Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Travelling Pathetically - Beside the Seaside Edition

Weather having interrupted my last few attempts at bushwalking I seized on an unexpectedly dry Saturday to make at least a token attempt at fitness before my trip.  My handy walking app having delivered the opinion that the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk would deliver a certain amount of needed up and down plus views I set off towards the the sand and surf Mecca that is Bondi Beach.  According to the app the walk was about twelve kilometres which seemed like an appropriate distance.

I should state at the beginning that I have absolutely no interest in sand and surf and having arrived at Bondi Beach my first instinct was to leave it as soon as possible.  Leave I did, heading along the coastal walk that would in the fullness of time deliver me to Coogee another beach location I had no interest in.  

My progress was certainly not setting any speed records and my predilection for pausing to take photographs was only part of the reason.  The main reason was that half the population of Australia also appeared to be doing the walk and with the exception of a handful of joggers they were all doing it extremely slowly.  I was a little more schizophrenic, I would pull out to overtake a group of slow moving walkers, stride ahead, spot something I wanted to photograph and pause while said slow walkers continued past me.  I overtook some groups of people four times.

As can be seen from the photographs above Bondi becomes more appealing when you put some distance between yourself and it.  Having started at a beach naturally the first thing I had to do was climb up from it.  Once on the clifftop I turned my back on Bondi and towards the path ahead.

It was hardly splendid isolation

So there I was, all alone just me and half a million other people.  We lurched and shambled forward, bumping into scenery and trampling the slowest underfoot.  It was like a badly dressed zombie apocalypse.  Along the way there was a look out where one could watch for whales.  I stared out for a little and my patience was rewarded when absolutely no whales presented themselves for my entertainment.  To take my mind off the lack of whales and the spectacular over abundance of humans I took pictures of the more photogenic parts of the coastline.

Photogenic coastline picture #1

Photogenic coastline picture #2

In all fairness there was a decent amount of photogenic coastline to photograph.  I took quite a few pictures if only because where the rocks met the sea was the only place free of people.  A little further on even that would be denied to me as various rock fishermen diced with death in the hopes of dragging a small piece of sea life out of the ocean with a nylon cord.  At that point their catch would become a small piece of sea death.  I could imagine that the fish were all hoping for a really big wave.

The coastline became less rocky and more sandy announcing the arrival of another beach.  There are quite a number of these and I'm not going to bother pretending I remember their names or the order in which they come.  I started at Bondi and finished at Maroubra, fill the intervening beaches in as you wish.

OK so I'm reasonably sure this one is Tamarama

The one good thing about being so far on the beaten path was that helpful people hung around selling coffee at pretty regular intervals.  With my body awash with caffeine I continued on my way.  I took a photo of a small and unexceptional bird because I suspected it might be my only opportunity.  Also I've finally figured out how to use my camera.

Not unexceptional at all really.  Sorry bird.

Once past the beach it was back to photos of the shoreline again.  I wasn't disappointed, the sea put on a lovely display of colours for me (that's right for me, not for the six hundred and eighty seven thousand other people walking along that day) so it seemed only appropriate to take a few pictures.

Water colours

I turned my gaze inland briefly as I wandered past Waverly Cemetery proof if proof were needed that overcrowding issues don't stop once you're dead.  One of the great things about being dead is that you don't have to answer the door when people visit.  Which doesn't seem to stop people visiting.  One of the prevailing characteristics of the human race is our inability to take a hint.

Dropping in on dead folk

And for no reason at all, a small flower

I continued on my walk, essentially just going through the motions.  While the crowds that had attended the beginning of the walk had started to thin I could still hardly claim to be alone.  To justify the presence of my camera I took a series of photos of a small and rather hyperactive bird.  None of them turned out particularly well because the irritating little bastard couldn't stand still for more than a second.

The best of a bad bunch of bird photos

Fortunately my day was about to improve.  Not only were there fewer and fewer people to get in my way but the scenery was improving as well.  I took a photo of a boat rack (like a gun rack but for boats) in a little bay and even managed to photograph the Clare McIntyre memorial fungus clinging to a fallen tree branch along the way.

Boat rack

The bay the boat rack was in

And the Clare McIntyre Memorial Fungus - the day is looking up

I arrived in Coogee supposedly the end of my walk to find I had travelled a meagre seven kilometres when the walk promised twelve.  I realised that I was supposed to turn around and retrace my steps and immediately decided against it.  Instead I headed further down the coast deciding I could put more kilometres under my belt by carrying on to Maroubra instead.  It was an excellent decision.

Just out of Coogee I came to a point where the sealed path I had been walking on intersected with a dirt track leading off into the bush and immediately took it.  I knew I wasn't going to get far, there was a cliff and the sea not too far ahead but at last I felt like I was doing a bushwalk rather than simply walking down the street.  My decision was rewarded when I walked past a burnt tree stump.  I had actually walked past it before I realised it wasn't a burnt tree stump but a thoroughly unburnt tree with a large black cockatoo sitting on it.  I took a photo and then I took about a hundred more.

I'm not even going to apologies for all the black cockatoo photos

Dizzy and glutted with cockatoo photos I moved on about ten metres and almost ran into another black cockatoo sitting on a fence.  More photos ensued.

Another one

After that an asteroid could have hit the path and I would still have been happy.  I moved on to the South Coogee Wetlands which is a narrow strip of soggy land between the cliff and the houses.  It is apparently a peat bog and careful maintenance over the last decade or two is helping to eradicate the worst evidence of absolute abuse the place has suffered for the previous two centuries.  They even have a raised platform for people to walk along so the precious bog is not sullied with human tread.


