A weekend away looking at big art

Tuesday 24 April’s Age newspaper had a story about some new silo art, created just in time for Australia’s Anzac Day on the 25th. It showed two medics, one from the past (WW1 nurse) the other from pretty-well right now (medic working in Afghanistan). They were enormous and looked fabulous.

Julie and I had a free weekend coming up after my early (6:30) dialysis, so we decided we’d go and see them in the flesh (so to speak).

Silo art is relatively new. In Australia, it started in Western Australia in 2015, with the Avon silos in the WA Wheatbelt, a gigantic area north and east of Perth.

Phlegm, CBH Avon grain silos.

Avon Silos

For the uninitiated, the silos I’m talking about are mostly concrete and were built 60-100 years ago to collect grain from the surrounding wheat fields and to load it onto trains that take it to cities or ships for consumption or export. Changes in agriculture, combined with the closure of railway lines, has left hundreds of grain silos in regional Australia abandoned.

These silos have been reused for various community activities, like film projection events, using the concrete silo walls as a screen; cellular or telecommunications towers, or for storage by private companies and farmers.

But by far the most delightful use is for silo art. Since 2015 silos in most states have been painted with a huge variety of artwork, from endangered native animals to real people who live and work in the area.

A quick search on the net shows that Silo Art Tours are becoming very popular, with maps and commentary for most districts. But we wanted to see the latest addition to the collection, not yet on any tour guide, at Devenish, pop. 300, about three hours from Melbourne (and 20 minutes from Benalla).

Art Bonus! When we checked the Benalla website, we discovered that Benalla is a pretty arty city in its own right. Every year since 2015, they hold the Wall to Wall Street Art Festival, where some of the country’s and the world’s best street artists paint the walls of the town and turn it into the street art capital of regional Australia.

Silo art AND street in the same weekend, on one tank of fuel. Sometimes you just get lucky…

So, Saturday morning about 10am, Julie picked me up from dialysis, bright, and perky and full of newly cleaned blood, and off we went. Straight up the Hume Freeway and about 2.5 hrs later we arrived in Benalla and checked in to our motel.

First stop the local bakery for coffee and cake. Excellent. Next, we start the art walk. Fantastic! Here are just a few we found on our rambles.

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World map cow

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Dinner at the local pub and a good night’s sleep. Breakfast at a very nice little café; checkout and we head north to Devenish. But wait, there is also silo art on the way, at Goorambat, a few km south of Devenish.

We arrive at Goorambat and the silos, nestled by the railway, dominate the small town. Two artworks, both endangered species: a river redgum and the barking owl. Very impressive. While we’re looking, a grey nomad from a caravan pulls up. We get to talking. There is more silo art just north of Devenish, at Tungamah. Worth a look while we’re here.

 

1-IMG_E68021-IMG_E6801Now to Devenish, just a few km up the road. Again, the enormous bulk of the silos are visible from quite a distance. At last, we arrive, joining quite a few others. One look at the silos and we realise that the photos we’ve seen don’t do them justice. Rising 20 metres (65 ft) skywards they are huge and beautiful. (And judging from the way the pub is being frequented, they have done wonders for the local economy.)

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The artist, the appropriately named Cam Scale, comes from Melbourne. It took him 11 days to complete both paintings. Amazing.

After coffee and cake at the pub (they have only recently learned how to make it), we set off for Tungamah, 10 km further north.

This time it takes a little searching, but we find it eventually. It’s birds: a huge kookaburra and brolgas dancing in a wheat field. Great to see, but for us, the nurse and medic take the cake.

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By 1pm, we’ve seen all the silo art there is to see around here. Gratified and delighted we turn south and head for home. But this won’t be our last silo art tour!

ps: If you want to see some more beautiful silo art, check out the Australia Post silo art stamp set, due out on 21 May 2018:

Australia Post silos

In memory of Merle, Rest in Peace

Ten (+1) Things to do on Dialysis

I’ve written about this before, but it’s time for an update.

