Day 4 on the Great Ocean Walk – Castle Cove, Johanna Beach et al

Another extreme weather day so hiking is suspended due to high fire danger. It’s already hot at 5.30am so we decide to watch the sun rise at Castle Cove.

Castle Cove is where we were supposed to have finished the previous day. Turns out the surfers are more interesting than the sunrise. It’s very pretty though, and a bevy of humans come and go as they check out the surf from our lookout.

Later we head to Johanna Beach for breakfast and arrive to find the main camping ground overflowing. A couple of young ladies say they’d booked and paid for the campsite, only to arrive and find someone else was in it. Personally I’d have chucked them out but they were too polite and found another site which was windy and unpleasant.

We find The Perfect Spot at the hiker’s-only camping area with splendid views over the beach, a wooden shelter, toilets (with a view) and picnic tables and it’s out of the hot northerly wind. When you’re hiking, that’s perfection.

Fooling around at Johanna Beach

After scoffing muesli, yoghurt, berries and coconut milk, we debate our next move. The thought of returning to the hot box cabin at Bimbi Park is seriously unappealing, so we decide to visit the 12 Apostles, even though we weren’t planning to see this until the last day.

It’s extraordinarily hot, my wet towel around the neck comes to the rescue again.

The centre at the 12 Apostles is sheer tourist rip-off territory … A$3.95 for a bottle of water. There’s a queue of people buying, although there’s nowhere else to buy foodstuffs around here. They really need an Information Centre and reasonably priced cafe.

Even though I’ve seen the 12 Apostles in recent years, it’s still a thrill to see it again, particularly as the air is clear and the sky a beautiful blue.

Section of the 12 Apostles

There’s hundreds and hundreds of tourists from all nations. After the serenity of the bush, it’s hard to reconcile the crush of humanity here. We enjoy strolling about in our own time – it’s extraordinarily beautiful when that sky is so blue.

At Port Campbell, we check out the beach and shops. It’s a lovely spot, well worth a visit. The lifeguard suggests we visit Timboon for icecream … “the best in the country” he pronounces. So we do. $8 for 2 scoops (nothing is reasonably priced where tourists wander). Yes, nice icecream but for me it’s no different to anywhere else. Still, in 40oC heat, it’s bliss to sit in air conditioning and slurp.

Daryle, being the owner of a boutique brewery, feels a visit to the whiskey distillery is in order. Eventually we depart the distillery with a bottle of limoncello (go figure), and head back to Port Campbell where a swim has become a necessity. No swimsuits or towels on-board so we make do with underwear and the power of drip dry.

When we get back to Bimbi Park, the power is out so we munch cheese and wine on a table outside the kitchen. The rubbish smell is fairly ghastly and the flies are even worse, but it beats being inside. The owner of Bimbi delivers a fan to our hot box so that helps move the stale hot air around. Hopefully a better night’s sleep will ensue.

Read about Day 5 …

Day 3 on the Great Ocean Walk – Cape Otway to Aire River

One of Victoria’s stifling hot 40oC days begins. Our plan is to hike about 20km from Cape Otway lighthouse to Castle Cove, but the lethal north wind may stuff that up.

After the usual time spent getting one car to the end point (Castle Cove) and the other to the start point (Cape Otway), four of us start our hike around 08:30. Daryle went back to the campground and picked up our Irish pals to save them a 6km hike before they’ve even started. The plan is they’ll catch us up. For such a hot day, 08:30 is much too late but it’s difficult to get ourselves going in the morning.

THE START

Fortunately the start of the walk is through ti-tree which provides a good bit of shade. Today I’ve added heavier items to my backpack to see how it handles – no problems at any time so I’m thrilled.

At the start of the hike, there’s an old cemetery to peruse. Here we chat to an older couple on an organised self-guided tour. They’ve hiked a lot in their lives, despite a list of health issues. Other than our group and them, we see no-one else on the track today.

Cape Otway lighthouse cemetery – many died quite young

Daryle and the others quickly catch us up. Walking above Station Beach, we take some stunning pics at a high point. It’s incredibly hot so we’re conscious to keep up our liquids. A hot tip – take a wet towel and drape around your neck. It’s incredible how it keeps you cool.

We spot a few interesting bugs and beetles along the path but other than that, no critters or birds are abounding in this heat.

Approaching Station Beach – stunning views

OH BUOY

Along the way, we spot an abandoned buoy by the path. I rather coveted it, but there was no way I was going to carry it in the heat. Daryle, the most adventurous and crazy of us all, decides it’s just the thing for her micro-brewery so she ties it onto her backpack and there it remains bouncing about for the rest of the day.

Oh buoy oh buoy

On Station Beach, Jen finds a welcome spot in the shade and a late morning tea erupts – plums, shortbread, nuts and sweet treats. Daryle carries a trangier cooker (along with the coveted buoy) and she’s our Chief Water Boiler at every stop. At this point, we have quiet concerns that James and Aiofe don’t have enough water for this very hot day because they don’t have enough to spare for a cuppa – something they both love.

My boots still cramp the toes so they’re promptly removed and on go my hiking sandals – oh sweet relief. We ask the older couple to join us, but they turn us down and continue walking.

ONWARDS

The north wind blows fiercely by this stage, and a walk into the wind along the steep sloping beach is far from pleasant. If there’s one bit of our hike I’d happily cut out, this would be it. Aiofe is particularly suffering with the heat and it’s not going to get better.

Death on the beach

At the end of the beach, we climb up into a fairly shady overhang of trees. We gave Rainbow Falls a miss figuring no rain = no water = no waterfall.

By early afternoon, everyone is struggling with the heat. My wet towel is a saviour but others are dizzy and nauseous at times, no matter how much water we imbibe. I can safely say we all look wrecked.

SPOTTING THE RIVER

On and on we trudge, until eventually Aire River is spotted sparkling in the distance. It’s a beautiful view but all anyone can think about is putting bodily parts into that cool wet stuff.

The downhill run to the river is pure sand, made molten hot from the heat. While my sandals are great quality, they aren’t good enough to withstand molten. Daryle also wore sandals so we ended up literally jogging down, backpacks and buoys rocketing around on our hips, feet burning all the way.

