Bling bling

Shiny new bike. 2013 Focus Izalco Team SL 3.0 with Campagnolo Record EPS. Total necessity.

I am a lucky boy.


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Do it in a . . .

“Dad it’s costume day tomorrow at Kinder Dad and I want to go as the Flash so can you make me a Flash costume Dad?”


And the finished product.

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Terrence Andrew Bourke

Came to us just when we needed him. We were a young family, just a bunch of little kids. We gave him hell, as you’d expect. He and mum made each other very happy. It just took the rest of us a while to grow up and work out what a good bloke he was.

We came to see it, of course. He was calm and stable, capable. A problem solver, a cool head.

His whole life work was very important to him. He himself started very young, worked his way up. He got me my first job and helped me understand what a work ethic was. God knows I needed that. He taught me that value.

I learnt a lot more from Terry. He had a terrific way with people. Of most value to me was seeing how he managed people, be they customers or staff or whoever. He was a straight talker, knowledgeable, personable, the occasional well-chosen place for a joke. Classic manager attributes that he’d picked up along the way.

Work gave Terry a sense of purpose. Took him a while to get the hang of retirement – I’m not sure he’d ever looked up the meaning of the word – but certainly in the last few years he was really starting to enjoy it.

He enjoyed pottering around the pool, being in the back yard. He enjoyed seeing friends and watching his grandkids grow.

He came and visited us in Melbourne a few times and he was always good for a glass of red wine and few stories. He had many great memories and experiences he’d warmly talk about. He was very proud of all his children and the prosperity we’ve enjoyed. The last few years, health issues notwithstanding, he was happy. He was really, really happy.

To Terry’s kids: Margie, Michael, Andrew, Jo. You’ve lost your dad. I’m so sorry for you, and my heart goes out to you.

Mum: I’m sorry I lost your best mate. You’ve been very strong the last 18 months. We’re here for you as much as we can be.

Thanks Terry.

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Changing days, changing ways

I was involved in the capture of bicycle thief once back when I was a bike courier.

The mob I worked for had a small, grimy lunch room with a bench and table out the back. Hungry couriers would gather in the mornings while we waited for the dispatch work to start, bickering with eachother like a sprawling family of idiot children fighting over chicken bones. This particular morning we sat there slagging eachother off and talking shit when one of the motorbike guys ran in a said he’d just seen some guy take off down the street on one of our bikes.

Stealing a courier’s ride while he and his bike-riding brethren are just inside the door? Homeboy was either very brave or very stupid. This bunch of squabbling bogan rabble was suddenly a unified army. As one we stood from the table. Five seconds later there twenty couriers mobilised in every direction, walkie-talkies blazing. Total rush, no doubt.

Someone called in and said they’d found the guy on King Street, and we converged. I arrived to find a shit-scared skinny dude surrounded by bristling, furious couriers. It was clear the guy was about to take a severe beating. And then the police showed up, and the group, reluctantly, dispersed. I’ve never seen someone so grateful to see the police.

For the most part stealing a bicycle is taking from the least wealthy and most defenceless commuters out there. People riding bikes are already at the bottom of the road user heap. Sure, there’s loads of very visible weekend warriors riding crazy-expensive road bikes, but plenty of commuters only have their plain and simple bicycle, no other option.

Furthermore, having your pushy stolen is a very personally upsetting thing to go through. I’ve lost a bike to a thief, like countless others have. It feels terrible. Stealing a bicycle makes you a piece of shit.

My bicycle courier days are a long way behind me. These days I am a sleepy house cat. I sit in a comfy seat and work away at my computer, and every now and then I look up at whatever horrible weather Melbourne is throwing at us that day, and I purr a happy purr. But my old bike-related rage burns deep, I’m finding, on a slightly different resonance.

I work in a big office block with special bicycle parking in the basement. There’s a lot of bikes going in and out every day, but there’s clearly a lot of other bikes that have, whether intended by their owners or not, come here to die. A good number have clearly not been touched in an age. Covered in thick grimy basement dust, tires flat, cobwebbed wheels, most of them aren’t even locked. Clearly their owners have ridden to work one day and decided fuck it, I’ll take it home another day, and then that’s how it’s stayed.

It is offensive to me that someone thinks about their bike that way. Your bike is a valuable thing: your companion, your tool. To dump it in a basement somewhere and just forget about it is messed up.

I worked at a different place for two years that had a similar set-up. For two years I chained up in the basement next to this beautiful old Gitane steel framed beauty with original Campagnolo 80s groupo and a child seat on the back. It never moved that whole time. Curiosity got to me and I asked the old-timer tech guy who said “Oh yeah, that guy left years ago. He left pictures of his kids on his desk as well”.

That’s the kind of person you’re dealing with: guy who leaves his family behind. And pictures of his kids, too.

