Category Archives: Musings

Just about life in general

COVID, EUROS and Australia Felix

 

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Surprise. COVID is the main topic of conversation

There is no surprise that COVID is the main topic of conversation on Twitter at least.  It’s not a nice place.  We have some Victorians being arseholes with their schadenfreude about Sydney having an outbreak.

Just because there were some NSW people being arseholes to us Victorians when we were in the midst of our peak last year it doesn’t mean that the same level of idiocy.  Victorians, and Melbournians especially copped plenty last year.  This was amplified by commentators/journalists who gave a serve to the Victorian government.  I commented on this last year and Tom Cowie describes best in his article:

Meanwhile, up in Sydney, a city which appeared to believe it would never have to shut down like Melbourne, the entire metropolitan area is poised to grind to a halt due to a growing COVID-19 outbreak.

Victorians have copped plenty from interstate over our handling of the pandemic, an experience that is reflected in the different views on what is unfolding in NSW.

One thing I’ve noticed on twitter is that a few Sydney people were – with very good reason – peeved (or worse) at the petty comments coming from Melbourne.

I think Sydney people may not have realised that there were quite a few Sydney people on social media taunting Melbourne when Victorian Health put up the increasing numbers of infected people and those who didn’t make it last year with their ‘Golden Standards’ GIFs and the like. Again. It doesn’t mean that Victorians should retaliate at that level, but it is understandable that some sort of resentment was built up. Especially when Melbourne was locked up with no end in sight. Which brings me to..

THAT Jon Faine article

Ex ABC Melbourne broadcaster Jon Faine wrote an article that raised a few heckles, especially in NSW.

The quote in the tweet I don’t think reflected the overall tone of the article. Faine is an humanist atheist, but there is a bit of being in a confessional there. “Forgive Me Father For I Have Sinned” in having some thoughts that are nasty but can’t help being in your head. I had them myself. Faine goes through those and outlines them and then realises that they are wrong. Perhaps more than a confessional is Gestalt psychology. Our whole being that is much greater than the parts that make up the individual. Our ‘bad thoughts’ are part of us. Recognise them and reject them.

Australia Felix….Heremiticus

In 1836 the Thomas Mitchell dubbed the lush pasture in parts of western Victoria he explored ‘Australia Felix’. (Implications of him being a PR man ‘selling’ Australia to the British and the consequent dispossession of the original inhabitants is something that needs to be noted here). But I would add another latin adjective ‘ heremiticus ‘ remote and secluded.

If there is one thing that Australians like are borders. And it seems like that this is across the political divide. From what I have observed on social media some people who railed against both the Liberal and Labor parties for border restrictions against asylum seekers are quite happy to advocate to slam their state borders to fellow Australians when there are a few COVID cases appearing. But worse is supporting Australians coming home. I can see how this can be dressed up by blaming Scott Morrison for not building purpose built quarantine stations or botching the vaccination, but the lack of empathy in some of the comments is not too far away from those right wingers who are happy thatwe have closed our borders to asylum seekers in the not too distant past.

People who can’t see their families are suffering out there. One example is Jill Stark who regularly tweets about her feelings of being prevented seeing her family in Scotland and how that affects her mental health.

Or ABC Reporter Catherine Murphy

And this is Catherine’s article she referred to.

Now for something different. Ange Postecoglou. From feather duster to rooster

Fortunately football is something I can turn to to get a break from all the COVID stuff. One of the biggest events in the last few weeks was the appointment of Ange Postecoglou to Celtic. Of course it’s a great appointment for an Australian coach, and I think most football people in Australia wants him to succeed. Maybe because of Ange, but also because there is a bit of the reputation of Australian football riding on this. When Postecoglou was appointed there was quite a bit of ‘What an Australian would know about football?’ So if he fails it would confirm this prejudice and probably would be bad news for any future Australian that would like to coach in Europe.

Social media is waxing lyrical about Ange and how good he’s going to be for Celtic. But I remember a time when Ange’s name was riled as the coach of the Socceroos. When in 2016 and 2017 Australia was having draws with Thailand and struggling against other Asian teams. The infamous ‘three at the back’ comments and plenty of commentators were advocating his sacking.

I am no football expert but Ange’s track record is that he’s done very well with teams he can coach day in day out where he can adopt his way of playing. I really hope he does well at Celtic.

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Olympics my out of field proposals

Olympic_Summer_Games_1968_Opening
By Sergio Rodriguez (Own work, upload pr OTRS) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

So the Rio Olympics are in its last days and I have been thinking about future games.

How can we make the games a bit more down to earth? I got a few ideas.

Heaps of sports have been clamouring for inclusion such as competitive ball room dancing (cleverly re-named ‘Dancesports’) and even Pole Dancing.  Being included in the Olympics gives a sport a huge boost in visibility and respectability.

But the trend seems to have gone the other way by the fact that sports with already a big profile outside the Olympics, such as Golf and Tennis have been added, in the hope that sports with high visibility would attract the sponsorship.

I think a major consideration to include a sport is whether countries with the lowest GDP could be in it.   Many sports such as equestrian events, swimming, and perhaps sailing are too expensive for many countries.  This is reflected by the fact that rarely if ever we see African countries with relatively low GDPs winning in these events while we do in the track, which requires low levels of infrastructure.

So what sports I would I add?

Tug of War

Tug of war was contested as a team event in the Summer Olympics at every Olympiad from 1900 to 1920..  Yes a quirky sport that now resides in images of school fetes and summer English fairs like on Midsomer Murders.

But now it is a well established sport and best of all it doesn’t require lots of equipment.Tick.  Doesn’t look like it requires huge amounts of money to participate. Tick. It is easy to watch on TV. Tick

Who wouldn’t want to see an Olympic sport that people drinking in pubs could think ‘I could do that’ ? It would be huge.

Orienteering

When I mentioned to introduce orienteering in the Olympics in a tweet I didn’t get much positive reactions.

 

But orienteering is a very skillful and demanding sport.  It involves running using a map and compass to navigate from point to point in diverse and usually unfamiliar terrain. Participants are given a map which they use to find control points.

