From Behind

Don't stop.
That's it, yeah, keep going. Don't stop.
That's it, go a little faster.
Oh yeah, that's right. That's perfect. keep going faster. Don't be shy.
Why don't you just try squeezing in there? I bet you fit.
Try it, yeah.
I know.
I knew you'd be surprised. See how easily you can just slide right between them?
How easy was that? Wasn't that nothing? But you made it so easy. Don't stop now. See how far you can get.
Yeah, and keep going faster.
Don't stop! Whatever you do, don't stop!
Keep going, I'm almost there.
Yes, yes, yes!
Oh God yes!
I'm free!
Woo, that's amazing.
Yes! Freedom! Sweet release!

- The inner monologue of a fast walker on a lunch break in Chatswood's crowded mall.

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If you met yourself from the future, what would you ask your future self?
What if they wont tell you anything?

The Doors

When people run for the door of Sydney’s trains I don’t think it’s because they’re too impatient to wait three minutes for the next one. Not in my experience, anyway. People run because they have planned their trip to the station in a way that they don’t waste a second of their busy, important lives waiting. Every minute between leaving the house and stepping over the yellow line has been calculated and planned. Missing the train won’t just cost them a few minutes, it signifies a categorical failure in their ability to organise their own lives. A failure they would be forced to dwell on if they can’t squeeze their body through the closing door.

Sadly, I have been guilty of this too. Guilty of running through closing doors as well as turning daily commutes into Rush Hour. The latter, I’m starting to appreciate, is caused by an attitude problem. This is my childhood in the countryside talking, but Sydney is so large and complex and entangled within itself that getting from one side of it to the other is a complicated process. It’s up to the commuter, however, to decide for his or herself if these complexities and steps are obstacles or attractions.

What’s referred to as “The Golden Hours” in photography circles is the hour after sunrise, and the hour preceding sunset. That’s when the sky is interesting, the light is friendly, and rocks and walls get colours. For most of the year the golden hours overlap with peak hour. When you’re not rushing from place to place you can see the most amazing things at these times. I remember the first day I crossed the Harbour Bridge on a train at eight in the morning. A rising sun to the east was reflecting off skyscrapers and making the water sparkle crazy blue below. The foliage along the harbour stood out in bold, spring greens. It was magnificent, and everyone around me was staring at the screens of their phones. After a week, so was I.

I was rushing as usual on my way to work this morning when I was stopped by an distracting sight. It was an Australian wood duck standing on the top of a chimney. He stood, docile, surveying the world around him. In my field of vision he was a centrepiece in front of a gloomy yet beautiful, overcast sunrise. I see many things like this in the mornings and I always want to enjoy them, but I don’t. Today that changed. I decided catching the next train wouldn’t be a failure. I stopped walking. I stared at the duck.


Recently I have been working in the suburb of Chatswood, which coincidentally happens to be the suburb in which I was born. Technically I was born in a hospital a few suburbs north of Chatswood, but it was in Chatswood that I was first brought home, and it was in Chatswood that I ruptured the innermost membranes of my embryo and sent amniotic fluids dripping down my mother’s legs.

The interesting thing about this heritage is that after the first year and a bit of my life I left Chatswood and I never went back there again. Not once. Not until I landed a new job and started catching a train through the suburb on a daily basis. Then work moved to Chatswood and I was walking around in it on a daily basis. It was a strange feeling.

All those times I passed by on the train I wondered to myself, what would it be like going into Chatswood? How would it make me feel? Would I remember things? I thought surely I would experience some ethereal sensation, some stirring inside of me that this part of the planet was significant to my life. I mean, I know it’s been twenty seven years since I’ve been there. Would it be like finally coming home? I wasn’t after something big. I didn’t expect I’d turn a corner and slip over my own discarded placenta. I just thought I would feel something.

It was a beautiful mid-winter day today. The sun was out and it was twenty-three degrees. During my lunch break I decided to go on a quest, I was going to walk and see my old house. I used Google Maps and my birth certificate to plan a path. It was less than two kilometres. I crossed the Pacific Highway and started walking. I kept my eyes sharp, wondering when or if I would start to recognise anything. I stopped briefly to scroll through the songs on my phone to find something poignant to play as I walked up the street to my childhood home.

