Saturday, February 6, 2016

Ian Stokes

I'm back in Canberra for Chinese New Year.

I was chatting to my mum and she mentioned, out of the blue, that the window cleaner guy at Dickson had passed away.

"Oh no", I said. "I know the guy. His name is Ian."

I first met Ian back in the late 1990s when I was a volunteer at the Welfare Rights and Legal Centre (WRLC) in Canberra. I was then a Science/Law student studying at the ANU. On a Tuesday night, the WRLC would offer free legal advice for anyone who needed assistance. Law students would see the clients first to take down the facts and then talk to the lawyers in a back room to discuss solutions/options. We would then meet the clients together and the student would then have the opportunity to listen to the lawyers giving the advice to the clients. It was a great learning opportunity for me. And for an idealistic uni student, my time working at the night time legal advice service of the WRLC was immensely rewarding – and the only time I came close to making use of my law training before I embarked on my career as a scientist.

I have few memories of the many dozens of clients I helped. In fact, I can only remember two specific cases. I remember the old lady who came to see us because she had broken her glasses when she tripped and fell in a darkened cinema. And I remember Ian.

I won't go into the details of why Ian had come in to seek legal advice that night. It doesn't really matter. I'm not even sure why, of all the people I met during my time volunteering at the WRLC (i.e. the wonderful lawyers, fellow students and clients), Ian's is the only name I remember. Ian Stokes.

Months later, whilst waiting in my car at an intersection in Dickson, I recognised Ian as he went about his business cleaning people's car windows. He didn't recognise me.

And so it was, Ian was a regular at that intersection in Dickson, long after I had graduated from uni and moved away from Canberra.

Late last year, I was visiting my friend Pete. He and his wife just had a baby. Leaving their place, I happen to drive up to the intersection and Ian was there. He looked very different from the person I remembered. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it would be the last time I'd see him.

I did a search of The Canberra Times. It was nice to see that Ian was a much loved member of the Canberra community with several articles written about his passing. I wonder what he'd be thinking if he knew of the positive impact he had on so many people in the community and how much he'll be missed.


Friday, February 5, 2016


A couple of days ago I was standing at Flinders Street waiting for my train. I couldn't help but notice a couple sitting nearby. The man was very good looking. The woman was not. He was well groomed and was wearing nice clothes. She was dishevelled and wearing an unflattering track suit. They were physically mismatched.

Was she a beauty when they first met and has since let herself go? Or maybe, it was the other way around?

Just as I was starting to wonder about their back story, the train pulled up to the platform and I realised that perhaps I'm just being shallow.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Another crash

The intersection near my apartment is an accident hotspot. Cars often venture too far forward onto the tram tracks when there is a red light or drivers get confused and drive forward when they shouldn't. As a result, the sound of cars smashing into each other or into trams is becoming all too familiar. It just happened again. A ute has slammed into a moving tram. The tram passengers have all alighted and are walking away. The tram driver looks flabbergasted.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Sensory deprivation

I was speaking on the phone with mum on Tuesday night and she mentioned that dad has gone deaf in his right ear. He simply woke up on Monday morning and couldn't hear anymore. They were planning to see the GP on Thursday since they already had an appointment for something else. My folks didn't seem very concerned. In fact, dad was downstairs in the kitchen preparing food. Hmmm....I told her I'd look into it.

I went online and found some credible medical websites about sudden hearing loss. And what I read didn't sound good.

I called mum back and told her to take him to the hospital. They did some tests and put him on steroids and it's now a waiting game to see if the hearing will recover. Apparently he is now totally deaf in the right ear and if the hearing doesn't recover, he'll have to get a hearing aid.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sunday brunch

...with the little ones.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Bits and bobs

Holy crap. My last post was on 1 January and it's now already the middle of the month. Bad blogger.

Hmmm...what has happened in the last couple of weeks?

Nathan, Truffles and I drove back from Canberra on 3 January and were caught out in a big storm near Shepparton. The rain and hail pelted down so hard–and the visibility was so bad–that quite a few cars (including ours) decided to pull over to the side of the road to wait things out. The weather eventually eased up enough for us to resume our trip and we were back in Melbourne by the afternoon. Then, it was pretty much back to work the next day. Big mistake.

