Tuesday, July 21, 2015

52 musings of a 52 year old man

Today is my 52nd birthday. 52 years on the planet Earth. Now flying over a chunk of it, from the July warmth of Cairns to the frigid Melbourne winter, closing out a week of Port Douglas holiday leisure with Tori and the crew. Here are 52 musings of seeming randomness from a 52 year old man.

1.       I love holidays but am often not very good at them. I seem driven by a need for activity and stimulus. Being still doesn't come easily to me. Even when I am sitting stationary, my leg has to bounce around, my foot has to tap or my hands have to drum. I recall my Nana had a similar bouncing leg. I never planned on consciously emulating her. Just one day, I noticed that I did it too. I believe I was dubbed a fidgeter in the early school days. It seems to have stuck.
2.       I devoured many books in my youth. I read every night and I finished books quickly. But somewhere along the way the habit of nightly reading disappeared. Life got too busy. Other activities seemed to take priority. Now I only ever seem to have the state of mind to settle back and read a good book when I am on holiday. I finally steeled myself to reopen my soul to more stories of the holocaust, in the form of The Book Thief. "Did you enjoy it", both Jazz and Finn asked me, after I told them I'd completed it. I'm not sure that "enjoyed" is the correct adjective. Like any good book it consumed me. It took me on its emotional roller coaster, but much of the emotion was sadness. Identification with characters in a bleak and desperate situation. Reminders of my own family's fate at the hands of Nazi Germany. And reminders of my own childhood experiences of antisemitism.
3.       I see mid-winter Facebook photos of friends off skiing in picturesque winter wonderlands of pure white snow. I feel zero envy. Give me the warmth and palm tree fringed beaches of the tropics any day. Boardies, t-shirt and thongs over thermals, thick jacket and gloves. I used to love skiing, but if I never do again, that's fine by me. When the mercury drops in Melbourne, take me somewhere hot.
4.       The first winter we lived in England, we went skiing in the north of Italy. A beautiful little Alpine village called La Thuile. Tori and I, along with work colleague Kevin and his prim and proper wife Anne. She never seemed to warm to us. I think we were Aussie riff raff who were significantly beneath her in station. She scoffed at my attempts to learn some words and phrases of Italian. That is until she realised that I'd worked out how to make a dinner reservation and could ask waiters for various food stuffs and wine. "Kevin... my hands are cold, do you mind if we swap gloves"? "Kevin... my boiled egg isn't cooked properly, can I have yours and you can have mine"? She was some piece of work. Kevin was sickeningly compliant in his bid to keep her happy. The term high maintenance may have been initially coined for her. On our last night, while at dinner in a little local trattoria, Anne decided to order a Malibu and Pineapple as an aperitif. This was a tiny remote Italian village and the waiters spoke no English. Going with the "just say things slower in English and the morons will understand you" approach, Anne felt that she had finally communicated her drink order to the staff. After disappearing for some minutes out the back, the waiter reappeared and placed in front of her a small bowl containing two pineapple rings of the Golden Circle type variety. She didn't seem particularly soothed by our guffaws of uncontrolled laughter. Even Kevin laughed.
5.       I went to the cricket at Lords one day with Kevin. He had "rovers' passes" for a one day game between England and India. That means that you get into the ground but you have no seat. A strange concept really at an all-seated stadium. We went directly to the drinks area and Kevin purchased a bottle of french champagne on work expenses, which we quickly and enthusiastically demolished. Several other bottles followed and the conversations with other patrons became more animated. I recall telling a couple of straw boater wearing Yorkshiremen that the problem with the county system in English cricket was that there were too many teams. As unpalatable as it may appear, they needed to merge some of the counties together. For example, the white roses of their Yorkshire should be combined with the red roses of Lancashire to become a single team called the roses. They were apoplectic at the suggestion and wanted to tell me about the rivalry and historic civil wars fought. I'd have none of it though, being downright insistent that it was English cricket's only chance. Come in spinner! That day at the game, I didn't even see one ball get bowled. At play’s end I staggered home from the ground, chuckling to myself as I walked through Regents Park and past the zoo, back to Camden where we lived. One of the most enjoyable day's I've ever spent at the cricket.
