Saturday, December 19, 2009

Summer 09

It's frightening to realise that we are about to start our second decade of the 21st century and still the powerbrokers of the corporate world have such a stranglehold on our polititians that no real gain has been made on tackling climate change. What future will there be for our grandchildren and further generations, let alone the dwindling populations of "lesser species"?

But doom and gloom never got Eeyore anywhere, and it's summer time in my little neck of the woods (only the woods kind of disappeared millenia ago if they ever existed here at all!) so it's all about ocean swimming, lying around in hammocks reading books and sipping cold refreshing drinks, and contemplating torturing my body with more aerial acrobatics out on the waves.

We've had a strange windsurfing season so far, with little in the way of decent swell, but some pretty blistering winds. I cannot quite believe it myself, but on Wednesday I was out in 35-40 knot winds, with Thursday being just a bit lighter at 30-35 knots!! Yes the muscles are complaining, but I am still upright, although highly prone to collapsing into said hammock! And no, I haven't been trying any forward loops this week - holding on has been the main achievement..

Every year at this time I pack the camper and take the kids up the beach for a few days camping. We survive on BBQ sausages and cups of hot chocolate, go for long walks with Hazel, snorkel around the reef, and build elaborate sand fortifications, which usually involve burying a kid or two in the process. I'm taking all three this year (they are the neighbours' kids, I haven't suddenly produced a gaggle overnight!) which shall be quite interesting, as the only way I've been able to command total obedience over the youngest little mite is through pure terrorism tactics. Nothing a good dunking can't sort out!!

I'm surprised, but gratified, that the fourteen year old still wants to come, as I thought she'd find a few days up the beach with the younger siblings too, YAWN, boring!! But no, she's as keen as the others to leave mum and dad on their lonesome for a few days and hang out with yours truly. I guess it's the novelty of not being with mum and dad, or the lack of rules, but I feel really fortunate that they want to come, and that their parents trust me with them! OK, there are 4 rules: get up when it's light, go to bed when it's dark, eat when you're hungry, and no swimming when I'm out windsurfing. If the final rule gets broken, they go home! It's worked for the last five years, let's see how we go with our little tearaway....

Now it's time to go up there and get a good campsite before the hoards from Perth arrive..

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Of mice and maggots

It's the time of year when we are visited by the wrath of (insert your preferred deity). Not only must we endure stinking hot humid days when the mercury veers well over 40, often accompanied by a wind straight from the furnaces of hell, but it's also time for the annual mouse plague!

Once the wheat harvest is in those hungry mice leave the fields and attack us in our homes. I wouldn't actually mind so much but they stink! My sensitive nose always knows if there are mice around, which in this case means throwing the karma out with the baby and laying down bait. Now if they didn't leave their filthy droppings everywhere and learnt to smell nicer....

I am also being visited with an attack of the guilts, having only just realised in the last week or so that I haven't seen mum since before my OS trip, which means about 18 months, and that I probably should have gone home for Christmas this year. "Home" is Canberra, and since all the siblings also live on the eastern seaboard there's little likelihood I'll ever be hosting the family gathering. I've now left it too late to get a half decent airfare, and I've already promised the kids next door a camping trip, so sorry mum, maybe next year. We're on the phone to each other all the time anyway...

The garden is thriving since I erected shadecloth over the vege plot and am keeping up the watering. I'm harvesting lots of salad greens, some yummy strawberries, and some equally delicious cucumbers. The tomatoes are continuing to produce, with new plants nearing ripening whilst old ones shrivel. All self seeded too!

Sally and Sheridan came round last weekend to erect the large shade sail, which protects the front verandah without compromising the stunning ocean views. And keeps the interior cooler by 5-10 degrees. I also snaffled an old Holland blind from our local Freecycle group, cut it to size and dressed the bathroom window. This blocks out a massive amount of heat hitting the eastern walls in the morning and makes showering in summer less like enduring a sauna.

Then there's the blowflies. Ah yes those hot easterlies are laden with flies looking for new homes, laying their little eggs in amongst the chook droppings and giving the girls some added protein in the form of huge succulent maggots. I'm actually quite enjoying mucking out the laying boxes to find small handfuls of these delicacies to feed the girls with. I'd rather them than the mice!!

We've actually had an excellent week of windsurfing, with howling winds all week, though the waves have been a bit small.... I've had a few half hearted attempts at trying forward loops, but maxed out winds are perhaps not the best time to try flinging oneself over the handlebars!! Back to watching the video methinks....

I have meanwhile been planning my next Indonesian odyssey, this time a mere month of travel between Jakarta and Bali in March/April next year. I'm keen to visit not only the famous Hindu and Buddhist sites of Java but also some of the less visited temples and (oh surely not!!) climb a few more mountains and volcanos. Java has quite a few to choose from besides Bromo in the east so I've got my work cut out for me to bag some more mountains. Damn, I'm going to have to start hill training again.....

Following from my previous post, we are now being amused on a daily basis by Tony and his bunch of troglodites suffering from severe foot in mouth disease. Did Tony really think he could get Barnaby to pull his head in?? And didn't Tony's mother tell him to think first before he opened his mouth?? It's certainly making me laugh anyway..

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dinosaurs R Us

The week in politics in Australia has been an outrageous outing of the dinosaurs. Now I'm no fan of Malcolm Turnbull, the current leader of the opposition Liberal/ National Party Coalition, but this week he showed himself to be a man of integrity and principle.

Malcolm is loud, rich, immensely intelligent, but an appalling politician. He just can't hide his contempt for those less smart than himself, which unfortunately is most of his colleagues in Parliament House. His supporters have forgiven this flaw in his personality, mainly because there is no one else with his formidable intelligence and wit to counter the "Kevin speak" coming from the Government benches. But this week not only did he go too far, but he upset the dinosaurs within the coalition and they all came out roaring.

The argument is over climate change. Both sides of Parliament went to the last election with a promise to institute some form of carbon trading scheme, but it now appears that the dinosaurs in Malcolm's team don't actually believe that climate change is occurring. Malcolm, on the other hand does, along with quite alot of other people and the majority of scientific evidence, and has staked his leadership on trying to negotiate a workable solution with the government on said trading scheme.

Whatever one thinks of the current bill before the Houses of Parliament (the Greens believe it is a paltry pathetic excuse for a scheme which pays the polluters and has impossibly low targets, and the Liberals think it's just another tax which will cause job losses), it is an attempt to draw a line in the sand. Kev's team, led by the "ice maiden" Penny Wong, want this bit of legislation in hand before they swan off to Copenhagen in a week or so, with exultant cries of 'look at us, we've done something while you lot are still contemplating your navels" or some such pith. Malcolm thought it wasn't a bad idea either: for Australia to present herself on the world stage as a country taking climate change seriously. Poor old Malcolm, he thought this was a bipartisan issue.

Now let me say that I tend to agree with the Greens that the current legislation before the House is more a political exercise in looking to be doing something, than a really serious attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In that light, the reaction of the dinosaurs is even more outrageous.

The dinosaurs are furious because: Malcolm went to his cabinet and they agreed to negotiate with the government on the bill which Penny has spent the last 18 months putting together. Coalition members, led by the gorgeously gravel-voiced "Macca", nutted out over 200 amendments which were then agreed to by Malcolm's shadow cabinet and then discussed over 8 hours in an unholy showdown with the joint party room. Prior to this meeting there had already been serious mutterings of discontent, ever since Malcolm put out the ultimatum that he wouldn't lead a party that didn't take climate change seriously. And for that I take my hat off to him, a man who sticks by his values.

It turns out that a good deal of the mob in the Liberal and National Parties are climate change sceptics. Their anger this week has arisen because in the 8 hour marathon meeting Malcolm misread the numbers supporting the negotiated amendments and declared post meeting to a waiting press phalanx that the coalition would support the amended Bill. Out came the swords....

In interviews with the dissenters, they begin with saying that Malcolm must go because he failed to read the numbers correctly, and that there was not a clear majority of support for the Bill. Of course the Government doesn't need all the Coalition's votes, just enough to get a majority as the Greens aren't voting for it. But because in Australia pollies tend to vote along party lines, a dissent vote will be seen as disloyal to the Party and a career ending move. However, three minutes into any discussion with the angry mob reveals the truth behind the rage: the dinosaurs don't actually BELIEVE in climate change!! It isn't about threats to jobs and industry, they just don't believe it exists!! Go figure!!

My jaunts through the countrysides of Asia has shown me first hand the effects of climate change, where ancient farming communities are experiencing unprecedented floods or droughts. One Vietnamese lady told me that the seasons were so mixed up no-one knew when to plant anymore, the traditional knowledge handed down from generation to generation was no longer reliable. I heard similar stories in Indonesia, both in Sumatra and Sulawesi, that echoed the same sentiments.

Malcolm will probably go down on Tuesday, but I hope to hell they have to forcibly topple him, because it really is refreshing to see a politician standing up for a principle and risking his job for it. Whatever others in the Liberal Party may say, Malcolm is correct in saying that a Party not committed to a policy of greenhouse gas emission reduction is a backward thinking Party and doesn't deserve to be elected. This week has almost certainly put them out in the political wilderness for the next and possibly the following electoral term. Kev must be chuckling with glee.

But my biggest piece of invective goes to that slimy fence sitter Tony Abbott, who last week was a vehement Malcolm supporter and this week has seen where the lie of the land is and has jumped ship into the nay-sayer's camp in order to tip his hat for the top job. Tony, you are a total scumbag!!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

As cities go...

