Sunday, 30 October 2011

Another glorious coastal retreat is under constant threat from developers

Spanner and I drove to Newcastle yesterday and on the way I made him stop at Catherine Hill Bay.

Not many people know about Catherine Hill Bay (CHB) - except the lucky locals. Oh, and the developers who want to carve up the land and allow 600 homes to be built there. Is this a big deal? You should have a geek at the rampant f'ugly residential development along the Australian coastline and you'll realise it is.

Gawd, a stroll along the sand from Broadbeach to Burleigh on the Qld Gold Coast highlights row upon row of gaudy, tawdry and tasteless mansions. Some of these houses could be mistaken for RSL clubs except they're bigger and uglier (if that's possible).

Head down the NSW South Coast for the light and sleazy versions that are slapped up almost overnight on acreage that used to be remnant forest or dairy cattle land.  

CHB is unusual because it is one of the few remaining examples of an 'intact Australian company town', which features the fibro and timber miners' cottages built to house the workers when the town's jetty was used to load coal.

I don't much about the town's heritage but I do know it's a special place that has managed to escape the claws of developers because of the vigilance of its residents, determined to save CHB from becoming another soulless beachside 'burb.

You can get involved in the fight by joining the Friends of  Catherine Hill Bay

Back to the swim. Spanner sat in the car and figured out how to use the iPod (sad, isn't it?) while I threw myself into an icy Pacific Ocean. The air temp was around 28 but I reckon the water was more like 17. Brrrrrrrr. I then took some snaps of the jetty, which the locals are also fighting to save from demolition. It is not only historically significant but also a work of art that must be preserved for future generations. 

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Burleigh Ocean Swim: embrace the turtle within

Heading north to the start of the 2km swim
With a heavy heart I must report that my swim times are still crapulous, despite training throughout winter. 

I should have listened to Spanner's advice, for he is *wise. The Wise One (that's Spanner) has always said that I need to acknowledge my slow-swimmer genes and embrace the turtle within.

On Sunday at Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast in Queensland I finally looked the turtle in the eye. 

At the start line
It was a beautiful day, which dawned at 4.30am. That's when the sun bloody well rises in Queensland because the state doesn't have daylight savings. This far north the sand is blindingly white and fine. 

My friend Ms Fivestar, who came to Burleigh as my **support person, created this lovely analogy: she said Queensland sand squeaks under the feet like haloumi cheese in the mouth. If you've got some haloumi handy, get a piece and chew on it. That is the sound of Qld sand between the toes. 

The ocean is shades of blue and green, and white as the waves break and roll onto the shore.

Woo hoo: I wish I could say I looked that athletic
Ms Five Star and I stayed on the 16th floor of an apartment on The Esplanade. The views were spectacular. I will never get over how lucky we are to live in a country with so much coast. It's glorious. And the sound of the surf, though loud and continuous, is therapeutic. I love it. 

About the swim. I did the 2km event, which started at 7am about half-way up the beach from the Burleigh Heads Mowbray Park Surf Club. There is a reason for the early start. As the day progresses, the wind blows in and the surf can become choppy and unpredictable. On the Saturday, bluebottles were driven into shore by a robust nor-easterly wind. The surf was ragged and a strong current ran north. 

At 7am on Sunday, the ocean was in a better mood (a local described it as "flat as") and the wind hadn't yet arrived. 

My age group ran into the shallow water about 15 minutes past the hour, after three other younger age groups. I did the usual - adjusting and emptying goggles (I am sooo neurotic) and then got into it. It was a lovely swim through clean clear water back down the beach to the club. I didn't go that hard (must be my turtle brain). 

Getting back in was more of an effort, a bit like 'one foot forward two steps back' as the small waves gave me a gentle shove forward only to drag me back as they retreated from the shore. The 'run' up the beach started with a tip-toe through the shallows trying to avoid breaking an ankle in sandy pot holes. This was followed by a 50 metre sprint (in my case a turtle toddle) up soft sand to the finish. Five swimmers ran past me before I crossed to the line.