6.       My once black locks are well on the path to grey. One day I’ll have a head of hair just like Albert Einstein. He is my hair mentor.
7.       Finn told me that one of the kids in his year at school is jewish and gets called a "dirty jew" by some of the other kids. I went through a similar thing in both the local primary school and then at Camberwell Church of England Grammar school in the 70s.I find it unbelievable that this stuff persists. What is it with the bigoted ignorance of people? I spent a lot of grade 5 with kids refusing to play with me at recess, supposedly because I was born a jew. I then had it again in the latter year of secondary school where I’d be ostracised and pushed around for the same reason. My sister Nat was friends with a German-Australian girl named Susan Baulch whose mother told her that she couldn't play with Nat anymore because she was a jew. Nat was in grade 2 and her racist teacher Mrs. Yuborka didn't see any problem with that. She could understand the mother's concern at her daughter associating with a dirty jew.
8.       Jazzy has just turned 15 and something extra seems to have clicked in her being. A new confidence and maturity seems to have embraced her overnight. She is already comfortable and confident in the world of adults. She will make a fine one herself. I have confidence that she’ll be great at whatever she decides to do.
9.       I don't understand how the majority of Australians can be so apathetic about the condition under which we are locking up people seeking refuge in our land of abundance. Many of whom are fleeing persecution in their own land, some who fear for their lives and those of their families. We are closing the door in the face of a desperate stranger. Moving them to a place far away from where the general public can see them. Locking out journalists. Refusing to comment on what happens there. Bringing in a law to prevent any medical staff or aid workers from talking publicly about conditions in the detention centres or any cases of child abuse, rape and neglect that they may have witnessed. To me it is the ultimate in human selfishness. Criminal neglect. It disgusts me to my very core.
10.   When Tori and I visited Munich, we paid a visit to the concentration camp at Dachau. It's so close to the suburbs of Munich that it seemed impossible that people in the town couldn't know that something very sinister was going on there. I couldn't help but look at the people of the older generation as they wandered nearby and wonder to myself what they were doing during the war. Did they paint antisemitic slogans on jewish owned shops? Were they happy that the dirty jews were rounded up and sent to the camp? Were they saddened by the situation but too fearful to say anything under that repressive regime? Were they compassionate people with enormous courage that helped jews somehow escape the clutches of the local authorities? Or were they part of the compliant mass for who it was largely out of sight and out of mind? We know what's happening but let's not think about the plight of the poor unfortunates. We have enough problems of our own. And anyway, they somehow brought it on themselves.
11.   Kimi has just turned four. He is a promising young specimen. Very bright, strong, funny, generous, cheeky, loving and a natural story teller. I wonder what this world holds in store for him.
12.   I have a psychic ability that I don't think many people have. Somehow people come into my thoughts as a precursor to me having contact with them almost imminently after a period of absence. I'm not sure if I feel the meeting before it happens, or if my thoughts somehow create the situation. But it is a regular occurrence and I know that it is true.
13.   Everywhere we go on holidays, Tori wants to live. As long as it's warm.
14.   The English language is strange. If luminous begets luminosity, then surely ludicrous is an abundance of ludicrosity. Jazzy once bet me that I couldn't use the word ludicrosity that afternoon in a conversation with complete strangers. Too easy.
15.   The family all really want us to get a dog and I am the only obstacle. We don't have the fencing situation at the moment and I tell them that if we do get a dog I'd like it to be a live dog for a bit longer than just the day that we get it. Tori wants one so badly that she tagged me in a facebook post of somebody trying to give their dog away to a good home. Unfortunately the post was a few weeks old. And the dog was based somewhere in Utah.
