Learning from Socrates

Examining my life to see if it’s been worth living, one thing I thought of checking were the podcasts that I’ve been listening to. It seems the crime and associated genre podcasts were simply rehashing old newspaper reports of unresolved crimes of murders, rapes, child abductions, gang warfare, drug addiction and other podcasts made from trolling through prosecutions and publicly available police files, the more sensational the better. Characters brought to light from the notes, conversations fictionalised from investigator interviews. Suspect or witnesses are given flesh clothing from demeanour observations, locations dramatized from observations of crime scene minutiae by Mr Plod.
I’ve been seeing through this for a while but wondered what the fascination is. With this questioning in mind a recent listening was “Japanese Crime,” Essentially the pod sounds like a Japanese native speaking American guy and gal, the guy reading from a translation of Japanese newspapers of the times jumbled together with speculation from fiction writers of the day. In a case about a suspected murder of a glamorous promiscuous BOAC trainee airhostess in strange circumstances, the gal chimed in with,
“Wow,” I don’t believe it!” and “but I’m Catholic too,” said with the emphasis on the final “ic”, and something in the podcast which was finally being bent into shape pronounced as, “bendeded.” Cute? Corny? Crap?
So why, with a case so old in Japan make a podcast in 2016 at all? Well, turns out a follow-up by the podcaster’s researchers fifty odd years later than this 1960’s murder with an exonerated suspect, a priest now domiciled in Canada, was, was in fact …………. fruitless. My thoughts were, “how trite is this reporting, and worse why am I interested?”
But I digress. In reviewing the Socratic dictum, I realised that I’d failed the examination.
Socrates pre hemlock smoothie choice was to be exiled or remain silent. His method of examining and questioning was found by the good citizens of Athens to be corrupting their youth. To shush Socrates, he was offered this choice. He could remain in Athens sworn to silence, thereby not disseminating his questioning ways, or accept banishment away from Athens, his home.
Socrates saw this binary choice as unacceptable. By today’s standard I’d say very Western. Choices always presented as a dichotomy, say twixt Black and White, Republican or Democrat, perhaps Rowe or Wade. Socrates though saw a third way and sculled the hemlock. Hhmm, um I thought, he wasn’t a hemlock drinker because he hadn’t examined his life, rather he was reacting against the forever restraint of demonstrating his Socratic method of discourse to others. He wasn’t offered the choice of hemlocking himself. For him, the binary option just didn’t exist.
The scales tumbled from my eyes. The lesson is about whether we should be prepared to create a third way, rather than make choices only between binary alternatives presented. This is especially true when neither alternative is truly acceptable. I realised this has been a guiding notion in my life.
Having completed the mental gymnastics, I thought I’d examine my pod cast library for dog walking listening. I unfollowed crime, mystery or unsolved genre, refilling with science and stuff that I have a genuine interest in; more to do with today’s world or the developments of yesteryear, which have created today’s world.


Skype Scam

Two eggs and eight buttered soldiers slathered in Vegemite! A cup of coffee.

The sun streams in on my back from the north east and though the air temperature is 10°C, I’m warm in my South American poncho.

Settled, the Lab waits for his eggshells from the breakfast tray, of such is happiness made. Crunch crush, slurp slurp. He gets them and hoovers them up as if it’s his final meal.

The door onto the deck open and my phone is thrust onto me.

“It’s a phone call.”

“Who is it,” I ask, “do I know them?”

“Dunno, it’s just hung up,”

Then with soft tone it starts again,

“Who could it be now?”

I look at the screen, its Adu Nasur.

Wow, Adu wants to make contact through the free phone Skype service and wants to make friends.

I munch another soldier, the butter oozes down to my chin from my lips, which I swipe away with my polo fleece cuff. Black vegemite on the greeny softness, I’m so glad the egg was overdone today and not runny as I normally prefer.

“Hmmm, Adu,” no sense of intrigue, and looking out on the garden my need for love and intrigue is replete.

I’ll wait and see what happens and eat a fourth vegemite soldier and scoop out the hardened egg before launching the shell to the Lab.

Adu’s text comes as if I conjure it.

“Where are you.”

“I’m here, you called me.”

“I am in Ethiopia now but born in Lagos.”

“I was born in Kwa Zulu but currently in Greenland”

“I am 36 single never married and attractive.”

“I’m stuck here selling walrus ivory tusks shaped into Big Mac memorabilia”

“Do you have much money?”

“I’m very cold in my cotton blouse tight jeans and fluoro stilettos”

“Can you use Western Union?”

