Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Detoxing Weekend

Hi everyone,

Does saying I had a detoxing weekend mean I've gone native?  Am I in danger of growing a man-bun and buying fair-trade coffee?  Possibly.  But not likely.  The weekend just gone wasn't planned as a detoxing exercise, but it did become an excellent spell of personal time.

I suppose the weekend started when I left the office.  I'd booked a barre yin class in Fitzroy.  This particular mode of exercise merges barre and yoga.  This made an interesting combination and I found it to be a smooth, chilled out way to end the week.  It'd probably be ideal in the recovery phase after a marathon or something of equal intensity.

Nope: I don't look even remotely like this (Image from here)

I came back to the sharehouse after the class and packed a bag.  I'd promised the old boy that I'd head down to the farm on the Peninsula and check that the steers had feed and water.  I stopped on the way to pick up the sort of simple fare I tend to like - wholemeal rolls, fish, tomatoes and a few tins of corn, chickpeas and beans.  I reached the farm a bit before midnight.

I was up a little before 0800 on Saturday.  It was my turn to make Telecross phone calls for Red Cross.  Perhaps I was still chilled out from the class the previous night: I found that the calls positively flowed by and I was in a very positive mood as I chattered away to the clients.  I hope that some of the positive mood flowed through to them too!  I found myself wading through a backlog of 100+ emails that had built up over the week and cleared them all by 1100, so that gave me a bit of a lift too.

After this I set out across the paddocks to check up on the cattle.  Nearly all the internal gates on the farm are open to give the 39 steers and one bull as much grazing area as possible.  Broadly, they're doing OK.  The grasses are grazed very low nearest the water trough and still pretty long the further from it you go.  They're in no danger of starving, but equally, they won't get fat.

Cattle Grazing near Shoreham, Australia (c) New Citeaux
In addition to being able to report good news to the old boy, it was a good 5 kilometre walk up hill and down dale.  The property is on the water and I liked the thought of the sea air flushing my lungs out.  It was about 1300 when I got back to the house and decided my next move.  About the only thing that was bugging me was that I'd had a couple of alerts from both SES and Red Cross of bad weather on Sunday.  I was having the attack of pre-bad-weather nerves that I seem to get more and more often and which I think I've blogged about before.  I could have gone straight back to town at that point (since I'd done the job I came there to do) and waited to be called out.  But then I thought... I've wanted this weekend for a while, and if I go back, the weather system will pass without incident...  It says something that it was so easy for me to rationalize benching myself.

Coastline near Flinders, Australia (c) New Citeaux
That decision made, I made my plan for the rest of the day: drive over to Rosebud, go for a run and a swim and then to Mass at Our Lady of Fatima.  I went to high school in Rosebud until I went to Melbourne.  I sometimes wonder what would have happened to me if I'd stayed at Rosebud Secondary College.  I have no idea if I'd have gone to university.  I doubt I'd have become a lawyer.  Possibly I'd still be on the Peninsula surrounded by sand and wine.  And maybe I'd have understood Camus much better.

Rosebud is a town spread along the northern side of the Peninsula on the shore of Port Philip Bay.  The country is dead flat and winds in and out of tea-tree and campgrounds along the beach.  It was perfect terrain for running and also doing some people-watching of the campers enjoying the last rag-ends of summer.  In the end I went a little over 10kms and a bit over an hour.  I didn't have much time between finishing my run and Mass starting, but I had 15 minutes to get into the bay to cool down and use seawater and sand to scrub the sweat and dust off.  What made it an adventure was that it was apparently perfect kiteboarding conditions: there were dozens of them and every so often I found myself dodging out of their way!

Kiteboarding at Rosebud (c) New Citeaux

Mass at Our Ladys was done refreshingly straight.  Afterwards I went and picked up a bottle of wine since I hadn't been able to buy any elsewhere.  After all the exercise I thoroughly enjoyed an accidentally-vegetarian dinner of corn, beans and chili.

Sunday brought another adventure: a two hour class at Silver Leaf Yoga School.  The school is in a purpose built building on a nursery property.  There were I suppose 15 attendees, and the class was geared to beginners and experienced practitioners.  I don't think you could call it a punishing or draining workout, but it was a good exercise in stretching and becoming aware of your body.

I headed back to the Casa after the class in time to skype with Grace and Rachel.  It was getting late there, and I think they were tired, but they were still happy to see me.  Especially Rachel who seems to want to spend more time with me now.  I've very glad of this: Grace, bless her, can be a little over-dominating and it's wonderful to see Rachel more her own little person.