I dialyse five times per week.  After 17 years off and on, I still feel the inconvenience of dropping what I’m doing to drive to BigD.  But it’s not the maddening inconvenience it used to be.  Now it’s more like when you’re absorbed in something and are called for lunch: it’s difficult to let go, but the prospect of lunch has a pleasure of its own.  So with dialysis: I am usually a little weary by mid-afternoon, and there is pleasure in the prospect of sitting in a lay back chair for a few hours to catch my breath and get lost in a selection of enjoyable activities.

Like what?  Here is my list far, in the order of most to least common:

  1. Socialise.  Always the first thing to do.  It can vary from a quick hello as I walk to the scales, to an hour-long discussion about each other’s state of health (always a moving target), books we are reading or want to, ditto movies, the latest dopey effort from our government or opposition, how well or badly we fared at maintaining our weight, how we would run the world and fix its problems, family stuff and any other item that takes our fancy.  The depth and enthusiasm I have depends on the kind of day I’ve had (and the weather).
  2. Catch up on emails.  When they are building up, I check and respond to my emails while on the machine.  Even if you only have one hand free, it’s a good way to keep up-to-date and to while away a little of that machine time.  However, to stay coherent, I limit my email time to about half an hour early in the run.  Note: If, like me, every now and then you decide to have an email frenzy and reply to as much email as you can, for as long as you can, I recommend that you disable the auto send function, so you can do a sanity check on what you have written.  It may avoid embarrassment.
  3. Write stuff.  BigD seems like the ideal time to put some thoughts in writing.  Sometimes it is, though I tend to be less productive as the run progresses.  I recently downloaded the Dragon Dictate App for the iPhone, and I am experimenting with it as an alternative to typing.  So far, I have found that I tend to rework many of my sentences several times.  This is not so easy with voice control.  Also, machine alarms and high ambient noise can be a problem for the software.  There is one single room at our unit, and I will give it another try when I next go there.  I will let you know how it does.
  4. Ride an exercise bike.  This is a great way to start getting fit.  Many people new to the BigD are quite sick when they first start and they can’t imagine feeling well enough to exercise.  It takes a few weeks for the benefits of dialysis to kick in, but eventually a small thought comes through: “How much better would I feel if I had some exercise?”   Riding an exercise bike while on dialysis is the ideal starting point.  After my last bout of infection, I started slowly, with half an hour on the exercise bike, and within a month I was well enough to start back at the gym.  If you feel ready for a bit more pep in your day, give it a go.  Details about where to get one and usage suggestions are on the above link.
  5. Read is a low impact, fun activity.  I tend to do this during the first hour of my run, when my brain is still reasonably functional.  Currently I read a couple of monthly magazines that take me most of the month to get through: The Monthly (covering Australian politics, society and culture) and Scientific American.  And I save up various newsletters and read them when the mood takes me.  Also, I always have a book on the go (usually a naval historical – I love Patrick O’Brien, and Alexander Kent is pretty good too).  Recent others worth a mention: The Istanbul Puzzle (a thriller) by Laurence O’Bryan, An Iron Rose (crime) by Peter Temple, anything by CJ Sansom (Tudor thrillers) and the Game of Thrones books.
  6. Watch a TV series or a movie.  When I just want to chill out, I like to watch.  Last time I wrote about this I mentioned Battlestar Gallactica and Rome.  Both still in my top ten series, but recently Game of Thrones nudged them down the list.  Other shows on my Watch If I Can list are Scandinavian thrillers – Unit 1, The Killing, Wallander; BBC shows – New Tricks, Waking the Dead, QI; and the US comedy Archer (shades of Arrested Development).  I’ll add more as I think of them.
  7. Listen to radio, audio book or podcasts.  I know several people who do this during the BigD.  I listen too, but rarely at dialysis.  I prefer listening to them in the car.  It’s the ideal hands free activity, especially since it takes me between 20 and 40 minutes to get to the BigD and I go 5 times per week: lots of listening time there.  Currently I enjoy: DownloadThisShow (ABC – technology), The History Chicks (history with personality), Big Ideas and Future Tense (ABC – in-depth society and culture), the Economist: Editors Highlights, and The New Yorker monthly short story.  With podcasts, the secret is not too many subscriptions at once; you can always review the list if they get a bit tired.
  8. Enjoy your iPad.  I have finally joined the ranks of the iPadders.  Until recently, I took my laptop, a book, magazines and bits and pieces to BigD sessions, to do most of the things listed above.  Now, I take one device (and maybe some newsletters – some clubs are still in the ark).  I have ebooks, e-magazines and various movie/TV show catch-up apps that keep me so entertained that I’m often surprised when it’s time to go.  The iPad is pretty cheap at the moment.  I looked at many of the other tablets and eBook readers, but the iPad was the best for me.  It is versatile, with many apps available, it’s a good size for reading magazines and books, email and movies.  Definitely a great choice for BigD.
  9. Play games.  Some of the people in our unit have loved ones sit with them the whole run.   They chat briefly with each other, read, watch TV or doze.  Some play games together: cards, draughts, chess or some other to pass the time.  With the iPad’s electronic games, everyone can play some kind of game, either alone or with other patients via the unit’s Wi-Fi link.  The ones I like most are the brain exercise games.  At least I like them for a while, early in the run when my brain can handle them.  Check out Keeping Your Brain Sharp on Dialysis Part 3 for details.  Another option is games that can be played with others online or via Wi-Fi, such as Chess, Scrabble, other word games, poker and a range of galactic shoot ‘em ups and strategic games for two or more.  Find a BigD friend with and iPad and let the battle begin.
  10. Have a massage.  I have massages irregularly.  I mostly go for deep tissue massages, though recently Julie has dragged me along for a Thai massage, which was quite invigorating (a BigD friend had his first a massage and the masseur was a little frightened by his fistula; he couldn’t think of a short way of telling her what it was, so he just said: “Car accident” – J).  Now and then I have also been to one of those Chines massage pop-up shops in shopping centres, to deal with a sore shoulder or neck.  So while I am no stranger to massages, I was surprised to have a foot and hand massage offered to me while I was on the machine.  It came about because Catherine, one of the staff in our unit who has an interest in alternative medicine set up and trained a group of volunteers to give hand and foot massages.  So far I have had two foot massages in three weeks.  They take about 30 minutes and are designed to relieve fatigue, tone up muscles, promote circulation and help relax the feet.  They are very popular, and like the masseurs, delightful.  It also promotes much speculation and banter.

