Friday, August 09, 2013

A nearly fictional vignette

This is not true, but neither is it fiction. Call it a fictionalised account. The emotions are true, but I've rewritten the event and conversation to make them coherent. Because real conversations are so often not coherent.

The scene: two people, with a joint history spanning nearly forty years, are sitting, talking and weeping over how life drove us apart and crafted new lives for us both, and how the new lives held hard secrets for us.

Yet those lives turned out to be filled with all of the stuff of life: love and homes and mortgages, jobs and worries and children, in sickness and in health and still more love. They were both lucky.

Life repairs many rifts if it's given the chance. Continents can move, if you wait. And two people wanted to see where their continents now lay, and sat at a picnic table in the bush, and talked.

Well: honestly, one talked, the other listened, because the divergence of their lives wasn't merely that they grew apart. They also had different fortunes. One prospers in another country and she is nostalgic for home. The other, doing most of the talking, is suffering in the home that he loves to distraction.

Because she's not “suffering”, she's listening. Because he is, he's talking. They've reached back beyond a disaster of passion, to the friendship that preceded and post-dated a brief marriage, and if they're not comfortable (because tears aren't comfortable), they both know why they're here.

And the wind blew.

Surrounded by old-man-banksia, tea-tree, bluegum, angophora, mountain devil, grevillea, and bent ghost gums, the wind blew above them.

“Stop talking for a minute,” she said, and since he was pouring his heart out, he was momentarily hurt.

Then he saw her face.

He knew her face well: in high school, he'd seen it gaze at him, talked to that face, befriended it, fallen in love with it. Married it and divorced it. During a separation of decades, he'd only been able to imagine the face when they talked on the telephone; in twenty-five years, they'd been face-to-face just twice before today. He knew at least enough to recognise an expression and wait for her to speak.

And, surrounded by old-man-banksia, tea-tree, bluegum, angophora, mountain devil, grevillea, and bent ghost gums, the wind blew above them.

Nobody, having loved a face and its expressions, sees anything of age. Are there wrinkles and blemishes? Of course: who cares? Merely an expression on the face, a shout across the years rather than an echo, erases decades and wrinkles.

She has stopped talking and stopped listening to him, because surrounded by old-man-banksia, tea-tree, bluegum, angophora, mountain devil, grevillea, and bent ghost gums, the wind blew above them. She has relaxed her shoulders, leaned her head back, and closed her eyes with a sad smile that reminds him how they fell in love.

And the wind eases, and without moving or opening her eyes, she speaks.

“I haven't heard that sound in thirty years. The wind in the Australian bush. It's different: you can sit in an English forest in a storm, but it doesn't sound the same.”

“Thirty years. We were married, then.”

“I know. Why do you think I'm crying?”

“Me too.”

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Mythbusting: The Daily Telegraph was not handed out at Fox Studios for the Coalition's broadband launch

Here's the conspiracy theory: the evil Murdoch plan for the NBN is proven because at Fox Sports, in April, instead of a press pack, journalists were handed copies of the Daily Telegraph.

For example, from Twitter:
“Coalition Fraudband launch at Fox Studios and reporters handed details in a @dailytelegraph but no Murdoch conspiracy says @TurnbullMalcolm”

It didn't happen, and the reason I can say this is simple: I was there. I'm an eyewitness. I wasn't actually invited, in fact I regard it as one of the best press conference gatecrashes of my life, but I was there, since before Messers Turbull and Abbott arrived until after they left.

I still have the notebook I was carrying – the one I'm whacking with my pen when I'm asking Malcolm Turnbull questions in the press conference in this video, and don't I wish I was better dressed that day!

So this is a combination of my memory, and my side-notes about the sequence of events.

Yes, there were press secretaries there. What were they doing? Mostly, lining up vision with the TV producers: scribblers like me got to be bystanders. I got to watch events with nobody in my face.

So there was the exit-the-car shot, someone asking for a second go at opening the door, and Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott walking through the foyer.

