Archive for March, 2012

Memory can be a fickle thing, subject to all manner of flaws in storage and recollection. There seems to be little logic governing what we remember and what we forget, though to suggest that the process is entirely random would be rather an unscientific assumption. There are clear differences in people’s capacity to remember information, with some displaying quite prodigious talents in recollection. We talk of short and long-term memory, of absentmindedness, of photographic memories, of good and bad memories – so far as ability is concerned. Yet, despite our differences in capacity, all of us remember a great deal more than we give ourselves credit for.

When I was a very young child I had an overzealous desire to know everything I’d ever done and felt an innate distress at the idea of information slipping away from me. In particular, I wanted to know how many times I had done things in my short life thus far – how often I’d caught the bus, how many times I’d had a bath, how many times I’d kissed the dogs, and how many times I’d said “Mummy, I love you,” all too audibly, in the supermarket.

This feeling really began to take hold around the age of four, when I first developed a sense of having done certain things a number of times already. I had, then, an inkling of a routine stretching into the past, and some understanding of the narrative of my life to that point. It baffled me that there were things my parents mentioned or told me about, things I had apparently said or done, that I couldn’t remember. Why couldn’t I remember everything? It seemed almost as though it had never happened.

Being the owners of an effete, pedigree dachshund and a rescued stray bitsa, Jason and Lady respectively, my father used to walk the dogs every afternoon in Centennial Park with my older brother and I. On the way home from a good, long walk, we’d stop in at the Nelson Hotel in Bondi Junction, and there my father would drink a middy or two of Reschs, whilst my brother and I made do with sarsaparilla and lemonade. Often, sitting in the afternoon beer garden, I found myself thinking – how many times have we done this? It was a routine that had been established before I had sufficient language to form coherent, narrative memories, and so my recollections were hazy and impressionistic – but the park had always been there, as had the dogs. How often had I been there? How many sarsaparillas had I drunk in my short life so far?

My brother began to collect bus tickets around the age of six. Back then the driver tore a bible-paper thin ticket from a long, flat piano keyboard-like array of stubs, and the flimsy little things were excitingly colour-coded: Purple, yellow, red and green tickets, for which my father’s order was always “One and two halves,” when he took us down to the beach. How many times had I been to the beach? I’d seen photographs of myself there as a baby, something I could not independently remember. When my brother began to collect tickets, it seemed there might be some means by which to answer these questions. If one always kept one’s ticket, then there would be a ready reference point for such information. But how on earth would I record the other things? The number of times I’d eaten food? The number of times I’d worn a certain shirt, or ridden the tricycle, patted Jason and Lady? How could I possibly store and recall all this information?

Perhaps the obsession with small details derived from the relatively limited world in which I operated as a toddler. The local geography had enough detail in it to keep me preoccupied for years, but once I had the basic features down pat, I wanted to know about things more intimately. I made an ineffectual attempt at collecting bus tickets too, but soon abandoned this in the face of that all too common feeling of the younger sibling – that everything one does is, in its execution, a pale imitation of the actions of the older sibling. It never occurred to me to write anything down, but this is not surprising considering how late I came to reading and writing, initially resistant as I was to books and letters.

Despite my frustration at not being able to recall everything, as the years passed, I realised that the bigger picture was more important than the minutiae. I didn’t really need to know how many times I’d had my haircut, for it was not these things that gave life its narrative, beyond forming the flat, regular palette on which all else was presented. Rather, I wanted to recall the events that stood out as exceptional; our family trips to the Blue Mountains, my brother’s attempt to flush me down the toilet, the time the window slammed down on my mother’s fingers. It was, after all, these things around which any narrative in life seemed to gravitate, and which formed the basis of moral and ethical lessons in the household and world at large. These events all carried both a story and a moral of sorts.

Take, for example, the infamous day on which my mother angrily threw a pair of tongs out the kitchen window and hit my brother in the face, completely by accident. The “snappers” incident was often conjured up as a great milestone in our lives; it was an early, pivotal example of an error of judgement and a lesson in caution. There was the time my brother and I left our racing car towels at the bus stop. Certain that we had lost them forever, and dismissing my father’s reassurance that we would get them back, we were both amazed when my father asked in the local shop on our return home and the towels were produced from behind the counter. This story added strong impetus to life’s narrative, both chronologically, as a way point, and morally and ethically, as an example of consideration, thoughtfulness and selflessness. Perhaps more importantly, despite its less salubrious nature, there was the famous incident that occurred at the Pizza Hut restaurant in Bondi Junction, circa. 1977.

This last event stands out because it was the first example in my life of a written diary entry, of deliberately recorded information. My brother had been given a pocket appointments diary with a week to a double spread. After dining out at the Pizza Hut that night, we returned home to giggle uncontrollably for hours about what had taken place in the toilets. My brother summed this up very nicely when he sat down at his desk on our return.

“Boy fell in trough at Pizza Hut,” were the exact words he wrote in his diary that evening. And indeed, some poor lad, stretching well beyond his capacity to reach the chain, had overbalanced and fallen face-first, then down sideways, right into the pisser, with its frothy flow and yellow mints.

“Boy fell in trough at Pizza Hut,” is a line that has been quoted many times since by my brother and me, and, for a long while, it was my favourite memory. I wonder in retrospect whether this was in part because, for the first time in my life, I’d seen the clear relation between something I’d witnessed, and the written version of the events. Either way, it was an early example of how we can record and shape our memory of things with language that is both succinct and arresting. It presented a whole new range of possibilities so far as solving the problem of remembering was concerned. I still value my brother’s early chronicling of this event to be one of the key snippets of narrative non-fiction. Its total and utter insignificance historically is irrelevant and in no way detracts from its long occupation of one of the summits of the very spike and trough graph that constitutes my childhood recollections.

