(Re) focus

Ten days ago we spent a few nights on holidays in Koh Samui, a trip I won thru our business along with a whole bunch of others from around Oz. I enjoyed the time away, but meeting with other irrigation guys and talking business is always problematic for me, because it usually involves the discussion of strategies for growth and expansion. And my ‘old self’ starts to get discontent. My competitive nature gets poked and stirred as I listen to what my competitors are doing and ponder what I could do to be bigger and more profitable (than them).

 

The tension is that I don’t want to be a bigger more expansive business. Increased profitability is always a win, but my question is usually ‘at what cost?’

 

I never set out to start a business like I currently have. It was a hobby and a small income stream to supplement the 3 different Christian leadership roles than I held. However one day my work coaching Baptist youth pastors ended and I needed to fill the time and pay the bills.

 

So I spent more time in my business. And it grew… It was fun doing things to make it more profitable – and let’s face it – when you are starting out the only way is up. I wasn’t any kind of genius – it just worked. I tinkered for two years doing a day a week of odd retic jobs but with no real concern for growth or expansion. I didn’t need the work and I was just having fun (which incidentally is a great way to kick off a business.)

 

When we came back from our round Oz trip in 2009 having lost a heap of money in the GFC I shifted focus and got cranking, seeking to earn back the money we had lost. I worked very hard and did what I could to make the business grow – and it did. But there came a time a couple of years back where we had to make a choice – to grow and expand to next level or… well, what else do you do in business?…

 

While there is part of me that would like to provide employment for people and develop a sustainable and valuable asset, I know that my primary vocation is not to be a successful business person, as good as that may be. My focus is Christian leadership and my business is there to facilitate that – to give me freedom to serve as I am gifted and not have to try and ‘grow a church’ big enough to sustain my income needs.

 

Last week around the other guys I found myself listening to their progress and it set me dreaming again of expansion, of possibilities and strategies for gradually developing a significant business. It is tempting and it is a possibility – I can see how it could be done… But the cost is still too high.

 

Maybe one day I will need to rethink the model but for now my focus is still ‘simplicity, autonomy and flexibility’ and whatever funds are generated have to fit within that frame. The choice has been to ‘compact’ the business rather than expand – a lifestyle choice rather than a financial choice. Ironically last year was our most profitable ever and I was pretty disciplined with only working locally.

 

The competitive urge is still alive and well in me, but these days it is tempered by the knowledge of the cost involved in pursuing that focus. I’m not getting any younger so perhaps one day I will be managing a younger guy or two… or three… But for now I will keep rolling solo, doing the grunt work myself and keeping the weight off in the process.

 

I imagine a sedentary version of me would be considerably weightier than the active version. So – the choice appears yet again – as it does every so often – to grow and develop or to take a different path. I remember the words of Robert Frost ‘I took the road less travelled by…’ and hopefully that will make all the difference

Complexities and ‘Simplicities’

11866411_10153201177491731_2193523464226585292_nMaybe…

I ‘shared’ this quote from my old friend Alan Hirsch on Facebook today but as I’ve pondered some thoughts over the day I’m not so sure the answer is actually a revised ecclesiology more fitting to our time. I think ecclesiology might look past the real problem we face and may provide a superficial fix.

It begs the question ‘what are the 21st C complexities?’ (You might like to elaborate Hirschy?…)

But it was a coffee with a mate this morning that percolated my thinking. So I’ll start to unpack it and you can see what you think.

We don’t live in the 16th century (thank God – or we would probably be burning pro gay advocates at the stake), nor do we live in the 20th century, not even 2014. In his book Kingdom Conspiracy, Scot McKnight describes the latter part of the 20th century as an optimistic era (especially the 80’s)  when we believed we were going to ‘take back ground ‘ and make a significant dent in a secular world. From the contemporary church movement to the missional / emerging church we all had an answer.

But… I’m not convinced that in the west we have taken much ground at all or made much of a dent in culture. l can’t speak for other parts of the developing world where the church seems to be growing, but my experience of church in the secular west is that the influence has been more upon us than by us. I would sense we have conformed to the culture more than we have influenced the culture.

Ouch…

The problem may be that we can’t see it…  because it’s hard to notice an environment you are immersed in. Our sexual ethics have shifted – and I’m not referring to the gay debate. I doubt there would be many young people ‘waiting for marriage’ these days or even keeping themselves to one partner. The last stats I heard were about 15% ‘wait’. Our economics are decidedly similar to the world around us, and our politics are often similar too.  We veer right or left when the kingdom is in fact an alternate reality completely.

One of the oddities we were discussed  this morning was the challenge of church attendance in this time. In the 60s and 70s it was twice on Sunday that everyone attended church. In the 80s it was once but we were committed to the once, the 90s started to become fortnightly and the naughties and the 20teens have seen regular attendance pushed out to 3-4 weekly.