Melbourne's not bad I reckon. Living out in the boondocks of regional Western Australia you'd think I have an aversion to big cities, but that's not the case. I actually have a love/hate relationship with big cities: I love large vibrant cities with an inner city vibe and lots to do, and hate large sprawling cities where the car is king. I love New York, I'm sure I'd hate LA. I hate Perth, but I sure reckon Melbourne has something I like. As for Sydney, well that's complicated by me living there for many years : I hated the place when I left, but recent visits see me enjoying the place again. Not sure I'd live there again though...

That's the crux of the matter I suspect. Visiting a big city with lots of stuff to do and a vibrant cultural scene is really attractive when all you've got to do is enjoy it, rather than have to knuckle down to a fulltime job to pay the exorbitant accommodation costs involved in living in said city. After a while I'd probably tire of living in NYC but it wouldn't happen overnight. Whereas Perth?? Like just what has it got going for it??

Anyway, back to Melbourne. I had a short visit last weekend in an attempt to catch up on a bit of medical education and had great plans to get a few cultural fixes while I was at it. Or at least go and see a few alternative films which our local redneck cinema is unlikely to screen. I stayed in the city in a nice little apartment and ventured out daily across the river to Southbank, past Crown Casino to attend my classes. And the weather was glorious - a rarity for Melbourne at any time of year - with blue skies and temperatures in the mid 30s, lots of people enjoying alfresco coffees and numerous lycra clad cyclists riding by.

The city skyline is an interesting mix of architectural styles which I personally find not only pleasant on the eye but also thought provoking, as if the burghers in Council have deliberately decided to challenge the residents to some sort of conversation about the built environment. I find that refreshing, regardless of whether I actually like the building or not, the fact that the city allows architects to create something different from the stock standard glasswalled skyscraper is to be applauded. And then there's the older planned streets of the CBD, with their grids of streets, lanes and alleys, where the graffiti is now highly valued "street art", and the boutique shopping is second to none.

But I suffered dreadfully from jetlag, and the intensive classes tired me out, so nary a movie did I make. But I did visit the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition which was well worth the effort, though its interactive life sized models of da Vinci's inventions would bore the socks off any kid more used to the bells and whistles to be had in any Scitech installation. Those of us who can enjoy a history lesson, an art lesson, and a few gory models of dead human beings and their various organs will enjoy the experience.

I'm sure I've been seduced by the weather. Fact is, Melbourne is glorious when it's not overcast and blowing an icy wind straight off the antarctic. Think I'll stick with my beachhouse in the midwest for the time being, even if today we have yet another rainy front lashing the coastline. With all this wacky weather, for all I know in a few years time I might be changing my mind!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Institutionalised rascism

Well this one's a bit of a rant, coming from a conversation this week with one of my work colleagues. I work for an Aboriginal Medical Service, with most of the staff and the majority of clients being Aboriginal. Now everyone knows about the apalling health statistics, about the 17 year gap between life expectancy in Aboriginal people as compared to the non Aboriginal population. And much of this gap is due to huge shortcomings in housing, education, employment etc, what we call the basic determinants of good health. The transgenerational effects of the forceful removal of children continues to cause ongoing trauma within the community.

Working where I do I get to see not only the bad side, but also the upside. I know many Aboriginal people who have a good education, good jobs, own their own houses and still have strong cultural links within their community. The depth of support for those who have little by those who have successfully negotiated their way in mainstream society puts most white philanthropic organisations to shame. I'm proud to know these people and to call some of them friends.

Anyway, there I am having a conversation with one of our reception staff, a smart 21 year old lass who tells me she was the only Aboriginal student at the local state high school in her year 11 to do the tertiary entrance stream. In fact, whilst doing her year 11 exams she was asked why she was there!! Now I might have been asking why she was the only Aboriginal person there!!

It seems that at the local high school Aboriginal students are discouraged from mainstream subjects. They are pushed into vocational subjects rather than encouraged to aim higher. One of her younger sisters recently got into trouble at school because she refused to be segregated. When the teacher asked her to leave the class to join an English class for Aboriginal students, this quite obviously bright and capable student questioned the teacher as to the reason why she needed to leave. She asked the teacher directly whether there was any concern about her marks, whether she was failing in any way to keep up with the other students in the class. The teacher had to admit that there were no concerns at all, but that the policy of segregation needed to be adhered to. (Of course I doubt the word segregation was used, but this is exactly what it is, one class for the blacks and another for the rest). The girl refused and ended up in trouble with a note home to the parents. Luckily for this girl she has a father who is an adamant advocate of good education for his kids, so I can only hope that sanity will prevail and this kid can get on with her education.

Of course literacy amongst Aboriginal kids is a huge problem, and there may well be a need for special English programs for kids with special needs. But to target kids on the basis of their skin colour??? Well that's rascism, alive and kicking in Geraldton State High Schools in 2009. Shame on them!!!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Who turned the oven on?

OMG!! That first blast of summer is one hell of a shock. Why only on Monday a cold front came through and it got awfully cold and I even lit the fire. It only lasted a few hours and I was out windsurfing later in the arvo, but even so....

"Fan forced oven" hot winds arrived with a vengeance yesterday, burning the tomatoes and shrivelling the greens, a quick lesson in what I am in for this summer. Should I really persist with the shade tunnel idea, or submit to the inevitable? At any rate it's time to turn on the reticulation and start my gardening days at 6am if I'm to beat the heat. Of course the upside is more time swinging in the hammock on the verandah reading books! Not much else to do when the mercury tops 40!

The heat will only be with us for a couple of days, before we revert down to the low 30s and the sea breezes kick in. The onset of this weather pattern of highs followed by troughs, means the windsurfing season has well and truly arrived and it's time for some serious fun. Is that an oxymoron??

Now the beauty of my part time work arrangements become apparent, with only two days a week when I work till 4:30pm, the other afternoons I have off. Lots of time for windsurfing means I can still cycle in to work as well. Not sure how I'll go on the really hot days though....

well, must get back to my novel in the hammock......

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Purple moments

All that rain has produced a bumper crop of mulberries this year, huge succullent berries the size of a matchbox car, and more than enough for me, the bobtail lizards, the chooks, the kids next door and any insects and birds that want a feed. I am toying with the idea of getting George across the road to show me how to make mulberry wine but meanwhile I am just gorging myself daily. Last week me and the Bradley kids made mulberry tarts, with lots of honey, which then got demolished pretty quickly with huge lashings of vanilla icecream. But with the kids away for a week the tree is groaning and has taken on a rather pleasing weeping habit. A directive has gone out that on their return they must hightail it round here for a mulberry picking session, otherwise known as a purple feast!!

The broccoli has yielded, although towards the end I was consuming some protein along with the flowerettes, and has now been pulled up and fed to the always appreciative chooks. The enthusiasm with which the girls got into stripping those aphid infested leaves was so enjoyable to watch. I just wish I had more to give them...

I recently got another disused corrugated iron water tank and after cutting it down with a grinding disc I now have three more tubs for raised garden beds. This will make a total of eight raised beds altogether, probably about enough to grow enough food on a rotating basis to keep the organic production viable. Currently I am filling the bottoms with all the extra weedy growth that the winter rains have produced, and these will be solarised for a few months to kill any seeds before being covered with soil etc for planting next autumn. It'll mean some of my other beds can take a break or have a green manure crop sown to improve the soil. But meanwhile they are in full production, with three different varieties of tomato fruiting, lots of snow peas and asparagus to eat straight out of the garden, and a continuous supply of small silver beet leaves from the seedlings I only planted 2 weeks ago. I've also planted cucumber and eggplant, and my sole zucchini plant is still supplying lots of fruit without succumbing to mildew as it usually does. I must be doing something right afterall!

This year I've planted some strawberries, in an old wheelbarrow whose bottom is rusting out. I've resisted strawberries for years, mainly as they need a fair amount of water and I've never been home enough to keep up the requisite required. But now that I don't have a job that sees me gallivanting around the countryside every few weeks I can indulge in such luxuries. Can't wait for the first fruit..

The passionfruit vine which I'd been nursing back to health has finally been binned. I got sick of pulling out suckers from the root stock, particularly when they started coming up 2 metres away from the parent plant. Enough molly coddling; out it went, and a new one put in nearby. The new one is getting special treatment at present, including liberal soakings with seaweed tea to get those roots established, but that won't last forever. Because the summers are so hot and unforgiving here, it's important to get plants to establish deep roots through heavy infrequent watering. After the initial establishing period this means pulling back to twice a week for veges and fruit, and weekly for the natives. After a year, the natives are on their own, as by then they should have reached the water table (which is quite shallow here) and can fend for themselves. I have a eucalypt which hit the water table last summer, since then it's gone into overdrive, while it's nearby mates continue to struggle. Survival of the fittest is what it's about...

Twice a week watering won't be enough if I want to grow veges right through the summer months, something I will be doing this year for the first time. So I'm planning on erecting shade cloth and windbreaks to retard the drying effects of a forty knot easterly at 40 degrees celcius ambient temperature - a regular occurrence from November through to March/April - and give my plants a chance at survival. That's my job for the next few weeks, in between that mammoth bougainvillea job I was mentioning in an earlier post.....

Since I've been banging on about my garden, I thought I ought to start putting a few piccies up. The little point and shoot is perfect for this so I shall be happy snapping and posting them as I go. You'll find them here.

