A visit to Bonn

The alte rathaus

First stop in Germany was Cologne. Pete was feeling loads better, so we opted to go on the walking tour of Bonn, since we’d already had a look around Cologne.

Bonn might have remained just another obscure German university town if it hadn’t been for WW2 and the division of Germany between the West and the Soviet Union. Germany’s capital, Berlin, was firmly in the Eastern bloc, and although the city itself was split between the USSR, French, British, and Americans, it was hardly a reasonable proposition as capital of West Germany. Politicians at the time wisely eschewed larger cities like Cologne and Munich as the de facto capital until the country could be unified. Konrad Adenauer, who came from Cologne and had been the city’s mayor, favoured Bonn over Frankfurt on Main. Even now, after the reunification of Germany and the return to Berlin as capital, some of the instruments of government remain in Bonn. But apart from that, it remains a university town, with a large population of students.

The brothers’ heads are there outside the church which is undergoing restoration work

The tower was added to the church later, emulating the gothic style. But it sits on the chuch’s roof without any other support.

The city dates back to Roman times, when it was a garrison for a large contingent of troops. Our guide, Sebastian, told us the story of a legion of Christian soldiers who refused to sacrifice to the Emperor, and were subsequently punished. You can read the story here.  Among the officers who were martyred were the two patron saints of Bonn, whose carved heads take pride of place in Bonn’s oldest Christian church. You can see the Romanesque structure of the building with its curved, unadorned arches. But the church is not open to the public. It needs substantial restoration simply to make it safe for visitors. Over the years the city fathers added to the building, including a tower which is sitting on top of the roof without any supporting infrastructure inside.

That’s Beethoven on the column outside the post office

Bonn’s other great claim to fame is as Beethoven’s birthplace. You’ll see his name and likenesses of variable quality all over town. He only lived in the house where he was born for four years, when his parents needed to find different accommodation to cater for their growing family. Here’s a potted biography. Seems young Ludwig didn’t have a happy childhood and the comparison with Mozart’s upbringing is interesting.

Sebastian took us to the town’s main square, overlooked by the old town hall. You might have seen that balcony in the top picture in old news footage from the Cold War. But what I found most interesting were the little brass plaques in the cobbles. Our guide was a young man, aged around thirty. He made a point of saying to us that the old Fawlty Towers line (don’t talk about the war) was no longer a thing. Younger Germans were willing to confront their past. And those plaques are part of that. Each plaque is the name of a book that was burned in this very square by the Nazis in the nineteen thirties. For me, it was a powerful statement that would resonate with the young. I can almost see them asking, “What does this mean, Mum?” And the answer is descent into darkness, something we never want to do again.

Needless to say, there was a market set up in the square, with the usual wonderful selection of fruit, vegetables, meat, and cheese. I love those places. But now it was back to the boat.

A stall at the markets

Nothing nasty happened today, not even anything mildly irritating. But then, we’ve only just begun.

Zaanse Schans and dying arts

After our first night on the boat Pete was feeling a bit coldy, so he did the right thing and confined himself to quarters while I went off on a cold, dank day for the scheduled excursion to Zaanse Schans, which is a kind of pioneer village like Sovereign Hill near Ballarat. People live there, and keep alive some of the activities dying away in our modern age, as well as being a sort of living museum. The site has several working windmills and presents demonstrations of clog making and cheese making. The name Zaanse Schans can be translated as ‘the bank of the Zaan’ so it’s fairly obvious the village is on the banks of the river Zaan.

First stop was the clog makers. We wandered past a collection of clogs for all seasons, from working wear with leather leggings to bridal clogs (true), some with beautiful, intricate carving, others with the familiar vivid painted designs. We sat down on logs to watch the craftsman do his stuff. He explained that to hand carve a basic clog would take about five hours, but with his machinery he could turn one out in five minutes. Which he proceeded to do. The machines are French (interesting). Essentially, a mould is fitted to one side of the device, and the other side whittles down a block of poplar wood to match the mould. The foot holes are made in the same way, copying an existing pattern. In five minutes the craftsman cut off the extra bits holding the block to the machine, and held up a rough clog. Now it had to dry. To show how wet it was, he squeezed the wood in his hands, and water dripped out like a slowly running tap. I was amazed. Drying is done without heat, just natural air, for about four weeks. Then the shoes can be decorated. Oh, and Australian Customs won’t let you take raw wood clogs into Australia, but it’s okay if they’re painted or lacquered. The shop is just through there.

