I spoke about it with Donna on Friday night. Each year we catch up for dinner to celebrate mum’s birthday. It was delayed this year, but once more, it was a fun night. I had a quiet pint by myself waiting for her at the Meyer’s Place Bar, then we walked around a while looking for somewhere suitable to eat. After a few false starts, we ended up at Tonka. It was a good choice.

We sat on the corner of the bar and grazed through a variety of modern Indian dishes. The place was lush and warm.

We always have candid conversations when we catch up. I have few people to discuss these things with now, and in me, she has someone she can trust and who will understand. We talked about everything, including mum, and also touched upon such prickly topics such as our health, about getting old, and our respective state of mind. At one point, I recited to her the recent mental challenges I’d faced, giving an interpretation of them. She listened without interruption, then told me she knew exactly what I meant because she’d experienced precisely the same.

It’s good to have someone I can talk to about such things. To be fair, I think she’s had a tougher time of it than me. I still reckon many of my issues are situational. They’re more easily triggered than ever before, but once I get them managed – as soon I will with my current challenges – then I fall back into a relative state of stability. Not happy, but not unhappy, either. I think Donna has been generally unhappy for a long time, with spikes in it according to the issues she’s dealing with – and they’ve been a few of them lately.

Friday night though was very pleasant.

To my surprise, I got an invitation to have dinner at the Cheeses Saturday night. It used to be that I’d be over there at least once a month, but it’d fallen away drastically this year, to the point that I wondered what it meant. I might have been over for a barbecue early in the year, but that was it. At a time I needed all the friends I could get, I felt this absence keenly. When I was invited, I couldn’t help but remind Cheeseboy of that a little. I thought you’d never ask, I said.

As ever, it was low-key but easy and good, and I was grateful to get out, though I confided nothing of my concerns.

The rest of the weekend was as normal. I did my shopping, got a haircut, stayed up to watch the Ashes, and I wrote. Then this morning I head off to work, and I know I don’t want to be there. I don’t feel 100% these days, I’ve got a cold, different niggles, just feel a little off in general physically. Nothing a decent holiday wouldn’t restore to me. But then there’s the new job too, and uncertainty around it, and a current lack of structure – things I know will pass, but which I feel keenly in the meantime.

Once I’m sitting at my desk, it’s not so bad. I know it will be fine and I’ll be fine, though I still need that holiday. I can’t though and need to hang on for a few months before I can do anything like that. In the meantime, news on Friday will have an impact on how the future shapes.

A week before I started in this job, one of my advocates, a digital marketing manager, left the business. He was instrumental in me gaining this position. Then his boss, the big boss, a guy I’ve worked closely with in guiding the chatbot, he called us into a meeting room Friday and announced he’d be leaving at the end of the month.

We’ve had our run-ins, but there’s a lot of mutual respect. He wanted me for this job, and I’d hitched myself to him in no small degree. There was the promise of more to come with him around. And now he’s going.

That’s life. My two biggest advocates are either gone or going, but it may also make for an opportunity. Speaking to him late on Friday I got the sense that there may be more to come – that, down the track, our fates might once more intersect.

The epoch of the mass-man

I’m reading a book at the moment called Diary of a Man in Despair. It’s by a German author who recorded his thoughts through the rise of the Nazis and the second world war. His name was Friedrich Reck, and ultimately they caught up with him, and he died at Dachau.

It’s a fascinating, entertaining read. Reck was a highly educated man with distinct opinions and a voice all his own. He’s haughty and derisive, he has a patrician air but is not above the occasional gossipy aside. His attitude drips with a delicious, acid disdain. He deplored the Nazis, as much for their uncouth manners as their politics. He was a proud German who saw decline all about him, and predicted disaster, and was right.

Throughout the book, he launches into scathing dissertations on the state of the world about him, like a grumpy old man, but he knew what he spoke of and describes it in coruscating detail. Reading, I could imagine him in his far ago hunched over his diary inscribing his bitter words. It was the end of everything, he knew, and he wanted to record it.

There are many memorable sections in the book, but there was one the other day that resonated with me. It could be said that I’m a bit of a grump too, and I’ve not been short of a bitter word or two in this blog. I can sympathise. But then I read this section, and I realised how little changes. What appeared true to him back then I could endorse equally today – and have, more or less, but in my own words.

