Isolation day 45

No-one plans to fail — they only fail to plan! Apologies for the old chestnut, but it serves to introduce something I’ve been meaning to put up here. This is our little system for listing and marking off stuff that we want to get done. I am particularly vague at present, so having a way to capture these things is something I find helpful. Otherwise projects just tend to get away from me — I think of things, then forget them, only to remember them later on, and so on. Anyway, here is our little “whiteboard”.

img_20200426_094332559

It is a simple idea that I came across somewhere or other. There are three categories, in columns:

  1. Tasks; 
  2. In progress; and
  3. Done.

With the Tasks category, you will see there are two sub-headings: Courtyard and Front Garden/Driveway. This category is where everything we want to get done is listed. Projects are written up on post-it notes. (I find the small ones work the best.) As one works through them, the projects move across the board from left to right. If projects stay In Process for too long, they may need a final push to get them done. 

The idea of using post-it notes to record the projects was my idea. This saves writing and erasing things between the columns as tasks progress. (One could colour-code the notes — if one could remember what the colours meant.) Why list completed tasks under Done? I think it’s encouraging to see things that one has actually finished. Otherwise it can feel discouraging to have tasks hanging around for ever. This way one can see what projects have been accomplished, and can be marked off. Some projects, like “Sweep”, are never ending. This one will return to Tasks the next time it needs doing.

These things are recorded on a giant fridge magnet that I got from a newsagent in Camberwell Junction. I used to keep this on the side of the fridge. This was just a bit out of the way, however, so I put it on the front. I need a reminder that is hard to ignore.

Isolation day 34

  • Glad we did all the work in the courtyard yesterday (including a couple of loads of washing); lots of rain overnight. By the time we got up this had eased, just leaving a typical overcast Melbourne autumn day. Perfect! Having not been beyond the gates yesterday, I ventured out for a walk mid-morning.
  • Home for a second coffee, a look at the rest of The Age, and attending to some business. A friend is trying to learn Zoom; she has the disadvantage in this of not having a webcam. Is it even possible to use Zoom without one? Apparently it is; people lacking this bit of kit (or a camera built into their device) can view video from other participants, just not transmit it themselves. So they can be heard but not seen. Anyway, I sent her an invitation to a Zoom meeting with this information appended to it.
    • Of course it is possible to use Zoom on a smart phone, and transmit video via its built-in “selfie” (front facing) camera. However, that has the drawback of only giving the phone user a fairly small screen to look at. I imagine this is more of a drawback the more participants there are in a meeting.
  • I joined up for my next lot of exercise physiology classes. I could have just done this over the phone with a credit card. The practice, however, had sent me an invoice at my request. (I like to have a bit of an audit trail in case a payment doesn’t come through, goes to the wrong account, etc.) So I paid the invoice via bank transfer, and sent the practice a notice of the payment via email. This is not a remarkable thing to do at all, of course, but I still marvel at how technology enables transactions like this.
  • On the subject of everyday technology, one device that has been getting a bit of a workout recently is our Epson inkjet printer. This has been invaluable just recently for printing invoices, drafts of things I am working on, transcripts of chat sessions, and so on. My beloved had to print out a 10 page document (or so) for her work recently. Like all such things, the device is pretty cheap, the cartridges outrageously expensive. Third party ones work perfectly well, in spite of the nagging screens they generate, reminding you that you’re not using genuine Epson products, and so on. It is also a scanner, which has also come in handy recently.
  • Some of the things this technology can do are pretty nifty. I had heard some excerpts from Tosca a while ago, which I had enjoyed. So I found a recording of excerpts from this opera on Google Play Music, started playing this in the living room, then was able to send this audio stream to the kitchen when I had to go out there to make dinner. It just picked up where I had left off. All via the magic of the Chromecast.
  • The same device casts video to the TV from Stan in a particularly seamless way. Of course it works also with the ABC iView, Kanopy, and SBS On Demand apps, to name but a few — just not quite as elegantly as with Stan. (I’m not getting any commission for these various endorsements, unfortunately.) We are nearly at the end of Deutschland 86.