ARRIVAL AT AIRE RIVER

Feet straight in the water. We wait for the others to catch up, while James and Aoife head across the bridge to a pier on the other side. And there they sit. In the sun. We’ve explained to them that with their fair skins, they need to stay out of the sun as much as possible. Aoife already has a nasty dose of sunburn, and she’s burning up in today’s heat. But they dangle their feet over the side of the pier into the water and that seems to create happiness. Who are we to argue!

Oh heaven …

In due course, everyone’s sizzling feet are adequately cool and across the bridge to the camping ground we tramp. Chatting with the helpful chap cleaning the facilities, he advises we’d be right royally stupid to continue – the next section runs into a valley and without the sea breeze, the temp will be over 50oC. He said we wouldn’t be able to drink enough water in the heat to stop heatstroke and would potentially require rescue by helicopter (tempting, if it didn’t cost so much).

We’d already decided it’d be irresponsible to continue, so that settles any concerns about missing the next section because, after all, we did want to walk the whole damned thing. Hiking the whole way is now out the window and up the creek.

By this point the older couple, who should’ve arrived shortly after us, still haven’t turned up. The tour operator arrives in a van and we tell him of our concern. We find out next day that he walked an hour back up the track to discover them overheated, disoriented, stressed and struggling. The heat can be unforgiving, even with experienced hikers.

Our new facility-cleaning-friend drives Aileen to Castle Cove to pick up the car, and drops off James and Aiofe. While that happens, the rest of us enjoy a cool swim in the river with its muddy squishy bottom, but the temperature is magnificent and one feels vaguely alive again.

A late picnic lunch consists of melted cheese, melted hummus, hot tomatoes, hotter carrot sticks, and warm crackers. Finally some bird life appears – blue wrens, pukekos (purple swamp hens), white herons, shags and the usual motley array of birds you see everywhere.

Gear dumped, straight to the lake

END OF DAY

Back at Bimbi Park, we enjoy a three minute shower (all you get for $1), and eventually tootle into Apollo Bay for fish and chips. Don’t buy them from the boat ramp folks – they weren’t good. A poor night’s sleep for all in the stifling hot and airless cabin.

P.S. A text from James later in the day advised they hitchhiked further north and would hike a little more before heading into South Australia. Bet they have a bazillion stories to tell at the end of this!

Read about Day 4 …

Day 2 on the Great Ocean Walk – Blanket Bay to Cape Otway

The temperature’s warming up for our 13km hike today, starting from the Blanket Bay campground and finishing at the Cape Otway lighthouse.

One car is dropped off at Cape Otway parking area, then we drive to Blanket Bay, dropping off bandaids and socks to Aoife and James. They’ve had a rough night. No sleeping mats = cold and uncomfortable + no cooking facilities = no hot food or drinks. Kinda adds up to no fun.

Map showing Blanket Bay to Cape Otway
Blanket Bay to Cape Otway lighthouse map

At 09:45, the Tramping Sisters head off in jaunty fashion, enjoying spectacular scenery and some wonderful creatures en route – gang-gang cockatoos, yellow-tailed black cockatoos, koalas, a (very small) snake, loads of insects and butterflies, and unfortunately too many biting March flies.

Lots of stairs, wooden paths and hills today. Stopped at Parker Inlet for a snack around 11:30, before hiking the never-ending haul up Parker Hill. There’s steps all the way up and you have to admire the people who built it because it’s a seriously steep hill.

Aoife and James caught up to us earlier, so we rested together at Parker Inlet before they took off at a fast clip. They want to go much further than we do. The Tramping Sisters, fortunately, do not do fast clips. A school group trudged past us with full backpacks – the last straggle of students walked like life sucked and they’d do anything to find a comfy chair and spend their lives on a mobile device.

Later we lunch at Crayfish Bay and Daryle, Kim and I risk life and limb jumping in for a swim. Let’s just say the water temp was very clear and fresh but we weren’t in for very long. Not a soul around – blissful.

WHAT’S HURTING TODAY?

My toes aren’t too good, I know I’m going to lose a few toenails out of this and I can feel little blisters forming on the edge of my big toe pad. How do I get these boots to work? Are they too small?

Kim’s backpack is considerably lighter but it’s no more comfortable for the lesser load. Fortunately everyone else is hunky dory.

REACHING THE LIGHTHOUSE

Much later, just as we reach our Use By date, the lighthouse is spotted in the distance. I change into walking sandals and the relief is immediate. I can wiggle my toes!

We thought we’d visit the lighthouse but entry is a ridiculous $20pp. You cannot visit the cafe without forking out the entry fee either. Oh I don’t think so – that’s a large rip-off and very disappointing. Everyone was hanging out for a scone with jam and cream, so we settle for an icecream instead.

Aiofe and James are staying at the same campground as us. Their plan to go further was thwarted by exhaustion plus the need for a shower, a decent night’s sleep and a hot meal. There’s a wide demographic staying at Bimbi Park – mostly Chinese/Asian but also Americans, Germans, French, English and our Irish pals.

Notes:

  1. If this was a Camino where you sleep with 458 others, I figure it’d be very disruptive. Snoring, moaning, teeth grinding, bad smells and trips to the toilet (not that we girls did any of these things because we’re pure and hygienic). But a nice hotel room does start looking good …
  2. When it’s hot weather and you’re in a little bunk room where space is at a premium, the air doesn’t circulate – it stays hot and stuffy. We
    eventually borrowed a fan which made a difference.
  3. To keep cool on these hot nights, drape a wet towel over your body and keep a bottle of water handy to re-wet it. Saved me from insanity a couple of nights running.

Read more about Day 3 …

Day 1 on the Great Ocean Walk – Apollo Bay to Blanket Bay

A huge day involving a 23km hike and we’ve got to get the tides right – there’s a river crossing to take into account. It’s a beautiful day – 24oC and perfect for hiking/tramping. 

GETTING GOING

We’re supposed to start the hike around 9am. In reality, by the time we get up, do the ablution thing, have breakfast, sort equipment and backpacks, drop a car off at the end point and get coffees for the addicted, we start the hike around 10:30.

Departing from the Apollo Bay Information Centre, we soon reach the Marengo camping ground – to the amusement of a camper lounging outside her caravan.