January at work really sucks. No one is around and I came down with a case of the post holiday blues. So...having spent no more than two days back at work, I decided to take a couple of days off (God knows I have more than enough accumulated leave) and just chilled out at home.

This week I was back in the office feeling much more 'work ready'.

We also have a house visitor this week. Nathan and I are looking after his friend's daughter's pet lhasa apso...a small fluffy thing called Marley. She's been the perfect house guest so far. She is quiet, shits and pisses in the designated areas, eats whatever she is given (and seems to appreciate it too), doesn't make much noise, and sleeps under the bed. Truffles seems to enjoy the company. I must say though, at times this week, with furry animals following me around everywhere (i.e. Truffles, Marley and Nathan), its felt a bit like this in the loft...


Friday, January 1, 2016

New year's day in Canberra

Nathan and Truffles surprised us all yesterday by rocking up at 7am in the morning...they decided to drive overnight to get to Canberra.

Today we took Truffs to Yarralumla to the dog park for a run before heading over to the National Gallery for a drink in their outdoor cafe.
We then took Truffs for a wander around the outdoor sculptures. She quite enjoyed the artworks.

Monday, December 28, 2015

On high rotation

Like all little girls (and quite possibly a few boys too), my eldest niece loves the Disney cartoon Frozen.  Santa got it for her this Christmas and we have been watching it over and over and over again. She never seems to tire of it. I, on the other hand, am well and truly over it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Pre-Christmas bits and bobs

Well, Germany is all but a distant memory and I'm at the airport again...this time on my way to Canberra to visit the folks.

It's been a quick few weeks back in the office but the most memorable experiences have revolved around food and drink (they usually are).

First up, this interesting mocktail that a restaurant in Richmond whipped up for me last week (my friend's vietnamese beer sits alongside for scale). It's basically a fruit juice concoction served with a fancy stick of fruit and lots of ice. I'm not sure how much I paid for it but I don't think it would have been cheap. It was tasty though.
On Saturday night, I caught up with a colleague who is visiting from Europe. We went for Korean. It was a super hot day so I opted for this traditional cold Korean beef noodle soup. It was yuk. Definitely not to my taste (I think its the weird sensation of cold beefy messed with my mind. Broth should be hot).

The bad Korean experience was compensated a few days later when I was invited to high tea at the Park Hyatt by a couple of my colleagues. This was more to my liking (even though I regard myself as more of a 'savoury' person). The scones were great.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Fish and food

My second full day in Berlin began with a visit to the aquarium at the Berlin Zoo. It is the best aquarium I've ever been to. It absolutely blew me away.

My friend insisted on getting us some curry wurst so I could have a taste. It was indeed delicious.
We then headed over to the Camera Work Gallery, which specialises in photography. The gallery was actually closed but the manager kindly allowed us to sneak in and catch a preview of their coming exhibition.

After getting our fill of art, we crossed the road to nearby Stilwerk, which is a design lover's paradise. I ended up buying a couple of new cushions.

Lunch was a very large schnitzel. The serving size was huge.
We spent the early evening checking out a couple more commercial galleries before I made my way back to the hotel. I have an early start tomorrow as I make my way back to Oz.

Friday, December 11, 2015


I'm in Berlin for a few days of R&R before my trip back to Oz. I had a busy (and fun) first full day in this most beautiful of capital cities.

It began with a trip to the moving Jewish Museum.

Then, a brief stop over at the contemporary art museum, which had very interesting architecture.
Next, my friend Brigitte took me to a Christmas market. No sooner had we walked through the gates, we were sitting down to a delicious lunch of roast goose (this time washed down with some non-alcholic kinderpunsch). My companion had a more grown up drink (a dark ale). I have eaten so much goose on this trip. It's a very German thing to do at this time of the year.

After a quick wander around the market, we were off to this amazing Department store which has the largest deli section in the world. I couldn't believe the sorts of stuff you could get here, from emu eggs to giant grouper fish. Here are some of the more conventional food items...

Dinner in the hotel room was a roasted pickled pork knuckle accompanied by cherry juice (both picked up from a local supermarket). I only managed to finish half of the pork knuckle (rest will be devoured this morning for breakfast). After dinner we went to see a German performance of La Cage aux Folles.