It has been a sobering week internationally, with the tsunami in Samoa and the earthquake in Padang. Having been in West Sumatra for a month last year, having met so many wonderful people, I feel personally sad for their loss. I also met a number of the staff working for Surfaid, a non profit organisation which has been working on health issues in the region for about a decade, and who are heavily involved in the current humanitarian effort post earthquake. I'd urge anyone who wants to make a donation to do so

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

More than I can chew

Deciding to tackle the bougainvillea and actually doing it are two quite remote things. In full protective gear I began the assault on Saturday morning, and by lunchtime had to admit that perhaps the tortoise approach might be a better option. No hiring a skip and knocking over the job in a weekend, this is one enormous tangle of skin lacerating jungle the size of a large 4x4, interwoven through the pergola and threatening to take half the house down with it. Nope, a careful snip and saw here and there over the next few weekends may be the only way to save the plant, its shade effect and the fixtures. Meanwhile I get RSI chopping it up small enough to send off in the wheelie bin. I'm sitting here looking out the window at the behemoth and I can assure you I am not thinking good karma right now! The aphids are sucking away, but they seem to be surrounded by small insects with wings which I am hoping are the wasps that like to lay their eggs in aphids so the babies can feed off them. This of course means curtains for the aphids, RIP. I just love nature when it's in harmony, especially since I got to harvest my first broccoli this week. I can't even describe how fantastic it is to make an omelette using just veges and herbs from the garden, and of course the eggs are home grown too. My antioxidant levels must be sky high!!

We have had even more rain, with yesterday being very unusual for Geraldton where it literally rained all day and half the night. For a town that is almost famous for only raining at night, this is seriously inconvenient as I have to find a raincoat, and even a brolley!! I already have 2 full rainwater tanks but I could easily have filled a third one this year, and apparently there's more rain coming! Then I discover that there are two dead whales washed up on our local beaches, plus the one in Perth, so perhaps there's something weird going on.

I have started watching windsurfing videos, in preparation for the start of the season. I am particularly enamoured with the one about forward loops! This is going to become an obsession this summer and I am threatening to take Kate along as well. More girls looping the better I say! Many of my friends are heading off to Exmouth and Gnarloo to catch the early season winds up north, but I'm just going to have to wait it out here - to be perfectly honest I couldn't be bothered with a trip north at the moment.

Besides, I've broccoli to harvest!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sucker alert!!

After a couple of days of glorious weather we are back to more brutal westerly fronts and yet more rain. Can't believe I'm saying this but I am just so over the rain now. I don't want any more storm fronts, I want the weather to swing into big highs over the ocean and nice sea breezes. Yeah I know it's only September, but there's great swell and I want to be out there enjoying it.

Admittedly, I have seen a few keen souls out at St Georges in the last few days, but it's dead onshore and not great for either jumping or waveriding. And it's cold, grumble grumble........

Back in the garden those warm days have brought out everyone's favourite sap sucking chaps, the aphids. In my "good karma" garden I resist all negative thoughts about these visitors, simply snipping off the heavy infestations and feeding them to four highly appreciative chickens. So far the aphids are only eating the leftover chinese cabbage, which had gone to seed and I had kept in there to create just such a decoy. They are welcome to the cabbage, just leave the broccoli for me please!!

Unfortunately I planted my broccoli seeds rather late this year, so if I get any crop at all that isn't aphid infested I'll be thrilled. I've been using home made seaweed tea to keep up the plants' resistance, and of course encouraging the ladybugs, who are having a feast this year amongst all the excess greenery (aphids will eat any fleshy plant, they appear quite partial to dandelions, and aphids are a ladybirds' favourite food!). The broccoli are forming nice flowerettes, and some are close to harvest, let's just cross our fingers that the "good karma" works!!

Elsewhere in the garden I've got tomato plants at all stages, including harvesting some Romas, I've parsley self seeded everywhere, and the asparagus shoots get eaten raw within seconds of being picked. Yummo!! I've just planted some swiss chard, and some more zucchini seeds, whilst another zucchini plant is already producing nice healthy fruit. The sweet potato plants look happy, and the grapefruit I put in last winter is flowering like there's no tomorrow.

The cherry guava is developing lots of fruit this year, helped on with lots of moo poo from Kate and Curls' Dexters. The passionfruit hasn't really recovered from last summer, and I should probably just pull it out and start again - it seems to spend more energy putting out suckers from the root stock than on growth from the graft - but I'm hoping to nurture it through and see if it'll fruit. And the mulberry, which gets zero attention except an occasional severe pruning, is putting on so much fruit it's going to be a bumper season. Very purple and very messy, but oh sooo enjoyable!!

The big garden challenge for the next week is a monster! I've decided to cut back the bougainvillea by about a half, since it now extends up to the roofline and halfway along the length of the house. This will mean long sleeves and trousers, long leather gloves, and heavy duty protection against paper wasps - though the nest does look dormant/empty at present!! I'm also hiring a 6 cubic metre skip for the garbage disposal because with 2 inch spikes this is one plant I don't keep on site as mulch.

If you haven't heard from me in a month, send in the SAS!!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Preparing for the season

Ah yes, it's that time of year again, when the final vege crop for the year goes in and all thoughts turn seaward!

Geraldton has fierce summers, so it's a brave gardener who tries to grow crops over the traditional summer months. By November the first of the blistering easterlies will be upon us, a phenomenon that can frizzle a shallow rooted plant in less than 4 hours. But I've decided to be brave (perhaps foolhardy?) this year, and helped by windbreaks and shadecloth I'm going to attempt to grow some veges year round. I may be deluding myself, but hey, it'll be a challenge!

Today I packed the car. That meant rigging up the racks for hanging the boards up near the roof, restringing the boom with new outhaul rope, tightening up the bolts on the mast feet and checking through the wetsuits for wear and tear. And making a thorough check to ensure everything is in and ready to go, it isn't all that uncommon for me to head off to Coro on the first day of the season having forgotten a mast or a boom!!

Yesterday Kate and I went to the Chapman Valley Show, and on the way back we noticed a light southerly. Immediately we had our serious wind examiner's faces on, analysing the amount of whitecap formation and tree branch swaying to work out whether it was enough for us to brave the cold wind. Kate's really hanging out, having got herself a new Stone board she's aching to get wet!

And my challenge for this year? A forward loop of course!!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Getting organised

It's crazy really, that I can get to my age and still not have a plan to do the housework!

Let me explain. Life is just too short to spend doing mundane chores like cleaning, vaccuuming, ironing etc when there's more interesting things to do like gardening, or other outdoor activities like diving, windsurfing, skiing, cycling, walking etc. Trouble is, there's just so many chores and so little time, and I have to do it at some stage, either that or live in a hovel (though some of my friends already think I do).

So for the last 20 odd years I've just managed to find a little time here and there to do a bit of housework, interspersed with a few yard chores and whatever else I'm doing. But I'm neither consistent nor persistent, so mostly it's too little too infrequently. Yeah OK, I live in a hovel!

I'm a list girl. I write big lists of all the things I need to do, for the year, for the month, for the week, for the day. The lists are always too long, and rarely do I complete everything on the list. Actually the only list I excel at is the one itemising what I'll pack when I go on holiday, in fact I usually manage to add a few extras onto that one!!!

Trouble is, writing down all the chores seems to make the whole thing overwhelming. I have ALL THAT to do before Christmas? And go windsurfing as well??

So it came to me in a moment of pure inspiration that just maybe if I organised myself a bit better I might have a chance of completing my chores. I am kind of wondering just how I hadn't stumbled on this possibility some time ago, like did I think I was some kind of superhero? God forbid if I'd ever had kids.

I wrote a timetable for the week, slotted in times when I'd do house chores, yard chores, yoga, learn Indonesian, study medicine, walk the dog, spend time on my photographs, and numerous other mundane intricacies of the modern working girl (not that sort of working girl!!), and even found time to socialise and - shock horror - take on an extra session at work!! I can't quite believe it myself, but I'm already less stressed and have achieved more in the last few days than I've achieved in weeks.

And all because I sat down with a pen and ruler and mapped out my day.

But let's get one thing straight - there will never be any time found in my life for ironing!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Reality Bites

I expect that title to not be the only time I use it! Returning home after a wonderful two weeks of fun in the snow is indeed a downer, but I'm actually feeling pretty relaxed about work at the moment and seem to be able to maintain a happy distance emotionally, which is quite a new experience for me. I hope it lasts.

The first sight to greet me on returning home was a mountain of weeds, or rather, it was a bit difficult finding the driveway!! And where was the front door? Almost every spare patch of dirt is covered in metre high, happily flowering luscious greens, so the chooks and the compost patch have not been neglected this week! Unfortunately some have set seed already, devious aren't they?

The vege patch is doing well, once weeded of all those extra intruders, and there are a number of tomato plants which have self seeded, am looking forward to seeing what variety they are. The chooks have quadrupled in number whilst I was away. No, not a case of immaculate conception, but the neighbours are about to start renovations so their girls have come over the fence for a few months whilst Alan, Rhonda and the kids move into a daggy rental up the road.

Hazel has thankfully at last settled down. The holiday has perhaps taught her that I will be returning afterall, but I also think she gets such quality time hanging out with Sally and Sheridan, including lots of running around on their bush block, that it's less traumatic being away from me. Anyway, the trips down to the beach via the school busstop every morning seem to have ceased. In fact I don't think she leaves the bed all day when I head off to work!!

The weekend was glorious, with warm sunny days in the low 20s, t-shirt weather in the garden, and the beach clear of weed with turquoise blue waters. Perfect for long walks in the evening. Can't believe a week ago I was rugged up in the snow!

