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It's curious how there are friends who remain with us through the years, becoming like family to us even though we began as strangers. When I think of how many people I have befriended in my life and yet how few I remain in contact with, I can't help but marvel at how resilient and powerful true friendship is. Watching Bronwen get married today in the company of dear friends, I couldn't help but smile and feel warm in the knowledge that after nearly 25 years we remain time-tested friends. And time tested-friends really are one of life's true blessings.
It's going to be a warm night. It's late, I'm getting tired, and it's going to be a hot day tomorrow. I think I've forgotten what Australia is like in the summer. I've never really been one for the heat. Sunshine yes; heat, no. London can be particularly unpleasant in summer. It's a sticky, mucky kind of heat. It's not a city that caters for it. The buses are hot and stuffy. Air conditioning? Forget it! As for the Underground, don't even think about it! No, if you're commuting to and from work, London in summer can be pretty wretched.
When I was very young I used to believe that grownups knew everything. I can still recall the shock of realisation when it finally dawned on me that my parents didn't know everything. Now as a grownup myself it often occurs to me how woefully little the average adult really does know beyond whatever area of specialism or expertise they may have developed over the years. As for wisdom, well, I guess that's something a little different. I've met people who possess considerable wisdom who are not necessarily well educated but they're wise enough to admit how little they know.
Until about five years ago I had 20/20 vision. I would pride myself on my ability to read tiny type and far off signage; at least whenever I paused to consider what was generally taken for granted. Then I started to get tired when reading. I found my focus slipping into a lazy blur, which I unwittingly mistook for resting my eyes. Eventually I discovered reading glasses. And what a difference! But 1.25 lead to 1.50, then 1.75 and now 2 2.25. I'm told it's simply a natural progression but I can't help but envy those who read without glasses.
I saw my old job in the TES today. Sadly it's only a year contract position to cover a maternity leave but it got me thinking about what was one of the happiest periods in my career. Had I not met Teddy I might still be there. Well, probably not. Still, it was fun to go, albeit briefly, through the possibilities in my mind, the 'what if I did?' scenarios which, realistically, I'm not going to do. But it served to remind me once again that there are other options, other opportunities, and at some stage, I will exercise them.
There are days when I think to myself, actually yes, I am good at what I do. And it's important to recognise and acknowledge such positive thoughts. Without going into detail, I've managed to get three young people into a new educational provision that has the potential to really change their lives for the better, and it's very satisfying when creating such opportunities becomes possible. There are so many young people that the system, by its very nature, fails miserably and it's, well, like I said, very satisfying when something can be put in place to make a real difference.
It's been suggested by various people at various times that we already know the answers to many of life's questions at some deep, fundamental level of our being. It's a nice idea, although I'm not wholly convinced by it. Nonetheless, it occurred to me today that I might find the whole work thing might be radically transformed if I simply change my attitude towards it. And as I thought about it I then thought, but of course, dummy! You know that already! The thing is, it's easy to go through life ignoring what you know is true. Why is that?
It's a universal experience. Two people who love each other end up hurting each other. One day it's me. Another day it's you. Sometimes the upsets are few and far between; at other times it's as though we've been hit by an avalanche. What ensues varies according to temperament. The silent treatment, the hurt expressions, the I'm fines that aren't. And like the weather, I'm left wondering whether this time it's going to be a passing storm or a large, slow-moving cold front. Do I pull up my collar and soldier on or seek shelter until the storm has passed?
There was a time when I used to draw. I'd take my sketchpad and go in search of something interesting. I was attracted to old buildings and quiet streets, sleepy docksides and rocky outcrops. Sometimes I'd drive until something caught my eye. More frequently I'd go back to familiar locations, drawing and re-drawing in an effort to improve my skill. Then there were the domestic drawings — teapots and cups, friends sitting in chairs or cats sleeping on the bed. I miss the experience of drawing. I think it might be time I took out that pad and started drawing again.
People on buses are funny. They almost invariably prefer to sit on their own. Climb to the top of any partially filled double-decker bus in London and you'll see what I mean — one person per two seats all the way to the back. After that, just watch who chooses to sit next to whom as the second seats fill up and what kinds or people avoid sitting next to each other. Then there's the unspoken challenge for elbow and knee room. Some make way for others. Others sit like statues, immovable in their territorial claim. It's an amusing daily ritual.
