An Island, some Quokkas, Bagpipes and a Marathon

Picture a little island off the coast of Western Australia only about 19km from Perth. Far enough away to feel like you’ve escaped the hustle and bustle of life’s everyday responsibilities but close enough for it to be easily accessible by ferry, boat or plane and for the mainland still to be visible from the island. It has everything one can possibly need for an island holiday with a range of accommodation choices, a bakery, some cafés, shops, a pub, bike hire shop, mini golf course and some more, without it being over-developed. One can do as little or as much as you like, hang out around “The Settlement”  where the shops are, go to the beach for a swim or a snorkel or take yourself for a bike ride to one (or more) of the many spectacular bays around the island or visit some of the historic spots. With no private vehicles on the island, cycling and walking are the two main modes of transport which greatly adds to the laid-back relaxed vibe and the kids absolutely love the freedom that this safety allows them.

The island was initially named “Rotte nest” (meaning rat’s nest) by the Dutchman de Vlamingh in 1696 because they didn’t know how else to describe the Quokkas, but the name was later adapted to “Rottnest”. These cute little marsupials are still probably the most well-known animals on the island quietly going about their business, sometimes cheekily trying to get into accommodation units after food and often suddenly hopping in front of a cyclist which gives cause for quick evasive action. Cycling back to our accommodation on the northern side of the island after a meal at the pub at night with very few lights and no moonlight to guide you, negotiating our way around the unpredictable Quokkas always makes for some interesting encounters, especially when you’ve forgotten to take a torch or light of some sorts.

Quokka mum and baby

Quokka mum and baby

I’ve had another interesting experience of a different kind whilst cycling to our accommodation at night on our second visit but our first overnight stay on the island. My husband was only able to join us on the island the next morning so the kids and I went across on the ferry late afternoon and by the time we’d checked in and were ready to head out to our unit some 2km away, it was dusk and getting dark rapidly. I realised very quickly that my sense of direction on the island which relied upon the cycling around we did on our first trip some 3 ½ years prior, was established in broad daylight and limited to certain parts of the island, and that it all looked very different in the dark. After setting off in the right direction but taking a wrong turn we ended up in what felt like a maze of little streets and cottages where one looked just the same as the other in the darkness. The map wasn’t much use because I couldn’t discern one street from another, it was pre-smartphones (and therefor Google Maps and a little blue GPS dot), I asked people for directions twice, ended up phoning my husband in exasperation because he’s so good at directions (but frustratingly wasn’t much help over from the mainland this time) at which point the kids started getting worried. Eventually I gave up on the maze and we made our way back to the main “Settlement” area where I knew my way around and we tackled the (even darker) road that runs between the lakes out through the middle of the island. This didn’t inspire much confidence in the kids either as it was pitch dark by this time, there was no moon, no street lights, and we didn’t have a torch and neither was I really exuding an air of bravado (falsely or otherwise). We stopped every couple of hundred metres and I used the light from my phone’s screen to check that we were still on the road and not about to cycle straight into one of the lakes and we finally made it to our unit, only to be teased about it by my husband to this day.

Last weekend we packed our bags and set off for our annual trip to the island again and I was persuaded (mostly by Child No 3) to leave on the first ferry of the day at 7:30am which meant having to get up at bright and early 5am to be there on time. Our family does seem to have the knack for getting up early when we have to travel, sometimes getting up at 3am, so it’s probably just as well my husband (as the main early bird in the house) is not in charge of the ferry timetable because then we’d probably have been on a 5am ferry. That said, arriving on the island at 8:15am gave us the entire day to explore and enjoy and we cycled along the southern side of the island stopping at most of the breathtaking little bays so the girls could swim and snorkel and I found plenty of photo opportunities along the way – it truly is a very photogenic place – and we had the best time.

Parker Point

Parker Point

Jeannie's Lookout

Jeannie’s Lookout

Bathurst Point Lighthouse

Bathurst Point Lighthouse

Then on Sunday morning it was time for the (21st) Rottnest Marathon and Fun Runs. A unique race in a very unique setting with the marathon start heralded by the wail of bagpipes at 6am and the bagpipes, having become a traditional part of the marathon, being played throughout the race at Armstrong Hill. The atmosphere on the day is always lively and cheerful with lots of runners and their families and friends having descended on the island for the weekend and even more people going over to spend the day on the island and run a fun run while they’re there. Never an easy race contending with hills, quokkas, snakes and almost always the wind, but the spirit is always that of camaraderie and appreciating the privilege of having all of this on our doorstep.

Early morning before the start of the marathon

Early morning before the start of the marathon

Bagpiper at the start of the marathon

Bagpiper at the start of the marathon

Heading back home after an amazing weekend in such a magical place is always a touch melancholy and makes me dream of a simple life but reality beckons and so we’ll recount great memories and look forward to our next visit to this little paradise island with its quokkas, beautiful scenery, great vibe, individual character and very unique charm.

