This little corner of cyberspace came about after I went on a rather lovely holiday, and had the time and inclination to write about my adventures and share them via social media–which reminded me that I actually like to write.
This is essentially a personal blog, but will have a regional/South Coast (NSW) focus, because that’s where I live and work. I may sometimes link to my two existing academic blogs, Shapeshifters in Popular Culture and Autism Spectrum Disorders in Higher Education, both of which have been hanging in a kind of frozen stasis not unlike Agent Scully in those pod things (yes, there will be lots of geeky pop culture references), because I’ve been focused on my day job, and writing in order to publish, not perish.
It’s in the air. Our previous Vice Chancellor was farewelled on Friday, and the new one officially began her role this week. Sunday will mark four years I’ve been in this job. My son started practicum this week. My husband is going through a series of “lasts” in his career- notably, this week, his last ever Athletics Carnival. Next Monday, Child the Elder has her last University class ever.
I have come to no great conclusions about these cycles, so apologies if you’re expecting insightful wisdom. Still ruminating. Moreso, perhaps, since Melbourne’s latest de ja lockdown was announced a few hours ago.
On the one hand, time seems to be passing very quickly. On the other, things feel very Groundhog Day. Planning ahead or even just having one or two things in the calendar we might look forward seems almost as inordinately difficult as it was this time last year.
Sydney is relatively open; it is the only city in the world where Hamilton is currently playing. Yet organising a night or two in the city with those family members who want to see seems like it currently requires someone with more diplomatic and logistic skills than this mere mortal.
(I also hold a vague fear that it might feel like homework. The topic matter, understandably, isn’t exactly front and centre in Australian curricula).
Again, this pales into insignificance compared to the inconvenience my friends in Victoria are facing. Again, I have come to no useful conclusions. But in a time where I (ironically) feel too grumpy and out of sorts to make time for all the little routines and cycles that keep me from feeling grumpy and out of sorts, blogging has become my new morning pages.
Happy International Nurses’ Day to all those in that noble profession.
I have enormous respect for nurses. From the unconsciously hilarious Michelle who was my intake nurse when I was having my first baby, who was enthusiastically telling me how much she respected me for being a teacher because it was the “worst job in the world” while testing my bodily excretions; to the fabulous midwives who offered practical advice when I was a newbie Mum; to my neighbour who was also my theatre nurse when I went in for an Emergency D & C and who stuck around past her shift to hold my hand and say comforting things when she realised that what they’d pulled out was actually a tumour; to the nurses who looked after me during chemo; to the ex-student who recognised me from Uni and reintroduced herself when caring for my husband in the local ICU; through to my friends, friends’ kids and ex-students who’ve undertaken the training, I am in awe. These folks know how to show compassion while simultaneously eschewing any and all bullshit.
This morning I started my day via an online link-up to a UOW International Nurses’ Day breakfast and symposium. Our VC designate spoke, as did a program director, and both were impressive and inspiring.
And then I had to pop out of the virtual room and head over the bridge into town for a vaccination.
For me–and, based on the numbers, for many Australians–the path to vaccination has not been easy. My husband and I are both categorised as 1B in the “queue,” owing to our diabetes and other myriad conditions. He works in a high school, so he’s around lots of people completely incapable of “social distancing” every day. One kidult works in retail. None of us is working from home any longer. There’s a certain inherent risk.
Now, I will sheepishly admit that am not as gung-ho about vaccines as most well-educated people of my age and research activity. My brother had febrile convulsions after his childhood vaccinations, which made me very wary. Yes, I know it was the ’70s, and I know things have improved, and I know live viruses are rarely used anymore. But that was kind of a traumatic initiation and my personal threshold for trusting medical people is now also somewhat higher than others’ –see the bit above about cancer. That went undiagnosed for five months by a series of (male) ER doctors, until I finally got referred to a specialist who, you know, listened.
So I’ve been listening to a lot of Coronacast and reading a lot of articles shared by a GP friend and colleague, and I absolutely needed to do that in order to get to a place where I was OK with it all. I booked an appointment. And then three days before my appointment, we had that 9pm presser where the PM announced that folks under 50 shouldn’t (and in short order, in fact couldn’t) get the Astra Zeneca vaccine, which is the predominant vaccine in Australia.