Monday, December 7, 2015


This is where I'm based for the next couple of days. Isn't it beautiful? It feels like I'm on the set of a wonderful European Christmas movie (or a theme park). Some of the buildings look like gingerbread houses.
I did manage to get myself lost on the way to my hotel after I turned up the wrong cobble-lined street but I' not complaining because I ended up wandering straight into a chocolate festival market.

Oh, and for dinner I had the most beautifully cooked goose breast served on a plate of sauteed greens, chestnuts, and gnocchi – all washed down with a big glass of cherry juice.


Sunday, December 6, 2015

The good genes

This guy has been blessed with very good genes. Trust me, I'm a scientist. I know these things. For those who don't obsess over reality TV, his name is Nyle DiMarco and he just won cycle 22 of America's Next Top Model.


In transit

I'm still in transit. Here is the plane I took from Dubai to Frankfurt.
I decided to stay at a hotel near Frankfurt airport overnight. There was a huge Christmas tree in front of the hotel.
I'll be catching a regional train later this morning from the airport ahead of the public lecture I am suppose to be giving tomorrow.

Friday, December 4, 2015

An interesting ride to the airport

It was an interesting ride into the airport this evening. Soon after leaving home, we were caught in traffic due to a car accident.

Then, as we got onto the Bolte Bridge, I caught sight of a man perched on the edge of the bridge with his arms outstretched in a pose that could only mean one thing...he was threatening to jump. Two police officers stood a few meters from the man. Another man and a distressed looking woman were standing nearby.

Lastly, as we continued on our way, I saw a guy drop his pants as he stood on an overpass flashing the cars below.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Germany next

I'm back form Portsea (which was terrific, by the way) but there's hardly any time back in Melbourne before I head off again.

Tomorrow night I'll be flying to Germany. I've been invited to give a public lecture about my research. The hosts are paying for everything. Sweet.

I'm going to spend a couple of days in Berlin afterwards visiting with a friend. Brigitte recently retired and has just bought herself a nice little apartment. She is planning on splitting her time between Australia and Germany. Fortunately for me, she just so happens to be in Germany while I'm there. Brigitte has promised me a couple of days of nice food and art. It will be lovely to visit with someone who is familiar with the city and the language.

I'll be back in Oz already on the 14th December. A whirlwind trip.

Monday, November 30, 2015


I'm taking my students to Portsea today for a three day work retreat. I've never been to Portsea before. Looking forward to it.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Legal tender

I was standing in a queue behind a woman waiting to be served in a shop the other day. The woman took out a five dollar note to pay for her purchase. It had a tiny tear in the corner. The sales attendant refused to take the note and there was a bit of a stand off until another employee told him that it was ok to accept it. Surely a tiny chunk missing from the corner doesn't invalidate the note?! I get more annoyed when I end up with one of those pesky New Zealand 20 cent coins.


Saturday, November 28, 2015


Every time I am about to go away overseas, it seems my body tries to throw me a medical challenge.

I'm due to head over to Germany late next week so, naturally, my right foot decided to start hurting. It is quite possible I brought this on myself after last week's excessive walking. I initially though it was gout but after taking anti-gout meds, I'm now thinking it must be something else because the meds aren't working. I'm going to have to put my feet up this weekend and chill out.

Friday, November 27, 2015

My new obsession... bubble tea.

The 'pearls' or 'bubbles' in bubble tea are deliciously chewy. They are made of tapioca, which comes from the root of the casava plant. I reckon they look like frog spawn.

I'm fairly 'vanilla' when it comes to bubble tea flavours. So far, I've been ordering mostly plain Oolong tea with the pearls, but I got a bit adventurous today and ordered a milk tea with pearls! Next time, I might even go for a flavoured tea!!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Walking weekend

I've done a lot of walking this weekend.

Nathan was away on a photography trip with friends so I took the opportunity to do a lot more walking than I would when Nathan is around (he is becoming increasingly reliant on the car now that we have one).

I decided to take the dog to the Gasworks park in Port Melbourne on Saturday. It turned out to be a fair walk from Docklands, possibly because I have very little sense of direction and took a rather circuitous route. The dog loved it though – and she still had energy to chase the other dogs around once we got there.

