Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On the road again

It's amazing how quickly human beings can put down roots. We've been in Broome for almost three months and in that time have become a part of the Broome community. Jazzy and Finn have been going to Roebuck Primary School, making friends, having "play dates", going on school camps and winning awards presented in front of the school assembly. Finn has played a half season of footy with the Saints, fit into the side well and become their first ruckman. We've become regulars at the Dragonfly Cafe to such an extent that when Tori told them yesterday that we were leaving, they gave her free coffee and cake as a farewell. And of course we've had a baby who was born here and will be forever linked with Broome. But now we are off. Miraculously the van is packed and everything seems to fit. We arrived here with four of us and are leaving with five. The extra person may be the smallest, but with him comes a bassinet, a stroller, a baby bath and multiple packages of nappies, baby wipes, nappy disposal bags, baby formula and bottles. We've picked up significant extra baggage here. At the moment Kim is sleeping with the bassinet located on the van table. He is only just over eight weeks old but is growing so quickly that he is almost as long as the white wicker basket in which he resides. I'm not sure where he will sleep when he has outgrown that. That's a thought for another time. And with him there is also less room in the car. His baby seat takes up one side of the car so Jaz and Finn are now a little more crammed in the back. Being in Broome has provided opportunity for significant preparations for the road ahead. The car has had a large roof rack fitted along with an awning that comes out from the side, allowing for a shady spot to be created anywhere. We've also fitted new suspension so that the car is ready for some more serious off road adventures. The Gibb River Road is notoriously treacherous with many areas of severe corrugations and also sharp rocks waiting to claim a tyre. With this in mind we are now also equipped with an extra spare tyre up on the roof and a set of tyre pliers in the boot to fit it to an existing rim should the need arise. That goes with our other recovery gear of snatch straps, bow shackles, maxtrax planks for placing under tyres in case we get bogged somewhere and a good old fashioned spade. I'm hoping that we don't need any of this stuff. It seems that the greatest enemy of the driver on the Gibb is complacency. I have to try and maintain my discipline and not travel any faster than 50km/h with my tyres down around 28psi. I'll be attempting to successfully negotiate this road while pulling three and a half tonnes of caravan behind. We've ummed and aahed about our itinerary from here. In the end we have decided that we will not drive the full length of the Gibb but will just drive in a couple of hundred kilometres, visit some select locations such as Bell Gorge and Mornington Wilderness Camp before doubling back to Windjana Gorge and then down to Fitzroy Crossing and along the Great Northern Highway to Kununurra via the Bungles. That means that we won't be going on to the famed Mitchell Plateau and Mitchell Falls. It just seems like a major commitment in off road driving along with significant hiking in 32 degree plus days to get to the falls. It doesn't sound that much fun while carrying a small baby. This location will have to wait for another time before we visit. Hopefully the plateau will still be in the same pristine state as it is today. Large deposits of bauxite have been found there which makes its future problematic. But it looks like it will be granted a world heritage listing which should save it. In fact large chunks of the Kimberley currently seem under threat of being destroyed to make way for industrialisation.
During our time in Broome the biggest local issue has been the plan to establish a gas processing plant at James Price Point just up the coast. The large Woodside Corporation have been placed firmly as the villain of the piece, along with the Western Australian government for allowing such a development to go ahead. Enormous reserves of liquefied natural gas have been found off the coast at Browse Basin and it seems that billions, perhaps trillions of dollars are there to be made. The Japanese have apparently signed a deal with Woodside to use their gas to replace all of the nuclear power plants in Japan with gas based electricity plants. That means huge huge dollars. Only certain sectors of the local indigenous communities have been involved in the sign off for using "their" land for this development. This has created major disharmony between the communities. The state government put pressure on them to sign an agreement saying that if they couldn't find a way forward, they would just compulsorily acquire the land. The opposition to the development, which is slowly spreading throughout the country, is based on keeping one of the last true wilderness areas in Australia and respecting traditional aboriginal country. There is certain to be ecological damage of some sort or another if it goes ahead, the question is just how much. The opposition groups are not against the harvesting of the gas but would rather that an alternative to the Kimberley be found for the processing plant, specifically down at one of the already industrialised towns of the Pilbara such as Karatha or Port Hedland. The fear is that if the plant goes ahead at James Price Point, there will then be a port located in the Kimberley making further mining viable in the region. It seems to me that the protestors are likely fighting a losing battle. There is just too much money at stake for the powers that be.
If it all goes ahead the Kimberley will be irreversibly changed. If Jaz and Finn come back with their kids in the future, in all likelihood the Gibb River Road will be sealed all the way to Kununurra. The whale and turtle breeding grounds will probably be gone from the Dampier Peninsula and the numbers of other animals inhabiting the area will have significantly diminished. The gas reserve will likely be running out by then so it will be important to find further industry to replace it. We seem to be currently poised right at the thin end of the wedge. It will take some political miracle for this to be turned around.