Is it ecclesiology that needs to shift to address the reason people aren’t part of the Sunday gathering?

Before I go on my concern is not with ‘attendance’, per se as you can attend a Sunday gig and not be a disciple, but my question is around how we imagine church for the future if this trend continues.

Is it OK to call yourself part of a church (or even ‘The Church’) if you only go once every 5 weeks?  6?… 8?…

What about twice a year?

That’s absurd you say…  Maybe…  but when does it start to become silly? When do we actually say ‘whoa… time out! ‘?

The conversation we had this morning focussed on the fact that people who were now irregular church attenders were not necessarily floundering disciples.  They may well be godly people for whom life has become increasingly complex and they are trying to balance the scales of work, family, friends, kids sport, the need for rest and so on.

So my point is that it’s not poor church attendance that is the problem – rather this is a symptom of how we have been immersed and inculturated into western values – how we have been secularised rather than the community being evangelised.

We need to work hard and provide… And provide well
We need ‘family time’… We need ‘me time’…
Then there are the kids activities that have us chaueffering endlessly… There are extended family to see, friends to catch up with, birthday parties, weddings, and then some days you just don’t feel like getting out of bed on a cold Sunday morning…

With all that ‘life’ going on it seems easier and wiser to eliminate church from our lives rather than anything else.  Because ‘church’ won’t complain…  church will ‘understand’…

‘How hard for you being so busy… ‘

‘How tricky for you to get time with the family…

And so on…

Reality is it wasn’t this hard 40 years ago.

So the question that arises for me as a Christian leader is ‘are we trying to run with a 20th century form of church in a 21st century world and do we need to seriously grapple with a strong but more fluid approach to church?

Or…  do we need to start calling it as the secularisation of the church?  Do we need a different expression, or we just need a rocket?

I’d suggest the problem is that we have allowed ourselves to believe that the secularisation we have experienced is just normal life, rather than challenging it and asking how we orient our lives around Jesus call and the community of faith.

The church is no longer central to the life of many Christians as it was 40 years ago. And while there may have been some unhealthy motivations in those days based around guilt and legalism, as well as a very inward focus, now we see a church that is fraying and in danger of either slowly dissolving or re-forming as an anaemic secularised version of itself.

The flip side of this argument is that we must simply adapt to the context we are in and currently the context is that everyone’s life is busy, busy, busy, so we simply can’t expect to do church as we once did.

Perhaps we genuinely have to consider a church that meets sporadically and where the major connections are outside of Sunday? Perhaps we need a shift in imagination that allows us to ‘roll with the punches ‘ in regards to how secular society shapes us and be less concerned with what happens on a Sunday? I don’t see us moving back to the 70s any time soon. So maybe we have to adapt our ecclesiology to suit? I have a pretty low church perspective anyway so that isn’t hard for me. I can meet in homes, I can meet in smaller communities, but…  what if people cant commit to participation in groups oriented and scheduled around their busy lives? Because I suggest we will simply see the same problem replicated in the smaller and more fluid environment…

At it’s core the church in its local expression is a community but if people are never together then it cant be a community and by definition can’t be a church either. In his book I referred to earlier McKnight puts Jesus and church as central to the coming of the kingdom and I sense we have allowed church to be a ‘desired’ focus, but not essential.

I don’t believe the problem is ecclesiology. The problem is that we have lost sight of who we are and who we are called to be. Life is complex today – no question – so more than ever we need to draw a line in the sand and in the words of Hauerwas declare ‘Jesus is Lord and everything else is bullshit’, because right now the bullshit seems to be having its way with us.

That’s a dark post I realise. But I’m close to the end of my rope as a leader wondering just how we lead communities where the shape of lives is more dictated by the culture than by the gospel and the call of Jesus.

