Sunday, 30 September 2007

Adventure at Cape Woolamai

Saturday 29 September, 4pm

I have not long returned home from an adventurous afternoon. Full of confidence in my new fitness and walking ability, I set off for a long walk at Cape Woolamai at the south-east of Phillip Island. This was more or less the only unexplored territory on the southern coast of the island, and I’ve been looking forward to getting down there for a while. There are three walk options, with distances of approximately 4, 6.6 and 8.5km respectively. The suggested walk times are very generous, and after some consideration, I decided to do the mid-length walk, confident I would take less than the 3.5 suggested hours. (After all, I walk to work at over 6kph, so surely I wouldn’t need much more than an hour!)

First up it took me about 15 minutes to find the walking track – mainly because I didn’t read the instructions for the GREEN walk, having decided to do the BLACK walk. When I finally realized I had to walk along the famous Woolamai surf beach for a few hundred metres first, I slugged off through the sand. It turned out to be very windy and rather cold, and I was thankful for my Gore-Tex jacket, icebreaker double-layer, scarf and beanie. Not exactly spring gear! On finding the walking tracks at last, I rejoiced and powered off along the cliff tops.

Cape Woolamai is very lovely, albeit windswept. It is also home to an extensive muttonbird rookery, and these birds were evidently due to arrive a few days ago. A lady I met seemed disappointed they hadn’t arrived yet, although I thought I smelt the telling stench as I walked through the area. For the first half hour or so I followed the green arrows to a view of ‘the pinnacles’ which are a spectacular granite outcrop. After this, the black path takes you on a circuit of the cape via the highest point on the entire island (116m). From here, the views would be wonderful on a clear day. On a somewhat storm-threatening, windy, hazy day, it was enough to appreciate that I had made it to the top!

By this time I had nibbled my way through all my snacks – small pack of sultanas & dried apricots, cheese & biscuit snack pack and an apple crumble bar. The bitter wind tore across the cape, so I didn’t linger, despite being fascinated by the arrival of small zippy birds that initially had me wondering whether I was witnessing the muttonbird arrival. I was also keeping a lookout for peregrines and nankeen kestrels – didn’t see these, but saw many crows and gulls.

I was ready to end the walk at this point, having had enough of the wind and the cold, but still had to complete the circuit and get back to the car.

If the first part of the walk had been a slog, then the last part was rather a struggle. I was tired of battling the wind and threatening rain, my ears were cold and I was hankering for a cup of coffee. At times like this I project myself into the persona of my characters, and try to cling onto the emotions, the physical discomfort, the thoughts, so I can inject them into these creations. I found myself examining the vegetation, and thinking up useful descriptions of them, and then wondering whether that was how my characters would describe them.

After a while I remembered that I had my headphones and thought maybe some music would help!

Finally I reached the end of the track and the beginning of the beach, but the worst was yet to come. For around 15 minutes, I laboured along the beach, the tide foaming around my ankles, against a headwind that made me feel like I was getting nowhere. To the tunes of Garbage and Hothouse Flowers, I put one foot in front of the other, tried to ignore the rain that had started in earnest, and thought bravely of that mega-latte I was going to have as soon as I could get to a café. Gradually – ever so gradually – the rickety ramp grew larger until I finally arrived back at the car park. Total time (since setting off along the beach): 1h 55m.

Since then I have devoured my mega-latte, hugging the mug in a daggy little café opposite Coles, and re-fuelled on a hot toasted fruit & spice muffin. On another day it would be a lovely walk – one on which to take a picnic lunch, even. Today, it was an adventure!

Friday, 28 September 2007

Have computer, will travel

This weekend -- in about an hour -- I am whizzing away to the island for the weekend. Unfortunately, I am going alone (although Chenna will come), but I suspect I will still have a marvellous time. (Although I could wish the weather had not turned quite so cold!) It is fabulous to be able to zip off to the island with relative spontaneity. Getting out of the city always feels wonderful.