“Wow” she says “how long have you been hiking”. “Oh, about half an hour” I reply. She was quite deflated – obviously hasn’t come across five women in their 50s trying to get going in the morning.

Around this area, the scenery is incredibly beautiful. You walk along flat beaches and rocky outcrops rich in seashells. If you hunt hard enough, there’s also sea glass to be found.

We all love the morning – climbing, jumping and clambering over rocks, hunting for beach treasure, marvelling at weird and wonderful rock formations, admiring (OK, maybe a little envying) the stunning homes dotted around, enjoying the sunshine and blue skies.

However, despite the attractions, we need to keep going because of a river crossing at Elliot Ridge. It has to be crossed at low tide. We imagine taking off our boots, holding our backpacks above our heads, struggling against the tide, sinking into the sand, stepping on a stingray or toadfish, possibly falling and getting everything wet. I even have my swimsuit in case the water is deep, and debated bringing a rope to ferry backpacks from one side to the other.

We arrive at Elliot Ridge and what a crushing disappointment. We forgot … there’s a drought in progress so no water at all flowing down the river to the sea. It’s merely a huge pile of rocks – not a skerrick of sand, stingrays or toadfish. Not even the hope of high tide reaching up that far.

What a non-event. We climb over the rocks to the other side and that was that. Pah!

The ‘flowing’ river at Elliot Ridge …

WHO’S HAVING TROUBLE?

Kim’s backpack was donated by a kind male friend and it’s a good size. However, males don’t tend to have breasts (OK, so I know a few males with breasts but this is due to overweightedness). A male backpack has a breast strap right across the nipples whereas female straps are located higher up the chest. If you’ve got breasts, a man’s backpack just plain doesn’t work.

So while Kim can get the backpack to sit on her hips, she can’t do up the breast strap to pull the backpack away from her shoulders. If she tries, she ends up with her breasts cut in half. As a result, her shoulders are aching.

As for me, my boots are giving the toes some serious pain.  I’ve laced the boots up nice and tight to prevent movement and strapped up my toes for a cushioning effect, but it’s not working.  I tolerate the pain because I’m not sure how to resolve, other than buying another pair of expensive hiking boots.  (In case you’re not aware, shops of the useful kind are in exceedingly short supply on the Great Ocean Road).

AFTER THE RIVER CROSSING …

Once our epic river crossing, we begin a 200m climb up a steep path.  It’s REALLY steep.  My backpack is proving to be a dream (brand new Osprey) and I bounce up the path, as do Jen, Aileen and Daryle.

Climb up – doesn’t look too bad from this angle though!

However Kim, with her badly fitting backpack and feeling unwell, struggles with the climb.  She and I stop, sit on the side of the path and eat liquorice all-sorts to get the sugars up for energy.

Along come a couple of young French guys with no equipment or water, shirts off and literally leaping up the hill. They turn out to originate from a small village in France which I visited in the dim dark past, and they’re really rather easy on the eye. Sometimes it’s seriously cr*p being old.

Eventually Kim and I continue our slow straggle to the top where a superb picnic area awaits, billy on to boil and a very welcome lunch.

Lunching on a hike

For those who’d like to know what we devour for lunches when hiking, here t’is:

* Boiled eggs
* Laughing Cow cheese wedges (lasts well out of a fridge)
* Small tin or sachet of salmon, sardines or tuna (personally very fond of sardines)
* Carrot sticks with hommus dip
* Fresh fruit
* Dried fruit and nuts (mostly eaten en route for energy)
* Sweet biscuits

THE IRISH WAY

Back in Apollo Bay, we noticed a young couple heaving ENORMOUS packs on their backs, and carrying day backpacks along with pots and pans and other miscellaneous equipment.  She looks distressed and hot.  They both have lean and tiny frames, and we comment the load is much too big for them.

After lunch, these two suddenly catch up with us.  James and Aoife (pron. ee-fa) are from Ireland, and they’re carrying their day packs and bounce along as a result.

They’ve dropped their large backpacks off at a place which hold your luggage, then deliver it to a destination of your choice along the Great Ocean Road on a given date.  The price charged for this service seems massive and it reiterates our experience that anything touristy along this stretch is hugely overpriced – accommodation and transport in particular.  It doesn’t seem to be understood there’s a huge backpacker market along this stretch, and they need to provide cheaper and more reliable options.  In particular, there’s an almost negligible offering of public transport stopping at major hiking exit and entry points that work for backpackers (which is why it worked out cheaper for us to hire two cars).  The buses that do operate only run three days a week.  Unbelievably pathetic, makes me embarrassed to be an Aussie.

James and Aoife arrived from Ireland a few days ago and their plan is to hike some of the Great Ocean Walk and camp along the way.  They have a tent and sleeping bags but no sleeping mats, no cooking equipment, no stove and their water supplies seem inadequate.  They’ve packed a heap of tinned food (very heavy) and THREE jars of manuka honey.

James is wearing ankle socks and consequently he’s reaping the reward of blisters on the back of his feet.  Aoife already has a heap of blisters.  Neither have hats and don’t seem to understand how vicious the Australian sun can be.  Consequently they’re given a bucketload of free advice from us all, whether they wanted it or not.

Of course we regale them with stories about our poisonous reptiles, spiders, snakes and other creatures abounding in the Australian bush – although in reality you rarely see them. Having said that, snakes are abounding in plenty this year due to the drought.  Suspect they’re getting desperate to find moisture.

James and Aoife

ARRIVAL AT LAST

James and Aoife stick with us through the long hours to Blanket Bay campground.  It’s a huge walk.  Conversation helps pass the time and enables you to not think about all the sore bits.  My right hip and knee are playing up from a slip with my bike a few days before, Kim continues her struggle with feet shoulders and backpack, and the others also discover sore feet and exhaustion.

Scenery walking to Blanket Bay

We arrive at Blanket Bay at 18:30 and leave our newfound Irish friends to sort out a camping spot.  Because we have to return to Apollo Bay to pick up a car, we buy them good quality bandaids (no Compeed or blister packs available thank you) and Daryle found an old pair of socks for James which we plan to drop off to them the next day.

You can imagine how well we slept that night – comatose in minutes.  Can’t say the same for our Irish compatriots …

Harry Potter’s magical notes on becoming an editor

Recently I meandered along to the local library to listen to four happy souls natter about some of the finer points of publishing a book in Australia.

