Berwick Springs parkrun

Berwick Springs parkrun
Narre Warren South, Australia

Narre Warren South, Australia

Berwick Springs parkrun route
Berwick Springs parkrun route.

Coming towards the end of my Australian parkrun tour, I’ve three left including today’s. Just a week or so ago there were six of a potential eleven to go, but with the bonus Christmas and New Year runs completed, all of a sudden I’ve just Newy and Curl Curl after today.

Today was special, holding the chance to run with friends and fellow parkrun tourists, Adrian and Tam, while Linda would also be happy to give me a running-style ass-kicking to go with the scrabble one she’d (after a few goes) meted out the night before. Berwick Springs is a distance from Melbourne, nearly an hour on the train from the centre of the city, but it’s on the metropolitan train system, so not expensive. The course is as flat as, and this is another circular course, albeit two laps. It should be more significantly quick compared to Albert’s sandy track than either of us could make it, but no matter – it was definitely a pleasure to be on a solid surface. My parkrun odyssey out here started with mostly out and back courses but now has a nice mixture.

New Farm – out and back.
Southbank – loop.
Minippi – out and back.
Torrens – out and back.
Canning River – loop.
Claisebrook Coves – out and back (plus a bit).
Westerfolds – loop.
Albert Park – loop.
Berwick Springs – loop, two laps.

The day was slightly overcast, changing every half an hour between warm and cool with drizzle. It’s 3k from station to start, an easy run down a dull road, with a couple of Macdonalds and other fast fooderies if you’re desperate. No facilities at the start of the run – they’re a 10 minute jog away, which meant Linda had to hustle with 15 minutes before the start. I spotted another 100 shirt, to go with Adrian’s and mine, and the wearer of a 50 shirt turned round to reveal Moray, who had welcomed me so effusively to South Bank. I figured he had also marked my card when I ran past him at Minippi, as he wasn’t far behind despite not having much training time in his legs.

Four parkrunners, in parkrun t-shirts; red 50, black 100, 50 and 100.
Moray, Adrian, Tam and me.

We assembled on the start line, without Linda. A little more chat and then she appeared, now belting it towards us – will we go? Do they realise she’s joining us? She made it, on the line as the countdown started from five, and we were off to complete two loops of the lake. The course snakes gently around, such that the second lap was just as interesting as the first, while also feeling fairly nice and short.

Quickly we assembled into three groups of two, a pair up front, Linda running with a tall youth, and me tagging on to a blue vested man. Moray was behind. At 2k I was feeling the pace, but figured I should hold on for as long as possible to his vest tails. 3k came through reasonably quickly, so far 3 fairly even 3:45 kms, but it hurt a lot. Worryingly, it wasn’t just my legs but just as much my engine – I can only have had a small loss of fitness, but I’m feeling it. I let blue shirt go and could feel Moray close, hold and then pass me. Textbook stuff.

I had a bad patch around 4k before a rally towards the finish, hoping to slip under 19 minutes. I missed by a way, but it might have still been there with a better-paced run. Lovely atmosphere once I’d recovered, though, with Adrian and Tam coming through with their daughter, completing Tam’s 100th in the process. One of the local organisers came over to thank us for supporting the run, and plenty of people were there from Albert park, too. A lovely run, scenic even without sunshine, and there seemed to be a group of people who are very grateful to have a parkrun near them to save travelling – I certainly spoke to several who were glad it was there, had thought of setting one up or who had got involved as soon as it was. 9 Aussie parkruns in, a couple more to enjoy.

Results from Berwick Springs parkrun, event 13, 1/1/14.

Reading: Janet Evanovich, High Five.

Melbourne Albert parkrun

Melbourne Albert parkrun
Albert Park, Australia

Albert Park, Australia

Albert-Melbourne parkrun route
Albert-Melbourne parkrun route. Anti-clockwise, start at top-left.

On the Australian parkrun show the other week they wondered whether anyone had run both Newcastle parkruns – Newy here and the one in the UK. A couple of people have, as it happens, but I like the idea. Adding Albert park here in to the mix allows me to do the New/New and Albert/Albert double, with just the Middlesbrough Albert park to go.

The route is a loop of the lake, which is a natural 4.8 or so kilometres all round, needing just an offset start to make up the distance neatly. We arrived just in time for the end of the briefing, in glorious sunshine.

1st lady finishing.
1st lady finisher.

It was a fairly large field, 244, and a record for them. 44% first timers, and 58 of those had run at other parkruns – a huge number of tourists making the long trip from the UK. And not talking about the cricket. At the start a young wisp of a girl hared off, and I had a go but lost ground to Linda early on. Whenever we’ve raced before I have lead, this was not a good sign. A couple of weeks backing right off on distance has been very unsatisfactory, I feel like I’ve lost a pile of fitness, struggling round 5k, and none of my niggles are fixed. Nonetheless, I managed not to slip back too much, though my splits are back to slowing as I progress. I caught the wisp near the end, discovering in the results that she was Sonia O’Sullivan’s daughter. Sonia was behind me all the way, while Linda was taking the first lady spot and her second age-group record. The run route is close to the lake at spots, but not supposed to be at the point where, as the report put it, after 108 events, someone fell in. They were helped out by other runners, so not too much harm done…

Runners, and a walker, heading to the finish line
Finish. Lake shown, no one falling in at this point.