“Send me money USD, £, €, ¥, to pay for breast reduction surgery. My left breast sags now after the silicon leaked. “

“Can you send a pic?”

“I am the seventh son of the Zebra of the Golden Plough, but after my operation now the first daughter, oh praise be to the Lord”.

“Are you rich?”

“As you are a scammer, I think I should get on with my day, 1, 2, 3, 4……”

[no response]

“13, 14, 15, 16…”

[no response]

“38, 39, 40…”

[no response]

“120, 121, 122….”

[no response]

“135, 136, 137, If I get to 150, you’ll be blocked”

[no response]

“144, 145, 146….”

And then ..

The Saviour 

Oh shit its Adu Nuser!!

“148, 149, 150…BLOCKED”.

I feel nothing, the sun has warmed a degree or two, the eggs are finished and the coffee dregs cold taste yuk.







How Did This Happen

How did it happen? I’m stretched to know. The shattered shards of a relationship reassembled, only to find the missing fragment is the one which made everything watertight and from which all meaning flowed.

I simply can’t remember. Perhaps a stroll through where it happened will evoke the past, allow the floating tendrils of past memory to again enthral me.

There was the genteel middle class-ness of it all. The red cut brick of the one flight up to the ground floor of the six-pack apartment, spaciously garden set behind a grey green shrub lined slightly unkempt garden. Muted pleasant voices floating through open windows while cooking dinner. No-one dared stop to eavesdrop, it wasn’t done here. Conversations blended with the dull drone of the backdrop television. The shadows of the branch overhang, the glistening droplets of the just sprayed foliage, the aroma of the decaying leaf litter takes me back there, to that place, those moments, that time.

And yet frankly I wasn’t there. I lived sixty or so miles away in Geelong, an industrial town, declining as its employees working for car makers, wool spinners, and educational institutions watched in vain as their jobs went to cheaper countries, somewhere but here. In a tiny cul-de-sac named Cogens Place, on the margin in a once grimy workers area of the Geelong CBD I found a rental. The surroundings spoke of incipient gentrification. The spot was well placed twixt the beachfront, parklands and hospital. I loved that little place, one and 1/4 bedrooms with sloping back veranda covering laundry and an outside dunny, yes, so old yet sporting two dunnies, how chic I felt. I couldn’t get my hands on it fast enough. I’d spent two night in the car after being turfed out of the local motel when they over booked me during a yachting regatta weekend; when I’d first arrived from the North … but that as they say is another story. In fact, “if memory serves me correctly,” I also spent a couple of days at Port Arlington, which now comes to mind and deserves its own zinger.

I’m unclear how we got here, internet most likely. There was a vegan café, on second thoughts a restaurant, on the wharf at St Kilda, seafood at Mordialloc, now isn’t that a name conjuring more than it is. Mordialloc, Mordy to its friends’ marks where suburbia starts broadening its acreage. Squeezed into the wedge of seaside Beach Road and its confluence with the Nepean Highway, this once seaside retreat is now absorbed into the commuter surrounds of ever-expanding metropolis Melbourne.

And over time we fell for one another. She had married well, very well, and without the chance to have kids adopted a Korean girl nineteen years earlier. She and the daughter lived together in this redbrick idyll; the divorced father well supportive of them both. The girl had matured beautifully into a gorgeous nubile young thing well-schooled at the Methodist Ladies College, gymnastics, choir and all. And of course, a dog. A house dog walked by others but still their dog. Days of the whining of Leonard Cohen, olives and OJ, lavach bread, smelly cheeses and dried tomato with roasted aubergine. The palette adjusts but not the eardrums. Leonard is as they say, an acquired taste and the accompanying videos in smoke filled concerts from earlier decades is truly slumber inducing. But gosh its romantic.

And then there were all sorts of societal things to go to. I felt outta my depth, enjoying the challenge but gulping for air, a scuba diver whose air tank has run out.

She’d been a researcher for the final leader of the Australian Democrats who were keeping bastards honest. The rage still filling loyalist hearts has been insufficient to keep Don Chipp’s vision alive, the embers though still glowing could not be fanned to a fire, no matter the huffing and puffing. A final swansong in Canberra marking the end of term of the last Democrat parliamentarian was planned, would I like to go?

“Why not?” I thought a chance to trade in my work dungarees and tog up.

The Hyatt Hotel restored to its former 1920’s Art Deco glory was the hotel of choice. To say the least, it was opulent. She sashayed to the events at Parliament House while I absorbed the surrounds. When called to the House, we sat up in the public gallery, watching proceedings in the Chamber below.

