My secret life

 

Do you have a secret life? I do. I don’t mean I creep around at night with loose women or anything. It’s just that there are things I like, that those beautiful people I call family are not that keen on. The reverse is true too of course. But I can’t live without my secret life. I’ve tried. It just makes me sad and then I begin to get weird and to really crave the elements. The Music of Jelly Roll Morton is one of my guilty secrets. But I have others. Tom Waits is another. I have a list of about twenty singer songwriters that are also hiding in my cupboard. Then there’s the works of super guitarist Pat Metheny.

But there’s more. I also have a great love of sports movies. I have given up trying to talk anyone at home into watching them with me, they just roll their eyes and change the channel. I like to read biographies, which is all part of my secret life, at least I can do that without offending anyone. But the music and movies is another thing entirely.

When the coast is clear, I do a quick check of the front door, just to make sure no-one sneaks back in and catches me, and I let this music rip. I love songs that tell stories. In the same vein, I like short stories. The skill involved in painting a picture in twenty pages is something pretty special, equally telling a story in three minutes takes some doing. One of the best examples of this is the song “The man in the bright red car” by Kristina Olsen, it’s a cracker. I always liked the song on face value, but when I saw her live and she provided the back story, I got completely hooked on it. The song contains one of the all time great lines in any song, “Love is more a verb than a noun.”

The music of Jelly Roll Morton is significant for a range of reasons. Firstly because in Jazz, it is without peer. Secondly, to get a grasp of the extraordinary accomplishment his jazz compositions are, you have to understand the time in America’s history. The man was incredible, the music rolls with an ease seldom replicated and particularly in such complex signatures, keys and chord progressions. The man was amazing.

Tom Waits is one of my all time guilty secrets. My bride would have our house declared a “Tom Waits free zone” given half a chance, but I love the music. There have been hundreds of artists make attempts at covering his songs and they rarely work. In fact I can think of only person and one song of Toms, that has been covered successfully, where the new version successfully adds something to the original.

There you go, my secret is out, I hope you wont think less of me.

Generosity

 

One of the characteristics I truly admire is the capacity for generosity. By that I mean a person’s ability to be generous not just with their money, and of course that’s nice, but with their time, their patience and their humility. Generosity of spirit is one of those attributes that has an incalculable effect.

We probably all know people who do not have it. They are mean with their praise, stingy with their money, tough on those around them, bold about their own ambitions at the cost and sometimes even the exclusion of those close to them. I certainly know a few. They often attract people to them lacking in their own self-esteem which is just awful to watch. Often they see value in money spent on themselves and see no value regarding money spent on others. For example, they may be happy to spend money on an overseas adventure but shake their head when their partner wants to buy some new shoes. It makes me cross when I see it. I understand that it is rooted in their history, and isn’t something that just springs from nowhere. But that understanding doesn’t make the behaviour any more palatable.

IMG_0331Being generous most often costs nothing. Saying something nice costs nothing nor does being generous with your time. Underpinning someone else’s self esteem generally costs nothing. We all of us have self-doubt. Some are riddled with it, some have fleeting moments of it. People that lack generosity of spirit seem to enjoy being in the company of people who are racked with self doubt. I guess it makes them feel better, but it makes it all the more difficult when one is forced into the role of spectator. Perhaps it has something to do with propping up their own self-image by surrounding themselves with people that are needier than they are, I’m not sure.

We can all be more generous of course. We could give more to great charities, we could spare a few dollars here or there to people in real need. But equally important, we can all help people around us achieve great things by supporting them with time and energy. Sometimes all it takes to push through a task is the verbal support of someone close to you.

Think about that for a moment. When was the last time you went out of your way to help someone, with no ulterior motive. Could you do more to help other people? Is there something simple you could do that may have a big effect on someone else’s life? Sometimes this requires people to step outside their comfort zone and talk with people close to them in a way they have not done before, but how tough can that be really? Go on, I dare you, put yourself out there a little for someone else and see how you feel about that.

Being generous is such a lovely thing to be able to be.

