Monthly Archives: July 2016

About Losing…Um…You Know…IT!

This article was prompted by a documentary on SBS by a woman who investigated the rather ridiculous over-emphasis we place on virginity. It set me thinking about my own unique journey, which was, in many ways, influenced by concepts of social “norms”.

“I didn’t lose my virginity – I know exactly who has it!”

If I have a singular regret about my life, it would be not having sex before 25! The sex act is not there to make life for shy, gawky guys like me an easy thing to approach. It can, in fact, be quite frightening.

Sex was NEVER discussed in our household, and going to school through the late 50s and 60s meant that no help was forthcoming from that educational institution. The only sex education I got at school was the smutty gossip and imaginings of other pre-pubescent boys! At one sports afternoon, whilst dodging said sport (thus making it an art form for me) I got into a discussion with another 10 or 11 year old, who informed me, in a whispered conversation – and fuck only knows how the subject even came up – that women got pregnant by hoys sticking their pee pees into womans woo woos! I was horrified at the prospect – after all, pee pees were for wee wees, and nothing else – told him, after a flustered “liar liar pants on fire” that it was a big fat fib, clutched my head with my hands, and ran screaming home. I wasn’t silly! I watched enough movies to know that kissing was the culprit (the man and woman in the movie would kiss, then things would fade out, then she’d be telling him she was preggers), though nature only allowed strangers you kissed to get pregnant – you were safe if you kissed family. I thought that boy was disgusting, and an idiot!

I was an early bloomer, and by the age of 9 I had not only started to get pubic hair – diligently pulled out by me, as I thought that seeing as no one else had it, I must have been a bit of a freak – but nightly emissions had started, both natural and induced. The mechanics of wanking off with my hand hadn’t occured to me at this stage, but the friction method on the newly starched sheets worked a treat. My poor mother must have been in quite a quandry as to what to do, as she must have known, being the one doing the laundry. After my nocturnal shenanigans had been going on for some time, I awoke one morning to find that Jesus had visited during the night, and had left me some nice Christian literature on sex and procreation! I read it, but all the biblical language of vaginas, vulvas, uteruses, urethras, penis & testicles – without a practical re-enacting of it – left me confounded, and I ended up none the wiser. So much for my sexual education. Is it any wonder I chose virginity for the next 14 years!

It was around this time that my brothe Kevin and I discovered that girls had different bits. Even at this tender age, I already knew that mens bits were much more interesting to me than girls bits, but I decided that the differences warranted further investigation, if nothing else. Diane Cliffe lived two doors up, and wasn’t adverse to a game of Doctors and Nurses, though we could have done without her telling her mother about it. It didn’t go down well, and Diane was banned from visiting (just as we were planning an appendectomy!), though, to give them their due, my parents just viewed it as kids indulging in kids natural curiosity. The subject was never raised, and I knew nothing of the outrage until many years later.

I do remember my first orgasm -which progressed to the nocturnal emissions stage (see above) – as it happened so unexpectedly during a 5th class lesson period. I don’t actually know what I was doing to bring it on, but I was gazing out the window when this wonderful feeling overcame me, and despite not knowing what it was, I knew it felt really good, if not a little messy. I was on my way! From 1967-1969 I was at a Catholic boarding school, and a life of guilt-ridden wanking continued (confession was an easy way to alleviate the gult – “I touched myself, Father”; “How many times, my son”; “A lot, Father!”; “For your penance 10 Our Fathers and 10 Hail Mary’s”, and we were ready for our next run of sinful pleasure). All the boys in the dorm must have been as frantically pulling-the-pud as I was, but I can’t recollect catching out one single person in my three years there. I did get groped in the pool on one occasion, and never let on about it – I sort of think I enjoyed it – as probably did the boy who grabbed it! Unfortunately, there were no circle jerks or sly assignations! My education was at a stand-still! However, it did encourage my fetish for Speedos – the swimwear of chouce in that period.

Things really didn’t improve a lot after I left school at the end of ’69, and started work.The only thing I knew for sure was that I was gay (a poof, to use the vernacular of the times), but this wasn’t a good period for coming out, which was an unlikely thing for me to do anyway considering my upbringing and naive innocence. I’m pretty sure many suspected, but no one tackled me about it. In hindsight, having a couple of the Grace Brothers rather non-discreet, effeminate window dressers in our social group, who were totally accepted,  should have hinted to me that nobody would probably have raised an eyebrow if I had outed myself. So, I put up a front, and dated girls. I never was good at the dating game, which probably explains why they never went past the first date. I felt awkward on dates, was never sure of what was expected of me, so it was a pretty well hands-off situation, and if the girls expected to get to first or second base with me…it never happened. I didn’t have a car, so all dating was done via public transport and cabs, which  probably didn’t help. But it wasn’t a one way street – I was a fairly good looking boy, and a fashionable dresser, so I had my fair share of girls pursuing me, but I managed to avoid most advances, and they usually gave up eventually. I did have girls as friends, and despite two awkward situations – Lynne Broome professed undying love for me, and Jo Conway…who was to out herself as a lesbian a couple of years later…tried to seduce me in my apartment after I left home, and was the first to see through my facade – I enjoyed their company, and I think that in many respects, they enjoyed a male interaction that was – pethaps oddly – non-sexual.