I'm looking forward to getting back on the bike this week, a complete impossibility last week due to a swollen knee courtesy of a mountain, zero visibility, a crash, and twenty four hours travel just to get home. I'm pretty sure it's nothing serious, since I've been back doing long walks over the weekend and weaning myself off the anti-inflammatories. Boy it's hard realising you aren't bullet-proof!!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Bad weather ends trip

Well you can't have a ski trip to New Zealand without a wee bit of bad weather. I've one day left and it's not looking good for getting a final blast on the slopes. Both nearby fields are closed today which means that the retailers in town are rubbing their hands with glee and the video shops are doing a roaring trade. But by 11 the rain has eased and the sun is out and it's quite pleasant to go for a walk along the lake edge looking over to the nearby snow capped peaks.I am sorely missing my camera, as the scenery is drop dead gorgeous and there is no way that my little point and shoot can do it credit. I try anyway, including a few arty shots with the built in macro setting. Next time I'm bringing the "proper" camera!And there will be a next time. These two weeks have been awesome, with mostly excellent weather, great snow and no crowds at all. It turns out that these are the quietest two weeks of the season, between the end of NZ holidays and the start of the peak ski month of August. I am determined to return again same time next year, so if anyone wants to join me, I'm now officially on the lookout for ski buddies for 2010.

Wanaka itself is a lovely little town, much bigger than last time I was here but still retaining its friendly small town charm, unlike its brash neighbour down the road at Queenstown. From the ski shop staff who were always friendly and helpful, to my shy but generous ski instructor Lara, who kindly invited me up to the Oakridge Estate to use their pool and spa for free and whose flatmate, another of the ski shop staff, drove me home again. And the two Treble Cone bus drivers: Thierry with his infectious gallic laugh, an ex ski instructor only too willing to take us for a few runs on the mountain and throw in a few tips for free, and kind Ken, an ex-shearer who when he heard I came from Geraldton asked me if I windsurfed; those boys got us up and down that muddy mountain road every day and were kind enough to let me keep my skis in the bus overnight.

I'm looking forward to coming back next year, just got to stop spending money in the meantime!!


Saturday, July 25, 2009

How to spend money: Lesson One

Go on a ski holiday. Despite my best efforts to get the best deals : cheapish flight, early bird price on the lift tickets, staying in a dorm at the backpackers, and the 10 day bus ticket up the mountain, there's just no getting away from the fact that skiing costs money! Luckily, it's NZ dollars, which are weaker than a soggy sponge so the pain isn't quite so bad.

Day one I turn up on the slopes to discover that my skis are hopelessly outdated and I'd enjoy life just that bit better with a pair of skis that are easier to turn and therefore easier to control. Definitely an issue when hurtling down a slippery mountain at high speed.

No problem, they have demo skis so I sign up for a pair and have a lovely day, but then I have to give them back, bummer!! Come and buy a pair they say, but no, I'm not buying skis, much simpler to rent and keep up with the improvements that way.

Day 2 it's windy and rainy and the mountain is closed. I have a day off. Day 3 there's 5-6cm of fresh snow and it's beautiful clear skies and it's my first lesson. First way to spend money: get private lessons. Aside from the cost (offset by said saggy economy) there are only pros to this spend; my technique improves dramatically and I work out how to use my rather old skis quite adequately.

Day 4 sees 20cm of fresh snow and appalling visibility. I discover that it is possible to get snow sick! Similar to motion sickness, where without visual orientation I get hopelessly dizzy and wobble all over the place, that's when I'm actually capable of moving without my head spinning!! Luckily I am with my instructor, who manages to get me off the mountain and we finish the lesson doing exercises on the beginner slope. She also casually mentions that my skis are too long and I'd benefit from shorter more modern skis. That does it, I'm off to the shop to hire skis for the rest of the trip! Another expense.....

After lunch the clouds clear and I get 2 hours on beautifully fresh snow before the skis get retired to their new role as an interior design item somewhere round the house. Back in Wanaka I visit the shop and order hire skis, planning to bring my boots in for fitting in the morning.

Day 5 (Day 4 on the slopes) I discover that my boots are stuffed!! OK they are over 15 years old and the plastic has deteriorated such that the base plates on the heels have completely broken away. A quick boot substitution for the day sees me on my bus and up the mountain but it is now time to bite the bullet and purchase myself a new set of boots.

Unlike skis, boots are personal. A boot that fits properly makes all the difference to both comfort and ski control. There is no way I would hire a boot, ever!! But the lovely boys back at the shop will refund me my ski hire if I buy some boots so it's not so bad afterall!! And the sweet Japanese chap who measures and fits me has 20 years experience and really knows his stuff! A true professional, I am in capable hands. And the best thing?? My new boots are about 200% more comfortable than my old ones, and that's only on the first day!!!! And they don't half look flash as well.

Day 6 (Day 5 skiing) is my first day in the boots and my first lesson with Lara with both new boots and skis. She is suitably impressed and after a few exercises on piste we hit the lumpy stuff. All my style immediately goes out the window as I somehow manage to get down almost vertical slopes in thick soft snow. I am instructed not to notice that we are now on a black run, I am already so freaked out such trivial details hardly matter. Apparently I do extremely well and even manage to regain some style. Boy I'm really starting to get this palaver!!

I take it fairly easy in the afternoon, just doing a little off piste practice as I have all of tomorrow to practice before my next lesson Monday. I'm enjoying the lessons so book up for a few more : hey it's only money right?? And when I get back to Wanaka I make one more purchase, again recommended by my instructor.

This one's a no brainer (pun intended) : I buy a helmet!!

More photos added

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bad weather day

Day two in southern NZ and the weather has closed in and closed the mountain. Hopefully this means a big dump of fresh snow, and cross fingers it only lasts a day.

Meanwhile, down here at the lake it's a cold rainy blustery day, gee it must be winter! You forget about this weather living in the Mediterranean climes of Geraldton when even the winter rains aren't that unpleasant, but at least I'm prepared with all the winter woollies.

Today the jetlag has hit proper. Perhaps the adrenaline of yesterday's rush masked it all, but after a fitful sleep last night, I was glad to return to bed for a few hours after finding out my trip up the mountain was off. At last I dragged myself out (at 6:45am WA time!!) and hit the shops for not one, but two, double shots of espresso. I now feel half normal and that caffeine headache has disappeared for a while.

Ellie, one of the couple I trekked Tiger Leaping Gorge with in China last year, is campervanning around the South Island and is meeting up with me for a few days skiing. But first I'm off to explore the cinema, apparently an institution around here with a bar, wacky seating and an old fashioned intermission. Can think of worse ways to spend an evening!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Jelly Legs

Day one. Slept in! Woke at 8:10 and had to hightail it straight to the shop to pick up my newly tuned skis and jump on the 8:30 bus up the mountain. Almost forgot my lift pass so had to sprint back to the hostel for that. Exhausted, hungry and haven't even got onto the snow yet!

The day is clear blue skies, no wind, just glorious. Treble Cone has big long runs and a spectacular view down to Lake Wanaka and its many islands. You just have to stop a while and admire the view.First run was a little wobbly after five years away, so I kept to the baby run. Some friendly Kiwi chap made some disparaging comments about my ancient skis - well at least they're parabolics - then proceeded to suggest that I snaffle a demo ski for the day, off the chaps by the chairlift. So yours truly spent the day skiing in the latest and greatest, and well, tomorrow I've got to go back to mediocre!!
Since I'm here for a while I just stuck to the nicely groomed blue trails, most of which have a gradient close to 45 degrees or more so hardly baby slopes. Only had one spectacular, ski losing, crash, but mostly discovered that my ski legs are in fact still there.

I called it a day around 3pm, when the legs started feeling like jelly. I've done some yoga stretches and am all ready for tomorrow, hopefully with enough time to breakfast first!!

Photos so far

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Jetlagged in wonderland

What a mammoth effort to get over here to Wanaka in New Zealand. First stop, after a final massage from Brad, was Perth, where a quality 24 hours was spent with my mate Naomi and her two mostly gorgeous children. The selfishness and temper tantrums of a 3 year old would definitely put most people off having kids altogether. Luckily they went off to sleep and we enjoyed a roast chicken over a nice bottle of red wine and fell asleep watching Le Tour de France.

The second leg involved taking the 6pm plane to Melbourne, then finding a sleeping spot for a few hours before my flight to Queenstown in the morning. Unfortunately they wouldn't let me check the luggage the whole way through so there was me, on a wooden bench down the backend of Jetstar check-in, trying to get a bit of shut eye. Despite the annoying shriek of the XRay machine conveyer belt, which they could have turned off given the terminal was closed overnight!, I actually got some sleep. Those months in SE Asia have really worked wonders!

Once checked in I went through customs and bought myself a simple point and shoot camera. I just couldn't justify bringing the usual SLR rig with me on this trip, let alone trust myself to not smash it hurtling down a mountain around here. It's aqua green, just bigger than a credit card and doesn't take bad photos either. Once I work out all the buttons, I'll start uploading them.

Arriving in Queenstown it's a necessity to have a camera as the scenery is gobsmackingly gorgeous. The plane flies along the river valley, at the same level as the nearby snow covered peaks and lands in the middle of this wonderland. Welcome to NZ!

From Queenstown there's a bus service to Wanaka, but due to a delay departing Melbourne because of a late passenger, we missed the connection. Luckily for me there were 3 of us in the same dilemma so we ended up sharing a cab over the Crown Range to Wanaka. Gorgeous blue skies, sun, and snow capped peaks, what a lovely trip. I'm now staying at the backpackers and catching up on a little sleep.

