Saturday, 28 January 2012

Book Review – Murder at Mansfield Park, by Lynn Shepherd

I didn't really get off to a great start with this book. I put it down after one chapter – not because it was appalling, but because I was having trouble remembering the Who’s Who of Mansfield Park’s Bertram family. So I picked up and read the original to refresh my memory, and, as it turns out, that was the worst thing I possibly could have done. You see, M@MP is not tied quite so neatly into the original story (as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and Jane Slayre, are); rather than all the characters being more or less who they originally were, there are quite a few changes made to the lineup, viz.:

Fanny Price – sweet, shy, innocent, somewhat insipid foundling who is taken in by her Aunt Norris and promptly palmed off to the Bertram family (her other aunt); in the re-write she becomes an absolute bitch of an heiress and wanders about the place crushing the spirits of others and behaving somewhat inappropriately with men for an engaged woman, which makes it not entirely surprising that she is murdered.

Mary Crawford – shallow, cheeky, classless, and, perhaps unfairly, painted as all manner of bad things because she is Fanny’s unwitting competitor in love for Edmund Bertram and tries to set Fanny up with her brother; in the re-write she becomes everything that Fanny was originally but with perhaps a stronger character.
Edmund Bertram – gentlemanly, thoughtful, a little too thoroughly good and probably a little na├»ve youngest son of the Bertram empire and the apple of Fanny Price’s eye; in the re-write he is cast as somewhat more pathetic and ineffective as a man as he is jilted by Fanny Price and murder is attempted upon him.
You get the idea.
The book was confusing to begin with, and then kind of slow to take off (I always abhorred the time wasted on the Lover’s Vows rubbish in the original, so this is no different. I am aware it is a plot device designed to highlight the strengths and flaws of each character, but it doesn't make it any less tedious). Once the mystery got rolling I enjoyed it though, because it really was just about impossible to figure out whodunnit when everyone had a reason and an opportunity. I also liked the character of the inspector but found it to be  generally a little ham-handed.
Just now I Googled the book to jog my memory on the characters, and was a little surprised to find that several bloggers had commented on how much they hated the original Mansfield Park, or, at least, the original Fanny Price. I suppose that is because, when compared to such go-getters as Elizabeth Bennett, Miss Price very much falls short in intelligence, spirit and courage.
My personal belief is that although most star an obviously likeable level-headed or intelligent character, not a single Austen book goes by without one or two of the sisterhood letting the team down somehow (usually involving naivety, stupidity, selfishness or bitchiness), and it is simply a question of whether they can achieve it in a convincingly endearing manner. For example, I had a strong, negative reaction to Emma because the heroine consistently behaves like twat (that’s the technical literary term for it, btw!), even though the first line of the book tells us how clever she is. Ahh, irony.

In summary, if you hated Mansfield Park then you’re in with a shot for liking Murder at Mansfield Park, simply because Fanny Price is offed. I didn’t find it to be particularly well-written or especially compelling, but if you can make it through the first half without losing interest then the murder investigation in second half will reward you. Sort of.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

101 Things Update - January 2012

As it turns out, the last time I did a 101 Things update was four months ago, back at the end of September. I've done a few bits and pieces since then, so thought I'd give you a quick update:

#1 - Year of the Cupcake: I got another five cupcakes under my belt... figuratively AND literally!  September's offering was the Cupcake Project's Ultimate Vanilla Cupcakes (GF); October's was Donna Hay's Short Black Cupcakes; November brought Cupcake Project's Pumpkin Cupcakes (GF) with Vanilla Icecream Frosting; December was Christmas Cupcakes with all sorts of really cute sprinkles from Bakingpleasures.com.au; and January was Gluten Free Chai Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting. No wonder my pants are so tight right now... but I don't think I'd change a thing!

#5 (learn to make meringue buttercream frosting) & #6 (make sweetapolita's ruffle cake): I knocked both of these over in one hit, by making the ruffle cake which requires you to make the Swiss meringue buttercream. I know, that's a little cheaty. Meh *shrugs* I'll have to make it again for the #7 rainbow cake challenge so I guess it's a skill I'll use again in the future - best I perfect it!

