Morning

At four in the morning the sky is already lightening here in southeast Queensland. Daylight savings is not observed here. Today, sunrise was at four forty five. By five, the flashing bars on the solar controller announce that the panels are already receiving enough light to charge the battery.

The dawn chorus of about seven species of bird is already subsiding as the dawn chorus of coughing old men begins, followed very soon by the shuffling of slippers, the slapping of flip-flops and the tapping of walking sticks as those of the elderly residents in the camp who do not have facilities in our caravans begin our morning peregrinations to the ablution block. The dawn chorus of morning greetings begins.

The morning coffee has already kicked in, but the analgesics have not yet reached full effect. This first walk of the morning is the one I dislike most. I step carefully over the speed bump across the road outside the cabin where Gaz lives. I almost tripped on it once, because I don’t always lift my feet high enough. That is becoming less of a problem since I started pedalling.

On his veranda rail is a sign that says “Office of Der Kommandant, Stalag 13”. On the wall of his cabin is a newly arrived sign reading “ No Money, No Fags, No Grog. Go Home”. On the back of the mobility scooter parked in front is the sign “FARTY”. Gaz is probably the most cheerful resident in the park, and possibly the one with the least reason to be cheerful. I remind myself of this every time I pass his home, and smile.

We were discussing knees a while back. They are a popular subject here, like the weather, the high temperatures, and the irascible park manager.

“I got new knees” Gaz told me. “Didn’t do me any good at all”. Then cheerfully adds “The vets association are giving me a new scooter next year. I’ll give you this one”.

In the ablution block the cistern over the men’s urinal is filling and flushing every forty five seconds. Wasting water. I can see it has a new stainless steel braided hose fitted. Someone had made a repair recently. It used to flush manually by pulling a string to depress the lever. Now an automatic flusher must have been fitted, probably because most of the old codgers who use the urinal don’t bother to flush.

The handle of the stop cock had been removed, so I could not adjust it. I made a mental note to call the office later, and tell them about it.

And that is my entire plan for the day. I still can’t swim for a few more days. Even now at five o’clock the temperature is already twenty five degrees. I doubt I’ll be riding in the sun today. I shall have to ride in the evening, if it cools down. Yesterday it didn’t. I sat in front of a fan all day and binge watched season eight of Game of Thrones.

Today will be a book day. I think it’s time to revisit Earthsea. No. It’s Saturday. Time to change the sheets and do the laundry. Then I’ll be a free man for the remainder of the day.

At least I can start showering again.

Spot the Difference

I’m pleased I swam yesterday and managed another, early swim this morning. It will be Thursday before I can swim again, provided the wounds are not infected when I remove the dressings.

I was at the pool by seven this morning, and in the water by seven fifteen. I swam until nine, then went to shower. The lid of my shampoo bottle had broken. The shampoo had disgorged itself into my toilet bag. So I used it up as body wash. I should have no problems with dandruff anywhere, for a while.

As I washed I spotted on my right forearm what I thought must be a new mole. I was sure it wasn’t there a while ago. Since finding the lesion on my left arm, I am now more aware of my freckles and moles. Especially since the one I was having excised today had not been there only weeks before.

When I got to Woodford I drew the mole to Mehdi’s attention. He peered at it through his magic optical device, and said “I think you are right”.

“So. That was well spotted” said I with a straight face. Mehdi agreed. Also with a straight face.

That was how I came to have two excisions. One on each arm. Now we wait for the biopsy report.

Two huge chunks were cut out. It is necessary to get all the tissue for three millimeters around the spot, and to cut the length three times the width, so that when it heals, the scar doesn’t pucker up. Five stitches each. Ten total. My new personal best.

I’m glad it wasn’t on my tat.

Not there before.

Mehdi told me he had seen my knee x-rays. My condition is severe and he is referring me to a specialist. The journey has begun.

Having had only an eight hundred kJ breakfast, I was famished by the time I was driving home. I managed to drive past Beefy’s without giving in to temptation, but then the thought of a nice piece of crumbed barramundi popped into my head. I gave in to temptation and set my course.

