Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Bullying at the workplace

I'm starting this post in my office with a file in front of me and a cup of tea brewing.  The file is one of those that I get passionate about within five minutes of looking at it, because it involves workplace bullying.

I hate bullies.  I know, nobody likes them, but I truly fucking hate them.

I could tell you a lot of guff about why I hate them.  It's enough to say that I was knocked around at school a lot when I was a kid, and for a decent whack of my life I kinda thought I had to just wear it when people threw their weight around.  I can't abide the casual cruelty of bullies - the way they present you with your own weakness: "you wouldn't last ten minutes working there - the boss would be chasing you about the place with a hammer".  I hate their petty, venal abuses of power.  Above all, I hate the endless excuses they have: "you don't know the pressure I'm under" ... "I built this business up from nothing so I can run it how I want" ... and the most sadistic and responsibility-denying of all: "if you don't like it here, you know where the door is" when the all concerned know full well jobs are scarce and workers easily replaced.

As an aside, I notice the legal profession has a few dark secrets of its own -

It's tempting to name the person in the case I'm working on, but I won't.  I'm happy to let the pleadings do the talking (Michael Avenatti I am not).  It's very tempting, however, to paste a Hellraiser meme into an affidavit and serve it on my opponent:

The case in question isn't straightforward but I think I can win it.  I couldn't fight back when I was on the factory floor.  The courtroom and the registry are my preferred battleground.  The defendant likes pushing people around?  I'll play.

Let's dance.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Kicking off the week

The week has started out busy here.  As per usual, I was up at 7am and at the office at 8am.  I put it down to the very active weekend that I felt a bit underpowered this morning.  It was a great feeling when the coffee kicked in: not unlike the moment in 'Comfortably Numb' when the hallucinations wear off in the limousine.  If you haven't seen the music video to 'Comfortably Numb', you really should.  It's worth seeing.

People sometimes get a bit sniffy about coffee from 7/11.  I don't know why.  Yes, it's not A1 barista-made coffee, but for $1 a cup it's great!  Anyway, the morning had me seeing a client and so I can't talk about that, save that it's a good case.  Lunch was made from the groceries at the Market yesterday - broccoli, chillis and tinned salmon.  It's a good blend but it needs something more in the jar with it for the day or two it's in the fridge.  Hot sauce, maybe?  Or perhaps soy sauce.  Vinegar at a pinch.  Experimentation ahoy!

Broccoli, salmon and chilli (c) New Citeaux

The afternoon saw me in conference with another client, although with a twist: I saw them at the coffee shop near work as they were going to struggle with the stairs to my office.  This presented its own challenges: not least that the cafe was near some roadworks and the client is softly spoken. There was a definite problem.

In the evening I needed to head out and do some particular volunteer work and so I was a no-show at SES training.  The job in question was near the Bay though, so I was able to get some clean fresh air after the warm day.  It’s nothing less than rejuvenating.
Pier, Port Phillip Bay, Melbourne (c) New Citeaux
Looking back towards the beach (c) New Citeaux
Not sure what the weather will do this week. Rain is forecast but the storm warnings seem to have ceased.  Lord knows rain would be welcome in the north about now.  Hopefully my SES transfer will finally get through so I can be of some use this storm season!
 How's your week starting out?

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Pick-me-up weekend

I’m starting this post at the Lomond Hotel.  Kinda odd that I’ve lived around here so long and never darkened its door.  Here I am in the front bar having an immensely pleasant Furphys ale.


I decided to stay in town this weekend.  It was a difficult week just gone.  A matter was fixed for trial on Thursday for a fairly demanding client who was determined to press a high risk strategy ... until he decided at the last minute to accept an offer that the defendant had put some months ago.  This is the sort of thing that adds substantially to the stress levels of lawyers and their assistants without actually producing anything.

Anyway, by Friday evening I was barely able to string a sentence together and decided the best thing I could do was have a weekend to myself for a bit of rebuilding. Naturally, there was planning.  Am I the only person who uses the calendars from to plan the weekend in half-hour blocks?  I find it incredibly useful in getting everything out of the time.


Saturday started out with Telecross phone calls for Red Cross (happy to report that everybody was well and happy) followed by a walk up to the 7/11 for their cheap coffee.  Don't judge me.

