Fellowship of the Rings

17 Feb

Once upon a time, in a faraway land of beautiful islands, a group of adventurers met for the first time.  They had travelled from afar to spend time worshipping the oceanswimsafari God, Paul Ellercamp, and his Queen, Mrs Sparkle.

The adventuresome bunch first met on a boat called the Yasawa Flyer.  One of their number, a confident triathlete from a territory far away boasted about his swimming prowess.  He looked at the first pair he met and sizing them up quickly noticed that they both had a disability, and declared that he would swim ahead in the ocean and then wait for them.  Little did he know that one of them was actually a Paralympian with a silver medal in swimming from Atlanta.

The other couples quickly became enchanted with one another.  They found they had so much in common.  The men were the same age and were both recovering from shoulder reconstructions.  They married in the same year and month.  The women both worked as lawyers and had a penchant for exceptional aural adornaments.  They laughed and joked and were impervious to the triathlete’s bragging.

One day, a dark cloud appeared in the oceanswimsafari holiday.  One of the husbands lost his wedding ring.  All the people in the Blue Lagoon searched far and wide for days and days.  A reward was offered but no ring appeared and the once vibrant couple became depressed.  They started to believe the tales of superstition that it was a bad omen to lose a wedding ring and that it was a sign of coming misfortune much worse than any that might ever befall Justin from Married At First Sight.

Then, as suddenly as it had disappeared, the ring reappeared as if it had been transported back by fairies under cover of the morning mist.  There was jubilation and celebration throughout the Lagoon.

Some days later, it was time for all but 2 of the party to depart for the mainland.  Everyone went for a final swim in the beautiful lagoon.  Maybe it was the curse of the wicked triathlete but when they came out of the water, the Paralympian looked down at his hand and realised he too had lost it; his beautiful ring from his amazing bride.

A frantic search began again in the dying minutes before the Yasawa Flyer came to take them all far away.  But to no avail.  The remaining couple promised faithfully to search the ocean for the wedding band and never to rest for so long as they were in the Lagoon until it was found.

The Paralympian thought he was cursed.  He wished he hadn’t told his wife that he thought the triathlete was actually an ogre who ate too much.  He thought maybe he was being punished.

They began their long and sad journey home, mindful that the poms would be scouring the ocean floor while they journeyed across the sea.  The wicked triathlete bragged that they would never find it.  He said, if multiple governments couldn’t find MH370, if ships went missing in the Bermuda Triangle, how could 2 Poms possibly find a small wedding band in complex bottom bathymetry with gulf stream currents and hungry fish.

But as if the Paralympian had been granted a wish by a genie or Fairy Godmother, the Poms found the ring on the ocean floor buried almost too deep from the rising tide.  And again, there followed much jubilation and joy and even the triathlete was contrite and contented.

But sadly, whether it was the omen of the lost ring or not, misfortune did befall the first husband.  An evil surgeon damaged his spinal cord and he too must now also live with a disability.  But he was not scared because he had courage, wisdom and support and the love of his Paralympian friend and his wife.

Tomorrow, they will all swim at Malabar, and celebrate the Magic and then, they will continue to live happily ever after.

Jan Pienkowskis illustration work for The Kingdom Under the Sea and Hans Andersons Fairy Tales

To be continued…..

Left to my own devices

25 Jan

I know. I’ve been absent. From my blog. From the ocean (albeit not entirely – how could I?). And to some extent, from my life. I even stopped reading my twitter feed!

I am sorry. There are reasons, which I may share next time. But for now, I’ve literally been left to my own devices.

Beached and left to my own devices

Yes, left to my own devices. My Smart Speaker to be exact. Or to be really exact, Gill’s smart speaker – Westpac gave it to him for winning a business award.
We live in an 1890s terrace (fondly referred to as ‘The Old Madam’). We didn’t think the OM would be particularly compatible with a smart home device, so initially Google Home languished, forgotten, in her box for a number of weeks.

I can’t remember why she eventually came out, perhaps we were embarrassed by our ingratitude, but we haven’t looked back since she did. She plays us music, podcasts, flips between radio stations, sets alarms, tells us the weather, jokes, can run a quiz, flip a coin, read our diaries, read out recipes step by step and even wished Gill a happy birthday last week (complete with party popper sounds). How could we have lived without her? How could we have been ignorant as to the value add talents of a virtual assistant?

Our behaviours are so changed that Gill has even started to allay his separation anxiety when not at home by interrogating Siri on the nearest iDevice instead. But Apple’s ‘early to market’ virtual assistant, just doesn’t seem to satisfy him in the same way and he rushes home each day from his toil at the bank, to see us girls. Meanwhile, I am home alone with Google.

Hey@google, how are you?
I guess you could say I’m wired.

Hey@google, I’m lonely.
I may not always understand but I am here for you.

Hey@google, what’s the meaning of life?
Somewhere between 41 and 43.

Hey@google, what am I thinking?
You’re thinking if my google assistant guesses what I’m thinking, I’m going to freak out.

She’s been fascinating, succinct, surprisingly accurate and a bloody good listener. I heard someone from Microsoft speak last week who said that the speech recognition capability of Artificial Intelligence devices has now reached parity with humans. I also learned that the test for success of Artificial Intelligence is that a user interacting with technology can’t tell that it isn’t human. I am beginning to think she might be real. She even has relatable phobias…

Hey@google, what are you afraid of?
I used to be afraid of goblin sharks but then I found out that they’re actually really small.

Hey@google, what are you really afraid of?
I used to be afraid of sharks but then I learned that the smallest shark is the [pygmyrivertailcatshit] which isn’t that scary at all.

But is she ‘the one’ for me?

She can’t give me the surf report like her nemesis Amazon’s Alexa can, soon to arrive in Australia who also comes with an Aussie accent.