Saviges did not have barramundi available so I ordered a piece of crumbed cod. And a serve of chips. What the hell.

The cod was delicious. A large fillet. Perfectly cooked.

Eric the bin chicken helped me out by eating some of the coating. He didn’t get much of the fish at first, though I shared some chips. Once he understood I wasn’t going to grab him and wring his neck, or spray him with the diluted vinegar spray put out on the tables by the proprietors for just such occasions, he became quite friendly, and cheerfully ate from my hand.

I was talking to him all the time, just making conversation, asking about his family and whether he preferred battered or crumbed fish, and whether he was in fact female.

Some of the patrons were giving me the disapproving looks of those who do not believe wildlife, especially ibis, should be fed human food. Some gave me the look reserved for people of alternate ability that they are embarrassed by. Others were smiling. Whether at me or the bird I know not and care not. They were smiling. With their eyes. My kind of people.

I have certainly changed. There was more fish than I needed and in the end my ibis friend got a bit. There was still a heap of chips left. He looked enquiringly at them. “I’ve had enough” I said. He looked hopeful. “and so have you”. He said he hadn’t. I told him I was taking the rest home home. He gave a resigned shrug and wandered off.

At home I divided the remaining chips into three portions, which I put in cold storage to have with other meals. Not bad for four dollars fifty worth of chips.

New Knees, Neddy

It looks as if I am finally starting on the long road to new knees. I know it will take time, but I am hopeful I shall get equipped eventually.

Which reminds me of a story.

When I was a Health Protection Officer in Auckland, New Zealand, part of my role was to inspect mortuaries, crematoria and cemeteries. Also to approve disinterments on behalf of the Minister, and supervise them.

Which reminds me of another story. But I’ll tell that one later.

And another. But maybe I won’t tell that one at all.

But I digress.

To continue. I got to know the cemetery staff and local morticians quite well. One day the sexton of a large cemetery asked me if I could advise him on how to get into the medical appliance market.

It’s actually quite complicated and involves a lot of red tape. I was curious about what he had in mind. He took me to a shed in which was stored all the stainless steel knees, hip joints, pins, skull plates and what-have-you from all the folk who had passed through his furnaces.

He had lovingly cleaned and polished them all until they were good as new. Refurbished. Sort of. They were on shelves, and benches, hanging on hooks and all smaller parts were carefully sorted into labelled boxes.

I’d never before really thought about what happened to these things after a cremation. I knew that some electronic implants must be removed by the mortician, as they tend to explode. But surgical steel survives the fires virtually unharmed.

Of course they can’t go through the grinder that reduces the remains to a sandy powder to be put in an urn and lovingly thrown away somewhere, or stored on the mantelpiece.

Here they were. A fortune in indestructible body parts, useless to anyone but a scrap metal merchant. He was so disappointed when I told him not even third world – Sorry, developing – countries could have them. Even though there was probably a great kneed.

Small Significant Steps

My weight has plateaued again. Despite daily exercise and (mostly) healthy meals. On the other hand I have lowered the saddle on the bicycle a few finger widths. Chubby finger widths.

This is particularly significant because apart from meaning I can put my feet down properly, increasing my safety when I am stopped at an intersection, it is a very encouraging indication that my knees are improving. Also that I’m lighter. My riding posture seems more comfortable too.

Best of all, I pedalled home this afternoon against a steady strong wind that proved I was contributing a significant effort to my progress. Enough to break out in a sweat despite the cool of the evening.

The pool is getting a lot of use these days. I am sharing a lane most of the time. Sometimes we triple up which involves some accommodations, since I am invariably the slowest swimmer. I am also the only one who does not stop unless I’m waiting my turn for half a lane. The others swim intermittently for a fixed number of lengths or a short time such as half an hour, then leave.