16.   While lying on the couch of our holiday apartment, reading a section of The Book Thief where the jewish character Max was writing his stories for Liesel, Jazzy came through and told me that she had been reading my blog stories from a few years back. She was a little embarrassed by it, prefacing it with the fact that she didn't want to seem like a stalker. I assured her that she was no stalker and that in fact it had all been written for her and her brothers. An idea passed to me by my friend Matthew that when I'm old and grey and they are trying to help me eat my soup, they can read some tales that show them that I lived a life of some adventure once and got up to a bit of mischief. That I'm not just the forgetful old fool they see in front of them. It seemed uncanny that she should come in and tell me of her readings just at that particular point in the novel. I lay back and allowed myself a feeling of dizzy joy and fulfillment.
17.   This holiday has been spent after ripping the kids out of school for the week. It should have been the first week back after the school holidays, but they got a bit of a family forced extension. This is not possible in countries such as England, Germany, France and so on. The authorities take a very dim view of kids missing school and if parents persist with this kind of behaviour, social services step in and in extreme (?) cases can take the children into foster care. It's not that bad in Australia but I hear murmurings that there is a wish to crack down on the practice. I could not give a shit about that. There is no possibility that the kids will learn more in a week or two at school than they will with Tori and I in some far flung place.
18.   Jazzy goes to a school where the principal is the “yes man”. Everything seems possible.
19.   Finn goes to a school where the principal is Dr. No. All ideas of empowering the students appear to get shut down.
20.   Finn's year 8 football team played in a competition against three other schools. Each side played each other once during the course of the day with the winner to progress to the next round. The losers were out. Finn's team played well and came through the day comfortably undefeated. A fine achievement. But instead of receiving recognition from the school for making it through, the boys were told that they would not be permitted to play. They would have to forfeit. Instead they would need to go along to an all-day anti-bullying workshop that had been organised for their year level. Instead of crowning an achievement, the school made it seem like it was nothing at all. There's student disempowerment for you in action right there.
21.   Jazzy's close friends are in a band. They were entered into the junior battle of the bands competition to be conducted in the city of Melbourne during school time. Jazzy asked if she could go along as the official photographer. The school said "of course". She experienced the day with her friends who won the competition. She took great photos that will be used for the band's publicity and appear in school publications. She has something real for her portfolio - both photographic and life.
22.   Finn is a boy of great ability. I hope that he comes to realise that and firmly believe in himself. Smart, compassionate and a fine physical specimen. He is a beautiful person.
23.   Some of my closest friends live in countries far away. Some I haven't seen in person for years but I always feel the closeness that I've shared with them. From England, to Spain, to the US, to Canada, to Japan, to Singapore, to Scotland, to Indonesia, to the North Pole (truthfully!) and beyond, I have friends dotted around. I expect that I will see all of them again, share a drink, a meal and laughter filled stories. I hope so. I love all my friends.
24.   52 seems old when I think of it from my youthful memories. I remember well my father's 50th birthday party. I was 20 at the time. Now I’m older than he was then, which feels quite strange. His 50th was a dress up party where he told each of his friend groups that the party had a different theme with all of them thinking that was the sole theme of the party. So a caveman couple arrived to be greeted by a pair in togas, just as a guy adorned in his wife’s nighty and hair curlers made his way past a couple in swimwear. Geoff and I worked the bar, serving up Dad’s lethal rum based punch with a serve one, drink one kind of approach. I have visions of my grandmother going up to a woman costumed as a flasher and asking her if she could have a look. The woman said “sure” and swung open her long raincoat to reveal a shapely body adorned in fancy lingerie. “Very nice” said my grandma. I had to agree, my desire to ogle counterbalanced with complete amusement. I recall seeing some of the peaches from the bottom of the punch bowl clustered around my bed the following morning, obviously deciding against residing in my stomach where they had once been. It was one of the best parties I’ve ever been to.
25.   I have a friend who, during one particular rant about the Israeli occupation of Palestine questioned what was so special about discrimination against the jews that it has its own name. It’s a fair question. Anti-semitism is no worse than discrimination against any other races or religions. Ask any black person in an ostensibly white country. Or muslim people living in christian nations given the current state of world affairs. Or any of the many other persecuted minorities that exist around the world. It all sucks. Sometimes it is so extreme that it forces people to get on to boats to flee the situation and look for a safer life somewhere else. Perhaps even in Australia.