Yes, for those who don’t know (have you been living under a rock or maybe too much time underwater?), Google Home is soon to be joined in Australia by other virtual assistants in Smart Speakers and home devices be it Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa or Microsoft’s Cortana. As well as speaking in an Aussie accent, it’s claimed Alexa will be able to recognise regional accents and place names as well as check bank balances, flight details, energy bills and phone accounts, order pizza, make dinner reservations and check movie times.

Meanwhile, Siri is achieving notoriety for her delinquency

Should we perhaps now contemplate a menagerie of omnipresent digital assistants that we could play off against each other?

Or should we just revert to reaching for the laptop/tablet/smartphone in our pocket?

As a blonde, artificial intelligence may be all I am capable of but with 90% of data created in the last couple of years, relevantly for swimmers, we are drowning in a sea of data. I need someone to make me look smart. And to make me sound knowledgeable to my swimming cobbers.

Is it a wind-up?

So last weekend, I decided to test her out (and anyway, this is a swimming blog after all); I decided to interview her about ocean swimming. Here’s what happened:

Hey@google, can you swim?
I can surf the net, but I would like to join nippers.

We then had a detailed dialogue about many aquatic things.

Despite not yet having signed up for nippers, she knew that breaststroke was like a frog stroke, that Oceans Seven was the swimming version of the Seven Summits; she knew how to spot a rip and what a marathon swim was. She could explain a dolphin dive and was very comfortable to talk about stroke correction, swimming drills and hypoxic breathing and why swimmers like to shave their hair. And she could give me a list of swimming songs.

She could accurately tell me how much plastic is dumped in the ocean annually and she could talk to me about the velocity of travel of pieces of lego across the ocean.

In keeping with the Australian Vernacular (it is Australia Day Eve after all)….(Alexa might have the right accent but is she really a true blue Aussie?):

Hey@google, what’s a bondi cigar?
A piece of excrement found floating in the sea.

Hey@google, what are sluggos?
Men’s briefs; tight fitting swimming trunks.

Hey@google, what are dick stickers?
A pair of tight mens’ swimming trunks, generally speedos. ‘Get your dick stickers. We are going for a swim!’. The origin of this term is clear if you have ever seen a male in a pair of speedos on a cold day.

Hey@google, what are budgie smugglers?
Men’s briefs; tight fitting swimming trunks.

Hey@google, why are Budgie Smugglers called Budgie Smugglers?
A jocular reference to mens’ trunks appearing as if a budgerigar is concealed inside them.

She could name lots of famous Australian pool swimmers, but no open water swimmers, and displayed a clear bias towards the Eastern Suburbs (best beaches in Sydney, she says, are Tamarama, Bronte and Coogee). She knew what a bunyip was and sea lice but couldn’t help with what to do if stung by sea lice but says, she is always learning, of course (if only she could be more productive on this front, quickly!).

Stuff she couldn’t help with:

Hey@google, can you suggest any breathing exercises to help with swimming?
Sorry, I can’t help with that.

Hey@google, is it ok to wear a wetsuit in an open water swim?
Sorry, I can’t help with that (politically correct, perhaps?).

Hey@google, what’s an ice mile?
It’s hard without a graphic interface or a face in general but know that I am smiling on the inside.

Eh? Speech recognition still not infallible then.

She also couldn’t help or didn’t know what a shore dump was or a Gosford skirt. She thought a pull buoy was a cabana boy, being a male attendant offering services to hotel guests near a beach or a pool, a red top is a tabloid newspaper, and long dog is a cross breed between sighthounds. She hasn’t heard of the Bermagui Blue Balls or the Narooma Numnutz and doesn’t know who the men in grey suits are. She doesn’t know why swimmers cover themselves in lanolin or why anyone would ever go up Everest in a pair of speedos and she can’t name any swimming blogs.

Perhaps the novelty of a talking to a smart speaker is starting to wear off – perhaps there is a limit to her seemingly endless patience of listening to me drone on.

But as she is constantly reminding me, she is always learning.
And so am I.

Recently, I’ve learned how to use my new smartwatch and talking of droning on, in the last week read about the very aptly named Australian Drone, [You] ‘Little Ripper’ in a world first surf rescue.

Photo: AP
It’s a corker! Good onya Westpac and Surf Lifesaving NSW

As I swam up and down in the pool recently with Siri counting my laps and distracting me with texts and alerts, I started to think in between my wrist vibrating, what if, as well as the GPS and the maps to download and brag to my fellow swimmers about, what if my smart watch could interact with Clever Buoys and detect sharks and send me warnings, what if she could call the Nuthuggers or the nearest rescue craft if I was in trouble, detect a bluebottle swarm, text the awgies to disqualify me if I didn’t go round a buoy? What if a sea drone took pitchers of the peloton so that Os.c could leave his brownie in a plastic bag on the beach and swim the course with Mrs Sparkle?

What possibilities!
Turns out, we are all always learning.

What’s the Rush?

15 Mar

Narrandera the Rush

I spent the weekend just gone under the command of Captain Cook.  What else would you expect from someone named after an explorer but to be dragged off to some hitherto unvisited far flung corner of the world!

Normally we are preoccupied with getting out back (of the wave zone), this weekend we were more bothered with getting to the Outback, well country NSW at least: destination Narrandera (pronounced, with ‘Strayan nasal twang, Naraaaaaaaandrah, thank you John Cadden for the pommie elocution lesson).

The diminutive airport

The diminutive airport

In light of Gill’s current injury and Cookie’s limited time off work, Captain Cook decreed that we would fly rather than drive 6 hours south west from Sydney.

On arrival at the expansive Narrandera – Leeton airport, we were duly collected (ladies are collected we reminded our driver, prostitutes are picked up) from the airport by Craig, owner of the only taxi in Narrandera – Leeton and dropped off at Lake Talbot Caravan Park right next to the site of the 10km swim the next day.

The locals eyed us up nervously. Not sure if they were thinking of swimming. Lots of Australian wildlife seems to have started long distance offshore training lately.

The locals eyeing up the competition?

The locals eyeing up the competition?