He writes of ‘Mass-man’, who:

“…buys the products of technology in complete mindlessness, without involving himself, or even taking an interest in the intellectual work that made these things possible…

I do not believe this ‘New-Adam’ has the faintest idea of how completely dependent his existence is on the products of technology. I have an idea that at a beginning of the end of world he will want to know how the government proposes to hold next Sunday’s German-Sweden football match on schedule. His fate appears to me certain and unavoidable. The coming Second World War will be the beginning of the end: the end of an epoch in which rationalism was dominant, and the legacy of which – assuming the planet is still capable of regeneration – will be ‘X’, a new mode of life based on the nonrational.”

He wrote that in 1937. Eighty years on the technology has become omnipotent and dominates our life, though clearly, the strains of its insidious influence were plain even then. The ‘mass-man’ he writes of here is pretty much the same as what we see now, and perhaps it has ever been so. The only difference I can see is that he speaks of the end of rationalism, whereas as far as I can see, it’s been long dead in this modern era. But then he goes on to say:

“…the masses sensing they are doomed…will, no doubt, strike out against everything that is not masslike, but is, simply, ‘different’…”

Substitute mob for mass and this is the state of affairs in much of the western world. The mob – the degenerate mass-man – voted in Trump and in favour of Brexit. The low rent appeal of it swayed the election here, and it has adherents in every nation. It takes aim at everything different and not sanctioned by the mob – refugees and muslims, different coloured foreigners and clever elites, and whomsoever they are directed at to despise.

The problem is, we live in an age of intellectual torpor. Our critical faculties have withered. Too much easy living, too many low-bars, has made us soft. Great herds of consumers get carried away on social media over febrile linguistics, on inconsequentialities while the great things elude them. Outrage is the lingua franca of our times. The educated mind that once led curiously on is a rare thing these days, existing only in intellectual ghettoes, under siege from the commonplace politics of populist leaders who see danger in independent minds and urge their followers to the same. In the face of such hostile opposition, intellectual rigour has fallen away. The questions that should be asked are asked rarely, or not at all, lies are accepted as truth, and too much that once would have left us shocked has now been accepted as normal.

It all sounds very Orwellian – and me an awful grump. I find it hard settling in a society where the lowest common denominator rules, and sometimes I wonder how I found my way here, high and dry. Those of us who think similarly have been disenfranchised. We are part of the problem, not the solution – but the solution makes for greed and prejudice and a nation of drones.

Gloomy as I sound, I’m always hopeful that it will change. I’ve always believed that, but more and more I feel as Reck did, retiring to my ‘estate’ as he did, though mine is made up of books and old movies and music and good wine, and the occasional rant, like this. He knew his time was over. Though I know the pendulum will swing, I wonder if my time is done too. I suspect I may not be around when it corrects, when the educated mind is valued again, and independent thought encouraged. Of course, we might all be burnt to a crisp by then…

Touch wood

Okay, I’ve been busy, which is why I haven’t written – quit complaining. I started the new job on Monday and ever since it’s felt a bit like steering a spaceship through a meteor storm, hoping not to get pinged.

It’s not that the job promises to be that difficult. It’s more that it’s pretty busy and I’ve been introduced to about five new applications and a raft of ill-defined processes, with about five minutes instruction in each, and left to my devices. On top of that, I’m in a new team, which I’ve yet to be formally introduced to.

You know me. I hate not being in control, but I’m also reluctant to admit that a bit more help would be useful. I’ve asked for help here and there but, by and large, I’ve forged ahead figuring it out for myself. Around lunchtime yesterday, I began to feel more comfortable, as if I had a handle on things. There’s still much more I don’t know than I know, but the framework has become clearer. I’m not a big fan of what I’ve found, which coincides with the next phase: ownership. I’m not far from stepping in and saying okay, this is what we have to do from here on in.

I’ve got no complaints. It’s been an imperfect process, but it’s not been deliberate. They’ve been under the pump themselves. Besides, they’re IT people – smart at what they do, but some of the courtesies and things we think of as common sense elude them. It’s not purposeful, just the way they are. It’s up to me to fill in the gaps, which is what I’m doing. And in a way it’s not a bad thing – I can come to it fresh and form my own opinions on it (though it would have been handy to get some instruction on the apps I’m working with).