Jo and I often went out together – my father thought we were dating – and she introduced me…passively…to the sin and temptation of Oxford Street, Darlinghurst. I had at that time (the mid-70s) little idea of just what a huge part of my life was to be played out on this strip in years to come. She was someone I felt safe with, and I have often regretted how our lives grew apart.

By this time, I was living on my own in Allowah. Now, if you think that my apartment was a hot bed of sin and debauchery, with neverending sex parties and orgies, let me assure you – it wasn’t! The only person having sex there was me – with me! I hung out with a large group of straight people- at least, to my knowledge they were – and it had to have been obvious to them that I wasn’t quite on the same wave length as they were. I never turned up at any parties or restaurant meals with a girl/girlfriend in tow, nor did I join in any of the slap and tickle conversations amongst the boys. It was a life of quiet desperation!

There was one notable event around 1972…I would have been 18. It could have been a turning point, but if anything, it slammed the closet door tightly closed. It was a very daring act for me, and I gyess what should have been an eye-opener for me in being accepted for who I am, and that my work colleagues at E.L.Downes at aRoselands didn’t judge, but encouraged the action, so it wasn’t as though it was unacceptable. A much older man – though quite handsome – called Leigh worked downstairs in the Clarke Rubber store. We always smiled and waved to each other whenever I walked past the store, we’d chat, and usually caught the same bus to Kogarah after work. He was obviously gay. During one of our chats, he invited me out for dinner, and I accepred. I thought later that it may have been a rash decision on my part, a spur-of-the-moment thing that I may live to regret, but I went ahead with it anyway. On the night of the date, we got a cab into Kings Cross, and he took me to a very exclusive restaurant called Mrs Beeton’s Tent. My expectation was that I may have to put out, but part of the expectation was that he’d take me home for whatever dalliances were expected as payment. On the cab ride back to Kogarah he held my hand – the first time I had ever had an intimate touch with another man. But arriving back at Kogarah, we got out at a local park, where he informed me that he lived with his mother. The expectation on his part was – sex in the public toilet in the park. I was horrified! I mumbled something about my father expecting me home, and fled! For some reason, he never spoke to me again. Ah, lost opportunities! I may have become  a beat queen…

And so it went on until 1978. By this time, it was starting to cross my mind that perhaps – just perhaps – I was destined to never have sex with anyone…of any sex! My habitual reticence and almost obsessive shyness were personality traits that were proving my own worst enemy. By the time 1978 rolled around, I was living in a share house in Granville with friends. I knew Bede from the group I hung out with, and through him I met Sue. She in turn introduced me to Ronnie (Veronica) who was to have a more profound influence on my life than she could have ever believed possible. She was an attractive woman, well dressed, and a single mother. Her daughter Ann was just gorgeous, so it is perhaps not surprising that we hit it off. This was a bad period for me, as I was pretty sure I was gay, but had no idea what to do about it. It was doing my head in! And I was battling it on my own, with no one I could discuss it with, or get advice in regards to my options. So, I dated Ronnie, though only for two dates. I took her out for dinner one night, and getting back home some heavy petting ensued. She was the first person to give me a head job, but sex had to wait, as she wasn’t on the pill. As she was leaving, she asked me if I was a virgin! Fuck…is it stamped across my forehead! I admitted as much – like DUR – and pretty well screamed at her CAN I JUST GET RID OF IT!

I’d worked my way through “The Joy of Sex”, so knew all the mechanics of sex, all the ins and outs, all the do’s and don’t do’s. So, a week later, I went in with eyes open. I can’t recollect being all that nervous, and to my benefit I think I put on a pretty confident and impressive show. It was no Karma Sutra performance, but there was foreplay, I went down on her – which I don’t think she was expecting – and it was a substantial fuck session before I blew. But there was one very big problem, and that problem was to direct the way my life was to play out from that point! To achieve an orgasm with Ronnie…I had to fantasise that I was having sex with a man! If I had been unsure before, by the time she left that night I knew that I was definitely gay. I am still a bit ashamed of myself how I avoided her after the popping-the-cherry night, but there was no way I could have explained to her what was going on without her feeling used and demeaned, so I took the easy way out via avoidance!

In 1978, my father committed suicide, which on its own was a providential event. I was sent to Melbourne by my company in late 1979 to troubleshoot their retail businesses there. No further instances of sexual dalliances had occured over that time, but I went to Melbourne knowing that my path was set. It was just a matter of time, and circumstances. I am not going into my coming out here, as there is an article about it here on my blog, but suffice it to say that with my father dead, in a strange city, away from the prying eyes of family and friends, I was presented with the perfect opportunity to come out, and my desire to do something about it was set in stone. Within 6-months of hitting that city, I finally made my move. Now to lose my gay virginity!

But even that intention proved to be a very bumpy road! Naturally – well, to me, antway – my follow-on reading from “The Joy of Sex” was “The Joy of Gay Sex”, so once again I went into the arena fully prepared…and totally clueless! As noted in my coming out story, I joined Acceptance Melbourne, a group for gay Catholics, as a catalyst to smooth my way into the gay community, That I was no longer a practising Catholic didn’t come into the equation. Any port in a storm, you might say! So, I met Frank at a social, at the University Club (a gay venue on Friday & Saturday nights, in Swanson Street) after a First Friday Mass. He made the move on me, which was perhaps not surprising, being new to the group. He was older than me, and not my choice as far as looks went, buy hey…I was a virgin on several fronts, not the least being that ability to say thanks-but-no-thanks to people you don’t fancy trying to pick you up! It was a lesson I learnt quickly.