The reason? A 48 year old woman with diabetes had developed blood clots and died. As a 48 year old diabetic woman, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be able to talk anyone around.
The over-50 husband got his first Astra jab, but I had no idea when there’d be a Pfizer jab available. People at work started to get Astra vaccines, and ask me about my (non-existent) one. It was incredibly frustrating to have worked myself into the necessary headspace, only to be told that the wait to proceed was, in practical terms, indefinite.
This week, however, the first big Pfizer-friendly clinic opened in Sydney. And so it was that I booked in to drive myself to and from Homebush, solo. From Nowra. Twice. The few people who knew of this idea thought it was a pretty bad one. And so one helped me find a slot much closer to home.
And so it was that I spent part of my morning on International Nurses’ Day getting a shot in the arm from a really lovely nurse named Tanya.
Best of all, it’s only three weeks between Pfizer shots, so I don’t have to stay primed for long. And I’ll beat my husband to fully vaccinated status. I win!
The spousal unit and I are not long back from a mini-break. I had intended to come back to work after Easter for a day, and then spend a couple of days home with him, but the meetings to be held on the Tuesday after Easter one-by-one disappeared as people realised that it was school holidays and a short week and therefore not a bad time to take leave.
So I joined them. And we booked three nights in Coogee, and organised for Child the Younger to come home and keep an eye on the chooks and the cat. Scout, who spent the entirety of my working from home period under my computer monitors, is currently going through some stuff–as are we all. We lost her litter-mate (or “twin,” as I typically called her) about a month ago. After 15 and a half years, it’s a big adjustment for all of us, but Scout who’d literally never been separated from her a day in her life is really unsettled.
So with Rob and Scout ensconced in the house, we set off. When we were sent the “final” details on entry the night before we left, there was a casual mention of sorry, there’s no parking. Now, we’ve stayed in Coogee before (when I was doing block study at UNSW in my last degree and, prior to that, when the kids were still kids and did NIDA holiday programs), so we knew that searching for street parking could potentially take up the entire time. So we decided to abandon the car in Wollongong and use public transport in Sydney.
I suppose that should have been my first clue.
The second alarming note in the email was the orienteering instructions that came within it and casually mentioned that the entrance to the apartment was via an alleyway between a dive shop and a gym.
After this auspicious start, we headed up the narrow dark alleyway that constantly sprayed and dripped water from possibly unsanitary places, to an intersection with another alleyway where we needed to turn left. This was also helpfully marked.
There was a lot of rubbish and empty boxes to navigate here, but at the end of this alleyway, we turned right into another one. More helpful landmarks were found.
Then we headed over the sewer pipe with a hole in the lid, the smell as good a signal as any that we were nearly there. Past the toilet with overflowing bin, discarded rubber glove and empty Sanokil bin, and up the very narrow, very steep and very uneven stairs to open the lock box and argue with the clearly very expensive “European vacuum door” which required my full body hurled at it to open, and which also came with complex instructions about how to use the keys to lock and unlock the door, which were different depending on whether you were inside or outside.
It was perhaps no surprise that the apartment was also a bit underwhelming. We imagined a couple of blokey blokes organising this as their rental home. There were some expensive/high-end items in the unit, but the finishes were not quite there. My personal favourites were the expensive floor-to-ceiling tiles in the bathroom, which had never had a post-grout clean, offset with a door stopper that was on back-to-front. The floor tiles also seemed expensive, but I washed them twice and the water turned black both times.
The decorating was quietly hilarious. Attention to detail was not really a thing.
Still, the location was, as it said on the box, just steps to local eateries. Technically, the property is on Coogee Bay road, although the labyrinthine alleyways were to be located via nearby Arden St.
The description failed to mention that it was also mere steps above the trendy eateries and therefore a doof-doof soundtrack was provided until 10.30 pm each night (midnight on Saturday). And for consistency, from 10am we could hear the loud bass and encouraging shouting from exercise classes in the gym.
Unfortunately, I’m the one who chose this location, which I may never live down.
Still, we had a good time. From Arden St we only had to cross the road to be at the beach. I followed my Heart Foundation program and went for a walk 2 mornings in a row, and was up and dressing the third when I heard rain bucketing down and thought better of it.
