On Walking and Chewing Gum

Thoughts of a gentle bloke in 2022

I have no idea whether I’m going to click ‘publish’ when I’ve finished this. Perhaps it will languish as a draft for weeks; perhaps it will be published in the small hours of the morning. Then I may tear back the bedcovers with a resounding ‘Nooooooo!’ at break of day and rush to my computer to delete it.

It wouldn’t be the first article of mine to meet that fate, not by a long chalk, so you’d best read quickly, hypothetical reader.


Let me start by acknowledging that this is written in a wider context in which my petty sorrows and existential trivialities are of infinitesimal consequence. Further, that I have, as an individual, an Australian, a person of pinko-grey complexion and the possessor of a Y chromosome to go along with my X, much to be thankful for.

That said, as individuals we must walk and chew gum: strive to be both decent members of our multiple overlapping communities and attentive to our own emotional housekeeping. Each is perhaps the corollary of the other.

And all is not well in my untidy inner household. It has not been well for a long time; perhaps it has never been well. I suspect that goes with a writer’s job description. To distil my current malaise into a single sentence:

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‘Just Say a Few Words’

Reflecting on public foot-in-mouth experiences.

When I was young and silly, I had an absolute terror of making a fool of myself in public. Like most of us, I got over this by doing it repeatedly.

Mostly, I didn’t jump — I was pushed.

Piss-poor in Wigan

Six months into my first job as an editor, my friend and colleague Stefan saddled me with giving a talk on ‘Trading with Germany’ to the worthy members of the Wigan & District Chamber of Commerce.

He’d given one a few months previously and they’d asked him back, but he was coming down with a cold. As he was German, this required languishing at home for a week, being pampered by his lovely Dutch girlfriend.

I had neither a cold nor a lovely Dutch girlfriend, and I was the company’s other ‘German expert’.

‘It’s easy, Steve, you just stand there and talk a bit, then answer questions. They’re very friendly.’

Yeah, right.

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The Patch

A Permaculture Adventure

Permie in the Patch, 2016

When I was a kid, growing up in the 1970s on the outskirts of London, there was a TV sit-com that I adored. A quirky, optimistic show with wit and warmth, in the best tradition of British comedy. It was called The Good Life, with Felicity Kendal and Richard Briers.

It was the story of an irrepressibly resourceful couple in a snooty middle-class suburb of London, who absconded from the rat race in pursuit of self-sufficiency. How I loved that show, and the curiously romantic idea of ploughing up one’s lawn to grow potatoes and keep a brace of pigs …

Australia-bound for the Good Life

When my wife and I moved to Australia in 2001, we finally had the space to pursue our own Good Life (sans porcine companions). We were keen to grow a significant proportion of our own fruit and veg.

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Useful (?) Things I Learned as a Kid

Ancient male wisdom from 1970s England

Chemistry

It’s more difficult than you’d suppose to mix potassium nitrate and sugar in the right proportions for an explosion. Twisted toilet paper is not a good fuse system.

Social studies

Bullies don’t back off when you stand up to them. They thump the crap out of you. They choose smaller and weaker victims for a reason, and when you’re a kid, there’s always a bigger kid.

If a smaller boy is a bully, he’s probably a psychopath. (Lookin’ at you, Dave. Scary little guy. That high-pitched giggle when a fight kicked off …)

Physics

Laws of physics, dude. You ain’t gonna beat Jeff. He’s six feet tall and has fists like half-bricks. He likes using them on kids two years younger and half his size. The best defence is pretending to be a harmless, babbling fool. Easy when you’re scared shitless.

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