Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Blissful coolth...

I've turned the heater on. First time this year. Last night the thermometer got down into single figures; as a result two little cats curled up tightly behind my knees. Twin thermo nuclear reactors! I woke up boiling from the waist down and with freezing shoulders where the little devils had pulled the blankets down into a bundle to keep themselves warm :-)

T'other Half and I went for a brisk walk with the dog when the sun came up and I, for once, wore a light sweatshirt. Until now I've been overheating in a tshirt. Oh, I DO love this cooler weather! I even sprinted in the park, and jogged along the footpath.

We've been taking the bikes out almost every day too. Both of us have been getting fitter and when I'm on Petunia I can give t'Other Half a serious run for his money these days. He doesn't get nearly as far ahead of me as he used to. Penelope is my faithful shopping friend and her Basil bags have shown themselves capable of taking a good load - tins of cat food and tomatoes, litres of milk, apples, chocolate, fish and an entire rockmelon sat comfortably in the messenger bag today.

Last Saturday we went bushwalking with some friends for a couple of hours around North Head national park in Sydney. Summer's last blast, it was a bright blue day with not a cloud in sight until mid afternoon. People were in swimming at the little coves and beaches around Manly and the Head.

Bet there aren't many people in the water today, though. It's grey and cool and dank. So dank that the lightweight load of washing I did this morning - such as cotton sheets - didn't get dry. It's now hanging, Chinese laundry-style, in front of the heater.

The only thing I hate about this time of year is that it's dark by about 5.15. I keep thinking about the title of Douglas Adams' book, The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul. It feels a bit like that most days when I've finished work and it's too dark to safely cycle down the unlit paths in our slightly unsavoury neck of the woods. Still, it beats the heat.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The lure of the glossy weekly

I don't buy women's magazines, in general. I used to buy New Woman years ago, and if it looks interesting enough this month I'll buy Marie Claire. When I'm at the hairdresser's I'll indulge in the irresistible awfulness of the weeklies, New Idea and Woman's Day, with their stories about soap stars (I don't watch soaps either) and international celebs.

This week, however, I forked out for Grazia, a relatively new weekly with an emphasis on fashion and, natch, the celebs who wear it. It's not something I'd buy as most of the featured fashions are aimed at someone younger, thinner and certainly richer than I :-). Someone who can actually wear heels without knee pain. But this week my stepdaughter had a letter published in it, and a very fine letter it was, too, encouraging readers to be happy to be their age and not try and act or dress like 16 year olds when they're 30 or over. Embrace who you are, she said, and be a 'real' woman not a pseudo-teen. So of course I had to buy a copy for posterity.

If I was my stepdaughter's age I'd probably like to read this on a regular basis too. For a weekly the editorial, layout and paper quality is pretty good. But oh dear, am I out of touch with the gossip world. CAM DOUBLE DATES, screamed a headline on the cover, A-ROD VS JT. I decoded Cam as Cameron Diaz (there was a helpful photo) and correctly guessed JT was Justin Timberlake, but had to read to find out about A-Rod. Seems all the celebs now are known by their first name only (and if you don't know who Heidi is, or Kate, or Milla, then heaven help you. If you do know who Paris is... well, there's no escaping that particularly vacuous woman); alternately, their names are initials - SJP or J-Lo anyone? - or if they are a couple, an awful amalgamation of both names, viz. Brangelina. Takes up less space on the page than Brad & Angelina I guess.

I'm finding these nomenclature abbreviations increasingly annoying. Unless you're a celeb follower they can be downright confusing. They do have an amusing side, though. Our prime minister is jokingly called K-Rudd by the media. My husband and I simply call him Krudd. Bugger the hyphen.
But back to Grazia. Single-named celebs and n0t-me clothing notwithstanding, it's an alluring read. Would I buy it again? I just might; it's nicely packaged enough and has enough interesting articles to keep me entertained on a train to the city.

Oh, and thigh-high stiletto boots are still in. Just in case you were wondering.

Monday, April 19, 2010

My Lady Nicotine

Last Thursday I gave up smoking for the eleventy hundredth time. Now, I've never been a heavy smoker, not a pack-a-day person; a usual day would be just under half a pack. But that half a pack (sometimes less, sometimes none) a day has been hanging around for about fourteen or so years. A lot too long. My doctor told me last year to give up, and I did try, but I hate being told to do things, even if they are for my own good. I think it stems from having a very controlling parent as a child, who told me what I wanted and didn't want to do rather than let me make my own decisions. I've been rebelling ever since. At my age you'd think I'd have grown out of rebelling.