However much I might have been inspired by my brother’s efforts and, however keen I was to record information, I didn’t make any real attempt at keeping a diary until 1983. For Christmas the year previous, I was given a small appointments diary by my friend Marcus – he was from South Africa and the diary, appropriately, had a cheetah on the cover. It was some time before I got around to writing anything in it, and, indeed, the only time I really used it was to begin counting down the days til my birthday; a rather pointless task, it must be said. When my birthday did actually arrive, I made a note of the presents I had received, and after that, the diary fell into a drawer somewhere and was, so far as I remember, not used afterwards. It was thus not until 1986 that I truly began to keep a diary. This too was a small appointments diary with seven days to a spread, and very little room in which to write anything. All the same, inspired as I was by the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, I at least had a much clearer understanding of what a diary really could be – of the sort of information one might record, and in what style.

Still, to begin with, my diary was too small to contain any strong narratives. Invariably my efforts did not go beyond such brief entries as “Gus stayed over. Played Dungeons and Dragons. Had meatballs for dinner.” It was hardly a very exciting chronicle, yet it was a chronicle nonetheless, and once I’d begun to write the diary in earnest, every day, I didn’t look back. Indeed, from around April 1986 to the end of that year, I didn’t miss a single day and diligently filled in the admittedly small rectangle provided for each day. For Christmas that year, I received a new diary for  the coming year, which was significantly larger – an A5 book with a day to a page, though with Saturday and Sunday squashed together on a single page. I didn’t hesitate to make full use of the greater space that was available to me, and from January 1 1987, I diligently wrote a full entry for each day throughout that year.

It may surprise some to hear that I have never, ever missed a day since. Indeed, from April 1986 to the present, I have recorded every single day of my life in a diary, always following the same rule – that the page must be filled completely. In 1988, I continued with an A5 diary, but this time, had a full page for each day of the weekend. Using a diary of this size was standard practice until 1998. That year I began to use a full-sized, A4 diary, and have continued to do so to the present. I always fill the entire page, and I never allow a day to go unrecorded.

Now, of course, this may seem like some impossible task, given that one can hardly expect to be in a position to sit down and write a diary entry at the end of every night. Of course, there are all too many occasions when this is not possible. Consequently, I have written the entry at a later time, sometimes as much as a week later, always, however, maintaining the fiction that it was written on the day itself. When I travel I take the big, heavy thing with me wherever I go, which, considering I have, for the last twelve years, used a mere day-pack for every trip I’ve done, means that it constitutes quite a significant part of my otherwise minimalist baggage.

There have, too, been several incidents where the diary has caused problems. On four known occasions it has fallen into the hands of others, or been read illicitly, thus causing emotional crises and much embarrassment. Despite this, I have never considered not writing my diary. I suppose that if I behave honourably there should be no cause for suspicion and no need for my partner to dip into my diary. Generally, I trust that people will be honest and trustworthy, being good enough not to read my diary. Still, I have ultimately been forgiving of those who read my diary, as my behaviour certainly warranted it. Whatever the case, the show must go on.

And so the diaries continue to accumulate. Mostly I write the entry before I go to bed, but often I am too tired, lazy, or otherwise engaged, in which case I try to do it the following morning. Either way, the process takes me roughly ten minutes and is thus subject to the mood in which I approach the task. It is also subject to my ability to remember events. Even a few days later, it can be very difficult to find anything to write about a run-of-the-mill Wednesday. Sometimes this provides a great opportunity to sum up a recent emotional situation, to flesh out an idea, or to provide an update on current affairs – yet it often hardly says a great deal about the day itself.

In many ways, this is a good thing, for the biggest limitation of my diary writing is the day-to-day format. Limited to one page, it is difficult to go very far with any narrative at all and, often feeling the need to record basic information about the day, I lack sufficient space or time to discuss emotional and personal developments. I suspect that much of my diary is extremely bland, with some very engaging passages here and there, driven and inspired by emotional investment in the content. This usually happens at exciting turning points: – during the beginning or breakdown of a relationship, when travelling, when beginning a new course of study, or a new project. It can also stem from an uplifting and exciting experience – a great gig, an excellent party, or just a desire to wax lyrical about a beautiful morning at the beach. When I approach the task with enthusiasm, I always write a much more interesting entry. The writing process also helps me to take charge of narratives in life and put the present into context. I have found this a valuable aid in coming to terms with things.

I have often asked myself what is the purpose of all this record-keeping. It is, as much as anything else, a burdensome habit that I could not possibly break for fear of the scale of regret it might bring about. I’ve made it this far, with a record of every single day of the last twenty-six years of my life, and I’m not about to stop in a hurry. I used to dip into my diary a great deal more, either to satisfy nostalgic urges, or simply to find the date of a particular incident. When I wrote volume one of my autobiography Sex with a Sunburnt Penis in 1997, I relied heavily on diaries for inspiration and enhanced recollection.

On this latter score, the diary is an invaluable tool. I have always been considered to be a reliable source of historical information in the personal lives of my friends and acquaintances, due to my ability to recall dates, times and seasons of events. I can usually narrow something down sufficiently to pinpoint where to look in my diary, when finding the exact date of a particular event is the goal, provided, of course, I actually made a record of it. For me, personally, the best thing about the diary is that it allows me access to memories I might otherwise not have, even where the diary entry itself is brief and inadequate. I can open to a random date, in a random year, read the entry, and almost invariably picture the events once again. It is rare that I cannot do so, and yet, without such a jog, would I ever have remembered that otherwise unremarkable day again?

