Friday, December 28, 2012


Throughout the last few months Amy and I have promised the kids a trampoline for Christmas. The purchase has been far from straightforward as (like all of these things) when you see one you like you then see or read about one you like/want better.

I'd done a fair deal of research into 'safety' watched endless (amusing) videos on Youtube of people jumping off houses onto their trampoline and somersaulting then landing on their backs on concrete yards(!) and dodgy trampolines giving way (mostly via extremely fat jumpers it must be said). A lot of our friends have trampolines - it seems a trampoline in the garden is de rigeur for anyone with a kid of almost any age.

The Springfree trampoline we bought is great fun. It also looks kind of space-agey and is purported by the people who make it, to be the safest trampoline money can buy.

What wasn't so much fun was putting it together. Ivor and I spent a (hot) boxing day assembling the thing. I'd already proudly laid the ground work of paving slabs and had a big delivery of mulch for the trampoline to sit on. Allegedly a trampoline could be assembled in 2 hours and we set ourselves that marker.

I don't know whether we took it apart and reassembled it 3 or maybe 4 times. Certainly the spings were an absolute horror-show to get in. Throughout the assembly you can refer to youtube clips of the jovial Kiwi who invented the thing calmly and easily putting the parts in the right place. We tried repeating what he'd done and then repeating it using different parts of our anatomy then tried crawling under it, lying it on its side pulling at it, pushing the netting - I reached the conclusion that the guy was essentially a liar though I don't know how he faked his videos.

In the end it took Amy's intelligence to help us work out the sequence the springs had to go in (there's hardly a mention of this on the instuctions) and both Ivor and I were sore the next day. Still, the thing gives a great bounce - it's perfect for looking over the neighbours hedge and I'm determined to master a back flip by the end of 2013 - hopefully my ambition won't end with me in traction in hospital. Oh yeah, the kids like it too.

Proudly complete on boxing day

Audrey and Eli putting the Springfree through its paces

Happy Christmas!

We had a busy Christmas spent in the company of Amy's parents (Ivor and Wendy) and then enjoyed the evening with our friend Catherine and Anthony and their two children and Catherine's parents.

It meant we all ate far too much and rolled around the house when we got home at the end of the night.

Audrey had been awake at 4am (but fortunately we got her back to sleep until about 5.30am) but it's remarkable how advanced both Audrey and Eli's 'fine motor skills' are when it comes to unwrapping presents. I tried to persaude them to leave a few presents until after breakfast but to no avail and before long the floor was covered with torn paper and each of them with a pile of toys.

Audrey's 'Skipper and Chelsea' dolls (from Grandma) proved a big hit. Eli enjoyed his olympic football (from Robin) and we had a few games down our (far from Wembley) hallway. Santa chipped in with a Spider man car (why would spider man have - or need a car when he could swing on his web??) and vests and socks for them both.

Both the kids energy and enthusiasm for Christmas has grown exponentially every year. Audrey had delighted counting down the days (via her advent calendar) and it meant that they were both fully revved up when the day actually arrived. Audrey was really disappointed on boxing day when I told her it was another 364 sleeps to Christmas and asked if there was anything she could do to speed things along.

Food left for Rudolf (water and a carrot) and Santa (beer and mince pie)

A resplendent Amy prepares the dinner
A pair of monkeys with a couple of soft toys

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Patrick comes to visit

Our good friend Patrick came to visit us last week on a whirlwind stopover in Australia after 5 weeks travelling around New Zealand.  We headed out to Casuarina Sands for a BBQ and a good old chinwag.  After Trevor and the kids had a dip in the Cotter River we headed off to Mount Stromlo for a coffee and milkshake.  Thanks for bussing it from Sydney to Canberra to see us Patrick!

All smiles at Casuarina Sands

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Lights

No, not our house (un/fortunately) but one of the neighbouring suburbs which has a house decorated with no fewer than 10,000 lights. Pretty poor for Sugarland, Texas - yet pretty impressive for Canberra

They have a box for charity (though realistically one suspects they could just donate the cost of their increased electricity bill and it would amount to more) but nevertheless the kids enjoyed it. Not sure I would if I was a neighbour and had hoards of cars driving up my street to have a gawp.

