Very Inspiring Blogger Award

vibaward1

Thankyou very much Stuart M. Perkins (https://storyshucker.wordpress.com) for nominating me for a WordPress “Very Inspiring Blogger award”. I look forward to, and enjoy reading all of your posts, and I encourage anyone who reads this to read your blogs  as well (see Stuart’s link above).

I have only been blogging for 4 months so I am still new at this game. I agonized over pressing the “publish” button for days before sending out my first post because I honestly didn’t think anyone would want to read it. Thankyou everyone for your kind words of encouragement and comments. I am very much enjoying blogging and will keep writing as long as somebody reads it!

To participate in the award process I need to follow the award rules, which are to:

  • Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
  • List the rules and display the award.
  • Share seven facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 15 other blogs you enjoy, then comment on their posts to let them know that you have nominated them.

Here are 7 facts about me:

  1. When I reach 90 I want to be able to sit on a verandah somewhere and look back on life and be able to truthfully say to myself that I wouldn’t have done things any differently, and that I had given life my best shot. On big decisions I always think about that verandah.
  2. I’m really hoping I reach 90.
  3. I love life. I hope that this outlook is reflected in my stories. If I can make 1 other person laugh or feel a bit better then I have succeeded. I’m trying to see things a bit differently, and enjoy laughing at my own expense. I just wish I didn’t have so much material!
  4. I live in Melbourne Australia, I’m 52, very happily married to Susie (nearly 25 years) with two grown up children (Emily 20, James 17), and a new 14 week old black labrador “Rosie”, whom we have all fallen in love with. Our kids are both passionate creatives – Emily (fashion) and James (film), and this pleases Susie and I immensely. I’m a passionate but long-suffering Richmond Tigers Australian Rules Football supporter. The 2015 season starts soon and I have a good feeling in my water about this year. That feeling usually passes by round four.
  5. Growing up, my two creative passions were writing and painting (oils). I wanted to be a journalist in my teens, but instead of attending journalism cadetship interviews when I finished school, I jumped into a VW combi van with a bunch of friends and surfboards and spent 6 months surfing around the coastline of Australia. I don’t regret that decision at all because I reflect happily on some aspect of those 6 months every day, but I do apologize to mum and dad for disappearing one morning without notice. Sometimes you have to just get out there and do it. I eventually studied Marketing and after working in several large hardware and electrical goods companies, co-founded an importing/national wholesaling business 17 years ago (Nidus Holdings Pty Ltd), specializing in building related products, mainly door hardware. I now find door levers attractive, and I probably should be seeing a specialist about my condition.
  6. My daughter Emily talked me into starting a blog 4 months ago. At the time I didn’t really know what they were. Thankyou Em. Who says parents don’t listen to their kids?
  7. I am lucky to have a great bunch of friends and extended family, many of whom may read this. I hope that verandah is very crowded when we get there.

Set out below are 15 nominations for the award.

  1. https://storyshucker.wordpress.com
  2. https://urbanwallart.wordpress.com
  3. https://5000poppies.wordpress.com
  4. http://peaceof8.com
  5. http://helloistutter.com
  6. http://ivebecomemyparents.com
  7. https://brownandwooden.wordpress.com
  8. https://letscutthecrap.wordpress.com
  9. https://mostlybrightideas.wordpress.com
  10. http://bethtourek.com
  11. https://westutterandwedontcare.wordpress.com
  12. http://excusemyspeech.com
  13. http://suddenlytheyalldied.com
  14. https://humorinamerica.wordpress.com
  15. http://marthaschaefer.com
Posted in Awards | Tagged | 3 Comments

The steam room.

Painting by Laura Delaney ("Ma") 1980

Painting by Laura Delaney (“Ma”) 1980

My grandmother, “Ma”, deftly lit the burner under the vegetable steamer sitting on the ancient stove in her ancient kitchen. She had done it million times before. The gas flame flickered and puffed itself into life. The steamer was filled with washed but unpeeled potatoes, and as she returned to the kitchen table where we were both topping and tailing green beans and dicing carrots, we continued our nightly discussion. Topics often included politics, the economy, life during the Second World War, the rubbish these days on TV, how the youth are not interested in working hard anymore, stories about my mother and her 7 sisters, and life in general back in her day. 

Ma lived directly over the road from our family, and had kindly allowed me to use her empty front room as a study during my final year of secondary school back in 1980, so we often ate dinner together in the evenings, just the two of us, seated at her green laminate topped kitchen table, which, at some stage back in the 1950’s, must have been fabulously on trend because there were so many of those tables lingering in people’s houses for decades later. The steam off the cooking vegetables would fog up the kitchen window near the stove and the ambient temperature in that room could only be described as sub-tropical. On this particular night, as the beans and carrots were being prepared for their journey into another metal basket, destined also for the steamer, we talked about art.

Ma lowered her eyes to focus on the carrots, and admitted sadly, “Oh I don’t know, I’ve never been any good at drawing or painting. I think it must have skipped a generation. You lot seem to all be good at it. The creative talent must have come from Jim’s (her late husband’s) side of the family.”

She was waiting for it, so I gave her some cheek. “Oh well that’s just rubbish Ma!” I said, “You’ve just never had a crack at it!”

She looked up at me and smiled softly. She loved being teased. “Oh, I don’t know,” she pondered, “I was always so busy with the girls growing up and if I had a spare minute it was spent doing practical things like mending clothes or something. And then, before I knew it, you lot turned up!” She threw her hands up in the air as if it all happened in a matter of seconds, which it many ways it had. “And, of course,” she continued, “It’s too late now for me to start taking on new hobbies.”

Parts of what Ma had said were true. Bringing up so many girls, she spent the daylight hours just trying to schedule orderly access to their home’s single bathroom. As you can imagine, it was a “free-for-all” in there, with makeup and clothes everywhere, and lots of personalities squabbling. Once the bathroom was clear, attention then turned to the traffic at the front door, to screen the procession of eager, brylcreemed young gentlemen (with honorable intentions) armed with flowers and movie tickets. By the time the hordes of grandchildren arrived, any thoughts Ma had of taking up a hobby were overrun by grubby little fingers looting the pantry and pulling things out of cupboards. But the part about it being too late to take up a hobby wasn’t sitting too well in the room that evening, because we both knew all about the new art classes that were about to start at the YMCA a few doors down the street.

“Come on, why don’t you give this new art class a go?!”

Ma rolled her eyes a little and said, “Oh, stop it, will you!”

“It might be fun! A bit of painting, a few drawings…”

Ma turned her palms over, face up and spread them out in front of me and said, “look for yourself, my hands aren’t any good anymore. And my eyesight’s not what it used to be. I think I’d struggle to see the canvas!” Then she came out with the old chestnut, “And my paintings wouldn’t look any good anyway.”

