Saturday, 31 March 2012

Manpower, eat your heart out: presenting The Calendar Boys all together in the all together

Mr October has been dying for me to mention the calendar he and his mates presented to Precious Princess at her 21st birthday party last week. 

For mine, the calendar was inspired. Not so for my mother. She was horrified that PP's male friends could band together to create "pornographic material". 

"It's disgusting," she said as she flipped through it for the umpteenth time. "How can people think this is funny?"

Not only do I think it's a hoot, but I'm impressed that PP's friends care enough about her to put the time and effort into this cleverly executed project. 

Hey, of course they enjoyed doing it. Most men are exhibitionists - if given half a chance.

We all know the saying: Never ask a man to measure anything because they think six inches is this long ...................................................................................................

I hope you enjoy Mr March as much as I did - if you know what I mean (I feel like a dirty old woman writing that). I will endeavour to display all the photos, excluding Mr December who is a little bit worried that his mum and dad will recognise him, even though the shot is tastefully soft focus. 

But we'll have lots of fun up until November. Unless my blog is closed down in the meantime. 

Tomorrow I'm doing the Stanwell Park swim. Mr April can wait until after my next post.

Speak soon - I hope! 

Thursday, 29 March 2012

The dangers of the surf on the Gold Coast: the death of a young surf life saver at Kurrawa Beach

Looking towards Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast

I am filled with admiration for the members of Surf Life Saving Australia. Their member clubs do an amazing job keeping our beaches safe and protecting recreational swimmers of all levels from the dangers of an unpredictable surf. The clubs organise the vast majority of ocean swims as fundraisers and almost all are run in a professional manner by a team of dedicated volunteers who love what they do and have a passion for all things to do with the ocean.

They're also a competitive bunch who test their skills against each other in surf life saving competitions.

 But over the past two years the biggest competition of all, the national championships, has been marred by tragedy.

In 2010 accomplished surf life saver and ironman Saxon Bird, 19, drowned at the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships which are held annually at Kurrawa Beach on the Gold Goast.    

And just yesterday, 14-year-old Matthew Barclay, competing in the Under-15 board event at the 2012 championships, went missing in the surf on that same beach. His body was found this morning.

Here's a link to a recent story:

At the inquest into Saxon Bird's death there were calls to move the championships away from Kurrawa Beach. This didn't happen.

Is it right to play the blame game with the loss of another young life? I don't know. And I don't know enough about the circumstances surrounding Matthew Barclay's death to make an informed comment.

I did an ocean swim at Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast in late 2011 and was surprised at the 'sweep' or current that dragged swimmers north towards Kurrawa. The swim I did started at 7.30am before the swell picked up and conditions became hairy. Gold Coast beaches are, for the most part, one continuous stretch of coast fully exposed to the elements.

In the news story in the link, someone said: "The statistics show this is an extraordinary run of bad fortune."

Try to explain that to Matthew Barclay's family. 

Monday, 26 March 2012

North Steyne to Shelly Beach and back

Saturday night: Party party. I drink a cocktail and convince myself it's loaded with vitamins because somewhere mixed into a concoction of overproof spirits is a hint of passionfruit. Add to this a couple of glasses of fruity shiraz - more goodness in the form of antioxidants. 

Next, jam as many canapes down cake hole as is humanly possible (not humanely). Sausage rolls filled with real sausage, mini hamburgers, meat pies and small delicate pastries. And cake! Cream and jam-filled sponge with icing decorated with chocolate flowers. 

Fall into bed exhausted and bloated around midnight.

Sunday morning: Wake at 2.30am, guzzle down buckets of water. Fall asleep at 4.30am and wake at 8.30am.

Text Ms Fivestar: 'Am thinking of breakfast at North Steyne and maybe a swim. Wanna come?' 

Ms Fivestar says 'yes' so I drag myself into the car and pick her up. We head north over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We are Manly-bound. 

I'm under the misguided impression the North Steyne to Shelly Beach swim starts at 10am and is 2.2 km long. "I'd love to do the swim but I reckon we'll be too late." Secretly hoping.

We arrive at the beach, find a two-hour parking space (because that's all you can get in Manly unless you live there) and stroll to South Steyne before I remember the swim is run by the North Steyne SLSC. We continue at a casual pace along the Norfolk Palm-lined promenade. I think about a hot flat white and tomatoes with salt and pepper on buttery toast.  Yum.

Turns out the swim starts at 10.30am so I have time to register. Bugger. Turns out the swim is 2.8 km and is to Shelly Beach and back. Double bugger. 

