I'm back! Jeff Corbett returns to the Newcastle Herald

ON TOUR: Jeff with his beloved caravan.
ON TOUR: Jeff with his beloved caravan.

Where have you been the past four years, eight months and two weeks? I've been in the land of retirement, a sort of extended annual leave, and it's good to be back. My wife says writing for Saturdays is just what I need, although I think she means it's just what she needs.

It's been an interesting four years, eight months and two weeks. I've seen the world slow down, much like it slows when you're on annual leave. The difference is that it continues to slow beyond the point we'd have to kick up a gear as we return to work.

Not that I haven't been busy. I seem to be very busy doing very little. For most of my working life I'd have a list of weekend jobs, of things that I planned to get done on the Saturday and Sunday, and come most Sunday afternoons they'd be ticked off. Things like fix bathroom tap, organise fencer, move chookpen. I still have such a list, on a smart phone now rather than in a pocket diary, but it is for the week. For seven days, not two, and most are moved into the next week, and the next week again.

I need a calendar program that deletes to-do entries after they've been moved forward twice.

While I've been flat out procrastinating I've seen the evil here and overseas perpetrated by men who claim the authority of a god, reinforcing my belief that if ever religion was a good and benevolent power in the world that was a long time ago. A corporation organising and protecting sexual predation of children by its managers would be penalised and legislated out of existence, and I don't see why the Catholic and Anglican churches should avoid that. That they continue to have tax-free status is more than offensive.

I've seen Tony Abbott come and go, and I listened to both his sensible and unfortunate statements, and often they were sensible and unfortunate at the same time. I watched the rise of Trump and, like most Australians I think, I was shocked that someone so vulgar could get to even first base as a candidate for any public office let alone presidency of the United States.

So what have I done since we met last?

Well, for my first serious jaunt I headed through western NSW and into central Queensland in my wife's Landcruiser, sleeping on a camping mattress in the space freed by the removal of the rear seats. My wife continued to work (the perfect arrangement!) and so I went alone, which seemed to surprise many people back home. Some questioned that I was able to go alone as a married man, others that I would want to.

I learnt to counter this suspicion by approaching my camping neighbours as soon as I saw them, introducing myself and working quickly into the conversation that I had a working wife! The difference in the way I was regarded thereafter was extraordinary. Yes, I was mildly troubled that I was betraying all the other dirty old men.

There was another response to my aloneness and it became evident quickly most afternoons when I arrived at a camping ground on this and a later trip alone in a tent to Cooktown. People were immediately suspicious of me, and the glances and mutterings left no doubt about that. I realised I was a threat to every woman and child, a dirty old pervert without the restraining influence of a wife, and the most direct expression of this occurred at 1770 when a woman approached me and asked why I was looking at her children! I wasn't, just by the way.

I learnt to counter this suspicion by approaching my camping neighbours as soon as I saw them, introducing myself and working quickly into the conversation that I had a working wife! The difference in the way I was regarded thereafter was extraordinary. Yes, I was mildly troubled that I was betraying all the other dirty old men.

There were a couple of long bike rides. The first was the organised eight-day Great Victorian Bike Ride, a meandering and occasionally mountainous route from Albury to Lilydale, and the second was simply one or two mates and I riding from Perth to Albany. That was the Mundabiddi Trail, 1000km mostly through bush, and for the first and I hope the last time I came across Western Australia's infamous pea gravel. Infamous among cyclists, that is.

Hey, I did squeeze in a trip with my wife. We went to Vietnam after she retired a couple of years ago. And if it makes you feel any better about me, she has been on two overseas trips since without me! Try not to worry too much about me, I told her.

There was too a bit of caravanning (so cliched, my eldest daughter says), in a caravan we've just now swapped for one smaller and lighter, and this week we took off in it heading to the warmer north. I'll tell you more about that over the next few weeks. And welcome back!

Jeff Corbett writes every Saturday in the Newcastle Herald.

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