I’ve been more and more taken with mindfulness and meditation, so I’d planned two blocks of 45 minutes meditation with some suitably hippyish music. I took the first block of it after my coffee.  I’m not sure I felt much different for it save perhaps a bit calmer.  Anyway next on the agenda was FaceTime with Grace and Rachel. They’re getting so grown up now.  As often though, I was competing with the iPad for their attention!  Kids will be kids I guess.  The strangest thing is, I miss them as much now as I ever did.  It never fades.  You just learn to live with it.  Truly, there’s nothing you can’t get used to.

(I just moved onto a Brunswick Bitter; good but I think the Furphy ale was better).

Next item on the agenda was a run.  I decided to try for two hours or 20 kilometres in the Yarra trail and got the tram down to near the Arts Center.  

The Yarra trail turned out to be closed near Powerhouse boat sheds, and I got lost trying to find the detour (getting lost happens to me surprisingly often).  I found myself on Toorak Road back through South Yarra and decided to just head back towards Southbank and see what happened.


In the end I was getting tired and as I’d booked a barre class for today I didn’t want to wreck my legs completely, so I went through to Latrobe and Swanston Streets till I got to 2 hours and called it quits. I was a bit pleased to find that I’ve dropped another kilo when I weighed in when I got back to the Casa.


Next item on the agenda was Mass at Our Lady's. It's only 5 minutes walk from the Casa, but I don't go to Mass there anywhere near as often as I'd like to (it's a timing issue).  Fr Casey does the mass very straight, though, which I like and which is surprisingly rare.


The church isn't that far from a laundromat so I stopped there afterwards to do the laundry and then ironed my shirts.  Yep, my life is that exciting some days.  It felt good, though, to finally get to the stage of the day that involved food (I hadn't eaten all day). 

Today meant another early start in the form of an 8am barre class.  It's an abidingly good cross training for running.  Aside from the utilitarian benefits, there's something liberating about going to something like this without anyone giving a damn.  Herein one of the appeals of coming down to Melbourne.  In Shepparton (and even more Tatura), I was always aware that what you did was seen by everyone.  This was OK the first few years I was there.  And by the last year or two, it really wasn't OK.


Barre done, I walked down to the Queen Victoria Market to get groceries.  The market is a bit uneven cost-wise relative to the supermarket.  However, the quality is almost always rather better and certainly broader.  I picked up some broccoli, rockmelon, strawberries, grain bread and ham.


I walked back to the Casa and and found I'd racked up 10kms,  The fountain in the photo, by the way, is outside the Exhibition Building

After I'd prepped meals for the week, I decided to take advantage of the beautiful day and head up the Merri Creek Trail.  I made up sandwiches with the groceries from the market and bottled some water and wine.  A few kilometres in I found a bench in the shade and that was ideal for me.


Once I got walking again, you can guess what happened: I got lost again.  I think this gets me up to something like 40 kilometres for the weekend.  Healthy or bust!


One of the final items on the agenda was going for a glass or two of wine: clearly, I went with beer instead.  As I was wrapping up the draft of this the band was getting ready to play.  It's been a satisfying weekend, and I think a good pick-me-up.  Let's see what the week brings!

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Cautiously pokes head out of shell...

Hi everyone,

Here I am blogging here again.  I'm a little surprised how long it's been.  Not that I've been silent: for one thing, in the course of rebooting my career I've been putting a reasonable degree of energy into my other blog, which focuses more on my work.

Things have been going well since last update.  I still love being back in the law.  I'm still stoked to turn up to the office each day, and that's just as well: I don't think I've ever worked so hard in my life.  I've noticed that I've pretty well fallen back into my old habit of working late (till about 2200) each night, but I'm OK with that.  I'm getting things done, I have an A1 assistant, and the boss seems broadly happy with my work.  That's good enough for me.  And any time I even think about complaining, I remember how miserable I was in the sign factory and then life seems unutterably blessed again.

A post shared by Stephen Tuck (@sdtuc2) on

Living in Brunswick continues to suit me.  For one thing, it's close enough for me to be able to walk home on evenings when I don't have SES.  It's of course hipster-central, and at present Labour and Greens Party election posters are going up everywhere - rather different to the National Party heartland I've been living in the last five years.

It was a remarkably cold winter which is now giving over to a warm spring (in the north, a drought that doesn't bear thinking about).  I'm loving that it's warm enough to run and keep fit again.  Seems to be working according to the health check with SES the other night, which said I have basically zero risk of heart disease!