The potential future of the Kimberley is all a bit too bleak to think about if things go the wrong way. Right now it is still crisp and clean and I'm looking forward excitedly to exploring this great part of the country. There are still gorges to visit, water holes to swim in, wildlife to see and areas that are difficult to access meaning they are not over touristed. I've finally worked out my satellite internet system so will be able to work in these beautiful surrounds while making the most of them when I'm finished up for the day and on the weekends. Home schooling will be starting up again, though I'm not sure how that is going to work. Tori will need to balance her lessons between Kim's feeding sessions.
There are some days where he constantly demands her attention so I'm guessing that school will be out during those times. Mostly I'm just looking forward to the five of us being back on our own again and experiencing some new places together. With our life in Broome, we all spread out into various activities away from each other. To be once more on the road means that it will again be just us. With our new member of us. Farewell Broome. See you again some day.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cape Leveque reflections

Our trip to Cape Leveque was planned a long time go. Before Kim was born we were trying to work out when we thought we’d be ready to “go away” on holiday with him and decided that when he was seven weeks old should be a good time. At the time of booking the accommodation, we thought we would have been in the comfort of a house for a couple of months and not still have been living in a caravan. So it was to be our foray back into the world of travel after a nice calm and stable welcome to the world for him. How would we all go in the van together? How would travelling to remote places be with a baby? As it turned out we never really fully moved out of the van and we have been back living in a caravan park for the last two weeks. So the initial aim now seems somewhat superfluous. Having already reestablished ourselves fully into caravan mode, we are all feeling ready to get back on the road. So the trip to Cape Leveque is now essentially a holiday for all of us. The kids are out of school and I’m off work. And we’re away from Broome where we have become entrenched in everyday life for the last two and a half months. I know that in our Utopian lifestyle choice the impression of one long holiday endures for some, creating wonderment of how you can possibly take a holiday from a holiday. I’ll just leave that with others to ponder as they try to distinguish the difference between a nomadic lifestyle choice that includes school, work and all other things of home life, and a holiday where you drop all those obligations for a while and lie on beaches reading books.

Cape Leveque is a beautiful place. Even among the many beautiful places that we have been, this ranks high. Our accommodation consists of a large African style safari tent containing a queen size bed and two singles, fixed permanently on to a large wooden base built up on stilts. Out from the side of the tent is a sizeable balcony equipped with barbecue, table and chairs and a glorious view over the native greenery and red cliffs to the white sand and incredibly blue ocean beyond. We also have a tiny kitchen with huge fridge, and a small shower/toilet room on the other side of the tent. So compared to living in a caravan, our accommodation with private bathroom is luxurious. At night the green tree frogs move in to take care of insect control in the kitchen. The other night when I wandered in for a glass of water I found four of the little fellas in the sink. A path from outside our tent meanders down a couple of hundred metres to the swimming beach. A slightly longer walk or short drive the other way leads to the western beach with its glorious sunsets and red rocky structures jutting up from the wind patterned white and red sand. And while Cape Leveque is heavily marketed as a tourist spot down in Broome, it is far from overcrowded.  It is possible to walk along the beach on occasions and be the only person there. All of us have relaxed right into it. 