French Alarm Clocks and a Rabbit in the Headlights

A necessary and unavoidable evil in today’s hurried lifestyle and something I don’t love even at the best of times. Being someone who needs my sleep and having done my time of sleep-deprived nights with babies I try to go to bed early enough at night so I can get up early, exercise and get ready in time for work (which is always easier in summer when it’s light so early) and I set my day-spa style tranquil-sounding harp-music alarm on my phone to wake me up in the mornings, but being married to someone whose sleep pattern resembles that of a dairy farmer (off to bed at about 8pm most nights and up and about at 4am most mornings) I am quite often woken up well before my alarm has gone off. Trying to go back to sleep after that is not always possible seeing as there’s no tranquillity involved anymore and especially since I’m a light sleeper but it’s become a part of the routine now.

And then two years ago my husband decided to do Ironman. The 3.8km swim plus 180km bike plus 42km run type of Ironman that requires up to 20 hours of training per week. That, of course, means daily early training sessions which is no problem for someone who is up that early anyway, except that he now felt that he had to set the alarm to go off that early in case he didn’t wake up in time. (I don’t think any alarm clock is necessary for him as he would have slept in about once a year in the last nearly 18 years of marriage, but be that as it may, he set the alarm.)

To make matters even more interesting we have a variety of alarm clocks in our house. Firstly there is a standard edition and very reliable Blaupunkt clock radio type alarm that has been with us for many years. When this one is in use it wakes you up with a talk-radio show that increases in volume the longer you take to find the button to turn it off. No peaceful music. Talk radio. And the talking becomes louder and more serious and insistent by the second. Something like: “Wake up and turn me off” in a little whisper followed by a more stern “Wake up now and turn me off” and then “WAKE UP THIS INSTANT AND TURN ME OFF!” The other is a model of unknown brand that makes the sound of a rooster crowing at first softly and increasingly louder the longer it takes you to find that button that’s so well hidden, and it has “REPEAT ALARM” printed on it. Wow. As if I would have fallen for that little sales tactic. If the rooster doesn’t wake you up in the first round it promises to repeat the wake-up call! That is assuming there were ever any chances of falling asleep again after the first round of crowing!! This one was bought in Libreville, Gabon and it’s extra special because there is a female voice with a French accent that says: “Alarm on” when you set it, and “Alarm euff” (off) if you press the button again to turn it off.

The French rooster "Repeat Alarm"

The French rooster “Repeat Alarm”

So, part of the Ironman training regime involves early morning training sessions, as mentioned. Now the trick comes in when Ironman has set his alarm but woke up before it went off (at which time it’s so early that he could have milked some cows before going out training) and in fact forgot to turn it off before he went out the bedroom and I get rudely woken up to either a rooster increasing his volume as I’m fumbling to find the stupid button which I have no idea where it is as it’s not my alarm and I haven’t had a chance to put my glasses on either, or a talk-radio show that also becomes louder and louder as I struggle to turn it off in the dark, at which point I don’t feel like I’m getting woken up in a day spa at all but rather like I’m in a nightmare of a boot camp session that I turned up late and half asleep for. Numerous times I’ve gotten so frustrated that I just unplugged the offending alarm clock from the mains and carried it through to wherever Ironman was sitting blissfully unaware and sipping his morning tea and shoved it in his hands, turned around and went back to bed, no words necessary and sense of humour completely lost somewhere between my pillow and the clock. At other times I’ve also got up to go and hand over the annoying rooster only to find that my husband had already left on whatever that particular morning’s training mission was and I had no idea (or inclination to find out at that pre-pre-dawn point in the morning) how to turn off the stupid clock and I ended up shoving it in the linen cupboard underneath a pile of silencing towels and left it to crow to its heart’s content (on repeat – it is battery powered as well) while the rest of the household tries to get some more sleep.

But my early morning delightful wake-ups don’t end there. Unfortunately Ironman some-(most) times forgets some very crucial piece of clothing such as cycling gloves or equipment such as his cycling computer or any random needed thing in the bedroom after he got up and then comes in search of it with the aid of his headlight that is as strong as a sea rescue search light which he – very considerately as he hasn’t turned on the bedroom light – blindingly points all around the room searching for this missing thing that he needs with the effect of the light bobbing up and down and every which way at which point I feel like a seasick rabbit in the headlight who is late for a boot camp session!

Oh but there is more. When child No 1 was training for his first 14km race earlier in the year he was really disciplined and got up early every morning to go running. He’s learnt all the do’s and don’ts of early morning noise in the house over the years – that is earlier than 5:30am when I get up – and is actually quite considerate in this regard except for the day when he left his phone with the alarm set to go off at 5am in the hall and shut both doors between his bedroom and the hall and went to sleep like a baby. That is he slept like a baby until I got woken up by the alarm which I had no idea what or where it was and went in search of it and then when I found it, went to hand him his phone. Mad rabbit who is late for a boot camp session! He only did that once. Child No 2 has also incurred the wrath of one of us when she accidentally made the mistake of getting up and thinking she’d turned off her alarm but instead had hit “snooze” without realising and then child No 3 got rudely woken up by that alarm. Another mad little rabbit!