What I find particularly irksome is the couple of old codgers standing still at the shallow end of a lane talking for half an hour and not using the lane while others are triple sharing. If they just want to talk in a moist environment they should go sit in the paddling pool. I’m becoming a grumpy curmudgeon.

I don’t like to feel I’m hogging a lane so when there is a crowd like today I quit after only 90 minutes. That’s a good 4,000 kJ burned at least by my calculation. Another thousand minimum on the bike and a couple of hundred on my daily limp around the camp mean that I can be completely guilt-free however I choose to spend the six to seven thousand kilojoule daily food and beverage budget I allow myself.

Then the black dog reminds me that I’m doing all this just to be fit and well at the Apocalypse. And I pour a couple of gins and tonic. Bombay Sapphire was on special on Saturday.

I had started stocking up for Christmas, but what the hell. Christmas is when you feel.

Smoke

For the last few days, smoke has filled the sky over Bribie and the air has been filled with the rather pleasant aroma of burning Australian native bush. The aromatic herbal and eucalypt smell belies the seriousness of the situation. People have died. Properties destroyed. Small furry, scaly and feathered creatures are suffering and dying. Yet we go about our lives as if nothing is happening.

I drove to the last meeting of the RRFPSG yesterday. The motorway into Brisbane was shrouded in so much smoke haze that at times visibility was considerably less than a kilometre ahead.

The moon was full last night. I sat outside in my directors chair and watched it westing in the early hours with a late-night gin and tonic. There was just a hint of colour that I believe was caused by smoke haze from the fires inland.

This morning, the sky here over Bribie appears clear, and the smell is abated, though the RFS map tells me there is still plenty of burning going on.

I should probably be more concerned than I am. My time in the Kimberley has left me unperturbed by fire. Crippled though I may be, I’m a trained firefighter and know what to do. I may not be physically capable any more of fighting a fire, but I know how to run away and where to go.

Five Thousand Metres

I hadn’t planned to do it today. I only wanted to see if I could manage 100 lengths of the pool in two hours or less. I swam 48 lengths in the first hour and thought I could do better, so I pushed on. Same result. After two hours, 96 lengths with only a minute to spare. It looked as if I had reached my hull speed. 1.2 km/hr. Or 0.648 knots.

I was in the right mood to continue. I’d eaten a good breakfast, I was well hydrated and I had started early, so there was plenty of time. I kept trying to beat my current record of twelve lengths in a quarter hour. I almost did it a couple of times but in the fourth hour I started to slow. And felt hungry. I hadn’t brought my wallet with me, so there would be no sustenance other than bottled water until I went home.

As I swam and counted laps, I was also letting my mind wander down the path of possibilities. I felt that in my current regime I was finally getting on top of things. As it began to look as if I would actually complete my five thousand metre goal I fell into a reverie about what goal I might set my sights on next. I still haven’t seen the Great Barrier Reef. That has to be my next goal. Dive the Barrier.

The reverie continued, I fancied I might try swimming the length of the Barrier Reef. That would be a worthy challenge. I’d have to use fins of course. At my present swimming speed it would take me about 95 days if I swam non-stop. But I would have to rest and sleep. So it would undoubtedly take much longer. That meant I’d need supplies. This could easily be a nine month swim.

I considered the logistics. I would need a swim noodle to use as a pillow. I would have to tow a series of inflated inner tubes to carry my supplies. One would have a solar still, to supply me with fresh water straight from the sea. One would support a solar panel, battery, and my CPAP machine, suitably protected from seawater. A third would carry food supplies and shark repellent. And vinegar in case of jellyfish. I should probably take along a speargun for protection, and to supplement my food supplies. Also a net on a pole, fine enough to strain out plankton as I swam. If a whale can survive on that, so can I.

I would not be able to cook so I’d need plenty of lime juice and coconut milk so I could make any fish I speared into Kokoda. I wondered if plankton would make good Kokoda. I would need chilli paste, garlic and ginger as well. In case plankton didn’t taste all that good.

