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The edge of competitiveness

“Go fast enough to get there, but slow enough to see” (Jimmy Buffet)

What’s the first thing you say to people when they ask how you went in a race? For me that question has but one meaning, what was your time? I never really think to answer, it went fine, because I’m pretty sure what the follow up question would be.

I’m not sure what makes us so competitive, some of it is probably the way we’ve been brought up by our families and pushed to do better and better and some of it is probably our friend groups and the environment and interactions they promote.

Competitiveness it seems to me is both a blessing and a curse. It infiltrates many areas of my life, some are quite evident, some not so.  To a degree I think most of us feel it, whether it is keeping up with the Jones sort of stuff or a desire to achieve bigger and better things than our contemporaries. The popularity of a range of different social media platforms provides us with multiple opportunities to take part in these ‘compare and contrast’ exercises. I don’t as I’m sure some people would have you believe, view these platforms as bad because the crux is, they provide us with ‘opportunities’ rather than make us feel one way or another. We all have free will to choose what we think and do.

The last few weeks leading into the marathon gave me a lot of time to reflect as I was completing the training runs. A friend suggested to me some months ago that I use Strava to record my runs and that way we could both view each other’s training and provide encouragement. It sounded like a fantastic idea at the time and I quickly signed up. Strava basically downloads the stats from my running watch and duplicates them into an interface through which people can view them. After a while, I decided to add a few other people and people started sending me requests and before you know it, I have 10 contacts. I then noticed that the app tracks your time over various segments of a run and compares this to everyone who has ever run that stretch. The app also has various challenges which you can compete in.

That’s maybe when the fun started. I call it ‘fun’ in a very tongue in cheek way. Part of me likes that drive, that competition and comparison to push things further but increasingly I tend to not enjoy that side of running. I’ve run some decent times in my day and to a degree can still manage a fair clip but lately I’ve begun to wonder whether it’s taking the fun out of running. 

My choice to run the marathon with a friend of mine didn’t come about because of the purist motives of friendship. I was training well for the marathon but half way through I had to go on teaching placement for 4 weeks. Those 4 weeks were intense, and I had to drop my running program from three runs a week to one run and I quickly concluded that I wasn’t going to challenge my previous marathon time. At that point I considered dropping to the half marathon, but my friend convinced me to do the full marathon. My compromise was that I’d run the marathon at his pace instead of mine.

And so, to the race. For the first time for a long time, I thoroughly enjoyed a race. My pace meant I was able to do lots of things I could not do at my first marathon. I chatted to spectators, I danced past the bands, I high-fived lots of kids and adults along the route, stopped at water stations and generally felt more of the overall experience of a run than I ever have. On a few occasions as my feet naturally pushed me forward, my friend asked me to run ahead and leave him if I wanted but I refused every time, probably much to his dismay! However, I had a ball. I had a beaming smile on my face from about two kilometres out and I had that hair standing up on my neck feeling as I ran the last kilometre into the MCG. It was amazing. Plus, I could still easily walk afterwards with only a couple of slight pains and absolutely no cramp.

All of this has really led me to think about both my own competitive nature and the effect that social media platforms have on it. With that in mind, I’ve decided that after a parkrun this Saturday, I will delete Strava and try to run once again because I love running rather than running for times. I feel by removing it, I will not be able to compare my times with anyone else and no-one will be able to compare them with me. I don’t plan to stop running with a running watch on, but going forward those stats will be for my viewing and any competitiveness will be with myself, which I guess at the end of the day is the only person we really ever compete with.

I’ll let you know how it goes ?



You don’t always get want you want


Yesterday I received the worst mark I have had so far in my current studies. I wasn’t happy. I felt a mix of a lot of things, deflation, worthlessness and wondering if this was the right career step for me. In saying all of this the mark wasn’t that bad. I’ve grown used to getting fairly good marks in recent months so to all of a sudden get a lower mark definitely took the wind out of my sails.

With three more essays to do in just under two weeks, my optimism about getting them done and the quality of them has begun to drop. Claire tries her hardest to pump me back up as she always does reminding me that the type of assessment I’d done was something I’d never seen before and perhaps I need to go a little easier on myself.

But that is easier said that done. A lifetime of being hard on myself in light of my perceived failures is nothing you turn around in a day. But then this morning something happened that gave me a bit of perspective. I casually logged onto Facebook as I do ‘whilst I’m studying’ and noticed a post from one of my fellow students at university.

It read, “Feeling deflated! Actually more embarrassed, I didn’t pass the numeracy or literary test and now I’m rethinking my continuing degree”. It’s funny how we think about things a different way when something isn’t happening to us but rather to someone else. Within a couple of minutes, I replied with the following:


Perspective is tough when its ourselves eh? And sometimes we need to something to jog us out of our way of thinking and today it seemed like this was sent along for a reason.

Although I’m still annoyed about the result, originally maybe due to that I thought it was unfair and my thinking that I deserved a better result, I now think what I produced just wasn’t good enough for a better grade. But I’m learning, as we do every day. The real problems are when we don’t learn from our mistakes, we don’t use our experiences to be better next time.

I cheer myself up in a very usual way. I go for a run and that process makes me realise something thats very important, I don’t give up. I finished a marathon, and if you ever want a situation where your mind gives you multiple reasons to give up, that is the best personal example I have.

And so I continue working with a bit of renewed vigour, ever hopeful that the good grades will keep coming and if not at least the experiences will build a resilience within myself that will enable me to deal with these situations better.

IJS 30/01/2018

What happens when everyone leaves?


I thought maybe this year I’d try to write a few smaller pieces in the moment instead of longer pieces and try to make them a bit more regular. Although time will tell whether that eventuates.

I’m old enough to know that we all feel the same things, I’m not as unique as I thought was when I was a child or even into my early 20s. We’re just finishing a few weeks over Christmas where we’ve had family staying with us and through all the trials and tribulations of what that brings we’re at the point where everyone is leaving and suddenly in many ways its like it never happened at all. The memories are like the photos that were taken, they are stuck in time. Fleeting portraits of events that occurred and things that were done.

