Sunday, 31 March 2013

Big Claims, Little Action

So a few months ago I made some stirring declarations that I was going to start trying chocolate and alcohol again.

It has so far failed to evolve into a concrete plan.

Probably the furthest I've actually gotten is not scooping some foam off my decaf latte when some of the chocolate powder from someone's cappuccino got on it.
Oh and going completely off the chain and dipping my sushi in soy sauce that I haven't cooked to make sure the 6% booze has been neutralised.

I've always thought I had a bit of a contradictory personality in that I feel like I'm both a bit prone to addiction AND completely incapable of it.

I suppose addiction might be the wrong term and incapable probably ain't exactly accurate either.

If there's something I'm enjoying doing (reading) and I'm supposed to be doing something more productive instead (studying/cleaning/talking to flesh and blood people) I am very likely to let myself get carried away and read until 3am even knowing that I will feel like a sleepy idiot at work the next day.

If I want something and I can't muster up a compelling enough argument against it, I tend to let myself have it.
I'm self-indulgent like that.

But proper addiction is when your doctor looks you in the eye and says 'if you don't stop drinking you won't see 40' and you keep drinking anyway because you need to/you can't stop/you can't bear yourself/your life without it/you're sure it won't happen to you/fuck you, that's why.

If the potential cons outweigh the more probable pros I am really good at going cold turkey.

What I don't seem to be good at right now is looking at the statistics/likelihoods and making that gamble that I'm not the 0.005% of people who will be adversely affected by giving it a go.

The other thing that makes it tricky is that being nervous gives me a bit of a funny tummy at times.
So being nervous about trying alcohol and caffeine because they might give me a funny tummy might give me a funny tummy, aka a false positive.

Seeing as my brain is rigged to automatically plot out a range of possible consequences for everything I think about, way too quick to head off at the pass, I generally just sit through its mental powerpoint of 'shit you should consider'.
Even if I can dismiss 95% of it as 'as close to impossible that it makes no mind' considering it and running it through the 'hmm-o-tron' is quicker and ends with less worrying than trying to clamp down on the behaviour entirely.

At the moment I'm balancing on the teeter point of 'how long will it take for the idea to be less nerve-inducing so that I can accurately judge if it is throwing my system out when I have this stuff?' and 'seeing as life has been pretty well fine without this stuff is it worth the fiddling and fussing to get back on it anyway?'

In addition to that I have the previous experience of absence not necessarily causing the heart to make that much of a fuss.

A few years ago I went on the Liver Cleansing Diet with someone else as a sort of moral support.
You gave up dairy, red meat and alcohol for 3 months to allow your liver to 'bounce back to full operational strength after all the terrible strain that is put on it by our less than natural modern diet'. I honestly thought it was a pile of bulltwang but seeing as it wasn't telling you to drink your weight in cucumber water or anything ridiculous I was OK with giving a few things up for a while.

I wasn't really drinking that much alcohol anyway so that wasn't really a strain but cutting out dairy and red meat meant I had to think a bit harder about how to prepare meals and what to have.
And I really like red meat and dairy, they're two of my favourite things!

In any case after three months of abstinence I assumed my first mouthful of beef or cheese or chocolate would have my tastebuds rejoicing, my mouth flooding with joyful saliva and a choir of angels singing above me.
I mean it tasted nice but just in the usual way.
Its absence in my life hadn't made me realise that it was more glorious than mere mortal tastebuds could comprehend fully on a daily basis.

So when I get back to booze and caffeine (chocolate etc) I'm not anticipating a 'oh sweet lord how I've missed you' moment of sensory bliss, just a 'hey I can do what I want without having to double check ingredients, huzzah' which will allow me to relax a bit about food and indulge a bit more.

Eh, I'll get there eventually.
Or I won't.
Whatever, they both work.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Johnny Castaway*

When other people think about getting stranded on a deserted island I assume they're contemplating whether they would end up falling into one of the following familiar categories:
  • Tom Hanks in Castaway
  • Robinson Crusoe
  • The Swiss Family Robinson
  • Lord of the Flies
  • The Admirable Crichton
... or striking out in their own inimitable way (either through extra hardcore survival-at-the-cost-of-all-else behaviour or double extra competence).

I bounce back and forth between the 'I would love to be stranded on a deserted island rather than in this meeting/yes this traffic jam is annoying but you would ascribe less importance to it after being stranded without modern conveniences' curse/blessing thought model; and the 'no but how would you really?' theoretical mindset.

Even if I start with the curse/blessing thought pattern it quickly slips into the theoretical because that's more interesting.