I did the swim in 40 minutes and finished in the bottom third of around 230 swimmers (maybe even lower but, as you know, I'm bad at maths). I really should have made the distance in 35 minutes.
Nemesis: the bluebottle

Not to worry. The turtle and I had a chat and decided there's nothing wrong with being slow. I'm out there and doing it. That's what counts. 

*Spanner might be wise but for some reason he finds it impossible to install a bathroom mirror or fix the TV antenna so we have reception when it rains.
**Ms Fivestar carries the towels and water. She also takes over as chief photographer. She is the CAMEL. I know what I'd rather be. 

Always read the signs and follow the advice
PS: If you're ever in Burleigh Heads head to the Commune Cafe on the highway. It may not have ocean views but it has yummy food, a great vibe and wonderful service. It is run on eco-friendly and fair trade principles. Highly recommended.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Burleigh Ocean swim coming soon: too much beach is never enough

The view to Tallebudgera surf beach from Burleigh Heads National Park. As we walked down the hill we saw sting rays swimming in the shallow surf.

Walking back from Broad Beach. This man was probably fishing for bream.

View of Surfer's Paradise from Burleigh Heads National Park. The sand is white and fine but check out the black volcanic rock.

View with a room: looking left to Surfer's Paradise

Then turn right to Burleigh Heads
I'll write about the Burleigh Heads swim in the next post. In the meantime, here are some photos to whet your appetite. When you look at these pics, you'll wonder why Australians whinge (and we do - about anything and everything). THERE IS NOTHING TO WHINGE ABOUT. EXCEPT THERE'S TOO MUCH BEACH. TOO MUCH SURF. IT GOES ON AND ON AND ON.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

I have arithmophobia and tax confusion syndrome

I would rather visit the dentist, eyeball a shark or shake hands with Tony Abbott than see my accountant. I hate numbers. They make me feel stupid because the only thing I can do with them is basic arithmetic. Once numbers move into the realm of tax matters such as GST, PAYG and annual Tax Returns, I become tangled in a jungle of obscure financial terms and sneaky calculations.

When a letter arrives from the Australian Taxation office (ATO), my heart gets hectic, my palms moisten and any logic or rational thought escapes me. The same symptoms afflict me when I have to see my accountant.

She's a nice woman who does her best to calm me down when I enter her home office, a spacious room that is sparsely furnished with a desk, two chairs and a bookcase filled with accounting tomes. As I sit down, the chair legs scrape on the cold, tiled floor. This teeth-grinding screech echoes the chaos in my head.

My accountant is like her office - neat and efficient. She dresses in a white blouse, black trousers and comfortable shoes. It's unnerving, like being sent to the school principal.

She never admonishes, but I reckon she secretly worries that one day I'll lose it. She gently walks me through the annual tax return process, but what should take an hour usually takes three because: a. I've forgotten to bring vital information or b. I've made a mistake with my calculations.

I pay my taxes and keep my head down but the ATO likes to play with my head by sending threats of fines for late payments and by readjusting my PAYG payments so I don't know if I'm coming or going.   

Maybe I'm the only person in the entire universe who suffers from tax confusion syndrome. The last time I phoned the ATO I sobbed down the line as I explained how hard it was for me to open their letters and decipher the hieroglyphics within. They left me alone for a few years after that.

But now they're onto me again. You'd think I was James Packer or Gina Reinhart. But I'm eensy-teensy fry, sizzling in the pan as the ATO attempts to cook me to a crisp.

They've found a reason to fine me again so it's back to the accountant's and those cold cold tiles. 

Monday, 17 October 2011

I'm an amortal flying into the portal out of the tortal

What the frick is an amortal? Some opportunistic pop psychologist from the US has written a wanky book about amortals. She invented this term to describe older people who refuse to grow old, a bit like myself (I'm not classified as old unless you're under 30). 

