Tuesday, 31 December 2019

So long, old decade, and thanks for the memories

Every year has its seasons of waiting, when normal rules are set aside and the world waits for the milestone to pass.  Holy Saturday is one.  The Monday before Cup Day is another.  The longest of all is the season between Boxing Day and New Years Day. It’s a season to search your heart and to review your life and consider what you want the new year to hold. When the next year marks a new decade, this goes up by a factor of ten.  In other years, I’ve reviewed my diary and notebooks in this time seeking insight.  This year I didn’t have to.  This time I had inspiration on my side.

It’s not always easy to know where inspiration comes from.  This year, however, I know exactly where it came from.  It came from a booze-fuelled conversation with my dear friend Sarah at a bar in Melbourne.

I don’t quite remember how the point arose.  I listened to her describing her life to date with a sense of acute contrast.  What struck me was that she had spent much of her life dismantling the walls between herself and experience. I have spent a large whack of my 41 years building and strengthening my own.

Actually, referring to “walls” between me and experience isn’t an ideal metaphor.  Readers over the decade or so I’ve been writing this blog will know that the experiences I’ve had have been startlingly varied.  The 2010s have seen -
  • The birth of my darling daughters;
  • The breakdown of my marriage ending in divorce
  • Being fired from two jobs.
  • Resigning from two other jobs (one resignation more voluntary than the other!)
  • Losing all of my savings.
  • Losing most of my stuff.
  • Three changes of address and ten changes of jobs.
  • Service with SES in two states including multiple encounters with the dead and dying.
  • Three marathons and God-knows how many half-marathons.
  • I've written and (more importantly) published multiple times in Australia and the USA.
  • Running umpteen court cases to judgment.
  • Multiple trips to the USA.
  • Lots of new friends!
  • Loss of some people from my life which (for the most part) I'm OK with.
  • Service with Red Cross after a terror attack.
  • Work that made me miserable but from which I learned a lot.
There's probably some other experiences I've omitted to mention, but no matter. The point is that life has not, on the whole, been sheltered.  So perhaps a better metaphor is that I’ve become expert at creating ever-more labyrinthine gateways in the walls between me and experience.  A simple (if trivial) example is that I loved Dido’s album Life for Rent. Despite this, it took me an unspeakable amount of time to listen to (say) No Angel or Safe Trip Home.  I can’t even explain why, exactly.  Perhaps, having made one piece of artistic output part of my mental landscape, I didn’t want run the risk of something else overturning it all.  This would go some way to explaining why I’ve long had an instinctive animus against reading fiction and near total lack of interest in anything new where music or cinema or TV is concerned.

These intricate gateways have served a useful purpose.  They let me keep control of what went on in my mind when the 1260 cubic centimetres inside my skull was about the only thing over which I had any real control.  One might posit a kind of intellectual anorexia, with similar motivations.  So far, so good.  But the writer of Ecclesiastes was right: there is a time for everything, and now I feel comfortable enough in my own skin and in my own sense of purpose not to need quite the same fortress mentality, however well it has served me in the past.  Fortresses, after all, differ principally from prisons only in the side of the door the locks are on.  It seems to me that all the carefully locked mental gateways I have built can be replaced with something much more straightforward (basically, will participating in such-and-such  violate the Catechism?).

Since that conversation with Sarah I’ve found myself doing things I hadn’t expected to do.  I blazed through Bruce Chatwin’s novel On The Black Hill in about a week, aching along with its description of rural poverty because it's an experience I've seen at close quarters

I also experimented with trying for an actual date, which is something I’ve never really done in a conventional sense.  This was less successful.  OKCupid doesn’t have a “dealbreaker” setting, which resulted in a very large number of potential matches which I rejected out of hand. 
Golf, like atheism, is a dealbreaker

I’ll be interested to try speed dating next year.  I’d be astonished if it led anywhere but it should make for a novel evening!
I don't know what the 2020s will hold.  Based on the experience of the last decade I'd be a damn fool even to guess.  But more than ever, I'm ready for the next set of adventures to start.