I guess it’s true of every part of life that we appreciate people the most when they aren’t there anymore. It’s a day to go, the first set of guests left today and tomorrow the final two guests leave and already I can feel that stirring of emotion inside me. That intense feeling of loneliness coming over like a wave and try as I might to hold it back, I can do little more than King Canute on the beach asking the tide to turn.

I suppose understanding the feeling is pretty advantageous, I don’t believe there is much really to be done about it. But it won’t hit as hard as it would do. If my life has taught me something over the last few years it is to have strategies in place. Being in my position of working from home every day, it can be a particularly isolating spot but once I anticipate the feeling at least I’m able to do something about it. Its much like that feeling when you first come back off holiday, you’ve had a fantastic time away and come back and just think, “is this it?”, but as experiences tell us, that feeling fades.

I’m incredibly lucky to have the friend set that I do and I’m able to arrange things within a few hours and all of sudden from having a lonesome old end to the week, its filled with people. However, part of me questions if this is really dealing with the emotion or rather avoiding it. And perhaps on that question, there isn’t really an answer. Part of me thinks I should be able to deal and cope with this, without seeking support and filling my time, but the other part of me thinks, well these options are available to me so why not use them. We can’t always be this stoic version of ourselves we build up in our minds, we aren’t impenetrable however much we like to think of ourselves that way.

I realise within a few days, it will be like Christmas and New Year never happened. It will just be back to what was. It seems as humans we struggle with change but too much of the same just gets us caught in a pattern of humdrumness, and whilst this offers us a modicum of control and comfort it seems to me that, that space is not where we truly live.

Time is ever moving forward and we move forward with it.

IJS 9/1/2017

2017: A year of seismic proportion



I got to thinking as I was planning this blog. My thoughts were around how you could tell if it’s been a good year. It got me to thinking that it really depends on what you thought your year ahead would look like and what you thought you would achieve. If I think back to the beginning of this year and what I hoped it would pan out like, my thoughts would run a bit like this…. I’d like a year of consolidation in my life in terms of relationship and work. In terms of relationships I’d say I’ve grown and nurtured what I already have which at the start of the year I would have considered a success.

But looking back now and thinking of the word consolidation and looking at what this year delivered, its been anything but. This year has probably had the biggest structural change of my life. The decision to quit a career I had grown into over the last 15 years and to challenge my uneasiness at being alone is a seismic shift in my life.

It certainly wasn’t a rash or rushed decision, being 20 years in the making. However, that isn’t to say it was an easy transition from full time work to full time study at home. It’s something that I’ve gradually grown into. I’m not sure even now if I’d really admit that its something that I enjoy. On the face of it, I see it very much as a means to an end. I suppose I didn’t do the whole gap year thing between university and working and have never even considering taking a year off to travel or anything like that. So maybe what I’m doing right now is my long overdue gap year! Although I’m not sure I’d want to spend a gap year sitting at home studying for a Master’s Degree.

I heard recently that a former colleague of mine had taken his own life, it came as quite a shock in the lead up to Christmas and I’m sure it’s a similar story to experiences others have had. If I could have predicted who might have taken their own life, he would be on the bottom of that list. It put me in quite a thoughtful mood for the past couple of weeks and I have a multitude of questions for which I will never have any answers. Not knowing is not something I enjoy.

I might sound like a broken record but it has made me appreciate the therapy I undertake every few weeks, having someone there who I can reveal my darkest deepest secrets too, the thoughts I don’t want to tell anyone else about and to have someone make no judgement on these. It’s a valuable resource in a world where we’re told we have to think a certain way or hold a certain opinion to fit in and belong.

I still think there is a definite stigma among males about being anything apart from the strong, decisive, dependable image that we attach and expect of males. It still seems to be considered a weakness that we might admit that even we need some help sometime, that we can’t deal with everything that is thrown at us and we might not even know the answer. It’s a shame this view seems to still be held by huge swaths of the population. I can only speak from my own personal viewpoint and experience and say what a difference its made to my life. From understanding myself more, to strengthening my relationships to unburdening myself of baggage that I’ve carried around for many years. I won’t pretend its initially an easy process to open up to a seemingly stranger but as time goes on the process gets easier. In fact, from almost dreading going to see my therapist and wondering what I was going to talk about, I now look forward to it.

A few of my interests have admittedly taken a back seat this year. I haven’t done a lot of competitive running at all which is something I look back on and wish I’d indulged a bit more. That’s in no way to say that I’d ceased running at any time during the year, I just couldn’t really find the motivation to drag myself out of bed on a Saturday morning to do a half marathon. Although I’ve appreciated the extra sleep I’ve also missed the sense of achievement and all the related benefits its brings.

Beer has remained in its place in my life. Through various beer festivals this year, I’ve enjoyed the camaraderie of the industry, the friends and different people I’ve met and all the amazing beers I’ve tried over the year. I’m not sure if its very PC these days to have one of your main interests to be the consumption of alcohol but it’s a lot more than that to me. One of my previous NYE resolutions has certainly kicked in and that was to drink less ordinary beer and replace it with good local craft beer. My home brewing also has taken off, with a batch being made on average every 4 weeks. In fact, for certain periods during the year my beer needs were being completely fulfilled with what I was making at home. I found a consistency of quality finally and I genuinely now enjoying drinking my own beers after many years of not.

One surprise has been the effect of having less money in my pocket after leaving a very well-paid job. Life now means I watch my spending and have reduced it to under half of what I’d previously spend. You’d think I’d be crying out for my old level of spending but in fact I appreciate so much more what I spend my cash on because I’ve justified it to myself over and over again. I’ve found interesting ways of making money go further like taking lunches with people instead of evenings out, following happy hours around town and learning to say no to things. In my past life there were times when I would think nothing of spending $50 on something I wasn’t sure whether I really wanted or not, just because I could. Now that is a major spending decision to me and is incredibly carefully thought about.