Isolation day 23

Spoiler alert — some of this post is based on an email. We are all recyclers now!

I have always found Easter a tricky time, somehow. We always used to get to Easter Saturday and think “Okay, so what happens now?”. It’s still challenging, but for new reasons.

Yesterday started out perfectly, with an Easter egg from my beloved. It deteriorated, however, after a couple of culinary implosions. I baked a couple of loaves, from a recipe I have used many times, but they both sagged in the middle. Had we not been watching Deutschland 83 at the time, I might have given them the extra five minutes they probably needed. The rotten things wouldn’t even slice properly. I struck back by putting one loaf in the fridge, to slice up the next morning when it was a bit stale. (This actually worked well; I must remember it for saggy loaves in future.) The second loaf I put in the freezer.

Later, I was cooking lamb shanks for dinner in the pressure cooker. These shanks were about the biggest I had ever seen, and I couldn’t fit them all in the cooker. (I had to reserve one, which I cooked in the wall oven the next day.) At the end of the cooking time, when I opened the pressure cooker vent, a hideous amount of white fatty stuff spewed out. This sprayed all over the tiles, the toaster, kettle and so forth. The cooker must have been a bit full, and the shanks were pretty fatty, so this eruption was fairly undesirable! When I made my toast this morning, the corner was still faintly redolent of lamb shank. I left the top of the cooker soaking in a detergent solution so that the pressure valve wouldn’t be gummed shut.

What made it even worse was that I had cleaned up that very corner of the kitchen a few hours before, after using the pressure cooker to do a batch of chickpeas. (That earlier emission was only steam, but there was rather a lot of it, and it condensed on the benchtop, in the top of the cooker itself.) Over the last few weeks I have been using the cooker as a kind of Swiss Army knife in the kitchen. As well as chick peas and shanks, I use if for rice, various soups, steaming vegetables, and so on. I see I will have to resort to the stovetop and convection oven a bit more.

This morning started out better, scoring a goal in the IT support stakes. Along with her laptop and proper keyboard, my beloved had brought home a huge monitor from work weeks ago. After some experimentation I was able to hook this behemoth up to the laptop. This rig now takes up most of the dining table. I even connected her laptop to our printer, through our wifi. She did a morning’s work, then had a lamb shank, potatoes, and greens. (Yep, the one that wouldn’t fit in last night.) I took the meat off one of last night’s shanks and put it in some vegie soup that I had made a day or so ago. (Yep, in the pressure cooker.)

We watched an episode of Escape to the Chateau while we had that. (The show turned out to be one we had seen before — Channel 9 is putting them to air in seemingly random order.) The day turned out lovely and sunny, but I just felt more and more out of it. My sleep has been disturbed for — a week? two? I really can’t remember. Anyway, my beloved went back to work while I went and slept, only for about 45 minutes. This little sleep was really refreshing, though, and I felt much more positive.

In this vein, I stumbled across a short video on The Guardian by a psychologist, Lea Waters, about how to encourage positive thoughts and feelings. Finding this was fortuitous (and fortunate, in that I was feeling particularly lousy). Anyway, I recommend it. Some of the things she talks about:

  • giving yourself a break from the information overload about the pandemic;
  • making a playlist of songs that have positive emotions or lyrics (OK, I didn’t do this);
  • thinking about times when you were happy (apparently the brain is not good at distinguishing between past and present, and you might fool it into being happy now);
  • looking for things in your situation for which to be grateful; and
  • talking to the people with whom you are in isolation about things that you are enjoying reading, listening to, or doing. 

If this all sounds a bit happy-clappy to you, well, go on enjoying being a misery guts! It’s a free country. I can say, though, that I felt better when I did some of the things mentioned above. A walk with my beloved down to the park was a help, too. I am grateful that I have her to go for a walk with, and told her. And the day stayed sunny. 