You start with the usual suspects:
  • I'm going to need fresh water (Are there pools or springs on the island? Is it a tropical island that has coconuts I can drink from?)
  • I'm going to need shelter (Are there materials I can easily build with? Are there caves? Are the caves safe or filled with creepy bugs/snakes/bat guano? Is the weather warm enough that I don't need to go crazy with the construction?)
  • I'm going to need food (Are there animals on the island? Would I actually be able to hunt them? If not, how difficult/dangerous would fishing be? Can I safely identify any edible plant life?)

But after that I start getting down into the details, either those that people might not think about or those that people might not think about that much:
  • Would I be eaten alive by friggin' insects?
  • What is the likelihood of heat exhaustion/super sunburn?
  • If there are animals on the island, how many are there? If there are and I'm capable of hunting them, how often should I be eating meat to a) keep myself healthy and b) make sure I don't chomp my way through the population at a non-sustainable rate?
  • Would it be better to avoid land animals and the possibility of worms other contaminants/infestations they might contain and stick to seafood?
  • Are there dangers with the fish (outside of blowfish = bad) that I don't know about?
  • Are any of the plants or fish etc that I'm depending on seasonal?
  • Are the plants I'm eating abundant and/or self-seeders or am I likely to nom my way through the entire lot and then find myself nomless?
  • Is the likelihood of passing vessels dictated by the seasons? (eg, lots of tourists in late spring/summer/early autumn and then nooooooothing through late autumn/winter/early spring)
  • Am I looking at the possibility of tropical storms?
  • Assuming I've washed ashore only with the clothes/accessories I'm wearing am I likely to be able to fashion basic tools or even start a fire?
  • Will I be able to fish with a line (that I'm assuming I make myself) or is my fishing success going to depend on being able to stab fish out of the water?
  • Am I going to get myself investigated and/or sampled by a local shark/predator if I try to swim out to more fish-rich waters?
  • What if - just to flip shit around - I'm stranded on an island in the Northern Hemisphere? We're used to thinking of desert islands as tropical paradises where food grows, the weather ain't too bad, and you have materials to work with. If you're stuck on one of the windswept islands off of Scotland all you will have to work with is grass and maybe shellfish that cling to the rocks. There aren't likely to be trees or animals, probably no fresh water, probably no shelter, swimming to fish would be freezing and you wouldn't be able to see anything in the darker waters... Yeah you'd probably die of exposure, curled up on the grass...
  • If you're on an island where are you aren't going to be immediately starved/frozen/poisoned/chomped to death, will you be able to stay mentally strong and healthy? Or will you be OK until you've got yourself set up and then give into despair once you realise that maybe you won't be discovered/rescued?

I think the desert island was the original 'how would you survive the end of the world?' scenario for kids who grew up before the apocalypse became such a central theme in our entertainment industry.
Whereas kids born after 2000 will be assessing their ability to survive based on the zombie apocalypse, the rise of the machines, contagion-based wipe out of a large portion of the world's population, or alien invasion, the seeds of survival planning were planted in my brain by the idea of being stranded on an island or in the wilderness.
It was then built upon by books like:

Even as a kid you understand that the desert island was about self-sufficiency as there is no society to depend upon, that it would also test your ingenuity and mental resilience.
Are you going to sit on the beach sobbing in the foetal position? Or are you going to at least try to get shit done?
Trying doesn't guarantee survival of course but are you the kind of person who will keep fighting for life or the kind who just waits for someone else to save you?

Anything that prompts you to ask yourself 'how much of this could I do myself?' or 'is there knowledge that I've never bothered to acquire because we can pay for goods and services and have them provided for us?' tends to prove fascinating because at least for me it tends to lead to an assessment of the structure of society and the role that plays in dictating the tools and materials available and lifestyles these things are able to support.

I suppose I could just imagine myself swaying back and forth in a hammock, enjoying a primitive fruit cocktail mixed in a coconut shell but even imaginary relaxed-me would only be able to relax if she knew that she had adequate shelter, water and food.
And would that involve having to store food for the non-fruiting times/winter?
And would that mean trying to form pottery and working out how to pickle food in a way that kept it viable and didn't make it poisonous?
And could you harvest sea-salt in a manner that allowed you to salt fish in a way that preserved it without rendering it nigh on useless?

And... and... and...?

Yeah, I can't really do the 'imagine a kind of non-optional holiday' daydreaming.
But I can consider logistics like a motherhugger.

*When we were kids we had the Johnny Castaway screen saver on our family computer and we spent more time watching the little screen saver man's adventures than we did using the computer. We were easily entertained and always convinced that one day we'd see him do something he'd never done before. Even now if one of us hums in a certain way the other two will know exactly what we're imitating.
Oh look, he's on Youtube! Yep, reeeally easily entertained :-D
In our defence it looks like there are 40 minutes worth of scenes so there would eventually be unseen ones popping up, prompting a flurry of excitement.
PS. Johnny Castaway would have died of dehydration and/or heatstroke and/or scurvy! Look at that island!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

On The Road

I've had a few different experiences with travelling with friends.