The Expanda Experience… So Far

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Thinking of buying an Expanda?
Here are some observations after 4 weeks in the Expanda… It’s a 2008 16 49-3 model which means it has two fold out beds and a bathroom and the soft bed ends.
  • We bought the soft top version for $23500, but the newer hard lid type would have been better. But… the cheapest versions of these are a fair bit more $$$ – prob about $34K for the cheapest I could find. The hard lid means no need to put up the bed end flys which add to set up and pack up time. It also gives a bit more protection from the elements. But if its $10K… then I’ll suck it up for now.
  • Having a hot water system is a huge bonus – something we didn’t have with the camper. Dishes and showering are much easier.
  • Jayco quality is average. Stuff feels flimsy and fragile but I guess you need to use lightweight materials to make a van.
  • The toilet / shower has been really good and we used it a few times when we bush camped.  The outdoor shower also allows us to rinse sand off or wash out wetsuits easily too. Both great value.
  • A water pump is much better than a hand pump, but you use more water as a result. We worked out that including quick showers we went they 40l/day as a a family, but I reckon we could trim this. We didn’t use that much with the Eagle.
  • Two water tanks is great as 1 x 80l just doesn’t go far.
  • The Expanda beds are harder to push in than you’d think. We have an an eggshell mattress cover which makes it significantly harder, but you still need two people on the job to do it easily. I thought this would have been much simpler
  • Roll out awnings are a big improvement over a canvas awning,  but they rattle and flap. We haven’t bought ‘de-flappers’ yet, but probably will. Still, once you get the hang of rolling the awning out its a two minute job.
  • Danelle likes the oven in this van whereas the previous didn’t have an oven.
  • A slide out BBQ has been great and makes outdoor cooking easy. Well worth adding to your options if you buy a van.
  • The dinette seating in this one is much bigger than the Eagle. We spent most meals seated at the dinette, partly because it was cold outside, but with the Eagle we generally ate outside as it was too squeezy.
  • The air conditioner in the wall is a bad idea. We used it just once when we were packing up in Broome and we were hot and sweaty. But otherwise it has been unnecessary. I think a roof version would be good and the room used by the air con given to a bigger fridge. I imagine we may use it if we got really hot.
  • We haven’t solved sleeping arrangements with our kids. Ellie often sleeps out in her tent, but on short stays she sleeps in on the back bed while Sam gets the dinette folded down into a bed. He is only just short enough to fit and won’t be able to fit in 12 months. We considered bunks but the bunks are pretty small and we weren’t convinced. I think either Sam or Ellie can fit diagonally but they are getting a bit precious…
  • The Jayco mattresses are a 1/3-2/3 split and you can feel the ridge a little in the mattress which means that one person gets to sleep on 1/3 of the bed while the other gets 2/3. I know the later models have been modified to include a 50/50 mattress which was obviously a response to customer needs.
  • The bathroom basin never gets used because it doesn’t fully drain and when it’s put back in position ends up leaking on the floor. Bad design flaw!
  • A battery and water monitor has been excellent. Good to know where you are at in this regard.
  • The built in radio with external speakers was a waste as we never use it. I can’t imagine playing my music for everyone else to hear and equally I can’t imagine going somewhere remote and then cranking up noise.
  • The ventilation in a pop up is much better than in a regular van and we like this.
  • At the end of the day the two ends that pop out effectively create a ‘tent’, so while it is a caravan in one sense it isn’t as water / sound tight as a full van would be. On wet nights we have to put up flys or expect to get wet. That gets old fast, but it’s what we have for now…
  • It’s been good to tow – no problems there and I like that the wheels are the same size as those on the cruiser so we effectively carry two spares now.
I guess whatever you buy is a compromise of sorts. A full van is heavier and generally less airy than the Expanda. It’s also hard to find a full van with bunks for a reasonable price. This one cost us $23500 but a full van would have been more like $40k for something similar. The cruiser also has a 2500kg tow limit and we’d be pushing it to find a family van that we could do that with legally.
I imagine this will meet most of our needs for the best 3-4 years but ultimately it will be a temporary solution. My guess is that eventually the kids will take it in turns to swag it – or maybe just Sam will get booted outdoors!

Now That Was Fun

surfariWhile seeking something new and enjoyable to read for the time out at Kurrajong I was wandering thru the Exmouth news agency where there is quite an eclectic selection of books. In the biography section I noticed MP the biography of Michael Petersen a legendary and iconic surfer from the 70s. I read this a number of years ago and really enjoyed it. Next to it was a title I hadn’t seen before – Surfari by Tim Baker.

I picked it up and skimmed the back cover, where I read that the book was about Baker and family’s (sponsored) round Oz journey of surf adventure in a Jayco Expanda and Toyota RAV4. I was intrigued. Apart from the shared love of surfing there was the ‘big lap’ connection and (I presumed) a love of writing.

I opened it, browsed the writing style and straight away I knew I was going to buy it. Baker is a surf journo, has edited Tracks magazine and written a couple of surfer bios (Occy and Fanning) He tells a great tale and in the first chapter he describes his middle aged malaise and his hopes for a more inspiring life. I’ve been there… He is a year younger than me and his story sounded like a fun way to wile away a couple of days on the beach.

So being a tightarse I immediately googled the book and found it on Amazon. Ten bucks on Amazon or $29.95 in the newsagency?… Tough decision. I downloaded the sample right there and had a read that night. I bought the book and stashed it for a day or two while I finished Lila. That was a slog…

And then the fun began. Baker is an engaging writer as well as having the ability to reflect and observe what’s going on around him and inside him.

It was April 2009 that we set off for our lap with two kids and a surfboard and we shared many similar experiences to Baker and family. (Here’s how ours came about…)

While the book chronicles Baker’s surf odyssey it is much more than a piece of surf porn. He takes time to discuss the history of the areas he visits, the culture and context he is experiencing as well as reflecting on the challenges of family life and personal development in the midst of it all.