Friday, 29 November 2019

A foray into dating

Last Tuesday was a curious sort of day.  It started out with an agitated phone call from FBIL at 0730. He was at Mum and Dad’s, and was terribly alarmed at how short the water supply is getting and whether it’ll be necessary to have him, Barry and me up there on a roster to help Dad cart water. This isn’t such a bad idea, although it’s hard to know if the situation was actually more dire now than it was when I had been up there 8 days earlier.  FBIL does tend to catastrophise.

Farm worries aside, I was feeling good as the day got underway.  To my own moderate surprise I had a flash of courage and asked someone if they’d like to Go Out on Friday evening.  To my much greater surprise the person in question agreed.  Yes, I know this made a lie out of my many “single by choice” posts, and yet I kind of want to explore that side of life.  The date in question fell through a few hours later due to sudden other plans by the lady in question.  Maybe she was on the level; maybe it was a polite way out.  I suspect the latter, but in any case one can't sulk: there's nothing worthy in pursuing a lady who does not wish to be pursued.

It got me thinking, however, that it might be good to try.  After all: if it worked for the old guy in the Coke ad, why not?  I'll believe anything that's endorsed by a major corporation.

Anyway, I paid some money to the operator of a certain app, and also reinvigorated my profile on another faith-based app.  The results were ... well ... disappointing.  From the first -

Now, possibly my standards are too inflexible (there was a lot of swiping left).  Or possibly I'm not made for this world in its more secular orientation.  That's plausible, right?  This lead me to the second option, which was church-based.  This had a desirable quality of being up-front about the lay of the land:

All of which leaves me here with about 20 days to run on a fairly useless subscription of which I've now stopped the renewal.

I'm not quite sure what to make of this exercise, save perhaps to be grateful the universe cut to the chase.  The world is still full of other and better experiences than dates; I'd better go out and explore a few more of them!

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Does anyone know if it's all still here?

It's been a funny sort of weekend here.

Saturday was a good night's sleep with me on my feet about 0745.  As usual for Saturday, I began with laundry and groceries and coffee before I found my way back to the Casa.  I had a quick Facetime with the girls: they were on their way to Houma for bowling and a sleepover for their best friends (another set of twins).  Rachel claimed that she would score twenty strikes, and naturally this lead to a wager of a box of Wagon-Wheel biscuits against a brick of Community Coffee on whether she could do it.  Rachel may be over-optimistic but she's willing to back herself!

In the afternoon I set out on another long run.  I was surprised to find that I'd kept to a sub 6 min/km the whole time: this is basically race-pace for me.  Running is a somewhat different experience for me now.  Part fitness, part penance, part meditation, part masochism (the flesh is sinful and it is virtuous to punish it) and part me-time.  I feel like maybe I need something harder - or to make my runs longer - or something.  I don't know if I care if I smash my knees and hips up (my hips are feeling the pinch at present): I'm more concerned not to leave experience unexplored.

Running was followed by blogging (post to appear on my workblog), Mass and a drink at the Great Northern.

Sunday brought a local festival at which SES were having a community education table.  I'd organised our involvement at this one and was fairly anxious that it not go astray.  Happily, we have a good team and the day went smoothly.  It was a little alarming, though, to find how may people assumed that we are an arm of the fire services.

Community Ed at festivals means a lot of time talking to children and explaining to their parents why storm preparedness matters.  I was utterly tired by the end and made a beeline for the Charles Weston Hotel for a few revitalising drinks.

The weekend feels, in a way, oddly empty.  There's been something particularly that I've been trying not to think about, but it's a trifling matter that shouldn't have been bugging me.  I have the odd feeling that something in my life is out of place.

Well, no matter.  A decent night's sleep and I should be fine again.  Roll on Summer.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

What you feel afterwards.

I imagine most of my readers (I mean, there's maybe two of you) are aware of the fires currently cutting a swathe through New South Wales.  It might be expected that such an event would lead to a certain amount of stupid politics.  Today the politics became, however, brainlessly malevolent.  An 'activist' named Sherele Moody, appearing at a Greens-sponsored event, had this to say -
"After a cataclysmic event like this, domestic violence peaks. … Women become extremely unsafe, when generally the men return home from the fires and subject them to domestic violence."