This year has involved many highlights from the usual rounds of beer festivals, to going back to the Royal Melbourne show for the first time in 10 years, to Adelaide, Perth, New Zealand and Canada. I’ve continued my tradition of following the Ashes around, we’ve commenced fostering kittens for the Lost Dogs Home and our household has grown by one.

And so as one year ends and another begins, what do I hope for, for next year? I’d like to pick the running back up and complete a half marathon or two, I’d like my two placements next year to go amazingly and reinforce my decision to pursue a teaching career and I’d like to consolidate and develop what I already have. There is that word again, consolidation!

I’m not sure any of us really know what our future holds so maybe its best just taking it day by day, enjoying what we can, avoid doing things that make us sad and look after ourselves and the ones we love.

Happy New Year.


IJS 31/12/2017

Anxiety: The constant companion


Before I made my decision to give up work and take up the teaching course, which will lead to my career of choice, I experienced varying levels of anxiety. In response to what I’m sure was ‘the uncertain’. One of my main anxious thoughts was around the loneliness of online study, having no classmates and no one but the cat around me for the whole day.

To provide a bit of background about where this thought came from. I’ve struggled with loneliness in the past and was frightened that it might rear its ugly head again and blight what should be a joyous return to study after 20 years away from it. A few years ago, prompted by feelings of loneliness, I went through a two-month period of insomnia. I’d go to bed around 11pm and then wake up at 1am feeling sure it was the morning and time to get up. Once I’d checked the time, my heart would begin to race, my breathing would get rapid and my mind would turn to thoughts of not being able to sleep the whole night.

This was probably one of the most terrifying periods of my life. I once had to beg the chemist to give me some sleeping tablets because I’d forgotten my ID, had about 5 sleep remedies (none of which worked) and once took a sleeping tablet at 4am in the morning and wandered around like a zombie at work the next day. During this period, I was forcing down six or seven meals a day and still losing weight. On a work trip to Sydney I nearly passed out in my hotel. This is what anxiety can do.

Anxiety is our constant companion, it walks with us everywhere. It doesn’t always speak, sometimes it just sits quietly in the corner but at times it shouts so loud we can hear nothing else. Part of my life I guess, has been and is, learning how to soothe it. Mine responds to exercise, so I head down to the gym or run four days a week now. Mine also likes sitting in the backyard in the sun reading a book. Mine likes structure. It likes to feel in control. It definitely likes a plan. If I don’t wake up and know what I’m doing that day it starts to talk and gradually gets louder. Mine likes to be talked about; hence just writing this is good. I guess things only have power when they remain unsaid.

I have two great outlets for this, firstly Claire, who listens in the most non-judgemental way I have ever experienced. However irrational the thing I’m saying, she doesn’t instantly jump on it, saying it’s silly. She’ll ask questions and explore it. I suppose considering her job this is understandable, but to me it’s quite amazing. The second is of course my psychologist, someone far detached from my life, whom I’m able to say anything to. I still feel, even when I’m typing this, that there is a stigma in saying I see a psychologist but there shouldn’t be, we’re all too quick to look after our physical health but pay little attention to our mental health.

The question might arise, why did I choose to do an online course, which puts me in this position, when I had an offer from another university to study on campus. Well that’s a good question. Perhaps as well as challenging myself with my studies, I also wanted to grow as a person, to build resilience and finally put my fear of loneliness to bed.

In exploring the loneliness I’ve suffered in the past I’ve come to realise that when I’ve felt it and especially when the terrifying period of insomnia was taking place, that loneliness was enforced and involuntary. I had just split up with a partner and was experiencing living on my own for the first time in around 20 years. In the moment though, I didn’t take time to think, analyse, and wonder why? I was too busy trying to distract myself, to just get myself through. And through it I did get and came out the other side. I don’t view sleep in the same way that I did. I still occasionally wake up in the early hours of the morning and look at the clock. However I no longer get distressed if it is very early, I just think I’ve got plenty more time to sleep and if I don’t sleep I can just lie there and think of things instead of trying to distract myself. There is a great quote by, I think, the School of Life’s Alain de Botton which says that not being able to sleep is the brain’s way of telling us we need to think more about something. That’s a mantra I keep in mind when I wake up now.

All of this isn’t to say I don’t suffer anxious thoughts. I believe everyone probably does. Others saw me, for years, as calm. But that’s about what we show the world, not what we show ourselves. These first few weeks have been surprisingly easy. Perhaps it’s because they were a choice I made instead of something being forced on me. Sure I’ve developed routines. I now have five weeks without study and when I started, this was the time I was most dreading. Three days in, I’m starting to welcome it and embrace the silence and solitude it offers me, being alone with my thoughts with no distractions.

My studies continue to excite me, to make me think about the future ahead. It seems a long way away but I think I will enjoy the journey of getting there.

IJS 5/10/2017

Glory Days (I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it)

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Pieces like this aren’t easy to write in spite of what many people may think. I’ve been in the life insurance industry for over 15 years, that’s like a lifetime. I’ve worked for 6 different companies in a variety of roles. Today, all of that ends. Life insurance is an industry that I know, it’s been my security blanket and it’s hard to take the step into the unknown and outside of my comfort zone.

In those 15 years I’ve met so many people that I now call friends. I’ve attended masses of parties, been to dozens of events, been to lots of town hall meetings and I once even dressed up as wizard and stood in the middle of Melbourne for a day.

I’ve worked in a variety of roles over the years. Claims, Projects, Training, Account Management and Transformation areas. I was sent on a study tour around Australia and New Zealand, where I met a few of my closest friends. I can’t deny this industry hasn’t treated me well.

