REPORT A PROBLEM
Weíd been expecting snow all day, all weekend in fact, but the clear blue sky punctuated by the odd cloud now and then didnít seem to herald much. When finally it did arrive it went largely unnoticed, engaged as we were in other things. Once we realised, it was all we could do to focus on anything else. Heavy snow is a rarity in London and in central London especially. Midnight saw us out on the deserted streets below taking happy snaps of each other and of the eerily quiet swathes of white in which pavements and roads became one.
The irony was not lost on me. I read on Facebook that it was 46C in Adelaide today and here I was with another day off work due to school closures traipsing through St. Jamesís Park in a veritable winter wonderland. Nearly everyone I passed was smiling as children wandered wide eyed and gleeful, building snowmen and having snow fights. Having grown up in a hot climate days such as today are rare and to be treasured. Never have I seen a city so transformed. Australia can keep the searing heat. Iíll take the transformative power of snow any time.
When you live in a flat as small as ours space is at a premium. And when youíve collected as much extraneous paraphernalia as we have, maintaining any sense of order is challenging at best, especially when you live with a compulsive hoarder. That being said, it was with a keen sense of satisfaction that I managed to transform the small spare room from a disorderly dumping ground into what now passes as a place where I can read, write and at a pinch, paint. Itís the kind of feeling that makes you want to simply sit and go aah!
We all start out being younger than everyone else. And being the youngest of five with parents who were well into their forties when I came along meant that I was more acutely aware of this than those further up the sibling ladder. The thing is, Iím now becoming increasingly conscious of becoming one of the old guard. There was a time when I had an annoying tendency to abdicate power in the presence of older people but those days are well and truly behind me now. And much to my surprise, thereís much to be said for getting older.
The magical allure of snow is wearing thin. What was white and picturesque has become dirty and slushy. The magic has been dispelled, fun though it was while it lasted. Consequently I find myself wishing that Iíd spent longer strolling around in it the other day. I was going to go down to Battersea Park but I didnít, surrendering instead to the gravitational pull of sleeplessness from the night before. I should have stuck it out and made the most of it while it was still falling. Funny how we let the power of creature comforts dominate our thinking so.
Who would have imagined a new bus route could make such a difference? But it has done. Itís the new 132 service from the top of the road where I work to the Dome. What would otherwise have been a 40 minute crawl through the back streets of South London has become a hop and a skip via the motorway to North Greenwich Station, effectively dodging the early morning and late afternoon gridlock. In doing so it lops 40 minutes or more off my daily travel time which allows me an extra 25 minutes in bed in the morning. Amazing!
I like Saturdays. For one thing I donít have to get up early. I like that. Then thereís Sunday to look forward to as well. I remember in years gone by when I had to work on weekends, pulling beers, serving tables or running weekend courses at the Melbourne School of Art. I couldnít contemplate trying to do that now. Weekends are sacrosanct. Sometimes I use them wisely, sometimes I waste them gleefully but at the end of the day, or should I say the end of the week, the weekend is my time to do with as I please.
I checked in and there it was: a recommendation to add you. I was caught a little off guard at first and chose to focus on other things. It wasnít long before I send off the request though, along with a few recommendations of my own. Will I get a response? Itís hard to say. It wasnít as though you had sent a request yourself. It even occurred to me that you might post something I might later regret. But I have no more reason to suspect that than anything thing else. Time will tell. I will know soon enough.
After so much silence the first word is ĎBoo!í I smile. Thereís a playfulness there that I recognise. And in the blinking of an eye I know all is well. You follow on with other words that confirm this and after so much time spent not knowing, now I do. I know that things are okay; that youíre okay and weíre okay. I donít know the full story yet and maybe I donít need to. Itís enough to know youíre fine, that youíre well and enjoying life, and that whatever demons you were grappling with have been laid to rest.