Again it appears to me to be a low cost sport that can be open to most nations.

The reason why it was rejected as an Olympic sport was because of one thing: Television.  The Olympics are really a global TV event more than anything and orienteering is neither television- nor spectator-friendly, the venue of competition is often necessarily remote from major cities, and the duration of the event is longer than most other individual competitions. So it presents challenges for broadcasters and spectators to easily follow the competition, and there’s the main issue with orienteering.

But then I thought that technology now would allow remote small cameras to be positioned in strategic positions.  If we have cameras at Mountain Biking, cross country skiing and even in front of a formula one car, surely we can televise an event in the bush.  Sponsors logos could be displayed at each point.  They’d love it!

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Mixed Martial Arts (Modern Pankration)

pankration

While Tug of War and Orienteering are gentle sports, we need something that harks back to the Ancient Olympiads in Greece.

The founder of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, imbued in them very lofty ideals, but in the ancient Olympics games were  often brutal and one of these sport was the Pankration.

Pankration, which literary means ‘all force’, was a combination of wrestling and boxing. It was a dangerous sport, in which everything was permitted except biting, gouging (stabbing with your finger in your opponent’s eye, nose or mouth) and attacking the genitals.

It seems to me that MMA doesn’t sound too dissimilar from Pankration, so if we have modern versions of ancient games such as the Modern Pentathlon why not a Modern Pankration?

An advantage of a MMA type sport is its popularity is across the world.  The following table shows countries ranking in 2015.

Now I’ve no idea what all that data means, but it appears to me that this sport is popular across the world and as such would be perfect for the Olympic Games.

MMA.jpg

However there is no denying that MMA is a ‘full on sport’ not for the faint hearted.  If even a ‘gentler’ version of boxing has had the Australian Medical Association calling for a ban at the Olympics imagine how images of competitors of doing the ‘Ground and Pound’ would go down amongst the more sensitive amongst us. Would this be something that parents may be comfortable their children seeing a competitor being knocked unconscious by a kick and then being set upon and punched until there is blood coming out of the mouth or nose?  Not exactly the image the Olympic movement wants to portray I think.  The Modern Pankration, like amateur boxing may have to be modified from its professional MMA version, although what the genuine devotees of MMA would think of this I don’t know. Some have argued that without the extreme aspect of the sport you  may as well leave it to current martial art Olympic sports such as  judo, taekwondo, boxing and wrestling.  Also in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Karate will be included, so it seems that the ‘mixed martial arts’ are in the Olympics but just not mixed.

 

I am not a fan of MME or martial arts in general.  Must admit that having it in the Olympics would be just entertaining seeing the outrage. It would attract lots of attention.  And while it is brutal, these are superb athletes and no one is forcing them to do MME.  They do it out of their free will. They know the risks and how to protect themselves.

Brisbane 2028

ananas

When the decision where the 2000 Olympics was going to be held was to be announced I was in Italy.  I remember watching a sport program on  TV and there were Italian athletes and journalists and when they were asked where they thought the Olympics should be held, while all the journalists went for Beijing (being more ‘exciting’) all the athletes went for Sydney.

Many have been to Australia already for competitions and they knew what a perfect place it was for Sport.

Brisbane is a perfect place for the athletes. Not only Australia has proven time and time again that it is a top notch place when it comes to organise sporting events, but it is clean, safe and with a population who loves sport.

No issues with polluted water for the open swimming events.  The ocean is beautiful. Crime rates are relatively low.  The climate around September-October is perfect. We will see with the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games what a great event it will be.

Are you serious?

Of course I have been a bit tongue in cheek in this post. But underlying it there are a serious issues.  The point is that the Olympics have grown to be gigantic monsters that while may attract prestige and the world’s attention for 2 weeks they have become hideously expensive often leaving cities into debt.

My argument about sports such as Tug of War and Orienteering is that these are accessible sports that while perfect to adhere to an Olympic ideal of allowing maximum participation will not be at the Olympics because they lack ‘star’ quality or are difficult to televise.

Sports like Golf (that require huge areas of land for the course) and Tennis (who have already a well established professional circuit which rewards its champions with millions) have been added to appease sponsors who want the ‘big stars’ at the Olympics.

Sports like MMA will not happen because despite being hugely popular there are limits of what the Olympics image will accept. Nosebands and double bridles cause unnecessary pain and suffering to horses during equestrian events, which have no say in it, while MMA athletes who are perfectly willing and aware of the risks involved may not fit the ‘image’.

Cities like Brisbane who could host Olympics which are athletes oriented will be shunned for those with air pollution problems such as Beijing, or social ones such as Rio de Jaineiro because of their profile and geopolitical power games.

An article in today’s Sunday Age by Greg Baum explains it.

It is hard not to conclude that dazzling as they are, the Olympic Games have failed in their mission. They take more than they give, meantime asking us to be willingly credulous. They must start again. Perversely enough, straitened Rio might have shown the way. What these Games lack might crystallise to some extent what was excessive and superfluous anyway.

The opening ceremony showed how less can be more. The gravy train looked to have slowed. The IOC nabobs were less ostentatiously obvious here than their FIFA counterparts two years ago. Way down the chain, amenities in the press rooms, for instance, were more spartan, and yet we got by. Duchessing media is a bit of an Olympic Games staple, but not in Rio, and kudos to the cariocas for that.

The question is whether the Olympics may suffer from the same sense of anger we have seen through Brexit and Donald Trump.  Will there be an increase of the proportion of people around the world that will resent seeing huge amounts of money being spent on things such as the Olympics while their own financial situation is getting worse.

If the Olympics are to become sustainable they must stop being an expensive two weeks sugar hit for cities and sponsors.  Athletes want to compete and all they need is adequate facilities and support. And perhaps simple accessible relatively inexpensive sports such as tug of war are not such a bad idea after all.

 

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16 November 2005

I don’t know why I got so involved in the Australian National football Team.

I was what I am totally the opposite now, an eurosnob didn’t follow the NSL (until Carlton SC came on the scene but that’s another story) and followed the VFL instead.