Listening to them talk about how a writer works closely with an editor from a publishing house, I thought “goodness, should’ve looked at editing when I was a young and carefree youth because it might’ve been a terrific career.”

Despite having tossed away full time work and therefore not too interested in the job market, I wondered what skills you need to become a publishing editor – not just because I have a quiet yen to make a children’s book – but just in case I suddenly need to look at a different career. In my next life anyway.  Maybe a Harry Potter epic number 2.

So I asked them the question – what does one have to do to become an editor?

This question was unexpected so the speakers up front seemed a bit thrown. After all, the subject was supposed to be what it took to publish a book.

Here’s how to become an editor

Despite being thrown, here’s a wave of answers you may find useful.

1.   Do a specialist publisher course

I looked this one up. Apparently you need a Bachelor’s degree in English, Journalism or Communication. Then to specialise in a specific area like science or IT, go get some experience and qualifications in those fields as well. And to top this off, gaining a certification in copy editing and publishing wouldn’t go astray either.

You have to do all this in order to know the “principles and practices associated with the development and structural editing of a range of texts from 5 genres: fiction, literary non-fiction, illustrated non-fiction, children’s and young adult, and educational.”

One course I looked at will provide you with “advanced skills in manuscript appraisal and editing”. Mmm, in a semester, you’ll have advanced skills?  I’m somewhat sceptical given it generally takes lots of practice over time to acquire advanced skills in anything.

While a degree course sounds very attractive, the hiccup is it costs around $40-50,000. Somehow I doubt the income of an editor sits in the ‘magnanimous’ range, so in effect you may be paying back fees for decades to come.

2. Get a job in a bookshop

Apparently this is a useful occupation because you get to learn about your audience and what appeals to them.

However, I suspect not many potential editors do this because I spend half my life in bookshops, and no-one’s ever asked me what appeals and why.

3. Understand the technicalities and complexities of what makes a great narrative

This allegedly involves reading LOTS of books. I’ve read loads and piles and buckets of books over the decades, but I don’t think this necessarily gives you a knowledge of what makes a great narrative … unless you spend time analysing what made it so good.

Personally I enjoy reading for the sake of it, and analysis paralysis isn’t my cup of peppermint tea.

Providing there’s no spelling mistakes, glaring grammatical stuff ups or punctuation issues, I’m a happy reading camper.

4. Get the right personality

No detail was forthcoming about what was the best personality traits for an editor.

However, because you’re working very closely with writers, you need to be able to collaborate and counsel the writer without overriding their personal style. In this regard, it’s a fine talent to read the writer’s personality and know how to respond to get the best out of them.

5. Get lucky, or fall into it over time

That might’ve worked decades ago but I suspect in today’s world, this option’s a little easier said than done. However, that’s not to say it’s not possible because amazing opportunities exist everywhere, every day.

What’s missing from this list?

1. Wot about the gramer and speling?

Nary a word was spoken about the vital skills of grammar, punctuation and spelling. What’s the world coming to when an editor has no clue how to structure a sentence, when to use ‘their’ or ‘there’, how to spell ‘accommodation’ or ‘misspelled’. Gosh, how many folk even know whether it’s ‘misspelled’ or ‘mispelled’?  An editor should automatically know this by waving their magical spelling wand.

I (tried to) read a book recently called “Off Your Rocker” by Noni Gove. It had a great premise about travelling the world in retirement on your own and should’ve been a wonderful book.

However, it was appallingly written, full of repeated sections and l-o-n-g paragraphs, along with serious spelling and grammar issues.  It didn’t take long before I started correcting it as I read.

I eventually gave up, figuring the publishing company must’ve missed editing this one completely.  It’s sad when an author seems unable to string a readable paragraph together without causing a person to shred the book along the way.

I’m keeping that book as an example of what NOT to do when writing, and the invaluable contribution an editor will make to a book.

Photo
Example of a page from “Off Your Rocker”

2. Detail fiend

You need to:

  • be picky to ensure there’s no errors, and the content is clear and moves forward nicely
  • follow up any detail that needs to be checked to ensure it’s correct.

3. Network, network, network

This one cuts across all jobs and industries. An editor needs to have a network of people with appropriate experience and knowledge in their field.

4. Working with others

For most of my life, there’s been an element of teamwork in every job – mostly being told what to needs to be done and then completing it in the timeframe required.

Same goes for the publishing business. There’s a high level of coordination required to bring a number 2 Harry Potter-style epic to fruition on the date set for publication, so you have to work with others to pull it together.

C’est tout …

I leave you with the oft quoted and wise words of William Shawn, editor of The New Yorker from 1952 until 1987.  William has an interesting personal history (lived with both his wife and mistress – not at the same address fortunately) and was apparently a fine editor, which you’d have to be to last that long.

The work of a good editor, like the work of a good teacher, does not reveal itself directly; it is reflected in the accomplishments of others.

 

1 good reason to use Facebook

Many of us enjoy sharing those special moments on Facebook … an overseas adventure, an incredible meal, a horrible deed undertaken by your child, appreciation of a loved one, the cat spinning around on an automatic vacuum cleaner, or a divine new recipe featuring acai, kale and quinoa.  But have you considered how it could be used for something more?

My mother suffers from dementia.  For the last few years, she’s lived in a high care home in New Zealand.  I get over there to visit her 3-4 times each year and with each visit, she’s lost a little more of her memory and personality.  There’s very little memory left now but you can still occasionally trigger a little spark when looking at photos, or talking to her about some little thing from the past.

For example, because one can never be sure if she remembers you, my dad asked her recently “hello, what’s my name?”   “Goodness” Mum replies “you really should know that by now …”.

There are times when I’d love to have all her memories in one place – all the special things that meant something to her, read her dry witty comments, look at photos that gave her pleasure, explore examples of her beautiful knitting, crochet, embroidery and ceramics. Mostly I’d just love to find out what made her tick because, over the years, I’ve forgotten.  Or I never knew.

While most of the time I’m grateful that Facebook didn’t exist during my young years (dread to think what seriously embarrassing stuff I’d have posted), there’s many times when I wish the internet, digital cameras and Facebook had been around when I was 14, 21, 30 years old.

