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.
When I was a kid, I used to marvel at the fact my Dad’s entire existence fitted into a wardrobe. Even then I was fairly sure my toys and numerous dungarees <shudder!> wouldn’t fit. With age it’s one of those things I’ve come to idolise as I constantly look to minimise. Visiting a friend’s house recently, it stressed me out looking at the state of their fridge door, packed full of post-it notes, post-cards and magnets. It was chaos! Let alone their spare room which was, and is, chock full with cardboard boxes and crap ‘they need’. It gave me night-terrors.
My parents never set out to teach simplicity, it just seemed to seep through. I just don’t like having ‘stuff’. Other aspects include championing the underdog and ceaseless compassion, a love of travel and fondness of America from living in DC and San Francisco. All of course guided by my mother’s endless patience and fortitude. My mother also had an ability to manhandle ceramic dishes glistening red-hot with her bare-hands, dispatch large spiders with the same iron-maws, and persist (and persists in persisting) in remembering every little detail of everything that ever happened in her or my father’s life at any point in time. Unfortunately, none of these qualities were passed on in the genes, as my disastrous spider-handling, hot-pot-juggling, memory-miracle circus would attest.
I was fortunate to have pretty good parents. This regardless of my Dad registering my birth date incorrectly at school, causing an argument - I was five years old, and stubborn as an ox, seemingly. And despite my Dad insisting I’d never learn anything from his DIY misadventures, I clearly did, endowing me with the ability to swear like a sailor in spite of my tender years, causing other kids to constantly threaten to grass. For the first six months I thought ‘amtellin’ was my gang-name. Frothing at the slightest inconvenience to my hectic play-school lifestyle, ‘Jesus Fuc*ing Christ!’ I would declare. ‘My birthday is not the fu&*ing twelfth, Mrs Jones!’
It makes me proud to remember my parents’ work with Amnesty International in providing free-holidays for refugees, and working with the Children’s Country Holiday Fund, a now defunct charity giving children a break from city living in London to instead escape to the countryside of Wales. We weren’t a wealthy family, but in comparison we had everything. It was a humbling experience. My parents changed lives by doing the simple things: offering what they could to help others. ‘Never underestimate the fragility of human beings’ I can hear my parents say, usually when I was raving about some complete arse-hat. Maybe someone else simply forgot my birth date too?
Watching This Week: this week I discovered (she’s been around for years!) Brené Brown’s TED Talk on Vulnerability and Tim Ferris’ podcast interview with her too. Stirring stuff!
Audiobook: The Experts Guide to Sleeping Well by Chris Idzikowski, basically telling me I’m doing everything wrong.
Take care of yourself,
I like my water like I like my emotions: bottled. Inspiration for this blog comes from the 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Demther. The title itself almost put me off: I mean, I’ve seen plenty of unconscious leadership – lifeless, cataleptic, brain-dead leaders? Yeah, ten a penny. ‘Conscious’ in this case means self-aware and the ability to tell themselves the truth. It can be quite confronting. The emphasis in the current chapter focuses on feelings, of all things. Feelings! Like all men, I gave those up years ago.
Or at least that’s the impression of men - abstaining from emotion - crossing our arms and wondering aloud if the ceiling needs a new coat of paint as the credits roll on The Notebook. No, no, just got something in my eye, love! Yes, they’re called tears. And yet the book emphasises something I’ve long thought - feelings are unarguable. You can claim the world is flat or Nazi’s are just misunderstood, but you'd be factually incorrect. You may even get a Twitter warning. However, you can feel many things. There is little point in someone telling you you're wrong, because they’re not you, and don’t feel what you feel...so fuck off, basically. The book doesn’t use those exact words. Maybe it’s in the next chapter, in big bold font. I might laminate it, and carry it around, to pre-empt.
Why is this important? Well, in many relationships we tend to hide feelings instead of voicing them, for fear of embarrassment, of confrontation, of being told we’re wrong, of alienating others. And not only intimate relationships, this could be work, social, almost any relationship. We’re not only lying to ourselves but lying to others too. Some people live their entire lives that way. Take the responsibility, have the tough talks, don’t be too hard on yourself or others. Feelings are unarguable.
What am I reading? Walden by Henry David Thoreau, an oldie but a goodie about life-simplifying
What am I listening to? The Experts Guide to Sleeping Well by Chris Idzikowski. Everything you need to know to get a good night’s sleep. Good advice for insomniacs. Makes me tired just thinking of it
What did I learn this week? Two things: umbrella comes from the noun umbel, the blooming flower shape in botany; NZ continues to be amazing, as per the national porn adverts to protect children. There must be a way to recycle leaders post their two-terms for other countries? Like exchanging Top-Trump Cards:
"Damn, you must have Lincoln, good one. Next!"
"Erm . . . shit . . . embodiment of an arse-hat, 55"
"Hang on, isn't it only out of 50?"
