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29 Aug 2010

Bridge To Brisbane - My Best Run

Unlike back home where the papers are all abuzz with celebrities running (Deepika Padukone and Rahul Bose for the Sunfeast World 10K run, Gul Panag and others at the Mumbai Marathon) where that's all one gets to see - i.e. pics of celebs encouraging one to run and after the run, pics of them having taken off - this was different. When the flyers in my goody-bag said Adam Gilchrist was the Community Ambassador for our bank, I did not expect to actually see him there. Surprise, surprise! He was there, standing behind the sunscreen stands, chatting to people. Walk up to him and ask for a picture, he obliges like he's there just for you! Of course, it helped that nobody was mobbing him at the stands.

Even though I started off by talking about 'Gilly', that was not quite the highlight of today's run. Well, the highlight of Bridge2Brisbane was charity for Autism, among others. For me, the brightest moment was the dash across the finishing line. To simply realize that I had run the entire 5km without stopping, on an empty stomach, was exhilarating! I was not sure I could do it. I was unprepared, insofar as my gear and bag were not in order, I woke up a good half hour late this morning, the coffee spilled in the microwave and I was late. So late that I made it to the Square, just as the rest of them had paid for their coffee and were about to head off as soon as I arrived. However, that was to be the end of my bad moments. 

Arrived well in time for the run, had enough time to slap on some sunscreen at the Sunwise station, a quick piccie with the Aussie cricketer and plenty of time for warm-up or relaxation, whatever one chose to do. I chose to take pictures and gawk at the multitude of colours and people around me, of course. 

The original plan involved running the 5k in 30 minutes. Considering that I had had beer and champagne yesterday, no breakkie this morning and no bananas in my bag, I changed my plans. Plan B was to run the 5k in 40 minutes. Plan C was to run the usual 3.5k and walk a while before taking off again. The first 1k was the hardest. I overheard someone at the finish saying, "I saw the 1k sign and thought "Fuck, that's all?"". That was exactly how I felt. The sun did not help. Hunger definitely did not help. I gulped some water and kept pushing myself. I could do it, I could do atleast 3k. The orange pacer balloons for 30 minutes was ahead of me. Way ahead but I could see it from the far end, the while 40 minutes balloons were behind me. I meant to keep it that way, till the end.

At the 3k mark, I nearly gave up. The weather had lifted up a bit and gotten better soon after the start. Around the 3k mark, the road got steeper and the sun came up over our heads again. The cap was not helping. Water was not helping. The only solace was the electrolyte at the 2.5k mark. "Don't stop, keep going", I repeated to myself. In my head, I could hear my husband saying, "Run slow if you must but don't stop". That was it... a slow run... almost 200 metres of walk...

The people running past me was too much motivation to not run. I broke into a jog and picked up speed again. The large red sign that screamed, "Congratulations! Only 1k to go!" was a thrill to sight. There was going to be no slowing down anymore. Just before the last 300 metres, there was a volunteer holding a large placard that said 'Reduce Speed'. I almost did. I knew it was the right thing to do, one has to reduce speed. Nobody cared. We had neared the ending, we have to make it to the finish line, that was all was in everyone's minds. People started to pick up speed. 

That was it, I could hold it no longer. My legs found life of their own and I dashed. Ran like my life was at stake. In just under 35 minutes, I had made it. Not too bad, not too bad. I could not stop right away, of course, after that mad rush of adrenalin. It was totally worth pushing myself. My best run so far. 

The water stations, the spray tents, fruits and breakkie at the finish were a blessing. We picked up another tee that said that we had finished the B2B, returned our timing chips and grabbed the free copy of Sunday Mail. At the train station, everyone seemed to have run the B2B. So much excitement among the kids. I was beat, I wish I had their energy. I could not wait to get home and jump into the shower. Warm water. Paradise found.

22 Aug 2010

Type, Click, Scream

I logged into the JB Hi-Fi online store this morning, to check their opening times. The screen that flashed before my eyes took my breath away. The background colour and the enormous fonts come leaping at you, with a startling effect. Offers, discounts, yada yada yada, buy from us, the screen screams. As for me, all I wanted was store timings for the store at Albert Street. Look as I might, I simply could not find it. Neither store locations nor store timings.

In a desperate final attempt, before giving up, I started to scour each line on my monitor. Most of them were elephant-sized fonts, so it was easy enough to figure there was nothing there. By sheer determination, I continued on to the fine print on the left side of the page. As I read each of the items on offer and nearly gave up, I noticed a tiny mention at the end of the long list of offers. It said "at convenient locations" and it had a link! That's it! Click on it and you have your store locations. Boy, they sure make that hard to find, don't they?

It takes you to a page where you now pick your state (fortunately it defaults to where you are at) and street. Click and there is all the information I wanted. Oh wait, all? Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. No Sunday? It's not open today? Damn! Again, out of frustration, I read again. Hang on, what's that there? Before Monday. There's "Today". It's open today. Woo hoo!!