Why is this?  Because over the years, and after one particularly scarring relationship, I’ve forgotten who I was way back when.  And because of that relationship, I have very little left to show for it in the way of photos and memorabilia. It’d be really interesting to look back and get a view of what I was thinking, what was I interested in, what did I do with my time, what did I look like, who were my friends and what made them tick, and on what planet was my brain at any given moment?

facebook-hero1

This lack of memories got me thinking.  Actually … worrying mostly.  What if I get dementia? Why can’t I remember what I did yesterday?  Do I have it already?

Even if I do all the things the “experts” say to prevent this poxy disease, I suspect that if my mother copped it, and her mother copped it, then there’s a good likelihood I’ll cop it too.

SO, WHAT ELSE?

These days I use Facebook for something different.  It’s become my “future proofing” – a memory album for the future, in case dementia starts tearing away and destroying the pathways to memories in my brain.

I take comfort that should I end up in high care in the far flung future, my ol’ chap will be able to display my Facebook feed on an iPad 127 and share memories of things I’ve posted. He’ll probably get a surprise too, because not being a Facebook user and indeed slagging it at every opportunity, he doesn’t know the half of what I’ve posted on there.

So instead of denigrating Facebook or seeing it as a skitefest by your friends, perhaps try seeing it as an opportunity to stack away those memories for the future.

Why not show everyone your personality, express what matters to you (including religion and politics), post lots of cat videos, and ensure there’s heaps of photos and anecdotes about your parents, children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles and friends.

Sure beats having nothing to show at the end of it all!

Smoking in Japan

If you exclude beautiful manners, outstanding courtesy and magnificent cuisine, one of the other things I love most about Japan is the lack of smoking.

Before our first visit to Japan in 2010, the Cute Fellow and I were under the impression that smokers lurked everywhere – flicking ash as they walked, blowing smoke in your direction, assaulting your sense of smell in every public arena.

We had strong mental images of Japanese men smoking non-stop in every available corner. We envisaged smokers in restaurants, cafes, on the street, in shops, shopping centres, public transport, clubs, outside office buildings, inside office buildings and everywhere you could imagine wanting to be.

Consequently a serious discussion ensued about how we’d handle this impending trauma … particularly me as I’ve been a vocal non-smoker from a very early age.  I recall when, at about 7 years old, I was chased around the house by my furious uncle after I stuck a carnation in the end of his dreadful (and hopefully expensive) cigar. Even then I thought the smell was appalling.  He died quite young … suspect all that smoking had something to do with it.

Over to Japan we go and what a surprise! The reality is you can wander anywhere without being poisoned by noxious cigarette fumes.  Such a revelation.  We walked around in wonder and amazement during our entire six week visit.

tokyo-smoking-by-meguro-river-june-2016-dwoodley
Smokers gathered beside the Meguro River in an allotted spot (June 2016)

On our June 2016 trip, we found the oddity of seemingly really nice restaurants which allowed smoking while dining – the “eat and die from lung cancer at the same time” regime.  We avoided those like the plague and only stumbled into one in the back streets around Tokyo Station because we were starving and it was getting late.  That turned out well because most smokers had gone back to work by then.

In reality, the only places where smoking is truly disgusting are pachinko parlours.

Pachinko is a slot machine lover’s paradise. The walls are lined with vertical pinball machines. Players (and there’s a lot of them – all the parlours we visited were packed) fire metal-sounding balls which hit a forest of pins as they cascade down. The noise is phenomenal – mindblowingly deafening.

To add to the misery, a thick haze of pungent cigarette smoke drifts around. It defies logic that players and staff don’t end up with a serious dose of lung cancer after 15 minutes of exposure.

I’ve since discovered that smoking in Japan had changed quite significantly in recent years, in that it’s been declining in popularity over the last decade or two.

In 2014, the adult smoking rate was just under 20% in Japan which is still very high. Compare that with Australia at 13.3% (2013), 19.3% in the UK and 16.8% in the USA. However France, bless their great wine and fresh baguettes, sits around 30% – an amazing figure given they have the most restrictions on smokers (but do the least to enforce them).

Notice painted on footpath in a Tokyo Street

Japan don’t have much enforceable legislation as such, but they do seem to have enforced non-smoking in public places using entertaining signage and fining recalcitrant smokers.

On our recent trip to Tokyo, there were frequent signs posted on footpaths and buildings prohibiting smoking.  Smoking areas have also long been specially designated in offices, restaurants, fast-food eateries, restaurants and public areas.

Smoking’s not actually illegal, but it’s become socially unacceptable.  Whenever I saw someone walking along the street with a lit cigarette, I actually felt shocked.

So all you non-smokers out there, head off to Japan for a wonderful (almost) smoke-free experience.  It’s well worth it!

How to retire without enough money

Want to retire but can’t afford it? Here’s some ideas that could help you achieve the dream.

I used to have a divine daydream. It’s one that mostly occurred at work meetings, while pretending to be fascinated by business-speak requiring a Degree in Inanity to decipher.

In my daydream, I jogged along a beach in the early morning warmth- no-one around for miles, the sun on my face. For breakfast I’d devour a thick pancake topped with juicy berries, icecream and whipped cream – never once gaining a kilo of course.

With the day’s schedule mine to choose, my only requirement is to find a bakery for a chocolate eclair after a long explorative walk through a botanical garden.

For additional fun, I’d paddle down the Amazon in a bright yellow canoe, taking photos of the wildlife on the way. Or maybe I’d drop out of a plane strapped tightly to a gorgeous chap with strong biceps. Hey … remember, this is MY daydream.

The daydream ends

In February 2015, the daydream became real. Thanks to a few decades of planning, I quit work and joined the Land of Fossils. With my partner, the Fabulous Gregoire, we drove north to Queensland to bask in idyllic warmth while poor Melbourne shivered through the coldest winter in over 20 years.

I jogged along rivers and beaches in the early morning sunshine, found a fantastic gym for my daily workout, walked a million miles, photographed birds and plants, drew and painted for hours. Even fitted in a little creative writing (not much though, don’t want to overdo things too soon).

Cartoon of older lady in yellow canoe taking photo of large mooseThe pancakes happened (once only, a delicious memory) and the bakery was an everyday event. Best of all, we didn’t gain weight due to all the exercise. So both of us were happy and contented – best I’ve felt in years.

