To care or not to care

There comes a point in one’s life when one cares less and less about things that don’t matter. To say one is past caring sounds like defeatism but it’s not really.

It just means you know what you care about and couldn’t give a stuff about anything else.

When Jerry Seinfeld was in town a couple of months ago he talked about the fact that now that he is in his 60s he cares little about what people think. And because of that he feels free to speak his mind more freely and to be frank and honest.

An example he gave was: he’s in a restaurant and he has just finished his meal and the waiter asks if he enjoyed it.

“Not really,” Jerry will say. “It really wasn’t very good.”

That’s liberating right? Or is it just plain rude?

Phil Brown - author
Phil Brown. Photo Ric Frearson

Maybe a bit of both but Seinfeld didn’t appear to be worried about that. Personally, I’m with him and the older I get, the more honest I am about my likes and dislikes.

And I’m not afraid to let people know about that, much to the chagrin of my wife and son who don’t always appreciate how candid I can be in public places.

One thing I refuse to do nowadays in this more uninhibited stage of my life is to read a book that is longer than 400 pages. I simply won’t do it.

Someone attempted to convince me to read a Booker Prize winner that was in that category a little while back, telling me how wonderful it was but nope, I simply refused.

One of my colleagues, when confronted with a doorstop of a book recently, set it aside saying, “Life’s too short.” I respect that.

There are only so many books that I will read between now and when I am pushing up daisies and they will all have to have a certain brevity.

And if I start a book now and I don’t like it by about 15 pages in, I ditch it and cut my losses. I see people soldiering on with books they hate because they have to finish them which is a kind of masochism really.

Also, if people ask me to go somewhere and I don’t want to go, I simply say so.

People sometimes phone and ask me if I’d be interested in some event and I will reply, “No, I am not interested.”

I can’t say it any plainer than that, can I?

There’s usually an awkward silence afterwards but what the hell.

If a show is terrible I will leave at interval, if someone irks me I will simply steer clear of them … you’re getting the picture?

I guess you could say that I am past caring but it’s not that really.

It’s just that we have a finite amount of time available on this planet and in that time I simply won’t do what I don’t want to do.

And you can’t make me, so there.

Arts Editor – The Courier-Mail

Work…. It’s A Living

I’m starting to get the hang of this work business again but it’s not easy. In fact as the new year dawned I wondered if I would be able to do it at all. I had some time off and without the pressure of having to front up at work to service my usual deadlines I was lost.

At one stage over the silly season I couldn’t even remember what day it was. Brisbane City Council can verify this because I rang them in high dudgeon one day complaining that they hadn’t taken my bin away. I got home and found it sitting there thinking all the other bins had been emptied because mine was the only one still out.

The problem was it was a Tuesday morning and the garbage truck comes on a Wednesday. I did ring council back later and I told them I was an idiot but I think they already knew that.

Lots of people go away over the silly season but we stayed home and the neighbourhood was dead as a doornail. I swear I looked out at the street at one stage and saw tumbleweed go by. This exacerbated the general feeling of entropy that engulfed our household, a place where the days all seemed the same and time ceased to mean much.

I became the human version of a blancmange and started to find that most mornings I could barely lift my head off the pillow.

“How did I ever go to work?’ I asked. It was a rhetorical question of course but I did wonder. I also wondered how I would ever go to work again. Thinking back I realised I had a very busy and productive 2016 but who exactly was that dervish who cranked out story after story for months on end? Now here I was spending most of the day prone, watching Foxtel, barely able to bring myself to scribble even a meagre shopping list.

In the end I began to yearn for some sort of structure to my life because I’m the sort of person who needs structure and discipline. I know people who have retired but the thought horrifies me. I need to go to work, to have things expected of me, for my own good and the good of the community as a whole.

Those mornings over the holidays when I didn’t have to go to work were nice at first but eventually it all became too hard. It’s not easy doing nothing.

“Are you getting up?” my wife would ask me each morning and I would moan: ”Why should I?”

But now I’m back at work and while I’m still not exactly leaping out of bed in the morning (I’ve never been a morning person) I’m happy to be back in the saddle. I may end up being the guy who works until he is 90. I’m not sure if that’s a promise or a threat. Maybe both.


Happiness Is Not For Sale

I sometimes dream of being rich. We all do, right? It’s shallow of me I know but I can’t help it. I was thinking about being rich the other night while watching the movie Match Point. It’s a great Woody Allen film (he wrote and directed it) about love, murder and morality and it’s beautifully shot in London and in the English countryside where the family at the centre of the story has a nice big house.

The patriarch of the Hewett family in the film is Alec Hewett played by Brian Cox. No not the astrophysicist, I’m talking about the other Brian Cox, the older one, who is a fine actor.

As Hewett he doesn’t seem to do much other than lavish money on his family, move between a swish London abode and a country residence where he is preparing for the grouse shooting season. I love this movie and Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers are excellent in the lead roles. This time around though I was mainly fascinated watching Brian Cox play out my fantasy of being rich.

“I could do that,” I commented and my wife and son both nodded and then shook their heads as if to say: “He’s off again.”

“No I really could,” I said.  I could swan around London running my business empire. I could lounge around my country estate in suede trousers and tweed jackets. I really could do that.”

There’s the little matter of having the money to do so but of course that’s a mere technicality.

