Friday, September 27, 2013

Barista goes to the dogs

Doggie coffee art (1)
And so the waitress puts down the coffee in front of me “Barista says this is your dog”. You’d never suspect he was named after a coffee shop.

Oh yeah, and today marks 6 months since we arrived in Australia.
Doggie coffee art (2)  Doggie coffee art (3)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wonderful life

No need to run and hide, It's a wonderful wonderful life
Another beach day for Munson, which would normally be an hour or so of bliss and sandy wetness.

About ten minutes after we arrived, during which time Munson located a few playmates, everyone on the beach was surprised by the arrival of eight horses and their riders. They emerged from the path at the centre of the beach and went straight into the water, where they rode up and down the length of the beach, at least half-submerged. I know horses occasionally frequent the beach, but have never seen them here in all the years we’ve been, assuming they just came early in the morning before the scores of dogs and their families.

There was not much we could do but just sit it out. It gets quite busy down here when the dog walkers’ vans start arriving with maybe fifteen dogs each. I was surprised that whoever organised this expedition (they all arrived in a truck) timed it like this, and gave no warning of their arrival. Munson was extremely distressed by the horses, but  I wasn’t sure if he just wanted to swim out and play with them, or was worried they were going to drown. After twenty minutes or so they left, and order was restored. Munson swam out past the submarine horse parade ground, possibly to look for bodies, but soon forgot the distraction when a dopey young doberman turned up to play.

Last night Munson was dreaming and snoring quite loudly on the bedroom floor. I’m sure tonight’s performance will be even more interesting.

Here I go, out to sea again  The sun's in your eyes, The heat is in your hair


Huntsman spider (1)  Huntsman spider (2)
I dropped Gustav at work before 9am. On the way back home,  I was making my last right turn at Enmore Road when I found myself looking into the underbelly of a large pink spider stretched out across my driver side window.

It was still riding on the roof when I exited the car a few blocks later, from where it scuttled back down the door and across to the windshield. I suspect a break-out from our Australian Reptile Park visit on Sunday.

Huntsman spider (3)

Monday, September 23, 2013


Munson and Gustav
We made up for Munson’s stay home day yesterday with his first visit to one of the small dog-accessible beaches near Sydney airport. I think this photo says it all!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Australian Reptile Park

Australian Reptile Park - entranceSunday is the first – and sometimes only – day of the week that Gustav and I get to spend together if our work schedules are out of sync, so we generally try to plan at least one special outing. After recent trips west and south, it was time time to turn north again.

When we visited Pierre and Scott in the Hunter Valley some months ago we passed the Australian Reptile Park, and I made a mental note to take Gustav there some day. When I was about 4 years old I lived in the nearby town of Gosford, and the “dinosaur park” – so named because of the giant statue out the front – was one of the bestest places I could be taken. The dinosaur is gone, and the museum has moved to a new site, but seems to have gone from strength to strength.Collecting funnel-web spider venom
One of the museum’s noted activities is collecting snake and funnel-web spider venom for anti-venom serums. Today’s spider milking was before 10am, so I made sure we were on the road at 8am to make it in time. Most of the travel time is taken in getting out of Sydney – if you’re near the “centre” then there’s just no quick way north. Munson would be staying home today – while he would love the day out, there wouldn’t be anywhere we could leave him during our hours at the museum.

Redback spiders in an outdoor dunny snake
tree frogs  chameleon
After surveying the museum’s collection of spiders, frogs and reptiles Gustav is now even more confirmed in his “keep well away from them all” stance – well, except the frogs of course. He loves frogs. I can sense how much he misses our froggy French pond.

Galapagos turtle phone home  P1130996
P1140004  P1130994
The park is not just home to cold-blooded creatures – there’s a colony of lazy kangaroos, some flying foxes and some quite interesting birds ranged around the outdoor areas of the park.
kangaroosflying foxes
After a couple of hours at the museum we drove on to Gosford to coffee. One day I’ll remember which street I lived in then and see if my old house is still there. I remember playing hide and seek under the house during my 4th birthday party and running face first into a spider web. *four year old screams*
I also distinctly remember large blue-tongue lizards around the yard. I wonder if they still venture into populated areas here.

