Why I quit Internet Marketing (and why I haven’t really)

Internet Marketing – simply put is the buying and selling of good and services on the Internet.
Any other definition is not correct, although there is a common misconception that the term Internet Marketing relates solely to the Make Money Online or Network marketing niches.
I’ve been involved in the Make Money Online niche for nearly ten years.
I’ve learned an awful lot.  Made some good money and taken a few baths along the way….but I’m not getting any enjoyment from it.  If I’m honest I haven’t been for well over two years.  I get impatient with people looking for the magic money button.  I get viciously nasty towards the people selling  the magic make money button and I find that those of us in the middle – reasonable people trying to make an honest dollar are ridiculed by the shysters and ignored by the vast majority of starry eyed wannabe hopefuls who find it easier to believe a slick video produced by a convicted insurance scammer, or a couple of outright liars who think its cool to pressure people into “going all in” on the false premise that you can blog about anything to make money.
I’m sick of fighting the good fight.
There’s easier ways to make money online then to compete in shark infested waters bloodied by the slaughter of innocent hopes and dreams of thousands.
My good friend and mentor Graham Hamer, quit the “industry” a couple of years ago, stating that it had become infiltrated with an  egotistical unethical “elite” group.
I guess Graham got tired too.
I have some good friends in the business who I have spent quite of bit of time with on Skype over the years. Everyone of them, I consider to be ethical, smart and very good at what they do.
They will always be my friends and I wish them every success in the future but…there comes a time when the grass not only looks greener on the other side of the fence…it is greener.
It’s greener because Internet Marketing has taught me skills that are in huge demand.

  • SEO
  • Site design
  • WordPress
  • Copy writing
  • Video management
  • Social media engagement
  • Email marketing
  • Adwords management
  • Banner design

Need I go on?
The point is this .  Over the past six months I’ve progressively established a business profile on a number of freelancing sites offering services in most of those categories.
I find the work interesting, challenging, engaging AND rewarding.
The more rewarding I found it the more tiresome  the Make Money On line niche looked.
Which is kind of a pain in the bum, because I’ve been working away at creating a legitimate membvership site that was aimed at really helping average people make money online.
The site is almost built and has been almost built for three months.  It needs a couple of one time offers added and some pro member content (already written added)
I need a reason to finish it.
Accordingly I’m offering the site for sale – either as is, completed, or on a partnership basis.
I know with the right amounts of energy and enthusiasm, the site could make a tidy income.
All serious offers will be considered and I’m happy to give anyone a tour and some honest appraisals of what the site could deliver.
If you’re interested – there is a contact form that should be accessible via this page – give me a shout at – let’s see if teh site is a right fit for you.
As for me, I’m going to ply my skills in the freelance market.
Cheers

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Friendship and Sunshine

How do you measure friendship?
Who can you count on?
Genuine friends are hard to find – here’s a description of a man I’m proud to call my friend.


blog441Above: At a party somewhere – we would have been 18

 
It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen Dean.  That’s what happens when life happens; good friends go their own ways.  Life and other catastrophes it sounds like a title of a movie.  But that’s what happens to friendships they get kicked to the gutter while life goes on around them.  It’s nobody’s fault, it’s the way it is.

I pull to the kerb and can see him working on a project at the side of the house.  Nothing has changed, not in close to fourty years.  He’s still busy fixing and making things and I’m still dreaming stuff up in my head and writing it down.  If like personalities are meant to be criteria for being friends we shouldn’t be, but we are.

I kill the engine and sit for a second, wondering when the last time was I actually had the opportunity to talk to him alone.  It was a long time ago. Gitta wasn’t going to school.  He was going through a rough patch.  I drove down from Ararat to see him.  We talked.  I think it was good.  I hope so anyway.

Now I’ve driven down from Ararat again. Now I need him to listen.

I know he will.  All I have to do is open up – something I’ve never been good at.

But he’ll listen if I let him.

I get out of the car and walk up to the gate he’s moved back into the garage so I open up and wander down his driveway.  Everything is immaculate, there’s nothing out of place – he must really wonder what I do with my time.

He comes out of the garage and sees me…and it’s just like we’d seen each other yesterday.  It just feels right.

We exchange pleasantries and talk about the work he’s doing.  It’s all precise, exact, and damn near perfect.  I’d like to be like that but I’m not.  No point trying.

He asks me in for a coffee and we’re still swapping small talk.  His hands shake noticeably as he prepares the coffee and he makes a joke about it.

I ask if he’s OK and he say’s he is.  The double vision has gone and he just has to put up with the shakes.  His shrug says it all – small price to pay.

So we sit and sip our coffees and talk; two old friends happy to have caught up after a long time and feeling comfortable in each other’s company.

He knows I didn’t come over two hundred kilometres to reminisce about old times or talk about Industrial relations, but he doesn’t pry.  He waits for me to spill my guts.

Then there is an opening and I open up.  I let it all out.  The dark glistening corrupting worm that has lain inside me for too long is spewed out in a stream of short sentences.  I tell him things I have dared not admit it fully to myself.  I speak of darkness and fear.

He nods.  He doesn’t judge, he empathises and offers his opinions and his experience of similar things in other times.
It is good.

We talk for a while longer.  He reaffirms that his door is always open and then he says the most amazingly simple thing.  “It’s always good to get up and see the sun shining.”  It is priceless.

Then it is time to go.  He laughs at my Subaru Brumby “Did you drive down here in that?  You’re bloody game.”

We shake hands.  “See you soon,” I say and mean it.

“Yes,” he says “I’m always here.”

Then I’m gone.

On the drive home I think about Dean and our friendship a lot.

I’d been at St Joseph’s nearly two years before we connected.  It was in art class.  We were meant to be making paper Mache models.  Dean and I discovered that if you used some of the tools to build a little slingshot you could flick the wet Paper Mache high enough to stick to the ceiling.  We thought it was hilarious and from that point on we just hung out together.

School is a place where alliances are formed and broken on a daily basis.  Loyalties are constantly tested.  We stuck thick.  I don’t know why, we just did.  We were both too intelligent to really fit in with the rougher guys although that’s where we gravitated, but sufficiently de-motivated to want to be seen with the academics and we didn’t like authority.

We developed a reputation for being for want of a better word, “bad.”  We weren’t, we just kept to ourselves and a small group of maybe five or six.  People didn’t get us.
I remember the class receiving a lecture from a teacher who said that there were two people in the room who were destined for Pentridge.  His eyes were fixed upon Dean and I sitting at the back of the class.  We thought it was funny.  He didn’t like that.

Dean left school at the end of Year eleven and I missed him like hell.

There were lots of other things going on in my life but I believe if Dean had of been at school his steadying influence would have prevented me from wagging most of the first term.  Even then he had bucket loads of common sense.

A year later and we were both out of school with the world at our feet.

I remember going out to the Trots one evening with him.  We drank too much beer, lost too much money and hitched a ride back in to town.  We landed at a little pizza café and spent an hour or so shooting the breeze, taking the piss out of each other and behaving like we were kings of the world.  It was a good night.  There’s no reason to remember it except for the fact that three days later, he was lying in a hospital bed in a coma after suffering a massive brain aneurism.  He probably should have died.
He was alone when it happened and he wasn’t found until sometime after.
It was a massive shock to those of us that were close to him.  We made every effort to visit him when he was well enough for visitors but it was a long haul.

One minute you’re nineteen, tough as nails with the world at your feet.  The next you’re pretty much helpless, struggling to put one foot in front of the other.  It wasn’t fair but nothing ever is.  I don’t know whether I would have made it back.  Dean did.

When he finally got out of hospital, he was a changed man, quieter, gentler and wiser but he stuck by his totally off the rails mad as a cut snake mate.

He got married early and life changed again for him.

But we still stuck thick.

I can only remember one argument we ever had.  It was my fault.  I was drunk and yelling at him about matters that I knew nothing about.  He tolerated me for a while and then snapped, grabbed me by the throat and pushed me up against the wall.  It was a total mismatch – he could have absolutely slaughtered me.  “Piss off,” he snarled and I left with my tail between my legs.  Twenty four hours later, he called around to my house and wanted to know if I was coming to the pub.  We never spoke of what had happened.