So, the end of the night found me in Frank’s car – much to the consternation of a couple of younger members of the group who thought they may have had a crack at me – being driven to some far-flung…literally…suburb of Melbourne. Frank had my cock out of my fly before we even got out of the car park, and proceeded to give me head at every set of lights – many – along the way! Being my first sexual encounter with a man, I think I would have been excited under any circumstances. And I should point out – no one knew I wasn’t a sexually experienced gay man! This was sort of stupid, as it came with the expectation that I knew what I was doing. Nothing was further from the truth! So the blow jobs on the way to Franks were to be pretyy well the highlight of the night. It was all down hill from there! Being a newcomer to the scene I wasn’t familiar with the concepts of a “top” (the active partner, or fucker), and “bottom” (the passive partner, or fuckee), and Frank evidently ex pected me to be the top. For my part, I expected him to guide the proceedings, but it didn’t pan out that way. The night finished with a mutual wank session, before he shuffled me onto the train back to Melbourne city. My first encounter with gay sex left me very disillusioned! Was this all it was about!

My subsequent next encounter with Fred wasn’t a hell of a lot more successful, but it taught me the necessity of taking opposing sexualities into account when interacting with other men on a sexual level. Fred was into light S & M…fuck, I was battling to lose my virginity, let alone take on a fetish…and was heavily into the beat scene. Our relationship was destined not to last. I starred hanging out at “Mandate” nightclub in St Kilda, and that started opening doors for me. I had my first encounter with public sex when I was given a blow job on the edge of the dance floor – yes, the guy was attractive – and I did start picking guys up. I adopted the clone look, and being relatively good looking I had no trouble getting regular sex. My sexual expertise improved, but I was always the one going top! However, all that changed at a First Friday Mass at my flat in West Brunswick. Kevin, a close friend of mine, bought a friend, Barry, with him…a very attractive friend! I was smitten! He stayed to help clean up…then right royally fucked me! I was so turned on by having such a hot guy topping me for the first time that I put on a performance that any porn actor would have been proud of. And it converted me from top…to bottom. My cherry was well and truly popped! I took to it like a duck to water.  From that point, I never looked back.

Despite coming out late in life, I’ve had a very interesting and diverse sex life. Despite jokingly calling myself a slut, I have slept with nowhere near the number of men most others I know have. Not being into beats, backrooms (I’ve done that 2-3 times), or saunas (I’ve done that once) my pick-up life has always relied on the pubs and nightclubs, which keeps it a bit under control. You learn to pick that fine line whereby a potential root has had enough to drink to get him interested, but not so much that they pass out. I’ve made a fool of myself a few times, had a lot of laughs, and a lot of great – and memorable – sex. Some of this time has been tinged with sadness, and there have been several “fireworks” encounters. I was flattered to find out that I was considered a good root. I’ve had five serious relationships – one of which lasted for 16 years. I’ve had 3 really beautiful fuck buddies; Paul – who I’ve always been in love with, but careers got in our way – for 10 years; Graham, who I met through a threesome (and who was in an abusive relationship) for 5 years; and Gregg – a married guy with two kids from Forbes, for 3 years. I’m comfortable with my fetishes – jockstraps, Y-fronts, and Speedo’s – and have met nothing but nutters through the sex apps. If this is the future of sex, it’s very sad!

In a way, I’m back to square one. I’ve even gone back to being a top.Except for the good old-fashioned hand jobs, I haven’t had sex with another guy for about 2 years. Being 63 and single, I’m really not expecting them to line up at the door. And if I have to be honest, I don’t really care. I like it that I do things just for myself now. If I slip into a jockstrap, it’s for my own pleasure; when I go to the gym, it’s done to impress me; I no longer have to ply myself with alcohol in a bar to get the Dutch courage to pick someone up; and I can sit in a cafe on my own and not feel lonely. It may have taken me a long time to finally lose my virginity, and there may have been some odd diversions along the way, but it’s been a great, fun journey. And though I may wish that I had started the fucking journey a lot earlier, it may not have been as interesting if I had. I look back on the abstinence years with humour now.

“We live in a world where losing your phone is more dramatic than losing your virginity!”

And that is as it should be!

Tim Alderman (C 2016)

Comment: Don Dale Disgrace

Don Dale Disgrace
The actions of correctional officers at Don Dale Correctional Facility in Darwin, as reported on the Four Corners program, Tuesday 25/7/2016 has – rightfully – shocked the nation. A greater travesty in the history of juvenile justice in this country (apart from sexual abuse) would be hard to find!
Watching the footage of what went on there was – for anyone with a conscience – ethereal, brutal, and traumatising! It raises many questions about institutional juvenile abuse, its length, breadth and depth. The PM has made the decent call for a Royal Commission into the Don Dale abuses, as this is the only way the true horror of this abuse of power can be exposed! I’m willing to bet that it has been ongoing for a very long time, and is endemic. 

