Written by hand

Written by hand, first draft.
Written by hand, first draft.

I haven’t written by hand for the longest time. A signature here and there, the occasional note in a card but nothing of substance. It’s been so long that I’ve forgotten how hard it is. But here I am, just a few sentences in and my hand already aches. Years of typing and texting have reduced my muscles to untrained strugglers. For someone who makes a living from the written word it’s galling to feel your body actively rebel against the act of writing.

I’ve simply fallen into the habit of using the computer or my phone to express my thoughts. Typing has become a part of my writing habit. But the act of writing reminds me of the rewards of putting pen to page. Anyone who says writing is easy is full of shit. It’s fucking hard. Like pulling teeth. Writing by hand is a physical expression of that struggle.

My hand is relatively neat, mostly legible but the act of writing has never been easy. Being left handed brings a certain awkwardness, means you write around your own words, but that isn’t the issue. I write with a heavy hand, a script that hurts. It’s an ache that makes me want to stop writing. But I can’t stop yet, there are so many things still to say.

That writing will have to wait because these scribbles, scratched by hand, record the moment I rediscovered the joy of the act of putting ink to the page.

A handwritten second draft.
A handwritten second draft.

The dilemma of public grooming

The number 8 lurches to a halt, destination Toorak via the city. The doors slide open and I step onto the tram.

Incredibly, a couple of seats are still vacant. I edge down the aisle, take a seat and glance about my fellow travellers.

An old guy has incredibly high pants. A hipster wears glasses without lens. People staring down at their phones, one or two reading.

It is the woman across from me that grabs my attention.

Holding a compact and tweezers in front of her face, she plucks her eyebrows fastidiously.

I can’t help but stare. It takes a few moments but she picks the facial precinct bare. Satisfied, she raises the tweezers to her lips, turns her head and blows the offending hair into the walkway.

I glance around. In some collective act of self-preservation I’m not privy to all other punters are oblivious.

I consider saying something but instead ponder personal grooming.

I wonder whether we have any right to intervene in the routines of others.

An outspoken high achiever walks into the room with the back of her dress tucked into her undies.

A rogue poppy seed gets lodged on the front tooth of work colleague.

A businessman with a piece of toilet paper stuck to his immaculately shined shoe .

Do I intervene? Spare them from potential embarrassment by letting them know? Would my intervention be more embarrassing? I could just avert my eyes, pretend not to notice, and let them go about their day.

Everyday dilemmas.

I formulate a position.

If you know the person’s name then you have an unequivocal responsibility to tell them. Not doing so equates to shitting in the bathroom sink at a friend’s house when the toilet is right next to you. Don’t know the person? Then it’s a judgment call but making eye contact or having talked to them at some point must tilt the scales.

Intervention has its dangers. I once pointed out the toilet paper stuck to the shoe of an elderly woman in Sydney and was chased down the street. Tact is also important. Viciously brushing the dandruff off the shoulder of a work colleague isn’t a good look but do nothing, say nothing, and the guilt of inaction until will haunt you until day you die.

The tram rounds the corner and my stop approaches.

I stand, but before leaving I bend down and tap the woman on the shoulder.

“You look fabulous,” I say then head for the door.

Reworked from 6 Oct 2011.

How to become the No.1 triangle-maker in town

Screenshot of triangle-maker search on LinkedIn
Screenshot of triangle-making search on LinkedIn

Everyone is talking about LinkedIn: arguing how important it is for career mobility, trying to sell it as a cornerstone of business development and sharing anecdotes about all the job offers that are rolling in. Until recently, I had managed to resist engaging with it. It might be odd for someone who works in digital marketing but I just didn’t see the point.

My reluctance to engage didn’t have anything to do with a lack of understanding of its mechanics. I appreciate the value a social network focused on professional interaction can offer users. The ability to communicate your extended networks and have your professional skills peer reviewed is a useful way of demonstrating expertise. The capacity to connect with potential employers and, conversely, employers being able to review the skills and networks of potential employees is also very appealing.

There are plenty of people who have gotten meaningful value out of being on LinkedIn, there are others who haven’t. Personally, I just never felt any inclination to establish or maintain my own profile. This reluctance probably steams from a simple lack of ambition.

A LinkedIn profile was forced upon me by a recent change of job. The new role requires me to maintain a company profile and this meant establishing a personal profile. Biting the bullet, I dug up a semi-professional looking photo and dumped in my CV. Then I had a bit of a poke around.