He couldn’t stop me from pursuing the path I seemed hell bent on choosing, but he watched out for me and tolerated my excesses better than anyone else.  When I finally decided to leave Geelong  he was the one person who bothered to ask why I was going and seemed to understand why.

Really, if I’m totally honest I haven’t seen much of him since.  He was groomsman at my wedding, is the godfather of Gitta and is always interested in my family and kids.

Five years or so ago he suffered a second aneurism.  He survived that as well.

He could be bitter and twisted but he isn’t.  He tells me that he is grateful to be living a fortunate life.

He is.

I’m proud to call him my friend.

Whenever I hear Dire Straits I think of Dean, driving around in his Cortina Wagon with this song playing.  I think I’ll still have those memories the day I die 

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Getting the cuts

I attended an all boys school in Geelong.  It was catholic.  The culture was toxic on many levels.  Getting the cuts was being strapped on the hand by a heavy leather belt.  This practice is now outlawed.

This is for Terry Collins – you left early, I have no idea what happened to you, but I always thought you were OK.

Getting the Cuts
I think I probably “got the cuts” one hundred times while I was at school.

I’d suggest that while this was above average, it certainly was within normal limits.  It was not unusual to see half a dozen boys receive the cuts in certain classes in year nine on a daily basis.  It was institutionalized violence.

That’s a sad indictment on the school, and the culture that flowed through it.  I was no angel – far from it, but one hundred times?

What I find even now, as really disturbing was how we, the students accepted it, even gloried in it.  It was almost a badge of honour to get the cuts.  The first time was almost a rite of passage.

The first time I encountered the brutality of the system was in Grade six.  We had a young teacher.  I think it was his first year teaching.  We had probably got half way through the school year.  I don’t know what happened.  I don’t know why he chose to discipline two boys, but I remember the atmosphere, the tension and the frisson that his actions created.

He called two boys out the front, told them to face the blackboard, opened his case and pulled out a leather strap.  It was about fifteen inches long and about an inch thick.  Somebody told me once that the straps had a sliver of steel in the middle.  I don’t know if that was true, either way it was a serious hitting instrument.  He asked one boy to turn and face him and then to hold out his hand.  Then he struck the kid’s hand with all the force he could muster.  The boy was no older than twelve.  Of course he burst into tears.  “Other hand,” the teacher commanded and repeated the dose.

Then he repeated the whole exercise with the other boy.

It was brutal.

The room was stunned.  All eyes were fixed on the teacher.

He spoke in clipped tones.  “I’ve got one and I’m not afraid to use it.”

I think he was.  I think the whole thing  traumatized  him as much as it did us.  I never saw him use it again.  I think he was told he had to have one.  That’s the way the school operated.

I didn’t get the cuts until a year later.  It was quite a production.

I don’t know what I did.  I’m sure it wasn’t much.    Not enough to be assaulted anyway.

Here’s how it went down.

The Christian Brother who was our class teacher told me and several other boys to see him at lunch time.  We knew what that meant.

I don’t mind saying I was a little scared.  I was thirteen years old at the most.

Lunch time came and we assembled outside the classroom door.  He kept us waiting.  Terry Collins, a likeable rogue,  sidled up to me.  “First time?” he asked.

I nodded.

“You’ll be right.  Try and ride the blow.  Go with it.”

I think I understood what he meant.

Eventually, the Brother arrived and ushered us into the classroom.

We were commanded to face the blackboard.  I was last in line.  Terry stood beside me.

Someone’s name was called.

Footsteps.

A command.

Crack!

The sound echoed around the room.

“Jesus,” hissed Terry, “that was hard.”

Sobbing, followed by footsteps.

Another name, another command.

Crack!

More sobbing.

My legs turned to jelly.

Another name, another command.

Crack!

More sobbing.

This is bullshit
, part of me thinks, the other part is preparing itself to get hurt.

“Collins,”

Terry turned and walked.

There was the usual command.

Crack!

“Again!”

Crack!

Why did he get two?

Footsteps – no sobs.
He stood next to me.  He sniffed once.

“Hodgetts.”

It’s just my hand, it can’t hurt that much.

I turned and walked toward him.

His face was stern and he brandished the strap at me.

“Hold out your hand.”

I raised my hand.

He grabbed my arm and stretched it to its full extent.

“Higher.”

I raised my arm.  Terry’s instruction rose to the forefront of my brain ride the blow.

I distinctly remember feeling as if I’m trembling – all tingly.
He stepped back, raised the strap and then brought it down.  I watched its arc and as it connected with my hand, I dropped my hand slightly taking some of the sting out of the blow, and riding the blow downward.

Crack!

It hurt -stung fiercely, but it was not going to kill me.  I certainly was not about to start crying.  He didn’t like that.

“Again.”

The fear was gone.

I raised my hand again.  This time I didn’t time it so well.

Crack!

He caught me across the wrist.  Pain jolted up my arm.

It hurt.

I refused to show it.  For a second I thought he was going to give me another.

“Go back to where you were.”

I walked back beside Terry and stood by his side.

We stood facing the board for an eternity.  There was no sound, other than sniffles from some of the other boys. It felt like my wrist was on fire.

Eventually we were dismissed.

Terry and I walked side by side.  “How’s your hand?”

I showed him.  There was an ugly red welt across my wrist.

He laughed and show me his – it almost matched……

Scratch the surface of memory of boys of my time in the Catholic system and you will hear dozens of stories about “getting the cuts” or the strap.

It was an accepted part of life.

I can remember one teacher who took a run up before hitting boys.

I remember a female teacher who delighted in constantly hitting us.  Freud and Jung would have had a field day with her.

It was brutal theatre.

And it was the theatre that caused the trauma.  Those boys who cried in the description above weren’t crying with pain, they were crying with shock.  I’m sure of it.  It was the tension, the build up, the implied sense of impending violence.  Pain is fleeting, fear can be debilitating.  This is bullshit was not the response I was meant to feel.  I was meant to be quaking.

I received the cuts regularly from Year 7 up until Year 10. Most of the time it was for matters so trivial that you would have to wonder whether the people in charge of me were fit to be teaching.  Not every teacher used the strap.  The good ones had no need.
They could command respect without resorting to fear.  Sadly they were in the minority.

Anyone who says that this is the way to discipline kids wasn’t there.  All we learned was violence was the easiest way to solve a problem. The hypocrisy of the practice in a supposedly Christian school is mind blowing.  Speaking of which,  Mary Long sort of sums that up

 

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Being a Dad

I’m in a reflective mood.   This can only be for three people – Diana, Rebecca and Brigitta. Words don’t do you justice but I tried anyway.

 

Many years ago when I was maybe eighteen, I told my best mate that I wanted a son.  He burst out laughing and told me that I was full of it.

I was, but not for the reasons he thought, it was simply that I didn’t have the life experience or the understanding of what being a father meant.

I still sometimes wonder if I do truly appreciate what a great gift being a father is.

There is nothing that prepares you for fatherhood.

One day you are in a two way relationship, the next you’re in a triangle and let’s not tiptoe around this, as a father you’re the weak link.  The bond between mother and child is absolute.  It is physical, emotional and spiritual from day one.  You can cut it anyway you please, but at the end of the day, no father can claim that.  Its quite confronting.

If you’ve got any brains at all, you quickly realize that you are not the center of the universe.

So, you’ve got to adapt.  You either choose to be an involved  father or you walk.  Lots of guys do walk.  Maybe its selfishness, I don’t think so.  Fatherhood is a brutal slap in the face to your sense of self and where you sit in the scheme of things.  Our whole society is patriarchal -as a man you are conditioned to believe that you are King of your own domain.  Its an illusion that kids forced me to reassess.

I like to pretend that I’m pretty tough and I’ll tell you that I am not overly sentimental, but let me tell you that when it comes to my three girls I’m a marshmallow.

I don’t normally keep photographs, but there’s one photo that I treasure above all.  It’s a picture of me nursing my eldest daughter, Diana on the day of her christening.  There’s something special about the photo (apart from the fact that there are no wrinkles under my eyes and that I look in reasonable shape -compared to now anyway).

It was a hard time for us.  We had moved to Hamilton days after Diana was born and we were struggling to come to terms with a new environment and, it has to be said, a total new way of life.

I don’t mind saying that I was doing it hard.

The photo shows that, it also shows I think, a total commitment to that little bundle in my arms.  Its a picture of me realizing the truth and embracing the chains of responsibility.

