going down the hill… memories of sydney 1 – an introduction

I know that whenever I walk in, drive through, catch a train to Sydney I see other people are seemingly happy with the city, what it offers, how it breathes.  That is a state I have never quite achieved and probably never will. As I lived in the Blue Mountains since the age of 9, going down the hill always created a churning of emotions, especially when I went to university. I was always the outsider looking in and never quite knowing what I was supposed to be.

It is for this reason that I have long rebelled against what Sydney wanted from me. More specifically, what people in Sydney wanted me to accept. Whether that was to accept What Sydney Is, Mate – the primacy of property envy, the desire for the harbour, the love of beaches, an easy relationship with gambling, learning to revere advertising and other forms of vapid display, happily engaging with the swapping of lame male insults, drinking of mass produced beer bring the only way to go, that this was (almost) exclusively a rugby league town.

As I also (probably stupidly) engaged with the politics of Sydney, I also started to rebel against other forms of the contemporary Sydney of my continuing experience – that in order to be happy in politics I needed to accept one of three ways of being – I either needed to accept and embrace macho right wing union swagger; or the acceptance of the deeply held belief that accumulation of wealth and property was a more worthy goal than working towards compassion; or finally the primacy of the wealthy inner city baby boomer indulgences like NIMBYism and a desire for permanent revolution, while their acolytes clung onto those same dreams in tiny rental spaces.

So it has come to be that I am just right now passing through that rebellion, exiting that desire to thrash against the consensus of Sydney. It’s much too tiring and pointless. In addition, there’s many good and intriguing parts of the Sydney experience that I have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy. That’s what these blog posts will be about.

Cultural Comment Politics

The Selling of Preston Towers

At the moment, there’s two fairly momentous things happening in my life. One is the end of the US cable show Mad Men and the other is that I am selling the flat that provided me with this name – Preston Towers.  The end of both eras have provided me pause for contemplation on what exactly is Mad Men and what has been the whole point of being Preston Towers.

At the core of Mad Men has been the enigma of Don Draper – the prodigiously talented man who doesn’t seem to care all that much about what his talent means to others. Instead, he seems gripped by a wanderlust, searching for whatever it is that might actually make him happy.  Or resolved.  This was a powerful show to be watching for the first time as a man living in an apartment alone.  The man who didn’t quite know why he was where he was.  It was at this same time I was familiarising myself with the UK version (the only one!) of Life on Mars, also featuring a man – Sam – who didn’t quite understand where he was or what it was that was happening.  This feeling was expressed most strongly in Lost Horizon, the third last episode – and one of the best of the show’s existence.

Jon Hamm as Don Draper - Mad Men _ Season 7B, Episode 12 - Photo Credit: Courtesy of AMC

Not that I associated all that strongly with either protagonist – I am not as handsome, talented or as well paid as Don Draper (nor had his outside office life…). Nor was I as disconnected with reality as Sam.  They did, however, feed my questioning of what it was that I was doing and what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

All very self centred and self indulgent, indeed. As is this post (though, there are a fair few detractors out there who would say that’s not all that unusual for me).  It was, however, a counterpoint to my previous existence where I was really feeling the stress of being the only income winner for a family, paying rent, struggling through. Yes, I know we weren’t as close to poverty as many around us in the Campbelltown area, but the knowledge that changing anything about our lives would result in disaster gave me a purpose in life, even if I was miserable throughout.

The flat didn’t really help with my feelings of misery, however. It was a ground floor, anonymous concrete cave in the middle of a part of Penrith where there’s whole blocks full of similar anonymous apartments. Standing at the backyard, putting washing on the communal line emphasised the imposing nature of the surrounding mid 80s era apartment blocks.  The only thing that made the experience interesting was one day hearing very loud pleasurable moaning emanating from one of the apartment blocks.  Otherwise, not so much.  Seeing how hard my housing commission subsidised neighbour and her family was doing was a frequent heartbreak.

The dangers posed by my solo life in Preston Towers was brought home to me recently through a visit to the Wayside Chapel, where one of its employees spoke of the breaking of his comfortable middle class existence and how the break up of his marriage led him to complete self indulgence, arrogance, violence, drugs and then homelessness. In retrospect, I knew I didn’t have any of that drive in me to be that self indulgent and thoughtless, but it could have happened. The main point he made was that the central thing about his self destruction was the overwhelming loneliness. And I remembered that intense feeling when surrounded by the cold concrete walls of the apartment.  Being sick and at home was the worst. I felt disconnected with the kind of warm bubble work had provided.

I was saved, however, by my Claire, as well as my children and a continuing pride in my job.  There were many positives around and I needed to still be helpful.  Plus, I could see a more positive life beyond the horizon in my moments of optimism.

