Sunday, 28 March 2010

Stanwell Park Ocean Challenge

Bad week + bad back = bad mood.

That summed me up this morning. As Davo drove us down the coast to Stanwell Park, I carried the tension of my dark mood in my lower back.

Fortunately, it was your typical perfect Sydney day (sob all you poor sods who live in farwaway lands afflicted by foul weather) so when we arrived my spirits lifted somewhat, though my back still killed me.

But to the swim.

The Stanwell Park Ocean Challenge starts at Coalcliff beach and runs a fairly straight course 2.3 km north to finish at Stanwell Beach at Stanwell Park, a pretty oceanside 'village' tucked into the southern edge of the Royal National Park.

As usual, Davo and I arrived nice and early. This gave me time to part with $40 (late entry fee) and for us to catch the first bus to Coalcliff.

The town gets its name from its coal cliffs! Doh! Apparently, the Illawarra Coke Company has had a site here for over 97 years. You can't see it from the beach.

The exciting part of the event for me was that we were going to swim past the cliffs, which look stunning in photos.

The swim started on time at 10am, though there was a bit of confusion as the surfwatch plane was meant to fly over before the starter horn went off. Minor glitch.

The horn blew out of 'honk' by the time the 40+ group surged into a very swimmable surf.

I enjoyed the swim, despite my back. My goggles filled and fogged, I stopped and looked around and still continued to swim wide of the buoys. I am seriously over myself. I'm sure I added another kilometre onto the distance today because I always head out to sea and away from the peloton. Someone help me!

Highlights - as I turned my head to the left, every so often I glimpsed the cliffs rising from the water like the walls of an ancient fortress. The water was gorgeous, and sometimes I could see all the way to the ocean floor.

Lowlights - I got tired (same old story), followed in the person who swam too wide of the final buoy (same old story) and my time sucked (you know how the story goes).

But that's OK (it's not really, but I am writing this season off just because...).

I think Davo did an excellent time, though he couldn't find his result on the board.

The ocean swimming season is slowly drifting to a close, but there's still more to come. Stay tuned to this blog.

PS Back still bad but mood slightly better.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Balmoral Swim is short but bitter sweet

Before the first wave of ocean swimmers pelted into the water this morning at Bamoral Beach, a minute's silence was held to remember Saxon Bird, the 19-year-old junior ironman, surf lifesaver and ocean swimmer who died in a freak accident on the Gold Coast on Friday.

Bird had been competing in the Australian Surf Lifesaving Championships when he was knocked unconscious after falling off his surf ski in rough surf. It took rescuers one hour to find his body.

Members of Bird's surf club, Queenscliff, were out in force today, sporting black armbands to honour his memory. It was a powerful gesture, reminding us all of the fragile nature of life and the loss of a beautiful young person who was clearly loved and admired by his peers.

It was a glorious day, hot and sunny, and the water was pure and clear and teeming with fish.

If you don't know Balmoral Beach, it has more of a European feel, except without those awful pebbles and the congestion that goes with English and on-continent seaside resorts. So, I take that back! It is uniquely Australian, but minus the waves.

It also attracts a well-heeled crowd - lots of merchant banker/stockbroker/solicitor (take your pick) blokes with well-maintained, 30-something wives and pretty children dressed in designer gear. They live up the hill in Mosman, but aspire to move it on up to an architect-renovated mansion on the hillside in Balmoral. Of course, this is a vast generalisation, so I extend my apologies in advance to any poor, ugly people without kids who live in Mosman or Balmoral.


Because the swim is only 1 km I reckon lots of punters checked the conditions and decided to enter on the day - so did Davo, my nephew Little Prince and I.

Because of the overwhelming number of late entries, the anti-clockwise swim started 15 minutes late at 10.15am.

It was fast and furious. Right from the start, I was embroiled in a melee of thrashing arms and legs. At one point, a swimmer's foot connected with my chin, which caused my teeth to 'clack' together. I never lost sight of any swimmers because I was in the thick of the peloton, a strange feeling for someone who considers herself a plodder with a tendency to swim wide of the buoys.

