Kiddie Pix

I always wondered why people run around with photos of children in their wallets.

It’s a bit like people who fly the national flag in their front garden. Are they so confused they’ve forgotten what country they’re in? They need a reminder?

“Shoot honey, you know what? I just looked out the window and we live in Orstraylia!”

“Well, Big Daddy, I done told you not to turn left at Alberquerque! You just don’t listen to me.”

“Sorry, Big Momma. Now get on over here so I can…”

Okay we’ll leave it there. But it’s the same thing with kiddie photos.

You need a reminder that you’ve got a spouse and two children? You’ve forgotten your children’s features? You have trouble describing them to strangers?

“My children? Yes I’ve got…hang on let me just check my wallet…wow okay! Yes I’ve got TWO children!”

“A boy and a girl. I think – hang on. No no no! What was I thinking! It was identical twins and we adopted them from Vietnam!”

None of this made any sense.

But then today I think I finally got it.

There was a man in the supermarket. He was pushing his trolley aimlessly. He stopped at the breakfast cereals, picked up some boxes and put them in his trolley. Then he took them out again. Unsure, he patted his pockets for his shopping list. But he didn’t have it with him.

I heard his groan of angry frustration 10 metres away.

A little later I ended up behind him at the checkout. He had filled his trolley, mainly with nappies and tins of formula. Shuffling through his wallet, he turned his sleep-deprived, sad eyes at the check-out lady. His fists were clenched white.

“Sorry I don’t have my credit card. One of the kids was playing with my wallet…”

I caught a glimpse in the open wallet of photos of his three children under five. It looked like a piece of old chewing gum had also been stuffed into the plastic sleeve. It was pink.

Our eyes met for a moment. It was one of those moments of quiet communication. I gave him a little nod as he shuffled off to put his products back on the shelves. He nodded back.

And I understood what kiddie photos in wallets were all about.



Harry 2nd Birthday Portraits Cath Dee Why 115

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An Ode to the First (conscious) Monday of the New Year

Hello 2013!

Like every Monday morning. Hope comes roaring back. Your mind is an empty canvas after the weekend.

What was it we had for dinner on Friday night, Saturday? Sunday you can remember, just. The rest remains a foggy blur.

But Monday! The sharp sunshine, the wind shaking the trees. The extra spring in everyone’s step as they stride toward their buses and trains. It’s Monday.

And all those lovely projects bubbling in the back of your mind: the crime novel, the new web site, the simple blues songs on the guitar, they all come rushing forward to occupy the front of stage.

The members of my family are a tragic bunch. Caught in the past, bemoaning the injustice of the 1960s, reliving the screaming and separation of the 1970s, the endless disappointments and brushes with authorities, hospitals and death in more recent decades. They never see these bright Monday mornings. They live in another time, another place.

Interesting times if you do choose to live in the present. Wars brewing in Asia, financial collapse and civil conflict in Europe. Australia a bizarre, affluent island producing black and red rivers of iron ore and coal to foul the skies over China and India.

A Great White Shark shut the beach here in Dee Why yesterday under overcast skies. Probably the same one that knocked a lifeguard off his surf board about ten days ago. The last catastrophic shark attack was here off the point in the 1930s and I have a bad feeling about this particular visitor.

It always struck me as a losing tactic for fish to swim in a giant school as a ‘defence’ against predators like sharks. It’s scant consolation for the individual fish who get chomped that their species will survive.

But we humans act exactly the same as a group. We know that several of us will be eaten by marine monsters every year; yet we keep swimming. We know that several thousand will be crushed to death in car accidents; yet we keep driving. We know that tens of thousands will die in inter-state conflicts; yet we keep fighting wars.

We all have a choice, individually and collectively. We can all choose to wake up and enjoy Monday morning with a smile on our faces and forget the past.

And that’s exactly what I’m going to do!

Dee Why Jan 2013

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Of trolls and men, and sealing wax

My wife and I have been struggling with a feisty young baby for the last 18 months.

We call him ‘Troll’.  At night, Mr Troll won’t let us sleep.  It’s excruciating.