The diary also gives me an excellent ability to examine progress in my life. Perhaps my favourite use of it is to see what I was doing on the same date a year ago, or, perhaps, five years ago. It is a rare opportunity to put life more into context. The vividness with which I can recall events with the aid of the diary entry also allows me to be nostalgic in a very pinpointed manner.

One might ask, but isn’t it better to forget sometimes? Certainly it is, and one of my biggest problems is an inability to forget things, particularly where I need to move on. My memory, particularly my emotional memory, is simply too good, and I carry things around with me for a lot longer than I ought or need to. In part, I blame my diary-writing for this. After all, writing things down is said to be a strong aid to memory, even without reference to the written information. Yet, considered in the light of my early obsession with the recording of information, my subsequent years at university studying history, including a PhD on early Medieval Italian historiography, my habit of writing autobiographical memoir, short stories, novels and poetry, my presence on several online social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, my seemingly insatiable desire to photogaph everything and archive it, and, of course, this blog, it seems that perhaps I was cut out to be an historian after all, be it of my own life, or, for that matter, the lives of others.

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Sydney Allsorts

Have been enthusiastically photographing architecture again, some of which is reflected here. Equally, it must be said, I remain enthusiastic about photographing people – but it’s been nice for the last week to step away from the 200mm lens and keep things at bay. I’ve included some older photographs in this collection, which is really a sort of latter day enthusiasm for summer. Lately the weather has been lovely and crisp – a perfect March of mild heat and cool shadows, with now some extra bite. Going to the beach quite a lot recently has been very uplifting and generally everything seems positive. I suppose that too is reflected here, which is indicative of a softer, happier mood. Go well!

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This is a piece of total nonsense I wrote one afternoon, without much thought or planning. I wanted to write something, but could think of nothing on which to work, so I began to write the first thing that came into my head, just to pump out some words and hear the hammering of the keys. I took two of my best and oldest friends as characters, and off I went.

I read recently, in an interview with Mike Skinner aka. The Streets, that he suffers withdrawal symptoms if he doesn’t create something regularly. I guess this was a product of a similar sensation, the attempt to break a certain literary constipation. So, here it is, Escape from Nowhere!

Chapter 1



Simon was tunnelling, burrowing. He had his head down and his tail up, but the concrete wasn’t shifting before his nails. He clenched his teeth against the sensation; it was unsettling as chalk on the blackboard, knives on a plate.

“It’s no good, Si,” said Benny. “You need tools for that sort of thing.”

Chez sat shaking his head. Simon came out from under the bed.

“It’s a solid wall,” he said. “I thought it might, you know, be otherwise.”

“I guess this place is real after all,” said Benny.

“I told you so,” said Chez.

“You sure did,” said Simon. “Still, real or not, we’re getting out of here come hell or high water. Not unless someone opens the door.”

It had been a very long day for the three men, who had unexpectedly found themselves in prison. It wasn’t as though they had been arrested, nor had they been charged with a crime. Indeed, they hadn’t even seen their captors and had no recollection of being transported here. One minute the three old friends were living their lives independently, and next, they quite literally found themselves inside a prison.

“It must be a dream. I mean, it must be,” said Chez.

“But how then?” said Simon. “Is it my dream or yours? Because, I’m telling you, it’s real. The wall, for example.”

“What else could it be? I should just try to shut you guys out and wake up,” said Chez, who had displayed so far, the greatest equilibrium. “It can’t be real, so it must be my dream and you guys are just very, very real in it. I’ll wake up soon. I must. This can’t happen.”

“I agree,” said Benny. “But it is happening. I’ve pinched myself like ten times, it hurts. I head-butted the wall – that hurt too. It’s been too long now not to be a dream. Even when I’ve been duped by a dream in the past, it’s never been as good a job as this.”

“Well, I kinda like it,” said Simon. “Sure, we don’t know what the hell’s going on, but someone must have captured us somehow – drugs, tranqs, aliens, fuck knows, and brought us here. Because here we are and, well, magic isn’t real. It’s pretty bloody interesting that someone would think the three of us were important in some way.”

“But why? Who?”

“It’s a mystery,” said Benny. “And a proper one at that!”

Benny stood up and began to walk around the room. They had been here almost an hour now and in that time had inspected the place thoroughly. There was a heavy metal door locked so tight it didn’t shift at all when jostled and a not ungenerous window, heavily barred. There were three single beds and a wall-mounted oil heater under the window. The heater was on and the room was comfortably warm.

“If this was Dungeons and Dragons,” said Chez, “I’d check the lock for traps.”





Chapter 2

The Dream of the Novella


I had a dream last night,” said Benny. “You had written a novella, Simon, and it got published.”

“Really? That’s awesome.”

“Yeah, well it was alright for some. I was gutted. Totally jealous. I’ve been writing for years and none of my novels ever get published and you just blew in and whipped one up and next thing you’re published.”

“Must be a natural,” said Simon.

“The man can spin a great yarn,” said Chez. “We all know that.”

“I know, I know,” said Benny. “But this was an affront! Naturally I pretended I was stoked for you. It wasn’t like I was being a prick about it, but it just got me so riled up. I was actually there, in the dream, holding this thing in my hands. I could smell it, feel it, I could even read it. It was about a hundred and twenty pages, it weighed nothing, the cover green, not very flattering, but it was real alright. I flipped it over and read the back. There were four endorsements. I couldn’t make out who the reviewers were, but I read all the reviews. The one I remember said something like ‘Tracey has delivered a most entertaining pot pourri of ideas and invective. A colourful stream of curses the likes of which we’ve not seen since Burroughs.”