All of this emotional stuff is stirring things up creatively, a bit, though. I wrote a poem yesterday that I am still fiddling with. (It’s about trams — I should call it Saved by the bell.) And on my way home I made a note of a couple of lines that came to me, that I expanded and scratched around with when I got home. Yep, I remembered to take the notebook on our walk. Tomorrow will be another sunny day; there will be sheets to wash and a Zoom exercise class. Talk about the universe in a grain of sand!

 

Isolation day 21

Yes, past the three week mark today.

It was a bit of a weird day, but good. I know readers find our routine as fascinating as we do, so you will remember that we normally go for a walk after breakfast — particularly if the sun is out. This morning was unusual in that my beloved wanted instead to do some weights, then some gardening. So we both did an exercise program, then some weeding and pruning in the front garden. I thought I might get the towels dry, so while we were so occupied, I put a couple of loads of washing on. Of course the change came through early,  as soon as I’d hung everything out. So I had to haul the towels back in and put them in the dryer — something we rarely use. (I generally just put them on clothes racks, which are positioned over heating vents.) 

After lunch my beloved passed out for a few hours, and I played Act 1 of Parsifal. This is obviously a suitable choice for Easter — the Good Friday music in Act 3 is one of the most beautiful passages in the opera, and indeed in Wagner overall. We had seen a concert performance of this opera a couple of years ago in Sydney, with the incomparable Jonas Kaufmann in the title role. I’m so glad we went to see him. Around that time he announced his intention to not travel so far from his base in Germany. Of course, for the foreseeable future, I won’t be travelling anywhere, so I may not get to see him again. This was one of the best opera performances I have seen. The SMH critic, Peter MacCallum, gave it 11 out of 10. (Kudos, BTW, to my former music teacher for arranging the tickets.)

Parsifal is of course Wagner’s final opera, and one that I recommend for anyone for whom the Ring Cycle is just too drawn out. Someone observed about Parsifal that it is an opera about religion, rather than a religious opera. I think that is true. It examines Christian values such as compassion and redemption, but in a rather detached way. More importantly, the music is luminous, exquisitely beautiful, and scored with great transparency. I played a wonderful recording made at the Salzburg Festival in 2013, conducted by Christian Thielemann. (This is made more poignant for me by the death a few years later of the lead, the South African heldentenor Johan Botha.) 

When my beloved surfaced, she had a late lunch, and we watched Fake or Fortune. It was time then for a drink, the ABC news, and another Deutschland 83. During the last of these the wifi started slowing down occasionally, although only for a few seconds. This was the first time I noticed this happening since we had switched over to NBN about six weeks ago. Last week the laptop in the study disconnected a few times from the wifi. After reading some Telstra discussion list messages, I went to the settings for the NBN modem router and switched off the band steering. (This allows the modem to switch between 2.4 and 5 GHz speeds. The latter is obviously faster, but can be problematic for devices further away from the modem.) I switched the setting back on again, in the hope that this will reduce these slowdowns. No doubt, with everyone staying put for Easter, everyone is streaming Stan, Netflix, and so on all at once.

Isolation diary day 14

I had rather a restless night last night. (My sleeping seems to run in cycles, which I can make worse by having too much screen time, but otherwise am largely powerless to influence.) At about 3.30 I decided to transfer to the second bedroom, and give my beloved a few undisturbed hours.

I had been thinking about poetry a bit more recently, and that of Thomas Hardy in particular. I came to read Hardy’s poetry by a circuitous route. I was browsing our bookshelves when I couldn’t sleep a few nights ago, and found my old copy of The Mayor of Casterbridge. This is neither Hardy’s best known novel, nor the most admired. It is, however, the one I read first, as a teenager, while we were living in Sydney. I still have that copy, published by MacMillan in their PaperMac series. I must prize it, having lugged it around all the places I have lived since then. When I took it off the shelf the other night, I found to my surprise that there was a second copy sitting next to it. This copy was also the PaperMac version: obviously not an expensive edition. (We had weeded our book collection before the last move, but for some reason neither of us could rationalise our copies of The Mayor of Casterbridge down to one.)

