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That Which Does not Kill You – Makes You a Cox’s Orange

April 28, 2013

coxs orange290I wrap up at SIMaid tomorrow and wonder that the last week of April should mark the anniversary of so much that has happened over the last year. Most of it (not SIM I hasten to add) has been stuff I would not have scripted into the fabric of the life of my worst enemy but it happened anyway. Interestingly well meaning folk who have travelled with me through all the madness want to tell me I am stronger for the adversity. Read more

Some Things I Probably Should not have Done – But am Glad I Did

August 12, 2012

(not an exhaustive list by any measure)

Spoken to those two Russian women on that bridge in Paris. Who were they really and who did they actually work for?  But, my goodness, they were gorgeous. Read more

Jim’s Invitation

July 14, 2011

book-cover290.jpg(A piece written earlier this year).

 

I

 had not written to Jim, that I could recall, for him to ever send me anything in return. More to the point he passed away in 1980 so I thought the spidery scrawl on the expensive, semi translucent wedding paper envelope was some sort of prank. I had gone to bed, not at my usual late hour but at a respectable time.  As I drifted off I realized I had not collected the mail for the day so I swung myself out of bed and walked outside. It was the only piece of correspondence in the box. 

Click here for the complete short story. Jim’s-Invitation.pdf

 

General Powell somewhere on the Iraq-Turkey Border

February 14, 2008

general-powell.pngI have always enjoyed (and admired) this photo of the General. It contains a few interesting elements. For me at least. Let me try them on you. Read more

A Letter to a Friend

March 4, 2007

Dear JD,
It’s been more than a week now. I drove home last Friday afternoon up the Waringah Expressway. I was enjoying the sunshine and the clear blue Sydney sky – and the fact that the air conditioning was keeping the humidity at bay. The traffic was light which was surprising since these 6 or so lanes of traffic can get pretty clogged on this side of the bridge. So I glanced at the clock thinking it was earlier than usual. Well, it was but the clock jolted me for another reason, that being the 5.40 I read on the dial. Suddenly the day was less bright as it occurred to me that this was about the same time last week you were enjoying the last minutes of that plane flight. That it was exactly this time a week ago you were enduring something that should never be suffered alone. Away from all your friends and those who have declared their compassion and love for you this week.

You will be delighted to know that such is the memory most have of you. Enjoying life to the full and revelling in anything that was tactile, sensory and dangerous. And of course if it was slightly irresponsible in some way there was an added measure of delight that lit you up. But damn you, last week was thoroughly miserable. I waded through the week feeling a constant knot in my gut and was thoroughly demotivated. I made a checklist of things that needed doing and ploughed through them. Some of my colleagues noticed. Fortunately most did not.

You would enjoy the fact that (ironically) last week I kept turning up things that reminded me of things we did together. I was looking for an old residential address on a bill so I could file a claim – its a long story. Your CV fell out of the file. The one we wrote at the end of 1997 when you were finally convinced that leaving the military was a real option. It was not put into action for another twelve months or more. It is an impressive read even after all this time. You made the time in the Pilbara sound like it was a critical qualification for any future employer. It made me laugh. Then I put it on the dining room table where it still sits. I can’t bring myself put it away. The next file upended the training business plan we wrote. That made me grin too – I won’t divulge where the guts of it came from but you turned up with a massive fax which we turned into a plan. It is probably just as well we never turned that into substance (someone would be chasing us for breach of copyright) but considered it an iterative or instructional exercise. Later in the week I pulled a postcard off the wall at work. From you at Gettysburg. We spoke for hours about the Civil War and Gettysburg was one place I encouraged you to visit. There was your chicken scrawl handwriting telling me you had gotten there at last. I pinned it back but see it every day now when for months I simply walked past it.

I have told maybe fifteen or so folk about what has happened. Everyone has been appalled. But there has been something cathartic and healing in the telling. Something bitter-sweet as the instant memories people have of you and your madness were fond, affectionate and sometimes hilarious. I have spoken with people who have separated from me for some time. Spoken with others from whom I have drifted. And with others still whom I do not know directly but who I know knew and loved you. Laughter and tears. And more tears. From grown men all around the world. You would be a bit abashed. If the overall tenor of the week has been black and depressed the light and bright tone has come from all these reconnections. Thanks mate. Sadly those two or three I told who did not know you were dismissive of the event. I am not sure what to make of that. Maybe I caught them at the wrong time but the end result is that most of last week was spent keeping all this to myself. You would relate to that – the malaise of being a bloke!

You know my world view. Better than most. And would not be surprised that I did share with some sympathetic friends on Thursday evening what had happened. They prayed for Shauna that night and for your parents. I know you never minded that and had an idle curiosity about God. Grace at our table when you stayed with us with a wrecked knee was something you enjoyed. I was encouraged that Thursday night by the fact that somehow, even though Shauna has never met these people, she was being supported and encouraged. I hope she was.