My initial experiences confirmed that I haven’t missed much. The user interface is clunky and annoying to navigate. The majority of user profiles look identical. “Make sure you look your best,” is the advice provided when uploading a photo and it seems that everyone has complied. Well-lit and well-framed profile shot of people in business attire are a dime a dozen. Everyone also has an extensive list of skills and experiences. The most disappointing aspect is that the majority of content shared on the network is completely uninteresting.

Bored, I decided to experiment. I uploaded a completely inappropriate photo. I added a bunch of weird skills: triangle making, sandblasting and hat wearing to name a few (all of these skills are legit: I made triangular pre-fabricated roof trusses for two years, worked as a labourer for a sandblaster and wore hats on both jobs).

Other than becoming the number one triangle maker listed on Linked the tweaks haven’t really made any difference. I still receive a similar number of requests for connections. I still get same amount of skill endorsements. I doubt the job offers will flow but at least I’ve made a boring workplace chore a little more fun. My attitude might change as soon as I start looking for a new job but for the time being I’m going to leave LinkedIn to the professionals.

Puppy pre-school

Carlton North Puppy Pre-School graduating class of May 2013.
Carlton North Puppy Pre-School graduating class of May 2013.

Nahla’s tail wags furiously as she leads us through the Rathdowne Village restaurant strip. Only a few months old, full of bravado, she is oblivious to everything but our destination, the Carlton North Veterinary Clinic.

The others have already arrived pups in tow. It’s a mixed bag of breeds. A roly-poly Shar Pei straight from a toilet paper commercial. A black Doberman/Labrador cross, boisterous and proud. A gentle little ragdoll Cavoodle and a Miniature Schnauzer with his hipster beard. Hyperactive and naughty, Nahla is the brown sheep of the group. Every fibre of her being strains to leap at anyone and everything. Apparently it’s a common trait in chocolate Labrador pups.

Tonight is the end of six-weeks of Puppy Pre-School and a hush falls over the room when the dog trainer (‘The Colonel’) enters. Everyone dutifully bends down, scoops up their pups and marches upstairs. She talks for the best part of an hour, attempting to instruct us on the protocols and etiquette of responsible dog ownership. Not a lot sinks in; everyone’s too busy gushing over the puppies.

Realising that nobody is listening, The Colonel finally relents and gives the signal that everyone has been waiting for. ‘Puppy play’ is about to begin. Leads are unclipped, tails wag furiously then the puppies leap into the centre of the room. Bums are sniffed, snouts are licked and puppy wrestles break out left, right and centre. The room brims with boisterous energy, slobber and lolling tongues. We stand back and watch the carnage unfold. The cares and worries of the day fade away. Only laughter remains.

An edited version of this piece was published in The Sunday Age on 26 April 2014. Read it online.

The trials and tribulations of dog ownership

Nahla the wonder dog
Nahla the wonder dog

If I were you, getting a dog isn’t something that I’d be entering into lightly. Nahla joined our family nearly six months ago. We ummed and erred for years but finally relented. That little chocolate Labrador has changed our lives.

Some would say that it’s just a dog; it’s not like having a kid. I don’t disagree. There is no way that you could get away with making your kid sleep outside or leaving it in the backyard five days out of seven while you go to work. Those facts are undeniable but so is our reduced mobility and flexibility. I never imagined I’d feel guilty about leaving a dog at home by itself. I can’t go out for a drink after work without wondering what the dog is up to. We can’t just head off for the weekend on a whim anymore. We need to arrange a dog sitter or take her with us.

You also need to consider the faeces. We were up to our elbows in piss and shit when she was a puppy. Once again, people say that it’s no different to dealing with a baby. I’ve never experienced that firsthand but at least a baby’s bowel movements are confined to their nappy. I’ll take that over being on hands and knees at 3am scrubbing a three foot wide patch of diarrhoea out the of carpet. Then there is the destruction to the garden, the fortune that was spent at the vet after a little incident with rat poison followed by the untimely demise of Survivor Chook1.

Nahla in the garden before she turned it into a barren wasteland.
Nahla in the garden before she turned it into a barren wasteland.