When I was looking for something to read before going back off to sleep last night, it was Hardy’s poetry that I thought of this time. This was an odd choice in some ways. Hardy is much better known as a novelist than a poet: in the latter genre he is caviar to the general. Even when I was doing English, I didn’t encounter a word of his poetry. One could do great slabs of Wordsworth, and acres of Milton, but Hardy was not on offer. Hardy’s poetry has its devotees, though. I must have made a mental note to read him at the right time, which rolled around last night.

My weighty Norton Anthology of Poetry has sixteen of his poems, and I looked at about half a dozen before I eventually got to sleep. I am guessing this is the best known one; I had read it, but hadn’t remembered it as being Hardy.

In Time of “The Breaking of Nations”

 I
Only a man harrowing clods
    In a slow silent walk
With an old horse that stumbles and nods
    Half asleep as they stalk.
                       II
Only thin smoke without flame
    From the heaps of couch-grass;
Yet this will go onward the same
    Though Dynasties pass.
                       III
Yonder a maid and her wight
    Come whispering by:
War’s annals will cloud into night
    Ere their story die.

The Poetry Foundation

I only had a vague idea about when Hardy was around: I had thought of him a Victorian author. His dates were 1840-1928, so I can say I was not quite incorrect in this. The Norton Anthology dates this poem as 1915-16, and they also supply a footnote on the title: ‘See Jeremiah li.20: “Thou art my battle axe and weapons of war: for with thee I will break in pieces the nations, and with thee I will destroy kingdoms.”‘ The line “A maid and her wight” is puzzling, though; what does Hardy mean by “wight”? According to the Cambridge online dictionary, this word has several meanings, including “deserter”. The alternative meaning of “a living being, especially a human being”, however, seems to fit better.

To me this is a poem of deceptive simplicity. particularly like how all the lines, except two, have no end punctuation. The rhythms are subtly irregular. The subject matter, and some of the vocabulary, is archaic; the man harrowing clods, the maid and her wight. But the elements of the poem are irreducible: earth, fire, desire. It is is as weighty and abrupt as something fallen to earth.

From the sublime to the gorblimey: what else have I been up to today? We didn’t go for our usual walk this morning. My beloved was booked to meet a friend at our local park. They arranged for the latter to bring her a takeaway coffee; they consumed these while walking around. As well, I had a strained quad muscle after our walk yesterday, and didn’t want to do further damage before the exercise class I had coming up at 11.30, via Zoom.

Beforehand I did a couple of loads of washing, laid out the mat, weights and resistance band, logged into the appropriate web site, and got my equipment ready for class. My beloved has also been working industriously away for several hours, with the exception of a lunch break. I haven’t really done much — not even been for a walk — but somehow it seems as if I have had a full day.

Isolation diary days 2 & 3

Yesterday was the second day of the self-isolation. It was quite busy, somehow. We went for a walk after breakfast, aiming to get out before it it got too hot (although it stayed cloudy until late in the afternoon). After a rather weak coffee, of which more later, I cooked a batch of marmalade, and did a load of washing. Then it was time for lunch.

After that, I did miscellaneous things. Yesterday I had set up a free three-month trial of Stan (the streaming service). I remembered today that our Blu-ray recorder is connected to our wifi, and has a set of services (as it were) pre-baked into it. I found that Netflix is one of those. The cost of a monthly subscription is not great, about $15 or so for the standard plan. So I will probably set that up as well, and see how it compares with Stan. (One can just go month by month with Netflix now — as I’m sure many of you know!)

Getting back to the coffee: I have found it difficult, for the last couple of days, to get a strong enough one. I thought the beans were going off. This was odd, as I keep them in an airtight jar in the cupboard. So I put some more in, but this made no difference. (I have a little formula for tablespoons of beans per mug: two and a few.) It was as if some of the grounds were finding their way into the base of the grinder.