#9 - to make gnocchi from scratch: In late September I conquered this one. It's time-consuming, but it's nowhere near the pain in the bum everyone makes it out to be. I wouldn't consider it to be difficult. I was freaked out by all the hype about them turning out gluggy, which mine didn't. I don't know whether I got lucky or I just followed the recipe correctly, but again, not a big deal. If you're going to follow the recipe I linked to I suggest adding more vegies. I know that a butter sauce is probably a traditional way of serving it, but I prefer a bit more zing with a napoli sauce or similar.

#10 - to cook artichokes: I did this but haven't posted about it, mainly cos the hollondaise sauce you serve it with was a total failure. Once I get the hollondaise right I'll make it again and then post about it! Long story short, not as scary as the very complex instructions make it out to be. Very tasty, but very messy and fiddly and slow to eat!

#18 - to make a lemon tart: Done. The recipe promised all manner of miracles about it being the best lemon tart you have ever/will ever consume. The filling was amazing but the crust was a little meh. I probably overcooked it, and I don't think my tart case had quite the right dimensions. Definitely one to try again! (aww, shucks ;)

#22 - to learn to make cheese: Underway. My BFF Em and I are booked in to do a cheese course at Red Hill Cheese in May. We will learn to make feta, farmhouse cheese and yoghurt from goat's milk. Yum :) Hopefully they let me take photos. Hopefully I have enough hands to take photos! If both of those things pan out I promise I'll share it with you.

#24 - to blog at least twice per month for a year: Underway. I haven't done this consciously but it seems to be happening anyhow!

#31 - to build a Lego model. I made about half a dozen in one sitting and have written a draft post, but haven't published it yet. I'll get around to it!

#35 - to exercise at least four times per week leading up to the big hike. Done. And I still ended up in hospital!

#39 - to climb Mount Feathertop (the original goal was Mount Bogong but decided about a week before the event that I was being a bit silly, what with the dodgy ticker and all. It's not to say I will rule it out for the future, but I might wait until I'm being treated a bit more effectively). DONE!!! :) :)

#40 - to buy a good pair of sneakers to give my feet the support they needed. Done. This one was obviously added to the list at a time when my feet were sore from my old, cruddy sneakers. My new ones are way awesomer. You know, as opposed to being way more awesome. They're two totally different levels of awesome. Duh!

#45 - to take calcium tablets every day. Hmm, this one was going really well and then the Silly Season began and I went away and ended up in hospital and blah blah blah BAD NESSIE!!! Best I get back in the game on this one cos it's quite important.

#49 - to lose 1kg per month until under 75kg (but over 70kg): Um, well, you see... well, one way of looking at how that's going is that I now have a much rounder number that I need to lose before I reach my target goal (which is between 70 and 75kg). It's a very round number - I think you can figure it out! Not happy. I **could** use the excuse that I have a dodgy heart and I've been in hospital and haven't really been feeling up to exercising and blah blah blah, but that doesn't really excuse the inordinate amounts of utter crap I've been consuming. Seriously, it's terrifying. I could blame that veritable inhalation of calories on the emotional roller-coaster that is dealing with all this medical stuff, but that's a cop-out and I know it. I am perfectly aware that eating like a pig will only make things worse. But my knee is complaining about this extra weight, and I have a policy not to buy larger clothes than the ones I currently own (any distant, future, potential gestation notwithstanding), so I really have to lift my game here. Sigh. And I was doing so well last year :(

#65 - to read all my unread books before buying any more: Going well. Also, DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW HARD IT IS FOR SOMEONE LIKE ME TO STICK TO THIS??? ESPECIALLY WHEN I DO A LOT OF TRAVELLING AND SPEND A LOT OF TIME IN AIRPORT BOOKSHOPS AND I ALSO LOVE COOKBOOKS AND HAVE A NEED TO BUY NEW ONES ALL THE FREAKING TIME??? WHY THE HELL DID I MAKE THIS PROMISE TO MYSELF??? Ahem. What I mean to say is, I have now read Memo for a Saner World by Bob Brown, as well as Murder at Mansfield Park, A Short History Of the World, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and am currently about half way through Possession. I will get around to posting about them sooner or later but I'm afraid I'm not terribly good at writing book reviews. In case you hadn't noticed...

#66 - to read Gone With the Wind: Done it. Loved it.

Many of the rest of them are works in progress:
#74 (delete crap photos from SD cards) is an ongoing battle.