All I can add is that it must have been hilarious, I wish I’d seen it! I checked the report to see if I had again been spotted, and sure enough I had. No 100 shirt on the day, but I am not incognito in the results, and any curiosity over the 180 runs must soon be replaced by “what? How many?” My tally gets mentioned, certainly, but/and it is nice to be noticed. We ran another loop to cool down, though it was pretty warm, before walking the 3k back to the station. It’s a lovely run, which definitely felt like the ‘main’ run in Melbourne, but then it is pretty central. I want to suggest that it’s the one to do if you can only do one, but Westerfolds is scenic and tough, Berwick Springs a pretty and faster two lapper – essentially, you can’t go too far wrong, just get to a parkrun.

Results from Albert-Melbourne parkrun, event 109, 28/12/13.

Reading: Lee Child, Gone Tomorrow, Orson Scott Card, Children of the Mind.

Boxing Day test

Boxing Day test
East Melbourne, Australia

East Melbourne, Australia

Cricket! One of the biggest sporting events in the world! A series won for Australia, but still the hope that England might show some fight. Much as talk of ‘momentum’ ignores the small shifts in pattern of a game, this doesn’t look like an Australia side for the ages – too many older players and question marks over the middle order, so if England could finish the series with hope, they might remember that in the next.

A wide shot of the inside of the stadium, over people's heads in an almost capacity crowd
MCG panorama from Great Southern Stand.

I was woken by a strange noise, ignored it because it was still a bit early to get up, but it woke me again at just the right point a little later. I must sort out that clock radio, I figured as I checked my iPod for the time. Oops, no, it’s my brother returning my video call from the day before. Or evening on the same day for him. We’ve not used it before, so he didn’t spot my call coming in on Christmas Day morning, I didn’t recognise the sound of his on Boxing Day morning. We made contact – I missed, and continue to miss, the littlies, but have seen the rest my closest family, and have a diary date. A cousin’s wedding next year. Mid May, why does that seem significant? The 12 hour relay I’ve signed up to is the fourth, this – ah, green belt relay. Which I missed this year. So I either make it a double-cousin-wedding-miss, having missed Neil’s in November, or a double-green-belt-miss.

Potential fines:

Ejection from the ground for being drunk or disorderly, on the spot fine of $1,083.
Eviction for encroaching on the playing area, fine of up to $8,661.

Nice and precise. Not really “bizarre” as someone behind me put it – only as bizarre as focusing on round numbers.

Home for the week is just a 20 minute train ride away from the stadium. The supermarket – cheapest I’ve seen here, as it goes – is a five minute walk away. Lunch from the former, on the train and in the ground by ten, for the anthems and a general warm feeling that “I’m really here!” That feeling has got me at every ground, even now when England have lost the series.

It was an odd day’s cricket, really – and I can’t help feeling that England would have played differently if this had been the first, even second match, and their brains weren’t filled with what had already been. Finally they got to bat first, though not through winning the toss-maybe a decent toss to lose, if it was a margin call as to whether to bat or not. The first session was okay, Johnson pulled off after two quiet overs-both on the pitch and off, he wasn’t clapped to the stumps every ball yet-that were expensive, Cook out early, wafting, but England grafting. Second session was slow, and Carberry was out to Watson’s best ball, which moved in but may have been helped in doing so by Watson taking a wider-angled run in at the stumps. Carberry had just looked like he was going to play with intent, too-possibly a change of approach and that didn’t help him. Root kept waving at balls outside off stump and went that way, and honours were about even.

That left Bell and Pietersen together, and they put on a decent partnership. Root’s dismissal had broken the short line of 48 run partnerships and this one was higher but slow, slow, slow. Pietersen seemed to have figured he’d reign himself in, and gone completely the other way from his usual high-energy self. It has been noticeable that Australia have several players-Warner, Smith, Bailey-who are always looking to score quickly, England only really Pietersen, and they have ended up occupying time at the crease without scoring. At least here every run puts them ahead, rather than narrowing a gap when batting second.

Two England fans hold up their flag in front of a statue of Shane Warne, in his bowling action, up on a plinth
Posing with Warnie.

Despite the slow scoring, the stats say England hit three sixes. The reality says they were an odd three: Pietersen should have been out, but the sub fielder took a comfortable catch then turned on the move to get a horrible surprise as the boundary rope beckoned and he had to step over it; Stokes smoked one straight before getting out to the new ball, next over and then Bairstow edged one high and was out two balls later. At least Stokes continues to look like he will always have a go, though arguably you’d put him at 7 behind Bairstow if he hadn’t just scored a century. With that, England were six down, the crowd scented blood and the atmosphere for the last few overs was back to febrile, clapping (slow-medium-fast, just like for a long jumper) the bowlers’ run up, a sense of expectation as Johnson came in and of ‘get him again’ as Siddle bowled to Pietersen. He and Bresnan survived to the end, but it seems as though England are always playing themselves in from something – the new ball, a change of bowler, a drinks break, the start of the day – and never actually getting going, so I can’t see that tomorrow will bring the 150 free-scored runs they need from here to finally put pressure on a brittle opposition.