A couple of weeks back Tori seemed to be heading down the slippery path towards postnatal depression. It was very concerning; especially as I knew that she had suffered it quite badly following the birth of Finn. We were seeing midwives and doctors and they shared my concern to the extent that they said that all appointments to see them would be free and that they would slot Tori in any time, even if they were otherwise fully booked. Tori had done the PND questionnaire and scored in the high-risk category. She had become prone to crying over seemingly trivial matters. On bringing home the “wrong” milk to Bridget and Marty’s she was in tears for not having the whole milk variety that Bridget normally bought. And she was crying often. Everything with her and Kim was always fine, although the doctor did ask the question of whether she had at any stage wanted to hurt the baby. She responded that she hadn’t and I knew it to be true. In the middle of the night when I’d lie awake with Kim crying and Tori up and trying to soothe him, her calmness and the reassuring way that she spoke to him amazed me. Especially when I knew that she was struggling within herself. I was doing all I could at these times to quell my own internal voice of “SHUT THE FUCK UP BABY SO I CAN GET SOME SLEEP!!!” so her calmness in these situations really hit me. The doctor had also asked her if she’d considered hurting herself and her reaction of further tears seemed to indicate that it had certainly passed her mind. It is a common trait of PND for a suffering mother to believe that her family would be better off without her, contrary to all of the obvious evidence that it is clearly not true. The doctor prescribed a three-month course of antidepressants and then a reassessment. I think the realisation that you are suffering from postnatal depression and have been prescribed drugs to help you cope adds further to the feeling of depression. The thought of not coping is particularly depressing in itself. I read everything I could find on the net on natural remedies for addressing Tori’s condition. After Finn, Tori was eventually prescribed Zoloft and it was not a path she really wanted to go down again. To me and my amateur eye, her depression was being brought on by three very tangible situations. Firstly, the whole breast-feeding situation hadn’t unfolded as planned. Kim had munched through Tori’s nipples very early on making latching on an agony of its own. The milk “coming in” was causing a pain that she described as needles through her breasts. And the supply of milk just didn’t seem enough for a hungry Kim. This all came as a huge shock as there had been no such issues when feeding Jaz and Finn. Secondly, the stress in our living situation at Bridget and Marty’s had become palpable. Not just the perceptible negative feelings towards us being there, but their own family tensions hugely impacted on the whole atmosphere of the house. 
And thirdly, with a newborn baby, Tori was operating on major sleep deprivation, sometimes getting only two hours sleep for a night. I just felt if these factors could somehow be mitigated, then she would probably be ok. Throw in some yoga meditation and use of ylang ylang and lavender oils and we would be almost there. But on one particularly bad day, when tears had once more flowed over something not very important, Tori decided that she needed to go with the antidepression drugs and dropped the first pill in the packet. I decided that I would cancel my planned work trip back to Melbourne and Sydney as it was clear that I was needed more here than at a conference. But that evening, it was Marty who actually gave us the prescription she really needed. Our forced removal from the house and into the caravan park turned out to be a complete blessing in disguise. I could almost see the tension leave Tori’s body and a huge weight lift as we pulled out of their front drive. A day or two later the pains in her breasts were disappearing as the antibiotics took to work on what turned out to be the early stages of mastitis. It was quite remarkable. I felt that I’d watched somebody who was falling uncontrollably into the abyss and just at the last minute found her wings and began to fly. And what glorious flight. It is with great relief that I know that the risk has passed. Tori has started swimming laps of the caravan park pool, doing yoga on the beach and having fun with the kids. We’ve also passed the dreaded initial six week period of the newborn’s life where everything seems so difficult. Kim and we have settled into routine now that makes life in general a bit easier. He seems a healthy baby with plenty going in one end and reliably coming out the other. 
He is starting to “play” and can even crack it for the occasional smile. While still extremely demanding, he is at least now becoming cute. Though it still amazes me how babies can scream when they want something and want it now. There’s no “just a minute, I’ll get it for you when I’m free baby”.  They aren’t born with a whole lot of patience. Clearly patience is a learned skill. Though now that I think about it, not one that has been learned very well by anybody in our family. When we get back to Broome from our nice restful time at Cape Leveque, it will be time to pack everything up and prepare to move on. I think now we are truly ready.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