Anyway, I found giving up last year so damned impossible I thought I'd never crack the habit. I used cigarettes as a form of procrastination. When I don't want to phone a client and talk to them - have a fag*. When I'm stuck on a design element or idea - have a fag. When I can't think of the words to write - have a fag. I'd use cigs as a stress release; after a confrontation with a client, or when I felt backed into a corner with too many people wanting my time I'd escape outside with a cigarette. I'd used them to have a few minutes to myself, particularly when I worked in an office with others; I needed to escape from the mob quite a lot. I used cigarettes when I relaxed, too; nothing like a smoke when you're sitting down with a chilled white wine. I'd get antsy over at my mother's, as she hates smoking and I could never feel comfortable smoking there, so I had to go without which was very hard for me at family dinners or parties. Anywhere there was a a glass of wine for me, I wanted a smoke as well. (* - British for cigarette. Just so's there's no confusion.)

But now it's been five days, and I didn't think I'd manage this. Usually at this point in the giving up process I'm climbing the walls. I have 'fake' cigarettes in the form of a plastic ciggy-shaped thing which has a little vial of nicotine and menthol in it. If I really crave one, I suck on that for the length of time I'd usually take to smoke a cigarette.

What's made it bearable, doable and (I intend) permanent is the Gabriel Method. The GM is primarily a weight loss method which isn't a diet per se but encourages you to eat 'real' foods and comes with a visualisation CD. You visualise yourself with your desired body and through other visualisations as well as a sensible diet and exercise you trick your body into losing weight (or words to that effect). Anyway, the CD is a form of mild hypnosis I think. Jon Gabriel plants the seed in your mind that you'll only crave healthy food not sweet things or rubbish food (I rarely crave junk food anyway, I've always preferred to eat fresh). After a week of listening to it every day I found that I wasn't craving cigarettes as I used to. I was also far less stressed; the CDs are excellent for stress release too. Even if I don't lose weight I'm feeling better within myself.

Right, I thought, with 3 cigs left in the pack on Thursday morning, let's see how long I can go without having a smoke once I've finished these three. I'm still going. I do long for a ciggy every so often, and I go to pick up my fake fag and 'smoke' it but it doesn't taste very nice so that's offputting too. I just go without.

Any time the urge comes upon me, I think of my bicycles. How much better I'll feel riding them without cigarettes in my life and my lungs. How much easier it will be going up hills. Yesterday we went for a ride and I was able to sprint past my husband. Not for long, he always likes being in front; but I felt more powerful within myself. More capable.

Anyway, mind over matter, one day at a time and any other cliche you can add at this point. It takes three weeks to form a habit; I have two and a bit to go before my cigarette habit is more firmly a no-cigarette habit.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

On the other side of the tracks...

We live near a railway line, and our usual half hour ride, the before-breakfast or late afternoon one, sticks to our side of the tracks. We go down a shared bike and walkway (which works very well, it's nice and wide and those pesky pedestrians give you a decent berth) from Toongabbie to Girraween. We have to cycle along the roads a bit to get there, but it's a back way by the railway track and nice and quiet.

But today we decided to augment our ride by crossing the tracks after our usual ride, going via the railway station and exploring a track I'd found that I'd been considering as a route to Blacktown, where there is a large shopping mall. I'd had visions of cycling there, filling my panniers and cycling home through International Peace Park. I mean, what a pretty name, it has to be a nice ride, right? (Here's the route by the way). Wrong. Hmm, I don't think I'll be doing that ride on my own. For starters the shared bike and walking path is very gravelly and Petunia felt a little unsure of herself from time to time. And it's very secluded. Too secluded. You ride along behind backyard fences with the canal and then railway on the other side, with lots of bushes around, for at least half of it. I'd heard that a woman had been attacked and her bicycle stolen several months ago on the path, and wondered how on earth that could happen in broad daylight. On the maps the path looks great. In real life I can imagine it only too well. It's actually a bit creepy. I was glad t'Other Half was there with me.

