Seasonal hazard turns deadly

It’s September, and here in The Gong we know what that means, as I noted in September 2013. Go there for some videos too.

…it has been happening much longer down the east coast of Oz, not least in The Gong. I had wondered about the numbers of cyclists I have seen lately with antennae. Is this the latest in tinfoil hats, I wondered? Election season could lead to an increase in wearing such protection.

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No. Rather the guy on the left in the next image is the villain responsible.

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But this year it really has turned deadly: see Swooping magpie kills man at Woonona and Cyclist dies while fleeing swooping magpie in Woonona.

A man has died while trying to avoid a swooping magpie in a park near Wollongong which has a history of attacks.

The 76-year-old was riding his bicycle in Woonona yesterday morning when the bird started to swoop so he rode off the path in an effort to escape.

He then collided with a fence post, was thrown to the ground and suffered serious head injuries.

Locals performed CPR on him until an ambulance arrived, before he was airlifted to St George Hospital in a critical condition.

Despite medical efforts he died last night…

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R U OK? And related…

Yesterday 12 September was R U OK? Day here in Oz. Question Time in Parliament opened with both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition speaking in support. The idea of the day is to realise that the simple question “Are you OK?” could lead to a conversation that may help someone labouring under depression, may even save a life. Scott Morrison said that he had been at school with Gavin Larkin, the founder of R U OK? He could also have added that the school captain in his year later went on to commit suicide, very much related to the experience of homophobia. I taught the brother of that school captain; he now lives in California.

Scott Morrison actually spoke well yesterday, I thought.

41827011Coincidentally my reading the last two days — I finished it yesterday — has been Train Man by Andrew Mulligan, London, Chatto & Windus 2019. (Hot off the shelf; Wollongong Library’s acquisition date is 21 August!) This Guardian review gives you a good idea of what the book is about. I borrowed it totally at random, and am very glad I did. I love it when a random book turns out to be a treasure — and how apposite to have been reading it on R U OK? Day! Andrew Mulligan has rendered the central character’s internal voices in a way that was a touch discomforting, simply because it is so close to the way my own internal dialogues play out. I was reminded too, in a way, of Marcel Proust — though Train Man is just 313 pages!  But that could explain why it gets mixed reviews on goodreads.

In a note at the end Andrew Mulligan reveals the kernel of the character is “an old friend who killed himself years ago on a railway line.” And tomorrow, the 14th September, is a significant date in my memory, and still at times in my internal dialogues. Thirty years ago I was living in Paddington and not all was well. I was living here.

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Living not far away was an old Wollongong friend, indeed a decade or more earlier an ex-student. Sadly, on 14 September 1989 he took his own life. I was deeply affected, and even more so were his family in Wollongong and his former partner. Again, homophobia had a role.

In the midst of it all, as therapy really — and indeed at the time I was undergoing therapy with the wonderful Cedric Bullard — I committed the whole thing to writing, as fiction, but not a thing in it didn’t happen pretty much as I told it. You can find the whole thing here. This is the 1989 section.

September 5 1989

— Well look who it is!

I have not seen J for some months, not since a few weeks before my birthday party. He had not come to the party. He is in the Darlinghurst Bookshop.

— This looks interesting Colin. You should read it. He is holding a copy of Surprising Myself by Christopher Bram. J likes to keep up with new gay writing. Later I would read it looking for clues. It has a happy ending, with a central character in a relationship with someone he calls “Boy”. At one stage, before the happy ending–and J likes gay books to have happy endings as a political statement–this central character considers killing himself:

“Petty, selfish, stupid? But none of the names seemed to contain the hatred I was feeling for myself. Hatred spread into my life, until there was nothing worth saving.”

Nothing surprising about running into J. We often meet like this by accident. So we have coffee at the Green Park Diner and then he comes with me to the decaying terrace in Paddington which is looking better than the last time he’d seen it. The talk is of birthdays and I comment that his is next week on the 14th and he repeats so formally yes it’s on the 14th and I think nothing more about it.