My next step is the yellow canoe and the strapping guy in the plane.

Struggle street

During this time, it came to our attention there are more people than we realised who’re going to struggle to live and thrive in retirement.

Without adequate savings or assets due to – oh gosh, there’s an endless bunch of reasons – divorce, bankruptcy, poor financial choices, expensive children, sick children, physical and mental health issues, GFC carving into expected returns, not planning for retirement early enough – and so on.

Consequently, many people are looking down the barrel of the having-to-work-till-they’re-80 shotgun.

Ideas please!

So how can you retire and still have a good life without constant financial worry?

There’s loads of retirement calculators to work out how much you’ll need to live on. There’s stacks of advice on growing wealth or retiring rich. There’s piles of information on what to spend your money on during retirement.

But it’s difficult to find many ideas on living in retirement when you don’t have enough (or any) money.

So Gregoire and I thought long and hard about this conundrum. Using our unique and amazing talents, including ESP and water divining, the result is this list of 10 ideas. The obvious ideas are first, followed by the more interesting ones1.

Onto the ideas …. this is pretty long by the way!

The ideas list

1. Simplify simplify simplify

There’s a lot being written about simplifying your life – seems to have become flavour of the month.

Cartoon of man singing as he mows the lawnSo how about living off-the-grid? Move to a regional area or a plot of land outside of a city, then grow your own fruit and vegetables, fish from the local river or ocean, keep chickens and goats, and harvest rainwater.

Among other things, you can save money by:

  • staying away from the latest expensive technology
  • buying a small second-hand car (OMG, I can hear some of our friends gasping, “small” is a dirty word)
  • not owning a pet
  • living in a comfortable shack or small house in a regional area – oh my folks, so much less housework
  • shopping at op shops for clothing, crockery, quirky furnishings and books
  • buying second hand goods instead of brand new (even more friends gasping)
  • ceasing to buy gifts for all the family
  • lay off the alcohol (most friends gasping)
  • making your own meals instead of eating out

While this isn’t entirely my idea of a good time because we love to eat out, I could handle a few chickens and we already do most most of these to keep costs down – except fishing as there’d be too many arguments over who’s going to clean and scale the creatures.

Positives – Personally I’d be chuffed to have a lifestyle like this. It’s a clean, green, healthy and happy way to live – and gets you away from the “I want I want” lifestyle most of us have fallen into. Apart from chickens being eaten by recalcitrant foxes, it should be fairly stress-free once you’re set up and ready to roll.

Yep, city-ites may not find it particularly appealing, but it does have a lot going for it if you want to retire and need to reduce expenses.

And what a great way to learn new things and keep that brain fresh and alive!

Negatives – Buying and selling costs can be high so you’d need to do your sums before making a commitment.  Can’t really think of many negatives – they’re minimal if you’re strapped for cash and assets.

2. Earn additional income

This option’s pretty obvious. On the assumption you’re still vaguely healthy in mind and body, turn your hand to earning extra income to supplement your pension or independent income.

Even a little makes a difference to your bottom line – $200 will pay for a week’s groceries, an electricity bill, petrol or contribute to those ever increasing council rates.

Don’t feel you have skills?

For those who skills aren’t useful in the working world anymore, or you just plain don’t want to do what you’ve done all your life because just thinking about it makes you regurgitate lunch, here’s some ideas:

  • cleaning houses and apartments (gosh, even toilets if that’s what it takes)
  • washing graffiti off walls
  • crossing supervisor at your local school
  • fixing bicycles
  • making gourmet treats for cafes, or to sell at a market
  • writing articles for magazines, newspapers and journals
  • picking fruit
  • teach English or another skill
  • pose for art school students
  • teach at a TAFE or PICAL (book binding, drawing, jam making, breeding frogs – the sky’s the limit on topics)
  • clean ponds or pools
  • help out at a fish farm
  • growing herbs for a few local restaurants
  • guiding at a museum, gallery or garden
  • guide patrons to their seats at concert halls and events
  • learning how to apply fake nails and make home visits
  • assist elderly, disabled or incapacitated folk with shopping, meals, cleaning, driving and other tasks they can no longer do
  • cook interesting food and sell at markets (met a lady in her late 60s at Port Douglas markets doing exactly this and her quiches sold out in no time flat; plus she made bread for a local restaurant – all from her tiny little kitchen)
  • work in an office, school or other organisation

Cartoon of man showing a lady to her seat in a theatreGot a few useful skills?

Perhaps there’s scope for a part-time side business. You might be handy with carpentry, plumbing, painting, making sequinned 1960s bell pants, or designing a website.

Gregoire and I often dream up potentially great business ideas, only we now lack the enthusiasm and motivation to do anything about them. For example, what about a website which links elderly people with someone local who can help them get to the doctor, cook a few dinners or tidy up the garden (for a very small fee).

Maybe you can advise people on how to do something or create an online business to sell a product you make or import.

If you’re not sure what you can offer, do some research. Scratch through the internet, listen to programs on radio and TV for ideas, talk to others about potential opportunities you might not have thought about.

For example, Rachael Khoo (a gorgeous English chef) says that shitake mushrooms cost A$70 per kilogram – perhaps there’s an opportunity in your area to grow fungi for local restaurants.

Positives – Earn extra dollars to cover expenses, get to use your brain (stave off dementia!), widen the horizons, good for self-esteem.

Negatives – Ill health may stifle or damage your ability to work. Or perhaps you’re over having to work and the very thought is overwhelming. There’s probably other negatives but I can’t think of any right now.

3. Rent out a bedroom

Cartoon of female tucked into bed in her bedroomOwn or lease a property? Why not rent out the spare bedroom to a student or some deserving soul who’ll appreciate a comfortable space and a lovely fossil or two to mull over the day with. If they provide a bathroom of their own, you’re looking even better.

Positives – Extra income and help with the bills, share housework; reap the benefits of new friendships, company.

Negatives – You have to be nice to this person, you need to be clean and tidy, and you need to be relaxed about sharing common areas.

Conversely, they have to be nice too, and not leave their underwear hanging from the ceiling fan or dirty dishes swishing around in slimy cold water in the sink.