My biggest concern is that I'm going to sleep in in the morning and miss my bus ride up the mountain. And that the time difference makes watching Le Tour almost impossible, bummer!!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Harvesting chicken greens

This time of year my garden is a gorgeous green, full of healthy happy plants and soil pretending to be loam. There's even the occasional earthworm to be found munching through the decaying bougainvillea mulch that coats most of the garden paths.

Trouble is, most of those healthy happy greens are known in gardening parlance as weeds! But I prefer to see them in a different light, in my attempt to create harmony and positive karma in my largely organic garden. You see labelling these opportunistic chaps as unwanted intruders is a largely negative concept, which may have well, largely negative repercussions.

Having done some reading about some of the more wacky gardening communities around the world, like Findhorn in northern Scotland, there seems to be some value in respecting all plants and animals that visit your patch of earth, even the less savoury ones that some people call pests. Instead of creating monocultures, allowing shared use of the resources seems to lead to healthier, more productive soils and gardens. It's a challenging concept, but hey, I kind of like getting a bit weird from time to time!

My neighbour, who heads up quite a large local NGO involved in climate change, water management and agricultural issues, seems to think that the best approach is poison. This seems to be a very non organic and destructive way to view things. I prefer to find a useful alternative, with the emphasis being on the word useful.

So I harvest my "excess greens", being those plants growing in places where I'd rather they weren't, and using them as chook food or garden compost. The real challenge is keeping up with the burgeoning supply that threatens to swamp my paths and verges. It's easy work, with the ground being soft from all the rain, and as I harvest I think positive thoughts about how useful these little plants are in their next job of yellowing up my eggs, or providing nutrients to my impoverished sandy patch.

And just maybe I'll get them harvested before they flower and set seed, as much as I appreciate them, there's just no room for reproduction on my patch chaps!!

Another trip on the cards

Good old New Zealand for putting out the bunting for my first ski trip for years! The recent snow should mean I'll be in for some awesome fun on the slopes at Treble Cone in 2 weeks time. I've lost the required centimetres from around my butt so I fit nice and snugly in the bright red bunny suit without any fear of ripping a seam on a difficult descent. Must remember to pack the matching lippy!! Who ever said skiing wasn't about looking good??

Following this trip I'll have to spend a few months rebuilding the coffers, but then along comes an Air Asia deal too good to refuse and well, Indonesia here I come - again!

This time I'm flying into Jakarta and out of Bali, with the plan to explore the heavily populated island of Java, and yes climb a few volcanos. I'm not going till March next year ( something to do with work commitments and holiday entitlements) but have already realised that one month is just not going to be enough time to do the sort of exploring that I like to do. Plus it'll be the tail end of the wet season which might make some climbs out of the question due to mud slides and such nasties that seem to occur far too often due to excessive deforestation.

So I have to hit the books and internet and start researching just what places I really really want to visit.

I have also done something really stupid, having booked my flights in and out of Indonesia to make a total of 31 days, meaning I'll need to get a 60 day visa instead of the 30 day visa on arrival. Because the day one arrives is Day 1, regardless of time of day, a visa really only lasts 29 days. So that's an extra 30 bucks for two extra nights, hardly going to break the bank, but annoying all the same!

It also means scrubbing up on the Bahasa Indonesian, which I'm looking forward to returning to, like a familiar old friend. Helps with some of the websites too, though the Jakarta slang on the forums can be a bit difficult to navigate. Nothing a bit of practice can't remedy...

Am not mentioning anything to Hazel just yet......

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Travel as a solo female

When a girl reaches her forties she just disappears! No longer do men turn and look, or try and catch your eye, it's more a momentary glance as they pass just in case there's something living under that pile of old skin!

But the great thing is, it doesn't really matter. Not being the object of every man's desire has alot of advantages as well, particularly when it comes to overseas travel. A woman of my age is obviously a mother, or even a grandmother egads!, so is treated with a deal of respect that no nineteen year old western chick is going to get no matter how conservatively they dress.

Ah yes dress codes. Go to a religious country and you are expected to dress conservatively. But add in hormones to that mix and well, sex wins every time. A young girl is hard wired to attract a mate and she just can't help putting out all sorts of signals that attract men to her like flies. It's the little gestures, the way the clothes are put together, the makeup, the whole ensemble. Us older ladies, well I think although we dress well, there isn't that imperative to find a mate and it shows in the way we communicate on a daily basis.

Now for all you young girls who may be deeply offended by the idea that you are ruled by your hormones, I can only say that with over twenty years of keen observation of human behaviour and an examination of my own behaviour during my younger years that we really aren't much removed from the great apes afterall. You'll laugh about it when you get to my age, but right now, well you take yourself far too seriously!

Which gets me onto the other great advantage of age, which is that you become comfortable with yourself. Both with your expanding waistline and with who you are and why you're here. Those are things you grapple with in your twenties, and often one of the reasons many people travel in that decade of their life. That'd be just before they find a mate and settle down to make their own little apes...

Being comfortable within your own skin means being open to many opportunities when travelling that aren't always there when younger. Initiating conversations with local people, of either sex, is much easier as an older, confident woman than it was as a younger self obsessed lass. And both women and men appear to have ease in initiating conversations with me as well. Invitations to people's homes don't feel threatening, and nor do offers of help from men. I'm not a threat to anyone, I appear interested in their lives in a genuine way, and I find doors opening everywhere as a result. And a good experience isn't ruined by a furtive grope!!

There is always the issue of the opportunistic male who has a go at getting the leg over. They've heard that us western women have sex before marriage and they know someone who managed to get a lay from a german/japanese/insert your chosen nationality tourist so why not give it a try? Having a bit of age and experience behind you allows an older woman to firstly pick up the cues pretty early and secondly, manage to respectfully rebut (or enjoy if that's your bent) the advance when he at last gets up the courage to ask. At my age I'm flattered, and find these occasional episodes amusing rather than offensive. It's only if they continue to persist that I'll get annoyed, but that rarely happens.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not a fat, sexless, wrinkled old crone. I'm perfectly capable of enjoying a good romp when and if the opportunity presents. But concerns over my own attractiveness to the opposite sex doesn't rule me in a way that affects my interactions with others when travelling, and I think this is something that makes travel as an older solo female so much easier.

I've also noticed that solo female travellers in my age group aren't uncommon in many of the countries I've travelled in. Many older local women seem to travel alone, to visit other family members, or to take products to markets, so there are often other women my age on the buses/boats/trains with whom I have had very interesting conversations. We don't stand out as such an enigma, unlike the young western woman who any self respecting person knows should be chaperoned!!

I'll never forget travelling through Pakistan as a 25 year old woman, dressed in a shalwar chemise with my head covered in a shawl, doing my best to behave like a good conservative girl. Arriving in villages we were the only women at all on the streets, so we stuck out like sore thumbs. Swimming in a hotel pool in Lahore the men in our group chaperoned us up the ladder to prevent us being goosed by the gawking local lads, and a walk through the markets in Peshawar ended in a rather nasty grope, a chase to apprehend the grinning perpetrator, and an embarrassed young me insisting that I didn't want them to stone him for what he had done. He was ordered to kiss my feet and declare he was my brother, supposedly a declaration of respect. The overall experience reinforced why I'd felt more comfortable travelling in a group in that country, and coloured my perceptions of those people for a long time. Only as an older woman do I understand that I was a victim of both my age and the local perceptions of women travelling in those areas, and that it was nothing more than opportunistic behaviour from sexually repressed young men. What offended me deeply then, is now just an amusing anecdote, and if someone groped me again (I should be so lucky!) I'd probably punch em out and forget about it. But only after I'd ordered them to stone him to death!!

Now that would make a mighty fine story at a dinner party....

Friday, May 22, 2009

And then it rained

Geraldton is blessed with glorious weather for most of the year. The summers are hot and dry and very windy which makes it the perfect spot for a windsurfing tragic like myself. Yeah, some of the locals complain about the wind, but the alternative is 40 degrees celcius or higher, and humidity to boot. A blistering easterly off the inland, complete with its swarms of flies is akin to sitting in a fan forced oven, not something one likes to experience too often over the summer!! For some bizarre reason this usually coincides with Boxing Day, a day that regularly scores 47 degrees of mercury.

Anyway, the great weather of Geraldton is in the Autumn through to Spring, when we have mild temperatures (low 20s) blue skies, awesome sunsets, and a smattering of rain. Just a few days of rain here and there, and another bizarre thing, usually at night.
It's usually about eight to nine months between the last rain in September and the first rain in May, so by now everyone is hanging out for a bit of water to green up the parched landscape and get busy in our winter gardens. Here we garden with a very upside down mentality: Summer is too hot and dry so gardens lie fallow over this time but come the first rains of Autumn and everyone is busy planting their veges and other plants. It's now time to put in the tomatoes and other summer crops, as well as a few winter crops as well. We don't get frost so it's kind of akin to an English summer!

They've been forecasting rain coming for over a week, and yesterday it at last came. Gale force winds hit town just before dawn and with it torrential rain. The sun peeks out from time to time, enough to keep it warm and entice me outside to see how many leaves I'll need to sweep up once the wind settles.

Hazel doesn't like the winds that accompany these fronts. Being the neurotic dog that she is she finds the swaying trees and all those positive ions far too disturbing by half. Her fear of banging doors also contributes to her anxiety levels. I believe you can get valium for dogs, perhaps prozac would be better...