It feels lately like there is so much that's left unexpressed and unexplored. My days are filled with routines that dull the senses and blunt the appetite for other more fulfilling experiences. It's ironic that in the midst of so much going on in such a huge and major metropolis I find myself nodding off most evenings without having achieved anything of mention whilst most weekends seem to slip by without notice. They say that youth is wasted on the young but I'm beginning to wonder whether time may be wasted on the middle-aged. And when it's gone, it's gone.
One of the most disconcerting things is knowing that I've chosen all of this, either consciously or by default; every success, every failure and all the shades of grey between those two markers of personal growth and/or fulfillment. You discover that, as you get older. No doubt there are those who could put up a good argument in defense of why life has conned or cheated them out of opportunity, success or some semblance of satisfaction. But I'm not one of them. No. Whatever I have or haven't achieved in life comes down to decisions I have or haven't made.
At last, a sense of movement. As these last few days start to count down I can finally see the end of the road. Something feels different today to how it felt yesterday. The momentum is beginning to gather pace. This time of year has become significant for me. Going back home to Australia allows me distance and perspective. It has become a time for, amongst other things, reflection and review of the year just passed and the new year to come, more so than the actual New Year itself. I just need to get through the next twelve days.
Suddenly it all feels different. It's the nature of my job that on a yearly basis, everything comes to an end. Each year I have closure on one set of circumstances and a period in which I get to explore a completely different set of circumstances. Time out, for want of a better description. It feels like taking a big broom to my headspace and sweeping it thorough, kicking up the dust and having a good clean out. It's a healthy process and one I look forward to. The thought of doing this job without it is, quite simply, unimaginable.
I'm a lists person. If I need to get things done in a hurry I always make lists. Otherwise, things get overlooked, or forgotten, or simply not done. To be sure, some things usually fall off the end of the list. There's always the question of priorities and these can change depending on the length of the list and the duration of time that the list is intended to cover. I know people who abhor the idea of making lists, as though it's some kind of admission of an inability to be organised. But for me, they're a necessary tool.
Every Sunday at 11am (9am winter time) I ring my mother in Australia. She's 92 years old. She was 45 when she had me. Dad was 49. Apparently he thought I was a happy accident. Mum tells me otherwise. But at 92 her memory is fast fading away. Consequently, our conversations, though still an hour or so in duration tend to be repetitive and mundane. Nonetheless I treasure them as I treasure her. And one day I know she'll be where a telephone line won't reach, and when that day comes I know I'll sorely miss our weekly Sunday chats.
I have a fetish for old typewriters. It goes back to my childhood when I used to listen to Dad clacking away in his office as he wrote his stories, articles and did his tarot readings. When I finally got my own vintage heavyweight machine I really thought I'd arrived and I sat down to write my first novel (all four pages of it) with unrivalled passion and gusto. So when I saw the old typewriter put out on the street to be carted away to the tip, well, I just couldn't help myself. I just had to retrieve it!
It's curious the way that music can remind you of people you haven't seen for ages. Is it really 18 years since you killed yourself? How much water has passed under the bridge of life since then? Listening to Stevie Wonder's most recent album earlier this evening, I remembered once again how we danced to 'Master Blaster' all those years ago. Twenty-six, to be precise. Where do the years go? And where did you go? Had you lived, would we still be friends after all this time? Or, where we once were lovers, would there simply be warm memories still?
This time next week I'll be half a world away from here. I'm looking forward to the cooler weather. This constant sticky heat becomes tiring. There's something oddly ironic about going to Australia to seek relief from the heat, but there you go. That's how it is in this topsy-turvy world. Getting through today has been psychologically important though. From this point on it's all downhill as far as work is concerned. A part of me has already disengaged, even though the trip next week still seems vague and unreal. It'll only sink in when I'm actually on the plane.
It feels odd now that Adam has gone. I'd become accustomed to seeing his friendly face emerge from the far end of the platform as we both disembarked from either end of the train each morning, while at work, we still refer to Adam's room, even though he's no longer there. Today when the kids came back with their parents for the Open Morning, they all were asking after him. And going home now, there's no one to talk to about music or drama and what we did last night. Yes, you were good value Adam and I'll miss you.
Sitting here, writing with a Parker pen that, like so many things in the top drawer of the desk in the spare room, appeared from seemingly nowhere (I don't recall buying it, I'm reminded of how much I used to treasure my Parker pen(s) as a teenager. There was a time when I wouldn't write with anything else. Other pens felt alien in my hand whereas my Parker pen used to feel like an extension of myself. I'm a lot less fussy these days and not just about pens, either. Nonetheless, holding this pen brings a smile to my face.