If you don’t think you can be clean, neat and sharing, don’t even think about this one.

4. Temporarily rent out the whole danged thing

Cartoon of front of house with sign saying Available for RentIf you’d like to travel or spend time with your children or friends, why not temporarily rent out your home to travellers using sites like AirBnB.  It’s a great way to make some money to cover bills such as council rates, body corporate, utilities, or just for extra cash.

You’d need to research if there are any tax implications and check out the rules and costs for using these services.

Positives – Income stream while you’re away, house is lived in and (hopefully) looked after. Also possible to have your pets and/or garden looked after as part of the deal.

Negatives – Organising keys, cleaning after each visitor if you’re not around, dealing with potential issues (eg. dishwasher breaks down), ensuring all valuable items are locked away safely.  None of these are show stoppers though, it just requires planning so don’t let them stop you.

5. House sitting

If you’re struggling with living costs, you could look at doing some house sitting. You could even do this for longer periods of time if it works for you.

There’s a number of house sitting websites you can use to find something appropriate. While you’re house sitting, temporarily rent your property out to other travellers. This has great possibilities by combining with option 3.

Positives – Save money, chance to stay in a different area and see/learn new things, look after pets and gardens

Negatives – May be tricky balancing dates but no reason why that should stop you, get to look after some delightful pets and gardens.

6. Move in with the kids

This is mostly for parents who’ve funded their children’s cars, education, lifestyles and/or helped them with a deposit for a home. Perhaps you’ve done this at the expense of your own financial security. And now you’ve reached retirement time and bugger, there’s not quite enough to live on. Oops.

Get your own back – sell your home or rent it out, then move in with your kids. The preferable option is to build a self-contained cabin in their backyard (assuming there’s room and STCA), or use an existing bedroom/bathroom.

Positives – Spend time with the family, be involved in activities, get to know your grandchildren, financially better off or able to save some dollars for a while.

Negatives – You might feel the need to kill each other before too long.

7. Communal living – buying a property with others

This is interesting because the idea can go in all directions. Probably best explained in a very simple example.

So … we have 2 couples and 1 single person (or any version thereof you care to dream up). Each group has a house or property they can sell.

Each sells their property and joins forces to purchase a lovely big home. I’m not talking expensive suburban Melbourne or Sydney either. The idea is to look in regional areas to find something you’d never afford as a couple or single, but together you have the buying power to get something great.

Regional areas and smaller cities and towns will offer considerably better options. Big cities won’t work so well for those without substantial assets.

Looking at the financials – let’s say the 3 groups have a $500k property each. They find a 4 bedroom house for $800k, giving them a bedroom and bathroom each, perhaps 2 living areas, a huge kitchen, an office and maybe a pool. There’s some great options out there – you’ll just need to work out what you all want and what you think will work.

That’s an outlay of approximately $270k for each group, leaving a spare $230k for other purposes. You’ve now freed up capital to live on.

Positives – Frees up capital, shared utility/water/council rates mean extra cash to live on; help each other with gardens and chores; if someone gets sick then others can assist with care; go on holidays knowing animals, mail and gardens are cared for.

Negatives – What happens if one group wants to leave or someone dies? Someone may will their share to someone truly awful, who then wants to move in.

There’s a whole set of circumstances for which you’ll need to set up moral and legal boundaries as to how they’re best handled. Of course you all have to agree on where you want to live and what you want to live in, as well as whether you can live together without resorting to manslaughter.

Other issues to be discussed include noise limits, handling visitors and overnight stays, who gets the table for dinner parties, and a host of other things I haven’t dreamed up yet.

These issues shouldn’t put you off – they just need to be thought about and worked through.

8. Commune style / private timeshare

With this idea, you need someone who has the resources to buy a large piece of land and is willing to share that land with those who have far less (or nothing much at all).

Ignoring council rules for the moment, individuals or couples purchase or lease their own accommodation. Then the buildings are nicely scattered around the land, plumbed in and wired up as necessary.

The exciting part is your accommodation could be a caravan, a renovated shipping container, a second hand cabin, a hand built movable hut, or a stone cottage you build in your spare time. There’s some wonderful cheap eco-friendly options out there.

Surround yourself with flowers, fruit trees and vegetables. You could even go completely mad and keep chickens and goats (subject to council and landowner approval)!

Everyone could all contribute to a communal building for parties and get-togethers, as well as joint amenities such as a pool or library. The sky’s the limit depending on funding. However, assuming there’s very little of the green stuff, you could have somewhere to live for as little as $20-30,000.

As compensation to the landowner, a small lease payment (as agreed with the owner) could be given each month for use of the land.

Positives – The big plus is privacy. You can be as weird as you like in your own space.

Everyone can help look after each other as well as share gardens, produce, pets, maintenance and driving etc.

You could buy larger quantities of goods at Costco or Aldi, then split the produce out equitably at a lower cost to everyone.

Negatives – How do you ‘sell up’ if you want to move on.

What if the owner of the land develops a dislike of your habit of tossing the ciggie butt into the mint leaves and wants you out.

What if someone develops a dislike for Bill because he snores like a chaffcutter and you can hear it from 3 kms away.

As with buying a property with others, there’s a raft of issues you need to think about and work through that are unique to this option.

9. Communal living – buying into an over 55s village

While you could buy in as a single but if funds are really tight, what about teaming up with others to purchase/lease a 2-3 bedroom unit in an over 55s village?

You’ll need to do the maths because each village has different entry and exit fees, and weekly costs. Many allow pets, so check the rules if that matters to you.

With this option, it’s important to remember you’re not buying an investment – you’re buying somewhere to live.

Positives – Heaps of company; free up capital to use for other purposes, no stamp duty because you’re “leasing” the property.

Most villages have great facilities including gym, pool, dance floor, library etc.

Negatives – What happens if one party wants to leave or dies? You would need to set up rules as to how this will be handled.

Body corporate costs depend on location- for example, $490 a month ($6kpa). Watch what body corporate covers, watch exit fees and loss incurred on a capital gain should you sell.

10. Leave home – lock, stock and smoking barrel

What about becoming an expat and living in a country where it costs a fraction of what it costs to live in Australia (or any other expensive first world country). Think of moving to countries like Bali, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia.