I got on the road for Melbourne about 1600.  I must have been pretty chilled out because I wasn't fazed by a traffic jam on the Mornington Peninsula Freeway or by coming back to wash clothes at the laundrette.  It was a very satisfying weekend and set me up well for the week ahead.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

[Book review] Ernest Hemingway, The Snows of Kilimanjaro (Panther: London, 1977)

Ernest Hemingway, The Snows of Kilimanjaro (Panther: London, 1977)

I think I finished reading The Snows of Kilimanjaro last night.  It's hard to be sure.  The version I have is a very battered mass-market paperback which I bought in Shepparton for a dollar a year ago.

Image result for The snows of Kilimanjaro panther books
Image from here

However, when I look at the Wikipedia entry for the book, I see that it's meant to include the following stories -
  • "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"
  • "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"
  • "A Day's Wait"
  • "The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio"
  • "Fathers and Sons"
  • "In Another Country"
  • "The Killers"
  • "A Way You'll Never Be"
  • "Fifty Grand"
  • "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber"

None of these save the first appear in the book I have.  The collection itself is fairly oddly constructed.  Each story begins with a small italicised paragraph describing a scene unrelated to the story itself.  "Indian camp", describing a young man called Nick helping his doctor father is prefaced by a description of an army marching towards Mons in World War One. "The Battler", describing the same Nick's encounter with a violent hobo, is prefaced by a description of an execution.  I have no idea whether this combination of story and preface is Hemingway's or the editor's.  The same Nick appears in a little over half of the stories.  From time to time one has the impression that all of the stories will somehow be tied together (nope), or that many of them are jottings from a writer's notebook.

So much for the structural issues.  Beyond these, the stories are vintage Hemingway: each is written in that prose which I can only describe as "glassy": hard, close and unsparing.  The cruelty in "On the Quai at Smyrna" is described with the plainness of a person for whom pain and cruelty have are facts and not shocks.  The weariness and disappointment in "Out of Season" doesn't succumb to self pity.

As I read these short stories-cum-excerpts I found myself more and more impressed by how unsparing they were.  I think this quality is more needed in literature now than ever.  There is an argument that fiction has changed in our time.  Something like 80% of fiction readers are women.  The irreproachably progressive National Public Radio observes that -
Theories attempting to explain the "fiction gap" abound. Cognitive psychologists have found that women are more empathetic than men, and possess a greater emotional range—traits that make fiction more appealing to them.

Some experts see the genesis of the "fiction gap" in early childhood. At a young age, girls can sit still for much longer periods of time than boys, says Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain.

"Girls have an easier time with reading or written work, and it's not a stretch to extrapolate [that] to adult life," Brizendine says. Indeed, adult women talk more in social settings and use more words than men, she says.

Another theory focuses on "mirror neurons." Located behind the eyebrows, these neurons are activated both when we initiate actions and when we watch those same actions in others. Mirror neurons explain why we recoil when seeing others in pain, or salivate when we see other people eating a gourmet meal. Neuroscientists believe that mirror neurons hold the biological key to empathy.

The research is still in its early stages, but some studies have found that women have more sensitive mirror neurons than men. That might explain why women are drawn to works of fiction, which by definition require the reader to empathize with characters.

"Reading requires incredible patience, and the ability to 'feel into' the characters. That is something women are both more interested in and also better at than men," says Brizendine. 
This may explain why Jamie Fewery's question "how many books that are published these days speak to the modern male experience of life? How many address the issues around what it is to be a man today, and a young man in particular, with all the attendant crises that come with manhood?" is followed by a description of feelings heavy fluff

None of this would be worth talking about, if the ramifications were confined to the business models of writers and publishers.  But in a world which becomes more brutal in very real ways, I wonder whether saturating the culture with the tenderness of feelings is desirable.  That is, is the dispensation from rules that allows a film to celebrate I'm-ok-you're-ok-and-it-feels-good bestiality the same sort of dispensation that allows a common soldier to consider himself relieved from complying with the rules of war?  I suspect it may be.  Culture is influential (or infectious) that way.

So despite its flaws, is Snows of Kilimanjaro a book I recommend?  Yes.  Perhaps more than ever the world needs people to look at the world and see its surface with the same obstinate realism on display here.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Being blessed at Mass. Or not.