These juveniles – many in their early teens, and primarily Indigenous – were locked in claustrophobic isolation cells – referred to as the Behavioral Management Unit or BMU – for 23 hours a day for up to 2 weeks. They were deprived of natural light, fresh air, accessto fresh   water, and left in totally squalid conditions. Malhandling, bashings, and unusual and unnecessary force were used to “control” these juveniles, and the litany of abuses is long…and disgusting. If this is how we “correct” our youth in these facilities, then we need to seriously rethink how we go about this. That the majority of the abuses – which includes tear gassing – was committed on Indigenous youth (already dissdvantaged as it is) makes it even worse. How are these kids ever to be given a chance! This sort of treatment just breeds – apart from the psychological damage – hatred, a lack of any respect for authority, a pure disdain of the “justice” system, a belittling, and cynicism of their worth as individuals, not to mention the total deprivation of basic human rights. Not even Alcatraz could have been this bad!

I would like to know how the powers-that-be at Don Dale allowed these abuses to occur! How easy is it to turn a blind eye to the actions instigated by your officers, under your watch? And at what point did this no longer matter! It would have been bad enough if this had happened to adult inmates – that the abuses were to teenage children defies belief! If these abuses had occured under any other circumstances, these juveniles would have been placed in protective custody. The images of that young boy venting his frustration after getting out of his (supposedly left “accidently” unlocked) cell; the tear-gassing; and that kid being hurled across a room, and that young boy shackled to a chair and hooded, are now  forever etched in my brain!

That these juveniles were guilty of crimes – many petty – no one is denying, but any semblance of “correction” or rehabilitation goes out the window after the onslaught of the footage from Don Dale. These kids just aren’t getting a break at all, are they! As an Australian I am appalled, disgusted and ashamed that children in custody could ever be treated this way. Nothing short of a complete expose of the practices at Don Dale, and severe disciplinary action against both perpetrators and authorities is acceptable! Perhaps locking the responsible officers in the solitary cells at the old Don Dale facility  would be a good and fitting start. Give them a taste of their own medicine!

Tim Alderman (C 2016)

“Correcting” juveniles at Don Dale Correctional Facility

Daily (Or When The Mood Takes Me) Gripe: Over-Reporting 

You know what the biggest problem with the 24/7 news cycle is? That it is 24/7, that’s what! 

Once upon a time – yeah, back in fairytale days – you received your news (at least on television) at 6.00pm every night, whether it was a big thing like a terrorist attack, or something as trivial as political scandals. Now, you get the headlines at 6.00, then again at 6.15, again at 6.30, again at 6.45 ad nauseam –  including “updates” that are…well…often not updates because there is nothing else to tell! Often any empathy or sympathy you have for any single situation is destroyed within hours of the event happening. 

This isn’t to say I’m downplaying situations like Charlie Hebdo, the Paris massacres, Nice, the destruction of  Christchurch by earthquake, or the tsunami that hit Japan. These are all – singularly and collectively – dreadful, hope shattering situations, and your heart goes out to those affecred by these events – until the media decide to jam it down our throats as often as possible over the next two days, anyway! Scheduled shows are canceled, news reports are extended, special coverages are organised until we – the viewers – find ourselves reaching for the remote everytime the situation is revisited…which seems to be often, with no added information! 

The terrible events in Nice is a current example of media coverage going overboard. Not only were we inundated with the news reports, and seeing the same footage again…and again…and again, we were then subjected to endless intervuews by witnesses, who all had the same story to tell, just in different words. In many instances, the interviews just became lame as the reporters tried to extract some crumb of information that hadn’t already been given.24 hours after the Nice tragedy, I turned on the morning news programs to find that Karl Stefanovic had suddenly appeared there, still trudging over what was by then old ground. He had nothing to add, no “update”, no new insights!

And it would seem there is no accountability for how the media reports, often creating an overblown sense of fear, anxiety and often placing blame on assumed presumptions. We are all looking for terrorists under the bed these days, something outside the ordinary to attach blame to. We couldn’t just have a guy with no terrorist affiliations, but with some mental problems, who was undergoing a messy divorce and had just cracked, and was taking his frustrations out on anyone within reach (which would have been the conclusion in the past), but no, these days it has to be attached to terrorism, and the media go out of their way to find the links! This isn’t helped by a terrorist organisation – Islamic State – seemingly laying claim to any unclaimed events as a way of promoting their cause, and making themselves more powerful and far-reaching than they actually are! And don’t think this isn’t the case – it is! 

The nedia have a way of creating anti-heroes, and taking simple information and creating a mythos around it, often making what isn’t scary…scary! We live in a world of catch-phrases, and despite google being just a mouse-click away, there is often little, if any, research done into words that are currently being used to instill fear into an often misinformed, and scared-of-the-unknown public. I mean, just look at the words currently being used to create a sense of fear in many peoples minds – Muslim; Islam; terrorist; halal; burqa; sharia law; extremist et al – seems to be a common thread, doesn’t there! If we are looking for contemporary scapegoats – then this seems to be where we are concentrating. You want to know something – several centuries ago, it would have been the Catholic church copping this attention as they performed the same “terrorist” attacks on anyone who didn’t think the way they thought!

As individuals who can think and reason for ourselves, we owe it to ourselves not to get caught up in this endless stream of nedia beat-ups, distortions, and laying blame as an easy way to explain what are often horrific events. Religious nuts exist – and always have! After all, what else could the Crusaders, and the Inquistion be called! People cracking up and going berserk has always happened – and always will! Let’s ask the Cathars, and the Jews, about being scapegoats for the ills of the world! The media are trying to make us scared because it gives them stories to fill their 24/7 cycle. The humdrum of everyday life isn’t enough to feed this voracious animal! 