SEPP 44

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There’s a man on my property counting Koalas, he’ll be there a while I reckon,
According to the latest legislative twist my plans for the place may be threatened
if this bloke that I’m paying a goodly amount to, finds the koalas or even the trees
Then what I have purchased at some great expense is a hilltop refuge for bees

I reckon there’s a bit of me that’s greener than most, I recycle and don’t waste the water.
It seems crazy that only fifty years ago Koalas were ripe for the slaughter
I’ve seen pictures of trucks with the pelts stacked so high you wouldn’t believe it could move
They reckon they knocked off six hundred thousand, it’s like they had something to prove

So the government then in their ultimate wisdom thought culling the things was the answer
for the lining of gloves and of boots and for collars on dresses to make women fancier
for sure all these things were much more important than keeping koalas alive
I guess they were thinking that all of that eating was not helping farmers to thrive

So the man on my place that is counting koalas is there to also count trees
to label and map them to try to determine if koalas would want to eat these
for even if he stands there all day until dusk, without spotting a single cute bear
I may not be able to build me a house, because of the tress that are there

I mean what would they think, if they were to appear and their dinner mints weren’t there to chew
So I’ll pay the price for the flora and fauna, and the council will then make me stew
while they consider if old mate koala could chance upon my place and stay
I don’t reckon koalas would give a big fat one if I built my own house, Im just sayin.

So one year they reckon that glove linings important, then later that bears need protection
and all of this time Im paying some bloke to stand there and make formal inspection
As much as I want koalas in trees is there a chance they might do me a favour
and waddle away to some coastal bay or some river or creek or my neighbour.

I want to be green and god knows Im grey as I try to reduce my footprint
I just want to grow veggies and not kill the planet make repair for my long city stint
If I thought that Koalas were going to threaten my chance of a perfect tree change
Id just stay in the city, burn all those fuels and point to the greenies and blame

Its all just too hard this change in behaviour, Id like to be completely off grid
and what of the paperwork Ive generated to improve the way we all live
how stupid am I to pay for a person with clipboard degree and a well meaning frown
all I want to do is go grow some veggies and live in a small country town

Just my opinion

It’s funny this world that we live in right now
It seems like we’re crunched every minute each hour
not enough time to talk things right through
so people make their minds up in an instant

It seems like the politicians and writers give way
to editors and jocks that have all the sway
they get paid to be vicious and just touch the surface
so people make their minds up in an instant

There is just so much science around defending an opinion
You can line up the facts and ignore bits that don’t fit in
and then hide in a corner online with your brethren
I want more from this life than this instant

The larger the audience the more outrageous the print is
The more flagrant and right-wing and downright mean-spirited
But they get on by banging their fists on their table
so people make their minds up in an instant

I want to have space and some quiet and some safety
To mumble and stumble and share my half thoughts in
and see how they stack up against all that I hold dear
and not make up my mind in an instant

Sometimes these are matters of monument and complex
complicated by education culture opportunity or sex
or disposition or desperation or some crazy ancient myth
and not to be dealt with in an instant

The shock jocks and looneys all have deadlines to beat
They need to say something to make people stamp their feet
They say it’s a reflection but we know thats not right
it’s all been dealt with in an instant

just because it makes the papers and repeated time on time
doesn’t make it right or real or even not a crime
minds like ours are deserved of whatever time it takes
you can snuff out a life in an instant.

Where seldom is heard a discouraging word.

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I woke the other morning with these words doing circle work in my brain. “Where seldom is heard a discouraging word” the line of course comes from the old song, “Home on the range” which I remember learning in primary school. It was either a choir piece or a band piece but may also have been a recorder or piano piece. Regardless, I would not have heard the song in 45 years and certainly it has not had any head space of mine for about as long.

So imagine my surprise when I woke up pondering the line as it rattled through my head. I even found myself mouthing the words, silently of course, as my bride was still asleep. I wondered how lovely a world it would be if “seldom was heard a discouraging word” and I what should I be doing to make this happen? Was it a message? A hint perhaps or some sort of direction? Was I discouraging someone?

Here is what I settled upon, via my stream of consciousness. How annoying that even 45 years later, words from popular American frontier folk tunes can pop into my head, they have no business being there and why did I even have to learn them in the first place? American folk music and English history took the place of so much of what I should have been learning in school. Why was our Australian education process so keen to rewrite history where Australian Aboriginals were concerned. What a disparity there was between the best and worst of my school education. How often is seldom? Is thinking a discouraging word pretty much the same as saying it? Who would I discourage if I could?