Hold onto that thought! On inspection, I found a 2 or 3 centimetre long hole in the bowl of our vintage Gaggia grinder. The design of this is such that, once the beans are ground, it is necessary to scrape them out of the bowl. Obviously over the decades, this had worn through the bottom of the receptacle. Once I unscrewed its base, I found that about half a cereal bowl of grounds had collected underneath the motor. I retrieved these and picked out a few bits of ground-up plastic. They will do me for tomorrow.

We decided to retire the old ragazza from duty and get a Smeg grinder. (We could have anything, as long as it was pale blue, to match the kettle & toaster.) Fortunately the correct one was available online from David Jones, so no need to break quarantine. The Smeg is no doubt a superior device, with a removable bowl. I quote from the DJs web page: “The anti-static system ensures even distribution of coffee in the chamber and guarantees a simple clean at the end of each use with the accompanying brush.” One can even store 350 grams of beans in the top bit! I just hope it fits under the cupboard. (We reasoned that, if it didn’t, we would get a refund.) Until it comes, I have made a running repair to the bowl of the Gaggia with a few bits of sticking plaster. 

This morning has gone similarly, minus the marmalade. (I am still using up the old one, so can’t report on the last batch yet.) My beloved had a conference call — with an international participant, no less! She has been beavering away at the dining table every day, requiring only intermittent technical assistance, and a few coffees. (My beloved has to have decaf, which we buy pre-ground. Mine is made from beans, which is more of a hassle, but having fresh grounds each time is worth it for me.)

Once more, at the right tempo

Timing, as the saying goes, is all. This is nowhere more true than in music. The speed or tempo at which a piece of music is played has more to do with how we perceive that music than any other factor.

Think about how much a person’s walk says about them. An energetic person will dash around, a more elderly person will move in a deliberate and unhurried way; somebody elderly or injured will hobble. In the same way, the character of a piece of music is immediately announced by the tempo adopted in the performance. Beethoven 5, first movement, announces itself dramatically — da-da-da-dumm! — at allegro con brio. The nostalgic slow movement of Dvorak 9 (“From the new world”) is marked Largo.  These are almost the extremes of tempo markings. 

Since music began to be notated, these Italian tempo markings were the only means composers had to indicate how fast they wanted a piece of music to be played. Then came the metronome, beloved of music students around the globe. This clockwork device  allows the tempo to be expressed as a number — the metronome marking. A book, The First Four Notes: Beethoven’s Fifth and the Human Imagination, by Matthew Guerrieri, contains the story:

The metronome was an invention of Beethoven’s day; he didn’t have access to it when he was writing his early symphonies. But later, he came into contact with it and loved the device. “He immediately buys one and sits down and starts going back over all his old scores and putting in metronome markings,” Guerrieri says. “And he picked a tempo for the Fifth Symphony that even today sounds really, astonishingly fast.”

The setting he chose was 108 beats per minute — so fast, so hard to play, Guerrieri says, that people have been theorizing for centuries about why Beethoven might have mismarked his own symphony. A broken metronome? Advancing deafness? Nobody knows. [Deceptive cadence, NPR Public Radio]

From this point you might ask — what’s the big deal with choosing a tempo? Just set your metronome (clockwork or app) to the marking in the score, and play it at that speed. The composer can’t be wrong, right? Well, not quite. Their metronome may be faulty, as Beethoven’s could have been. There is quite a literature, including a mathematical paper, trying to work out why Beethoven put such fast tempo markings on his music. (This New York Times article reviews the various issues that the faulty-metronome hypothesis raises.)

There are other considerations too. One of these is the nature of the acoustic in which the music is to be played.