And we keep looking in the wrong places for the people who can give us “hope” in these scary times! The Pauline Hansons and Jacqui Lambies of this world don’t have the answers – they just add coals to the fires of fear! They are, in a way, media pigs who at the best are being given attention they don’t deserve, and at their worst are misinformed, and in turn are misinforming others. I have always admired the unsubtle hypocrisy of people like Hanson, who in a single breath can be a ranting racist – while asuring everyone she us nit a racist! Nothing like a thick hide to cover your true intentions!

We owe it to ourselves to return balance to our lives. We are allowing the media to bring fear into our lives, to make us all feel that we can’t go about our everyday business without constantly looking over our shoulder, that we need to shift blame, to point fingers. 

There is, in fact, a very simple way to break the 24/7 news cycle, to return balance, common sense and fairness to our lives ; 

Change channels!

Tim Alderman (C 2016)

Daily (Or When The Mood Takes Me) Gripe: Drugs in Sport

“A very cynical attitude is taken by sponsors like Nike. They pay for records to be broken, then when athletes test positive, instead of canceling their contracts, they carry on paying them! It’s as if the executives at Nike always knew what Marion Jones, Justin Gatlin and Marta Dominguez where up to! Nike sponsored them even after they tested positive! It gives you  some idea of Nike’s take on the doping problem”

I am watching this weeks “Four Corners” program on drug doping in sports, especially professional athletics. It really is endemic, and quite frightening in its length, breadth & depth! That drug doping of athletes was not only sponsored but encouraged in countries like Russia, and resulted in the banning of 4,000 Russian athletes after 2 whistleblowers – now exiled to Berlin due to being considered “traitors” – says way too much about how drug doping is rapidly taking over sports. That so few athletes were banned as a result of doping in the London Olympics is more a result of corruption in the Russian drug testing agency than actual lack of drug-influenced athletes. It is not just a disgrace, but very disillusioning and wortying. That the thinking surrounding drug doping is that of “well,everyone else is doing it, so why shiuldn’t I” shows a clear lack of personal pride and self-challenging in sports.

Lance Armstrong is a classic example, and one where one has to ask the question – was it a deliberate choice not just to take ut, but to admit to it? After all, as a professional cyclist, he earned $300,000 a year. He now has earnings of around $23,000,000. In reality, being banned from the sport has paid well! The World Ant-Doping Agency (WADA), after a year of investigations in Russia, delivered a slamming report at a recent conference “We have found cover-ups, we found destruction of samples in the laboratories, we found payments of money in order to conceal doping tests, among others. It’s worse than we thought. All this could not have happened, and continues to happen, without the actual or implied consent of the state authorities. So, their lab is gone, their national anti-doping organisation is gone. We have recommended that the Russian Athletics Federation be suspended, gone!”. State sanctioned sports doping…wow! That’s mindblowing. 

Personally, I don’t get it! I can’t comprehend how you can fill yourself with performance enhancing drugs, win a race, break a record…and feel you have done it by giving yoyr best, challenging and pushing yourself in a natural, physical sense! I would feel that I had cheated myself, and in many respects let myself down. One of the German athletes who had come clean about her doping experiences as a world record breaking runner stated that, on being brought into the Olymouc team for her country, she found herself in a culture of very average athletes, in many respects under-achievers. They didn’t have to have abilities or even ambition, as the drugs brought on those traits. To me, achieving anything in a sporting or athletic field is pushing yourself beyond your limits, challenging yourself at every step along the way, and when you win, it’s because of your own abilities, and doing it through hard work, training and the sheer will to win. If drugs were involved, I would actually feel like a cheat. That everyone else might be doing it is no excuse for indulging, and robbing yourself of the sheer satisfaction of having done it under your own steam. I can see the thinking – if everyone else is using drugs, then everyone is still on an equal footing. But are they? As drugs come and go, what’s to ssy they aren’t taking  something that you don’t as yet know about! Doesn’t that open all sorts of cans of worms! If everyone is going to be on an equal footing…why not a drug-free one? If athletes feel the need – or want – to deliberately cheat, doesn’t one have to question their motive, but more so their self-worth? And just as drugs change and become more sophisticated, so does the testing. Blood and urine samples are kept for 10 years, so in actual fact – due to future testing that can detect drugs that can’t currently be detected – we will not know the actual medal winners from the 2016 Olympics until 2026! Suely the ultimate humiliation as a medal winner would be to have it taken off you in 10 years time! Chez embarrassing!

Remember when our elite swimmers were wearing their specially designed suits? Okay, it’s not doping, but the principal is the same. It’s an enhanced way of winning that has no regard for the personal challenge. I remember saying to my partner that it just wasn’t right, and as record, after record, after record fell…that fact was just enhanced. Where was the challenge if a record eas that easy to break? Surely the swimmers themselves must have felt cheated, that despite having won, and broken a record – they really hadn’t. I was ecstatic when the suits were banned, as it put the challenge – and the interest – back into swimming. If you won or lost, it was always a fair win, whereby the time and work you had put in was on show for all to see. The personal satisfaction was obvious on their faces. I won because I deserved to, not because I had my abilities enhanced by technology. 