I came to Australia in 1974, right in the middle of Australia’s World Cup campaign. And I wasn’t that into football in Italy anyway. Of course I followed a team. Both my grandfather and my father were very keen AC Milan fans. Both of them were life members (AC Milan was created three years after my grandfather was born) and my father would tell me stories when in his youth he would be part of the group of fans travelling with the team across Italy and even digging snow off the pitch on occasions so a match could occur.

But I was hopeless in sports. I was a fat kid who was always picked last in teams at school, or even worse not picked at all and the teachers had to force one team to take me to the protests of ‘Oh not him!” from other kids. And in any case Italy was (and is) obsessed with the sport and I sort of rebelled against it. It was only the connection with my father that created a link, even went to San Siro with him as a child.

So coming to Australia the fact that it wasn’t a ‘football country’ didn’t really bother me. My father dismissed the local football and inferior and didn’t want to get involved with the local community anyway, so no APIA or Marconi. He wanted to be a middle class Australian, so we went to live in the white fence blandness of the North Shore.

But while I also was a eurosnob of sorts, the National Team somehow took my interest. I wasn’t really aware of the campaign for 1978 World Cup in Argentina (those 4 years were a blur, settling in a new country, learning English and at the end of it moving to Melbourne and doing my HSC). But by 1982 I was really in a ‘I want to belong to Australia’ mode. I felt comfortable in my new home in Melbourne and while was following the VFL (as it was then) not local football, the sport still resonated in my as the sport of my culture. Later I recognised that the sport of football provides a link to my heritage, to my family, to my childhood, even if I was hopeless at it and never really played it. And while perhaps I could not find that link in local teams, the national team could link my past with my present. The National team was representing my new country with a sport of my heritage and the emotional connections that entailed. So it became much more than just a sport.

I remember the first feeling of utter disappointment when New Zealand beat Australia 0-2 to progress in their World Cup qualifications and eliminate Australia.

And then of course the other failures (culminating in 1997). But the thing that galled me was how these results were met with an overall indifference amongst the population, but even worse how many were actually gleeful about it “ha ha Australian is shit at soccer”. The fact that there were Australians who were actually chortling about one of their national team losing astounded me, and proved how in many people’s eyes the sport was not part of the country’s make up, was something foreign, and somehow this made me feel alienated and foreign too.

Football in Australia was stuck in a rut. Then Crawford report arrived and the game was in a state of reform. Lowy got involved and whatever people think of him he got Hiddink and many of us believed that this was our time.

Even if we lost again I wanted to be there. At least I would be in a stadium full of depressed people like me, rather than alone or in indifference. And I wanted my father to be with me. After all he was the real reason why I had a link to football and I am sure he would have enjoyed a match with players of a calibre he would have approved.

The fact that we didn’t lose by heaps in Montevideo meant that at least we had a chance. I went to the newsagency near work to get a ticket (before the days of buying them online) and somehow I looked for omens. There were none. There were a couple of people before me buying tickets too, that is all.

My wife, my young son left for Sydney. I think it was Tuesday, but not sure. It would be a weekend away for my wife who couldn’t care less about the match (and sport in general) and my son who was too young to be involved. My parents were to join us later. I remember that I got really nice cheap accommodation in Stanmore I remember that the night before the match my parents and us had Chinese takeway in our room which is a really nice memory. I remember that the day of the match, we took the ferry to Manly and the weather was promising rain and my father and I bought some $2 ponchos just in case it rained at the match. All I remember is the tension, how we had lunch at some touristy fish place in Manly and I didn’t feel like eating.

Finally we took the ferry back to Circular Quay and I started to see people in green and gold, and also in the Uruguayan Celeste. It was time to go. I donned my green and gold beanie, which was knitted by my mom decades earlier. I looked absolutely ridiculous and my wife said that I shouldn’t be seen in public with that. Then there was confusion about which train to take to Homebush and the whole tension erupted. I hardly get angry but I was on the edge. “We are in Circular Quay and Homebush is a major station and we can’t find the fucking train?” All of my contingent look at me startled. Years later my mother would tell me that she had to fight hard not to laugh. She thought the sight of a grown man of 44 year old man with a green and gold tea cosy on his head going off in a train station was hilarious. Anyway we got a train to Central I think and We finally got on the train to the stadium.

The train was packed and hot. No place to sit and I was worried about my 80 years old father, and the fact that no one offered him a seat. I thought whether to ask someone but I think that at the end he would have been too proud to accept.

We finally arrive. There is a festive atmosphere. We get to our seats which were near one of the corners. There was a really vibe, you could feel the wave of eagerness coming from the crowd. The Australian national anthem is played. I sing wholeheartedly with thousands of other people. The Uruguayan anthem gets played and gets booed and I say to my father that that is not right. Just because the Australian one was booed in Montevideo it doesn’t mean that we should do the same. But I can sense that we had enough. Being ‘nice guys’ had got us nowhere. If going to the World Cup meant being nasty as well so be it.

I can’t remember much of the match. Except that Bresciano’s goal was at the other end. Sometimes when I am so far from the action I am not really sure that the goal has gone into the net and I rely on the reaction of the players and the crowd. We are even … and we’re at home. But the experience of the previous decades has shown that being hopeful is dangerous. I can remember the endless Uruguayan attacks and corners where just a brief distraction of an Australian defence would have unravelled all the dreams. Extra time. I think that if we go to penalties what a cruel way to go out, but how typical.

My recollection of the penalties is again vague. Except that they were again on the other side of the ground. I was dazed and confused I don’t know who can win where except that I rejoiced at all Schwarzer’s saves and Australia’s goals.
My father that while he enjoyed the match didn’t have the same emotional response. Cool as a cucumber after Zalayeta misses and Aloisi walks to the penalty spot. “Se l’Australia segna vince la partita” “If Australia scores they win” he just says, like that. With the same tone of voice as ‘pass me the salt’.