Davo reckons he did it in 19 minutes. I started three minutes after him, but I'm hopeful my time is the same - OR FASTER!

Little Prince, aged 11, competed in the 250-metre swim for the 12-and-under group. He did a good job and sprinted with another boy to the finish line. However, this extra exertion led to an impressive vomit as he walked up the beach - banana and sea water combo! Thirty minutes later he managed to consume a chocolate milkshake in about three chug-a-lugs.

You've got to admire the boy's stamina.

A great swim was had by all, and next week will be even bigger as there are two excellent longer swims to choose from - either North Steyne or Stanwell Park.

Swim on.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Women writers are underrepresented on the Miles Franklin Literary Award longlist

It's worth mentioning that only three of the novels on the longlist for the 2010 Miles Franklin Literary Award are written by women.

The usual suspects, including Peter Carey and Thomas Keneally, are on the list of 12, along with the prodigious Craig Silvey, 27, author of Jasper Jones, his second novel.

An SMH article about the longlist focused on the photogenic Silvey, who has also been nominated for the Cleo Bachelor of the Year. He's got the look - stubbled chin, nice hair with just a little product to thicken up the top bit, earnest and sincere expression and intelligent eyes. You know what I mean.

The story also mentioned Glenda Guest, a writer in her 60s whose debut novel Siddon Rock made the cut. It's heartening to learn that Guest had placed her finished ms, written for her PhD in Creative Writing, in a drawer but was encouraged by friends to send it to publishers.
Of course, Guest isn't as newsworthy as the younger Silvey, who is all shiny and uncreased.

The two other women who join Guest on the list are established author Sonya Hartnett and Deborah Foster (when I Googled her name she came up as the author of a book on cross-stitch).

But there they are. Three. Their number comprises one quarter of the list.

It makes me wonder if the Australian 'literary' market is dominated by men, or if there are usually more women on the list. I'm too lazy to research this - no one's paying me to write my blog and I spend too much time on the stupid thing anyway. So you do it.

But it's still something to ponder. Once one steps outside of the romance writing genre (and its sub genres) and into what is perceived as 'serious' writing, does it become a boys' club?

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Sydney Harbour Swim is a Classic

What makes an ocean swim a 'classic'?
Over at the ocean swims website this question is hotly debated.

But I think most people would agree the Ord Minett Sydney Harbour Swim Classic organisers are justified in using this overhyped word. And they earn the right solely because of the location.

The swim starts and ends at the Sydney Opera House, off the Man O' War Steps. And for most of the course, which runs a loop around Farm Cove, the 'House' in all its massive bathroom-tiled glory can be glimpsed as swimmers turn their heads to breathe. That's pretty cool.

The atmosphere surrounding this year's event was far more relaxed than in 2009, when Sydneysiders were scared to go in the water after a series of nasty shark attacks over the summer months. The most horrific was just around the corner from Farm Cove in Woolloomooloo Bay, where a bull shark tore off a navy diver's arm and leg.

But back then the shark experts predicted that 2010 would be much quieter - and it has been. Apparently, shark attacks are cyclic (comforting news) and a lack of cold currents and bait fish in the harbour and along the coast has possibly kept them away this year.

So, there wasn't the brouhaha, including TV news crews, like last year. Nor did the organisers provide a power boat or hire extra scuba divers to blow bubbles below the competitors.

Hey, maybe that's why I swam slow this year! No sharks. That's my excuse for allowing Davo to beat me - AGAIN.

Although I swim like someone's tugging on my foot, today's experience was fantastic. Last night's rain seemed to have no effect on the water quality as it appeared much clearer than last year.

The sun was shining, the crowd was chilled, the water was a pleasant 22 degrees Celcius and both the 1 km and 2 km (I think that distance is debatable, more like 1.5 km) swims ran on time. Davo reckons he finished in around 30 minutes, so it can't possibly be a 2 km course!

