Dear Friends,

Well, we didn't see that one coming, did we?

What a year! Some descriptive words for 2020: unprecedented, exhausting, surreal, stifling, missing. One of the representations I liked the best was that 2020 was similar to "looking both ways before crossing a street and then being hit by a submarine"!

The year began ordinarily enough with our customary New Year's Eve event
which included a happy gathering of friends, the consumption of "nibblies", the playing of a trivia game, and some drinks.


New Year's Eve at home


January was fairly quiet. A day was spent at Ocean Grove to visit Jenny and Darryl and other members of the extended family. They have been holidaying at the same place for about 60 years and I have been either staying or visiting for about 30 years. Time goes by so quickly!



At Ocean Grove, near the Dunes Restaurant (L to R: Russell, Joan, Emily, Jenny, Valmai, Satoshi)


Around this time, friends Elsa and John became very frail. Although we were not aware, they were not eating properly. After a couple of falls, John was taken to hospital. Elsa became very confused and did not understand where John was. She phoned Jenny and she tracked down John via the Ambulance Service. Jenny took Elsa to visit John, but she became even more confused and ended up being admitted herself. Sadly, neither of them ever returned home. For several months, I looked after John's finances, paying bills etc. I was reimbursed from an account that John gave me access to. It is not easy dealing with institutions when one is not the account holder and there were occasions when I was thinking "Please understand before one of us dies" while trying to deal with their representatives on the phone! John grew weaker and weaker until he passed away. Elsa has dementia and is in care. Unfortunately, the couple did not make a will so their affairs were looked after by the State Trustees. Most of their possessions were removed by a contractor and their home was sold. This was a very powerful lesson about the importance of having a will. Satoshi and I have now had ours done through State Trustees (we even got them on "special"!!).

Our two cats continue to be a very important part of our household. Min (black) is now almost 16 years old and beginning to show signs of old age, and Butterscotch is 5 years old. Although neither of them is very friendly towards visitors, Min almost always sits on my lap when I'm sitting in the loungeroom and Butterscotch sits either on Satoshi's lap or on her favourite cushion on the couch. At night, Min sleeps on my bed and Butterscotch can be found on Satoshi's bed.


Min and Butterscotch practising social distancing!


Satoshi and I spent much of January in arranging the details of our planned trip to England which was to have begun on April 1st and to have lasted for three months. Long service leave had been applied for and granted and our level of excitement was growing. Unfortunately, through February the likelihood of actually going on the trip began to fade and, inevitably and eventually, we had to cancel the whole experience. Although we were very disappointed, we were glad that we had not planned to leave a month earlier. In that case, we would have probably found ourselves stranded in England which would not have been fun at all. Luckily, each of our schools agreed to cancel our leave and we got most of our money back (although it took quite a bit of effort to retrieve some of it!).


My photo of the full moon in April


During the long weekend in June, Jenny, Joan, Russell, Satoshi and I ventured down to Tyabb to visit Tyabb Packing House Antiques. This establishment has over 5,000 square metres of antiques, bric-a-brac, books, and junk. We spent a few hours there. Lunch was enjoyed at the Rattling Red Café which is housed in some old railway carriages.


Joan and Russell at the Rattling Red Café



After lunch, we made our way down the coast to Kilcunda. Although it was quite cold, we enjoyed the invigorating ocean air.



We were fortunate to squeeze in two short trips in the July holidays (in between the two lockdowns). The first trip took us on
The Silo Art Trail which "is Australia’s largest outdoor gallery. The trail stretches over 200 kilometres, linking Brim with neighbouring towns Lascelles, Patchewollock, Rosebery, Rupanyup and Sheep Hills. Providing an insight into the true spirit of the Wimmera Mallee, the trail recognises and celebrates the region’s people through a series of large-scale mural portraits painted onto grain silos, many of which date back to the 1930s". Our first night was spent as Carisbrook. We dined at my favourite restaurant "Caroline's of Carisbrook" which opened especially for us. As always, the meal, ambience and service were all superb.


 We always enjoy a reunion with our special friend who just hangs around waiting for us. (Be sure to play the above video!)


Caroline's Restaurant (L to R: Joan, Darryl, Russell, Jenny, Satoshi, Sally and Michael Turton)


The next day, we headed towards Sea Lake where we were to stay the night. As we travelled towards Nullawil, the start of the trail, we passed by the wonderfully-named‎⁨ Teddywaddy West⁩
. There is nothing there other than the ruins of the school.


Teddywaddy West School was built in 1888 and closed around 1976.