Audrey's year at pre-school

We were given a lovely CD containing pictures of Audrey's year at pre-school. Next year she embarks on her first year at primary school. Hope you like the video.

Update on Amy

I had scans last week to see if the chemo regime I have been on has been doing what we hoped it would do - i.e. shrink the tumours in my liver/stop further growth.  Unfortunately, this was not the case and the scans showed further progression in my liver.  On the up side, there was no further spread to any other organs.  So back to the drawing board and on to a new chemotherapy regime.  This time it will be weekly.  I'll be scanned after 2-3 months to see what's happening.  Fingers crossed this time this one will work for me!  I had my first round of the new chemo on Tuesday and so far, so good.  No nausea, just the tiredness - but I wonder if that's the drugs or the two children who keep me on the go all day!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What is it with passwords?

In a world seemingly dominated by technology I'm becoming increasingly desparing about passwords.

Every program, from my bank, to my work email, from Facebook, to twitter to Amazon to ebay requires a password to "improve security". Obviously on some of these it makes sense but on many many sites it seems to be just there to cause inconvenience a pointless appendage added to make the site able to lock you out at whim.

When I was a kid I was told I could be anyone I wanted to be. Now they call that identity theft.

It started off easy - I had my bank pin a four character numeric. Change it to your birthday (1403) or something like that. Easy.

Ahh but then you get the door to the office - five numbers and a character followed by #

Then add in Eli's daycare centre who have recently added a keycode to their front door - four more numbers (decided by someone else so you can't change them)

Then your work email password - which changes every month (for added security of course)

Chuck in your online bank and another couple of systems I use regularly at work all of them changing with unnerving frequency.

Over the last couple of years this has been complicated even further. For anyone who cares I used to use the same password for as many of the systems as I could - a short five character code which included a number.

Only now the damn thing has become even more complex. Many passwords now have to be 6 characters or more and include a symbol and an numeric character. Of course you can't have characters than follow on from each other (like abc) or more than 4 numbers. What are these jokers on!

Ok so I go for 7revor! or something like that but then I forget whether it's upper or lower case (which has of course become more and more significant) and then when I'm logged out my secret question asks me what is the name of my favourite vegetable? - I've always liked carrots but then green beans are nice too - I can't remember what I entered when I filled that out in 2005 and thinking about it potatoes are pretty good too, but then of course you're only going to give me two attempts anyway before you lock me out so I've got no chance.

And then the captcha figures that you invariable need to enter a clever 'geeky' word which is mixed up in case some secret automated Chinese system is waiting on tenterhooks to hack into my personal email and see what spam and other pointless emails I've been receiving.

I've now been given password keys which I have to carry round (for my bank) and something like a calculator for another system which I can press and magically another random password appears which I can then use with the memorable password I have already entered (which is "gh25"{fasdthjk52") if you want to know.

It all ends up with you scrawling the passwords down on a post-it note - or in a file on your computer (cleverly disgused by the name passwords.doc) so I can keep up. Surely all of this was a lot simpler when we just had a box with a key.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Welcome to the Juicer

Amy received a juicer as an early Christmas present from her friends Emma and Jo.

We put it through its paces this morning mixing up a brew of celery, carrot (organic of course) and apple. It sounded healthy and tasted lovely. The kids loved dropping the fruit into the juicer and we speculated about how much of cash is now going to be spent on fruit and vegetables to feed the juicer. salary=celery.

Enjoying the juice

Audrey's School Christmas Concert

On Friday we all went along to watch Audrey perform in the school concert (her debut role was a chicken).

'The Magical Christmas Jigsaw' starred the entire school in some role or another, so it was a pretty big undertaking and the hall was packed with parents armed with cameras/iphones to record the special few seconds of their offspring singing/talking.