The decision to leave has literally taken as long as I’ve been in the industry to make. Teaching was always something that appealed to me and I came to the conclusion, on one of my daily walks to work, that if I didn’t do something about it soon, then I never would. I’ve always enjoyed the training aspects of my roles and I’d like to give something back and to do something with a real social heartbeat.

As an industry in recent years we’ve seen a massive spike in mental health issues. I believe this isn’t just representative of people who own insurance policies, but of society itself. I think males especially have a negative attitude about speaking out about issues and I believe it’s very important to be able to talk to someone. I myself have used the employee assistance programme to engage a psychologist about my marriage break up and in fact I found so much benefit from it that I still see her to this day in a maintenance capacity. I’d really encourage anyone who is struggling to do something similar.

There seems to be a certain attitude in Australian society, especially among the male gender, that it is a ‘weak’ thing to do. However I can tell you, from personal experience, that it’s one of the most brave and beneficial things I’ve ever done. If anybody would like to talk to me about my experiences and maybe dispel some of the myths surrounding it, I’m incredibly happy to do so.

From the moment I walked into my most recent role, I felt like I knew a lot of people, that was maybe because I’d worked with about 20 of them previously. The insurance industry is small in Melbourne and there seems to be an ever-revolving door between companies. I’ve enjoyed the two teams I’ve managed, I only hope I’ve taught those teams as much as they’ve taught me over the years.

I wish everyone in the insurance industry, as I leave, the best for the future. I’ve had a lot of fun times and I can’t deny, even though at times I might not have enjoyed the work, that I did enjoy the people.

And so to the future. I’m already 6 weeks into my Master’s course, having already submitted two assignments. My office is now my home. I work alone most of the day, barring maybe a trip to the gym and the supermarket. I didn’t think I’d transition that well but I’ve surprised myself. I’ve quickly developed routines, which are very important to me and make me feel ‘safe’. The future is still a bit scary, studying at home requires a fair degree of self-motivation and so far I’ve managed that. It’s whether I can keep it up I suppose. I guess we always doubt ourselves. Then I have the thought of what my first practical experience in the classroom will be like. Maybe I should just try and live in the moment a while hey?

Stepping out of your comfortable zone isn’t an easy thing to do but if you have dreams why not go for it? In the words of Bruce Springsteen “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?”


IJS 17/08/2017

Disagreements, the oil that greases the chain


Last days eh? Always such a mix of emotion. I think we’d both gotten to a stage where we were ready to go home. I can only speak for myself but I miss the routine of it all. Which is a funny comment because in a couple of weeks I’ll have to develop a whole new one when I give up work completely to study full time. I know we both miss Archie, some might argue that he is just a cat but pets mean so much eh? He’s grown as we’ve grown. I miss Melbourne too, I miss the familiarity of it, I miss my friends who’ve been absolute rocks in my life these last few years. I hope in the future I can say that I’ve been there for them as they’ve been there for me.

We rose late, we’d negotiated a noon check out with our delightful Air B&B host, Liz. I can now reveal a little about the place we stayed. The day before we checked in we got a message to say that Air B&B were banned in her building and when we arrived we had to either tailgate someone into the building or get the concierge’s attention and let them know that we were her ‘friends’ rather than paying guests. I wasn’t too impressed. Claire who is much less uptight about sticking to the rules was much calmer. I muttered to myself for a whole day but I suppose that’s a little bit of anxiety about what if we get there and we can’t get in. I calmed myself with the thought that this apartment was nearly a grand cheaper than any hotel. We arrived, tailgated someone and went straight up to the apartment without a bother. It was perfectly positioned, had everything we needed and the bed was comfy, who could ask for more.

We do find the whole Air B&B thing good but we’ve noticed a lot of hosts will contact you on the day of check out and basically beg you for a 5 star rating and then ask that you put any possible improvement in the private message box just to them. I’m not sure I truly agree with this because as a customer of Air B&B, Claire and I both check the ratings and would prefer if they were honest. We don’t judge on a couple of bad ratings and unreasonable demands but I guess the feeling is by the Air B&B hosts that people do. Saying all of this our host was great, she would contact us nearly everyday to check if there were any problems and if so fix them, she also suggested a restaurant for us and gave general tourist advice.

We finally left the apartment right on noon, and we were sad to leave it. It had been our home for the last seven nights and we’d got used to the traffic noise, the steam whistle blowing (which we figured out yesterday was people on the brewery tour blowing it, like we had) and watching the crowds flock to Blue Jays games. The location had been ridiculously central and we loved it.

We’d amended our plans slightly and taken out the Royal Ontario Museum. We’d both have loved to have got there but there wasn’t enough time and we’re both to remember not to rush (remember coming back from Berlin and moving and doing job interviews the same day). Instead our plan was to head to St Lawrence Market to pick up a tortilla warmer we’d seen and wanted to go back and grab. We’d been served tortillas in one of these in El Sabor in North Melbourne a few months ago and had been looking out for one for a while, so even though it was bulky and we might have found one in Melbourne we weren’t going to turn down a lifetime of warm tortillas. We grabbed a coffee there as well and a cake, in my case a peanut butter slice. Peanut butter I used to hate but this is now very much one of my weaknesses.

We dropped into the Hockey Hall of Fame to pick up some sports merch I’d wanted and not been able to get when I went previously and then onto our final stop Wayne Gretzsky’s sports bar which sounded interesting in the Lonely Planet. Of course for those that don’t know, Mr Gretzsky was an extremely famous Canadian hockey player.  The bar was large with multiple tv screens, most of them showing Premier League Darts. At this point Claire amazed me again, like with our Toronto FC experience, by seemingly being quite interested in the darts. The food was typical bar food and I do feel a little guilty that we have been in a lot and it’s not really Claire’s cup of tea but in fairness to her, she has rarely complained. My final meal was a turkey burger and some sweet potato fries and I drunk my 2400th unique beer.

