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Goodreads Book Review – Ben Cousins: My Life Story

Goodreads Book Review – Ben Cousins: My Life Story

It’s been ten years since Ben Cousins: My Life Story came out, and a lot has changed since then.

After watching the latest documentary about former West Coast Eagles star, Ben Cousins, a friend recommended I read his autobiography. Written ten years ago in 2010, the autobiography describes Ben Cousins’s early life and his spectacular Australian Football League career.

Arguably the most talented player of his era, the book details every season of Ben’s career and will appeal to footy buffs. But even if you are not a sports fan, there is a lot here to keep the pages turning. The narrative style is light and often humorous and you can hear Ben’s voice coming through on the page.

My son was in primary school when Ben Cousins dominated the footy world and he and his mates idolised him. The most prominent memory I have of Ben Cousins from that time is of him shirtless and handcuffed, being forced into a police car. I could never understand how a hardened drug addict could also be an elite athlete, but Cousins explains this in the book. It was all about timing. Ben had his training and drug taking schedules down to a fine art. He knew when his training was due and he knew how long it would take him to recover from a bender. He explains that his footy training and drug taking worked in tandem as a warped kind of reward and punishment system.

Ben was able to navigate the drug testing because he had the opportunity to plan ahead. And as long as he delivered the goods on game day, neither the authorities nor Ben himself seemed to concern themselves with the long term effects.

Ben got himself in and out of various scrapes but it wasn’t until Christmas of 2005 that things really came undone. Ben “jumped too early,” and mistimed the start of his Boxing Day twister. As a result, he was in a “right state” on Christmas Day and ruined it for the whole family.

By now, the seriousness of Ben’s addictions were becoming obvious and everyone was worried. Even his underworld cronies. There is a very funny part in the book where they pick Ben up to take him on a “fishing trip”. Ben worries that he has done something to offend them and is thinking the worst, but his mobster mates take him aside and give him a good talking to, warning him of the dangers of ice.

There were a couple of half-hearted attempts at rehab in luxurious, overseas facilities. Whisked away at LAX by two mystery blondes in a Mercedes, Ben’s overseas rehab stint ends up in an ambulance ride to hospital.

Ben spent the final years of his career at the Richmond Football Club, where by his own admission, he was not the best player. However, he had a long period of being drug free and he retired from the club satisfied with his performance.

The book ends on an optimistic note. Ben acknowledges the harm he has done himself and others with his drug use and hopes to bring solace to those suffering from addiction. But unfortunately, things have not gone so well since then.

Fast forward ten years to March 2020 and the latest documentary “Ben Cousins: Coming Clean.” Ben is estranged from his family, has been to prison and is living “between joints.” The following month, in April 2020, Ben is in the news again, back in prison for drug possession and aggravated stalking.

It’s as though the words of a dying outlaw, tattooed across Ben’s abdomen, are becoming a self fulfilling prophecy. Surely this is not the future that such a gifted young man envisioned for himself.

I really hope that is not the case and that Ben can finally turns things around. I hope that his life will become more than just a cautionary tale.

Posted by naomilisashippen in Goodreads Book Reviews, 0 comments
The Virus Chronicles – Insomnia

The Virus Chronicles – Insomnia

Insomnia and late night TV lead to some interesting revelations about a notorious Aussie football legend.

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Photo by Chanel 7

April 11, 2020

I try to keep to my 9 to 5 routine, but today things have got the better of me. I woke up at 4am, showered at lunchtime and now, I’m awake at midnight.

Not being able to get back to sleep, I go into the kitchen to make a cup of herbal tea. My son is up watching a documentary about former football star, Ben Cousins, and invites me to join him. I have no interest in sports but when your 20-something son wants you to hang out you take the opportunity. You never know when it might happen again.

My son is sports mad and growing up, he and his mates idolised Ben Cousins, arguably the best player of his day. But all I remember about him was getting arrested for taking drugs. I remember seeing him on the news, handcuffed and shirtless, being forced into a police car.

I could never reconcile in my mind the idea that someone in peak athletic form could be a drug addict. Ben Cousins’s body was superbly muscular and his skin glowed with good health.

“How could he be a drug addict?” I say. “Don’t drugs destroy your body?

“He trained really hard,” my son explains.

But I still don’t get it.

We watch the two-part series Such is Life: The Troubled Times of Ben Cousins. The introduction shows a fresh-faced Ben Cousins warning of the dangers of drug addiction. Staring straight into the camera, he is a talking head reading off an autocue. His warnings about drugs are empty, because he seems to be having the time of his life while his family are distraught with worry.

The psychologist interviewed for this film says that Ben’s adult life had only been about “receiving and not giving.”

“No wonder he’s a narcissistic prick,” I tell my son. “He doesn’t know any better.”

The second documentary, Coming Clean, is hard to watch. Filmed ten years later in 2020, Ben has changed a lot. He no longer looks like a little boy. His face is weathered and there are patches of grey in his shaggy beard. A plain white t-shirt replaces the immaculate dress shirt and dove grey blazer he wore in the earlier film.

But the most striking change is in his demeanour. The smart arse, rapid fire answers have been replaced by long pauses of introspection, where he struggles to find his words and evade the interviewer’s confronting questions. And they are confronting.