Eventually, there were two people living in Preston Towers and it wasn’t long before we both escaped.  It was during that time before the escape that I started to tweet and blog using that name.  It strikes me in retrospect that the name I chose was significant in many ways.

  • I was living in a place in which I didn’t feel I fit into – Penrith, so I felt voiceless in my region
  • I could see that Penrith and the western suburbs in general didn’t seem to have that many voices, so why not start something with a name from that area
  • It sounded rather old school British
  • The flat was just some anonymous cave – I had intended to just be some anonymous voice out there in the wilderness

No-one is more surprised than me that I have gone from creating that persona to what has happened since. The articles, the followers, all of it still staggers me if I stop to think about it.  With that kind of voice has come many detractors who hate follow me on Twitter or make stabs about my tastes – but after all, if I was just as anonymous and voiceless as the other people of Preston St, they wouldn’t be making their small minded comments that show little understanding of what I’m really like.  I also have the thought that sometimes this persona is as much an creation as is “Don Draper” – someone not quite real, someone based on an illusion and really just all about the art of using words in a convincing fashion. In my more reasoned moments, I realise that this is an absurd comparison, that I am just a person who had to use a pseudonym and say stuff that comes into my head and some people seem to like, for whatever reason and that I am way overthinking this.  In that way, the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Getting back to Don Draper, however, it could be argued that he deserves his detractors because of his self destruction and inability to care for people. That’s a fair point. I sometimes look at his actions and shake my head. I then realise that there’s a self destructive streak within some men that isn’t just Don’s.  It could also be argued that he never asked to be as successful and vital as he was to the world of advertising.  These questions, however, are asked and answered by far better voices than mine in the recaps that I have only recently started to read.  I was struck, however, by this image from Lost Horizon.  This is something many of us in the world of offices fear. Being just another face.


Yes, I know this is classic #firstworldproblem stuff and that there’s people out there with real problems. I know, I used to live amongst that and teach in areas with big issues with the impact of poverty. It doesn’t make it any easier to cope with such questions and issues on a daily basis, living one’s life.  Whether one’s life is to be fulfilled through being successful at one’s job while on the inside, a soul is being withered, despite the efforts of yourself and others.  That, I have long surmised, is Don Draper’s problem. That’s because that was my problem, especially when I lived in Preston Towers. It still plagues me now from time to time. Difficulty is, sometimes that is played out on social media.  My cringeworthy comments and times of striking out at people when I shouldn’t have is out there for all to see – and it’s nigh impossible to take it all back.

However, there has been one thing I can do in order to walk on from the years where these feelings were at their most chronic and crippling. So it has come to pass that I am now selling the apartment.  It’s become, amazingly to my eyes, a valuable commodity. What it also became, more importantly, was a family home.  Those first tenants of the flat have lived happily there for nearly 4 years now and have made it into a neat, cosy and warm place. It is for this reason that I asked that the people who bought it were investors, which was the case (people buying flats in Penrith at the moment are Baby Boomer superannuants looking for a safe growth investment).  I hope that the tenants continue to have a happy life in there, in contrast with my loneliness.

Another shift in my life recently has come from me no longer being a member of any political party. Along with this blog, I started being involved with politics as a hobby and I’m not enjoying the mind numbing mediocrity of being part of partisan, narrowcasting politics.  I still want to keep close to the many good friends I made in the process, however. I have realised that I struggle at personally conforming to a particular set of strictures and keeping quiet about those strictures, especially if it doesn’t affect my employment possibilities.  My mix of a wish for pragmatic outcomes and desire to have disputes brought out into the open doesn’t fit with the vision and operation of the political party of which I was a part.  I’m not particularly bitter about the experience and I sincerely wish the people inside all the best, but I did realise that I am not built for large party membership.

I continue to wonder what I will do next, and part of that contemplation is whether the end of this chapter of my life should also result in the end of this blog and the Twitter persona. I think this is an end to the way the blog has been.  My days of writing about the day to day of the political cycle, I suspect, have come to an end.   Frankly, I think people like Andrew Elder do a good job and is more committed to analysing it than I, even if he’s far more long winded and detailed than I would ever attempt to be.  I don’t have the interest to throw my voice in that sphere anymore, because I also know I would be repeating what I have said in the past.  Repetition for me is something I am very keen to avoid. I may, however, resurrect my long held desire to write longer form pieces about Australian political history and stuff about long term shifts.  If that happens, however, it wouldn’t be very regular.

Amongst all the things I am walking away from, however, I will keep this blog as a personal thing and cultural thing. Do some music stuff, perhaps.  Local Penrith and Lower Blue Mountains stuff.  In that, I will hopefully feel a little bit more like these two, who have that carefree moment of happiness one can get, moving on and vacating a past part of one’s life.

John Slattery as Roger Sterling and Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson - Mad Men _ Season 7B, Episode 12 - Photo Credit: Justina Mintz/AMC