“Go on, try it!” I teased, “What else are you doing on that day?”

Ma smiled again and paused for a moment. “Well, nothing really, but, I don’t know…”

“In the end” I said, “It doesn’t matter what other people think of your work, although I’m sure it will look great. It doesn’t even really matter what you think of it. The main thing is how you feel when you are doing it. It’s relaxing, and you can drift off and think about things you haven’t thought about in a long time. Think of it as therapy!”

Now I know that all sounds a bit cheesy, all that stuff about drifting off and thinking about things, but it is true, well, at least for me anyway. I find that painting and drawing is like being in a trance, you can slide timelessly off into another world for a whole afternoon, and when you come back, you mostly have no idea what you were thinking about, but you know that your thoughts flowed seamlessly though dozens of topics and that you bumped into and resolved a few nagging items that were lost somewhere in the deep recess of your mind. Then you wake up at the end of the session and there is paint everywhere and you count anything that has finished up on the canvas as a bonus.

By now the water under the potatoes had begun bubbling away on the stove, and the first hisses of steam were setting off the initial stages of climate change. I cheekily asked, “How are you going to salt those potatoes, if they aren’t actually in the water?”

She looked up at me from her vegetable chopping with her smiling eyes, and then protested, “I don’t know what it is with you young people, you want to put salt on everything. It’s not good for you, you know!”

“But it tastes so good!” I replied. “And why do you have to steam everything?”

Ma was ready for that one. “Because boiling vegetables cooks all the goodness out them, I’ve told you that before; whereas steaming them keeps in the nutrients.”

I added, “And your potatoes aren’t even peeled!”

She smiled at me again. “It saves a few minutes, but there are lots of good things in the skins too, you know.”

I could see I wasn’t going to win the steamed versus boiled debate, but I had the final say when we began to eat. I shook salt and pepper over everything for much longer than was necessary, smothered the vegetables with butter, and doused the lamb chops in tomato sauce. Ma knew what I was up to. There were arms waving and protests, but she enjoyed the performance. “You kids, I don’t know how your mother puts up with you!”

I waited a few moments, maybe for dramatic effect, and then asked again, “So, will you go and do the art classes?”

When Ma walked in after her first class, I was there studying in her empty front room, and she was different. There was a glow to her. I don’t know where she had been when she sat down to paint, but she went somewhere and it was a good, peaceful place. She immediately cautioned me that her trial drawings and paintings were only for testing techniques, and that they weren’t really any good.

Over the weeks that followed, Ma worked on a painting (pictured), and each time she walked in through the front door after her classes, she looked brighter and more liberated. It was like she was gradually lifting a great weight off her shoulders. I think she was secretly happy with her efforts, and clearly enjoyed the classes. She became more and more willing to show people what she had been doing, and everyone gave her a lot of encouragement.

She only ever did 1 painting that was framed, and like her, it was beautiful.

Ma has long since passed away, but I can still see her freshly teased smiling face at the green laminate kitchen table, and I can still taste those delicious unsalted, unpeeled potatoes. I was so very fortunate to have shared those special times with her, 35 years ago, in the steam room.

I don’t know where Ma went when she painted, but the next time I paint, I might go and look for that place.

Posted in Art, Humor, Painting | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The dreamer

the dreamer

Some people are eternal dreamers, and spend most of their time visualising how they would ideally like their life to pan out. Some of these people put so much energy into their dreaming that they struggle to find the time or momentum to ever achieve their own vision for themselves. Some people are doers, and they spend their time working tirelessly at whatever is in front of them. Some of these people are so busy working that they forget to dream, and may wake up one day, exhausted, in a place vastly removed from where they want to be, and sometimes it will be too late, or they are too tired, to go back and change it. Some people find comfort in what has already been, and are constantly looking behind them, whilst others seek what is yet to come, hoping that the future will present them with something satisfactory. Some people have other people’s dreams thrust upon them, and are thereby chained to someone else’s sense of fulfillment, whilst others are left to fashion their own destiny without a rudder or a guiding hand.

Some people do not dare to dream. But sometimes another can teach them how.

My younger brother Michael met a dreamer once, about 20 years ago, in a camping ground in Nimbin, not far from Dunoon, up in the hinterland on New South Wale’s picturesque northern coast. Mick was a year or so out of secondary school, not particularly settled, and was travelling with a group of party happy, loud music playing friends, and they were camping in tents next to another, older, and quietly relaxed group of campers. The music and antics continued on late into the night, and a spokesman from the quiet group calmly approached Mick and politely asked if the noise might cease. Naturally my brother obliged, and then, as is his nature, he approached this man the next day to apologise for the inconvenience. My brother is a very amiable character and it wasn’t long before they both sat down together for a very long chat about all sorts of things. One of those things was this man’s dream for the planet, for, as it turned out, this man was the leader of the Greenpeace conservation movement in Australia. He was both a dreamer and a doer, respectful of the past, but looking to the future. They spoke together quietly for the best part of 3 days, exchanging ideas and theories. Michael walked away from that conversation with his own dream; an inspired vision that would dramatically change the direction of his life.

Mick has always been a friend of the environment and in his earlier years passively objected to the activities of the big polluters and environmental destroyers, but after getting passively battered and bruised in several protest rallies, and with the dreamer’s words still echoing in his ears, he decided that there was another way forward. The corporate way. The way of the suited environmental warrior.

Now you may be expecting a description from me of a suited Mick darting into an alleyway and reappearing in a superhero costume with a lightning strike emblazoned across it and wearing his undies on the outside, but in reality, Mick is very low-key about his work, and always undersells himself when people ask him what he does for a living. However, in order to make this story function properly, I will now need to severely blow his trumpet. It’s a little gut wrenching and he himself will be horrified when he reads this, but I’m going to do it anyway. I will plead “elder brother’s privilege” on this one.

To begin with, Mick went back to study environmental science at La Trobe University in Melbourne and, whilst a student there, he became the national environment officer for all the universities. He worked out ways for the universities to radically reduce their waste but also to harness energy with natural, sustainable, using energy sources such as water movement (sewerage turbines, waterfalls on the sides of buildings, etc) to the point that the Universities were selling power back to the grid and saving money. Mick then figured that he could apply this theory on a much larger scale. He was confident that corporations (and governments) could not ignore a compelling savings case that has a positive and sustainable impact on the environment.

