Though a straight line appears to be the shortest distance between 2 points, life has a way of confounding geography. Often it is the dalliances and the detours that define us. There are no maps to guide our most important searches; we must rely on hope, chance, intuition and a willingness to be surprised.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Big Swim in the Big Surf

Mel holding the board that he paddles out into the bay with, surrounded by Bondi Fit Club members.

Last Friday some of my work colleagues were kind enough to take me out for drinks to welcome me back to Opportunity. We had a great night in Cruise Bar in Circular Quay, overlooking the opera house across the inner-harbour waters of Sydney cove. At the back of my mind though, I had a nagging suspicion that each additional beer would be regretted the next morning...

And so it proved when I dragged myself out of bed and headed down to Bondi beach for the first of three ocean swimming lessons. This short course is intended to teach you techniques for swimming in surf, which will in turn give you the confidence to compete in Sydney's ocean swimming races which are spread throughout the Australian summer.

There were four of us on the course, including myself and my German friend Babette. We were thrown (not literally) straight into the water by Mel, our very aussie coach, and told to swim 200m out into the Bondi surf. This was pretty 'exciting', not least because my hangover was playing havoc with my swimming stroke. After struggling back to shore Mel pointed out things we were doing wrong (drowning/sinking were only the least of them) before throwing us (literally this time) back in the water again.

Mel is a great coach, and like many great aussie sportsmen, unfailingly enthusiastic. He taught us skills for spotting where the rip current is pulling the water out to sea - good place to swim out - and where the waves are crashing over the sandbanks - good place to swim in... if you can avoid/survive being bundled by a monster wave.

Other techniques include using your arms as a board to 'surf in' on the top of large waves, entering the water with jumping, wading and porpoising techniques (which impresses people watching on the beach!) and breathing in such a way as to be able to look behind you and spot when you're about to be hammered by a huge wave.

This was all great advice and really interesting stuff, though I was a bit bemused when he got us to run along the beach and back to keep warm - ok, it was cloudy and the aussie guys were shivering but I was more likely to collapse from exhaustion than catch cold.

After the hour and a half long session had finished I felt absolutely on top of the world. This is surf swimming at one of the best locations in the world, with some of the wildest surf! The regular swim club joined us for the last hour and it was a great feeling 'competing' with these guys and girls. On top of which, to feel so pumped at 1130 on Saturday morning is something I'm not used to. and very welcome!

I'm really going to stick with this and join the regular club when my courses finish. My hope is to do the Bondi classic competition on the 6th of January. A bit ambitious, but I'll see how I'm going over the next few weeks, and it would be a good one to start with as you don't have to swim past rocks/cliffs as you do in the beach to beach swims.

When I was a youngster...

...I was a huge lego fan (fan-boy I guess you'd say these days). Like computer games, lego has come on leaps and bounds since then. I was just amazed to read in the paper at the weekend that lego now have a website where you can download 'lego-design software'. This lets you design your own lego models online! Not only that, but once you've designed a hotrod or spaceship or whatever else, you can upload the design to this website and order all the bricks you need to make the model.

How freakin' cool is that??? If I have a bit of free time over Christmas, I may have to design a giant santa's sleigh or something. Will post the results here.

And finally... thanks to my sister, Kirsty, for the following. Very amusing... and seasonal...


1. Schizophrenia --- Do You Hear What I Hear?

2. Multiple Personality Disorder --- We Three Kings Disoriented Are

3. Dementia --- I Think I'll be Home for Christmas

4. Narcissistic --- Hark the Herald Angels Sing About Me

5. Manic --- Deck the Halls and Walls and House and Lawn and Streets and Stores and Office and Town and Cars and Buses and Trucks and Treesand.....

6. Paranoid --- Santa Claus is Coming to Town to Get Me

7. Borderline Personality Disorder --- Thoughts of Roasting on an Open Fire

8. Personality Disorder --- You Better Watch Out, I'm Gonna Cry, I'm GonnaPout, Maybe I'll Tell You Why

9. Attention Deficit Disorder --- Silent night, Holy oooh look at the Froggy- can I have a chocolate, why is France so far away?

10. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder --- Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, JingleBells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells,Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells,Jingle,Bells, Jingle Bells,

11. Oppositional Defiant Disorder-- You better not cry - Oh yes I willYou better not Shout - I can if I want to You better not pout - Can if I want toI'm telling you why - Not listeningSanta Claus is coming to townNo he's not!!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Over the Hill and Under the Waves

Sydney CBD


As I start a second week at work I recall that, one of the things that attracted me to living and working in Sydney, was the atmosphere in the CBD (Central Business District). There’s a liveliness in the city-centre at all times of the day and night. Back near the start of the year I mentioned on this website how I thought that this great atmosphere was in part due to how young the general population appeared when you wandered around the city at lunchtime.

