Vises and virtues


Wouldn’t you think that by the age of 60 I’d be over performance anxiety?  Apparently not.

We had a working bee this week down at the Men’s Shed.  We are building a quiet room for those blokes who want to come and hang out at the Shed but not play with tools in the workshop.  So we were clearing out the space for the new room and moving the tools and equipment.   This included getting rid of one surplus-to-requirements workbench – on this bench was a large metalwork vise that would have to be repositioned on another bench.

I’m not sure how it happened, but the job of refixing the vise was allotted to me.  Now it’s a job I’ve done in my own sheds maybe 3 or 4 times over the years, and it’s straightforward enough.  This time, however, I would be undertaking the job under the gaze of a retired industrial arts teacher, a mechanical engineer, and one of those archetypical fix-anything DIYers who are drawn to the Shed.  So if this vise wasn’t installed straight, level and steady then my reputation as a real Shed guy was under threat, or so I surmised.

We had the inevitable blokey pre-job chat, about where on the new bench to put it, whether to use bolts or coach screws, what bracing underneath might be necessary.  Then I was left to it while they went off to do other tasks.

I don’t think I have ever measured, re-measured and then measured again for one job.  I did have a sneaking moment of smugness when the DIYer came up and looked at the two bits of wood I had tightened up in the vise, and said: “What are they for?”   I explained that they were to make sure there would be enough clearance past the edge of the bench if you were putting a long piece of material in the vise.  “Makes sense,” he said and went back to his own job.  I gave a secret internal fist pump and returned to checking my alignment.

I finally committed, and drilled the holes.

Coincidentally, the bench where I was working was right next to the one where the blokes from the mental health unit of the local nursing home were doing their weekly manual therapy jobs at the Shed.

I thought it might be nice to engage them with my process, seeing if the vise was straight and the drill for the coach bolt holes was the right size.  They, on the other hand, seemed to think it would be more helpful if they gave me encouragement like “Give it a good screw,” as I tightened up the coach bolts with a socket.

They found their interventions very amusing.  Come on boys, I said, I’ll be in strife if I don’t do this properly.  But they kept it up as I lay underneath the bench straining to tension the nut on the final bolt, with gems like “”Giving it a good pull down there?”

With or despite their questionable cheerleading, I finished the job, and stood back to give a final check on everything being square and level, ready for the judgement of my peers.

And then, after all the anguish and performance anxiety, I’ll be buggered if the experts didn’t even look at it, let alone inspect it for quality of installation.  All I got was, “If you’re done there, come and help us lift this lathe.  It’s bloody heavy and it’ll take 5 blokes to move it.”

Oh well, perhaps every vise has its virtue.

How David became a smart-arse

just so stories

How do we get to be who we are?  Sometimes it can take until you’re, oh, about 60, to make some connections between things that happened when you were young, and how you are now.

My parents must have spent countless hours reading to me, though I can mostly remember only the content, not the process.  There was no TV, of course, in the 50’s.  No electronic baby-sitter in front of which to plonk the kids.

Much I what I was read would no doubt be considered imperialist, colonialist or monarchist these days.  In particular Kipling, whose work seems to have shrunk from public view except where it’s been reduced to some animated pastiche of The Jungle Book, or when we say, on Anzac Day, “Lest we forget,” with no knowledge of where those hallowed words come from.

My battered and broken-spined copy of The Just So Stories still sits on my bookshelf.  I’m not clear how long it’s been there, but mum obviously kept custody of it and I’ve retrieved it at some stage.  It’s the 1958 edition, the flyleaf tells me.

That book is the reason I have had certain phrases running through my head all of my life.  Like:

  • “Go down to the great grey-green greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees”
  • “I am the cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me”
  • “Off ran Dingo – Yellow-Dog Dingo – always hungry, grinning like a coal-scuttle.”

Apparently Kipling was the genesis of my career as a bloody know-all.  One day during my early school years, mum was summoned to the office of Miss Bridle, the very proper headmistress of Sans Souci Infants School.

“What have you been reading this child?” she said.  “He told me that his father was a man of infinite-resource-and-sagacity.”  Which of course I had stolen from the ‘Stute Fish in “How the Whale Got his Throat” and parroted back to the stern headmistress.

It’s no wonder, really, that I don’t think a word has star quality unless it has at least three syllables, preferably four, having been fed “comestible”, “promontory”, “sagacity” and such-like from a very tender age.  That’s my excuse for being a smart-arse, anyway.

(image courtesy of

The day I shaved my legs

bike race start

You still have some big decisions to make in life, even when you’re about to turn 60.

One of the instructors at the gym castigated me recently for going in a bike race without having shaved my legs:  “You get out with the Gillette before the next race,” said definitely-less-than-30 Will.

I didn’t accept the advice.  But lining up at the start of the Woodford to Glenbrook race last month I was regretting that, surreptitiously checking out the other competitors – even the blokes in the over-60 category mostly looked to have shaved down either for the event or because that’s just what you do as a bike rider.