#78 (learn to blow-dry my hair) is something I did semi-successfully once but lack the patience for. I still don't own a blow dryer but I do own a ceramic brush now, so I guess if I'm having a quiet weekend morning once the weather turns colder I might give it another go. Obviously it's not high on my list of priorities!

#79 (use up the dregs of old beauty products) is actually going okay. I mean, I can't **not** buy new shampoo or daytime moisturiser with 15+ in it (even though I still have half a bottle of moisturiser that needs using, but I develop a sensitivity to it if I use it 3 days running, so I only use it on weekends), but in general I'm finishing off bits and pieces.

#80 (clean out my underwear drawer and get rid of the "uglies") is in progress. I have brought most of my personal possessions home from Adelaide (including my undies!) so I have quite a collection in Melbourne now! I divided them into "everyday" and "nice", and divided the "everyday" into "decent" and "dying". I am now in the process of wearing **only** the "dying" ones because I am a colossal tightarse and can't just throw things out unless they're really, seriously ratty. Hopefully I don't get hit by a bus... haha, also, I'm sure you all needed to know I'm wearing ugly undies. Sorry, but it's true. I'm all about transparency!

#84 (rent out the House at Ness Corner) has happened. Becoming a bloated capitalist has not and never will, because between all the exhorbitant agent's fees and gardening and cleaning costs and bills it leaves very little. But very little is better than nothing, which is what I was getting with the place sitting there empty. I'm renting it as a furnished holiday rental for now. Here's my baby here. It makes me sad to think of other people living in it :( The theory is that, eventually, I'll make enough off the rentals to complete #83, which is to fix the gremlins in the house. Wish me luck with that...

#87 (listen more attentively) is sort of happening. For example, since this began I haven't been caught out in a staff meeting or social situation for not listening and had to bluff my way through... but that could just be luck...

#88 (interrupt less readily) is happening. I still interrupt more than I should but I'm becoming better at backing down and letting the other person finish.

#89 (write more neatly) is kind of happening, I think. I've had a bit of practice writing and I think that part of my terrible scrawl was related to the fact that my writing muscles were wasted away from years of typing instead of writing. I will endeavour to do more by hand.

#90 (prepare properly for meetings) happens when I care about the meeting. When it's a boring weekly staff meeting and nobody is interested anyway, it becomes a little tricky to convince yourself to actually prepare. But I'm trying.

#91 (be auditable at a moment's notice) is more or less on the go. At least, I assume it is, because all my audits come through with a clean slate.

#101 (become friends with my cousins) is slowly happening. I have, over the last six months or so, been making more contact with three cousins in particular. A lot of it has been over Facebook or via SMS, but it's still nice to be in closer contact. I guess they're all building blocks.

And that's my update! Sorry it was a bit long-winded, and also a long time coming. Hopefully I'll remember to update on a more regular basis in the future.

Over and out.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Year of the Cupcake #7: Gluten Free Chai Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting

I started thinking about different ways to cook with tea after the Daring Kitchen's Cooking With Tea challenge. I had also come across this recipe from a fellow DK participant Jenni @The Gingered Whisk, and it got me thinking - I have a bit of a thing for chai (but with no milk. There is nothing worse than milk in tea *shudders*), and I have a bit of a thing for, you know, baking(!), so it should come as no surprise to anyone that I wanted to make chai cupcakes for my next installment of Year of the Cupcake.

I made them gluten free again, because otherwise mum whinges intolerably about there being baked goods in the house that she can't eat (even though I bought the ingredients). Hopefully this recipe comes in handy for someone. It's from the blog of the National Baking Industry Association, so I guess these guys must know what they are doing...

When I used this recipe, something very odd happened. Let me see if you can figure out what that was:

Haven't figured it out yet? Here, I'll give you another hint:

I'll be jiggered - the buggers rose! They actually, really and truly rose! What the what??!?!!

I eyeballed the recipe to figure out where the magic came from, and, combined with a clue I picked up on a Basco GF flour box, I think it's because there are 3 eggs in the mix and not 2 as is called for in many cake batters. I presume that this means that when the mixture rises, the third egg "catches" it and sets it in a pleasing dome before the cupcakes are removed from the oven and the mixture slumps. I think also that there is less liquid (milk) added because of the extra egg, so it turns out quite cakey (but not squeaky! Yay! That will make more sense if you've eaten a fair amount of GF baked goods) rather than smooshy and unstable and flat.