Now fast-forward 19 years or so, and Michael is Global Technical Leader – Climate Adaptation, at AECOM, which I believe is the second largest structural engineering company in the world. Michael has led over 100 climate change impact, risk assessment and adaptation projects relating to local government, power, mining, ports, water, road, rail, buildings, facilities, coasts, states and cities in Australia, USA, China, India and New Zealand. Last year Michael addressed the United Nations climate convention in Geneva, and has previously addressed U.S. foreign aid Senate Committees in Washington. Michael often talks to global corporations about changing the way in which they conduct their businesses, to save money whilst helping the planet.

That’s enough! I’m worried I may have gone a bit overboard there, but I think you get the message. I found most of that information on-line, so I’m not talking out of school. Basically, if there is a better, cheaper yet more sustainable way of building an airport or a bridge or freeway, Michael is your guy. He is in his early forties, still young and energetic, and whilst he may not be wearing his undies on the outside, to me his is an environmental superhero.

But he didn’t get there on his own.

Up there in the hinterland, over several days, during a chance meeting in a camping ground, a wise man took the time out to teach and challenge my brother both to dare to dream, and then to do.

I have an overwhelming feeling that one day, perhaps when another chance meeting presents itself, my brother, as the seasoned dreamer and doer, will take the time out to teach someone else the same, and thereby complete the cycle.

Posted in environment, People | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The changing of the guard

image

Meet “Rosie”, the newest member of our family.

But before you can read about Rosie, you need to finish the story about Daisy.

I wrote a post a few months ago about “Daisy”, our 10-year-old black Labrador (“The sock mathematician”) and in the final paragraphs I noted that Daisy was coughing and gagging. We thought it was kennel cough.

Unfortunately the vet blood tests that I wrote about getting done showed that there was something more sinister going on in there, and subsequent x-rays the next day showed that fluid was flooding around her lungs. Daisy was still happy and cheerful but she was experiencing regular fits of gagging and coughing, and her energy levels were lowering. Daisy looked great; she was in perfect shape for a Labrador, and appeared to be in good health, but unfortunately she had advanced Lymphoma, and sadly her time was up.

The vet drained the reservoirs of fluid around her lungs and pumped her full of cortisone, which gave her a comfortable and pain-free 24 hour reprieve and allowed her to come home for a final night. I can only describe this gift as grateful torture. Looking at her and watching the clock tick down and knowing that we ultimately held her fate in our hands was indeed torture, but the love and attention that our family reciprocated both with Daisy and among ourselves was truly beautiful and we will be eternally grateful for that brief window in time.

Daisy hardly coughed at all during those 24 hours. She never complained or showed any pain. The kids slept on the floor with her during the night. Daisy would happily play with us for a few minutes at a time, but then would have to rest. In the morning it was like any other day from the previous 10 years. She barked at people walking down the street past our house as she always did (they chatted and children patted her over the fence). She barked as normal on her final day because, although sick, she was still on the payroll and had a job to do. An hour before we had to leave to go to the vet for the final time, Daisy gave me that “Let’s go to the park” look. I wasn’t expecting her to have the energy, but it was there. So the family (And Mitch from up the road, who also grew up with Daisy and is a part of our family anyway) all went to the park and enjoyed the sunny morning air. Daisy loved it, and on the way back to the house, a group of neighbors who chatting in the street got to say goodbye.

We were faced with the choice of putting her to sleep while she was still relatively comfortable and still very happy, or watch Daisy endure the pain and suffering that was definitely going to occur soon. In the end, we did the best thing for her. The vet was great, and the procedure was instantaneous and pain-free. She just put her head down and went to sleep. We all held her and let her go.

As a family, we all sobbed for a week.

For the days that followed, the silence in the house was deafening. We kept finding people in our house that didn’t know were there, as our four-legged alarm system was no longer active. Friends would suddenly appear in the kitchen and scare the living daylight out of us. Being able to walk to the back shed and not having to look for Daisy deposits made me sad. There was a massive void in our house. Walking in the gate after work to a silent, empty yard was devastating.

The house was filled with bunches of Daisies from friends and neighbors, because she belonged to everyone. Canine friends, “Molly”, and “Topsy”, kept searching the house when they visited but could not find their playmate. A few days after Daisy was gone, we moved emotionally from waves of sadness to that of gratitude. We were so lucky to have her for all of those 10 years, albeit a shorter than expected duration. We even feel a bit guilty that we got to have her instead of someone else, although we did happily share her with everyone we knew. Within a week of Daisy’s passing, it was clear to all of us at home that is was unsatisfactory to live without the constant unconditional love and companionship of a Labrador.

So we went back to well and got another one.

“Rosie” (we stuck with the flower theme) is a bouncy, endlessly energetic, 12 week old purebred female black lab, just like Daisy was, and she is the most beautiful creature we have ever seen. We wondered if it was wrong to try to replace perfection with the same breed, gender, and coloring, in case the comparison led to disappointment, but in the end we realised that we were not replacing Daisy, but honoring her and continuing her legacy.

Rosie is asleep with her head resting on my foot as I am writing this. I’m trying to stay still so she doesn’t fall off.

When she first arrived at home, after a very long car journey, we filled up Daisy’s large water bowl so Rosie could have a drink, as she looked a little hot. Instead of lapping at the edge of the bowl, she just climbed into the bowl and had a swim (pictured). Then she posed for photos. That was it for us; game, set, match.

That moment signaled the change.

Rosie has been with us for a month now and we have all fallen completely in love with her. We have said goodbye to our garden and anything that can be chewed, and I am thoroughly enjoying having to navigate the backyard minefield again. We laugh at the trails of toilet paper that we find unraveled down our hallway, and we walk wide-legged and in slow movements around the kitchen as Rosie buzzes around our legs and attaches herself to our shoe laces. She clamps her razor sharp little needles to anything loose and expensive. It takes us an extra 1o minutes just to leave the house because there is so much going on under our feet. We are now remembering and reliving what puppy training is all about and find ourselves respectfully reminiscing about things that Daisy did in her youth that were long forgotten. The memories have all come flooding back. Rosie is digging out old toys in the garden that we haven’t seen for years. We bought her one of those rubber “Kong” toys that you stuff food into to keep them occupied, but before we could give it to her, she had found an identical, weathered one, in the garden that had been buried a long time ago. Should we give her the new one or re-use the old one? We kept both.

At last we can now face walking to the park at the bottom of our street again. I had found myself standing on the footpath, gazing down toward the park the end of the street, but immediately dismissing any exercise. Now I look forward to it again.

We were worried that getting a new puppy was not such a good idea so soon after Daisy had passed away, but the best way to heal love, is with love. They will never be the same dogs, but they will be equally as rewarding in their unconditional love and companionship. And there is something about the constant noise and activity that they bring with them. I’ll never complain about barking again.

So thankyou forever Daisy, and welcome now Rosie … and that, folks, completes the changing of the guard.