I read about it in an opinion piece in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Apparently, I'm doing all those things young people do like exercise, trying to look my best without resembling mutton dressed as lamb, going to gigs and getting on with my kids by treating them as equals. This is considered selfish and delusional, as older people are required to fulfill some cultural norm where we grow old gracefully by wearing rayon frocks (I guess men wear corduroy trousers), becoming sedentary, going to church and maintaining the appropriate emotional distance from our kids as they get older. 

Amortals also fear death. Seriously, who doesn't except eejits who think it's all about pink marshallow clouds, ethereal creatures with soft wings and floating around without any hunger pangs, desire for a glass of Veuve or a quick f****. Death happens to the best of us and the rest of us. It's a fact of life.

I am not ashamed to admit I fear death. I think about it a lot. I don't want to die. I want to swim in the ocean with the fishies, write a bestselling novel (also an amortal characteristic), eat a lot of good food, play loud music, watch sunsets while gurgling Veuve, walk along the beach holding the hand of my ageing partner (after we've had a quick f***), laugh with my kids because we can be friends and enjoy my freakin' life without being told I'm a superficial old prat. 

Old age is inevitable. I'm not that stupid to think I can do what I am doing now forever. But why not do it for as long as I can without looking like a fool? I know my kids will set me straight if I get up to anything even mildly embarrassing.

There, now that's off my chest I'm going to bed. After all, it's almost 9.30pm.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Squad at North Bondi on an overcast Saturday

Surf lifesavers at North Bondi
Just when I get my act together and decide that, yes, I will do the Saturday squad at North Bondi, it rains.

I don't live near the beach so it is a major triumph for someone like me (creature of habit, slave to routine) to get to the beach on a Saturday.

As I was driving out of the city towards Bondi it poured but there was no turning back. I arrived early and got a great parking space in one of the few spots that isn't meter or two-hour limit parking (that's Sydney). I then visited the yummy organic bakery, where Davo and I go during the ocean-swimming season. I bought a spelt scone. Sounds boring but it was studded with raspberries and melted in the mouth.

Because I'm also extra careful I carted a golf umbrella down to the beach with all my gear and waited for the squad to arrive. It was a good opportunity to observe the eastern suburbs scene on a Saturday and, let me tell you, it's bootcamp city on Bondi Beach.
Before the sun came out

Everywhere you turn, there are personal fitness trainers doing sessions with their charges - they squat, sprint, step, crunch and punch. It's a hive of feverish activity.  I was exhausted before I even started.

The squad I swim with also does running and bike, so many of the members had already been out doing their fitness thing before they got to the beach. I felt like a sloth.

The rain was holding off when we ran into the water. There were two groups. I was in the slowest. I'd say there were around 20 people participating. I and another man were the only swimmers in the squad NOT wearing wetsuits.

The thing about wetsuits is they keep you warm and they also make you more buoyant. This is why die-hard ocean swimmers are agin them. They give the swimmer a distinct advantage. I don't think I did too bad for someone doing it naked, except for the cossie.

I lasted an hour - the squad is an hour and 15 minutes - before calling it a day. I was a bit cold but it wasn't too bad. My guess is the water temperature was 18-19 degrees. That's manageable.

The surf was pretty flat, with only small waves. We did a lot of swimming out over the reef past the rock swimming pool and a lot of swimming back in, running around the flags and then back in again.

I was pooped. The ocean, even without waves, is more challenging than the swimming pool. I've got Burleigh Heads next week and I don't feel at all prepared.

After I left the beach the sun broke through the clouds.

It's a lovely day in Sydney.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

A long weekend on the NSW South Coast

A long weekend of rain, howling winds and more rain. Still, nothing can dampen your enthusiasm when on Friday, at dusk, you spot a whale and its calf passing through Mollymook on the NSW South Coast on the way to the Antarctic. As mamma whale does a dive her tail rises above the water for the benefit of those landlubbers watching from the rocks.

Saturday's highlight was dinner with sister Ms Nobull at Rick Stein's restaurant at Bannister's. And Sunday's was heading out for a walk after spotting a sunny spot in the sky. As soon as we were on our way the rain bucketed down.

What a feeling! 

Back in Sydney reality bites.