More wet, less land

Very wet land

I padded along to the end of the walkway where I encountered an elderly Asian couple harvesting what I hope was non-endangered vegetable material for tonight's soup.  After that it was sadly back to sealed footpaths again.  I was coming towards the end of my walk, for more reasons than one, but there was just time for another bird orgy, this time involving rainbow lorikeets (I think) who dined photogenically on the local foliage.

I spent quite a bit of time here

With my cup officially running over I set out on the last lap to Maroubra.  Here I have to admit that I skimped on my preparations.  Normally I wear a constrictive bandage on my knee as I'm prone to what I suspect is arthritis.  Today I forgot it and ten kilometres in I was in a considerable amount of pain.  I winced and hobbled along pausing only to take one final bird photo.  It wasn't as big as the cockatoos or as brightly coloured as the lorikeets but I think you will agree that it surrenders nothing in pugnacious attitude.

You looking at me?

Now my main goal was to get somewhere with a big enough road to arrange transport to my home.  According to my trail app the path made its way to the waters edge and then along towards Maroubra.  That wasn't quite true, the path made its way to the waters edge and then stopped.  You were supposed to look at the sea slicked rocks and make your own way from then on.  Somewhat nervously and with an uneasy awareness that my speed and mobility were now significantly reduced I did so.  I paused for photos partially because of the scenery but mainly to give my knee a brief rest before continuing on.

This is apparently a path

I think the tide may have been coming in

With much wincing and self pitying moans I hobbled along and greeted the presence of Maroubra with such gratitude that Maroubra was rightly suspicious.  Eleven and a half kilometres is hardly a lengthy walk but I was semi crippled by this stage and limped and whimpered my way home, pausing only for another cup of coffee along the way.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Silly After Action Report - Corniche Game

 A collection of Italian soldiers stood at a rough approximation of attention as Generale-Maggiore Biscotti Garibaldi gave what he fondly imagined was a morale building speech.

"Today is the day brave soldiers of Italy.  For not a single further hour will we tolerate Menton in the hands of the perfidious French.  May I remind you of how when our victorious soldiers advanced across the Alps the French treacherously refused to surrender.  May I remind you of when we appeared on the outskirts of Menton our friendly advance was greeted with artillery fire.  May I remind you that the bastards broke my train!!!"  The generale's cheeks were wet with tears.  The cheeks of the front rank of soldiers were similarly wet but that was largely because Garibaldi had a tendency to spray as he talked.

"Forward brave soldiers of Italy."  The soldiers shambled forward, "not that way, towards Menton."

The Italian soldiers reluctantly turned around, it had been worth a shot.

"Do not forget, the world is watching Menton," announced Garibaldi with a flourish.

"Not even the population of Menton is watching Menton," muttered a soldier somewhere towards the rear.

With varying degrees of enthusiasm (varying from "low" to "nil") the Italian soldiers trudged in the general direction of a largely inoffensive French town.  More than one cast a longing glance over their shoulder to where the generale's car was speeding towards Italy with almost indecent haste.  Fortunately it didn't have far to go.

After several games where my defeats were so swift and humiliating that they didn't merit a blog entry I prevailed upon Dave to let me try and turn around my fortunes with my beloved Italians.  Possibly against his better judgment Dave agreed to play HG-1, Corniche Game.  It is 1940 and France is collapsing under the weight of the German blitzkrieg but far in the south east it's a different story.  For no good reason that anyone can determine Mussolini hurled his fascist legions against the French border.  And that is pretty much where they stayed.  At great cost the alpine troops of the Duce managed to capture a couple of hills that the French didn't particularly want.  Down on the coast however the story was slightly different.  Here the Italian advance actually went somewhere, not far but somewhere.  That somewhere was Menton a coastal town some five kilometres inside the French border.  This was the furthest the Italians managed to advance.  Now the town of Menton lies just in front of my victorious legions (for a given definition of victorious) and my troops ready themselves to seize what will no doubt be the first of many French towns.

All I have to do is cross a river under the forbidding gaze of fortifications high in the hills, fight my way through the town, evict the French garrison and fight off fearsome Senegalese warriors.  To win I have to control sixteen multihex buildings (I control eight at the start).  Each French pillbox I capture reduces the number of buildings needed by one.  By special rule no quarter is in effect, hand to hand combat can be declared and only Italian conscripts are lax for ambush purposes.

I have a large if somewhat motley force at my disposal.  Thirty one squads; five elite, sixteen bersaglieri and ten first line form a grey tide which I hope will swamp all in their path.  I also have two crews to man a pair of 81mm mortars which are the best artillery support the Italians have since their train got smashed up.  In addition to that I had two heavy machine guns, two medium machine guns, five light machine guns, two 45mm mortars, two demolition charges and a radio connecting me to a battery of 70mm artillery.  Six officers command led by a capable 9-1.

To defend this little patch of France (the French pinched it from Monaco in 1860 but whatever) Dave has a small but potent force.  Up on the hill mass are one and a half first line squads, a leader, two medium machine guns and a 75mm artillery piece.  There's also a trench and pillbox for the afore mentioned to shelter in.  In the town itself are another nine first line squads equipped with one heavy, two more medium and two light machine guns.  Additionally a 47mm antitank gun is present for reasons neither Dave or I could figure out plus a roadblock, two wire counters, four more trench counters and two more pillboxes.  Also present is a field phone which connects Dave with a battery of fearsome 120mm artillery.  Entering on turn 5 are six elite squads with another pair of light machine guns and an 8-1 leader. 

Above is the at start situation.  The Italians set up on non-hill hexes east of the stream or on/east of hexrow F if they want to be in the hills.  I had a trio of first line squads commanded by my least capable leader ready for a charge across the plateau while  three more first line squads were positioned to climb up to the pillbox.  One of my 81mm mortars was set up to drop smoke on said pillbox to make the preceding somewhat less suicidal.  My hmgs (manned by a pair of elite squads) sat in a building facing the only functioning bridge.  An 8-0 with the radio sat next to them.  The remainder of my force was divided into two main groups.  One group (with both mmgs) was positioned as far west as possible looking to work their way through the trees and flank Dave's positions in the town.  The other group was further east, their job was to cross the river far from the action and flank Dave's positions from the east.

