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.

PHIL BROWN

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?

PHIL BROWN
Arts Editor – The Courier-Mail

 

Panic

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,

WHO THE HELL AM I?

Have you ever wondered who you are – I mean really wondered? I’m not talking about a vague philosophical pondering … I’m being quite literal.

This happens to me from time to time. Maybe it’s just low blood sugar rather than a real existential crisis. I don’t really know.

It occurred most recently at a very inopportune moment and may have been a result of stress. I was in the Concert Hall at QPAC for an evening of classical music, which most people would find relaxing. I like to sit on the end of a row and feel quite claustrophobic in the centre so when I found myself wedged in the middle I wasn’t happy.

Slowly the punters (that may be the wrong word) filed in. On one side of me sat a world famous medical researcher (a lovely bloke) while on the other was a gracious lady of a certain age.

I struggled to get comfortable and retain a sense of decorum. Then, not long after the music started, I had one of those coughing fits that seem to occur only in a hushed auditorium. As I stifled the hacking  I broke into a sweat and then, suddenly, my mind went blank and a general feeling of disassociation ensued. It was at that moment that I wondered who the hell I was. Who was this witnessing the concert? What was it that constitutes me?  My consciousness? My personality? My receding hairline? Did I exist outside of me as some sort of ethereal spirit or was I doomed to be eternally myself? Of course while I was experiencing this everyone else just enjoyed the music.

This doesn’t happen often but, as I said, it has happened before. The most memorable occasion was once in my twenties when I was staying with friends in Toowoomba. Maybe it was the altitude? Anyway, I was in a spare room in a dinky single bed and I woke in the middle of the night and could see myself in a mirror on the door of the adjacent cupboard. I looked at myself, alarmed and thought – who the hell is that?

This question can, of course, lead to other questions about God and the nature of universe – questions which really can’t be fully answered except perhaps by Stephen Hawking. But as Woody Allen once said: “Can we actually ‘know’ the universe? My God it’s hard enough finding your way around Chinatown.”

Humour really is the best response to existential angst, including questions of identity. Whoever the hell we might be, we are stuck with ourselves. My favourite quote on this conundrum comes – not from Lao Tzu or Nietzsche but from The Goons, an episode entitled Dishonoured- Again, in which Neddie Seagoon (Harry Secombe) has stolen some gold is urged by his nemesis,  Hercules Grytpype-Thynne, to surrender.

“Give yourself up Neddie!” Grytpype-Thynne demands, to which Neddie replies: “No, I can’t break myself of that habit.” Deep, huh?

Phil Brown

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