Part of me has contemplated not taking my computer this weekend. Don't get me wrong -- I still intend to wrap myself in words, but those of the more tactile variety -- on paper! Not only do I have some books to read, but I also need to get back into my novel after around a month's hiatus. Maybe the best method would be to read, think, jot down ideas and free write.

That said, I will of course take my computer. It's a reflex reaction. A safety harness. My own personal teddy bear. Even if I don't switch it on, it will be there for me to use if I want to. These days I sometimes think better with my fingers clacking over the keys than I do with a pen in my hand.

What I will have a holiday from is e-mail, the internet and . . . Facebook. This will be a good thing.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Vowel rut

Another post about scrabble. I am currently playing five games of online scrabble with different friends via facebook. It's been an interesting experience. One learns various strategies from one's opponents, and I think I have improved considerably over the past couple of weeks.

One does remain, for all that, somewhat at the mercy of chance. For example, in one of my games I seem to receive vowels all the time. At the moment, my hand consists of 4 Is, 2 Us and an N. Just what am I supposed to do with those? At one point I had all vowels. And the problem gets worse, because you can invariably only make short words, which limits the number of tiles you can put down, and then more vowels come in, when all I desperately wish for is a consonant, particularly one that scores higher than 1!

I am being blitzed in the above mentioned game, because no matter what I do I can't get out of the vowel rut. However, fortunately it is the only one. The other games are more even, although there is one in which I am doing the blitzing.

Even more fortunate is the new web site I have discovered which helps find words with particular letter configurations. For example, if I wanted to put my Z on a high-scoring tile, I could ask the web site to find me options for ??Z?B (for example). Then it spits out a heap of words (if you're lucky) to choose from. This is proving to be incredibly useful -- only sometimes it spits out words that Scrabulous will not allow me to use, which is always disappointing.

So off I go now to find a word that consists primarily of Is, to score around 10 points with my one-point letters if I'm very lucky. Oh well. I think I'll be put out of my misery rather shortly!

Sunday, 23 September 2007

The spring equinox . . .

. . . was today. Oh goody, from now on the days are longer than the nights. Bring on the summer solstice!

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Mrs Dalloway

Ever since seeing and loving the movie, The Hours, I have been wanting to read Mrs Dalloway (which was the inspiration for the novel). So when it came my way as an audio book, I jumped at the chance. I figured that having the book read to me -- interpreted essentially -- would make it less challenging than confronting Virginia Woolf's 'stream of conciousness' style adopted for this book. I rather suspect I was right. The novel was beautifully read by Phyllida Law.

The writing throughout the book is wonderful. It features breathtaking imagery, poignant reflections, sharp observations. The cast of characters are all deliciously flawed, yet endearing, and although one might be intrigued as to how such a odd bunch thrust together in haphazard fashion makes a coherent novel, the strange fact is that they do.

There is very little plot in Mrs Dalloway. It merely rambles along in pursuit of the innermost thoughts of its characters, who obsess about mundane things, reminisce about key events in the past, and contemplate each other with affection and irritation in equal combinations. Past and present intermingle without warning, dealing with themes of feminism, depression and madness. And while at times it might have gone on perhaps a little too long about something seemingly irrelevant, it always returned to the central focus: that of Clarissa Dalloway, giving a party.

I enjoyed it a lot.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Grog


Today I learnt the origin of the word grog (once again through a.word.a.day), and it surprised me.

It is from Old Grog, nickname of Admiral Edward Vernon (1684-1757), who ordered diluted rum to be served to his sailors. The admiral earned the nickname from his habit of wearing a grogram cloak. Grogram is a coarse fabric of silk, wool, mohair, or a blend of them. The word grogram is from French gros grain (large grain or texture).

Never would I have imagined this, so I thought I'd share it with you.

