Words: Jan 21 to Jan 22


Jan 21: Poole’s word is quidditative, what he calls “a silly word to describe a silly kind of pedantic argument,” and guess what? It does sound silly and it’s too twisty to use, but hey, doesn’t it sound great? My word? I came across ichor, technically an “acrid, watery discharge from an ulcer or wound,” which is glorious enough, but check out the alternative definition: “an ethereal fluid flowing in the veins of the gods.” I can imagine a character, high on achievement, contemplating the ichor pulsing in his body.

Jan 22: Poole’s lucubration meant (the word is no longer in use) to “work by means of artificial light,” i.e. at night, and given my insomnia, and habit of rising in the depths of night to get some work in, I’m proud to be known for my lucubration. My word is scuffle, a word that sounds like it means but is not used much anymore. Do nuclear power plant workers scuffle?

Source: A Word for Every Day of the Year by Steven Poole.

Parkrun Big Year: The role of gym

Visions Gym

If you’re a gym frequenter, you understand (unless you’re that rare beast, the gym junkie) that time spent there mostly feels like time wasted. Gym time is either tough and unenjoyable, or manageable and boring. How then should I prioritise gym during a year centered around regular running plus some cycling? Well, for years I’ve had an understanding that a runner who neglects the gym ends up stunted, all leg and no body. And experts tell me that gym work helps older people stave off soft bones. So I’ve decided to keep up the good pressure and insist on gym’ing three times a week. Why three? Because twice a week never permits any improvement, a source of frustration. Can I fit in three gym sessions a week? This means ten exercise outings weekly (four runs, three rides, three gym trips), a relentless burden, but somehow, for this year of vaulting ambitions, the steadiness of a rich diet of bodily effort appeals. So, rather than deemphasizing gym, this year will hopefully witness modest improvement in strength, accompanied, again hopefully, by actual enjoyment. We shall see.

First Parkrun

Gardiners Creek Parkrun

Gardiners Creek Parkrun has been held 103 times. Next week is its two-year anniversary. The photo shows runners amassing last Saturday, fifteen minutes before the 8 AM start, but it doesn’t do justice to the sheer numbers involved. 249 people of all shapes and sizes took part. It’s a stunning example of volunteer-led excellence.

Of course last Saturday wasn’t the first Saturday of 2020. On the 4th, I caught a tram and walked to the Gardiners Creek assembly point, only to discover it had been called off due to smoke haze. How frustrating! To leach out my frustration, I ran the Parkrun distance, 5 kms, back towards home.

On the 11th, I was nervous. I shouldn’t have been. 5 kms is short. But 5 kms is my current maximum, and there were 248 other aspirants surrounding me, and this Big Year is important to me and … I was anxious. When the start instruction was issued, dozens swarmed past me, and after a kilometre I felt truly weary and out of breath, although I was below my current top speed. My first kilometre was slow but then I sped up a little and by the time the superstars at the front of the pack stormed towards me in the reverse direction, I felt comfortable but slow. I puffed the final kilometre and ended up with just over 6:30 per kilometre. I was beaten by kids, overweight lurchers, and weedy-looking 20-somethings. I ended up placed 165th, 7th out of the 11 in my age bracket.

The goal is to run this Parkrun consistently (it’s a Big Year, right, so that means every Saturday, no ifs or buts) and, consistent with injury caution, to improve my speed to 6:00 per km. It’s a big ask.

Rebellion prep work

XR Inner East

It can seem as if activism is just yelling in the streets. The reality is that activism, like all political effort, is hard graft, day after day of organizing, convincing, planning, and so on. I’m not suited to it at all.