He who hesitates is lost, or in this case, $80 poorer. I went online a couple of nights ago to check the price of Virgin Blue's Melbourne to Adelaide return tickets and they were $59 each way. A bargain! But instead of booking them there and then I waited until today and now the cheapest price is $99 each way. Let that be a lesson to you, said Teddy, as though I couldn't figure that one out for myself. Ah well, you win some, you lose some, as they say but right now I could kick myself for holding off.
Today is Daragh's birthday. We never see each other these days but there was a time when he was the central, pivotal person in my life. In retrospect that was a heavy burden to try and place on unwilling shoulders. My life was so very different then and now is positively sanitised by comparison. The alcohol, the cigarettes, the drugs — it was certainly a colourful chapter in my life and the one that led me directly to those stairs in Heaven where Teddy and I met for the first time on that fateful night, the night that everything changed forever.
If we lived to be 150, what would our 80's, 90's and 100's etc. be like? It occurs to me that as we reach our later years so much of our acquired wisdom and, sadly, perceived relevance is overshadowed by the onset of old age and all its accomplices. But what if our later decades were healthy, unhindered by the gradual breakdown of the physical body? What insights might we experience, what understanding might we acquire? How much richer might the world be? Considerations of population growth aside, I suspect the world would be a safer and more stable place.
Everything that can be done is now done. It's been a trying day made worse by the heat. Despite the odds however I'm on top of it all. A nice meal at Kazaa with Teddy was just what the doctor ordered. Now it's time for sleep. The long journey home awaits me in the morning, just a few hours away by now. Outside I can hear voices and the sound of passing cars. There is a close, summer stillness in the air. In the distance I can just hear the hum of an air conditioner. It's another warm, sticky night.
Time spent in transit on the long haul home. I enjoy it. I get a bit strung out towards the end of the journey but essentially I enjoy the experience of being in-between. It's an enforced rest, a break from the dull routine. And as a serendipitous quirk of fate would have it, this entry straddles the middle section of the book that I'm writing in, the dividing line between two halves. I like that! I've watched a couple of in-flight movies, chatted to the person next to me, eaten, drunk, dozed and generally enjoyed this time outside of time.
Back on terra firma I find myself relatively free of jetlag, though tired nonetheless, and having spent a few hours enjoying Toan and Robby's company I'm now ready for bed. My body can still feel the plane's movement, a little like being back on dry land after being at sea. The miracle of flight. It took Cook seven months in centuries past. It took us five weeks by sea in 1969/70. Nowadays I can manage it in 22 hours. Amazing! And who knows? Perhaps in a few years it'll be a two-hour journey by space plane. I can hardly wait!
I slip into Melbourne as I would a favourite, well-worn pullover and I feel its warmth envelop me, familiar, friendly and easy-going. It's a place where people smile; a place where people greet you at the checkout counter, ask you how you are and mean it. It's a place where I'm known and where so many of the people I love and care about reside. It's home. It's not perfect, not by a long shot, but it wasn't voted the world's most liveable city, twice, for no reason. For me it's one of the most wonderful places in the world.
Sitting at South Yarra Station waiting for the express train to James and Fusun. A morning spent with the beautiful Elisa. Midday with Toan and Robby. An afternoon spent with Tony and Robert. I am truly blessed with wonderful friendships both new and of long-standing. And underpinning it all, my relationship with Teddy. And sitting here, waiting for the train to arrive, with Corinne Bailey Rae singing of stars across the sky and angels off the page, I remember fondly how this was once our local station. And that rich, shared history brings a smile to this already happy face.
I can't recall the last time I laughed so much. My evening spent with James and Fusun will remain a precious memory. The connection between us is beyond my ability to put into words. I may try to, but the mere dry bones of language can only be a pale reflection of what is truly a remarkable bond. So let's just leave it at that. And tonight I opened by birthday card from Teddy, which is now here beside me next to the bedside lamp. It feels good to take stock and appreciate the true value of love and friendship.
I'm sitting in the St. Kilda branch of the Commonwealth Bank in Acland Street, waiting to renegotiate the investment loan on the apartment. I am 47 years old today. 9am saw me in North Balwyn with the tax consultant. 10.20am saw me in Ikea tracking down Archie for the first time in seven years. 11:30am saw mew inspecting the apartment with the new agent, Tamara. 1pm saw me standing at the end of St. Kilda pier. Tonight I'm dining with Toan and Robby. As birthdays go, I'm in high spirits and feeling happy with my lot. Happy birthday to me!
The Tip Jar