 

The clog makers’ workshop

Making the foot holes

Decorated and ready to go

Next was the cheese shop. A lovely young man took us through the basics of cheese-making, separating the curds from the whey and then aging the product. Extra flavours are added last. They made cheese from the milk of cows, goats, and sheep. We got to taste and the owners explained which cheese we could take into Australia, and which we couldn’t.

In the cheese shop

Wooden tulips

On the way to the village our guide had explained to us how windmills were used to reclaim land by pumping water out of the polders. The area we drove through was actually below sea level. The reclaimed land is used for sheep and cattle, not crops, since it’s never really dry. Now we got a chance to see how these machines worked, and how the miller could move either the whole windmill, or the windmill’s head, to take advantage of the wind. The mill we went into is one of the few remaining where pigment for paint was ground. Did you know Rembrandt couldn’t go to the art store and buy tubes of burnt umber? There you are. You’re a better person. For a bit more information about Dutch windmills, look here.

The tiny windmill pumps water out of the polder. Larger windmills do the heavy lifting

The mill wheel

Part of the village – which includes a bakery and a chocolate processor among others

Windmills

Yes, it’s all a bit commercial, but the village provides a glimpse of a way of life fading into the past. I gather ‘new’ buildings are being added, as in re-located, here from time to time. It was a grey, cold, drizzly day so I was glad Pete had stayed in the cabin on the boat. Our bus took us to a lock on the Amsterdam – Rhine canal, where we rejoined the ship for our next stop in Germany.

Seen from the boat as we sailed past

 

A lazy Amsterdam weekend

Ferries dodge around the larger traffic

The weather cleared a wee bit on Saturday, so we mooched around enjoying the city. We’d spent quite a bit of time up on the eleventh floor admiring the efficiency of Amsterdam’s transport system. From up there you can watch the trains filtering in to the central station via the dozen or so lines and the myriad of points. Trams shuttle people along the tracks beside the Ij, and ferries dart backwards and forwards across the waterway to North Amsterdam. They have to be sharp, those ferry captains. The trip takes all of five minutes, but the waterway is busy with traffic – barges, pleasure boats, work boats and the occasional small liner headed for the cruise ship berths. And the ferries are always packed, both ways.

Standing room only

So we wandered down through the central station’s central thoroughfare – filled with shops catering for working people, offering pre-packaged meals, flowers, coffee, bread and the like. Queues of people, quite a few with bikes and scooters, waited at the ferry landing. We joined them and shuffled on board with everybody else as soon as the boat cleared of the passengers coming this way. It’s standing room only, pack ‘em in but without shoving. Then you’re off for the short trip, where you shuffle off again. We never did find out where all those people were going, but we wanted a look at the artsy looking building we’d seen from the room. It was the film museum, part of the university of arts. Not our thing, so we used the loo, then went back to the central station.

Wandering around Amsterdam is always fun. The canals provide a sense of space and air and brightness you don’t often find in European cities. We went down to the Singel Gracht to the flower markets where you can get T shirts, drank some coffee, took some pictures.

That evening we found the Mexican restaurant Vicky and Bruce told us about, just across the canal from the hotel. It wasn’t the greatest Mexican I’ve ever had, but Pete enjoyed his steak – and both of us enjoyed talking to the waiter. He was a Syrian refugee, hoping to be accepted for Dutch citizenship. He has a Christian background and it was interesting listening to his take on the refugees who come to European countries expecting that the host nation will change to suit them. This sort of man – willing to work hard, learn the language and so on – would be welcome anywhere. He spoke excellent English, which he already knew before he left Syria, so I’d say he’s an educated man starting again from the ground up. Good for him. We never got round to asking him how he got out of Syria and into Amsterdam. But he did say that if you came from Syria you automatically had refugee status.

The next day we found out why we hadn’t been able to book rooms in Amsterdam for this weekend. Sunday was “Dam to Dam” day, a charity run between Amsterdam and Zaandam. We watched the riders, walkers, runners gathering down on the road along the front of the station until they were off, then we went down to transfer to the rivership.

The competitors congregate before the start

As it turned out, the Amaverde wasn’t berthed at the docks behind the hotel, she was over at the Westerdok, which meant a short taxi ride. We managed to fend off the touts trying to rob taxi drivers of their fares, handed over our luggage to the APT crew, and went off for a well-earned glass of something.