The religiously oriented may be aware that this is the season of Lent.  I think I said in a recent post that I tried to give up profanity for this season. You may guess how long I lasted.  So instead I'm taking advantage of my proximity to churches at work and at my digs and instead going to Mass three times a week, and making a particular effort to absorb the readings and draw meaning from them.

It's been some time since I've received communion at Mass.  I'm civilly divorced.  However, I've never been shown any reason why the Church's teaching on marriage is unsound:
The Lord Jesus insisted on the original intention of the Creator who willed that marriage be indissoluble. He abrogates the accommodations that had slipped into the old Law.  Between the baptized, "a ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death." [Catechism, para. 2382]
Ergo, whatever the court had to say on the matter, the marriage between the ex and I remains on foot.  So what happens if I were to remarry?  Well, such a marriage is "an objectively adulterous union that prevents [a person] from honestly repenting, receiving absolution for their sins, and receiving Holy Communion".  Now, I haven't fallen foul of that rule.  What I can't do, though, is say confidently that I'll never remarry (or indeed, repartner).  Certainly the idea has crossed my mind a few times in one context and another.  I'm not over-scrupulous (trust me), but it seems to me that if you're open to repartnering, then the only thing that stops you from falling into adultery is lack of opportunity.  A legalist might say that this still allows one to receive absolution and communion it still smells like a cheat.

(I'm consciously not going to discuss the sacramental bun-fight surrounding Amoris Laetitia; save to note that while the Holy Father might allow some scope for individual circumstances, I don't feel it would be "right for me" to take advantage of this).
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Harsh but funny! (Image from here)
Since I don't think I can decently take communion, what I've been doing is lining up, crossing my arms across my chest, and receiving blessing.  However, this seems to be in doubt as well.  The Vatican's "Congregation for Divine Worship" leans hard against the practice in paragraphs 4 and 5 of this letter on the reasonable grounds that -
... there are some who should neither approach Holy Communion nor receive a blessing. This would include non-Catholics and those mentioned in canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, such as those under the penalty of excommunication and those persisting in manifest grave sin. Giving a blessing to these persons might give the impression that they are in full communion with the Church or have returned to good standing.
On the other hand, the website (hardly a hotbed of liberalism) considers the matter a local one, observing that
... Pope St. John Paul II gave a child a blessing after giving the child's mother Communion during a televised Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on October 19, 2003. And there is no Church norm prohibiting a priest or deacon from similar blessings.
On balance, I think I'll be staying in the pew during communion from this point.  Not doing so seems like the dodging of rules that I was trying to avoid in the first place.

Now, I haven't posted this to attract pity, or to be reasoned out of the position I've reasoned myself into.  Certainly I think I'm on good ground.  Supremely this seems like a matter of personal (or at any rate local) discernment.  But I'm throwing it to you to ask: what do you think is right and rational in such a case?

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Barre, daughters ... and Frogger?

My first full day in the new place has not been uneventful.

I started the day about 0800, rousting myself out of bead and downing a little cereal.  The first item on the agenda was a barre cardio class I'd booked at the Barre Body studio in Fitzroy.  Regular readers will remember that I was pretty impressed with this as a mode of exercise when I tried it the other week.  When spliced with a cardio workout, it becomes something quite remarkable.  Actually, "remarkable" isn't the right adjective.  "Ferocious" gets closer to the sense.

The studio is at Fitzroy, on the third floor of a building.  The floor in question seems to have been residential, or perhaps an office, at one stage in its life: there's a fireplace in situ. The floor is timber and the roof trusses are exposed.  In short, it's a pretty stunning space to train in.
Barre Body studio at 175 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy (Image from here)

Fairly predictably, I was the only man in the class.  This wasn't a concern for me or the other attendees, because once the class got underway, ogling was the last thing on my mind.  Or if it was on my mind, it was way down the list behind not falling over, not throwing up from exertion, trying to fit a swig of water in, and wiping off the Mississippi-worth of perspiration pouring out of me.  Am I exaggerating?  No.  This class was at the very outside of my physical endurance, and I flatter myself that I'm in pretty good shape.

The class started off with vigorously flexing and lifting a light exercise ball, and then repeated the same movements with a pair of two kilo dumbbells.  Each section of the workout was interspersed with "mountain climbing" type steps in the plank position.  We moved on to working legs and arms against the resistance band, in a way that challenged both one's endurance and balance.  When I say that i was striving not to throw up, I'm not speaking figuratively: the exertion involved really did have me looking at the open window in case disaster struck!  When the workout moved into the "cool down" phase of gentle yoga poses my hair was drenched with sweat and my water bottle was empty.  I left the studio feeling like I'd been the subject of a savage beating.