Things went almost suspiciously well in the first turn.  A mortar plastered his pillbox on the hill with smoke and another gave the same treatment to another pillbox in the village.  Far to the north my little group of soldiers tugged their concealment counters about their shoulders and panted towards the pillbox while a group of others climbed the hill from the south.  These soldiers found Dave's artillery piece when a 75mm shell screamed over their heads and they found themselves staring into the open mouth of a cannon.  Well at least I'd found it.

Back down in the village my 9-1 directed kill stack managed to break some defenders and my flankers plunged into the deep but apparently unthreatening waters of the stream and emerged on the other side soggy but alive.  The rest of my force swept around through the woods and started enveloping Dave's position from that side although a squad which jumped into the river opposite a building received an antitank shell where it would do least good and fled for the cover of the trees on the original bank.

End of Italian turn 1 so far so good

In Dave's turn his 75mm made short work of the squads that had rather foolishly camped out under its muzzle but in return my 81mm broke the gun crew thus removing it from contention for the time being.  Down in the village the garrison of his smoked out pillbox (a pair of halfsquads with mmgs) moved to the next trench along where my other 81mm would cheerfully blanket them with more smoke next turn.  I made contact with my artillery who promptly dropped a spotting round behind their own troops.  A sniper would kill my radio operator before he could do anything else.  As usual I would have to do this without artillery.

In my next turn I sent a couple more squads up the hill, now that the gun crew was, temporarily, gone I figured I could surround the smoke shrouded pillbox dwellers and swamp them with numbers.  It wasn't really my fault that gusts blew the smoke away before I could do it.  Soon a couple more squads were fleeing down back down the hill in what had become something of a minor tradition.  Meanwhile the squads approaching from the north took note and decided discretion was the better part of valour. 

In the village I strengthened my hold on the western edge and foolishly sent a squad in to hand to hand CC with his machine gun teams.  I got away with that to a certain extent.  I lost a halfsquad and locked both crews in melee.  Dave brought down his artillery as harrassing fire trying to hinder my eastern flankers as they attempted to shake out and gain ground.  Gain ground they did although cautiously.

The grey tide surges forward, cautiously

In the third turn I reinforced the melee with another squad which resulted in everybody dying in CC which was a net gain to me as it took two French mmgs out of the fight.  His harassing fire had broken one of the hmg squads guided by my 9-1 but by that time I didn't really need them.  My mortar dropped more smoke on his hilltop pillbox to replace that lost to the gusts in the previous turn.  I was sure he had his radio operator in the eastern pillbox and was very surprised when his hmg sprayed my long suffering troops on the hilltop.  More broken squads was the result but now my cautious boys from the north came into their own and crossed the ground to leap into CC with his troops there.  Meanwhile my eastern force managed to break his hmg team (they had exited the pillbox so they could conduct all round fire) and started claiming territory, and buildings, in the south.  With the bulk of his at start force dead, broken or seriously menaced and his reinforcements still a turn and a half away Dave conceded.  He later admitted that he had forgotten that infantry can cross a deep stream (admittedly at the cost of being CX'ed) and so had not made any plans for a sweep in the east such as I had conducted.  For me it was a rare occasion of, almost, everything going as planned.

This is where we ended it. 

 After a number of dispiriting losses I was delighted to gain a win and with Italians into the bargain.  Many thanks to Dave who bore his defeat with far more equanimity than I would have done.  It has to be admitted that while the dice were reasnably even I had the better of any luck that was going.

"Victory!" shrieked Generale Gariboldi tugging out his pistol to fire a shot into the air.  The other patrons at the restaurant in Turin ducked under their tables.  "With Menton seized we shall march on Paris!"

"The Germans captured Paris eight days ago," replied his aide brushing ceiling plaster off his uniform.

"Oh," said Gariboldi a little deflated, "what should we do now?"

"Relax, have a biscuit."


Tuesday, May 21, 2024


 May 21st is International Tea Day.  On this day the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation leads world wide celebrations in honour of tea.  Which is proof that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation is scratching to find things to do with its time.  Nevertheless to mark this auspicious occasion this blog has decided to provide its eager readers with a brief history of this famous plant.

Tea was invented in China in the late 11th century for use as a packing material.  Proving useful in the role it wasn't long before every parcel in China was wrapped in tea before dispatch.  Tea was the bubble wrap of its age.  The concept of tea as a beverage was discovered by accident when several parcels of hot water were found on arrival to have been "contaminated" by the tea they were packed in.  A lengthy legal process followed and the subsequent lawsuits were instrumental in bringing down the Later Song Dynasty.

The popularity of tea plunged as bitter wars were fought over water quality and in a desperate attempt to rid themselves of the problem Chinese officials started insisting that every British trading ship had to carry a certain amount of tea away from the troubled empire.  Most of this tea was dumped overboard the minute the ships were out of sight of the Chinese coast but some remained in the nooks and crannies of the vessels on their arrival in England.  Somewhat at a loss officials of the East India Company decided to sell the stuff on the grounds that people will buy anything if it can be marketed as "exotic".  With tea's reputation as a packing material irredeemably ruined the company came up with the bright idea of promoting the stuff as a beverage.

The popularity of tea exploded among an English population which was looking for a easy way to differentiate themselves from the French.  Suddenly England was importing every leaf of tea that China could send.  Even this wasn't enough for the tannin crazed population of Britain and soon tea plantations were springing up everywhere that the British controlled (except Britain which, ironically, was too cold, damp and boring to grow tea).  