“Colourful curses!” laughed Simon. “I like that. What the hell was it about?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea. But I had a feel for the mood of it. It felt like Tom Waits. It felt like working class New York. It felt like all that, but with a hint of Ruskin. It was, in places, full of high-falutin language that thought it was keeping it simple. It was all tied up like a double bow, when a single bow would have sufficed. It had a sort of swashbuckling style, and then a certain raw frankness, with hookers and coffee and fried potato breakfasts. It also had these sections that looked like they wanted to be in italics but weren’t. There was one called “Definitions”, only it just had the one definition, which was for the word “Quest”. It went on to say how quests were like, were like…”

“Like what?” said Chez.

“I can’t actually remember.”

“But what it was, when I held it and read it and thought about it and could feel it, I mean the shape, the parameters, it was as though my dream were sending me the blueprint for a novella. That if I woke up, but kept my eyes closed and started writing, I could have hammered it out and then bang – instant novella.”

“That’s pretty classic, really,” said Simon. “Because actually, I wrote a novella.”

“No bullshit?” said Benny.

“None whatsoever. It was called Buckley’s Second Chance.”

“Who’s Buckley?” asked Chez.

“Buckley, you know, of Buckley’s chance fame?”

“Oh,” said Benny. “You mean, as in, you’ve got Buckley’s?”


“That’s classic,” said Chez. “So you gave him a second chance?”

“Sort of,” said Simon. “But then, why not?”

“I don’t know. Tell us.”

Benny and Chez sat forward. Simon leaned in close.

“Well, you know how people will say ‘you’ve got Buckley’s, right? But think about it – sometimes those chances must come off. It’s as slim as all hell, but someone’s gotta come good against the odds. So if they can do it, why can’t Buckley?”

“I don’t see why not.”

“Hang on,” said Chez. “Who was this Buckley guy anyway?”

“I’ll tell you this much,” said Simon, “he was a real ugly son of a bitch. He looked like one of the orang-utan-descended dudes in Planet of the Apes. He had a total bell-end head, a full penis-job, and he was on the run for all money.”

“I’ve got my notebook here,” said Simon, producing a spiral-bound pad from under his pillow. “Now, according to some bloke called George Russell, Buckley was ‘a tall, ungainly man…and altogether his looks were not in his favour; he had a shaggy head of black hair, a low forehead with overhanging eyebrows nearly concealing his small eyes, a short snub nose, a face very much marked by smallpox, and was just such a man as one would suppose fit to commit burglary or murder.”

“Huh! Talk about profiling. But he did, right? He was an escaped convict wasn’t he?”

“He had a pretty interesting pedigree,” said Simon. “The dude was an apprentice brick-layer who fought under the Duke of York against Napoleon in Holland, in like 1799. He got busted a few years later for stealing cloth in London and they sentenced him to transportation. Once he’d done a bit of time in Australia, he broke out with five other convicts. They stole a boat and rowed around towards Melbourne. The five other guys decided to head north east, but Buckley decided to punch on.”

“And, what, he died or something afterwards?”

“No no. Apparently he learned a few tricks off some local aborigine families and fended for himself – eating wild berries, fish, ants, you name it. Eventually he hooked up with the local Watourong tribe and, get this, he was mistaken for the spirit of a long dead chief and they adopted him. He lived with them for the next thirty-two years as a spirit, doing a bit of theft and rustling, that sort of thing.”

“Hang on,” said Benny. “I thought he was supposed to have died or something. That’s why ‘you’ve got Buckley’s’ means, you’ve got no chance whatsoever.”

“It’s true,” said Simon. “That’s the gist. But I mean, this guy actually returned from the wilderness. He went back to civilisation and got a full pardon!”

“So really, the expression is bullshit,” said Chez. “Or does it just mean his survival was a fluke.”

“Good point, Mr Chesterman, it’s a very slim chance, you see. But then, on top of that, there’s a lot of questions over the origin of the expression anyway. Some blokes reckon it has nothing to do with this William Buckley after all.”

“Sacrilege! So what’s his second chance all about? The return to civilisation?”

“Ah, well,” said Simon. “Listen up…”

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This short story is based on an anecdote from an old friend. The story intrigued me when I first heard it, and I have since found it popping back into my head at the oddest of times. The natural response, as with recurring dreams, was to write it down, as I both remembered and imagined it…


Simon woke up in the dark. He couldn’t see anything at all. He was lying face down and he felt awful; dry mouth, headache, nicotine skin, half drunk and desperate to urinate. He raised his head and blinked twice. He still couldn’t see a thing, yet he could sense somebody nearby. He rolled onto his back and felt about on either side. To the left was the edge of a thin mattress, carpet, the leg of a chair. To the right he felt something warm; a back, another person.

“What?” said a voice. “Simon?”

“Yeah. Who’s that?”

“It’s me.”

“Who? Dom?”

“Yeah, it’s Dom.”

“Where are we?”

“I dunno, man. I can’t remember.”

Simon rubbed his eyes and tried to swallow.

“Do you know where the dunny is?” he asked.

“Yeah, it’s down at the end of the hall. There’s like a glass door.”


Simon was lying under a sleeping bag, burning hot. The bag was designed for more capricious climes, but this was summer in Sydney. He peeled it back and stumbled up to his feet.

“I’m going for a piss,” he said.

“Yeah?” said Dominic. “I’m going back to sleep.”