Joy, Fun, Christmas in the sun (Westerfolds parkrun)

Joy, Fun, Christmas in the sun (Westerfolds pr)
East Melbourne, Australia

East Melbourne, Australia

Westerfolds parkrun route
Westerfolds parkrun route.

A first! (For me.) What a fabulous day! I slept a bit on the bus but was awake even before the driver tried to wake us all up for final approach and advice as we arrived in Melbourne. We were just a few minutes late, arriving a smidge before 7. Fine, but my bus left at 7 and I saw it pull away despite my quick exit from the station – I could see its tail disappear round the corner of the next block. Taxi to parkrun, then, please.

I got there. Chatting to people, it seems Westerfolds park is seen as a hidden treasure, and it was certainly nice and quiet, plus it’s a pretty quiet parkrun – 43 on the day wasn’t quite an attendance record, but not too far off it. Adding to the sense of a hidden treasure, neither taxi driver I spoke to had known where it was, but at least the second had let the sat nav work it out – the first wasn’t really interested, though he did point to where I could find more cabs. We caught up with the bus I would have been on and I was at that point finally confident we were in the right place.

The run is a tough one. A sunny low 20s day, even at 8am, in a scenic and undulating park; much of the down is in the first mile, then there’s a long long up before finally a bit more descent around 4k, past the Manor House and down a winding path that was like a mountain road, describing in S shapes. Some people dashed off but after water and fruit I hooked up with a Victoria road runner for a cool down lap of the course and chat about running. Nothing better. He’d let me lock my bags in his car so I picked them up while we listened to the Kookaburras singing on the wing and went to find the bus back to town. The bus picked me up in running kit, with my backpack and suitcase – an odd appearance, but I’m not sure what you’d make of that other than the truth; a traveller who had got stuck straight into some activity. Very Australian.

The bus was empty to start with, and the driver was happy to talk about cricket without bragging. Once people did get on, it became a bus of people from everywhere; Chinese first, some Malaysians and, behind me so I could hear their conversation, one Aussie and a man born in the Soviet Union who had fought in WW2. All public transport was free for the day, with a Sunday timetable, which is pretty good. I was a bit tight on time, having suggested to my Airbnb host we meet at 11.30, but once I’d changed lines a couple of times I found a train to West Footscray (“not the best bit of town”, my running buddy had said, but close to the centre). As I walked down the road Jen called to me from her car – how nice, she’d come to pick me up! Showing me round, she pointed out a hamper of food for Christmas, and milk in the fridge. A house without other guests, brilliant; a supermarket down the road, as is Little India for eating out.

I showered and got back on the train to go to a picnic. It’s an international meeting service, overpopulated by IT professionals but usually has a few others too. I was there at 1, and the city was busy. In 29 degrees you can just mooch about, the pubs were open, Queen Victoria gardens filled with all sorts of groups. Perfect. I picked the first person who looked up and smiled from our group and was soon talking to Terry. A software developer, sat next to a programmer. But, far from dull. Terry has just spent three years developing his own software and is about to market it to then perhaps have several more years off, while English Duncan had just moved to Australia with his wife. People wandered round the group offering chocolates and sweets, sometimes stopping for a chat, while American James ahead of me chatted all things HR. After a few hours the group had splintered and we joined a younger lot under a different tree. Which could perhaps be a metaphor (“he really does sit under a different tree”), but isn’t. This lot were mostly travellers, and we soon decamped to a pub for more booze. People had run out of their own stock by now. We’d been joined by a young man who was quite awkward – he’d spent an hour behind a tree, plucking up courage to join us, but as it was his first time out in 9 months, he’d done well to make it in the end.

Results from event 10, Westerfolds parkrun, 25/12/13.

Watch batteries. Batteries for a watch

Watch batteries. Batteries for a watch
Adelaide, Australia

Adelaide, Australia

I was given a quandary last night. Dropped at the airport by Carmella in the afternoon, I’d had the luxury of being able to lounge around the house in the morning, wander down the road to get some cash out, print a couple of tickets and have lunch. All of which marked the end of a fantastically comfortable stay, before I return to hostel life. After so long away from hostels I really wasn’t sure if I could be bothered – here we go again with travelling conversations, I couldn’t imagine being up for that.

A pelican floats by on the river
The Pelican that didn’t stay long. If only there were a catchier name for that.

It didn’t last long. A French girl and I both got on the wrong bus and were directed to the right one, right behind. In our defence, it’s a J1 or J2 to Adelaide, but the same bus numbers also go down to the docks. I couldn’t tell it was the wrong bus from the front. She got the (right) bus driver onside, and it turned out we were both heading to the YHA. A few minutes of conversation later and it turned out she was driving to Melbourne in the morning and fancied company – I was bang up for the chat, it turned out.

A yellow-painted building, an old theatre
Oldest theatre in Australia.

