Rain Dancing with Sir Joseph Banks

Tuesday 22nd November – Evening – Botany / Banksmeadow Area

The incessant yet gentle precipitation had left me feeling mildly depressed. My Monday morning jog had been washed out and the Tuesday morning raincheck was, well, rainchecked again. On top of that the exercise bike was broken, which tends to happen when you plug the incorrect transformer into the socket. I knew something was wrong when the digital display began smoking like a peer-pressured teenager. Riding was no longer a possibility.

All out of options, and feeling a little stodgy from the weekend excesses, I hit the road in the rain for a seven kilometre dash.

K1

The first kilometre was reasonably uneventful. My Nike GPS application on the iPhone was reminding me of my pace whilst shuffling through my playlist of motivational songs. Richard Clapton sang ‘Get Back to the Shelter’ as the Telstra truck clobbered the puddle in front of me. It was like wading into a cold, muddy ocean. First your calf muscles get goosebumps. Then your hamstrings begin to shiver. Finally your undies soak and creep up into your crutch. I was destined to spend the next six thousand metres with a very wet wedgie. Perhaps Mr. Clapton had a point.

K2

Traversing Botany Road is always a scary experience. For some reason the semi-trailer drivers don’t believe in pedestrian crossings and when the guy in the BP tanker finally saw me it was all I could do to get out of the way. A blast on the air-horn, and a verbal assault from the shadowed cabin, left me in no doubt that I had made him late for whatever life-saving appointment he was due to attend. How dare I use the zebra crossing.

In spite of British Petroleum’s attempt on my life, I eventually made it to the park with its peace and saturated tranquility. Tiny droplets danced across the pond as the concrete gorilla glistened in the gloom and the empty swing set swung silently in the breeze. Large grey eels slithered through the murky water while giant carp gorged themselves on the soggy bread crusts that were floating on the surface. The only sound out-of-place was the thwack and cheer from the dedicated golfers on the fifth tee of Royal Botany Golf Course. Seriously guys – golf in the rain?!? You’re crazier than I am.

Traffic on Foreshore Drive was at a standstill, which probably explains why the eighteen-wheelers were tearing through suburbia and not on the expressway. An A380 lifted lazily into the air on its way to Singapore or some other salubrious destination and a plump of swamp hens honked at me as I interrupted their bath.

K3

By the third leg of my journey I was in the zone. Led Zeppelin’s ‘Trampled Underfoot’ offered a raucous testament to the growing death toll of snails that kept finding their way below my Reeboks. A drenched Kookaburra perched on an old fence post looking more like a drowned rat than a kingfisher. I laughed at him. Is that ironic?

Water dripped from my wet hair as another wet hare shot out into the path in front of me. Perhaps he had been flushed from his warren by two days of deluge. Maybe he had been routed by one of the mangy foxes that are sometimes found lurking near the golf course. Possibly he was just late for the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Either way, he was certainly not expecting to run into a large bipedal mammal in this weather and almost collided with my right leg. I watched on amazed as the brown bunny zig-zagged across the track. His ability to change direction with such a tight turning circle was incredible and after a couple of 90s, several 180s and a full 360 degree backflip, he was gone.

K4

As the Nike app noted the completion of three kilometres I came across the only other person I would see in the park. An elderly lady with a floral dress and matching umbrella wandered up the wrong side of the bike lane. Her face was hidden, her shoes were tattered and I briefly wondered if she was a local, or lost. Before my thoughts could dwell on her I rounded the corner and there, sticking up out of the grass ahead like a signpost for addiction, was a syringe – needle down into the soil. I paused mid-stride and stooped to pick up the dangerous object. It was the third time I had found a needle in the park and I knew I would have to carry it with me until I could find a garbage bin.

After a fruitless five minute search for more sharp objects I resumed my run. Unfortunately I had begun to cool down and now my ankles were aching. As my Achilles spontaneously combusted I briefly entertained the concept of quitting, until I remembered the pothole in the pathway up ahead. In all this rain it resembled a little lake and my feet achieved nirvana as they plodded through the cold water.

K5

My pace was terrible! I really should remember to pause the app when I pause my run.