Once on his feet, Simon looked about for the door. He could still only make out the barest outlines of shapes that remained indistinct. On the far side of Dominic he detected a thin slice of pale grey light. He figured it was the window, so the door was likely behind him.

He struck out his arms and began to feel his way forward. His leg bumped against a chair. He took hold of it and steadied himself, then stepped carefully around it. His bladder was bursting and his head was pounding. He felt drunk. He reached out again and felt a smooth, plaster wall. He slid his hand along it to the left until he struck a perpendicular ridge of wood. A doorjamb. Continuing over the ridge, his fingers found the stiles, panels and mullion of a wooden door. He moved his hand down to the lock rail and swept for the handle. Aha! There it was.

“This is tough,” he whispered.

Simon opened the door and entered the corridor. It was even darker than the room. There was nothing but static and fuzz before his eyes. So close was the blackness that he felt removed from himself; as if the dark had crept inside and pushed him out. It was dizzying, confusing. He leaned against the wall and felt suddenly very ill. He took slow, deep breaths until the nausea passed. Where the hell was he? Where on earth had he been?

He began to feel his way down the corridor, bumping a hung picture at his first attempt. He moved his hands lower, leaned on the wall and reached out a foot with precarious curiosity. He was barefoot. The floor was covered in rattan matting. He could even smell it through the sweat of beer and heavy reek of smoke in his stale nostrils.

He took another step forward, then another; using the wall as a guide to keep him going straight. The blackness was rearing and enveloping. The fluid shifting across his eyes sent ripples through the inky continuum. He felt a pearl of fear forming inside him that soon dissolved into frustration and anger. How had he wound up here? What was the last thing he remembered?

Simon stopped and patted himself down for a moment. He was wearing his jeans and a tee shirt; his wallet and soft-pack of cigarettes were still in his back pockets. What shoes had he been wearing? He was sure it was a pair of thongs. Then he remembered: sitting on a swing, kicking out his feet with his thongs dangling from between his toes. So he had been in the park. Only what park, where?

He pushed on down the corridor. His eyes were not adjusting as there was no light by which to adjust. The rattan massaged his feet. It was a pleasant, dry and soft sensation, but the occasional tickle of an upright thread gave him fright. He had trodden on Lego enough times to know the true meaning of pain.

Feeling ahead, he felt sure that he was approaching something, or was something approaching him? He stopped, afraid, sure there was something there. What was it that made him know? Did his eyes see something his mind could not process? Was it some sixth sense that blind people had mastered, a combination of hearing, touch and scent? Perhaps a sense of the movement of the air around objects? Was he merely being paranoid?

He took another step, sure there was something in front of him. Then he felt it – a glass door! A glass door with a thin, fine wooden frame. He stopped and ran his hands across the cool, smooth panels, finding his way to a handle. It was a curiously thin and narrow door, an odd choice for a toilet. When he found a second handle it all made sense; it was a double door, two tall, narrow doors opening outwards.

Simon pulled on both of the small knobs, opened the doors and took a tentative step forward. Bang! Rattle! His knee struck something hard and the world shook with the clink of crockery. An object slid along a wooden surface and landed, rolling and ringing. It was a plate settling on a shelf. He had walked into a china cabinet.

“Fuck,” said Simon. “This is bullshit.”

Nothing fell to the floor. What a fright it had given him! Simon exhaled at length and took a deep breath. His heart was racing and he flushed freshly with sweat. He closed the doors and reached around the cupboard, finding his way back to the wall. He was at the end of the corridor where it seemed to take a small turn across an open doorway. Through the opening he detected pale moonlight falling across a table. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought it must be the kitchen. If it was the kitchen, then perhaps he could take a piss in the sink. He gave this idea some thought, but, standing there on the threshold, he smelled the bathroom to his right. It was the coolness of the air and a mild whiff of Harpic loo cleaner; a faint hint of Pine-o-clean. It reminded him of the retsina he’d drunk at his Greek mate’s birthday.

He felt ahead, sure now that he could see something at last. Before him were two tall, oblong panels of frosted glass, grey-lit with pale, filtered moonlight. How could this place be so dark? Were they living in a burrow? Were they hobbits? He inched forward, felt for the handle, opened the door, reached forward with his foot and felt cold tiles beneath his feet. At last he had found the bathroom. A moment later he found the light and, closing his eyelids against the expected, punishing glare, flicked it on.

Five minutes later, relieved, watered, blinded and with a throbbing head, leaving the bathroom light on to show him the way, Simon retraced his steps and went back to sleep on the floor beside Dominic.


“Si, wake up, man. Wake up.”

Dominic was leaning over him, shaking him by the shoulder.

“What is it?” asked Simon. He was startled. He looked up, unwillingly alert, his mouth uncertain. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, man. It’s just morning. We should get out of here. I don’t even know where I am.”

Simon relaxed, flopped back to the mattress.

“Jesus. I feel like shit.”

“Yeah, I feel pretty special as well,” said Dominic. He stepped back and Simon lifted up his head again. It was heavy, woozy.

“So where the hell are we? Can’t you remember getting here?”

“Man, I can’t remember a thing,” said Dominic. Then he laughed. “Pretty classic, huh?”

“Yeah, tell me about it.”

Simon sat up, resting on his hands. He rubbed his face and knuckled his eyes.

“So what is the last thing you remember?”

“I remember being in Centennial Park,” said Dominic. “Then we went off with William, but I can’t remember where. Like a bar or something. I remember being in a taxi, but I don’t remember getting into it, or where I got into it.”