That’s what parenting is about, I think, putting your kids first and trying like hell not to screw it up.

To be truthful – it’s bloody terrifying but outrageously rewarding.

I love all my daughters more than life itself.  Each of them has taught me more about life than they can possibly imagine and they’re all totally different.

Diana, the eldest is perhaps the most like me (except about twice as intelligent).  She is quiet, analytical and  perhaps a little shy.  She has a razor sharp wit and her sense of irony or dare I call it sarcasm has a happy knack of floating above most people’s heads.    She’s an extremely creative person, not content to settle for being average.  Unlike her old man she generally makes very good decisions.

Beck is massively competitive, and just won’t accept second best.  I had the privilege of spending three winter hockey seasons on the road with her from Ararat to Ballarat and later Melbourne.  To have that much time in your daughter’s company at such a formative age is a treasure that cannot be overstated. Its something I will always treasure.  She’s studying science at Melbourne Uni and has plans to save the world I wouldn’t put it past her.

Then there’s Gitta – a combination of the other two with an absolute commitment to truth and fairness.  How many kids do you know who’ve established a charity when they’re fifteen?  Like her sisters she’s as tough as nails, she’s a little louder than the other two and perhaps has gotten away with a little more, but she’s pure gold.  She’s in her last year at school and has big plans to be a writer like her Dad ( I suggested that a more lucrative pursuit might be journalism).

My kids amaze me.  I’ve been going to parent teacher interviews for too many years and as yet I haven’t heard one bad word.  I find that stunning.  My poor parents were assaulted with all sorts of “can do betters” and “Does not play well with others,” or on one spectacular instance “Has not attended class very often”.  They’re all focussed they all seem to know what they want and how to get it.  They make a mockery of the whole karma concept.

All of my girls are fiercely independent.  Its something I’m tremendously proud of.   All power to them.

So, where does that leave me.  I don’t know.  In a previous blog post I wrote that my kids were my salvation.  I meant it.  When I married Brigid I was a work in progress, climbing out of the depths.  My kids made me whole.  I am forever in their debt.

Here’s a little song for them that is appropriate – they seem to do this much better than I ever did .  Fight the Good Fight.  Don’t get discouraged , don’t be afraid, we can make it through another day, make it worth the price we pay…….

 

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Childhood heroes

I don’t appreciate the pain that my brother, Grant, must have endured.  I can’t imagine what life must have been like for my parents.  All I can do is tell how it affected me.

This is for my brother, Grant, the toughest bravest person I’ll ever know.

 

What is a normal childhood?

I guess normal is what a child experiences.  They have nothing else to compare it with.

We are nothing more than the sum total of our experiences and how we cope with them.

My childhood wasn’t “normal,” particularly from the years three to eight when for the most part, my brother’s life hung by a thread and my parents were understandably consumed with his welfare.  I get annoyed sometimes with people complaining about pain.  I know people get annoyed with me because I refuse to acknowledge that I’m unwell or in pain.  I’m not playing some dumb I’m tougher than you are game, I hurt like anybody else – I don’t like complaining about what I see as minor things.

I guess ideas of pain are relative to what you’ve seen and experienced.

When your kid brother has his legs broken and pelvis turned around on the operating table and then after maybe six months has the process repeated, when he is about four years old, you tend to view a dislocated thumb, or a broken nose as a scratch.    I used to be able to say how many operations Grant had before the age of ten -it was well over thirty, but I can’t remember now.  And these weren’t minor operations; they were serious long drawn out life saving or corrective  surgery.

I was a kid, I don’t know exactly what it was that was wrong with him, but I do know he spent most of his early life in the Royal Children’s Hospital.
Talk about tough!  I have two clear memories of Grant during that time.

The first is when he was about nine or ten – it must have been around then, because I was allowed in to the ward to see him and for much of those earlier years I wasn’t.  I had to sit in the waiting room.  He’d had some major operation and he was surrounded by drips and tubes and was clutching his Teddy bear tightly to him.  Mum asked if he was alright.  He nodded and said “Teddy hurts.”

The second was earlier, much earlier.  We’d spent much of the day organising to take him home.  We had to queue for hours to get some medicine from the dispensary and we eventually got out in the late afternoon.  When we finally got outside, he stopped still for a second and seemed to give a little shiver.  “Wind,” he said and smiled.

As I’ve hinted at I spent a lot of time sitting in a waiting room at Ward Eight West at the Royal Children’s Hospital.  I wanted to be there.  I wanted to be as close to my brother as I could be.  I  wasn’t allowed in.  I don’t know why – they must have had a rule about children.

So I sat there, alone for the most part, waiting for news and staring out the window down at Royal Park watching stick figures playing games on the ovals below me.

For company I had a transistor radio – it was tuned to the football broadcast stations and I followed the Collingwood Football Club fanatically.

 

There’s an assumption from people that being an old Geelong boy, I would follow them, but I never have.  My Dad barracked for Collingwood, so, so did I -it was non negotiable from my point of view.

By the time I was six, I could name every player in the team and half the reserves.  I was fanatical.  That fanaticism grew sitting in that waiting room, hanging on every word that came out of that transistor radio.  Names like Thompson, Tuddenham, McKenna, Twiggy Dunne, Richardson and Barry Price were carved into my heart then.  When they won, I walked on air, when they lost I was inconsolable.

I wanted to be like Barry Price, a quick highly talented midfielder who could pass the ball better than anybody.  All week after school I’d spend practicing little stab passes and imagining Peter McKenna leading up to mark (catch) them.  I wanted to play for Collingwood -they were in many ways everything I had.

Collingwood and my brother who I hardly saw but loved all the more for it and  was willing to sit listening to games of football being played across suburban Melbourne, while my parents visited him.

It could have been a miserable existence.  It wasn’t.  I can still remember games on that radio.  I remember a game against St Kilda where we (I thought in terms of us and them) were seven goals down at half time and came back to win with the aid of some Des Tuddenham heroics.  I was dancing around that waiting room like crazy that day.

I learned to love Collingwood then.  It’s a love that has waned but never died.  Nowadays, I follow them closely, but with nothing like the maniacal zeal that I did when I was under twelve.

What kind of person can still name the playing twenty that represented Collingwood in 1970 on that fateful day in September? I was seven.  I can name the side from the backline.  It’s amazing what you remember when you’re in love.

Over the years Collingwood have teased and disappointed me more times than I can remember.  How can you be in front by forty four points in a Grand Final and still lose?  Collingwood did it – they were masters of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory when the ultimate prize seemed to be theirs for the taking.  1970, 1977, 1979,1980, 1981 – they’re years that burn deep but they’re part of being Collingwood.

We’ve never been a classy team – even in our premiership years, we’ve been dogged and determined – Collingwood teams always give value for money and as a follower you learn to love the hard workers, the battlers who give everything and put their body on the line for the club.   You learn to value effort above all else.

I often wonder how life would have turned out if Grant had of been born healthy.  Neither he nor I would have been the same.  I suspect, I would not have been as passionate about Collingwood as I am.  I wish Grant didn’t have to go through what he did, but I still remember that waiting room in Eight West looking down at those stick figures below with the transistor glued to my ear living every kick, every mark and every goal.

I was the lucky one.  I could live success with my childhood heroes on the radio.  My brother had to make do with trying to transfer his pain to his Teddy bear.

He has always been my real hero.  I don’t see him much at all these days, but I love him just as unconditionally as I did when I sat in that waiting room all those years ago.

To be honest I haven’t seen my brother for five years.  What’s with that?  One day soon, little brother, one day soon.  This songs for you….

 

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Postcards from Hell

When is the right time to change?
I nearly left it too late.

This was kind of confronting to write.  Its not easy to fess up to being  as low and as reprehensible as I was.

These are the snapshots I remember.  This is for the people mentioned in the story.  All of them.

There’s a couple of  lyrics from songs from around that time Never Surrender (Triumph), Here I Go Again (Whitesnake) and Wasted Sunsets (Deep Purple).

Life is what you make it
Photo by Degli SPiriti Flickr: deglispiriti’s Photostream
http://www.flickr.com/photos/73853155@N00/

It is another day…just like any other day.  There is nothing to get up for (Or no one to lie in with for that matter) but I will force myself, out of habit.  I can hear Pete’s Celica warming up in the driveway.  Howie will have already left for wherever Howie goes.  He’ll be back before I am and he’ll have a can in his hand when I get home.   I glance at my watch.  I have plenty of time, and I probably need it.