And now statistics have been published which back this up.
The Sydney Morning Herald this week included an article on plans to make the city-centre more accessible to children and old people. Surveys were done, which showed that these groups were very poorly represented in the city centre:

“In a survey of people and activities taken on a summer weekday at Circular Quay, Pitt Street Mall and George Street, 57 per cent of people in the city were found to be aged from 15 to 30…

The middle-aged made up 37 per cent, and the elderly and the very young both registered slim minorities at 3 per cent each.”

Now, I take two things from this. Firstly, almost 3 in 5 people are between 15 and 30. No wonder Sydney’s business district has such a young and lively feel to it.

Secondly, who the hell are they calling middle-aged???

Alive on the Ocean Waves

Last weekend I found myself with a few spare hours and decided to head down to the Eastern Beaches. This would be the first time I'd been back there since getting back to Sydney. The main stretch of beaches runs from Bondi in the north, down to Coogee in the south. A little further south from there, is Maroubra beach, and having seen it featured in the national newspaper in the past week I thought I'd pay a visit.

A favourite topic of conversation in the Eastern Beaches, aside from surfer fashion (this isn't the most culturally aware part of Sydney), is shark spottings. And any concentration of sightings also greatly interests the national newspapers. Here's an excerpt from Monday's Sydney Morning Herald (one of the best selling papers in Australia):

Swimmers were evacuated from beaches in southern Sydney and on the South Coast yesterday after 17 sightings of sharks close to shore. A lone hammerhead was observed off Wanda Beach at Cronulla. An Australian Aerial Patrol crew sounded the alert and a dinghy was dispatched to coax the shark into deeper water. Meanwhile, two large sharks seen at Cudmirrah Beach near Sussex Inlet on the South Coast were thought to have been either white pointer [aka great white] or tiger sharks, authorities said.

So it was with some interest that I made my way down to Maroubra beach. I wasn't surprised to find aussies and tourists getting on with it, with a large number of people in the surf. I had a pretty uneventful swim myself. However, about half-an-hour later the shark-patrol were out with a dinghy out in the water and a chopper making a few passes overhead. Not sure if they'd spotted anything but either way, it wasn't discouraging people from getting in the water. That's the aussie spirit!

Which brings me nicely on to my latest hobby - ocean swimming. Ocean swimming has become increasingly popular in Australia over the last few years (though this doesn't appear to have dampened enthusiasm at Sydney Council for building yet more Olympic sized swimming pools - Surry Hills is the latest area cited for a new pool). This popularity will only be stoked by the recent announcement that a 10km open swim will be an event in Beijing for the first time in Olympic history.
I've been a bit slack on the photography front recently, so all the shots in this update are nabbed from the web. Here's an awesome pic of a surfer at Maroubra beach.

In Sydney, there are frequent 'big event' swims such as Manly beach to Shelley beach and Bondi to Bronte, which typically measure more than two kilometres. I really like the idea of competing in one of these events. I'm attracted by the challenge and social-ness. Factors that enticed me into doing a couple of triathlons a few years ago.

Bondi fitclub runs Saturday morning courses for people to learn to swim with confidence in the sea. This Saturday is the first day of the course and I'm very much looking forward to it. Lets hope the shark patrol are on top form!

Wine-ing Pommes

The Hunter Valley got a brief mention on this website when I went up there for the Lovedale long lunch in May. Being a truly beautiful stretch of countryside, with rolling vineyards and hills, I was keen to go back asap. On Saturday I went back up on a day-trip, which - somewhat bizarrely - started with liquers and then moved on to three different authentic Aussie wineries.

Though the trip was well organised and the winery visits were interesting, I didn't go a whole bundle on the wines. They were not bad, but I don't think we were sampling at the higher-end of the wine range. Fair enough - I don't usually shop at the finer end of the wine range, but when on a wine tour I do like to sample some of the more luxury wines. There were a couple of cheeky reds that I liked though, so I took the opportunity to stock-up a bit for Christmas.

So I wasn't actually that impressed with the wine on the day. And I'm not the only one with reservations about Australian wine. The Sunday Herald reported at the weekend that the head of Tesco's wine-buying division - Dan Jago - has criticised Australian wine-makers for their lack of innovation, warning that Tesco will be forced towards fast-changing and refreshing Chilean wines.