Zandvoort aan zee and an unexpected trip

The beach

Seeing as how we live near the seaside in Australia, a trip to Amsterdam’s local beach at Zandvoort seemed like a nice little expedition. I remember a little Dutch song about going to the beach in summer. Here it is. Sorry, no subtitles but I’m sure you can rock along with the melody. Maybe I even went there with the family in my very young days. Be that as it may, there’s an F1 track there (I was astonished to discover F1 fan Pete didn’t know that) and I’d seen pictures of Theo Jansen’s marvellous beach walkers, animated by the ever-present wind. That would have been a treat, but they’re not a permanent fixture.

Zandvoort aan zee

So we jumped on a train at the central station. We’d been sitting there only a few minutes when a gaggle of rowdy young men grabbed seats very close to us. We exchanged a glance and debunked to another carriage – only to find another bunch of rowdy Germans taking up position at least a reasonable distance away. What were these folks doing, going to Zandvoort on a dreary Friday lunchtime?  They weren’t regulars – they’d checked with others on the train that this one went to Zandvoort before they took seats. Judging by volume and coherence, they’d been on the singing syrup for quite some time already.

Never mind. They didn’t bother us during the short run to the coast, rolling through Harlem (where Jeronimus Cornelisz lived before heading for the Indies in 1629). When we got off the train we saw a large bus with FC Utrecht emblazoned on the side, which explained the rowdy Germans. A football match! I tried to find out, without success, who Utrecht were playing. Judging by the fans, it would have been a well-oiled audience.

I know this was well past summer’s best, but I don’t think I’ll be swapping my beach back home with Zandvoort. We admired some of the sand sculptures, and had a cup of coffee with apple tart and cream at a café in the town square, then we headed off back to town. They’ve got those rental bikes you see everywhere these days at the local station. Judging by the number of bikes and condition of the rental place, they’re doing as well here in the Netherlands as they are everywhere else (not).

We weren’t terribly impressed with the Double Tree’s executive rooms. I think we paid enough money to be provided with proper cups and saucers, not throw-away paper cups. And somebody else should have noticed the broken fittings in the bathroom. And when we’d used the two English Breakfast Tea bags, it would have been nice to have them replaced in the daily service without having to ask. However, they are issues we took up with the hotel. More minor irritations, you see.

That night we had dinner with cousin Irene at a lovely Indian restaurant in the Pijp area of South Amsterdam. Once again, we’d been there before and loved it, and although it was nice, it didn’t quite reach expectations. After a gezellig evening,  Irene gave me a little bag of goodies to take away with us, and we headed for the tram back to Amsterdam, which was standing at the stop, about to depart. The doors closed a whisker past my backside as I jumped on board. The train system requires you to swipe your card when you get on, so I had that in my right hand, and my bag of goodies tucked under my left. I was off balance and both hands were full when the tram took off as though the driver was aiming for qualifying in the next GP. For me, it was as if the tram tilted around me. One moment I was looking along the length of the carriage, and then it rotated slowly around me so I was looking at the ceiling, while the contents rose out of my bag and departed for destinations unknown. About then I landed on my elbow and hip, and jolted the back of my head. Everybody on the tram immediately jumped in to help, to the extent they were a hindrance. I managed to stand up by myself, while somebody gathered up my scattered belongings. A couple of passengers insisted we take their seats for the rest of the trip to Amsterdam Central.

Everyone’s concern was touching. I (of course) felt like a prize twit. Pete (who had lost a few more of his remaining hairs watching my performance) was angry with the driver’s lack of concern for the passengers, many of whom were standing. S/he continued to drive like a hoon. To my surprise I had no bruises (at least not for a couple of days) although I had a sore elbow and hip and a bit of a bump on my head.

I was lucky. It could have been much, much worse. Just another unfortunate event, really.

View across the Ij at dawn

Europe 2017 – a series of unfortunate events

The view from the hotel

Well… we’re back. From Europe, that is. Amsterdam, Rhine cruise and a coach tour of parts of Eastern Europe. Pretty much a month on the other side of the world. It wasn’t the most wonderful trip, on account of happenings. Oh, not horrible, major happenings. No cars jumping the kerb to run people down. No young men shouting “Allahu Akbar” as they lunged long knives at ordinary people going about their business. No bombs in airports or railway stations. And no evil white man pouring automatic gunfire down on a crowd of people at a concert. But even so, our little adventure was marred by a series of unfortunate events.

Let’s start at the beginning, a few days in Amsterdam before we embarked on our river cruise. We had some trouble finding accommodation in Amsterdam for the four nights before the cruise, even when trying to book months in advance. Our first option was out, APT’s option (the Marriot) was out, so we decided on the Double Tree by Hilton, next door to the central station. From there, we expected a short doddle down to the pier where the river boats park.