Like these ones, from when I made GF pumpkin cupcakes:

I probably should have thought earlier on in the peice to either investigate the science of it, or just follow a proper GF recipe instead of simply substituting GF flour and xanthan gum and hoping for the best, hey...

CUPCAKE INGREDIENTS (makes approx. 10 cupcakes):

80mL milk
2 tea bags (I used plain black tea)
180g butter
1/2c castor sugar
3 eggs
1+1/3c plain gluten free flour
1+1/2tsp baking powder
1tsp baking soda
1tsp xanthan gum
1tsp ginger
1tsp ground cardamom seeds
1tsp cinnamon
1/2tsp ground cloves

(at this point I begin to question whether I put in the correct quantities of all the ingredients measured in teaspoons, because this is a halved version of the original recipe, and I may have halved it again... hmm... oh well, looks like I'll have to bake them again to check. Dang!)

Preheat oven to 200oC.

Bring milk to the boil. Infuse 1 teabag in it for 10 minutes and the other for 6-7 minutes (if you think that's a weird direction it's cos the original called for 3 teabags, and that's the only way I could figure out to halve the recipe!). At the end of the alotted time squeeze the teabag into the milk to get all the goodies out and discard teabags.

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, until well mixed.

Sift all dry ingredients together and add in 4 or so batches, alternating with milk mixture, ensuring batter is well mixed between each addition. Do not over-mix (I have the feeling GF recipes are particularly delicate).

Fill cupcake wrappers half to 2/3 full (after reading many a blogger bang on about how awesome ice cream scoops are for filling cupcake wrappers, I finally used one and it worked amazingly well! Perhaps I should have paid heed sooner...) and bake 15-20 minutes (I baked for 15 minutes).

I judged the cupcakes to be done when a skewer came out clean, but in hindsight I should have focused on the cupcake springing back when pressed because 2 or 3 of them were a little squishy on top once cooled.

ICING INGREDIENTS:
140g butter
1+1/4c densely packed brown sugar
1/3c milk

Heat milk and a little under half the sugar until homogenous. Do not become distracted and allow to boil as it will become all chunky and gross and you will need to blend it up and use it anyway because you ran out of brown sugar and couldn't start again!

Whip butter until light and white and fluffy. Slowly add the rest of the sugar and mix until combined. Add the milk/sugar mix 1 spoon at a time, ensuring it is completely mixed between each addition. Keep a close eye on it because apparently it can all go horribly wrong if you add too much liquid too quickly, but the mix should take all the liquid if you're patient.

DAMNIT, IT'S UN-ROTATING MY PHOTOS AGAIN!!!

Ahem. Anyway, I refrigerated the icing for a while after I whipped it because it was a warm day and it was a little bit **too** soft.

Pipe with a star tip of some sort.

Ta-dah! (yeah, I need a fatter star tip)

(these are part of the reason my pants are tight today, the other part of the reason being the fourth Christmas dinner I had eaten in under a month and the frozen Christmas pudding I made for it, which I will post about once someone who was there has sent me a photo of the finished product)

One last note - the original recipe is listed in grams not cups. I used the table in this book (which I got for Christmas) to convert the measurements:

Here's the table:
Actually, that's the table I used on the day. The table I used **today** as I write this post is the one from Taste.com.au. I'm not dedicated enough to see whether the two match up.

For you purists/people who don't trust my maths (and really, who can blame you!), here's the original and you can jolly well use a set of scales ;)

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Responses to comments on "Mountains and Choppers and Doctors - Oh, My!"

For some reason that continues to allude me, Blogger is being a bitch and won't let me comment on my previous post on my hiking-trip-gone-wrong, which means that I have no way of acknowledging peoples' comments. So here's my way around it:

@Kirsti - I don't see why I should try to look less thrilled when I **am** thrilled ;) Well, obviously not thrilled to be in the situation where I **have** to be air lifted, but thrilled that, given the circumstances, I am not only surrounded by skilled medical professionals but I also get to ride in a plane/helicopter. Wheeeeeee!!!!!! :) Also, bike? Yes, please!