Audrey did us proud and Eli was absorbed watching throughout the show. Audrey spotted us waving in the crowd at the end and nearly walked off the stage, fortunately being 'saved' by Jess her teacher. We felt it was taking the expression 'break a leg' a bit too literally. There was a nice barbecue in the playground afterwards, even the rain couldn't dampen the post-show party spirits.

before the show practicing her 'clucking'

Ange and Matt's Christmas Party

We were invited to our friends (Ange and Matt) house for a Christmas party. It's becoming a bit of a tradition and the kids loved spending time with their friends. There's always plentiful amounts of food, presents for the kids and Christmas cheer.

Phil and Nina's Cherries

We're lucky that our neighbours love their garden and have two (smallish) cherry trees which this year bore bountiful amounts of fruit.

Nina invited the kids to come and help pick them and as well as bringing home a bowl of delicious cherries both Audrey and Eli ate their fair share along the way.

Here's a couple of pics.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Eclipse over Canberra

A few years ago I watched a full solar eclipse in the UK (while sat on a rib boat in the middle of the English channel) it was a breathtaking experience. The moon covered the sun entirely and as the dark spread from the horizon over our heads we lept to our feet and impulsively cheered it was incredible.

When I heard that there was going to be an eclipse viewable from Canberra I was always going to go.

Audrey has taken to waking up quite early (5.30am-6am) and so being at the top of Mount Stromlo for 7am to view the event was made all the easier for us (!). There were probably about 40-50 others when we reached the summit of nearby Mount Stromlo, I'd heard a scientist from Canberra announcing the impeding eclipse on the radio on the way there so both Audrey and I were pretty excited even before we got there.

There was quite a lot of cloud around, but it moved away to reveal the sun and the moon. Canberra only saw a 62% eclipse, but armed with our cardboard glasses it was still pretty good. Audrey learnt a new word from the scientists and public stood around us "Spectacular!" which she used with great effect to describe the event to  Amy when we got home.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

My Dad

My Dad died last week. He’s not been in the best of health for a little while and died of a heart attack in hospital. It was pretty sudden and I’ve struggled with it, not least as I’m 10,000 miles away and feel a bit helpless.

He was a good, kind (and wise) man and sometimes I hear myself repeating things I know he would say himself. Increasingly, as I get older I also look in the mirror and think I see his face looking back at me.

I’ve been reflecting on things he gave to me. He taught me the difference between right and wrong. My love of football comes from him taking me along at an early age, with my elder brothers, to watch Wolves - in the (now demolished) Waterloo Road Stand and I still treasure the memory of nights spent at Monmore Green watching Wolves speedway - the acrid (but beautiful) smell of methanol hanging in the floodlit air.

Since his death I’ve spent hours lying awake in my bed remembering amongst other things the times when I was a boy that we spent together at Teddesley - fishing for roach and perch. We once caught a big Tench there – a dark golden colour and as big as a baby pig. We lowered it gently back into the lake and watched it flick its tail and swim off into the tranquil water. When we got back to the car to drive home in the fading light we found the car surrounded by a herd of fresian cows and Dad chased them off.

I guess the most important thing he’s given me is the ability to think for myself. As a (v. moody) teenager he always listened to (if not always agreed with) my point of view. He valued friends and told good jokes. I wish he was here so he could tell me just one more.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Justine Clarke and fun in Canberra

Justine Clarke came to Canberra. We're big fans of hers and this time her show was a bit of a 'best of' tour (and also a chance for her to plug her new book). The kids love singing along as it's a big favourite on car journeys. Afterwards we headed into Canberra for a bite to eat with Belinda and Alistair who have also become big fans.
Justine Clark woos Canberra

On the carousel
Putting public art to use

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Extreme Weeding

We've got a patch at the back of our garden where we're planning on placing a trampoline. It sloped a little bit and I was keen to flatten it off. In addition we want to move our vegetable patch to a better spot in the garden and the two things were quite alike in the work that was required.

The problem with Canberra soil is that it's heavy clay. It's good in that there are very few stones and pebbles, but a nightmare to try and dig when the sun has been on it (even for a short time) as it sets hard like a rock. Trying to get a garden fork more than a couple of millimetres into the ground is virtually impossible and I've tried (literally) jumping up and down on a spade to try and bury it, but to little avail.