While there have been some issues, owning a dog also has so many upsides. Firstly, it is very social. I have lived in rentals in a dozen different suburbs but I didn’t get to know my neighbours in many. That all changed when we got the dog. It gets you out and about and, more interestingly, it gets you talking to strangers. We often take Nahla down to the dog park on Curtain Square where we spend a couple hours each week talking to other dog owners, people we share the neighbourhood with. They’re people that I wouldn’t have talked to unless I owned a dog. I might not know their names but I know what their dog is called. Pet ownership is our common ground. We talk about their routines, their habits, their nemesis and their spectacular failures.

The other great thing is how my routine has changed. I’ve never been much of a morning person but the fact that Nahla rises at daybreak means that I now rise at daybreak. I get up and let her outside and then take her for a walk. Early morning has a different rhythm to the rest of the day. The city comes awake. Early risers make their way to work. Tradies are starting their day. People walking their dogs. Others walk just for the sake of it. The light is different. Everything looks fresher, younger. Birds welcome in the new day. You can hear the breeze making its way through the leaves. I see and hear all of that now because I am out and about with Nahla.

People also act differently around dogs. Strangers stop and ask about the dog. Some even check to see if it’s ok to give her a pat. I’ll never forget when the old woman from across the road met Nahla as a puppy. Stooped and grey, she must be eighty or older. She saw Nahla and her face lit up. She waved then hobbled from her veranda out to the street, she bent down and gave Nahla a pat. She straightened up and smiled a smile that made her look twenty years younger. Puppies and babies, they keep people young.

1 Survivor Chook was my sister’s longest serving chicken until she met Nahla.

Barefoot and beautiful

Sunset at Monty's
Sunset at Monte’s Reef Resort

The flight attendant calls us darl and signals that we’ve arrived in Queensland. We step off the plane into a different world. A world of wet heat, wide-open roads and the air-conditioner turned up full. It’s a two hour drive through squalling showers, cane fields and rotting old homesteads before we turn off the highway and head for turquoise water and white sand.

Monte’s Reef Resort is tucked away on strip of beach on the tip of Cape Gloucester. It’s about 45 minutes north of Airlie Beach, three hours by sea. This secluded tropical hideaway will be the backdrop for Justin and Brigitte’s wedding.

Judda was born and bred in St Arnaud. I shared a house with him in Melbourne for a year during our time at Uni. He’s a genuinely great bloke but back then I assumed he was an old man stuck in a young man’s body. It turns out he was just meant to be a Queenslander. The place suits him to a tee. Wake at five and head to bed at eight. Drinking mid-strength XXXX for breakfast. Singlet and thongs as standard pub attire. Fishing as part of the daily routine. Brigitte is from ‘broland but found her way to the Whitsundays where she met Judd. She’s smart as a tack, doesn’t mind a drink and calls Judd out on his bullshit. Yep, it’s safe to say that they are a match made in heaven.

Queensland has a different concept of time. It gets light early and the sun is set by six. Everything is more relaxed, there’s no rush, deadlines don’t matter. Things will happen when they happen, if not today then probably tomorrow. In the meantime, just enjoy the sun and the sand.

People have travelled from around the world for the wedding. Old friends, people who haven’t seen one another for years, catch up on old times. For others, introductions are made and new friendships are quickly forged. Judd and Bridgette’s big day is upon us before we know it.

It’s a cracking day, Shag and Gloucester islands provide a backdrop fit for any postcard. Smart casual is the suggested dress code. Shoes are optional. I consider throwing on a tie but the Chief Adviser wisely points out that one should never dress more formally than the groom. Shirt and shorts it is.

Guests drift down to the foreshore. It’s impossible to get over excited, the atmosphere is too chilled, but there is a sense of relaxed anticipation. People mill about, sharing beers and laughs.

The sun is high in the sky when the hum of the single prop engine signals the start of the shoeless formalities. A small speck on the horizon becomes recognisable as the seaplane arches around Shag Island. The bridal party glides gracefully through the middle of the bay then taxis into shore. Brigitte looks stunning stepping off the plane onto the sand. Judda’s smile is as big as Queensland.

Our friends commit to a shared future with the exchange of vows on the beach. We toast their health and happiness and the party begins.

Coffee in Carlton North

The boulangerie and patisserie on Nicholson Street is five minutes walk from our apartment at the leafy end of Rathdowne. The bike path that was once a train line isn’t far. A hip new café up there has good coffee and food but it’s busy. I prefer to walk the laneway. Skip the path, swing through the trees, I once read.

