Summoned to Perth for a work emergency I find myself mercifully alone at dinner having a famous Malaysian dish and wondering how I just blew 150 on some CDs at the wonderfully old fashioned Dada Records. That is all. Life is great!
My reading has slowed in the last few months, as, on holidays up north, I started listening to weekly ESPN Cleveland Browns podcasts and found myself intrigued by a sensationally bad Browns team. This rapidly led to buying an NFL Game Pass in late October, and downloading 4-5 games a week to an old IPad and watching them on the daily tram to work. It confirmed for me that I enjoy it more when my team is losing than winning, and it was the sporting highlight of my year to see the 0-14 Browns finally win the second last game of the season in the dying seconds, and act like world champions.
Ended up reading Richard Flanagan’s Booker Prize winning The Narrow Road to the Deep North, which was and wasn’t what I expected. The Burma railway work camp and prisoner of war-scenes were graphic and revolting, and the description of surgery being performed with a sharpened spoon nearly made me put the book down for good. It was a terrific book I thought – 4.5 stars.
Had a 100-page go at Ruth Scurr’s John Aubrey – My Own Life, and loved the snippets and diary format, however it was hard to stomach 500 pages of diary entries. Abandoned!
Finally for the year, a wonderful crime gem, translated from the French by Scot Graeme Macrae Burnet. The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau was an odd and charming novel. The guilt-driven paranoia of Manfred; his obsession with routine, and the oddly abrupt and suitable ending made for a perfect few days of entertainment. Just loved it. 5 stars.
Had a great end to an interrupted year by surpassing some modest goals post knee surgery in April. I didn’t really get back to running till July but I was fairly aggressive in building up mileage at Woolgoolga in September, and managed a first half marathon (1:39:00) in October, a 10k best (42:30) in the Zatopek minor grade track race in Nov., and a painful best Coburg parkrun (20:12) in December. Knee and hip issues have intervened though, and yesterday’s hip MRI apparently means stop everything for now. Gah.
Bonnie the wonder dog:
She continues to delight, and yet be completely ravenous at all times. We found out her original birthdate was 21st February 2004, and that she is a Jack Russell x Maltese. So fat!
Kim’s Christmas Presents:
Many books, many running tops and a whopper of an intimidating 3000 piece jigsaw which I hope to show more of later. Overall rating: 8/10.
TV this year:
These are the ones I remember: House of Cards, MadMen, WestWorld, Tudors, Wolf Hall, Ask the Midwife, Last Hope U, Midnight Sun, The Detectorists, Gavin and Stacey, Still Game, Raised by Wolves, Please Like Me, Rosehaven, Stranger Things, Downton Abbey, Fargo, The Killing, The Legacy and other Scandinavian stuff.
Things to look forward to in 2017:
More jumbo Flat Whites; playing old records on my newly fixed turntable; Malaysian trip in Jan; seeing The Bats in late-Jan; 50th birthday dinner in March; another year up at Woopi in August; a ton of books to work through all year; the end of summer (and daily plant watering); some running without knee issues – maybe?
We now have a second dog again, though it nearly didn’t happen. I kept thinking that 13 year old Fergus was a little lonely, or acting weird – barking at non-existent cats on the fence at dusk has been his latest trick. Plus, I wanted another affection outlet too. Nothing too puppy-like; something that wouldn’t commit me to 10 years of care, in case we wanted to do a big 6 month trip overseas.
Fergus is an odd dog. A dog that lunges at any unfamiliar dog just out of habit – a dog we really didn’t socialise properly in 2003 as a puppy because he was coupled with a dog that would fear bark at man and beast alike. But also a dog who loves routine, and is used to playing second fiddle – an all white, no-fuss, mostly ignored second dog.
So, I apply on PetRescue for a second dog, and mostly miss out on small non-shedding dogs because they are snapped up fast, or because we work 5 days, and pensioners don’t. Fair enough. So, my expectations lower each week – now I’m looking at only older dogs, and ones with medical conditions, and even then, I have to get through a meet and greet, and fill in 3 page applications.
After he chomped at another dog in Wonga Park, I started writing applications that mentioned he was “dog reactive”, a buddy within 5 minutes wasn’t going to happen with him. Then we got lucky. We found an older lady who didn’t mind us spending an hour at her house whilst we walked Fergus back and forth in circles, parallel or perpendicular, but never face to face. Sure he barked and tried to snap, but we got them closer and closer. Maria was either convinced we would make it work, or just happy to see the dog gone, but a week later we paid our money online, plonked her into a dog bed in the back seat and Fergus didn’t move a muscle. Not a single problem since – the difference is astounding.
Two days later, the euphoria has worn off a little, and things have become apparent. She’s deaf. She has a big belly and drinks lots of water (Canine Cushings – hello Chloe!) and is ravenous all the time. She is badly in need of some grooming, but has an awesome huge tail which goes crazy. Maria must have fed her a lot because the 5.5kg at the North Melbourne Dogs Home in August is now about 8kg. She can’t get in the dog flap (hey even Fergus can hardly make it nowadays) and boy I’m glad we just redid the decking steps because jumping is not her strong suit. Still, I am loving having another dog around, even if she only gives us a couple of years. I’d love to know her background, but everything about her is made up – her name, and probably her age (12), and no-one seems to know much. I hope you like living with us Bonnie.