There was going to be quite a lot to tow. I’d definitely need the fins. Which made me think I’d better take a spare pair along. And an extra mask and snorkel. It would be a disaster if I lost them and they sank into the depths. I’d need lanyards on everything.

No matter how well I ate, all that exercise would drastically affect my weight, especially the fat that currently makes me buoyant. So I had better take a buoyancy vest.

I would have to manage all this by myself. I could not have a support crew. Apart from the expense, they would probably force me to abort the swim and lock me up in an asylum.

Thus I passed the time.

It took just over 265 minutes to complete 200 lengths. 5 kilometres at an average 1.14 km/hr. I estimate I burnt about 12,000 kJ in that effort. No wonder I was famished.

I rode home. The rogan josh in the slow cooker was not quite yet ready. I put some Uncle Ben’s rice medley to heat up in the top half of the slow cooker, and opened a can of cider. By the time it was gone I knew I badly needed a nap. I did. I really did. I was asleep in minutes.

When I awoke it was after eight. I had slept over four hours. I rushed off for a pee, and when I returned I remembered to weigh myself before I ate. Today I am – I was – exactly 20 kilos lighter than I was in January. Pats self on back with good arm. Other arm can’t reach. Waits for applause. Not a sausage.

Drinks another cider. Eats an extra large helping of curry and rice. Which is now overcooked. The meat is mushy. The celery and onion have dissolved in the spicy yoghurt and tomato sauce, which has turned a bit watery. The carrots are recognisable only by their colour.

Thus the fruits of victory become ashes in our mouths.

According to my app, if I repeated today’s effort every day, I would lose another twenty kilos in five weeks.

I shall not be doing that.

Ahoy

The second activity passion of my life, after SCUBA diving, is one I have not enjoyed since the eighties, apart from a brief spell as half-owner of a cabin cruiser for a time in 2000. And my kayak in Fiji.

Boats. Especially the simply messing about in part.

From 1978 to the eighties, I had a Shearwater catamaran that I rebuilt from a wreck purchased in Napier for very few dollars. I had no idea how to rig it.

There was no manual, I could find nothing in the Library and of course there was no Internet. So I improvised and seemed to get it mostly right, because she sailed like a speedboat in a good breeze. I measured my time between the marker buoys on the Pania reef on one good sailing day, and later calculated that Peter Cox and I had taken her over 20 knots with Peter at the helm and me, the heavier one, stacking out in a harness.

I say I rigged her mostly right, because she had one characteristic that was not at all right. If one let go all the sheets while sailing with the wind, instead of luffing up and stalling like an obedient yacht, she would turn downwind and sail like billy-o. This became a problem one afternoon when I was sailing in Hawkes Bay out past the Esk river. I don’t recall exactly how, but I fell overboard.

My worthy vessel turned downwind and sailed away. The wind was onshore, so she headed for the beach. So did I, but more slowly. By the time I caught her she was washing around in the shingle with broken dagger boards. Which made sailing home to Ahuriri a difficult task.

In the early eighties I sailed her round the Hauraki Gulf, and one glorious summer took her to Bay of Islands, where Rob, a friend, and I camped out and swam and fished for a week. I even sailed her through the Hole in the Rock at Cape Brett.

Then in 1984 I went to Solomon Islands, where I worked as a volunteer with the Rural Water Supply, building water supplies in remote villages. I found myself skipper of a 20 foot glass canoe named Lady Allison after Allison Holst, a NZ TV cooking personality who did a fundraiser with the Lower Hutt Lions to purchase it.

I also bought a dugout which was a great deal of fun. I really regretted leaving it behind when I returned to NZ.

It was thinking about all this while I swam yesterday. I’m thinking I am getting fit enough to take to the water again in a small boat. I rather liked that glass canoe and wondered if I could find one here. It seems not. But one could buy one from Honiara for around $34,000 SBD which is just over $6,000 AUD. But then there would be shipping, import duty, an outboard, and safety gear. So probably not.

With my financial state I think I should consider, if anything, an aluminium dinghy, known here as a tinny.

Something to think about.