Be good at it, or stop doing it!

I am so glad I am sitting here writing. For that matter, I’m glad I am still breathing. I came so close to having it all end in a nasty accident today, it’s a gut wrenching struggle to recount it. Riding my scooter back from Sydney’s western suburbs I was in the right hand lane doing 80kms as the left lane was doing 60 or maybe even 50. I was in a line of traffic, having left enough room in front in case I needed to react quickly.

The car in the left lane, without indicator, decided he urgently needed to be in my lane. He didn’t give himself enough time to look, didn’t look into his mirror or turn his head. He just came out. No time to give him a polite toot, only time to hit the anchors and turn toward the concrete dividing wall. He saw me when my front tyre was 4 inches from his front door and swerved back left.

He put up his hand to indicate that he hadn’t seen me and was sorry. Of course he hadn’t seen me, he hadn’t bother looking!!!! Then, just as many car drivers do when they get yelled at, he got all indignant and decided to tailgate me for the next 5 kms. You just have to love that sort of pig ignorant behaviour. I honestly wanted to kick his car doors in and stomp on his head.

Now that I have calmed down and had a little think, I can now lift my spirit out off the motorway, and be thankful I am alive. For goodness sakes team, if you are driving on the road, drive well. Be good at it, or stop doing it.

Help I’m in a rut!!!

Getting in a rut is easy to do. You find yourself sitting on the lounge watching rubbish on TV or at the dining table eating boring food or worse still, catch yourself talking rubbish. It’s easy enough to do. Here are a few things you might want to consider doing to help jolt yourself out of that rut.

Listen to ‘Common at the Whitehouse’. Just type that into YouTube. This extraordinary performer will give you an insight into his world in a gentle explorative music genre. Just four songs performed at the Whitehouse in the last few weeks of the Obama’s term in the House. NPR recorded this.

NPR also do an amazing series of music samplers called Tiny Desk. I hope you have heard some of these. Depending where you up to in your music journey, you could try The Crossrhodes or go old school with The Blueman or Randy Newman (sublime four songs) or if western swing is more your thing try Lyle Lovett. Perhaps something pretty and intimate like the extraordinary  Laura Mvula will work for you. (The only person I have seen play a Rhodes electric piano and sing, standing up.)

The story behind this show is to take musicians and ask them to play in an office with very little technology. They just roll back a desk, throw a couple of microphones into the mix. Some artists cope wonderfully, others really struggle. Think about it for a moment. Imagine standing up at your workplace and belting out a couple of tunes. If you can’t find something on NPR Tiny Desk that speaks to you and lifts you out of the rut, you are not trying. The diversity is staggering. The depth and richness of the musical offering is unequalled.

If the visual is more your thing, you could try Omeletto a YouTube station that presents short films. There is some very disturbing stuff, it will jolt you out of your rut. I have deliberately stayed away from book here, I could list a hundred for you. But if you are a reader already, you are probably not in a rut.

A dinner guest gets me thinking

We have a guest coming for dinner tonight.  He is the nephew of a highly regarded friend of mine and we have not met him. Pretty much all I know about him is the family tie and that he is an opera singer. It is this last piece of information, scant though it is, which sent me down the path of pondering the things in the world that I just don’t get.

Quite clearly that could indeed be a long list, but before my coffee arrived at my table I had it down to three major items. I don’t get the hate that is part and parcel of every major non asian based religion. It seems to me that each of these religious groups for one reason or another breeds hate. I just don’t get it. On one hand they give lip service to love and acceptance while they perpetuate or even feed hatred of anyone who thinks differently or who worships differently. I don’t get that.

I don’t get opera. I am a music lover. I had a music radio show for more than a decade devoted to an array of music styles that embraced country, jazz, bluegrass, contemporary, choral, hiphop and singer songwriters. I grew up and have an appreciation for the clever ditties of Gilbert and Sullivan, that whacky English form of comic opera from the Victorian era that was clearly the precursor for the rock operas of the 1970’s. But I just don’t opera. Even the well-known, well-worn pieces like Puccini’s Nessun Dorma which instantly have me comparing this version with the last version I heard, which clearly was not the intention of the composer. I just don’t get opera.

I don’t get rollmops. Those vinegary vegetables wrapped in pickled herring, huddled together in glass jars. Even more gobsmackingly out of my world of understanding is the fact they are eaten at breakfast time in some baltic countries.

Thank goodness my coffee has arrived and I can put a halt to that nasty salivating thing my mouth does before throwing up. There you go, my world of things I don’t get.