When we get this sort of weather it's sometimes cold enough to consider lighting the fire, but today I think the sun is winning. I may even get a few hours out in the vege patch sowing seeds.

So here's to the first rain of the season, and may all the farmers get enough to get their seeding done, and may my water tanks fill to over flowing!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What is wrong with my body?

OK I eat too much.

But seriously though, having gone through the hell of a sore body for weeks to get fit last year, travelling through Asia for 6 months, climbing various mountains and trekking for days at a time, you'd think I just might have lost a few kilos. But no, not even a few grams, I steadfastly remain the same weight I was a year ago, which is currently at least 10kg more than I should. OK... 15kg!!

Everybody says I've lost weight, and yes I am thinner in a few places. I'm only 2cm off from a healthy waist circumference of 80cm, but the fact is a huge amount of my clothes no longer fit me and it's time they went off to the op shop. But what exactly must I do to get rid of the excess baggage?

I cycle to work 3 times a week - that's 90km total - and am doing yoga almost daily. Hazel gets a walk most days and I'm pretty full on in the garden most weekends. I don't think I'm eating excessively, and I'm not drinking much alcohol either. I'm not on any of these crazy diets as I don't believe any of them work in the long run, and am just eating normal home cooked meals. Perhaps a tad too much of that yummy home made bread though!!

Today I tried on the ski bunny suit, with great trepidation, and yes it still fits. Just!! But I'm not sure I'd like to spend a day swishing down the slopes in it at present as the bum and hips are a wee bit too tight for comfort. Wedgies are never fun, and even less so when access is limited!! Tight wetsuits have to be the worst offenders....

I am not going to buy another suit - that one cost me an arm and a leg as it was, and I'm hardly going to get alot of use out of one in hot, dry old Geraldton - so I have no choice but to up the ante and do even more exercise. I've been meaning to get back into more long walks, but the recent school holidays and gardening seem to have caused some postponements. Sally and Sheridan get back from Tassie soon, so perhaps I can get reinspired. Not that I'll be able to keep up with them after all the trekking they've been doing in the last few months!!

Recently I did a walk up on the Moresby Ranges, and once I get a few more pictures together I'll do a report. I noticed that my walking muscles are totally different from my cycling ones, as I was quite sore afterwards despite the regular commuting. Beach walking isn't the same either, as the resistance of the sand makes it hard to get up sufficient speed. Yep, more walking is in order....

On another note I have at last decided to see a clinical psychologist to work through some of the issues as to why I ended up getting burnt out in the first place. Now that I'm back at work and fighting fit mentally, it's time to deal with those issues and develop some protective strategies to prevent it happening again. I don't imagine it's going to be an easy ride but it's one I have to take.

And now I must take Hazel for a walk before I head out to dinner hosted by one of the drug companies. Memo to self: do not eat to excess!!

Monday, April 27, 2009

A question of malaria

There is alot of angst out there in travel land, or at least on travel forums, about the question of malaria. What countries have malaria and what should a visitor do to prevent getting the disease?

There's also alot of advice given, much of it misleading, from other travellers. Some push the paranoid and erroneous view that everyone should take antimalarial prophylaxis and all will be safe, others scoff and debunk all the pills as capable of causing severe side effects, and anyway, they never got malaria despite taking nothing. Information from a visit a few years back can quickly become irrelevant as public health measures make more areas, especially in Asia, malaria free. There's quite a few well balanced remarks, but the poor punter who asked the question has now been bombarded with so many opposing opinions that he/she is pretty confused. My advice? See a doctor.

But it's not that simple, because many of your average GPs don't have much experience of travel medicine and may need to do a bit of research themselves to determine malarial risk. They also need to find out about the latest medications, potential side effects and discuss all this with their patient. Something many GPs just don't have the time to do when a client turns up wanting advice within a couple of weeks of the departure date.

Following is a general guide to all things antimalarial. If your doctor is not asking these questions then you should seriously consider going elsewhere. A travel medicine clinic is a good option, but even so a healthy dose of scepticism is in order, because doctors also aren't immune to having fixed ideas about what plan of "medical action" should take place. A little bit of your own research therefore helps.

So let's start with a comprehensive travel interrogation. Where are you going and for how long? Will you be spending most of your time in larger cities and what sort of accommodation will you be staying in? Will you be spending much time in rural areas and will you be staying overnight there or simply doing day trips? Are you a keen birdwatcher/photographer/nature lover who spends their dawns and dusks out in the elements or are you usually safe and sound in your bed or a bar at those times?

It's not simply a matter of looking up a particular country and determining its malaria risk and applying that to all travellers to that country. A typical example is Thailand, where Bangkok and most of the rural areas are now considered malaria free. There are still some areas of Thailand where malaria prevalence is quite high (though only moderate risk) and knowing this information usually involves a little more detailed research.

We've touched on a couple of epidemiology terms here. One of them is prevalence. This is a measure of how much disease is present in a given community. To determine the level of risk of acquiring malaria there needs to be both a presence/absence of the mosquito which transmits the disease and a reservoir of infected individuals to maintain a source. Australia, for instance, is considered malaria free because although there are plenty of anopheles mosquitos in the tropical climes, there is very little, if any, untreated malaria in the community to provide a reservoir for further spread. That's the advantage of a well funded public health system.

If your stay is mostly in large cities in malaria prone countries, risk is considered quite low. This risk assessment assumes that you will be staying in modest accommodation, with air conditioning or perhaps just a fan, rather than staying with local people in substandard conditions. Both aircon and moving air from a fan will reduce mosquito numbers in a room, and the use of a permethrin impregnated mossie net, and/or spraying the room with insect repellant prior to leaving for your evening meal will further reduce your risk of being bitten whilst sleeping or at dawn. Light coloured clothing that limits skin exposure during the anopheles' active times of dusk and dawn, and the use of repellants with DEET, also prevent you being bitten.

Where do you stand if you have determined that you will be spending time in an area which is not malaria free? This is where it gets tricky, because there are low risk, moderate risk and high risk areas. Then there's the actual amount of time you will be spending there, and then your medical history as to whether the use of antimalarials would be harmful for you.

The general rule is the longer you take an antimalarial medication, the higher the risk of significant side effects. This is why most expats living in a malaria prone country rarely take them. But as a short term traveller in an area, your risks are different. And if you are travelling to many places, some with high prevalence, others low or no risk, it all starts to get quite bewildering. Particularly as some of the available medications need to be commenced prior to entering the malaria zone, and must be continued for up to a month after leaving it.

It's a bit of a no brainer to work out that if you are going to a high risk area for a short period of time then it makes sense to take antimalarials. The rest of the scenarios however are less black and white. There is in fact no right answer to the question: should I take antimalarials? And the reason: because no medical evidence to this day has proven, categorically, that the taking of antimalarial prophylaxis actually prevents you contracting malaria. In fact there is some evidence that it may mask symptoms and delay diagnosis and appropriate treatment. But it's still recommended that travellers to malaria prone places take it, so you wonder why you're so confused?? No, it's not the Larium!!

Your doctor and you should now have a fairly good idea about where you are going, what sort of activities you are planning, and therefore what your risks are. Then you will probably be given a choice of a number of scenarios. 1. take antimalarials for your entire trip and for the appropriate tailing off period on your return. 2. take antimalarials just during the times when you are going to be in moderate or high risk areas, and for the ensuing time period afterwards. 3. take no prophylaxis but carry a course or two of treatment should you be in an area where medical help is unreliable.

For short trips, up to a month, I'd tend to favour option 1. Option 2 is a bit of a headache, as the tailing off times can mean alot of time on a drug with potential side effects. It also gets very expensive. Doxycycline, much cheaper than Malarone, can degrade quickly in the heat, so carrying large supplies may not be such a good idea, and purchasing it from local pharmacies is fraught with risks of poor quality or substitution. My favoured option is number three, particularly useful now that Malarone is more easily available and can be taken as a treatment course over four days. But the real message is:


Preventing getting bitten requires planning, execution and consistency. A long day out in the country may mean returning after dark, when your sleeveless top and shorts now offer no protection from the beasties. Or an afternoon session with some new friends turns into evening and you've left the DEET in your bag in your room. Remember, antimalarials don't prevent you getting bitten, and only not getting bitten prevents you getting malaria.

So plan early to see your doctor, you may even need to catch up on a few immunisations too. Then both you and your doctor will have time to be so well informed that you too can start answering those antimalarial questions on your favourite travel forum!!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Arrived safe and sound

One of the great joys of travel for a lass like myself is shopping, especially for exotic curios for my house and for presents for friends and family. In particular I love my textiles, and will travel quite a way to visit weaving villages or places where cottage industry occurs.

But buying things means either travelling with it, or sending it home. Lugging around any extra weight is anathema to me, so it was off to the local PO to run the gauntlet of bureacracy. And in some countries this meant visiting various counters to get boxes, forms, stamps and of course the pay clerk! Guess it keeps people in jobs!

I've learnt alot about the postal services in the various countries I've visited, about how to get the best value for money, and which services not to trust. I didn't try out Indonesian or Cambodian services on the recommendations of others that they were unreliable, but my purchases sent from Thailand, Vietnam, China and Laos have all arrived home safe and sound.

I only used post offices in large cities, where an English speaking employee would be found to help me. The staff were always extremely friendly and helpful, and nothing was too difficult. I just had to hope that my purchases would arrive home.

