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Beyond the Yellowbrick Road

Thursday, August 26 was just another day.

But of course, in a pandemic, just another day is anything but.

At 1.45pm that afternoon I attended a local doctor’s surgery to get my second (Astra Zeneca) vaccination.

In case you’re wondering, I was one of those who booked their first jab when AZ was the recommended panacea for those of my age ‑ ie between 50 and 60 ‑ only to discover that, by the time I was ready to be perforated, the advice had changed.

“You should now consider receiving the Pfizer vaccine young man”, they told me.

Rightio. No worries. No skin off my nose. Hit me.

“Sorry. We don’t have any of that vaccine here I’m afraid”.

Oooohh kay then.

I did the maths. In less than two years I’ll be 60. I’ve lived a full life. Let’s assume I’ve packed a couple of extra years, over and above the average, into my time on the planet thus far. (And for those who see me before lunchtime on pretty much any given day during lockdown, that is not an hypothesis that would require much in the way of further evidence).

“Gimme whatever you’ve got then”.

“There is a small risk of side effects for younger recipients. Would you like me to go through them with you?”

I dislike needles enough as it is champ. You don’t need to give me any more reasons to hightail it out of here without getting what I came for. So, feeling like Rocky at the end of Rocky (One obviously), I rolled up my sleeve, displaying a bicep that in truth looked more like Stallone’s wrist (on the non-preferred side), and waved him in.

“Cut me Doc”

The doctor looked confused.

“I’m taking one for the team here. Let’s get it done, before I change my mind yeah”

I’m proud to say I took it like a man. That’s assuming a man looks away at the critical moment, and coughs just a little, to try to stem the pain - and the tears.

That was back in the first week of July. Now here I was in the last week of August fronting up yet again - with the sort of inspiring courage and commitment to finish the jab job that was guaranteed to have Gladys, Brad and Kerry singing my praises at tomorrow’s 11am inquisition.

Aaand done. Whew. Yeah, ta. I don’t know what everyone’s whinging about eh? Piece of piss. Wooo- aaahhh. Hang on big fella.

They reckon you should sit down for a few minutes afterwards don’t they, just to make sure there are no ill effects? Sweet. Whatever makes you guys happy.

So there I am 40 minutes later on my way home in the car when I pass a drive-in COVID testing facility. I haven’t been screened for quite a few months. And I do have a bit of a tickle in the back of the throat. (Not surprising I suppose, with all that bile I nearly brought up at the surgery). Why not?

There are only a few cars ahead of me in the queue, and I’m listening to James Valentine on ABC Radio, doing his regular segment with journalist Jonathan Green called Blather – in which the two ramble on about the news of the day, or whatever takes their fancy – so it seems like a reasonably pleasant way to pass a few idle minutes.

On this particular day, the primary topic on the Blather is the death in the UK, barely 24 hours earlier, of the Rolling Stones’ mercurial drummer, Charlie Watts.

One aspect of the confab in which I take a particular interest is the duo’s analysis of the outpouring of grief that often ensues following the death of a public figure. Many of you reading this now can probably recall your own strong visceral reaction to the loss of a hero – even though that person was almost certainly someone you had never met, and of whom, inevitably, you could at best have had only a superficial knowledge and understanding.

How to explain this phenomenon?

The reaction I describe above seems to be most commonly associated with the passing of those who have attained a significant degree of celebrity in the fields of entertainment and sport. Our attitude towards our favourite singer/songwriter or striker is often inextricably entwined with an aspect of our lives that gives us enormous pleasure; an attachment frequently developed at a time when we are still working out who we are, and how we want our lives to unfold.

Who hasn’t dreamed at some stage of belting out their greatest hits in front of a packed Entertainment Centre, or slotting home the winner in the dying seconds of a World Cup final?

We feel connected to the people who live out dreams for real – especially our dreams; the ones that may have sustained us during our formative years, or when we were at our lowest ebb – in a way which often defies rationality. And so when they die, these icons and idols, it can seem like a very special piece of us has died with them.

In the course of this discussion Jonathan Green described how he had felt upon hearing of the death of Leonard Cohen – the enigmatic and multi-faceted Canadian cult figure ‑ some five years earlier. He confessed that in the days following that event he experienced what appeared at first to be a very personal, and almost inconsolable loss. A feeling that persisted right up until the moment when it suddenly struck him, in a way that seemed so clear and obvious, and yet previously ungrasped, that the relationship between he and Cohen had, in fact, not changed at all following the latter’s death. Because everything he knew and admired about his hero – the poetry, the novels, the interviews, the footage, and, most importantly, the music – remained available for him to access, and wallow in, whenever he chose.

True, it was now certain he would never get to meet the man who had moved and inspired him throughout much of his life. But the reality was he almost surely never would have, no matter how long they had both lived. But the works; the very crux of who Leonard Cohen was – or at least the part of him that Green had fallen in love with – would be with him forever. And this realisation and understanding provided the comfort he needed to accept what had, to that point, felt almost unbearable.

And as I listened to him speak I understood more clearly than I ever have before that this is exactly what the Beniverse is about. For me at least.

Yes, of course I would give anything, everything, to be able to hug my last born again; to feel the warmth of his frequent and freely given smile; to exchange intelligent opinions and insolent banter with him, all in the same breath; to rest my arm on his strong shoulders, and tousle his hair, as we wander together down the yellowbrick road of what had once been his limitless future.

But in the absence of that opportunity the Beniverse has become the next best means to that end. The means by which to capture the essence of my beautiful boy, so that there will never ever be a time from here to eternity when I cannot recall who he was, what he did, how he made me feel, and why I love him – albeit in a way that makes the written word, ordinarily so versatile and comprehensive, occasionally now seem so hopelessly inadequate.

And though it is, like me, merely a work in progress, the Beniverse remains the medium by which I can continue to connect, not just with Ben’s memory, but with him – my forever son ‑ wherever he is, and in whatever form he now takes.

So this is for you Beno. The best I can do - until we meet again.

In Oz, I hope.


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