Posted in Dogs, Pets | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The wood chopper

wood chopper

The Snowy River snakes its way from the great dividing mountain range down toward the Southern ocean on Victoria’s eastern seaboard and meets the sea at Marlo, a small hamlet nestled on prime viewing land above the wide expanse of river flats. On the prime position on this prime viewing land sits the prime attraction; the iconic Marlo pub. The view across the Land and the river mouth from the pub’s wide decks is only triumphed by the frosty Carlton draught beer served on tap and the legendary chicken parmigianas that appear continuously from this institution’s kitchen.

Marlo is 386 kilometres (240 miles) east of Melbourne and as such, has remained largely undeveloped with a population of under 400 good, salt of the earth people. The pub is the lifeblood of the town, and all community events are staged there, not the least of which is the coveted wood chop Victorian state title, held in mid to late January each year on the massive grassy lawn directly below the pub’s outdoor deck, and which attracts a large loyal crowd, with contestants and their families arriving from near and afar, to enjoy the show, bask in the brilliant sunshine, and blow the froth off an ale.

About 10 years ago we happened to be holidaying at Cape Conran, minutes from Marlo, with our young family and another family (the Collopy’s) and we were magnetically drawn to the pub, on a scorching hot day, to see what this wood chopping thing was all about, and just to make sure that the bar staff had properly cleaned the beer lines overnight and correctly re-gassed the barrels. Of course we needn’t have worried. Under a deep blue sky in 35 celsius (100 degree) heat, sitting under an umbrella on the sun-deck, with a breathtaking view over the Snowy River mouth, draining Antarctically cold beer, we experienced a moment of cosmic harmony, with heavenly gears grinding and shifting orbital spheres into satisfaction.

Now, I had only ever seen wood chopping on the TV on “World of Sport” as a kid way back in the 60’s and 70’s, where the O’Toole family won everything for generations and made it look easy. Any sentence containing the words “wood chop” invariably followed with an “O’Toole”. They were legends of the sport. As an aside, the other sport that everybody watched back then was World Championship Wrestling on GTV9, hosted by Jack Little and featuring wrestlers such as Killer Karl Kox, Gorgeous George and Mario Milano, which inspired my siblings and I to tag team, headlock, and run each other head first into the end of the couch (turnbuckle) at home every Saturday morning. Probably not acceptable behavior, but preferable to the gangster slapping and wise-guy eye poking antics that ritually followed The Three Stooges.

Anyway, on this particular day, on the great sloping lawn in front of the pub, the battle lines were clearly drawn. There was a long row of chopping stations set up, roped off to the public. Beside each station, contestants performed their complex preparatory routines. The contestants were all shapes and sizes; a motley crew. There were two in particular that immediately caught our attention, stationed next to each other, in the middle of the lineup. The young bull and the old bull.

The young bull was built like superman on steroids, he had muscles building little satellite cities on his other muscles. His wore his undersized blue fluoro singlet like a thong; it covered roughly 2% of his massive waxed and oiled upper body. He looked as though he could have picked up his chopping block, wrung it out and reshaped it into a very long sharp stick and then skewered all the other lined up contestants in a single motion. He was pacing up and back like a caged lion. He was twitchy, anxious, agitated, edgy, apprehensive, fidgety, hyperactive, and bristling. If he could harness his own energy, he could run his car and household appliances, and light up a small village. The young bull fiddled with all of his latest equipment, adjusted all his brightest fluoro colored attire, and sharpened his state of the art axe. Then he sharpened it again, a little quicker this time. He couldn’t sit still; adjusting his belt strap, stretching his body, limbering up, rolling his head and neck, squatting, flexing biceps and arching his back. He then paced up and down again, eyeing his opponents. Then he sharpened his axe again.

The old bull was lean but wirery. No excess body mass, no supplements or protein diets. No jumbo bowls of pasta followed by 400 gram steaks with mash for dinner. No relentless gym workouts, pumping iron and sparring sessions. He was not overly tall, about average height. Balding head, with a two-day grey stubble on his tanned weathered face. He looked to be in his mid 50’s, maybe even older, and at least 25 years older than the other contestants. His plain colored singlet and shorts fitted loosely. His axe looked like it might have been handed down to him from his grandfather on the farm. It was already sharp, and he didn’t need to check it.

The old bull just sat in his chair, not moving at all, relaxed, looking at something 30 metres behind the viewing gallery, expressionless.

The old bull just waited.

When it was time, the wood choppers were asked to mount their blocks and await the starter’s gun. The young bull used the last few moments to squeeze in a few last squats, leg stretches, and head rolls, and fidget with his sweat bands and belt strap again, just in case they had shifted during his warm-up.  The old bull quietly picked up his axe and simply stepped up onto his block. The crowd buzzed in anticipation. We had all been standing there, huddled close together, for 15 to 20 minutes in the non-sheltered viewing gallery, frying in the heat, and our collective perspiration had steamed our clothes wet to our bodies. We needed this thing to begin.

Then the gun went off, followed by yells from the crowd, both of which frightened the children. There were frenzied bodies and axes and wood chips flying everywhere. It was like ten dogs digging frantically in a sand pit looking for a single bone.

The old bull did exactly what we were praying he would do. He had his block completely cut through and knocked over soon after the other guys had turned to attack their back halves. Every cut of his was strategically precise, every muscle twitch was in concert, the axe cut deep and accurately, cleanly releasing large timber wedges from its parent, until the block cracked cleanly in half and the job was done. The old bull had barely raised a sweat, and he casually stepped off and calmly watched the others wildly battling it out for the minor placings.

The old bull showed something that the young bull didn’t have yet … a seasoned self belief that had already visualized the result. From there it was just a matter of letting his body prepare for and ultimately confirm what he mind already firmly believed.

Matt Collopy said to me shortly afterwards when we were back on the sheltered deck of the Marlo pub testing another pot or two of Carlton Draught, “You just can’t beat the experience, can you!”

Now I wasn’t sure if he was talking about the Marlo pub or the wood chopper, but I guess it didn’t really matter, as it was true for both.

 

Posted in Humor, Places | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The red locomotive.

the red locomotive

One of my earliest ever childhood memories is of a painting of a red locomotive with passenger carriages trailing behind it. It was painted by my Aunt Tricia and gifted to my elder brother. I think he may been five, which placed me at around three and a half. It may have been his birthday.

The painting was ceremoniously hung on the wall of the bedroom that my brother and I shared. The red locomotive was chugging forward along its track, moving onward.