I almost feel like committing some ‘thought crime’ by thinking about a terrorist atrocity (probably involving the authors of all those useless baby manuals with ‘sure-fire’ plans to make your baby sleep) and then communicating it over a mobile phone so I can be arrested by the Australian Federal Police.

If I’m lucky, they’ll ‘lose me’ on a passing CIA rendition flight I can finally get some rest in Guantanamo Bay or Uzbekistan.

Of course, it’s miraculous having created a human being (even if an unusual one).  The main effect has been a sea change in how I value human life.

Suddenly I understand the tremendous investment required for every single human being.  Every baby has to be tediously breast fed.  Has to be taught to eat, to walk, to talk.  Each of us needs to be comforted, encouraged, praised, corrected and entertained.  For ten to twenty years.

Crucially, we all need to learn how to sleep.

How monstrous then to cut short even one of these lives!  How hideous the great wars of history where hundreds, thousands and even tens of thousands are slaughtered in a night!

I just finished an account by an Australian soldier who survived as an infantryman for three and a half years in France during World War I.  ‘Somme Mud’ by E. B. Lynch is an astonishing account of one of the worst hells of the 20th century.  It leaves you breathless with horror.  This is not some Hollywood imagining but a great butchery of babies, left to the hands of pompous, foolish and monstrous generals and politicians.

Just before Christmas in America a crazed loner shot 20 primary school children and six of their teachers dead.  It provoked worldwide outrage.

How many more innocents and adults were killed that same day because of the mediocre power-mongering of governments worldwide?

If there’s one thing fathering a child has taught me – you have to keep your eyes open and work hard to keep the bastards honest.

For all the little trolls of this world.



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And the show goes on

One of my first girlfriends died a couple of weeks ago. Her name was Alice Leslie and she died from breast cancer after about six years of treatment.

I only found out yesterday from Facebook, so I missed the funeral. She would have thought that was funny. She had a wry sense of humour and iron sense of justice. One of her last posts was a dig at her oncologist for ‘slapping her’ in hospital after a routine checkup.

This really stirred me up and I’ve been trying to figure out why.

The thing is, I don’t remember much about her or our relationship, which wasn’t very serious. It involved a whole lot of snogging and nothing much else. And it ended after a couple of months with a phone call from her. I was young and had no idea what to do with a sexy young woman. She was way more sophisticated. She’d had serious boyfriends since her early teens. Some of them were in the navy, to her barrister father’s great consternation.

She taught me not to be a snob.  I didn’t have to act smart around her and boy it was a relief.

I didn’t think of her for 22 years till she looked me up on Facebook to apologise for dumping me. She thought she’d been cruel and wanted to clear that up before she carked it.

The thing is talking to her again, I suddenly realised that I thought about her unconsciously all the time. Every time I saw a pressure cooker (her single dad used to whip us up tender chicken breasts in it wearing his Tae Kwon Do uniform), a Ford Lazer, Michelin tyres, heard Steely Dan or Dire Straits (boy I hated that music) or a girl walking in overly tight 80s jeans. She had the same experience. Whenever there was a news item about France, or Vivaldi on the radio. All the stuff we briefly shared during those lazy days of second year university in the Manning Bar.

She lived down the South Coast at Berry and worked with horses. We were going to catch up and tell stories of the last 20 years, but we never did. She’s dead now and cremated so it’ll never happen.

And now she’s dead, I regret. She was more important to me than I thought. She was family.

All the people you care about in life, even the ones that don’t talk to you anymore, leave parts of themselves in you. Their stories, the way they cook, the way they knock a toothpaste tube open with a flick of the toothbrush. The little Indian boy who was hidden by his father in the moon so he could never run away again.

And when they die, part of you dies with them.

And parts of them live on within you.

And the show goes on.

Ally leslie 1984

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Transgenic Facts

I went down to the Huskisson Ironman event this weekend. A beautiful bay full of dolphins and a couple of thousand of the most determined and fittest men and women in the country. Probably the greatest concentration of carbon fibre bike frames worth over 5K on the Australian calendar.

There is something special about this race because there is such a complex ballet going on. You hear the loudspeakers start up at 5.30am when it’s still pitch dark. Everywhere at the starting area people are darting in and out of the shadows, stretching, running back to their hotel room for some forgotten drink bottle or wheeling their bikes to the transition area with that particular ‘tick-tick-tick’ that only very expensive componentry makes.