They are the Champions

Sometimes events unfold in the most fortuitous of ways. Just as things were starting to come unstuck at Bridget and Marty’s as far as our accommodation situation went, a random sequence of events made it all a lot more palatable and easier to deal with. We were watching the footy down at Divers Tavern when a guy approached me and said “you’re name wouldn’t happen to be Greg would it”? Yes, I replied as I tried to work out where I’d met this person. “Greg Swedosh would it be”, he said coming to shake my hand. I scanned through the index of my mind trying to place the face and the voice. And just as he reached me it dawned on me. David Champion! Last time I’d seen Dave was probably more than 25 years ago. We had been best friends at school from around year 9 through until the end of year 12. The formative years. We’d shared many firsts and life discoveries together. Alcohol. Music. Attempts at convincing girls to kiss us. Air rifles. Somehow we'd lost contact with each other a few years after leaving school. I guess we just sort of drifted away into uni and work life, despite both of our attempts to relocate each other at various times. I’d regularly get a lift to school with Dave’s dad in his Citroen with the weird hydraulic lift on the rear wheels and the radio stuck firmly on 3AW, tuned in to Derryn Hinch. I always got on well with Dave’s dad, the reverend Neil Champion, though it’s fair to say that he had quite conservative views. He’d recently set up a nursing home in Montmorency and Dave used to be able to float between the family house in Templestowe and the nursing home where he also had a room. Monty was often the house where we’d get up to shenanigans as Dave’s dad never stayed there and we were well away from any of the house residents. Essentially we had a private lair at our disposal away from parental supervision and I would on occasions stay the night there also. One night we’d decided to have a small party at Montmorency. We’d stocked up on as much alcohol as we could afford, no doubt including cask wine, Cinzano and Lilydale cider. Perhaps we’d managed to pull together enough cash for a bottle of Southern Comfort or Bacardi. We’d put the word out to the very few girls that we knew that there was a party on and told them to bring their friends. A couple of the girls had turned up and the night was only just warming up when Dave’s brother Phil ran in. “Dad’s here”, he told us. That probably gave us about ten seconds to prepare ourselves before Mr. Champion walked in the door and surveyed the scene in disgust. It’s fair to say that he didn’t really approve of our planned activities of under age drinking and sexual pursuits. “Get rid of all these bottles and go and see the girls home please boys”, were his very polite but firm demands. “Greg, Robert, you can go to your homes. I’ll speak to you in the morning David”, were his parting words. We were all just looking at each other like stunned mullets when a beautiful blonde girl walked in the door and asked “is this where the party is? I just saw some old bloke in the driveway and he told me there was no party here”. I never was welcome to spend the night at Montmorency from that time on. In fact getting up to mischief seemed to be one of our major pastimes in those days. Playing our own version of the 70s TV game show Blankety Blanks at the back of Miss Foley’s classroom, along with a whole lot of other students who were similarly uninterested in her class. She would be teaching away up the front while we boing ba doing boinged away at the back of the room with designated contestants, panel and somebody taking on the role of Graham Kennedy. As I recall, Year 9 was my obnoxious peak at school. We were in the army cadets which we felt we’d been tricked into. The recruiting films showed boys having a load of fun abseiling down cliffs, riding canoes down rivers and firing rifles. What we actually did was march and march and march around the school until our legs felt like they could no longer support us. And have to face the embarrassment of catching public transport home from school dressed in an army uniform. One day we were to have a weekend training day at Blackburn Lake. More marching, but this time in the rain and mud around the lake. At lunchtime we decided to go AWOL and instead went off to the nearby centrally heated Forest Hill shopping centre to get some food there and basically hang around in much drier and more relaxing surrounds. We had convinced the powers that be that we would be back in time for the resumption but in fact we were far too comfortable for that. We arrived back at the training ground more than an hour late. At which time we were unable to relocate our particular section. And so we waited for them. In ambush. Eventually as they made their way around the bushes and into our path we launched handfuls of mud at them, completely capturing them by surprise. Complete mayhem ensued as the section returned fire much to the chagrin of our platoon leader, the unfortunately named Sergeant Yapanis. Everybody was covered in mud. I ended up in the headmaster’s office for this event and was summarily booted out of the cadets. Dave and I used to regularly go to the Tempy pub on Thursday nights. I’m not sure how our parents let us out on school nights where were able to do that, but somehow they did. We would stay until closing time at 10pm and make our way home, sometimes inexplicably drawn towards the letterboxes that adorned the driveways of houses that we passed. I’ve had my letterbox destroyed on a couple of occasions by neighbourhood youth over the years. Each time it has brought a smile to my face as I have recognized karma knocking at my door.