I just love the response of "Hunter Valley winemaker" Bruce (yep, Bruce) Tyrrell:

"He's a wanker."

Bruce goes on to fulminate thoughtfully on Mr Jago's challenge to the Australian wine industry:

"He should go back to selling dog food.

For years the Australian wine industry has been supplying the British with technically correct wines that have good colour and are full of flavour, compared with the Europeans, who have been supplying them with technically poor wines with no colour and taste like cat's piss"

Though not reported in the paper, I'd like to think that Bruce went on to question Mr Jago's parentage and sexuality before challenging him to a game of cricket and stomping off to shoot a kangaroo, or perhaps throw another prawn on the barbie.
I couldn't find a picture of Mr Jago, but I'm sure Bruce would feel similarly about this substitute. (And you can't see this picture too often...)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

(Politically speaking) Things Can Only Get Better

John Howard (left), and a ridiculous looking baffoon in a suit (right).

Anyone being honest would admit that Australia is years behind the rest of the world on most things. And the political 'lag' seems to longest than any other - especially if the embarrassing voxpops about muslims that I saw on tv last night could be thought to be at all representative of wider opinions.

Think back to the UK General Election of 1997. A tired and unpopular right of centre government, who had been in power for longer than anyone cared to remember got thumped by a younger, fresher opposition determined to prove that they not only held the moral high-ground on the key political issues of the day, but could be trusted to be both competent and reinvigorating for the country.

Well something similar has just happened here in Australia.

After 11 years as PM, Johnny (laughing-boy) Howard has finally been thrown out by the Labour party's new leader Kevin Rudd. Howard even lost his seat. I find it hard to feel any sympathy. As with Tony Blair, the Liberal Party (of which JH is leader) issues that I had most problems with were the big foreign policy ones.

Johnny was even further out of touch with people than TB. Not only did he whole-heartedly and faithfully (what's smaller and more timid than a poodle?) follow George W, but he also refused to sign the Kyoto protocol. Yes, until yesterday, there were only two countries in the world that continued to refuse to ratify that treaty - the US and Australia. (Kevin Rudd gave notice that he would ratify the treaty on his first day as leader.)

Just as bad in my eyes, though seemingly not quite as objectionable to many Aussie voters was his policy on asylum seekers. Before the last election, the Liberals promoted a story that asylum seekers trying to enter Australia by boat had been throwing their children overboard. After the election it turned out to be untrue. It's quite amazing to listen to some of the Liberal party's policies and statements on asylum and immigration. I'd like to hope that this was part of the reason he was voted out. But in fact, Labour's policies aren't too far different. I guess this is an area where Australia really does have a lot of catching up to do with the rest of the world.

Having hardly spent any time in Australia in the last ten years, its probably rather bold of me to make the following assertion but I have to say that, in my opinion, John Howard has been an unfortunate albatross around the necks of the Australia people, dragging down the country’s international reputation and weakening its previously proud national psyche. This is, of course, to say nothing of domestic policies, though I've read nothing in the press here to persuade me that he's done anything particularly laudable there either. But don’t take my word for it. This Guardian article is a better written - and probably more balanced - assessment of Australia’s recent political history:,,2217015,00.html

So what next? As with ‘97, there is some concern that the incoming government – with a set of largely indistinguishable policies – will struggle to improve on the previous government’s record. But then, Tony Blair’s government were fresh, effective and a force for good reinvigorating politics… until Iraq.
Kevin Rudd: Do you think he's trying to get a subtle message across in this picture?

As with Blair in 97, I think most people will be wishing Rudd all the best. He's looking to get off to a flyer and I hope he can really turn the country and its reputation around.

So why the sudden obsession with politics? Well aside from the pageantry around Beckham's visit there has been little else in the news here last week.

Personally the big news is - drum roll - that I've started work. After 15 months out of paid employment (yes, really, who'd have thought it!), this travelling slacker is once again working 9 to 5.

So far I'm very excited about the job. I'll be working mainly on an impact assessment methodology for Opportunity International and there's plenty to get stuck into. It's been very easy to get started as everyone has been so welcoming and most people are familiar from my voluntary stint earlier in the year. I'm sure I'll have plenty to say about work in future months, particularly visits to our partners in India. The first trip should be in January and I can't wait.

I'm not looking for sympathy (before the house-bricks start flying!) but adjusting to working every day has been tough. Concentrating eight or more hours a day has been very tiring. I even had to have an early night last Thursday. Hahaha! And on that note...