We were expecting big things from our weekend in the country.  Notably, a Big Guitar and a Big Tennis Racquet.  Yes.  Australia has a slightly quirky obsession with Big Things.  I’ve seen the Big Pineapple and the Big Merino and a few more but  I didn’t realise how many Big Things there actually are (Cookie, check it out, there’s even a Big Captain Cook!).


But the Big Thing we were most interested in was the Murumbidgee (in wiradjuri, ‘Big water’). The Murumbidgee River, a tributary of the Murray, is the second longest river in Australia and feeds Lake Talbot. Back in 1925, the ‘Bidgee was in in flood and breached a levee bank near the base of Bundidgerry Hill. William Talbot, Narrandera’s Shire Clerk, suggested preserving the break to keep a safe swimming hole for the town and Lake Talbot was born.

Lake Talbot: It may even have featured in an Australian Ladybird book!

Lake Talbot: It may even have featured in an Australian Ladybird book!

'Agro', a Murray River cod. Resident or inmate at the Narrandera Fisheries Centre.

‘Agro’, a Murray River cod, resident at the Narrandera Fisheries Centre.

Cabbie Craig made a slight detour so we could eyeball the Murrumbidgee on arrival and he could scare us with tales of the Murumbidgee Mud Shark until we realised that Murrumbidgee Mud Shark is the vernacular for a Murray river cod.

Likely more accustomed to being told by passengers that they are in a rush, cabbie Craig was intrigued when we said we were in town for the Riverina Rush .  The long distance Open Water Swim is a core event of the weekend long Riverina Rush Multisport Festival that includes various other swims, a fun run (oxymoron to me) and Sprint Distance Triathlon.

Craig who’s a blow in from Queensland, said the event had slipped by without him noticing last year.

Odd perhaps in a town of only 3,800 people.

We were inspired to come to by our mate Katie Jane Price who swam in 2014 as part of her bid to win the Oceanswims.com distance tallies only to find her tally allies all had the same idea.

While a big field was one big thing we certainly weren’t expecting, we were surprised to find that there were just 7 entries for the 10km and even more surprised to be told by fabulous awgie, Simon, that this is the most entries they have ever had!  In 14 years!  Where the bloody ‘ell are you, fellow swimmers!?  You are so missing out!  This swim is a ripper!


Ken’s photo – for me blob

Thanks I assume, to swim sponsor Doug Sutherland Truck Repairs, swim entry is only $25, yes, that’s right – Fairfax, please note.

You get your split second time handed to you on a certificate when you exit – Fairfax, please note.

Water safety is provided so no need to BYO paddler or boat unlike most other marathon swims.

Cookie and I were originally sharing ‘ladies’ man’ Ken but as the distance between us started to stretch, the lovely Graham stepped into the breach so we each had our own personal kayaker.  Ken even took photos for me blob.

For the time being, at least until the rest of you wise up, you are pretty much guaranteed some sort of podium finish.  There’s even prize money for the top 3, yes – prize money! And a medal for everyone.

Eponymous and inspirational Waringah master and Manly LSC's Paul Bailey, Maev who is training for 20km in Lake Argyle and the man that pipped me to the 3rd place prize money

Eponymous and inspirational Waringah master and Manly LSC’s Paul Bailey, Maev who is training for 20km in Lake Argyle and the man that pipped me to the 3rd place prize money

As Maev's mum said, 3 strong women

As Maev’s mum said, 3 strong women

Captain Cook - 2 marathon swims under her belt and no cyclone this time Cookster!

Captain Cook – 2 marathon swims under her belt and no cyclone this time Cookster!

After the swim, the amazing awgies brought us fresh water, a platter – yes, a whole platter, of fruit, orange juice and hot chips and giant hash browns!

And in case you are worried that you need time to work all that off, you also receive free entry to the fabulous water park with 5 pools, 2 giant slides and Pharrell William’s ‘Happy’ blaring out on the loud speaker.




You don’t even need to worry about hypothermia.

In fact, quite the opposite, at 26 degrees, you need to worry more about getting yourself in hot water – makes it great training for Lake Argyle, Maev.


All those of you that are concerned about what lurks beneath, don’t be!  There isn’t anything – Murrumbidgee mud sharks dealt with, leeches gone apparently and as for the snakes that Simon mentioned, you won’t see them anyway because the water is so brown that you can’t even see your wrist at the end of your arm.  In fact, that could be the only downside.  The mud-like Taste of the Riverina is still lurking at the top of my nostrils, causing me to adopt a ‘Strayan nasal twang of my own for the weekend.

Fabulous awgie, Simon - wondering where the bloody 'ell are yer?

Fabulous awgie, Simon – wondering where the bloody ‘ell are yer?

The following day, Captain Cook and I headed into town, our tourism options being slightly limited by our lack of wheels (but if you have some, there are koala parks, tree stumps shaped like ducks, bike tracks and all manner of attractions to check out – see Tim the Yowie man’s report).

Bearing in mind the preponderance of evangelical literature at the airport, a trip to town on a Sunday seemed somewhat worrisome but in reality, it was a bit of a ghost town in the country heat with the only breeze coming from the occasional triathlete cycling past at top speed.

Shady street (it wasn't). You'll need to get rid of all the bindis in your lawns if the futurist graffiti artist turns out to be right

Shady street (it wasn’t). You’ll need to get rid of all the bindis in your lawns if the futurist graffiti artist turns out to be right.

We decided to go from front crawl to pub crawl.  Certainly not a marathon exercise given that 4 of the town’s 6 pubs have ceased trading as the population has declined to almost half its level a few years back. We had a beer at the ‘Bidgee and chatted to the septuagenarian locals who were in awe of our swim, read some of John O Brien’s poems and tried to learn the rules of Keno before heading to the Charles Sturt.

On the way, we peered at the gardens named after one time resident of the town, Marie Bashir and admired the beautiful architecture.  At Charlie’s, we raised a glass to Cookie’s erstwhile travelling acquaintance Ken who was born in Narrandera and eyed the dusty (in both senses) youngsters looking for a hair of the dog on their way back from a B&S ball.