Then the swim begins at 6.30am, with the sun just peaking over the horizon in a burn of sizzling orange reflected off the mirror surface of the bay. A brief honk of a horn and wave after wave of swimmers launch out towards the first green mark. If they’re lucky a pod of dolphins comes to accompany them, attracted by the commotion.

It’s a magical scene – and makes you realise why you choose to live in Australia before any other country.

But boy is there a sinister side.

There are also two ‘mini’ triathlon events for kids. The distances are small but they still get to swim-bike-run and have all the fun of the transitions between the disciplines. But while the main event is sponsored by a local energy company, the kids’ events have another sponsor all together.


My eyes just about popped out of their sockets when I first saw children wandering by proudly in their ‘finisher’ T-shirts with the Big M logo splashed all over the front. I thought it must be some sort of post-modern ironic plug.

But no – the organisers had decided they’d take the money, so that the worst corporate flogger of transgenic fat, salt and sugar could use a triathlon championship to push its life-destroying products.

If ever there was a blinding demonstration that deregulated markets (the ad industry is ‘self-regulating’ in Australia) do not lead to a better society, this was it for me. One of the chief corporations responsible for the biggest health problem in our country (man are we fat!) had no problem getting its logo onto the chests of our healthiest children.

It’s a pretty simple equation:


I listen to conservative politicians; I even listen to those clown Americans with their Republican debates where they insist on reducing government (though they can’t remember which bits they want to cut) and liberalising everything.

Let’s see how many of their grand-kids are diabetics in 20 years.

Harry Cath Passport 033

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Baby bullshit

Having a baby is like getting a new best friend for life.

A best friend who tortures you nightly for years.

And while they’re torturing you with screams that literally perforate ear-drums, you spend your time tip-toing around like a demented ballet dancer, and doing your level best to make their world wonderful.

If this were an adult relationship, all your friends would be shaking their heads gravely and muttering about how you were being taken advantage of. Maybe one would book you for lunch and pass you the business card of a good divorce lawyer.

But hey make it a baby and perversely you’re expected to walk around telling people how wonderful it is.

In medical terms, this is called a ‘delusion’.

But we humans are good at that aren’t we?

Harry Elmo Playpen 004

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The Wealth of the Nations

A good definition of ‘poor’ is someone who thinks about money all the time.

Sure that’s all the desperate people in the world living hand-to-mouth. Scrabbling every day to find enough money to put food on the table.

But it also includes most of the people out there who have mountains of money.

I’ve got mates who have access to millions, and sometimes hundreds of millions, of dollars. At various times these guys and girls have been gobbing Xanax and the other depression drugs like they were dime store candy. How can that be?

One guy ended up in hospital with pneumonia, then a staph infection, then on a respirator, then dead a few times. When he finally got out of hospital he went home to find his wife had left him and was suing him for most of their considerable wealth.

La salope! As we say in French.

True wealth isn’t that. True wealth is someone who doesn’t think about money – at all.

Take your old money landed English aristocracy. These are guys who take delight in buying a pair of cheap sneakers and wearing them till the soles peel away from the uppers. Their attention may be focused on fixing the leaks in any one of the twenty-five bathrooms in their 17th century manor house. But they won’t even notice that there are Rembrandts and Turners hanging in most of them.

What matters to these people are the essentials in life: your friends, your children, your domestic animals (okay this may include a stable of thirty horses), a good meal and a nice glass of wine to go with it. Creating music and art, life and love as we flow through time and events. Trying to help everyone around us a little and living in a society.

There seems to be a lot of well-intentioned idealism about reshaping our world at the moment: we’ve got Zuckerberg and Assange claiming that absolute transparency and truth will set us free.

That’s crap of course. The truth will usually get your head kicked on – on a personal and international level.

But Adam Smith and all the neoclassical economists were wrong when they decided that a free market with the unbridled pursuit of profit would lead to the most efficient and equitable society. Their models don’t include any of the things I’ve been talking about.

And so they’re wrong.

The world is, generally speaking, a very poor place. Let’s all work together and make it truly rich in 2011.

Chambre chez Shan

Nothing else is…

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