I’ve taken to snoozing for this long weekend. It’s been blissful. There’s nothing like taking an afternoon nap, basking in the sunshine, daydreaming, and waking up screaming realising you’re still trapped in 2020. To think it all started so well, celebrating the new year. We celebrated it, the fools! The excellent Graham Green’s Brighton Rock was finished this week and I picked up my Dad’s book he sent over on the Wall of Death, a tome on the rectum clenching dare-devilry involved when hurtling around a circular wall on a gravity-defying motorbike. Part of me wonders whether I’d have the chutzpah to jump on as a passenger, and I think I would, yet this comes from the same man that found the tea-cups at Disneyland pretty racy. Six Thinking Hats, the intended book this week, hat to wait. Arf.
With mandatory mask-wearing rife in various countries, it’s fascinating that clothing with no affiliation to politics, sex, religion or gender cause such angst, yet when protestors are arrested in Portland by secret police, barely anything is mentioned. This is the first sign that as a society we’re completely screwed since all those other signs. Meanwhile, in Australia, to illustrate our peoples readiness for discussing complex mental labours on the world’s stage, a woman filming herself blagging through a security checkpoint set up to reduce COVID spread will get a visit from State Police, and the hottest topic of the week is Coon cheese being rebadged. Named after its American creator, patenting a method for fast maturation of cheese called the Cooning method in early nineteen something or other, never let it be said that Australia isn’t ready for a politically mature conversation.
With time on my hands (I mean, firkin hell, who doesn’t in Melbourne?!) I’ve looked to improve my Ingrish - it’s with considerable embarrassment it ain’t wot it ssh-ood bee. I remember learning about verbs and conjugation for the first time in French class when I was fourteen, and I certainly wasn’t alone in thinking, what the fu** is this merde? Ohhhh, the foundation of the language we use? Awesome. In fairness, English doesn’t help itself, take awe-some and awe-ful as a prime example of opposites with the same root. So, I’ve spent a few hours this week learning my adjectives, determiners and prepositions. Keen to test yourself out? See how you go here. Don’t even get me started with my uselessness in Latin, feci quod potui, faciant meliora potentes*, ammarite??!!
* I have done what I could; let those who can, do better.
Am not sure at what stage during lockdown you start bottling your own urine. Is it mandatory or is it just taking the piss? I’ve been working long hours this week, and when I start feeling the storm breaking on my little boat, I try to remain calm by simply breathing. And peeing. But mostly breathing. The BBC even reported about the practice in India, called pranayama. Everyone is breathing, check it out, kidz! Meditation often focuses on the breath, and there is an immense calm that extends from deep inhales and exhales. I would advise staying away from phones when you do this though. Let’s say receptions so far have been ‘mixed’
It also helps tackle my 3am insomnia. My mind occasionally drifts to the melancholic (or downright depressing) Exit Music from Radiohead when repeating my ‘mantra’, a phrase that whole-heartedly makes me want to kick myself in the balls. But there is something in the breathing, it seems to work for me. Other than when I dream of spiders, like I did this morning. A monstrous hairy bastard bigger than a bowl gently crawling over my hand, carefully moving up my wrist and forearm, then another arriving on my pillow, climbing onto my forehead. Then my spine tries to squirm its way out of my body and scamper down the hall along with my custard blood. Waking up in a cold sweat, all the ‘just breathe’-ing in the bloody world doesn’t get me back to sleep. For about three days.
Am not really interested in analysing my dreams. I mean, jesus, it’s a spider, they’re frightening aliens with eight eyes, of course I’m not going to sleep. According to Freud though this could mean that I feel trapped, and that could come from the fact I’m trapped. 4 weeks and 4 days to go. The situation could only get worse if lockdown was with an actual big spider, and he watched X-Factor or something. Think my mantra would quickly become, ‘just . . . fucking give up, stop breathing!’
Before lockdown, I’d been making plans for my 40th Birthday in mid-August, with my new motorbike being prepared for a ride up to Queensland’s famous Port Douglas, a haven of white-beaches being endlessly nudged by azure waves, the gentle swoosh rhythmically blanketing the soul in a swaddle of relaxation. With a lockdown pressing until at least August’s end, the chances of a Victorian being welcomed in the other states is about as appealing as underpants mad of broken glass. Roughly a four-thousand-kilometre trip, I may be waiting a while. Unless I can bribe the guards with three hundred and twelve bottles of pee (excellent for the garden) and hold my breath the whole way. As the legendary Wim Hof would say, fully-in!
What am I reading? Just finished Ian Banks’ disturbing The Wasp Factory, my first run at his fiction. I finished George Bernard Shaw’s excellent Pygmalion, and have Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats to come. Stephen Fry’s Mythos is lined up for from the library. Also about the passing of the incredible African-American campaigner John Lewis.
What am I listening to? Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, which is absolutely superb. And Exit Music
What am I thinking about? I wonder if Lonely Planet's Africa is any good? Also, umming and arring with a friend about a potential leadership venture. Will see what happens!