I love you still my friend

BL

Vale JD

February 25, 2007

John called today to tell me that JD was killed in a plane accident on Friday evening. At about the time I was to head off to Youth Group. How blithely we continue on while something erupts unseen and unheard over the horizon, but which will impact us in due course. How blithely we continue on, assuming every day will be the same and we all be in our appointed places to do business with each other, to answer the phone, share a joke, reminisce about good old times. How blithely we take each other for granted. How rudely our comfort is disrupted.
JD was one of the co founding team of entrepreneurs who got our company off the ground and in 1998 was one of three who went to extraordinary lengths to help us secure the technology on which we built our business. It was the beginning of an infection in him that saw him leave a very successful career in government and establish himself in various small businesses, with some of them turning into modestly successful enterprises.
There are lots of things I remember about JD and this is a good place to record them. One incident stands out. He had a final interview, by phone, for a job in a government agency. He borrowed an office and wallpapered A3 sheets across the walls and ceiling with information he might be expected to know about. From his high back swivel seat he was able to check his answers on every wall and even on the ceiling while carrying out the conversation by phone. The interview went for more than three hours. He walked out and said he had missed the job but had been offered another. It was an SES position, far in excess of the sergeant rank that he wore at the time. He went on to that appointment where he was most successful and was promoted beyond that in the end, to the position he originally sought. He had no sense that there was anything out there that limited him. I loved that about him.

He loved toys and boys games. Hand guns. Bikes. Scuba diving. Rock climbing. In the end his love of extreme toys and behaviour appears to have been his undoing and a small plane in which he was travelling broke up and crashed on Friday evening.

His friendship was unconditional. He gave with no expectation in return. He weighed in with enthusiasm, for the sheer pleasure of a new experience and the ability to help. Whether that was unloading ten tonnes of ceramics from Mexico (he came down with heat stroke in the oven of a 40 foot steel container) or negotiating how best to secure a software license from a US company. To hear from a mutual friend today how it was that he turned up in a NBC suit to the hospital bed of an ill colleague not only made me laugh at the absurdity of that gesture but it delighted me as well. For it rang true to the sort of character he was – free and ready to lift someone’s spirits, even at his own expense.

JD was an atypical Army sergeant – part of the Sydney latte set, dating a girl from the Australian Ballet, wearing cufflinks, expensive cotton shirts, and able to give sound advice on red wines – and I loved that about him too. In many ways he was his own man and own character. And there was always something about the little boy in him that never grew up. An effervescence and naiveté that in our heart of hearts we all envied. Well, part of me envied that part of him at times.

The news is so new that it is only online. Nothing in the printed press yet. But already I resent the detachment of the press reporting so hollowly the facts when I know the person behind them. Yet that is how it is. How often we read that someone has died in a car accident then move on to the next piece of news without considering the person behind the event. We don’t connect with it – unless we are forced to.

The afternoon is a little hollow for the news. Hollow too for the introspection that has me wonder if I could not have been a better friend, confidant or mate. Best to see how that feeling might fuel my relationships with those still alive. In the meantime I think of JD and remember a roguish glint in the eye of a mid 30s boy and understand he was one of those whose passing in a violent way is somehow appropriate. He would have been chewed up by a Great White, or crushed to death by an anaconda, fallen off K2 or frozen to death in a submarine lost under Arctic ice if he had not been destroyed in a plane crash.

Later in the afternoon The Age Melbourne newspaper shows the first image of the crash site. I am stirred by the two plastic sheets slightly out of focus in the background – as if the most important, or least offensive thing is the wreckage – under one of which will be JD. Vital, energetic, adventurous. Now a lump of charred meat lying in a paddock and, for the rest of the world at least, with no name. I want to tell every reader that I know one of those mounds, that he has a name, an identity, a personality, character. That he is my friend. My friend so blithely lost.

Whale on Toast

January 12, 2007

When building a company there are more nights than I care to remember when I lie awake wondering how this or that will resolve itself. Or be resolved. I learned early on that attempting to deal with issues as I perceived them in the dark hours was never a clever thing to do – some things just never get a proper perspective without the sun being up. That perspective usually presents problems in a significantly reduced magntude. (Mind you there are some sparks of inspiration that happen in the middle of the night as well and some answers have hurredly been written down before I drop back to sleep – and potential forgetfulness).
So I laughed out loud when I saw this from cartoonist Leunig. He hits the nail on the head nicely. I can relate to his whale of the dark hours being the sardine on toast at breakfast all too well.
(Clicking on the image will get you a better resolution version)

S&M

December 22, 2006

Cafe in Lane Cove, on Longueville Road. Two days before Christmas and the sweat sticks to my skin The day is overcast and threatens, then delivers, even more humidity as the sky lets loose a light shower, closes up, then releases another once the pavement has dried off.