Cautiously, I ease out of bed, and steady myself against the wall.  I’m not too bad.  The head isn’t actually clear, but it’s functioning and my stomach is capable of holding down food.  All’s well with the world.

I shower and give myself a rudimentary shave.  My hands don’t shake but they’re not steady. This morning I don’t cut myself.
I’m winning.

Breakfast is not an option.  I don’t do breakfast.  I’ve gotten out of the habit.

So I have some time.  I wander into the war zone that we call our lounge room and sink into a chair.

“Jesus, what a mess,” I sigh as my eyes flick around the room.  Ashtrays are piled high.  Green and blue cans dot the room.  Most are empty, but there’s sure to be a couple of half empties in amongst them.  Howie’s bong is strewn on the floor.  The bong water has spilled and stained the carpet.  Newspapers and Pizza boxes lie where they fell yesterday.  Somebody’s half eaten pizza slice is sitting face down on a coffee table.  My stomach does a little flip flop.

I stand up, intending to start clearing the mess, when I hear Suzy behind me.  “Are you OK Hodge, you look out of it.”

I turn and smile at her.  Her eyes are wide and maybe a little concerned.  Not for the first time, I wonder what she is doing with Howie,” “Yeah, just thinking.”

“Thinking what?”

I gesture at the room and shrug my shoulders.  “It’s a mess.”

“It always is.  You guys are disgusting.”

“I can’t argue.”

“You’re alright Hodge,” she says and turns to leave.

“Suzy?”

“What?”

I want to ask her what she sees in Howie, but I can’t.  There are some lines mates don’t cross.

“Nothing.”

She stands looking at me with those big brown eyes for what seems an eternity, but is probably only a second.  “I’ll see you tonight then,” and then she’s gone.

I stare after her, still wondering how Howie landed her.  You’ve got to be a player to be a winner, I think and sigh.

“But I’ve made up my mind, I ain’t wasting no more time,” a line from a Whitesnake tune runs through my head.  It’s almost apt, but the song is about lost love and what do I know about that? Five eighths of Sweet FA that’s what I know.

“It’s better to have love and lost then to have never loved at all.”

Yeah right.  I much preferred “I am a rock.  I am an island -because a rock feels no pain and an island never cries.”

The thoughts were coming quickly now and so were the memories – none pleasant, all little postcards from hell.

Emma finds me in the Arglye one Friday night because that’s where she knew I would be.  She waits for me to go to the bar and then follows me.  She leans forward and kisses me on the cheek. “I’m sorry Hodge,” I look at her.  She turns and walks away.  I know where she’s going.  I want to ask her for a chance, every  fiber  of me screams to follow her, but she’s better off without me.  I watch her leave, and then order another drink.

Shuffle.

I’m walking into town, crossing the Barwon Bridge.  I’m going to the Wool Exchange or maybe the Lord Nelson.  It doesn’t matter much the result will be the same.  I look down at the water below and stop.

Shuffle.

Change room – footballs being kicked haphazardly, the coach comes in with his arm around two players……………

Shuffle.

She comes to the phone.  “Don’t ring me anymore; you only ring when you’re drunk.”  “But that’s because I’m always drunk,” I start to reply but the line is already dead…..

Shuffle.

Don’t you like her?  Debbie asks.
I shrug.  “She’s OK,” and part of me dies inside.

Shuffle.
Porcelain bowl, vomit up my nose as my stomach cramps………

Shuffle.

It’s getting late and the floor is packed with people.  I am studying the mirror ball.  Amanda stands at my side looking up at me, wanting to talk, I continue to stare into space, because I dare not talk to her, I dare not let her in, because If I do I don’t trust myself.

Shuffle.

The water looks deep; it would be easy and fast.  I can’t swim.

Shuffle.

Johnny McMahon looks at me. He is genuinely puzzled.  “You’re different Hodge.  I don’t know what it is but you look at things differently.  Why do you hang out with these guys?  What are you hiding from?”

Shuffle.

Kerry’s voice tinged with concern.  “Is he going to be alright? Can somebody drive him home?”

Shuffle.

Peter Mayer laughing like a hyena, as smoke billows in the air.  You don’t need to smoke this shit you’re bent enough alreadyI laugh, but inside I feel like Judas.  I stood against Chris but accept these guys.  Why?

Shuffle.

I want to take the she’s OK back.  I want to say I think she’s wonderful, but the moment is gone and those words hang in the air.  “She’s OK.”

Shuffle.

“I didn’t see his hand move once.”

Shuffle.

I do not know her name.  She told me, but I’ve forgotten.  That’s fine with me.  I listen to her breathe and wait for it to become even.  Then I’ll sneak out.

Shuffle

“You smart ass bastard,” Kent is grinding my head into the gravel.  I feel nothing.  My mates drag him off.  Leave him alone, they say.  He looks at the odds and retreats, “he’s a smart ass, and he’s been hanging it on me all night.”  I’ve already wandered off in search of another drink.

Shuffle

Triumph singing “Never surrender”.  What’s a nice boy doing in a place like this?

Shuffle

I’m riding home on the bus with Kerry.  The night has been a disaster and it’s my fault. I walk her home.  She says nothing.  I don’t blame her.   I want to crawl into a hole and die.

Shuffle.

It’s 3.00 pm we’re on our eighth Vodka and Raspberry.  There’s nothing else to do.

Shuffle

Sir Charles Darling, Wool Exchange, Lord Nelson, Eureka, Argyle, Queens Head.  It’s an endless cycle punctuated by splitting headaches and the occasional clear headed moment.

Shuffle

At a party somewhere.  I’m yelling obscenities about matters I know nothing about at my best mate, Dean.  He cracks and grabs me by the throat.  It’s a mismatch. He could kill me if he wanted to.  Our eyes lock and he shoves me against the wall. “Piss off,” he says.  I look for support.  There is none.

Shuffle

One too many wasted sunsets one too many for the road and after dark the door is always open, hoping someone else will show.”

Shuffle

She’s invited me in. Its innocent enough she lives with her parents and they’re here somewhere. I want to thank her for what has been a good night, I want to tell her how beautiful she is, but I sit and sip her coffee and pat the dog.  Then I leave.

Shuffle

“Everybody say’s you’re a nice guy when they get to know you.”

Shuffle

I meet my guitar teacher in a bar and I’m smashed.  I tell him how good I am.  He laughs.

Shuffle

Michelle standing at Chris’ grave needing support and getting it from her brothers and sisters, while I stand at the back watching, hating myself for being so bloody weak.  I am an island of misery.

Shuffle

I roll up rolling drunk.  I always roll up drunk.  She tells me to go home.

I force the images to stop.  I have to change or I am doomed to this mad downward spiral.  The names and faces will change, but the result will always be the same.   I’m lost – there is no way out.  Then I remember a conversation I’d had with my boss two weeks ago.  “Mark they want you to move.”

“Tell them I’m going nowhere.”

That had been it.  Nothing more nothing less.

I looked around the room and thought there’s nothing here for me.

The decision was made right there right then.  It was time to start again, somewhere else.

I  would ask to be transferred.  I didn’t care where as long as I went away.

It was the first good step that I had taken in many years.

=======================================

The song I most associate with this time is this great blues/rock anthem from Whitesnake (before they went commercial they produced some great music) called Ain’t Gonna Cry No More.  It sums up the feelings I had at the time.

Importantly it offers hope.  That’s what I had when I finally cut myself free

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When Winning Isn’t Everything

I wrote this when I was President of Grampians Hockey back in 2005.  I read it out at the presentation night and then filed it away somewhere.  Grampians Hockey has been an integral part of my family’s life for  close to fifteen years. 

Grampians were seen as the weakest country hockey association in the State, which isn’t surprising, because we were more like a club then an association.   We always went to country week.  Sometimes our boys were competitive, mostly not.

The girls found it harder, normally not having enough players to field a side, they either had to play with some other team or occassionally, play with the boys.

This was one of the few years that we fielded a girls team and to be honest, most associations wouldn’t have bothered.  We did because our girls deserved for once to compete on their own terms.  The odds were still stacked against them, but at least they had a chance.