There is one other sleep-deprivating clock in the house (to me anyway) and that’s the grandmother clock hanging near the kids’ bedrooms that ticks away the seconds and chimes once on the half hour and as many times as each hour on the hour, and my husband and kids have all got used to it and consider it soothing and comforting background noise but every chime I hear reminds me that I’m awake and it’s getting later and later and closer to the time I will again be woken up by either my own alarm if I’m lucky, or otherwise the talk-radio show or worse still: the French rooster!

Road Runner

Let me start off by saying I’m not a road runner, I’m not even a runner in any form and I don’t look like a road runner either, and neither is this about road running in the traditional sense.

I do a lot of running around though, as mums (and some dads I’m sure) all over all do all the time.  In our house there lives a dad and husband who is fanatic about exercise, trains all the time (when he’s not working or updating his exercise spreadsheets and graphs or having the occasional bit of time out), has done close to a hundred marathons and ultra-marathons, ironman etc (let’s call him Ironman); a big boy and his two high school sisters, and of course, mum.  Most of the time I love getting up early in the morning and going for a walk, getting organised for the day ahead and just getting things done. The kids aren’t up by 5am but Ironman generally is, so the house is quiet as he minds his own business updating his general knowledge of all the relevant news sites for the day and other not-so-important information (in my opinion) before he goes out training, which leaves me free to do all the organising I have to do.

Sadly Ironman is injured at the moment though so there’s been no training for a while, which is really hard on someone who is used to that amount of exercise and I honestly don’t envy anyone who is injured (been there and done that). Suddenly he has a lot of time on his hands that he’s not used to, so not only is he injured, he also doesn’t know what to do with all this free time all of a sudden, and finally said in exasperation the other day that he was bored.

Now this was early in the morning before work and school, and I had a fair bit to do before going to work so I told him, as I was walking past him on my way to hang up the second load of washing, that I was definitely not bored! Picture this: going backwards and forwards between kitchen and laundry, front and back gardens moving a sprinkler, turning the timer on, checking that the tap is open just the right amount, back to the laundry to take one load of washing out and put another one in, outside to hang up the washing, out to the front garden to move that sprinkler and repeat the timer and tap process, back inside to the kitchen to prepare the marinade for the lamb for dinner, back outside to move the sprinkler as the timer has finished, repeat the timer and tap process, back inside to cut the lamb and put it in the marinade, make myself lunch to take to work, out to the front to move that sprinkler and repeat the timer and tap process, shower and get ready to go to work, eat breakfast, hang up the second load of washing. Now picture all of this in fast forward and you get a blurry picture of someone or something running backwards and forwards resembling a cartoon Road Runner.

This is the thing: there is always something to do. I remember as a kid sometimes being bored, but as a grown-up I haven’t experienced that luxury for a long, long time. Some days I find myself going backwards and forwards doing so many things, and while I’m busy doing one thing I’ll notice something else that needs doing or attention so I’ll stop what I’ve been doing and sort out the other thing, at which point I might interrupt myself again to organise a third thing, and so the day will go by and I’ll be completely exhausted by the end of it but sometimes I haven’t even finished the one thing I started out to do! Doesn’t really bring about a huge sense of accomplishment, but expends a lot of energy and takes up a lot of time. Other days I’ll set out with a clear sense of purpose and a list of things that need doing, whether it be phone calls, appointments to be made, cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry, gardening, filing, cooking a big pot of soup or some other project such as marinating and bottling my olive crop or making dukkah, and by the end of the day I’ll have accomplished what I’d set out to do. And yet there will always be something else to do!

How come it’s so common for men not to understand that a mum’s job is never finished though? And that there’s no point avoiding chores as they will not go away and are better done sooner rather than later? Training for an Ironman event takes up a lot of time, and in our house it basically means that with work and training Ironman is not around most of the time, which really makes it impossible for him to help with a lot of housework, and he’s honestly the only person I know who will sign up to do Ironman (resulting in hours and hours of gruelling training every week, getting up at about 4am most days to go training sometimes in the dark, cold and rain and other times in extreme heat in the middle of summer for 7 hours on a Saturday or Sunday) to avoid doing housework! The funny part is that quite often it’s an hour’s housework that’s been replaced by about 10 hours of training (and repeating this for a few months, and then eventually doing a 3.8km swim followed by a 180km bike ride, followed by a 42km run all on one torturous day). Replacing 1 hour of housework with 10 hours of torturous training? The maths just don’t add up.

Now that there’s a break in training at the moment he’s had to find other ways to kill the time, such as going into our shed a while ago looking for something useful and important, but returning instead with 25 year old marathon photos and then spending an entire fruitful Saturday afternoon scanning and sharing them online with his old running mate. Another deliberate distraction to avoid doing housework, and he hasn’t shown this much interest in the shed in the last 7 years (until he discovered that it offered a distraction)!

Funny that boredom is the alternative to training with no other options available. I’ve never thought of it that way before! Ironman and other related distractions aside, there’s always something that needs doing.

The bottom line is: I’m not bored.

Got to go.

Beep Beep.

Road Runner pic