Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Bikes and wallabies

 Up early this morning, just as it was getting light, for an early morning bike ride.

I thought I'd be a little more adventurous, and loop round through the gorge road, which wends its way, with quite a bit of up and down along side Reid's creek through the remains of nineteenth century gold workings (there's quite a few places you can see abandoned pits, still with the drill holes in the rock, where they were following a seam).

While narrow, the road's mostly bitumen, apart from a kilometre or so of dirt. Despite the heavy rain at the start of the year, there's nothing in the way of washouts, and only the odd pothole and the dirt section has been graded recently, making it an easy ride.

Once on the gorge road, and in the woods, I was planning to turn off my bike lights in the hope of seeing some wildlife in the pre dawn light.

Not a bit of it.

Despite having ridden round the gorge in daylight a few time, I didn't realise that the track, and some of the woodland paths, were very popular with the serious early morning cross country runners. ( I know the type, I used to be one once.)

Well the runners had disturbed the wildlife which had clearly all hopped off deeper into the forest, so I kept my flashing front 'see me' light on so that the runners could see me coming.

Strangely enough keeping my flashing front light on didn't seem to faze the one bit of wildlife I did see, a black wallaby, which sat for a minute or two in the middle of the track looking fixedly at me the way wallabies do, as if trying to work out whether I was any sort of threat.

Eventually, before I got at all close,  it decided I was just another bloody human and leisurely hopped off into the trackside scrub.

Other than that, not an animal to be seen.

Still it was a good ride, and I looped back up Mellish Street to the bike path along the old railway track, and home following my usual route along Balaclava Road.

Took about an hour, and not a bad start for a chilly late summer morning ...

Friday, 12 February 2021

Lockdown (again)

 As of midnight we're back into lockdown, hopefully only for five days while they get the outbreak associated with a quarantine hotel in Melbourne back under control.

Strangely, I felt relieved when I heard the news.

I actually listened to Daniel Andrews announcement on Newsradio, and I have got to say he was a master of communicating what was happening unambiguously.

If you want to see an example track down his latest announcement on YouTube or a news website.

His speech could be divided into three parts:

  • Where we are
  • What we are going to do about it
  • Why we are doing it
And it was good, clear, unambiguous.

So there we are. Stage 4 circuit breaker lockdown for five days, and hopefully with no extension.

Yes, it's a pain in the bottom, but short term pain is always worth it for long term gain.

Thursday, 11 February 2021

The merest hint of Autumn

 This morning, just before dawn, I went for a bike ride following my usual route, up Finch St, onto Ford St via Church St, down past the Shell station to Mellish St, along the bike path following the old railway line to Havelock Road. Sometimes I go up the hill to the old water tower on Havelock Road, other times I go down Alma Road to the mountain bike park, then back along Balaclava road to home.

Usually takes between 40 and 45 minutes.

This morning when I set off it was about 12 or 13C, but I warmed up quickly enough riding up to Church St, but when I dropped down to Mellish St I suddenly felt cold. There was heavy dew on the grass and the cows in the paddock beside the creek were steaming ever so slightly.

There was a distinctively autumnal nip in the air, and it was like that all along the bike path. Obviously the cold air had pooled around the creek, because riding up the hill to the old railway water tower it suddenly got (relatively) warm. I proved it to myself by turning round at the water tower and dropping back down the hill. Same thing in reverse, just short of the golf course the temperature dropped markedly.

Autumn seems to be coming early this year ...

Saturday, 6 February 2021

The Dig ...



Last night it poured with rain,

So instead of going out for a walk, a drink, or something more interesting we stayed in and watched The Dig on Netflix.

The plot is based on a novelised  account of the discovery of the Sutton Hoo ship in Suffolk just before the second world war.

It is of course fiction. 

Time is compressed, characters are introduced, and sometimes events are changed or exaggerated for dramatic effect. It is most definitely not a historical documentary about the Sutton Hoo dig.

So, pretend for a moment you know nothing of the story.

What you have is quiet, gentle, rather English, story of how the definitely upper middle class Edith Pretty employs the down to earth working class, highly experienced archaeological excavator Basil Brown to excavate some tumuli on her land. This is of course 1930's England where there are few if any regulations to protect sites of interest.

Brown, against expectations, finds a buried ship grave, and all the great and the good of the university educated academic archaeological world pour in displaying their prejudices and privileges, and Brown is sidelined and his expertise and role in the discovery downplayed

The movie, without banging a drum about it, nicely draws out the class and academic prejudices of England in the 1930s, and how, before the unemployment queues were full of recent archaeology graduates, much of the day to day work of excavation was in the hands of immensely experienced and practical men such as Brown, while the academic archaeologists spent their time thinking great thoughts and speculating about 'objects of ritual significance'.

The movie is highly enjoyable, beautifully photographed and neatly uses the appearance of flights of RAF aircraft over the dig site, and squads of soldiers in the country lanes, to build a picture of the increasing tension as it became more and more evident that war was inevitable and as a counterpoint to the race to excavate the site before war comes.

I would say that it is more 'Brideshead Revisited meets Time Team' than 'The English Patient meets the Archaeology Data Service'.

Enjoy it for what it is, a well made, gentle movie about a vanished world ...

Friday, 22 January 2021


 I have always been a cyclist.

Sometimes, especially when I was younger, my bicycle was my sole means of transportation, and even in mid Wales, I managed most of a year without a car.