— I’ve been seeing your ex-friend lately

— What, Boy? Not ex-friend: we just don’t see each other any more.

J and Luke had broken up a few months before. I had fragments of the story from both sides.

— I hurt him, Colin.

J is sitting at the top of the stairs, his back resting on the bedroom doorpost, smiling. He wears black. Always that air of formality.

— How are you REALLY, J.

Code for asking about his Depression.

— Not very well.

He often said that. I knew there was nothing to say. But I look at him and say

— You know I would have given my head to see you well.

— I know that Colin.

Smiling.

— I must have been a real nuisance, J.

— No you weren’t.

— But if back then I’d been in the frame of mind I am now it would have been a lot easier for both of us. Coming out has made me less neurotic! Did I ever thank you for that?

— Colin you need to remember I was playing the Virgin Queen.

— You don’t understand how I hurt him. You know what Luke’s like. Really in touch with himself, fun, but also maddeningly irresponsible.

— That’s true, but I like him.

— So do I, a lot. But he needs to grow up and that’s the point. My need was the opposite: do you see what I mean? With him I could do all sorts of silly things I needed to do…. Dancing down the back lanes of Darlinghurst doing Barbra Streisand impersonations. It was great! I’d never done things like that, but now I’m afraid I held him back, so I had to let him go.

— I’m sure Luke enjoyed every minute of it.

At the door.

— You’ll see Boy before I do. Tell him hullo from me and that I still like him.

We walk down Oxford Street together. It is strange, as if J does not want to let me go. We have been talking for two and a half hours, more than we’ve talked in years. He seems so open, he who is so often closed off.

— Are you going all the way to Chinatown with me?

— No, I’ll cross here and get something to eat at Raquel’s.

— OK, J. See you. It’s been good. Laid quite a few ghosts.

— Yes, it has been good.

And he crosses when the lights change on the corner of Crown and Oxford, looks back once, and is gone.

September 14 1989

— I miss that man so much.

— I know that Luke.

— I don’t know what to do about his birthday. I phoned but there was no answer. He doesn’t want to see me. It makes me so angry.

— Listen, Luke, he told me to tell you he still likes you. Take it from me, when he’s like this you just have to wait.

Luke cries publicly, there in the Unicorn Bar at 10 pm. Not something he would normally do. Later at the Oxford, trying to be wise I say something like breaking up is a bit like a death and you grieve and…

September 19 1989

I am in the Albury with friends, the usual cocktail hour chat after a day’s work. A cry from the other side of the long bar. It is Luke. Wearing his long white coat. When I go over to him I see his face red and swollen, tears streaming.

— Colin, where have you been? I’ve been trying to find you all day. I have something to tell you.

— What’s wrong, Luke. Tell me.

For a while he just cries unable to talk.

— Tell me.

— It’s going to hurt you.

— Tell me.

A dozen possibilities but not this one.

— J is dead.

Frozen.

— Tell me it’s not true Colin. He’s just run away…

I ring J’s father in Wollongong immediately. “Yes, Colin, J has passed away. He rang me on Father’s Day and said he was going to Melbourne. He obviously did not intend to go. He hired a car and…”

Apparently he died on his birthday.

— It’s true.

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September/ October 1989

We hold each other. Luke spends days sleeping in my room. I light seven candles in St Mary’s Cathedral.

We tell each other stories:
did I tell you when he
he told me that Colin
is there anything that bugger didn’t tell you about me?
not much

Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” has never seemed so good.

Luke, I have lost one friend–please, I don’t want to lose two. Luke outside my door at 4 am having spent the last 36 hours in Centennial Park. He is scrabbling in the little suitcase with purple locks. He carries it everywhere. I saw J carrying it when I first saw him again in 1987.

Did you know J was bashed last year?
Yes, he told me.
So much hate.
You know he told me a year ago he didn’t think he was going to win.
The most he could hope for was to live with it.
So much love.