Is someone discouraging me? How could I possibly let anyone do that to me? What was I thinking, allowing that to happen? Who are these people?

As you can see my brain is a strange and sometimes conflicted place at 5am.

Asking permission

 

My eldest son and his beautiful girlfriend have just got engaged. After several glasses of celebration we got talking about the personal process of asking a young woman’s father for permission to be married. I can’t share my son’s journey because I haven’t permission to do so, but I thought I would share mine.

I met Anna in high school and had an instant crush on her. I was the shortest person in High School, so making any sort of impression her was going to be problematic. The best i could hope for was to be part of her social group. About ten years later it was my little sister that took me aside and told me that I needed to pull myself together and take stock of the fact that every girlfriend I had ever had, looked just like Anna, so maybe I should get serious and do something about that.

Almost a foot taller than when we had first met, and a decade older if not wiser, Anna and I got re-acquainted and soon realised that there was indeed some romantic spark. Needless to say I was pretty excited about that. (That last sentence may be the understatement of my life)

We had both come from very similar backgrounds growing up as children of Naval officers and changed countries, cities and schools many times. We were now in Sydney having met in school in Canberra. Everything was new and fresh and very exciting. In my memory that period lasted about 6 months when we started to get a little more serious and eventually we decided that we should get married. It was a joint decision, made in conversation, between two equals. If that sounds a little less than romantic, it is not meant to be, it’s just that I have always been keen to share my life with someone and not dominate that person. Anyone who knows Anna well would know that would be impossible anyway.

So now it was just down to details. First things first, ask Davo. Now Davo was actually Rear Admiral David Martin and a hell of a nice bloke. Over the previous six months he had gone out of his way to teach me how to pour a Gin & Tonic and how to offer someone another drink without inferring they had already had enough. He taught me so many things about good manners and social graces I will forever be in his debt. Anna and I arrived at Tresco, the big Naval owned sandstone house in Potts Pt that was the home of the Rear Admiral Support Command in those days. We often went there for meals so this was just another of those nights. We walked in and went to the TV room where Suzie and Davo were chatting at the end of the working day, I seem to recall Davo standing, half reading a newspaper. Anna took Suzie by the hand and whisked her away down the hall and off- off and away.

It occurred to me in that very moment that Davo and I, had perhaps never just been alone in a room, it felt very scary. I managed to start talking and it went something like this. “Davo, Anna and I have been talking and we think we should get married and part of that process is me asking you for permission to do that, what do you think?” Not actually very stunning was it?

Davo had put down the paper when I had begun to talk, and now looked at me over his half glasses, took them from his nose, put both hands on his hips and then lifted one hand to rub his face up and down and let out a big guffaw. It shook the room. He then turned and left the room.

I was not sure if that was a yes, or a “youve got to be kidding” sort of guffaw, so I just stayed in the room and waited, alone, for a few minutes, and then another few minutes. Soon it got to be embarrassing, and I figured that either way, yes or “no way in hell”, I was going to have to sort this out, so left the room and wandered down the hall in search of him. I could hear chat a few rooms away in the direction of the kitchen so headed that way. There was Anna and Suzie and Davo deep into a bottle of bubbly celebrating.

I’ll take that as a yes I whispered to myself.

Colonoscopy time

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It is one of the things I dislike most. Following the death of my father via Lung Cancer then bowel cancer a regular colonoscopy is part of growing older. The actual procedure is nothing, as drugs take care of any discomfort. It is the lead up and the anxiety that bothers me so much.

For three days prior to the procedure one can only eat dull white things. White bread, pasta, nothing with skins on like tomatoes and beans, in fact no vegetable unless its mashed potatoes and no fruit unless it is clear in a bottle like apple juice. Then there is the drinking of two litres of disgusting cleanse mixture that means ten feet from a bathroom is nine feet too far away, for about four or five hours.

Then there’s the water. I hate the stuff. It’s, well frankly, its watery. Litres of the stuff is required to make up for the fluid loss. Don’t bother suggesting I could do it with red wine, I have already asked and it’s not suitable. So I drink more water in the lead up to this than I would the rest of the year I reckon.