Somewhat concerned about their balance of trade with China the East India Company came up with the elegant idea of selling opium to the Chinese in exchange (that is actually true).  Now with two empire's populations hopelessly addicted to their products the Company should have been making out like bandits.  Strangely they went bankrupt but the tea trade (and the opium trade) survived their demise.

Lest the British lose their taste for the fabled green leaf the Chinese attempted to diversify their market by selling tea to the Tibetans and the Russians.  The Tibetans took one look at the tea and promptly dumped yak butter into it which is only my fourth favourite thing to do with yak butter.  Two of them absolutely cannot be mentioned in a family friendly blog like this.  Check out my alternate blog "1001 Things to do With a Yak" on the dark web for more details.  Parental discretion recommended.

After an unsuccessful attempt to burn the tea the Russians decided to drink it anyway and so a third empire fell to the insidious power of tea.  Of course the Russians messed it up by dropping slices of lemon into it and serving it in glasses.  The British meanwhile came up with the deliciously ironic idea of serving it in china.  Neither the Russians or the British were quite mad enough to involve yak butter at any stage of the process. 

The superpower rivalry of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries between Russia and Great Britain can be boiled down to a desire to dominate the world's tea trade.  The British hit on the idea of conquering everywhere whose climate could be even remotely considered appropriate for the growing of tea and soon indigenous populations everywhere were labouring in the drug plantations of their tea addled overlords.  

The Russians on the other hand decided to try and control the trade routes that brought tea to the world by conquering the famed silk road.  This was due to an unfortunate error from one of their earliest traders.  The Russian work "Zschyk" meaning "tea" was confused with the word "Chyszk" which means "silk".  The Russian irritation when they discovered they had spent a fortune conquering some of the lowest rent territory in the world on the basis of a mistranslation had to be seen to be believed.  Still this did mean that their empire now shared a rather long border with China so the Russians smuggled the tea across it and tried to pretend that had been their plan all along.

 In these more civilised times of course former colonies, now proudly independent nations market their tea to the world regardless of the impotent grumbles of both the British and the Russians.  One of them, Sri Lanka, lobbied the UN to get an International Tea Day.  One can only assume the UN owed them a favour.

In honour of this auspicious day I shall make, drink and enjoy a cup of tea and honesty compels me to admit that despite my thoroughly British heritage it shall be Russian Caravan.  Yak butter optional.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Travelling Painfully

I stand before you a physically shattered husk of a man.  Limbs, sinews and muscles groan and whimper as they make a pitiful attempt to do the tasks nature assigned them.  But there's nothing new there so let's just get on with the blog entry.  As may have been mentioned in previous entries I had, in what can only be considered a fit of insanity, agreed to do a 22km race with a couple of friends through some of the more photogenic parts of the Blue Mountains.  It was in preparation for this event that I have been conducting bushwalks of a more than usually strenuous nature.  Despite such preparation three weeks of rain prior to the event meant that training had been curtailed and I felt that I was slightly underprepared going into the big event.  In this if nothing else I was correct.

Since the race started in Katoomba at god awful o'clock in the morning it behooved us to arrive the day before which with varying degrees of efficiency we achieved.  Organising credits go to my friend Jason who arranged the hotel and was the only one of us who managed to turn up before 6.30 in the evening.  I arrived somewhat after that time and my other friend Tony (yes, I have two) arrived while I was checking in for the race.  After signing a waiver of liability form somewhat longer than the average dictionary I was presented with a t-shirt, a race number with my name on it and a collection of safety pins so that i could attach one to the other.  Thus fully prepared we headed off to our modestly priced hotel.

Apparently I snore.  In fact I snored so much that Tony feared for my health.  I was quite touched by this until he pointed out that he had been tempted to murder me.  Fortunately we both survived the night and rose to greet the dawn with a minimum of cursing.  Preparation for my part consisted of taking prophylactic anti inflammatories and pulling constrictive bandages onto both knees and one ankle.  I looked like I was part way through a mummification process.  A brief squabble broke out between Jason and Tony as they vied to be the one to pull my brains out through my nose with a hook.  Fortunately neither had brought a hook with them and we realised that we were going to have to do the race after all.

A bus took us wending through the streets of Katoomba and Leura until it deposited us at Wentworth Falls within walking distance of the race start.  Of course pretty much anywhere is within walking distance if you have enough time and no inconvenient oceans in the way.  Still, a mere seven hundred metres later we were ready to start racing.  We would descend into the Jamison Valley (at least I think it was the Jamison Valley) and make our way roughly in the direction of Katoomba until we reached the escarpment at which point we would ascend said escarpment via some stairs that had been conveniently bolted to the cliffside until we arrive at the top.  Once at the top we would proceed along, descend again (dear Christ!) make our way through a more modest valley and climb yet more steps until we arrived at the Scenic Skyway a location which can be conveniently accessed by bus from Katoomba station.

I said we were ready to start racing.  In actual fact two thirds of us were ready.  Jason had wandered off to find a toilet and Tony and I fretted as the actual time for our cohort to leave approached.  Said time arrived and Jason was nowhere to be seen.  The organisers warned us if we didn't leave now we would have to wait for the next group.  Tony and I consulted, what would Jason do in our place?  We abandoned Jason and headed out onto the track.  Fortunately Jason caught us up having managing to talk his way past the organisers and set off in our wake.

It was semi early morning and we descended into a valley full of mist.  There will not be many photos in this entry as I was too busy trying not to die for most of it but we did manage a couple on the way down.  Going down was reasonably easy but the sheer length of the descent made me rightly concerned about the effort that would be needed to get out again.