Tomorrow is looking fairly packed, so it may be a while before I write again,  Looking forward, however, to updating here more regularly.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

What I learned from my daughter

Regular readers may know that I've made a real effort to observe Lent this year.  I had to adapt my approach slightly (initially I tried giving up swearig as a way of governing my thoughts; I lasted about 20 minutes).  So instead I set myself the discipline of going to Mass three times a week and being sure I avoided meat on Fridays.  I've also been eating plainer food generally, although that's more a matter of economics than piety.

It took until about Good Friday for things to become clear to me.  The source was not what I expected.  I was having a conversation on Twitter with a robust atheist who demanded to know what good God was if people still suffer through no fault of their own.  This was my reply: 
There was little agreement on the point.  However, "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend" and the more I talked the harder I found it to resist my own logic.  There is work to be done in this world to make it less harsh. Many children need a little extra help to get through at school (this is the excellent work the Smith Family does).  Many people get into economic strife.  Sometimes it will be through foolishness, but folly is as human as courage. Helping them is the work of the Brotherhood of St Vincent among others.  And sometimes disasters come from the heavens, and this is the time for the State Emergency Service and Red Cross and others (on a related note: my friends on Instagram may have seen that I was recently accepted into the Coast Guard).

I was fortified in this conclusion by something one of my daughters said a few weeks ago.  She was drawing a picture to encourage people to give to a cause.  She had come put with the tagline which she told me with all the clear innocence of childhood: "Help the needy - don't be greedy".  Her words have been in my ears ever since.

If the need is great, and if I have the means to alleviate it, then what right do I have to refuse to do so?  Pope John Paul II's observation to prisoners is apposite here -
The Jubilee reminds us that time belongs to God. Even time in prison does not escape God's dominion. Public authorities who deprive human beings of their personal freedom as the law requires, bracketing off as it were a longer or shorter part of their life, must realize that they are not masters of the prisoners' time. In the same way, those who are in detention must not live as if their time in prison had been taken from them completely: even time in prison is God's time. As such it needs to be lived to the full; it is a time which needs to be offered to God as a occasion of truth, humility, expiation and even faith. The Jubilee serves to remind us that not only does time belong to God, but that the moments in which we succeed in "restoring" all things in Christ become for us "a time of the Lord's favour".
The time I have is not mine, but is a held on a reversionary trust from God.  So if I don't use it as He would have me do, then I'm basically a thief.  Well, maybe not a thief.  A crooked trustee is an apter analogy.  Still, a white collar criminal remains a criminal.  This has profound ramifications for how I ought live my life.  Do I have time in the week's 168 hours that I am not putting to use in suitable works (if they're required by faith and reason, they can't really be called good)?  If so, why not?

I'll save a breakdown of my week for another post.  A few things come to mind though.  Clearly I have to keep working, because I have to give Grace and Rachel a good start in life.  Mondays I have SES and Tuesdays will be Coast Guard.  Wednesday isn't accounted for, but Thursdays tend to be covered by Red Cross (either emergency services or blood bank).  Friday tends to be a bit of a dead end.  Saturday and Sunday mornings can be Telecross days.  Much of the weekend tends to be work and helping for my parents who aren't young.  I can justify running and fitness if I tie my races to fundraising, and in any case, all work and no play etc...  And where there is space, there is time for prayer.  It seems to me that a more organised and thoroughgoing giving of my life to suitable works would give my life the intensity I've wanted ever since I first heard of the Cistercians as a young undergraduate.  I certainly have no vocation for the cloister. I don't think I ever will.  But I want to give my life to love.  I was a bad husband, and I doubt I'm much of a father.  Maybe this love of neighbour was what I was made for all along.

De Laude Novae Militiae (image from here)
St Bernard of Clairvaux wrote De Laude Novae Militiae in praise of the newly-founded Templar Knights.
They never sit in idleness or wander about aimlessly, but on the rare occasions when they are not on duty, they are always careful to earn their bread by repairing their worn armor and torn clothing, or simply by setting things to order. For the rest, they are guided by the common needs and by the orders of their master.
Claiming to be a modern Templar can only be described as "naff", a thing for fantasists.  An organization like the Brown Nurses is what this age needs.  It's time for dirty hands and getting things done.  God needs workmen?  Maybe that's what I'm called to do.