Dave and I were in the same house together at school so we played a lot of house sport together. He was a fine athlete, winning the associated grammar schools 800m against all the other schools. We also learned to play golf together as part of school extra curricular activity. Dave still carries a scar from being hit in the head by an errant shot at one of our earlier lessons. We would often ride our bikes from Templestowe down to the Bulleen golf course with the buggies secured at the back, our clubs being pulled along behind as we rode. None of us were especially good at golf and always seemed to hit balls straight into the lake at the fifth hole. One day, sick of losing so many balls, we ended up giving golf the flick and instead waded into the lake to look for balls. We must have pulled out more than fifty golf balls, hiding behind the rocks, just peeking out the side as people would tee off. The extra pressure seemed to get to some people and they would drive the ball straight into the lake. If we found their ball, they were typically too embarrassed to admit that it was theirs.

To see Dave after such a long period of time was true delight. He just happened to be passing through Broome with his wife Catherine and three children Anna, Jack and Cate. They had taken their kids out of school for a term to go travelling around Australia, realising that this was an opportunity to spend more time together as a family before the kids grew up and moved on. Anna is the same age as Jaz. Jack is the same age as Finn. It all had a very familiar ring to it and seemed quite incredible that so long after seeing each other, Dave and I had met again as our unconventional chosen paths in life had intersected at the same point. It was a week before our eviction that we had met up. In fact it was later on in the night of running into Dave at the pub that I’d had the conversation with Marty where he asked me what our exit strategy was. So we had a perfect escape now to try and give Bridget and Marty the space they desired as we spent all of our time from that moment on with the Champions. The kids played in the pool together at the caravan park where they were staying. We watched the sunset and played night rounders on Cable Beach. The kids rode on camels while the parents had a drink and chat at the Sunset Bar. We had barbies. Drank beers. Laughed about some old times, old friends and our mutual disdain for Camberwell Grammar school. We talked about our current lives and aspirations and what was important to us now. Essentially we got on exactly the same as we always had and were both overjoyed at once again being acquainted. When we were finally given the shove from Marty and Bridget’s we just moved in to the caravan park where the Champions were. It made our landing much much softer than it would have otherwise been.

They have been travelling around Australia in the other direction to us in an enormous school bus that has been kitted out with beds, kitchen and all the essentials of a giant campervan. They’ve left Broome now and are down in Exmouth taking in the wonders of the Ningaloo Reef. We will shortly be continuing our own journey, heading east towards Darwin. When next we see each other it will likely be back in Victoria. The sooner, the better is the consensus among our family. It certainly will be a lot sooner than another 25 years. 