Silo at Nullawil







After a comfortable night in a large "airbnb", our first stop was Sea Lake for breakfast and then the silos.



The Big Mallee Fowl at Patchewollock



The Silo at Patchewollock



The Silo at Patchewollock (detail)



The Silos at Lascelles



Smaller but still eye-catching artwork at Woomelang



The Silos at Rosebery



The Silos at Brim



The Silos at Sheep Hills



Detail from silo at Sheep Hills




At this point in our journey, we were starting to lose light but
we experienced a particularly beautiful sunset.



By the time we got to Rupanyup, there was very little light left but Satoshi managed to get this photo with the "night vision" feature on his new iPhone.


After staying the night at Stawell, we headed towards the Grampians. We had thought to visit the Halls Gap Zoo but, when we arrived, there was a huge queue of people waiting to gain entry so we decided to give it a miss. We had some lunch at Halls Gap and then headed up to "Zumsteins" which is now a picnic ground but used to be a camping ground. It has a very interesting history which can be read about on Wikipedia. I have stayed there a few times in the past. It used to be really good because there were always kangaroos around. When we were there, not a kangaroo was in sight...



...but there were some emus!



The six at McKenzie's Falls



The view from Reed's Lookout


After Reed's Lookout, we had a four-hour drive to get home. The silo trail was a great thing to do but, if I was to do it again, I would break it into two days. Although 200km doesn't sound too far to go in a day, we would have liked some more time. It would be easier in summer when the light would last a lot longer.

A couple of days later, Jenny, Joan, Russell, Satoshi and I headed out again. This time we were going to Middle Arm, near Goulburn, so that Jenny, Joan and Russell could meet their newest grandniece/great granddaughter. After dinner there, Satoshi and I left to stay the night at Goulburn before making our way south east towards the coast the next day with the ultimate goal of Merimbula in mind. As we travelled, we saw evidence of the fires that devasted huge areas of the east coast during summer. We arrived at the coast via the town of Bateman's Bay and continued southwards to Mogo. This town is famous for its wonderful zoo. Once again, it did not disappoint. It was clear that the animals are extremely well looked after and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit. It is not always easy to take good photos of animals at zoos because of glass (reflections and evidence of grotty children's fingers and...), wire cages and the seeming reluctance of some of them to be "captured". Of the 272 photos I took, these are the best!


Two gorillas - the one on the right is clearly a thinker!





There were several Lemur enclosures.



Dinner time!





Meerkats are SO cute and they stand still long enough to get great photos!



The otters were very playful and can move very quickly both on land and in water.



Giraffe have the same number of vertebrae in their necks as humans!



Southern White Rhinoceros



A serval



The snow leopard is one of the rarest species kept at the zoo.



What a galah!



A Silvery Gibbon



Bolivian Squirrel Monkey



Zebra



Tiger



Radiated Tortoise


We then proceeded south towards Narooma where we stayed for the night.

Although I had checked that the beautiful church at Bodalla had not been destroyed in the fires, it was, never-the-less, a relief to find it still there.



It was great to find that the chef at Narooma Golf Club understood the correct ratio between meat and vegetables when serving Roast Beef!


The next morning, we explored the heads at Narooma and discovered a number of sea lions basking in the sunlight. Like the sea lions, we enjoyed the beautiful sunshine and warmth. It was a pleasant change not to need a jumper!




Sea Lion or Seal? Sea Lions have visible ear flaps.




The aptly-named "Australia Rock". The land seen in the distance is Montague Island.



The view from the lookout at Narooma


Leaving Narooma, we continued south toward Merimbula via Central Tilba, Tilba Tilba, Cobargo (where there was more evidence of the bushfires, including the loss of "The Train Cafe" which we had stopped at in previous visits), and Bega. Our accommodation in Merimbula was excellent. The apartment included not only a bedroom for each of us but also two bathrooms! We were pleased to find that Merimbula had escaped the wrath of the fires. The next few days were spent relaxing and enjoying more sunlight and warmth. On the 8th July, we ventured to "Potoroo Palace" which is an animal sanctuary catering predominantly for Australian animals. Once again, we spent a pleasant few hours wandering around viewing and photographing animals and birds. This time, I only took 199 photos! Again, the best of them are below.



When threatened by a predator, the Stone Curlew's defence is to stand very still. This has, not surprisingly, led to falling numbers of these birds!



The Quoll is Satoshi's favourite animal.




You can see the blue sky behind the kookaburra!



There were several Pademelons enjoying the beautiful weather too!




The koalas looked very happy and healthy.



Did someone say KFC?



Multifunctional Satoshi with friend



A Potoroo



I can't remember what species of lizard this is but it's a good photo!




