a web of simple thanks: intro and part 1

Weatherwise, today has got to be the perfect autumn day. The trees are holding onto the last of their orange and red leaves with the blue sky providing the backdrop. I’ve dropped in for a coffee at The Lounge, one of my favourite CBD venues with an outdoor balcony.

When I turned 40 (a few years ago now) I had planned to do a little celebratory project that for one reason or another I never got to. Given my commitment to live with no regrets I’ve decided to rectify and do a slightly modified version through this blog. The idea is this: when we have a milestone birthday the focus is typically on us. However, as I reached 40 and reflected on the 20 years previous, those years between 20 and 40, I realised how privileged I had been to have lived life alongside some amazing other blokes. There are multitudes of good friends and people with whom I’ve enjoyed sharing life through the years, but my thoughts were drawn to a handful of people who had inspired me over a period of years, people who I had admired, not from afar but from up close.

As I thought about this group of people I became conscious of how much richer my life had been from having not only known them, but from sharing life’s journey with them over time. The plan at 40 was to write them all letters of thanks and invite them all around for dinner – an impractical but enticing prospect. My lite plan is to write a short appreciative reflection on their impact on my life as a public acknowledgement of their contribution to who I am.

I expected it to be hard to decide who to write about. The truth is that it wasn’t. That’s not to say there aren’t a whole group of other people who have had a marked influence on my life, it is simply that there has been something about the way this small group people lived that invited me to live at a level that I would otherwise never have reached.

My parents and siblings are not included; my parents’ influence in particular is profound, positive and lasting. The person who has influenced me the most is Maria, my admiration for who she is fits in a different category altogether.

So this week is the first of six posts on this theme. In alphabetical order … I begin with

Al Watson (& David Turner): the pragmatic entrepreneurs.

Al was the first entrepreneur I knew well. When I met him he was a preacher who had recently set up a cleaning business. I was looking for some extra cash, so Al employed me to clean and mop supermarket floors. He told me that if I wanted it, he’d put me on a job normally done by two people; and if I could manage it he’d pay me for both. For about 6 years I got up before the birds and worked out swinging a mop before I went to my senior secondary school teaching job during the day.

Al soon set up a flag printing business (which his son Glenn took over and pushed into BRW’s Fast 100). He then bought a farm a couple of hours north of Melbourne. He told me he got the land cheap because no one else wanted it, but he figured he could do something with it and became passionate about breeding Welsh Black cattle. He was a passionate sailor, but being Al he had to build his own yacht.

I lost touch with him many years ago, and I am sure Al has done a whole bunch of things since. He was always on the go, full of energy. It’s a cliché, but with Al I always got the sense that ‘can’t do’ was not in his vocabulary.

Al taught me to ‘go for it’. He inspired me to move beyond the safety of social norms, as did another bloke called David.

I got to know David Turner during the latter half of my Uni degree and ended up living in his home during my final terms. David inspired me similarly. I was raised by a ‘planner’. My dad has always been a meticulous list keeper and planner. An engineer by profession and nature, he takes due diligence to a whole new level ahead of any project or event. I love him for it.

But David taught me spontaneity. David is the kind of bloke that can decide at breakfast to do some concrete edging around the garden and knock it off before going fishing after lunch. David used to take mini buses full of students to do volunteer work in outback towns with large number of indigenous Australians. All the planning required from David’s perspective was a time and place to meet in Melbourne, the rest would take care of itself … kind of.

He decided to build some houses … as you do. Gee materials are expensive aren’t they? No drama, I’ll going to the US, I’ll buy everything I can think of that I’ll need, stick it on Amex, bung it in a container (got a bit extra room, why not plug the hole with a ride-on mower, someone will buy it off me when I get home) and ship it back to Hobart … and still come out ahead.

Al and David, you blokes don’t know each other, but you’ve taught me so much about grabbing hold of life and living it. I still don’t have the same risk appetite as people like you, but you’ve sure helped me feel some adrenaline that has revved up life a tad. My life is richer because I knew you and you believed in me.