The gentle sprinkling had now become much heavier and a mist was rising from the grass. Small birds had stopped singing and the larger ones were nest bound or grounded. The family of marauding magpies that usually pecked at my ears as I jogged through their trees, were feasting on fat, juicy worms. Shiny black and white parents with their gangly grey offspring were so engrossed in their meal that they didn’t even pay me the slightest attention. A flock of large Puddle Ducks waddled across the road. White feathers, orange beaks and no fear of human beings made them an interesting obstacle, so I was left with no choice but to plow right through the middle of the brace. As the Catatonia song ‘Road Rage’ began playing through my speakers, Jemima let out a loud hiss and nipped at my knee. Perhaps she was related to the man from BP.

K6

Leaving the Sir Joseph Banks Park brought me back to reality. My floral friend was still meandering her way around the grounds in a wide arching loop. She had a bag of bread crumbs for the birds and I figured that she was a local after all. I found a bin for the dirty hypodermic and, frankly, I was glad to be rid of it. There are many isolated spots to seek solitude, but collecting thoughts and clearing your mind are not the only things people do there.

The Steggles van on Botany Road also pretended not to notice the pedestrian crossing and only missed me by the narrowest of margins. Live ducks, dead chooks, something fowl was out to get me. The sun was setting, light was getting dim and I picked up my pace.

K7

Suburbia was silent and still. Christmas lights twinkled from the windows of early decorators and wreaths hung in the closed doorways, but the families had settled in for dinner and the houses were locked up tight. There was no yoga at the cafe, no tai chi in the reserve and nobody to welcome me home except a battered old tom cat wanting his dinner. I think I’ll have leftovers tonight.

iDad Gets Published in Bare Essentials Magazine

Actually, iDad has been published a few times in Bare Essentials Magazine now, but I missed the last couple of issues due to personal reasons. When I asked the editor, Inga Yandell, if her readers missed me she said:

“Men around the world were left to their own devices with the absence of iDad the pilot for proficient parenting! I look forward to the return of iDad’s wit it makes navigating fatherhood in modern day entertaining when it could all to easily become exasperating.”

Inga then asked me to contribute to their upcoming publications. How could I refuse 🙂

The result was iDad’s Guide to Fitness and it is available to read here on my blog and inside the latest issue of Bare Essentials Magazine.

Inga’s final comment:

“Great to have iDad back, this feature is a draw for young dads, love it.”

Awww, shucks!

For the record I have caught and passed the bald blur now, but the blonde hottie still eludes me.

About Bare Essentials: Creative conservation, compels artists to become explorers on a journey to the most remote and unique regions on earth. Confronting the harsh conditions and hardships of the native people and wildlife these photographers, painters and authors inspire global respect and urgency for the preservation of natures vanishing gems. This issue is dedicated to adventurous artists, profiling explorer photographer Harry Kikstra, British painter Pollyanna Pickering and naturalist author Sy Montgomery. We also interview the man behind some of the most iconic images in film, Alex Bailey and feature a special message from legendary Bond star, Sir Roger Moore. We also interview the man behind some of the most iconic images in film, Alex Bailey and feature a special message from legendary Bond star, Sir Roger Moore.

iDad’s Guide to Fitness

Are We Jogging?

Or so said the eccentric mystic from the movie ‘Jewel of the Nile’ as he, Joan Wilder and Jack T Colton fled across the desert, pursued by Omar the charming, yet ruthless dictator. I often wonder the same thing in the twilighty minutes before sunrise as I dodge past garbage trucks, lonely taxis and yapping dogs.

For several weeks now I have pounded the pavements and parklands of Botany in an effort to get fit and lose some of my well-earned middle age spread. It was a conscious decision I made late December when my talking scales told me I was the perfect weight, for a bull walrus. As I frisbeed my digital tormentor out of the bathroom window I turned to look into the mirror and realised that the computerised jester may have been right.  With Reeboks on my feet and an iPod strapped to my arm, I took to the street to rid myself of the unwanted kilograms.

Ground Zero!