Sergiu Celibidache was a Vegemite kind of conductor — some love him, others can’t stand him. The issue is the extremely slow tempos he used to adopt, particularly in Bruckner. Celibidache was very interested in Zen, and had a semi-mystical view of conducting. I’ve never really understood this until I read this excerpt from his autobiography:

‘Herr Doctor, how fast does that go?’ he once asked Wilhelm Furtwangler about a particular passage. The answer had unexpected consequences: ‘Ah that depends on how it sounds.’ Later Celibidache alluded to this laconic remark: ‘So, the way it sounds can determine the tempo! Tempo isn’t a reality per se, but a condition. If there are an enormous variety of factors working together, then I need more time in order to create something musical; if less is going on, I can move through more quickly.’ [Notes to Bruckner 3, Symphonies 3-9, Munich Philharmonic/Celibidache]

Or, as his son puts it

more notes need more time to develop and return (to the ear). The richer the music, therefore, the slower the tempo … When only a percentage of what existed in the hall can be heard, the tempo always feels “too slow”. [Ibid.]

The point is “in the hall”. A large reverberant space like a cathedral will have a much slower or “wetter” acoustic than a concert hall or recording studio. So there is no such thing as “the right tempo”; a work will be played at speeds that suit the acoustic of that performance.

Celi’s interest in Zen leads one to a few paradoxes. This recording has the shou symbol for longevity on the cover and in the liner notes:

shousymbol-150x150-1

This symbolises his ongoing legacy. He was obviously a major conductor, whose work we can now only know through recordings. However, he hated recordings, believing that they destroyed the uniqueness of each performance. He believed in the primacy of the moment, and wanted to create the conditions for a transcendent experience on the part of the audience. This concept is summed up in the term ichi-go ichi-e: 

often translated as “for this time only,” “never again,” or “one chance in a lifetime.” The term reminds people to cherish any gathering that they may take part in, citing the fact that many meetings in life are not repeated. Even when the same group of people can get together again, a particular gathering will never be replicated and thus, each moment is always once-in-a-lifetime. [Wikipedia]

So why did his family authorise EMI to issue a series of Celi’s recordings? There are several official reasons. First, they wanted to secure his legacy before copyright on his recordings expired, when pirate editions of questionable quality would be issued. Second, they intended to create two foundations: one musical, the Celibidache Foundation, the other more general, S.C. Help, which “will cover various needs in the world”.  Whether these intentions were realised or not, the volumes of this edition I have seen are handsome productions, with full liner notes and beautiful photography of  Japanese dry gardens.

Regardless of the philosopy, what do the results sound like? I have only heard Bruckner 3 and 4. Bruckner was a special favourite of Celi’s; the mystical and spacious aspects of this music lend themselves to the latter’s approach. I find the interpretations quite hypnotic. It helps that, with the exception of no. 7, I don’t know the symphonies very well. I can just space out and let the process take over. It definitely works for me. It is music of mountain peaks and sudden storms. As in Wagner’s last opera Parsifal, time becomes space.

Mariss Jansons

Late last year I saw an obituary for Mariss Jansons, who died last November of a heart attack. I felt quite a sense of loss. He was one of those conductors whose recordings I had started to look out for. Jansons was never a household name like Karajan or Solti, but I think he was more reliable than both. (Karajan, with a few exceptions, I have always thought over-rated, while Solti could drive things along too hard — although his Ring Cycle is terrific.)

As one might expect from someone who grew up in the Soviet Union, Jansons was an expert in the Russian symphonic repertoire, particularly Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich. He was had great versatility, though; his Sibelius recordings with the Oslo Philharmonic are very fine, and he was at home also in the standard German fare. I have his Beethoven 3, 4 and 5, and Bruckner 8, all with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (of whom he became chief conductor in 2003). I was also able to acquire his Shostakovich cycle last year (thanks, Jane!).

Mariss Jansons studied these scores with his father Arpads, also a conductor: the latter knew Shostakovich. Mariss Jansons clearly understood that these symphonies portray the fear, anxiety and betrayal of a generation. His readings are neither flashy nor dull; even the longest movements have a sense of momentum. Climaxes are full-blooded, and there is plenty of that sense of mounting hysteria that seems peculiar to Russian music (and Shostakovich in particular). The set features the work of eight orchestras: his own Bavarians, the Berlin, London, Oslo, St Petersburg and Vienna Philharmonics, as well as the Philadelphia and Pittsburg orchestras. With the exception of the last, these are all top bands. (He was also chief conductor of the Concertgebouw.) That Jansons was able to work with all these orchestras gives you an idea of the regard in which he was held around the world. His ability to get a Russian sound from all of them is also quite remarkable.