As a young family, we were also trying to move onward from a house fire, which ignited from a gas heater explosion in our front room, one frosty Melbourne morning in the mid sixties. My brother and I had been sitting in that front room, playing with building blocks, in front of an old gas heater. The heater exploded and the room went up in flames. My younger sister was asleep in a bassinet in the corner of the room. My mother was walking out into the hallway and noticed that the curtains weren’t straight and came back in to correct them. Then, just as she was closing the door, chaos erupted. The flames were quickly put out and only contained to the front room. Thankfully we all made it out, but the trauma of the event was felt by all of us for a long time after.

In truth, the trauma of the fire has been dramatically simplified above but in deep respect for others I won’t go into further detail. Our family unit was then, and is still now, very strong and robust, and our happy normal upbringing continued forward, like the red locomotive along its tracks. I have 4 amazing siblings, wonderful parents, and wouldn’t trade a single second of the last 51 years of life, and this is testament to first class parenting and a brilliant, healthy environment to grow up in. For us, it was a significant bump in the road that, in time, gradually lost definition and faded into a distant memory.

That particular bump, however, heralded the arrival of my stutter. As I was so young when it materialised, I haven’t known life without it. My parents made absolutely sure that I wasn’t treated any differently. My Siblings underwent speech therapy sessions with me every Saturday morning for what seemed like 2-3 years. These sessions focused on breathing techniques and tricks and methods to improve vocal flow. It helped significantly to make our speech clearer, and without “ums” and “ahs”. I just thought speech therapy lessons was something everyone did.

Then there were the visits to the psychiatrist when I was seven. Once again, my other siblings went as well, just so I didn’t feel singled out. I didn’t really understand what it was all about. For me, it was a place where I played checkers with a man who asked a lot of questions about all kinds of stuff. At my final session he asked me if I thought there was anything wrong with me. When I said no, he then questioned why I was seeing a psychiatrist. I remember being a bit shocked, because up until that moment I thought I was just playing checkers with a nice man who always let me win.

At that age of seven I often couldn’t say my own name (Now I can say it okay but sometimes still have trouble spelling it!) Words that started with “b”  and “f” were a major struggle, a few numbers were difficult., particularly the number “8”. It was what it was, life went on as normal. No-one else seemed to worry about it so I didn’t worry about it either. And it wasn’t taboo, I was always happy to talk about if the subject presented itself, just as I am talking about it now.

My school years were unremarkable as far as stuttering was concerned. I spent a lot of my time trying to be funny, which encouraged conversation, and took the focus off my speech. Talking in front of the class was problematic, but I muddled my way through it. I don’t remember ever really being made fun of, as I didn’t take myself too seriously and I did not react when baited. Most comments were not deliberate, where it was usually a case of someone not realising I had a speech impediment. In those instances, I took the mistake as a compliment.

Creative expression will always find a way to the surface. My first exposure to creative expression was the red Locomotive, chugging along that bedroom wall, and that painting inspired me to want to one day create oil paintings. When one avenue of expression is flawed, other avenues tend to flourish. I discovered, whilst in primary school, that I could draw and that I could write. English creative essay writing was my favorite area of schoolwork. I started oil painting in year 11 and have been dabbling in it ever since. Later in life I even discovered that I could sing! Apparently this is common amongst stutterers. Singing is the act of breathing correctly and fluently projecting a string of set lyrics together; a concept that is, in terms of logic, perverse to your average stutterer. I am still trying to figure that one out.

At home, growing up, we often sat around the dining room table during and after dinner and chatted for hours, to help develop our communication skills. My parents encouraged robust table discussion, in later years banned television on weekdays so we would sit and talk (and then hopefully do some homework!) When there were 6 other lively personalities busily lobbing conversation grenades into the centre of the table, we all had to be well on our game to be heard, and luckily being one of the eldest siblings, I was able to comfortably engage and contribute. Sunday roasts were spectacular culinary events and always attracted regular extra diners (friends would materialise in the afternoon and linger at dusk, waiting for the head count), so the numbers often swelled to 8 or 9 diners, and I will never forget the stories, revelations and the hours of continuous laughter that bounced off those walls. For me, the art of conversation found a vibrancy during those dinners. I owe a lot to that dining room and the people that were in it.

Ohh … and I can still taste those roasts!

By nature I was (and am) an extrovert, so hiding in a hole and pretending that I didn’t exist was never going to be an option. I also reasoned that if I amused people they wouldn’t focus on my stutter. I became reasonably good at telling stories but have never been able to tell jokes, because they have set punchline endings, and I can’t stick to set sentences, needing to be able to create alternative endings when confronted with a verbal “blockage”.

I discovered by the time I reached my early teens that I was no longer shackled by speech, and that I didn’t stutter much, if at all, in social situations, which was a relief really, and gave me hope that things would continue to improve. Things were looking up, and moving forward.

Of course this did not stop me going into shops wanting three of something and walking out with six.

I got used to drinking cafe coffee in random configurations; black, white, with or without sugar, short, long, flat, frothy … you name it, because I couldn’t. I’m not really a creature of habit anyway, so whatever turned up was a new adventure.

Imagine starting a sentence with a defined ending in mind, but having 2-3 alternative endings up your sleeve in case you sense a problem up ahead. Stutterers become very skilled at sentence modification on the run. This is fine if you can change words. Introducing People by name is a killer. Repeating telephone numbers, spelling out addresses can sometimes be an issue. A few years ago I had to present junior cricket awards to the cricket team I was team managing. Everything went well until I had to call out their names! I could have handed that part over to someone else, but I muddled through. The boys didn’t mind too much and the crowd were fine. I felt okay, I would have only felt like a failure if I hadn’t tried.

I decided somewhere along the way that I wasn’t going to ever back away from talking publicly when asked. By forcing myself to endure, I would gradually improve. This turned out to be sound policy. I did a lot of speeches at milestone parties and weddings, and although some were less than satisfactory, the good speeches gradually started outnumbering the bad ones. Then, before making a speech, I would conjure up images in my mind of the good outcomes, and use these positive visualizations as proof that I could do it again, but better. The locomotive was moving along the tracks, gathering speed.

I also decided to undertake a career that would continually place me in the public speaking firing line, so I studied Marketing and went to work for businesses that required a lot of presentations and meetings.  In the late 1990’s, along with a couple of other business partners, we started up an importing/wholesaling business and since that time, most of my work days have been spent talking on the phone and with staff, customers and suppliers. This has had immeasurable benefits. Use the telephone 20 times a day for 5,000 days and things have to get easier, right?

My wife Susie, daughter Emily (20) and son James (17) have never seen my speech an issue. I always worried what my kids would think of me stuttering, but I needn’t have. In the end, It has never mattered. I can’t tell you how good that makes me feel. Both kids are pursuing creative careers (Emily in fashion and James in Film) and this pleases my Susie and I more than I can say. I keep seeing that picture of the train on the wall.