Some of the aviaries were walk-through which made taking photos easier.



It took several tries before I managed to get a photo of the snake with its tongue out!



We were fortunate to be in the right place at the right time for the keeper's snake demonstration.
He was encouraging the snake to come towards me as I was filming!



It was this goanna's time to get up (12:32pm!)



In the afternoon, we visited Merimbula Aquarium. A variety of interesting fish and other marine animals is housed there.







We spotted this Sooty Oyster Catcher as we left the aquarium



Merimbula Lake


After the aquarium, we went for a drive through Pambula and a little further south down the coast. We stopped near the mouth of the Yowaka River.



The water was absolutely still, giving me the opportunity to take some photos involving reflections. I am quite proud of the results!


On the 9th of July, we explored some of the coast to the north of Merimbula, including Tathra and Bermagui. We were treated to another day of absolutely glorious weather.


The view from the wharf at Tathra



A resident cormorant drying its wings.



Looking south from Bermagui



The "Blue Pool" at Bermagui



Near Bermagui




A new discovery in the area for us was the Montreal Goldfields near Lake Wallaga. Volunteers have spent innumerable hours clearing bush and making the myriad of mine shafts in the area safe. It was a most interesting tour and all for a gold coin. The goldfields were in operation for just three years from 1880-1883 but 250kg of gold was extracted using simple picks and shovels. It is the only goldfield site in Australia located so near the sea.


We had been enjoying the hospitality in the area until the night of July 8th. We arrived at the Bowling Club in Merimbula for dinner, only to find a sign clearly indicating that visitors from Victoria were not permitted to enter! The situation with COVID-19 in Melbourne had deteriorated, harsher restrictions were in force in Victoria and New South Wales had closed the border to Victorians! Fortunately for us, the border was still open for people to move from NSW into Victoria. We were happy that we were leaving the next day. The experience of being denied entrance to a restaurant through no fault of our own was quite confronting. We learned that Jenny, Joan, Russell and Jordan were leaving Middle Arm earlier than planned. Jenny's sister-in-law, Joan, drove them to the Victorian border where they were met by Jenny's daughter, Kathryn. They arrived home before us. We departed Merimbula, somewhat reluctantly, on the morning of July 10th.

We stopped at Eden Wharf for a break. We saw some pelicans which were feasting on offcuts of fish being thrown to them by local fishermen.




Other residents of Eden Wharf


As we approached the Victorian border the devastation caused by the fires became all too apparent. We drove through mile after mile of blackened forest which was showing little recovery even 6 months after the event. The old bridge at Genoa had gone. At Genoa Falls Reserve (where we used to go to view and photograph eastern water dragons) we found total destruction. We took the detour to Cape Conran. Everywhere was the same - just blackened trees and no undergrowth at all. There was nothing left of the cottages where we stayed a couple of times. It was a very sombre experience. The little township of Cann River had been spared so we stopped at the Pelican Point Coffee Lounge for lunch.



Closer to our destination of Lakes Entrance, we found that the Wairewa trestle bridge had been partly destroyed.
The heat of the fire was evident and we were amazed that any of the bridge was left.



Our last stop before Lakes Entrance was the Nowa Nowa trestle bridge which, we were delighted to find, had been spared.



I have been visiting this bridge for about 30 years. At first, it was still possible to walk across it but I wouldn't do so now!
It is sad to see such a huge (did you notice the man in the first picture - it shows you the scale of the structure!) piece of our history just left to decay.


The drive home the next day was uneventful but it was a little confronting driving into Melbourne's "iron ring" knowing that we would not be allowed to return to regional Victoria or eat out at restaurants for the foreseeable future. We felt very lucky to have been able to have time away from home as we did not know how long we would be "confined to barracks" at home.

Undertaking remote teaching was certainly a new and unexpected experience during the year. It required learning how to use "Webex" and "Zoom" in order to interact with the students. I also learned how to add a voice-over to PowerPoint presentations and how to convert the presentations into movies. It was great to be freed from some of the rigour of school life. There were few meetings, no parents and no yard duty. Freedom from the "bell" meant I could go to the toilet whenever I wanted and to tailor each day according to how I was feeling. The staff of each year level at school were required to make a "Take Home Learning Pack" for the students. This involved a huge amount of work in a very short space of time but it meant that the rest of the term was free of planning. Each morning, there was a "Webex" meeting for the students. They were expected to wear their uniform and to behave in a similar manner to what is expected in the classroom. During this meeting, the class was shown what was expected of them during the day. In the afternoon, there was a further online session at which the students could share their work. Most of the children were quick to adjust to the new paradigm. Some excelled but others did very little. After the end of the first lockdown, the parents and students made "welcome back" placards which were festooned along the school fence. It was such a touching thing and news of it even found its way to the front page of The Age!