This set reveals many of his strengths, and possibly the reason why greater fame eluded him. Maybe he became a victim of his success. Rather than being identified with one orchestra, as Karajan was with Berlin, working in so many places prevented his “brand” from being really established. I don’t think Mariss Jansons would have cared about this. For him, the music came first. 

I recently got a couple of encores to my Jansons collection. Thanks again to Jane’s generosity, I was able to get from Readings, via special order, a box set called Mariss Jansons: Portrait. This is issued by BR Klassik, a label that the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra founded for the dissemination of their recordings. It is a five CD set featuring Jansons and the BRSO in Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Strauss, Mahler, Varese, Stravinsky, and Shostakovich. There were not many conductors who had all these composers in their repertoire. The Shostakovich is the sixth symphony. The performance in the complete set is with the Oslo Philharmonic, so when I have time, I can compare the two performances.

I have also had the chance to hear Janson’s final thoughts on Brahms’ fourth symphony. This work is included in the Portrait box, in a recording from 2012. Jansons and the BRSO also performed this in October last year, one of his last concerts. This program was recorded by the BBC; I made a disc from this, which I played through again this evening. The timings of the 2019 performance are definitely slower than those in the 2012 recording. (The first movement is 1′ 15″ longer, which is quite noticeable.) However, the feeling is valedictory rather than sentimental. Phrases are moulded lovingly, and with tremendous insight, but very little pulling around. The orchestra plays wonderfully. No-one was going gentle into that good night. 

Another ending begins

Shakespeare famously likened life to a stage. Many Shakespeare quotes have become clichés. Nonetheless, this one popped into my mind this morning:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances …

[As you like it, II 7]

I hasten to add that I have neither received my exit cue from the Great Director, nor am I expecting it any time soon. But Shakespeare’s simile applies as much to the daily aspects of our lives as it does to grand entrances and exits. I am at a mini-exit in that I have nearly finished the exercise classes that I wrote about previously. I am wondering what to do next, and what life will be like when I don’t have to haul myself off to the Hawthorn Aquatic Centre three times a week.

Whatever I decide to do — more on that below — it feels like the end of an era. The classes began in November. The dreadful bushfire season and Christmas formed a background to the routine of class on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Fortunately we had a mini-break over Christmas, which came just in time — I was feeling quite worn out. Three times a week is just a bit too much. However, the exercise has had good effects. I have been a bit more flexible physically, and been slowly putting on a bit more muscle. The Zolodex, however, inhibits this process, so I haven’t been bulking up as much as I would have expected to. (I would have liked to lose a bit of the spare tyre, too! But this is also associated with the medication.) Nevertheless, the exercise has has minimised the muscle wastage that would otherwise have occurred. This by itself is a good reason to continue, at a level that I can sustain.

I will miss the social side of the process, meeting the other participants for coffee before class, and swapping prostate cancer war stories. Such things are a chance to find out what life is like for other fellas with PC. It possibly takes a circumstance like cancer to get Australian males at our stage of life to talk about themselves to total strangers — even, shock horror, about how they are feeling! Everyone has been very generous with their experiences. Having had the three big cancer treatments (cut, slash and poison), I have been able to give them some idea of how these have affected me. (I am always careful to add the rider — your mileage may vary.) At Christmas I gave them a bit of my spiced fudge. One of them lives in the next suburb to us, and keeps bees. I gave him quite a few of the empty jars I had in the garage, in return for which I have got several jars of the most delicious honey. (I am going to give him a jar of my lime marmalade as a quid pro quo.)

These acquaintances are like work friendships; after the work ceases, they could either continue, or come to a natural end. I am hoping it will be the former. Of course, this will depend on everyone feeling the same way, and being prepared to make the effort to keep getting together. We will have to see what happens next. However it works out, it has been very enjoyable and reassuring, somehow, to have the encouragement and support of people who know exactly what you are going through. 