A valley full of mist.  We are at the top and going to the bottom

A group photo and the last time I looked even remotely human

The descent was actually the best opportunity to take photos as on the uphill parts I was too busy concentrating on dragging one foot in front of the other.  Still this was in the future and it was with a light heart that I journeyed into the depths.  Once at the depths we descended into depthier depths but we were covering ground and even engaging in light conversation all seemed well.

There is scenery hiding modestly behind the mist

Indeed all was well for the first ten kilometres or so.  We were making good time, that is we were making good time considering we were saddled with me.  Jason and Tony capered around and generally gave the impression of energy to spare while I smiled politely and cursed them under my breath.  I had to curse them under my breath as I didn't have the breath to curse them above my breath.  Then we started to climb.  Of all my preparations the acquisition of a pair of walking poles was absolutely the best.  Without them I would still be down in Jamison Valley.  This wasn't the "proper" climb.  Just some up and down along the way.  I laboured and struggled up the rise gasping and staring at my feet as they slowly dragged me forward.  The descent which followed each rise wasn't a respite as it signaled that I would have to do compensatory climbing once it was over.

Three somewhat slower kilometres passed until we arrived at a checkpoint which had been set up to provide snacks, toilet facilities and an opportunity to collapse gasping on the ground and pray for death.  Members of the race support team greeted us with such cheerful enthusiasm and words of encouragement that I wanted to ram a walking pole through their heads.  Fortunately I was no longer physically capable of such effort.

Somewhat refreshed or at least with my heartbeat reduced to slightly sub lethal levels we set back off.  The previous climbs had been mere tasters as we now started properly ascending as did my heart rate.  I was struggling now, just plodding one foot in front of another with frequent ten second stops while I contemplated my life choices to date and concluded that I am an idiot.  Most people of my acquaintance have managed to reach that conclusion without getting stuck at the bottom of a valley they need to climb out of.  Meanwhile Jason and Tony continued on with a spring in their step turning back from time to time to offer encouragement and to reassure themselves that I wasn't dead.  It's a funny thing about encouragement, I actually hate it but after the fact I was extremely grateful for it.  They offered to carry various bits of my gear but I proudly (stupidly) refused.  The truth was difficult though the climb was I was nowhere near the end of my resources.  I couldn't do the climbs as fast as they could but I had no doubt about my ability to do it.

Finally we reached the escarpment where it became very obvious that absent the sudden appearance of an elevator the worst was most definitely yet to come.

We are at the bottom and going to the top

The worst duly presented itself for my delectation.  A flight of stairs going pretty much straight up.  The stairs clung to the escarpment and when the escarpment hadn't been cooperative had been bolted to the cliff side.  I quailed, Jason and Tony encouraged and up we went, very slowly in my case.  This really was the end of my resources, we had walked about nineteen kilometres by this time and I gasped and dragged myself up by literally grabbing the handrail and hauling.  The effort so far had also irritated my knee beyond the ability of support bandages and anti inflammatories to compensate.  It is difficult to limp while simultaneously dragging yourself up a near vertical staircase but if it had been possible I would have done it.

Somehow I got to the top with constant encouragement from Jason and Tony who both looked like they could run up and down the damn thing all day.  Once there I gasped in relief, the worst was surely over, a couple of short kilometres would bring an end to my suffering.  We walked along Prince Henry Cliff Walk past tourists who politely manage to avoid recoiling from the gasping, sweaty, limping wreck as it shambled by.  "Almost there," I promised myself.  Jason and Tony promised the same thing.  Technically none of us were lying.  Then we encountered the steps leading down into another valley.

"Oh fuck me," I said at what was now the top of my voice, a ruined whisper.

With further encouragement from Jason and Tony I hobbled painfully down the stairs and then hobbled painfully through a lush, wet valley which I would have loved to look at if I could have mustered even the faintest of craps.  Eventually we reached Furber Steps at the top of which the finish line awaited.  Time was running short.  If we wanted to officially complete the race we had to do it within seven hours.  The seven hour mark was rapidly approaching.  I gasped and whimpered up the stairs and stumbled along the last couple of hundred metres and crossed the line with several minutes to spare.  It later turned out that Tony had understated the amount of time left to "encourage" me forward.

With the race completed mutual congratulations were in order.  We shook each others hand and Jason and Tony started planning for next years race while I looked around for somewhere socially acceptable to throw up.  Huge thanks to Tony and Jason who stayed with me and encouraged me over the last half of the race.  They could got a much better time if they had gone on themselves as I suggested more than once but they stuck with me and we crossed the finish line together.  Now I just had the small matter over covering the hundred or so kilometres that separated me from home.  Fortunately trains presented themselves in good time just for once.

The next day I could hardly move.  Jason got up and played a game of soccer.  He was feeling a little sluggish but he blamed that on the fact that he indulged in McDonalds on the way home.  I exceeded my personal expectations by registering a pulse.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Bring the Kids

Good news for the cattle haters among you.  A bullfighting firm in Seville is planning on giving free tickets to children under the age of eight.  This, announced the firm, will allow children to steep themselves in the rich tradition of the nation while the matador in the middle is steeping himself in something else.  Naturally this excellent means of handing down tradition from father to deeply traumatised son has met with opposition from critics who claim it could psychologically damage young children.  I would hope so!  If the sight of someone apparently dressed like a runner up in Rupaul's Drag Race pirouetting around a sandy arena hacking at a large domestic animal with a sword doesn't psychologically damage an eight year old then they must be pretty badly screwed up already.

I don't think we should worry too much about the psychological damage to the children.  No doubt it will be profound but let's face it, everything psychologically damages children.  It's called growing up.  Children come out of the womb fresh, unblemished and without a care in the world.  They are then promptly subjected to a barrage of abuse which ends, hopefully, many decades later when the gibbering wreck they have become finally falls into what must by now be a much longed for grave.  But what are we to do about that?  Keep children in a state of sensory deprivation until they reach maturity?  Now that would psychologically damage them to say nothing of rendering the hoped for achievement of maturity less likely.  Maturity is basically defined as "functional despite the damage".