And it occurs to me. . . it would be the easiest thing in the world to pump up the tires and ride one home.

I don’t need any more bikes. I currently own more bikes than I need and have no space or desire for more. But there’s this terrific ‘bicycle recycle’ mob who work out of a warehouse not far from where I live. They scour rubbish tips and take in old and beat up bikes that noone wants anymore and they give them love. They put on new tires, new cables, give them a spit polish and then sell them cheap to whoever wants them. They’ve helped out lots of people who probably couldn’t afford a brand new bike, some of whom are replacing stolen rides. They’re giving abandoned bikes a new lease of life. They’re doing good in the world.

I’ll let you know when I’ve figured this one out.

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Three men and a pile of rocks

Had the best climbing weekend. Me and my boys and a group of friends for a perfect weekend of perfect weather. Hanging with these two little men, pushing their limits and watching them grow to it. Ned’s climbing is really coming on: he took on the boulders even more ferociously this weekend, really putting in a proper psyched effort. And Tom was the total trouper – such a big day scrambling up and down gullies when you’re so small.

Dem boys. Love ‘em.

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A father’s lessons

I’m a dad. It’s a hell of a thing, and I marvel at it daily. Not surprisingly, whenever I’m wondering what to do or how to handle a particular situation, I find myself circling back to the way my dad raised me and thinking about what he would have done. And then I do the opposite. Most times that turns out to be a much, much better course of action.

Two days ago I came home from a full day’s work and cooked dinner for the kids. My four year-old didn’t want to eat it — told me he hated it and screamed at me. He hadn’t actually tried it at this point, but it smelt weird, or was the wrong colour, or whatever. He picked up a handful of it and threw it at my face. And then he laughed and laughed, and so did his brother. 

They found out just how deeply unamused I was when I sent them to stand in the bathroom with the lights out for five minutes. They are oblivious to how easy they have it.

My father was a policeman and for the first 12 years of my life our family moved around a lot. These were the days when fresh police graduates were sent to where they were needed, no questions asked and often miles from civilisation. Dad had no choice but to drag his young family all over the countryside when and where it was required. It suited my dad: he had the temperament of a proper old-school country copper, knowing everyone in town and solving most problems using the softer skills of a quiet word or a few beers at the pub, rather than the heavy-handed hard man policing method. But by jingo, he could be the hard man, too.

My dad had been brought up as working class stock in the way kids were meant to be brought up. The lines were clear on how that worked, at least to grown-ups. As a kid you just kind of bumbled along and learnt about the mistakes you’d made well after the fact, when all the anger and shouting and beltings had finished. This is how it was.

One day when I was about nine I remember I wandered in to where my parents were sitting in the kitchen and asked about smoking. I literally asked “Why do people smoke?”. It was innocent and unloaded and apropos of nothing. My father must have sensed something sinister behind it, or maybe he just recognised it as a valuable teaching opportunity. I can only imagine how excitedly he must have turned to my mother after we’d left the room and outlined what would happen next.

A few days later we were called into the dining room to a table full of smoking paraphernalia. Cigarettes, cigars, a pipe, ash trays, the works, all laid out before us. I remember looking confusedly at it all and feeling my face say ‘whaaa . . .?’ while dad and mum grinned enthusiastically and said ‘sit down and try this.’

And so we sat and they stuck cigarettes in our mouths and lit us up, and we coughed and choked our way through this truly incomprehensible experience. Any time we looked like being sick or tried to stop it was ‘nah, nah, finish it all, have another one’, and all the while I’m looking at my terrified brothers gagging and choking next to me, all of us desperately wondering what did we do wrong? Why is this happening?

In fact it took a few more years for me to work out that the big thing I’d done wrong was to think I could get away with asking an innocent question. The course of my life has been such that I’ve been rewarded far more for asking questions than I’ve been punished, so as it turns out I’m grateful I didn’t know better. It’s good some lessons don’t stick.

I’m not about to blame my parents for their decisions. My mum and dad did much of what they did because it seemed the best way at the time, and I get that. Realising that people are fallible and foolish — and forgiving them that — is part of what becoming a grown-up is.

I live in a different time and place now. I was brought up on beltings but I could never lay a hand on my kids. The most punitive I’ve been is the ‘go and stand in the bathroom’ trick. I could certainly never imagine sitting them down with a pack of cigarettes and cautionary-taling them until they puked. But then maybe I don’t know everything about being a father yet.

I make plenty of bad decisions every goddamn day, and I can’t imagine what horrendous and stupid behaviour I’m exhibiting that I’m not even aware of that the kids are picking up. I know that I’ve already baked an indelible impression of myself into my boys, and that it would be bound to have a dark side to it of which I’m unaware and wouldn’t be proud. 

But that’s the gig with being a dad. I wish them well sorting it out for themselves when they’re old enough. If I ever let them out of the bathroom, of course.