Check out my pic of the House, with the Sydney Harbour Bridge behind it.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Scary 1970s flashback: the night I met Status Quo at the Hordern Pavilion

Life can be cruel. About 30 years ago I would've happily jumped the bones of Status Quo's lead singer.

But now I'm older and wiser, I know what men are like (and what they like - it's usually 20 years younger than me) and I no longer aspire to be a rock 'n' roll groupie. A glass of wine and a cuddle in front of the telly with Spanner is enough to warm my toes.

And I'm not the only one who's aged. SQ's lead singer Francis Rossi, once the object of my desire, is older - much older. Wiser? Well, Status Quo still tours and Rossi, who used to have a mane of long brown hair in the 1970s when the band was in its hey day, is now somewhat less hirsuit.

I know this because on Thursday night I revisited my youth at a Status Quo concert at the Hordern Pavilion, the same place I first saw the band in the 1970s. SPOOKY.

My friend Mr Squeaky bought me a ticket to the gig after learning that I once adored the band - or more to the point - Rossi.

For those of you who are too young to remember SQ, the band is English and its core members Rossi and Rick Parfitt (Alan Lancaster left the band in the '80s and immigrated to Australia) are now well into their 50s (possibly 60s?). Think EastEnders, though Parfitt's died-blonde mop and ruddy complexion cause him to resemble an ageing Cronulla surfie. Rossi fits the mould - he could be a character from a Guy Ritchie flick.

Anyway, the story is this. I meet Mr Squeaky at the Hordern where he informs me he's won a competition to meet the band. This is so funny I can't stop laughing. At first I think he's pulling my leg.

But it's true. After our friend Mr Clean arrives we, and the 10 other lucky winners (all of us middle-aged), are escorted backstage and upstairs to a fluorescent-lit room with a shabby bar and white plastic tables on which dried-out quiches and cakes are piled.

Fortunately, the food is for the band's entourage, as we're not offered anything and are abandoned in a far corner of the room where the walls shudder from the impact of the support band playing below. Am I in Chile?

But then the band arrives and we're shaking hands with a young drummer and a young bass player, and then the really old keyboardist-cum-guitarist who I don't know from a bar of soap.

By the time my former heroes, Rossi and Parfitt, arrive to shake our hands they've done the rounds and there's no time to chat. I'm disappointed for so many reasons. They're both shorter and altogether smaller than they used to be, I'm sure. Rossi's hair is thinning, grey and slicked back.

And Parfitt says, "'Ello love," as he offers me a limp hand.

Once we're back in our seats with the rest of the geriatric crowd, the show starts (gawd, get me a rum and coke) and I realise it's impossible to rekindle the past. Once it's gone, let it go.


PS: Above is a photo of Mr Squeaky, Rick Parfitt and Mr Clean.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

My story made it into the RWA Little Gems Topaz short story anthology

Hey! Occasionally, I write stuff.

Like romantic fiction.

I say 'occasionally' because lately I haven't had time to scratch myself let alone sit down and work on my ms, which is in dire need of revision.

But yesterday I arrived home from work to a huge surprise. I was trawling through my emails when I saw one with the subject line: Little Gems. Being the eternal pessimist, I opened all my other messages first.

I clicked on the last email with a feeling of detachment (sorry - that's telling, not showing). To cut a long story short, the short story I entered in the 2010 RWA Little Gems contest has made it into the anthology.

I cried (more telling). My eyes filled and tears spilled onto the computer keyboard as I read and reread the message from the contest coordinator (that's better, although it's an exaggeration. I shed a few tears and dragged the family away from their favourite TV show My Kitchen Rules and made them read the email with me).

The contest coordinator wrote: 'Your story has gained a place in The Little Gems Topaz Anthology.'

Of the 59 stories entered, 14 were chosen (judged) for publication.

I was more relieved than anything else (bloody telling again). I liked my story and considered it good enough to make the cut. If it hadn't, I think I would have seriously thought about letting go of the dream.