Packages from Bangkok (I used a suburban PO) arrived very quickly, with one surface/air package only taking 10 days, quite a feat when it's rare I get that service from east coast Australia to my house in regional Western Australia. The two packages from Vietnam, both sent surface mail, had arrived within a month, though I learnt the hard way that I would have saved alot of money by sending just one package instead of two. My China package also took a month, but having met a China expat enroute in Laos who had less than complimentary things to say about the service, I had been a little apprehensive whether it would arrive at all.

When I got home in February, all my packages were waiting for me, excluding the one I'd sent from Bangkok only a week previously (which arrived 3 days later) and one package from Laos. It had only been a month, and since it was surface mail and I'd been told it would take 2-3 months, I wasn't so concerned. But as March became April and April progressed, I began to get a little worried. Not that there was anything I could do...

In Laos I had bought some silk weaving as well as some hand batiked traditional Hmong cloth which I had been really thrilled to find in a market in Sam Neua. I had also found some kids' Hmong skirts - the modern synthetic ones - that will make perfect presents for my three nieces. I remember as a little girl wishing I had a skirt that really swished, well these ones certainly do. And lastly I'd bought something special for a friend due her first baby in May.

Today the box arrived, well it may have arrived earlier in the week for all I know, as the delivery man left it on the front seat of my unlocked car rather than next to the front door (he's a dear the local delivery guy!) and I haven't used the car all week. What a sigh of relief and great joy to unpack another little box of treasures. And just in time for Odette's birthday too!

Australian Customs opened two of my boxes, but didn't confiscate anything as I'm a savvy enough traveller to know what not to send and what has to accompany me through the red zone at the airport so I can talk my way through. I'm not that impressed by the thoroughness of the quarantine inspectors on my arrivals into Australia, though apparently the TV program suggests otherwise. Anything iffy I carry through myself, and usually it's fine, whereas if I send it I'm scared they'll just confiscate it without recourse.

So now it's off to the Australian post office to send off the skirts to my nieces. Interestingly the mail is much quicker west to east than the reverse! And then maybe Matty will put up piccies of the girls swishing in their Hmong skirts on his blog!

Friday, April 10, 2009

It just couldn't last

I blame it all on Rod and Vida. Vida is an old uni friend who with her partner Rod have set up a business offering conferences at ski fields in Canada in January every year. Otherwise known as a tax deductible holiday! Well I'm on their mailing list and the other day Rod sent me an email regarding the dates for 2010. I'd love to ski Canada, and given that my legs are probably in the best shape they've been for years, I started perusing airline websites for possible flights. Now that depressed me somewhat, so I then decided to look up flights to NZ. And then on an impulse I booked them!!!

Well I'll have been back working for 4 or 5 months and will definitely need a holiday by then!! And it seems such a waste to have nice boots and skis sitting gathering dust in the garage. I am not even going to think right now about whether I can fit into my jazzy red ski bunny suit.....oh my god!! Thank goodness feet don't grow!

Skiing is notoriously expensive, so I've booked into the backpackers for two weeks for an absolute bargain price, and will do the shuttle bus up the mountain every day. This will give me ten whole days at my number one favourite ski resort, Treble Cone, and also a chance to check out the wacky local cinema I've been told about in Wanaka.

So now I've got to keep up the cycling (I'm doing 90km a week currently) and start doing a few squats to get those ski legs back. And steel myself to try on the bunny suit......

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Just like a broken heart

I've now been back at work 3 weeks and it feels funny. Having burnt out so spectacularly over a year ago then crawled my way back from the depths of depression and physical unfitness, I'm feeling rather ambivalent about it all. It's like I want to get involved but am putting up huge personal barriers because I'm scared of getting hurt again.

Working in Aboriginal Health is definitely an emotionally draining experience, but it's also extremely rewarding, and Aboriginal people are so warm and genuine, I love working for and with them. I couldn't envisage moving into "normal" general practice and coping with the "tears and smears", I'd go totally loopy. So it's a complete no-brainer for me to return back to my previous employer.

I tend to have high expectations both of my performance and that of my colleagues - a perfect recipe for being disappointed and getting burnt out again. I know this and so have to restrain my enthusiasm as well as my willingness to do anything beyond the call of duty so to speak. And there's always someone wanting you to do just that little bit more. So having decided to use the no word lots, I now have to learn not to feel guilty for doing so. This is so very hard for me to do, but I am determined to not go down that slippery slope again. And there is no doubt that I am scared shitless that it is going to happen again.

I think I may benefit from some counselling, especially if I can learn more constructive ways to deal with the demands of my job. But in the meantime, I'll just stick with my two and a half days, try not to dig myself into any ditches, and keep up the cycle commuting - nothing like a bit of exercise to clear the mind!!

Meanwhile, I'm steadily editting and uploading more photos onto the new website, and have bought myself a new camera which has a few more bells and whistles. I'll soon be back to doing the Greenough River walks again (Fridays) and have plans to visit some new walking sites on top of the Moresby Ranges. Stay tuned!!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Noodle soup

I'm afraid I'm not like some people who travel to Asia and are sick of rice and noodle soup within two weeks. I rarely craved western food during my 6 months away, in fact I got so used to having a bowl of noodle soup almost every day that I'm craving it back home.

The ingredients that go into a good noodle soup are a mystery, as every establishment is different. Recreating that in my home kitchen has been an exercise in creativity. I do have a good few Asian cookbooks, most with authentic recipes, but I haven't quite got around to making up my own stock yet. So in true fusion style, I've taken a hint from each of the different recipes and had a go at my own.

First step is a good vege stock, salt free. Then add salt in the form of shrimp paste, that disgusting smelling stuff that definitely adds a certain distinctive taste to asian dishes. A bit of ginger, some chilli (that's a no brainer) and then some chopped up vegetable. I started with Chinese radish but progressed to sweet potato as the stock got low and then topped up again over a number of days. I should have added lemon grass, but forgot.

Each time I added just a little bit more of this and that, some coriander, bit more shrimp paste, some fish sauce, to try and get that taste. Some chopped up tomato seems to work well. The first few times it was somewhat bland, but I think I almost got it by the final attempt, and now I have to start from scratch again as the stock is all gone. No matter, it's now a challenge!!

What I really love about noodle soup is choosing the noodles (two minute noodles are a very poor substitute for rice noodles) and throwing in all the other greens and veges that are part of the experience when eating in a local restaurant or market. I've been using tofu as my protein, but occasionally it's a small piece of beef that I'll grill then chop up to garnish. Top with spring onion and a bit of coriander, add a bit more fish sauce or chilli depending on your personal taste, and chow in. Chopsticks and ladle of course!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Avoiding inertia

Returning home is like some amazing letdown. Nothing much has changed, someone drowned, a murder happened in the house behind mine which I blissfully slept through, but otherwise it's back to the job and the small town gossip.

"Over there" you are always on the go: packing, travelling, unpacking, packing etc, always new experiences just around the corner. But once you've done that final unpack, found somewhere to put all those purchases, handed over the gifts to loved ones and referred them back to the blog if they want to know about your trip (I'm sure there was a reason I laboured over this for 7 months?), it's then what next?? Curiously prescient with the title hey?

Well for me it's about the photography, something I've become increasingly passionate about. I'm spending my time ploughing through the 7000 plus images from this trip, finding the occasional gem amongst them and learning how to edit them. Then what to do with them?

The best way to show off your work is to display it on the internet, on a site that respects your copyright (unlike facebook) and demands a certain level of quality control. I've put the happy snaps on my picasa album, but I've now another site for selected edited works that are also available for sale. These ones are high quality - the Picasa ones are much lower quality and have all sorts of blemishes etc on them due to some pretty dirty lenses. The cards are particularly good value, and I might even do a calendar for 2010!

You can find it here

I'll be adding to the gallery as I edit more photos, so keep an eye out.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Looking back

It's been a week since I returned home and it may as well be a year. I've been out windsurfing twice, with another high wind big surf day on for this afternoon, promises to be wild but fun!! I've been to the hairdresser, been to a yoga class, am back to my regular massages and have mended the tyre on the bicycle so I can start commuting.

I begin work again in a week or so, just waiting for a phone call on that one - not all that eagerly I must admit, though will only be working half time for the near future. Hazel has settled down, though it still looks suspiciously like she is guarding the door from my imminent escape, just which one of us is the more paranoid??

I've downloaded over 7000 images onto my computer and am going through the agonising job of cataloguing them into keepers and chuckers, as well as those I might do something more with. Thank goodness for good photo editting software and my friends at Pantip Plaza in Bangkok!!

I've replaced my visa card, the number of which was used fraudulently by someone somewhere in my travels. The bank picked it up straight away, so no-one has lost money, just me a bit of inconvenience. Luckily I'm a multiple card carrying member of the credit variety so a different piece of plastic got flexed for a while.

I've even looked at my finances, and reckon I spent on average $500 a week. This included air fares, visas, trekking fees, tours, souvenir purchases, as well as some topend accommodation here and there. I'd bought some USD cash back when the AUD was almost one to one, but I'd lost the advantage 3 months later when I paid for my Vietnam tours with a credit card and effectively paid 30% more than if I'd paid up in August. That's life!!

All my posted boxes have arrived safely, bar one from Laos which should be here within the next month. I am sitting looking at all that silk and wondering what the hell I'm going to make with all of it? The blanket from Sapa looks fabulous on my daybed, as do the cushion covers also bought there. The Tibetan prayer flags have been artfully hung around the verandah, all I need now is an orange robed monk and I'll be set!