In two days these eight girls (yes eight) did more to represent Grampians Hockey in  a positive light then any other team I’ve been involved with.

I wrote this for those eight girls, Ash Bahl, Bianca Mason, Emily Vearing, Susan Fitzpatrick, Cassie Jaensch, Alice Fresle,the then little Katie Hillier and of course, my daughter Beck.  If anyone ever writes the history of Grampians Hockey Association these are eight names that should be written in gold…..

 

When winning isn’t everythingghau14

 

I have eight new sporting heroes.  You won’t find them in the glossy pages of Sports Illustrated or even on the back page of the local rag.  They are eight largely anonymous girls aged between ten and fourteen who reminded me over one weekend how winning isn’t the be all and end all.

 

There are eleven players on a hockey team.  Grampians Hockey has five senior teams and four junior teams.  The teams are mixed and the vast majority of players are male.

We took the plunge this year and decided to enter a girl’s team in the under fourteen division of the Country Week competition held in Melbourne over June.

 

We scraped together ten players and were assured that we would obtain fill-ins over the weekend.  We lost a couple before we started and nearly pulled out entirely, but reassured that we could access some players we set off early one Saturday morning uncertain of what lay ahead but with eight very excited young ladies determined to put their best foot forward.

 

Things didn’t start well.  When we arrived we were told that no spare players were available and we would have to play with eight players.  David Coad took charge of the girls and gave them each clear direction of where and how he wanted them to play.  They listened attentively.  I stood back and let him talk.  I didn’t hear it all but I distinctly caught the phrase “show these teams Grampians can play good hockey.”

 

The first game was against Ballarat.  Ballarat chose fourteen players from a selected squad of twenty- four.  They all looked close to over age and highly skilled.  I had a sinking feeling that we were going to be in for a long weekend and for the first ten minutes nothing happened to change that feeling.  Ballarat were finding their feet and could not penetrate our defensive twenty five-yard line, but it looked only a matter of time before they did.  Then our defensive line broke and Ballarat swept forward in a line of four.  Only ten-year-old Katie Hillier stood between their attack and a clear shot on goal.  Katie did not hesitate.  She charged to meet the ball carrier and with one deft move made the tackle and swept the ball clear and to the sideline.  It was a play that she would make repeatedly over next two days but for me, it was the decisive moment of the weekend.

 

Suddenly senior players who had looked uncertain and timid in the face of the opposition were running hard to defend and attack.  They held firm stopping Ballarat in their tracks and mounting several promising counter attacks.

 

Ballarat broke through just before half time, but our team continued to play as if they believed they could win.  They probed and attacked Ballarat’s defences constantly but were thwarted by their lack of numbers and a tight defence.  Ballarat scored again late in the game, but our players came off buoyed by their competitiveness.   There was lots of excited chat about the next game and positive reinforcement from the older girls.  We had a team.

 

The next game against Warrnambool was a revelation.  Our team of eight dominated general play and came close to scoring just before half- time.  Warrnambool looked frustrated and confused as our girls ran them off their feet, but we just couldn’t find the net.  When the match finished neither side has scored, but our girls came off behaving like they had won a Grand Final.  The bond developing between them was tangible- something you could almost touch.

 

And so the day went, the girls narrowly lost the next match to the eventual winners of the competition and had another draw against Latrobe under lights in the evening but the spirit amongst them was unbelievable.  Bianca Mason, Ashleigh Bahl, Susan Fitzpatrick and my daughter Rebecca collectively guided and led their younger team-mates superbly, while the youngsters Cassie Jaensch, Katie Hillier, Emily Vearing and Alice Fresle did everything asked of them.

best

In the evening we caught up with our boy’s squad who were doing extremely well, one of the boys made a smart comment about the girls not scoring, and the girls collectively rounded upon him, asking how well he’d go playing three down.  There was something magical at work here – something that made them collectively stronger than they had any right to be.

 

Come Sunday and the girls were ready to win a game.  They gave it their best shot in the first match of the day, working extremely hard, but were again frustrated by their inability to find their way past the extra players that the opposition had the luxury of fielding.  They never let up, but were just beaten.

 

The effort of competing against the odds was beginning to show.  There were some very tired girls.  Some of the younger ones were out on their feet and   Emily Vearing was struggling with a headache, but wouldn’t hear of missing the last match.

They took to the field for the final time, knowing that they could not win but determined to stand together.

 

The cumulative effects of playing against bigger, more powerful teams started to tell, but they refused to surrender.  They weren’t helped when Beck copped a full-blooded drive on her ankle, forcing the girls to play even more defensively then usual as she found it hard to run.  When the whistle blew they had been soundly defeated, but were unbowed.  They had given everything for each other.  Bianca and Ashleigh had to literally carry Beck from the field, as she could no longer put any weight on her foot, Emily looked to be suffering badly from her headache and the others looked totally exhausted.

 

Someone else with a well- drilled team and the advantage of a home artificial pitch won the trophy.  I’d take our girls any time.  Their courage, persistence and grace under pressure mark them as champions in my eyes.

Next year we will make sure they have the support of a full team.  Next year we aim to win, but somehow I don’t think I’ll be as proud as I am of these eight girls.

Sadly of those eight girls, there’s only one (Beck) who is still playing Hockey.  At least four of them were good enough to play at higher levels then Grampians- only Beck has.  That’s a problem for Hockey Victoria and women’s sport in general I think.   If they all lived in Ararat still, they would make a bloody good team, but life moves on, fortunately, sometimes it leaves memories like this one.

Right now Grampians Hockey is on life support.  We no longer have a local competition.  The drought, safety concerns and the all pervasiveness of Australian Rules Football have seen to that.

There’s a few of us that keep the flag flying.  Somebody asked why I bother.  I think this story answers that.

 

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Collateral Damage

This was hard to write.  But I feel better for having done it.  

This is for hundreds of people but in particular the following -Ralph Steiner who knew there was something very wrong and tried to save me.  Sorry Ralph I’d pulled up the drawbridge.   For Danny Connolley – mate you knew the dice were loaded but you tried your guts out anyway.  For John Keane for treating me like a man when I needed desperately to be valued by somebody.   And for dozens of others who I either shut out completely (you know who you are) or just pushed away with complete ruthlesseness.  This is a reason, not an excuse.   Finally its for Steve Bisinella for having the courage to speak up.

 

The moment has replayed in my head thousands of times.   There isn’t a week go by that I don’t remember it in minute detail.

The ball bounces high and seems to glisten in the morning sun’s rays as it reaches its apex.  I have read it perfectly and am running on to it.  I know what I’m about to do, I will gather it in my right arm, steady and kick it to the Centre Half Forward who is in good position.  It is a moment in time a moment in thousands of moments of hundreds of games of football that I played.  It is a perfect moment.  I have read the play beautifully, I will deliver well.  I belong to this team.

It is the last perfect moment on a football field that I can remember.

It was Under Fifteens St Josephs Geelong.  I’d worked my butt off to make this side and this was my first full game.  I played a blinder, if I don’t mind saying so and everything was good.

I was born to play Australian Rules football.  People laugh when I say that.  I’m not big and I’m not lightning fast, but my head made up for those shortcomings.  I could read the play better than anybody I ever played with and my vision was better than most. I always knew who was free and where they were.  It’s a talent that you can’t teach and good coach’s value.

Of course playing Under 15s was a step up in class.  I understood that and I was coming in to the squad from outside, but it was quickly apparent to me that I was in the best 18  and I could have filled any number of spots.  I wasn’t big enough to play up the spine but I could fit anywhere down the flanks.  It took four rounds but I got in and I fitted well.

Two weeks later I was back on the bench and I stayed there.

I didn’t know why and yet I did.

I didn’t understand what I saw, I didn’t understand the implications and in any case I suppressed it.  Buried it and buried it deep.

Our coach was a teacher, popular with students and he owned that team.  He had done so for years.  He coached unsupervised, he coached by decree and he brooked no argument.  In any case he had a dozen sycophantic players who hung on his every word, so there was very little argument.

I didn’t like that.  I thought it was weird.  I don’t care if a teacher is the duck’s guts and I’ve known quite a few who I’ve had healthy respect for, but I think a teacher student relationship demands a degree of distance as does a coach player relationship.  Our coach had no such reservations.  I heard of players spending the weekend at his house.  I thought it odd, but none of my business.