“Man, that’s more than I can remember,” said Simon. “The last thing I remember is sitting on a swing. It must have been Centennial Park.”

He laughed in recollection. “Hang on, that’s right. I remember Luke having a full-on spew. He was going for a massive chuns between his legs. That’s fully the last thing I remember.”

“It’s weird.” said Dominic. “Did we meet some other dudes or something? Some chicks? I reckon I’d remember if we met some chicks.”

“Yeah, me too. But then, you’d reckon you’d remember whose joint you were staying at.”

“Wherever we are,” said Dominic, “let’s get out of here.”

“Have you got all your stuff?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

Simon stood up and looked about him. Dominic had lifted the dark blinds and indirect sunlight flooded the room. They were in a lounge room, not a bedroom. A thin double mattress had been placed on the chunky, fluffy carpet. There was a television, lounge-setting, coffee table, magazines, a cabinet. It looked like a family home.

“Must be someone’s parents’ place, I guess.”

“Yeah, but hell knows who.”

They looked at each other, laughed, groaned, shook their heads.

“Well, let’s make a bale then,” said Simon.

“For sure.”

Simon and Dominic stepped out into the corridor. It was windowless, with a heavy wooden door at the end. Curious, they walked in the other direction, towards the china cabinet and the bathroom. They could smell breakfast cooking and hear the sound of a radio. It was Sunday morning and Australia All Over was on the ABC. They smelled bacon, eggs, toast and grilled tomato. Simon’s mouth watered and his stomach yawned. He could almost taste the orange juice.

At the end of the corridor an arched opening led into a spacious kitchen. Simon and Dominic shuffled nervously under the arch to survey the scene. There before them, sitting on a beanbag by a long, low wooden table, was an enormously fat man. Opposite him, standing by a stove, was a gigantically fat woman working a frying pan. Beyond them lay an open door and overgrown backyard. They did not recognise these people at all.

“Good morning,” said the man and woman. “Did you have a good sleep?”

“Yeah, yeah, thanks,” said Simon.

“Just fine,” said Dominic.

“You’re just in time for breakfast,” said the lady at the stove. “Can I tempt you with bacon and eggs?”

Simon and Dominic both looked to each other, each expecting his friend to make a decision. They frowned and aspirated, cheeks bunching, eyes opening, but found no answers. Then Simon spoke:

“Nah,” he said. “I think I’m alright.”

Despite his rapacious hunger, he felt an urge to get away. He was only seventeen and was not completely comfortable sitting down to eat with strange adults.

“Yeah,” said Dominic. “Me too, I guess. I better get on home.”

“There’s plenty there if you want it,” said the man on the beanbag. “Baked beans, eggs, bacon, the lot. Even some saussies if you like.”

“Nah,” said Simon, “thanks very much for the offer, but I better get on home to mum.”

“Alright then. You don’t mind if I don’t get up, do you? The front door’s just at the end of the hall.”

“Yeah, we can find it alright,” said Dominic. “Thanks for putting us up.”

“No trouble at all,” said the man.

The lady by the stove was smiling at them.

“Look after yourselves,” she said, waving with the spatula.

“Yeah, thanks,” said Simon. “Right then, see you later.”

Mr and Mrs… ? In his quick scan of the kitchen he had not seen anything to make plain whose parents these people were. No family photos on the fridge, no framed family portraits. Were they even someone’s parents? They hadn’t mentioned a son or daughter when they might have done. Simon felt too embarrassed now to ask, and despite the burning curiosity, he had already excused himself and wanted to be out in the open air. With a final nod and a wave, they turned and walked to the front door.


Simon and Dominic stepped out into a long, treed street. It looked like somewhere in the eastern suburbs, though they did not recognise exactly where. They glanced about, stared at the front of the house, walked to the middle of the street and stood staring down it. Most of the houses were terraces, but there were also bungalows and unit blocks. Moreton Bay figs lined the street, their branches reaching from one pavement to the next and forming a continuous canopy. It might have been Bondi, Bronte, Woollahra, Paddington, Coogee. Neither Simon nor Dominic could quite tell which, if any.

There was hardly any traffic so they walked along the middle of the road. It was a warm summer morning; the temperature already up in the mid twenties. Simon looked at his watch. It was just after nine o’clock.

“Where are we?” mused Dominic. “Bellevue Hill?”

“Nah, I know it too well,” said Simon. “I reckon it could be Vaucluse, or Rose Bay. Actually, screw it, I wouldn’t have the faintest.”

“It’s gotta be the eastern suburbs for sure,” said Dominic.

Simon pulled a bent cigarette from his battered packet. He offered one to Dominic.

“Have a smoke, to make the bus come.”

They both lit up and kept walking in the warm, patchy sunshine. Before they had reached the next intersection, only half way through their cigarettes, a vacant taxi turned into the street. Dominic spotted it first and hailed it.

“Where you boys going?” asked the driver, pulling up.

“To Bondi Junction, I guess,” said Simon, looking at Dominic.

“Yeah,” said Dominic, “I can get home from there.”

Sitting in the back of the cab, the two young men turned their attention to piecing the evening back together. Starting with a rendezvous at the Paddington Green hotel, they recalled moving on to the RSL, to the Imperial Hotel and, finally, up to Centennial Park. Beyond that, however, they could make no further headway.

“There might have even been a couple of other stops in between,” said Simon.

“It’s a fair way to walk without a pit-stop. We’ll have to ask Luke and Willie.”

With their attention focussed on the task of reconstruction, Simon and Dominic failed to note the streets through which they were driving. When, after ten minutes, the taxi emerged onto New South Head Road, they were so relieved to be in familiar territory that they forgot to ask from where they’d come. Three minutes later they paid the driver and stepped out into Bondi Junction.