I bump into a couple of my swim squad friends and Ms Fivestar, who only ever paddles, points out that the surf break is tiny "like a pool". I am committed. 

As it turns out, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be though I was puffed by the time I turned around the yellow can at Shelly Beach. 

What's nice about this swim? 

1. It was a real community swim. It wasn't too crowded like many of the swims held at the peak of the season in January and February. 

2. My age group didn't start last. Yay. We were in the second of three waves. 

3. The surf was gentle so it was a lovely swim to the first can, which wasn't placed too far away. 

4. It involved a journey, of sorts, even though it was a circuit. We swam down the beach to South Steyne and then in to Shelly Beach before heading back.

5. If the water had been clearer, we would have been able to see the huge numbers and variety of fish that hang out in Cabbage Tree Bay.

6. I could see to the sea's sandy bottom (!) as I swam out of Cabbage Tree Bay, so even though I was a long way from the shore, it was still shallow. 

7. Because I breathe on the left I had a view of the promenade on the way back - right-side breathers would have enjoyed this picture postcard on the first half of the swim. 

8. On the way back in to shore I saw silver bream darting in the shallows. 

9. Getting out wasn't too hard and the run up the beach was reasonably short. 

10. Breakfast! There's hundreds of cafes to choose from in Manly. 

Sounds like my life is just one long hedonistic binge! Woo hoo! Tonight I am off to see The Cranberries with sister-in-law, Nurse Nice. Turns out the show was cancelled last Thursday and her hubby, who was going to go, can't make it tonight. 

I'm cramming it in! 

PS: I will write more about Precious Princess's 21st in my next post. More specifically I will focus on the gift she received from her male work colleagues. Hooley Dooley.  

PPS: Thanks to Ms Fivestar for photos taken on her iPhone. I'll load a few more later when I have a spare moment.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

21 Candles

This is the speech I would have made:

Outside, it was a tumultous nine months. Inside, you retreated from the chaos to float in your own little amniotic world - a free spirit then as you are now. 

Despite the odds being stacked against you, you were born with a sweet disposition. 

People are drawn to you because of your generous heart, your dry and wry sense of humour, your kindness and your ability to make everyone feel good about themselves. You are fun to be around.
There's still stuff you do - and don't do - that drives me crazy and sometimes I could scream; sometimes I do. 

But I know deep down that I've been blessed. It's a privilege to be able to tell people you're my daughter. 

My only regrets are that I didn't treasure the precious moments more, shouted too much and too often and failed to notice how time was flying. 

And here we are. Twenty one.  

Monday, 19 March 2012

No whims, no swims - just running around in my undies like a headless chook

CYC at Rushcutters Bay in Sydney
No swimming yesterday as I had to drive The Hiss to sailing at Rushcutters Bay where she tried out for the fancy schmancy 'Advanced squad'. I predict that all hell will break loose if she doesn't make the cut and we (Spanner, Precious Princess and I) will be sucked into her unforgiving vortex. 

On the bright side, at least we have another week of relative calm before she finds out. It's a worry.

The Hiss did me a favour by dragging me away from the ocean yesterday. I heard via the grapevine at squad this morning that the Shark Island swim at Cronulla was "horrible".

My guess is the surf was a wild beast keen to toss a few unsuspecting swimmers into its foaming gob. How's that for metaphor? Whatever. If bad writing like 50 Shades of Grey can go viral, why can't my blog? I need to get BDSM (no, it's not a clothing label) into it somewhere.

In the meantime, I'm having paranoid dreams where I'm running around in my undies (no bra), hiding from people while I try to find some clothes to wear so I can get to work on time. In my dreams I'm usually running late for work, often half naked (I'm a prude - I always have my undies on and my hands over my boobs as I careen from pillar to post). 

Another good/bad one is where I'm on a plane that lands in another country and I don't have my passport so I can't get off. Oh, and the best is where I have to get up and deliver a speech in front of a huge audience in a massive auditorium but have nothing prepared - usually the microphone doesn't work, people start to boo or shout abuse. And I'm in my undies*.

Not hot enough?

Make of it what you will. 

Have a week. 

PS: We secretly hope The Hiss will meet a mega-rich yachting type who will take her off our hands. Otherwise, it's a flat full of cats...

*There's always a beach somewhere in my dreams where the surf is massive, much like the wild beast analogy but in slow motion. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?

Monday, 12 March 2012

Sydney Harbour Swim Classic: What to worry about - pollution or sharks?

