Sunday, January 01, 2017

The Stephening Standard - 2016

Goodbye 2016!

Here's some of the gems out of 2016 for Zach and me.

Click on the links to see more about anything that interests you.

Or not!

Out of the mouths of adolescents

Zach is beginning to show his age! 

Some of his observations are both funny and perceptive.

Sailing in Shark Bay - a short history

October 25 1616, Dirk Hartog landed at a remote western point of Western Australia 
and left an inscribed pewter plate

October 25 2016, I visited this still remote point in a small (4.5m) open sailing dinghy.

Here's my short history of the various visitors (including my own visit) to this location.

A walk on the wilderness side (Hong Kong)

Going to Hong Kong and want to get away from it all? 

For a predominantly urban landscape, it has a surprising amount of wilderness to explore. Here's a few that I discovered that I think are simply awesome.

Thai sailas exploring the Andaman Sea

In July, Zach and I and six others chartered a 40' catamaran and sailed the Andaman sea in Thailand.

Here are just four highlights.

Zoey's Last Wander

Zoey our pet dog was an inveterate escape artist. In June, she wandered away for the last time. This is the story of Zoey's last wander.

Indian Pacific Train Experience

In January after a family gathering in WA to celebrate a bunch of birthdays, Zach and I returned to the east by train.

It was a most excellent experience.

Shared parenting and Star Wars

Zach now spends nine days out of every 14 with me and has done so for about a year or so now. 

The process by which this came about is interesting and gives Zach an opportunity make yet another funny and perceptive observation, this time drawing on a Star Wars metaphor to illustrate his point.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Okay, that's all folks!

Hello 2017.

See you there.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Out of the mouths of adolescents

"Out of the mouths of babes..." we like to say.

(Here's one of Zach's from many years ago.)

However, whatever wisdom is expressed by children typically comes from their complete innocence.

That is, the wisdom does not reside in the child speaking, but rather in the adult who hears the speaking.

(Corollary: if a child utters some astute observation and no-one hears it, it probably ain't a wisdom!)

The wisdom of an adolescent is a bit different. It is a quirky blend of innocence and emergent wisdom. Here's some examples from Zach.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Sailing in Shark Bay - a short history

In October 2016, I sailed around Shark Bay in a small open dinghy with my long-time sailing buddy, Peter.

Here is an abbreviated history of visitors to this remote but very scenic area including our own recent visit. (For a more pictoral and less historical view, go to this version)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A walk on the wilderness side (Hong Kong)

Hong Kong wilderness? Sounds like an oxymoron, but it really isn't. 

When an offer came up to visit Hong Kong to teach a two-weekend course in the psychology of consumers and consumption ("Consumer Behavior"), I said "Yes".

This affirms one of the key principles of "manipulating" consumer behavior: just give customers want they want. It's a lot easier than trying to push them towards that which they don't want.

The course was then cancelled, but they agreed to pay for my non-refundable airline tickets, and so I went anyway.

Hong Kong is of course a major city (population 7m), and nearby mainland China features a set of massive megatropolises including Guangzhou (population 13m) and Shenzhen (population 11m).

Despite that, Hong Kong features some fascinating wilderness spots. Here's the ones I explored and highly recommend.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Thai sailas exploring the Andaman sea

Some years ago, Zach passed on an opportunity to go sailing in Turkey with me. I took my Dad with me instead.

I figured that one day, Zach might be interested and as it turned out, it was in 2016 that Zach said to me "Papa, can we go sailing this year?"

So in July, we chartered a 40' catamaran in Thailand. This is a big boat relative to equivalent sized monohulls. It had 4x double cabins, 2x single cabins and a large saloon between the hulls. Luxury.

We rounded up a crew of eight people and here are a few of our adventures. (I won't bore you with all the fun that we had but feel free to ask me for more details).

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Zoey's last wander

Zoey has wandered off.

this time is for good.
For her good?
For good good.

She's gone for a wander along the no-return trail.

Of course,
we're all walking a no-return trail.
Time passes,
there's no going back,
only forward.

But yesterday,
(I can go back in time,
at least in my mind),
there was a fork in the trail.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Flight from Trouble

I’m in Trouble. Helluva place. As in hell-hole, horrible. I need to get out of here. And so I do…

I settle into my seat, I close my eyes. But still I feel crowded. Just as I know there are people all around me, I know that my troubles are right on hand.

Presently, I hear the engines hum. Rising to a whine. The brakes are released, we start to roll. Then I feel my body pressed back against the comfortable leather seat back. Nothing I can do. A motion forward, I’m committed, beyond my control.

Now starts the magic.

As the plane accelerates along the runway, I know the raindrops on the windows begin to move backward. Then become streaks. So it is with my problems. I hear more noise, more hum, more rumbling. I feel the bumps along the runway. Even with my eyes still closed, I know the streaks have now streamed away. I feel my troubles floundering on the runway. Are they still pursuing me? Who knows. I can’t see them, I don’t care, I’m free of them.

The plane rotates, I feel myself lifted into the air. The concerns, the issues are falling away. Strictly, I’m rising above them. Eyes still closed, I see all my woes in my mind’s eye, looking like an architectural model. Tangled trees, thorny bushes, razor grasslands, pesky persons, angry animals – all mere models, fluffy and harmless, in my imagination. I cannot discern the barbs, the prickles, the spikes.

From here, I cannot see Trouble.

I still get this each time I fly, short or long. What is left behind – toothbrush or trouble – is gone. There is nothing quite like being held captive at 30,000 feet that makes me release all that held me on the ground.