So. To travel early, see the coast road in the day, have a bit more space but have to bin a coach ticket and find somewhere to stay tonight, or to stick with the coach journey through the night I’d booked. I liked the idea of the known, of ‘saying yes’ to a newly presented option and of continuing our conversation, but the coach trip seemed more of an adventure. I slept on it, figuring if I woke at 6 raring to go, then I’d go.

I didn’t. I felt a slight tinge of regret through the day, but it was a tinge accompanied by lunch and a book by the river, in the sun, for hours, from where it was hard to regret anything too much, especially knowing it was stormy back home. Adelaide was nicely busy-not manic, but with a busker every 100 yards and shops trying to entice people in, this felt Christmassy. But with the sun – I’m still not used to that. I passed a key cutting place that invited us all to

“Watch batteries while you wait”.

I tried it for a moment but it was dull even while not waiting. Not much of an idea.

Church with tall square spire
Dinging and donging, merrily on high.

A lovely day in Adelaide and I was back at the hostel to pick up my bags before heading to the coach. Christmas Eve and the place was buzzing with people arriving and leaving. I grinned at an Indian man who rested briefly and then paced. He came over and was unsurprised to learn I was English – he’s not the first to say I look typically so. I had to dash for my bus, which was a pity-fascinating man, who had come to England to do his PhD in high speed photography and stayed, but is now travelling Australia ahead of a Latin America tour next year. He doesn’t need to work, probably invented something fascinating in photography. With just a little more time we’d have been out to dinner and I could have asked.

The coach. A nice buzz here, too. I thought there would be, but couldn’t picture it, which made the Gallic drive initially more appealing. The driver gave us a lengthy spiel; if you have drink, drugs and food on board

“You will terminate your ride. I don’t mess about, ladies and gentlemen.”

Settle back and enjoy the ride. Fingers crossed for an arrival on time or near to it to allow me to get to Westerfolds parkrun for 8.

Reading: The Hard Way, Lee Child; A Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood.

Yanchep National park

Yanchep National park
Yanchep, Australia

Yanchep, Australia

Sunday, and Andrew’s one day off of the week. Also my last full day in Perth, so we celebrated with a trip to Tai Chi in the morning and a visit to a park in the afternoon.

Bright red growth on this tree
Australia has great trees.

The Tai Chi group could not have been more welcoming. I think Andrew, Carmella and I lowered the average age a fair bit, but not the level of competency. Our guide, William, w apparently gives the money to charity, just generous with his time, and has travelled so we could swap notes. A bit different to talking to a 20something, an actual two-way conversation rather than him talking about his travels and ignoring anyone else’s. The tai chi itself was interesting. I was in the middle so as to always have someone to watch, even when we turned, but still occasionally had the ‘learning the dance move’ feeling where I’d finish 180 degrees opposed to everyone else. I enjoyed it and what with cycling there and back along the river in the sunshine and a ice cream afterwards, it was a treat.

Afterwards we headed North to the park. It’s about an hour away and offers a lake, koalas, kangaroos and kookaburras. There were five of us now, as Amelia and Luca joined in, chasing ducks round the park while we picnicked in a bid to mimic Andrew-he had caught and removed one that had got a bit too close to the food. We’d spotted kangaroos as soon as we’d got out of the car; it took me a month here before I saw one, which is a poor effort.

Young boy walking next to tame ducks, on wide expanse of green grass
Hunting down off the ducks.

We reported the lake to the trades descriptions people before we left as it was half empty and a little disappointing. We picked up tickets to the crystal cave tour and left straight away-the lady at the ticket desk said it was a 5 minute drive, or 20-30 minute walk. 1.2km. We did it in 10, unsure as to how you could spin it out to 30. Perhaps other people are unluckier with spotting snakes and have to stop to scare them off.

The caves are a living environment, albeit a changing one as the water that used to pool there has disappeared since man started exploring them. The crystal rock formations are stunning though. Unless stalactite forming, they look opaque in dull light, but put a torch to them and you can see their translucence. The tiny shrimp things that used to live in the water are unusual, having evolved with no eyes-to Pegs, they looked the same as those 200 miles away at Margaret River, which is remarkable. As he put it, one of three reasons: either they’re super-adapted to the environment and that’s the natural evolution for creatures there, or those two cave areas were once joined and had the same population. Or they caught the bus.

Probably no charge for a prawn and its wider family. Speaking of which, many people in Australia have a wider family, just like the UK. I don’t feel like a midget here, but looking for underwear in Target I realised on doing the conversion that I needed their smallest size, 75-80, and they didn’t have any t-shirts my size since I needed an XS. XS!

I ask you. After our tour we spotted a koala talk at 3:15. More accurately, it was now 3.05, and we spotted that there was a koala talk at 3.15. The koala boardwalk is there to take us a little closer to their habitat up in the trees and we got the gen from their keeper. Something along the lines of ‘we had some old koalas from the zoo in 1938, then they died in 1940. We got some more in 1944, eventually they died. And now we have some more.

Stalagtites and mites, in the crystal cave, looking like wax melts
Crystal caves tour.