Monday, 17 September 2007

A long-awaited adventure

This past weekend I had an adventure. I had weeks and weeks to look forward to it, and planned much of it beforehand. Training was undertaken, lists were written, shopping was done, schedules were developed. All my usual weekend activities were either slotted into the preceding week or abandoned entirely. I was fully focused, prepared, excited.

The adventure came and consumed the weekend. It both drained and exhilarated me. It kept me hopping (skipping), guessing, thinking fast, negotiating, wheedling. The challenge was phenomenal, but I prevailed (survived). It took me places I hadn't been before, and made me see places I had been in a completely different light.

As wonderful as the adventure was, I admit I was relieved when it ended . . . Although I would definitely be up for a similar adventure again, for the rewards outweigh everything in the end.

Overall I really love being an auntie. I hope Miss 4.5 feels inclined to come visit again one day (maybe when she's 5!).

Saturday, 15 September 2007

a confession

I feel I should 'fess up and admit that I'm not writing much at the moment. In fact, I don't think I've done anything for a fortnight. I've barely even thought about the re-write. I'm just hiding behind my "period of reflection and contemplation" as an excuse for being slack. And here it is September already, and I haven't even started the next draft. I was going to have it finished by the end of the year.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

A week of Facebook

Hmmm, I'm still undecided about Facebook. I admit that it's become something of an obsession, however. Every evening I switch on the computer and login to see who might have written on my wall or thrown a sheep at me or how many vampires might have bitten me. (Well, actually, the first thing I look for is whether it's my turn at scrabulous.)

Then I browse a bit, check out the pages of "friends" and see what they're doing. Tonight I searched for my sister's profile (having discovered she's recently joined) and sent her an invitation to be my friend.

But what am I actually achieving by all this? Two hours can pass in a flash, and I've done nothing but mouse-click around from site to site, played a few scrabble words, and perhaps left a few messages. Surely I could put my precious evening time to better use than this? I could be reading . . . I should be writing . . . Even an evening of Babylon 5 on TV would be more productive.

I am going to have to set strict time limits on Facebook sessions, or every evening will pass in the same way. I hope that I can snap out of the current fixation, which is such a passive and unproductive form of entertainment that I rather despise myself for succumbing to it.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Page Turners - Freakonomics


In all my experimentation with Facebook, I forgot to post about the book we discussed at our meeting last week. This was Freakonomics, by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner.

I've been describing it to people as a book about real life, and the underlying economics that drive it. It has chapters entitled "What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common?" and then proceeds to explain that the fundamental similarity is that both groups can be persuaded to cheat, given the right incentive.

Or "Why do drug dealers still live with their moms?", which turns out to be because there's only big bucks to be made in drugs if you're at the top of the pyramid.

This book was definitely interesting, but I felt it over-laboured each point -- as might be inferred by the fact I can summarise each chapter in one sentence. Our discussion ranged all over, dancing from topic to topic, resting for a while on the "nature vs nurture" debate that took up the 5th and 6th chapters. (The outcome being that "nature", ie genetics, seems to be the winner if it's school grades in question.)

Nevertheless, a worthwhile addition to the bookshelf.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Fals esplitting

Here's another post about words. Every day for the past ten years or so, I've received 'a word a day' by e-mail. Each week has a theme and a short explanation. This week's theme is words formed by false splitting (I originally typed fals esplitting - freudian slip!) which, despite the fact I've heard of this before, has a cool explanation:

What's common among an orange and an omelet... and an uncle and an umpire? Earlier all these words used to take the indefinite article "a", not "an". They were coined by a process called false splitting.

Let's take orange. The original word was Sanskrit naranga. By the time it reached English, the initial letter n had joined the article a, resulting in"an orange". The word for orange is still narangi in Hindi, naranja in Spanish, and naranj in Arabic.