The trick is to research and do your homework, because there’s potential gotchas in moving abroad, particularly if you elect to sell your home to fund it.

A useful starting point is The Escapologist website and International Living.  Take some of the hyperbole in these sites with a grain of salt and do your own research.

See also an interesting article on the SBS website on retiring to Thailand.

Positives – Financial benefits from low cost living. Countries like Thailand have exceptional and cheap medical care.

Negatives – Can you stay there indefinitely without needing to do Visa runs to another country.

Check out medical care as not all countries have what you need as you age.

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1 Really important note – we are not investment advisors, financial advisors, retirement advisors or anything remotely important. This has been written merely to facilitate ideas for people wondering how they’re going to make it through to death without enough dollars to get them there in some style. Take or leave as you choose, but you can’t sue if it doesn’t work!

Born again … but not saved

8 June 2015

While wandering through a very trendy and beautiful art and craft stop in Noosa (Australia) today, an English lady in her mid 70s remarked on a colourful painting of a cow as she walked past. She had the most amazing blue-gray eyes, was still very pretty and wore a lovely gray/silver pants and blouse.

After telling me I must be from Victoria because I was wearing shorts and a sleeveless blouse in June (locals consider it too cold to wear these), and nodding ‘no’ to my query as to whether she lived here, it somehow evolved into a full-on telling of her story.

Lucy (as she shall thus be known) married a very quiet man (Bill) but over the years, his conversation had reduced to a grunt. Consequently she said she was busting to talk to someone whose conversation extended beyond three words.

Bill and Lucy used to live in Noosa for many years and she loved it. Around 5 years ago, Bill loaned $100,000 of their wee nest egg to the son-in-law for a business venture. His big mistake was he did this without consulting Lucy.

Seems son-in-law promptly lost the lot, as well as his own home. Now daughter, son-in-law and their children rent in Brisbane, trying to recover from the huge financial loss.

With almost no nest egg to live on, Bill and Lucy had to sell their Noosa home and move back to England (guessing they could get a pension or some such financial positive there). They come back to Noosa for a few weeks each year or so to spend time with the grandchildren, whom she misses dreadfully. She feels huge resentment towards Bill for loaning the money without asking her … there’s apparently little chance they’ll get it back.

The story jumped around a lot from here. She was adopted but didn’t find out until she was 20. Her parents chose to tell her on the day she and Bill celebrated their engagement. “Supposed to be a happy day” she said, “but that put a dampener on it.” She remains puzzled as to why her parents never told her until that point. I was thinking “why pick a party to spill the news?”.

She loved her mother as she was a hard worker, but said her father was pure evil. He was a control freak and interfered with her when she was 11 or 12 years old. “I didn’t say anything to anyone because it was at a time when no-one would’ve believed me”. Later when she told Bill, she said he didn’t believe her either. He had the attitude of “just get over it”.

When Lucy was seven, her parents adopted another baby girl. She loved having a sister but found the 7 year gap was too much to be of any great value.

After Lucy married, she lived about an hour away from her parents and sister. One day a letter arrived (they didn’t have a phone, guessing this was the late 1950s) to say her mother had had a breakdown and was in a mental hospital (as they were called then). To this day, she remembers the trauma of trying to get out of work and find a way to get to the hospital as they didn’t have a car.

Seems the now 15 year old sister had accused her father of interfering with her, and sadly it was still at a time when children weren’t believed. When she told her mother, the situation blew up. Despite all this, the medical profession still didn’t believe the sister and her mother was distraught and failed to cope. Hence a trip to the mental institution.

When Lucy visited her Mum, the medical staff said not to believe anything her mother said (about the incest). “But she was as honest as the day” said Lucy, “so why wouldn’t I believe her”. When Lucy asked her sister why she hadn’t said anything earlier about what the father was doing, her sister said “he threatened me and even if I’d said something, no-one would’ve believed me anyway”.

Just to cap the story off, Lucy said her married life was difficult, doesn’t know how they’ve managed to last so long, and even now is surprised they’re still together. There was a few quick comments about her son being difficult but we didn’t go there at all.

So there goes our Lucy, trotting along in her 70s, feeling a piece of herself is missing. Along comes some random bloke who convinces her it’s God that is missing and yes indeed praise be to the ever mighty, she found that this indeed filled up the hole.

I can listen for hours to people with troubles, be empathetic and sympathetic, really feel for them, and dream up solutions if that’s what is needed. But the minute anyone mentions God, you’ve lost me. The brain says “uh oh, time to get out of here”. I’m a total non-religionist – once you’re dead, you’re dead; there’s no hell, there’s no heaven, no God, no miracles and no divine anything. In my humble opinion, you can be a truly good and moral person without having to follow a religion.

When I told Lucy this, her reply was “but you can never be perfect, that’s why you need God”. Asides from the fact I’m not remotely interested in being perfect, I also don’t know anyone religious who meets that criteria either. Everyone is basically the same – some good bits, some bad bits. One saying I like is “religion is the roof of all evil”. Every century, including this one, there have been people waging war and other evil acts in the name of religion. Listen to the current news … the saying still stands.

Lucy tells me she’s a born again Christian. Without wanting to denigrate her beliefs, I’ve always found born agains to be painful. For some reason, they have to push the God factor down your throat. And indeed, Lucy did exactly that. By the end of the chat, she decided I should find God or – shock horror – I wouldn’t find heaven. She seemed worried that I’m not in the least concerned about that.

Given all Lucy’s just told me, I’m thinking the hole in her soul isn’t any better at all with this finding of God. I suspect the born again Christian passion is a cover up which she hopes will make her feel whole. And that’s great, if indeed she did feel whole. But to me, she’s a very lost and hurting soul. You don’t tell some random person in an art shop your life story unless you have issues.

She said she’d love Bill to convert and can’t understand why he’s not interested. I can – poor Bill is probably going nuts listening to the religious stuff pouring forth, coupled with resentment over money, and not seeing improvements to his wife’s happiness factor.

With Greg patiently waiting outside, time to go. Lucy said she’d pray for me. Not sure what for because all is well in my world and has been for the last 20 years. But Lucy, I trust you can find what you’re looking for in whatever fashion works for you. Everyone deserves peace and happiness in their later years, and I hope you find that above all else.