As a regular gym goer, I know that a percentage of the muscle-bound bodies around me are not necessarily naturally produced. Steroid use amongst body builders has always been a problem. At 62, for me it’s as much about fitness as building myself up, though I’m not adverse to developing some musculature. But I’m in no rush, and if it takes me months to start to work my way up through the weights, that’s fine. It is a challenge I set for myself, and there is no rush to get there. A chat with a mate recently – who looked really hot at the peak of his performances – revealed an insidious world of two to three trips to the gym daily, enhanced by pre-workout supplements, and other things. In his own words, it was an unhealthy obsession that made him a not nice person. If you are going to build your body up, you have to be able to maintain it with a minimum of work. These guys who build up huge bodies don’t stop to think of the factors that cause you to stop working out, or taking dangeroys substances to achieve your size – things like relationships, having children, illness, changed work curcumstances, or not living in close proximity to a gym. All that muscle suddenly becomes – fat! I don’t  get why, if you are in your 20s, there would be this great need to rush to build yourself up – after all, you have a lot more time than me!

But the steroid/performance-enhancing drug scenarios present what should be a light-bulb moment for all imbibers – the long term side effects of pumping this shit into your body. Liver, kidney, heart and skeletal problems will probably plague you for the remainder of your life – may, in fact, cut it short. 

We need to curb this insidious practice at a world-wide level. We need to create an environment where everyone is respectful of the exhilaration of winning something due to your natural abilities and talent – the setting of a personal goal…and achueving it! Yes, use technology, but use it to enhance your abilities, not to be the sole cause of you winning, or breaking a record. We need to re-establish personal pride in sport, that knowledge thathaving  won a nedal, you are going to keep it!

Tim Alderman (2016)

Family Historians – Don’t Copy! Research!

I have just spent a whole day sorting out a family mess. It’s not that what little information I had added to my tree was wrong – it is that the information that everybody else had copied, then incorrectly added to, then put on their tree, was wrong – compounded by everybody copying everyone else without checking the facts.

In a roundabout kind of way, Ancestry have promoted a system that actually encourages the spread of inaccurate family information. By promoting themselves, and making tracing your family tree sound simple and exotic “just enter a name and all will be revealed”, they have inadvertently unleashed a monster. People are inherently lazy, and for the majority of these new “genealogists”, if there is an easy way out, such as just taking your information from someone elses tree, that’s the road they’ll take. It’s not that collating information from other trees is wrong – it’s just that you need to double check it. In other words, there is no shortcut! You still need to research. This is how todays fiasco played out.

I have a family member on my paternal grandmothers tree named Thomas Saville. Someone related to the Saville family had contacted me regarding him, and asked meto contact   her father, who was researching the same family. The initial information I had on this individual had been entered years ago, and was just sitting there waiting for me to get around to researching his family. I thought, to make matters easier, that before making the phone call, I would do some more research on him to see what I could find. My first port of call was the public family trees in Ancestry. The Saville family is large, and I found many trees with Thomas in them. The one thing they all had in common was that Ann Milligan was his wife. Okay, thinks I – I’ll check for a marriage record on one of the trees. Should be easy! Of the 20 trees I checked, NOT ONE had a document proving the marriage between Thomas and Ann Milligan. Further more, there was a discrepency with the number of children, and one tree included a second marriage. We know from records that he and his wife – and two children – arrived in Australia in 1842, and they both died here. However, a number of trees had children spanning from the early 1830s, then a huge gap of 20 years…and suddenly another batch of children appear in the 1850s!

Now, I don’t know about you, but that would have raised alarm bells with me – in fact did! I mean – children attributed to them in England at a time when they were living here? Clang! Clang! Clang goes the bell! What is wrong here? With so many trees having dodgy information, the obvious reason that it was all so over-the-shop, with inaccurate entries, and with all missing required documentation was that – they were copying each other! 20 trees with inaccurate information is frightening – because others are going to copy them as well, so we literally have a “pyramid scheme” of inaccurate information spreading like anoxious  weed through peoples family histories. 

So, off to research marriages for Thomas Saville and Ann. The marriage record was there – right at the top of the search results. A marriage for Ann Milligan and…Thomas SAVEL! Okay, inaccurate spelling of surname, but clerical errors are common, especially in a time where clerks often didn’t want to display their ignorance, and instead of asking for the spelling of a name, they used phonetic spellings. So, the document for the marriage was there, and a search of census records revealed that the only census they had appeared in was the 1841. However, the marriage records also revealed a union between a Thomas Saville and an Ann Ingham. There was no connection between the two marriages, and if people had checked the census records for Thomas & Ann Saville AFTER 1941, they should have noted a Joseph Ingham Saville listed amongst the children. Considering that children were often given their mothers family names as middle names, it should have raised a flag, and sent them researching further. However, they weren’t researching, so all the children were added to Thomas Saville and Ann Milligans line, and in some cases giving Thomas a second marriage to Ann Ingham. Some future researchers are going to be very confused about their lineage!