As a middle aged man Baker felt he was writing about surfing more than he was actually getting in the water and this was part of his plan for redressing the imbalance. As he travels he discovers it’s harder to duck off for a quiet surf than he had anticipated. The responsibility of family, driving and working make it difficult and at times the grand vision became a mirage.

His daughter is homesick within a day (been there done that…) the surf doesn’t turn up on schedule and then there is the delicate balancing act of hitting the water and spending time with the family – while not losing your cool. He tells a very honest story of losing it with his young son and what he learnt in the process.

He writes guardedly of some of his best surfs choosing not to identify the location, but I think I pegged his anonymous spot between Merimbula and Eden as it was where we scored some great waves too. He doesn’t even mention Cactus by name, despite its legendary status and there are several other spots he wisely choose to leave to your best guess. It seems localism is still an issue in the wilder parts of Oz.

I sympathized with many of his experiences. The ‘night of the bogans’ had me chuckling in bed as I read – imagine a maroon falcon sliding into camp with 5 heavyweights set for a big night on the turps and you get the picture.

I remembered the many grey nomads who treated our kids so well and who were kind and gracious when they may have been wanting to escape pestering children.

I shared and still share his hatred of the generator. Why anyone would want to tuck themselves away in a remote and serene part of the world only to arc up a clattering piece of machinery for 3 or 4 hours each day is beyond me. It’s been one of my pet peeves on this trip – thinking you’ve finally found ‘the spot’ only to have Stan and Dorothy roll up and kick the genny into life so they can watch a bit of telly… Get a grip people…

Baker leaves home as a ‘teeth grinder’ and hopes the road trip will be a panacea for this problem – not so much… Just a different set of stresses… He introduces us to some interesting people around the country as he searches for surf and he has some brilliant if understated surf sessions.

That he finished his trip in the north west of Australia in Exmouth gave the book a little more resonance again. As we left Exmouth we dropped in for one final bite of the cherry at Dunes Beach, but Mother Nature was not playing nicely. A small choppy swell, blustery onshore winds and a badly timed tide meant we  took one look and drove on. This was a bit of his experience, although he seems to have got his fair share of amazing waves as well.

If you also share a love of camping and surfing and want an entertaining and very readable book, while taking some time to reflect on the challenges of middle age then this is a gem.

We Are Not Fishermen… (Or Maybe We Are?)

 

samfish

I get the sense that fishing either runs in your blood or it doesn’t. I grew up in a non fishing family, the extent of our endeavors being a one off attempt in Carnarvon when I was 11. We lasted about an hour and eventually realized neither dad nor us had any clue what we were doing. It’s s dark and repressed memory.

Since then I’ve given it a shake on a number of occasions. I even owned a boat and occasionally could bring home a feed of herring or skippy. But I was never going to be a threat to WA fish stocks. Bag limits were never in question and serious fish would laugh at me as I dangled my primitive line in the water.

I contemplated taking the rods on this trip to add another activity to our repertoire in case the surf was flat, and the kids were bored, but in the end decided against it. With rods come tackle boxes, buckets, bait etc… Space is at a premium when camping and old smelly gear wasn’t considered worthy – besides which I would have needed to get it all serviced and up to speed.

However one week into the trip we did a quick fishing afternoon with the Wesleys (using their gear) and came home with a feed – a feed I have since discovered was all undersized. It got everyone hopeful – even me… So when we got to Point Samson I had a flourish of optimism and decided to splurge and buy some handlines, some hooks and sinkers and a bucket – a $6.00 bucket! We invested $60 into fishing gear and went out to catch dinner.

You know how this story ends though don’t you?…

Some people just aren’t fishermen.

Danelle pulled in a bream we deemed edible and of size, but otherwise it was an uneventful day. I discovered a huge school of gardies swimming nearby but couldn’t entice them to consider my bait. We caught a few tiny throwbacks but that was it.

dan

We carried on to Broome and spent several hours throwing fishing gear into the ocean off the main jetty. Danelle managed to land a good sized diamond trevally and Sam hooked up to a good fish only to discover his dad’s knot tying skills weren’t up to the game and the fish escaped albeit with a hook in its mouth. We spent an evening dangling our hooks in the water while large fish swam visibly nearby but ignored us completely. Some people just aren’t fishermen…

Back in Exmouth we spent a couple of afternoons fishing off the rocks scoring some bream on our first attempt – enough for dinner – again undersize but not that we knew. That was a surprise and a feat we didn’t repeat.