Wow. Sydney had sunshine for three days in a row. Today it's raining again.

But yesterday was an open-water swim organiser's dream. Blue sky, warm air temperature, just-right water temp and light winds ensured a strong turn-out for the event.

I was there and more concerned about pollution from run-off than bull sharks (see my last post). The day before I'd walked my dog along the Parramatta River and it was a dirty brown colour. Goodness knows what was floating around in the harbour yesterday but I'm sure there was plenty of grime, grit, grease and garbage.

Spanner, who is so supportive of my swimming (and everything else I do) said: "You'll get a virus." Thanks Spanner. The man is a freakin' love god.

I suppose I should be grateful. He did drive me to the Sydney Opera House and then fled before I could ask if he wanted to accompany me and maybe, just maybe, have a coffee together. 

Turns out he drove to a quiet cafe in the Inner West and indulged in the Sunday newspaper and a flat white. He was mentally preparing for the return home where our 15-year-old, The Hiss (as in hissy fit), was ready to inflict her special sort of torture on anyone within a two-hundred metre radius as she struggled to come to grips with the esoteric wording of a commerce assignment. 

If The Hiss struggles, we all struggle. Poor long-suffering Spanner. No wonder he's addicted to shows with 'mega' (structures) or 'monster' (garage) in the title. That's what living in a house full of women (including the dog) does to a man. He needs some serious chill time.

Hang on. Where was I? Admiring the most beautiful harbour in the world.

I met up with my swim-squad mates Mr Mild Mannered (MM) and Mr Very Big (VB). MM was there with his beautiful wife who had set up a picnic blanket under a shady tree. 

It's so easy to take for granted the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and the harbour. I've seen the view thousands of times. I wonder if people in cities like Cairo, Rome, Venice, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Prague and New York stop, look around and think: "OMG, this is an amazing place. How could I take it for granted?"     

That's how I felt yesterday. The sails of the Opera House glowed like mother-of-pearl and the sky was an intense blue that makes you squint. 

I did both the 1 km and 2 km swim. Madness rules in my head. I jumped in with the rest of them at the Man O' War Steps right next to the Opera House and momentarily considered sharks before the start gun sounded. Then I bolted.

What is not good about this swim is the water quality, which was poor yesterday, and, of course, thoughts about sharks. I say 'thoughts' because I don't think the swim would be run if there were any concerns about bull sharks popping in for a squizz. Every year a fire tug is positioned about 500 metres out from the event. It sprays huge spouts of water in every direction into the harbour. I wonder if it's there to freak out any bullies that might be cruising by. Dunno.

What is good is everything else. I breathe to the left so as I swam away from the Opera House towards Mrs Macquarie's Chair I could see the 'House' and the 'Bridge' over my left shoulder on every breath I took. Far out. How unreal is that? 

After the first swim I was buggered but I dived in for the 2 km and took my time. This swim chucks a right at Mrs Macquarie's Chair and heads into Farm Cove in the Botanical Gardens before turning back to the Opera House. You climb out at the end of the swim via a ladder and onto a pontoon. Often there are things that make you itch in the water. But not this year.

I'm not sure what's happening this weekend. A swim around Shark Island in The Shire is one option. I'll keep you posted.

PS: I'm still waiting for the predicted virus to attack my immune system.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

No bull! Actually, there's heaps and they're having a sojourn in Sydney Harbour

Here we go again. The minute I enter a swim that takes place in Sydney Harbour yet another story about bull sharks pops up in the local rag. 

And it's about my favourite (not) the bull shark.

The news is not really new but it's unnerving all the same. Since 2009 Dr Amy Smoothey and her team have planted tracking devices in the stomachs of 36 bull sharks found in Sydney Harbour. 

The other night when Sydney hunkered down under the force of a wild storm, Dr Smoothey got herself a biggin: a 3-metre long female caught near Sow and Pigs Reef, which is located close to the harbour entrance. 

I've cut and pasted a bit of the story from The Sydney Morning Herald. It's fascinating:
The sharks arrive in late November or early December and depart in mid to late April, spending from a day to three weeks in the harbour on each visit, with an average sojourn of 17 days.
There are no hot spots, where they gather. ''They're going everywhere,'' Dr Smoothey said.
They dive from the surface to more than 30 metres deep and water temperatures ranging from 19 to 30 degrees.
And they often come back each year. Of the 11 sharks tagged in the 2009 and 2010 seasons, nine returned during the summer and autumn of 2011.
The feisty female that Dr Smoothey and her team caught near Sow and Pigs Reef last month had been tagged just seven days before near Parramatta River.