No Daily Telegraph handouts.

Then the cameras rolled while someone from Sky did the show-and-tell for Tony Abbott. I could almost sympathise with a politician in this situation: it was entirely so the TV news could show Mr Abbott nodding at bits of technology, no sound.

No Daily Telegraph handouts.

And after that stuff – still without Daily Telegraph handouts – was over, we took our places in the studio used for the announcement and waited, because the two VIPs needed to be given clear air entering the studio for the cameras. No Daily Telegraph handouts.

After that, there was a brief demonstration of a 3D hologram for Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull (that would need a lot of bandwidth, which is odd as supporting material for a “25 Mbps is good enough” press conference).

And there was the press conference, and a handout at the end – without a Daily Telegraph. I still have the press pack on my desk, because I refer back to it when looking at Liberal Party policy announcements. I have it in its entirety.

The Daily Telegraph isn't there.

Was a Daily Telegraph story given to journalists? Yes: down in Canberra as a pre-launch puff to people who were not present at Sky Sports in Artarmon, Sydney.

Guess who else was not present at Sky Sports in Artarmon, Sydney? The bloggers and conspiracists who are convinced that the Daily Telegraph was handed to people like myself in lieu of a press pack.

How has this idea taken flight? Here's how:
  1. The Coalition gave the Daily Telegraph an early exclusive on the story. It drives journalists nuts if they're not the ones getting the exclusive, but it's also completely unexceptional.
  1. For some reason a press secretary in Canberra thought it would be a good idea to rub the rest of the Gallery's nose in the exclusive, by handing the story to other Gallery journalists.
This event is clearly documented by Crikey, here.

'Last Tuesday, journalists in the Canberra press gallery were eager for details of the opposition’s broadband policy, due to be announced later that morning. So they asked the Coalition’s spinners for information. Instead of a regular press release, however, the journos were handed a colour photocopy of that morning’s Daily Telegraph front page story. The headline: “Pledge to slash internet bills: NBN at half Labor’s price”.' (My emphasis)

This is clear and unambiguous: the Daily Telegraph “drop” was in Canberra, not in Sydney.
  1. However, bloggers have put the two events together and decided that the newspaper was handed out at the launch in Fox Studios. For example, courtesy of “No Fibs”:
The Coalition held its broadband policy launch at, wait for it, Murdoch’s Fox Sports, And the press secretary handed out copies of Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph instead of policy documents.”

It never happened. I was there. I have the press pack. Not The Daily Telegraph.

Why bother setting this down? Because conspiracy theories never made a debate work better.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

A different love story

This will sound odd, but I am even lucky in my ex-wife.

I will never, without permission, recount the circumstances of our separation. Suffice to say that we had a few years when we hated each other.

Reconciliation began in about 1989 when I had to call her to tell her of the death of my father. I don't know why I felt this was an obligation, because even I found him difficult. But that's another story.

She ended up on the other side of the world, we formalised our separation with a divorce, and we both remarried. And there was an extremely awkward phone call that ended well.

I don't remember who called first, but one of us felt that imminent birth needed to be announced to the other. And it turned out, in an oddity of life and circumstance, that our first children – their twins, our elder son – were born within a very short space of each other.

Somehow, our children reconciled us. She visited us with family in tow in the mid-1990s for an afternoon while back from England to see family. We visited them in the 2000s when we took our sons to England because I pined for the company of another friend who'd made the trip and wanted to show us the sights.

We stayed in intermittent touch, and in what seems to be a once-a-decade event, we saw each other. My first wife returned to Australia to see her family, and via e-mail and phone calls, I managed to find a slot in her schedule for us to talk.

And we found a life before we'd made the mistake of marrying or the mistake of separating or divorce, or briefly hating each other, or whatever the mistake was. We found the blood-wood of the friendship that led us down the path towards a marriage that ended badly.

I don't know all of her life challenges. She knows more of mine, because I have blogged some of them, and she hasn't hers.