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It was all Ned’s idea.

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Never been particularly good at holidays. Time off’s cool, but I’m not the lazing around kind of guy – more like the dorkus malorkus who needs to cram every minute with activities. So I wondered how I’d go spending 5 days on North Stradbroke Island in Queensland surrounded by friends but without my own family, with no particular schedule to keep except for attending the wedding I’d come for. Took me exactly 20 minutes to lock in and get with the holiday vibe.

It was an epic to get to Stradbroke Island. Like, WOAH, this place is miles away and you seem to have to travel through every other place to get to it. Flight from Melbourne to Brisbane, two trains to get to the southern end of town, a bus to the ferry terminal, then a ferry over to the island, then a car ride to the other side where all the good shit is.

But totally worth it. Straddie is trapped somewhere in the 70s – very relaxed, safe feeling, a cruisey place to spend time. I hung out in a big lush house with some friends and their kids, and settled in. I knew other peeps there for the wedding and they were all staying in houses a short walk from eachother. Easy to wander from place to place to hang out, coffee it up, go to the beach.

And that’s what my schedule became: surfing, eating fruit and seafood, surfing again, snoozing, boozing, creeping off to bed around 9, totally spent, ready for another day of fun.

The wedding itself was pretty great. No speeches or fan fare, the kids all catered for and entertained so the parents could get loose and have fun. Perfect.

Man, that island life. A guy could get used to a schedule like that.

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By demons be driven

I gave up drinking for January. I was training for an endurance cycling event and I needed to be fit. That wasn’t the main reason I took the time off. Mostly I was friggin’ over it. Alcohol and I where having relationship issues.

Over the years I’ve developed for myself an unmistakable habit with the booze. Whilst not so dire as to call it alcoholism, I’m definitely within coo-ee of the ‘functional’ kind. That is, leaning into it not through any need to numb pain or manage stress, but rather in a more casual, lazy, insidious way.

Drinking too much and too often is a thing in my family. My dad calls it ‘The Partridge Thirst’, said with a wry grin on his face, like it’s a badge of honour. This sentiment is not unique to my people. For lots of people drinking shitloads is a thing to be proud of. Where I’m from, sinking vast quantities of piss is just the done thing. So I’d be lying if I said it was the pressure of work or the birth of my kids or any one defining thing that got me here. It’s an attitude I’ve always known and it’s what I’ve grown into.

The over-dependence I came to is easy to track. As an adult I’ve built drinking into being my go-to accompaniment for, well, almost every pleasant emotional state I can think of. Whether I’m relaxing, rewarding myself, socialising, passing time on the weekend, the beers are there and I’m necking them.

To be clear, it’s not about getting drunk. That is not at all what I’m pursuing. More like I enjoy going into that detached, mellow haze and being there, happily, until the feeling ebbs and needs to be topped up again. Getting drunk is actually kind of a bummer, and something that seems to happen ‘accidentally’ rather than as a desired outcome. Once I came to the realisation that I wasn’t enjoying everything about the boozin’ and that it seemed to be happening too much, I figured I might have myself a plain old fashioned habit that should be dealt with.

This isn’t the first time I felt I had an issue with drinking. Working in bars on my way through Uni gave me plenty of practice with alcohol, so much so that after Uni from age 25 to 31 I didn’t drink or do drugs of any kind. I’m sure I was viewed by others at the time as an insufferable holier-than-thou asshole – and I reckon I probably was that guy – but I really look back at it as a wonderful, clear-thinking time where I was full or energy and never bored. Then I started in again, and, like any good habit, slipping back into it is the easiest thing in the world.

In the rare moments this Christmas when not bleary from too many beers I read a terrific book called ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg. It helped me understand that whilst it’s very difficult to kill a habit once it’s been ingrained, you can still tackle the way you respond to an urge. If a habit can be broken down to trigger-routine-reward, it’s the routine part that can be messed with. Essentially, swap out the routine with something else – whatever that may be – and you’re managing the habit.

Just understanding this intellectually helped me be more conscious of the ‘when’ and ‘why’. Once I had that, I felt I didn’t really need the drinking.

And so kicked-off January, a long, pleasant, dry spell where I got fit, slept great, thought clearly and remembered everything. I found myself in plenty of situations where other people were drinking and this provided wonderful opportunities for me to observe. We had a barbecue one weekend where a bunch of people came over and got steadily on it for the afternoon. It was a wild scene watching everyone become increasingly more boorish and shouty whilst I just seemed to feel more and more sober, being in it but not of it.

During my big bike ride at the end of January I felt – surprise! – great. Truly unburdened, both physically and psychologically, the training was able to speak for itself, no excuses. The few celebratory drinks that flowed afterwards were well-enjoyed, but only to a point. It felt very foreign to be drinking again, like I’d already reset my whole attitude to alcohol. But like I said, I’ve been there before.

