December (with a merry Christmas to you all!)

When you mention 'December', it tends to conjure notions of Christmas, with Santa and tinsel and the rich, heady, succulent smell of roasting turkey (I'm getting hungry just thinking about it). With lashings of gravy and crisp roast potatoes and moist pumpkin and plum pudding with whipped cream and... (okay, deep breath). My point is that when the whole month is taken into consideration, I think the best descriptor is actually 'relentless'. That influx of catalogues, pausing just for Christmas itself, the determined stream of shoppers that head out each day with credit card and attitude, the bombardment of must-have toys and treats and technology, and the way so much has to be crammed into so few days. That slip past so incredibly rapidly. Faster than any other month, so that you blink and they're gone. Like one of those view-finder toys from the eighties. Click, click, click.
And every year I make a vow that the following December will be more relaxed, more organised, more casually sublime. But of course nothing changes. Then again, maybe that's what makes it December. That relentless rush, the frenetic consumerism, the glorious kitsch, the over-abundance, and that the feeling of being ever so slightly out-of-control. Like this morning when I slid my credit card over to the cashier and she looked at it and then looked at me, and I looked at her and then looked at it - and realised it was, in fact, my organ donation card. Quick as a flash I said: "What? Don't you barter?" But unfortunately my cutting edge humour was totally wasted on her and I left the store with, as usual for this time of year, my credit card severely dented and organs relatively intact. However that was still a sight better than last night when I managed to argue with a very rude store clerk (Kmart), a pushy woman on the elevator and my amazingly, hugely, ridiculously argumentative fourteen-year old, all in the space of ten minutes. But the thing is that despite everything I love Christmas, really love it, and so all it took after I got home was tumbler of good quality Christmas spirit and I was back in the swing of things.

And I raise the same glass (or maybe a fresh one) to wish you all, each and every one, a lovely festive season. With hopes that you survive December relatively intact and arise on Christmas day with enough energy to have a riproaring good time and a very merry Christmas! Cheers!

December (lost on the edge of suburbia)

Enjoyed a lovely Kokoda get-together on Sunday, where we went for a fairly decent hike and then returned to partake of a companionable smorgasbord lunch on the decking. The sun was shining, the air was mild, the food was delicious, the company sublime. Everything, therefore, a far cry from our last walk a few weeks ago. Which had been enough to make several of us seriously reconsider the wisdom (i.e. sanity) of this whole Kokoda idea. I mean, if we can't even walk up the side of a hill in suburbia without problems, what hope have we got over there?

It was our first trek together since Hall's Gap, and Wayne's first with us en masse (which will give him an idea what it will be like trekking with eight middle-aged woman), and my first since surgery, and Cathri's first since developing a severe chest infection that she really should have gone to the doctor about but didn't so it lasted much longer than it should have. Anyway, it all started relatively smoothly (metaphorically speaking - in actual fact, as we were trekking up the Mt Dandenong firebreak, the route itself was covered with rocks and assorted other definitely non-smooth debris). We were a bit staggered, with the latecomers bringing up the rear, but that seems to be par for the course. Problems started about a third of the way up with Lyn having to stop because of early-onset exhaustion, shortness of breath and some chest pains. True to our spirit of camaraderie etc, we left her sitting on a rock and continued on. Which, come to think of it, doesn't bode all that well for any of us who might fall a little behind in Kokoda. Incentive, I suppose, to keep up.

We reached the top without too many issues and then parted from Wayne who decided to go back the way we had come (hmm...). This seemed a little straightforward to the rest of us, choosing instead to do the long hike down the side, past the television antennas. Now, because this descent isn't as exhausting as the direct climb, it allowed us ample opportunity to chat. In hindsight we may have overdone this a trifle because we promptly got lost. For the next two and half hours we were not to see another human, apart from a rather strange lady who appeared out of the undergrowth dressed in pyjamas and loudly announced that this was her backyard. I may be a little cynical but she didn't seem like the ideal candidate for directional advice.

The main problem was that we actually didn't know we were lost for quite some time. And this ignorance meant that we actually got more lost, so by the time we realised we were lost, we were really, really lost. Does that make sense? Not that there weren't some high points. Like when the lead group, Annie, Lorraine and Cathri, were seemingly attacked by a rabidly shrieking cockatoo (admittedly this may not have been such a high point had I been amongst the lead group). On closer examination we discovered the bird's target was, in fact, an absolutely huge goanna that was determinedly inching it's way up a tree towards her nest. She was not surprisingly livid with panic, swooping down to attack the goanna over and over, as her relatives screamed their support from further down the mountain (some less vocal and more physical back-up may have been more helpful). In sympathy with her maternal instincts, we pitched a few (tiny) stones at the goanna but stopped when we realised that, if anything, we were driving him (do you like the instinctive gender assumptions?) towards the eggs. Eventually though, worn down by the cocky's attack, he turned tail and fled down the tree and into the undergrowth. There, no doubt, to bide his time with cunning patience. Because sadly, now that he knew where they were, those eggs were most probably doomed.

There were also some low points (apart from the whole doomed egg angle). The lowest being when Cathri rolled her ankle on a rock and went down like a sack of potatoes. One minute she was chatting cheerfully, the next she was a moaning mound of injuured humanity. I'm pleased to say, however, that we never considered leaving her where she was. Not seriously, anyway. But this was the point where being lost ceased to be in any way amusing, and actually became a concern (for Cathri, a rather painful concern).

We spent the next hour walking (or limping) in what seemed like circles. We were in phone contact with Lyn (who was now sitting in her car back at the start) but could see nothing that even suggested suburbia. Even the pyjama-clad woman was long gone (perhaps thankfully, as there was something a little disturbingly Stephen King-like about that one). Eventually we reached a small clearing with a number of roughly-hewn paths. Cathri was finding it more and more difficult to walk so while she rested, several of us set out to discover which, if any, path led to civilisation. Lorraine took the narrowest one, heading determinedly towards a bushy area with copious undergrowth. Never to be seen again.

Well, strictly that's not true but I wanted to inject some drama. Actually we saw her about six minutes later, after she had hiked down this goat-track, shinnied under a barbed wire fence, walked across the overgrown yard, found a house, ascertained there was no-one home and then worked out that a nearby driveway should be roughly pointing in the direction we needed. I should add that Lorraine is not one of us who has a service background. No, of those four ex-long term Army Reservists, one was listening to the radio in her car while waiting, one was lying on the ground emitting intermittent moans, and the remaining two were taking advantage of the temporary hiatus to catch up on stuff. Which was probably got us into this mess to start with.

To cut a long story, and a good few hundred metres, short, Lorraine returned to heroically lead us from the wilderness. Lyn was found and directed up the driveway where she collected Cathri in her car and drove her the rest of the way. And shortly afterwards we all parted company, heartily sick of each other. A planned one and a half hour walk had turned into a four and a half hour bush-bashing fiasco. And while all this was going on, Wayne had run up and down the side of the mountain not once, but twice, and had even taken the time to deviate off the track and visit an historical aircraft crash site. Bloody men.