Home life is definitely more settled since we gulped, booked our little Chloe in for a lethal injection and eventually went through a rough few days of tears, usually coming out of nowhere at all. I don’t think I was in total denial about the deterioration in her condition, but once the two week countdown had begun, I kept finding reasons why it was too soon to put her down. The last couple of days were complete shockers and I knew it was the right time, and yet even then I was unable to be in the room to face my decision. Poor old Kim took the fall for me that day.
It didn’t take long to feel the burden of her longstanding difficult condition start to lift from my shoulders. The first day I took Fergus out afterwards was an exercise in exhilaration and catharsis for both man and animal; we power-walked distant territory long unavailable to us due to Chloe’s limited speed and range. It was just fantastic. Now we have other issues, like what do we do with the second half of the dog food can, or will he handle a new dog well (or teach it how to lunge at other canines) or even, do we bother with another dog at all? Getting daily PetRescue new-dog alerts is not helping. We’ll see.
I’ve had a rough few weeks really; feeling sick and having almost continuous pain in my back and sides, made worse by eating. The pancreatitis has returned and there is little relief from the random spasms and nighttime wake ups. I’ve dropped 4kgs and am down to 64.5 today. A lot of time things have worsened on weekends meaning I haven’t had to take much time off work really, but each day is a crap shoot.
Reading online is not exactly reassuring and it is sobering stuff to read of chronic pancreatitis bringing reduced life expectancy and the challenges of long term pain management.
I don’t believe I’m an alarmist but I have come to accept the seriousness of my position. Things I’ve taken for granted like holidays away or an income until I choose to retire may no longer be options. I feel lucky that my work are so reasonable and understanding…2016 might put them to the test!
I find myself a little emotional about my possible fate and feel for my wonderful wife who has been a helpful and upbeat presence. It’s not been helped by us deciding to put our 16 year old dog down in the near future.
Stopping alcohol in 2013 was a cinch but this time around, the muffins, pizza, chips, pastries and chocolate are a lot harder. I find myself staring at people in shops and salavating. Wanting to eat but being afraid of the consequences has been the biggest challenge so far.
Let’s see what tomorrow’s x-ray and ultrasound show..I’m not expecting anything but there’s always a chance something might show up.
I don’t know what it was about this year which made me write down some Post-It note goals and want to actually do some of them. I’ve read about people hitting middle age and sensing the tightening of time they have left, which leaves them feverish till the end; ambivalent years in their 20s seeming wasteful in hindsite. Maybe I’ve become one of those people.
Finished a 3000 piece jigsaw puzzle which took me about 5 months in the end. It only cost $1 – a shrewd buy from Kim at an Op shop up north. Choosing a 1615 Belgian civic parade or “Ommegang” ticked all the right boxes (historic, low countries, and fine detail) which generally draw me to a picture. At one point it sat untouched for 6 weeks around Christmas, when I’d done all the easier bits (top 3rd) and had to identify maybe 2000 single pieces and place them in their spots – never connecting them all till right near the end. That was exhausting, and the lighting and uncomfortable seating didn’t help. But I’m really pleased I did it in the end – many cups of herbal tea (and dry biscuits) later. Now I want to go see a real one!
Then War and Peace got read. When I heard the series was coming on TV this year, I knew that my 2013 purchase needed to come off the shelf, and at first I was worried with all the French phrasing interspersed amongst the Russian to English translation, but it was quite a pleasure to read really. Apart from a tedious Epilogue which I think Tolstoy intended to prove his rigour but to a modern reader seemed like the same argument twisted 20 ways to fill pages, it was surprisingly breezy and fun. I didn’t really know what to expect, not an anti-war piece; Tolstoy at pains to point out the fate of the naive, seeking glory or the blind worship of the Tsar, and scornful of those wishing to summarise the result as a series of won or lost encounters. General Kutuzov seemed to be the anti-hero, unpopularly retreating again and again to save the Russian Army, at the risk of being un-Russian but in doing so, gaining eventual victory but lifelong ignomony amongst his peers. Loved the 6 part series on the BBC too. 4.5 stars.
I’ve been running a bit more over the past 12 months thanks to my TomTom watch and it’s auto-upload to Strava. Been really fun seeing the maps and stats and I even started using some of the social features to put me in touch with other locals, since it’s nice to have a running partner on those days you’re less motivated. So, I wanted to log it here that I did my longest ever run a few weeks back after (I think) shrugging off the curse of lifelong shinsplint issues and am able to go around three times a week. I joined a MMM group session around Princes Park and stayed with the slowest runner Jessie for 15k before heading out for quicker 4k to finish off. Such a confidence booster. But I fell awkwardly on some sand on the bitumen and twisted my foot and long story, injured my knee the following week in another 15k run – I will have to start from scratch after 2-3 weeks complete rest. Ah well. I am not too disheartened, even if I had to cancel the 1/2 Marathon planned for Portarlington on 13th Feb. I feel really good about this year though:
Aims for 2016: Coburg (or any) Parkrun 5k in under 20 mins (best so far: 21:35). Multiple 1/2Ms this year, going to try for 1 hour 35 mins. Both are sizeable stretch targets.
