Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Finding Mont Blanc

To be fair, it wasn't as though Mont Blanc was lost.

It was there all the time, I just didn't realise it.

There it is!  The highest peak in the distance
This was despite the fact that there were some pretty obvious hints; at Val d'Isere, here at Les Arcs and in neighbouring La Plagne there are runs named "Mont Blanc".

Mont Blanc forms part of the border between France and Italy, and is also very close to the Swiss border.   But I assumed I was miles away from the European landmark and so wouldn't be able to see it.

After all, I don't expect to see Sydney from Sydney Street in Brisbane.

However, the frequency in which I saw references to the highest peak in the European Union made me suspect that I should be able to see Mont Blanc from here.
Mont Blanc in the distance, taken from a ski run called... Mont Blanc

Given the whole Alps region consists of mountain ranges I thought I would be looking for a needle in a haystack.

I thought the fact that it has perpetual snowfields and glaciers at the top wouldn't really help me on my quest given it's winter and everything around me is white.  Which one of these snow-capped peaks is meant to be Mont Blanc?

Yesterday, I interrogated an innocent lady on the ski lift in my halting French: "Est-ce que le Mont Blanc est ici?", I asked while gesturing wildly at the horizon.

She assured me it was there, but currently obscured by clouds.  No help.

Mont Blanc is actually there in the distance, sticking its peak above the clouds

However, today's sunshine and clear blue skies brought my quest to an end.

Once I reached the top of the mountain this morning, it became VERY obvious that Mont Blanc had been just right there the whole time.
A paraglider drifts across the Alps

It stands head and shoulders above the other peaks of the region.  Apparently, it rises about 4,800 metres above sea level, though it's height varies from year to year depending on the depth of the summit's snow cap.

This means the top of Mont Blanc is still about another 2,000 metres above me, even though I'm already skiing at between 1,600 metres and 3,000 metres above sea level.

My pictures don't really do it justice, but it's pretty amazing to ski in the shadow of this rocky giant.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Aussie spotting

This Australia Day I won't be firing up the barbecue or playing a game of cricket in the park.

Apart from the fact that I've never done either of these things, this year I'm spending the national holiday out of the nation.

That doesn't mean Australia is too far away from my mind though.   It seems you can't move on this planet without tripping over a fellow Australian.

You could be riding on a camel in the middle of the Sahara and still hear the nasal tones of an Australian saying "Gee it's hot".

Like a rash the doctor has prescribed both a cream and tablet for, there's an Australian in every nook and cranny.

Here's seven light-hearted ways to tell if there's an Aussie nearby.  Look around, there's probably one right behind you!

1.  You can hear us before you see us
It's the double whammy of the distinct accent, combined with the louder volume that signals the approach of an Aussie.  I'm not sure what it is, but outside of our own country and in contrast to other languages and accents, we suddenly all sound like Alf and Ailsa from Home and Away.  And we seem to speak louder than other folk, like we're either a little deaf or grew up on a vast sheep property that required us to continually project our voice.

Keeping an eye and ear out for Australians

2.  We make a fashion statement
Even if we've been strangely mute, you can still tell that we're Australian by our attire.  Here are some tell-tale signs: we're the ones wearing stubbies (small shorts for those not in the know), a tshirt and thongs on that 20-hour flight to a northern hemisphere winter; we're wearing an Akubra hat (a form of cowboy hat) even though we work in an office; one of our best items of clothing is a tshirt with an alcohol brand on it (like Jack Daniels or XXXX); or we're wearing a rugby league or AFL football jersey (but don't be fooled, we're not one of the professional players).

3.  We're probably talking about beer, alcohol, getting drunk or having been drunk recently
If you're an alcoholic, I suggest hitching your wagon to a group of travelling Australians.  They're best informed to tell you where the nearest bars are, the beers on offer and the prices.  When you hear us talk about other countries, the availability of alcohol figures highly.  For example, "Thailand was nice with its sunshine and beaches, but you could buy a beer in the 7Eleven!".

We take pictures of alcohol too

4.  We're probably talking about how much something cost
Continuing the last point, we tend to focus on price a bit.  In Asia we're constantly talking in giddy amazement about how little something costs, but in Europe we're talking about how expensive something is.  You'd think we were a nation of currency traders with this keen eye for international monetary movements.  We're not.  We're just cheap.