They were both exhausted and sat down on the pavement to bask in the sun.

“Why didn’t we ask the bloody driver?” said Simon, lighting up another desultory cigarette. “About where we were.”

“I dunno, mate,” said Dominic. “My brain just isn’t working.”

“Geez,” said Simon, rubbing his temples, “I’ve got such a savage hangover. What a shocker.”

“Yeah, tell me about it. We must have been completely smashed last night.”

“I was a total goner,” said Simon. “Judging by the damage report, I must have been fully falconettied. Done like an Italian vendetta.”

“Falconettied, aye?” said Dominic. “That’s one of William’s isn’t?”

“Yeah,” said Simon, “it’s a gem of a word. I reckon it sums things up pretty good.”

“I reckon,” said Dominic, reaching out for a drag of Simon’s cigarette. “There’s no two ways about it; we must have been seriously falconettied.”

In the days that followed, despite questioning everyone they could recall taking part in the events of that evening and following all leads there from, Simon and Dominic were unable to determine where they had stayed. The query burned brightest in Simon, who continued to look for answers in the months that followed. Though he eventually gave up asking, he never gave up hoping that the mystery might one day be solved in a chance encounter or remark. That was twenty-two years ago, and often, walking through the eastern suburbs of Sydney, with their broad, tree-lined streets, he still wonders at the provenance of his hosts.

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The Ides of March

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I went back and had another look at the photographs I took on the afternoon of the Chinese New Year parade in Sydney and found quite a number I’d overlooked. Once I began editing them, I realised they would comprise quite a sizeable collection and decided to publish them together. In the end I was very happy with this collection of portraits. There certainly are a lot of characters out there, and somehow it gives me faith in humanity that each person truly is an individual. I wish I had stayed for the parade.

Best wishes all, and happy Chinese New Year (if very belated)

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Champions, all

This is a somewhat random collection of not especially great shots, but rather  a bunch of curiosities and vignettes. The amusing, everyday and grotesque seem to abound wherever I look and I’ve just been snapping really, rather than working the lens a great deal. I’d love to have more time to plan shoots and go for specific targets and themes, but instead I’ve just been carting the camera about and flinging it at whatever crossed my path. Hopefully the next collection won’t be quite so random and lacking in striking images, but for now, this serves well as a sort of photo diary of recent encounters, discoveries and moments. Stay well peeps!

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Except for a very small percentage of people, nobody wants to die. At least, not before having lived a full and satisfying life, and even then, when the end nears, many choose to hang on for as long as possible. It’s a strange thing to be aware of one’s mortality. So far as we understand it, no other creature on Earth is conscious of its life span, though for many survival and reproduction are the two principal biological imperatives. For some creatures reproduction is the only imperative, and once this has been achieved, survival becomes obsolete and their time here is done.

Humans, on the other hand, as with many social mammals, have found a means by which to make themselves useful beyond reproductive age. Our consciousness and sophisticated intelligence have also made reproduction itself a lifestyle choice rather than a necessity. However we choose to live our lives, we do so according to our own ideas of fulfilment, contentment and achievement. For some, it is work and sacrifice, for others, it is the pursuit of happiness, for some it is reproduction and providing for one’s children. And, of course, some humans find life too difficult, meaningless, complex or unpleasant and so choose to take their own lives irrespective of whether or not they have passed on their genes.

I value life a very great deal and, being an atheist, consider it to be all that I have. So far as I see it I am nothing but a bag of meat and a bunch of cells and my consciousness, the bafflingly complex software of billions of rapidly firing neurons. When I die, there will be nothing left beyond material remains and anything I may have produced that is worthy of preservation. So far as I see it, the only shot I have at immortality is to produce great art, and, I suppose, offspring. For the latter reason, I have long considered becoming a sperm donor. After all, if the real, underlying purpose off life is to pass on one’s genes, then surely the best way to distribute these most widely, without the unaffordable social and financial complications of fatherhood, is to impregnate as many women as possible. Ultimately, I decided against this course, though largely because I simply didn’t care enough to do so. The decision ultimately to have children will not be based on the desire to pass on my genes, but rather for the joys of parenthood and an unwillingness to miss out on this pivotal life experience.

As someone who has always been a keen history buff and who studied history at university for many years, including going to Cambridge to do a PhD in late Roman, early medieval Italian history, and as a weekly reader of New Scientist and someone fascinated by questions about the future, I would prefer to live for at least five hundred years, in order to see what happens and how many of my predictions come true. The future promises to be endlessly fascinating and the rapid geopolitical, technological and environmental developments are worthy of study in the longue durée. Five hundred years should just about satisfy my wish to see how current short and long-term trends unfold, and to witness how humans cope with the environmental consequences of their development. Considering I cannot quite manage five hundred years, without very sudden and dramatic discoveries in arresting the ageing process or, beyond that, some form of cryogenic freezing and rebooting in a rejuvenated body several centuries from now, I’d like at least to live for as long as is physically possible, whilst retaining my mental faculties.

In short, the last thing I want to do is die young. Many might suggest that is no longer possible at the age of thirty-nine! But after all, one is only as young as, well… we know how that one goes. It was, therefore, a great relief to me when I visited my most excellent doctor this morning to be informed that my chest and lung x-rays showed nothing of concern whatsoever. For the last three months I’ve suffered muscular pain and discomfort in my chest and shoulder area, and it has, at times, been difficult to pinpoint the source of this pain. To begin with, I thought it might be my all too vigorous copulation style; secondly, I blamed my keen and regular use of barbells to buff myself up. Ultimately, I began to fear that the source of the pain was deeper than these possible structural causes, and once the idea had gotten into my head that the source of discomfort might be my heart or lungs, the paranoia grew into a dreadful fear.