From there it was on to Avoca Beach where Sunday markets were drawing a lot of traffic to the area. We wandered down to the water’s edge but it was too cold to do anything but enjoy the waves and surrounding scenery. There were plenty of dogs enjoying the water, so perhaps we will get Munson up here one day soon.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Iron Cove

A brace of Munsons swimming west of Iron Cove bridgeMonday afternoon is becoming our time for exploring lesser-seen nooks of Sydney. On a sunny Spring weekend, the traffic around the inner city is a deterrent to such travel: much easier to exploit the lull between lunch and peak hour.

Today I’m introducing Gustav to the shores of Iron Cove, tucked between the suburbs of Drummoyne and Rozelle, a bit further west of last week’s destination, Birchgrove. King George Park lies on the western side of the Iron Cove bridge, which was duplicated to support additional traffic during my years in France.
King Georges Park Munson in the swim again (1)Munson in the swim again (2)
There’s a couple of small harbour beaches lined with sandstone outcrops which are popular with dog owners. I remember coming here frequently with Bondi and Dougal about ten years ago, but can’t recall if I ever brought Munson.  That really makes no difference today; Munson was very quickly in the water, paddling around like a hirsute hippo.

sand angel
Failing to enlist any of the other dogs to play with him (he tried so hard) Munson resorted to making himself at home in the sand, which is an easy substitute for snow for any malamute.

I think today’s outing gave Munson a special boost, as he’s been so restricted in his level of exercise and interactions with other dogs over the last month. The saltwater had an additional benefit in washing away the slightly acrid medicinal smell that he’s had since being in hospital.

I took Gustav to nearby Birkenhead Shopping Centre after this, which has also undergone changes while I was away. It’s a bit cleaner looking than when I last went, but it now feels like a big box of bland outlets, and completely wastes its harbourside position. It reminded me of a shopping mall in London/Derry, Northern Ireland which presented only the arse end of a car park to its river frontage.

We moved on to the main street of Balmain which Gustav had only been driven through before. Perched on some milk crates outside a cafe, we were noticed by an old work colleague. He hadn’t seen me in five years, but as soon as he saw a large pile of malamute on the footpath, figured that I was the likely human accompaniment.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Stitches out and go…!

I have no intention of staying still enough for a photo

Tuesday was Munson's "stitches-out" day, and an opportunity for a face to face discussion with his oncologist Veronika.

The immediately good news is that he's now free to run, swim and otherwise join canine society. The next day I took him down to Sydney Park for some very energetic play and reunions.

Going forward I have to assess how best to use the treatment choices, in what is really a numbers game. One route is to use pain medication that has a cancer -protective effect, and the other is to use the metronomic chemotherapy I've mentioned before to target blood-supply to any prospective tumour-lets.

Neither are cheap options, and there's no magic end date at which one can be satisfied that the present danger has been averted. Some opt for an arbitrary 3 or 12 months, and others continue for the rest of their furry friend's life.

Which ever route we take, the experience from Munson's treatment contributes to information used to attack cancer in both dogs and humans. Comparative studies may dramatically shorten the time between clinical studies and available drugs or vaccines.

May I tempt you with your own toy?The first dog that Munson encountered at the park was a young ridgeback/mastiff (?) cross who was both keen to play and over-awed by Munson’s size. Munson quickly latched onto his pull-toy and raced off with it in an attempt to lure his new friend into a chase.

After that he settled down with the regular “crowd on the hill” who were very impressed by Munson’s shaven “chicken leg” and his quick recovery after surgery.

Monday, September 02, 2013

BIRCHGROVE Monday in the city

Lizard's view of the bridge

As the days lengthen, I’m introducing Gustav to some of my favourite Sydney walks and neighbourhoods. There are plenty of headlands and small bays on the harbour west of the Bridge, but few with such expansive views and with so few people around. After walking up Louisa Road (“why don’t we live here?” asks Gustav) towards the little ferry terminal, we find only a trio of fisherman, and a number of geckos basking in the sun.