A few friends have recommended hiring a 'Dingo' It's a small stand on digger. To be honest even if it hadn't been particularly good at earthmoving (which it was) then just paying the money to drive it around the garden would have been money well spent. In a day (together with Amy's Dad Ivor) we managed to clear (and level) a big patch of ground for the trampoline and the area where the veggie patch will go. A big thumbs up to Dingos!

Here's a couple of pics

Ivor gets to work!
Audrey (and Marshmallow) have a go

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Audrey on her bike

We all headed out to Mount Stromlo for a BBQ picnic on Sunday. Here's a short video of Audrey riding her Barbie bike. Eli rode his scooter for a short while, but was more interested in the swings.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Update on Amy

A few weeks ago I was told that my cancer had spread to my liver so I would have to start chemo.  I knew that this would eventually be the road I would have to travel but it was still a shock as I'd hoped to avoid it for a little longer.  I had to delay, by a few days, my first cycle of chemo due to a lung infection.  So, finally had my first round of chemo and, unfortunately, it really hit me for six.  I had terrible nausea and sickness for about 5 days and couldn't eat anything.  Just as I felt like I was getting over the nausea, I could feel the lung infection starting to play up again.  I went to the hospital last Monday (22 Oct) and have only just got out today (Tuesday 30 Oct).  Hopefully the lung infection has cleared.  My blood counts are pretty low still which makes me susceptible to infection so I have to be careful and steer away from public places for a few days.  It's lovely to be back home again.  For some reason, Eli and Audrey thought I had gone to Melbourne (!)  I guess it was better they had that happy thought in their heads rather than me languishing in a hospital bed!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Eli en route to 'Pirate Day'

As well as beard and eye patch his costume also featured a gold earring. He got really into his role as well with a full complement of 'Arrrs' and 'Shiver-me-timbers'

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Another day, another succesful Geocache

After a (rather lengthy) trip to a DIY store I took the kids to find a geocache in Bonythan in the South of Canberra. It's a new suburb and lots of big new houses have sprung up there.

There's a really nice park and lake nearby with a wombat hole in the side of one of the hills (no sign of the poor wombat who is probably shaken up by the appearance of his new neighbours). We found the geocache fairly easily - Audrey was a bit worried when we re-hid it as she wanted to make sure some nearby dog walkers didn't spot us!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bowral and Kiama mini-break

Our lives look likely to be turned upside down a bit in the next few days with Amy's treatment and so we decided to take a mini-break to give ourselves a bit of a breather as well as taking advantage of the public holiday.

We left a rainy Canberra behind and headed north to Bowral. It's a small town and we usually pass by it on our way to Sydney. This time though we decided to pay a visit to the excellent International Cricket Hall of Fame/Bradman Museum.It's a really big centre of all things cricket. If you have even a passing interest in cricket it offers an amazing wealth of information about the origins of the game, some of the (sometimes strange) technicalities, some of the games past and present greats as well as a broader view of the cricketing world.

We stayed a night in a small (and fairly nonedescript) cabin but the kids loved it so much that we decided to continue our holiday and head to the seaside town of Kiama.

Eli and Audrey try and console an unlucky batsman
Inside the cricket 'Hall of Fame'
Dad tries to brainwash son by getting him to listen to video of David Gower

Kiama is famed for its blowhole - an incredible natural occurance which blows a flume of water into the air. We parked right next to it and watched the first few jets of water heading skywards.

Eagerly Audrey and I ran down to a spot nearby the rocks - the wet ground all around us should really have been enough of a clue, but almost immediately a huge wave swept up into the air and drenched both of us (Amy and Eli wisely staying at the top of the hill). I was breathless with laughter but poor Audrey cried and cried and spent the rest of the weekend fearful of almost every wave.

It was a nice sunny day and we had changes of clothes so we soon changed and dried out.

We stayed at a cabin almost right on the beautiful 'Surf Beach' and the next day headed to Illawara Fly - an amazing walk-way through the rainforest. There were plenty of stairs but both Audrey and Eli took them in their stride. It wasn't particularly windy but the walkways swayed in places, but nevertheless offered amazing views out across the forest and to the sea in the distance.