So what started out as potentially a “dig a hole and go and hide in it” impediment has, over the decades, faded into the background into a shade of occasional frustration and annoyance. A distraction that no longer finds definition. I laugh when I think about the ridiculous situations I have found myself in. I shrug off the bad moments and enjoy and file away the good ones; but the day that I back down from facing it head on is the day that I have failed or given up. We have to keep chugging along.

I’m still not good at introducing people. You might discover that you suddenly have a new nickname. Sometimes you are left to introduce yourself; and maybe introduce me as well.

1o months ago I met an old friend of ours at a 50th birthday party who is a speech therapist. We chatted about my stutter, and she later emailed me some speech exercise sound files to work through, to try and slow down my speech delivery. She said that I always talked too fast. The series of 5 emails with exercises and tips have been sitting unopened in my inbox ever since. When Margot initially followed me up to see how I was going, I confessed that I hadn’t opened the files yet, and that I was struggling with the concept of revisiting speech therapy. I recently spotted the unopened files again in my “unread” email folder … 10 months, and no progress! In the back of my mind I have always known that they were there. The issue for me is that I don’t know if I want, or need to, change any more. By opening those files, I have to consciously reach into the distant shadows and give my speech impediment definition again. At 52, I’m not sure I have the appetite for dredging up all that stuff. Isn’t it easier to be content and exist happily the way things are?

Then I close my eyes and see the red locomotive that my aunt Tricia painted.

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The world’s best ever backyard cricketer.

josh raised bat xmas 2012

Everyone has a moment in the sun.

For one young boy, it was for an hour on Xmas day in 2012, when he became the world’s greatest cricketer of all time.

Our Xmas day lunches, like many people’s, tend to start early and finish very late, as there is a lot of celebrating to do. In 2012 it was hosted by the “Youngs” in the leafy Melbourne suburb of Prahran. There were roughly 30 people for lunch, and it was the usual deal: Eat far too much food, and then try and work it off with a traditional game of cricket at a nearby park. On this occasion, we simply played out of the Young’s rear garage that backed out onto an access roadway and a park. We set up rubbish bins as wickets at each end of the driveway pitch, with the main batting crease just inside the canopy of the garage (the roll-a-door was up). Bowling was with a tennis ball, with one half covered with black electrical tape, to create some deviation mid-air and off the pitch. The standard backyard cricket rules were to be observed, including “Tippety run”, one-handed catching off fences and trees, “6 runs and out” for hitting over a fence, and of course, no-going-out on your first few balls.

We had been playing for a while when we noticed a man with his young son, sitting by themselves on the edge of the grassland, about 20 metres down the road. It looked very much like a father-son “access” visit. This was probably going to be their only time spent together for Xmas. They didn’t really seem to have any plans, they were just sitting there shooting the breeze. The boy looked to be seven or eight, and he was taking an interest in all the noise and activity up the road.

So on the next ball delivery, the batsman occupying the crease shuffled his feet, leaned in and deliberately clipped one away down the roadway. The tennis ball rolled up and stopped at the boy’s feet. He picked it up, looked at his Dad, and then turned toward us. He threw the ball back with surprising strength for a boy of his age. The ball fell well short of the distance, but we all applauded, telling him that he had a “strong arm”. That was a big compliment for the young lad. He was very pleased, and sat down again with his Dad, who gave us wave in gratitude.

Strangely enough, the next ball found its way down the lane as well, stopping this time a few metres away from the young man. He was already standing, and scooped up the ball and returned it again; this time running half the distance between us before throwing, so that the ball wouldn’t fall short. The two batsmen were running between the wicket rubbish bins and had to hustle to avoid being run out. Another round of applause.

We asked them if they wanted to join in. The boy’s name was Josh and he was keen. Dad opted out, but he sat closer so that he could be part of the action and watch proceedings.

Now, with such a strong arm, it made sense that Josh should be inserted immediately into the bowling attack. The fielding positions were re-set with 6 fieldsmen very close in, and a wicket keeper crouched hard up against the rubbish bin, with an outstretched glove itching for an edge or a stumping. There was lots of encouragement, plenty of banter. Josh was given leniency on his run up, starting from mid wicket. His first ball lofted in, well wide of the stumps, but the panicky batsman, for reasons unknown to this day, suddenly moved forward out of his crease, and swung wildly at the ball, which moved past his feet and neatly into the wicket-keeper’s glove, to be whipped up against the side of the bin. Unable to get back to the line in time, the batsman was out! Wide-eyed and dismayed, he dropped his bat and slumped away. The fielders jumped into the air in unison, then raced in to congratulate the young hero, high fiving all the way. Dad was chuckling on the sidelines.

The next delivery from Josh lofted in again. The next batman moved in too far under the flight of the ball and then skied it high in the air. Several fielders sat under the drop of the ball with the one in best position eventually taking the catch, and a second batsman was thereby dismissed. More high fives, more celebration. Dad gave a victory salute. Josh was loosening up now, elated and determined. There was a spring in his step.

Josh was now sitting on a “Hat-trick”. Three wickets in consecutive balls is a bowler’s dream. Many bowlers play for a lifetime and not achieve a hat-trick. But for this little rising star, It came with ease. The latest new Batsman was overtly confident at the crease, and required some sledging from the keeper, the slips cordon, and silly-mid-on, just to loosen him up. Josh waited for the banter to subside. Then came his master delivery; it was on prefect line with the stumps, but the ball seriously lacked speed, and petered out into a collection of low bounces, before running along the ground. A classic “grubber”. The new batsman danced up the wicket like he was going to belt the living soul case out of that ball, and played a massive cover drive, but for some peculiar reason (known only to himself) the batsman’s vision stayed well above the low ball, and his stroke only made contact with fresh air. The ball trickled underneath the bat and “doinked” up against the rubbish bin. The crowd went wild; there were now running aeroplane manoeuvres, attempts at C-grade moon-walking, and more high fives. The batsman performed the sagging golden duck walk, dragging the bat behind him, to a chorus of “quacking” noises.

Josh had now been elevated to legendary status. He was awash in the moment; he was “feeling it”, and Dad was very proud. The sun was shining, but there was more work to be done. It was now time for Josh to bat. Now, the bat was way too big for him, but he wasn’t going to worry about technicalities – not while he was on a roll. The fielders fanned out, no-one was in close now. The wicket keeper was well back, too far away for a chance at a stumping. As a fielder, it was suddenly very difficult to see because the sun was in our eyes.

The bowling was slow, and pitched up nicely, favoring Josh’s swing and tracking well outside the off stump. He made good contact but skied the ball several times, however the fieldsmen were clumsy in their attempts to complete a catch, running comically into each other, complaining about the sun in their eyes, clutching at the ball but closing their grip before the ball had landed in their palms. Josh was a “rabbit” between the wickets, up and back with lightening speed, accumulating runs. The incoming throws from the field were sloppy and wayward, creating extra run opportunities. Josh was scoring at will.