The feeling of when something good happens suddenly after stress is often what you don’t expect. Relief is the first thing I think I felt. I jumped up. There was pandemonium all around me which I think was replicated all over the stadium. Men’s at Work ‘DownUnder’ starts playing and here I am a 44 year old man in a funny beanie jumping up and down singing along. The experience was sufficient for my father. He didn’t have the emotional baggage that I carried with me for the past 30 years, he said to me that he was going home but it was fine for me to stay. Of course I wanted to stay I wanted to soak up the atmosphere as much as possible. He left and amongst the euphoria I felt somewhat guilty to let a 80 year old man go back to the city from Homebush on his own. “Non preoccupati” “Don’t worry” he says, and he leaves the joyous group and my ‘Man at work’. I see a man in an Uruguayan shirt leaving too. Instinctively without thinking I reach him and shake his hand. He seems to appreciate the gesture. To this day I wonder why I did that. Perhaps because it must be tough being an Uruguayan supporter amongst all the joyous mayhem.

The team leaves the ground. Time to go some stadium staff hover around, they want to go home even if some people don’t want to There is a huge crush at Homebush stadium a lady from a balcony above who looks like a staff member try to start a ‘Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi!’ chant and was told quite unkindly that these were mot the Olympics. Train also packed but the mood is boyant but also tired. We are all exausted. People on the phone ringing friends “Mate..we are going to Germany, don’t know how we did it but we did…I am going there if it kills me…”

I arrive at Central and there is no direct train to Stanmore. It’s almost midnight now. I think I have to go to Wynyard then a train home. I get to the Lodge at 1am. It’s locked and I wasn’t expecting to be this late. I get to the back and call my wife’s names with those strange loud whispers thinking I may have to spend the night outside, fortunately she hears me and opens the door. I am sweaty and thirsty, but the shower is locked and only to be opened at 8. So have no choice to go to bed like that. But it doesn’t matter. Tonight at least, the sport of my childhood, is Australia’s sport.

This is what I wore at the match. Including THE beanie.

This is what I wore at the match. Including THE beanie.

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HELP! I am hooked on anti soccer hate following

I nonchalantly scroll the tweets.  Yes Abbott is a douchebag.  Yes, Murdoch is the embodiment of evil……Soccer crowds are violent and un-Australian…WHAT?!  I can feel the adrenaline surging. Who said that. There is a link? it must be oh God this is great!  I am going to feel angry and pissed off!!

Why do I get this rush when there is an anti-soccer article?  Why do I respond?  Why do get hooked in the arguments when I know they are ultimately irrelevant and they say the same thing over and over?

The internet is so good for a soccer hate junkie like me.  You got the immediacy of twitter, and the longer explanations in Facebook.  Then there are the comments after an article from an online newspaper.  These are the best because you get those who have never been to a match and mix their xenophobia with soccer hating. Oh Joy!  two things I can’t stand in one!!  What a perfect combination!  And we are so lucky to have the Herald Sun whose readers are constant fodder for inane anti soccer comments and bigotry.

Yes I am Guido Tresoldi and I am a soccer hate follower.  I feel dirty but I HAVE TO search for Malcolm Conn tweets.  I don’t follow him…but I do searches of him.  I have to have a hit….

Oh yes …give it to me Malcolm…give me more!  You mean beast!!  We haven’t had anything from Rita Panahi for so long!!

But dismissing some Cricket Media guy with an agenda or an AFL loving Andrew Bolt wannabee from some outer suburban area of Melbourne is one thing.  But what about when they are people that you usually admire? WHAT ABOUT IF THEY BELONG TO YOUR POLITICAL SIDE?!!

John Birmingham hasn’t written anti soccer articles for a very long time.  Last Monday article by Martin McKenzie-Murray doesn’t count, as he likes football.  The fact that he writes of the lefty publication The Saturday Paper  and that article was written in the Guardian  – another lefty newspaper – that it is usually quite pro football,  has created conflicted feelings for an Australian Guardianista like me.  However this article did gave a free kick (see what I did there?) to authentic soccer haters to jump in.  Martin may not have realised it but he did a Graham Richardson.  You know when you are a Labor person but writes anti-ALP articles in an anti ALP paper so that the anti ALP people can have verification of their own beliefs.   And of course another writer that is politically on my side Bernard Keane that writes for Crikey.

Bernard is someone who just doesn’t like soccer.    HE REALLY HATES IT.  Must admit that poor Bernard, looking from his profile photoes, looks like a chap that hates lots of things. Cheer up Bernard.  Nevertheless if I have to boycott the Saturday Paper, the Guardian and Crikey what a Chardonnay, caffelatte sipping, middle class, teritary educated, chattering class, lovvie, inner suburban living socialist like me is supposed to read?

I can’t stop.  I hate it but I love it at the same time.  I agree with some on people that follow me on twitter that responding is a waste of time but something inside me compels me to type a response.

I am not alone in this of course.  Most of the people that I follow on twitter are left leaning as well.  And I see them trawling through the Murdoch papers being ourtaged by the ilks of Miranda Devine.  And on Sunday mornings my timeline is flooded by irate tweets of people watching Gerard Henderson on Insider or even more hard core, the Bolt Report.

Actually this phenomenon has been well documented.  It seems that for some of us the feeling of feeling angry and outraged is addictive.  It must release some chemicals in the brain.  Monique Schafter did a report on it on the ‘Big Beast’ a while ago.

So Soccer haters.  Go forth and tweet!

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Cricket. I tried, but you’re just not my type.

Congratulations on Australia winning the Cricket World Cup.  Despite not following this sport I am always glad when an Australian team wins a top tournament.

In my previous post I did state that in my opinion the Australian cricket team is not reflective of the current cultural diversity of Australia.  Nevertheless cricket remains is a very important aspect of not only sporting culture but Australian culture as a whole.  It was a sport that defined Australia, especially as a way to differentiate itself from the mother country.  Australia might have been “British to the bootstraps” as Menzies said, but it loved beating the Poms.

I had no concept of the game of cricket before I came to Australia.  It happened that my first Australian summer of 1974- 75  the Ashes were on.  All I remember in the haze of that first summer Christmas, was that every time I turned ABC TV on there seems to be this game on.  I remember my family asking ourselves if these were different matches played over days.  We were aghast when at a work Christmas party we were told that in fact it was one match over five days.