It was 2½ hours drive home from Illawara Fly and both Audrey and Eli slept most of the way in the back of the car - an excellent couple of days break.

Cabin in Bowral

Audrey tries out surfing!

The instant before the wave behind rose into the air and soaked Audrey and I

Drying out on the grass afterwards (note Audrey's new dress)

The Kiama blow-hole from a significantly 'safer' distance

Illawara Fly

Illawara Fly

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Sunny Floriade

Together with Amy's friends Louisa (visiting from Adelaide) and Barbara we enjoyed a sunny public holiday Monday at Floriade Canberra's annual flower festival in Commonwealth Park.

The kids were keen to go as part of the festival includes a small fun-fayre with a bouncey/jumping castle and ferris wheel - it was their second trip there this year - last time they enjoyed the bouncey/jumping castle - this time they went on the spinning cups. Audrey turned down a ride on the more sedate ferris wheel as it was "too slow" - clearly a thrill seeker in the making!

Here's some pictures

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Away with the Faeries

After a few false starts (both the release date and film start was later than we thought) we finally got to watch the eagerly anticipated 'Secret of the Wings' for Audrey's birthday (albeit 6 weeks late)

It's the fourth film in the 'Tinkerbell' series and is a perfect film for 5 year old girls. Audrey was really excited that her friends were coming with her to the cinema and sat transfixed throughout, breaking only to chat to her friend Amber about various parts of the story.

It was actually not a bad film (perhaps I'm becoming desensitised to such things!) as there were assorted jokes which were clearly targetted for grown-ups.The film also covered topics such as global warming, asylum seekers and stem-cell research - well not exactly but in a kind of round-about way.

We ate coloured popcorn (a big hit) and teddy bear biscuits during the show and then retreated to a nearby cafe for Tinkerbell cake and baby-chinos.

Outside Screen 8 enroute to Tinkerbell

Tinkerbell cake

Monday, September 24, 2012

Audrey's Art

Our children (as most kids at this age seem to be) are prolific draw-ers and painters. Audrey knocked this one out the other day though and both Amy and I quite liked it - it's made it onto our fridge door.

Royal Thai Embassy Food and Cultural Festival

Together with our friends Gill and Anthony and their kids Tommy and Chloe we paid our annual homage to the Thai Embassy Food and Cultural Festival in nearby Yarralumla.

They seemed to have more food stalls than ever before and we sat on the grass under a tree and feasted on lovely Thai food (and a couple of bottles of beer), while an overweight female Thai singer serenaded us with a very ropey version of John Lennon's "Imagine".

Part of the day included a 'wishing tree'. It's a strange thing - using a forked stick to get paper stars out of a big tree. The coloured stars were then referenced against a (secret) list revealing your prize - it was a variation on a lucky dip I guess.

Audrey came away with a plastic shoulder bag and pen as her prize - she was pretty happy - meanwhile Eli won a 500g bag of rice. His face was a sight when he received his prize, and despite my protestations the ladies running the stall wouldn't swap it as apparently all the gifts were carefully logged and accounted for.

In the end (and after they noted the size of his bottom lip) they sorted him out with a keyring.

Eli and Audrey (with the 'Wishing Tree' in the background)

Monday, September 17, 2012

CSIRO birthday party

We went along to Audrey and Eli's friend Isobel's party at the weekend held at the CSIRO. It was a well organised party with a chance for the kids to get involved in some of the science activities that take place there as well as meet some of the local wildlife in the form of stick insects and turtles.

The stick insects were surprisingly 'soft' to touch. I think quote of the day goes to one of the kids who when asked 'What do stick insects look like?' replied 'Well they look a bit like preying mantis' which I thought was an excellent reply!

The party was good fun and we headed off with balloons.
Meeting Stick insects
Watching a 3D film (about polymers!)
Eli meets a stick insect

Doctor Audrey

Audrey, Jack and Eli

Eli meets a turtle