When the Reverend Fred Nile and his fundamentalists march into Oxford Street set on a bit of cleansing I am out there with the crowd. I wear my Mardi Gras T-shirt with additions:

FOR JAY

Sept. 1961-Sept. 1989

‘Gone where fierce indignation
can lacerate his heart no more.’

AND FOR LUKE
WHO LOVED HIM

Fred has his thousand, harmless-looking folk pushing strollers, mingled love and fear on their faces as they march up Oxford Street.

But we have five, ten thousand voices chanting NO MORE GUILT! NO MORE GUILT!

And my voice is the voice of three, a trinity of love grief and anger, and in me sing J and Luke and I:

We shall all be free
We shall all be free
We shall all be free some day
And it’s deep in my heart
I do believe
That we shall all be free someday.

And I see his face, a touch side-on, the slightly crooked nose and shy smile, eyes so often fearful, the bursts of anger, the incredible gentleness and my tears choke my singing and a gay man hugs me and says So you’re human after all…

 

Not quite what you’d expect on 11 September!

Yes, I remember what I was doing on 11 September 2011 — or rather, our time, the morning of 12 September.  Listening to the radio in bed, then out of bed to see the horror on TV. So much changed that day.

But instead of going there, I reblog an odd post from my Chinatown coaching days.

A five-finger exercise

12 SEPT 2009

While my coachee slaved away on a Trial HSC English Advanced paper this morning I undertook to answer the creative writing question from our previous session: “Select one of the following quotations. Use this quotation as a catalyst for your own piece of writing on belonging.” I think I rather overdid the thematic side, but I was hoping to demonstrate how this rather artificial task may be done. It isn’t fiction, but that’s in the parameters given.

c) “My fondest childhood memories”

When you think about it there is a lot of truth in the old Catholic saying “Give me a child to the age of seven and I will show you the man.” By that age our sense of identity, which is so much shaped by our sense of belonging to family, home, town and country, are basically set – if not in stone, at least firmly enough that escape if needed is quite difficult.

In my case my grandfather rather than my father was the key influence. My father, you see, was rarely home, being overseas with the RAAF, so my family were living with my grandparents, and the one who had time for me most was my grandfather.

My grandfather was a retired teacher. I don’t know how he did it, can’t remember, but before I went to school I could already read and tell the time. This led to early alienation in Kindergarten. Invited in week one to “write” on the blackboard I wrote “Sydney Morning Herald” and the date. I gather the teacher was not amused and rang my mother to complain – strange as that may seem.

He was a mine of information, my grandfather, and I was a hyper-inquisitive child. Once he was gardening and I asked him: “What are snails for?” He stood up and took me round the garden, showing me snails, describing their life-cycle, their means of locomotion and their feeding habits and why, if we wanted our lettuces, he had to get rid of them. “Yes,” I replied with precocious analytical skills, “but what are they FOR?” Since the metaphysics of the snail was not something that had occurred to him he became uncharacteristically short with me and called out to my mother, “Get this bloody kid out of here!”

I never have found out what snails are for, but I guess they fit into the web of life. Even snails belong, don’t they?

Another thing about my grandfather was that he talked to just about everybody. He was genuinely interested in their lives and what they did. I would accompany him on his walks and get impatient as he stopped at this fence or that gate to chat to someone for what seemed like hours to me. I was not displeased though when he would climb over the railway fence to chat to the driver of the milk train when it was waiting at the siding for the express train to go through. There were steam engines in those days and I was enthralled standing on the tracks with my grandfather as the fireman and driver leaned down from the cab to share finer points of their trade.

On the other hand, so I am told, when my father at last returned from overseas my first words to him were “Get that man out of here!” (Perhaps I learned the expression from my grandfather.) To me my father was the picture on the dressing table, not this large imposter who had suddenly disrupted my life, just when I had my mother pretty much in control. What this may have done to our relationship, indeed to my father’s recovery of his belonging, I can now only guess – but it did rather colour our later lives.