So, what happens next? Before I started the research program last November, I had a membership in a local gym, and a weekly group class at an exercise physiology practice in Camberwell. (I put both of these on hold until February.) Instead of resuming at those places, though, I could continue with my membership at the Hawthorn Aquatic Centre. The cost there is very similar to the local gym. Also, the university will be continuing to run the research classes at Hawthorn, as they have been doing for a couple of years. An exercise physiology student will be supervising those classes, as at present, and they would keep an eye on me as well. They would also adjust my program as required. So I would sort-of be getting a two-in-one deal, with gym and exercise physio in one.

I looked at the cost saving of maintaining the Hawthorn membership over going back to the combination I had before November. Over a year, it comes to about $1400 — not a huge amount, but not nothing. On the other hand, I would miss out on working with the Camberwell exercise physiologist, of whom I have been a client for about eighteen months. And Camberwell is easier to get to, just a twenty minute tram ride. Hawthorn is about a half hour drive from home, or a one hour tram trip. So inevitably I would end up driving, and doing my bit for global warming.

However I decide, I am thankful to have these options to choose among. My oncologist certainly wants me to keep up the exercise. Exercise has had so much research showing its beneficial effects on cancer patients, it is becoming a front line treatment. As I heard someone say at an open day at Peter Mac: if you could get a medication which would reduce stress, risk of heart attack and stroke, improve sleep, and bring about a more positive outlook, with no side effects, you’d want some of that! These are generic benefits, but there are specific ones for cancer patients as well. The idea is that, if your blood is circulating faster, you are exposing the tumours to more of the effective compounds in the medication than if you are just sitting on your backside. So, although brevity is the soul of wit, it could keep me treading the boards a bit longer.

 

Moving it

I’ve mentioned that I am participating in a study being performed at ACU into the effect of exercise on the mental well-being of prostate cancer patients. I am a bit over half way through that study, and expect to be finished with it in early February. So I was interested to see a story in The Age about research into the effect of exercise on mental well being. This study, conducted by University of Southern Queensland and Deakin researchers, isn’t specifically targeting prostate cancer, or any cancer patients. The researchers were  looking at the effect on mental well being of adding a strength training session to your regular exercise class. They found that adding only one strength training session enhances the effect of that class. In other words, “combining the two is more beneficial than doing either alone”.

The USQ project was a cross-sectional study, that is, it wasn’t original research, but one that sliced and diced previous studies. The authors looked at four previous US health surveys, with a huge number of subjects — nearly 1.5 million. The size of the combined data pool, plus the fact that the USQ researchers were examining four successive studies, further improves the potential reliability of their conclusions. You can read the story from the Nine Media/Fairfax sources here, and the NLM abstract is here.  

I am finding participation in the ACU study is generally very beneficial. I feel good, and only really feel flat when I am tired — nothing new there. My oncologist definitely wants me to keep exercising. I intend to, but it is just a matter of finding the appropriate level. Zolodex does make me a bit fatigued in the afternoons. I do want to go back to doing everything that I was doing before I started the study, while continuing to do more exercise than I did before. Just what exercise is another question. The ACU folk are upping the intensity of my class, adding interval training in the cardio section, and increasing the weights in the resistance part. This is all part of the progressive resistance idea, and I get that. The Zolodex, again, makes it more difficult for me to put on muscle as I normally would when lifting bigger weights. So I am finding it tiring! The ACU researchers (as with my regular exercise physiologist) are all very careful only to give me exercises that won’t aggravate any of the metastases from the last scan.

There is a nice social side to the classes as well — I often meet the other guys for a coffee beforehand. One of them has a beehive, and gave me a wonderful jar of honey last week. So that is all very enjoyable as well, and something that I hope continues after the classes are finished. I don’t know if there has been any research into this, but if there ever is, I would be happy to volunteer for it!