 The question one has to ask is – is Ancestry giving everyone a bum ride, by making family research sound a lot easier than it is? How many people are just looking at hints, and if the name is on their tree, they are just blithely adding the record! I did make the requested phone  call, and we both verified our information. Scott’s wife is a Saville, and he is researching her line. He informed me that he even encountered people researching this branch of the family in America, thanks to some Ancestry hints that had misdirected them! I still maintain – and have seen it for myself – that if people sren’t happy with their family the way it is, but want to spice it up with some convicts, or peers of the realm, or royalty…they will go out of their way to find the usually inaccurate records to prove it! I don’t get it…but there you go. Considering that to get records without paying a fortune for them you need to subscribe to Ancestry, it’s obvious who the people making money out of this – to the detriment of accurate family trees – is Ancestry! Even watching shows on genealogy like “Who Do You Think You Are?” gives a false impression on how easy it is to gather information on ones family. People watching don’t stop to consider that there is a host of professional genealogists working behind the scenes, who have probably spent months gathering information, before the show was recorded. However, having said that, it can also be excitingly revealing. In the episode with Jacqui Weaver, she was talking about her grandfathers family, whose surname was Onions. It is a very unusual name, and I knew I had some in my tree. I recorded the show, then traced the information they had against what was in my tree. Sure enough – I am distantly related, through marriage, to Jacqui Weaver. My flatmate loves to joke now, that whenever he sees her in a show he yells out “There’s your aunt!”…a bit of an exaggeration, but funny anyway.

But the message from this is – if you take your family history seriously, and not as a trend as many do, then do your leg work. There is no short-cuts, no easy way out. With the amount of inaccurate information out there on family trees (and with many losing interest after finding it is not so easy, and deserting trees), it is very easy to gather incorrect information, and take your family to places they have never been. If you are going to retrieve information from public trees, check the accuracy, and look for documentation. If in doubt, comment or contact tree owners for more information. I had someone contact me this week regarding my relationship to their family, as I had their photos on my tree (which had appeared through Ancestry hints). As it was, it is again my paternal grandmothers tree, and the person in question was my 1st cousin x 2 removed. I noted that there was no follow-on.

We owe it to our families to ensure that information is accurate, or at least as accurate as we can get it. It is better to leave a line dangling than to enter dubious information. If you are unsure of a records accuracy, hit the “Maybe” button, and research it at a later date. The one thing that I do know is that I like my family, both close and far distant. They have created me, here and now, and I owe them the respect they deserve by accurately recording their story, warts and all!

Tim Alderman (C) 2016

On Being A Black Sheep!

“Regrets? I’ve had a few! But then again…too few to mention! I did what I had to do, and saw it through without exemption…but more, much more than this – I did it my way!”

“In the English language, black sheep is an idiom used to describe an odd or disreputable member of a group, especially within a family.”

I never planned to be the black sheep of my family. Perhaps genes had something to do with it; perhaps environment; or we can poke a finger at the times we grow up in – all are likely causes! But sure as hell, life experience, that need to survive (stronger in some of us than others, I’ve noticed) is a very definite cause.
I’m not the first in my family. My Great Grand Uncle, George Rickinson Swan Pickhills, was another. For the times he grew up in (the mid-1800s up), he was not a conformist. Outspoken, openly critical of others including governing bodies,  had no tolerance for idiots, and went about things with an actions-speak-louder-than-words attitude that gained him respect amongst his peers, and set him firmly against the establishment. A true role model if ever there was one! My cousin Dianne was also one who bucked the fitting-in trend, and did things her own way. I think she saw aspects of me that no one else in the family noticed. 

Even for someone growing up through the 50s& 60s, I don’t think I ever really conformed. It wasn’t an obvious choice to not fit in, but more like a realisation that if I didn’t stand up for myself, I would always be doing that which I didn’t want to do. Surprisingly, I always seemed to be accepted as an individual, even in a world where individuality was not an accepred norm. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of it, and certainly would have caused the most frustration in my family – oblivious to me, of course – was that I had a definite leaning towards the more creative side of life, rather than a sporting or physically active side. This showed up in various ways in my pre-teen years – I avoided sports for starters, much to my fathers frustration. He tried initially to get me to play soccer – I loathed it, and did everything possible to avoid contact with the ball. After that…tennis – but no, not interested. I managed to avoid sports for the entirety of my school life – no mean feat – by hiding, wagging it with other boys who felt the same, or volunteering for other duties. Truth be told, I didn’t hate sports altogether. My experiences with softball were very positive – but it’s not an Aussie sport, is it! And I loved athletics. I was a fery good runner, triple jumper and high jumper, but no one ever offered athletics as a viable alternative within sports, nor offered any encouragement to be trained in or follow such a path, so it went by the boards. Over the years, I’ve had cause to reflect on that!

I had a furtive imagination, which showed itself in my essay writing, my love of reading science fiction, and my ability to invent games to play at home. I loved nothing more than to be tucked out of sight, in a quiet corner with my hound, devouring a book. In high school, I was active in the choirs, theatrical productions, and writing – successfully, and often  with hilarious results – my own twisted interpretations of Shakespearean classics, performed during parent & teacher occasions at the schools. 

But of all the driving forces that create black sherp, the three singular and most significent events were the ones that had the potential to destroy me, but instead hardened me, radicalised me, and instilled the survival instinct in me. The acquired abilities to see through all the bullshit of others around me; to cut those out of my life who either let me down, or disappointed me; to realise early in my life that I was different to most around me, to embrace the difference, and despite making some very bad decisions along the way, always remaing true to myself; going against the grain, which created its own sets of problems; defying authority – ditto for creating problems; and the ability to live alone, to be able to be a solitary individual yet never let it drown me, has served me well all my life, has given me a tough exterior (and often interior) that has helped ne survive even bigger issues as life has trundled along. 