Finally there’s the tried and true universal BigD activity:

Doze.  When all else palls, lay back and relax.  Shut your eyes and see where it takes you.  I find that when I’m tired, especially on early morning BigD (0645 start), I can fade away in a few minutes.  I’m not really asleep, just dozing.  At first I can hear everything going on around me, then not.  If I am woken, I often find 45 minutes has passed by without my participation.  In the afternoons I can’t doze for more than 30 minutes before I become twitchy.  But that’s enough.  Then I select from items 1 to 10.

What other things do you do on the BigD?

Things to do or try on Dialysis

I have written briefly about this before: what to do during the long hours on the BigD.  This post will look at it in more detail.

I have experimented with a range of BigD activities over the years.  I discovered early that there are zones of competence during each run.  Typically for the first hour I’m pretty switched on.  I have arrived, put in my needles and settled down to start the session. The second hour, I’m a little less alert as my body reacts to the reduced fluid and the change in blood chemistry.  By the third hour I get a little fidgety and find it difficult to concentrate.  By the fourth hour (if there is one), I start to get a little tired of dialysis and look for distractions, like a movie or a good TV show.

There are a couple of other factors.  What I can do also depends on how well I feel (I’m not so bright during the first run of the week, but I’m hot stuff by day four).  Also, I recently had my Flu jab, which made me feel not quite right for about three days.

Finally, what I can do also depends on where I have put the needles.  Most of the time I put them into my fistula along my forearm: the arterial (the one that supplies blood to the machine) goes in about 2 cm from the anastomosis (the join between the artery and the vein near my wrist) and the venous (the one that accepts blood back from the machine) about 4 cm from the arterial needle.   This arrangement enables me to bend my arm and to move it around, for example, to pick out letters on a keyboard or eat my breakfast with my right hand (my fistula arm).