I finished up in the old role Friday. Would you believe the manager came to me, and everyone else, and asked us to work on the queues of work wildly out of control. It was my last day, and I hadn’t done any of that stuff for near on three years. It seemed a dubious proposition to me. I would be of doubtful productivity, and there was always the risk that I would fuck up.

I’m not precious, though. Reluctantly I started in on it – and took 40 minutes to complete something that would have taken about 15 minutes before. Once I had that done, I abandoned the exercise. I had other things to do on my last day, loose ends to tie up, and so I did that (and didn’t finish doing them until after 5pm, btw). What are they going to do? I wondered. Fire me?

At about 4pm a few people started gathering around my desk, and I knew something was on. I got a card and a bottle of gin as a parting gift, as well as a couple of speeches. I responded graciously. Later a couple of the lads, beer aficionados, brought me a 6-pack of boutique beer as their parting gift.

It’s fair to say that among the rank and file, I was always pretty popular. With a few (notable) exceptions, it was the more senior staff I clashed with, or relationships were strained. A lot of that was me, not that I was ever particularly rude unless you think being direct is rude (many do). It’s just that you make an assessment and it seemed to me that many were incompetent or unpleasant or self-serving. In those cases, I work around those people. I don’t pretend anything, but nor am I bothered to engage. Though nothing is said, they always know – but they know because they know the truth themselves inside, and it’s unpleasant.

I went out with JV that night and ended up having an unexpectedly great evening, as I described. I felt more myself. I wondered if that was the secret. These last 18 months, I’ve tried to be more authentic in what I felt. The tendency before was to always shrug my shoulders and plough through, like a ruck rover going through a pack. Now, I decided, I had to acknowledge what I felt and open myself up to it. It was necessary, and it was mostly positive. But though you let things go by doing it, some things you carry. I wondered if what I carried had become a burden.

I felt cocky Friday night. I remembered my old self. I had some of the old swagger back. This is me, I thought. And I thought it’s time to be that person again – to go for it, to be cocky and audacious, to shrug off the limitations I’d imposed myself, to once more take the risks that were a part of my essential nature. To be utterly free in my self.

I’ve lived a small life in recent years, and the argument has been I had no choice. Certainly, my opportunities were limited, but I also sought to be sensible. That meant denying myself things until the time was right – such as meaningful feminine company. In the crowd of women last Friday night, I felt roused in the old fashioned way.

I think there’s some sense to all that, but it’s not so easy. This week has been very hard. On Monday, I wondered how I would cope. I think a part of that is feeling out of control, but there is a fundamental issue underlying that. I sometimes wonder if I’m suffering from a form of PTSD.

Through the week I was up and down, but I managed. I reverted to habit and got away with it, but inside I felt frail. I think the truth of it these days is that I don’t have the buffer around me anymore. I feel things easily. I bruise easily. It’s a strange thing considering the man I was. But then, it seems, I can carry the bruise and function (much to my surprise sometimes).

I have no choice in this. I must function. I’m in a new job, and much is expected from me, and there’s no second chance. And there’s no reserve. I have to make it work because if it doesn’t, I don’t know what happens then.

That sounds bleak, but I reckon it will work out. I know this of myself. I’m as smart as I’ve ever been, and it comes through even when I’m not feeling it. And, to my surprise, many others seem naturally inclined to defer to me. I wish I could see myself to understand that, but I suspect it’s that veneer formed over many years of working. It’s not a true thing right now, but from the outside, it appears intact. I should be thankful for that as it opens a lot of doors for me.

I’d like to think the worst is over, but I know there will be other challenges. This ‘worst’ was just about the worst I’ve felt, but I’ve come from that a bit. That should reassure me. I think, ultimately, I’m a survivor.

Singing along to Elton John

Since the election, I’ve become quite cynical. That’s what comes of being so drastically disappointed. The worst part of it is how I’ve come to see my fellow Australians. I meet people, and I wonder. There’s a fair bit of the side-eye going on, wondering if this person or that was one of the cunts who voted for the cunts. I can’t get over the fact that so many people did. I’m sure I’d be shocked to discover some of those who did, and it’s probably better than I don’t – but it leaves me free to speculate.