Help the needy - don't be greedy

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Detoxing Weekend

Hi everyone,

Does saying I had a detoxing weekend mean I've gone native?  Am I in danger of growing a man-bun and buying fair-trade coffee?  Possibly.  But not likely.  The weekend just gone wasn't planned as a detoxing exercise, but it did become an excellent spell of personal time.

I suppose the weekend started when I left the office.  I'd booked a barre yin class in Fitzroy.  This particular mode of exercise merges barre and yoga.  This made an interesting combination and I found it to be a smooth, chilled out way to end the week.  It'd probably be ideal in the recovery phase after a marathon or something of equal intensity.

Nope: I don't look even remotely like this (Image from here)

I came back to the sharehouse after the class and packed a bag.  I'd promised the old boy that I'd head down to the farm on the Peninsula and check that the steers had feed and water.  I stopped on the way to pick up the sort of simple fare I tend to like - wholemeal rolls, fish, tomatoes and a few tins of corn, chickpeas and beans.  I reached the farm a bit before midnight.

I was up a little before 0800 on Saturday.  It was my turn to make Telecross phone calls for Red Cross.  Perhaps I was still chilled out from the class the previous night: I found that the calls positively flowed by and I was in a very positive mood as I chattered away to the clients.  I hope that some of the positive mood flowed through to them too!  I found myself wading through a backlog of 100+ emails that had built up over the week and cleared them all by 1100, so that gave me a bit of a lift too.

After this I set out across the paddocks to check up on the cattle.  Nearly all the internal gates on the farm are open to give the 39 steers and one bull as much grazing area as possible.  Broadly, they're doing OK.  The grasses are grazed very low nearest the water trough and still pretty long the further from it you go.  They're in no danger of starving, but equally, they won't get fat.

Cattle Grazing near Shoreham, Australia (c) New Citeaux
In addition to being able to report good news to the old boy, it was a good 5 kilometre walk up hill and down dale.  The property is on the water and I liked the thought of the sea air flushing my lungs out.  It was about 1300 when I got back to the house and decided my next move.  About the only thing that was bugging me was that I'd had a couple of alerts from both SES and Red Cross of bad weather on Sunday.  I was having the attack of pre-bad-weather nerves that I seem to get more and more often and which I think I've blogged about before.  I could have gone straight back to town at that point (since I'd done the job I came there to do) and waited to be called out.  But then I thought... I've wanted this weekend for a while, and if I go back, the weather system will pass without incident...  It says something that it was so easy for me to rationalize benching myself.

Coastline near Flinders, Australia (c) New Citeaux
That decision made, I made my plan for the rest of the day: drive over to Rosebud, go for a run and a swim and then to Mass at Our Lady of Fatima.  I went to high school in Rosebud until I went to Melbourne.  I sometimes wonder what would have happened to me if I'd stayed at Rosebud Secondary College.  I have no idea if I'd have gone to university.  I doubt I'd have become a lawyer.  Possibly I'd still be on the Peninsula surrounded by sand and wine.  And maybe I'd have understood Camus much better.

Rosebud is a town spread along the northern side of the Peninsula on the shore of Port Philip Bay.  The country is dead flat and winds in and out of tea-tree and campgrounds along the beach.  It was perfect terrain for running and also doing some people-watching of the campers enjoying the last rag-ends of summer.  In the end I went a little over 10kms and a bit over an hour.  I didn't have much time between finishing my run and Mass starting, but I had 15 minutes to get into the bay to cool down and use seawater and sand to scrub the sweat and dust off.  What made it an adventure was that it was apparently perfect kiteboarding conditions: there were dozens of them and every so often I found myself dodging out of their way!

Kiteboarding at Rosebud (c) New Citeaux

Mass at Our Ladys was done refreshingly straight.  Afterwards I went and picked up a bottle of wine since I hadn't been able to buy any elsewhere.  After all the exercise I thoroughly enjoyed an accidentally-vegetarian dinner of corn, beans and chili.

Sunday brought another adventure: a two hour class at Silver Leaf Yoga School.  The school is in a purpose built building on a nursery property.  There were I suppose 15 attendees, and the class was geared to beginners and experienced practitioners.  I don't think you could call it a punishing or draining workout, but it was a good exercise in stretching and becoming aware of your body.

Silver Leaf Yoga School (Image from here)

I headed back to the Casa after the class in time to skype with Grace and Rachel.  It was getting late there, and I think they were tired, but they were still happy to see me.  Especially Rachel who seems to want to spend more time with me now.  I've very glad of this: Grace, bless her, can be a little over-dominating and it's wonderful to see Rachel more her own little person.