This false splitting caused what should have been "a napron" to become "an apron". The same process transformed "a nadder" into "an adder", and reshaped many other words. The n went the other way too. "Mine uncle" was interpreted as "my nuncle" resulting in a synonym nuncle for uncle. The word newt was formed the same way: "an ewte" misdivided into "a newte".

Could false splitting turn "an apple" into "a napple" or "a nail" into "an ail" some day? Before the advent of printing, the language was primarily oral/aural, resulting in mishearing and misinterpreting. Today, spelling is mostly standardized, so chances of false splitting are slim, though not impossible.

How cool is that?

For those who are interested, today's word is "eyas", which is a nestling, especially a young falcon or hawk. This results from the erroneous splitting of the original "a nyas" into "an eyas". [From Latinnidus (nest), ultimately from the Indo-European root sed- (to sit) thati s also the source of sit, chair, saddle, soot, sediment, cathedral, andtetrahedron.]

I would also point out that typing has much to answer for in this area (or may do in the future). My erroneous fals esplitting was the result of a too-eager spacebar thumb. Same result!

Scrabulous

So far, my favourite thing about Facebook is Scrabulous. For the uninitiated, this is online Scrabble, where you can take as long as you like to put a word down (no screams of 'hurry up') and you can play with the tiles on the screen to help you choose the best word. Once you've put the word down, a notification is sent to your opponent, who then plays a word when he/she has time. Games last days (I haven't finished one yet) but who cares? You can play three games at once!
More ways to play with words - heaven!

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Grooming the carnivors

A significant sign of Spring for me is the bursting forth of new blooms in my carnivorous plant collection. However, in order to see the shooting flower buds and new pitchers, I first have the somewhat tedious task of trimming off all the dead pitchers and flower heads of last season. In the more vigorous plants, this can take around half an hour, and when you have 10 pots . . . well, it's a time consuming process.

Every second year or so, I have the even more tedious task of repotting. There are two reasons for this: one, the spaghnum/peat mix goes stale after about that long; two, the rhizomes of the pitcher plants spread and outgrow the container. Logic dictates that I need to either get bigger pots, or break up the plants into more pots. I generally choose the latter, but whichever way you look at it, I end up with bits of plants, rhizomes and discarded moss all over the place. It's a messy job.

The task for this weekend has been repotting, and unfortunately I didn't quite get it all done, despite tackling it on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons (too many social engagements!). It always takes longer than I expect -- teasing the roots out when I unpack the pots, deciding which bits of plant go back in, and then packing the new mix around the selected rhizomes, while being desperately careful not to break any of the new shoots.

It is rewarding, though, when I reach the end and see all my pots, ready and waiting to burst with life. They don't look like much now, but in a few months' time, they'll be truly spectacular!

Thursday, 6 September 2007

The facebook phenomenon

For over a year I have been keeping this blog. I know some of my friends are reading it fairly regularly, because they either leave comments or else seem very knowing about what is going on in my life when I see them.

Despite this, not all that many of them keep blogs of their own. I have been lamenting this fact, because I rather enjoy reading the blogs of those who DO keep them. I have also been secretly wishing that more of my friends read this blog -- it's nice to have an audience, after all.

And THEN I meet with a whole bunch of my friends this evening to discover they have all joined 'facebook', and are all 'friends' of each other, and know everything there is to know about what's going on with everyone . . . only somehow I knew nothing about it.

What IS facebook, anyway?

It appears that it's an online social interaction thingy, a bit like MySpace. The latest thing in social networking.

Boy did I feel out of the loop this evening. It was like they'd all joined some club that excluded me. But WHEN did this happen?, I asked. They'd all joined, it appeared, sometime in the past month. Well then, HOW did it happen?, I asked, increasingly perturbed. (I do not like being out of the loop!)

And the remarkable thing was that they had not in fact all colluded to join together without letting me in on the secret. Each had been introduced to facebook completely independently -- by family, spouses, work colleagues, other friends. All in the past month.