“Will they die, too?” we refrained from asking. Sharp claws, apparently-take your arms off. Pegs decided this was as near as he was going to get me to something deadly, letting me off having to swim out to sea in search of sharks or jellyfish, or stand quietly on bush paths waiting for a snake. The koalas were all asleep up in the trees, looking cute, furry and far away.

“Does anyone know why the Americans called them koala bears?”
“Ooh, something to do with Teddy Roosevelt?” one of our party asked, spotting the trick question.
“No, it’s because from behind when walking along they looked like little bears.”

A pretty straight up and down, no tricks kind of a man, our keeper.

On the walk we’d also seen Kooakburras, sitting patiently in a tree for a photo call. We had a final photo in front of a rusty red tree that was providing some of the park’s colour and headed back. At just an hour’s drive it was a lovely park with plenty to offer for a day trip.

Rottnest Island

Rottnest Island
Rottnest Island, Australia

Rottnest Island, Australia

Named for the ‘rats’ spotted by an early visitor, Rottnest island is 18km from the port of Fremantle, served by ferries from there and Perth. It has variously, and interchangeably with changing times, been used as a resort, prison and military base and now takes 350,000 visitors a year.

Multicoloured sea time
Multicoloured sea time.

Those ‘rats’ were and are in fact small marsupials called Quokkas. I took two walks to explore, one a left turn from the main jetty and one a right. On the former I didn’t see a single quokka, but couldn’t miss them on the second walk – my first was in front of the old cottages in front of the beach, the next two in the campsite and then a gaggle appeared on the road, allowing me to test how close I could get the camera. Close enough that I reckoned the next move would be for quokka Dave to take the camera and a picture of me.

I travelled on the 9.30 Rottnest Express ferry, which takes under 45 minutes. The boat looked too small for the number of people waiting, but we all got on. It was the first day of the school holidays for many, which may have made a difference, but this looks like a profitable route. I was reminded of the Arran island operators in Ireland, admittedly off-season, but all offering deals and discounts to try to get you onto their boats. This was quite different, just two operators and the cheaper deals are done way in advance.

The ferry across may have been busy, but once off the boat people disappeared into the island quickly-there’s plenty of space. No one else joined me on the walking route, and though I was delayed slightly by picking up a map and checking where the path started, I didn’t catch anyone else on the walking trail, passing only cyclists when I switched to the road. The path takes you out to the old barracks, parts of which still have barbed wire protection just off the path-leave it at your peril, the sign more or less says. Within 30 minutes I was passing deserted beaches, so hardly any travel is needed to find some solitude. The flies, though, were doing my head in.

Unused train platform, turned into an exhibit of itself
Waiting for a train that never comes.

Australian flies are persistent-wave one off your left ear and it’ll be round at the right before you know it – and happy to sit on you even if you’re moving. I’d learned at Fremantle prison that the ‘Aussie salute’ is a single-handed wave, popular because we’re all trying to be rid of the flies. They also ship in dung to draw in flies and let dung beetles rip, mercilessly consuming flies. Here’s hoping that intervention doesn’t cause another unexpected infestation, Australia suffers from enough as it is. My tour mates at the prison had been similarly plagued on Rottnest, but that warning does little good unless you either don’t go or take a netting mask of some kind-a few people had them. I was glad of a spare map to wave incessantly. It would have been entirely unnecessary if flies could be shocked by liberal use of the phrase “fuck off!” though.

After a quick, fly-free break in the dark of the old ammo store, I continued, with a fabulous view over the sea from the peak the barracks command. Leaving, I got a little confused about which track to follow and completed a small circle, so after a quick, fly-free break in the old-well, you know how that goes. I decided not to follow the full walk up to the lighthouse and nine inch guns, seeing as I’d seen the site of the six inch ones. They were put there in WW2 to protect the port of Fremantle. Again I was reminded of Ireland, and the Napoleonic fort there; grand, equipped with big guns, never used. The story is told with slightly more bombast here, though, which I preferred-less of a feeling of “oh well, maybe we shouldn’t have bothered” and more of a “we needed it! We built it! Now you can see some of it!”.

Returning to the settlement I wandered round the museum. It is small but perfectly formed, and gives an overview of the life of the island. I thought the photo books were the highlight, giving a view of prison, holiday and military life, though I was fascinated by the brief accounts of prison life from Aboriginals who had been locked up there.

For my afternoon stroll I headed north, away from the banging tunes of the hotel, which looks (sounds) as though it provides much of the nightlife. That route took me past the old colonial cottages-the originals, painted ochre when they realised that white was making everyone slightly blind. Most buildings are now used for holidays and I passed big cottages, small huts and a campsite. If not for the flies I’d go for a tent, myself; still, a big one would work as a refuge, I think, without being too claustrophobic.

A Quokka, up close. Small, furry and tame.
Ya, hi.

Soon the road becomes a marked out cycle way, and the small hills on this part of the route looked tailor made for fun on two wheels. I cursed an injury that had flared up despite inactivity – I’d brought my running kit, aiming to explore that way, but it just wasn’t going to happen, so I carried it round all day instead. There are lockers in the settlement if you don’t fancy following in my footsteps, and a shower if you manage the run.