And now, with a month under my belt and some solid reflection about how to manage what is, essentially, a shitty habit, I find myself wondering about how to proceed. I’m psyched about drinking a lot less but I don’t quite want to give up altogether. Whilst I’ll stay vigilant, I feel for now that I’ve had the wake-up I needed. “I’m cured!”, he says. Famous last words indeed. I’m trying to be softly-softly with it, keeping drinking purely to social occasions, and even then only if I feel like it.

Now if only I could quit biting my nails.

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Throwing the leg over

Went for my annual bike-riding hit-out at the Audax Alpine Classic in Bright. Had a great time.


Long distance endurance cycling is my bag – I freaking love a long day out on my bike in the mountains, and I’m thrilled as I’m getting older that I seem to be getting tougher, burlier, and more ornery when it comes to the bike. At 45 years old my speediest days may well be behind me but my determination and mettle are strong like bull, tough like an old boot.

I’d been to this event plenty of times before in various stages of preparedness. This year was one of the good ones: I trained a lot and was fit as hell. I’d been eating right and off the booze for January, and I’d bought some brand new super-light carbon wheels for my ride. There would be no excuses this year.

This time my chosen pain was to be the new ‘Sunrise over Buffalo’, a reverse of the regular Alpine Classic route. Three mountains, four hard climbs, 200 kms of cycling and 4000 metres of climbing. Alrighty then.

Doing this route meant a 4am ‘alpine start’ to take on Mount Buffalo in the dark. Dialling up the wake-up time of 2.45am on my phone felt crazy and wrong, because frankly it is both those things. But you get yourself up and move through the prep steps – drink the coffee prepared the night before, neck the protein/juice drink, swallow a bunch of magnesium tablets, do a final gear check, get dressed, etc etc – and before you know it you’re ready. Then you roll onto the start line at 3.50am and enjoy the shenagigans of the French-accented maids and gendarmes and wait.

The stroke of four comes and suddenly you’re moving fast in a pack, the sound of rubber on tar and your own breathing, and your whole head space changes, the focus settles in and the body starts to do what it needs to.

I started the climb in quite the stupor. I find Mount Buffalo’s stark environment entirely mesmerising at the best of times, all blank granite blocks and soaring tree lines. In pitch black in the middle of the night it becomes something else, magical and spooky, a surreal landscape.

Climbing Buffalo with fresh legs was exactly what I wanted. Any time I’ve been on the mount it’s been two in the afternoon and I’ve already had 150 kms of cycling under my belt, and the road has been baked hot and molten in 40 degree heat. But this morning in cold dark air the road was lively and dynamic, and I got a lot of energy back from it. The new wheels were playing their part, too. I felt fucking great.

Cresting Buffalo at 6am, the sky just pinking, the dawn cold biting, me in control of the effort and feeling fresh. . . just an incredible thing to go through. Speeding down back down the mount in freezing air, the road to myself, was a wonderful thing.

After the near spiritual experience on my Buffalo ascent I honestly felt like my day was done. Of course, I still had a substantial amount of riding ahead before calling it a day.

I left Bright and turned on to the Tawonga Gap road and, surprisingly, I was feeling quite shitty. I felt weak and slow on this climb, and I couldn’t figure out what was happening. My stomach didn’t feel right and I slowed right down and got passed a lot. I finally figured out I was mad-hungry, so when I hit Mount beauty I stuffed a bunch of fruit buns into me, which then seemed to necessitate a toilet visit and BOY HOWDY WOAH NELLY did I feel good after that. Normal services were restored and I felt like charging again.

Riding Falls Creek was pure fun. Back up to full power and hard climbing, I passed plenty of people and felt strong all the way up. By now the sun was climbing and I felt warm, my pedalling liquid and smooth. I had a buddy with me I’d met in Mount Beauty who was doing the 130 km Bright-Falls return, so it was great to have some company and talk a bit of shit.

Topping out on Falls was fantastic. Getting my final 7 peaks stamp was the cherry on top – the culmination of a wonderful summer of riding adventures. Then down Falls at break-neck speed having the greatest time. I felt like screaming with joy the whole way. The last leg was the return over Tawonga Gap. The big bonus here was that it wasn’t crushingly hot like it usually is. Coming back over Tawonga I was relaxed and happy, chatting and laughing with randoms dudes, squeezing enjoyment out the last little bit of the day.

I hooked onto the wheels of a small group of hard lads coming off the mountain and we crushed the last speedy bit into Bright. And then I was finished, the Alpine Classic over for another year.

Quaffing an ale at Bright Brewery and catching up on other people’s adventures makes for the greatest scene. A dip in the river and a mountain of food completes the picture.

This is what happy is made of.

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