We had to pop into the Intercontinental hotel because we’d left our bags there. We’d found out they accepted anyone’s bags for a charge of $3. However when we got there the Bell hop charged us $5 a piece, telling us the price had gone up today. In my English way I just agreed, whereas Claire decided very loudly to tell him she had been told $3 and then deliberately gave him every coin she had. We hopped on the train to the airport.

Upon arrival we checked in and found my bag was 8 pounds over, whilst Claire’s was a bit under. They were about to charge us more when Claire decided we would repack the bags and produce a third bag. It’s a silly rule eh? You can take two 50 pound bags each but have no more than 50 pounds in each bag. So even if you have only one bag and it weighs 58 pound they don’t just let you have the 100 pound limit. Hence the repack.

We then passed through security and for a quick drink before waiting for our flight out which finally got out about 30 mins late. A short 1 hour in Vancouver and then back on to Sydney.

Of course I’ll miss being on holiday. There is no nicer person to spend time with than your significant other eh? That’s not to say that spending every day for three weeks with somebody doesn’t pose its challenges. They get to see the sides you usually hide in your quieter moments. The frustrations about everyday things that boil over for a few moments. Relationships come with their fair degree of disagreements and arguments, in a way they are the oil that greases the chain. All too often I think people believe these are the precursor of a failing relationship with their idealised views but I believe they are the opposite, they teach you how to negotiate with your partner and your partner gets to see you when you least want it. These things help you hopefully build a relationship built on rock instead of sand and are nothing to be scared of. I wrote a year ago about how showing vulnerability is so important to a relationship and I truly stand by that.

Half way through the major leg of our flight, I get a strange hankering for Japanese food. A gyoza would go down nicely now. But with my no eating policy in place I’ll just dream I can get that for breakfast in Sydney. And, I’ve never loved the sight of pie face so much! A giant sausage roll and a coffee, all for the bargain price of $11! Ouch. Welcome back to Australia (the Japanese hankering had gone)

On the way to Pie Face and through immigration and customs, I got stopped by every level of security, including the canine kind. Claire’s bags rolled nicely off the travelator and mine were nowhere to be seen. Claire spotted a bag out the corner of her eye at the side of the travelator; we went up and said to the customs guy standing nearby that it was my bag. He asked what was in it. After 24 hours travelling, I was a bit grumpy and said back to him ‘what do you mean?’. He said the dog was trained to stiff out tobacco and did I have any in it. I confirmed I didn’t even smoke and he asked if there were any wood products in there, still my answer was no. In the end he just said ‘fine’ and let me go. Maybe the dog just got it wrong or it smelt that cannabis on the beer festival glasses we brought home. Next the bomb detection lady got hold of me going through the security gate; I obviously met her gaze at the wrong time. She was the nice and kind though. In airports I always figure there are two kinds, those who will generally chat and have a laugh with you and those who in no way wish to communicate with you like a human being. I was lucky that I encountered the first type today.

The flight back to Melbourne was late, but at least we made it, with just an hour and a half turn around, having to get our bags and re check them in. We got a rude awakening in Melbourne when we walked out, especially me in my shorts and t-shirt. Having gone from 38c in Toronto we were now faced with winter conditions.

We picked up our very expensively boarded cat and home we came to a freezing house, but there isn’t anything quite like home eh. Another fantastic trip finished.

IJS 03/08/2017

Adopting a one-eyed approach


Well today on paper I thought was very much a Simmo day. We had a visit to the BMO field to watch Toronto’s soccer side, Toronto FC play New York City and after that a short walk across the road to the Toronto Festival of Beer.

The day started the way it has done the last few days. My alarm going off, me getting up and studying whilst Claire enjoys the holiday time in bed. Claire calls it dedication and praises it, I think that there is a little bit of madness involved and it captures my compulsiveness to a degree and once I set my mind on something I’m completely one-tracked about things. In my own head, I’m not exactly sure this is so much of a good thing. My life has tended to go from me being very interested in things and then, not so interested in things. But I think this time it maybe quite different, although maybe this is just a hope.

Study though goes well. I still have these little panics, that Claire is growing very used to, when I just don’t think I’ve done enough and should in fact be studying 24 hours a day. Claire attempts to give me perspective but such is my way, I perhaps don’t listen too well the first time. But with a bit of reflection, I slowly come round. I mean it’s not the be all and end all is it? In my humble opinion your primary relationship with your partner is that.

In fact we both just lazed a little bit this morning. I headed out over the road to the Steam Whistle brewery to check out their merch, the place was full because the Blue Jays were playing today and their stadium is about 200m away.

After this we headed out on the 40-minute walk down to BMO field, along the waterside. We stopped momentarily to get some nitro coffee from a Starbucks stall on the way. The walk was nice although the temperatures today were particularly hot. I think the mercury hit 34c and it felt like that for the majority of the day.

As the stadium itself came into view, for any sports fan like me, it was a pretty monumental sight. The crowd was like a sea of red swarming towards their temple to celebrate their gods. Sport is like that eh? Everyone there for the sole purpose of supporting one team. All joined together in that support. I suppose really it’s nice being part of something lots of people believe in. That really is the attraction of sport. That’s what drives us to go along, week after week, a sense of belonging and a sense of us.

I thought the game might bore Claire a bit. Soccer is a game I grew up with in the UK and ever since I’ve arrived in Australia, I’ve heard people describe it as boring. And to a degree I get this. Being surrounded my games where 100 points are scored, and then going to watch soccer, which could well be a 0-0 draw, it’s easy to imagine this. But soccer is like chess, it’s in the build up. Goals don’t just happen, they are planned moves ahead.