Itís all too dreadful to contemplate. Over the last couple of days some 200 people or more have perished in the worst bushfires in Australiaís history. A tearful Kevin Rudd described it as mass murder, referring to the fact that many of the fires appear to have been deliberately lit. Walls of flame many stories high fanned by gale force winds and temperatures in the high 40s have wiped out entire communities, laying huge areas to the north-east of Melbourne to waste, bringing back memories of Ash Wednesday in 1983 when the fires stopped at the top of our road.
I liken it to surfing. Not that Iíve ever surfed except online, and thatís not what Iím talking about. Each day is like a new wave in which we get up on our boards and try to stay there, never knowing where or when we might get dumped on. Sometimes we come off our boards and the day is a washout but on the whole we manage to keep ourselves aloft. It can often be a precarious balancing act requiring us to have our wits about us at all times until we arrive drenched and usually panting on the shore.
I canít seem to read these days. Iíve got a pile of books sitting on the window ledge beside me. They all look inviting enough. The back blurb on each is promising. One, Sartreís ĎThe Age of Reasoní Iíve read before but would like to read again. The thing is, if I try and read on public transport I invariably nod off while at home I always seem to be distracted by other things. I guess what I lack is a big comfy chair with a decent lamp beside it and a small table for cups of tea and coffee.
I really put myself through it. In the absence of knowing I surrendered to wild conjecture, and while I may have managed to suppress such imaginings from my conscious mind they nonetheless seeped through into my dreaming state. Now, in the full light of day, it seems like some kind of morbid aberration. I can appreciate where such fears came from but with the newly acquired benefit of hindsight, what a peculiar and surreal phase of our relationship that was, or perhaps more accurately our lack of relationship. It was never your intention to hurt me, even though you did.
As we strolled towards the Thai Cafť this evening it occurred to us that this is the fifteenth Valentineís Day weíve shared together. Thatís no small achievement in this day and age. Having considered the point, we cited all those other couples weíve known who have come and gone, unable or unwilling to go the distance. Itís not always been easy, or smooth, or without conflict or disagreement, but neither of us has ever seriously contemplated walking away from the life we have made together. What would be the point, and who else could compete?
No one. Absolutely no one.
I rang Mum late this evening to wish her happy birthday. Sheís 95 today (Australian time, that is). Ninety-five years old! Thatís an extraordinary length of time to be on the planet. Sheís been unusually lucid of late. Not her old self by any means. That person well and truly passed over long ago. But within the context of our weekly chats a semblance of awareness Iíve not seen for ages has been present, along with a modicum of interaction and response, albeit limited. But itís enough to generate an element of cheer and bring a smile to my face.
Had I realised just how fine a collection it was I would have paced myself better. As it was I spent so much time with the Impressionists I had difficulty taking in the Fauves upstairs, not to mention the exquisite Degas bronze dancers. Itís crazy to think Iíve been in London more than eight years yet have only now visited the Courtauld Collection in Somerset House. It was Cezanne who commanded my attention the most. I never really appreciated him when I was younger. Then again I never got to see his work up close. It is, quite simply, sublime.
Even though I have a week off I canít say Iím feeling particularly relaxed. For one thing I canít seem to sleep in. My body clock kicks in whether I like it or not. For another Iím getting sucked into things I wouldnít be if I was out of London. I went to the Saatchi Gallery this afternoon but I couldnít really get into it, impressive though it was. I feel like I've a tightly wound spring inside. Iíd like to be able to release it but, for the time being at least, I donít seem to be able to.
After lunch with a dear and trusted friend of long standing, I find myself relaxing. The knot has loosened and started to unwind. I only need a few days of this to feel fully re-charged again and I have those ahead of me now. The weather has been helping, too. Itís not been warm but itís not been freezing either and with the days beginning to get a little longer there is the prospect of warmth and sunshine ahead which also provides its own cheer. And while another week would be nice, four more days should do me just nicely.
Iíve been trying to find the right words but Iím struggling somewhat to do so. Iím still a little nervous; a little unsure. Words, and the choice of words, although something Iím generally confident with, can also have unforeseen consequences. Although I canít be sure yet itís my guess that words precipitated all of this in the first place. Nonetheless, in the absence of anything else, words will have to suffice. What I need to be sure of is that the intent behind the words is neither accusatory nor overbearing. Balance is critical because balance is presumably whatís been missing.