Hon. Peter Costello lolled on the back benches having not found the fortitude to challenge the incumbent Prime Minister for the position. I mean lolled, though his back was pressed to the rear seat cushioning his legs were crossed at an almost ninety-degree angle to his torso such that his arse must have been sliding on the leather seat swab. He looked …. comfortable, very. His gaze casually wandered around the Chamber then up into the press gallery around the Chamber to the public gallery. As his eyes swept the assemblage, he fixed on me, I’m sure he did then he waved. Not a big hearty wave but a raise of the arm with wrist flick type wave. I was taken aback.

“Why’s Costello waving at me?” I croaked.

“Don’t acknowledge him,” came back a short under the breath response.

“He’s waving. Look!”

“Then look away,” she said. And like a dummy I realised the Member for Higgins didn’t have me in his sights, it was her.

“I stood against him in the last election, and I’m not here to see him! “she said.

Chastened I ignored Hon Peter Costello, though in truth it wasn’t me he was acknowledging.

We left the Chamber and through the corridors of power, though I’m sure there were more, the only person I recall now was Bob Brown [Dr].

Final Democrat Leader Lynn Allison’s farewell function was held at one of the boat houses on the Yarra on the south bank up stream of Prince’s Bridge.

Prince’s Bridge where when as a young tyke from Clifton Hill Mum and Dad had taken us into see some fair, parade, festival or something by train which terminated at Prince’s Bridge. As we crossed the bridge the flat bottom tour boats called me. Such boats call to all little boys. The sturdy pillars of the bridge provide a stone balustrade over which adults can view the scene below. But not for tiny tykes. The openings between the pillars are about the same size as the pillars so a glimpse is all that little folk can see. The solution is obvious. Stick your head through the gap in the pillars for a one eighty view of river life. And that’s what I did. Watching the boats bound for cruises to the Yarra mouth or upstream to Richmond and even beyond was so exciting.

“Can we go on one of those Dad?” I called.

I wondered why there was no response. Kneeling on the pavement head secured like a cow in a milking stall slowly I realised I was stuck. I writhed this way and that. First the head left then right, then the body right then left, even up and down. The steady stream of passers-by only added to my Dad’s embarrassment. He moved away as Mum tried to settle me and maybe even extricate me. It was no use. Though logic says if the head got in there then it must be able to get out, logic was for the moment suspended.

Shit, then a policeman arrives. Social embarrassment times twenty.

“So, what’s goin’ on here?” he says suppressing laughter. Mum states the obvious.

“He’s got his head stuck in the bridge.” She says stating what the policeman can clearly see.

He tells me that we need to calm down and that though it may hurt a little he’s going to pull me out. I can’t imagine what the pain of removing the massive tonnage of Prince’s Bridge from my shoulders might feel like, but I know it can’t be anything like the pain of having to carry it around for the rest of my life, and I’m only seven.

“Ok,” I say as bravely as I can.

“On three then” the copper says.

He counts more quickly than the sing song way we recite numbers at school and before I know it, I’m pulled free.

It’s difficult to find Dad in the milling crowd on the bridge. He’s moved further to the centre of the bridge where a cuffing to the back o’ my head will settle the pain of extraction. But I digress.

As we cross to the south bank, I can see down to the private school rowing sheds, where maybe if I get a scholarship I might one day be schooled. I don’t get a scholarship but do get to the boat sheds when Lynn Allison says goodbye to public life years later.

The attendees from many Melbourne branches of the Democrats speak to the party’s demise. Mostly its aged hippies of Chipp’s era and even older pre-hippies with keeping bastards’ honest sensibilities. The hair colour of choice is white, grey or blue rinse for ladies and grey, thinning or bald for men. There’s naught to comment on dress. Hearty congratulations for jobs well done, there’s an Auld Lang Syne feel to the hopes for the future, vague talk of mergers and pumping life back into the “Fight” but I suspect the blood to revive this body politick is embalming fluid [red].

I can remember walking back to the car along the riverbank after the farewell, but that’s it. How did this happen.

Coincidence ?


I think back to when he passed. I was there.

In those final weeks he diminished rapidly, though at time I didn’t realise. Some heart problem brought him to the hospital, his spirit was already ebbing. He’d become increasingly obnoxious to his wife, my mum, the fine principles he espoused and demonstrated publicly were less and less evident in his dealings with his closest family. He was tyrannical insisting on Brands Chicken Essence only for sustenance, little pots of concentrated jelly from the rendered down frames and juices of chickens. It was a difficult product to find in normal groceries, but it what he wanted. Was it this food choice and a poor heart that lead to hospital for a second trip after an initial scare? Who knows? In hospital such a diet was not always possible and could be snuck in twixt hospital food. Food which nowadays would be decried as culturally inappropriate for this clearly Chinese man.