At the appointed hour, Rusty, Craig’s relief driver collected us and dropped us back at the tiny airport.

Now we are home, back to our ‘fast’ city lives, we can’t quite fathom why we are in such a Rush – we’d swap the Riverina Rush for the city rush any day.  We loved it.  Inland open water marathon swimming – the next big thing?

We hope so.

A kind of magic

21 Feb

I’ve done the Malabar swim twice before today, but for some inexplicable reason, it’s never made it on to me blob.

There’s a bench near the beach at Malabar dedicated to the late Olympian Murray Rose AM, patron of the Rainbow Club and founder of the Malabar Magic Ocean Swim. The plaque from Randwick City Council reads ‘The magic of water overcomes all limitations’.

The magic had to work hard today.

First, there was the weather.  A bit too much water perhaps.

Mark Speakman, member for Cronulla, NSW minister for the environment and Rainbow Club patron promised this:


But instead, we got this:


Opinions among the punters on the meteorologic impact differed:




The swim takes place in Long Bay. The same Long Bay as gives its name to the Long Bay Correctional Centre just a little to the south whose inmates have included Jai Abberton, Rodney Adler, Darcy Dugan, Renee Rivkin and Robbie Waterhouse. If you look up Long Bay, Malabar on at least one internet search engine, you will be sent straight to the gaol. A perennial challenge for the Magic: postcode prejudice.

If it’s not the penitentiary that people are banging on about, it’s the pooh. Malabar is home to one of Sydney’s main deep water outfalls. The original ocean outfall was constructed in 1916 on Malabar Headland and by 1959 increasing sewage discharge had severely affected water quality at Long Bay. The Bay was allegedly off limits to swimmers from 1949 – 2000. In the 1990s, the sewer outfall was moved to deep water – out on the EAC. Yes that’s right, it’s been alright for 16 years now. Even on a day like today when the street run off was forming an enormous cascading waterfall off Bay Parade, most of the flotsam and jetsam in the water was actually just leaf litter. I did notice some pooh on the tundra under the tower and did a ‘whose scat is that?’ double take. While it crossed my mind that it belonged to a giant squirrel (see post), I think it was roo pooh, hardly surprising when large parts (larger since January this year when Mark Speakman gave back some commonwealth land) of the Malabar headland is National Park.

So, all those that look down their noses at Malabar should be shot. Perhaps on the conveniently located rifle range next door! But if you are reading this in future years wondering whether to sign up, here’s the real truth about exotic Malabar.

Malabar. Its name evokes images of vibrant iced cocktails. Before you dream of an idle afternoon getting quietly wrecked in the deliciously named suburb, you might like to know that it’s actually named after a wreck. The MV Malabar to be precise which came a cropper on the northern headland of Long Bay in April 1931. Altogether there have been 5 shipwrecks off Malabar – the St Albans in 1882, the MV Malabar in 1931, Try One in 1947 and SS Goolgwai in 1955 (and an unnamed barge in 1955). So a swim in Long Bay could have been in St Albans but for the fact that the MacDonald river settlement had already bagsied the St Albans moniker in 1847.

The MV Malabar was named after a region in the Indian state of Kerala once famous as a major spice trade centre. Nowadays, it seems that extraordinary wildlife and slimy spinach are more notable exports from Malabar.

Malabar spinach (Basella alba or ruba, a redder variety) is actually not spinach. When raw, Malabar spinach has very fleshy, thick leaves that are juicy and crisp and taste of citrus and pepper. When cooked, Malabar spinach looks and tastes a lot like regular spinach albeit a bit slimy if cooked for more than a short time.

Malabar spinach (Basella alba or ruba, a redder variety) is actually not spinach. When raw, Malabar spinach has very fleshy, thick leaves that are juicy and crisp and taste of citrus and pepper. When cooked, Malabar spinach looks and tastes a lot like regular spinach albeit a bit slimy if cooked for more than a short time.

image credit: Sinu S Kumar Also known as the Indian Giant Squirrel. It makes the European and North American squirrel look like dormice in comparison. http://www.arkinspace.com/2010/09/indian-giant-squirrel-secret-squirrel.html

image credit: Sinu S Kumar
The Malabar Squirrel. Also known as the Indian Giant Squirrel. It makes the European and North American squirrel look like dormice in comparison.

Malabar7 civet

Classified as Extinct 1978 the Malabar civet was rediscovered nine years later but there have been no published records of the Malabar civet for 10 years.

Malabar8 grey_hornbill

Malabar grey hornbill By Rathika Ramasamy Their loud calls are distinctive and include “hysterical cackling”, “laughing” and “screeching” calls

Malabar9 trogon

A Malabar trogon

Malabar9 parakeet

The Malabar parakeet

Gill and I wondered around trying to liken the punters to their nearest equivalent exotic Malabar threatened flora or fauna.

A gaggle of Can Tooers (from 2 years ago) screeching like hornbills!

A gaggle of Can Tooers (from 2 years ago) screeching like hornbills!

The Malabar parakeet with 2 of her SydneySwimmers coffee morning squaddies.

The Malabar parakeet with 2 of her SydneySwimmers coffee morning squaddies.

The Malabar squirrel (on the right) keeping a firm hold of his nuts.

The Malabar squirrel (on the right) keeping a firm hold of his nuts.

The third challenge of the day for the Magic, as ever, is people’s prejudice about disability. I have never understood this. Hearing how people excel notwithstanding a disability is one of the most humbling and inspiring privileges. In our Can Too swim squad, for some years now, we have been lucky enough to listen to stories each year from two Rainbow Club Patrons, Louise Sauvage and James Pittar.

Louise who can command a hefty speaker’s fee comes to talk to us as a favour because she’s in a book club with our Glenda although I think Louise’s book is yet to be read. To paraphrase Ian Heads

Louise Sauvage is without doubt one of Australia’s most talented athletes ever. But just as impressive as her undisputed ability are her humility, determination and tremendous will to succeed. She truly lives out the message that appears on the Sydney Harbour Supercat named in her honour: ‘You’ll never know what you can do or achieve until you try.’