Now, I've never served in the fire services.  Perhaps our friends in the gold uniforms are made from different stuff to State Emergency Service or Red Cross volunteers, but I suspect not.  So I think I can speak with some authority as to what happens when an emergency responder returns home after a difficult job.
I've responded to God-knows-how-many severe storm events where I've spent a night patching roofs and cutting up trees.  Afterwards, I haven't had a yen for violence.  I've had a yen to wash my skin clean of sweat and oil and rain and mud and to get the smell of two-stroke off my hands.
With Red Cross, I responded in the wake of the Melbourne stabbing attack in 2018.  After a day of talking to deeply upset people in Bourke Street I was starting to lose it myself.  I messaged my ex-wife to ask her if she could give our daughters an extra kiss for me before she put them to bed, because they seemed like the last half-decent things left in an otherwise utterly fucked-up world.
As an SES Peer, I've spoken to crews that were deeply distressed after turning out to provide scene protection for the body of a man who tried to cross the road ahead of a B-Double and failed.  These good people had smelled bits of him slowly frying on the hot asphalt of an Australian summer's day.  When that job was done all I wanted was to go for a walk beside the sea and clear my own head of the images it was carrying.

I've responded to riverine flooding where I've spent a night laying sandbags on a levee that was in danger of failing.  When I went home all I wanted was to rest an aching back and shoulders.

I've gone home after a rescue that went wrong, where the extrication took twice as long as it should have or where our command-structure fell over, and spent days asking myself what I should have done differently.

I've sat in a staging area on a major land search after the news came through that the body of the subject had been found.  Every member present from every agency was sitting there with aching feet and a grubby uniform thinking "well, fuck".

I've finished my shift in a relief centre after an evacuation of the residents of four city blocks following an incident and thought "yes: this really is worth doing".

I've come back to LHQ after a road crash callout where everything went to plan, when every member of the team from veterans to someone just out of fundamentals had done what they were trained to do and extricated the casualty and placed them in the care of paramedics without a single misstep.  I've driven home feeling eight feet tall and bullet-proof.

I've looked at a pager as it blurted out a storm warning and thought "no.  Just no.  I'm not up to it tonight" and begged God to send the storm cell into someone else's patch (this usually seemed to be that of Cobram SES.  Sorry Cobram)

Despite some of the more breathless media reportage, not many emergency services people are heroes.  We're not made of steel or iron or even copper.  For the most part, we're very ordinary people who sometimes find ourselves in extraordinary situations.  All of us from time to time discover more intense emotions than we knew we could experience.  Wife-beaters?  Maybe.  Any organization is liable to contain a few pieces of human garbage.  Firies coming out of the event in New South Wales will have experienced things well outside the range of ordinary emotions.  Few of these emotions will have been pleasant.  Next time Ms Moody wants to translate that into "by the way, these guys are probably going to go home and clobber their girlfriends", maybe she should do it in the privacy of her own skull.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

... and leaving her children behind.

I'm sitting at my desk at lunch-hour watching a late spring rain fall outside my office.  I'm wondering what the Hell has gone wrong in the world.

I have (or had) two good friends in Shepparton.  I came to know them through SES (where else).  They seemed to be a good, decent couple, getting by and raising three children aged from about 7 to 14.  About six months ago, the wife and mother left the family, to be with her boyfriend interstate.  It hit my mate out of the blue.  I remember being appalled by it.  A double standard, I suppose: in my mind a man who deserts his family is worthy of contempt, and if he wilfuly refuses to support his ex-wife and children, he should be shunned.  But a woman who leaves her own children to be with another?  That strikes me as almost monstrous.

This is one my mind because of a story that popped up in a recent Times (London), describing just such a situation

I like to think I can make sense of most types of human behaviour, even truly evil types.  But I can't begin to understand a person voluntarily leaving their home and spouse and children for - what? - a lover.

On balance, the most appalling acts in the world may not be committed by a Ratko Mladic, or even by a Codey Hermann.  All it takes is a person with no apparent sense of shame.

Monday, 14 October 2019

A Sunday retreat

I wrote this post a week ago.  I put it on hold because I wanted to word myself a little carefully: in these troubled days one should do no less.