The world is a funny place these days. Sometimes I think I spend my entire life in front of a computer screen and keyboard -- work, fiction writing, blogging . . . and now it looks like I'll have to join facebook and my social life will unfold in front of the computer as well.

But will online social networking ever take the place of real human-human interaction? The test of that will be if I start making friends over the net. To-date, I seem to be mainly interested in the blogs of people I already know. But it's only the next best thing to actually seeing them. And I suspect this will also be the case with facebook. If I need to join up so that I can stay in the loop of conversations like that which happened tonight (my jaw dragged along the floorboards for at least half an hour) then so be it. But somehow I have trouble imagining making friends via this forum.

But why has facebook suddenly and overpoweringly barged into the midst of my social group? Why now? Why have so few of them suuccumbed to blogging, only to show little reluctance when confronted with facebook? I have absolutely no idea at all. I have zero understanding of the facebook phenomenon at the moment. Maybe in a week or so I'll know more.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

New toys

Over the past week or two I have been playing with a trio of new electronic gadgets. These came to me in various ways, but have combined to keep life interesting!

The least exciting (although it depends upon perspective) is my new computer mouse. My old one was playing up, stuttering and jerking, losing connectivity etc. I can't think why I put up with it for so long, but suddenly it occurred to me that perhaps the device itself was stuffed. (I believe I was blaming the computer's USB connection.) After this epiphany I rushed into Officeworks to be confronted by at least 30 mouses ranging in price from $25 to $200. I resisted a cordless model (not trusting batteries or wireless connections to be interference-free) and instead went for the latest laser technology, which is supposed to be useful for using on non-ideal surfaces. So far, it hasn't skipped a beat and my computer life is revolutionised. No longer do I feel the need to swear at the screen, or feel compelled to throw said pointing device across the room. A good mouse is a writer's best friend (despite the fact her cat may also wish to play with it) . . .

Item number two is a new mini (1GB) MP3 player. About the size of a cigarette lighter, it came with my car stereo a couple of months ago, but I've only just gotten around to loading music onto it. Not only is it much lighter to carry around, but it plugs into the front of my car stereo (via USB) and plays directly into the sound system! Way cool. This way I can pick a selection of albums (at the moment I'm listening to 8, but it will fit more) and play them at random. Oh yeah, and it's PURPLE!




Finally I have a new mobile phone -- a MOTORAZR flip phone with 3G connectivity from Telstra's Next G network. This is very exciting. Not only have I been angling for an upgrade to my 4-year old, mono-screen, non-polyphonic Nokia (because phones, you know, are somewhat of a social symbol), but this is my first taste of a 3G network -- something that I have been writing about on behalf of clients for years now. So this phone does internet, e-mail, blogging, directory assistance, navigation . . . not that I'm supposed to use them, for the fees are exorbitant. But the phone itself is pretty (lilac) and it has a nice colour screen with icons and can take photos! When I figure out how to get photos off it, I will post one.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Pledge for the week

I was complaining not so long ago that I have so little time to read these days . . . and then last night I was put to shame. Exactly one week after lending two books to a friend, she returned them both already read! OMG, I said, when did you find time to do that? She shrugged and said she read them in the evenings.

Hmmm. When I am in full writing mode, I try to write in the evenings and would therefore feel guilty 'slacking off' to read. However, there invariably come evenings when work has just been too intense to even contemplate using more of my brain. Moreover, I am not in full writing mode at the moment, being instead in a period of contemplation and reflection.

So how have I been spending my evenings? It shames me to say I have been watching TV, and specifically Babylon 5 (I have just completed the second season). While it has to be said that B5 is very worthy TV, and somewhat educational with its novel-like structure, I now see that I have been squandering the perfect reading opportunity!

So, I have declared this week a Babylon 5-free week. I am not saying that I won't watch any TV, but I will not put on any DVDs, and instead I will read. (Which is a good thing too, because we have a Page Turners meeting on Thursday, and I need to complete the book!)