Then Josh hit the ball into a collection of thick bushes. I was first to arrive at the scene, and, at first, I stood there over the bushes, scratching my head, not really knowing where to start looking. Josh was tearing back and forth between the lines. I rummaged around but struggled to find the ball. It was in there somewhere. Josh was encouraged to keep running; the other fielders would let him know when to stop. when it became clear that I seriously couldn’t find the ball, a few others joined in the search. Josh just kept running. He had a lot of energy; he really was “feeling it”. There was a series of backsides poking out of the bushes, rummaging around, without success. We eventually found the ball, but in the meantime, Josh had amassed a whopping 27 runs off that 1 ball. We all agreed that it must have been some kind of a world record. Josh was now the on his way to being the greatest cricketer in our collective living memory.

When he passed his half century (50 runs) a short time later, we showed him how to raise his bat in the air and acknowledge the crowd. His face was flushed with exhilaration and achievement.  With a “hat-trick” (3 wickets in consecutive balls), a half century (50 runs), and a staggering 27 runs off one ball, Josh was officially crowned as the greatest cricketer to ever play the game (with apologies to Sir Donald Bradman, of course, who wasn’t too shabby himself.) This display from the young warrior was a rare sight indeed, and may never be repeated again in the history of backyard cricket. We told him as much as we all wished him well and sent him back to his father, who stood proudly, clapping him from the sidelines. Josh retired from the game “not out”, which was only fitting. The father and son walked back down the lane and out of view.

We all felt good , but for Josh, it was his moment, and the sun was shining.

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The cone of silence.

The cone of silence

My friend Robert is deaf, and I have a stutter.

And Robert lip reads.

Robert speaks normally but if there is any background noise, then My hearing is very poor.

We have been close friends for 25 years and during that time neither of us have ever had a clue what the hell the other person has been talking about.

Having a discussion with Robert is like being with Maxwell Smart and the Chief in the “Cone of Silence”.

“What did you say?”

“What?”

“I didn’t hear what you said!”

[Robert sometimes says] “What, are you DEAF or something!”

“What?”

We share a love of Australian Rules Football and Cricket (he was very keen at playing both of these sports). We often go to games at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, watching in packed stadiums with 70,000 screaming Richmond tiger fans and enjoying a beer or two in the crowded bars. Then we might grab a bite to eat in a very crowded restaurant in Swan Street that has wooden floors. The only sentences that make sense to either or us for the whole day/night are the ones typed as text messages before the game when we are working out what time to meet.

I always forget that Robert is deaf because he has never behaved like he is deaf. He grew up in a hearing person’s world, adapting by learning to lip read rather than learning sign language, and getting on with life, growing up on a farm, becoming an accountant, working  with the Australian Tax office for over 25 years, and endlessly socialising with other people.

I know that Rob will read this, and although he may not know much about Get Smart, I dream of Genie, or Gilligan’s Island, as he grew up reading the newspapers instead of watching sitcoms, he hasn’t missed out on much else. Robert was also the recipient of a Cochlear implant some years ago, which has helped Robert to hear some things now. I don’t how much he can hear, but it’s much harder to sneak up on him now.

Robert is a social extrovert, a party person, sports mad, a practical joker, and he has always been strongly connected to rural farming communities. Robert knows more people than anyone else I have ever met. He cannot walk down the street without running into someone he knows. He is great fun to be with, is fiercely loyal, and I value our friendship greatly, as everyone else does.

I just wish that we knew what the hell it is that we’re both talking about.

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Looking for Huntsville.

 

Igloo with wings

Information desks provide information. They had it, and I needed it.

“Well hello sir,” came the greeting from the spritely young female behind the counter, “Now, how can I assist you today?” The question came with a searching look, as I must have appeared to be a little disoriented.

“Where am I?” I asked. I was hoping that she might know. They had it, and I needed it.

The young lady took a step backward, as if, for a moment, she didn’t quite know where she was either. She eyed me carefully; puzzled, and slightly amused. Everyone that she had ever met in her life had known where they were. She looked upwards and to her left, as if the answer might be hanging from the ceiling on a long piece of string.

“Excuse me, but you don’t know where you are?” She laughed a little, checked herself, and then tried to be serious.

“No, I don’t… I don’t know where I am. Can you please tell me?”

This was too good to be true. She was going to smash this one out of the stadium.

“Why, you’re at the AIRPORT!”

Yes, Okay, I had pitched that one up, but I didn’t have time for games. “I know I’m at an airport. Can you now kindly tell me WHICH CITY?!”

Priceless. The attendant shot a sideways glance at her male co-worker, to see if he had picked up on the conversation. They had themselves a real one here. Might be needing security on this one. It was just like the training video. The red button was probably just below the desk. She took her hands off the counter and put them by her sides. So, this guy with the funny accent doesn’t even know which city he is in? With a grin that was broader than it should have been, she put me out of my misery.

“Why, you’re in HUNTSVILLE!”

“That’s great,” I spat back immediately, “but I’m supposed to be in LOS ANGELES!”

Her fingers may have been circling the unseen panic button. The attendants were too afraid to look at each other, in case they completely lost it. Then, after a moment of re-composure, they swung swiftly into crazy passenger management mode, and asked me to take a deep breath and start from the beginning, pointing out in lowered calming tones that they were, indeed, there to help me.

So I hastily explained what I think had happened. In a nutshell, I must have caught the wrong plane, then fallen asleep, snoring through any PA announcements, and then come to when the plane was losing altitude (after only about 30-60 minutes) above snow-covered fields, landing on a smallish landing strip, and spilling out into this airport terminal. No signs, no discussions; I simply walked off the plane with absolutely no idea where I was. Ridiculous but true.

The male co-worker now had his eyes closed, his frame tilting a little, and slightly trembling. He looked like he was moments from lift off. The girl focussed on her rapid keyboard tapping whilst taking long steady breaths, so that she didn’t fall over behind the counter and spasm with laughter.

Now, I’m happy to be labelled as a complete numskull, and yes, I did mindlessly board the wrong plane; but at a stretch, I deserve a few credit points because they (the airline) let me do it. I had been working for nearly three weeks in Atlanta Georgia (this was back in February 1995), and I was tired and just wanted to go home to my young family in Melbourne Australia. Atlanta was unusually cold at that time and totally covered in snow, and, of course, I didn’t even have a coat. Really clever. Anyway, sitting at Atlanta’s departure gate lounge, I do remember not feeling all that sharp. When I thought back on it, there were two gates being serviced from the one lounge, and there were two planes boarding at the same time. I had a feeling that the “gate-keeper” checked my ticket but did not scan it, and then ushered me cheerfully aboard what would become the plane of shame.