We had lovely meals where ever we went: be it at the Coogee Bay Hotel or the Tropicana for lunch, or evening meals at Jack Horner’s, the RSL and La Spiaggia. The latter came about because Tony announced he felt like mussels, and I googled best mussels in Coogee. La Spiaggia was one of the eateries below the apartment. Despite not having booked, they found us a seat outside and the waiter was polite and attentive. We noticed at least two tables of Italians eating there, which we took as a good sign, and we weren’t disappointed. Tony has been ranking mussels up and down the NSW coast for some years now, and apparently these were “right up there.” I had a grilled seafood plate and was impressed.
The meal ended a bit hurriedly when Tony realised it was almost kick-off time for his fave football team, but we did have time to stop at a bottle-o.
In addition to eating Italian food and remembering our visit to Italy a couple of years back, we took advantage of the timing to go to the Royal Hall of Industries and check out the “Monet and Friends” exhibition. In true Sydney fashion, when we hopped in the cab and I confidently told the driver our destination, he replied, “where’s that?” That makes 100% of Sydney cabbies who’ve asked me for directions despite the fact that I opted for a cab because I’m not from Sydney and didn’t really know where I was going.
(We did not have the same issues with the Uber driver on the way back).
Now I had not much clue as to who Monet was until we visited L’Orangerie in Paris, which was my favourite museum/art gallery (the Louvre was overwhelming; the Musee d’Orsay we spent so long lining up to enter that we didn’t have enough time inside!)
But we loved everything about the exhibition, and regretted not learning about his inspiring gardens in Giverney sooner. That’s become a bucket list item.
The first room of the exhibition was more or less a traditional art gallery set-up, with info and art and timelines on the walls. There was a large installation though that allows you to “walk through” a water lilies painting and stand on his Japanese bridge. A nice older lady offered to take a photo for us, and then we headed into the second room, which was the immersive experience.
It was really cool to see everyone from small children to the elderly engaging with the projections and the quotations and the whole experience was a bit breath-taking.
In the apartment I scribbled a bit, and planned a bit, and over the course of the three days we agreed on where our next holidays might be. We started to form some plans for an overseas adventure, but during the course of the evening our esteemed PM did a Clayton’s-halt of the Astra Zeneca vaccine that I was due to received a couple of days later, and it immediately became evident that this decision, while inarguably the correct one, was also going to significantly slow Australia’s roll. So our dreams have a layer of watching brief, right now.
Things are most decidedly not great in my head at the moment.
There’s a lot going on. It is only ten days to the Relay for Life, a major local fundraising event for the Cancer Council with which I’ve been involved for sixteen years. You can read more about our family’s experience with cancer here. (This account was penned by my daughter last year). In addition to my own diagnosis in 2004, I helped when my Grandpa and Nanna were in end of life stages from a brain tumour and melanoma, respectively. So while it is a great cause and I’m very proud to be involved, Relay season does bring complex emotions in addition to the extra volunteer workload.
This year, we won’t be relaying at the Showground as we usually do. Instead, we’ll be relaying in COVID-safe team bubbles. My workplace is hopping on board and Relaying next Tuesday, March 16. We’ll count our cumulative steps and collect donations and generally have a bit of a laugh together. If you’re interested, you can donate to the cause here. Overall, Nowra is aiming to raise $100K for cancer research, support and advocacy at this one event. personally, I’m hoping we smash that goal. $137K and change would see our cumulative fundrasising tally since the event’s inception pass the $3 million mark, and I don’t want to wait until 2022 to see that milestone reached!
On the official Relay day of March 20, Cafe on Campus is hosting a VIP morning tea for cancer survivors and carers. You have to register for that one, though, so get in quick if you’d like to come along. The RSVP date has been extended to today, March 10.
In addition to all this excitement and colour, our book is entering the final phases. There are about three chapters left to come back or go through final edits, and then I will spend at least one whole day on collating and checking and going through the long-avoided tasks like checking Bibliographies.
As usual, it’s proven a bigger task than anticipated and my limbic system is not happy about it. And because it’s Realy season, I’m acutely aware of any “coping” strategies that are potentially carcinogenic, like drowning my sorrows. And sleep increasingly becomes a problem when stress comes out to play.