But I’m hard at work getting ready for Extinction Rebellion’s biggest year yet of non-violent disturbance, action and protest. The first fortnight of 2020 have been spent preparing to assist in the running of my local Extinction Rebellion group, XR Inner East. I’ve had to learn how it’s structured and organized. I’ve absorbed the tech tools it uses to facilitate discussion, retain member records, issue newsletters, choreograph events, and enable member communication. The last three days have vanished in a blur while I do what I do best, which is absorption of information and systematic organisation of data. The group is small (at least in terms of active members) at the moment, but new members are joining fast, as the catastrophic bushfires jolt citizens into taking action. The people are wonderful, just ordinary folks like me, and I’m most excited.

In the meantime, my complementary efforts at keeping on top of the rapid science improvement and the global political tapestry continue apace. I’m also wrestling, as I no doubt shall for the rest of my life, with the inevitable cycles of philosophical angst and renewal. More on those aspects soon.

Rebellion Big Year: Motivation


In the early 1980s, I was a peace movement activist. Not for that long, three or four years maybe. I remember it as inspiring but also exhausting. Campaigning for change outside the established political party system is brutally harsh because it involves butting up against the enfolding fabric of our society. No one wants to be the party pooper, do they? No one sets out to rebel. Rebellion occurs because it takes hold of you, because you can see no choice.

So it ever is. When I chanced upon Extinction Rebellion in the middle of last year, I immediately knew it was for me. I’d spent two decades watching planet Earth slowly warming up. I’d read the science, puzzled over the consequences. In the 2000s, my governing emotion was incredulity (“can’t they see?”), in the 2010s despair kicked in, but by 2019, what took hold of me was anger. Rage, if you wish to be more precise. In simple terms, I was willing to pay whatever price – and at that stage, price meant money or time or inconvenience – was necessary to fix this thing, to keep the globe in good shape for my children, but nothing … zilch … nada was happening.

Grandchildren arrived. Photos of glaciers, then and now, exhibited their retreat. Corral reefs set out on death marches. Arctic sea ice commenced a disappearing act, while the great ice shelves of Greenland and Antarctica began slow meltdowns. Species headed for extinction. Hot countries, mine included, began to experience drought, deathly heat, and fire. I had to act.

You can see that my motivation was raw, primal, and you can see I had to act. But now, three months since being arrested during an Extinction Rebellion action, I need to develop a more nuanced philosophical perspective. Over this summer break, that’s what I’ll do most days, as part of my daily Big Year commitment.

Words: Jan 3 to Jan 12

20 words

Ten days of fast and furious fun. Each day, check out Steven Poole’s suggestion. Dream up my word, one I seize upon for any possible reason. Sigh with instant contentment.

Jan 3: Poole’s word is eucatastrophe, meaning sudden, unexpected joy, invented, according to Steven Poole, by J. R. R. Tolkien. He wanted a real sense of an emotion that “pierces you with a joy that brings tears.” Why this invention? Apparently because no such word existed. I could definitely use such a word right now, even if I’m pretending. My word? Ineffable. I see it used quite often but wasn’t 100% on meaning. It means “incapable of being expressed in words,” so my imprecision wasn’t misplaced. Doesn’t it sound lovely?

Jan 4: Malversation, according to Poole, means “corrupt administration by one in high office,” a handy word for our times. I like pellucidly, meaning transparently, and I’ve heard it recently, in a podcast, as “pellucidly clear.”

Jan 5: Poole describes at length instances of the use of kickshaw, meaning “any trivial or ridiculous thing.” I encounter bromide intermittently but until I looked it up on the fifth day of January, was unaware it means a trite statement intended to soothe.

Jan 6: Poole offers a word nearly four hundred years ago, a substitute for excellent or, say, bodacious, namely palmary. Oh, to do palmary work! My word is Rottweiler, those black-and-tan killer guard dogs. Why? A scene from a thriller, read many years ago, of a spy’s throat ripped open by a Rottweiler, has never left me.

Jan 7: A wonderful lost word, all of sixteen letters long, is ultracrepidarian, meaning one “who opines beyond his expertise.” Twitter is full of ultracrepidarians, including, no doubt, me. I overuse the word pithy to mean “small,” whereas (I look it up now) it means “terse and vigorously expressive.”