I brought Munson here at this time of year when he was only a few months’ old to dance on the sand at Snails Bay. I hope his dancing days are back with us quickly after he has his stitches out tomorrow.

Munson at bridge again Munson and the lizard
Sydney Harbour Bridge from Birchgrove

Next time we’ll have to bring a picnic lunch, and savour a few hours with only the lizards and the light off the water to distract us.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

BLUE MOUNTAINS First day of Spring

Munson and Three Sisters

Spring is here, let winter’s icy grip release its hold. So went a radio commentator as we drove west into the mountains today. I imagine they lived in Australian Antarctic Territory as we’ve had little interruption to clear skies and warm days for weeks.
Sydney to the mountains
I haven’t been through the Blue Mountains for about a decade. They sit on Sydney’s western flanks, oh-so-tantalizing, and indeed quicker to reach from the centre than many of Sydney’s northern beach suburbs. As we cruised along the M4 motorway, Munson became a little more alert as we passed under Wallgrove Road, marking the location of the quarantine station that he left four months ago.  That placed us more than half way to the Nepean River at Penrith, after which the road rises immediately on a single twisting route following a line of ridges across the mountains.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the first European crossing of the mountains, which opened the land-starved drought-stricken colony to the pasture lands on the Bathurst plains and beyond. The explorers’ names are commemorated in a line of towns along the path they identified: Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth Falls.

Some day I’ll stop in at the Norman Lindsay Gallery at Springwood to see some of the great artist’s legacy. His vast body of work is somewhat overshadowed by his children’s book The Magic Pudding. I got to know him better with his later work The Flyaway Highway which is now barely known and it seems, rarely in print. Today I’m targetting Leura, adjacent to the mountains’ principal township Katoomba, not coincidentally because that’s where the best coffee is to be found.

Leura Mall
Munson sits in the back of the Scenic, feet planted between our seats, head attentive to all the new scenery. He’s been really happy over recent days, with scarcely any attention paid to his stitched and denuded leg, which is now coated in a fine layer of down like a new snowfall. He wants to run and frolic; interesting low-energy activity is the best I can substitute. New sights and smells will feed his dreams.
Warwick Fuller - Afternoon Sun (2011)Gustav @ Honeymoon lookout
We wander the Mall in Leura for a while, browsing in shops and galleries while Munson said hello to all and sundry. Gustav’s attention was taken by all the new flowering trees, only some of which I could name.

I was particularly impressed by one of the large landscape oil paintings of Warwick Fuller that I saw at Lost Bear Gallery. It’s not a genre that I embrace, but he has a formidable technique and a way of making gum trees look voluptuous that’s almost overpowering, particularly when seen at full 150cm x 150cm scale.
The Three Sisters and Mount Solitary
Minutes from the Mall is a long escarpment where Katoomba, Leura and other towns break with the beautiful Jamison Valley. Our first view is from the Honeymoon lookout, and then from the larger viewing Katoomba platform overlooking the Three Sisters, Mount Solitary and the heavily forested valley floor 500m below.
Western Highway along the ridge at the top of the Jamison Valley
We lunched on great pies at Katoomba’s Hominery Bakery  - thank you Atalya for the recommendation – before returning to Leura and the walks around Gordon’s Falls. As we' enter national park on any of the bushwalks here we can’t bring Munson, so he has to be left in a cool shaded place. Even without these prohibitions I wouldn’t want him over-working his leg on the steep stairs down to rainforest glades like that at the Pool of Siloam (not to be confused with this one) below.

Gustav @ Pool of Siloam
Pool of Siloam Honeymoon lookout
Munson would have gone crazy with joy in a swimming hole like this. I’d love to find a pet friendly spot like this for him to make up for the loss of our beloved lake at Lupiac.

Our final visit was to the lookouts at Wentworth Falls, but we didn’t attempt any of the tracks down to the water or around the cliff edges. Put it down to heat, tiredness, not wanting to leave Munson too long, and my extreme aversion to heights.
Wentworth Falls lookout