But back to the bullfighting.  I have to admit there must be more efficient ways of traumatising children.  Whereas you or I if we wanted to introduce our offspring to gratuitous animal slaughter would simply provide them with a chainsaw and send them to the local petting zoo the Spanish feel the need to arrange free tickets to the bullfighting thus presumably reducing the number of tickets available to paying customers. Here is where tradition rears its ugly head.  If something is old, stupid, at least potentially violent and largely unnecessary the chances are that it is traditional.  Although to be fair that's a pretty good definition of me.  Possibly I am traditional.  It's difficult to find another reason for keeping me around.

Maintaining tradition is generally considered a good thing.  I'm not entirely sure why.  The greatest thing about the past in my opinion it its healthy distance from where we are right now.  Tradition is also subjective.  One person's cherished tradition it another person's atrocity.  To prove that let me demonstrate with that most harmless and sweet of traditions; Father Christmas.  St Nick circles the world bringing presents to all good boys and girls, what could be sweeter?  Now tell me exactly how many of you would actually be comfortable with the idea of an ageing man sneaking into your house to groom your children with presents?

Bullfighting is as Spanish as bullfighting.  Free tickets for the kiddies may encourage them to learn more about their proud nation's rich history and vibrant culture (or possibly vibrant history and rich culture) or it may just turn them into mini psychopaths.  For those of us without a culture of bullfighting we're just going to have to install CCTV in the abattoirs.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Marcher Historical Event #1

 Today marks a significant day in the history of the Marcher Lords or at least it was significant in the opinion of those involved which is surely what matters.  The population of Poland probably couldn't care less.  

For those less steeped in English historical romances than my mother the Welsh Marches were a series of border territories set up along the English/Welsh border by William the Conqueror.  The Welsh had a history of raiding across said border (insofar as it actually existed).  Additionally various of the Welsh princes had frequently had alliances or at least good relationships with some of the Saxon lords in England which made them less than sympathetic when William turned up from Normandy and conquered the place an event which was terrible for the Saxon nobility (although very convenient for Varangian recruitment officers).

Having better things to do (he said) than spend the rest of his life in low level border warfare William selected some of the more obnoxiously violent of his vassals (which to be fair was most of them) and gave them territories along the border along with certain rights that the kings normally kept to themselves.  Thus empowered these "Marcher Lords" were expected to beat in the heads of any Welsh that showed themselves across the border.  If the Welsh didn't cross the border the Marcher Lords were empowered to export the head beating to Wales.

In the fullness of time a fair chunk of Wales wound up under the control of said Marcher Lords although as with the Saxons before them they sometimes discovered advantages in making common cause with their technical enemy (the Welsh) when their technical overlord (the King) got a little too keen about enforcing his authority.  

A typical example of this attitude can be found in the case of one William de Braose who was executed on this day in 1230 AD.  William was a Marcher Lord who had been captured in battle against Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Gwynedd and had to pay a huge ransom to secure his release.  Subsequent to that he entered into an alliance with said Llywelyn which was sealed with a marriage between William's daughter and Llywelyn's son.  What the English king might have thought about one of his vassals forming a marriage alliance with one of his most powerful enemies in Wales went unrecorded.

As it so happened the English King didn't need to worry.  Celebration of the upcoming nuptials was brought to a halt when Llywelyn found William in bed with his wife.  Llywelyn had William dragged out to a nearby tree and hanged him.  The marriage still went ahead though, absent one prominent guest.  This is what passed for politics in the thirteenth century.  I think we can all agree that we are fortunate we live in more civilised and better organised times.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Travelling Pathetically - Blurry Bird Photo Edition

 With the "triumph" of having stumbled around Berowra Waters without actually dying still affecting my mood I decided that the next part of my training would involve distance.  The race I had signed up to in an evil moment was twenty two kilometres long, comfortably further than I had walked before (except once and it almost killed me).  So I cast about for walks of an appropriate length.  I found one almost immediately.  As I may have mentioned the Cooks River flows or at least oozes just a block away from my home.  According to my handy trail app a walking path existed that if I followed it to Strathfield and then returned, kept on going down to Tempe and then returned to my home the total journey would be a neat twenty four kilometres.  There would be no desperate climbing or vertiginous elevation changes indeed "absolutely flat" would be a better description so it would be a useful beginning.

I set off once clear Autumn morn fully equipped for what I expected would be a tiring but essentially boring stroll.  The river would provide a bit of scenery but apart from that it was manicured parks for most of the distance and I really didn't expect anything of great interest to distract me from putting the kilometres under my belt as smoothly as possible.  The river it has to be said put on its best face for me looking appropriately picturesque and you couldn't see the rubbish floating on the surface unless you looked quite hard.

Not looking too bad really


I crossed the river on Wardell Road, headed past the Imam Husain Islamic Centre and made my way back to the river now adorned with parks.  Having crossed the river one of the first things I did was cross it right back again using a recently constructed footbridge done in a style I call neo-rustic.  The metal was artfully designed to look like rusting iron although I suppose its possible they just never got around to waterproofing the thing.  Nevertheless it was sturdy enough and I crossed in safety little knowing I was about to plunge head first into an explosion of avian life.  There were signs in the parks touting the presence of all sorts of birdlife but you can find those signs anywhere.  I suspect councils put them up as a matter of course possibly hoping the birds will read them and settle down.