 

It was when we came to Melbourne four years later than I decided to understand this game.  This early Melbourne period constituted my ‘assimilation period’  I had another chance to make this country my own and therefore try to participate in the Australian society.  I liked Australian Rules immediately, so cricket was next.

I would watch an hour or so of test cricket on TV.  I would listen to it on the radio.  A friend of mine drew the positions names on a transparency sheet so I could stuck it on the inside of my windscreen and take a quick peak when they talked about ‘backward point’ or ‘deep square leg’.  Of course I was living where the cathedral of cricket, the MCG, was located.  My late brother in law was a MCG member, a legacy of when his mother put his name down on the waiting list during the 1956 Olympics.  So he and I went to see a couple of day matches (one against India I remember) and I also went to a test match on the day after Boxing Day.

But despite all my efforts the game did not grip me.

It gave me an appreciation of it.  I understood what a tactical game it is.  The fact that the ball and the pitch change their characteristics over time and therefore tactics need to change.  The fact that captains have to change the way they place their players depending on what they see the strengths and weaknesses of a player.  Whether to use fast bowling or spin.  But for me what impressed me most were the batsmen.  I can’t think of any other sport where you are facing an opponent on your own (apart the other batsmen who is opposite, but apart from running can’t really help you when you are facing a bowler) with twelve members of the opposing team around you (and a wicketkeeper just behind, ready to pounce).  In other team sports you have your team mates around you.  In cricket all of them bar one are looking at you from a balcony.  It is truly a test of character.

And of course I can understand why a test game is a ‘test’.  Standing on a field for hours (especially if it is sunny an hot) and maintain concentration for a whole day is an effort that requires Guru qualities.

But somehow the game’s ebbs and flows couldn’t sustain enough interest for me.  So I stopped trying.  Sport is supposed to be fun, not hard work.

Maybe is my Italian background.  When my team, AC Milan, was formed by the Englishman Alfred Ormonde Edwards, he named it as ‘ Milan Foot-Ball and Cricket Club’.  But once the Italians starting running the club the cricket was quickly forgotten (despite this Italy has a Cricket Federation which is an associate member of the International Cricket Council).

In the words of 10cc I may not ‘love cricket’ but at least I gave it a go.

 

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How lucky I am. Without Wifi

I am writing this in a holiday home on the South Gippsland coast without any wifi.  I’ll post this when I will have access to it but I must admit this self enforced withdrawal from social media is beneficial.

The lure of Twitter and Facebook is to be continuously sucked into the vortex of opinions, information and often outrage.  My brain is continously bombarded with stuff, and I can’t get away from it.  I am addicted to it.  Like the gambler wanting to know what the next push of the button will bring to the poker machine, I am addicted to the continous stream of data emanating from social media.

So this enforced break from it is a form of detox.  One thing that social media prevents me from doing is blogging (that I am doing now) and reading.  I’ve been on holidays for four days and I’ve already finished a book and started another.  My nights are filled with turning the pages of a real book, rather than scrolling my iPad to read my twitter feed.

The other bad influence of social media is that I go to bed really late. So late in fact that most Australian tweeters disappear from my timeline and only the Italian ones remains.  This means that I average 5 hours of sleep per night.  Here I’ve slept 8 to 9 hours, easy.  And the main thing is that I’ve allowed my brain to dream more, I do wonder whether my longer sleep period has allowed a more natural pattern of sleep periods.  People sometimes say that they don’t dream.  Of course they do, their brains could not operate without dreaming, but often we don’t remember them. But here I’ve had lots that I remember.  One very pleasant one was that I was 21 again and back at Uni doing a degree in musical history.  The fact that I dreamt that I was in a lecture theatre learning about Italian Renaissance music rather than at the pub is something that some analysis may reveal.

Will this pattern of reading and sleeping more and use social media less continue once I am back at home with readily accessible wifi and internet?  We will have to see.  Not putting pressure on myself.  I am just between tweets.

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2014 – Annus horribilis

How many hours until the end of 2014? I am counting the minutes. Sorry 2014, I hate you. I can’t see the back of you and yes. It is personal.

The wrong foot

To be fair some things were being carried over from the previous year, like my father’s health, but 2014 started on the wrong foot. Almost literally.
I think it was the first day of 2014 when I felt a slight bump in my leg that was painful to touch. I remember it because it was at a party that is given every year by a good friend of ours. Initially I thought it was a bite and thought nothing of it. But then in my foot became painful and swollen. It looked like cellulitis which I had on that foot before. So I went to the doctor which prescribed some antibiotics. The foot improved a bit but not much. Another round of antibiotics and another slight improvement. The doctor then thought that there may be another reason for it and she suspected a blood clot somewhere. So off to an ultrasound that day, just in case it was deep vein thrombosis, but fortunately the clot was not in a deep vein but what’s termed ‘Superficial thrombophlebitis’. I thought nothing of it. Until I did a ‘fatal’ mistake. I googled it. I saw the possible causes. Some trauma to the leg, sitting too long but then the clincher ‘cancer of the pancreas’. That immediately raised my anxiety, but considering I felt fine I thought that may be unlikely. In the meantime the doctor prescribed me some anti-coagulants. These were not to be taken by a cheerful pill with my tea. These were a course of pre packaged injections that I had to inject myself by pinching my stomach flab and putting the needle in there to inject the content. Some days it went well. Some days it went horribly wrong which meant that my tummy, ugly in the best of days, looked like it had been rolled by a cultipacker.
So my second ultrasound and to the doctor. The clot was still there. So she suggested I go and see a hematologist. She rings him. I hear her. I hear ‘Mmmm..CT scan of the abdomen’ my heart start racing. CT scan. Abdomen’ it means one thing. Possibility of cancer of the pancreas. What Google said it was true. I feel faint. I breathe heavily. I feel dizzy. The doctor ends the call. She sees me and she obviously sees my distress and she takes me to a quiet area to lie down. She tries to be reassuring and says to me that there could be a variety of reasons why I have that blood clot. But all I can think is ‘cancer’. I feel like I am trapped. I can’t breathe and I can’t escape. What was a normal life before has changed. All I can see is misery in front of me. The doctor orders some blood tests and she says let’s look at those and let’s see. She asks me to come back on the day after the next to discuss results. I can’t remember those two days but they are a blur of anxiety. I ask my partner to come with me to the doctor and take notes. My partner has had some fairly major health issues in the past, done stacks of tests thinks I am ridiculous. In the waiting room it’s hell. My partner orders me to go outside for a while. I come in, the doctor calls us. She says “from the results of your blood test they are normal and they show there’s nothing majorly wrong with you’. When you get that news you don’t feel relief straight away. You feel some sort of numbness. Perhaps the stress chemicals in the brain are still there. My partner as a somewhat an annoyed ‘I told you so’ look on her face’. Knowing me she writes everything of what the doctor says on the notepad so if any doubts start springing in my anxious mind I can read them again. But while the doctor is not concerned about my physical health, she is about my mental health. She believes I have a form of generalised anxiety disorder and she suggest a Medicare rebate for me to see a psychologist under Mental Health Treatment Plan. My partner nods approvingly.
My travails do not end there because the hematologist orders some ‘coagulation’ blood tests. And I did read on Google that an indication of possible pancreas cancer is change of coagulation in the blood. My brain is so predisposed to anxiety that despite my GP having told me that ‘there is nothing majorly wrong with me’. I fall back into the same pattern of anxiety as before. Same anxious waiting for results, same anxious waiting rooms. Finally in the end of February the hematologist calls me and tells me ‘I have good news you coagulation indicators are all normal’ he prescribes over the counter low dosage aspirin. It’s over.