5.  We're probably telling someone who doesn't care all the other countries we've been to
Just recently I heard a fellow Aussie regaling someone working at the United Nations in Geneva with a list of countries she'd been to.  I'm sure the UN representative was fascinated, having not been in the company of such a well-travelled globe trotter since she stepped out of the UN cafeteria a few minutes earlier.  Just humour us, it takes us a long time to get outside of our own country so we like to tell people... a lot.

This is how many Australians he has seen today

6.  We're probably joking or being sarcastic
While the Brits are known for their whinging, Aussies can also air their fair share of grievances, but tend to do so in a sarcastic, ironic or joking tone so as not to be seen as Debbie Downer.  We are "larrikins" after all so just sit back and ride the giggle train with us.

7.  We're the ones running for duty free
No one sprints off a plane towards a duty free shop quite like Aussies. We look puzzled at other nationalities strolling causally past the discounted alcohol and cigarettes.  We're also confused when other countries don't have massive duty free stores in airports before customs and immigration.  It just doesn't seem right.  It's un-Australian.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

First time Val d'Isere

It seems to go like clockwork each week.

Every Saturday, most of the population of the ski town of Val d'Isere, France, just leaves, replaced by a new batch of snow seekers.

There's the packs of Brits, the Irish lads, French couples and a potpourri of other Europeans - not to mention the odd Aussie or two like me.

As most of the hotels and units only offer seven night stays with a Saturday changeover, literally everyone seems to arrive and depart on the same day.  It's organised chaos on ice.

There's a frantic energy as the new arrivals raid the supermarket, rent their ski gear, secure their lift pass and check out what else the town has to offer.   There's bars, cafes, patisseries, restaurants, shops and even a cinema.

Despite it's international stature, Val d'Isere is relatively compact.  It is literally a one-street town, with all the shops, hotels and unit blocks radiating from the main road that snakes its way along the narrow valley floor.

High on the mountains above the town, hidden out of view, is 300km of ski slopes.  That's what everyone has come for.

This week was my first time at Val d'Isere.  It's also my first time skiing in Europe so I was keen to see how it compared to its counterparts in Japan, Canada and the US.

Here's seven things about Val d'Isere that are good for first-timers like me to know.

1.  Espace Killy's the ticket
You've got a choice of ski lift passes at Val d'Isere.  You can ski just the Val d'Isere area, or the full Espace Killy ski area that takes in Val d'Isere and the nearby Tignes ski resort.  I opted for the Espace Killy pass and found it just the ticket for discovering all the area has to offer.  It's also pretty easy to "accidentally" end up in Tignes because of the way the runs and lifts fall so it's worth having a ticket for this area.

2.  The early-ish bird catches the worm
As with many ski resorts, those who rise for the day's first lifts are rewarded with uncrowded slopes and maybe untouched powder stashes.  In Val d'Isere this is also true, but thankfully lifts don't open until around 9am.  Even so, many skiers and boarders are busy nursing hangovers for the night before or feel it would be unfashionable to make an appearance before 10.30am, so it's worth making the early effort.

3.  Go high to get out of the clouds
You can be down in the village looking up at cloudy skies, but up another 1000m you're basking in sunshine.   Espace Killy's two highest peaks, La Grande Motte (3656m) and Pointe du Montet (3488m), are the places to be when the clouds hug the lower valley.  The snow is also often in better condition up here (apparently they also offer summer skiing here too).

4.  Tres cher?
I had expected Val d'Isere to be expensive.  Not just because I'm travelling on the "Pacific Peso" (Australian Dollar), but also because it's Europe, it's a ski resort and, hey, it's Val d'Isere.  Interestingly I've found options for all budgets - something that can't be said for all ski resorts.  As an indication, you can score a hot chocolate for anywhere between two and six Euros, depending where you are.  And for a bit of fun, you can check out the price tags on some of the ski gear, some of which goes for the same price as a second-hand car!

5.  Piste potluck
Just in case you temporarily forget where you are, a pitstop at one of the many restaurants or cafes on the mountain or in the village brings you back to reality.  From pain au chocolat and gateaux, to brioche suisse, there's no shortage of French treats for a morning snack.  Lunch and dinners are also a feast with some of the most diverse and tastiest food I've ever had at a ski resort.

6.  It's all about the Alps
One thing that surprised me the most about Val d'Isere is that there are no trees on the slopes.  It's truly alpine, high above the natural tree line.  The advantage of this is that you have expansive peak and valley views as you ski wide runs.  The only downside is during cloudy weather, snowy conditions or flat light when you might normally hunt out tree-lined runs to enhance slope definition and visibility.