Then there’s the thinking time. I don’t like that at all. This time is a little bit different from the others, as it’s symptom driven and not a regular scheduled visit. I toyed with the idea of discussing this with Anna and for a range of reasons I thought I would just keep it under my hat for the time being. We have a few things going on, with trying to get our new house underway and Tom and Amanda’s recent engagement announcement, this would only get in the way. Obviously if I don’t get the all clear then we will have plenty of conversations about it, but for now it is just me and my brain in over-rotation.

I normally have quite low blood pressure but i am informed today, with a few minutes to go before the test, my blood pressure is a little high. Go figure. Pretty much the next thing I remember is sitting in a chair with a cup of tea and a biscuit. It feels almost naughty eating the biscuit. Around the same time I am given the all clear from the doctor. Phew. I am super glad I kept my concerns under my hat. Now I’m looking forward to a good meal and a glass or two. Cheers.

6 Reasons for team dysfunction

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Having worked with a range of representative sports teams for the last dozen years I can see some patterns in teams that don’t or can’t win. The good thing is that most of the elements can be altered or fixed. Even by just altering them, the outcomes will be different in line with the old adage “if you keep doing the same things, you will keep getting the same results”. Here are the six main reasons teams fail, in the reverse order of their importance, but in the order that most people imagine them to be.

Number One. The wrong people are being selected. This is generally a little more complicated than most people understand and surprisingly it occurs less often than outsiders would imagine. The very nature of selected teams means that someone will miss out. Take it as read, that person will be disappointed. When selecting the right people however, consideration needs to be given to team balance and roles. As an example, you may not select the best talent but prefer to select the people who would best represent, and be in no doubt they are two different things. I have long been a fan of work ethic before genius.
Number two. Poor coaching or poor tactics. Mistakes are made at this level all the time. Coaches either overestimate the ability or the preparedness of their own players or underestimate the opposition. It is part and parcel of competition. Great coaches rarely make tactical mistakes but it still happens. Improving tactical awareness is a significant part of improving as a coach. Poor coaches are those that don’t understand that last sentence.
Number three. Team inclusion. In many teams there is a feeling that it is the players against the world, but more importantly it is the players against the administration. The players feel they are the only ones with “skin in the game.” There is a feeling that coaches, selectors and admin staff are all on the periphery of the competition as players come and go. It is hard to convince someone to put their body on the line if they feel you will still be there waving them goodbye if they don’t do it often enough. Good teams have a completely inclusive atmosphere. This is one of the reasons that leadership teams have supplanted team captains in many teams. Players are seen as one part of the puzzle. Coaches, selectors and support staff are all integral parts of the same puzzle.
Number four. No personal growth. Regardless of the sport, regardless of the competition, it is going to be harder to win this year, than it was last year. Teams develop and get better. Your team needs to be better this year than last year and to do that individual members are going to have to be better as they play their part in making the team better. If there is no personal growth of the team members, the team will inevitably stagnate. Great teams all have a growth component. This is equally true of the coaches and selectors. If they fail to improve each year what hope do the players stand?

Number five. Fear of failure. In many sports there is the understanding that each person in that team is playing for their representative future in every game. I understand that fear of failure can be a strong motivator for some people, but it rarely works for teams. Team members need to feel a sense of security about their position in the team. By this I don’t mean they will remain in the team regardless of their performance. Each team member will have a clear understanding of what is required of them. If they fulfil that requirement they should not feel their post is under threat.

Number six. No start to finish process. The final dysfunction is lack of process. Many dysfunctional teams I have seen have had new players selected and others discarded without any considered process. The first the discarded players hears about being dropped is reading a team post or online or in the news. The new player is meant to slot into the side seamlessly and without any communication other than a handshake. Representative teams, by their very nature are ultra sensitive entities. The foibles and insecurities of each of its members is compounded by joining them together. This can all be set to rest with a clear induction process, clear lines of accountability and clear end processes. Though this requires work initially it will eventually make it much easier for the coaches and selectors in the long-term and makes the team much more cohesive. Obviously this process is much easier if your team is part of a squad where the next person into the team is very much part of the existing process and understands the team nuances.

We still have sports, almost unbelievably, that have completely untrained and unskilled selectors and in some cases even coaches. Most often it is these very people who adhere to the revolving door policy of the team they govern. When I say change needs to happen at the top I am saying a fish rots from the head. Sports that still have board members as selectors or other inappropriate people in positions of influence will never create a team that wins. It will just lead to more gravy stains on team ties. It’s time to move on. They of course will continue to blame the personnel at their disposal, arrogantly disregarding their own shortcomings in the process.