26.   Who cares what term is or isn’t used, hatred of jews seems alive and well. Like all forms of racism, convenient reasons exist for the perpetrators, such as the Israel-Palestinian issue. As if Israel and the jews are the same thing. Interchangeable terms. Complete crap.
27.   I don’t believe any of the jewish religious doctrine. Just as I don’t believe any of the christian or islamic or hindu doctrine. They all seem to be made up stories to me.
28.   If people want to believe any of those stories, good luck to them. Who am I to say that they are wrong? Just don’t tell me that I have to believe any of them.
29.   The only thing that makes me identify with being jewish is hatred of jews or ridiculous beliefs perpetuated about jews. And I guess some kind of kinship with fellow jews. And Woody Allen films.
30.   When the World Trade Centre was blown up, I knew that some people would find a way to blame the jews. My mind truly boggles.
31.   I’ve reached an age where my friends are starting to have serious health ailments that they have to deal with, myself included. Last year I had my gallbladder ripped out after a few painful episodes. It seems that different parts of the body have different use by dates.
32.   Whilst still living at home with Mum and Dad, Nat and I decided to have a party one time while they were away (as we did a number of times). Right in the middle of putting the house into party mode on the day of the event, Mum happened to ring from America to see if everything was alright. She’d seen a film called Risky Business the night before and wanted to make sure we weren’t considering having any shenanigans involving a load of drunk strangers in her house while she was away. “Of course not Mum”, I told her. Then resumed moving the furniture and hiding all of dad’s grog. Around 120 people or so came along that night. My parties were legendary and even people I didn’t know knew about “Greg Swedosh parties”. Tori was one of them, there with a group of friends. I didn’t actually meet her for probably another three years after that night. Someone let our large, sometimes ferocious, german shepherd Caesar into the house. He seemed to chill out and have a good time, not phased at all by the mob and thankfully not biting anyone, which he sometimes did. I woke in mum and dad’s bed the next morning, alongside a beautiful friend, and lay there listening to half a dozen or so fellow partygoers who had crashed the night and were recounting tales from the night before. I think it was the funniest half hour’s eavesdropping I’ve ever had.
33.   Being as though my kids are probably reading this, here is a message for you Jasmine, Finley and Kimberley…. You are forbidden to ever have any parties in the house whilst mum and I are away. Translation: If you have a party while we are away, you had better make it look like there wasn’t one. No rubbish around the house. No extra stains on the carpet. All of the carpet looking freshly vacuumed. No unwashed glasses or chip bearing plates. No sign that anybody has slept in our bed. None of my alcohol missing. Nothing that looks like a party took place in or outside the house. Or THERE WILL BE HELL (and money for a cleaner) TO PAY!!!!!!
34.   My father was obsessive compulsive and knew exactly where every single thing was and should be. If somebody went to his office drawer and used a pen, he would notice if the pen was returned facing the wrong way. To have a party of 120 people of various altered states in his house, without him ever knowing, is a significant achievement. The only sign from the party was discovered a month later when Mum noticed the fine marble chess board that she had bought Dad some years earlier had been glued back together. It had been the only party casualty other than a few drunken young adults. I told her about the party. I knew she wouldn’t tell Dad. I knew also that he would never discover the chess board. Even though he and I played a lot of chess, that board ended up being ornamental. The pieces were impractical for playing. Who could tell which piece was the king and which the queen? It wasn’t a very good gift really I’m afraid mum. It was a nice thought though. My glue job was pretty decent. The board still looked good.
35.   I opened a rarely used kitchen cupboard about two months after the party and found a full unopened stubby of beer that somebody had stashed on the night.
36.   I read something recently that said that multiculturalism in Australia is dead. A failed experiment. What the fuck does that mean? Are we such insular ignorant fearful morons that we can’t live in harmony with people of different beliefs from somewhere else. Surely not.