A neo-rustic or possibly just rusty bridge

I set forth on my self imposed penance and had not got a hundred metres when the sound of screeching and bits of tree hitting the ground arrested my progress.  I looked up at the tree apparently engaged in pelting me with nuts to find it was full of cockatoos who were indiscriminately pelting myself and the ground with nuts, berries and small branches.

Cockatoo sitting in what little of the tree it has left intact

I must admit I was impressed with how rapidly the sign had made good on its promise although to be an absolute stickler for details it had mentioned aquatic birds.  Given the physical heft of cockatoos one can't help feeling they would sink like a stone if they ever entered the water.  Nevertheless I was delighted with my clutch of cockatoo photos and headed onwards with a spring in my step determined to view my neighbourhood river in a new light.

Getting a little cocky I took what turned out to be an outrageously optimistic photo of a bird swimming in the very middle of the river.  It did not turn out well.  Although if you want a photo of a river you're hardly likely to find better.

The tiny grey blur in the middle of the photo is a bird, I think

After that minor debacle I dialled my ambitions back a little and settled for photographing a couple of swimming something or others and some convenient ibis.  Ibis don't count for bird photo purposes as usually the only problem with ibis is getting them to move out of the way so that you can photograph the other birds behind them.  I suppose they were at least semi-aquatic birds living along a river but let's face it ibis could life on and probably off a toxic waste dump.  Which helps to explain what they're doing on the Cooks River.

A couple of unidentified swimming something or others

OK, quite handsome ibis really

But my bird journey had only begun.  I turned a corner (well the river turned a corner and I followed suit) and found myself staring at a bunch of pelicans and cormorants.  I was absolutely stunned.  I was also a little surprised at the size of the pelicans.  Normally I see them swimming on the water.  Here they were sitting sunning themselves on what looked like a pollution barrier and they are absolutely massive.  I took a ridiculous number of photos most of which were not entirely successful.

Pelicans and cormorants.  I've never seen either on the river before

I was tempted to call it a day at this point (for context I had been walking for about fifteen minutes) but exercise called and just for once I decided not to let it go through to voicemail.  I tore myself away from the pelicans (but nipped onto a handy bridge for more photos) and almost bumped into a white faced heron wandering through someones back garden.  At least I think that's what it was, my bird identification is hampered by my almost complete lack of knowledge and my usual bird expert has selfishly taken herself off to the United States.

A white faced heron, maybe

That face looks sort of whitish doesn't it?

Then it was back to take some rear shots of the pelicans which looked just as impressive from behind.

Pelicans from the rear


Pelicans again but with a cormorant demanding its share of the attention


Giddy with my avian triumphs I breathed silent apologies to the sign for my earlier skepticism and carried on.  A modest and ordinary duck was swimming in the river a little further along and in a spirit of completeness I took a picture of it as well.

A semi submerged duck

Frankly I could end this blog entry here.  You know what I did, I walked and took photos of birds.  What follows is essentially repetition but with more bird photos.

Despite my delight at the profusion of bird life I was uneasily aware that I wasn't actually getting very far on what was supposed to be quite a lengthy walk.  Pocketing my camera I made promises of amends and hurried on, for about five minutes then I paused to take a photo of some masked lapwings which were just wandering about waiting for someone like me to come along.

Masked lapwings, it took ten minutes frantically googling "wading birds" to find the name

I decided to enjoy the birds while I could.  I knew that not too much further up its course the Cooks River loses all pretence of being a natural watercourse and is essentially a concrete clad storm water drain.  I thought, inaccurately as it turned out, that this might reduce the bird numbers somewhat.  I was heading towards Canterbury which a glance at the map will tell you is about five minutes drive from my home.  It does take longer to walk but even walking takes less time if you're not stopping to take pictures of birds every thirty seconds.

Speaking of birds...

Magpies or currawongs or something else

Having spent a lot of time staring out at the river I focussed my attention on the shoreline.  Here and there mangroves made a desperate attempt to pretend that there was still something in the way of a natural environment.  I admired their commitment although I suspect it's a losing effort.   Of course birds swam around the mangrove roots (and rubbish) and of course I photographed them.  I had almost forgotten what I was supposed to be doing by this point.

My best guess is dusky moorhens plus a bunch of rubbish

 My bird orgy came to a temporary end at Canterbury.  The recent flooding had washed away part of the path and I had to take to suburban streets until I could circle back to a more intact walking path.  Along the way I passed by a circus trapeze and aerial stunt training school.  Unfortunately it appeared to be closed.  After ten minutes choking on exhaust fumes (or possibly cigarettes) I managed to make my way back to the river.

OK its a pigeon but quite a handsome one

As predicted concrete became the prevalent riverbank decoration but for some reason a bunch of comorants (or possibly darters but most likely cormorants) had taken up residence on what was either a sandbar or a pile of rubbish.  Unfortunately they were on the other side of the river and photo attempts weren't particularly successful.

The best of a bad bunch of photos

Incidentally all this walking (the suburban excursion excepted) was along a shared walking/bike path which travels much of the length of the river.  As such I spent a fair bit of time stepping out of the way of people on bicycles.  So it was rather like walking on a footpath except you couldn't decently curse the bike riders because they were entitled to be there.

Despite the avian interludes I was closing in on the first of my goals which was the Strathfield end (South Strathfield really) of my walk.  Once there I would retrace my steps until I reached my starting point and then head downriver towards Tempe.  At my current rate I was wondering if I would run out of battery on my camera before I ran out of birds.  Strangely I didn't have any doubts that I would complete the walk.

I've no idea what this bird is but it looks well fed

As the river petered out the parks I was walking through stepped up to supplement the bird quota.  I saw crested pigeons and galahs.  Sadly the galahs were hidden away in a distant tree and the photos were quite disappointing.  All I got of the crested pigeons was rear shots as they started walking away from me as soon as they saw the camera.