Last night I went out for dinner and drinks with JV. His wife’s away and he wanted to make a night of it. We had a beer at a bar before heading to an Italian restaurant for some wood-fired pizza. We were in a quandary after that: where to next? There was a possibility we’d adjourn back to his home or mine for a bottle of wine while watching the footy, but it was too early for that. We ended up going to another bar a few metres away, where the pianist who’d performed at his wedding had a show. Turned out to be a great decision.

It was the most fun I’ve had for a long time. It was an intimate upstairs bar full to the gills. Most of the crowd there were women, maybe 60%, and the rest mainly middle-aged couples. We were probably the demographic outliers amongst that lot, but it didn’t stop us from enjoying the show. We found ourselves a handy spot to listen and watch-on while we hopped into one drink after another, spirits for the night.

The pianist was great. He was a slick musician, and he was also a great showman. He worked the crowd firing it up and engaging in different parts of it, all the while taking requests and singing a bunch of old classics everyone knew. Naturally, everyone sang along too. There was a great and happy vibe there, and I was caught up in it too, sipping on my drink and watching the antics of the hyped-up audience and singing along loud.

At one point, I found myself thinking how good music is connecting people. It’s its own language. In a way, it was surprising to find everyone as attuned to the music as I was, and the knowledge that they knew the words as well as I did, and that these songs had been as much a part of their life as they had mine was a simple, but profound realisation. We shared this. We were a community. In that room, last night, singing along together, we were all happy and all a part of something together.

As I thought that I realised that among the crowd would be some, I have come to describe as cunts because of their political beliefs. And though that was a simple realisation also, it was shocking in a way too. How can someone vote for those cunts and still happily sing along so joyfully with the rest of us?

I would guess if there were a survey of the room most would’ve voted the same, or similar, to what I did. We were smack bang in the middle of the CBD after all, and the crowd was probably more ‘latte-sipping’ than most given the venue and the show. But, naturally, there would’ve been a few there who passionately voted for the others. What did I make of that?

You might think that the realisation sharing a sing-along with them might have mellowed my beliefs some. But no. There are some things you can’t excuse away just because you belong to the same club. These are awful times we live in, and I’m disinclined to glad-hand those who aid and abet the people who wilfully do awful things. Just because you sing along to Rocketman with me doesn’t mean we’re brothers.

That’s not to say I didn’t learn anything from it, though, more truly, it wasn’t anything I learned so much as was reminded of. Half the people who voted for the others did so I reckon from ignorance and apathy, and a few more out of greed. There are few true fascists between them. And even they take pleasure in the same things as the rest of us (and probably a few other things besides). People don’t wear horns. Sometimes you can guess at these things, but they’re no signs that give it away 100%, and the friendliest, most affable people you can meet can, sometimes, in their spare time, be the greatest bigots. You can have 90% in common with someone, but that 10% difference is telling.

Did I learn anything? Maybe I can’t be on my guard all the time and that there’s no point going around giving people the side-eye because I’m not going to know, and it’s done anyway. That doesn’t mean I forgive the cunts. This is our life. It’s too big to forgive.

Snakes and ladders

I had another test on Tuesday and used it as an excuse to take the day off. The plan was to be up early and getting the test done not long after nine. I woke at the usual time I would if I was going to work, but as I wasn’t going to work all I did was get up to feed Rigby. I couldn’t even have coffee since this was a fasting test.

I went back to bed with Rigby joining me. I didn’t read as I might normally but chose to catch up on my sleep. I was weary, I hadn’t slept well, just as I haven’t for a few weeks now. It turned out I slept for over two hours. The body takes what the body needs, and the body needed this. I don’t know if I could have slept as long if it was the weekend, but it’s different on a weekday. On the weekend you have things to do and the whole world outside is home as well as you. On a weekday if you’re sleeping in, you’ve already opted out of your commitments, and in the meantime, the world about you has evacuated to keep to their obligations. It’s a different mindset. You’re in a cosy cocoon. You have a leave pass from daily life, and the body relaxes into restful sleep.

That’s how it was for me. Rigby slept on the bed beside me or else curled up in the curve of my body. When I woke, I could have closed my eyes for another snooze, but it was getting on for ten by now.