7.  Getting home in one piece
One thing about having the slopes several hundred metres above the town is that everyone has to eventually come down.  At Val d'Isere, there's only a handful of runs (mostly intermediate or difficult) that run back to the village and, as you can imagine, these are pretty packed at the end of the day.  If you don't want to take part in the equivalent of the grand prix on skis, take one of the ski lifts or gondolas back down.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

What's the matter?

Sometimes I fret about being late.  Other times I feel overwhelmed by all the things I think I need to do. Sometimes I just worry about worrying too much.

It's only when I take a moment to step back that I realise a lot of what I worry about is trivial and unnecessary.

This week, I took that step back in Geneva, Switzerland.  

Apart from the obvious benefit and clarity the comes from standing 14,300km away from home, I found Geneva gave me three good reasons why we shouldn't sweat the small stuff.

I can't claim my Geneva wanderings were an epiphany, but it was a surprising discovery among the city's watches, fondue, chocolate and suits.

Reason 1:  It's all just matter
One of the most fundamental and logical reasons why most of what we worry about doesn't really matter, presented so eloquently at CERN (European Organisation for Nuclear Research), is that we are all just a bunch of matter - or particles to be exact.
CERN asks the big questions
Unglamourously, it seems the particles that make up you and me were the same particles that once made a tree, a bird or rock.  And, not to be morbid, but they will continue to do so when we die.

It also seems there's a fair bit of nothingness between the clumps of particles masquerading themselves as you and I.  As one of CERN's displays proudly proclaims: "we are made of more than 99.9% empty space".  

It's hard to stress too much when you think about yourself like that. 

I'm pretty sure some people are 100%

CERN is delving into finding the answers to some of the universe's big questions.  How did we get here?  What happened after the Big Bang some 13.7 billion years ago?

Almost incomprehensibly, 100m under me is a 27km long loop where particles are being slammed into each other at near light speed.  By using the Large Hadron Collider, scientists are recreating the conditions immediately after the Big Bang when particles started to align themselves to form matter.

CERN's Large Hadron Collider
Above ground, CERN is pretty unimposing, looking more like a 1960s uni campus than international science hub.  However, it has a hefty list of accomplishments geeks and non-geeks can appreciate, from laying the foundations of the World Wide Web to the more recent Higgs boson discovery. 

It's only the dazzling sounds and lights of the Universe of Particles exhibition, inside CERN's wooden Globe of Science and Innovation, that you get that a taste of the exciting, life altering, and high-tech future CERN hints at. 

Universe of Particles

Reason 2:  We're all the same
Occupying grander digs across town is the United Nations.  

Palais des Nations, home of the UN in Geneva
Using the same Palais des Nations as it's predecessor, the League of Nations, this UN complex seems a tangible example that we really are all the same.  In its corridors, suited diplomats from the world's nations clutch files and rush to conferences tackling some of the globe's big issues.  

While I like to think that I'm making the world a better place when I draft a media release on a new pizza topping, I have a sneaky suspicion these people's work is actually making it happen.

The United Nations

The Geneva branch of the UN is headquarters to the World Health Organisation, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and a host of other humanitarian and economic agencies.  There's an air of collaboration and goodwill based on the principles that we're all in this together and that your problems are my problems too.

One of the colourful conference rooms
While the UN is often criticised for its perceived lack of action, our guide reminds us that the UN is not a government and goes not make or enforce laws.  For better or for worse, this means it's only ever going to be as effective as each of its member nations.

Reason 3:  Be grateful you're not worse off
Literally across the road from the UN is the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, highlighting the work of this famous humanitarian organisation.

International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum

It's a modern, experiential museum asking you to undertake The Humanitarian Adventure that explores three themes: Defending Human Dignity, Restoring Family Links, and Reducing Natural Risks.
International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum

In Defending Human Dignity, the 1864 Geneva Convention is displayed, just one of the many texts throughout history that have called for more humanitarian treatment of others.  
Dignity Trampled Underfoot

A doll made by a prisoner of war and given in gratitude to their International Red Cross observer

Navigating through a room of dangling chains leads me to the Restoring Family Links exhibition, including some of the six million index cards used by the International Prisoners-of-War Agency during World War I to register and chart the fate of more than one million displaced people.  