Ben’s life has not been easy in the ten years since the first documentary was filmed. He has become estranged from his family, lives “between joints” and has spent time in prison.

Ben made a go of it in prison, getting a job in the cleaning party, responsible for the prison maintenance. Getting a job in prison is not easy, and not everyone does. And Ben says with a smile that it is work he thinks he could do on the outside.

“So, from Brownlow to garbo, inside a jail,” says interviewer, Basil Zempilas. Zempilas then goes on to quote the Cold Play lyrics: “I used to rule the world, and now I sweep the streets I used to own.”

“That interviewer’s a bastard,” says my son.

And I am inclined to agree.

Zempilas brings up some deeply personal issues, making Ben look most uncomfortable, even pained. Like the near naked selfie that became public. The interviewer asks Ben why he took the photo in the first place.

“Trying to get a root,” Ben responds with his characteristic cheekiness.

“And did it have the desired effect?”

Ben looks uncomfortable. “No, it didn’t.”

Next, Zempilas reads the letter Ben wrote to actress, Lynne McGranger of TV Soap, Home and Away. The private letter is heartfelt and respectful. Grainger expresses surprise that he wrote to her and she reads it on air. She supposes he reached out because of the character she plays, a former addict who takes in young people struggling with addiction.

She wishes him all the best with his recovery and points him in the direction of his higher power.

Zempilas takes Ben to task about the trouble he has caused the AFL by “bringing the game of football into disrepute.” Chastened, Ben is apologetic, but in an earlier interview he says the AFL wouldn’t care if he was hanging from the beams in the roof.

Young footballers devote themselves to serving an apprenticeship that they cannot take with them into later life, after the game is over. Like modern day gladiators, they put their bodies on the line for the sake of public entertainment and when they are too old and broken to amuse us, we throw them on the scrap heap.

Throughout the film, Ben says he wants to be normal and that he would love to be living a traditional, family life. But after the life he has lived, how can that be possible?

The AFL have turned their back on the problem child that they have created and turned him out into a world for which he is in no way prepared.

The documentary finishes and my son goes out into the cold night air. He sits at the far corner of the outdoor table and the red tip of his cigarette glows in the darkness. I don’t like him smoking but I tell myself it could be worse.

I got both my sons into every sport going when they were young. Football, cricket, basketball. I thought all that running around would use up their energy and keep them out of trouble.

But Ben Cousin’s has shown the flaw in my thinking.

I say goodnight to my son and head off to bed.

But I don’t know if I will sleep tonight.

Coming Clean by Chanel 7

Posted by naomilisashippen in The Virus Chronicles, 2 comments
The Upside of Quarantine: How COVID-19 is Making me a Better Writer

The Upside of Quarantine: How COVID-19 is Making me a Better Writer

Having the time to write is an absolute gift for a working writer.

The dishes are done. The washing’s on the line. The homemade soup is simmering on the stove and it’s only 8.13am.

Usually by now, I would be in peak hour traffic. The dishes would be scattered on the kitchen bench, the washing would still be in the machine and homemade soup not even a thought in my mind.

But things are different now. I am quarantined because of COVID-19 and I have nothing but time.

Things have snowballed since last week, when my husband and I returned early from our ill fated trip. We set off for Japan at the time when things were iffy but more or less OK and were called home early with a dire DFAT warning.

We are required to spend fourteen days at home in isolation.

Disappointed but relieved to be back home, I am going to make the most of my time. As a writer with a full time office job, time is an absolute gift.

They say that it’s possible to write and hold down a full time job and many people do but having time and energy to devote to writing makes such a difference. I know I have achieved things in the last week that I could never have done if I had been working.

I have participated in online events during the day, like the live video critique I attended yesterday. I’ve submitted the first chapter of my novel to be critiqued by the group so it’s my turn next week. I joined in a Twitter event I usually miss and was able to follow it as it was happening and take my time to linger over the responses. I check in regularly with a Facebook writers group I’m in, where we support and encourage each. I joined a fun video catch up with some writer friends.

I’m having a go at writing short stories. Short stories are not my thing but I have a couple in the works so I’ll see how I go. I am beta reading an exciting new novel for a critique partner, one that will put me in the right frame of mind for my second novel.

Finally, I am working with my critique group on the final round of edits to my first novel. With a full time job, this project is usually the only thing I have the time and energy to do.

I know there’s a lot going on at the moment and I’ve probably got my head in the sand. But having our heads in the sand is probably the best thing to do if it means we are keeping away from other people.

Before I left for Japan, I resigned from my job and signed up with a temp agency. There is always plenty of temp work in my industry but I don’t know how I’ll go now that everything’s changed.

In the meantime, I choose to live one day at a time. I’m enjoying spending time with my family, writing and engaging with other writers.

I’m in forced quarantine for another week and there’s nothing I can do about it. This gives me the excuse not to make decisions, not to go to work, not to face the outside world.

I know I’m in a state of suspended disbelief and that reality is probably going to hit like a freight train.

But for now, I’m on holiday and I’m going to enjoy every minute.

#amwriting #writerslilfe #writingcommunity #writersinquarantine #6amAusWriters

Posted by naomilisashippen in The Virus Chronicles, 7 comments