Trading Hours
Today (22/8)10:00am - 5:00pm
Monday (23/8)9:00am - 7:00pm
Tuesday (24/8)9:00am - 7:00pm
Wednesday (25/8)9:00am - 7:00pm
Thursday (26/8)9:00am - 7:00pm
Friday (27/8)9:00am - 9:00pm
Saturday (28/8)9:00am - 5:30pm

As someone who has been part of some 'behind-the-scenes' for event management activities, computer screens and an avid online customer, I know that the presentation on the homepage of any website is critical to it's popularity. The sitemap is very important. Some customers may not be online-savvy, they might just be there to see how to get to a 'real store'. The website needs to tell them what they can get out of the store. The advertisements can flash on the sides or at the top of the page. Maybe even a pop-up. Adverts flashing all over the screen, on the front page is a big NO. It is a definite turn-off.

I can't help but wonder what the developer was thinking when he coded the screen that way. Maybe the store wanted that and his hands were tied. In that case, what was the web team of the company thinking? Each time I go on there, I say a little prayer "Oh dear God, help me! Save me from this barrage of colour and text! Help me find my stuff soon so I can get off quickly!"

Anybody listening? If you design a web page, please go easy on the eyes. Have mercy on your customers.

2010 Federal Elections: Voters Backlash, Hung Parliament Looms

Election campaigning in Australia is nothing like it is back home. No blaring noise on the streets, no traffic jams caused by campaigners, no posters splattered across the city and most importantly, no frenzied preparations for security on election day to stop offenders. You might think then that it is easy to move from one day to another without even noticing that the elections are here. Not so.

There is persistent campaigning on the telly. Every few minutes, on every channel, you see a few seconds of each party slagging the other. You simply cannot miss it or turn away. Very soon, you know that the Labour party has overspent last year's budget, Tony Abbot has screwed up workplace relations and so on. Of all the adverts I've watched, there is only one that carries a positive message - the one where Mr. Abbot spells out the Opposition's contract for Australians. His promise to repay Labour's debts, stop the boats and such ones. The rest tell you why not to vote for the other party and you are to assume that it is reason enough to vote for them.

So the Opposition has made an attempt to talk about something that they will do. Yet, it is Ms Gilliard who appears to lead the popularity chart. She has a presence that Mr. Abbot lacks. There is enough talk about her. It does not matter whether she just stabbed Kevin Rudd in the back or she is out on the streets shaking hands and kissing babies; She is the topic of conversation. Her trips to Adelaide, campaigning in Brisbane, talks in Melbourne were all broadcast. I did not hear as much about her opponent. It may seem that she may not have enough support from Brisbaners loyal to their Mr. Rudd but it will not be a surprise if she does manage to clinch the throne. 

When she talks, people want to report it. She seems to possess leadership qualities that make her stand out. That does not necessarily mean that she will do good, just that she can put up a good fight. She knows her strengths, the skills women are typically known for, and she uses it to her best advantage. No, I don't mean looks (have you seen her?) but the talents that make women good leaders. The ability to reach out and be noticed. 

I overheard someone once say, "Does she think she can become the PM by kissing babies and shaking hands?". Why not? Maybe the act itself will not give her the seat. It brings her in touch with the masses. 

She is like the celebrities we read about everyday. They have fans. How many fans really know them? Yet they have fiercely loyal followers. It is all about marketing. The more people see of you, the more people see you, to them you are more than just a name or a little moving object on the TV screen. If the campaigning were all to be believed, both parties are equal in negatives. In that case, who do I vote for? Maybe someone I can identify with or someone I know more about. Someone I have been following on the news everyday because atleast I know what she's upto. Maybe I don't know what is going on behind the scenes but her constant appearances make me believe I am not all in the dark. Where is Tony Abbot? What is he up to? For all that is said, he may be the better man. How do I know that, though? 

That does not mean that I expect the ALP to win the elections. Tony might become the PM, after all. Julia has a presence. She will not relegate to the background so easily. It cannot be missed that all the negative publicity and furore over her 'stabbing' her mate Rudd barely took off. On the one side, people were punching fists in the air and on the other, she was capturing hearts and gaining popularity with equal gusto. She has mustered as much acclaim as disrepute. She still stands tough, in competition to Tony Abbot. Talk about girl power.

As far as I am concerned, it does not matter who wins. I support no one and I did not have to vote. Except for the curiosity that arises out of being an audience to all the action and wanting to see who will win, there is nothing in it for me. Whoever wins, I am pretty sure that enough interest has been aroused in me to see how things go from here. Not so much the governance as the manifestation of the person who wins. Not so much what the government does but how the 2 individuals hold up.

I bet, when the results are finalized and announced, there will not be fire-crackers, parades or any such spectacles in public domain. The campaign slots will be taken up by ads for other products. I wonder what the celebrations will look like. The countdown is on.

19 Aug 2010

Marley and Me

Marley And Me. Life and love with the world's worst dog. Straight on the shelf of my all-time favourite books.

This is not a book review, although God knows it's a must read for everyone, dog lovers and others alike. It adds to life's beautiful memories!

John Grogan has amazing writing skills. In Marley And Me, he brings his story to life, right in front of your eyes. I never felt like I was reading a book, I was watching it unfold before me. I know, for a fact, that I could neer watch the movie and feel the same, no matter how well it might have been made.