Nothing I saw as I walked seemed familiar or important. I was close to my house now, and I turned onto my first street. A chill went through me. I won’t lie, it was a shady street, but a powerful thought did at that moment cross my mind. It was an image of my mother, heavily pregnant and cleaning the bathroom of what was about to become my home. She had a red bandana on, and George Michael’s Careless Whisper was playing on the radio. Did I travel through time at that moment? Did I really hear the saxophones? I don’t think so.

I found my house. It was just as my parents described it. My eyes glanced from place to place - the gate, the path, the letterbox, the fence. Nothing registered. It could have been any house on any street. I took a few camera phone photos regardless, and then I scampered away guiltily because I always feel shameful after using my camera phone in public.

As I was walking back to the office, enjoying the sunshine and irrelevant music, I heard footsteps behind me, running. An old man had chased me down. He waved his hands in my face and I stopped my music.

Who was this man? Was it someone who recognised me? Was it me, from the future?

“I was yelling at you,” he said, “you had your music in.”
“Yes, I did.”
“Can you help me? I need to lift a wheelbarrow onto my truck.”
Behind him there was a dual cab ute with a roof rack. One wheelbarrow was on top of it already, another stood forlorn beside the vehicle.
“Sure,” I said. I took the handles and together we put it onto the roof racks.
“Thanks,” he said, “you are a real gentleman.”
“No worries,” I said. “Bye.” I walked off quickly, because interacting with strangers makes me uncomfortable.

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Winter Blues

Another beautiful, sunny day in Hurstvil.... I can't say it with a straight face... A lovely bakery in lovely Dover Heights on a lovely winter's day.

Another beautiful, sunny day in Hurstvil.... I can't say it with a straight face... A lovely bakery in lovely Dover Heights on a lovely winter's day.

Vanessa and I were off on another walking adventure.

Vanessa and I were off on another walking adventure.

I didn't take many photos.

I didn't take many photos.

It was a nice day.

It was a nice day.


A polite panic hung over the cubicles of Level 19. There was a shortage of paper towel in the office. Trilling phones made people jump. As the days went on and it became clear that the stocks would not be replenished, the intensity and overall blood pressure of the collective spiralled higher. No one could have predicted the carnage that the omission of such a simple staple would bring.
Handy towels - extra absorbent - were a necessity of office life. Their firm, flexible presence was what held the very fabric of our habitat together (stronger when wet). We used them ubiquitously, as coasters for our coffee; towels to dry our hands; wipes to clean away the sauce of our lunch or the juice from our apples from the surfaces of our desks. It was policy, the note taped to the microwave proclaimed, that reheated meals must be covered by them. And afterwards, when we rinsed our Tupperware and avoided the long since laundered tea towels it was their paper brothers we turned to for drying.

While the shortage persisted mornings became unbearable. Coffee mugs with yesterday's stains couldn't be refilled with instant coffee mix, making procrastination harder. Boxes of donuts, supplied every Monday and Friday, were eyed wistfully. Tempting, but with nothing we could hold them with, nor to wipe our mouths on after.

The rumours spoke of an issue between management and the supplier. It was a rumour only; there had been no official correspondence distributed under company logos on the official email template. Not one executive seemed to appreciate the growing worries. Paper towels were what separated us from the blue collar. What they would treat as indulgence or admire with novelty we bourgeoisie took for granted. When they ate their sandwiches they'd sweep the crumbs to the floor. After our baguettes we would shepherd the crumbs and loose shreds of romaine lettuce onto the canvas of paper towel and deposit it into our individual waste baskets. That was what made us upper class.

By the fifth day things had gotten desperate. Stocks were dwindling. Every cupboard of every kitchenette was barren. In the bathrooms disgruntled lines formed to use the gimpy blow drier and its lazy, gentle breeze. Mike, one of the Service Support technicians, was microwaving the rest of last night's stir fry under the cover of a network access request form. You could tell who had half a roll left in their desks by those who had keyboards and monitors with no dust.

After eight days you couldn't pass a water cooler without overhearing the discussions on why we didn't go out and buy our own towels. It was principle, mainly.
'Why should we buy our own towels when they used to supply them?' Martha asked. Martha was now banned from the Nandos in the plaza downstairs. She'd tried to take more than her allocation of napkins, been refused and ended up slapping a junior manager who didn't hesitate to invoke his junior authority.
'And now my photo's on the wall there!' she said.
We all had excuses: inflation, taxes, Porter's Five Forces model. In the end we didn't need to justify our action. It was our right to have paper towels provided for us.