Can I recommend the cardio incarnation of barre?  Absolutely and unequivocally.  I can run any distance you care to name, up to and including marathon.  My physical endurance isn't in issue.  But this workout is as close as I've ever gone to raising the white flag.  Anything that can administer a caning like that will raise your fitness stratospherically.  Me?  I'll be back for sure.

Class times at Fitzroy can be found here.  Casual classes are $25.00 each.

After I left the studio I headed back to my digs.  I'd arranged to facetime with Grace and Rachel this afternoon (my time) before they went to bed (their time).  They were of course as adorable as ever.  A couple of things struck me particularly though.  The first question from Rachel was when I was coming to see them. They seemed really excited that I'd come to see them this year. She said that her best friend Emma is "dying to meet me" and is apparently happier since Rachel told her I'll come visit.  Later in the facetime, I think it was R who was drawing a picture of owls (using a Sharpie on white paper, much to their mother's chagrin!).  When she showed it to me, she explained that the big owl was daddy (i.e. me). The next biggest was mommy. And the small ones were Rachel and Grace. She drew us all together, as a family.   I know they're not unhappy or poorly looked after.  The ex is a great mother - the best - and she's alos a genuinely decent person. But it's as if both Grace and Rachel still want all the pieces of their family together.  That said, they weren't sentimental about winding up our conversation!  The conversation ran roughly like this -
Rachel: "Dad, is it ok if we hang up so we can watch something on the iPad?".
Me: "well, sure if..."
Grace: "thanks Dad love you <click as she hung up>"
Clearly they're going to be strong women who know what they want!  And for that, the ex deserves all the credit.

Skype completed, I made a phone call to the nearest SES Unit to Brunswick and arranged to train with them tomorrow night, so that's another part of my life set in order.  I also set out my meal plan for the week.  This had two advantages.  Firstly, it was reassuring to note that I probably won't need to buy extra food this week.  Secondly, what I have on hand is amply healthy for my purposes.

The next item on the agenda for me was a run.  Five years ago I ran in this area a lot when I lived a few streets away.  The experience hadn't changed: it still felt like playing human Frogger as I dodged pedestrians, cars and obstacles.  I found myself switching back automatically to looking for where the cars would come from, to looking for movement rather than objects, and to running on the road where that was the lesser of two evils.  It was a good way to knock over ten kilometres!

And now?  I've watched an archaeology program on SBS, planned the week ahead and had a shave and shower.  I've written up this post.  Now all that's left is to lay out my suit and whatnot for the morning and look forward to another week of lawyering ahead.  Definitely something to look forward to!

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Drunk, and north of the Yarra

Hi everyone,

Here I am again: living in a share house in Brunswick just off of Nicholson Street.  It's been a very big week since I shared my last post.  Heavens to Murgatroyd: it feels like I have a world of details to share.  The pictures may or may not be embeds, by the way: I'm back to using my superannuated laptop which is refusing to accept pictures from my phone.

I'm a personal injuries lawyer again.  I'm working for a firm on Queen Street opposite the old Land Titles Office.  I like it.  The work feels like I was never away and the people seem like good sorts.  The office is barely a block from the place where I was an Articled Clerk.

For the last week I've been staying at Second Oldest Sister's place in the mid-southeastern suburbs of Melbourne.  That was good, of course, but it's always a little curious living as a house guest.  In any case, today was move-in day, so I packed my toothbrush and whatnot and drove over the Yarra into Carlton, Fitzroy and then Brunswick, where I will be living for probably as long as this job lasts.  I appreciate that "as long as this job lasts" is a fairly grim way to measure time.  After the last few years, do you blame me?  The digs themselves are clean and spacious if a little spartan.  The one chair in my room is broken and there is no armchair (there may be a trip to the op shop in my future).  No matter.  This is a place to sleep and store my stuff.  Palatial it need not be.

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I keep my sunhat, safety glasses and hi-vis clear to see. Do not forget who you are.

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Well, I should have mentioned that I did bring one or two books with me.  When you like to read, it's what you do!

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When you're a book geek, this is what you pack!

Longtime readers (as in, from back in the old "Joy of Sandwiches" days) may recall that I lived around here once before and I remembered that Our Lady Help of Christians is a singularly pretty church.  I went to vigil Mass there tonight and Praise God they do the Mass "straight" there.  That is, no electric guitars. No pop songs.  Just the regular service in its simplicity.  You need nothing more.  It's a quick walk away, so I've clearly found my parish for the duration.