Chatham continues to be a wonderful place in which to work. The Principal, Chris Cotching, is very experienced, fair, supportive and friendly. I am amazed at his willingness to work such long hours and his ability to remain calm and friendly. I have reduced my time to four days a week. This has been wonderful. I don't work on Wednesdays meaning that I only ever have to work two days in a row - so much better than five! This year has been a new experience for me in that I shared teaching my class with another teacher. Cathy Townsend taught the grade on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and I taught the class on Thursdays and Fridays. Cathy was so easy to work with. We have very similar views and expectations about teaching which made sharing the class very simple. I really enjoyed the experience of working with her and I will miss her very much next year as she moves into a different role in the school. The rest of the Year 3 team, Sam and Chris in the other class, were also great colleagues. The Year 3 team ran like a well-oiled machine! Thank you, Cathy, Sam and Chris!

Lockdown had many challenges and disappointments. Our weekly dinners with Jenny, Darryl, Joan and Russell were not possible but we worked out that we could share meals via Zoom (each household partaking of the same food). Although not perfect, it was a way of keeping in touch. Being locked up with someone for basically 24 hours a day would be a test for any relationship. Satoshi and I had to work out how we could both be on "Webex" at the same time and not get in each other's way. We managed the whole time with barely a cross word spoken. I am so fortunate to have such an easy-going, supportive and caring housemate. Lockdown also taught me how important it is to have contact with people I care about. It was so good to get back to school and church and to be able to meet friends for meals.


Lockdown provided extra time and, like many other intellectuals, we completed several jigsaw puzzles!


Some "losses" during the year included the last of the "Sizzler" restaurants closing. After all the Victorian sites closed quite a few years ago, those in Queensland survived and I looked forward to dining at the one on the Gold Coast each time I was there. This is to be no more. We were also very disappointed last week when we headed off to the Caribbean Market. On arrival, we were confronted with a large notice on the gate explaining that it had permanently closed in July. I had been visiting this place since it opened in the 1970s. The chairlift, adventure cruise and train ride were great favourites during my childhood and many bargains had been purchased at the market over the years. Apparently, it has not been decided what will happen to the 500-acre site but I would imagine that it will be hard to ignore offers from land developers. I can't begin to imagine how much all that land might be worth!

I turned 60 during July. My "Zoom" birthday party was not quite what had been planned but it was still good to "see" some friends.

At the invitation of Emily Roe, I attended an online quiz which was a fundraiser for Scripture Union (a Christian organisation). The quiz was very well run and enjoyable. It occurred to me that I could do a similar thing so, after researching the mysteries of "Google Forms", "breakout rooms" in "Zoom" and other IT considerations, I ran a "dummy" quiz for a few friends. This was an utter debacle but it taught me all the things I needed to fix before a more public event could be envisioned. (Thank you, poor friends, who were the guinea pigs during this process - you were very patient!) Perseverance paid off and I hosted several quizzes over the months of lockdown: two for St.John's, East Malvern, one each for St.Paul's, East Kew; Chatham Primary and Wheelers Hill Primary, and a fundraising quiz for Australian Cambodia Collaboration, a small charity which works to assist the poor in that country. All the events were very successful and there was a lot of positive feedback from participants. This made the hours of work preparing the questions worthwhile.

Of course it was not possible to attend Church services during most of the lockdown. St.John's, East Malvern, made the decision not to offer Zoom or streamed worship so we looked elsewhere to fulfil this need. We watched streamed services from St.John's, Camberwell; St.Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, and St.John's Cathedral, Brisbane, but none of them was very satisfactory because it was not possible to be a real part of the worship. My friend, Anne, told me about the "Zoom" services being offered from our old church, St.Paul's, East Kew. We found that this was a much better option as we could interact with others before and after the services and participate within each one. It was good to catch up with the members of the congregation and I was able to offer some technical support to Rev. Gail Bryce who put in hours and hours of work preparing the weekly services. Thank you, Gail!

It was wonderful to be able to return to "proper" Church at the end of November. Satoshi and I have continued to attend St.John's Anglican Church, East Malvern. I was asked to play the organ on the second Sunday of our return. After not touching the organ for months, it was somewhat of a challenge and I was very nervous. I managed quite well overall, apart from completely losing my place in both the words and music during the Psalm! It must have been OK because I was then asked to play at the Christmas Midnight Service. This involved much more complicated music but, because school finished on December 18th, I had the opportunity for much more practice time.