The first toughening came when, in early 1965, with me at the grand age of eleven, my mother left home. I can’t say I didn’t understand why she left. I was an intuitive child, and had, on occasion, seen and heard things I oerhaps shouldn’t have, and drew my own conclusions on things happening around me. This created, at home, a first taste of independence. Years of watching my mother do things around the house paid off, and with the help of neighbours we scraped by. I learnt not to iron nylon socks. The second thing that happened – bringing Nancy Thompson in as a housekeeper – was a catalyst for the third – the death of my 7 year-old brother, Kevin. Nancy taught me real survival skills, however not enough to prevent my brothers fate. Enough has been written about his death – there is a long article on my blog here “Kevin Pickhills – The Unspoken Name” – for me not to go into it here, however the effects on my life from this catastrophic event were to have repercussions for decades to come. To stand up to Nancy, you had to be tough – she was a bitch of the first degree – and she unintentionally taught me mental toughness – something one really shouldn’t have to learn at 11 going on 12 – and to alienate myself from all that was going on around me. She was the first to publicly acknowledge – in a newspaper –  that there was an “effeminate” side to my nature. I don’t know how I would have reacted if I’d known of it at the time. Perhaps I would have breathed a deep sigh of relief! She taught me survival against all odds!

My relationship with my father – not the best at any time, as I and Kevin had both been bullied by his hair-trigger temper, and the leather strap he weilded in the name of discipline – was fraught with tension, distance and disassociation after Kevin’s death. My final toughening had been invoked, and from that time on, whatever was thrown at me rolled off…at least on the exterior. From that time on, I was at war with my father, his family, and the world. He hated rock music…so I played heavy rock. He told me not to drink…so I drank…to excess. He told me not to smoke…I smoked. He forbade me growing my hair…I grew my hair. He told me to finish school…I left at 4th form. He told me to get a trade…I ended up in retail. Whatever he wanted, I did the opposite. At one stage, he threatened to “knock my block off”…I left home, and never went back. When he committed suicide in 1978 (carbon monoxide poisoning, in his car, in the bushland around Vincentia) I went through the motions of grief, but inside I was glad. Not only had Kevin’s horrendous death been avenged, but I no longer had to fear whatever retribution would have happened by finally fully living my own life. I could publicly acknowledge my sexuality as a gay man, and get on with it! It was exhilerating! 

I don’t know that contracting HIV in 1982 really impacted my life as much as it should have. I have always thought that I had fought tougher battles, and indeed when asked about it in an interview in the late 90s, I stated that despite everything I had been through with HIV and AIDS, the death of my brother had impacted my life more. By this time, I had found ways to be a black sherp in the community. My years of managing a sex shop in Darlinghurst, my forays into “gutter” drag, my taking charge of many aspects of my health care, my defiance at taking drug regimes the way I want to take them, instead of how they should supposedly be taken, my refusal to allow HIV to be a “secret” part of my life, my refusal to see the negatives of a very negative disease, by empowering jyself by not becoming a victim, all pointed me in different directions to what most others were taking. I made one atrempt to return to jy old trade of retail, hut it felt like a step back, a return to a world that I had now left behind. I went to university, I went to TAFE. I started my own husinesses, took my life off into directions that I wanted…and fuck the world, and fuck anyone who thought they could tell me what to do! Even my vision-impairment has pushed me into black sheep territory. I learnt to use a white cane, then refused to use it because it can be as much of a hindrance as a help. I still do things my own way, and despite sometimes being my own worst enemy, at least I feel like an individual. There is not a single thing I do that my father – or mother – would approve of…but then, I’m happy. I don’t know that they ever were!

Back in the late 70s I reconnected with my mother. It was as much a curiosity thing as anything else. She had remarried, and I had a half-sister, with 18 years between us. I didn’t particularly like my step-father, but I didn’t have to live with him, so didn’t much care. With so much water under the bridge, my mother and I had little in common. By the time I reconnected, I was on the verge of coming out (after my fathers death), and by the time I returned from Melbourne in 1982, not only had some friends accidently outed me to her anyway, but I was well and truly an out gay man. She tried the “Oh, it’s all my fault” victimised mother line, but I told her to get over it. In many respects I hever clicked into her family (or her into mine, I have to say). She was hospitalised to have her bladder remived – due to cancer – in late 1997. No one rang to tell me she was in hospital. Being a bit peeved at not being notifued, I rang to enquire why. I was told that there just wasn’t time to ring everyone – though mind you, the rest of the family knew. Made me realise just how far down the pecking order I was in her new family. I rang her in Westmead Hospital on Christmas eve, wished her a happy Christmas – and that was the last time we spoke. She made no attempt to contact me, nor I her. The last I heard she was still alive, and in her 80s. When asked recently if I shouldn’t contact her, being as she possibly won’t be around much longer, and I might have regrets if I didn’t – I replied…no, and I won’t! We all make our own beds!

I’ve lived most of my life on the outer edges of things. I have no regrets about that. If being a black sheep makes me an individual; if it gives me unrestrained freedom to express myself; if it means I don’t quite fit in; that I can just be me – then I luxuriate in it. Life took the 11 year-old child, and bashed (figuratively) and moulded him into the adult I became, and the senior (who still refuses to be what society expects me to be) that I am developing into. Its led me down some dark allies, crossed some roads against the lights, and balanced on the edges of many cliffs – but at all times there was light, safety and balance at the end of it. I have walked in the illustrious company of others who also follow the outer paths of life. It us never the easy road, though perhaps the more satisfying. 

I don’t know that a black sheep can ever be white, or even a shade of grey – but then…perhaps we don’t want to be! 

Tim Alderman (C) 2016