I had a complete and utter meltdown. I held myself together while her daughters were present, before they took their leave so we could talk. After that, I emptied the bag, gave it a shake, told her the things that haunt me at 4am, and cried.

She knew me when I was a teenager with a set on her. We knew each other growing up when our parents didn't know what we saw in each other. We married, divorced, detested, reconciled, re-friended, and learned a new and different kind of love.

We're friends, now. I told her what went wrong with life, and she listened. We cried together, except that this time she was strong and I wasn't, so I beat my head on a picnic table in the bush, and I tried to tell her that the love that is my second wife, and still my great love, will die and I can't stand it.

And she cried with me, and stroked my arm, and hugged me, and listened to the worst of the worst, demanded the details, and reminded me that I am her best friend, which I in no way deserve.

And Ms T and I have sent our thanks to her privately. Whatever her arm-stroking, hugs, listening and cheek-kisses gave me while I beat at a picnic table and raged at life – they helped me, and hence helped us both.

And this brings me to the point of the post.

Thank you.”

It's nothing.”

How many times do you, the listeners and huggers, the strength-givers, cheer-givers, love-givers to the deeply depressed, think you're not changing lives?

Do not say that, or think that, because people like me need your ears and arms and love and cheek-kisses, not because you can replace us bearing our burdens, but because you will love us when we're at our worst, our depths, in our blackest nights, when Pratchett's Death is all our conversation.

If you have the strength to listen to the worst of someone else's life and still love them, you've helped them already.

If you can do it – all the way to facing the worst that they face without offering them a fake optimism, that “stay calm and carry on”, but instead try to imagine their burdens and merely sympathise, you've gone beyond the standard cant of support-group psychology.

If you can grasp the worst, well enough to say: “No. I can't imagine it. It's beyond me. But I'll be here whenever you need”, you've put your feet on the same path as we walk.

If you'll admit that you have your own demons, and promise to offer them back in return for your support, people like me will thank you. Because you're trusting us to be here and still strong enough that we can try to return your gentle love and support.

If you can write off old pain, and count old friendship as more important than settling long-dead scores? You're gold.

I have an ex-wife who supports me trying to care for my wife, across half the world. I have no idea what I did to deserve such love. Maybe I can earn what I don't deserve, sometime in the future.

Monday, August 05, 2013

The stars are going out

“Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.”

That is the closing line of a novelty sci-fi story, Arthur C Clarke's The Nine Billion Names of God.

So it goes in life as well: if you have the good fortune to survive, there will be those around who you do not. 

Sometimes, the news comes as a secondhand surprise: someone reports that someone you lost touch with was in a car accident isn't it dreadful? And you try to recall a face to associate with the name, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not. You say something suitable and curse yourself for insincerity.

Sometimes, however, it's the fixed stars: those that were always in your night sky. 

Those of us bound to each other because we shared pain in another, younger world; those who we called to say “I'm sorry to call you at this hour, but you wouldn't want me to wait. My mother died this morning”. And we cry together just like when we were teenagers.

A long time ago, we fell out because you thought I was making a mistaken marriage. Things worked out, and we awkwardly repaired our friendship. 

Twenty years on, when I thought my wife of 20 years might die, it was you I called to weep and rage and weep, curled up on the kitchen floor, and you listened. With the whole of the globe between us, it felt like you held my hand, wrapped your arms around my shoulders, kissed my forehead, promised me she wouldn't die tonight. You also reminded me, sharply, that I had responsibilities: I must sleep, I must offer my strength to the boys, I must work, and I had to get off the floor and pick up my burdens, as we all must.

Damn it, if you're dying why didn't you tell me? Don't you know how much I love you?


So. I plucked up my courage and asked outright.

"No, I said 'pretty soon I'll be deaf."

You see, when two people on a phone call have damaged hearing, there's lots of scope for missed connections.

I could have removed this post, except: if you love people, they deserve to know it. You don't know where your nemesis lies or when you'll next get the chance to say so.