We were certainly in for a treat. Four goals, two penalties, one missed, one scored. TFC (as they are known) win 4-0. For the first goal, as is my luck, I was out buying a souvenir TFC beaker, with no TV screens only audio commentary. The commentary was so bad, I was convinced New York has scored until I got back to my seat and checked out the score. What pleased me the most though was that Claire actually seemed to enjoy it. I understand sport is my passion and I get you bring people along with your own passion. But considering what I consider a popular opinion in Australia I thought Claire might not enjoy it. I wasn’t particularly ready for her when I got back to my seat, berating me for missing a goal and how good it was. She seemed to genuinely like that it wasn’t a game about brute force and there was a lot of skill involved. And I loved her passion for it, much as I love her passion for new things.

We both left the stadium jubilant after the victory of our adopted MLS team.

The beer festival is a funny story, I’d originally bought the tickets not realising the soccer was on. So in fact had early entry tickets, even though eventually we entered 5 hours after we could have got in. Everyone else queued and we entered the special, early entry line (with no-one in). The festival was in a park and the beer stalls I suppose were off every pathway. One thing that surprised me was the amount of big breweries there (Bud, Coors, Moosehead, Molson and lots of internationals). The smaller craft guys were probably about 10-15 in number and around a fixed spot.

There were 2 or 3 stages each with a different artist. We hung around the main stage, Claire commenting how the whole beer festival site smelled of cannabis. Having never tried it, I just had to take her word for that. The bands were good, the craft beers I’d never tried and we didn’t buy a single token past our 10 each we got with the ticket. We had a nice surprise when one band, played a cover of their favourite rock song ‘You shook me all night long’, which most Canadians didn’t seem to know. But if you’re from Down Under, AC/DC are a fixture eh? The main act was Alan Doyle, who seemed quite famous, and had a very Irish sound. His music got the crowd going which is always a good thing.

The three hours we got there were probably just perfect and we wandered the 40 minutes home along the sea front before heading for my second pizza in two days from the local supermarket (who double as a takeaway pizza shop).

Holidays require you to be ingenious, take yesterday. Toronto FC won’t let you print tickets until 2 days before. So what happens if you don’t have access to a printer? Well there is another option, you can send the tickets to your mobile, but guess what, it has to be a US or Canadian mobile. Arrgghhh. Well luckily enough we have some Canadian and American friends and we got this sorted by sending the tickets to them. And then they forwarded them to us.

Our penultimate day was one where we were again planning to divide and conquer. Claire’s plan was to revisit the St Lawrence Market and mine to hit up some sports shops and breweries. Unfortunately the market is closed on Monday so poor Claire was dragged on a brewery tour of Steamwhistle Brewery. They are interesting they do just one beer but try to do it well. We went on the brewery tour and actually got the honour of sounding the steam whistle, which you can hear all over the park. The tour was simplistic but good, at only $12 each and three free drinks, including a bottle that you walked around with on the tour (imagine that in Australia).

We then had to do a bit of admin, so I could study on the flight home to Australia. So into FedEx we went to do a bit of printing before hitting a backstreet gelato shop. My flavour today was Rum and Condensed milk! Can’t say it tasted anything like that but hey, maybe my tastebuds are completely screwed from all my eating and drinking escapades.

We then split up in different directions to commence our final(ish) shopping of the tour.

We met at our final nice restaurant destination, Richmond Station. The service was actually exceptional, in Canada we’ve experienced a lot of slow service from kitchen to table. We’ve never really been sure if this has been deliberate, but what you’d expect to be a quick one course meal has taken us upwards of an hour and a half. Tonight, three courses served in an hour and a half, nice service, drinks were fantastic and so was the food. I’ve found the more upmarket restaurants in Canada a bit less snobby than the ones in Australia. We’ve turned up in shorts and a t-shirt and nobody really looks down their noses at you because everyone is dressed the same. It’s quite refreshing really.

We’ve moved onto the Aquarium for our last stop of the day. It is literally five minutes walk from our apartment and a good way to finish the night. The aquarium was as okay as aquariums ever are. To be honest Claire had eaten most of the fish in the aquarium in the last couple of week, so it might explain the scared look on their faces as Claire peered into their enclosures. There were some fish and some jellyfish! You could touch things, and there was a big travelator through a giant underwater tunnel. I wanted to check whether they served any sort of fish in the café but I didn’t really get the chance.

We were both glad to get home and put our feet up. It’s been a flat out few weeks and I think we’re both looking forward to getting home. For me, I’ve loved being on holiday but I do crave routine! This obviously will be interesting because in a couple of weeks, the routine I’ve been following for the last 15 years is over and I have to establish a new one.

We fly tomorrow around 8pm and hence we do almost still have a full day here in Toronto, however I’m not sure how much we’ll get done. We have some plans but I’m very conscious these have to be fluid.

IJS 31/07/2017

The power of leaving things unsaid

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Well a morning of study was again in order for Thursday. But I did make a significant achievement. The first essay I’ve submitted in over 20 years, and who knows it might be as bad as the ones I submitted 20 years ago too! My day, as a few days have in fact started, started at lunchtime with a trip to the Art Gallery of Ontario.

In all truth, I was feeling quite drained and maybe some of this was the long day I anticipated the day after at Niagara falls. Our train would leave at 8.20 in the morning and not get back till after 8pm at night. I got to the gallery, in what I must admit was a pretty grumpy mood. I’d studied all morning and I suppose I just felt a little bit sad about things. At this point in time everyone should be feeling pretty sad for Claire because she was the one who was going to have to put up with me. In fact she pretty much always does an amazing job of it. I knew I was being a little snappy and short, and she just has this amazing patience and will ask what is wrong (it’s the psychiatrist in her) until I finally crack, tell her I’m grumpy and then everything is alright again.

I suppose when you think about it, these things only have power when you keep them hidden, when they are unsaid. And as soon as things are out in the open, everything is suddenly a lot rosier, the anxiety drifts away and what a few minutes ago felt tense is suddenly back as it has been. It’s a nice feeling letting go of things.