All of which is not placing me in the best position for the usual trials and tribulations of the beginning of session! And at the moment, we seem to be having lots of early starts and late finishes, so by the time I get home I’m barely capable of speaking to my poor husband.
He, however, has been an absolute trooper. He’s made me laugh with his stories about the antics of naughty teenagers at school, and this week he even surprised me with flowers and chocolates for International Women’s Day.
Think I’ll keep him, at least. The rest of the stuff on my plate is probably long overdue for review.
I’m exhausted, and the academic year hasn’t even started yet.
It’s about to, though. It’s Orientation Day at UOW-Shoalhaven. There is currently a queue of students waiting outside my door to have their photos taken and their student cards printed. It’s an exciting time for commencing students. And a time of great uncertainty in the Higher Ed sector, as we enter the second year of COVID-impact. We’re all trying not to dwell on that.
So: positives. Last week I traveled to the campuses in Bega and Batemans Bay. It was my first trip in a year. All international and most domestic travel was cancelled for most of last year. and I struggled with being “benched.” It felt very “normal” to be down there again. I was able to talk with our staff face-to-face, which is a dynamic we all need sometimes. But in the evenings, I was all peopled out, and ordered room service and watched the tennis. I’m out of practice at this being social thing.
For my night in Bega I even managed to crack open The Book and do some work on it. This was a case of multitasking, however, since I didn’t want to miss the tennis. Ash Barty crashed out of the women’s quarter finals while we were welcoming the students today, so I might be watching a lot less tennis over the next three or four days than I had thought.
The book is progressing nicely. More than half the chapters have been vetted and formatted and when printed out, it kind of looks like a book. I’m currently wrestling with things like Bibliographies and Notes on Contributors and all the other little bits and pieces it’s easy to forget but which take less dedicated blocks of time than trying to pen, say, an Introduction. Which may or may not be taking ten times longer than I anticipated. But I digress.
It’s a standing joke in my household that Summer is the best time of the year – not because of the weather, but because it’s when Mum is happiest. There are a couple of factors at work here: Christmas and tennis. Oh, and time off with the family, I guess.
My husband finds my delight at watching tennis to be particularly endearing, because he is mad for all sports and I am not. I’m usually the one in the background commentating on the stupidity of the commentators’ comments. Imagine the voice of Blackboard from Mr Squiggle coming out of someone who looks a bit like Mrs Doubtfire these days, and that’s pretty much the mise en scene for most of his sport-watching. Poor thing.
But I actually pay attention to the tennis.
This year, of course, the tennis was delayed and then there was a great deal of unpleasantness, especially in social media, about the international players. I was completely baffled by this, because the main arguments being put forward didn’t hold up to any kind of scrutiny whatsoever. Things I read included “they’re taking the places of Aussies who can’t come home” (they weren’t–they weren’t part of any quota, but were an additional negotiated number of chartered flights and in additional hotels, paid for by Tennis Australia. If anything, as Victorian Premier Dan Andrews pointed out at one stage, having the additional hotels set up and staff trained might allow a loosening of the quota by increasing overall capacity); “I hope they aren’t coming to Sydney” (that was pretty easy to Google, and literally all of the warm-up tournaments except the Adelaide exhibition were moved to Melbourne–and announced–months ago); “they should be tested before they come” (they were –and again on arrival–that’s how our system picked up the new positives. Because it was quite literally working as it should).
But my favourite was a gentleman on social media who decided to get into a stoush with me. His position was, that to make things “fair,” everyone should be quarantined and banned from training.
I pointed out that his suggested solution wouldn’t actually be fair, on a number of counts. First of all, points are accumulated across an entire year, not just a tournament, so people like Ash Barty who chose not to travel earlier in the year but who now have a home advantage and absolutely no need to quarantine, would be unfairly disadvantaged by being forced to quarantine for no apparent reason (on top of already missing two other majors). I can’t imagine how this person would react if he were told he had to self-isolate in hotel quarantine because someone in his company who worked at a different office did, and the company wanted to be “fair.”
On that note, can you imagine telling the likes of Serena Williams or Novak Djokovic that they needed to self-isolate in Adelaide because people on a flight to Melbourne did? I would pay good money to be a fly on the wall for those conversations.