On Saturday afternoon as we scrambled across the rocks, throwing out handlines and getting snagged regularly we did end up with one fair sized bream. I had since done some reading and learnt that black bream needed to be 28cm so he just snuck in. However when the fisheries officer came by she advised us that it was highly unlikely we had caught a black bream as it was pretty much all yellowfin in this area. I pulled him out of the bucket for inspection only to discover that the fins that once looked dark where now clearly yellow… Oh dear…

So as the rest of the family fished on I received an official caution – handled very well by the fisheries inspector I must add who clearly knew we were hapless hacks and unlikely to hurt anyone other than ourselves.

So we left for the cape without bait – thinking if we don’t have bait we can’t fish… But Sam has since hunted crabs, killed them and just as I finish this post he has set out to land the big one.

My hopes are a little more circumspect and I am going to check if the inverter will power the coffee grinder, as if it does then I will try and use Danelle’s tea strainer to make myself a brew.

samfish2

Update – as I wrote this post Sam feeling eternally optimistic, left to go fishing. An hour later I dropped down to see how he was going. He had used the crab he had killed to catch a tiny bream, which was now his new bait.

‘Do you want to come for a walk to Yardi Sam?’

‘Nah – I’ll stay here and fish’.

Two hours later we come back to a big (easily legal) yellow fin bream and a son with a massive grin.

Free Ranging or Free Falling… Spirituality on Holidays

free-range-chicken

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the years have gone on I have increasingly become a creature of habit, finding myself in a familiar rhythm of life that sustains and nurtures my faith. I’m not a manic early riser, but I am a morning person these days, so my best connections with God tend to be before work in the quiet of my study or on warmer days out on the balcony over breakfast.

I also enjoy a time of examen each evening as I lie in bed – reflecting on how the day has gone, the sense of God’s presence at different moments, the times where I have done well or done badly. The people I have encountered are always a part of that time as I reflect on who is in my life and why.

These days I also find myself much more conscious of God throughout my days, of his work in my work, of his hand in the people I meet and the way I go about by business.

It makes for a robust sense of spiritual health and rootedness, but even with good practices and life in balance I still feel the need for definite holiday times – spaces away from the routines and familiarly of home – time to recharge and live in a different space

Ironically I feel myself often spiritually ‘free-falling’ in these times. The life that is intended to bring renewal and re-energising does so at one level – my body rests from hard physical labour and my mind is diverted from the tasks of business and Christian leadership, but I also inevitably drop any disciplines and my focused connections with God are sporadic and infrequent. It’s a kind of free range’ spirituality where I graze here and there but with no regular pattern.

I remind myself that I need to engage with the basics of scripture and prayer because these are my source of sustenance – my meat and potatoes – but I don’t actually do it. I think about it, feel a little guilty but can’t seem to summon the energy to do much more than a brief skim of a familiar psalm followed by a distracted prayer.

In these moments I fear heading home physically replenished and mentally fresh, but spiritually disoriented.

I wonder what my absence of any regular practice on holidays says of my relationship with God? I wonder if I’m in danger of becoming a professional Christian who reads, prays and ticks the boxes because it keeps the bills paid. I’d like to think I have more integrity than that, but my holidays often leave me questioning. We sometimes go to church on holidays but not always. Those times are too often disappointing. I hesitate to write of our experiences of church in any kind of evaluative way because those comments are unfair to the people in the community we have joined for a brief hour or two. The fact that their music, theology and culture may not have been to my taste is completely irrelevant. They are a bunch of brothers and sisters having a crack at being the people of God as best they know how in some difficult places.

Having written this I should confess that with another month of holiday still to go, I have no great ambitions to change the way things are. I don’t want to bring workaday rhythms into the holiday space. I am not seeking an experience of God thru a church service. It makes me very uneasy to imagine any of those scenarios.

I could probably tell you that I encounter God in the surf, in the vastness of the Aussie outback and in the conversations we have both with friends and others we meet on the road. And that’s true. I often find myself giving thanks for the things we do, the beaches we surf and the people we meet. I know God is ‘not far from any one of us’  and he is accessible if I am willing to ‘tune in’.

But, in spite of the theory of this and even with my attempts to practice it, I find that I lack the sense of connection to God that I hope to have – of hearing from him, feeling inspired by him and of being disturbed by him. I’d like God to poke me, to annoy me even with a renewed vision for life. I’d like to be called to something grander than my life is at the moment and to go home feeling like there is something to be done.

I have listened to sermons online as we have travelled, read Christian books and articles and shared conversation with Danelle and the kids around significant issues of faith, but I feel ‘ho hum’ in my spirit and I’m hoping for more.

At this stage I feel like we will lob back into life in late August and re-enter our regular rhythms with no great ephipany and no overwhelming revelation to spur us on.

Maybe that’s ok.

Maybe that’s just how it is…

Perhaps a holiday of this ilk is simply what we need and my relationship with God isn’t slowly slipping into the toilet at all. It’s hard for me to grasp that (and maybe it’s not the case) but perhaps it is what’s needed for me at this time.