My Melbourne bound connecting flight departed LA in seven hours time, but if I didn’t check in within five hours, my forwarded luggage would be offloaded and I would miss the long haul flight home. So I needed a lifeline flight to LA. They had it, and I needed it. The keyboard tapping stopped suddenly as a flight had been found … to Memphis. I paused and stared for a long time at the dynamic duo behind the counter, trying to detect any escaping merriment. They were serious. “I’m sorry,” I started, “but I don’t really want to go to Memphis right now. I really need…”

“…It’s the only way. You’ll have to try to get another flight from Memphis to LA, but there is no guarantee, sorry. Here’s your ticket, good luck, we hope you make it!” I took the chance, because that is what people with no other options do.

When I saw the plane sitting out in the field on its own in the semi darkness, I felt confident that my grinning counter buddies were peering out a window at me somewhere, doubled over, wetting their pants.

I was about to board an igloo with wings.

It was totally frozen. Great, I thought. I’m to be propelled off the ground in a popsicle. It was a twin prop plane, a 20 seater I think. I climbed the frozen steps and clambered aboard. By the time I sat down my teeth were chattering. It was freezing in there (no coat, remember), and I couldn’t see out the windows. I wasn’t even sure if there were any windows. A loud engine noise outside was followed by a continuous thudding noise on the roof above me. The captain crackled over the PA, “Welcome aboard. We’ll be on our way just as soon as the tanker can DE-ICE the plane!” So now I was very nervous, and cold. There were only two other people on the flight and they both had massive overcoats and scarves on. So I was nervous, cold, and envious. I started seeing headlines. “Lost idiot falls out of sky, trapped in refrigerator.” The ice started melting on the windows as my deadline time clock ticked down. It took 15 minutes of solid soaking to thaw out the vehicle. Eventually the props agitated themselves to life and we taxied out and left the mystery town or city of Huntsville behind.

Thankfully the aviating igloo arrived in Memphis, and after repeating my story again at another information desk (this time I knew where I was), A connecting flight to LA was found. The timing was tight, but it was my only option. Once again, I took the chance. The airline that I had booked with was keen to take care of this issue because they sensed some liability for allowing me to board the wrong flight.

But it was all to no avail. Arriving in LA, I had missed the baggage cutoff time by 20 minutes. I was gutted.

Now I had to conference call my bosses in Melbourne and tell them that I was a complete idiot, and that I was going to be staying an extra night in a hotel in LA and returning to work a day later than expected. I answered everything truthfully, however they did not ask all the right questions. They asked what had happened, and I explained that I missed my connecting flight by 20 minutes. There was silence at the other end of the line for a while, and I was waiting for the question “why?” But it never came. It was not uncommon for one of them to ask, “Is there anything you haven’t told me?”, but this time neither of them pressed me on it. They moved on to the details of where I was going to stay, and then onto work related issues. My bosses both had a good sense of humor and they would have handled it well. I always thought I’d tell them the story at some stage, but I never have. I might have been too embarrassed. One of these guys (the company CEO and my ultimate boss) will probably read this and finally find out the whole truth. Hope you enjoy the tale Hoops!

Some time after making it home, my wife Susie, my Aunt Jacqui and Uncle Geoff, and I, were sitting around chatting, and the story resurfaced. We decided to hunt down that mystery city/town to find out where it was.

Looking for Huntsville.

We looked it up on the on the Internet, and to our surprise, discovered that there are in fact three Huntsvilles in the US; one in Alabama (180,000 pop.); one in Texas (38,000 pop.); and one in Tennessee (1200 pop.); and all were within the flight time window from Atlanta that I had snored through.

So, to this day, I still have no idea where I landed on that freezing late afternoon somewhere in the southern states, welcomed by a couple of grinning, out-of-stadium ball slogging comedians. I’d say the smart money is on Huntsville Alabama, but you would do better than getting your “smarts” from me.

[Footnote: “Hoops” did read the story and we had a good laugh about it later.]

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The glue factory.

image

At a dinner with a bunch of old school mates in 1993, Johnny Fahey, one for controversial statements, boldly made the following announcement.

He said, “Ten years from now, none of us will know each other.”

The table erupted, we all scoffed at him, and continued with more pressing issues, like figuring out what bottle of wine we should order next. Those words, however, hung thickly in the air that night. Johnny sounded like he was being over dramatic, but nevertheless, something struck a nerve.

Dislocation is the natural enemy of friendship. Most of our group of 13 people had been friends since the age of ten when we started school together (some earlier), and we naturally thought that we would always stay very close. Despite this, there are so many obstacles and developments throughout life that can erode your connection with close friends. It’s not rocket science. After secondary school ends, people move in different directions; attending different universities, moving interstate and overseas, starting different careers, settling into relationships and starting families. Old friendships can tend to take, what you think of it at the time as, a temporary backseat. We were all in our early thirties by this time, and with many of us now with young families, and different career paths, we were ripe for erosion.

“Unless we do something about it now, we will all drift apart. We need to stick together.” The new bottle of wine arrived. Then we set about manufacturing glue.

Over the next year or so, we set up 3 annual “anchor” events, set in concrete, scheduled for the same time every year; so it didn’t matter what else was going on in your life, you always knew with certainty where you would be on those 3 key dates. The events were spread apart so there was never more than 6 months between them (late November, mid February, mid July). We set the key event as a weekend away (this soon expanded to 3 days) on a farm or coastal property where we could play loud music all night and not annoy the neighbors. One person was designated as the central point of contact, initiating all correspondence for each event. Within a few years, the glue had well and truly set. The events were so much fun that they became compulsory and long awaited. The email and telephone banter usually started a few weeks before the event, and often required additional mini gatherings, such as testing potential eating venues. We called these “reckkies”.

The anchored events kept us in regular contact, which then extended to a host of other sightings during the year (football games, birthdays, dinners, BBQ’s, concerts etc).

Johnny’s statement started out being correct but finished up being totally wrong. It is now 22 years later, and after 43 very long lunches and 21 three-day weekends away, the same 13 regular attendees are still getting excited about the next event, some flying in from interstate to attend. The 44th lunch is in two weeks, and I can hardly wait. The emails and phone calls have already started.

Our kids are now in their teens and twenties, and probably think that we are being overly dramatic when we try to reinforce the importance of  setting up a structure. Our advice to them is that If you have a good group of people, don’t just let it slide. Make it stick.

We will still be having lunches and weekends until we are all pushing up daisies, with only one person left standing. At the moment there are 13 people hoping that person is going to be them.

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