I’d seen mention of the road round-trip being 28km, so the place is perfect for an easy-to-follow long run. I found another quiet beach after a short descent and chilled out there before returning to the settlement for ice cream on a different beach. Lovely island, beaches everywhere. I don’t think I’d explored even half, was near the settlement where everyone lands and yet I still could have had a monastic retreat from life if I’d wanted.

Cinematic adventures

Cinematic adventures
Perth, Australia

Perth, Australia

Neither Perth nor Adelaide have a permanently cheap cinema, unlike Brisbane, but I’ve kept my eyes open for cheap times to go. Before 6 at a Hoyt’s, on a Tuesday at Ace cinemas and Tuesday or Wednesday at different picture houses in the Luna palace group.

Plenty of options, then, and I used the last days of the mini heat wave that came to a crescendo over the cricket as an excuse to remain largely indoors.

How I Live Now
Adapted from a ‘young adults’ book, it got mostly favourable reviews, though a negative caught my eye, pointing out that it “made ww3 seem boring”. I think that misses the point – it has a post apocalyptic setting, but the fighting is mostly off screen and much about the conflict between army and shadowy ‘terrorists’ (deliberately, I think, not expanded upon, making that term nicely nebulous) is not revealed, which is surely to make the point that to those going through a war, the politics of same has very little resonance. Surely we wouldn’t again believe that we were fighting a war for freedom, or against ‘evil’, so all wars are just the destructive forces shown – vaguely – here, as the setting for a love story. I thought it a decent film, if not brilliant. I didn’t know its provenance but guessed because of the simplicity of the story and the youth of the protagonists.

Another book adaptation, this time of an Irvine Welsh book I’ve not read. Apparently the book has plentiful appearances from the tape worm which is dutifully put into the film but seemed a bit ‘huh?’ to my mind. See Ender’s Game, below, though – there I knew why certain things were there, here I didn’t. Still enjoyed the film. This is a properly grotty depiction of a good/bad cop and his very varied fellow detectives. One of them will make you feel old – Billy Elliott is all grown up. Looking back on it, there are an awful lot of stand out scenes, almost plays within a play, or perhaps sketches within a whole, but at the time it was just a rollicking ride. I thought it was great at the time, though in memory it seemed a little more bitty, something of a clock and dagger trick obscuring a slight lack of substance. Certainly a good watch, something for a laddish and a thoughtful audience. Don’t watch it with your parents, perhaps.

Ender’s Game
Yes, in the week’s theme, it comes from a book. Where Filth had to get creative in order to incorporate the surreality of the original material, this is fan service for a classic sci-fi book. I have read the book, so knew what the twist was and wanted to see how the whole thing would be translated. Bloke A in the cinema said it was good and hadn’t read the book, but to my mind there were bits that would have been ‘huh?’ without knowing the book. Perhaps it just seemed that way because I did – without that knowledge it’s probably simple enough to accept some things are slightly opaque without missing meaning. The big twist is almost too big to be done justice, I think, and is the one area where the film fails, seeming to feel that it can’t make too much of it because so many of the potential audience will know already. It strikes a slightly false note when it could have made a much more climactic moment without avoiding the moral questions raised. It is still good solid fan service, decent sci-fi even if you’ve not read the book.

American Hustle
“Some of what follows actually happened” But this is not an adaptation, more an ‘inspired by’. Looking up ‘Abscam’ to see which bits were real is a bit of an anticlimax, in fact, but at least that means you won’t spoil the film if you read up or already know about those events. The film is a bit of a slow burner. It’s set in the 70s, entertaining enough in itself (though I was sure some of the music was from ‘my’ youth in the 80s – fair enough to use creative licence but that sat a little oddly with an otherwise authentic – looking setting) but giving it a slightly grimy feel. It starts with a scene and then backtracks to show what led up to that, and much of that backtracking seemed too slow. Stick with it. Even the scene where Christian Bale’s character takes an interminable time to sort out his toupee and comb over is, with hindsight, useful for establishing the character. I don’t normally go for individual shots or scenes in a film, but I loved one here, as protagonists converge for a pivotal meeting in a casino; I almost applauded, it is so beautiful. As the hustle built I finally started to care, stopped thinking ‘crikey, that’s Louis CK!’ and enjoyed the ride, emerging smiling.

Even the loss of sound an hour in, necessitating a run down the corridor to find a member of staff while less clued-up patrons slow handclapped couldn’t spoil the flow. Slow starting but ultimately mesmerising.

The worst customer in the world

The worst customer in the world
Rockingham, Australia

Rockingham, Australia

“Here, have some hand cream sir, all ready for Christmas – how many women are there in your life?”



“I’m travelling, a long way from home”

“Ah, we have the man cosmetics too. How do you treat your skin?”


“I rub this on you” [ooh, free skin rub, inner arm to avoid the scrapes from the bike fall.