So I’ve got the Kanangra Classic in a couple of weeks, and I figured it was time to make a big decision – to shave or not to shave.

And now it’s done, and I look down at the place where my hairy legs used be, at skin that hasn’t been bare since I was maybe 11, and it’s a bit – well – weird.  Like:

  • There was a lot of hair on the bathroom floor
  • How far up to you have to go, like right up to the top or just where your shorts come down to?
  • I don’t remember where all those scars came from
  • I didn’t realise my legs were that skinny and white
  • Isn’t it a bit girly, actually?

Maybe not.  In self-defence at the unveiling, I said to Brigitte, “Sonny Bill and Sam Burgess shave their legs too.”  She said, ”You’re about as alike to Sonny Bill as I am to Angelina Jolie.”

It didn’t help saying, “But you’re as pretty as Angelina Jolie,” because I got back “Those boys are in their 20’s and you’re nearly 60.”  Fair point, if not exactly the hoped-for seal of approval.

But at that start line, at the next race, nobody will be casting aspersions.  We’ll be cool and hairless together, stripped for speed.  I wonder how much faster I’ll go?

And what’s the worst outcome anyway, that I just let it grow back?  The only big decision left now though is, do I have to get some spray tan?

[Image courtesy of]

How far would you go for the money?

status quo 1

Pandora recently me served up “Pictures of Matchstick Men”, a number from 1968 that I don’t think I’ve heard in 40 odd years.  They certainly never play it on those boring-hits-and-crappy-memories FM stations, anyway.

Yep, that piece of psychedelia was from Status Quo, their first big hit.  It took me way back.

Recently, however, you like me are perhaps being continuously appalled by the Quo’s latest refrain on free-to-air TV (to which I have sadly had to resort for Friday Night Football).  This piece of musical self-mutilation has various permutations, the most annoying so far of which goes:

“Down, down, prices are down,
Coles mince, it’s staying down.”

Coles mince?  The whole thing has thrown me into a grumpy old man over-reaction.  It’s got me saying things like:

“Surely those dopey big red hand-shaped guitars beg the question – aren’t there some things you just wouldn’t do, even if it was for big bucks?”

status quo 3

Look, I don’t claim to know what kind of financial shape Messrs Parfitt and Rossi are in, but Status Quo have sold 128 million records and are still touring (soon apparently with Uriah Heep, which should be very ‘umble, very heavy).  So maybe they are donating their fee to charity or something.

Or maybe they just want to stay in the public eye, and they are cross-promoting their records and tours.

Or, Brigitte posits over my shoulder while I am ranting, maybe they are having  fun?

I’m a realist; I understand the pressure in your 60’s, as these boys are, to monetise your achievements.  Hey, I was in investment banking in the 80’s, when everything had a venal tone to it.  And people used to love telling me that joke about why science researchers prefer using lawyers to lab rats – because there are some things that rats just won’t do.  But is Coles mince going a little too far?

The thought does occur to me, though, that maybe getting to 60 can seem like a licence to be judgemental and critical of other people’s decisions. That can be really boring for everyone who has to listen to the rants.  So, Rick and Francis, you keep banging away on the big red hands, and I’ll chill out and stop pontificating.  Anyway, the footy season is nearly over so I won’t have to watch free-to-air for the next few months.

Oh, wait, there’s the Ashes this summer ….

PS – the boys with real guitars, and a bit more hair. Didn’t you love 1968?

status quo 2


(Pictures courtesy of Google Images)

Me and Hulk Hogan

Hulk Hogan

The Hulkster has always been a kind of anti-hero to me – just far enough on the side of the good v. evil wrestling divide to be admirable,  not too goodie-goodie to be boring, and that touch of larrikin which says “I know that there’s a fair few of you out there who know that I ‘m taking the piss.”  I recently heard that he had just turned 60, another fine product of 1953.  Or perhaps it was Terry Bolea who turned 60, rather than Hulk Hogan – the benefit in having a stage name like Hulk maybe.

I wondered if he and I had anything else in common, besides our year of birth.  After some intensive research (being 15 minutes in Wikipedia and 5 more in I’ve discovered that he and I have quite a few cross-overs.  Like these:

  • He made his debut as a wrestler in the same year I made mine as a lawyer – 1977
  • He has a son and a daughter from his first marriage
  • He is semi-retired now
  • He lives his life according to personal values .

Well, he calls them “demandments” rather than values.  The four Hulk demandments are training, saying prayers, eating vitamins and believing in oneself.

Of course, there are many more differences than similarities between us – e.g.

  • I’m not 6 foot 7 inches and 135 kilos, and I don’t have 24 inch biceps
  • I’ve never been inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame (or the lawyers’ one either, come to think of it)
  • I’m pretty sure I couldn’t body-slam Andre the Giant
  • My signature move is falling off my bike, rather than doing the Atomic Drop.