I walked down the road to get my test, this time for liver function. I fully expect the results for this will be negative, just as it was for glucose/diabetes. I’ve got to tick that box, however. Afterwards, I walked down the road where I had a coffee and a slice to break my fast. I deserved it.

The rest of the day was a whole lot of nothing, a bit of this and that, though pleasant enough. I managed to change my ISP – doubling my speed for just an extra $6 monthly. That was great until I found out the router I had – and now owned – had been locked by the old ISP, which meant I had to go out and buy a new one. I walked Rigby, I did some cooking, I wrote a paragraph, and generally I felt poorly.

I’ve had a couple of health niggles lately, as most had, and not nearly bad as many. I didn’t feel a hundred per cent and, despite the extra sleep, felt weary still. The weariness may well be a symptom of my state of mind, which has sharply declined in recent weeks. I’ve gone into that. What it boils down to is that there’s nothing in the centre of my life where there should be something warm and safe. Then, late in the day, I got an email that slammed me hard.

It was from the ATO. For background, I incurred a substantial tax debt about seven years ago, around the time all the shit was going down in my life. The shit continued for another few years, but that was near the start of it. Somebody from the ATO suggested I could appeal the debt on the grounds of hardship – I’d been ripped off a hundred grand, I was unemployed and without fixed abode, had sold off my assets to survive, on top of which my mum had not long died, and half the family was threatening legal action. So, I appealed, and that dragged out for maybe three years and included an appearance at VCAT as the ATO resisted. In the end, they conceded a little. I’d dug in my heels, not that I had much choice. As I told them, they may as well bill me for a million dollars as for the amount I owed (initially $31K, now near $50k with interest), as I was just as likely to pay that.

For the last 3-4 years, they’d let me alone, but there was always the possibility – as they had told me – of them returning to haunt me once I got on my feet. I submitted my tax return a few weeks ago, and the calculation showed that I would get a return of just over a grand, consistent with the government tax cut. I figure that amount – $1K – triggered a response. The email told me that my tax return was delayed because they were investigating my tax debt – the inference being, at the least, that they may claim my return and apply it against the debt. The worst-case scenario is that they take the opportunity to reactivate their claim against me and set in motion garnishing my wages.

When you’re in the state of mind, I was anything vaguely negative hits you hard. You break a glass by accident, and it sets you off. This was more than broken glass, and my first reaction was to wonder: what’s the point? I felt as if no matter what I do, there was always something to drag me back. I’ve strived to get ahead, to drag myself out of the hole I was in; I’ve fought with every ounce of strength until I ached with it, and my mind was weary with the struggle. Finally, I had managed lift myself to the next level, somewhere I could breathe a little easier – and then, on cue, just a week or so later, the ATO come calling. It’s like a game of snakes and ladders.

I’ll manage. I always do. Lot of it these days is playing a role, some of it instinct, and a fair bit of it mere habit. I don’t inhabit myself right now as I did before, but I know the tropes, I know the lines, I can pretend, and I can force myself forwards. It now appears I may need to fight again. I’m over fighting, but the alternative is not an option.

Right now I’m in a better space I was on Tuesday, but still a long way short of my best. It’s Friday, I’ve had my crumpet, it’s the last day in this job, and on Monday I begin in my new role. As they say, I’ll be taking it one week at a time from here.

50 years ago today

It’s the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, and there’s been a heap of news and stories, and great doco’s on leading into it. I’ve been right into it because it’s a fascinating and heroic story, no matter what anyone else tells you.

It reminds me how old I am too, for I can actually remember watching the first walk on the moon on TV.

I was just a small boy at that point, not long turned five. I can’t remember if I was in prep or grade one, but I recall sitting in class with a TV being wheeled in and the teacher fussing around before on the small black and white screen came the blurry shots of Neil Armstrong bouncing around on the surface of the moon.

I don’t remember what I thought of it then, but I’ve never forgotten it. I can still see it now in my mind. I was a cute kid then with all of life ahead of me, and now I’m a grizzled adult with a lot of stories to tell, and it seems both a lifetime away, but also fresh and memorable.

I wish my mum were still around to ask her about this time, but I think that often these days. I’m at the age now when I look back with curiosity and want to know what it was like back then on the ground when these things happened. What did it feel like? What did you think?

But then, I guess, they’re the questions I might get asked someday.