@Kat - Yeah, I'm not super-excited at the prospect of going under the knife and not coming out of it with a brand-new pair of b00bs! I'm also a bit concerned that Zappy the Second will do a lot more pacing and therefore be much more of a presence in my consciousness, but I guess I'll cross that bridge if/when I come to it. But at present, feeling cruddy like I am and worrying all the time, I'm kind of looking forward to it (albeit in a somewhat apprehensive manner).

@Katie - thanks for stopping by and for your good wishes. I dare say your loved ones would prefer for your new years to be full of champagne and lots of sparklers and not impromptu rides in helicopters :) Also, don't tell my mum but I actually don't mind being in hospital **that** much cos I kind of like getting my meals on a tray!!! I know, I'm a freak...

@Jenni - You're right, life is what you make it, no matter what is thrown at you, and I fully intend for mine to be a good one. Hopefully I don't get blacklisted for medical and travel insurance cos that'll make it harder!

Thanks for stopping by, everyone!

Friday, 13 January 2012

Mountains and Choppers and Doctors - Oh, My!

If you've been following along with my 101 Things, you'll know that #39 was to climb Mount Bogong. I had been planning to do it for some time, and had even been hitting the gym pretty hard in preparation for it, but as the time drew closer it became apparent that perhaps I shouldn't have been quite so ambitious.

So, upon the timely suggestion of my BFF Ness (yep, there's two of us! We're partners in crime from way back), we decided to go with a hike of approximately the same length, but one that I had done before with a Day One bail-out option as well as several evacuation options. We were always going to take a sat phone and an EPIRB as well as enough people (including men) to carry my stuff and/or my lifeless body, should the need arise.

Oh, and a quick rewind - for anyone who doesn't know me or hasn't been reading for a while, I suffer from a congenital heart condition called Long QT Syndrome. You can read about my quite exciting diagnosis here, including (but not limited to) a Medivac by the Peruvian Airforce. So this hike was kind of a big deal for me, because it was to be the first overnight hike since I was diagnosed with LQTS.

Because I live quite a large slice of my life fearing that I will have another cardiac episode, I also spend quite a lot of time assessing the risk of any physical activity I undertake. This includes things as big as a hike, to smaller things that most of you in good health would take for granted such as a short jog, to going to the gym/having sex/climbing a flight of stairs/walking up a tiny hill/helping carry a couch/climbing a ladder/lugging heavy - or especially awkward - luggage around an airport etc. when I'm at all tired or run-down.

The weird thing is, I don't fear death. That's quite odd, considering how much living I have yet to do - the things I want to achieve; the places I want to see; the people I want to meet; the skills I want to attain or develop. No, what I fear most is a) making a fuss or inconveniencing anyone; b) embarassing myself; c) scaring my loved ones; and d) not living. Note that "not living" and "dying" are two VERY different things. Dying is dying - it all ends. Kaput. Conversely, not living implies simply existing and nothing more, and I just can't stomach that thought. As frightened as I am pretty much every single day (or at least, the days where I feel my heart throw in a dodgy beat, which is most days), sitting on my mum's couch and not pushing my boundaries frightens me more. I refuse to be a shell of a person, and I refuse to let this diagnosis ruin my life. I'm a stubborn little so-and-so, so when I set my mind on something I tend to achieve it *resists the urge to complete that sentence with the words "or die trying"* And I am setting my mind on living.

Anyway, if the title didn't give it away, long story short, I went on a hike - something that I love - , had a cardiac episode, was airlifted to the Royal Melbourne Hospital and spent New Year's Eve in there (as well as 4 other nights. Awesome.). So settle back and I'll tell you the story!

Day One was what I would call a success. We started the walk after meeting the crew for a cut lunch in Harrietville and the driving up to Mount Hotham to park the cars.

From left to right, we have Hermann, Kaye, Ritz, Jamie, Ness and Myself. Note that, whilst I am in fact freakishly tall, and all bar Jamie are of average height (maybe less?), I also happen to be uphill of everyone else and quite a bit closer to the camera. This also accounts for the fact that my feet look enormous when, in fact, I have the equal smallest feet out of anyone in that photo. Ahh, perspective!