Saturday, August 06, 2011


"There's only one rule in this house", said Bridget when we first moved in to their house in Broome a couple of months back. "And that is that you have to make yourself at home". Well it seems that either we somehow broke that rule or in actual fact there were a whole lot of other rules that we weren't told about. Because on Thursday morning we were effectively evicted. Now let me preface this potential rant with an acknowledgement that it is not easy to have people living in your space for two months. And also that I am appreciative for Bridget and Marty for putting us up for as long as they did. But the circumstances of our eviction and the way that everything unfolded leaves quite a bitter taste in my mouth. Especially when it was so close to us leaving of our own accord as had been planned from the beginning. And I guess there is the root of the problem. We always had a plan to be in Broome for three months but somehow we got swept up in their plans which seemed to evolve and change direction continually. I expected that we would have a place of our own until the very day that we arrived in Broome. I would have rented a house for three to six months but for the insistence that this wasn't necessary due to the generous offer they were making us. One which was not able to be fulfilled as it turned out. And I know that it was not without reason. The wet season was particularly long, so delays occurred in the building of the new house. Staffing issues in the shop meant that Marty had to spend more time there and so had less time to be building. And so they didn't make it to France. And the new house was far from habitable. The other significant factor in all this was the drama within their own household which seemed to have a life of its own and which created a whole new level of chaos. We essentially got sucked into the vortex of a particularly difficult time for them, which ultimately became a particularly difficult time for us. Enhanced of course by the fact that we had a new born baby to deal with creating sleep deprived nights and emotional turbulence for Tori and our family. Tori actually wanted to move several weeks ago having received mixed signals from Bridget, but at that stage in peak season, there was nowhere to go. On the one hand we were encouraged to stay as long as we wanted with a "the more the merrier", but at the same time Bridget seemed almost to be going out of her way to make us feel unwelcome. It seems that ultimately she was upset by my lack of domestic duties (I didn't offer to do the vacuuming), some inconsistency in our securing of the house and the fact that her kids had decided that they didn't really like our kids around. "They'll just have to learn to get along in a situation like this", were her initial words on the subject. "Finn annoys Oskar because in actual fact he is just like him", she stated. But I came to learn that what Bridget had to say and what she actually thought only sometimes intersected. Or more fairly, that what she said was perhaps what she thought at the time, but that didn't mean that she would think that same way the next day. I didn't like the fact that Finn seemed to be getting excluded and mildly bullied by her boys and so I intervened. She thought that I was overprotective and that I should keep my nose out and just let boys be boys. "Why does Greg always have to jump in and protect Finn", she told Tori that her boys had asked her. When we'd arrived she said "It will be good for my boys to have another man around, so if you feel a need to bring them into line at any stage, just go right ahead". So when her boys had left the back gate open and I found four chickens clucking around in the front yard on their way to freedom, I thought that I would mention it to the boys. Not in a "telling off" kind of way but more in a "you should probably watch that because you're mum might not be happy if the chickens run away" kind of approach. But that's not the way that it was taken. And so Bridget informed Tori that her boys were upset to have been told off by me and left her with the hilarious anecdote that her boys had quipped that "it was probably Finn that left the gate open anyway". Things had deteriorated to a pretty bad state but I guess it was partially masked by the hostilities happening elsewhere in the house. And between these unfortunate and conflicting episodes were warm spells involving deep conversation, laughter and heartfelt hugs. To me these were matters of minor conflict that could be absorbed as it was all only temporary. I knew there were factors at play for everybody that were heightening emotions and blowing things out of proportion and our scheduled departure date was just around the corner. But clearly not everybody shared this view.

When Tori and I first arrived in England in 1995 we stayed with our friend Darren in Wimbledon Park. He lived in a share house with, unlike most Aussies living in England, a household full of English people. The guys who ran the house were generous enough to let us sleep on a mattress in the lounge room until we could get ourselves on our feet in London. Unfortunately it all went awry after two weeks due to a couple of unfortunate incidences. When we left Australia on our journey, we had told all of our friends to come and visit us in London. We'll be able to put you up for sure, we said. And so with our feet having barely made contact with English soil our first Aussie visitor showed up. Dave basically arrived on our door step with his backpack in his hand and an expectation that this was where he would be staying for a night or two. Understandably our hosts were not particularly pleased that the visitors who were camped out in the lounge room were themselves having visitors come and stay. The final nail came when we stumbled home around 4am one morning after finding a late night drinking den in Fulham and I was unable to disarm the alarm. It rang out very loudly as alarms do for a good few minutes while I punched ineffectually at the keypad. George eventually came down and turned it off. We were unanimously evicted the next day.