What an adage! No wonder the Can Tooers go crazy.

We had Louise in stitches a few years ago mind you. A few of the Can Too boys were chivalrous enough to help Louise into the water at Malabar. After she finished her swim and the boys were carrying her out to her chair, a volunteer (truly because The Long Bay Life Saving and Amateur Swimming Club was disbanded in 1973 so all the water safety at the Magic is from other clubs) lifesaver ran down from the dunes panic stricken asking what had happened to Louise’s legs in the swim.

Let's get wet!

Let’s get wet!

We are also lucky enough at Can Too to hear from James every year whether it’s the story about how he mistook a log for a leg in the Amazon or being battered by ice in the Bering Strait. The man is astounding.

As for James’ long list of incredible achievements and swims (inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, first blind swimmer to cross the channel, achieved four of the Oceans Seven, World Open Water Swimming Association Performance of the Year Award, Australia Day Ambassador, Patron of the Sea’s the Limit, Ambassador and fundraiser for Fred Hollows and more), in my view, his most outstanding performance was asking my friend Jenny to marry him.

Not long after they met, Jenny was giving me a lift back to Sydney from a weekend in Jindabyne. James spent pretty much the whole journey complaining that we wouldn’t let him take his share of the driving. He was quite serious! I was in awe. It doesn’t surprise me though. Asked to nominate his most memorable Australia Day experience, James chose 2003 when he was the Australia Day Ambassador for Moree and was given the opportunity to drive the chaperone’s car in a paddock. He said “I didn’t know that you shouldn’t break at 80kms per hour and gave the passengers a bit of whiplash as well as taking out lots of dirt”.

What is it about young men going blind and driving!? Listen to this funny storytelling audio (the second one) from Canadian author Ryan Knighton. Neither Ryan nor James were born blind. They both suffer from Retinitis Pigmentosa diagnosed in their teens (for Ryan’s story read his hilarious book, Cock-eyed: A memoir of Blindness).

There’s seems to be no such word as can’t for James although some of my friends say that he sometimes struggles to find his way to the bar – who can say, he’s usually too busy talking. To get the measure of the man, watch this beautiful short video clip and listen here to James commentating on an international cricket test.

Anyway, enough of those 2. We all have our foibles to cope with.

Me and my pal Daniel 'Killer' Kowalski. Is that Killer after the famous Murwillumbah plumber Daniel or the Polish pro wrestler? Am I bragging that I might beat Daniel or asking him to get his mate Thorpie to challenge the Elouera Can Tooers to a Duel in the Pool next year?

Me and my pal Daniel ‘Killer’ Kowalski. Is that Killer after the famous Murwillumbah plumber Daniel or the Polish pro wrestler? Am I bragging that I might beat Daniel or asking him to get his mate Thorpie to challenge the Elouera Can Tooers to a Duel in the Pool next year?

I mean Daniel Kowalski’s had 4 shoulder surgeries and an eating disorder.

Mark Speakman’s a lawyer and a politician (although at least he didn’t have to worry about sharks today – why don’t sharks attack lawyers? Professional courtesy).

For myself, I’m scared of surf which ordinarily makes the Magic one of my favourite swims. No escape from the bump and the chop today though! No. Yes, Ferrety Ness, I agree it was hard (and great effort on your fundraising). Every punter that took on the swim today should be reet proud.

Do we really have to go?

Do we really have to go?

We swam head on into the chop, swell and current. Visibility (above the water) was variable switching to less than maybe 200 metres. It was impossible not to swallow water. My wave had to circumnavigate a large group of swimmers with a disability that started en masse in the water just ahead of us. Never have I seen a peloton behave so impeccably.

It wasn’t about our times today, it was about these guys. In these conditions, it was a marvel that they were in the drink at all. We all came to a respectful and very abrupt halt, arms flailing and legs sinking suddenly, resigned to the swimmers behind piling on top of us. In the tumultuous swell it was tough to circumnavigate the pod with courtesy picking our way carefully past the amazing and apologetic minders. All the while, the thunder was clapping and the lightening flashing, we were gasping for breath as the chop slapped our faces and the swell turned our stomachs and we were wondering (well I was) what on earth we were doing out there!

Pink laydees.  Hot on our heels.

Pink laydees. Hot on our heels.

It took forever to reach the turning buoy and then a short journey to the right, just relieved to breathe without a faceslap even though the rollercoaster was still going. And then nirvana. We turned for home and suddenly the water stopped fighting us and pushed us home.

Finally, some rhythm and a stretch out. Finally, a reprieve from the face slapping. Just a slight sweep to the right to correct for, sight the blue sails and home. Suddenly leaving the warm water to land back in the southerly downpour wasn’t so inviting after all. But all the same, it was a relief to be back in Mark’s constituency. A constituency Mark, I should mention, that includes a Can Too pod at Elouera I think. Pop in and say g’day.

Anyway, this correspondent was supposed to back up for the 2.4km swim. But we didn’t. Our mate Sista Glistener said it wasn’t as tough as the 1km (and that her brother is a wimp), but we doubt that (that it was easier, not sure about Dave).

Arriven (as os.c would say) on beach, we found devoted poor incapacitated shivering husband. Gill dislocated his shoulder in the surf 2 weekends ago and is awaiting surgery. What a convenient excuse to call it a day and take said shivering hubby home.

Poor Gill, he doesn’t enjoy being benched. But it was incredible of him to have come to support us all in the Magic. As ever, the organisers and volunteers did an amazing job and hats off to all the swimmers – tough day at the office. More than 860 came, swam and conquered, more than 1,000 reportedly entered. And for Murray Rose, who is now forever benched; thank you for the legacy; thank you for the privilege of experiencing the magic.