Hermann is Ritz's dad and Ness' father-in-law; Ness and Kaye are my partners in crime from highschool and I met Jamie in Peru (which makes it extra hilarious that he volunteered for this trip). There was a similar photo taken on this spot back in April 2002, but with our friend Al from highschool instead of Kaye and Jamie; that hike was probably the one that really kindled my love affair with the Great Outdoors, although a school hike up around the Snowy River three years previously probably nudged me in that direction. Still, nine years on and it's good to know that I haven't stopped loving to hike, even though there are more obstacles in my way now.

I would like to take this opportunity to quickly thank these people for accompanying me on this hike and helping me to achieve a pretty big dream - even if it wasn't the dream I originally set out to achieve (being Mount Bogong). I had intended to get all emo on their arses at the end of the hike and tell them how much it meant to me, only I was whisked away in a helicopter before the opportunity arose. So, guys, thank you. To the ends of the earth, thank you. I do appreciate what a big commitment it is to support a friend in an activity that may in fact kill them. I also understand what emotional strain you may have been under in doing so - I presume most of you worried, perhaps not every step of the way but certainly for some of them. I want you to know how much I appreciate that commitment, and hopefully it was still enjoyable for you.

Emo rant over.

Oh, and I'd also like to thank Ritz for bothering to carry a camera, and a DSLR at that! I was never going to carry one. I mean, come on, if you're debating carrying a second shirt, you're definitely not going to carry a large camera. So if anyone wants to nick any of the photos, they're not even mine, they're his, so best you email me so that I can get his permission.

The Razorback is a long ridgeline (8.5km from the road to the track junction that takes you to either Mount Feathertop or Federation Hut, with each of these being a total of about 10km from the road). Most guidebooks classify it as easy, and I guess it kind of is. I struggled a bit during the first half hour until I found my stride, and my brain stopped freaking out every three seconds. At times I was distracted by (vaguely) challenging terrain -

(the Big Dipper - the track down this is basically loose shale so it's a bit slippery and requires careful thought when placing one's feet, thus my retarded stance. I don't always walk with my arm out like that!)

- and by encountering windy, rocky outcrops and deciding to declare "I'M KING OF THE WORLD!"

(I nearly grabbed Kaye's boob when we posed for this photo, which would have been awkward... you know, unlike telling the entire blogosphere about it. PS - do you like my nailpolish? Fluorescent pink is so hiking-appropriate)

We got into camp at Federation Hut with enough time for a nice cup of tea (I'm the one in the blue jumper on the left and am every bit as surprised as you that I'm that flexible after a big day's walking!)

and dinner (and yes, that is posed - Ritz was taking candid photos of everyone and I decided to make it worth his while)

before we climbed to the summit of Mount Feathertop to view the breathtaking surrounds at sunset... through the fog... (and I will allow you to believe that I lead the entire way up the mountain, and will not include any photographic evidence to suggest the contrary!)

When we got to the top we walked a little past the summit before realising we were actually at the summit because - you guessed it - we couldn't see more than about 10-20m in front of us. This is the exact same view I got the last time I climbed Mount Feathertop. Which kind of makes me want to give it another crack on a nice day... guys? Any volunteers? No? Can't imagine why not...

Also, note the somewhat more realistically-proportioned photo. I'm a little bit of a giant, but I'm no uber-giant as the first photo suggested!

I didn't sleep well on Night One on account of it being so cold, and you know how when you're cold you need to pee, especially when you're in a tent? Well, it was worth it for the spectacular stars - Federation Hut basically sits in a saddle, and you could see what felt like (but probably wasn't) in excess of 180 degrees of bright, clear stars on the blackest black sky, not tainted by the light pollution of the city.

Day Two was all downhill, which is actually a lot harder than it sounds. There are pretty much no photos from that day, probably because it was quite mentally draining. Normally I'm good at downhills. My legs and my ticker held up quite well, but my feet... well, that's another story. I was in so much pain by the time we were about 2/3 the way down that I was taking painkillers and sobbing hysterically. And it wasn't the blisters that was the trouble. I can handle the sting of a blister being repeatedly rubbed and knocked - you just grit your teeth and keep going. No, this was the balls of my feet. My best guess is that, because I was using a walking pole, I had been throwing my weight forward on my feet as I relied more on the pole and my arm, and so bruised the soles of my feet. I have done this downhill before, and I remember it being difficult (it was post-bushfire, the track was unclear and it was mostly powdery-dry, knee-deep topsoil to slide through, which is fun at first but then becomes frightening as the terrain becomes steeper and random rocks rear their ugly heads out of the topsoil for added excitement), but not painful. No, this was painful, and I'm comparing that to a broken arm. Which I've had four of.