Initially the going was tough and waking up at six am was the first obstacle to overcome. My friend the ‘snooze’ button got more of a workout than I did in the early stages. Eventually though I managed to convince myself to move the alarm clock across the room, thus forcing me out of bed to make the beeping menace stop.

Being a man who doesn’t need directions and has never read an instruction manual, meant that there would be no ‘taking it easy’. So what should have begun with a brisk walk was more like a heaving plod as my forty something body tried to convince itself it was still only eighteen. Then I arrived at the park, six hundred meters up the road, and promptly coughed up my left kidney.

Lap 1

The first lap hurt. My shins ached, my knees creaked and my lungs were on fire. Luckily though there were other people in the paddock so I had to keep pushing myself to save face – foolish manly pride. A brunette with a short bob-style haircut ambled towards me. We smiled, waved and said ‘hi’ as we passed. Running in opposite directions meant that we would see each other five more times during the course of the three laps I intended to do. I wondered who would bail out first.

A bald blur shot past me at a great rate of knots. This guy was short, stocky and incredibly fit. I briefly entertained the idea of using him as my pace car but when I realised that he has run almost one hundred metres in just over ten seconds, I reconsidered. Minutes later he was gone from view and my new brunette friend was jogging up to me for the second time. Once again we managed a couple of words of encouragement in passing.

Rounding the third corner of the park I ran into an unexpected obstacle. Between two Norfolk pines a spider had decided to set up base camp. It’s sticky web, encrusted with half-sucked bodies of captured cabbage moths encased my head, shoulders and torso. Arachnid excreta and mummified moth has a uniquely pungent flavour that inspires a strong gag reflex, but it was the frenzied removal of the gluey fibres and not the retching that brought about my undoing. A large tree root leapt out of the soil, grasping my ankle as if it were one of Tolkien’s Ents, and threw me down onto my face.

I struggled back to my feet, spitting sod as I stood and began the second round.

Lap 2

Thankfully no one had seen my face-plant, or my erratic behaviour with the spider web, so I was able to resume my regimen with little embarrassment. The bobbed brunette toddled toward me and as we went to exchange pleasantries her eyes shot open in horror. Bewildered by her response I began to check my body for signs of damage. Sure my shirt was dirty, but that wasn’t enough to elicit such a response. I wasn’t bleeding from my fall and all the web had been removed, or had it. I ran my hands through my hair and felt what I though was a squash ball attached to my head. With a dawning comprehension of what was happening to me, eight hairy legs proceeded to run down over my ear and onto my neck. It was a humongous, grey orb weaver’s nest I had violated and now he was extracting his revenge. The spider crawled under my shirt and started down my back where I could not reach him. Thankfully they are harmless but that doesn’t stop the fear. Once again I was on the ground, this time rolling left and right frantically trying to squish the fuzzy molester. I felt his insides smear themselves across my lower back and was relieved – shirts can be washed.

Returning to my run was a little more difficult than my previous interruption. The iPod had suffered its last indignity and was refusing to play anything at all and to make matters worse I failed to notice the huge, steaming pile of dog poo in the grass ahead of me until my right foot was planted ankle deep inside it. The alleged culprit was a large white poodle being walked by its elderly owner – who just so happened to have the same permed hairstyle (its amazing how some people grow to look like their pets). Luckily for them they were over on the other side of the park and out of reach of my verbal abuse.

The brunette shuffled past once more. No words were exchanged this time but I could see her face desperately scanning me for any trace of the spider.

Lap 3

The pain was excruciating. Muscles I didn’t even know I had were burning with lactic acid and my eyes stung with sweat. I could no longer hold up my arms and my jaw hung open, allowing the little swarm of gnats I had just stumbled through to fly down my throat. They tasted rather tangy and slightly more piquant than the spider web.

The brunette and I passed each other once more. There was no wave, no hello, no acknowledgement of any kind. Just two exhausted souls trying to convince their bodies that no pain really did mean no gain.

Just as I considered quitting the run and talking the long walk of shame back home, a young blond caught up to me from behind and ran by. She had short blue bike pants, a white midriff top, and boy could she move. Instinctively I kicked my pace up a notch. Stupid, stupid man. Three strides later I was barking like the marine mammal my bathroom scales thought I was and I’m sure the council workers painting the lines on the football field heard my lungs burst.