Index cards from the International Prisoners-of-War Agency tracking displaced people

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Why you should write a blog

It was a year ago that I started this blog.

It was a stifling hot day in Brisbane and I had shut myself inside in with the air conditioning on high.

To be honest, I was a little bored.

While I had thought about starting a blog for a while, the time seemed right to actually do it.

The self doubt quickly followed this decision.  Did I don't really have anything interesting to say?   Why would anyone be interested in reading it?  Isn't that a bit self-indulgent?

A year and 102 blog posts later, I've realised the answers to these questions don't really matter.

What I have discovered is that I enjoy writing this blog for a few surprising reasons I didn't expect when I first started.

So if you've ever thought of starting your own blog, here's my five reasons why you should:

1.  "Mirror, mirror on the wall..."
The first big one is creating a space for reflection.

Most of us think too much, but it's scattered, continual thinking that never really gets to a point or resolution.  We just keep spinning our wheels over the same issues and let them consume us.

With a blog, the act of putting your fingers to the keyboard forces you to not only think about what you're thinking, but apply a bit more critical analysis to those thoughts.  What's really going on here? Have I overinflated this?  Why do I feel that way?

Looking at Blogger now, I can see I've written several dozen draft blog posts that I've never published because the original idea never really amounted to anything.  However the act of scribbling those thoughts down was hugely therapeutic.

Having a think: Travelling alone? Or travelling solo?

2.  Popping the pimple
Sometimes blogs are just about getting something off your chest.   It might seem trivial or silly, but the act of venting feels so good.    

A gross analogy I like to use is: pop the pimple and let the healing begin!

And perhaps it spares your family and friends from having to always be on the receiving end of your whinging!

Venting is good: Car dealer theatre

3.  Joining the global conversation
I've been posting links to my blogs on Twitter and have been pleasantly surprised at the supportive blog community out there in cyberspace.   While we tend to associate social media with cyber-bullying and trolls, you'd be surprised at the retweets and messages of support you can receive.

Even Blogger's own statistics reveal unusual insights about who is reading your blog.   Sometimes you're wondering how people in Russia or Mexico came across your blog and what made them read it.

You've shared your thoughts and taken part in the global conversation.

Made my day!

4.  Mental escape.  No passport required.
One of the main reasons I started the blog was to create a space where I would actually take a little bit of time out of each week to reminisce about some of my travels.

My first big overseas trip was in the year 2000 and I've been travelling since.  While I have hard drives full of travel photos, I realised I never really looked at them.  The point of the blog was to force myself to "revisit" some of these memorable destinations and experiences.  

Sometimes when things are busy at work the thought of coming home to write a blog seems onerous (I've tried to make myself write two a week), but when I sit down to do it I really enjoy the escape.

Interestingly, now when I'm travelling I am on the lookout for anything that might make an interesting blog post (but don't consider it a chore or job).  In turn, I think this makes me pay more attention to what's going on around me.

Keeping your travels alive: Sleeping with a clown

5.  Rediscovering the fun of writing
As a kid I was always crafting little written pieces.  Instead of writing letters, I would develop little newsletters and magazines to send to relatives about what I was up to (I'm not saying they were interesting by the way).  I even had many attempts at writing a Doctor Who script - all terrible in hindsight but great fun at the time.  

Ironically, when I became a journalist and then moved into communications, I temporarily lost the love for writing.  It had become a "work thing".   This blog has created a new avenue for writing and expression, and it's surprisingly satisfying.

Enjoying writing: Into Flanders fields

Final thought...
I would like to thank all those who have taken time out of their day to read some of my blog posts during the past year.

Initially I thought the only person who would be reading my blog would be my Mum (I envisaged her jumping on a computer several times a day to increase my page views).  But it seems others in Australia and around the world have read it as well as my Mum.  

I sincerely get a real buzz from any comments, retweets, likes and shares, so thank you for that!

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Car dealer theatre

It's the timeless, apparently "must-see" show of all time... for those buying a car.

It's the show put on by your local car salesman as you make the step towards buying a new car.

It's part pantomime and part comedy, but has sad and depressing undertones.

It's a show my friend and I have unwittingly and unwillingly received front row seats for as we separately look at replacing our Hyundai Excels.   Mine is 15 years old and hers is 17 years old.

Sadly, not our actual cars

To be fair, both cars are still going strongly.  They may not have had the easiest or most pampered of lives, but to their credit the mechanical bits still move in the right direction (even if some of the bits of plastic fell off shortly after the Sydney Olympics).