It used to be (in my busy and frenetic youth pastor days) that I would go away on holidays, intentionally ‘look away’ from work but in the rest, fresh ideas and inspiration would form. It’s many years since I’ve experienced that and I’m wondering if it’s no longer a reality. Perhaps in this season of life it is enough just to kick back and enjoy beach, bush and family and to trust that God is still capable of entering my world in dramatic ways if he wants to – or maybe he just wants me to be ok with that not happening too.

Lila – At Last

lila

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we left for Cape range I was keen to restock the library, as I had cut thru my first stack of books and was needing some fresh inspiration.

My intention was to finally finish Lila by Marilyne Robinson, a book I have started 3 times (and got well over half way thru on each occasion) but then become bogged down in. It feels like it’s worthy of a greater effort from me – I loved Gilead and enjoyed Home, but this one just fails to ignite each time I tackle it. So I commit to finishing it…

I finish Lila in the way an amateur runner finishes a marathon. I slog it out and refuse to quit but I’m so glad when it’s over. Perhaps it’s the mood I’m in, the distractions around me or my need for some simple, more readable and entertaining material, but Lila just doesn’t cut it.

I wander in and out of attentiveness and regularly have to go back and read whole chapters to remember just what is actually happening in the story. But I finish it late on the first evening at Kurrajong and now I can delete it from my tablet. It no longer haunts me as the unfinishable book…

Gould’s Book of Fish however… I accidentally bought two copies of this on Amazon and have not been able to get a third of the way into it before feeling like I am lost.

For the record Lila is the third in Robinson’s trilogy of novels set in the fictitious American town of Gilead and revolving around the life of an elderly Congregational minister – John Ames. This is the story of his second wife – Lila – and it tells of her life from birth into a family of homeless drifters thru to her marriage to Ames.

It’s a powerful story as Lila is ‘stolen’ from her family by Doll and endures a life of wandering hardship before finishing up in Gilead and finding a friend in Ames. The unlikely relationship between the conservative, genteel preacher and the somewhat feral and fickle Lila is the making of the story, and the child they conceive together makes it a little more interesting.

Ames ability to love and accept Lila and to pronounce no judgement on her past is the beauty of the story, but it just seems to meander interminably and ends up becoming an exercise in endurance rather than joy.

I will devote a whole post to my next book though as it’s been a wonderfully easy read and an all too brief source of late night chuckles.

 

Kurrajong Adventures

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So we pack up the Expanda – by now we are experts (and experts always get complacent) and trundle off around the cape 70ks to our new home. On the way we drop in at Dunes to check the surf – the girls have given permission for Sam and I to have one last surf before we disappear down the coast another 50ks. That said it is the kind of permission that says ‘ok… You surf and we will wait patiently doing nothing until you get back…’ Ellie is less careful ‘they’re doing what? You’re kidding!’

So we drive van and car into the carpark hoping there are no unexpected events happening that will necessitate a careful maneuver reversing out. Quite the opposite – the carpark has 4 cars and we have come to realise this means the surf is small. A couple of young Aussie blokes head over the hill to join the one Euro Touro in the water waiting for whatever waves may appear. It is high tide but the small swell is barely breaking so after 5 minutes of enjoying the view we agree  together that there isn’t much point in paddling out. Sam is agreeing less than the rest of us – he has just found his surfing legs so any wave is better than no wave. He is a compliant kid though so the family ‘no vote’ wins and we hop back in the car bound for the North Kurrajong campground.

kurrajongcamp

30 minutes later we arrive to a half empty campground and locate our area, a huge bay next to Martin and Rosemary, a pair of nomads from Queensland. They seem friendly enough and are your typical senior cit on the road, traveling frugally and passing on all of their accumulated wisdom to anyone who will listen.

We set up the van – we are now experts remember?… Unfortunately none of us remembers to switch the fridge to gas and in the morning there is a distinct sense that all is not cold. It looks like we have caught it before it got ugly so we should survive without a long drive back to Exmouth to replenish.

The wind has turned strong northerly as Sam and I head up to check out the beach. On the drive down we had discussed the surf that breaks in the reefs around 600-700m offshore and agreed we would paddle out to see what we could find. Sam is keen to go. He wants to ‘get some barrels, slam some cutties, smash the lip…’ In reality he may stand up and stodgily flounder down the face of the wave before stacking it at the bottom, but I choose not to erase his grand vision.