The writing seemed on the wall last Sunday night when I was chatting with Marty and everybody else was in bed. "What's your exit strategy?" he asked me. Well the same as it's always been, I replied indicating that I  had just over a week left before I flew off to Melbourne and Sydney for work, and then when I got back a week later we'd all be heading off to Cape Leveque and move out after that. I could tell that he was hinting that we should pack up and leave now but it seemed harsh to me. And contrary to a commitment that Bridget had made to a pregnant Tori some time back. But I took it on board that they were feeling overcrowded and so from that Sunday night through until the Wednesday night, our families barely crossed paths. We didn't eat at the house. We barely went in. But in hindsight it was already done and we were damned whatever we did really. On the Wednesday night on getting back home I thought it polite to at least go in and say hello to our hosts as I could see them all around the table. After the boys had gone to bed I had caring conversations about Tori's state of being with a new child and limited sleep. Bridget offered, in fact insisted that we send Kimbo in to sleep with her for a night so that we could all get some sleep in the van. It was a very generous offer and seemed sincere and genuine. So I went to bed that night after a long hug with Bridget thinking that everything was back on track and with our petty incidents put behind us. But it was not to be. Somehow between that moment and 9:30am the next morning, she had decided that she couldn't take it any more. Marty told me that she had said as much, indicating that she was going to fly with the boys off to Bali for three weeks. "How do you feel about moving down to the block with me right now", she had asked Rav right in front of Jaz. If she wasn't happy with something or someone, she didn't really seem to care who knew about it. So confronted with his family moving out unless we did, Marty took the only real option and asked us to go. "I clean and cook and do everything around here and it's all totally unappreciated", Bridget had shared with Marty which he in turn handballed to me. Well yes, Bridget did most of the cooking to which I seem to recall lavishing with praise and appreciation as well as washing and drying a significant number of dishes, as well as dropping off and picking up her boys continually from school. Tori was forever doing dishes and even doing Bridget's laundry. Jaz and Finn did the dishes. But as usually happens in these situations, none of that stuff counted. And realistically, it's all pretty trivial anyway. Or not anything that couldn't have been addressed by a conversation.

Tori and Bridget went to art college together a long time ago and were very close friends. Marty and Bridget actually met at our wedding. In fact Bridget made Tori's and my wedding ring. I've always held her in very high regard and there is no doubt that she is a talented woman. But I saw a lot over the last couple of months that is not so positive. I am trying not to be bitter. But right now it is all raw and I know that bitterness is leaking out of me from every pore. I tend not to be a person who keeps grudges. They seem a waste of time. And I know that much of what has created the drama in this little episode has been driven by a myriad of extreme circumstances. Most people are not at their best when under duress. I hope that we meet up down the track when events are different and we have all moved on.

The Good Ship Utopia finally pulled out of Bridget and Marty's front garden yesterday morning, the day after I'd had my chat with Marty. It took a lot of doing as it had been jammed into the narrowest space between the trees and the garage. After much manoeuvering and the lopping of a significant tree branch we were clear and motored out to relocate the van to the Broome Caravan Park just out of town. With the van and awning set up, and all of us back in our own space, the relief on everybody's face was plain to see. I don't think any of us realised how much duress we had been under ourselves for the last few weeks. All of our moods were lifted. We are back on track.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The cloak of respectability