Speaking of Djokovic, he copped a beating in the media for his “entitlement” and “list of demands” to Tennis Australia’s Craig Tiley.
Dude is the Union rep. Taking a list of players’ concerns to their employer. Like many unions reps do, but generally without making the front page.
But to finish the story of the internet troll, I also politely pointed out that elite sportspeople require training and match fitness to avoid injury, so trying to put everyone in a position where they can’t train to be at their best actually isn’t all that “fair” because it puts the overall tournament at risk. Put simply, you need two players per singles match. If you have, say, twice as many athletes pulling out as you usually do, you quickly run the risk of not having two players in each match and therefore eventually being unable to complete all rounds of the tournament. Especially since the number of international players who are here and able to compete is both finite and smaller than usual. There aren’t twenty “journeyman” players hanging around and hoping for a Wild Card or a Lucky Losers’ place. They aren’t even in the country.
He told me that was exactly why he said they should all be banned from training. To increase the number of injuries and the number of forfeited matches is, in his mind, the best, fairest and indeed only course of action.
He then very helpfully told me what I had said, using caps lock, which was odd, because I in fact knew exactly what I had carefully explained. And even if I’d been unsure, I could have just scrolled up, and there it was in black and white! And then he told me I was making an argument that was “academic,” which I gather he thought was an insult. As an actual academic who has coached hundreds if not thousands of students in academic writing, I kind of assume that means my argument was cogent and well-structured.
At that point I stopped replying, but he continued to argue against no one in particular.
Anyway, the Great Tennis Quarantine of 2021 is now over and as of last Friday night, tennis is being played again and most trolls have presumably gone back to offering armchair commentary on other things. Friday night was great. Unfortunately the entire Australian summer of tennis being effectively a whole month late means that this pesky enterprise of holding down a job–and a job that also involves lots of business dinners at this time of year–is interfering with my ability to park myself in front of the telly day and night.
Next week the Open starts and it coincides with my first campus travel in a year. My travels down the coast–which involve every working parent’s dream of staying alone in a motel room–often mean that I get lots of writing done in the evenings. It will be interesting to see the ultimate balance between writing and tennis-watching this time.
Given that I’m back to putting in long Saturdays on writing projects, however, I’m going to try to be OK with whatever that balance works out to be.
Our graduation celebrations were cancelled this year, but the regional campuses decided to still offer an opportunity to have graduation photos taken. UOW-Shoalhaven’s had to be postponed because of the announcement of local COVID sites, but Batemans Bay, Bega, and Southern Highlands had their very busy (but very fun!) photo shoots last week.
I headed up to Moss Vale on Monday to help out and to be a warm prop in the photos with certificates. And since graduating during a global pandemic is a once in a century experience, we took a leaf out of the 2020-COVID-safe-Santa-photos book and decided to offer graduates some photos that commemorate this very strange historical moment. In addition to traditional and family portraits, we swapped the traditional handshake photo for an elbow bump, and then took things a step further with UOW-branded commemorative masks, using tongs to keep 1.5 metres apart while handing over the certificate.
It was a lot of work to safely (ie while masked) assist with gowning of each graduate, keep the groups suitably separated, and to be able to offer personalised nibbles plates for each family group. But the smiles from the students suggest that it was all very much worth it.
We also took the opportunity to take some staff photos, and the leafy campus and grand architecture of the building make for a rather lovely backdrop. I’m really happy with how these shots turned out. Our photographer for the day, Carl, is a proud UOW-Southern Highlands alumnus and now a teacher, who gave up a day during his school holidays to come and capture these snaps for us.
Happy New Year! I know we were all hoping for a magical reboot come midnight New Year’s Eve, but thus far I have to say that with new COVID surges (and strains) and recent political events in the United States, 2021 feels kinda 2020 2.0. I don’t think I’ve been this disappointed since that time Vegemite tried to change Vegemite.