We got a 20km cycle in, but it wasn't a rewarding one in terms of terrain and vista. I'll have to explore other bike paths we can access from our house. Blacktown City Council doesn't keep them as nicely as Holroyd Council, which owns the Toongabbie-Girraween path. The T-G path is nicely concreted, no gravel in sight. Visibility is excellent.

On the other hand, I felt fantastic after the ride - we both put a couple of sprints in along our usual bike path, the sun was shining, and I felt myself used to Petunia again.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Autumnal bliss

OK, the trees haven't started to really change colour yet, but a magical seasonal thing happened over the Easter break.

It got cooler. Just like that.

The heat and humidity that has plagued us since December vanished, leaving sunshine that was warm but not hot, and nights that suddenly we can sleep through - even occasionally needing another blanket. The winter duvet isn't far away. We haven't had to have the aircon on to cool us down. We suddenly need light sweaters in the evenings.

All this delightful coolth means we are waking refreshed and bright-eyed and eager to get out of bed and walk or cycle before breakfast. This week it's been walking for the most part with our dog, who needs the exercise too. The heavy dew on the grass creeps into our trainers, soaking our socks with chilly water. Rosie the spaniel is soaked to the skin halfway up her sides after only ten minutes; she loves to nose through longer grass in the parks, and chases her ball with the delight and dedication of a retriever.

We've had the bikes out, too - I think I'll go for a ride later today, even if T'Other Half isn't up to it. He makes rather a big deal out of any kind of exercise, even if he's doing it regularly. The Birman Boycat and I exchange knowing glances when T'Other Half starts rabbiting on about his calf muscles or thigh muscles or how he should only jog instead of walk every second day. The jogging, by the way, consists of a 200 metre trot down a mild hill, and another 200 metres on the flat in the middle of our brisk walk. You'd think it was a ten mile gallop the way he bangs on about it. The animals and I hear a lot about the muscles after a jog :-). Not that I can talk, my jogs are about the same; my damaged knees scream in protest if I jog for long on the footpath, so I keep any running to the soft turf in the park. Thankfully cycling is much kinder to my knees.

So while now might be the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, it's also the season of cycling - we are planning rides for the next few weekends: Richmond, Olympic Park, along the Parramatta Riverbanks. Weekdays we'll be alternating walking and cycling before breakfast. It doesn't get any more perfect that this.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Travelling south

I love the NSW South Coast. It's less busy than its northern cousin; could be because it's a bit cooler in general and quite bitter in winter. Most people aspire to travelling north from Sydney. If you travel far enough north, you hit Queensland. This is supposed to be a bonus. Wow! Queensland is glitzy - think white clothes and gold sandals, girls - and it's the place where school leavers go to party after twelve years of teachers and books. Queensland is shopping malls and nightclubs. It's hot and humid. It also has some extremely beautiful natural wonders and exquisite beaches, but it's the south coast that tugs at my heart.

Here's a snapshot of my holiday there last month... maybe you can see why I love it. Bear in mind the temperatures here were warm; in Sydney (and Queensland) the beaches you see in these photos would be crowded. Sadly in saving these pics in Photoshop they have lost a bit of their vibrant colour as I used the 'save for web and devices' option. Just turn the brightness on your monitor to full.

Here is the Sea Cliff Bridge at Coalport, north of Wollongong. We stopped here for some birdwatching, watching raptors soar high above us. Look far into the distance for the southernmost suburbs of Sydney, and wave them goodbye.

What's a seaside trip without a lighthouse? This lovely specimen is at Kiama. Below it on the cliffs is a blowhole. The tide wasn't very high so it wasn't blowing too much. T'other half suggested that it was turned down because it was midweek and outside tourist season :-).

And here's our piece of paradise, our cottage where we spent our honeymoon three years ago:

This place is my secret. I've been coming to this house for ten years. I shared it firstly with a special friend from the UK. True love in the romantic sense never eventuated, but he is still one of my closest and most loved friends. It felt funny when I brought my husband here for our honeymoon... I was so used to visiting with Pete! Anyway, the interior is simple and limewashed, with seaside touches that aren't quaint or trite. It simply feels like home. There are no signs telling you where to put your rubbish etc, the fridge is stocked with generous breakfast goodies, and you can smell the sea from the balcony.

And here is the beach in question, in sunshine and sunset. We swam at all hours of the day depending on what else we were doing. Two days we swam at sunset, cooling off after a warm day's sightseeing.