He might look a little one-domensional, but I reckon there are nevertheless some lessons to be learned from Hulk Hogan.  Live by your values is one, even if they don’t qualify as demandments.  Don’t let yourself go is another – the Hulk can still put on a show in the ring.  And give something back – meeting Hogan is one of the most requested “wishes” of the terminally ill children benefited by the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

Cyndi Lauper recently turned 60 too, but that might be another story.

Five apps to look hip in front of the kids


Sick of being chided by your children for the paltry number of icons on your smartphone? (You do have a smartphone, don’t you?)  Here are five apps to help fill the screen, and maybe even enhance your sixtified life.


Sure, the kids will already have this one on their phones, because it’s a pretty hot app right now.  It sets up “radio stations” – you plug in the name of an artist or a song, and it scurries off to apply some algorithm or other and find artists and songs in a similar genre.

So when the family are there, you can call up the Martha Wainwright station and get a wide selection of indie folk – thus looking very up-to-date.  Then when they leave, you can switch to The Kinks station and get some seriously good ole rock.


Want to look in-the-know at the gym, in front of all the buff young crowd?  This one lets you set up exercise intervals of whatever length you like, with appropriate rest periods in between.  It has a satisfyingly loud beep telling you when to go hard, and when to rest.

So everyone in your vicinity can see and hear that you are serious about the treadmill or bike session you are doing.

ABC Radio

Yeah, look, the kids will call it “old people’s radio” (so does my wife).  But you can get any ABC radio station in the country.  So when you really don’t want to listen to the fishing show on ABC Sydney early on Saturday morning, you can flick to ABC Brisbane and get The Squeaky Wheel, about cycling stuff.  Or dodge the cricket broadcast when the Poms are doing really well and you can’t stand to hear the BBC commentators gloating.

And you can tell the kids it’s great to be able to stream Triple J now, whenever you like.


This is actually a really useful app.  You can pick the line you want to travel on, to see when the trains leave your station and when you can come home.  It does buses and ferries as well, though I can’t attest to how useful those functions are.

This is especially helpful as you can now, at 60 plus, get those $2.50 all day train tickets to get you anywhere in the state.


Being “mindful” is a very prominent concept at the moment, so it helps your currency to drop it in the right context.  The Mindfulness app gives you a range of guided meditations from 3 to 30 minutes so you can stay in the moment and listen to whatever the universe is trying to tell you.  And if that doesn’t push a button for you, the kids ought to be impressed.

If you like this app, you can then get Mindfulness 2, which has meditations where you can become a mountain or a lake for 20 minutes and get a different perspective on life.  How hip is that?


With these new streams of content coming at you, there may be one more app you need.  If you are prone to drifting off into a nanna-nap with your earphones in, you should also get Sleep Timer, which will turn off your phone or iPod after the number of minutes you specify.

You don’t have to tell the kids about that one.

No, I don’t really have a body image issue, but …

blog photo body image

…  I have succumbed to the vanity of engaging a personal trainer .  He’s great, but I must be a challenging client.  At 60 (or about 5 minutes away from it anyway), here’s how a personal training session starts:

Tony:               What would you like to focus on today?

David:             Well, I’m still having this issue with the pain in my arm when it moves in certain directions, so no push-ups, no bench press and no pec fly.

Tony:               Anything else?

David:             Yeah, you know that thing you lean over to do upside down sit-ups?  Well, I didn’t have it adjusted properly when I was using it on Saturday morning and got my kneecap stuck under the pad.  Now I can’t straighten my leg out so none of that jumping stuff.

Tony:               Okay, we’ll work around that.

Tony:               (Aside to another of his ageing clients)  That’s the trouble with this gym, there are too many old farts.

Old fart:         You’re not that young yourself.  You wait till it catches up with you too.

So the sixtified version of personal training turns out to be:

  • Train whatever parts of your body are currently functioning at better than 75%
  • Something is better than nothing
  • Love it that you can still do anything much on those infernal machines anyway
  • Don’t give up, because there are still those occasional moments of magic when you realise you’ve just done something you couldn’t do a few weeks ago.

If the state of your body gets really disheartening, a couple of inspirational examples can always help, like these.

The first one is from the SMH Fitz Files:

Don Riddington – the 68-year-old grandfather and oldest Australian to swim the English Channel.  He did it in 19 hours and 45 minutes.”  That’s a long time to doing anything physical, and there wouldn’t  have been any black line on the bottom to follow, either.

The second one popped up on Pinterest when I was getting a dose of vicarious mountain bike thrills from other people’s photos:

Robert Marchand from France, who set a world record for cycling non-stop for one hour, in the over 100 year old category at the Union Cycliste Internationale velodrome in Aigle, France February 17, 2012.  Marchand, born November 26 1911, cycled 24.251 kilometres around the 200 metre indoor track to set the record.”  He was born when?

There may thus be hope for this old body still to crank out a decent performance somewhere down the track.