The time in hospital passed slowly. Multiple wills on scribbled on scraps of A5 notepaper. Notes of instruction scrawled in the paper margins in Chinglish phrases for the instruction of executors, sister Alma and Philip Young, a steadfast friend from the Chinese Presbyterian and Methodist Church. These executors had been constant before Philip was usurped and eldest brother Harry installed. A fateful decision for me as it turned out later.

My visits were frequent, squeezed between cramming for final exams, and then final exams. Times blurred. As blurred now as it was then.

His body was massively weakened, not eating does that. With barely any solids, zero exercise, he was fading away. Unable or unwilling to rise from his bed his tummy still rumbled fearsomely resulting in explosive diahorrea.

“Get a box or something!” he scowled as I stood there with him on coincidence day.

I couldn’t understand, didn’t move quick enough till he hissed, “Now!”

The sweetly faecal odour wafting from beneath the cotton sheets helped me understand the urgency.

A tissue box on the metal bedside table was pressed into duty.

I tore at its edges to make a pan. The excess tissues spilt to the scrubbed linoleum floor as I raised the bedsheets. Dad’s emaciated body startled me barely skin and bones. The muscle was mostly gone, the fleash soon would. Easily I lifted, pushed, then manoeuvred him onto the makeshift cardboard pan, then folded the box edges kinda upwards again for containment then emptied the contents onto the orange peel scraps in the metal grey rubbish bin.

“I’ll call nurse,” I said.

His eyes lolled back in resignation or disappointment.

“I’ll go now and see if I can find someone. “I said

I looked back for approval to go. I didn’t need to. He’d left already.

I guessed he was dead but having never seen a dead person I needed someone’s confirmation.

Looking back now I could understand why he had wanted to die at home. The public humiliation of it all, even in extremis. I hurried out through the wide-open ward double doors and into the corridor to get a nurse. Somehow, I found one explaining,

“I think my Dad’s dead.”

Did the words make it real? They’re words you say few times in your life. It was the 23rd December. A decade and a half later, on the same day, first born Nick would arrive.

The days are now conflated, their significance confuses with its symmetry.

A Coincidence?

Chinese Guy and Fatter Face

So, three friends, a very young married couple and their Chinese young man friend sit in front of me on the journey south to Miranda.
I can’t help but listen to their conversation. They chatter way loudly; the conversation spills over me through the gaps between the seats. I can’t help but hear snippets, well more than snippets. I arch slightly forward to catch more gems.
He lives at home; the Chinese guy says. It’s about living home alone with his old grandmother and though in a western environment the filial piety of his Asian roots holds him tenuously though fast. A limpet clinging to the underside of the boat that brought his forbears to these shores. The sharp rocks of Aussie culture have somehow dislodged his older siblings, they perfunctorily visit once a month. He holds on, a place to live with all the inconveniences of tending to his grandma’s vagaries whilst rent free.

“Why you never take me anywhere, ah? You always out la!” Grandma whines.
He repeats his complaint to his friends of the trips he has taken her on several occasions where he’s told,
“Ah this is too noisy, there are not enough Asian people here, why did you bring me here, I wanna go home.”
He says he can never win, his older brothers used to listen to his pleas to help but over time their rushing around to soccer, ballet, singing, tutoring for their three year’s old has transformed into indifference.
“Well why don’t you just leave, “the blonde girl suggests, tousling her tresses.
“Yeah but you don’t understand.” Chinese boy replies, the rest of the family and especially my aunties in Hong Kong and Borneo would be all over me like a rash.”
Blondie feigns understanding, her fatter husband, well fatter in the face strokes his stubbled chin before saying,
“Yeah, I can imagine, why don’t you spend a night or two a week at ours bro.”
“But who would look after grandma,” comes Chinese guy’s response almost before fatter face finishes.
“Leave it to your brothers,” fatter face retorts, not realising the delights of being the youngest son in this Asian hierarchy. Chinese guy seems much like a maiden aunt in the days before a social welfare net and the pension. Unmarried, underemployed an age-old fate.
The train rattled on. Well that’s not really true. The rattle, the clickity clack the swaying has gone from these modernised tracks and bogies.
The clickity clack is in my mind.