My breathing steadies. Trouble. It is still out there, I know. But I’m looking forward. It is behind me, made harmless by distance, made artificial by altitude.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Indian-Pacific train experience

Are we there yet?
Trains seem to have always been somehow magical: steam trains (how does a gigantic metallic beast like that get driven by steam?), the joining of east and west in the US, the Orient Express in Europe, Hogwarts Express, the marvellous but oftentimes sordid mystery of trains running underground in many of the world's major cities, etc.

In an age of plane travel, the idea of travelling on a train can hold even more appeal than in the past. And given Zach's youthful love of trains, we decided to do the Indian-Pacific train journey, one of the world's great train journeys (as rated by no less than the Society of International Railway Travellers).

It is called the Indian-Pacific which implies travel from west to east, but you can choose to go the other way, Sydney to Perth. That route is a little more expensive, presumably due to greater demand. Who knows why. Perhaps because it is going to be a couple of hours longer due to the time difference. Or maybe because there is something exotic about riding the Indian-Pacific in the wrong direction.

Riding the train is an Experience with a capital E. The key Elements of that most Excellent Experience were as follows:

Friday, January 15, 2016

Shared parenting and Star Wars

A kid like Zach must feel like a character in Star Wars as he shuttles between the homes of his parents, like hitching on the Millenium Falcon from Corellia to Coruscant, like zipping through hyperspace between Tatooine and Hoth, like buzzing between Dagobar to Dathomir (List_of_Star_Wars_planets_and_moons).

Anyway, Zach continues to shuttle between the homes of his mother and his putative father (Zach, I am your father)!

I love it because for one week I get to be a dad where I can embarrass my child, and in the other week, I get to be a single bloke and embarrass myself.

Zach appears to be genuinely happy to have two homes, the best of two worlds with each offering different advantages and disadvantages - and those are his sentiments.

If I’m to be completely honest, I am genuinely happy he has two homes too. For one thing, if we had stuck with one household (this is a thought experiment, it wasn’t ever going to happen), it seems to me that it would have been a pretty messy, compromised situation for everyone. For another, Zach grows up in two home-cultures, and therefore, he already realises that there is not just one way of doing things, but at least two – if not more.

However, for about a year now, Zach’s mum has been bemoaning the challenge of having to raise two children, namely Zach and his half-sister Jade. About a year ago (early in 2015), she proposed that Zach come and stay with me full-time and that she just have him for every second weekend. I was willing to accept the change, but was reluctant unless Zach was involved in the discussion, and I encouraged his mum to talk with about Zach what he wanted.

She told me later that she had raised the idea with him and he apparently looked at her a little strangely, tilted his head quizzically, and then said, “No, I’d like to stay with you for one week and one week with Papa.” That kind of resolved the issue for a while, but early in 2016, it popped up again.

In fairness, it is probably a bit tough for mum. Zach and his half-sister, Jade, spend one week together at their mum’s, and one week apart at their respective fathers (and mum has a new saintly partner to put up with all this craziness). And just to add to the mended & blended family that we represent, Jade’s father has gone on to re-marry and has produced a lovely son, Thomas. So Jade has two brothers Zach and Thomas, but Zach and Thomas are each completely unrelated to each other!

So Zach’s mum does feel the pressure and complained to me that she only had five nights child-free a fortnight. She proposed that I take Zach on for two extra days a fortnight. I noted that this would give me, let me count, oh, yeah,  five nights child-free a fortnight !!! I was however happy to have the extra time with him if the idea appealed to Zach. And so I spoke with him..

My conversation with Zach was enlightening and amusing. Zach started telling me how his mum was complaining to him also saying that she had so little time in the weekly cycles of her children with their respective fathers that she was only getting 5 days a fortnight child-free. Zach then told me that he pointed out to his mother that some parents didn’t have any child-free nights!

I asked him how that went. Zach cast his face down, and said, ‘Not well.’ He volunteered that her response reminded him of the rathtar in Star Wars VII (see the clip below).

Zach now spends nine days a fortnight with me, five with his mother, and he's learned that the famous Star Wars "I've got a bad feeling about this" intuition is one that may well merit attention!

Friday, January 01, 2016

Stephening Standard 2015

Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana
(Groucho Marx)

Time passes. It’s a journey, a one-way journey, a l-o-n-g one-way journey – if we’re lucky!

Here I am with a teenage son (Zach turned 13 in December 2015) and octogenarian parents (they both rolled into their 80s in 2015, well actually, happily, they both walked into their 80s).

Meanwhile, I have not provided any update to friends and family for some time. I clearly missed the end of 2015 given that this missive did not issue until the end of the first quarter of 2016.

The update on 2014 never left my laptop. Just like the software really - just sits there as a legacy reminding me that I, like my computer hardware,  seem to be getting older and slower.

Can too much time pass? 

Does an un-issued annual update begin to discolour and smell like some of the things in my fridge? Wasn't it always going to be yesterday’s news? Doesn't a memoir regreen our memories, offers a nostalgic memento, the past brought back into the present? (For more thoughts in this vein, you might like to review the Rolling Stones 1967 song, Yesterdays Papers - will you look at that mini-skirt!)

I know I love receiving updates from all of you in whatever form and time you do it. Moreover, I was encouraged by the words of one friend who in her Christmas 2015 update, invited me and her friends to write some words and send some photos. I should note that her update was issued in print, sent via snailmail, from the US and received before Christmas 2015. Her encouraging words are tempered, undermined even, by her own impressive timeliness.

And still time passes.

Go here for updates ( on all I've done in the last two years.

About time: better late than never!