APT declined to organise a transfer for us from Schipol, so we were on our own on a dank, drizzly Amsterdam evening. Since it was after 9pm the hotel shuttles had stopped for the evening, and the queue for taxis disappeared around a corner or several. The lady at the information counter suggested we take the train – a ten-minute trip for a couple of Euros, then no more than two hundred metres to the hotel. Just go down the escalator, platform 1 or 2. There’s a train every few minutes.

It sounded like a plan. We bought tickets, hurried down to the platform and jumped on the train standing there. And away we went.

After we’d passed through a couple of stations, Pete turned to me and said, “This feels wrong. We seem to be headed out into the country. There aren’t any more big buildings.”

Damn it, he was right. Th carriage didn’t have one of those graphics showing the stations on the line we were travelling along, so we weren’t sure where we were, or where we were going. The next stop was announced in the usual echoing train voice, hard to understand even if you’re a native. But he said something about ‘Centrum” so we jumped off. A nice little lady explained that this was Almere Centrum, and that if we wanted to go to Amsterdam Central we needed to be over on that platform over there, going that way. Okay. We dragged our suitcases through the system of lifts and underpasses. The rail system in the Netherlands is efficient. We waited a few minutes on the platform for the train and then we were off back to Amsterdam. A bit more trundling of suitcases over cobbles and we were booked into the eleventh (and top) floor of the Double Tree with a view over the myriad rail lines in and out of the central station, across the busy Ij waterway to North Amsterdam. So our ten-minute train trip ended up taking around an hour. Still, it’s all part of the adventure, isn’t it?

The Rijksmuseum

Next morning we took advantage of a drizzly, miserable day to visit the Rijks Museum (the Dutch National Museum). Re-opened a couple of years ago after several years of extensive renovation, it’s an impressive piece of Golden Age architecture in its own right. The collections include art work from what had been Dutch colonies in Asia, as well as the wonderful paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries, with the master being Rembrandt and the iconic Night Watch. You’ll also find a fine exhibition of model sailing ships and their weapons, and if you want more of that, a visit to the Maritime Museum is a must.

The art galleries are the thing here. The paintings show life as it was back then, sometimes with stiff formal portraits of ‘important’ men, others showing life in the raw. I know which I prefer, but it’s all part of the history. Paintings were an important part of my research into life in 1629 for my historical ficition novel, To Die a Dry Death.

The great hall in the museum, with the Nightwatch exhibition at the end

Peasants enjoying life

Ship battles were a favourite subject

A model Eastindianman

Chinese horses

Buddha and a pair of temple guardians

Jousting knights

That evening we dined at a Chinese we’d thought wonderful the last time we were here. It didn’t quite measure up to expectations, but that’s always the way, isn’t it?

Evening over Amsterdam

 

 

Fooling around with Photoshop

A pelican brakes with its feet as it skis to a halt

I guess everybody knows how powerful the world’s best known photo editing program is. You can fool a lot of the people with images manipulated in PS, as many a person on Facebook can attest. Apart from fooling people, Photoshop can be used to create stunning digital masterpieces, putting together layer upon layer of images and effects. The other half of that, though, is it’s not the easiest piece of software to use. There are so many things you can do with it that the sheer complexity can thwart the beginner.

I’ve bought myself an online course to learn how to use this beast, and though it’s early days, I’ve discovered a few things, made some pretty pictures. That photo up the top is a (pretty nice, if I say so myself) photo of a pelican landing on the water. Not long ago a friend sent me a link to the best bird photos in the world 2017. And stunning they certainly are. Everybody loved the photo of the pelican landing on the water at dawn (or dusk), but I’ll admit to wondering if a little bit of Photoshop had been added to the mix. I’m a tiaro at Photoshop magic, but I thought I’d have some fun and see what I could do with the picture up there.

And here it is. I cut out the pelican and the trail of water from the original picture. Then I painted a graduated orange background and pasted the pelican onto it. That done, I copied the pelican image, then turned it over and foreshortened it a little to create the reflection. To make it look less like a mirror image, I added some distortion with a ‘liquefy’ filter which I found as a plug-in on the web. It’s not a photo anymore, it’s a piece of digital art, but I like it.Apart from anything else, it adds drama to the picture, and highlights the bird.

But then I had a bit more of a think. A bird landing like that creates ripples. And as it happens, I had a picture of ripples .