The walk takes me along a cobbled bluestone street cutting between Lygon and Nicholson. More lane than street, it is a backstage glimpse of inner city life. Thunderboxes lining the back fences have been converted into sheds and an old stable is now a loft apartment but they are a reminder of another time, a different city.

Rathdowne is busy in the morning. Office workers in flash cars looking to shortcut through the traffic sit bumper to bumper anyway. Fixed wheeled bikes zip along the inside lane carrying guys and gals with asymmetrical haircuts and the cuffs of their jeans folded up.

A catering company spans the entire laneway, a red brick warehouse on one side and the old barn opposite. Day and night people scurry from building to building loading food in and out of a white van.

A sixty-foot gum tree springs out of the cobbled ground between Ames and Canning. Neat cottages and terraces nestle beneath its leafy branches. It is cooler under there and the autumn sun filters down through a sea of green.

I think of the bush, then look down Canning Street and see a city full of possibilities. A wide boulevard dotted with palms and double storey terraces leads toward a city skyline reaching up to put its fingerprint on the big sky.

The lane gets its punk on at Station Street. Black, silver, reds and greens. Tags and pop references creeping across the walls and around windows guarded by metal bars. Tiny courtyards overflow with ashtrays, herbs and hard rubbish chairs. Late starters are still rising in the flats above the shops.

Step out on Nicholson Street and the Railway Hotel is on the left and the Empress on the right. They deal in pots, cheap grub and live music. Maria’s Deli is down the road a ways selling meats of all sorts as well as dips and cheese. There is a butcher, two souvlaki joints, a TAB, a bookshop and a green grocer. I could jump the 96 to St Kilda beach or East Brunswick but the coffee is there at the bakery on the corner. It costs $3.20. The service is shit but it is a strong brew. Life back in Melbourne is good.

Tips for finding a rental property

Hunting for a house is a shit fight of post-apocalyptic proportions. The ultimate test of stamina and rat cunning, it pits you against hordes of affluent working professionals, career renters, young families and well-financed international students. The stakes are high but so are the rewards. The chance to call a place home for the next 12 months beckons. Only the strong, ruthless and well prepared will survive. Following a few simple rules will give you the edge you need.

Waiting for an 'Open for Inspection' in North Fitzroy with eighty other punters.
Waiting for an ‘Open for Inspection’ in North Fitzroy with eighty other punters.

1. Before anything else, preparation is the key to success

The process should start in front of a computer. Take your time trawling the online rental listings. Many hapless souls have underestimated the importance of this task but the ability to sort the wheat from the chaff will save untold hours spent traipsing from one inspection to another.

“143 Park Street, Carlton North. Just a hiccup away from great coffee.”

“19 Station Street, Fairfield. High on lifestyle, low on affordability.”

“3/75 Brighton Road, Richmond. Just a shallow fart from public toilets.”

Are examples of the listings that you’re likely to encounter. Making sense of a well-crafted byline is crucial. Knowing that ‘comfortable’ actually means ‘claustrophobic’ could save you a trip to West Coburg. Seeing a grainy bedroom photograph for the broom closet it really is will help you avoid a two-hour ride on a peak-hour tram.

2. Enjoy the little things

Once you have your shortlist finalised it’s time to hit the inspection trail. You’ll be zigzagging your way across the city so it’s best to block out your evenings and weekends from now until eternity. To break the monotony, try to savor the little things. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the hope and optimism rising in your tummy on the way to an inspection that has a good location, reasonable rent and photos of a nice looking courtyard. The place may well be your home for the next twelve months. You might have amazing times there. But remember to guard your heart. You must be ready to face a mass of prospective renters skulking about on the street fingering their iPhones. Keep your head up. Don’t let the steaming shit dropping from the sky crush your fragile spirit.

A disingenuous but impeccably dressed real estate agent will be along shortly. Grabbing the ‘Open for Inspection’ sign from the boot of their shiny new Beamer they will shepherd the hapless would be tenants’ through the over priced, under maintained property. People will walk through the house, often in pairs, discussing the pros and cons. Good sized BIR (Build In Robes) but not much light. It has a dishwasher but the stove and oven are electric. The courtyard would be great for barbeques except when a ten-carriage train rattles past. Joining the throng, you will see the people from last week’s inspections in Northcote and Abbotsford. A nod of acknowledgement costs you nothing.

3. Prostitute your suitability

Make sure to take your turn accosting the agent. Prostitute your suitability as a tenant. Kiss arse shamelessly. Improve your prospects. Things like,

“We currently rent with your agency. Ruth Andrews is our Property Manager. Do you know Ruth? Is it easy to transfer from one lease to another via the same agent?”