Now, I know I’m not American so I don’t get a horse in this race, but I have an American daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren, so I’ve been there are lot and I care a lot. Also, Washington is the one of my favourite places in the world. I supposed Tokyo was the first city I really fell in love with, when I was there on exchange, but Washington was the first one where I didn’t have connections or reasons for being there but just went because I thought it might be interesting, and then fell head over heels in love with it and rang my husband to announce that I wanted to live there. I even signed up to a website that sends alerts about Washington-based academic jobs. I dragged my daughter and her very bored then-partner all around the Georgetown campus, just so we could walk around it and see it. I marvelled over the architecture of the Capitol and the White House, got lost in the Newseum, grinned like an idiot when we stumbled across the J Edgar Hoover building, and teared up at the Lincoln Memorial. I loved it so much when my son and I visited in September 2016, that I insisted on going back with my daughter in November 2017.
So I was devastated by the news footage coming out of that city last week.
I don’t want to dwell on this, for the sake of the remnants of my sanity, but I had hoped that 2021 would see a return to normality and the possibility of once again travelling “up over.” It’s looking quite unlikely at the moment.
In the meantime, we appear to have a front row seat to a couple of events that are likely to make it into our grandchildren’s history books.
In some ways, not much has changed since I last blogged. My oven, for example, is still dodgy.
In other ways, lots has changed. A manager of one of the campuses I oversee has retired, under the Voluntary Early Retirement Scheme offered by the Uni as a response to the fiscal emergency we’re facing as a result of COVID. Others have also left, and there are further redundancies coming early next year. And my boss is leaving to take up options outside of academia. So the sense of impending mass and ugly change hangs heavy around the place, and off-colour jokes about The Hunger Games abound.
On the home front, we’ve got the Christmas lights up with only minimal mutterings about other family members and weight-pulling.
At work, had a bit of a red letter day on Monday when my PhD student submitted her thesis.
As for the book project: well, I’m behind, but the contributors’ chapters are filtering through, so that’s nice motivation and a bit exciting to see the stack of papers grow steadily more book-like.
In the current maelstrom, celebrating these sorts of wins is difficult. But I think maybe that partaking in Christmas traditions and trying to be suitably “festive” is one of the few things we can do to avoid succumbing to the 2020 malaise more fully.
Once upon a time, I used to like to work some little mildly amusing lines into my 100-word academic bios. These said things like, “and is a mother to two kids, two cats and a couple of very traumatised fish” or “Kimberley holds the view that sleep deprivation isn’t a form of torture, it’s way of life.” I figured that in all likelihood, no one ever read these things, but if someone commented, I’d know they had.
No one ever commented.
Eventually (and quite ironically, in the latter example), I became too tired to even bother attempting humour.
I mention this as I crawl out the other side of a seventeen day marking operation. SEVENTEEN. That’s not counting the Sunday they helpfully told us we could do more “if we chose.”
What we’re talking about here is rearranging my Day Job so that I knock off at 4, then marking onscreen from 4pm-9pm, plus all day Saturdays. Three of ’em. In a row. That’s over a thousand responses to the same question, and you’d better believe that my ability to string together a sentence right about now is badly compromised.
But there is no rest for the wicked. Tomorrow we’re interviewing for a replacement manager, as the farewell festivities for the outgoing one pick up pace. Thanks to COVID, large gatherings aren’t allowed, so there are lots of small sub-farewells. One of them is at my house, which needs to be guest ready by tomorrow night, and kinda isn’t, what with the work hours noted above. But it should be a relaxing night, and my family are voluntarily absenting themselves (well, to be fair; one was never going to be there, another volunteered, so when it got to the third, I just told him he wasn’t welcome!) and then over the next few days the same understanding family are reconvening to start celebrating the Festival of the Husband.
This year is a milestone year, so the Spousal Unit will get a fuss made of him with some beach time and dinners out the weekend before, and then lots of special home-cooked meals the weekend after (which is what he actually asked for; Miss 21 and I do like to show our love via food!), plus a special dinner out on the mid-week actual day. And we’ll use the everyone-home-for–weekend-after-Dad’s-birthday opportunity to set up our annual Christmas display.
So I told Mr 19 that while I know he has work shifts that weekend, I expect Full Elf Mode in between.
Quick as a whip, he retorted: “Fifty per cent. Take it or leave it.”
I did try to negotiate, but he wasn’t having it. I’m not overly worried. Judging by these photos, I reckon he’ll be able to find more Christmas spirit than he currently anticipates. He’s got 37 days.
It’s not like he has a lot of choice, living in our house.