At the end of next week I'm scheduled to leave Tori and the kids for a week and fly down to Melbourne and Sydney for work. The focus of the trip is to attend the annual conference of the user group for the top-end HP computer servers that I work with.  These systems thankfully are significantly more reliable than the shonky laptops that HP seem to produce. The conference itself is not an especially exciting affair though it's an opportunity to meet up with customers and catch up with some friends and acquaintances that I don't see so often. I have a pretty high profile within this user community having until this year been president of the user group. And I'll be standing up and presenting to a room full of people on computer security at this event. As such it's important for me to put on my cloak of respectability. You have to "look the part" for some reason, though I am still not sure exactly why that is so. So to meet with the conformity expected of me at these places I visited the barber shop yesterday to lose my afro in the making and my slightly out of control sideys. Now I am a picture of conformity. My hair will be neat. I will be clean shaven. The t-shirts, shorts and thongs that I've been wearing continually for the last six months will be replaced by "business casual with dark pants" as has been condescendingly specified on the presenter requirements list. Why do dark pants in any way make a difference to what I have to say? The thoughts I have in my head and the words that I speak are completely independant of the clothes I wear. So why do people feel that to pass across my message to the audience I need to look a certain way? Clearly we humans judge people on how they look and I guess a large proportion seem unable to deal with anything that is outside of their expectation. If I turn up unshaven, wearing my purple Jimi Hendrix T-shirt, some boardies, thongs and completely wild hair, it seems that the words that I speak will not be taken seriously enough. Or people will be confronted that I look different to them. Or I will be deemed to have not shown significant respect for the occasion. Or too many girls in the audience will swoon at my gruff unkempt exterior and my inherent ability to nonconform thus making all other men in the room rage with jealousy. It's always baffled me that people put so much stock in how somebody dresses. I feel it from the other side as well when dressed in my suit which is how I have spent a portion of my working life. "You're wearing a suit so you must be a boring stiff working in an office kowtowing to some boss somewhere and probably full of shit as well". How can people sum me up by seeing me in a suit? Or seeing me in a purple t-shirt? Or with sideys? Or with short back and sides? It's just complete bollocks and always makes me laugh heartily when I meet some person who thinks that they have me pegged by meeting me on any single occasion in any one environment. Many times have I seen surprise on somebody's face when they have seen me somewhere that is "out of context" to how they thought they knew me. And I know I'm not alone. People everywhere are multi-faceted people with different interests and abilities and situations that have nothing to do with the costumes that they wear. It seems that people love to put other people in categorical boxes. And if you don't fit goddamn you, then we'll try and squeeze you in anyway. The confusion comes when bits of you stick out of the box and clearly belong in another box. Or many boxes. "How can we deal with it? Surely there's a label on a single box here somewhere that we can put you into completely". Back in the day, my sister Nat was a self-declared punk. She sported a purple mohawk, some facial piercing and all of the refinery that went along with that particular non-uniform. I'd often meet up with her to have lunch and we both enjoyed nothing more than walking together down busy Chapel street watching the looks on other people's faces. The purple haired punk chatting amiably with the suit and tied office worker. How could this be? He must be her lawyer. Or her dealer. Around that time, Nat had a boyfriend named Des. He was a very nice guy. A gentle guy, almost shy in his demeanour, but very personable. But he would dress in army fatigues, had short shaved hair and wore big steel capped black boots. Symbols of ultraviolence. One night Des was arrested by police on a trumped up charge of some sort that essentially had involved being hassled by the police because he looked different. The case went to the Magistrates court and Nat went along as the star character witness for Des. She knew how the establishment game worked and so was dressed in her cloak of respectability for the day, sporting a pretty green dress and long flowing well groomed blonde hair. The crown prosecutor was putting to her and the court that Des was a violent man and that his charge of resisting arrest and hitting a police officer was in character with his typical demeanour. He was after all a punk in army fatigues. Nat defended him and said that actually Des was a very mild-mannered guy who was gentle and kind. "How do you expect us to believe that", sneered the prosecutor. "Look at him dressed in his army uniform and bovver boots". "Well you can't always judge people by their appearance" responded Nat while simultaneously removing the blonde wig that she wore to reveal cropped short spiky bright red hair. The magistrate immediately dismissed the case against Des amid the roars of laughter emanating from the gallery. A rare victory for individual rights against the wave of societal expectation of how you must look.

People need their uniforms it seems. Many ultra conservatives in their official capacities need it and dismiss anybody who is dressed "too scruffily". They cannot be taken seriously. Many alternatives around the place need it and often distrust anybody who is wearing a suit. They represent authority to be rebelled against. So it doesn't matter which strata of society you are from. You will likely judge and be judged. Just don't include me in it. I might play the game sometimes if I have to, but I really couldn't give a shit about any of it.