Take care of yourselves
Thinking philosophically, if the universe were using each situation or person you met as an ally to help you grow, what would you learn about yourself and life? Every interaction gives us a chance to improve, to see the world in a different light, to espy an alternate vision of ourselves. This is all according to the very positive Jim Demther, anyway. 2020 – the year we all grew a lot, mostly sideways, whilst watching our favourite racist films. In my opinion, this introspection could equally bring a review of others: it can’t all be about you, unless you’re a colossal egomaniac. Sometimes you just have to admit that you underestimated the sheer size of fuckwittery that some bastards possess, and be done with it.
I always enjoy it when the US is having such a bad run that it invokes an envoy from the Middle East to wind down the window for a chat. Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif condemned what he called “the tragic murder of black people and deadly racial discrimination in the United States” which must have been extremely enjoyable for him. Hand-clapped with sizeable guffaws from the corridors of power in Tehran, Zarif then managed to stutter betwixt colossal smirking and bladder-clutching, “the voices of the protesters must be heard!” before exploding in a pee-fountain. When Iran officials are giving you a kick in the shins on human freedoms, you stare nervously at previously sedentary custard pies in case they leap from the counter straight at your face. What next, Saudi Arabia coming forward with a novel approach to hand cleanliness during COVID?
Aside from locking yourself in a cupboard for the rest of 2020, what can we learn from this? Apart from our absolute refusal to learn, obviously. Whilst the white west contains most of the perceived power, money and access to education, we need a great deal of schooling on equal rights. As for me, there is a balance to be had with protests amidst a COVID epidemic. Personal discomfort vs ability to infect others vs an innate inequality that must be addressed. Perhaps not voting in arrogant, right-wing, religious, racist bigots into top-jobs could be a step in the right direction, but this has been simmering for a long time. As per last week’s blog, it’s the same poor bastards suffering the most in the pandemic that are also tormented through inequality. Am not sure removing Gone with the Wind or banning Little House on the Prairie for its depictions of life one hundred and fifty years ago rights any wrongs but merely, pardon the wording, whitewashes the past. Let’s hope no one still reads the wonderful Flashman. Don’t get me started on blackmail, blackballing (hmm. . .), black death, black sheep, black magic, black pudding or Black Sabbath. Hash browns, arghh!!!
In other news, my third-of-the-way life-crisis has bought a motorcycle into my life, with COVID restrictions enabling a trip out into the country. I forgot how crap freezing fog can be. Then again, honestly, who needs to feel their own toes and fingers? Overrated. Thankfully those forward-thinking Saudi’s have the solution.
As much as the last few months have been trying on a global scale, the ante is clearly upped if you’re an essential worker. Even more so if you’re in a job where you’re laid off and can’t afford rent let alone healthcare. Black Americans find themselves at the forefront - less access to healthcare, higher loss of jobs, higher chance of being a front-line worker. This week has been awful.
A woman phoned the police claiming she is being attacked after a black man asks her to leash her dog. A young black man George Floyd is arrested (graphic) and killed by a police officer whilst in custody. Riots break out in Minneapolis in protest, and reporter on-scene Omar Jimenez is arrested live on air whilst other white CNN reports are not. To reemphasise, this is just this week! Head to March and we remember Ahmaud Arbery, a young black man attacked and killed by two white men. Ahmaud was out for a jog. In 2014 riots break out in Ferguson after unarmed teenager Michael Brown is killed by the police. In 2015 Freddie Gray dies in custody in Baltimore. In 2016 Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte.
I write a lot about leadership, which essentially means leading by example. You want your kids to not swear? Well, as a parent, refraining from eff-ing and blinding around the house is a great start. You want your kids to not smoke? Give up the cigarettes. It’s pretty simple. Leadership involves behaviour-setting for the betterment of self and those around you. Which is why the above stinks. Watch this: Chris Cuomo on CNN. It’s 6 minutes, who hasn’t got 6 minutes?
Let’s switch tack: we talk about equality of women in the workplace and in the top jobs, and all we’re really saying is that given the general view of population (roughly 50%) women should, on average, make half of the workforce. They don’t. Extend that out across society and you see what this is about. Despite making up 12% of the total US population, African-Americans make up 34% of the prison populace. Front-line jobs are held by the poorer population, and those workers are generally the minorities. The impact? From the Harvard Business Review: “In Chicago, where blacks are 30% of the population, they comprise 70% of those killed by Covid-19”.
White males run the show, whether we like it or not: we have the top jobs; we have the best access to education; we make the laws; we police the police. It’s our responsibility to mount the charge. As a white man, I have the confidence to walk the streets at almost any hour, approach police or stop passers-by to ask for directions. In all circumstances, I expect nothing but co-operation, civility and kindness. And this isn’t just in Australia, but almost anywhere in the world. It’s carte-blanche, effectively. The world isn’t like that for everyone, and it should be. To quote Jane Elliot when addressing an auditorium, ‘to the white folks here – if you want to be treated the same way as black folks in this society, stand up . . . no one is standing here. That says plainly that you know what’s happening, you know you don’t want it for you . . . yet why are you so willing for it happen to others?” When you see inequality, speak out, educate friends and family, lead by example. The standard you walk by is the standard you accept.