Jon Wu developed a sniffle as the season changed. After two days of blowing his noise on the recycled toilet paper, he resigned. He did not serve his two weeks and forewent payouts.
By the third Friday, when the donuts arrived, they were placed by the still unfinished box from Monday. A sorrowful gathering began in the kitchenette to gaze at them and murmur discontentedly. Finally, Taylor, one of the apprentices who always had whispers about him, stepped forward with youthful impetuosity and selected a sugar powdered pastry. We observed silently as he raised it towards his teeth. Three, four, five bites were made. It was all but gone. Strawberry filling leaked and grains of sugar left their legacy on his fingers like sandy feet leaving the seaside.
Taylor looked around nervously, examining each of our blank faces. With no support he licked each of his fingers clean then tried to wave them dry in the air. The last time we ever saw him was his surrender; he wiped his hands down the back of his pin-stripe pants and left the kitchenette sullenly, never to be seen again.

The whispers about Taylor ended that day, but another series started.
'Rose,' Marcus passed on, 'she has towels stockpiled at her desk. Stacks of them!'

At a quarter to eleven that morning Rose moved to the ladies room. Marcus was keeping lookout, and he signalled to us all. We stormed Rose's cubicle, turning over stacks of files, knocking over ornaments and pulling out drawers.
We all stopped, gazing in glee at the pyramid of rolls Rose had in the bottom of her drawer. Hands flew, plastic wrapping was ripped and we gorged on paper towels. Some went to their desks to clean up crumbs or mug rings and flakes of dead skin and hair. Most ran straight to the kitchenette, grabbing donuts, gloving them in paper and relishing their messy sweetness. Each took joy in the simple act of wiping the crumbs and glazing from their lips and cheeks.
Rose stopped walking as she passed us returning from the bathroom. We froze. Nothing was said. We all stared at her staring at us. She closed her gaping mouth and walked away.

'She'd bought them herself' said Marcus the next morning, as in the background Rose placed a shoeprint marked photo of two grand children into her box of belongings. 'Herself, with her own money.'
Normally when someone left there would be a celebration and we would all say goodbyes and get cake. In this climate that wasn't possible. Also, Rose did not say goodbye.

After Rose left we all became more defensive. It was no longer our office without paper towels, it was every deprived individual for him or herself.
Dale was acting suspiciously. First he went into the janitor bay and returned with an aluminium bucket filled with water. Then from the mailroom he pilfered six mail trays. Finally, he emerged from the kitchenette brandishing the sharpest looking bread knife that wasn't in the dishwasher at the time.
Dale had two Golden Pothos shrubs in pots by his workstation. The idea to reduce the level of carbon monoxide and formaldehyde in the recycled air above his desk had come from the weekly health email he distracted himself with every Tuesday. The idea to pulp them into paper towels was his alone. Carefully Dale pruned the tiny trees, binning leaves and shredding stems into the bucket. During the Thursday amalgamation meeting he brought with him a branch and meticulously filleted flakes into a pile until there were no further issues. The NRE team in Malaysia made a complaint to VOIP technical support that during Friday's teleconference there was a reoccurring background noise on the line that sounded like sloshing. By the time we left for the bar, at a quarter to five on Friday afternoon, we glared shiftily at mailbox sized sheets of freshly pulped paper being hung to set on Dale's notice board, drying slowly in the glow of his monitor.

On Monday morning our weekends were absorbed into office reality and we came across destruction. The bucket was tipped over. The mail trays lay cracked and broken. Those miscarried towels had been stomped into the ground.
The message was clear: If all of us couldn't have paper towels, no one could.

Dale did not quit. However he did relocate to Laura's cubicle to avoid a carpet that smelled of tree sap and mildew. Laura did quit. She had a family and the sight of office sabotage had been an overwhelmingly stressful beginning to another week.

Without coffee, napkins, clean desks or dry hands what was once a picturesque office plan took on a more dishevelled appearance. Where a reduction in snacking and hallway chatter had been good for production initially, things were now taking a turn for the worse. Kai was called upstairs to talk about the leaving clients. Kai was the floor manager. He'd received this position after Ken, the old floor manager, resigned because he loved spaghetti bolognaise but only owned white shirts.