The heat is exacerbated by a furious kitchen that churns out lunches and coffee. It is a busy place abutting a small village shopping centre that is bustling with last minute shoppers. Like myself. Who is not only a last minute shopper but a two minute one as well. A hunter gatherer approach to shopping.

Around the corner eight year old girls play a cello and violin and sing. They and their instruments are decorated with tinsel, as if to make up for the fact they are not in tune, in sync, and clearly have only put their ensemble together in the last two days since school closed for summer. And competing with the two boys playing carols on their trumpets two shopfronts down. Also out of tune but fervour and filthy lucre drive their performance. Each has an instrument case open which catches a generous shower of silver from bustling shoppers. It’s that time of the year after all.

The obligatory black T-shirts and strappy tops adorn the girls behind the counter and those who rush around the tables which spill onto the street. Entirely appropriate attire for this glistening sweat day. And good for those who admire a tanned shoulder or decorously adorned decollete. Don’t we all?

Kids saunter past with foam reindeer antlers on their heads, mouths rimmed with chocolate. Some are well behaved and fresh to the street. The rest have clearly been out all morning and are irascible and ready for home. Faces of their parents confirm it.

Plates clatter, bottled drinks clink as the fridge is raided. Cutlery chatters as it is unloaded from the dishwater. As the dishwasher door had opened the sharp smell of detergent bit the senses and a billowing cloud of hot vapour rolled to the ceiling and into the cafe, adding to the humidity. A five cent piece tings off the floors as a kid fumbles his treasure and argues with mother about ice cream flavours. Happy shouts as friends discover each other.

“Mate, whadayadoing?”
“Nothing mate. Keeping my head down. Going slow. Bugger of a day.”
“Yeah, mate, need a coffee to keep going.”

That it is a hot coffee is illogical but no one cares, or minds.

“Who’s next please?”
“James! Howya doing?!”
“Next please!?” Shouted a little louder and through yet more friends focused on catching up first, before placing an order.

Traffic creeps past, all leaking condensation onto the road from air conditioners. A shower of rain waters us all then stops again. Indian accents. Muslim headgear. Irish accents. Australian “ocker”. All mixed up and adding to the tableau. S&M arrive. Shane and Mark. (Apologies to any of you who have gotten this far and were hoping for something else).

We order lunch and spend a couple of hours talking about everything and nothing. Which is part of the pleasure of these sorts of friendships. Indeed, Shane referred us to C.S. Lewis (well known for his Narnia series but for the thinking person a deeper well in his other writings) who he is reading at the moment, and Lewis’ description of four loves, one of which is affection – the sort of love that is delivered without any expectation of anything in return and which, in the view of C.S. Lewis is most commonly expressed in its purest form between men. Not erotic (Lewis discusses eros in another context) I would hasten to add, but those friendships forged between men through tough times, especially war. But also common through early friendships and which can last a lifetime. Something I must dig out and read for myself.

The converse is no doubt true. At a time when male suicide rates are at an all-time high in this country how little salve might have been applied through a firm friendship? And a death prevented? What tough times do we share with reach other. What welding of friendships occurs through heat? Not much these days. We are all individuals and are all the poorer for it.

Whatever the view of C.S.Lewis, a pleasant lunchtime interlude, with pleasant company, in a great city, all at a time of the year when we are full of goodwill towards each other and we are all grateful that we are alive. Even if it is humid!

St Matthews

December 2, 2006


In 1981 I spent six months on a training course in Toowoomba. Semi rural Queensland. It was a bachelor’s life. And thoroughly pleasant for that. I sketched this old stone church modestly posing behind a large pinus radiata, but parading with something more exotic in its other garden. These sorts of buildings lend themselves to sketching. But I may have been attempting some sort of atonement for my primary school stories of churches. Most of those stories and the accompanying sketches have the church burning down. A child psychologist would have a field day with that.

1949 Robinson Harvester

December 2, 2006


Other creative pursuits in the past have included pen and ink and pen and pencil sketching. Far too little of it though since my school days. In one summer holidays from school I worked on a farm in northern Victoria. It was 45 degrees and oven hot. Most days. I sketched this one afternoon when it was too hot to do anything else. The sweat evaporated before it reached the ground – though some remains smudged in my sketchbook to this day. I tried to catch the harsh light on the gums in the background by putting little detail in there. To no effect given there is so much white background. The harvester had long gone to the cracked timber and rusty frame boneyard found in every farm. I was wary of it because the occassional black snake would rest under there.

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