That was it. Two and a half times round the park was the best I could do. My knees felt like jelly and my stomach wanted to barf, but I had begun the journey to fitness and weight loss.

Four months later and I’m running at least three times a week. I have given up fried, fast and junk food and lost over eleven kilograms. I feel fitter, happier and more alert (most of the time) and there have been no more spider, dog poo or Lord of the Rings incidents. I never did catch up to the blond hottie or the bald dynamo, and none of my clothes fit me anymore, but these are minor inconveniences for the improved quality of life I am enjoying.

You should try it 🙂

iDad and the Great Migration

This article was published in COSMOS Magazine as part of a writing competition on animal migration. I won 😀

Late last year the National Geographic Channel ran a series of fantastic shows on the Great Migrations of the animal world. Monarch butterflies, nomadic elephants and herds of bleating zebras graced our screen and entertained the children. One of my personal favourites was the red crab from Christmas Island. Each mating season millions of these land animals make the move from the rainforest to the beach to lay eggs and propagate the species. On the way they have to contend with car tyres, commuter trains and the yellow crazy ant, which has decimated the crustacean population. I think the reason I am so fond of these single-minded creatures is their dogged determination to get to and from the beach in spite of the adversity that awaits them, much like the coastal migration we humans undertake every Christmas holidays affectionately known as – The Sydney Summer Evacuation.

Every year, as if spurned on by the arrival of the summer solstice, families of bipedal gnus work themselves into a frenzy in preparation for the long and perilous northern road trip. In what can only be described as a miracle of nature, large metallic beasts, engorged with human detritus roll along the tar in a honking, hooting symphony of sound and colour. This is not a trip for the faint hearted though. As the mechanised mammoths plod along in the intense heat and humidity the symbiotic relationship between the four-wheeled host and its two-legged parasites gets severely tested. In an effort to make ‘good time’ the poor, ever-obedient animal often gets pushed beyond its boundaries and many end up being herded away by one of its blue-flashing cousins.

In one of the more gruesome spectacles, the many McCrocodiles that lurk beside the busy stretch of bitumen between Hornsby and the Gold Coast often pick off weary travelers. These ambush predators decorate themselves in brightly coloured plumage to attract the adolescent humans and entice them to stop with promises of fried fat coated in sodium chloride. Even the lure of eleven secret herbs and spices can prove too hard to resist for the tense iDad teetering on the edge of insanity. Sadly, many of the older and weaker creatures are frequently found by the side of the road hissing and steaming in the last throws of life as their perplexed passengers look on aghast.

Two weeks later, as if drawn by some invisible magnetic force, these pitiful critters will endure hardship all over again – in the opposite direction. It is an anthropomorphic adventure the likes of which are not seen anywhere else in the world.

Yours truly has undertaken this odyssey on many occasions and has lived to tell the tale. I hope that my advice below will help you to plan your next great migration.

Tip 1. Don’t forget the batteries.

A portable DVD player will distract even the crankiest child. However, as most cars only have one or two accessory charging points, which are usually filled with teenager’s iPods, make sure you bring plenty of spare batteries. Sure you can pick extras up at the service station, for three times the price, but if money was no object then why aren’t you flying? Also ensure that you have comfortable earphones for the little movie goer. After listening to Finding Nemo for hours on end I was really wishing that Bruce the shark would recant on his slogan, “Fish are friends, not food.”

Tip 2. Resist the temptation to allow your teenage son to play his iPod through the car stereo.

I like to think that I have a rather eclectic taste in music, but screaming death metal at any volume is too loud. It is especially offensive after your five-year-old daughter has finally gone to sleep. This is your time for peace and quiet. Nemo has been found, the Little Mermaid got her man, Barbie is still a fairy princess and everything is right with the world. Why spoil it with a toneless howl bellowed from the diaphragm of a psychotic wannabe rock star?

“But dad, it’s a love song. Listen to the lyrics.”

“You mean there are actually words to this banshee’s wail.”

“Yeah. See! He misses his girlfriend who got run over by a freight train.”