While I'm sure they're are trustworthy and reputable car salespeople out there (contact me!), unfortunately we've both encountered a series of people who seem to be D-grade actors performing a tired and cliched play.

Getting to your dream car is harder than you think

Here's 10 scenes of the play you're most likely to encounter when you find yourself in car dealer theatre.

Scene 1:  The vague phone calls
Car dealers seem desperate to get you physically into the dealership rather than discuss anything on the phone beforehand.  Their websites are also unhelpfully vague about little things like price, forcing you to make direct contact.  They must feel like they Svengali-like powers are more effective in the flesh. Simple questions like "do you have this colour in stock?" or "what's the price?" are met with a verbal dance that makes you wonder if you've accidentally rung an old person's home rather than the car dealership.  By the end of the phone call, they've been sufficiently unknowledgeable that you doubt they could spell car let along sell you one.

You could pull your hair out dealing with car salesmen

Scene 2:  "This is the last of this colour / last of this model"
I was boldly told that the car that I wanted was no longer made and certainly not available in that colour "ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD" (so I had better take the one they had conveniently located their show room).   I didn't buy that car, but strangely this car maker continues to advertise the model and colour I was after on national television.  Could it be that the salesman lied?

Scene 3:  A focus on useless features you'll never use
My recent favourite was a small three-door car which had air conditioning in the glove box "to keep your sandwiches cool", three modes of steering (this isn't a race car) and two cigarette lighters so you can "run your laptop and mobile phone at the same time" (hell, why not my dryer as well).   This reminded me of the salesman who sold me my current Hyundai Excel in 1998 who assured me the boot was big enough for me to fit "a set of golf clubs and my girlfriend at the same time".  To be fair, I've never had either of these so have never been able to put this claim to the test.
If it rained more I would buy a canoe instead

Scene 4:  The magic jotting pad 
This masterpiece of physical drama is played out after the test drive when he sits you down at a table and starts talking figures.   On the jotting pad he writes a ridiculously high figure, usually $6,000 to $10,000 more than the advertised price.  He then works his way down the page crossing out numbers and writing new ones because of "this month's special", "you look like a nice person", "to be honest sales have been slow this month" and various other real or mythical factors.   This is doubt aimed at making you feel like your getting your getting a great deal when really they're just "discounting" to the advertised price.

Scene 5:  "I just have to check the computer" / "I just have to check with my manager"
Again designed to make you feel that you might be getting some special, out-of-the ordinary deal requiring "divine intervention" from the dealership manager or the computer.  I imagine the "heated" discussion going on in the manager's office is about the office footy-tipping competition, while a game of Solitaire is underway on the computer he's concentrating so hard on.

Maybe buying a bike would be easier

Scene 6:  "What price would make you happy?"
When the conversation has dragged on for a little longer than the salesman would like, he might ask this direct question.  It's quite bold and also unfair given your question "what's your best deal?" usually goes unanswered.  What price would make me happy?  A new car for $5, but I'm guessing that's not going to happen.  So the dance continues.  One salesman assured me "every man has his price".  I wasn't sure if he was offering me a car or sex in return for money at this stage.

Scene 7:  Everything has to happen TODAY 
As the agent tries to apply more pressure he starts making references to how this "deal" he is proposing is only on the table today for various dubious reasons like "someone else is also looking at that car" and "the price goes up soon".  I appreciate their adoption of the "seize the day" mantra, but I'm not buying a bottle of milk for $4.  I'm buying a car worth several thousands of dollars that I'm expecting to last several years.  I'd like to take more than 30 minutes to ponder the decision.  Surely if your car is that good my decision to buy will be the same this time tomorrow?

It's enough to do your head in

Scene 8:  The upsell
I get the distinct impression that these days you are buying the shell of the car and that everything else is an "additional extra".  Even things that you thought would probably be standard, like mud flaps, seems to be an extra for an extra fee.  It makes you wonder if I also have to pay extra for an engine or steering wheel.