It is worth pointing out that I no longer smoke cigarettes and have not smoked a single one since April 2007. I have, however, smoked a good few joints in the intervening period and, anyway, lung cancer can strike many years after quitting smoking. So there was no reason to feel complacent on this front, and once the thought had entered my head, I began to fear that I was about to pay the ultimate price for the follies of youth.

I have often experienced such paranoia about possible catastrophic health problems in the past. In late 2010, I became convinced that I had something very seriously wrong inside my head, when for three to four months I suffered from constant headaches, sore, dry eyes and dizziness. I visited five doctors and was not at all impressed with their attempts to identify or diagnose the source of the problem. It was the fifth doctor, now my current regular, who had no hesitation in sending me for a CT scan (I still can’t believe it took this long!) which determined that it was, in fact, a cyst in my sinuses. When he read the report of the scan in the office, and, nodding and frowning said “Mmmm, there’s definitely a lot going on there,” I thought I was doomed and broke into a cold sweat. For, perhaps twenty seconds, all the fear and paranoia that had built up in preceding months reached a terrible peak and I genuinely believed I was about to be told I had a brain tumour. Once he had made sense of the jargon in the radiologist’s report, however, Dr Lam was very quick to reassure me that all was well. A most glorious sense of relief washed over me. I wasn’t, after all, going to fucking die! I was going to live!

For the last month I’ve been living with a similar gnawing feeling; that really something awful was going on inside my body and my time on this Earth was about to draw to a premature close. It was quite overwhelming at times, and indeed, I would have dizzy spells and moments of desperation as the feeling congealed inside and, naively convinced, I asked myself “What else could it be? It must be my lungs.” Well, that is yet to be determined, when I take the next step, in seeing a sports medicine specialist at the University of Sydney, but the good news is that it ain’t lung cancer and is most likely, as originally suspected, a structural, muscular problem.

You may wonder why I took so long to confirm this and have x-rays done. The reason, I suppose, was that a part of me needed to believe I was just being paranoid and I tried to reassure myself that it really was nothing serious. There was also a part of me that did not wish to face the truth if there was something serious amiss; this despite the fact that were something seriously wrong, the sooner it was identified and addressed the better. It was also, in part, because I knew that my worst fears about my health were often misplaced, as on the occasion when my fears of testicular cancer resolved instead into a diagnosis of epididymitis; not a pleasant condition, but certainly not fatal! As was the case with my nuts, and, indeed, the cyst in my sinuses, there have been several other occasions when I thought for certain I was dying. Before leaving for Europe in 1996, for example, when I’d been plagued by a mysterious pain in my side for months, and again in 2005, when I suffered long dizzy spells and bouts of blurred vision for several weeks. On both occasions these turned out to be posture-related, and I’m now beginning to wonder if this latest issue is not also posture related, though I have for a long while used an ergonomic chair and sat upright and straight-backed at my desk.

I hope that soon this problem will be solved, and I can get back to lifting weights (other important pleasures have not been curtailed). For now, however, I will simply revel in having seen off the worst-case scenario and return to looking forward to a long and fruitful life, ideally, several centuries long.

By way of conclusion, I would like to present a half-completed poem. It was written in 2005 during my tenure at “Cornieworld #1”, when the dizziness I was experiencing led me to believe that something was seriously wrong with me. When, after seeing a couple of doctors and ultimately consulting a physio, I realised that I wasn’t, in fact, dying, I sat down to write “For three weeks I thought I was dying.” I never completed it satisfactorily and am unlikely to do so, so I present it now in its unpolished form.

Live long and prosper!


For three weeks I thought I was dying…


For three weeks I thought I was dying.

The misunderstood stink of sleeplessness;

greasy sweats born of fear and imagined

tumours within this corrupt, greying vehicle

still desperately far from success.


The horizon became naught but wasted grafting

with the falling short suggested in my wrenching

abdomen, aching head and blood wisps

snaking from a stool. A pallor which even

hard running could evince, a dizziness growing

and solemn, I was convinced.


Til, on a day away from vulgar work I walked

afraid for projects long assured, en route

to seek the testing proof across the arching

concrete bridge. Humidity smeared my skin while spring

bustled in my chest and the looseness,

transported from the earthworms to my joints,


watered my swoon to encourage a distant lifting

from sharp displeasure at the nape, the protest

and the query of my body yet to answer

for betrayals. Taunted by the semblance

of a lifespan, I pressed on, assured I carried

some illness come from the burrows, come


from some lodger born of me. I tottered amongst

the students as though sunstruck and recalled

a film wherein a thirsting bumpkin

staggered on a rippling road; recalled a youth

I then thought was old – outside this very building!

The coming dim this doctor must soon name


– I don’t doubt I’ve mouthed it in some searching,

prussic forecast – has ensured this clarity

and the poignance of each nostalgic yearn.

Outwardly now, a sunset hacienda, bloody again

in my fearful cheeks and lips, roaming forward,

pursed against the ague, aghast at atoms in disjunction.


The lion’s share lies still ahead, my organs

take me there! That night, unfurrowed, though as yet in limbo

I walked down to the sinking docks. High across

the water stood a straddling bridge, wired and search-lit,

streaked and roaring, with two great striving concrete towers.

And about these, trailing their dusty orbits,

five hundred seagulls fed on a million moths.

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