I inverted the colours to make it orange-based, then added the image as a layer, where I fiddled about with the perspective and how it would fit. And this is my finished masterpiece.

One of the things about photography is that you have to work with the limitations of the camera. It’s a piece of kit, with limited capabilities, unlike the human eye, which has a powerful editing system of its own. We don’t JUST see with our eyes. If you’re walking along a beach and a bird flies up, you can still see the detail of the beach because your brain fills in the gaps based on the information it collected before the bird appeared. So you can see both aspects of the scene, even though you might be concentrating on the flying bird. The camera can’t. The bird’s in focus. in movement, so what’s behind it is fuzzy.

In Photoshop you can get around that by combining two images, one of the scene, the other of the flying bird.

A Brahmani kite rises from the beach

Here’s a photo of a Brahmini kite in flight. He’s just taken off from the tidal flats. Nice picture of the bird, pretty ordinary one of the background. Now here’s a nice background. A bit boring, except for the clouds.

Cumulus clouds over the bay

Put them together, and we see what our eye/brain would see.

Apart from anything else, fooling around with photos is a lot of fun.

Here’s another one I prepared earlier. Learning more about realistic shadows, too.

The original photo of three pelicans flying in formation

An idyllic beach scene

And the final product

Melbourne wasn’t such a bad place

Bourke St Mall – it’s early in the morning, decked out for Christmas

I lived close to Melbourne for ten years of my life, and although it isn’t my very favouritist place in the world as far as cities go, I quite like it (shhh don’t tell anyone) . Before we left for warmer climes in 2007 I took a few photos which I’d like to share with you. Some of them are just pretty, others illustrate that Melbourne doesn’t take itself too seriously all of the time. In fact, the city fathers have a sense of humour.

I’m sure the cityscape has changed a lot since I left, but some things don’t change, they just mellow over time.

Flinders St station and Federation Square. I doubt you’ll find a bigger contrast in styles so close together anywhere.

Looking at Melbourne across the Yarra from Princes bridge

Waiting for a tram

Those guys. Really.

The fountain in Carlton Gardens. They hold the garden shows there in early Autumn.

Outside the old post office, which is now a retail centre. Love that stone purse 🙂

Early morning at the ‘G

St Paul’s with Christmas decoration

Christmas Decoration

The Myer Christmas windows

The bridge to Southbank near Flinders St station

Sculpture just outside the library building

A really weird dog

The world’s most livable city

Melbourne Southbank

It seems the word’s out on the world’s most liveable cities, and for the seventh year in a row MELBOURNE, Australia, has lifted the trophy!

Ha ha.

You gotta wonder. It seems “The report considers stability, healthcare, culture, environment, education and infrastructure in 140 different cities around the world.” I wouldn’t have thought any of those factors would vary all that much between the Australian capital cities.

I can’t help thinking that picking a liveable city has to be a tad subjective. I mean, if you’re a dead keen sports watcher, then Melbourne’s your town. One hundred thousand people would be sure to turn out to watch a tiddlywinks championship. Coffee – yes, the best in Oz, I’d say. Food, culture, gardens – it’s all there. They’ve got trams to get around (and get in the way), and it’s not too far to a number of natural wonders like the Great Ocean Road, Echuca and the Murray, snow in the Australian Alps etc.

But it’s also a grey, grim place in the colder months. I recall when I moved from Perth to Melbourne in May 1996. On my last weekend in Perth I went down to Trigg beach for a walk in bright sunshine. Autumn is beautiful in Perth – not too hot, calm, blue skies. I arrived in Melbourne and immediately bought myself a trench coat and some spencers. It was f***ing freezing. All the trees were bare, the skies were grey, and everybody wore black.

It wasn’t all bad, though. I first lived in Melbourne when I was in my twenties. The thing that struck me at that time was you could go to parts of the city (Richmond, Prahran, Carlton to name a few) and the shop signs would be in Foreign. You’d go into a shop, the people would see you coming, pop out the back, and wheel out their sons or daughters who could speak English. It was a real eye-opener. So were the Victoria markets where you could get food from Everywhere. You could walk from Flinders Street station up to Lonsdale Street via the lanes, where you’d find restaurants and coffee shops and all kinds of specialty shops. Then you’d reach the Myer Emporium, which was an Aladdin’s Cave where you could get everything. I loved all the bookshops, too.