As I turned every page, I laughed at Marley's antics, stressed when the family went out leaving him alone at home, hated it when they put him in a kennel to go on vacations, love the walks he took, felt embarassed when he ran off with the table at the alfresco dining (all to sniff a poodle's genitalia). I could feel myself stiffen as Grogan described Marley stepping into the threshold of old age. Each time he discovered a failing function in Marley, I sensed something heavy in my heart. Why was this happening?

The Grogans lived an ordinary life. There was not a single incident in the book that was unusual or special, unless Marley was involved. Yet, not at one line did I get bored. I could read on and on, as Grogan talked of Marley's life year after year. I'm sure he has lots of funny, crazy and tearful memories stocked up, enough to fill another half a dozen books if he wished. I don't know if he picked the best of them or just wrote with the flow of the moment. It is most likely the latter.

Many times, as I read, I remembered my own first dog Sonu. He was no competition to Marley as far as being the world's worst dog went. No doubt he might have been a frequent visitor at the club, though. We loved him to bits, bossy and all. He was definitely the alpha male in the family. He refused to learn lessons he didn't want to. In some ways, there was a stark difference between him and Marley. He was disciplined and as he grew up, he was less and less a puppy. Devoted, no doubt. He understood the moods of people

When I read the bit about Marley comforting Jenny during one of her difficult pregnancies, it tugged at my heart. The warmest memories I have, of Sonu, are those times when he was just there for me, comforting me, always understanding. That's what I've missed most over the years. I still carry a picture of him, wherever 'home' is, for me. The decision to put him down was the hardest ever and he saved us the trouble by simply giving himself up. It hurt.

The last few pages of the book drove so close to home that I couldn't put down the book until I'd read to the last line. I didn't have a laptop at the time of writing this blog, so I wrote on paper, scribbling as furiously as my thoughts flew. I had to write. It is my tribute to Marley. And Sonu.

Reading Marley And Me makes me miss my own 11-year old back home. Pangs of guilt strike, as I think of my decision to leave her behind and chase after new experiences. She is a part labrador too but one of the most well-behaved dog I have ever had. Her obsession for food is no less than Marley's but she has none of the loony behaviour. The arthritis. The 'Mary's little lamb' act. Check. Check.

As the husband and I go through the same phase as John & Jenny, watching our 11-year old puppy in her retirement years, I notice how she too has her bad days when she needs help to get on the stairs and lots of good days when we wonder if she is really that old. Gone are those days when we tried to get her off our bed and sleep on hers in the lounge. Now, we hug her if she can leap onto it or get off by herself. Sometimes, she manages the leap but the jump down gives her the jitters. Not without reason, it is painful on her bones. How many times hasn't she collapsed when her hips gave way, trying to climb the stairs? Yet, we know that she has some more time to go. A few years, at least. Her eyes and ears, every other sense is as sharp as ever. She is still a puppy in so many ways.

Her name is Lucky. What a coincidence that Marley's story ends with the Grogans looking at an ad for a labrador retriever named Lucky too. As notorious as Marley was, probably?

I wonder what Xigris and George are up to. I wish I could cuddle them just now. On the other hand, what wouldn't I give to have Lucky sniffing around the house, fussing for food, right here with me?

Dogs. They make life so beautiful!

7 Aug 2010

Queensland's Wildlife

I've realised that it is not so much the driving in India that is the problem but the drivers. After a 30-minute near nauseous bus drive to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary today, we finally arrived. Indian driver. Sad.

Expensive as the entry was, one can easily spend a good half day with the animals. Our first encounter was with this little advertised pony.

Then we met Mr. Little Kangaroo. The fella was grazing all by himself and did not move when I went up to him. Excited, I asked my husband to quickly take a picture. If he had, there would have been me standing and traces of a kangaroo pentaloping. We walked around the lake with numerous ducks and a couple of raptors, before moving on to watch a show of the birds of prey.

We met Milo, the barn owl, Schnapps, the barking owl, Omega, the wedge tailed eagle, Illuka the white-bellied sea eagle and Zephyr, the brahminy kite. Such grace. Such agility. What charisma!

Kelly with Illuka

Our next show was the sheep one. It was my first time watching the sheep-dogs (Border Collies and Kelpies) get the mob in order and drive them into the yard and then the shearing area. The shearing itself was another experience. It was a little painful watching the poor animal going under the knife and hurt a little each time he protested. However, when Daniel was done shearing, he flung the rug of fleece on the counter and it was impossible not to admire his handiwork!

Once the shows were over, we moved on to meet the famous Aussie buggers.

Hungry Emu

Sleeping Koala, how cuddly

Kangaroo poses, "Will you leave me alone, now?"
The rest of the guys are all in cages, like any other zoo I've seen but all different animals. From platypus to monitors, dingoes, crocs, snakes to beautiful, coloured parrots, larakeets, turkeys and flying foxes hanging upside down, there is such a lot to watch. A big part of my 'new culture' learning experience.

Now, if only I could convince my husband to go to the Ekka with me tomorrow, it would be one hell of a farm life experience.