In any case, as long as I played well I didn’t care what anyone did.

You have to remember this was mid seventies.  It was a more innocent time. Today’s eight year olds would be worldlier than I was and then some.
So I was in the side and had played well.  Life looked good.

The next week I started again, but it was one of those days when the ball is played down the other side of the field -All half I held my position and made space, but the ball was trapped on the far wing.  I got dragged at half time which was fair enough I was having no impact.  We won the game comfortably.

The change rooms after were weird.  The coach didn’t come in immediately.  I was almost changed and ready to go when he made his appearance.  I can’t tell how long he’d been but it was long enough for me to get changed and have my bag packed.

He came in with his arms around two players.  I was sitting down, not talking to anyone when he came in.  From where I was I could see one player clearly.  He looked weird.  On reflection he looked like he’d was out of it.  He looked sleepy and really childish.  Armed with the benefit of hindsight, I would say he didn’t know where he was.  I couldn’t take my eyes off him.  I knew him well and I’d never seen him like this – so completely vulnerable.

I didn’t have a clue about what was going on but it felt bad.

Then the player did the most bizarre thing that I had ever seen anyone do in public.  He nuzzled into the coach in the most intimate manner, rubbing his face against the coach’s chest and up under his arm.  I didn’t believe my eyes.  Then the player caught my eye and smiled.  I felt sick.  I didn’t know why.  I looked away and caught the coach looking at me.  I don’t know what he saw in my eyes but I know what I saw in his.

He was off balance.  I’m guessing that something had happened that had made him bring the players in to the change rooms.  I don’t know what.  I know that it was a weird unnatural situation and I know that the coach was trying to hide something.  He hadn’t hidden it from me and he knew I’d seen something.

I had to get out of there.  I snatched up my bag and pushed past the coach and out into the day. My parent’s car wasn’t far away.  I ran to it and got in.  I said nothing.

I knew what I’d seen, but I couldn’t process it.

In those days to a fourteen year old, the concept of homosexuality was real enough but a fourteen year old boy and a forty year old man?  I couldn’t get it.   Besides that, I knew the boy well.  He was just an average kid; I didn’t understand what he was doing. And he looked so comprehensively out of it.  I tried to tell myself that it was concussion.  It wasn’t.  I saw the game.  He didn’t get hurt.  I didn’t understand any of it.

What I did get was this.

Our coach had his favourites and his favourites were always going to get a game.

I was angry, I was hurt and I have to admit that part of me, the little boy part who just wanted to play footy was jealous.

What was so special about that player?

I didn’t think in sexual terms I just thought in terms of being accepted by the coach.  I still wanted his approval.  I wanted to play.  I didn’t have any idea of how much danger I was in.  I just didn’t know.

I lie awake some nights and think about it.  At fourteen years old back then we were still children, trying desperately to behave like we thought that men should.  We all came from respectable middle class homes; we had no life experience to speak of.  We were lambs to the slaughter. One very sick man and twenty four fourteen year old boys ripe for the plucking – he had his own personal smorgasbord every year.  What a sick filthy lying dog.

I think about that player often – did he ever file a complaint? Could I have said something to save him?  Did he ever ask anyone for help?  Whatever happened to him? I know what I saw and I’ll carry the look on his face to my grave.  Its enough to drive you completely bat shit.

I didn’t go to training that week and when the side was named I was on the bench.  I expected it but it still hurt.

The coach never asked where I was, he never spoke to me for the rest of the year other than to say “you’re on.”  He treated me like dirt.

But I loved footy.  I still wanted to play.  So after that first week I went to training every week, I went to every game and I played off the bench every week.  I got angrier and angrier and it’s an amazing thing to say, but I didn’t really know why.

The world that I thought existed had been turned upside down by witnessing an act that I didn’t understand.

My wife says that it’s good to ventilate your feelings.  I didn’t ventilate mine.  I suppressed them and tried to get on with life.  I made a series of very bad choices; I started to hang out with a rougher crowd. I started hitting the bottle towards the end of that year and I lost interest in my schoolwork.  When you embrace darkness it takes you in, welcomes you in and then it starts to bite.  I didn’t know that then, I was trying to cope with something way bigger than me and I was lashing out blindly.  The only person I hurt was myself.

The football season rolled on, the coach played his favourites.  I heard about wild alcohol fuelled parties at the coach’s place.  Part of me was insanely jealous – why wasn’t I asked? Part of me didn’t want to think about it at all.  I’m not stupid, but I was terribly innocent.  What is so bleeding obvious to an adult in this millennium may as well have been written in Braille to me.   I only knew one thing for sure – I was on the outer.    I blocked out the chatter and tried to focus on footy – surely he’d have to play me sooner or later.  I realized that I didn’t love it anymore.  It had become a chore.

We got to the semi finals and something snapped inside me.  I didn’t go.

Nobody asked where I was.   I had become the invisible man.

Preliminary final day came.  We played Barwon – the team was made up of players from the Little League I had played in the year before and I know if I had played for them I would have lined up in the middle either as centre or rover.  As it was I watched them towel St Josephs up.  It came to the last quarter and our coach desperately started to swing changes.  He ignored me totally.

I felt totally humiliated.  I didn’t hang around for the after match speeches.  I just left, completely and utterly broken.

I hope he was satisfied.
I never spoke to him again, which was quite an achievement considering he was still a large presence within the school.

I played under seventeens the next year.  I desperately wanted to rediscover the magic I knew football could bring.  John Keane was our coach and he was a fine one at that.  He treated everyone equally and rotated us all through the side.  Everyone got a fair go.

I found that my love of footy was dying.  I found it difficult to attend training and I hated being in the change rooms.  I still hate sporting change rooms, they make me feel ill.  Keane kept me engaged and committed.  I found that I was no longer playing for me but for the coach.  He treated us as adults, he made us commit, and he played no favourites.

Towards the end of the season, he came to me and said, “You’re the smartest little bloke I’ve got, and I need someone smart and small to play in the back pocket.”   I thought he was humouring me at the time and he wanted to play two other little blokes on the ball, but I accepted what he wanted.

We made the Grand Final and I lined up in the back pocket.  We kicked a couple of early goals and we looked to be on the way.  Then the game changed and they had all the play.  I don’t know how many possessions I had, but it was a lot and every one went to a teammate.  The last quarter went forever and we clung to a small lead.  I think in the last five minutes alone I held up four separate attacks.  I was so damn tired I couldn’t raise my feet at the end, but we held on.

I didn’t care to celebrate much.  I just remember looking at John after the game and him nodding at me.  “I told you,” he said.

It was the vindication I needed. Not only had I proved to myself that I could play I had won the faith of a coach.

It was the last real game I played.  Keane wasn’t going to coach the next year, maybe I would have played if he did, but the love had gone.   Sure I pulled on the boots a couple of years later to play for some reserves sides but by then I was fat and horribly unfit.  Even then, I still managed to find the ball.

The truth is that that under fifteens year destroyed my youth and my love of football.  I lost all faith in authority and I got so deeply mistrustful of forming relationships that I pushed so many good people away.  I became angry and resentful and something happened inside me that told me that good things happened to other people.  I became a chronic underachiever.

It was stupid, but that’s what happens when you lock things away and let them fester.  They grow into cancerous tumours that eat away at your very existence.

When I turned forty I started to play field hockey.  My stick skills were appalling, but I could still read the play better than anyone else and my vision was second to none.  Some things never change.

I’ve done the sums.

I think I could have played twelve senior seasons of good level football.  I know I was too small to play VFL/AFL but I would have been a very handy small forward/ on baller for most senior metropolitan clubs.  I missed two hundred and forty games.

Two hundred and forty games where I may have experienced the perfect moment when   I have read the play beautifully; when I know I will deliver well, where I know I belong to my team.

The damage my coach did to me pales into insignificance compared to what he did to others, but he did damage me.  It took ten years of anger and stupidity before I started to behave like a normal person.

I remember saying to my mate Chris one night that I drank to forget.  He laughed and said “forget what.” “I don’t know,” I said, “I forget.”

I remember now.

I was collateral damage.