The local river spills out into the sea... here is the view from a couple of hundred metres in the other direction:

The beaches here are pristine. Locals take pride in their environment, and arrange working bees to clean the beaches. But who would want to litter these lovely natural spaces? There are plenty of litter bins about, and we never saw anything on the beaches that wasn't washed up by the tide (which we removed and binned) or was of the sea itself.
Couldn't help clowning around...
Below , the rocks of Tuross Head. Around the point there is a perfectly good swimming beach, but these pics below remind me of the wildness of the south coast, the hazards for the unwary boatman. I've been here on windy days where the spray hits the top of the cliff and the headlands are shrouded in mist.
Even better is Bingi National Park:
On the little narrow road leading out to Bingi, we saw something most townies never get to see - a mob of wild kangaroos. This photo is just a fraction of them. We estimated there were well over 100 of them! They were grazing in the paddocks beside the road, and at first we thought there were only a dozen. But then we saw movement in the long grass as more and more of them brought their heads up to look at our car. A big male, clearly a leader, came closest and saw for a good ten minutes staring us down. Something spooked them eventually and they were off, bounding gracefully in several directions. Around ten of them jumped across the road in front of us, one after the other. My friends from Scotland got brilliant pics of that. It was a superb moment, seeing these lovely animals in their own environment.

And from the golden sands to the peculiarity that is Guerilla Bay - it reminds me of a Greek island. Very rocky, shingles, whitish sand.

And here's Guerilla Bay at the busiest I've ever seen it:

Magic, eh? It's my dream to live down there one day... away from the hustle and bustle, shopping at the local farmers' markets, walking on the beach all year round, riding my bike on the quiet roads down to the beach...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

It's been HOW long? Ooops...

So much for posting on a daily or almost daily basis. It's been a month. We've had people staying with us and have been touring around - to the NSW south coast, to Canberra,to the Hunter Valley, as well as playing tourists ourselves in Sydney as we showed our Scottish visitors around the city.

Sydney isn't as bike-friendly as Melbourne. Bike racks in the downtown area are not utilised as well as they could and should be, but then it's a brave cyclist who takes on aggressive Sydney drivers, particularly in the city itself. That being said I did see some nice bikes around, particularly some 80s vintage ladies' cycles; however my camera wasn't at the ready and these bikes were in full flight, carrying their riders sturdily.

Canberra is a cycle city. In fact there's a shop which combines bicycle and coffee culture quite nicely in Kingston:
A peek through the window showed tables in front and bikes in back. My visitors aren't really cycling people so I didn't dash in to get a fuller measure of what was inside, but a brief inspection through the front door showed the back of the shop laden with city bikes, road bikes and fixies.
But my favourite bike photo from my touring comes from the farm cottage where we stayed. The owner has created a little paradise (more in another post), with touches that really make this place a special haven in which to relax. This poor bike below...many years ago she was abandoned cruelly by the holidaymaker who propped her against the shed, forgetting even about the flowers so carefully chosen and picked from the roadside, and dashed inside for a cup of tea.
Poor thing! She must have been a very graceful creation in her day. She wasn't a brand I recognised - the headbadge was so rusted it didn't make much sense, especially with me lifting the basket of flowers with one hand and trying to shove my compact camera under and around with the other. It looks like a bow, doesn't it? Aside from the pretty headbadge the bike has been plainly built: lugs, but not fancy ones. As always when I see a sight like this I long to have the knowledge and capability (and money) to do a restoration job, as her geometry looks very comfortable. I doubt her owner would let me, though - I've been coming to this place for ten years and the bike has been there all that tine (so, actually, have the plastic flowers!). She's a landmark on the property.

As for bikes I can ride, the hot humid weather broke over Easter, and I was able to take Petunia on a good long run rather than just around the block or to the shops. I hadn't had a decent ride on her for ages - she had a broken valve in her back tyre I didn't fix over summer as it became clear it was a summer from hell and too sticky to do much riding. Any riding I did was on Penelope. Oh dear... it felt so weird riding Petunia again! I had trouble balancing. I even had to put the saddle down nearly two inches, as I'd also lost the art of mounting the proper way and needed to have a toe on the ground. After an hour I was used to her again, but still not as confident on her as I was last year.

So lots of relearning for me and Petunia. Penelope has spoiled me with her lovely balance and relaxed geometry. I'm so glad it's autumn, riding weather! Now... if only it would stop raining :-)