There follows some spiel about layers of skin, exfoliating and Dead Sea crystals. It seems odd that evolution missed out the importance of exfoliation, but then see also detoxing and colonic irrigation, I suppose.] “put your arms together-see the difference in colour.”

We chat for a while about our countries of origin. He is obviously not Australian. Israeli, it seems. I am eternally grateful to man-on-a-platform (railway station) who told me how beautiful Israel is, as I can now always pull that out and avoid anything contentious. I am offered a deal, but the aftershave for $90, get the skin cream for $45.

“Ha! Remember that thing about me being the worst customer in the world?” (I told him this at the beginning, when we were discussing the women in my life) “I’m on a backpacker budget.”

We move to talk of travel. As I am to be his last customer of the day, he – fumble for piece of paper, gosh I’m lucky to have got the manager – can sell one for $40. That really does seem cheap after the first offer.

“Well, going back to the worst customer bit, I’m not working for a year. That’s still near my daily budget.”

“Happy travels – here, have another hand cream.”

Nice man. My inner sucker really liked his patter, I’m going to have to watch it when I’m earning again. I feel like I’m so far outside consumer society that occasionally it’s nice to join in and just give money to something frivolous. I’m going to get conned somewhere.

Two very different colours at sea, aqua to dark blue
Two-tone beach.

I learnt that rubbing white cream on skin makes that skin whiter than other skin. And that, even knowing that people in Australia (I started to write consumers – kill me now) ask for discounts, you’ll be surprised how far down the price comes if you wait around protesting your poverty. Incidentally, given that Americans (and idiot English now) ‘protest a verdict’, how would they phrase the above? Where we ‘protest against’ and ‘protest’, do they ‘protest’ and ‘protest in favour’?

The temperature has plummeted. From 39 (and hotter in the sun) to 29 (and cooler in the wind). Waiting for the train home after 9, I was a little cool, almost cold, though only in shorts and a t shirt. I had headed down the coast to Rockingham. It’s a fair way, but only 5 stops on the train. That then drops passengers in the middle of nowhere. Okay, in the suburbs. I couldn’t work out which way town was so had to catch a bus, though I walked back later. The city centre is away from the nice bit, and holds a big shopping centre. The nice bit is the seafront, where there are enough shops to get by but not a full on centre. But it does have the beach. The beach is lovely, white sands and two tone sea, much gentler than the rushing beach at Scarborough we’d seen on Sunday.

I had a slightly odd experience, in that I bought lunch in a supermarket, walked along the front and stopped at a quiet spot on the beach, where I stayed for some time, reading, paddling, watching the world go by. Not much of the world actually went by, so I could keep up with it whilst managing the reading and podcast listening, worry you not. The odd bit came as I walked back; it was a good way to town. I had no recollection of really going for a walk after I’d picked up lunch. Wow, I’ve now started to forget the morning, never mind the previous day. There’s also a pretty park (Rotary Park) with a pond-looks like a nature reserve being allowed to develop – and a lake (Richmond). I walked to it but not round – it’d be an okay run, but looked a dull walk.

I strolled back along the front, through suburban Australia to the shopping centre, cinema and ultimately the train. I don’t have much to say about that-low, flat houses, built mostly to the edge of their plots with little space for gardens. In a sense, that is right up my street-I’ve always thought the ‘taming nature. Repeatedly, because it will always prevail over our order’ side of some gardening pointless, but I would want some space to enjoy. But not having much to say about it does not mean it isn’t interesting-waking through the suburbs is one of the most authentic (ugh) ways to soak up what constitutes Australian life, so I walk through taking it all in, enjoying the sunshine. I know what date it is, but if I stop to think about it, parts of my brain are saying ‘you what?’ December in the sun and heat doesn’t feel like December at all to me, I’m just enjoying my longest summer.

Reading: Conan Doyle, The Man with the Twisted lip, Weiner, Long for this World, The Strange Science of Immortality.

Bloodied, bruised, battered – exaggerated?

Bloodied, bruised, battered – exaggerated?
Kalamunda, Australia

Kalamunda, Australia

A map, taken from my GPS, of my mountain-biking
Kalamunda mountain biking trail.

Ouch, everybody, Pegs is trying to kill me!

I did warn you there might be exaggeration ahead (but while there’s moonlight…). For any 26.2 friends reading who haven’t noticed on Facebook, I’m lucky enough to be staying with our departed friends, the Pengellys. Or Pegellys, as Aimee used to call them, though the nickname predates that charming mispronunciation by many years. Andrew’s gentle yet firm imprecations once he realised I was heading for Australia made it clear I would be welcome, overcoming my natural reticence to freeload (much). And how I have overcome them – I’ve stayed for a week and am here for another one. Long enough to make sure they’ll be glad to be shot of visitors in time for Christmas.

Perth is a ‘doing things’ kind of a place, so come the weekend, come the things. Saturday was parkrun day, of course, with another at Claisebrook Coves to come next weekend. Maybe my nemesis Fordyce will be there – he didn’t run this weekend, too busy with the cricket, presumably. At least England’s meltdown has created plenty of demand for articles for the press pack. On Sunday the three Pengelly males (Andrew, Matthew and Luca) and I went mountain biking in the Kalamunda hills. The tracks criss cross the hills, with plenty of trails to draw people in, as well as the 1,000km long Mulla Bindi (spelling is wrong) trail that heads down to the south. Plenty of room for groups of bikers, and we paused to let several pass.