Tomorrow when I wake up I will remember …..The ball bouncing high and seeming to glisten as the morning sun’s rays as it reaches its apex.  I have read it perfectly and am running on to it.  I know what I’m about to do, I will gather it in my right arm, steady and kick it to the Centre Half Forward who is in good position.  It is a moment in time a moment in thousands of moments of hundreds of games of football that I played.  It is a perfect moment.  I have read the play beautifully, I will deliver well.  I belong to this team.

And then I will remember other things.

=====================================
They say time heals or wounds.  My latter teenage years  and early twenties were wasted years.  I could have self destructed, but I had my music.  There were some great underground songs coming out at the time.  The one below carried me through one year.  There’s a line in it “Once you were a flying thing now you’re on the rocks with broken wings.”   I identified with that but it was balanced by the Chorus  ”
Hold tight, hold tight, keep those hands on your given birthright
Alright, alright, keep your eyes on the demon in disguise
You must never close your eyes
Right, each night think on back to your given birthright
Hold tight, hold tight, just remember the feeling deep inside you”

I tried and in the end I did………..

 

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If only I’d opened my eyes

This story is not a work of fiction – its what I remember to be true.  It first appeared in a charming little magazine called Morbid Curiosity under the title Visitor.  The original version used a fictional character to tie everything together.  I removed her and stated the whole truth. I’ve altered it slightly in other areas to more accurately reflect the sequence of events.  There  is some poetic licence.  But the key elements.  The friendship,  the visitation and the subsequent discovery are all true.

This is for Michelle.  I let you down.  I have no excuse.  I’m truly sorry.  You deserved better.

 

It took me fifteen years to work it all out but death does not scare me.  Pain does, but death certainly doesn’t.   Fifteen stumbling, fumbling years- where did the time go?  One day you’re just out of school with bugger all to look after, the next you’re approaching thirty five, greying, with the responsibility of family and the yoke of a fat mortgage forbidding you to ditch the soul destroying pastime that you call a job.  Funny that, you could die laughing.

My old mate, Chris would crack up.  He would say that I sold out and joined the other side.  I would agree, and then we would both have another beer.   Geez, I miss him.  I still wonder what happened exactly.  My mind gives the irritating itch a scratch occasionally, but never really provides any relief.  I guess it never will.

Chris and I were not always mates.  Ironically, throughout junior secondary school, I thought he was a mummy’s boy.  It was guitar that threw us together, in one of those awkward jam sessions where both players become painfully aware of their inadequacies.  Fortunately, we were both able to laugh about it and in doing so laid the foundation for our friendship.

It was not long before we discovered that we viewed the world from a skewed –almost Pythonesque- angle.  To the outsider we took nothing seriously.  Fun, couched in the form of rebellion, was the way to cope with a cock eyed world.  We bounced sarcasm and wit off each other like a kid belts a tennis ball against a wall.  I think we both were dealing with a heap of trouble below the surface and we’d chosen to deal with it in a very similar way.  Essentially we were pretty damn close to crazy.

Looking back, I can see that the trouble with Chris was that he thought himself indestructible.  He loved pushing things beyond the limits.  He drove around the streets like he was shooting for poll at the grand prix.  He’d deliberately provoke the tough guys in the mall to see what would happen. He drank beyond the point of rational thought to outdo anybody who was drinking with him.  He was a loose cannon and it was inevitable that he would slide into the drug culture.  It amazes me that I did not follow him.

I stuck with him while he charged head first into the drug world, but I was dismayed to see how quickly he progressed from soft to hard drugs.  It seemed to be a matter of weeks.  By the time he started using Heroin, he had teamed up with a low life middle aged junkie, Wayne, who may or may not have had serious crime connections.  This monumental dirt bag took on the role of tour guide to the “magical” world of mind altering substances and became the central element of Chris’ life.  So central in fact that they skipped town at a moment’s notice, leaving me and puzzlingly Chris’ girlfriend, Michelle, behind.  I didn’t understand that – I thought he lived for her.

Michelle and I were drawn together for a while.  My friends accused me of being a snake in the grass.  It wasn’t like that we just needed to grieve together.  That’s what we were doing.  We went out together a couple of times and then let it drop.  No big deal.  I still kept an eye out for her.  I felt obliged to do so.

We went for months without hearing from Chris.  Then, out of the blue he appeared on the doorstep at ten in the morning, his eyes were dancing with amusement and mischief.  “Come on mate, let’s go to the pub,” he half laughed.  It was the same old Chris setting the same old pace.  It was so great to see him; it took a while to recognize the apparent changes in his attitude.

The drugs were now ever present, bubbling away just below the surface of every TV show, all music, in fact just about everything- even Barney Bananas for Christs sake.  They had become his God and he had made it his mission to convert all of his friends to his chosen path with the zealotry of a seventh day adventist.  If you weren’t into drugs, you just weren’t in the game. He was unrelenting.  I am a stubborn bastard and kept throwing it back in his face.  He would laugh it off, but the joke was rapidly turning sour for both of us.

Others, according to him, were not so resolute.  Michelle, for one succumbed.  I didn’t blame her if it was true – he was a persuasive charmer and she loved him.  No contest.   That was when I cried enough and walked away.  I could tolerate him ruining his own life, but not hers.  We still moved in the same loose circles, but I had the shutters up when we inevitably met.  Once I lock somebody out I throw away the key.  He did not seem to care overly.  We slid into different lives with similar but fundamentally different value systems.  I pretended to myself that it did not matter.  My circle of acquaintances was large and somebody was always looking to party.  I threw myself into a booze soaked half –life – an accident waiting to happen.  The irony was totally lost on me.

During this period I got involved with a girl from Melbourne; I was vulnerable and put way too much store in the relationship.   She gave me the flick and I was left to lick my wounds.

I don’t think I’ve ever been lower.  I contemplated chucking my job in at the Bank and playing guitar ten hours a day, I considered applying for an Interstate transfer, but did not have the guts to take either course of action.  I just tried to wash all of my troubles away with as much grog as my stomach could handle.  As a result, I started to take my frustrations out on anybody who was unfortunate enough to be near me.  I could see the nasty twisted thing I was becoming, but was incapable of stopping.

I needed a circuit breaker badly.  When the bank offered me a week long service course in Melbourne, I took it with both hands.

It doesn’t matter where you go you take your baggage with you.

As it turned out, I wasn’t the only country bumpkin on the course.  There were quite a few others.  Inevitably we hung out together in pubs after work hours.  It started off OK, but by Wednesday evening, I was finding this pleasant bunch of well meaning people tiresome and their modest hopes and dreams depressing.  I wondered if any of them had seen what I’d seen, or watched the deals made that I had.  I thought not.

By Thursday evening, I’d had enough and deliberately set out to provoke them. I mocked their safe middle class values and ridiculed their modest ambitions for advancement.  Not surprisingly, they deserted me.  It’s a pity one of the guy’s didn’t give me a hiding – it’s what I deserved.

Undaunted, I drank a few more pots before grabbing a six pack and heading for my third floor motel room.  The air conditioning was not coping with one of those hot sticky nights that Melbourne manages to conjure up five or so times every summer. I opened the window to let some air in and flicked on the TV.  The Aussies were getting annihilated by whoever the West Indies had bowling fast for them back then.  I cracked a can and half watched the carnage.  My mind wandered back to the performance I had put on earlier and I wondered what I was trying to prove.  “Grow up,” I whispered as I opened another can and took a hefty swig.

I turned the TV off and listened to the noises of a restless sweltering city while I wrestled with my self pity.  It was time to stop farting about and get on with things.  One way or another I had to come to terms with Chris.  It required plain speaking, but good friends should be able to speak and remain friends.  I vowed to catch up with him and sort things out.
I eyed the remainder of my beer and shrugged.  It was time to recognize when I’d had enough.  It was also time for bed.  I shut the window, preferring the heat to the babble from outside.  I crawled into bed and remarkably fell asleep.

I don’t know when I awoke.  When I did I was keenly aware of a presence in the room – the same as I am now aware of my kids wandering into my room when they want to go to the loo at night.  I don’t hear them, I sense that they’re there willing me to wake.  This feeling was the same.

I don’t  mind admitting that I was scared. My first thought was “burglar.”  If he was watching me, I did not stand a chance of confronting him. I would be set upon before I got out of bed, so I acted shamefully and kept my eyes shut, pretending that I remained asleep.  My ears strained to catch any sound, but apart from my own breathing, I heard nothing.  The sense of being watched remained.