My job. The rug is pulled the rug out from under my feet.

Despite what was happening in my life. My hypochondria, deaths in the family, problems at home. There was a place where I found a stable place and that was my job. I love my job and I found my employer to be a fairly benign one, considering others that I’ve worked for.
I see now Easter as the only island of peace in 2014. My health issues seemed resolved and I spent a great time relaxing at Kirra Beach near the Gold Coast. Then back to work. I have heard that there were restructures going on at Melbourne University. But in January/February we were reassured by our bosses that the library would not be touched by what was termed as the ‘Business Improvement Plan’ (BIP). The library had gone through a redundancy process just two years previously, and the reason for the BIP was because the administrative units of the University increased their staff numbers substantially, more than predicted, while the library actually reduced staff in the same period.
Then, after Easter we were all called to a ‘town hall meeting’ this was for all professional staff (that is not the academics) in a huge lecture theatre. As I was going I thought that it was just an update on the BIP. The Vice Chancellor talked about the need to concentrate on research and teaching and learning and avoid duplication. He mentioned that about 500+ jobs had to go. But I sort of knew that. It was that bloated administrative sector right? I came back to my desk. Saw an email from my boss convening a meeting for next Friday about the BIP and thought nothing more of it.
We came to the meeting and my boss had a dour face. She handed out a discussion document about the BIP. She immediately said ‘it’s bad’. You know when you read something and for an instant when the brain communicates the information on the page to your conscious and it goes blurry for a microsecond, maybe because your brain releases anxiety chemicals that must make dilate your pupils.
The library was not going to be quarantined by the BIP process. On the contrary, it was going to be hit hard. Not only that my team was going to be hit particularly hard. The shock amongst the staff was palpable. Knowing of redundancies is bad enough, but to be told we were safe and then suddenly we are not magnified the stress. I’ve been through redundancies processes before and they are never pretty. What happens is that the mood and atmosphere of a workplace changes radically immediately. From what was one of the most cheerful and happy workplaces it became dark and dispiriting. We were told the news on a Friday and I remember the following Monday was the first time since I’ve been working at the University that I didn’t look forward coming to work. From a place where people happily discussed their work and life it became one where people looked at organizational charts to see where their job was. A place where rumor started to whiz around. When facing redundancy any thought of the future stops. Any discussion of possible project has to be preceded by the statement ‘If I will be here next year’. But for me it was more. Perhaps I shouldn’t, but work at the Library is something I love and has been a steadying influence in my life. Whatever happened at home, or anywhere else I found that work provided a steady part of my life and now that was gone.
So it was six months of this uncertainty. It started in May and by late October we had our ‘new’ position descriptions. Then there was a frenzy of preparing a CV (a very different one from those I was used to. It had to be 2 pages at most). Then getting ready for the interview. Meanwhile my rational brain was going ‘it is inevitable. Organisations go through restructures. This is not based on performance’. But then (especially when the selection process and we were right in the middle of what Sarah Ferguson aptly described ‘the shark pools’ – as the same process happened for the ABC) when we were selected and pitted against our colleagues it became a merit thing. And I was angry. Angry that this was the third time I had to apply for the job. That I had done well and I was at risk to be turfed out. That all the effort to finally get a job I liked, try to do the best in it was going to be all for nothing.
This process was a take all or nothing. Apart for my first job at the University, every time I applied for something I knew that if I was unsuccessful I had a position. But not this time. If I was made redundant I would not only lost a job I loved, but I would be out. And 53 I feared I would not get another one. Let alone a job I really liked.
Finally on the 2nd of December almost after seven months of feeling unsettled and anxious I got the call that I was being offered a position. Basically same level and pay. Perhaps more work. But I will take it. To say I was relieved was an understatement. But right on queue another event was brewing. Something that was inevitable and predicted but sad nevertheless.