But the traffic! Pete and I used to do the daily grind from west of Bacchus Marsh to Melbourne CBD (about 80km one way, which took roughly an hour). Ten years ago when we got out of town for good the suburbs were already beginning to spread west and the commute time was creeping ever higher, which meant we had to get out of bed earlier and earlier. The house prices were rising, too. Melbourne’s just behind Sydney when it comes to affordable housing, and it will catch up pretty soon. Sorry, Melbourne. Not missing you at all.

There are two other Aussie cities in the top ten – Adelaide at five and Perth at seven. I’ve never lived in Adelaide, although I’ve visited a few times. Apart from the fact that the state’s economy is a basket case, it looks like a nice place. With the Barossa and other wine and food areas so close by, food is great. And you’re near the wonderful Flinders Ranges, as well as down the road from Lake Eyre and the outback. It’s also not all that far from Melbourne, so it’s not hard to drive there for a football match or a concert. It has a Mediterranean climate, so on the whole the weather’s great.

Perth CBD

But my pick of the cities on the list (because they’re all large cities) is Perth. I grew up there from the age of four (and a half). The city by the Swan. Perth water is only about a foot deep, but it looks impressive. When I went Over East to Canberra for my first job after Uni, my sister and her husband, who lived in Melbourne, picked me up at the airport for a quick run around the city before my plane left for the nation’s capital. Frank drove over a little hump bridge and said, “That’s the Yarra (river).” I was completely underwhelmed. And on that subject, Adelaide’s river Torrens is even less compelling. They had to dam it so there’s at least a lake. Perth is built on the edges of Perth Water, with Kings Park’s Mount Eliza rearing up on one side. It’s a great place for an aerial view of the city, and the Swan River winding its way down to the Port of Fremantle.

South Perth with Perth Water to the left and the confluence of the Swan and the Canning on the right

My memories of Perth are over twenty years old, but I don’t think the things that stick have altered much. The laid-back, outdoors life style is the thing. The winters are mild, with long bouts of sunshine. I often went to the beach in winter, just to walk. You could always tell the tourists – they were the ones in the water. Nuts. Yes, it can get stinking hot in summer, but it’s usually a dry heat – unless there’s a cyclone hovering around Up North.

Back in the day the population was very English, with pockets of Greek, Slav and Italian immigrants, but nothing like Melbourne. Over the years the city has become more cosmopolitan. Like all the Australian capitals, first class food is everywhere. You’ll find restaurants at the Swan Valley vineyards, along the ocean, by the river, in the quaint older parts of town like Subiaco, and in Freo. I couldn’t argue that Perth is a Mecca for the Arts. Not many big acts make the trek across the Nullarbor, but some do. Still, if you’re desperate, these days a flight to Melbourne isn’t all that expensive. Oh, and that ‘most isolated capital city in the world’? It’s closer to Hong Kong, Singapore and Jakarta than any of the Eastern capitals. Perthites are more likely to holiday in Asia than they are in Melbourne, Sydney, or Brisbane – it’s much, much cheaper.

I have to say, the worthies in Perth have done a rather better fist of urban planning than places like Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. There’s not much room for parking in Perth CBD, so don’t bring your car. Leave it at a railway station a stop or two out, and catch a free train. There are free commuter buses in the city to get around. The freeways and the railways pave the way before housing estates start, and the satellite city of Joondalup is now a thriving hub. Smart. These days, places like Rockingham and Mandurah have been effectively swallowed up into Perth’s suburbs, but the infrastructure means people can still commute. When I was a kid, people went to those towns for summer holidays. It was a loooong way.

Why aren’t we living in Perth? In a nutshell, like every other major Australian city, it’s too big. We’re over the chase-the-dollar rat race. The climate in Hervey Bay is a bit more humid than I’d like, and bookshops are few and far between. But you can’t win ’em all. It’s small enough to be laid back, and big enough to have a Bunnings you can see from the moon. What else do you need?

Cheers.

A glorious winter morning at the beach

 

 

 

 

 

The trouble with ‘dieting’

In our modern, affluent, first-world society one of the most talked about issues is what we eat. You’ll find racks and racks of cook books, food magazines, TV cooking shows (and a few reality TV shows trying to fake it as cooking shows). Our obsession with food and the eating thereof has now morphed into an epidemic of obesity. You have only to go down to the local shopping mall to witness the phenomenon, which affects all age groups.

Including Pete and me.