After what seemed eons – probably only minutes – I heard a sound which I can only like to cellophane being scrunched up.  It seemed to come from all directions. My mind searched for an explanation and seized upon the newspaper that was in the room. Surely a breeze from an open window was rustling the pages.  Then I remembered shutting the window before going to bed.  Somehow, I knew that whoever was there was trying to wake me up.  I played dead, wondering why they just didn’t shake me and get it over with.  Without warning the sounds ceased.  As soon as they did the sense of the watching presence went as well.  I lay on my bed scared witless; listening for the slightest hint that something was still there.

When I finally scraped together enough courage to open my eyes, the digital display on the clock radio told me that there was little point remaining in bed.  I got up and conducted a thorough inspection of my room.  All windows were still closed, my door was still locked and nothing had been disturbed.  I could not fathom it and half convinced myself that I had been dreaming.

Morning light gives power to the rational mind.  By the time I arrived at my course, I had locked the whole affair away in a cupboard in my mind labelled “Remembered Dreams.”

The day was a long one, as days tend to be when you’ve alienated most of the people that you work with.  The day finished eventually and I headed home to Geelong.

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until I called upon my parents the next morning.

My mother greeted me and asked if I was OK. She seemed very concerned.

Yeah, no worries,” I answered amused at her manner.

“You haven’t heard then?” Her voice sounded strained.

A tingle of fear scampered up my spine. “What?”

She looked at me and swallowed hard.  “Your mate Chris was killed on Thursday night,” it’s all in the Addy I’ll get it for you.”  She rushed out of the room in search of the newspaper leaving me alone with the news.

So Chris, the indestructible was dead.  My mind refused to accept the fact.  When Mum gave me the paper, I read the article over and over trying to get the story right in my head.  Chris, dead in a motorbike accident? It didn’t make sense. Eventually, I just gave up and walked out.

There was no chance of resolving things, no chance of reclaiming what was a great friendship.  Chris had self destructed as he was always going to in a way that was probably better than some of the alternatives he was bound for.

I didn’t cope at all well.   Remarkably I didn’t hit the booze – I saw nobody all weekend  I didn’t cry  I didn’t know how.   Somehow I managed to get to the funeral and sat at the back.  I was just a bit player in a cheap tragedy, watching but not participating.  They played “Because I love you” by the Masters Apprentices.   The chorus says “Do what you want to do be what you want to be.”  I smiled when it came on it was pure Chris.

Michelle kept herself together until they got to the cemetery.  When the casket was lowered into the ground, she broke down.  I stood at the back, feeling her pain but unable to approach her.  She was ushered into the mourner’s car and was driven away.  I never saw her again.  I was a cold bastard.  I’ve never forgiven myself for that.

Life went on.

I was angrier than I’d ever been and twice as self destructive.

Inevitably, I met one of Michelle’s school friends at a party.  She wanted to talk about Chris.  I couldn’t think of anything worse but she was insistent and I had a drink in my hand so things were tolerable.

The talk went around in circles.  I sensed she was digging for something and I wasn’t giving anything. Then she said it.  “I saw Chris a couple of weeks before he died and he said it was time that he patched things up with you – did he catch up?”

I grabbed her arm. “He said what?”

She repeated herself.  My mind went back to that Motel room.  I remembered the presence in the room and how I had kept my coward’s eyes shut.  My throat worked convulsively and I shook my head in bewilderment.

“Are you going to cry Hodge?”

I shook my head and blinked back some tears. I looked at her and took a punt.  “No, but something happened the night he died.  I can’t get my head around it.”

“What do you mean.”

“I think I sensed him.”

Her eyes widened.  “Michelle swears Chris visited her that night.”

That was enough for me.  I made a feeble excuse and left.  She didn’t follow me, thank God.
I walked home with tears streaming down my cheeks, cursing my cowardice and wanting my time over again.  I tortured myself with crazy notions and sad regrets…if only I’d opened my bloody eyes.

It has been fifteen years.  I feel a lot older and am hopefully a little wiser.  I still curse my lack of courage.  As it is I can only guess what happened.  Most of the time I like to believe that Chris tried to say goodbye.  For a long time I dismissed the idea as fanciful, but something inexplicable did happen and no matter how I suppress the idea it keeps bobbing up insisting that it was him.

Middle age approaches at the speed of light and I am now painfully aware of my own mortality.  I know I will see Chris again.  I’m in no hurry to do so, but I’m not stewing over it either.  I bet when we do meet, he gives me a razzing for not opening my eyes.  Then we’ll both laugh and have the equivalent of a beer.

Whatever it is.

Wherever we are.

)

For what it’s worth I still miss him.    Thoughts of him come randomly at odd times.  They sneak up uninvited and either make me laugh or feel sad.   Thats’ the way he was 🙂

 

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Why CLoudbusting by Kate Bush Made Me Cry

Why Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting Made Cry

Well this is awkward.   Real men don’t cry especially over 80’s music videos and I have to confess to being well, wooden would be generous, when it comes to my emotions.

But, I did cry real tears when I first saw it back in the mid eighties and I didn’t know why.

I watched it again today and I cried again, but for different reasons, I think.
I’m guessing it was 1985, maybe 1986, so I was still in the middle of what I call my wasted years.  It would have been a Saturday or Sunday morning in the wee hours.  I was sitting in one of three lounge rooms that I seemingly always ended up in on those hours at those times.  I was drunk and alone (unless you count the two or three people who were scattered sleeping around the room.)  Rage, a music video program was playing on the ABC – it still does today and I was watching it through a beer fog.

Then Cloubusting came on.

It grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go.

Six minutes of heart wrenching emotive story telling at it’s finest and by the time it had finished I had tears running down my cheeks and was sniffling like a baby.

To say I was confused by this was an understatement.  It was just a music video after all.   I bought the album the next day.

I didn’t think that it changed my life.  It wasn’t the pivotal moment in a long journey to redemption and normality, but it touched me deeply.

Now, having viewed it with the benefit of thirty years “wisdom” I think I know why it had such a massive effect.

I watched it today and I got teary again this time I could watch it from the father’s viewpoint.  I could see the special relationship between father and daughter and the unconditional trust that the daughter puts in the father.   Stories after all are all about love, redemption, courage and sacrifice.  It’s all there in the video.

I have three daughters.  I love them deeply and I’m terribly proud of them all.  I hope they know that.  There’s something confronting and deeply profound about the way the father/daughter relationship is portrayed in Cloudbusting that reflects my relationship with them.

But it’s deeper.

It’s about good memories. “Every time it rains, you’re here in my head, like the sun coming out.”  I tear up when I write that.

It’s about inevitable loss.  “I wake up crying.  You’re making rain and you’re just in reach, when you and sleep escape me.”

 

So that brings me full circle back to 1985/86 to me with tears running down my cheek, hoping that my companions don’t wake to see me like this.

I know how my daughters make me feel.  I hope that they will always have good memories of me long after I’m gone, in many ways my daughters have been my salvation.

Back in those mid eighty years I was a mess.  Emotionally, spiritually and it has to be said physically. I loved nothing, drank ridiculous amounts, made a habit of being the most objectionable person in the room and showed no emotions other than contempt or disgust.  I was a pathetic parody of rebellion with loads of talent being pissed up against a wall every other night.

I can see now I was angry and I’ll be exploring that anger in coming blog posts but Kate Bush cut through all those layers of crap and opened my heart.

She made me look at my own relationship with my own father and realize what a huge disappointment I must have been to him.

I can still remember, in my VCE year after doing something particularly stupid hearing him say to my mother  when he thought I was out of earshot “Well dear, that’s the end of Mark.”

It killed me.

Over the next five years I did nothing to give him any reason to be proud of me and plenty of material to reaffirm he’s assessment of me back then.

I’m sorry Dad.  I still remember you taking me to the footy in under tens and being Team Manager because no-one else would.  I remember the sacrifices you made for all of us while you and mum battled with my brother Grant’s illness.  I remember you taking me to Uncle Allan’s when I was four or five because Mum had to stay at the Royal Children’s I guess.  I remember that stuff.  I know you loved me.  I know you still do despite me being such a disappointment.

I wanted to make you proud.

I don’t think I ever did in those years – I just wasted my gifts and you watched on helplessly while I did.

Somehow Cloudbusting pricked that bubble. It still does.

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