So, what happened to June – and July – and …

Events, dear boys and girls, events!

Yes, life happened. Work happened.

Finding a routine where I could write for my blog – that didn’t happen!

That then is my next challenge.

I’ll keep you posted – or is that: I’ll keep posting you?

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So – what happened to May?

You might think from my blog that May did not exist.  That’s not true.  We’ve been very busy.

We’ve had a whirlwind of fun things to make the most of our last 11 days in Australia.

We’ve organised and packed and dealt with all the administration of moving to the other side of the planet.

We’ve said goodbye to Australia as our great adventure came to an end.

We’ve had a week in the sun of the Cook Islands.  (Yes, this bit was less busy and just relaxing!)

We’ve retaken possession of our flat and moved back in.

We’ve re-started subscriptions to mobile phones and broadband and TV and health clubs.

And, I’ve started working again.

So, that’s what happened to May!

Learning different strokes – breaststroke

I have blogged elsewhere about my swimming to get fitter. One benefit of this is that I’ve been able to improve my technique in my three strokes. I thought the things I’ve learnt might interest you. First, what I’ve learnt about breaststroke.

In my other blogs, I’ve explained that the Swimfit programmes, Get Toned and Get Fit, ask swimmers to use their favourite, second favourite and third favourite strokes. My favourite stroke was, and remains, breaststroke. I thought I could swim it quite well. Even so, I noticed improvements.

Firstly, I can’t recommend enough the use of goggles. Ever since I’ve had them I’ve found it much easier to put my face in the water and make a cleaner stroke. As a bonus, they are tinted so they are also good for sun glare at the beach!

Secondly, I used the “training camp” videos on the Swimfit website to learn better techniques.  Find the training camp here.

The highlights were:

  • Unlearn my efforts to pull at the same time with my arms and legs!
  • To achieve the goal of moving forward all the time, learn to let my legs lead the stroke. Then as I close my legs stretch out with my arms so they are then ready to pull in their turn.
  • Focus on lifting my shoulders, rather than my head, out of the water to take a breath. It helps prevent back ache.
  • The one-armed drill made me realise that my stroke was pushing water sideways. As a result I was wasting energy, each arm pushing against the other. I changed the way I was pulling so I was pulling myself forward instead.

During the course of the 30 sessions of the Get Toned programme these improvements meant that I was able to swim much harder using breaststroke than before. I actually got my heart rate 20 points higher than at the start. I’m not sure whether I was faster or not. Towards the beginning I timed a slow length at 40 seconds and a fast one at 30 seconds. Later I did two lengths including a twist turn in 1 minute and 2 seconds so that may be slower!

All in all I feel pleased that I’ve improved even my favourite stroke.

Greet your news with a fanfare

This is another instalment of the occasional series: things about Australia that strike me as odd or different.  Offered in a spirit of affection, not criticism.

In this case, it is the fanfare for ABC radio news.

The ABC is the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.  Like the UK’s BBC, it is known as Auntie in the country and it is the state-funded broadcaster.  Let them tell you more about themselves, here.

But my only point today is that on the radio, particularly on ABC RN, the news is heralded by a trumpet fanfare.

I expect it is useful for signalling to the listener that it is time for the news.  To my ears it sounds, well, like they are blowing their own trumpet!  It has taken me a year to get used to it.

It turns out that the ABC used to use the fanfare for their television news and discontinued it.  You can see the fanfare on YouTube here.  It’s only the first part that is used on the radio

Of course, that makes me think: Sky News and BBC News 24 in the UK both use rousing music to lead into their headlines and main broadcasts.  Funny how things seem different on different media – and in a new country.

I wonder what will strike me as odd when I arrive back home.

Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears – a review

This is a new venture for me: a review of a novel.  Let me know if it interests you or helps you in deciding whether to read the book or not.

The novel is set in NSW, Australia, from the 1920s to the early 1950s.  It is deals with farmers in a world of horses and country shows and high jumping.  The protagonist is a woman from a quite poor background.

And, it is a love story of normal people who are inarticulate and powerless in the face of what happens to them.  I’m not sure I can say more or I may spoil it for you.

I found the book so sad – achingly sad – that I could hardly bear to finish it.