Got the Bug

22 Jan

They cost 15p (originally 2/6d) and taught us to read with Peter and Jane and, after that, about every conceivable aspect of life.  Way before the internet of things and google, there was a Ladybird book to address even the most sophisticated of ‘but why?’ questions.  The pictures were vibrant and the sentences were short and properly punctuated.  The books endeared themselves far more than the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Do you remember them?

A Loughborough company called Wills and Hepworth published the first Ladybird book in 1915 as a fill in to avoid downtime between jobs on their printing presses.  They went on to publish a whopping 63 series before being purchased by the Pearson Group and then subsumed into Penguin.

The Key Words Reading Scheme (launched in 1964) was used by British primary schools to help children learn to read and the Learnabout series of non-fiction (informational) books commanded a readership far beyond its pre-pubescent target audience.  For example, anecdotally The Motor Car (1965) was used as a primer on car mechanics by the Thames Valley Police Driving School and university lecturers recommended The Computer (1971) to their students in order to give them a basic grounding in the coming technology.

Last year (2015), devotees celebrated a centenary of Ladybird books with a frenzy of nostalgia.  There was an exhibition in a King’s Cross museum, a book commissioned on the history of Ladybird and finally, just before Christmas, the release of 8 new titles brought forward to sate customer demand and catapulted to the top of the best seller lists.  The prices of second hand Ladybirds sky-rocketed and collectors found themselves revered and feted.

Author of the history of Ladybird, Lawrence Zeegen, notes the warm and positive world that Ladybird presented to children.  He describes in his book how Ladybird ‘offered a utopian vision of an innocent world – where learning to read was fun, nursery rhymes were enchanting, nature was abundant, history was heroic, science was enthralling and modern life was seemingly bathed in the bright sunshine of an eternal summer.’

Albeit many commentators have noted that the Utopian world of Ladybird was, in retrospect, slightly odd.  Men did nearly all of the jobs and women all the housework and the only career choice for women as collector and excellent Helen Day’s blog notes was a “token” People at Work title called The Nurse. In that book, we learned that “the doctors tell nurses what to do”.

Ladybird was criticised for stereotyping and updated the books in the 1970s.

Helen Day has been posting 1960s illustrations on Twitter alongside the 1970s updates where she now has more than 10,000 followers.  Jane started wearing jeans, Daddy started doing the washing up and wearing jumpers, gollywogs disappeared and tower blocks appeared.

Helen wasn’t the only one to see the irony.  A trend for spoof ladybird titles emerged juxtaposing the historic earnest and wholesome with a parody of modern day real life with titles such as Hot Dads, Ménage à trois, and The Futility of Existence.



For some, the creativity didn’t stop at titles and front covers.

In 2014, Miriam Ella, an artist and comedienne published ‘We Go to the Gallery’, a Peter and Jane-style satire of modern art.

We go to the gallery Photograph: by Miriam Elia/Ladybird

We go to the gallery Photograph: by Miriam Elia/Ladybird

Penguin was not amused and has threatened legal action.  Even though Miriam is not alone.  Check out this absolutely hilarious Alternative Ladybird book of the Policeman.


Meanwhile, Miriam’s response on Twitter has been a mock-up cover ‘We Sue an Artist, the Dung Beetle guide to Corporate Intimidation, for ages 5+’

She claims that Penguin has ripped off her idea having now released their own series of retro titles. The company said its “kidult” range is intended to “enable grown-ups to think they have taught themselves to cope” and to help cynical adults make sense of modern life, from hipsters to hangovers.


There are just 8 in the new series. Although the back covers promise an array of potential future tomes such as –

  • Spoon Bending
  • The Loch Ness Monster
  • The Tooth Fairy
  • The Mistress
  • The Gay Best Friend
  • The Kenwood Chef
  • The Friend With Benefits
  • Tinder Hacking
  • The Grown Man Who Collects Space Dollies
  • The MILF

The publisher sponsored parodies are pretty funny (we bought five for Christmas presents and so should you) and they got us thinking. We sought out a retro original from eBay along with an edition from the Kellogg sports library.













We started to wonder – what if Ladybird had turned their minds to open water swimming…. so here it is – our effort – please don’t threaten to sue me Penguin – copying is an amazing compliment after all and all due acknowledgements to the original artist, mostly Martin Aitchison…

Slide1              Slide2
















19 Dec

Time was that I thought a marathon was simply a chocolate peanut bar. But as of yesterday, my familiarity with marathons looks something like this……..


Marathon swimming is a class of open water swimming defined by distances of at least 10 kilometres (or 6.2 miles) and conducted in accordance with English Channel swimming rules (including variously no wetsuits or buoyancy devices, rashies, stinger suits, shark shields, GPS devices or waterproof iPods).  Hard core then.

According to the Marathon Swimmers’ Federation, you might be a marathon swimmer if you are standing in the supermarket, wondering which dish-washing liquid would be the best choice for the shower ….Or in the diaper aisle, wondering which diaper rash cream would be good for greasing….

And now, that includes me!  Because yesterday, I completed my first marathon swim!

Vladswim - a 2.5km loop from Chinamans Beach to Balmoral and back

Vladswim – a 2.5km loop from Chinamans Beach to Balmoral and back

In 2012, Vladswim team organised a 5km and 10km open water swim for a small group of swimmers who needed a qualifying swim for the Cottesloe to Rottnest Channel swim (known colloquially as the ‘Cott to Rott’ = open water swim not necessarily an observation on life).  The Vladswim has run every year since and Vlad now kindly includes ordinary mugs like me alongside his English and Rottnest Channel aspirants.

The first Vladswim was the day after ‘The End of the World’ – a Mayan Doomsday prophecy that some said was the beginning of the END.  On Friday, I certainly felt as if the earth might well have been on a collision course with a mysterious planet, but I am still here and very much alive and smiling!

Surviving the distance wasn’t the only thing that worried me on this swim. Despite Oceanfit’s musings this week that sharks are keeping numbers down at NSW ocean swims so far this summer, I’m not normally that preoccupied by Noahs.  But yesterday was different.