One of my problems is that at one point in my life we did have money, quite a lot of money. We lived the colonial high life with servants and chauffeur who used to drive us to school in my father’s Jaguar XJ6. That idyll only lasted for a few years but, frankly, I’ve never quite gotten over it. Since then I’ve had champagne tastes on a beer budget, which is hard to reconcile at times.

So I fantasise about being wealthy. Not that we’re not comfortable. In fact really we don’t want for anything and I should be grateful for what I’ve got and sometimes, after watching the television news, I am.

But there’s still that part of me that wants to win the lottery and chuck it all in, live the rest of my days in a spacious mansion. There I would wander around in a smoking jacket  and sit in the deep leather armchair in my private library reading Somerset Maugham and puffing on a cigar.

It’s just a fantasy though, one lived vicariously watching movies such as Match Point or series like Downton Abbey after which I invariably get the urge to dress for dinner when in reality my meals  tend to be taken in front of the television in a tartan dressing gown.

It’s not exactly the high life but when I think about it, it’s really enough.

Besides money can’t buy happiness. I know that. Still, I like to daydream. Anyone for tennis?

Arts Editor – The Courier-Mail



I’d like to be calm, I really would. But unfortunately panic is my default position in life. It motivates me, helps me get things done. Not everyone understands this. When something went wrong at work the other day I started moaning and banging my head on the desk, muttering expletives.

One of my colleagues was thrown by this . “I thought you were having heart attack,” she said.

“No, I’m fine,” I said because I was done by then. And I felt better.

When something goes wrong I escalate immediately I can’t help it, it’s just what I do. There’s no use running around like Jones on Dad’s Army saying: “Don’t panic! Don’t panic!” (This is actually a form of panic itself, of course)

No dear reader, take my advice. Panic. It’s how to get things done.

When I was a lad I read and admired Rudyard Kipling’s poem IF, which begins

“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you …” You know the verse? But I fail miserably right there at the beginning of the poem. What’s a fellow to do about the flaws in his own nature?

I have tried calming down but it has never really taken. I know there are techniques that can help such as meditation and yoga and I have tried them all and failed miserably. Even thinking about them makes me tense. I had some acupuncture the other day which should have been calming but I took my coffee in with me and I spent the whole time looking at my watch and panicking about being late for work. That’s how I roll.

I didn’t want to relax because I had the whole day ahead of me and without stress I just couldn’t get through it. If I was calm and relaxed I would just sit there all day staring into space.

The upside stress and panic is that once you have done that for any length of time you become so emotionally and physically exhausted that you actually do relax. It’s a conundrum.

But the reality is that I don’t want to be calm. I want to be stressed so I can get through my day. Panic helps me overcome things.

We’ve had some great moments of panic on overseas trips, like the time I decided to go to the loo at between trains at York in the north of England and nearly missed the service to Inverness. My wife panicked more than me on that occasion, so much so that she ran into the men’s room and started banging on the toilet door shouting: “The train is here, get out of there for God’s sake!”

“I’m not in that cubicle, I’m in this one,” I said. Then I panicked and we just made the train. If we hadn’t panicked we would have missed it. I think I’ve made my point.If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,


Have you ever been on a pilgrimage? I listened to a documentary on the radio the other day and they were discussing pilgrimages – The Hajj (to Mecca) and The Camino de Santiago (in northern Spain), among others.

This made me wonder whether I had ever undertaken any pilgrimages. I decided that I had, kind of.

The one that first came to mind was a pilgrimage to Scotland I made for my 40th birthday.  Scotland is where my mum’s forebears came from and I had always hankered to visit. I decided it would be an ideal place to celebrate that significant birthday because I had been to a friend’s 40th  the year before and another mate had arranged one of those Strip-O-Grams for him. Considering there were mums and aunties present it was a little inappropriate, to say the least.

Anyway, I didn’t want the same thing happening at my 40th so I decided to go as far away as possible – Culloden, just outside Inverness, to be exact. This was something of a pilgrimage because it included a visit to the site of the famous Battle of Culloden, which I’d been interested in ever since seeing Peter Watkins’ 1964 docudrama about this tragic battle in which the British defeated and slaughtered the highland clans under Bonnie Prince Charlie.

A pilgrimage needs to be a journey that has some spiritual or moral significance and I think that fitted the bill.

I would count a visit to the famous Abbey Road studios in London and a stroll across the famous pedestrian crossing outside (the one featured on the cover of The Beatles album Abbey Road ) as another pilgrimage, of sorts.

I consider the trek my wife and I took many moons ago on in Nepal another pilgrimage and the one that involved the most actual walking. Real pilgrimages seem to involve going on foot.

We spent 12 days trudging in the Himalayas and high in an alpine valley near the border with Tibet we reached our ultimate destination, the hamlet of Kyanjin Gompa, where we visited and paid homage to the local Tibetan lama who lived not far from a glacier.

During our brief audience with him he told me how much he admired my sunglasses and I got the hint but didn’t want to part with them. Anyway, I promised to send him a pair as soon as I got home and I did although I never knew whether he got them or not. Yak mail is notoriously unreliable.

That was a pilgrimage, wasn’t it?

There have been others of varying degrees of significance but I’m wondering now if there’s something I have missed. I haven’t been to The Vatican yet so I should put that on the list and I would also like to make a pilgrimage to the Taj Mahal. I did think about the Camino de Santiago but that’s around 800kms. Yikes. I suppose I could drive it. Does that count?