My music my way

In my youth I played music in bands and I did a stint as a guitar playing singer-songwriter in pubs and cafes. I even did a short stint playing piano in bars. Back in those days I played music for two reasons. Firstly because I could, and that meant girls looked at me and the second reason was to entertain people and have girls look at me. Seeing a theme here?

I soon realised playing in bands, it didn’t help with my love life one little bit (the good-looking guitarist in the band got the girls) and always playing songs written by someone else and that everyone knew, really annoyed me. It seemed a little like an artist setting up an easel and copying a painting done by someone else. I got absolutely no satisfaction out of it unless I put my own slant on the song. Often when I did that though, listeners objected saying things like “thats not the way it goes”.

These days I play music for a completely different reason. I play where and when it suits me. In my backyard, by the riverside at dawn or to accompany the setting sun in the country. I play a style of music that deeply resonates with me. For the technically minded, I play a baritone Ukulele tuned to open A. Much in the style of the slack key guitarists of Hawaii, but in the baritone uke range. For the non technically minded, I play a gentle meditative rhythmic style of finger picking on a small stringed instrument. It is meant to provide a sonic backdrop to invite you to sit and think, to ponder, to give thanks. It is my church.

The melodies are simple and repetitive and songs often go for more than five minutes. This requires people to take time, to lower their intellectual kilobyte consumption rate which hopefully will help them to enter a state of gentle thought, of relaxation, something near to meditation.

I don’t play my music for anybody else though. I play for me. I’m happy to have people sit down and listen, happy to have people hang out and drift off to their quiet place, but equally I don’t mind if they don’t, and I most certainly don’t take requests.

Let me kiss you

Kissing is such an intimate gesture. I read an editorial comment the other day about the same-sex marriage debate that said something like “I’m happy for them to get married I just wish they wouldn’t kiss each other so much in public, its revolting” To some extent I agree with this, but perhaps not in the way you might think.

I don’t know how many heterosexual people have really given thought to their sexuality. I am being completely sincere about that, I genuinely have no idea. I am pretty clear about every gay person having given the matter real consideration, but I am unclear about how many straight people have given the matter their 100% attention. I mean to some extent, why would you? Your friends are straight, your parents are too, your teachers and neighbours are all straight, being gay is weird so why question any of it?

As I have discussed before, events in my youth and young adulthood caused me to pause and give real consideration to my sexuality. Girls were not attracted to me at all, at least not the ones I found attractive, and gay males thought I was fascinating. It was a weird place to be. Having given the subject lots of thought I came up with the following.

I don’t like men at all. I really like women. Which is why I have always had quite a few gay girl friends. Which immediately puts gay girls and I, on pretty much the same team. Men are whiskery and hairy and blokey. When I see two men kissing I can’t help thinking about all those prickly whiskers getting in the way of the moment. Clearly it doesn’t seem to bother them much.

I am not too crazy on girls kissing in public either though. I think it is because I think of a really passionate kiss as a really intimate expression. Unlike a lot of straight men, the whole lesbian sex thing does nothing for me at all. So, having said that men passionately kissing each other makes me think of whiskers and discomfort and girls kissing passionately just makes me think they should be doing that inside somewhere, my very favourite memory in my life was the day my now bride passionately kissed me in public.

That moment was so exciting, it was beyond any explanation I can offer, so now I have to recant my position on kissing in public don’t I.

I can’t hold that duplicitous stand. If it can’t wait, it cant wait. It’s as simple as that I guess.

Go away I’m on the phone


I distinctly remember my mother saying this to me when I was young. I probably wanted to dob on my big sister for  some unspeakable evil she had committed or something, but my mother would cover the mouth piece and say “Go away, I’m on the phone”.

Of course those were the olden days when phones had cords and most homes had a chair in the hallway or somewhere allocated to sit and talk on the phone. Hasn’t that all changed!

Today though I had a similar experience as I rode my scooter to the post office. Meandering down the middle of the road was a woman on her phone, and she gestured to me to go around her. Now, if she had been crossing the road, I would have found that both unremarkable and easy to negotiate. However she was meandering, wandering down the road at an oblique angle, pushing a pram and attached to the pram was a little toddler, maybe three years old, completely oblivious to the danger her mother had placed her in.

A car would not have been able to pass at all.

Apparently though, because she was on the phone, she had right of way, or was more important or something. It steams me up as a rider when I see motorists on their phone, because I know for sure that next lane change will be without a signal, and in all likelihood just in front of me. But a woman with a child and a pram! Has the world gone absolutely and completely mad? Do people switch off their brain when the phone rings? I don’t know why it is happening but it is driving me nuts.