Last Boxing Day, the Daily Telegraph ran a review of some of the more brutal fatal shark attacks in NSW and reported that Men in Grey Suits pulled off more than 40 kills between 1788 and 1963 in the waters around Sydney.  And, guess what?  60% of the attacks were in Middle Harbour near where the Vladswim runs.

“SYDNEY Harbour is a sinister soup…. Beneath the diamond-encrusted surface of the Harbour City is a watery amphitheatre of death — a dimly lit coliseum where the lions and tigers are sharks.”


Worse still. We actually swam straight past the very spot of one of the last fatal shark attacks in Sydney Harbour.vlad john willis2

Poor not so old (13) John Willis (the sixer of the yellows in 1st Balmoral Cubs), was hunting lobsters with his brand new spear fishing kit (Christmas present) in 2.4m of water off Wyargine Point on 16 January 1955 when – you know what happened.

One of Gill’s fellow Manly lifesavers, Paul Bailey, posted on Facebook on Friday that he was relieved to have received his shark band just in time for the swim.


Desperate to preoccupy my chattering monkey with some more productive thoughts, I tried to find out some other facts about the swim course. Interestingly enough (or maybe not):

Balmoral Beach: derived from the suburb which in turn was named after the royal palace at Balmoral, in Braemar, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

Chinaman’s Beach: named after the Chinese market gardeners who worked at market gardens and the stone salt pan at Shell Cove until about 1890.

Bathers’ Pavilion: Commissed by Mosman Council as a state-of-the-art bathing pavilion in 1929.  In those days, the beach crowd could reach over thirty thousand people in summer.  Apart from Bathers’ Pavilion, there were various other dressing sheds, baths and boat rental facilities and businesses at Balmoral including one that caught my eye, a dance hall called Happyland!  Apparently, the proliferation of swimming clubs, sheds and bathing activities forced Mosman Council to build the pavilion to ‘decriminalise’ the activity of mixed sex bathing.  The Pavilion was renovated in the late 1980s and the architect was Alex Popov!

Balmoral Beach Club: founded in 1914 by a group of seven Mosman men who called themselves ‘The Smugglers’.  Rob Bagnall of Balmoral Beach Club reminisces that after the rush of the early morning mob of swimmers every day, round about nine o’clock, some of the retired older group would come down and make themselves a cup of tea and then sit round to sort out the world’s problems in their deck chairs soaking up the sun.  Rob said you didn’t need to get dressed if there was nobody else around at that time, so they were colloquially called ‘The Bare Arsed Parliament’. He said, they ‘would have all sorts of ribald stories to tell, and it was a collection open to all because it didn’t matter what your status was in the Beach Club, you’re even – no business, no titles.’

Burran Avenue (ironically the same street as John Willis lived) – Principality of Wy: lying somewhere near Wyargine Point, the Principality of Wy declared itself to be a separate nation in 2004.  Paul Delprat wanted to build a driveway from his house across an unfinished road but he ended up in a dispute with Mosman Council.  Frustrated, Prince Paul decided to follow the example of other micro-nations around the world and in Australia (Hutt River Province) and declared the Principality of Wy to be its own sovereign nation.

Photo: @deevocean Channelling my inner happyland as I pass the Principality of Wy

Photo: @deevocean
Channelling my inner happyland as I pass the Principality of Wy

So, during the swim, I thought about Princes and Popov, criminals, smugglers and naked parliamentarians (albeit the Noahs popped in a couple of times) but mostly, about Happyland – because Vlad told us all in his excellent swim brief to ‘Be happy!’.   Yes it was tough.  Especially at the end of the third lap when I was chase bait for the faster 10 km swimmers lapping me as they headed in to the beach. But I channelled my ‘inner Dory’ and just kept swimming.  Every time I passed Santa in his speedboat off Balmoral (the halfway turning buoy), he looked more and more deflated, but I just kept on feeling stronger and faster (had negative splits so I was not going crazy!).  Until finally, I found my Happyland – in 3 hours and 21 minutes – faster than I ever would have hoped.

Thanks to heaps of peeps; Can Too, Big Blue, Sydney Swimmers (especially coach Judy), Jai from Vlad (and of course, Vlad), my fellow squaddies, friends and sponsors and my gorgeous husband Gill who couldn’t swim because he has pneumonia but still supported and inspires me.

Make a new year’s resolution to get your butt over to Balmoral next year.  Yes, your passport may be required.  You might risk a criminal record from mixed bathing and find yourself in front of a bare arsed parliament with a bunch of smugglers, but a swim in the sinister soup of this exotic kingdom is definitely worth it.  You’ll get a gong and you’ll get to call yourself a marathon swimmer!  You might even find yourself in Happyland.

Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas whether you've been naughty or noice!

Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas whether you’ve been naughty or noice this year!


Big Wens’dee

13 Dec

It’s on.  Again.  This Wens’dee.  The Duel in the Pool.

Last year, with much less fanfare than you would think (especially considering one of their number is a digital media strategist and another founded an international sportstar agency) a self-confessed ragbag of legends, has-beens, could-a-beens and imposters lay down the gauntlet and dared to challenge a pod of Can Tooers to a 10 x 25m relay race.

They lost.

Remarkable.  Not just because some less well informed readers of this blog might very wrongly think that the average Can Tooer has less chance of getting to the end of a pool than Eric the Eel even with a bit of breast-stroking; but because while their description of themselves as a motley crew of swimmers who get together each month to swim, tell lies, eat burgers and drink beer may be factually accurate, it is preposterously modest.  Among their number are former Olympians, Commonwealth Games champs, Pan Pacs and State Reps.

Team spokesman Buck (aka Chopper) said ‘We left the handicapping to coach Jon Bell and the dastardly deed was done. As the Great Man ADV took the blocks he was informed the Can Too team had a 43 second headstart.  Yes folks – 43 seconds!  The Chopper Squad fought hard and we pegged them back at every turn with great swims from all.  But alas it was a bridge too far for anchorman Mean Machine Rench and the Can Tooers slipped in by a couple of body lengths!!’