However, about two months ago, my fistula has a blockage, so I had to put the venous needle further up my arm, into the vein right on the bicep.  This is less comfortable, but the greater distance from the arterial enabled me to bypass the blockage.   The hassle with this arrangement is that it restricts arm movement (bending it too far may poke the needle through the vein and pump blood at high pressure into the bicep).  All of a sudden my right arm was out of action and I was one-handed.  I got used to it, but doing things involving both hands was out.

My fistula is fixed now, so I have the movement of both hands again.

So, what do I do during these periods?

I’ve tried a lot of different things, some completely out of the box.  A couple come to mind.  I thought it would be good to try to do some of the personal maintenance things that take up time elsewhere.  For example, why not try to arrange a haircut?  While Anna, the Unit manager was very open to new ideas, haircuts got the veto: too much loose hair.

Ok, how about a pedicure or a manicure?  I got a tentative OK, so I went through the yellow pages to find a podiatrist who did home visits.  After about a week, I found one and set up a time two hours into my BigD run the following week.  He arrived on time, black bag, white pharmacy-type coat.  The only trouble was, he was about 70 years old and had the shakes.  He did mostly pensioner’s feet, he told me.  My young healthy feet (all is relative) seemed a bit of a challenge.  He spread out his implements (they looked a lot like those used in the inquisition) and looked me in the eye.  I pulled off my socks and bared my naked feet.  Then he picked up a pair of very sharp, heavy-duty toenail cutters and moved towards me.

I don’t know who was more scared.  Both his hands shook as he circled my big toe.  I began to shake in unison with him.  I could see myself hobbling home with a great chunk out of my lovely toe.  I was transfixed.  Should I call it off?  Could I call it off?  Was upsetting him a lesser evil than jagged toenails cut to the quick?  All the other BigD patients stared. There was complete silence.  Finally, to my absolute relief, he said, without looking at me “I think I’ll go now.”  I said “Maybe that’s a good idea.”  So he rolled up his instruments, stuffed them into his bag and walked out without another word.

I still think it was a brilliant idea, just poorly executed.  However, I haven’t tried it again.  There are other diversions.

These are my current ones.

During the first hour I pedal our little exercise bike to warm up and expand my blood vessels, so that the machine takes off as much phosphate as possible.  This is most effective in the first hour, so I pedal for between half and one hour, depending on what else I have to do.

While I’m pedalling, I sometimes work through my self-paced Mandarin course on my laptop and sometimes, if I can’t be bothered, I read.

During the second hour, I log on to TED, Fora, or one of the university lecture channels (MIT, Oxford) and see what’s happening.  Some are just wonderful and take you to new heights.  The recent TED lecture by Nathan Myhrvold on zapping Malaria-carrying mosquitoes with a laser is a great example.  Some shows are better than others, and if I get onto a dud, I tend to move to hour-#three activities early.

During the third hour, I like to watch either movies or episodes from TV series.   It took me about three months to watch the whole Battlestar Gallactica series (I hired it a disc a week from my video shop).  Rome, series 1 and 2 was quite diverting.  Several TV stations are now streaming episodes of current shows on the internet.  Australia’s iView from the ABC seems to be the pick of these. Unfortunately, Hulu and most US and UK video streams are only available to locals.  That may change..

I rarely dialyse for four hours, but if I do, I stick to the movies.

I am sure there are many other things we can do on the BigD.  Things to amuse us, stimulate us, put us to sleep.

What do you do?

Things to do while you’re on Dialysis or otherwise indisposed

Who do you know who wouldn’t like to have 12 – 15 hours per week quiet time, sitting relaxed, doing what they like, guaranteed? Nobody I know.  This is of course another members-only benefit of BigD club membership.

Yes, there can be a down side: you have to sit quietly, sometimes with an occasional pain in the arm, sometimes you don’t feel up to much. But most of the time, especially if you are keeping your brain sharp, you will be in a reasonable state of health and mental alertness, capable of most anything anyone else can do sitting down. (more…)