Last Sunday I went to a retreat being held by the Catholic Lawyers’ Association.  I'd been looking forward to it.  I’d even turned in at a respectable hour the night before. Unfortunately, it was the night Daylight Saving kicked in, and inevitably I slept late by an hour.  As a result I arrived at Corpus Christi College just as Mass was starting.

Chapel, Corpus Christi College, Melbourne, Australia

The chapel used by the seminarians is simple but beautiful.  There were 14 of us present.  Mass was said by Fr Forbes and followed by morning tea.  This gave us a chance to get to know each other, since not everyone comes to the monthly Mass and breakfast.  It’s tempting to namedrop, but I won’t because it might tend to draw the enmity of certain people:

Suffice it to say I had a couple of “you're one of us?!?” moments.

Morning tea was followed by some lectio divina in the college library (I opted for a sermon by Guerric of Igny).  After this, fully ten of us said the Rosary at the Marian grotto, which felt remarkably empowering.  Communal prayer seems to allow people to be vulnerable.

The most enlightening bit of the day was an hour of adoration of the blessed sacrament.  People sat or knelt as they (and their knees) preferred.  I’ve often heard of how people get so much peace and joy from adoration, but I hadn’t really understood it till now.  Faced with Him and His blessed mother I felt like I’d never want to be anywhere else, for any reason.  If I got nothing else from the retreat, that would have been enough.
So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life [John 6:67-68]
The last formal part of the day was a further address from Fr Forbes on the forms of prayer.
Lunch was provided and it gave us a chance to talk a bit further.  Again: no names, no pack-drill.  Many of those present sensed that being openly Catholic was likely to be career-limiting.  There was a broad feeling that it will get harder and harder to reconcile faith and career.  For my own part (this is of course a personal view only), I think we may run into trouble well before that point.  That is, I think many lawyers from a range of faiths may find that their will to uphold and serve the law will corrode in the face of enmity.  This sort of thing has had me questioning my commitment to the SES.  That is, I've been painfully aware of the venom associated with the laws on the Confessional.  I've also listened with pain to rhetoric from Premier Andrews echoing the old trope of Catholics as primarily the agents of the Vatican, and not of their own country -
"I've made it very clear that the law of our state is written by the Parliament of Victoria, it's not made in Rome and there are very significant penalties for anybody and everybody who breaks the Victorian law," the Premier said.
In the SES context, this has been making it less easy for me to make myself pull on my uniform and serve my State and my community when there are calls for help.  Principally, now, what keeps me going is loyalty to my crewmates and a belief that, with this service, I can honour the image of God written on other people.  It's not always easy though.

Not unlike Star Trek's Arturis, I do think that with a measure of prudence frank conflicts of duty can be avoided ("The Borg Collective is like a force of nature. You don't feel anger toward a storm on the horizon. You just avoid it").  But that isn't wholly the point.  I have an abiding concern that, eventually, more than a few may look at the polity we serve and say: I didn't want to have to choose.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Wine and weariness

It's been a rejuvenating sort of day.

I was asleep by 2300 last night and didn't bestir myself till 0910 today.  I felt a bit better for the sleep, if not as much as I'd have hoped.  Facetime with Grace and Rachel wasn't a goer (they were watching LSU play Florida, which I thought was a very good reason!).

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I repurposed the time to go down to the shopping centre at Barkly Square to get a haircut and buy some new shirts for work.  They'll go with the new suit I bought last week.  I'm a little shocked to find how out of style my work-clothes were!  Well, no matter.

Haircut hair...
I went back to my digs and had a quick meditation session with the Calm app.  I'd been promising myself a decent run and headed off down the Capital City Trail for a round trip of 14 kms.  The weather was warm but enough cloud to keep the sun off so conditions were perfect.  I seem to be more and more antisocial these days, which makes me love running more: you can do it alone.  I don't know... People are just... I don't know.

Anyway, after going for a run I set out for a warm-and-sunny afternoon drink at the Brandon Hotel.  The Brandon feels more and more like a home-away-from-home (even if it is only a couple of kilometres).  It's quiet and you can peacefully sit and read and have a few pints and maybe polenta chips.