When finally Kaye and I arrived at the bottom - where, I might add, the rest of the party had been waiting for a couple of hours - I sat with my feet in the icy-cold creek for half an hour before trying to stand and go eat lunch. It was apparent my feet were pretty screwed when my legs almost collapsed from under me the second I put any weight on them. But they came good (they must have known there was food ahead! Alternate explanation: the nerve endings got used to bearing weight again) and I hobbled over for my lunch then hobbled back to the creek for a bit. It was decided that those who had been sitting around would take most of the weight out of my pack, and press on to camp.

As luck would have it, the advance party bumped into local gold miner Ken Harris (mining lease holder of Red Robin Mine) and organised a lift a little way up the valley for me. Ken stopped by the rest of us when I was just taking my feet out of the water for the second time, and it was agreed that Kaye and I would hobble on slowly, Jamie would power ahead, and Ken would pick us up on his way back in to the mine (he was leaving the park to meet his caretakers at the locked gate - there is a road up the valley but it is essentially a private road, to be used by Ken, Parks Vic and TXU maintenance crews). Kaye and I made quite good progress (me, now wearing the highly fashionable combination of socks and sandals, with very little in my pack), and Ken eventually picked us up and drove us up the hardest part of the walk, including some very nifty chainsaw work. I'd be lying if I said I didn't chuckle when I realised the advance party would have had quite a scramble to get over one particular log - I know, I'm going to hell...

I had actually met Ken before, back when I did my Honours work on weed invasion at high country huts, and he remembered me for a particular turn of phrase I had used on that day back in early 2005. He's quite a character, loves a chat (unsurprising, given he lives alone in a national park) and, judging by a couple of stories he told me last time we met, he loves the ladies even more. I suspect he rather enjoyed escorting two fair maidens in distress! If you're ever in the Alpine National Park in the vicinity of the Red Robin Battery, I suggest knocking on Ken's door and saying hello - he's got some interesting stories and he's a nice bloke.

Anyway, there's not much else to say about Day Two, except that Kaye and I hobbled into camp, I soaked my feet some more, we pitched the tent, made dinner

marvelled at how quickly the temperature plummeted as the sun left the valley, and went to bed for an excellent night's sleep.

Again, it was a freezing cold night, but I scheduled my trip to the loo for quite early in the night, marvelled at the stars that were even more spectacular and went to bed.

And that's about where my fun ended.

At around 5am on the last day of the hike, I woke up quite suddenly, feeling a bit "funny". I woke up my tent buddy Kaye and a few seconds later I received a shock from Zappy, my implantable defibrillator. I was totally conscious when that happened, which was awesome, so of course I yelled out "OW!!!" and woke up the whole camp site.

Note: When Zappy delivers a shock, it is because my heart has gone into Ventricular Tachycardia and my heart rate hits around the 200 mark. It is assumed that if I go into VT, that Ventricular Fibrillation (VF) may follow close behind, and that can cause death if it doesn't correct itself (which means that the 25 years I went untreated, I was pretty lucky not to die). Also, because of the beta blockers I am on, my heart rate rarely rises above 120-130bpm so it's not like I'll get a zap if I go for a run.
Ness took charge as Crisis Manager and we thought about our options - chill out for a bit and then walk out slowly; call Ken (cos, you know, I had his phone number now!) and get him to drive as far as he could and pick me up (but that would have required quite a bit of walking); or contact the emergency services.

Luckily I had brought my work sat phone (yay! It finally got used!) so Ness was able to actually speak to the 000 operator, rather than having to either run up the mountain to get mobile phone coverage, or set off an EPIRB without knowing if or when anyone would come to get me, and in what form the rescue would occur.

After a while I decided to crawl out of bed, mainly because I really had to pee and had no intention of having a full bladder when I got into a chopper, destined for an ER where I **knew** I wouldn't be allowed out of bed!