“Lets listen to Cold Chisel.”

“Old stuff is rubbish.”

The sulking teenager goes back to his earphones and begins to actively destroy his aural capacity with a sound that is best described as someone trying to scream over the top of a whining jet engine.

Tip 3. Not all sunscreen is created equally.

Everyone knows that under the harsh Australian sun an SPF factor of 30 or higher is essential if you want to go out and play. What a lot of you probably don’t know is that the wrong type of sunscreen can really put a dent in your day. Holiday dollars never seem to go as far as you had planned so this year iDad tried out some budget branded lotion in order to save a few cents. Big mistake.

The first problem I noticed was that the cream itself had the consistency of molten tar and a smell that reminded me of industrial paint. Rubbing it on my children was an excruciating experience. Ensuring that your five-year-old is sitting still is a hard enough job at the best of times. When there is a beach to get to this task becomes practically impossible.

I spent hours coating the kids in white treacle only to find that it washed right off within thirty minutes of hitting the surf. This became my second problem. Luckily my children have great outdoor skin inherited from their Lebanese ancestry. iDad on the other hand does not and by the end of the first day even the lobsters were laughing at me.

Tip 4. Sweet treats are great to keep the kids quiet on those long drives, but not so good to clean out of the upholstery.

Regardless of the week-long scorching third degree burn that eventually managed to exfoliate ninety percent of my six-foot frame, our holiday was a great success. With the car packed and extra batteries in the centre console we began the long journey home. I had purchased some lollies to distract the kids from the various fast food restaurants we would pass along the way and before we were one third home the complaints started.

“I don’t feel good daddy.”

“What’s wrong little man?”

“My tummy hurts.”

Being somewhat of an expert with motion sickness I know exactly what to do.

“Adjust the air conditioner so that the cool air is blowing on your face. That’ll make you feel better.”

As my eight-year-old leaned forward to do as he was told his breakfast, lunch and a dozen or so jellybeans exited his oesophagus, poured into the aircon outlet and all over the carpet. His brother, who had been feeling ill himself but had suffered in silence, followed suit and proceeded to coat his siblings in the same masticated and partly digested mush.

I don’t remember the name of the backwater burg we stopped in but I will never forget the barely stifled guffaws from the locals as five kids and their father stood staring blankly at the barf bag my Landcruiser had become.

My final tip for surviving the holidays is to make sure you have a change of clean clothes inside the car. Climbing onto the roof in forty-two degree heat to rummage through the luggage when you are already sunburned is no fun. Accidentally giving your teenage son dirty socks to wear is a stench worthy of its own postcode. Combining that aroma with congealing bile that you cannot get out of the air conditioner is… well I’m going to leave that to your imagination.

At long last our arduous journey is at an end. As the family wagon pulls up inside the garage children leap from open doors like baboons escaping a lion, leaving iDad with half a dozen suitcases to unpack and a mountain of washing to get through. Thirty minutes later the banshee is shrieking abuse from the stereo upstairs, the youngsters are watching Nemo yet again and the teenagers are demanding to know,

‘What’s for dinner?’

iDad v5 – Night Bears.

Following on from a recent visit to Sydney Children’s Hospital (God Sakes poked a bamboo stake into Granny’s eyeball) and with all the free time I have thanks to my insomnia, I was inspired to write a new iDad story for you.

Ladies and gentlemen, for your edification and entertainment, I present iDad Number 5.

‘ittle dis, ‘ittle dat.

God Sakes loved small toys and was forever picking up Matchbox cars and Fisher Price people. His favourite however were the miniature dinosaurs that Santa had brought him. He knew all their names from Ankylosaurus to Velociraptor, and watching him interact with his own make-believe world was magical. The tiny figurines would fight, argue, play together and team up against the cave men (plastic soldiers) if the need arose. It was a lovely game, sometimes shared with Granny but mostly spoiled by No.1 who would stampede through the middle of ‘Jurassic Park’ like a rabid Tyrannosaur.

Everything was ‘ittle to God Sakes so, following on from an afternoon of ‘ittle cars, ‘ittle dinos, ‘ittle soldiers and ‘ittle people, iDad suggested that for dessert God Sakes might like an ‘ittle yoghurt. The reply was delivered in a voice so deep he could have been singing ‘Old Man River’.