Brandon Hotel, Fitzroy, Melbourne
It was only a bit after 1700 when I left and so I stopped off at the Great Northern Hotel for a glass of wine and a chance to read my book in the afternoon light before I walked the rest of the way home.  And after this, here I am at my digs again, having a few glasses of wine and wondering when my housemates will finish in the kitchen so I can go out and make dinner.  I know I could just go out but I kind of don't feel like talking.

Great Northern Hotel, Brunswick, Melbourne
I know I'm kind of a downer right now.  I don't know what it is: the world just seems utterly messed up these days, and I wonder what the point is keeping functioning.  But what choice is there?  A man must keep going.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Cribbing while tired

Do I look tired?  I feel tired.

It was an early start for a Saturday.  I was up about 0745 and as soon as I’d dressed, I was on the road for SES for the final assessment for the group of candidates we’ve been training through General Rescue. Today’s session put them through cribbing and lifting, and I found I was down to lead two of the three crews.  Cribbing and lifting isn’t my strong suit so I was a little uncertain how it’d go.

I needn’t have worried.  The crews had learned their craft well and performed excellently.  I certainly couldn’t have been happier with their work and they all passed.

The balance of the day was quiet for me: laundry, groceries, ironing and Mass.  And now a beer at the Charles Weston Hotel.

I do feel kind of flat now. Training this group has been a large whack of my life for the last 9 months or so. It’s a bit of a shock for it to be over.  I imagine I’ll put my hand up to train next year's new recruits as well.

The plan is an early night tonight, to try and shake off this fatigue.  I'll give dinner a miss as I had a huge lunch.  Hopefully tomorrow I'll feel like myself again.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

A beach, a bar and a barre

Hi everyone,

I just now prepared quite a lengthy piece about the retreat I went on today with the Catholic Lawyers' Association.  It's a good one, but after I posted it I began to have misgivings that it might get me and other people into hot water.  I've reverted it to draft and will sleep on it before I share it.

In other news, I've found a good route to run home on after work.  It's about 10kms along the Capital City Trail.  It needs some careful planning in terms of what I carry and what I leave at the office for the next day (must. not. forget. housekeys.) but it makes for a really good end of the day.

Yesterday I went a bit longer and cranked out 15 kilometres along a different stretch of the same trail.  It feels good to be running regularly again.  The weather's on the turn here, which helps: it's not bitterly cold during the day or even at night and so running isn't a penance.  Today was in the mid-20s and so after the retreat I mentioned before I headed down to St Kilda for some beach time.  It was warmer than the clouds make it look.  Nobody was staying long in the water however and so I gave swimming a miss.  I contented myself with lying on the sand and reading The Benedict Option.

By 5pm a cool change was clearing arriving and I called it a day.  The Empress Hotel had been advertising a new imported IPA they've obtained and so I stopped on the way home to try some (very good!).

I had no especial plans for the evening save for blogging and writing a quick letter to the girls and so I followed it up with a white wine and some fried eggplant which was much more filling than I expected it to be.

I came back to my digs and set to writing.  I still wanted a bit more in the fitness line and so I did a barre workout on Youtube.  I think I've mentioned before that barre is a perfect match for running and I used to do it somewhat regularly.  I found I was dreadfully stiff now however!

One thing came unbidden into my mind that made me mad, however.  I remembered a certain A-hole boss I once had boasting about how, when his wife was doing a home pilates workout, he'd make a point of slapping her about the head with his penis.  No, I didn't call him out.  I needed the job too badly.  I don't know what's sadder.  Discovering you have a price or that the price is remarkably low.

Not much more to add for the day.  It's been another good and satisfying weekend; all that remains for me is to make tomorrow's dinner, pack my bag and do the going to bed things.

How's your weekend been?

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Sunday: this one had it all!

Sunday blessed me with plans that went astray.

I woke up a bit after 8:00 feeling rested, and got myself underway a bit before 9:00.  First order of business was coffee from Seven-11 and some toast with cheese.

I finished reading Catholic Weekly till 10:30, when I settled in for a long FaceTime with Grace and Rachel.  It may have been the best I've ever had with them.  Yes, it was YouTube heavy, but that was because we were taking turns showing each other cool videos.  They showed me some cutely dark videos from “Bendy and the Ink Machine”.