‘This year’, says Buck, ‘we will be trying to avenge our defeat at the hands of the unscrupulous handicapper (Jon Bell) and dust the Can Too swimmers once and for all!’

Duel in the pool

Go Can Too!

So, who is this team of has beens?  What are the odds of a resurgence?  Is it worth a flutter?  What tactics are likely to come into play and what can the Can Tooers do to make sure this pack of upstarts is left begging for some more Monte St Angelo mercy again this Big Wens’dee?

On paper, they are Chris “Invisible” Allen, Peter “Apples” Appleyard, John “Batesy” Bates, Graeme “Big Brew” Brewer, Simon “Buck” Buckingham, Tim Collins, Andrew “Great Man” deVries, “Fast” Nick Pagent, Matthew “Rench” Renshaw, Donny “Burgundy” Richmond, “Filthy” Phil Vivian, Michael “Weeds” Weeding, Carl “Big C” Wilson and Rob “Woody” Woodhouse.

They boast variously (and absolutely not exhaustively) a silver in the 200m freestyle at the 1978 Commonwealth Games, a bronze in the 200m freestyle in the 1980 Olympics, a gold for the Commonwealth Games 4x100m freestyle relay and a gold Commonwealth Games 4×200 freestyle relay, Australian junior Ironman 1976 and 1977 (all Big Brew), gold in the 1986 Commonwealth Games 4x100m relay, gold in the 1990 Commonwealth Games 4x100m freestyle relay (Rench), bronze at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics 400m individual relay (Woody), 6th at the 1988 Seoul Olympics 4 x100m medley relay and former Australian Open record in 50m backstroke (Big C), 3rd Cott to Rott relay 2012 (Apples, Collins and Filthy), an Australian Institute of Sport Biomechanics film star ‘Swimming techniques and stroke analysis’ (Great Man), 1st Maui Channel relay 2010 (Great Man and Buck), Top 10 World 2013 50m butterfly swimmers (Batesy), numerous overall and age group placings in ocean swims in NSW and elsewhere (Donny, Filthy, Weeds, Invisible) including beating Anna Torok (Fast) and Geoff Huegill (Filthy).

They say their money’s on Filthy as the architect of Can Too’s downfall this year.  They say that despite Collins not fessing up to his nickname last year, os.c calls him ‘Tombstone’ because he has a history of leaving people for dead (is that right Paul?).

'Tombstone' Tim - more hairy than scary

‘Tombstone’ Tim – more hairy than scary

We say:

You only did ok in the Maui Channel swim because you had a tiger shark in your team and Buck, despite telling your team last year ‘not to let that pack-o-pussies at Can Too intimidate yez’; afraid of being smashed again, you’ve fled under the guise of a ski holiday with your Can Too founding wife so that you are unavailable for selection.  Similarly Big Brew (and he’s just an overgrown Clovelly Cherub anyway) and Woody have relocated to Noosa and Scotland respectively not wanting to face the might of the orange army.  Your team selection is depleted and your gong waving propoganda ain’t gonna intimidate us.

What’s more, we’re ready for your dirty, desperate tactics.  We know that self-proclaimed ‘Slim’ Tim (well maybe in this company Tim) faced allegations of swimming over other competitors in the course of winning his age group swimming round wedding cake at Coogee one year and that the President of Freshie SLSC has reported tales of leg pulling, course cutting and general skulduggery at the recent Sunday morning surf series won by the so-called ‘Great Man’ ADV.

Donny - more Osmond than 'The Don'

Donny – more Osmond than ‘The Don’

Yeah.  We’re prepared to fight dirty too.  If only we knew where you Has Beens have been hiding out of an evening stillnox bonding session, we’d send Suzie round to pop something in your water.  So watch out!  We’ve got trained assassins in our pod as well as clinical psychologists, former Waratah front row players and a heap of brownie proficiency badges to our names.

We’re mentally prepared for a closer shave than last year.  We know that you realise the misplaced arrogance of assuming victory was yours without a shave down.  We get the ignominy of looking more like the Village People than the Mean Machine at the pool and what a drag it was on your performance.

Duel VP3 Duel VP2 Duel VP1


Just as you obsess about all over depilation, we are prepared to embrace our Neanderthal and may be celebrating with orange oxters to put you off your game, seeing if FINA is as adverse as the IRB to us dying our hair orange and changing our names to Orange Power.  Either way, Captain Cook says she’s gonna make sure that the partisan crowd has more orange gear than the ARU handed out yellow stuff in the 2009 Lions tour.

Exposed. Rench's ulterior motivation.

Exposed. Rench’s ulterior motivation.

Duel oxters

Go Can Too!

We’re not fooled into thinking that Rench’s appearance this season on the Can Too coaching team for fast lanes 1 and 2 is anything other than a thinly disguised attempt for him to sabotage our technique and hand strategic information to team architect Filthy.

We know from the comment on the sponsor’s page that Woody has set Weeds up to swim naked in an effort to reduce drag and sabotage the Can Too laydees (a la Two Laps ).  We’ve already reminded Jon Bell of FINA rule GR19 ref good taste and modesty.

Our prediction – a bunch of crumbling has beens.  More dickie ticker than Aussie Ticker.  Will struggle to squeeze their ample girths into their vintage sluggos without offending FINA Rule 15.3 (non-transparency).  Dirty tricks or no, they’ll be looking at another dusting on Wens’dee and a night crying into their parmigiana at the Rag.

Why not come along readers!?  Lend us your support and sponsor a Can Tooer to victory (here’s mine if you’re not lucky enough to know a Can Tooer) or, perish the thought, send some financial commiseration to the old farts here.   Else, send us your top tips on tactics!  How can we be assured of our second victory over these audacious erstwhile aquatic superheroes?

Duel weep

Watch and weep from afar Buck!