We wait until 4pm to paddle out and give the wind a chance to drop. It mellows a little and we begin the paddle – me on my 8’8″ mal and Sam on his short board. I stop every 3 minutes to allow him to catch up. It’s mid tide, but by the time we get close to the reef my fingers are getting scratched by coral as we paddle. Each stop has me trying not to rest a foot on the increasingly shallow ocean bottom. Sam is now worried about sharks, coral, the distance and pretty much everything you can imagine. He finds fear in the strangest places…

As we reach the edge of the reef it is quite obvious we will not be going further. It would be a foolish and very un-Eco friendly walk over sharp coral to get to waves that were now much larger and dredgier than they had appeared from shore. Sam is visibly relieved when I suggest we turn back. By comparison to other days we have been here this was a very small surf day so I can only imagine the size of the waves on those reefs at other times.

The paddle in is slow and punctuated with regular breaks, but we eventually arrive and Sam heads off in search of crabs, aka ‘bait’, around the rocks. Two hours later he reappears victorious having caught and pummeled with a large rock one small crab. He is proud of his hunter gatherer achievements and heads off back to the van to pack the crab in a zip-lock bag ready for the next day’s fishing. (Yeah… We could have just bought bait…)

 

fiveWe sit on the top the dunes and have a quiet drink (of tea…) with the other campers and the day ends as the sun goes down and the cold of evening suddenly sets in. Danelle is now wearing a jumper and zipping up everything on the van that can be closed. I brave the ‘cold’ to bbq the chicken outside but after 15 minutes discover that with the increasing wind, there is barely enough heat to keep the chicken warm let alone cook it.

 

evening

Eventually we cook in the van and settle in for dinner with chicken and salad before an evening movie – a quirky weekly Danelle picked up from the Exmouth video store. I watch the first 30 mins, fall asleep, snore loudly and get nudged, before waking for the last half hour. ‘Julie and Julia’ is less than awesome but it did wile away a couple of hours…

Ellie has decided she wants back in the family home this evening (she has a tent she erects to escape us) so we fold the dining table down into a makeshift bed that I have constructed and Sam – being still the shortest – finds himself on there yet again. iPads and tablets light the caravan as we read but slowly one by one they extinguish as we nod off.

The night is still and quiet – it seems too good to be true, but for 9 hours the only sound is the gentle crashing of the waves and we sleep wonderfully and wake to a dead still, and even somewhat warm morning.

It has been a much needed relief from the noise and bustle of major caravan parks.

 

