On This Day

Today is the anniversary of the second of the two most important days of my life. Two events that both completely changed my view of the world and my place in it.

This is the anniversary of when I fell completely, and utterly, in love. Once again.

The first thing I learned when my second daughter was born was that there is always room in the heart for one more. I loved my first daughter, now a cute and precocious two year old, so much that sometimes during the time of expectancy I had been genuinely concerned I might not be able to love this newcomer as well. It was a fear that vanished without trace on her arrival.

That arrival was just as fraught with difficulty as was her sister’s before. Distressed foetal syndrome and a caesarean. But this time I was allowed to be present. Watching a caesarean is fascinating and frightening. I concentrated on holding June’s hand and being reassuring.

The surgeon jokingly warned me that if I fainted, he would just stand on me and carry on with his work. June was conscious. She’d had an epidural. The previous time she had been under general anaesthetic, so this must have been even more frightening for her than for me.

When the hospital staff held up the still and silent chocolate-blue child my heart stopped. I’ve never, ever, been more frightened. In fact I realised at that moment, I had never really been frightened before at all. I cannot express the dread I felt just then.

Suddenly she let out a cry and miraculously turned pink right then and there in front of me. I treasure that memory as I do the one where I was introduced to her sister, so tiny in an incubator, tubes up her nose, two years before.

I shall never stop loving June for what she went through to bring those two into the world. If ever frustration or resentment arises when I think of how things eventually turned out, I remind myself of this.

I shall never stop loving those two girls, for the meaning they brought into my existence. Flawed as it must have been, parenthood is the one thing that really gave my life any significance.

These wonderful young women that June and I made.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Aberdeen

I’ve been a wanderer all of my life, and many’s the sight I’ve seen…

There is no Aberdeen to which I long to return. My whole life has been spent moving on. There has never been anywhere for me to return to, because it was no longer there after I left.

I can remember two homes in England before I was five. We had five more homes in four towns in New Zealand before I was eleven.

The most stable period of my youth was my teenage years in West Auckland. After that I moved around a lot again, until I acquired a family and had a second, relatively stable, period with them in only three locations. And that didn’t last either. Not nearly as long as I wanted. It was not my choice. Which does not mean it was not my fault. I don’t know.

What I do know is there is nowhere to which I can return. No family seat, no family. Just scattered relatives. A few friends.

In the small hours I wonder “What if?” There is no answer except the soft early call of the magpie who roosts in the trees behind my caravan.

I ponder the events that led me here. Living with anyone is difficult. When does the effort become too much? Is the person wiser who decides “enough” or the one who keeps trying? Who is at fault, when someone calls enough? Perhaps the fault must always be borne by both.

I am trying to be more zen in my introspection and self-appraisal. I accept what is, but still can’t help wondering what if? I am the sum of my memories. I owe it to myself and the world to ensure my memories are honest and clear.

I was not a good son, I was not a good brother, I proved to be a poor husband, Twice. I truly don’t know any more what kind of father I was. I want to write accurately about my memories. Of what made me what I am. That will not always put me in a good light, but it also may not please those who get to see themselves as I saw them. They may see my perception of causality as blame. But one does not blame the sun for sunburn. It is what happens.

Well. Wow. I didn’t know that was where I was going when I started this post.

Water Music

Today I swam 3,175 metres in 167 minutes. That’s 1.14 km per hr or 0.62 knots. An improvement, but still slow. I swam slowly, but continuously the whole time, stopping only once to adjust my mask strap when the pressure on my upper lip became uncomfortable.

At this speed my goal of swimming 5 kilometres is still a way off. Not because I can’t do it, but because of the time it will take. Today at the end I did not stop because I was tired, or even uncomfortable. I stopped only because I was hungry. So hungry in fact I got the low blood sugar shakes, and had to go buy an ice cream and a cappuccino at the pool shop. I must have a better breakfast if I’m going for a marathon swim.

I have found the perfect accessory to help me get along while swimming a long time. When I went to Solomon Islands in 1984, I bought at the duty-free on the way out of Auckland a new-fangled Sony Walkman Sport cassette player and was delighted to learn it was waterproof. So back then I used to go snorkelling with it. There is nothing more delightful than the slightly surreal sensation of swimming over a gorgeous coral reef, surrounded by colourful fish, while listening to Beethoven, Mozart, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, and all my other favourite classical and classic rock music.

The Walkman cost me $300, which was a lot, back then. Of course it is long gone. It is the only possession of mine that has been stolen twice. It was recovered the first time, but not the second. Obviously.

I wondered what the modern equivalent MP3 player might be like. I Googled, and found a lot to choose from on line in a range of prices from the sublime to the ridiculous. I finally chose one I thought the most suitable for my purpose. It cost less than I would pay for a pack of cigarettes, if I still bought them. With free postage.