My colleague came to stay on Saturday evening and, after dinner, we decided to wander over to the northern end of the Docklands for a drink. This turned out to be a bit of a debacle because I left my keys in the apartment. It was the first time I've done so in the 10 years I've lived in Melbourne but, of course, it had to happen on the one weekend when Nathan was away. I ended up calling a locksmith. It was an expensive evening walk.

Today, my colleague and I had to get to Carnegie, where he is now renting. He had to meet the cleaner to let him into the apartment (the previous tenants left quite a mess and, after a week of cleaning, my colleague decided it was probably better to call in the experts). We caught the train from South Yarra after walking there from Docklands via South Melbourne and Albert Park. It was quite a pleasant walk and I got to see some very nice houses along the way.

I returned to the city after lunch and spent the afternoon shopping. There were heaps of people about. I'd ordinarily be avoiding the Christmas crowds but I have a fancy work dinner tomorrow...and desperately need a new white shirt with longer sleeves that actually fit my arms.

By the time I got home this evening (yes, I walked from the city), I felt like my feet were going to fall off.      

Saturday, November 14, 2015

A walk in the park

I spent the morning glued to the TV, watching the horrific news of the attack in Paris unfold.

By midday, I had had enough. Nathan had to go to work in the morning. I went out briefly to run an errand and then organised to meet Nathan afterwards to take the dog for an outing. Truffs and I were already waiting downstairs when Nathan pulled up at the front of the apartment in the car.

We hopped in and headed to Port Melbourne for a late lunch. We then took Truffs to the Gasworks Arts Park for a run around. She had a great time chasing after the other dogs and we had a nice time talking to other dog owners. It was nice to be in the sunshine and away from the TV.  

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Catch up weekend

It was a weekend of catching up.

My colleague and friend from Sweden is in Australia for work. He is spending the weekend here in Melbourne so we caught up for lunch. I first met him at a conference in France in 2006. He was about to complete his PhD and was giving a talk about his work. At the end of the presentation, he put up a slide saying he was looking for postdoctoral work. It was a bold move. I offered him a job right after.

My colleague spent several years in Australia. When we first started working together, we both had to get used to the dynamics (he had to learn to be my postdoc and I had to learn to be a boss) but we ended up working very well together and have remained friends. He now has his own Faculty position back in Sweden and his fiance is expecting a baby on New Year's Eve. Things are going well for him.

The last few years hadn't always been rosy for him. He met an Aussie girl when he was here and he was very much in love. She learned Swedish and the plan was for her to move back to Sweden with him. She eventually followed him there – but called off the relationship. He was devastated and it took a while for him to recover. Life can certainly be a roller coaster ride. He is happy now and that's what matters. It makes me happy. He is a good guy.

Apart from catching up with my friend/colleague, I've also been catching up on work. I don't normally take work home but it's exam time and I had a pile of papers to mark. Work has been crazy and there is a backlog. I'm having some issues with one of my current colleagues, which has consumed quite a bit of my time (and led to a couple of sleepless nights midweek). I think it's a power thing. She wants to assert it but is doing so in a way that is entirely inappropriate. She is also doing it in a way that is bordering on being unethical. It is disappointing. I have called a meeting to talk it out with her and have asked for another colleague to be present. I hope we can work towards a resolution. I want to resolve things.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Indulgent Saturday

Nathan and I went for yum cha today at Shanghai Dynasty. As usual, I was greedy and ordered far too many dishes, which I then felt compelled to finish (because I have a thing about not wasting food).

After lunch, we waddled down to Collins Street, where I had an appointment at a Gallery to see a picture I was interested in buying.

The gallery was suppose to have been open at noon but, when we arrived at 12.30pm, it was still closed. I left feeling disappointed. About an hour later, I got an email from the gallerist saying she had been running late. Since Nathan and I were still in the city, we decided to waddle back to the gallery where I ended up making the decision to buy the picture. I think it's Diana. Nathan absolutely hates it and reckon her monarchist grandmother would have a heart attack if she saw it.