Goodbye Papá

My father had been sick for some time. In fact he was not well for most of 2013. Nothing specific. He was old. In January he was bedridden and the GP came to visit him at home. ‘He’ll last a couple of months’ we were told. But my father had other ideas. He plugged on and about May went to hospital and a young gastroenterologist noticed his salt levels were low. New medicines and my father got a new lease of life. He was not jumping around, but at least was able to be aware and converse. At one stage he was even able to walk around the floor of his apartment with his stroller.
But his deterioration was evident. He eventually stopped walking. He started to sleep all the time again. He ate less and less of the food my mother was lovingly preparing for him. He was extremely thin, but he was still at home for his 89th birthday in November.
My mother, despite feeling depressed as seeing her partner of more than 60 years fading away, was determined to keep him at home as long as possible. But eventually the amount of care my father needed and his condition dictated that he had to go to hospital. This was just a few days after I knew I got my job.
The hospital stay was brief. The doctors realised that my father now needed palliative care for his last few days and was moved to the Caritas Christi Hospice. There I talked to him even if he barely responded knowing that the dying can hear. I talked to him of the usual things we talked about, soccer mainly. AC Milan won 2-0 against Napoli.
On Thursday the 18th of December I went to visit him after work. He was just sleeping. But as I left I said “buonanotte papá!’ and his eyes opened and he answered in a muffled way the best he could ‘buonanotte!’
Good night. That was his farewell as the next day at lunchtime, as I was getting to a work Christmas function my mother called me to tell me that it would be better for me to come. My father was in what medical science calls Cheyne–Stokes respiration, a type of breathing that occurs just before death. It came to me how breathing signifies birth and death. As the baby takes his first breath in pain so the breath of the dying is hard work. As my mother, my sister and my niece talked his breathing steadied. The nurse told us that people near death can hold on if they hear loved ones around, it may be a few hours. So my mother tells my sister and I to go home and come back later. I go home, make some toast while I watch the news. My phone rings. My mother tells me that my father passed away.
I didn’t feel devastatingly sad. But a huge person in my life, someone that has been with me always was gone. I was grateful that he lived a long life and loved by all. Something he didn’t have in his childhood.
It was the 19th of December. The Friday before Christmas. I didn’t like the summer Christmas anyway but this year I hated it passionately. As I passed all the office parties I felt a sense of alienation and exhaustion.

Please let me breathe next year

It is sort of appropriate that the death of my father came practically at the end of the year. A horrible year. A year punctuated by anxiety, anger and sadness. All I ask for the next one is nothing special. Just tranquility, I’d love boredom. I talked about life and breath before. That’s what I need. I need to catch my breath. I need to breathe again.

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Gough Whitlam – a vision of my Australia

National_Tally_Room_1974

 


The 29th of June 1974 was the day a Qantas 747 landed in Sydney, and me in my new country. I didn’t know who was the Prime Minister, what were the parties, how the Australian political system worked. Unbeknown to me I happened to land in Australia two years after a Labor government came to power after almost 30 years of conservative rule, and that that government was forced to another election just a month or so before my arrival.

To understand the political system of Australia wasn’t on top of my priorities. A new country, a new language, a new school were things that occupied my 13 year old mind. I watched this figure on the news but could not understand the commentary, but I figured out that he must have been important.

As time progressed and started to understand a bit more I could read big headlines on the paper, and talked about Khemlani and I also remember the kerfuffle about Julie Morosi and Jim Cairns. My father who was a convinced assimilationist was determined to be like everyone else. He was a business migrant, he was to set up a factory and be the general manager. No Italian Leichhardt for him. It was the leafy staunch middle class northern suburbs of Sydney, with a house and a pool.

Naturally everyone around us was a true blue Liberal and hated Gough Whitlam guts. Of course it would have been different if we did venture to Leichhardt, but my father was determined to mix with the locals, so our impression was that Whitlam was very unpopular. I did have a sense that he was blamed for things that he didn’t have much control about. Coming from Italy and Europe reeling in economic crisis after the OPEC oil shocks I knew that the relatively high inflation and unemployment had a global cause. This gave me the first taste of an Australian sense of isolation. That the causes were not just from here. Something that fortunately seems to have changed in the 80’s.

But I guess after years of low inflation and low unemployment Whitlam got blamed for it. This piece of bad luck was recognised by many while remembering Whitlam’s government this week.

On the 11th of November 1975 I was in 3rd form (as year 8 was called then) at Crows Nest Boys High School, and I think I sensed something important happened when I saw the screaming headlines of ‘The Sun’ as I was waiting for a bus in Miller St in front of the Newsagent near Ridge St in North Sydney. I was unmoved. I failed to grasp the significance of the event in Australian politics, and coming from Italy where governments were falling all the time I didn’t see what the fuss was about.

Only afterwards, as my Australian political awareness grew I started to realise how important this man was. Apart from the social justice, I realised how his government went out of his way to make people like me welcome. I heard the notion of multiculturalism, and saw Whitlam attending functions of ethnic groups and this made me feel welcome. A big difference from the ‘Team Australia’ of today. The unsavoury nature of Al Grassby is now known. But back then I saw this colourful character who was on my side, and he did introduce important changes. By the 1977, even if I was too young to vote, I was firmly on his side.

But personally the passing of Gough Whitlam means that another important aspect of my ‘first Australia’ has gone. As many at my age look back at their childhood and youth with fondness, forgetting the bad bits. My life between 1974 and 1977 was alienating, lonely and sad, but it had the potential of the future, something that diminishes faster and faster as you get older.

And I sense that in the words used to remember Gough Whitlam echoed this sense of loss. Not only of the man, but also of the optimism and the potential of the future that he represented. As I was young I knew that despite the bad times, I had the potential of the future, to shape my life. Whitlam did the same with Australia.

Even conservative politicians and commentators mentioned this fact this week. Whitlam liberated Australia, from the fear of the outside. It told people that it could control its future and destiny. I feel this continued after his government. Fraser and of course the Hawke-Keating governments continued this trend.

For me, this Australia came to an end on 24 August 2001. It took a container ship which rescued a few asylum seekers, an opportunistic Prime Minister to rekindle the dormant fear that seems to be part of the Australian psyche. The attack on New York World Trade Centre just a few weeks later completed the process of turning the optimistic and outward looking Australia Whitlam started back into a scared little country.

So maybe as we remember a great visionary man, someone somewhere will be inspired to become a leader and take back Australia to the trajectory first initiated by Edward Gough Whitlam.

 

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Death, taxes….and redundancy.

 

In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.
Benjamin Franklin

 

In my situation I would add a third thing. Redundancy.  I am thinking this as I am now facing my third redundancy in my working life.  I guess some have faced more (some of my colleagues had faced this situation only three years ago).  But then I know lots of people who have been working in the same organisation for more than 20 years and never ever faced the R word I wonder “how have they done it?’