The art gallery was fun. I definitely have a new found appreciation of them since I met Claire, sometimes you feed off your partner’s enjoyment. How enthusiastic they are about things pulls you in. I mean I loved the baseball the other night and I know Claire isn’t a big sports fan, but I reckon she had an okay time because I was really into it. That excitement and passion rubs off.

Back to the gallery, we saw the Georgia O’Keefe exhibition, which was really good. She painted a lot of flowers and skulls from what I could see. She was an American artist, referred to as the mother of American modernism. Her work was nice. The skull stuff though, in my mind, was futuristic and probably something I saw in my university years on people’s walls but as fantasy stuff, not Georgia O’Keefe’s. If you want to check out some of her stuff, you can see it here:

We headed home and for once decided we’d actually eat in for a change, with a difference though! The supermarkets over here actually sell either pre-cooked food or hot food you can just take home and eat. I honed in on, you guessed it, a chicken schnitzel with some marinara sauce on top and to pretend I was healthy a few roast potatoes, carrots and other roasted veggies. Saying that, it was probably the healthiest meal I’ve had all holiday really. Tiredness is funny when it just hits you and however much you try to fight it off, sometimes the only way to deal with it is to give in to it and actually rest. I’m very bad at this, but as I get older, I’m getting better.

A couple of hours on the couch was enough. We went out again to the Ed Mirvish theatre to watch ‘Beautiful’ a play/musical about the life of Carole King. It was basically songs from start to finish, and most of them I knew. You don’t really think of how many songs Carole King wrote, but just think of One Fine Day (The Chiffons), Locomotion (Little Eva and later Kylie), Pleasant Valley Sunday (Moonkees), Will you still love me tomorrow (The Shirelles) and Up on The Roof (The Drifters) as an example of a few, there are many many more. Again Claire was really into it and dragged me into it. Her dancing in the seat next to me was encouragement enough!

We headed home, about a 30 minute walk across town to a nicely cooled apartment. That has been my strategy these last few days to make it as cold as possible when we go to bed, to help us sleep better. It worked a treat and I slept through until Claire’s alarm rudely awoke me the next morning at just after 7am!

As usual I stayed in bed until about 15 minutes before departure and then hopped up, showered, dressed and was ready. It’s a talent I’ve mastered over the years. We got to the station thinking we’d be early. In fact the queue was probably a 100 deep by the time we reached it. We queued for maybe 20 minutes before being let on what seemed a pretty empty train. It soon filled up though. The ride to Niagara was fairly uneventful. Not as eventful as the ride back but I’ll leave that story for later. Approximately 2 hours later we arrived at Niagara station. One thing we have noticed about Canada, is outside the major cities, the train stations seem a long way from civilisation. As we stepped off the train, we hadn’t a clue where to go or what to do. But thankfully unlike my childhood, we now have Google Maps!

A quick search and a bit of research online told us to head to Rainbow Bridge and we were off. About 30 minutes later, the falls came into sight! And what a view. There are basically two separate falls, the first one is completely on the American side and is pretty impressive in itself. The second, Horseshoe Falls, the most famous one, is 1/3 American, 2/3 Canadian and is quite awe inspiring. It’s just one of those things, that you’ve seen on television a dozen times but nothing quite gets close to actually being there. We took a thousand pictures (most of which are actually on Facebook!) and Claire even got to use her new selfie stick (which she got free with a bottle of wine!)

In my mind I didn’t quite understand how we could fill 7 hours there but in fact it was really quite easy. The walk to the falls took a good hour and a half, after numerous photo opportunities. We walked a bit further and explored some gardens just after the falls, where we saw our first chipmunk in the hot house. However, unfortunately we missed the photo opportunity so you’ll just have to trust me on this one. Chipmunks and squirrels are extremely similar but we were pretty sure with those strips running along its back that it definitely was one!

We then took the incline rail, basically a giant cable car up a sharp hill into the middle of the town (or really a series of hotels and casinos). A late lunch we picked up at a Lebanese restaurant just outside the casino and I had my first Shawarma. Which I learnt was basically a souvlaki or kebab! But hey if they call it a different name, I have to try it. Just gotta cross Beaver Tail off my list now and I’ll have the hat-trick!

A gelato followed, just because we’re on holiday and I’m sure I read somewhere you should have an ice cream everyday (I may have written that). We returned to the falls for a last few looks and I got asked by a couple to take a picture of them. I readily agreed and just to try and make them laugh, I asked what they’d like in the background, maybe the bridge? To which they replied ‘the waterfall’ without laughing. Well I thought it was funny.

The train ride home was interesting. We were maybe 30 minutes late leaving and during that time this guy was just pacing up and down the carriage and not just pacing the same distance, but varying distances constantly. And I mean he was passing my seat probably every 10 seconds. Finally as the train started to move he sat down. I then popped to the food carriage of the train to buy a couple of drinks and the women there with me stopped the conductor and let him know that this guy was acting very suspiciously. She was a little embarrassed to point him out, so I let the conductor know that I knew who she was talking about and I’d point him out. The conductor seemed to sort it and in spite of Claire and I expecting a SWAT team to step on the train at every stop, nothing happened and we got back to Toronto fine.

Dinner at home again because it was getting late and looking forward to a quieter day tomorrow.

Well Saturday, in spite of earlier plans of heading out to the Woodbine, turned into a rest day. Lots of study done in the morning, then lunch at the Amsterdam Brewery on the beautiful harbour front, followed by a bit of shopping before pizza and a couple of drinks at home. I did however finally get my taste of beaver tail!

IJS 30/07/2017

The Big City Smoke – Toronto


Toronto! It’s big isn’t it? Having only been to Kingston and Ottawa prior, nothing really prepared us for the city as we stepped off the train. Not even Melbourne. The city is colossal. As is the main station, Union Station. In fact the station is so big, I reckon you could spend a whole day just figuring a way out of it. I counted 27 platforms at least and everything seems linked by a series of tunnels, which I can only describe as a rabbit warren.