Honolulu has got it right. If you are crossing the road as a pedestrian, you cannot be on your phone. I have lost count of the number of idiots I have seen, chatting away on their phone, step out into traffic. As a scooter rider it is scary but in a car it is a fatality waiting to happen.

The usual whinges from the usual suspects about police being dragged away from real crime to monitor phone use at pedestrian crossings is no surprise. I believe it is a much better use of their time as opposed to time spent diverting traffic after someone has been hit, then visiting family etc.

So, let me the first to say it. You are not smart enough to be on your phone and walking. You are in someone’s way, perhaps putting yourself in danger and almost certainly being a bloody nuisance to the person walking behind you or trying to get past you. Get to your destination, then make a call, or if someone calls you, step aside, find somewhere out of the way and chat, or tell them you will call them back.

Nightmares & needles

The story starts with nightmares. I was about ten years old and I had two nights of truly horrible nightmares. Almost fifty years later I can still remember them vividly. In the first one, my big sister had accepted some money to kill me. In reality she probably would have done it for nothing. I had gone to bed, and for some reason a countdown had been triggered. She was up watching TV with my parents. In my nightmare haze I got out of bed and walked into the lounge room and there she was, the countdown continued to tick away and I knew, with absolute certainty that when it got to zero, she was going to kill me. Nothing could be done about it. It was horrible, terrifying and tragic.

In the second nightmare, I was deeply engrossed in the 2nd World War and the Japanese had mined my bedroom floor with dozens of tiny, barely visible round spiky explosive charges. If I got out of bed and stepped on the floor, I was going to be blown up along with all of my family. So with my fingers in the picture rail I was hanging from the wall, inching my way around the room from my top bunk, on my way to the door and some help. I must have been making some noise because eventually my father scraped me off the wall and put me back to bed. My fingers were badly scraped and bruised.

The next morning I was unwell, a doctor was called and I was rushed to hospital with acute appendicitis. The neighbours thought the ambulance was pretty exciting. I was missing tennis so I wasn’t that thrilled about it. I was taken to Manly hospital and had my appendix removed. There was no room in the recently completed children’s wing of the hospital so I was put in a corridor ward with 6 or seven old blokes. One of them was a fella called Steamroller Jack. He had been run over by his own steamroller and had been in the ward so long they had created a song for him they sang whenever he went in for another operation, poor bugger. I can still hum the tune.

I was not happy in the hospital and though I was to stay just four or five days, the pain in my side was getting worse. The kindly nurses put my crying down to me missing my mother. Bless them. It was probably on the second night on the ward, my stomach erupted. Through the stitched wound bits of me spilled forth in an ungodly mess. It all happened so quickly that all they could do was pull a few curtains around the bed and move the bed next to me away. They were operating on me again. There was a team of people, doctors and nurses all doing things that hurt. It was shit. My parents were called.

It was the one and only time I ever saw my father in his pyjamas. I had peritonitis a fairly serious infection in the wound and people who knew more about it than I did, were not happy. My folks had been phoned, it was late at night and they were told to rush, don’t bother changing, just get to the Hospital. So though I am guilty of gilding the Lilly I reckon I must have been pretty sick.

I have a very firm memory of my parents standing about ten feet away, I could see them over the top of people armed with surgical equipment and needles, and they were in very serious conversation. I remember thinking my father looked angry at my mum. With the benefit of hindsight of course, they were just worried and he would have been trying to be pragmatic.

The next morning I was moved to the children’s ward for a week or so which was really lovely compared to the humorless hallway of the mens ward. The rather memorable down side of my stay in the children ward was the needles I got four times a day in the butt. If I really thought about it I could probably remember the names of the other kids around me. Compared to them I was in tip-top health.

Eventually my mother packed me into the car and drove me three hours north to Newcastle to live with my grandmother for a few weeks. I have no real understanding of why I was packed off to Newcastle, perhaps it was because I couldn’t have got up to my usual bed on the top bunk, who knows. It was a delightful time with them though. My wonderfully gruff Grandad, a perpetually suntanned plumber who pretended to not have much time for children was so sweet to me. One night he gave me my first wallet, and old hand-me-down of his. The soft leather was beaten up but felt so beautiful in my hands. He left $5 in it and when I tried to give the cash back to him he just laughed at me.

My grandmother Ivy, (a name that is on the comeback) was amazing. I can’t imagine I would have been an easy house guest. She cooked me separate meals and completely spoilt me. I can’t say that I learned anything from the experience other than I have real anxiety about nightmares and needles.

