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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I’m sure you would be bored to sobs if I recounted the highlights of my recent overseas holiday. I might regale you with the disasters instead?

It all began on the flight to Hong Kong, sitting next to the Russian version of a complete yobbo. This bloke was talking loudly on his mobile phone as we were taxiing for take-off. I threatened to call the cabin crew but he protested: “I am just calling my wife in Moscow.”

“Mate, I don’t care if you’re calling Vladimir bloody Putin, turn your phone off!” I insisted. He relented and then told his mates what a dickhead I was – I may not speak Russian but I got the gist. Then he proceeded to inhale nine cans of beer and 32 of those little packets of peanuts (I counted them) they give you on airplanes.

As we descended into Honkers he tried to make another phone call and I went ballistic so he waited until we were taxiing to the terminal to make his call, which was still against regulations. My wife and son sat in the row behind looking bemused.

In Hong Kong things went largely to plan and I think I may have actually had had less meltdowns than I normally do on vacation.

There was, however, that awful moment at the Macau Ferry terminal when I realised I had left my credit card with reception back at the hotel. After much effing and blinding I was able to get a cab to fetch it and we still made the ferry.

In Macau we were taken on a tour of the old city and I can’t remember ever being so hot. Our guide seemed to ignore my pleas for a drinks break and I got so overheated my eyeballs were perspiring.

When our host took us to a seaside Portuguese restaurant for lunch I managed one sardine and when a plate piled high with pork arrived it was all I could do not to vomit onto my placemat.

I recovered in time for the ride back to Kowloon on a jetfoil ferry. It wasn’t until we were in our seats that we realised the number 3 typhoon signal had been hoisted but by then it was too late. For the first half hour it was like being on the spin cycle in a washing machine.

After recovering from that ordeal we were treated to a banquet at Spring Moon restaurant at The Peninsula, Hong Kong’s swankiest hotel which is still there, thankfully, despite my son’s best efforts to burn the joint down.

When he went to the loo our boy tossed his napkin onto a candle without realising it. My wife and I were chatting and sipping Pu-erh tea when we noticed staff running towards us in panic.

By this stage the napkin was well alight and smoke was rising from the table but luckily they got it out before the fire alarm or sprinklers started up.

I could tell you about the good stuff too but that wouldn’t be nearly as interesting, would it?

Phil Brown