The fearless mate who convinced me to go on a working holiday in California at 19 when neither of us had travelled without adult supervision* and once responded to my concerns with 'What's the worst thing that can happen? You die and then you don't have to worry about it' which has stuck with me as a good point ever since then.

The meek mate who was happy to let me plan the travel, the accommodation, the itinerary and only chimed in if there was something in particular she did/didn't want to eat/see/miss.

The loud mates who were mostly concerned that we had a working music system, enough junk food to get us there, and - if I insisted - relevant maps n shit.

The contradictory-mix mate who is spontaneous a lot of the time but also doesn't like to stray too far from our agreed itinerary once we've nutted out a good one.

Travelling with friends can be both awesome and kind of awful.

Being out of your normal environment can let different parts of your personalities come to the surface so that you can get to know entirely different sides of each other -- kind of awesome.

But it also amplifies different habits or behaviours that you may not have been aware of or given much of a damn about before -- kind of awful.

I think when you're travelling with friends you need to sit down before you set off and make sure that you are both on the same page about what you want from the trip.

If they're expecting to party across Europe, fall in with random groups of people that seem to be having a good time, and wash up wherever the tide takes you and you're expecting to cram yourself with pastries and wander through galleries and castles then you are going to be a little bit stumped when you finally touch down at your destination.

Having different travel plans than your friends doesn't mean you can't travel with your friends, you just need to be able to communicate and not fuck up more than the amount of times you can both forgive.

If you have a friendship where you can fly over together, see the shit you're both interested in together, then visit or do the shit you alone are interested in separately, then meet up again for the next leg of the trip then that's excellent.

If you're the kind of person who doesn't like not knowing where your mate is, or alternatively the kind of person who doesn't like having to wait around for someone else to come back from what they've been doing without you, then that kind of jaunt probably isn't for you and you'll either have to make sure you pick a mate who is interested in all the same things you are or compromise and both go to a few things you couldn't give two tugs about so that neither of you misses out.

The most important thing to do is be honest with yourself and each other because otherwise you could end up in a situation where you explode at each other in a way that would be much more dramatic and entertaining that this vague

And before the trip talk to each other and establish the baseline acknowledgement that 'we're probably going to flip out at one point due to hunger/fatigue/irritation/nerves so some kind of get out of jail free card system wouldn't hurt'.

Without it I wouldn't be friends with my fearless mate because she would have put my head through a wall when I was worrying over details and how we were going to be shanked and/or shot because America.
I wouldn't be friends with my meek mate because of the time I went on a rant about her not wanting to walk with me to a particular bridge because she was tired/it was late and I was feeling a bit 'sleep when you're dead, don't waste this trip**!' and got a bit self-righteous about it**.
I wouldn't be friends with my loud mates because they are quite happy to ditch plans for what seems more fun at the time/now that we've seen where we are and what's available.

Summary: think about your expectations, talk to your mate about theirs, run your plans past each other, maybe come up with a 'bitch, you're working my last nerve' safeword for when you're out and about to head off actually having a screaming row.

*Real adults! Proper adults! We weren't actual adults at 19! I sometimes have trouble believing I'm officially an adult now.

**When you're flying between 10 and 22 hours to get to places you tend to try and cram as much into each trip as you can; this is one of the reasons why Australians can sometimes seem a bit over the top as we charge about the place. If we're already paying $$$ to get here and the trip took ### hours then we are going to make the most of it. Stay a month or two months or three rather than a two week trip, run all over the shop like a cat on nip!

***I apologised later and she gave me a bit of a mild telling off.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Lazy Meals

Lazy meals is a very broad category that can span from both ends of the quality spectrum.

Sometimes 'lazy meal' means 'I had some frozen portions of lasagne in the freezer for just this kind of occasion'.
Other times it means 'I put slices of jarlsberg onto salt and vinegar pringles and called it a day'.

There are lazy meals like 'frozen veg fried rice' where you cook up some rice and some frozen veg, add some soy sauce and call it a day*.

There are lazy meals like 'bung some chicken nuggets and some chips on an oven tray and set the timer'.

Some days you don't have time to cook.

Some days you don't have the energy to cook.

Some days you don't have the groceries to cook.

Some days you are feeling too petulant and shitty with the world to cook.
Or to have anything that contains vitamins.
Or to do what anyone tells you to do.
Even if that someone is the part of yourself that knows you're being a bit ridiculous right now.