Try keeping this to yourself

Is everyone truly entitled to their own opinion? I am using the word “entitled” in what I think is its common usage meaning as “special privileged position”. I am also assuming the privilege comes from living in the western world where we enjoy free speech (to one degree or another).

So, when I started to think about this, it followed days and days of hearing people say to me “everyone is entitled to their own opinion”, and I’m not sure everyone is. Our Attorney General here in Australia once said “people do have the right to be bigots, you know”, which is a related topic. My thinking started with: is an opinion a position on something that has been shared by someone? So if I have a stance on something, it becomes an opinion when it is shared. I’m guessing here by the way. Otherwise I reckon, it is just a thought.

I think everyone at some time or another, has been halfway through expressing something out loud and pulled up without finishing because it has become quite clear that it’s a stupid thing to say. It might have been a belief lightly held or simply something heard from a trusted source and repeated. I have certainly done this. Most often repeating something my parents said many years ago. (Not that my parents said lots of stupid or ill-considered things) So in that case it would not be an opinion, or would it? Perhaps one can have partial opinions?

We know that opinions do not need to be evidence based, because people have all sorts of opinions on things of an ethereal nature. Things like god and ghosts. We know that good people have opinions and bad people do too. Well balanced people have opinions as do people with psychopathy. Psychopaths have opinions on other people regarding their value or lack of it for example. Mass murderers have opinions on the value of others lives.

So are they all entitled to them? Some of those opinions could get you locked up in jail. Some form the basis for doing evil. Is everyone and anyone entitled to even those opinions that lead to mass killings? I would say possibly not. With freedom comes responsibility. Living in a community, particularly a western community comes with it, a need to act in the best interest of your fellow-man. It is a privilege to be part of a western democracy so I believe some thought should be given to ideas before they are voiced as opinions.

I am really keen on the idea that we should all have a small intimate group of friends with whom we can try out our ideas before we share them as fully fledged opinions. Back in the day when I was a YMCA leader, I used to tell my young campers “words are like toothpaste, once out they can’t go back in.” If we are all truly entitled to an opinion regardless of how much or how well we have cogitated on that idea that is truly terrifying.

Water & marbles


I get asked to do a lot of talking, in addition to the speaking gigs. Here is the difference. I have delivered presentations on winning, culture, leadership and the growth mindset to hundreds of athletes over the last ten years, that is a speaking gig. I am standing in front of a group of people delivering a honed message. They know what’s coming, there is an expectation of a learning outcome. I am usually working to a time constraint and though the presentation will be tailored to the group, the message is predetermined.

A talking gig is similar but different. Yesterdays talking gig went for a little more than 4 hours. I was asked to provide my voice to help MC a fundraising event that went all day, I was to do the afternoon session 2pm till 6.30. Friends of mine will tell you I could talk underwater with a mouthful of marbles. But believe or not, I don’t want to talk about nothing, or rubbish. It’s true that talking for 270 minutes is not too daunting a task but I don’t want to sound like a goose or just tell baloney made up stories.

Yesterday as brave people abseiled down the side of a building in Sydney, 33 floors and 135 metres I was asked to provide a little commentary, a little colour, a little information. How would you go? Where would you start? I know a fair bit about the work of the charity so I was able to speak about that for a while. I had a crack at interviewing a few of the abseilers but most people don’t really get the whole microphone thing. So it ends up being a bit incoherent and jumbled, not exactly what I was trying to achieve.

So I went back to providing a monologue about fear, confronting your fear, facilitating life changing opportunities and all the other things the Sir David Martin Foundation do. The commentary needs to remain upbeat, slightly entertaining without trying to be the focus of the event. It’s a challenging role. So that’s the difference between a speaking gig and a talking gig. How would you go at either of those. Being a water and marbles kind of guy is no great claim to fame and it’s almost an embarrassment frankly, but I guess we all need to play to our strengths.

Indelible smile

What a great opportunity I had today. Through a series of serendipitous events I was able to say thank you to a pair of people who were incredibly influential on me as a youngster. I was under the impression that they had moved away from the home I remember them living in, but there they were, wow.

A friend of mine posted a cartoon on Facebook. The artist is a guy I had lost touch with ten years ago, a simply delightful guy I went to school with, was my best man, as I was his. I was able to contact him through Facebook and we had a good chat part of which was the discovery that his folks were indeed in the same old house.

So this morning I hopped on my scooter and rode across town and knocked on their door. It was the most delightful twenty minutes. I haven’t had a conversation with either of them for about forty years, though they came to the funerals of both of my parents. So it was such a delight to be able to have the opportunity to tell them how important they were to me growing up, and to say thank you.

I simply can’t wipe the smile off my face.