Since we retired to Hervey Bay ten years ago, we have steadily put on weight. There are a number of reasons. Lack of exercise is one, eating too much is the other. It’s not so much eating the ‘wrong’ things. For us, fast food is an occasional ‘can’t be bothered’ treat. We’ll stop at Hungry Jack’s or Macca’s for breakfast if we’re doing a long drive somewhere, pick up a pizza if we’re not in the mood to cook. But usually we cook and eat at home, and we eat a lot of vegies.

Like every other woman on this planet, I’ve done the diet thing, sometimes with success, sometimes not. When I was young and slim, the dieting creed was you gave up on bread and potatoes, and had a piece of cheese if you were hungry. That was after you’d eschewed all the naughty things like fried foods, cakes, biscuits, soft drinks and the like. And it worked.

Then we moved on to ‘fat is bad for you’. Stores bulged with low-fat alternatives to everything under the sun, and margarine replaced butter as the spread of choice. Along with ‘no fat’ we had ‘sugar free’ – that is, artificial sweeteners like Aspartame. If you counted your calories on a diet like this, it worked.

There’s a huge ‘diet’ industry. Weight watchers, Jenny Craig, Lite ‘n Easy, Paleo, meal substitutes, and more. Celebrities will tell you how well they work, and they make a fortune selling you stuff. And every time you turn around there’s a new ‘discovery’ about what you should and shouldn’t eat. When it comes down to it, any ‘diet’ will work. For a while. But the only thing that will work long term is lifestyle.

It’s usually your clothes that tell you they’ve had enough and it’s time to do something about it. The scale read 80kg+. I’d had a bit of success in the past with a low-carbohydrates approach. It was time to Get Serious.

Messing about on the web, I found this site – the Diet Doctor It’s all about Low Carb High Fat, otherwise known as keto (NOT Paleo). Please watch the short introductory video. In over-simple terms, though, if you limit the quantity of carbohydrates you consume, your body will burn stored fat instead. It sounded good to me, so I sent it on to Pete. If we did it together we could simplify the whole cooking process. He said yes.

Healthy eating food – low carb high fat

We didn’t have to give up all that much. We ate pretty well, anyway. Neither of us has a sweet tooth, so giving up the usual cakes, ice cream etc was a given. Then we got to the sacrifices. No more Anzac biscuits with morning tea, no bread, pasta, potatoes, or rice. But you can fry a piece of fish with butter, or make meat balls with a mushroom and cream sauce. Cauliflower mashed with cream and a bit of cheese is a surprisingly good substitute for mashed potato. Pete gave up beer, but there are no carbs in Scotch and water (which is what we drank, anyway), and there are only two carbs in a glass of dry red or white wine. Anything marked ‘low-fat’ was immediately off the shopping list. We eat full fat cream, butter, and cheese, and extra-virgin olive oil. We’d always been label-readers, but we went further, checking the carb count in stuff like bottles of salad dressing, or pasata. You’d be surprised how much sugar is in soooo many things.

We don’t count calories. The simple message is ‘eat until you’re full, then stop’. Because the food is rich and filling, it’s pretty hard for most people to overeat. One other thing about this eating approach – there’s none of this ‘you MUST eat breakfast’ nonsense. I never used to in my younger days. In fact, the keto diet encourages a bit of fasting. Eg Don’t eat breakfast, wait until lunch time for your first meal. And you are not encouraged to ‘snack’. In fact, if you eat a good breakfast (like bacon and eggs) you’re not hungry until at least lunch time.

We’ve been doing the LCHF things now for a couple of months and we’ve both shed around 7-8kg. Pete had been diagnosed as having type-2 diabetes. His blood sugar levels have stabilised to normal. And it has been easy. You’ll find a heap of recipes on the web if you search for ‘keto’. I like what I found at Aussie Keto Queen, but there are plenty of others.

If you have cravings for food you’ve given up, like pizza, biscuits, or a chocolatey dessert, you’ll find recipes on the web. You can create substitute pizza crusts from cauliflower, make pretend bread, or make a sweet to satisfy your urges if you want. There’s even a recipe for keto-friendly Anzacs.

If you’ve been doing the yo-yo diet thing and you’re sick of it, take a look. It might work for you, too.