37.   I can’t believe the fearmongering about islam in Australia and “their threat to our way of life”. To be honest, I don’t even understand how people can believe this kind of crap about an entire group of people. It seems ridiculous and pathetic to me.
38.   The people who say “why don’t the muslim community condemn the actions of islamic extremists” just aren’t listening. They are. But actually, why should they have to.
39.   I’d never heard of OCD when I was a kid, so didn’t realise that’s what my Dad had. It sort of struck me on a return trip from England with Tori and the kids whilst staying at mum’s and dad’s. Every night on the kitchen counter, two mugs were placed out with instant coffee and the appropriate number of artificial sweeteners in each. Just waiting for hot water in the morning. In front of each cup was a line of neatly placed pills comprising each of their morning medications and vitamins. The lines were so precise they could easily have been aligned by a ruler. Perhaps they were.
40.   I’ve reached that stage where my 13 year old son is as tall as I am. And almost as strong. And fitter. And faster. It’s an interesting milestone. A combination of celebrating his growth and mourning my decline. He still can’t quite take me at one-on-one in basketball. I expect I’ll only be able to say that for another 12 months at the most.
41.   I’m 52 and Kimi is 4. I’ll be going to parent teacher nights at the age of 66 when he’s in year 12. I’ll be older than some of the grandparents there.
42.   Tori and I have reached a stage recently where we can leave the kids alone to look after each other and head out for the night. I think that the freedom of this hasn’t fully dawned on us yet. We need to start taking more advantage and get a few more hot dates happening. Some regular one on one time out having fun with my beautiful wife.
43.   Mum and Dad started leaving Nat and I to look after each other when I was 10 and she was 8. Apart from the first night when Nat heard some strange sound on the roof and freaked us both out, we were fine.
44.   Jazzy and Finn have reached a stage where discussions take in topics such as sexual expectations, pornography, drug usage and alcohol. I’m open and honest, for good or for bad. I tell them my true life experiences. I hope that I can always have conversations with my children about the “difficult” topics.
45.   I don’t think recreational drugs are evil and are necessarily a path to ruination as the media would now have it. There are potentially some enlightening times to be had.
46.   I know that drug usage is fraught with dangers. I’ve had a couple of very close ones who have died from drug overdoses. 
47.   I hope that my kids will have enough strength of character and good enough judgement to know when to say yes and when to say no for everything that comes their way in life.
48.   The only jewish tradition now that lives on in our family is for pesach (the passover). We gather together for the opening night seder where mum prepares the symbolic plate and I read the service. And I do the best seder going around. Abridged to take in only the major highlights and complete with my paraphrasings of the word of god as he brings down plague upon plague on the Egyptians (and even their livestock) and the musings of Moses as he tries to lead that ragtag group of gold calf worshipping ingrates across the Red Sea and through the Sinai to the promised land. We feast on chopped liver, matzah, gefilte fish, charoset and chicken soup with kneidle before we even approach the main meal. Wine gets continually quaffed and then it’s all finished off with mum’s sensational pesach chocolate cake. In the old days, Mum would be up after a few wines dancing to the soundtrack of Hair, which always follows on from Fiddler On The Roof. I think our pesach has evolved into something quite unique. And it’s always fun. My performances as god are getting better and better with the passing of each year.
49.   My field of IT work is so specialized, that there are only two possible customers for me in Melbourne as a consultant in my preferred field. So I’ve started looking overseas more for work. In the last 8 months I’ve had my first consultancy contract in the US and also one in Indonesia. My sights are set on expanding this over the coming couple of years. Otherwise my existing work is unsustainable and I’ll have to work out something else to do.
50.   I don’t want to be a prawn fisherman. Though Tori would love for me to be one.
51.   I’m now one of those dads who repeats stories that the kids have already heard before. Some of them I know I’ve already passed across as pearls of parental wisdom, but wonder if they were old enough when I told them to be remembered now. So I run it by them again. And again. Others, I simply don’t remember that I’ve told them.
52.   I have probably written things in here that I’ve written before.