Lazy meals can be a matter of convenience, a form of comfort food, a trip down memory lane to your student days**, a combination of all three, or just for the hell of it.

This is an awfully philosophical and roundabout way to tell you that I'm eating stellini pasta with butter and shaker parmesan for dinner but, y'know, it's all a matter of perspective.

*Unless you're me, in which case you stir through some grated mozarella and then call it a day.

**If you had them. No judgement if you didn't. Then they'd be your 'first house where I could eat what I wanted and/or was on a tight budget' days.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Roller Derby

A lot of things I've learned in life have come from experience but most of the really important things I've learned have come from watching the people I love get around to things before me and then having to deal with the challenges and realities that follow.

In this circumstance it was my friend Riot and her fella, The Viking, building a house.

The amount of fiddling and decision-making and revising and miscommunication and setbacks and faffing about and hold-ups and casual thoughts about murder-suicide that came up during this process has been fascinating.
And more than a little daunting.

This could all be filed under 'things you were anticipating but didn't really comprehend the importance/extent of'.

One thing I completely knocked all our socks off was how much the interior painting would have cost.
The quotes they were given ran between $12,000 and $16,000+.


Factor in the cost of equipment, of running a business, man hours, paint, travel and that still suggests that painters wake up every morning on silk sheets, have some caviar on bread that has been baked in house by their personal servants and then shower in a bathroom appointed with gold and marble.

Yes, the house is of decent size but it isn't a palace, the rooms are not infinite!

So, of course Riot and The Viking decided that professional painting could go to blazes and that they'd bloody do it themselves!

House painting is one of those 'not really difficult but people are worried about futzing it up or don't have enough time to do it themselves' tasks that have spawned an industry that I'm guessing has run away with itself a bit.
Painting an established house means having to be careful of the moulding, carpet/tiling/flooring and furniture.
Painting in a house that has just been finished and hasn't had any of the carpeting or tiling put down is muuuuuuch easier.
Especially as the builders had done something wrong a little earlier and as an apology had gotten all the ceilings sealed and painted for no extra cost, so yippee! No paint dropping in our eyes as we tried to Michelangelo* the ceiling.

Riot and The Viking declared this weekend to be Painting Weekend, tempted us in with the offer of food and their eternal gratitude.
Considering their regular level of hospitality is pretty friggin' impressive I wasn't going to pass up on a lifetime warranty and also it just sounded like fun.

Picking out clothes ratty enough to paint in was easy enough sadly** and for the most part it was a time-consuming doddle.
They'd bought good quality paint, rollers, brushes and trays, worded us up on how to do this right and set us loose on the house.
The one bit that is annoying and fiddly is 'cutting in' and 'not futzing up the architraves, skirting boards and moulding'.

You'd think that rollers would be able to paint a nice straight line up to the edge of anything that has an edge but the dang things get a bit wishy washy on the edges and don't push down as hard.
The thing they do do is have little fuzzy bits at the end which will trail paint across the underside edge of the moulding that does not need to be painted!
There was a little bit of furtive wiping of surfaces with clean cloths and/or bits of our clothing as we went along but we got it done.

All the communal areas and most of the rooms were getting painted the same shade of lighty beige-y whatever - one of those colours that you can't really describe because... pale - which made the whole process easier for the volunteer army.
The two rooms that were getting fancy different colours were Riot's art room (which was getting a strong aqua colour) and their theatre room (which was getting a deep rich red because they're both mad for Twin Peaks and figure you can pull that shit off in a room that is devoted to having the lights off for most of the time you're in it).
The two fancy rooms were being done at a later date by Riot and The Viking so there was no paint segregation or hardcore roller/brush washing to be done, just a lot of repetitive movements and yelling song lyrics and insults at each other.

By the end of the second day we'd gotten all the coats done in all the parts of the house we were allowed at and could collapse in a 'why did I have to spend so much of my weekend going up and down ladders***' pile.

I think at the end of the process the lessons I learned are as follows:
  • 90-95% of painting is easy as, it's the last 5% that screws you up and has you reaching for the phone book****.
  • Even when you're being careful you will get paint in your hair.
  • The bits you worry will be obviously imperfect you won't even be able to find a few minutes later. The bits that stand out as needing work will be areas you thought were doing fine until you caught sight of them out of the corner of your eye.
  • Riot and The Viking are way less OCD than I am.
  • You are never too old to enjoy wearing overalls.

*It's a verb now, deal with it!

**Note to self, time to throw out some more clothes...

***As an official shorty, standing 5'1" (155 cm) I needed the ladder more than some others!

****Or more likely your computer or smartphone because progress!