Last year I did 93 runs (logged) for 700k, but ramped up significantly in October onwards, so I expect to see a lot more than that for 2016.
Rupert Thomson’s teenage years and events after his father’s death, plus a decades long estrangement from one of his brothers in ‘This Party’s got to Stop” was light relief after that Bach book.
I don’t know why, but I’d taken some comments in the reviews a little more literally than I should have – anticipating a hostage / life threatening situation, I was on edge the whole time I read it. Surprisingly, it ended with some gentle reconciliation. The thing that set it apart from any old recollection was Thomson’s fearless honesty about his feelings towards his siblings, perhaps motivated by guilt at his own behaviour. An easy read – 3.5 stars.
I’ve read a fair bit of history since the last volume of The History of England by Peter Ackroyd, so this time, with “Civil War” (volume 3) I was curious as to how his style holds up. Luckily it wasn’t a struggle – the early section on James I and his miscomprehension of the workings of the English parliamentary system was really interesting, and it was only the rhythmic drudgery of the continual popery accusations and plots in the time of Charles II and James II that it became a little tiresome. Will our current political battles appear similarly when written with sufficient distance? Probably – but with less blood spilt! The constant back and forth battles between Parliament and the king, the need for royal funding, the diplomatic marrying of enemies daughters for peace, but which then gave source to gossip about sympathisers and the possible spread of their religions. It was an exhausting time.
This history shows Oliver Cromwell as the most competent of the lot, trying many governing options in his new republic, but after a decade, losing out to popular sentiment and a certain melancholy for a royal figure – hence the Restoration. Growing up a Catholic myself, until a few years ago, I’d been largely oblivious about the historic distrust of my kind in Britain – all over a little thing called transubstantiation, which I find completely ridiculous, especially when compared to the more radical Calvinist or Presbyterian faiths of the time. Let’s not forget the Levellers too!
I like how Ackroyd wrote a few small chapters to give context to the times and provide relief. The design of Inigo Jones for the lavish masque sets. The observations of Samuel Pepys about Charles II’s mistresses. The self experimentation of Isaac Newton and the growth of the evidence-based Royal Society in 1660. The small chapter about how people walked, talked, drank and pissed. The observations that Worcester and Oxford were the most royalist of cities.
The book ended with the flight of James II to France, and with most of his men defecting to William (of Orange) and Mary. I really have to read about the Georgians soon, as apart from a mad king, I know nothing about them really. 4 stars.
So, I arrive at my hotel in Perth at 8pm after a slog of a work day which started in Melbourne at 7am. I’m eating dinner at the equivalent of 11.30pm so it’s a simple room service Fish and Chips.
I wait 35 mins and a lovely tray with a silver platter arrives..wearily I thank the porter(?) and ready myself. It’s been 11 hours since I ate on the plane and I’m famished. A lift of the lid reveals a plate of French Fries.
I eat the fries and rush to blog about it before I neck myself. It isn’t the first verbal misunderstanding I’ve had lately. I would call my wife to whine about it but she’s amidst her REM sleep right now.
I’ve decided that holidays in July are the way to go; to stand any chance of getting reasonable doses of vitamin D and keeping a smile on my face, I should do gardening and dog-walking in the sun. Plus some reading, and a few more books were read on my hols; not perhaps the Moby Dick or War and Peace I originally had in mind, but some smaller works that were more achievable without me becoming a social pariah in the Lakeside Caravan Park.
The Great Invasion by Leonard Cottrell (1958) was good because it focused purely on the fighting and establishment of a Roman presence in Britain from 47AD up until Agricola’s time in 87AD. Some great pictures and analysis of the battles themselves and speculation on the likely leaders of each legion. It was quite a pleasure to poke through with a cup of tea. 4 stars.
I had booked in to see Rupert Thomson at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival and so I figured beforehand that I should read his latest (Secrecy), which was not subject-wise something I’d normally pick up, but it was interesting enough (and it should be – the guy admitted to writing 10 drafts of it) and in particular the scenes where wax-sculptor Zumbo is being stalked in a remote and deserted village in Italy got my heart pounding. 3.5 stars.
I was waiting at the festival bookshop, trying to work out what I would say to Gerald Murnane if I bought his latest book “A Million Windows” and lined up to have him sign it, when I noticed that Bob Carr and Malcolm Fraser were sitting right next to him. I am poor at most things visually, and have never really spotted (on my own) any public figures previously, so I had a small moment of celebrity worship and gushiness and couldn’t help but tell a festival volunteer nearby what a thrill it was to see them in person. She of course was mildly nonplussed. Stupid, blase generation Y.