‘No dad! BIG YOGE.”

Unfortunately, tiny toys and God Sakes legendary appetite often collided with disastrous results. One afternoon God Sakes was sitting on the couch with wide brown eyes staring off into the distance as if in shock.

“What’s wrong mate?”

No answer from God Sakes but Granny had a humongous grin.

“What’s wrong with your brother?”

“He ate it,” said Granny doing his best Cookie Monster imitation.

“ATE WHAT?!?”

The raised voice from iDad was enough to break God Sakes resolve and he burst into tears.

“I didn’t mean to, daddy. It just slipped down.”

My mind was whirling with all sorts of nasty possibilities. Is there a battery leaking toxic acid into his stomach? Or was there perhaps a rusty pin poking holes in my little boys innards? Regardless of the hideous images conjured up by my tortured brain and fertile mind, my exterior remained calm.

“What slipped down?”

More silence from God Sakes but not from Granny.

“He ate a marble dad.”

Blue Eyes caught the last piece of the conversation at the exact same time that God Sakes started coughing. One quick ambulance ride to the Prince of Wales Hospital, our home-away-from-home, and the five of us were staring up at the x-rays taken of my child’s insides.

“There it is dad.”

Granny was the first to find it. A small white circle about the size of the old one-cent coins was nestled in amongst the yogurt and lasagna. The radiographer chuckled. Obviously God Sakes wasn’t the first child to swallow something other than food during his career and I briefly wondered what other weird and wonderful surprises this man had found in his fellow human beings.

Eventually we were advised to take him home and check his stool over the next few days to make sure he expelled the foreign object. I lost count of how many times we had to capture and examine God Sakes excreta but when we finally found the glass ball I made sure that the hand-held nylon icing sugar sieve we had used was completely and utterly destroyed. Even so, it was hard for me to eat cake for a while.

Night Bears

One thing that wasn’t ‘ittle in our house were the night terrors and poor No.1 got these big time. Quite often during the first ten years of his life, Blue Eyes and I would be woken with blood curdling screams from No.1 as he battled some hideous demon from the depths of his imagination. During a family vacation many years ago No.1 was snuggled up fast asleep between Aunty Dee and her friend Boo, who has been part of our family for more years than she probably wants to admit 😉 Around 2:00 a.m., No.1 launched into one of his trademark kicking, thrashing and screaming fits. Boo was gobsmacked and a little frightened herself.

“What’s wrong with him, Dee?”

“Oh, I should have told you. Sometimes he gets nightmares.”

No.1 launched a sockless foot and a squeal at an invisible monster, almost colliding with the bewildered girl’s forehead.

“Nightmares! What do we do?”

“I don’t know. Go get his mother I suppose.”

Blue Eyes brought No.1 into to bed with us as Dee rolled over and went straight to sleep. Boo lay on her back staring at the ceiling all night waiting for her heart to stop pounding.

Thankfully our little boy rarely ever remembered the horrors that invaded his sleep but that did make it difficult for us to diagnose the cause. Then one night we caught a break. It was a particularly nasty series of nightmares that culminated in the entire street hearing our child screaming that ‘bats were biting his tongue’. It was the first time he had ever spoken about his bad dreams either awake or asleep so we quickly noted the words down and mentioned it to the doctor the next day. Apparently one of the side-effects of food allergies is that the sufferer can be plagued by night terrors as their body tries to cope with the allergic reaction. Not only was our little guy suffering from external eczema but his tongue, throat and entire digestive tract was riddled with itchy lesions. We had finally identified the cause and with a sensible control over his diet, we could manage the effects.

The doctor also encouraged us to talk to him about his experiences so that they wouldn’t seem so scary. As No.1 learned to express what was happening to him the nightmares became known as Night Bears, which was a term he found easier to deal with. It also helped when Blue Eyes brought home a fuzzy teddy so that he had his own good luck ‘Night Bear’ to look after him.

Coming soon: A six pack of iDad – aka More Cake.

iDad © Matthew Green 2010

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