Exmouth Again – Surf, Funerals, Knobs

On Monday morning we left our camp base in Exmouth town and headed for Cape Range National park where we stayed for 3 nights. 
We were glad to leave Broome after too many noisy nights and increasing boredom. There is only so much to do… So after the stops in Port Smith and a return visit to Robe River, we drove thru to Exmouth and back to the central caravan park where we managed to get the last site going. We scored 5 nights on that site but then had to move sites for the final two nights. Who would have thought Exmouth would be so busy out of school holidays?… Turns out there are grey nomads who simply make this ‘home’ for months… Both big caravan parks in town were fully booked but there was space in the Lighthouse park – one we had been to before and didn’t like.
My first job in Exmouth was to remove the rear wheel, dismantle the Poly air suspension and locate the leak. After plunging the airbag in a bucket I discovered the leak wasn’t in the bag itself (a good thing) but was at the point of connection. So I trimmed the hose, reconnected, tightened up the cable tie and all was good. A simple fix and very happy at that.
That same afternoon Sam and I took off to look for surf while the girls set up house. Sadly there were only messy onshore waves so we drove home again hoping for better the next day. It’s a 40 k round trip from the town to the surf break and I knew it wasn’t going to be breaking, but some days you just run on hope.
The next 5 days however, turned on some beautiful waves, from the tiny and barely ridable to the headhigh and invigorating. The crowds were down and Sam finally managed to get beyond riding water water to actually riding waves and it was fun to share some waves with him each day.
The high point came on Sunday afternoon when we lobbed in around 11.30 just before high tide. The surf was small but we paddled out anyway as we’ve noticed the conditions can shift pretty quickly in Exmouth. As we surfed a crowd was gathering on the beach so I asked a local what was going on. It turned out there was a funeral at 1pm for a local bloke who had died of cancer recently.
funeral
As word got around the water slowly emptied and people left, but Sam and I stayed. By 12.30 the water was empty and the beach was packed with 300-400 people.  The funeral began at 1 and we had heard there was going to be a ‘paddle out’ afterwards so we figured we would just surf thru until then unless someone called us out.
crowd
paddleout
While the surf wasn’t big, the chances of ever finding empty, quality waves in warm water on a Sunday afternoon are pretty much non-existent so we just surfed until we dropped and then paddled in – only to see my car parked 3 deep in the carpark and with no way out…
It didn’t seem cool to mingle in the funeral and try to find out who was ‘driving the Triton and the Hyundai’, so we just went back and sat on the beach and became part of the event. We watched about a hundred locals do a paddle out, and then have a fun surf for an hour or so, before the crowd began to thin, the tears eased off and we were able to locate a driver to help us get out.
blocked
empty
Empty and perfect
locals
10 minutes later…
We had enjoyed some great waves – alone – because the sheer volume of cars blocking the carpark meant that not only where we blocked in – but every other surfer was either at the funeral or blocked out. A rare father son moment – both beautiful and memorable.
We shifted campsites at our caravan park that day and set up home again on site 111. All was looking good until the ‘boys’ arrived behind us and then at 9pm the family with young kids pitched up and set up their tent. The boys were your average Aussie blokes on a fishing trip, but lacking any sense of social etiquette. We listened to their choice in music played loudly across the campsite so the peace that was there was shattered. Fortunately they dialled it down around 8.30 as they went to bed and got set for a big day of fishing.
We listened to the family next to us reading bedside stories in the tent at 9pm and all sounded very cute. However at 6am the sound was less cute as the kids were up and chatting away at the top of their voices. The parents seemed oblivious to the fact that a tent is not sound protection of any form, so at 6.15 while it was still dark I loudly announced the time to them hoping it might make them aware that others weren’t enjoying their children as much as they were. This had no effect and we all woke to the gradually increasing cacophony of 4 small children. At 7 they left the tent to play outside, running and screaming. At that time I moved into Phys Ed teacher mode and barked out loudly ‘It’s 7 o’clock people – tone it down!’ That did the trick… Instant silence and a decision by the parents to hit the pool… That’s the way – why teach your kids to be quiet and respect others when you can simply divert them and let them be noisy next to some one else?…
Seriously – I like kids – I have kids – but if you take your kids camping then do the right thing and consider those around you who may not have planned on waking to the sound of their voices.
They came back from the pool at 8 and packed up their tent. God had smiled on us and they were moving to another site as they only had a one night booking on this one. Or maybe I scared them off…maybe a bit of both.
Their place was taken by some grey nomads and you might think you’d be fairly safe from noise with the older crew but not so. At 10.30 that night I left the caravan yet again to go and tell a noisy group of nomads to dial it down and ‘stop being so bloody noisy’. A bit stronger than my usual polite request, but let’s just say this request fitted this scenario. Raucous laughter and booming voices late in the evening aren’t cool – and they knew it…
I have lost count of the number of times I have had to front people about noise on this trip. I don’t go looking for it, but now I’m beyond rolling over and putting up with it. It seems consideration for others is a rare commodity these days and it really makes camping unenjoyable.
From rowdy neighbours to people with clattering generators and local parties until the early hours, we have really experienced it this time around and it’s made me consider giving camping away unless we can do it off peak in remote areas. It takes the fun out of it when every few nights you have to look someone in the eye and effectively tell them they are being a selfish knob.
So we moved to North Kurrajong in Cape Range National park for our final few days in Exmouth. We booked a ‘no generator’ campground as the last thing we want in a remote area is a chorus of hacking old motors running in the background as we try to quietly chill and escape the world.
And the good news is that it was everything we had hoped with warm friendly neighbours, silent starry evenings and a beautiful beach on our doorstep.

 

 

Books and Movies – Quick Reviews

Ok some quick reviews of what I’ve been reading and watching when I haven’t been fixing stuff…

Books

Apehouse by Sara Gruen – Mmmmm… Not terrible but barely inspiring. The story of bonobo chimps who learn to communicate with humans and then get stolen and used in a reality TV show… Skip it I suggest…

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand –  the biography of Louie Zemperini – a pretty inspiring and gritty story of a runner, soldier, POW, alcoholic and Jesus follower. Worth a read – easy reading but pretty gut wrenching at times and perhaps a bit drawn out in places.

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo – a crime thriller and I’ve forgotten the storyline already… I enjoy Nesbo and his Harry Hole character, but find his stories a bit complicated to follow at times.

Nemesis by Jo Nesbo – as above, but a bit harder to follow the story… I actually enjoy the diversion these books bring, but they are far from top shelf.

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodrigeuz – pretty easy reading, I’m half way thru and enjoying the less complex storyline after Nesbo.

Movies

Selma – a bit disappointing. I had hoped for more, but it lacked some of the punch and inspiration I was thinking would be there. 5/10

Wild – one woman’s personal journey both physically as she treks a long trail in the USA and as she seeks to deal with her demons following her mums death and her subsequent melt down. It was engaging but the moral didn’t resonate with me at all. It seemed that the message of the film was that all the crap and messed up stuff we do in our lives isn’t actually negative, but it’s what shapes us into who we are. Hmmm… Maybe but perhaps we’d be better off not getting into dodgy stuff in the first place?… 5/10

71 – wow this one took me back. Set on the streets of Belfast in 1971, a British soldier gets left behind by his platoon in the middle of the battle zone. The complexity and messiness of the situation makes his recovery difficult. This is a gritty movie that can be brutal in places – but then that makes it all the more real. 8/10