In Thoreau’s classic, Walden, the protagonist in 1850’s Massachusetts adopts simplistic living. It has set me fantasising about building my own house, tending crops, shaving with a big knife, living off woodchucks . . . <googles ‘woodchucks’, has second thoughts> . . . a life of solitude amongst the natural world! Then when you’re faced with six weeks alone during a Victorian lockdown you start having doubts, wondering when you’re going to next strike up a face-to-face conversation.
‘Wow! That is fascinating! So, what happens after you go to Unit 35?
‘I visit Unit 36’
‘Oh right, of course. Just like that eh? Amazing. What a life you lead! Then what?’
‘Well, I then deliver the post to Unit 37’
But one has to make hay whilst the sun shines behind those Melbourne clouds, and so winter-cleaning has started in earnest. A bottle jack for a car I don’t own, two deflated footballs, wires and cables for devices long broken, and fifteen thousand bottles of shampoo. The number of hotels I must have been in and snuck away with a small bottle, I’m surprised I even bathed in the damned place. If there’s a shampoo net deficit in the world, my bathroom cupboard has the answers. I have three large tubes of toothpaste and pretty sure I still only possess the single set of teeth. The kitchen remains a mystery. I opened the bottom draw and a tsunami of plastic bags fell out. In a cupboard I found three bottles of vanilla essence, despite not baking and never having once used vanilla essence – the latter clearly self-evident. Bags of bay leaves, they seem indestructible! And an emergency can of beetroot slices remains ready and available for that time when . . . back in the cupboard you go.
‘Give me a lever long enough and I shall move the world!’, chimed Archimedes – may I introduce you to the jar of treacle that has barnacled itself to a shelf? The treacle isn’t even opened, yet somehow contrived to sally out of the tub and just quietly sit in wait, patiently biding its time and harnessing itself to the cupboards. I contemplated just replacing the entire kitchen. I eventually had to use threats, expletives and a big knife to cleave it free.
The six weeks has already become five weeks and four days, so there are plenty of positives. I plan to be as productive as possible. I’ll finish the first draft of the second book, enter some photo competitions, continue to make tea on an industrial scale and take mooching around the flat to a professional level. Feeling under the weather this morning, I took a moment, got myself together and embarked on three noble errands to then find the Post Office is now closed on Saturdays, the market pop-up stall taking photos of your iris is abandoned, and the supermarket is too packed for me to get any vanilla essence. The sashaying rain was inevitable, really. Let me google ‘woodchucks’ just one more time.
The good news is that being constantly rejected by girls at school won’t last forever: you’ll get rejected by girls outside of school as well, unearthing new-worlds of awful. In fact, you’ll still be trying to figure out women twenty-five years later, but so is every man. Getting the shit bits done first: you will continue to take life too seriously; beat yourself up over things that don’t matter; and battle with self-loathing pretty much your entire life. I’ve got no good news on that front, but it does get easier.
Those same countless insecurities will push you far (geographically, anyway), and you will grow into one of life’s optimists. Up-beat, fortunate for everything he has, endlessly positive, eternally grateful. It might seem a long way off now, but you’ll get there. You’ll be surrounded by family and friends that love you. You will form friendships across cultural divides you can’t even imagine existed, can call on comrades across continents, yet still keep in touch with your school friends as you hoped you would in the tape-recordings you currently hate doing at Christmas. Trust your parents, you’ll like those cassettes later (but find a hard time locating any device that'll play them). Be more compassionate to your sister, she’s going through a rough spot, and yes, her musical tastes will remain bloody awful, but yours won’t improve much either.
Despite looking at your Dad and thinking, ‘will he ever get off that couch and stop reading!’ you’ll fall in love with the pastime. You’ll often find yourself perched in the corner of your couch with some tea within easy reach, flicking through books in silence, watching a sunrise bring life to a city far away from your homeland. In fact, like your parents, you be will be lucky in life, choosing a career you can do anywhere in the world. You will be one of the few that enjoys their work, thrives on making people better versions of themselves, championing the little guy or girl or person (it’s very politically correct in the future!) and showing compassion to life’s outsiders.
If I could give you any advice, it would be ‘don’t be afraid to fail.’ Most of the subjects you strive to learn at school don’t mean a bloody thing, so start failing early and relax more. You’re going to risk your life countless times in planes that don’t deserve to fly, jumping out of some, riding motorbikes and travelling to countries that you’ve never even heard of, all marched through with that boundless optimism we talked of earlier. You’ll write books, get published in a magazine, take millions of photos and have many loving relationships where you wake up in the morning and thank God you’re alive. However, I wish you believed in yourself, as it would have made getting here a might easier. You’re your own biggest detractor, but in spite of that you’ll do great. And if it doesn’t go amazingly, just move town or even country, you’ll find that pretty easy as it happens.
Listen to your parents and sister more, unless it’s about clothes or haircuts. In both cases, block your ears like Odysseus and the Sirens. If you can keep your eyes (and ears) open for when you burst your ear-drum that’d be good, as it’s still a mystery, and don’t listen to your mum saying, ‘well if you did that you’d know about it!’ In fact, take all advice with a pinch of salt. Anyone that says things can’t be done have probably never tried. It may turn you to alcohol, but drink as much of that as you like as you’ll barely touch a drop later in life, which is hard to imagine now. Oh, and don’t tell anyone where you buried the bodies, keep that a secret or there’ll be hell to pay.
Writing and writing...