Finding friends

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It is the worry of every parent at some time or another. Their children may not be hanging out with the right people. Do we attract people to us though, or are we attracted to people and why? How is it possible that years of upbringing can be undone by a bunch of grotty friends in a few weeks. Science can provide us a clue.

Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin are all said to have read the work of social scientist Gustave Le Bon. His research was published under the title The Crowd – A study of the popular mind, and was reinterpreted by American scientist Solomon Asch in the 1950’s with his famous “Black line’ experiments. In the renowned experiments Asch observed that people changed their opinion according to the group they were with. Guessing the length of a simple black line on a simple white card, the answers were markedly different, either shrunk or augmented according to the remarks of those around the subject.

The ‘altered’ opinion was once thought to be simple peer pressure and merely expressed as one thing or another with the subject secretly harbouring their inner truth, however that is not case a lot of the time. As we understand the mental process a little better, it now shows that merely agreeing with our peers gives us a little inner reward that is almost impossible to ignore. Our opinions can actually be changed, just by having our peers express them. We are not pretending or faking or cheating.

This has ramifications for bringing up your children. Fathers sitting down and trying to reason with their teenage daughters using words like “can’t you see what is happening?” or “can’t you see what they are doing to you?” just wont work. Because in truth they cannot see. Their brain has been altered in a way that logic plays no part in.

It also has ramification for those people trying to logically argue against racism of course. As many people have surrounded themselves either literally or figuratively with people of the same opinion and therefore can never, and will never be subject to simple logical argument. Their brain will not allow it.

The science tells us the parenting and influencing work needs to be put in much earlier than this. It is best expressed by author Mithu Storoni in her work ‘Stress Proof” when she says “When you pick people you want to be around, you’re choosing the person you want to become – choose wisely.

Invasion Day

I can remember clear as a bell the book by Alan Dee that was an assigned text in High School all those years ago, called “Bury my heart at Wounded Knee”. It was about the systematic slaughter of indigenous Americans. The great “indian wars” as they were called. The book was astonishing, even though I didn’t finish it, for no other reason than I was such a slow reader it would have taken me all year to get through it. I am pretty sure I was not assigned a single text in any subject, in any of the schools I attended about the slaughter of indigenous Australians.

We white Australians get very huffy when Australia day is labelled “invasion day” by Indigenous Australians, which tells me that collectively we are a little confused about what happened in the hundred years after 1788. I think we may be the original victims of “fake news”. We seem to have in our heads that indigenous Australians should be grateful that we stole their land and killed them when they complained. After all, we gave them such a great deal. Ha.

I have written previously about my disappointment in those people who drove Adam Goodes from the game of AFL. Almost all of them defending their behaviour in exactly the same way settlers would have done way back in the day. I heard intelligent people proffer arguments that were so ill-considered and so obviously racist it brought a tear to my eye. I can only hope they will eventually look back on their own behaviour and hang their heads in shame, but I won’t hold my breath.

I heard people say they didn’t like the way he picked on a young girl. I heard them say he staged for free kicks, I heard them say, and this is probably my favourite, we just don’t like him. None of these are sustainable arguments for the outrageously racist behaviour. It showed me there is a moron inside all of us and it doesn’t take much to drag it out. I have never been more ashamed of Australians.

But I have wandered off my point. Stan Grant has recently written a book every bit as powerful as the work of Alan Dee. Mr Grant too has come under fire from sections of the media for not being black enough and also for being too black. I have heard criticism mounted against Mr Grant along the lines of, “he is only black when it suits him”, “he didn’t used to be that black” and the classic standby, “we just don’t like him.” All of which display the same mature consideration and cognitive dexterity as the football crowd mentioned above.

I cannot for the life of me explain where that thinking comes from. Mr Grant is not saying, you pulled the trigger, you shot my great-uncle, or you should be held accountable. We need to get out of our heads that this is personal. It is history. History that we are yet to honestly acknowledge on a personal level. Our sheer huffiness at the description of “Invasion Day” clearly demonstrates that we have yet to acknowledge it. Personally I am really comfortable with indigenous Australians calling it Invasion day, it is difficult to see how they could think it was anything but that.

Once we acknowledge the atrocities, it stops being personal. It will remain personal until that happens.