Despite the isolation being cultivated on Level 19 Kai did speak to Dale after the meeting. Kai sat next to Laura's old desk.
'They have them, the managers' he whispered.
'Paper towels,' said Dale. 'You saw them?'
'Well, no. I didn't see them. But their monitors aren't dusty, their donut box was empty and I heard their microwave running.'
Dale nodded to himself. The two went to Warren's cubicle. What was once a prized, multi-viewed corner location was now a fortress. Behind an upturned desk Warren crouched, hiding shirtless with his laptop replying to emails. Discarded behind him was a cotton-polyester button up with French cuffs doused in grease and glass cleaner.
'It ends now,' said Dale.
Warren stood up, brushing carpet fluff from his pants. The three walked the cubicles like wardens, extracting recruits.

That afternoon the crowd gathered in the lobby where the lifts were locked. Warren produced his access key and the army moved away and up the stairs. As they emerged in the reception of Level 20, Jane, the switchboard operator who had not been able to reapply make-up in three weeks, buzzed them through.

Upper Management was not a crowded space until filled with us vainqueurs. Quickly we clamoured through the heavy door frame and onto the more luxuriously carpeted floor between the wider partitions of Level 20.
'You can't be in here!' said a startled Frank, Asia Pacific Service Executive.
Before we could outlay our demands, Elliot - a forty-three year veteran of the accounting team - swung the keyboard he'd carried upstairs into Frank's neatly shaved face. Blood and NumPad keys sprayed through the air. Unprepared and aghast, we watched in slow motion Frank's buckling knees and his slump to the floor. There was silence. Elliot pointed at Frank's hand. His grip fell apart as he slipped into unconsciousness. From between his fingers the clutched paper towel unrumpled and rolled onto the carpet.
The scene became one of action. Rob, who signed our Christmas bonus letters, peered out from his office and performed a startled yelp. Dave B and Dave M from IT showered him with a volley of hubs and line filters. He cowered behind the water cooler and surrendered. The Daves tangled him in Ethernet cable and buried a wireless mouse between his teeth.
Alexi, from the print room, was pummelling our financial director with ink cartridges. Warren and Kai shepherded the rest of the executives towards the boardroom, brandishing telephone handsets like lassoes.

Dale stood and watched as the door was blocked shut, then walked to the manager's kitchen. There, on the shelf above the microwave, stood three rolls of paper towels. He clutched them to his chest and carried them back. They were thrown into the air to the sounds of cheers.

Mary, the CEO, was taken from the other managers and dragged to the copy room by Alexi. We laid her down across the bench. Her eyes darted around, her face confused yet still. Her neck rested on the paper guillotine. Though her vein pulsed she seemed to accept her destiny. Her eyes resting on Dale's hands and the paper towels he held, ready to wipe up spills.

Assignats is a short story I wrote in the spring of 2007. It was the first story I ever submitted to a real-life publication and the source of my first rejection slip. I always planned to improve it to the extent that one day its submission would lead to an acceptance slip, so I never posted it online. Hindsight has shown me that people aren't ready for the fantasy-office life genre. Also, I realised that brilliance wasn't inherited. I published this old story on as a symbolic gesture to remind me that a rejection slip is actually quite high on the list of rewards that come from writing.

Sunday Thoughts

I scored a multi-task achievement award today when I aligned moisturising my face with swilling mouthwash.

You know you really trust the internet when you barely hesitate before tipping a tablespoon of cocoa powder onto the cabbage and pumpkin you're frying for dinner.

I've thought about it briefly and I've concluded that "O'clock" is probably the best word in the English language. Just look at it. You probably use this word every day, so you forget that it's seriously a stowaway ye olde English word that was somehow never decommissioned. Just say it out loud, on it's own, in an exaggerated British accent. And then use it in a sentence. And then think about what you actually said.
I'm sure you now agree.

Parlez-vous Anything?

I'm much better at writing than I am at speaking. This is true of English, and it's definitely true of French. Francais is a subtle, delicate language. Whenever I try to speak it I feel as if my giant mouth is crushing the words like Lennie in a barn, of Mice and Men style. This has been my experience with learning of French.

The reason for learning French is so that I can communicate with French people. The reason I want to do that is in case we move to France.