Censorship is stupid

Recently there has been some consternation amongst my writer friends. It seems that Barnes and Noble has decided to take what it perceives as the moral high ground and not only ban erotic novels that do not meet its ‘decency’ standards, it deletes the accounts of offending authors. See article in Publisher’s Weekly. To quote, ‘The content policy in question states that titles subject to removal include “works portraying or encouraging incest, rape, bestiality, necrophilia, paedophilia or content that encourages hate or violence.”‘

This is not the first time something like this has happened. A couple of years ago Kobo had a similar purge, tightening-up its content. It’s interesting that these often-draconian measures are applied to writers of (erotic) romance, but any small author who has written romance novels might well be caught up in the ritualistic cleansing. One author I know who normally writes science fiction romance had her perfectly innocent non-romantic Young Adult novel pulled because it had the word ‘sister’ in the book’s description. That happens when you use software, not people, to make judgement. I’ve also heard in the current debacle that author accounts are being cancelled because a book that had been published in the past, but was no longer available, was deemed retrospectively unsuitable. And if an author had one offending title out of (say) ten novels, that was too bad. Author cancelled. The article in Publisher’s Weekly was updated to suggest management has had a second think on the issue, and has agreed to reinstate some of the closed accounts. I should hope so.

Popular book distributor Draft to Digital has informed authors that:

Going forward, Draft2Digital is no longer able to accept or distribute books that feature the following subjects:

  • Rape
  • Incest (included step brother/step sister, or any familial relationship)
  • Paedophilia and underage sex
  • Bestiality
  • Pornography
  • Content that promotes hate towards a religion, race or ethnicity, or sexual orientation
  • Any content that our distributors deem objectionable or in violation of their content restrictions

Please take note especially of the last line. It means they can refuse to accept anything they like. At the end of the day these retailers are censoring what they will sell, and I suppose that is their right. Personally, although I find all of those topics (except the last one, which says nothing) distasteful, all of them happen in our world. Adults should be able to read what they please. I suppose people who write those books will have to market their work at select vendors.To a large extent writers of erotica are already in that situation.

Let’s look at that quote again. “works portraying or encouraging incest, rape, bestiality, necrophilia, paedophilia or content that encourages hate or violence.” Instead of pointing a finger at the bible, maybe I’ll just mention that B&N should be pulling Game of Thrones off all their shelves, and cancelling Mr Martin’s account. Except that won’t happen because Mr Martin’s novels sell rather too well. Oh, and didn’t Ruth Rendell write a murder mystery about an incestuous couple? (Yes, she did) That’s probably a bit mainstream, too. Will they have to remove Nabokov’s Lolita from the shelves (again)?

Nazis burning books

By Unknown – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1253020

What particularly bothers me about this growing trend to regulate what we the public gets to see is that it’s part of a greater wave of control. Back in the 1930s the Nazis carried out their own form of censorship by burning books. “The books targeted for burning were those viewed as being subversive or as representing ideologies opposed to Nazism.” The behaviour by book retailers comes very close to the same sort of mind set.

Which segues neatly into another form of censorship, the recent spate of destruction of historic statues. It hasn’t just happened in the Southern US states. Demands have been made by ‘offended’ black students to have the statue of Cecil Rhodes removed from Oxford. There’s been some talk about removing Admiral Lord Nelson from his column because he participated in the slave trade, and a few years ago I wrote an article about a move to have Jan Pieterszoon Coen’s statue removed from Hoorn. (He was known as the Butcher of Banda, a tyrannical governor of the city of Batavia -now Jakarta – in the 1620s.) And now in Australia we have statues of Captain Cook being defaced.

It’s idiotic, an attempt to white-wash history. It’s like the Catholic Christians destroying Mayan and Incan buildings and artefacts. It’s like the Taliban destroying the statues of the Buddha, or ISIL destroying the monuments in Syria and Iraq. We’re still ruing the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. What priceless knowledge have we lost from all those actions? You can bet the Taliban and ISIL won’t be saying sorry any time soon.

The latest assault is the resurrection of the move to rename Australia Day, which is commemorated on 26 January, the date when the NSW colony was founded by Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet. Some aboriginal leaders and left-wing sympathisers want to rename it to Invasion Day. Maybe Australia Day should actually be 1 January, because it was on 1 January 1901 that Australia became a nation, and not just a number of separate states. But it’s a bit busy at that time of the year.

I hasten to add that I’m glad to see that aboriginal history is taught in schools these days. When I was a child very little was said about the original inhabitants of this continent and their struggles. But let’s not white-wash them, too, seeing them as innocent nomads, living in harmony with their world. Massacres happened on both sides, and the aboriginal tribes fought each other. Most aborigines these days live in the cities, just like we whites. And most of them are of mixed race.

Maybe it’s time we Westerners stopped apologising, recognise that mistakes, sometimes egregious mistakes, happened in the past, and move on. We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it. Provided it’s still there to learn from.