I was the novice, though Luca was relatively new to it. He’s also significantly younger, so has the disadvantage of having several years fewer muscle growth. My advice to you, should you have nerves about heading out on an activity, take a youngster with you; if they pause at any point you get a rest without having to ask for one. We climbed a trail, which was probably my favourite activity of the day. A challenge, without the “this thing will go faster if I take my hands off the brakes, but…” feeling I had descending.

Me, on a mountain bike
Final ride. See the grit around the chin? Held in place with blood, that.

But the point of climbing is to descend. Carmela had suggested skiing as the nearest analogous sport, with a climb leading to a relatively effort-free descent, where concentration and control are needed. I’ve certainly no better comparison, but I much prefer the biking. My problem with skiing has always been that the bit you want to do-descend – is punctuated by transportation. A bit like going for a run but being forced to get on a bus for a ride every few minutes. The bus is stopping me doing what I actually want to. Though there have been runs where a bus ride would have been very welcome. Descend we did. Down Judderbars first, with jumps (optional) and bumps (not so much), my arms knew I’d been on something other than a flat track. That segued straight into Albany, which needed concentration but not so much that I could prevent my head from going “Albany, do-be-do, I’m in love with you” all the way down. All. The. Way. Down.

One more trek and then we were onto the Scorpion descent; “The Real McCoy”, Pegs said, with swooping u-shaped boardwalks on which you need some speed, the more speed, the more you can lean the bike. We whizzed down, I made it round the boardwalks (bottled one, rode off the bottom onto the flat) and opted out of the log crossing. I’m kind of glad I had, as the trail went off to the left, while the log continued straight on, as would I had I not been off to the right, I’m sure. After crossing one more track, letting everyone close up again and acknowledging other riders’ “how ya going?” as they flew past, we were onto the last descent, which was dusty and excellently tree lined. Luca had taken a tumble but bravely made it down without complaint, so Pegs took him back to The Dell (all these names seem sensible when you’re there) while Matthew and I went up ‘Lube Me Up’ and back to the top of the Scorpion. This was not quite the high octane thrill it might usually be for Matthew, but he didn’t seem to mind waiting for me to check I’d made it through sections in one piece. Seeing him there made me think too hard about the log, and I got halfway across before deciding ‘no’. Better, at least. This time I made it round all the boardwalks, though not at great speed, and onto that final section. I’m sure someone, possibly several, have said it to me before, but here I was really seeing it for myself-a mountain bike on a dusty track is just like the view from a speeder bike on Endor (would be). Wonderful.

Filled with those thoughts I was grinning now, and onto the last gravelly section. Not that quick, but quicker than I could hack, and I came off. Not quite sure how, hitting a bump and letting the front wheel turn, probably, but I managed to graze parts of both legs and arms. I protected the vulnerable/shock absorbing because that’s the point palms of my hands, in favour of sliding on my right arm for a while before making the split-second decision to arrest momentum with my chin.

Picture of my arm, with some graze marks
Slid on this arm. Before using my chin as a brake.

Inspired. Ow. Slightly shocked, I reached Matthew, who did an excellent job of not reacting to my appearance at all, which helped. We went back to find my water bottle which was lucky, as only then did we spot my watch had come off. The Garmin’s strap had broken off, but was intact – I’ve repaired one before, though with a tool.

Speaking of tools. Pegs looked a little more concerned than Matthew had, and I was bleeding a bit, but once we’d all recovered from the disappointment of there being no frozen cokes I was able to clean up to find that underneath all the grime, no injury was that serious. I still don’t recommend the chin brake, it can be disfiguring.

In the afternoon, Pegs and I took a trip out to see the beaches. We drove past several of them, with Andrew impressing me with his knowledge of the happening pubs – we were later to visit the Leftbank, which might have been more trendy than either of us has been. We stopped at Scarborough beach-the place to be seen, I am told. The sea is fairly fierce, not up to surfing standards perhaps, but it fair crashes in to the shore. Throwing a ball back to someone in the sea needs a bit of accuracy or it will come straight back onto the beach, for instance. We bounced around in the waves for a while, free from the responsibility of looking after anyone. Which is just a normal day for me, of course, but not for everyone. Always good to see a different perspective.

Tussocks and dunes behind Scarborough beach
Scarborough beach.

Ice cream on the way to the pub, which is a good deal. We paused to avoid being in the line of a photo, and Pegs offered to take it for them, showing all his creative composition. I tried to look impatient, so mum could have a ‘such a nice gay couple helped us with this photo’ story.

Australia really is a country for getting up and out, but a 5.00 start made for a pretty wiped out evening and surely would for most of even an early rising society. I’d earned a good night’s sleep.

Reading: Gary Gibson, Empire of Light. Which it see now continues from Nova War. Which I have. But have not read. My thing, then; series, read in the wrong order

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