Afterwards, we decided to drop into Koko Black nearby for a drink. I was still too stuffed from lunch but Nathan always seems to have room for sweets so he, at least, was able to satisfy his indulgence for chocolates (I decided that if I wasn't so stuffed I would have ordered the chocolate truffle with the salted caramel filling).

We came back home afterwards and I ended up having a nap. It ended up being a perfect Saturday (although I'm still too full so won't be having dinner tonight).

Racial frustrations

I received an email from a student who was querying about the mark they had received for an assignment. This, of itself, is nothing unusual. A small minority of students are always upset about the marks they receive and, as the unit coordinator, students will often email me about their grievances. And it's my job to support them and help them to identify the things they did well and the areas that need attention.

But...this was the first time a student has put forward the contention that a low mark might have been due to him having a non-Anglo name (the basis of his complaint against the person who marked his particular report). I was shocked by the accusation.

In reality, marks are carefully awarded against a clearly stated set of marking criteria. The student's name shouldn't matter – and it doesn't, not in my classes.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Anxious wait

It's that time of year again for researchers across Australia when we find out whether or not the research proposals we submitted to the Australian Research Council will get funded.

I've decided to take the day off from work. It's too stressful to be in the office.

Instead, I've planned to go for a nice lunch and just try to enjoy the day...regardless of the outcome. Fingers crossed though.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Tram works

At 3.30am on Saturday, I woke up to the sound of construction work.

At first, I thought it was coming from the new building going up next door but when I looked out the window, I realised that the construction workers were gathered around the tram tracks nearby. That made sense. No one else would get permission to carry out construction work during the middle of the night.

In the 10 years I've lived in my apartment, I think there has been two previous tram works – both of which were carried out day and night over the course of a weekend so that everything could be completed before the start of the working week.

Nathan and I had to go to a wedding in Geelong on Saturday night and I slept like a log when we got home so I was oblivious to the noise. Strangely, there was no construction work during daylight today (Sunday) but they have commenced again as evening approached. Terrific. I think I'm going to need ear plugs tonight.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Aussie rules

I was taking the dog for a walk yesterday afternoon. As I rounded the corner of a building and headed towards a small park, I could hear quite a bit of laughter. When I got closer, I was surprised to see a bunch of chinese people kicking around a football and having a great time. It was a nice counter to the news story I read about this mob and their attempts to exert their right to 'bare arms'.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

I got to meet a radio star

When I was a kid, the ABC showed an amazing documentary series called The Nature of Australia. Watching that series was a real turning point for me as a young nature lover and definitely contributed to my decision to pursue biology as a career. The series was narrated by Robyn Williams. He was superb.

Fast forward to last Tuesday. I was waiting in the foyer of the ABC studio in Southbank with several other colleagues waiting to do pre-recorded interviews with Robyn for his radio programme. It was really exciting.

I was up first. Before the interview, I got a chance to tell him how much I had loved that series and the influence it had on me....I was more than a little star struck.

Friday, October 16, 2015


I decided to leave work early today. It's been a very busy week.

I spent the afternoon at the National Gallery of Victoria checking out an exhibition on Australian surrealism. The artworks were, indeed, surreal.
 Elsewhere in the Gallery, I came across this psychedelic room....
...and this wall of mirrors.
 I liked this orange koala with perfect yellow teeth. It made me smile.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


I've decided to add some flowers to my leafy arrangement form a few weeks ago (the leaves have lasted remarkably well). These are Dendrobium orchids.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The built environment

My workplace has been investing a lot of money into improving the built environment in recent years.

Many of my colleagues would rather see the money invested into research, but I think a physically stimulating work environment is important too.

We've had lots of work done to refresh our tired old buildings and to build new ones. The university has also been carrying out major landscaping to open up the external spaces.

However, one of the most exciting parts of the plan to improve physical spaces has to be our art program, which has seen some really interesting pieces being installed in our corridors.

The program has not been without controversy. Some of the works, such as those by this Melbourne-based artist, have garnered a lot of angry emails. Some people (Monarchists?) even find them offensive.
I've realised that many scientists don't get the contemporary pieces now adorning our walls. The works are not meant to be pretty or necessarily even relate to science (though I do find many of them  to be interesting and/or beautiful). Rather, they are suppose to stimulate discussion and to foster engagement – and they are certainly doing that!