Painting is a very different enterprise to writing. When I write I need to have a quiet place in which to think, even though that quiet place may be surrounded by others in a cafť or on a crowded bus. I can still find the quiet space within the bustle. But I canít listen to music when writing. When I paint however, music is a must. Itís what keeps me going. It compliments rather than interferes with the process. Itís like it occupies a very different part of the brain. When I paint, the listening is enhanced, and vice versa.
Itís on days like today that I indulge myself in the fantasy of Ďwhat ifí. What if I didnít have to work anymore and could spend my days painting in a studio? To be free to listen to music all day long, or the radio, and to create works of art that communicate, express and inspire? Itís not as though I havenít tried it of course, but that was a long time ago when my head and my heart were in very different places. Still, on days like today itís a fantasy I enjoy entertaining again for a little while.
Iím actually looking forward to going back to work tomorrow. Iíve had an excellent week off. Iíve completed two paintings. Iíve been to a number of exhibitions. Iíve spent time catching up with friends. Iíve been for a few good walks. Iíve even bought a new jacket Iím really pleased with. In short, Iíve spent time doing some of the things I wanted to do and now the thought of heading back and seeing everyone again is actually a pleasant one. In short, itís a measure of how far Iíve come in the new position that I feel so upbeat.
Iím beginning to develop a knack for delegating. Itís not something Iíve done very well in the past. Iíve generally subscribed to the notion that if you want a job doing properly then you need to do it yourself. The only problem with that is it can breed complacency in others. More than that, there arenít enough hours in the day to attend to all the things that need doing, especially within a leadership context. What Iím realising is, for a team to operate effectively everyone needs to feel they have something valuable to contribute. Hence the need for delegation.
Itís approaching eleven and Iím curled up in bed. Iíve avoided the temptation to go online for ten minutes (make that an hour) and opted to get comfortable with a book, Philip Rothís ĎThe Dying Animalí. Comfortable mightn't be the most appropriate word given the theme of the book but comfortable is how Iím feeling nonetheless as I lie here and write these words. Iíve had two very good days at work. Letís hope these things run in threes. On the basis of that I might even skip the reading and opt for sleep. The lure of dreamland is strong.
Thereís no question about it. They know whoís in charge now and they respect that. Theyíll test it to be sure. Thatís what kids do. Itís structured into their DNA. But the respect has been established. The system is a fair one and they know it. Itís a system based upon mutual respect and underpinned by genuine care and concern. If tough decisions need to be made they will be made, make no mistake about it, butt thatís okay. That is as it should be. There are rules and theyíre there for a reason; to allow everyone to feel safe.
He comes to me first thing; tells me he owes £160 to this guy. He had the cash but heís lost it. Itís been stolen.
He spends an hour trying to work, then asks to make a phone call.
Afterwards, heís scared. He has to find the cash immediately. He has to leave. Please donít tell anyone. If he snitches itíll make things much, much worse. Does his mother know? No. He needs to tell her. He canít. He must. He thinks this through. Can I call her? I call her.
And he leaves.
The trouble they get themselves into . . .
As the mornings get lighter I find myself contemplating and thinking about the passing of time. I spent this evening checking air fares back to Australia. Within a few months Iíll be back there again for my yearly Ďtour of dutyí. I will be turning 50 this year. Another year down. Another decade behind me. I donít feel all that different to how I used to but the knowledge that within a few short years Iíll be old, whatever old means, is something that lingers in the background of much of my thinking these days. Because beyond old age, well . . .
A few days ago I managed to get down in words the things I wanted to say. Today it was your turn. Today you had your say. Your frankness and honesty moved me greatly. While there were no real surprises I was grateful for the fact that you didnít skirt around the issues. You launched right in and in doing so I got it completely. Itís what Iíve always loved about you, and about us: the ability to be honest and forthright even when itís difficult. And so, all is revealed and in revealing, a painful fissure has been healed.
The Tip Jar