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Betwixt and between.  It’s a wonderful phrase, partly because it sounds so good, all that alliteration and rhythm and balance, and partly because of its meaning – neither one thing nor the other, somewhere between the two.  Grey is a good example: it’s neither black nor white.  And Grey is my middle name, and I’m telling you the truth, so being neither one thing nor the other has been etched onto my DNA.  But what exactly am I between?  I’m between the old and the new, I’m between old age and youth – I’m stuck in the middle.

Increasingly, just like most people, I’m spending more and more of my life on-line, running websites, writing blog posts, handling a weekly avalanche of emails.  And then there’s Facebook and Twitter, those necessary evils if you’re trying to make a go of a creative career and there are people out there who want to know what’s happening.  It’s all very stressful, isn’t it, juggling these digital balls, making sure you don’t miss something important, even though 99 percent of what’s on the internet is…well, let’s not go into that.  But there are joys, it has to be said –someone who regularly comments on my blog, someone I’ve never met in person, sent me a book to read, a real book, it turned up in my letterbox.

Speaking of my letterbox, something else miraculous turned up recently.  A postcard.  An actual postcard!  On the back were handwritten sentences about a trip to a rehabilitated clay mine in Cornwell, followed by fish and chips overlooking the water, we just hope the weather holds for our canal-boat trip starting Monday.  What really caught my eye, however, was the correspondent had correctly addressed my house: she’d used my house’s name: Leitrim.  Yes, my house has a name, because it’s an old place, 1890s, high ceilings, picture-rails, a Hordern and Sons coal-burning fire, and leadlight windows.  I adore it, I really do.  Slowly I’m filling it with old furniture – my guilty pleasure is spending Sunday afternoons scouring shops selling secondhand goods in the hope that I can find something beautiful I can afford, like a chair, or a piece of cast-iron.

But still this house is where I update my Facebook status and send tweets.

Betwixt and between indeed.

(First published in Panorama, The Canberra Times, 28 July 2012.)

Where I live I get to do something special: ride my trusty treadly around the most beautiful lake in the world.  All those different landscapes.  The native parklands with their old-man eucalypts.  The oak groves, which for a few days in autumn light up as if on fire.  There’s even a secret cork plantation.  And the water: it can be mirror-flat, it can be whipped into a frenzy, but always it’s deathly cold, so they say.  And the mountains, that hazy blue wall to the west.  Some days I simply have to be down there, at the lake, just man and bicycle, and silence.

But last weekend, I didn’t have silence.  Before I left I ripped an old CD, Reykjavik by British DJ Nick Warren. There was a period a while ago when I’d come home from a significantly extended Friday-night adventure and, with the morning sun streaming through my bedroom window, I’d peal out of my sweat-soaked party clothes, slide between the sheets, and fall asleep listening to this gorgeous electronica.

I have no idea why I wanted to hear this particular music again, because I can’t remember the last time I was in a nightclub – these days I get the wobbles if I’m out after 8pm.  But it seemed that I had to do it.  So, with my MP3 player loaded up and ready, I slipped into my very unsexy bike shorts and yellow safety jacket, pressed the headphones into my ears, donned my stack-hat, and off I went.

And off I went indeed.

The music.  It’s everything I remember it being: fake yet beautiful, soulful even.  As I reach the lake’s edge, a certain song comes on, the infamous fourth track.  The insistent drums.  The little keyboard notes floating slowly, like autumn leaves.  Then the impossibly maudlin, effects-laden guitars over the top.  And the whole lot of it builds and then builds some more.

My head starts nodding in time.  One hand comes off the handlebars – I’m punching a fist into the sky!  I look like an idiot but I don’t care.

I’m back there, on the dance floor, people pressed in tight, some of them are great dancers, they know the moves – all I’ve got is a bit of a left-foot, right-foot shuffle which makes me look like a robot trying to squash grapes.  But I’m loving it.  I don’t talk to anyone; I just want to get lost.  Once in a while someone nice (or not so nice, depending on your position) comes along and they drop something into my palm and off I go even further.  And I break into the wildest of grins.  And then I feel warm.  And then hot.

I close my eyes.  My other hand comes off the handlebars.  Now I’ve got two fists punching the sky.  My heart-beat’s rising fast, my treadly’s going on without me.  And I realise this: I’m happy.  Happy being middle-aged and on my bike and riding around the lake listening to music that’s past its use-by date, remembering a time that was dangerous (if not stupid), a time that won’t happen again, happy that some things are behind me, happy that some things are still to come.

Yes, some things are still to come.

As long as I don’t career headfirst into the lake.

(First published in Panorama, Canberra Times, April 26 2008)

Sadly not me

In eighteen months time he will turn forty, he will hit that milestone, if, that is, something else doesn’t hit him first.  Yes, he will become middle aged, although surely he’s middle aged already.  If he doesn’t shave, he has grey whiskers on his chin; if he doesn’t shave his head, he has grey hair above his ears.  He swims and walks and rides his bike to work but still his paunch remains, in fact it seems to be getting bigger even though he can swim 1.5kms in a row, which is more than he could do as a child or a teenager or a much younger man.

No longer does he hunger for burgers, soft drinks and doughnuts.  He wants salads; he licks his lips at the thought of rocket leaves.  He goes to bed early, indeed he looks forward to being between the sheets at 8:30pm and reading for an hour, longer if his eyes allow.  He reads more now than ever before in his life: novels, Booker Prize-winners.  He even reads poetry.  He likes ending the day with a poem in his head – a cheeky literary tipple!

He has started to imagine where he’ll be when he’s sixty, seventy, eighty years old.  Will he be in a retirement village, those school camps for people at the wrong end of their lives?  Will he be fit and well (perhaps he might still be able to swim 1.5kms, maybe even more)?  Or will he not remember who’s important to him, who he is himself, what he’s done?  Will he look upon himself as a stranger?

Yes, all this is middle aged.  But what of the rest of him?

There is no opera in his large music collection, very little classical (except a Mozart for Meditation CD he bought because work stress had got the better of him; the music, he has to admit, is quite interesting, too much so for meditation).  Every CD he buys – and he buys many, at least one a week – is contemporary rock or electronica.  He buys them at a small independent music store in the city, a place that is a hang out (do people still ‘hang out’?) for kids with trousers down around their chopstick thighs.  A guilty pleasure is reading rock-music magazines; he even reads articles about bands he doesn’t like.  Part of him still wants to be a rock star: he wants to be interviewed about his new band, his new album, his new direction.  As a child he’d dreamt of having these things, and now, all these decades later, he still does so.

On Friday nights, after a week of full-on work (do people still say ‘full-on’?), his body weary from back-to-back meetings, from too much riding and walking and swimming, he might go past a bar packed with hot, young, cashed-up things ready to embark on a wild, narcotic weekend.  And he’ll want to be there.  He’ll want to be sinking beers, scotches, anything, everything.  He’ll want to be dangerous too.  But he peddles on, heads home, knowing there is someone waiting for him.  Because these days being with someone is much better than being with something illegal.

It’s true, in eighteen months time he will turn forty.

And like a ferry pulling away from the shore, he has begun viewing life from a distance.

(First published in Panorama, Canberra Times, May 26, 2007)

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The past