I returned the favour, showing them some Disney from the pre-war era with dancing skeletons, which they loved.

While we were talking Rachel put on some kind of music and insisted on showing me how she dances.  She really can dance, too.  I’m very proud of her.  We all talked till they were clearly tired and I persuaded them to brush their teeth and turn in.  Being a Long Distance Dad isn’t perfect, but it’s still pretty good!

After FaceTime I decided it was time to break in my new runners and headed up the Main Yarra / Capital City Trail.  It felt good to have decent shoes on again and I got through 15 kilometres in good order.

My final item for the afternoon was beer.  I was tossing up between the Empress and the Great Northern.  I opted for the Great Northern because it has dogs (seriously, it welcomes them: they have an entire instagram feed called “Dogs of the Great Northern Hotel”.

I had a thoroughly welcome pint of IPA and a bowl of chips and read my book.  I do think that one shouldn’t be prissy about where one reads poetry.  It’s meant to be enjoyed: if that means with food and booze, so be it.

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By about 5:30, however, the place was packed and the queue for the bar was about 15 people long.  I decided to walk the two blocks back to the Empress Hotel for another beer, which I did.

The Empress Hotel, Fitzroy
I had a very good pint of Sierra Nevada and finished reading my book.  I headed home as evening fell.  I wrote a letter to the girls when I got back to my digs.  I'll post it with a package this week.  One of the housemates was cooking by the time I finished.  I didn't feel like talking so I stretched out on the floor to catch up on meditating and calmness.

This felt very good; I might follow up with some yoga this evening before bed if I have time.

And now?  Time to make tomorrow's lunch and tonight's dinner.  For a weekend that hasn't gone to plan, it's been a pretty satisfying one.

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Busy Saturday (photo heavy)

Saturday didn’t really go to plan.  I’m good with that.

It was Red Cross that actually woke me.  My phone rang at 8:10am.  It was my Telecross convenor checking that I would, in fact, be making calls today.  I pulled myself together and grabbed my file and notebook and began calling the list: all clients were well.

It was still warm in the morning but there were some showers approaching the city.  I decided to do the laundry and groceries before going for a good run that I was kind of looking forward to.  I’d done this and was ironing my shirts when my pager went off for a roof damage callout in Fitzroy.  The Unit Duty Officer called for volunteers and I said I’d go.  We had good numbers (crew of 6, and two vehicles).

Unfortunately, the location was against us: a second story roof in a very built up area with no readily obvious way of setting up our rooftop safety system or even of accessing the roof by ladder.  Because the callout was in any case to commercial premises we recommended they contact their landlord.  Sometimes callouts work out that way.

On return to LHQ we set to work on some maintenance and clean-up tasks that were overdue, including cleaning up the sandbag storage.  This basically blotted up the time I’d set aside for running.  I didn’t care. I was overdue for penance and so I tried to do the work in that spirit.

I was back at my digs by 4:30 and decided to follow through on the evening’s planned excursion: going down to Middle Park to attend Vigil Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel and a beer at the Middle Park Hotel.
Our Lady of Mt Carmel Church, Middle Park, Australia

Our Lady’s at Middle Park was built in the 1920s and seems to have been remodelled at some point to put the altar near the middle of the church.  Novel layout aside, it has a beautiful, peaceful design and the liturgy was set stunningly to organ music at a number of points.

Our Lady of Mt Carmel Church, Middle Park, Australia
The Middle Park Hotel looked good from the outside and was high-gloss inside.  The crowd was watching the Collingwood-GWS game and shouting alarmingly at intervals.  I had my pint of beer and drafted a blogpost.

Middle Park Hotel
I was a bit sick of people and just wanted some peace and quiet.  I got the tram back towards my digs and got off to go to the Brandon Hotel, which contents itself with music and comfortable chairs.  The food smells good but I haven't tried it yet.  I had a glass of very good house red and read my CW.

Brandon Hotel, Fitzroy.
I walked home from there and finished the ironing.  Once I post this I'll go and have dinner and then turn in.  It's been a packed Saturday; I've enjoyed it.