That is how I these days justify buying these little extravagances; by converting them to cigarette equivalents. I only just the other day found out how much fags cost these days. A frightening amount. Enough for me to rationalise a treat now and then. A restaurant meal costs less than a pack of fags here in Australia.

But I digress.

I like this player, apart from the price, because it has 8 Gb memory, which can store many hours of music, and because it fits around my neck like a Celtic torque. I did not want one that clipped to my mask strap, or to my swimming togs. I did not want long dangly leads to get tangled. Nor did I want wireless earbuds to lose.

It arrived three days after I ordered it from Amazon. I charged it and filled it with my favourite music. Much the same stuff I was listening to back in the 1980s (Despite modern tech, my musical development was pretty much arrested in the eighties – With some exceptions) but instead of playing cassettes which can’t be changed while swimming, it is now all digital and downloaded to my computer. Enough for many hours of swimming without getting tired of the selection.

Today, Thursday, is the first day I have swam this week. My shoulders and back were aching on Sunday so I gave the pool a miss that day. I slept most of the day, awoke out of sorts and found myself sleepless all night. The black dog visited and for the next three days I diverted myself from my existential problems by snoozing or binge watching assorted movies and TV series on Netflix, ABC and SBS on demand. I only left the caravan to visit the toilet and shower block.

On Sunday, in a mood, I deleted my Facebook page. I joined Facebook in 2009 to stay in touch with family and old friends. It no longer serves that purpose. The news and posts are mostly depressing, and I find myself either reinforcing, or being reinforced by others who have similar opinions to myself, or getting into pointless arguments with those who don’t. mostly, however, I have concluded social media is not good for me. And reading that sentence I have just realised I am still uncomfortable putting “is” after a plural.

Media. Data. Criteria. But again, I digress.

I stayed home four days, leaving the caravan only to visit the ablution block for the conveniences and showers. I did not go shopping, so I ran out of fresh vegetables. I turned to comfort food, finishing off the last of the less healthy food choices I still had in the pantry. Pasta, cheese, packet meals, frozen hash browns. I undid some of my positive achievements and gained a couple of kilos.

Time to get back on track. To get back on the bicycle and back into the pool. And back to healthy vegetables. Today after my swim I pedalled to Aldi and filled my little trailer with onions, carrots, green and salad vegetables, fruit and tomatoes.

After my three day withdrawal period, I am quite over Facebook, and have turned my attention to other ways of passing the time. Books. Kindle, world cinema, British TV, and those model boats I started on over a year ago. I may perhaps even turn more back to my blogs.

I spotted some beautiful parakeets while riding the bike home. Now the weather is improving I might start carrying the camera and taking a few photos. I’ve already found a couple of locations I can get to by bicycle where I can settle comfortably and wait for a photo opportunity. That’s always a good way to pass the time when I’m not swimming. I may even try extending my walking time.

Afterthought:
“Cheese is milk’s leap towards immortality”
— Clifton Fadiman

No Pain, No Gain.

I overdid the exercise yesterday. Too enthusiastic. Even with an electric motor assisting, the bones grind and the muscles strain. Swimming is one thing, pedalling another. I overestimated my ability and rode too far. I went to bed aching with shooting pains down my legs. I couldn’t find a comfortable position, even with a pillow between my thighs. For a long time I could not sleep and when I did finally, I had nightmares. I dreamed I came off my motorcycle. Not the one I have now, or even that I’ve ridden lately, but the Triumph Tigress 250cc scooter I rode for a while as a teenager. I was amongst a crowd of people I used to work with, but none of them would help me up.

The pain in my legs found its way into my dream, and my left arm was paralysed so that I could not move it at all. Sleep was not a surcease. I felt as if I was awake, which I clearly wasn’t, because of the weird things going on around me.

In the morning I could barely walk and after my usual coffee and light breakfast I crawled back to bed and spent most of the day trying to sleep while listening to my Spotify playlist.

It’s Fathers’ day here in the antipodes and I was hoping for a phone call, or a text, or a Facebook post, or something. I remembered to text my own Dad. I would have phoned you, Dad, but I didn’t feel that well today.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll swim and when I get back I’ll just pedal a short way down to the fish shop and back. I fancy some fish as I’ve been vegetarian for a while.

Barramundi, I think. The best fish available here.

This is just a setback. It will not stop me. No pain, no gain.

The Power of Words.

I well understand the power of words. I understand their power to hurt and to soothe.

I know the not-so-subtle difference In meaning and context, for example between Women Being Raped, and Men Raping Women.

Ive been trained in forensic interview techniques. I’ve been lied to, insulted and cursed by the best, in several languages. When this happens, I do almost the same thing I do if I have somehow got myself into a life-threatening or dangerous situation. (I do that now and then. It is part of my nature to see how far I can go).