And even when my bicycle hasn't been my sole means of transportation I've continued to ride my bike - in York and Canberra I rode to work, especially in the summer months, and even when I didn't ride to work I would sometimes simply go and ride my bike for the sheer fun of it.

In York, there was a deep pleasure in threading one's way cross country through lanes and byways, and discovering little visited medieval churches and hidden villages.

In Canberra it was a little different. Seemingly a vast beige sprawl, cycling took you down side roads away from traffic and to small suburban wildlife parks and reserves, or out to bush on the edge of the city.

But for the last few years I've been riding less than I thought I would.

Living within walking distance of the town centre, of the post office, our favourite cafes and the supermarket, there's been less need to get one's bike out to run errands. While I still have my old clunky looking Kuwahara that I used as my daily ride in Canberra - clunky, scarred and unlikely to be stolen, it's mostly lived in the shed for the past few years. 

I must admit I feel guilty about not riding it and really I should find somewhere more accessible to store it, so that again, I can use it to go collect the mail or pick up a loaf of bread.

Recently, I've taken to getting up at first light and going for an early morning ride round Beechworth, while the day's still cool, cold even.

This started as something to do during the various coronavirus lockdowns when we couldn't go bushwalking or to the national parks.

For these morning rides, rather than my Kuwahara (which I famously bought nearly thirty years ago for £15 in York from a Brazilian postgrad who wanted rid of it as he was going home), I've been taking my now twenty five year old Marin trail bike, which, thanks to a new chain set, rides as well as ever. 

Gradually, I've been riding further and further as my strength and stamina increases, and have reached the point where I've beginning to explore the network of tracks and backroads around Beechworth that connect old gold diggings, and have been rewarded with some stunning views of birds and native wildlife in that magic hour between sunrise and when people start going about their business.

It helps that, being relatively silent, even on a gravel road, you can sneak up and get a decent view of the animals before they realise you're there.

It's a strange thing, but it has been the pandemic that has helped me rediscover the pleasure of cycling and exploring by bike ... 

Thursday, 21 January 2021

Ah, Mzansi ...

 Way back in 2019, and it does seem an incredibly long time ago, we started planning a trip to South Africa.

Come February 2020 we were ready - flights booked, car hire paid for, hotels organised and then Covid.

We'd used a local travel agent in South Africa to organise a lot of the tour, including wildlife reserve tours, which meant we'd paid up front in Rand for a lot of the trip.

One of the side effects of  Covid was that the South African Rand dropped against the Australian dollar, so when we cancelled - actually we postponed, as, like a lot of people, we initially thought it might be like SARS and burn itself out in a few months - rather than simply return our money, the travel agency offered to put our money in an escrow account so we could rebook when things settled down, the idea being that we wouldn't lose money due to the fall in the value of the Rand, or indeed foreign exchange charges.

We said yes to this, because we really really wanted to go.

Well, almost a year later, clearly things aren't settling down.

While things are more or less under control in Australia, international travel is off the cards until the end of 2021, and may not fully resume to sometime in 2022.

So, reluctantly, we've cancelled. Yes, we'll take a loss, but that's life.

The important thing is that we're both healthy.

Hopefully we'll get there some day, but when, only God and his holy angels know ...

Friday, 1 January 2021

2021 already ...


So, 2021 already.

I was going to write a different post entirely from this one, but events have conspired against me.

Last year, we were worried, seriously worried, about smoke and bushfires, and even though New Year’s Eve seemed to bring some respite, a few days later brought thick smoke and watering the garden and damping down the mulch wearing an industrial anti dust mask.

This New Year had the makings of a better one.

Despite everything, things seemed to be improving.

We’d managed a little holiday in November and had had an almost normal dinner out a few days before Christmas. Yes, we’d had to do the QR code sign in thing, and tables were more generously spaced than normal, but there were people eating and drinking inside and out, people at the pub a few doors up, and the whole thing felt relaxed.

We had a pleasant Christmas at home, just the two of us, listening to jazz and just chilling out. We were slightly worried about the situation in Sydney, and whether it would affect J’s art workshop at the end of February, and our planned side trip to Forster, but we were fairly relaxed about things.

During the week we became a little more concerned with the growing case numbers in Sydney and the apparent reluctance of the NSW government to impose stricter regulations, but took comfort from Victoria’s imposition of border checks and restrictions.

(Living in a tourist town on the edge of the high country close to the border with NSW there’s an obvious concern about community transmission, especially since most people have stopped wearing masks in shops and the post office, except for the supermarket where they are mandatory.)

But we weren’t panicking. We went for walks, gardened, painted, and I even managed to get up early enough one morning for a bike ride before anyone much was about.

Yesterday. New Year’s Eve, we made an early morning dash to Wangaratta to buy seafood, and spent the afternoon making homemade sushi.

We were planning a quiet New Year, even the prospect of going out for a New Year’s Eve cocktail was off the cards, the only place in town that made a decent margarita had closed in August, unable to keep going in lockdown.

Then of course came the news that the border with NSW was closing due to community transmission from visitors from Sydney, and that the rules around mask wearing were again going to be enforced.

Strangely, we felt relieved that finally some decisive action was being taken, even though border closures are a massive pain in the backside.

So, on the last day of 2020, we drank champagne and gin, ate our sushi, and watched a blood red sunset and the lightning flashes of an incoming storm light up the sky.

Hopefully things really will get better this year, but if we’ve learned anything from 2020, it’s that nature, be it bushfires or coronavirus, doesn’t care about human hopes and dreams ….