So here I am, braving the cold in the pre-dawn. I think the look on my face is a combination of fear, disappointment and resignation - kind of an "oh, well". Boo. It could also be that I was unimpressed that there is now a photo of me wearing socks and sandals...

An hour and a bit later, a chopper came to pick me up, much to the excitement of the other hikers camped in the area.

Unfortunately these photos don't really capture it, but the night had been so cold that everything was covered in ice, and as the chopper landed it blew up this beautiful rainbow of ice crystals.

Here I am, walking to the ambulance. I think the medic was pissed that he was pulled out of bed so early, but also glad that I was somewhat more alive than most of the people he picks up - these guys normally deal with road trauma. Not having to glue me back together or stop me from bleeding probably made a nice change of pace for him!

I probably should have made an effort to look sicker and a little less like I was enjoying myself, hey...

So they flew me off to the Royal Melbourne Hospital, where I had a couple more near-misses with the ol' ticker shortly after they had decided I could probably go home that afternoon (they then kept me in for five nights!). Meanwhile, see that valley down there? Well that's the valley I DIDN'T have to climb out of. Heh heh heh. Although, in all seriousness, I've done it twice before and it didn't kill me, but I do concede that this time I may not have been quite so lucky!

So I spent New Year's Eve with a pretty spectacular view of the fireworks in the city, and I got a pretty awesome chopper ride, so it wasn't all bad. Plus I'm a freak who likes to choose food using a tick-box and will eat anything, as long as it comes on a tray, so hospital and I get along quite amicably.

But I can't drive for six months, and I'm on one-and-a-half times the medication I was on before, plus electrolyte supplements, and there's a fair-to-better-than-average chance that I'm in line for surgery in February-March - the cardiology team was talking about implanting a new type of pacemaker/defibrillator that would hopefully mean that VT never happens and the new Zappy never has to get as far as shocking me... but we shall see.

So that's it in a nutshell. My confidence is shot to pieces, I'm scared of life again (although not quite so badly shaken as when I was first diagnosed, particularly as I climbed Mount Feathertop with zero trouble, and it all went wrong when I was minding my own business, sound asleep, not doing anything strenuous, not even having a racy dream!) and my family and friends are scared to let me do anything or go anywhere. But what the hell else am I supposed to do? As much as I want to curl up into a ball and cry, well I've only done that once and it was when this f**ktard of a nurse declared that he couldn't turn the low heart rate alarm off and that it would in fact beep every time my heart dropped below 46, thus jerking me awake, which is particularly bad for my condition, and an especially big problem when you consider my heartrate was sitting on about 39-42 overnight (and once made it down to 29... Olympic athletes, eat your hearts out!). Most of the nurses in the Coronary Care Unit at the Royal Melbourne Hospital were amazing, but he... well, I don't think he was really built to be a nurse.

So I'm trying to look after myself and take things a bit easier than before Christmas, but also trying to live a normal-ish life again. I intend to be back at work next week. I intend to walk places and do things on my own and buy a bike to make getting around a bit easier. But I'm so paranoid that every ectopic beat will turn into something horrible. It takes a long time to get those thoughts out of my head, but I know I'll get there.

Anyway, I've talked your ear off and the story wasn't quite as intersting as my Peru one (although both involved air evacuation, so I guess maybe I have a thing for pilots??), but it's better than if it had happened at home or, say, at a shopping centre. I do like a good story!

Meanwhile, I urge you to donate money to any charity that deals with arrhythmic heart condition research, such as SADS. They reckon that things like SIDS and quite a large proportion of unexplained drownings and seizures leading to "suffocation during sleep" may actually be due to electrical faults in the heart such as mine, because they don't show up in an autopsy. Hopefully, one day, some electrophysiology geek will cure my condition and I won't have to come up with a contingency plan for every frigging thing I do, and when that day comes quite a weight will have been lifted. 

Saturday, 7 January 2012

I'm Alive!

Hello hello, and happy new year!

Just thought I'd write a quick one and let the world know that I'm not dead (although I kind of came close... but I shouldn't joke about that, should I...) and that I will be posting shortly about my adventures in helicopters and hospitals over the new year, just as soon as I get the photos off my BFF's husband (totally not what it sounds like!).

In the meantime, here's a picture of a cute li'l wrinkly puppy (cos I can).