I got on the road for Melbourne about 1600.  I must have been pretty chilled out because I wasn't fazed by a traffic jam on the Mornington Peninsula Freeway or by coming back to wash clothes at the laundrette.  It was a very satisfying weekend and set me up well for the week ahead.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

[Book review] Ernest Hemingway, The Snows of Kilimanjaro (Panther: London, 1977)

Ernest Hemingway, The Snows of Kilimanjaro (Panther: London, 1977)

I think I finished reading The Snows of Kilimanjaro last night.  It's hard to be sure.  The version I have is a very battered mass-market paperback which I bought in Shepparton for a dollar a year ago.

Image result for The snows of Kilimanjaro panther books
Image from here

However, when I look at the Wikipedia entry for the book, I see that it's meant to include the following stories -
  • "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"
  • "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"
  • "A Day's Wait"
  • "The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio"
  • "Fathers and Sons"
  • "In Another Country"
  • "The Killers"
  • "A Way You'll Never Be"
  • "Fifty Grand"
  • "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber"

None of these save the first appear in the book I have.  The collection itself is fairly oddly constructed.  Each story begins with a small italicised paragraph describing a scene unrelated to the story itself.  "Indian camp", describing a young man called Nick helping his doctor father is prefaced by a description of an army marching towards Mons in World War One. "The Battler", describing the same Nick's encounter with a violent hobo, is prefaced by a description of an execution.  I have no idea whether this combination of story and preface is Hemingway's or the editor's.  The same Nick appears in a little over half of the stories.  From time to time one has the impression that all of the stories will somehow be tied together (nope), or that many of them are jottings from a writer's notebook.

So much for the structural issues.  Beyond these, the stories are vintage Hemingway: each is written in that prose which I can only describe as "glassy": hard, close and unsparing.  The cruelty in "On the Quai at Smyrna" is described with the plainness of a person for whom pain and cruelty have are facts and not shocks.  The weariness and disappointment in "Out of Season" doesn't succumb to self pity.

As I read these short stories-cum-excerpts I found myself more and more impressed by how unsparing they were.  I think this quality is more needed in literature now than ever.  There is an argument that fiction has changed in our time.  Something like 80% of fiction readers are women.  The irreproachably progressive National Public Radio observes that -
Theories attempting to explain the "fiction gap" abound. Cognitive psychologists have found that women are more empathetic than men, and possess a greater emotional range—traits that make fiction more appealing to them.

Some experts see the genesis of the "fiction gap" in early childhood. At a young age, girls can sit still for much longer periods of time than boys, says Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain.

"Girls have an easier time with reading or written work, and it's not a stretch to extrapolate [that] to adult life," Brizendine says. Indeed, adult women talk more in social settings and use more words than men, she says.

Another theory focuses on "mirror neurons." Located behind the eyebrows, these neurons are activated both when we initiate actions and when we watch those same actions in others. Mirror neurons explain why we recoil when seeing others in pain, or salivate when we see other people eating a gourmet meal. Neuroscientists believe that mirror neurons hold the biological key to empathy.

The research is still in its early stages, but some studies have found that women have more sensitive mirror neurons than men. That might explain why women are drawn to works of fiction, which by definition require the reader to empathize with characters.

"Reading requires incredible patience, and the ability to 'feel into' the characters. That is something women are both more interested in and also better at than men," says Brizendine. 
This may explain why Jamie Fewery's question "how many books that are published these days speak to the modern male experience of life? How many address the issues around what it is to be a man today, and a young man in particular, with all the attendant crises that come with manhood?" is followed by a description of feelings heavy fluff

None of this would be worth talking about, if the ramifications were confined to the business models of writers and publishers.  But in a world which becomes more brutal in very real ways, I wonder whether saturating the culture with the tenderness of feelings is desirable.  That is, is the dispensation from rules that allows a film to celebrate I'm-ok-you're-ok-and-it-feels-good bestiality the same sort of dispensation that allows a common soldier to consider himself relieved from complying with the rules of war?  I suspect it may be.  Culture is influential (or infectious) that way.

So despite its flaws, is Snows of Kilimanjaro a book I recommend?  Yes.  Perhaps more than ever the world needs people to look at the world and see its surface with the same obstinate realism on display here.