“My brother in-law is in real estate. Says it’s a great job, he really enjoys the diversity. How do you find it? When is the place available?”

can work nicely. Or, if you are felling audacious, you can try bluffing the agent:

“This place definitely isn’t our favourite. The carpets are a bit tacky and worn, aren’t they? The dishwasher is old and there is only space for one bike in the front courtyard. You must be struggling to lease it. I trust the landlord is open to reduced offers?”

4. People are all the same

Don’t be disheartened when you realise that each and every inspection is full of people exactly the same as you. Young, working professionals and students need to keep their finger on the pulse. Gotta be in the action, live where things are happening. North and South are discussed as if the Yarra is a post-war stockade separating people of opposing ideologies but you won’t see any difference between punters looking at cottages in Prahan and those sniffing around the terraces of Brunswick. They are all the same. They’re just competition, a bunch of scaly charlatans looking to snake you out of your rightful claim to a decent and affordable rental property.

5. Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story

The only thing that will differentiate you from the bung-eyed hordes is your application. Pre-fill your forms. Fudge your rental history. Lie about your wage. Arrange bogus references. Fuck them all. It’s a jungle out there.

Is airport coffee hipsters’ kryptonite?

Taking an early morning flight means rising at 4am, minimum. At that unholy hour, sleep deprivation combined with airport lighting awakens a caffeine craving that rivals the walking dead’s appetite for human flesh. While airport coffee isn’t the most finely crafted drop it still satisfies a fundamental human requirement. We need it.


Every time I arrive back in Melbourne after a morning flight I inevitably find myself in one of the many shrines to caffeine snobbery that occupy the city’s graffiti lanes and old warehouses. Waiting for my order, I always look around and wonder what the fixed-wheel bicycle riding hipsters that surround me would make of the takeaway coffee I ordered from the Dreamy Donuts near Gate 23 just hours before.


I’m sure that the discussion about whether to order or not would raise any number of interesting questions. Where does International Roast actually fit in the single-origin versus boutique blend argument? Is coffee with milk superior to an extra strong decaf soy latte with a shot of vanilla? Does ordering black coffee rather than a Long Black undermine the cred established by skinny jeans an asymmetrical haircut? Is coffee that tastes like twice-burnt monkey excrement filtered through used dishwater actually any different to Kopi luwak? Would a single sip of airport coffee render someone completely incapable of riding a gearless bicycle? (I think we all know the answer to that question is a definite yes.)

Don’t get me wrong, I like good coffee but I am also more than willing to drink shit coffee. Perhaps that is where I’m going wrong. Maybe I if swapped my taste for cheap burnt coffee for tribal ink, highly sculpted facial hair and body piercings, I’d finally discover that ‘track suit pants are not welcome here’ attitude that everybody seems so keen on. I could do that but where would it leave me the next time me and my clapped out tracksuit pants stand in the harsh fluorescent glow of the domestic terminal at 5am? Tired and caffeine deficient. That’s where. Nobody wants that, least of all me.

Making sense of the purple haze

The heat makes everything so confusing. Yesterday, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology extended its palette range to include purple to deal with Australia’s current heat wave. Apparently, purple now represents the 50-52 degrees temperature range.


It’s hard to understand how adding a colour to some weather chart has caused such hysteria. After all, purple is a pre-existing colour by all accepted measures. It is a colour which, up until this point, has been considered a king among colours. If this is no longer true then how do you explain the team at McDonald’s letting Grimace hang around in its ‘restaurants’? It’s all too much.

I can’t just ditch purple at the drop of hat. I need time and space to process this new information. I need to get comfortable to process something of this enormity. I’ll think about it tonight, when I get home.

I’ll pick up some imported juice from the open refrigeration display case of the most convenient Coles or Safeway on the drive home. When I get there, I’ll print the Bureau of Meteorology picture that everyone is talking about. I have some nice premium bleached A4 card that will do nicely. Then I’ll get comfortable under the split system and turn on the TV (hopefully something informative like Today Tonight or A Current Affair is on). At that point, having eliminated all environmental and seasonal variables, I should be able to figure out this ‘climate change’ mumbo jumbo.

Note: I don’t need to worry about any of this as it turns out. Since I wrote the post the Bureau of Meteorology has backtracked and wiped purple off the map.