Vanessa is an easily influenced person, which is great when it ignites her passion for jobs or life opportunities (not so good during the sad parts of Disney movies.) After one week of working in Europe she has decided that's where she wants to work on a more permanent basis. I'm a big fan of this decision. I've strongly encouraged her to look for jobs there. Despite being horrible at French, I would love to live in Europe. I hope it happens, my only regret would be that I paid off my HECS debt upfront before leaving the country.

I don't know exactly when or how we will end up in Europe. It depends a lot on what else Vanessa sees between now and then. I do know that visiting Paris, the city of Love, with the person I love, would be amazing. It's all very exciting. I do promise, however, not to host a farewell party until after any contracts are signed.

The Chicken Drought

I’m not sure how many people know this, but there’s going to be a chicken drought in 2012. The price of chicken is going to skyrocket. The ACCC will be forced to monitor drumstick fluctuations. The major supermarkets are going to offer 4c off per kilogram of chicken whenever you spend over thirty dollars in store. This is all true. It’s going to be rough.

We eat chicken a lot, so our cost of living is going to be affected by this drought. Because our budget is at risk of being blown out I decided to start a home business on the side to supplement my income so we could afford chicken. It’s a business idea i’ve had for a long time, over a day in fact, and I decided the circumstances warranted it.

I built an eBay store advertising ‘Authentic Australian Made Didgeridoos’. My business plan was to operate with a price differentiation strategy and offer authentic, Australian made didgeridoos to anywhere in the world for only $25 including delivery. The site had been live for a few hours when I received my first order. A man in Naples wanted a didgeridoo delivered overnight to use for an Olympic party he was attending. I agreed and signed him up for my premium service. He paid, and I went straight to Australia Post and sent him his didgeridoo.
The next day I received an angry phone call from this man via my outsourced customer service hotline, who patched him through to me.
He said, “I received your package, and there’s no didgeridoo.”
“OK, sir,” I said, “I understand that must be frustrating that you received your package and there’s no didgeridoo. Before we continue, can you please describe the package you received so that I can confirm that the package you received came from us here at Authentic Australian Made Didgeridoos?”
He said, “It’s a postage tube, long and white with red caps on each end. I opened up one end, looked inside and there’s nothing in it.”
“OK, sir,” I said, “I understand that it must be frustrating that you opened up one end, looked inside and there was nothing in it. Before we continue sir, can you you please take the package and also remove the cap from the other end too?”
He put down the phone, I heard some shuffling and scraping in the background, and then he came back to the phone.
“I worked it out,” he said. “Fuck you.”
“Thank you sir, please have a nice day and thank you for shopping with Authentic Australian Made Didgeridoos.”

I took the money I had made from the sale and I rushed down to the Sunday markets. I wanted to buy as much chicken as possible and freeze it for later, the same thing I do with petrol when that’s cheap. I found my butcher and ordered several kilograms of chicken meat, which she wrapped for me in individual bags to make it easier to thaw later. I spent all my didgeridoo money on chicken and began my walk home.

On the way out of the market I was stopped by a woman behind a fruit and vegetable stall. She saw I was carrying a lot of hacked apart bits of chicken and she commented that I must be stocking up for the chicken drought. I said that was true.
She said, “how much chicken do you have there?”
I said, “two kilograms of breast meat and one kilogram of tenderloins.”
She whistled. “That’s a lot of chicken, for sure, for sure. Will it last you the whole drought though? I don’t know? I don’t think that it will.”
I thought that it would have, but her tone made me doubt my calculations. Had I made a mistake? Was I going to end up eating petrol because we had depleted our stocks of chicken before the end of the drought?
“I might have a solution,” she said. She checked to make sure no one was watching, then ushered me inside her stall.
“These,” she said, showing me a long, rectangular box, “are chicken eggs. The chicken you have will run out. Might be tomorrow, might be next week. You take these eggs, you plant them, they’ll grow into chickens. You treat those chickens right you’ll have more eggs and therefore more chickens.”
The more she spoke the more I nodded.
“You give me that chicken,” she said, “and I’ll trade you these eggs.”
“That sounds like a deal too good to be true,” I said. “Why would you give up your eggs?”
“I’m a vegetarian,” she said.
I traded her the meat for her eggs and I rushed home to plant them.