A post shared by Stephen Tuck (@sdtuc2) on

On which note, the office is also only a block away from St Francis' so I've been to lunchtime Mass twice this week as an observation for Lent (since my attempt to give up swearing lasted all of 30 minute)

And now?  I'm a little drunk (alert readers will have spotted the wine cask in one of the photos).  While I've been typing this I've been playing rock of the mid-to-late-1990s.  This wasn't one of the easier times in my life, but it was also one of the most promising. For my sins, I didn't know that at the time.

Now here I am, in 2018, with a failed marriage, a lot of jobs and 40 years of life behind me.  As I said in my last post, I'm liberated from "what people will think".  Now anything - perhaps literally anything - is possible.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Hitting the Barre

Hi everyone,

If we're connected on Facebook you may remember that I recently spent a few days down on the Mornington Peninsula.  I'd picked up some work as a landscaper's labourer.  That's the area I grew up in so it felt good to make a visit.  While I was there I pulled the trigger on one of the components of my 2018 reboot: try a barre class.

Yes, I hear what some among you are saying.  Why would a guy take a barre class?  Have you cashed in your Y chromosome?  And are you a little confused about which bathroom to use?  I don't care.  One of the few perks about turning 40 the other day is that I genuinely don't give a damn what people think about me.  Barre is for women.  So what?  After the last few years' experiences I have no reason to doubt my masculinity.

Image from here

The class I went to was "Barre Attack", run by Diana of Allegro Barre & Mat Pilates.  Barre Attack is described by its founder as
... a low impact, high intensity workout combining the best of ... standing pilates work, short cardio intervals, to dance moves in a ballet class. The class is accessible for everybody and all levels of fitness.
This sums it up pretty soundly, save that I also noticed quite a few yoga-inspired moves in there as well.

The class started out with a significant spell of leg work, with a focus on squats and movement rather than holding fixed positions.  It was at this point that I heard the only actual ballet term of the evening: "a wide second", which I was intrigued to note was the same basic posture as the "horse stance" that I remembred from a long-ago interest in Zen Do Kai karate.  The other thing I found myself remembering was the special world of pain involved in wide-legged squats and the furious shaking that sets into your thigh muscles.

This was followed by work with the theraband, repeatedly pumping the arms against resistance.  The theraband, I noted, offers less to fight against than the resistance band I usually use.  I didn't mind this.  I noted afterwards that my shoulders felt remarkably free after a day on the tools.  The workout also took in work on the core including planking and the standing forward fold from yoga.

Final assessment? Highly recommended.  This particular style of workout is ideally suited for men who are focussed on running and cycling.  They'll benefit from the emphasis on stretched, fluid musculature.  If your focus is more on weights, you'll find this a valuable activity for less intense days.  Allegro in particular would be an excellent place to attend: Diana's training style is welcoming and the class runs smoothly and on track. 

Where: 3/2 Torca Terrace, Mornington 3931
What: Casual attendance at a class is a very reasonable $20.00.

Friday, 9 February 2018

The best shows you're not watching

An oddish link popped up in my Facebook feed today, advising that a television series caled House Husbands is to be discontinued.  Apparently this is a Very Bad Thing, because it will be the bellwether for Ausralian TV being submerged beneath a tide of reality TV and American programming.  Or something.

I don't really have an opinion on the premise, or indeed about the program (I've never seen more than five minutes at a stretch and don't think it'd really be my cup of tea).  But I ask myself whether setting that much store by what happens in Televisionland is a good thing. 

Television drama, it seems to me, has the job of creating on your behalf the pictures that ordinarily form in your brain while reading a novel.  Well and good: it follows that both are decent ways to engage in the storytelling that is a decent whack of human behaviour (it also lets me enjoy things like Family Guy guilt free).

Image shamelessly stolen from here
It strikes me, though, that  both are still ways of experiencing something vicariously, and that's still not the best way to live.  Yes, you don't have to dash off to war as a substitute for reading Homage to Catalonia.  But isn't it better to learn culture by going and talking to people?  Doing things?  Or at least build experience by feeling the sun on your back?

Knocked off from here
Nobody needs to go full-Sideshow Bob here.  But, I think that if we lose too much sleep over local content in books or television or anything else, we're worrying about the wrong thing.