Lessons from a Baby

January 25, 2018

William Wordsworth marvelled that he might learn from his toddler son. ’Could I but teach the hundredth part, Of what from thee I learn’ he wondered in “Anecdote for Fathers”. (It’s not his best work. In fact it’s rather droll, but then I find a lot of his stuff just so).  We can learn all sorts of things from kids. But it’s babies that have been teaching me a thing or two lately. Babies are the litmus test of whether you belong. Or, as perhaps I should more accurately posit it, babies tell you where you belong. The lesson is partly a reflection of our times (men dare not risk approaching someone elses child) and an instruction to a middle aged father and grandfather as to where he really stands. The lesson has a context and therein lies the rub. The context in this case is a community quick to profess it’s a family and that we are all family together. All siblings in one big happy communal rumpus room. It’s a sentiment which is not disagreeable, even when it’s expressed in hollow, strained terms. In fact it’s a sentiment I welcome having moved from another part of town, and it’s a message I don’t press against, hoping perhaps there might be some truth in it. Indeed, wanting there to be some truth in it. Read more

Assimilation (or “Why I Support the Wallabies”)

October 25, 2015

outback290I was a migrant. Past tense if you please. At some point you stop being a migrant and become a citizen. Not because of a piece of paper received from the government, but because you decide you are no longer a guest but rather a host. That you are not just part of the place, but of the place. Read more

ANZAC Ultra Marathon – 450km of Joy and Light

May 9, 2015

290running teamThe air frizzed and hissed and for a moment I was forced to a stop as the air vanished in a flash bulb pulse of white light. Stopped in lashing rain straight out of God’s freezer as the accompanying crack and boom erupted around me and my eyes readjusted to the light. Not that there was much of that, my headlamp not seeming to make much of an impression through the wall of water I had fancied I could run through. The flashing sky that had rolled up and over the Bullen Range as the late evening folded into night had warned me of what might come, but as the storm smashed over me I had the briefest moment of wonder – should I really have committed to this bush track? I was convinced I was going to run this section in the dark. After all, my time down to Kambah Pool has been extraordinary in my view and I was feeling very good. Very very good. But it wasn’t long before I had fallen. Once, twice, then a third time. And then in one of those white out flashes I plunged into a hole in the track I couldn’t see, and hyper extended my left knee. Damn. But in the interests of making sure I was good for the whole race, and loath to have to call on other team members to cover me because of injury I resigned myself to walking the next eight kilometres. Just as fast as I could. Read more

Doing HR in Afghanistan

August 30, 2014

HR in AFG290“Hi Sir, staff arrived safely at the RV”. So read the text that arrived late into the night, long after the neighbours kids have been put to bed (that has become my clock). And with that text a sense of relief. There is an HR dimension to Afghanistan I never really appreciated until I came here. It’s one thing to make assessments about your own situation, deciding to shop or not shop, to go to this area or not go to this area. But the responsibility taken for other people is another weight again, and not a dynamic I ever had to contend with in Australia. As a CEO in Sydney, how many HR decisions were weighed against the possibility of staff being killed? None that I can think of, unless I consider the regular booze ups when something accidental might happen. At best all you do in that case is make sure you plan events away from the office premises. See, what you are really thinking about is public liability, adverse media and insurance claims. Your decision to have a Melbourne Cup lunch weighs those things, not the possibility of any fatal action. Read more

Mind Your Head (And Your Prostate)

August 21, 2014

meat 290A journalist by the name of Foley was beheaded, the news of which swamped the fact that a foreigner was similarly treated on the main road to the airport in Kabul today. An event that has suddenly put everyone on their toes. But I had an appointment to have an ultrasound done. So off down town we went, caught in traffic and mindful that anyone out there just might be interested in targeting a foreigner. Especially a wandering one. For while we had an address, it was not such an obvious place to find. As with so many markets and shopping centres in the Middle East shopping enclaves are built around a specific product. If you want to buy water pumps there will be 24 shops in a particular stretch of road that sell water pumps. Nearby will be shops selling pipes, then shops selling valves. If you want second hand Seiko watches that last ticked in 1974 there are 17 shops at a particular square the owners of which will be happy to look after you. Read more

Kabul Summer Evening Rooftop

August 16, 2014

sunset290The sun has finally dropped across the distant ridge in the west and suffused that part of the country in a peach wash that the camera fails to capture adequately so I have stopped trying. It’s a witching hour. Kites wobble high in the sky, some so startlingly elevated that I wait to see if a low flying aircraft is going to sever its connection. Less stable airfoils bob and dip, are pulled high, but then sideslip their objection and fall towards the ground in a stammering dive before being encouraged aloft again by unseen hands. They dance their various dances against the hills that are lovely in their soft pastel duns and blues. No hill or range is the same shade and as the temperature slips back towards thirty, layers of grey and tan, blue and purple softly and quietly march back towards a smudgy horizon. A grey blue haze over the city, that laces the horizon to the south, is capped by a peach dome directly above me that is being dragged too swiftly to the horizon, like a billowing cape towed by the sun. Read more

Seven Steps to Security Serenity in Kabul

April 23, 2014

kabul290You can find humour anyhere. If you look for it. In fact in this place, to which we should ascribe ingrained sadness, there is a vein of light heartedness that everyone is so ready to tap. As friend Ray noted last week, these people are so quick to laugh and smile, unless and until you put a camera in front of them. Then they become as grave and as implacable as a thirteen year old girl with braces that went on only yesterday. There is even an ironic humour contained in the ‘seven steps to security serenity’ to which every departing traveller using the international airport is subject. It goes something like this. Read more

Hair Trigger

March 29, 2014

trigger 290As we roll into election week there is a fragility of life that stabs us every day, despite the so necessary ‘get on with living’ attitude that pervades this place. An attack yesterday – or was it the day before, it’s easy to lose track – on a guest house is applauded for its failure, for the efficiency of the security forces  (rightly so) and for the survival of the intended targets. Yet a ten year old girl, an unintended target, died. Found in a ditch nearby after the security forces finished off the insurgents.  So too a couple of local lads employed as guards.  Both dead.  I look at these people in the street and wonder what their hopes and dreams might be. Not the collective ones of nationhood and security, but the personal ones.  I wonder that about these three that died. What were their hopes and dreams?  Who loved them with a brotherly and sisterly love, that love now turned to mourning? Who loved them as lovers, heads together as they dreamed shared dreams? Read more

Orcs Be Here

January 29, 2014

orcs290The early morning call interrupted lurid dreams so bright they were my reality and despite the paucity of sleep I was glad to be awake.  Four hours sleep was not enough and I could have easily rolled back into the borrowed bed.  But we have seven hours of walking ahead of us on a loop near Mt Somers which will be a helpful warm up for the week to come. It is proves to be a walk down memory lane. How much is imprinted on our minds when we are young? More than two thirds of my life has been spent away from here yet lichens and trees, rocks and tussock, snow grass and birds, streams and insects, flowers and peat are all instantly familiar and, though I have never been on this particular track I walk with the conviction that from its edges I have never departed. Read more

Under a Natal Moon

January 28, 2014

moon290I clear the airport at 0115 local time. It was 39 in Sydney when I left,  it’s 11 degrees here.  But as I walked towards the car hire lot I am aware of the stillness that seeps into me, a calm that washes through me for no explicable or discernible reason. It’s not the chill – despite being clad only in a T-shirt the low temperature does not feel cool, just fresh.  Rather there is something, a very low frequency strum within me that resonates with the place.  The moon is up and there is a vibrancy in the air I sense rather than feel.  Read more

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