But now I have the boost I need to carry on.

As if the world needs another writer!

PS: Congratulations to my fellow Bootcamp 109ers, Jenn (who read my story and offered wise advice) and Fiona (who is celebrating her third Little Gems victory). Oh, and thanks to my other lovely booty cat girls - Anita, Mon and Shell, for their invaluable feedback.

PPS: This is the 2010 Little Gems cover, designed by Helen Katsinis. My story title Finders Keepers will appear on the list on the back cover.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Woohoo! A little ripper of a swim at Manly

Ocean swimmers were spoilt for choice this weekend with Sydney events at Manly and Freshwater, and up the coast at Lake Macquarie (Saturday), Caves Beach and Coffs Harbour.

Davo and I chose the Manly Daily Ocean Swim. Let me tell you fine people from around the world who occasionally stumble across this blog, not many things compare to a sunny day at the beach in Sydney. Bliss.

The angels blew in on a north-easterly wind that teased up soft, foamy waves. There was a smattering of weed and a bluebottle warning, but we managed to avoid the nasty translucent creatures and their wispy, stinger tendrils. Whew (blueys freak me out).

As we arrived at South Steyne (Manly's southern end), the first of the 1 km swimmers were pounding up the sand to the finish line. There are more and more people doing ocean swims, with most dipping their toes into the shorter course.

We strolled north to the starting line opposite the Corso, where a much smaller group of nutters waited for the 2 km event. Davo and I were in the same wave. When the starter gun went off I followed him in but he was soon out of sight - smarty pants.

OK, here's the report in full. Because it was low tide and shallow, it took a little while to get through, under and over the white-wash waves. My cossie had collected a fair amount of weed by the time I got to the first buoy, about 800 metres offshore. This is my excuse for not beating Davo (again) this time.

Next, a right-hand turn and out to sea -sort of. That's how it felt swimming across to Fairy Bower (Manly Point?) and over the shark net that runs the length of Manly beach. How cool is that? The net is way way down and appears affixed to the ocean floor. It's not that high. That was the first swim highlight.

The second was the leg to Fairy Bower, a popular diving spot off Shelley Beach. On the reef I saw small fish (Davo saw big ones, of course). Down below, scuba divers blew air balloons that rose up to meet me. Initially, I thought the bubbles were sea creatures, some sort of jelly blubber. But then I noticed the disembodied divers' fins. Mystery solved.

I was buggered by time I rounded the last buoy, but the swell gave me a gentle nudge towards my destination.

Because I'm not a runner (I used to love it but had to stop because of a dodgy hip) the lengthy exit along the sand was annoying and other swimmers passed me.

As usual, Davo was on the beach to wave me in as I 'shuffled' the 30 or so metres to the finish line (BASTARD - I forgive you).

In summary, Davo and I have declared the Manly Daily Ocean Swim one of the best this season - a swim that challenges, enthralls and contains small surprises at every turn.

La vita e bella!

Friday, 5 March 2010

What ought one to do? Or Why is my life such a mess?

'What ought one to do?' Socrates posed this question and it forms the basis for the study of ethics. Do I sound intellectual? Well, that's about as much as I know about the subject.

However, every so often I find myself facing an ethical dilemma. Usually, this occurs in relation to my working life and it usually has something to do with my inability to say 'no' to a request, my fears about ending up on the pension with a diet of tinned cat food (possibly better than dried?) and my concerns about letting people down. Also, I procrastinate a lot.

I'm now in a situation, not dissimilar to last year, where I'm working harder than I would like and am therefore finding it hard to indulge in my two favourite pastimes - swimming and writing.

The question is, do I quit one of my jobs? The answer is easy. Yes.

But when? And what of the consequences for my work mates who are relying on me?

Did I also mention I'm a coward who hates confrontation?

Maybe I'll just go get a cuppa and think about it some more...
Better still, squeeze in a swim!