The bag is unpacked and I can happily say that everything in it (aside from the medical kit) was used at least once. However some stuff was only used once, so I'd have to think carefully about whether I'd take it again. If I hadn't gone trekking, and hadn't been madly into photography, I could easily have travelled with less than five kilograms of luggage. I often wondered at what the hell some of my fellow travellers actually had in their heavy bags.

It's now time to look forwards, earn some money, get back in the black, restock the pantry, paint the house, plant some veges, and psych myself up to doing a forward loop. I've heard it hurts less if you don't wear a helmet!!!

So stay tuned for what's next!!!!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Life really is a beach!!

The wonderful thing about being home after six and a half months is the appreciation for where I live. Many people I've met whilst travelling had been amazed that I'd avoided spending any time at all chilling out on a beach. As I'd proudly explained to them, I live on a beach.

Hazel was very happy to see me, despite being looked after extremely well by Cate my house sitter. There have been no recriminations so far, just lots of hugs and cuddles. Going out and leaving her at home does cause her considerable anxiety however, so I'm not returning to work for a couple of weeks to get her back into the swing of things.

True to form, the wind kicked up by 11 am, and within a few hours of flying in to Geraldton I'd loaded the car and was off to Coros for a windsurf. Only a small swell but perfect 4.5m weather for me to get out and have some fun. I'm a bit weak in the upper body though, so only lasted a couple of hours. All the gang were down there so there was lots of socialising as well. Hazel of course was in her element, Coros being a second home for her.Monday was hot with no wind, so a leisurely walk along the beach and a swim in the turquoise waters was in order. Aaah, this is the life.

Then it was just a matter of slipping into the hammock with a glass of wine in time to watch the sun set over the water....

Yep, life really is a beach.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Singapore fling

This time I've actually stayed long enough to have a little look around. There's a lot to do, some great museums and galleries, lots of modern buildings interspersed with old ones that reflect the past, and an interesting ethnic mix of people. I've been sampling the food again, in particular Singapore chilli crab at one of the Hawker Centres. It's a very big meal for just one person, with a big price tag to match. I'll reserve my judgement and go to a better restaurant next time and try it again.I spent a few hours at the Peranakan Museum, which talks about the culture of the mixed race people of Singapore. Most importantly, the gift shop had some Nonya food recipe books, Yummmmm......

I also went to a tailor, or rather one took advantage of me and convinced me to buy some new clothes. The idea of having properly tailored trousers that fit my butt and big thighs appeals greatly. My final fitting is 3 hours before I fly out!!Singapore's a strange place, it's modern yet is quintessentially Asian, despite the ordered sterility on display. Yes, Singaporeans do jaywalk and take shortcuts across grass!!
There are more photos of Singapore here.
Now it's time to jump on a plane and go home. Three weeks ago I wasn't ready, I still wanted to travel more, but now I'm so keen to get home that the last few days have been almost torture. I'm looking forward to seeing friends again, chatting to mum on the phone, and giving my girl a big hug - if she's not sulking that is!!

And load the car up with the windsurfing gear and get out on those waves!!!!!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Guns, jungles and altered time zones

With six days to kill I decided to do a mammoth train trip down the Malay Peninsula to Singapore. But rather than going the traditional west coast route I planned to pass through an area in the middle of a separatist fight with the Thai government, cross a border by foot then catch a train through the jungle just after the end of the monsoons. Yeah I make it sound exciting, and most people won't even venture through Southern Thailand because of the regular bombings, but really, it was a piece of cake.

First step was an overnight train from Bangkok to Hat Yai in Southern Thailand. Here the line splits, with most people taking the western line south to Butterworth in Malaysia. This was the way I'd come from Penang four months previously. The sleepers are great, there's meals and beer to be purchased en route, you just sit there and enjoy the view. As the evening wears on the conductor makes the beds and then it's goodnight till the next morning.I arrived at Hat Yai at a little after 6:30 am, just in time to jump on a local rattler heading east to the border town of Sungai Kolok. The train is heavily patrolled by cute Thai army boys, carrying big guns, who check all the bags to make sure they have owners. At each stop they monitor the comings and goings, and continue to walk up and down the train keeping an eye on things. The railway stations are surrounded by razor wire, with lots of sandbags as well. The Thai Army were certainly taking the separatist threat seriously, I felt slightly comforted by this show of force but also somewhat disturbed at my foolhardiness. Of course no bombs went off and I arrived perfectly safely at my destination.From the train station it's a short ride on the back of a moto to the border where, after the usual formalities, I walk over a bridge to Malaysia. It's then a thirty minute taxi ride to Whakaf Bahru station, for my next train trip. I buy my ticket for the 2pm local, have a plate of Nasi Campur at the restaurant across the road and settle down to wait.

At 1 pm a train arrives and everyone boards except me. The train can't be an hour early surely? Well Shirley was right yet again, and after me waiting another 3 hours I actually went and asked someone. Oh yes, I missed the train all right. There is a one hour time difference between Thailand and Malaysia and I'd forgotten to put my watch forward. Groan, that's what sleep deprivation and coping with armed guards does to you!! I went and booked into a guesthouse for the night.

Although there were more trains that day, the reason for travelling along this line is that it travels through jungle, skirting the large Taman Negara National Park (that always makes me laugh, Taman Negara actually means "national park" in Malay language) before descending the mountains to Gemas. There was no point doing it in the dark, so the 6:30 am train the next day was my best option.

The monsoon has just finished so the land is luscious green. It's a tangle of creepers and ferns, with vast rubber plantations marching over the hills into the distance. That and those ugly palm oil plantations. But there's lots of patches of jungle amongst it too, not to mention my favourite, wooded limestone karst peaks. Enough already!!Halfway we stop for two hours in a small town. This gives the northbound train time to pass as it's a single track ahead. It's also lunch time, and I enjoy a delicious nasi campur in a local Indian restaurant. The town is very quaint, a street lined on both sides by Chinese shop houses built in the 1920s, and painted in wonderful colours, with a river passing by. The next bit is a wild rush downhill through more jungle to Jeruntut, where the other westerners leave the train to visit the NP but I continue on to the town of Gemas. It's a 13 hour day for me, and I'm hot and tired, but nothing that a nice shower and change of clothes can't remedy. And a plate of chicken biryani.My next train leaves at 5:10 am, not a pleasant time for waking up - am I supposed to be on holiday? This one will take me all the way to Singapore arriving late morning, a very civilised time indeed. So for the third day in a row I watch the sun rise through a train window.
More photos here

I'm now in Singapore, paying 18SGD a night for a dormitory room, and I've just been coerced into buying some new clothes from a local tailor. He didn't have to try too hard, and the concept of having properly tailored trousers after living in trekking pants for six months is very appealing. And it's only money right??

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dancing midgets anyone?

In Bangkok just about anything goes. Soi Cowbow is an alley off Sukhimvit Road where a whole lot of girlie bars are. Scantily clad women grope at men as they walk past, and if you venture inside you get to see half naked women dancing distractedly around poles on a raised dance floor. Apparently men enjoy this...

I went for a girls night out with a Kiwi lass I'd met in Vientiane. She's one of a legion of English teachers in Thailand where your only qualification is a one month certificate in ESL and an ability to speak English. Many non-native English speakers also teach it, go figure! I've heard the pay is low, but it's good enough to live on in a cheap place like Thailand. Anyway, my friend has been teaching kindergarten kids for four years, and apparently it's a doddle.

I'd found this lass just a little out there, so I wasn't keen for a big night out, but Warren had tagged along and after a few beers we headed off to another bar to meet two of her friends. Now my friend was awfully straight compared with these two girls, they were total psychos!!

The first was an American lady in her late fourties, with 5 grandchildren and a serious drug habit that apparently she had recovered from. She confided in me that she would love to be one of those girls up on stage dancing half naked, and she did have the body for it too, lucky girl. So I encouraged her in acting out her fantasy, joining her on the dance floor, fully clothed I might assure you, whilst I helped my friend get over her inhibitions regarding exposing her body to a crass market in a girly bar. They were drinking more than me, but I do hope it helped her self esteem a little....

Meanwhile, our large busted English friend was explaining her business proposition, and the reason we were in this particular girlie bar in the first place. "Double F" was in the "security" business, having recently settled in Bangkok after six years travelling the world. There was a dark past involving an ex-husband and domestic violence, but she'd done well financially out of the divorce and now had a bit of money to spend.

Apparently the upstairs premises of most of these bars are empty - seems not everyone finds watching these girls gyrate all that sexy - so my new friend came up with a brilliant idea. A one off!! Indeed it is...

Advertise for midgets (note we are already using a derogatory term for "small people") who would like to work in a bar and do all that dancing shit. Oh, and there'll be a cage in one corner with a couple of midgets in there so we can really enjoy them like a zoo exhibit. They can dance on the tables without any OH&S issues regarding the ceiling, I mean it's brilliant!!!

My questions regarding exploitation were knocked down in flames. Apparently this is about respect, it's a unique opportunity for midgets to strut their stuff and be proud of their little bodies. And there's free health insurance thrown in as well. And they only have to dance and take their clothes off if they want to - of course they'll get more money if they do...

I didn't broach the subject of just who the target audience for this show was going to be. I'm not sure the average hot blooded male on a twirl through the go-go bars is going to find dancing midgets sexually attractive. Seems to me it's more a freak show, which is hardly about empowerment is it?

It was now 4am. We'd discussed the midget go-go girls, we'd got the grannie down to her bra and nickers, and we'd laughed silly on happy gas supplied by the bar owner, my friend's business partner. There was an offer to do a few lines of coke back at someone's flat, but it was time for me to call it a night and get out of The Twilight Zone!!