Take care of yourselves and each other,
Well, it isn’t me, let’s get that out of the way. ‘Women and children first’ may not be that good an idea either. And before you write to my mum and complain, let me elaborate: this is how they choose whether you get a hospital bed or ventilator.
Now, at the moment we have a pandemic yadda yadda, I know, you’re bored of it. Yet, when anyone gets really sick, hospitals have to consider a multitude of factors. How intelligent, good-looking and humble I am doesn’t matter, thank god! And if you’re thinking that sick people should get saved based on a first-come, first-served basis, then you’re a bucktoothed knuckle-dragging baboon. And you’re also me. In fact, the first-come, first-served strategy is probably the worst, according to those wonderful Freakonomics people speaking to professionals in the industry. So how do we prioritise? Well . . . the short of it is that I’m of no value whatsoever, very much first against the wall. I’d be hugging the anchor of the titanic for comfort, basically, my tears coalescing into heavy icicles, the weight of which won’t help my situation. The longer version is thus:
We currently hear a great deal about reciprocity: those that heal the sick are the first to be treated. In our current lives, an essential worker. So, take a doctor for example vs some slack-jawed twat of a human being. I don’t know, name a politician, basically. The doctor gets chosen, or bloody should do. So far, so easy. Then there is the theory of ‘quality-adjusted life years’ to consider i.e. the number of years left at full-health. Let’s consider two people get sick and there is only one hospital bed. If one of them is much older, the youth gets preference. Now let’s re-frame: two people of the same age are sick, but one of them additionally has the misfortune to have an auto-immune disease or is hideously stupid (take the British Prime Minster, for example). Their quality of life score will be lower despite being of the same age, and therefore they don’t get the hospital bed.
Other considerations are instrumental and intrinsic value for example, explained here, yet I like to think of this as social utility i.e. your contribution to the betterment of society. A doctor, a teacher, a policeman, you know, jobs of value, are important. I had a conversation along the same lines many years ago with a lovely human being, Shaun, that subsequently jacked in his salesman life for a job in the police force. He’s never looked back, even when arresting innocents. That’s a joke! He’s never looked back. As I said, I’ll be first against the wall. Where do you think you sit? Apart from ‘uncomfortably’ . . .
This week’s listening: Tim Ferriss’ podcast with the Grandad Jim Demther on life and love. Am a huge fan of Tim, but you can sense he’s feeling the feels on this one, a terrific listen.
This week’s reading: I finished Dumas' classic The Man in the Iron Mask last night - sooooo wildly different to the film! The book is available for free on the Gutenberg press, and I picked up Jem Demther’s 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership for this week thanks to Tim's podcast.
Take care of yourselves,
And then a plague of locusts arrived on top of a world already wracked with murder hornets and Elon Musk. Were the Kashmiri goat overlords taking over Welsh towns not enough???!!! You can almost hear God yelling to the human race, "Say Uncle!!!"
Good news though, football is back! Huzzaaaahh!! Whooop whoop!! Closed stadiums, disinfected balls, footballs also cleaned to within an inch of their lives . . . but it’s back, baby! But in Germany alone, so there. Despite fans across the world eager to see sack-loads of cash kicked around in the return of mighty moneybags Premier League, there has been a mixed reception from players. Danny Rose, the Tottenham left-back, has been quoted saying “people’s lives are at risk” and that he doesn’t “give a fuck about the nation’s morale.” Footballers can be so nuanced, can’t they? May well be the first time I genuinely like a Tottenham player.
But sometimes all you can do is just sit back and watch the world burn, reaching for marshmallows and a long stick. I picked up Dumas’ The Man In The Iron Mask this week, an excellent tome of a man locked away alone far from the reach of society and his family. Sounds idyllic, given the circumstances, and he gets brought food. And talking of people that should be locked up, the UK and US leadership in the last few weeks have been leading the way, again being beacons of light for governments and peoples around the world. At least, beacons of light that make you scream, ‘stay away from the fucking light!’
The British Prime Minister, taking a break from having affairs and talking rubbish, has decided to concentrate all his efforts on talking rubbish full-time in a national address to alter the tensions of a people still exalting over the good old days of only worrying about Brexit. From concerned they are now utterly worried and confused. Fresh from recovering from COVID himself, the PM has rushed to implement a radical fourteen-days isolation policy for incoming air-passengers, two months after many other countries did the same. It’s like advocating the sanctity of family then having six children with three different women. Only one of which you’ve married. #StayAtHome #SaveLives #MakeLives And if you’re thinking, ‘well, at least they’ve done the right thing finally after letting in 100,000 people since the March!’ you’d be wrong. They haven’t actually implemented the policy. Instead, they’ve talked about implementing it, ‘putting the world on notice’. I think the world has already had enough notice, don’t you? Not even trumped up trumpeter in chief D Trumpeton has been that colossally stupid. Actually he has, I take that back, as he advocates ‘inner light’ to tackle the virus. Perhaps my marshmallows can be toasted using my inner flames?
Writing and writing...