When I’m insulted, I become calm and analytical. I try to figure out if I am in the wrong, if I deserve the criticism, or whether it is a defence/offence mechanism.

So I was taken aback recently when, after posting an old photo of myself on my bike at Katanning airfield, one of my friends made the comment “Yobbo”.

It seems reasonable enough, one would think. I could be mistaken for a yob.

The comment was surely intended in the humorous vein of friendly joshing we all indulge in. I am sure of it.

So.

I don’t know why I’m so insulted by that comment. Maybe the word is psychologically loaded in my subconscious. Call me a larrikin or a yahoo and I’d probably smile and agree. But yobbo hits a raw nerve somehow. Is there something in my youth or childhood to explain this feeling?

I can’t recall. I have thought about it for a day and still my first instinct is to say “go fuck yourself” or delete the comment. Why? I’m 67 years old, I’ve been successful in at least some of my fields of endeavour, I’ve worked in 7 countries, speak three languages, can say basic phrases or at least “thank you”, “may I have”, and “where is … ?” in another 10. I understand the power of words. Where does this one gain its power over my subconscious?

This is most interesting. It’s like listening to a song that makes you cry, even though it is not the sort you might think would do that. There’s a trigger I don’t recall. Fascinating.

So be aware. “Yobbo”, for some reason I cannot explain is a grave insult to me. As bad as, or even worse than, “climate change denier” , “antivaxxer”, or “creationist”.

Yes. There are songs that make me cry.

Living Alone.

THE MORE LOVING ONE

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well

That, for all they care, I can go to hell,

But on earth indifference is the least

We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn

With a passion for us we could not return?

If equal affection cannot be,

Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am

Of stars that do not give a damn,

I cannot, now I see them, say

I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,

I should learn to look at an empty sky

And feel its total dark sublime,

Though this might take me a little time.

By W.H. Auden

Home

Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary. A houseboat in Kashmir, a view down Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, a gray gothic farmhouse two stories high at the end of a red dog road in the Allegheny Mountains, a cabin on the shore of a blue lake in spruce and fir country, a greasy alley near the Hoboken waterfront, or even, possibly, for those of a less demanding sensibility, the world to be seen from a comfortable apartment high in the tender, velvety smog of Manhattan, Chicago, Paris, Tokyo, Rio or Rome — there’s no limit to the human capacity for the homing sentiment. Theologians, sky pilots, astronauts have even felt the appeal of home calling to them from up above, in the cold black outback of interstellar space.

Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire.

Where I am now does not feel like home. I hoped it would, but it doesn’t. It is the place where I currently live. I live in a caravan, which is an object. The caravan is in a park on Bribie Island, which is a location. Neither the domicile nor the location is home. I’m not even sure these days what, or where, home might be for me. Or even where it was.

Every place I’ve ever considered to be home has been taken from me or I have had to leave it behind. Every place I’ve been happy, I’ve had to abandon. As child I moved with my parents wherever their aspirations led. As a young man I followed employment opportunities and my own romantic hopes. For the last eleven years I’ve gone again where necessity sent me, albeit of my own free will. I have found the occasional Happy Place, where I can enjoy being alive and communing with the natural world in some positive heart-lightening way, but I have had no home in that time. No place where I could look around me and say “This is where I belong. This is where I shall stay”.

Looking back I realise I have been searching for such a place since I was a child exploring the hills and fields and streams of the Manawatu, and as a young man exploring the bush and beaches and under the seas around New Zealand

Also, of course, as I explored the possibilities of a shared life, relationships, offering and seeking love.

Home is more than a house, more than a place. It is people in familial and social relationships. Relationships which are enduring and settled. It turns out I’m not so good at maintaining relationships. Two failed marriages, other failed relationships, and very little constant contact or intercourse with family.

I’m not sure if this is caused by, or is what causes, depression.

Fortunately, or perhaps otherwise, I am comfortable and content in my own company. I don’t get lonely when I am alone. Even so, social interaction comes easily enough to me. I don’t have the difficulties that, for example, an autistic person might. I can be amusing, empathetic, and supportive. Caring. Nonetheless I cannot seem to get right the combination of interaction that will lead me to have constancy of companionship and the stability of location that feeling at home requires. Others move on. Or I must.

So here I am ageing, separated from friends and family, with my social interaction limited to a few short term acquaintances and virtual friends whom I no longer see in person or have never even met in the first place.

All I can do now is seek out a new Happy Place. One where I can stay. I have no idea what, or where it might be, though I have an inkling it must be somewhere on or near the sea. Most of my Happy Places have been. I find peace and contentment by the sea, or by water, more than anywhere else.

Does this introspective essay mean I am, after all, becoming lonely?

I have to think about that.