Crested pigeons avoiding the camera

The least unsatisfactory of some disappointing galah shots

On I walked beside what was now a glorified drain (actually not that glorified really) I was closing on Strathfield where I would pause for lunch before retracing my steps.  At least with the bird frenzy over I should be able to pick up the pace.

A bit of a come down really despite the well manicured parks flanking it

Just before I stopped for lunch I left off the bird pestering to photo the Clare McIntyre memorial fungus which conveniently grew on a log just off the path.  I hadn't even given fungi a thought what with all the birds.  I didn't miss the complete absence of lizards either.

Filled with a sense of achievement (undeserved as I hadn't yet covered half the ground I intended to) I ate a scanty lunch.  I always eat scantily when I exercise otherwise I run the risk of seeing it all again shortly afterwards.  With that out of the way I headed back the way I came confident in my ability to make up for any lost time now that the birds had been dealt with.  Then the crows appeared.  They were either crows or angels of death; huge, jet black things which swooped and croaked and somehow never managed to stand still long enough for a decent photo.  I was reminded I was on a bike path when I stopped to photograph one of them and a bicyclist almost ran up my arse.  Entirely my fault and I leapt out of the way while the crow watched sardonically and then flew away once I got myself together and raised my camera again.

Not a great shot but I almost wore a bicycle as a result

Shortly afterwards however one of the crows took pity on me and posed on a fence for a series of photos that proves I'm no better at taking photos even when I'm not about to be violated by a bicycle.

No bicycle but the photos aren't much better

With the crows behind me I strode on, my camera securely in my pocket and my mind fully on accomplishing the goal I had set at the beginning of the day.  Congratulating myself on my self discipline I turned a corner and came literally face to face with an egret.  I fumbled for my camera but the egret fled for the high grass and by the time I was ready I could see no trace of it.  It is a measure of human nature that with a treasure of bird photos on my camera and in my memory I spent the next ten kilometres or so bitterly disappointed that I had missed my egret opportunity.

To give myself a slightly different experience I cross the river at an available bridge (there were heaps of them) and walked down the other side of the river.  This enabled me to encounter the wetlands of Cup and Saucer Creek which featured in a previous blog entry as the creek (or drain) entered the river.  I peered over the reeds and saw a sheen of water, the aforementioned wetlands.  By standing on a bench I was able to photograph a handsome pacific black duck sitting like lord muck on a chunk of stone inexplicably standing in the middle of the water.

A pacific black duck

Leaving the wetlands behind me I hurried on.  I maintained strict camera discipline until I arrived back at the pelican location.  I was disappointed to see that they were gone.  Then I realised that they had just moved about a hundred metres downstream and were photogenically sunning themselves on a bit of exposed land that had been walled off to permit them to do exactly that without interruption.  I got as close as I could and took yet more pelican photos.

More pelican shots

Having taken about a million pelican shots it seemed churlish not to take at least one of these guys

Back at my starting point I headed, not for home, but further down the river towards Tempe.  I was feeling good now, I had covered a significant amount of ground and had masses of bird photos into the bargain (although secretly missing the egret still niggled).  I was heading over familiar ground as I had walked this path a couple of years ago.  There were playing fields on my right (with people playing on them) and grassy park down to the river on my left.  A magpie lark strutted around until I broke down and took a photo of it.

Just larking about (sorry)

Bird photo opportunities just kept presenting themselves.  There is this to be said for clearing the native vegetation and replacing it with parkland, the native fauna has fewer places to hide.  Whether they actually want to hide is a different question.  The purple moorhens in the next photo were so disinclined to hide that I thought I was going to have to kick them out of my way if I wanted to keep on walking.

Purple moorhens ignoring me completely

Shadows were starting to lengthen now.  Of course since daylight savings ended shadows start lengthening at about 2pm nevertheless time was awasting so I headed on pausing only to take a series of photos of what I think was a little pied cormorant.  Unfortunately it was hidden behind a tree so enjoy these photos of branches with bits of cormorant sticking out the ends.

The bird's in there somewhere

Branches, now with added cormorant

 Reminding myself, yet again, that I had a task to accomplish I continued on.  The end was truly in sight now or at least it would be if it wasn't for the river's habit of bending.  I passed by a place I had seen previously where a sign had proudly announced that they had returned about twelve feet of the river's bank to its natural pre-canalised state thus providing habit for crabs and turtles and things.  This turned out to be a double edged sword as another sign warned of the presence of an invading species of turtle that was threatening both native turtles and crabs alike.  I saw no turtles, invaders or otherwise but I did see a little crab with a huge claw.  I tried to take a photo of it but I don't think my zoom lens was up to the job.

teensy tiny crab

And finally I had arrived at Tempe and just before I turned for home there in front of me was a snow white egret.  I took loads of photos sadly the position of the egret and the sun respectively stopped them from being as good as I would have liked.  I crept closer and took some more not terribly great photos but at least they were better than the first lot.

Not a great egret shot but the best of a bad bunch

This guy was staring jealously while I slobbered over the egret so I took a photo to shut him up

I now had twenty two kilometres under my belt and was feeling distinctly weary.  Pocketing my camera I turned my head for home.  I had taken enough bird photos I told myself, now it was time to put the last couple of kilometres behind me and sink wearily into my couch.  Then I passed by somebodies house with the most spectacular looking chickens I've ever seen.

Seriously for a chicken to look better than this it would have to come with gravy and potatos

And with the chickens I was done.  I stumbled the last kilometre or so home, dragged myself up the stairs and collapsed as previously predicted onto my couch.  Still I had done twenty two kilometres and more so I felt quite pleased with myself.

Disclaimer:  Any bird identifications made in this blog are at best educated guesses and more likely uneducated guesses.  Please don't bother to correct any mistakes unless you are Cindy Parker.