Redundancy comes in uninvited, suddenly and in this case unexpectedly.  In the first case it was the election of the Jeff Kennett government that did me in when he decided to swathe through the Public Service with an axe in Genghis Khan fashion.   I was fortunate to get a job community organisation work almost immediately afterwards.  But ironically, where the first time I was made redundant by a Liberal government, this time it was (indirectly) the advent of a Labor government which was the cause of my demise.  This community organisation, hostile to the Liberals was very close to the ALP, and this meant more funding which meant that they could pay more for someone much more experienced than me. So out I went.

So when in May we got the news that despite what we have been told just a few months earlier we were facing a staff downsizing/restructure/redundancy process I went  ‘oh no, not again’.  I must done something terrible in a work situation in a previous life.  Maybe I was an evil boss who sacked lots of people and made them destitute.

The big difference this time is that when I was made redundant before, in both of those cases while unpleasant (especially in the first one where I was ‘targeted’ and I was the only one laid off in my team) I already made up my mind that I wanted to change my career and become a librarian.  Just that the decision to leave was not mine and earlier than I would have liked.

Getting a job at a university was such a godsend.  It was a fairly basic job. Copy cataloguing in what it was termed as the ‘technical’ section.  Which meant working as a library tecnician downoading records, printing and sticking barcodes and labels on the books etc.  it was not an onerous job. But I was working in my preferred academic library, and it was a start.  But it meant even more because after the storms I experienced in the previous years it was such a great feeling finding a steady job, a desk to go to in the morning, having a role, working amongst other people.  I didn’t care that I was at the ‘bottom of the ladder’ I had a job in the library. And that was enough for me.  Eventually I after a few tries and knock-backs I got the job I wanted after nine years of working there.  And here I am after five years facing losing it.  I guess I have to be philosophical.  There are lots of people in the world that never had a chance to work in their ‘ideal job’.  At least I had that experience, even if it represents only 17.2% of my total working life.

I felt that my employer was quite a good one.  Some of my colleagues didn’t agree with me, but I guess after working in the public service with Jeff Kennett as Genghis Khan if felt quite nice.  But in the back of my mind I knew it couldn’t last.  Eventually the R word would catch up with me again.  I knew that it happened to other sections where I worked so it could happen to me, and it has.  The brutal reality of corporate economics means that positions have to cut back.  No more Mr. Nice Guy.

This job that I love didn’t just fell on my lap.  I had to go and get it. And now as I submit my CV again and hope I do well in an interview I am thinking…this is the third time I have to apply for it, and I may lose it.  A job that I thought I did well (well…my boss was satisfied)

But then  I think whether any organisation can give anyone a guarantee of a job.  Ultimately the organisation has a number of roles they think they need.  They fill those roles with the best person they find.  But it can be argued that if the organisation feels that the role doesn’t match their purpose no longer whether they have the right to terminate that role.  It is a contract between a provider of work and someone who fulfill the task that the organisation feels it needs.  The problem is that the employee is at the mercy of the employer.  Many times, to soften the blow, we’ve been told that it is not the person that gets redundant, it is the position.  Still, this is meager consolation if you finish unemployed. Especially at my age.  A job is not just a job.  Especially if it interest you it becomes a really meaningful part of your life. It becomes a place where doing well can give you acknowledgment. It is something that gives you a sense of identity.

Now that’s gone.  So here I go again. Putting my best foot forward. Convincing others that I can do the job. I feel so tired. But I have no other options.

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I don’t want an Australia with Mosques in the Attic.

Amsterdam conjures up few things. Canals, bicycles, coffee shops, red light district, AFC Ajax.  But I remember that in a TV program I saw something that really intrigued me.  In central Amsterdam there is a Catholic Church which is invisible to the outside world.  The Church is called ‘Our Lord in the Attic’, because it is.  It is a church built in an attic.

In 1581 the northern part of the Netherlands was a Republic, where the ruling class was made up of an aristocracy of city-merchants. The main religion was Calvinism,    On the 20th of  December of that year, the Dutch Republlic officially prohibited the overt practice of the Catholic religion.   So Dutch Catholics had to clandestinely practice their faith establishing private churches. They celebrated mass in their living rooms, places of work and warehouses.  The authorities closed an eye as long as these churches remained unrecognizable from the outside.

One of these churches that remain is the Church of our Lord in the Attic (Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder).  It is built in the attic of this bourgeois house hidden away originally built in 1663,  it is now mainly a Museum, but it is still consecrated and it is used as a Church for some occasions.  I went to see it the first time I visited Amsterdam and it is amazing to see the ingenuity of how little space was used so effectively. Ikea eat you heart out.

 

You wouldn’t know that this house has in its attic a fully functioning baroque church.

 

I was thinking about this church when I saw the islamophobes protesting about the proposal of building a mosque in the Gold Coast.

This sort of thing doesn’t happen only in Queensland.  Same thing happened when a mosque was proposed in Ballarat earlier this year.   It seems that no matter where Australians of the Muslim faith want to build a place of worship they will be met with ferocious protest.  Whether from locals, or from outsiders who will spread misinformation and hate.  There may be legitimate causes to oppose a mosque (noise, parking etc.) but there is no denying that there is always an element of Islamophobia in these objections.

Of course Muslims wanting to practice their faith are asserting their rights, and so they should.  And any other Australians who are against racism and discrimination should support them.  But I would not blame Australian Muslim to put this in the too hard basket and practice their faith hidden away.

It would be like the  situation of religious intolerance of Europe in the 17th Century.  You know when the Islamophobes/Xenophobes say that Islam hate the west and what it stands for, or they don’t accept other religions etc. when they are the ones that are intolerant, and are denying Australian Muslims having a place to worship.

I don’t want an Australia where anyone practicing their religion has to do it in a clandestine fashion.  We don’t want ‘Mosques in the Attic’. We want a multicultural Australia. Where everyone is free to practice (or not to practice) their religion.

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