Jan 8: A sweet word from Poole, zeitgeber, coined half a century ago from German, a “time giver” being anything that reminds us of our time of day. My first daily zeitgeber is my trilling alarm, my second is jogging into a rising sun. And let’s ensure I utilize a very modern adjective, on-brand, to describe actions fitting someone’s social media persona.

Jan 9: Over two centuries old, colophon is the “finishing touch” at the very back of a book, mostly these days some publication triteness. But if I like, I can use colophon to bookend anything. A lovely phrase, tummy time, is popular with modern grandparents.

Jan 10: Poole’s indesinent is a fine lost adjective, meaning never-ending but with a whiff of indecency. And imagine my pleasure at discovering from cycling friends that bonk doesn’t just mean hit or have sex with, it also means experiencing sudden fatigue due to muscle glycogen depletion.

Jan 11: Poole’s fnord is a 1960s made-up word that is still used, “any obscure message, surreal event, or unexpected phenomenon.” Reading Pynchon, for example, one might utter, “I have seen the fnords.” Also, I looked up retrograde, a word I use without understanding properly. It means moving backwards or contrariwise and seems to be mainly used in technical writings. Why then do I see it so often with a political “sliding backwards” sense?

Jan 12: An old lost word is roynish, meaning vulgar/despicable with, so it seems from Poole, a large dash of contempt. Or is it a smattering of contempt? Smattering is a word I use willy-nilly, imagining spattering, but its dictionary meaning is simply a small amount.

Source: A Word for Every Day of the Year by Steven Poole.

The glory of city cafes

View from Finders Keepers cafe

The myth of the writer who cuts herself off from the big smoke, who pens her masterpiece in a remote country cabin, is just that, a myth. Who in their right mind would endure isolation when you can lift your head from your pen and spy a tram wrapped in an image of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, all guns and battles? Inspiring, I call it.

Parkrun Big Year: The role of cycling

New Year's Day cycling

Three years ago, the plan was to ramp up cycling to the point that it could take over as my dominant mode of exercise. This year the focus is back on running. What then of the bike? Well, my podiatrist recommends pedalling work to strengthen different leg muscles. My flat feet and wonky ankles and knees worry him. One day running might not be an option, he says. So my plan this year is to continue last year’s cycling routine: an easy, short (10 kms) route down by the river, focusing on easy rhythm. Three times a week is the target. So here I am, on New Year’s Day, smiling at the prospect of heading off on a perfect Melbourne summer’s day.

PS – I had a great ride, clocking up 21 kms/hour, the first time I’ve been faster than 20 kms/hour in a year or two!

Lexicon Big Year: First words

Four words

Steven Poole’s first word for the year is dringle. Never heard of it? That’s the point of Poole’s scrumptious book: “Most of the words gathered here are old and half-forgotten, or thoroughly forgotten … We could do worse than enrich our speech with such long-buried gems.” And the meaning of dringle? From an 1830 localized dictionary, Poole quotes the definition thus: to dringle is to “waste time in a lazy lingering manner,” a meaning close to that of dawdle. What a melodic word!

As I relish Poole’s morsels, I’m also seeking words from my mind, none as left-field as Poole’s, but words that I don’t use enough or words whose meanings are fuzzy in my mind. So … drum roll … my first word for the year is the one above, dawdle. “Stop dawdling,” adults used to tell us children, but these days I see it rarely. I’d like to use it in reference to “the dawdling pace of climate action by Scott Morrison’s Australian government,” but that would imply there is any action at all!

Poole’s second word, just as soft on the ear, is obnubilate, meaning “to darken,” as in degrade or render decadent. I roll obnubilate around on my tongue. My second word is pestilence, which strictly means a devastating epidemic but can be used to denote something as “destructive or pernicious,” according to Merriam-Webster. The wider meaning is the one that appeals to me, especially as, once again, it seems little used today. I’m determined to use pestilence in my forthcoming book.

Source: A Word for Every Day of the Year by Steven Poole.