Scene 9:  Appeal to manhood / bamboozaling "the ladies" / sale of the century
This is the part where you wonder if the show room is actually a portal back to the 1950s.   For men, the salesman implies that your manhood would be in question if you didn't take a particular model or feature.  For the ladies, they get the sexist remarks akin to "don't worry your pretty head about that, but it's called a windscreen".  Both sexes get to enjoy the salesman's look of sheer disbelief and comments like "you would be certifiably crazy if you walked away from this deal today" should you be giving any indication that you didn't think this was the sale of the century.
For guys, just remember your manhood is in question

Scene 10:  Introductions to everyone in the office
When I walked into one dealership to test drive a particular model, apart from the salesman himself, I was introduced to the finance manager, dealership manager, the customer care manager, the workshop manager and a whole host of characters.   I wondered if I was going to get invited to the office Christmas party (I wasn't).  It seems the single act of buying a car has been divided among many to give the sense that each is so important that it requires special attention.  So once you've decided on the car, you're passed to another "discuss extras", before being passed to another to "discuss finance" and on it goes.  I'm a bit sad I didn't get to meet the cleaner, probably someone who has had the most interaction with the car I'm interested in buying.

I'm afraid I've only discussed a few of the many key scenes from car dealer theatre.  I'm sure there's many more.

Do you have any to add from the song and dance productions you've seen?

Sunday, 5 January 2014

The retirement dry run

The Seekers would say "The Carnival is Over", but most us would ditch the metaphor for such a grave matter and simply say we head back to work tomorrow.

This Christmas and New Year's break has been a little bit longer than usual for me as my workplace (like quite a few others) decided not to reopen until 6 January.

Quite simply, the past 12 days have been magical and have reaffirmed my belief that I'm ready for retirement.

While technically I don't hit retirement age for another three decades or so (the goal posts keep changing), I've sometimes wondered if I would be completely bored out of my brains once I stopped work.

Would I be one of those people who have a mental and physical breakdown, and rue the day I ever left work?

Thankfully this did not occur during the past 12 days.

You see I've treated the past week or so like a "retirement dry run", filling my days with how I envisage I would spend my fun-filled permanent retirement.

1.  "Playing" with the neighbours
Well, sort of. You see there's this guy downstairs who stands outside smoking and drinking at night, who then just flicks the cigarette butts and bottle tops onto the communal lawn.   I've been collecting these each morning and throwing them down onto his patio.   It's a fun game that's played out each day. Sadly, this morning there wasn't anything on the lawn.  I guess it's game over and I win.  I might have to move back to hosing kids off the front lawn when school resumes.

2.  Painting things that weren't in desperate need of painting
During the past week or so I've repainted the interior of my unit.  You say "white", I say "Lexicon Quarter".  Don't know if I will ever be able to call myself a handyman, but in retirement I'm sure I would find lots of other things that really don't need fixing that I would probably try to fix anyway.
Not me painting

3.  Working out ways to put more Ikea into my home
Did you know there's a wardrobe planning tool on the Ikea website?  It's similar to the kitchen planning tool.  Get onto it.
Would I kayak in retirement?  Does Ikea make them?

4.  Cutting down and poisoning things
Every evening I like to wander into the garden and cut down or poison things.  I like to call it pruning but others think it's a little more heavy handed.  I'm sure those barren stems and trunks will sprout again.
Not what my garden looks like

5.  Investigating the wonderful world of 3M products
You know those removable ones that you use to hang pictures on the wall?  After ripping everything off the walls to paint them, I then needed to put everything back up again.  The folks at 3M have really lifted their game.
Probably a bit of this too in retirement

6.  Befriending Bunnings' staff
I've become quite the daily visitor to my local Bunnings store, not just for the aforementioned painting and 3M supplies, but other random stuff too.  The check-out lady and I are now on a "knowing smile" basis.  Yesterday she said: "Aren't you the guy who was in here the other day with the colourful sneakers?".   I was.   To clarify, the sneakers were blue but I can understand how anyone entering Bunnings with footwear on is bound to attract attention.

7.  Planning holidays I may never take
I like to not only plan holidays I'm going to take in the next few months, but also ones I may never end up taking at all.   I like to call them spare itineraries.  Should a holiday "fall over" for one reason or another, there's an understudy ready to step in.

Always looking for a cool spot to rest
8.  Listening to the wireless
Not the John Laws' "blacks, gays and working women are killing Australia" kind of radio, but I've had BBC Radio 2 streaming online while I've been painting.  I know all the regular hosts now like treasured pen pals and enjoy listening to the UK weather forecasts (raining and cold) and traffic updates (the M4 is busy today).

The bottom line:
People talk about being flood ready or fire ready, but are you retirement ready?  I am.