During the year, our clothes dryer stopped working. I have owned this machine since 1994 and it was well and truly second-hand even then. A decade ago, it used to make a dreadful noise but it seemed to recover from that all on its own. I started the process of choosing a replacement. As a matter of interest, I searched the internet to try to find the age of the machine. The most common information found was about the fan belt and its replacement cost. I wondered whether this could be the problem in our machine. Removing the back of the machine proved that this was indeed the case so a new fan belt was purchased for about $20. When it arrived, it seemed far too small to stretch over the two driving wheels. I couldn't make it fit. Satoshi, however, persevered and, after quite a struggle, managed to fit the replacement belt. So now the ancient old machine is functioning as well as ever! Sadly, we were not so lucky with the washing machine when it had its turn at failing. It got to the point where it stopped and beeped up to 10 times each wash, requiring that the clothes be evened up inside. It was very annoying! As the machine was 8 years old, it was decided that repairs were not worth it so a new machine was duly purchased. It is slightly larger than the old one so fewer loads are needed. Hopefully, the laundry will be settled for quite some time!

As many of you know, I am an avid collector of DVDs. For many years, I had been looking for the "Chester Miracle Cycle", a BBC production made in 1976. I remember seeing it on TV in 1979! Searches for it had been fruitless. It was one of the first times that real life actors were merged with cartoon sets. I could remember the actor Michael Hordern as the Voice of God calling Noah. Finally, I found that it had been part of a BBC series "Play of the Month" and had never been repeated since. I gave up hope that I would ever see it again. Imagine my surprise when I found it listed on a site called Old Time TV. I was somewhat dubious about the shonkiness or otherwise of the site but enquiries proved to be fruitful and the price asked for a copy was very reasonable. I was warned not to expect too much (it was, after all, a copy of the program which someone had recorded on their VHS in the 1970s). The DVDs finally arrived and I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of both the video and audio. I was also surprised at how accurately my memories of the program were considering that I had not seen it for forty years!

During the year, I discovered that I suffer from severe sleep apnoea. This is a condition in which the walls of one's throat come together during the night,
blocking off your upper airway. You stop breathing for a period of time (generally between ten seconds and up to one minute) until your brain registers the lack of breathing, or a drop in oxygen levels, and sends a small wake-up call. This causes you to rouse slightly, open your upper airway, possibly snort and gasp, and then drift back to sleep almost immediately. In most cases, you don’t even realise you are waking up. I had a sleep study at Epworth Box Hill Hospital. It involved staying in a hospital bed for a night with all sorts of wires attached. It showed a great deal of information about my sleep. The result of all this is that I need a CPAP machine. This pumps air into one during the night, causing the sleep interruptions to disappear. Because of being claustrophobic, it was very difficult for me to wear the mask through which the air is pumped. I felt like there was an alien on my face sucking out my life force! I would wake up and rip the thing off my face. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, I did not have the proper session with the provider to learn all about the machine and the different options available so it was not until a second sleep study was undertaken, just before Christmas, to see what effect the machine was having on my sleep, that I had the opportunity to try a "nasal pillow" mask. This is much less obtrusive, being a small device that fits into one's nostrils rather than almost your whole face. I have found that I can put this on quite easily and, increasingly, can wear it for the whole night without waking in a panic.


The "alien" on the left has been replaced by the minor discomfort of the nasal pillow.



Although Christmas seems to come around more quickly each year, I was somewhat taken aback to find this in Woolworths on the 22nd of September!


As Christmas approached, we wondered whether or not we would be able to host our traditional lunch on the 25th. As it happened, we were permitted to do so. Plans were made to include all 22 of those wishing to attend. As usual, I provided meat, mashed potatoes and most of the dessert and others brought various vegetables, drinks and desserts. It was a very happy time and I think everyone found it even more special than usual because of the year we have had and the fact that our feast may not have happened at all.


Christmas Lunch



The Hosts



Joan's special icecream pudding!



The Christmas Tree of 2020



We are very blessed to live in Melbourne, one of the most liveable cities in the world and, in particular, to live in our little pocket of it where we have such lovely neighbours.
Two days after Christmas, we took part a picnic in the local park which was attended by a number of these friends.


So there's another year gone. I think we were all glad to see the back of most aspects of 2020. As I mentioned above, though, it did serve as a reminder about what is important in our lives - each other. I thank each one of you for your love and friendship. My wish for you all is that 2021 brings you good health and abundant happiness.

With love,
                            

PS: If you would like to read my letters from previous years, please click here.