The opening is shocking in its immediate events.  It created an undercurrent for me – as for the protagonist, I guess – what happened to the character who appears briefly in the beginning?  Will we ever know and will the character play a role?  Again, I can’t say too much.  “Spoilers, sweetie!”

You can perhaps see that the book is evocative.  It creates a world that is real and believable.  It constructs a window into a time and a place.

For my part, I was glad it wasn’t a door and that I could stay on the outside, looking in.  I didn’t want to be there.

Maybe I don’t really like great literature.  I like detective stories and lighter novels that have loose-ends-tied-up endings.  Alright, not like real life.  Maybe not giving insight into real life.  But I like them.  I like the escapism of them.

So, my conclusion is: it is an evocative novel and I’m glad I read it.

Here is the publisher’s description for more details.

Learning to meditate III – a taste of Get Some Headspace

A few weeks back I followed up on an old idea and blogged about meditation apps.  That turned out to be a spur to try on the habit of meditation.  After various experiences in February, I read an article about GetSomeHeadspace.com and embarked on their Take Ten taster.  This blog recounts my experiences.

Headspace is “a project designed to demystify meditation”.  The website, which you can find here, is fresh, modern and exciting with a mixture of science and practice.

It’s also, for those of you who are interested in this kind of stuff, a powerful example of content marketing.  They give you the Take Ten taster and they send emails to encourage you and also to offer you discounts on the full year’s subscription.  Very nicely played, Headspace!

You access the programme via the website or via the apps, after you create an account.  As you might imagine, I have the App.  It is on both my iPhone and my iPad.  The App on each iDevice updates itself as you progress.  It is very effective.

There are some cute animations to encourage you to meditate and to stress the key messages like effortlessness and the accessibility of calm and happiness.   The Blue Sky animation is particularly important.  It illustrates that meditation isn’t about achieving anything.  It is about waiting for the clouds to pass to reveal the blue sky that was there all the time.

The Take Ten programme asks you to complete a session a day for ten days and each session takes ten minutes.  You can download the sessions and play them back later or listen to them on-line.  I did very well for the first 8 days, completing a session every day.  Then I had a day that I missed when I went out and had a houseguest as well.  These are my observations:

  • I liked not having to choose which meditation to do every day.  I also liked the relaxed style and the English accent of the guide, Andy Puddicombe.
  • The sessions have a regular format: deep breaths to start; awareness of the body on the chair; scanning the body; counting breaths up to 10 and then starting again; and, finally, letting the mind run free.  I found that I couldn’t remember the sequence without playing a session but that’s OK Andy is always there to guide me!
  • As early as day 6, I noticed that when we got to the part about letting the mind run free, I felt like I was lifting my face up to the stars.  It was lovely.
  • A couple of days I was very tired when I meditated.  My limbs were restless and they hurt.  I think that is tension releasing itself.
  • Paying attention to breathing is common to all the mindfulness meditations I have undertaken.  What I’ve noticed is that I can’t feel the breath.  I very rarely notice things like the breath on the way in being cooler than it is on the way out.  What I notice is the effect of the breath: the up and down of the chest, well, not even that unless I’m lying down; more the expanding of the abdomen or, sometimes, the rib cage, or the lifting of the shoulders.  I think this is fine – it is just how I am – but some meditation guides seem to expect me to do more.  Take Ten didn’t expect that.
  • I like the analogy Andy suggests for thoughts.  He says not to try to stop them but to observe them like traffic passing in front of you when you are on the side of the road.

Anyway, you can tell that I enjoyed the programme because I bought the 365-day programme.  It really doesn’t cost much and I like the format of it.  I’ll keep you updated as I move on to the next programme: Take 15.

Two words for my readers

I just want to say:

Thank you!

It is so gratifying to get the messages that you like my posts or you are following my blog.  It really does mean a lot.  And, it makes me smile!

Feel free to add some comments too: big or small!

I notice that more people seem to notice the blog when I have posted regularly.

You may have noticed that I’ve just had a fortnight hiatus.  We had family visiting and we took the time to play the tourist with them.  I didn’t even manage to publish this post, which was waiting in draft!

Today we are off on a road trip to Country New South Wales.  So, in case the posting dries up a bit – or a lot – this is just to say:

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!