Once you’re out of the station though, you just look up and see tower blocks. This truly is the big city. Our apartment was just round the corner from the station, so in spite of the 20 minutes exiting the station, we still made it there within 30 minutes of stepping off the train. We walked into our apartment and noticed to our amazement that it looks over the Baseball Stadium (the Rogers Centre) and the CN Tower. We’re also very close to the elevated freeway, which means getting used to the sound of cars at night too, but hey we’re only here for 7 nights before heading back to the colder climate in Melbourne.

We arrived mid-afternoon and to be honest we didn’t do much, we headed out to the supermarket for some supplies. Making our own breakfast is a great way to save some cash and allows us to release that to spend on something else. We did head out to a recommendation in the Lonely Planet, Bymark restaurant, that is owned by a famous chef, Mark McEwan. It was candlelit and very atmospheric, and as with most restaurants we’ve found, it wasn’t very busy at all. The menu was good, in that, there was a lot of fancy dishes but they did have their own burger (which goes for a very reasonable $38). Claire had some fish as she has been having for days now; unfortunately because I’m no fish fan we very rarely have it at home so it’s a perfect opportunity for her to indulge.

The next day was to be a study day for me in the main. I’d dropped the ball in Kingston and with an essay due in a week and my now being a week behind in my reading, I needed to get back on top of things so we could enjoy Toronto together. I sat and worked from 8am until about 4pm, with a short break to chat to my folks and to head down the chemist for some supplies. At least now I can say I’m on track again. Claire spent the time having a massage and shopping before we caught up at a restaurant our host had recommended, Dimmi bar and restaurant. It turned out to be a delightful Italian meal of pizza and salad.

Our final destination (or in my case the 2nd) of the day was the Tarragon Theatre, which was showing a play called Permanence. We’d done a bit of online research and the reviews were good. We didn’t really realise how small the theatre was though. For any of you that know La Mama Courthouse in Melbourne it was a similar size. The play was amazing, one of the best I’ve seen for a while. It was about an English artist and a young American doctor who have an affair and the progression of that affair. It was extremely well acted and the pieces between scenes were done very well where they darkened the stage as the actors arranged for the next scene but in sight.

As we’d walked in the usher had let Claire know that there was full frontal male nudity; they must have thought Claire was particularly sensitive to this. But she just replied ‘goody’ and walked in. In spite of the near full day of study, I had a ball and looked forward to a fuller day of being a tourist the following day.

The tourist day went well, our first stop of the day was St Lawrence Market, which I suppose is the equivalent of Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne. It sold a range of fruit, veg, meats, deli stuff and some arts and crafts. We wandered round the market, not buying much, I reckon maybe 85% of the people wandering around were tourists and the stallholders must just assume everyone is there to look instead of actually buy anything. The market was nice if a little unimpressive if I’m honest. Nice to look at but not really much to do.

This was though out launching pad into the Distillery District of the city. The whole district is housed in the old Gooderham and Worts Distillery which was founded in 1832 and by 1860 was the largest in the world. Luckily they now house a brewery, The Mill Street Brewery, which rightly or wrongly is in the Lonely Planet. I say wrongly because it was full of tourists, which made for quite a packed experience. The food was good though and I managed to get through 9 new beers before we headed outside for some air. We had sat inside for a reason, because the brewery is in there and the smell of the brewing is something Claire really likes. I don’t mind it too though.

As we walked outside to check out the shop, which wasn’t really much good. We noticed a more senior lady had collapsed and was being treated by paramedics outside. I’m unsure whether it was the beer from the brewery itself or maybe the exorbitant prices in the shop that caused her to pass out!

At this point, Claire expressed a desire to look round some shops and suggested I might like to go to the Hockey Hall of Fame whilst she did. It was a great idea. I’ve never really watched a lot of ice hockey. However I’m always interested in sports museums and what I garner from them. The museum seemed to just be full of huge glass cases with actual jerseys worn by players and their hockey sticks as well. This went on for possibly 200 cabinets, which if you don’t know the game too well can be a bit of a drag. I did however find the 3D theatre and watched a short film specially made for the Hockey Hall of Fame. It involved lots of pucks and ice fragments seemingly coming towards your head. It was quite enjoyable though. As ever on exit from the museum the way out lead you through the shop.

Claire was waiting for me and before our trip to watch the Blue Jays tonight at the Baseball stadium just across from our apartment; we popped into Sobeys Urban supermarket on the Harbour front. And the most monumental thing happened. I grabbed a few cans of beers because they make Budweiser with the local teams logo on (which I thought would be cool to bring home). When I got to the till, I was asked for identification! Gotta be the best moment of the holiday so far.

We went home briefly before we headed out to the Baseball at the Rogers Centre for the game between the Blue Jays and the Athletics. I don’t know too much about baseball but I roughly know the rules of the game. I don’t quite understand why they play the same team everyday of the week but hey I don’t need to know absolutely everything to enjoy it. The baseball signalled a number of firsts, my first time paying $12 for a beer, it was nearly a pint so it’s probably not far off the MCG. The next first was paying $15 for a beer, but it was the biggest beer I think I’ve ever seen in my life. The can was 740ml and was a bit of a beast to handle. But handle it I did. We had the obligatory hot dog, we clapped along and I even bought a Blue Jays hat. The game itself was great, so different from anything I’d seen in Australia and the UK. The sounds, the noises, the atmosphere and the bright lights from the advertising hoardings. Even the corporate boxes looked like they were bedrooms, they had curtains on them and were above and around the scoreboard. The Athletics scored early on in the game (the 5th innings) from what I can remember and the Blue Jays scored nothing all game until, the final innings, the 9th. All of a sudden out of nowhere they hit a home run to level the game at 2-2. Then the next batter in hit a home run too to win the game. Such a great feeling, crowd was going crazy and we got to leave the stadium with lots of happy jubilant fans.

That capped a great first three days in Toronto.

IJS 26/07/2017