I love it that the sharks have a 'sojourn'. It sounds so civilised.

Dr Smoothey's team has only caught bull sharks, which suggests that other shark species aren't venturing inside the heads. I feel better now...

It seems the bully is the one to look out for if you're in the harbour, as I will be tomorrow for both the 1 km and 2 km swims in The Sydney Harbour Swim Classic. 

Crazy lady. "Hey shark! Here I am! And if you don't get me the first time, there's another chance later on!"

I'm getting hysterical.

For the other eejits diving in to a murky Sydney Harbour tomorrow, there are reassuring words from Dr Smoothey:  

On Australia Day in 2011 there were seven present, when thousands of people also took to the water. ''There were no incidents. Not even a sighting. It suggests bull sharks may not be the voracious predators we once thought,'' Dr Smoothey said. ''… sharks and humans can co-exist."

This will be my fifth Sydney Harbour swim and I did one earlier this year. I'm still around to tell the tale with all my bits intact. 

I'll report back tomorrow to let you know if Dr Smoothey is right! And if I don't... ]no flowers please, just a donation to the WWF. And can someone make sure the dog gets walked every day?

PS: Though I'm not a fan of bull sharks, I respect these amazing creatures and value the role they play in keeping our oceans healthy. Without them we're stuffed. I oppose shark finning and despise people who launch their own 'attacks' on sharks after a human has unfortunately got in the way of one (this happened in WA late last year).    

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

My short story won the Little Gems Diamond Short Story Contest: good news on my writing blog

This is a Bali Sunset

I never write on my writing blog because I never write. 

That's not quite correct. Occasionally I turn over the creative sods and it's finally paid off. 

I won the 2012 RWA Little Gems Diamond contest for my short story Bali Sunset.

The good news arrived via email last week and I'm still dazed and confused. I pipped 86 other entries to take out first prize: some money (it will cover the other contests I've entered over the years) and my story's inclusion in the 2012 Little Gems Diamond Short Story Anthology

You can read more about it over at my Wordpress blog - there's a link to it in the right-hand column. 

If you're not winning in the ocean, there has to be some sort of compensation. Maybe I can bring my winning streak into my swimming?

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Barney Mullins Swim Classic at Freshwater: the long run in and back out

Bringing in the buoys after the Barney Mullins Swim Classic at Freshwater
The ocean swimming community has been lucky this year because the sun always decides to pop in for a visit on the day of an event. Afterwards, it skulks back behind dark ominous clouds and disappears for the rest of the week.

Today was brillo. Sun. Sun so hot that it could fry an egg on an old codger's barnacled back.

Ms Fivestar came with me today because she had the urge to be near the sea. A good decision. The conditions at Freshwater were perfect for paddlers even though there was a bit of a rip to begin with.

I don't know a lot about Freshwater except that it's the beach over the hill from Queenscliff. It's a gorgeous beach and more wavy than I remembered it from my last trip there about 20 years ago. 

The course was a clockwise 1.5 km (afterwards there was a rumour going around that it was more like 1.8 km, which I'd like to believe considering my time). 

The problem for me was the getting out as it was really shallow for the first 50 metres or so. Then I got whacked and dragged back by a crappy wave. Getting back in after the swim also required me to run through the shallows - not my strength. I was still happy with my time - until I encountered my opposition Mr Very Big (VB). He did the swim in 33 minutes to my 35 (adjusted since first putting up this post because the female swimmers started three minutes after the men). Ah, life. 

When the swim was over Ms Fivestar, Ms Loveachat (who turned up) and I went to the Pilu Kiosk for a bite to eat. I thought I took a photo of it but I can't find it on my camera. It's lovely. We sat on the deck in the shade and drank fantastic single origin coffee and ate ricotta drizzled with honey on sourdough toast. Here's the link to Pilu:   

Signing off on another successful swim in a half submerged City of Sydney. Soon to float away. The problem is, when the rain stops the fires usually start.

PS: Have you noticed a whiny "poor me" tone creeping into my swimming reports? Mmm... I have. I always have a ready-made excuse for my inability to thrash Mr VB.

Note to self: stop whining and seek revenge. To steal the motto from Miss Hissy's school: 'Facta non verba'... I think that's it, without having to go and check her school blouse! It means: (better Google it to make sure I'm right) 'Deeds not words'. Dirty deeds...