You can see what a network one close relative can set up for you in those formative years. With my grandfather I explored so many aspects of my environment and he was, you could say, my map-maker. Through him were developing all those templates of background, culture and place which shape so much where “I” fits in – belongs, indeed.

There are many other stories I could tell of my grandfather. Did I mention he only had one eye? No? But that is another story.

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Ada and Roy Christison during World War 2 — my grandma and grandpa

I was 21 when my grandfather died. He had mentored me in so many ways, easing the pain of high school maths, answering my incessant questions about other countries as we browsed the atlas together, showing by example tolerance of people from other cultures, leading me (without pressure) to emulate him in my choice of career. If he were removed from my life story I wonder if I would today have the network of belongings that I now possess, modified as they may have been by other experiences and circumstances. Nonetheless, if I look for the rock on which it all has been built I need look no further than those childhood experiences with Roy C. – my grandfather.

A welcome innovation from the ABC

Suits me especially: ABC Radio has released its broadcasts to the digital bands so that they can be heard on digital TV. For me that means a much better reception of Radio National, the old 2BL Sydney, Classic FM and more at the touch of a button that turns my TV into a radio receiver. So with my remote I can switch from TV to radio when, for example, a string of commercials on a free-to-air TV channel are really annoying me. I tested that out last night on the semi-final of Australia’s Got Talent (Channel 7), moving between that and Radio National. Worked a treat.

During the day yesterday I heard a fascinating podcast on RN: Episode 1 of “Snowball”, a tale of a Kiwi family who were victims of an amazing scam centred on a mystery woman from the USA, or Armenia, via London and Paris. Very well told through interviews with family members and others, the show was a reminder of how good oral story-telling still can be. I’ll be looking out for later episodes.

In 2006, Kiwi expat Greg Wards was living it up on his big OE in London. One night he went to a house party and met an American woman.

And this meeting changed his life, and his family’s lives, forever.

Greg’s brother Ollie is a producer for the ABC’s Triple J radio station, but he’s created a brand-new podcast series called Snowball, telling the sordid, mysterious, salacious story.

Meanwhile, how about the Ashes! No, I didn’t sit up and watch it all. One test at The Oval to go, but Australia has won the series now.

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Hour-long phone call takes me back to Chippendale 1985

And much more!

Received on Facebook last Wednesday:

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That was my address — along with several other people — from the latter half of 1985 through to early 1987: Buckland Street, Chippendale, not far from the University of Sydney and perhaps more to the point back then, the Britannia Hotel. It was at the Britannia Hotel (Beaus as it was then) that I met Philip and Dean. Can’t recall the place being called “The Old Bicycle Factory” back then, though it may have been. The photo above was taken by and sent by Philip, a bit of a surprise as Philip now lives in New York. (Dean — aka Charles — lives now in Timor Leste.) You may read an old post about Philip and Dean here.  Observe, Philip on the left, Dean on the right c. 1985/6:

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Clearly Philip and his partner Tim are visiting Sydney. Philip requested my phone number via Facebook, which led to the one hour conversation of the post title. Which remains private, except to say that Philip has done, is doing, remarkably well.

As is Dean, apparently. Dean is also a Facebook friend and we have thus touched base from time to time.

Oh, the name “Trump” did crop up in my conversation with Philip — same page, same page!

M and I shared in late 1990 through early 1991 a house in George Street Redfern too with Philip and another Michael.

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Philip had a nostalgic day last Wednesday, it appears. Here is his photo of the revived Britannia as of 2019:

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When I first met them Philip was turning 21 and Dean was 19. I was not then a septuagenarian, which is just as well as that would make me well and truly a centenarian today!

And speaking of centuries — how about Steve Smith at that fourth test at Old Trafford! Last night, having just watched the somewhat wounded Bunnies get over the Roosters, I switched channels just in time to see that first century. The second one happened while I was sleeping.