Of ankles and pandemics

On January the 16th this year, things were looking up. I’d worked through Christmas and New Years acting as my Director while she was on holiday, and had achieved my lofty goal of not destroying the DET website or intranet. So now it was time for two weeks of holiday, starting with a trip to Sandy Point with the family. But first we had the weekend at home to tie up a few loose-ends, including working out what the hell was wrong with the pump on our water tank.
As such, I was at the top of the ladder looking into the tank and having one of my patented conversations with a tradie, where both of us desperately wish that I knew more about what I was talking to them about. We had finally established that the pump was cactus and that we would have to get a new one installed, and that it would be about $1K, and that ‘no, it wasn’t covered by the warranty’.
I’m not 100% sure what happened next, but as I went to take the final step down from the ladder, I think my shorts got caught on a wire frame in the garden next the ladder and instead of putting the flat part of my foot on the ground (as had been my traditional approach), I put the outside edge of my foot on the ground and applied all of my weight.
There was a magnificent ‘CRACK’! from my ankle and I fell to the ground. When I was 17 I broke my collar-bone playing football and I remembered a similar sound…so I was pretty confident I had just broken my ankle. To add an awkward social angle I was still on the phone to the plumber through my headphones, and from his perspective he had just told me the price of a new pump, and had then heard a grunt and then guttural swearing. I said I’d have to call him back, and secretly he hoped that he might have thought that this was an elaborate bargaining move on my behalf and knock a few hundred dollars off.
He didn’t.
I took off my shoe to assess the damage, and was dazzled to see just how much my ankle had swollen up in about 15 seconds…and despite knowing that I was about to become a ‘middle-aged man falling off ladder’ statistic, it was off to the Emergency department.

In the waiting room
On crutches for the first time…the novelty wore of REALLY quickly

‘Good news’ can be quite a subjective term. But for me the good news was, I hadn’t broken my ankle…but I had torn a couple of tendons. So I wouldn’t need a cast, but I was going to be on crutches for a while…and running was off the cards for a lot longer.

Are you going somewhere with this?

Yes, I was just providing some narrative setup…and don’t you go pretending you’ve got anything better to do with your time!
You see, something really unexpected had happened, and I was having to face the fact that I was suddenly going to be inside a lot, that I wasn’t going to be able to just travel wherever I wanted to, and I was going to have to give up a lot of the things I really enjoyed doing.
In short, I had a sneak-peek into COVID!
Now I know what you’re thinking…’He didn’t just compare a global pandemic to an ankle injury did he?!’ No…clearly that would be insane. I’m comparing a global pandemic to MY ankle injury…which I think we can all agree is a lot closer to being equitable.
Plus there were a few lessons that I learned from my slow recovery from my ankle that I’m trying desperately to apply to life in lockdown.

Be warned…the next photos is pretty gross.

All the colours of the rainbow!

Get help

When I did my ankle, I knew it was serious and so I went straight to hospital. When I needed to talk to someone about how I can get better, I went to the physio. I had absolutely no shame about talking about this to friends, family and my employer. After all, it’s just common sense to talk to the experts when you’ve got a problem. As a result, I was back to running within 6 weeks.
But during the first lockdown I was sleeping in self-imposed exile on the couch, because I was apparently having violent hypnic jerks that were so frequent that I was keeping Katie awake for most of the night.
I cut back on my caffeine, and was still doing plenty of exercise…so the only real reason left for these nocturnal adventures, was ‘stress/anxiety’. Which meant that I while I was able to paint over the cracks of my mental health during the waking hours…it was all coming out while I slept. So what did I do? Well thanks to my experience with my ankle I was 100% comfortable calling a mental health professional to get some techniques I could use to deal with my anxiety, and as a result I…Nah! Just kidding! Of course I didn’t do that, because I’m an idiot! I just kept intermittently sleeping on a couch because that seemed somehow easier and less embarrassing.
As is so often the case, please do as I say and not as I do. If you’re struggling with mental health issues, reach out and get help.

Focus on what you can do

When facing a sudden restriction, it’s only natural to focus on the things that you’ve lost. If you’re living in Melbourne at the moment, there are a LOT of things you can’t do. You can’t go and see live music, you can’t go out for a drink, you can’t go for a long bike ride, you can’t go for a holiday, you can’t even sit down at a cafe and a have a coffee with someone.
It’s all a bit shit really.
Similarly, when I did my ankle I couldn’t walk, let alone run. But I could swim (albeit without pushing off at each end)…so I did that. Once I could walk, I could also ride my bike (although I couldn’t clip myself into my pedals) so I started spending more time on the cycling trainer in the shed. Perhaps most importantly, I really needed to take a proper break from running. But the guilt I felt about doing this, and the sense that I was going to lose all of the gains I had accumulated while training, had meant that after doing the 50km version of the Surfcoast Century…I hadn’t taken a proper break. But now I could finally do that…guilt free! (although it was telling that when I finally got back to ‘light-jogging’, I started having dreams where I was running, fast, gracefully and without effort…the trifecta of things that do NOT happen when I actually run).
So during the imposed exile of COVID, what can you do that you wouldn’t ordinarily do? Perhaps you could archive off your old photo and video jobs…or re-negotiate your mortgage…or transition from dairy to oat milk for your coffee…or grow a beard…or start writing your blog again…or use the time you would have spent commuting to work to do something you actually want to do…or start getting take-away one night a week and claim you’re doing it to ‘support a local business’…or get to a point where your dog growls at you when you go to take them for a walk because
There are still heaps of things you can do, and fixating on the things you can’t, won’t make you any happier.
Perhaps even more importantly, if you suddenly find that not having to attend social events, or your kids’ activities or having to commute to work has left you with time to relax, catch up on the last decade of missed sleep, and just do nothing…that’s OK too.
I would probably accept doing lockdown once a year if it meant that for the rest of the year, people were actually relaxed and happy instead of screaming at each other in cars.

A little exercise is better than none

While I have managed to get myself into a good routine for exercise over the last 10 years…that’s not to say that I don’t wake up every morning hoping for an excuse to just sleep in…or head to swim squad on a Monday night secretly hoping that a meteorite has hit the pool…and due to NO fault of my own, I won’t be able to swim.
So when I did my ankle, part of me did see it as the ultimate ‘get out of jail free’ card.
*sigh* “Of course I would love to do whatever exercise you’re suggesting…but you know…my ankle” *insert look of disappointment*

But I also knew that if I just sat around for 6 weeks making excuses and feeling sorry for myself, I was setting myself up for 6 months of grief.
Similarly, while this second lockdown has seen my Netflix and podcast consumption increase exponentially…and on any given day there are at least 7 good reasons why not doing any exercise would be forgiven, I know that if I don’t at least take advantage of my daily 1hr of outside time, then I’m going to regret it when this lockdown ends.
So get out for a walk, or do yoga, or pushups, or if you’re one of those insufferably fit people on my social media feed, then use your allocated 1hr of exercise to ‘work on your 15km times’. Just keep that body moving. You’ll be glad you did when we enter the next phase of this pandemic.

Of course there are differences…

I mean at no stage did people suggest that my ankle injury was a hoax, or did I insist that having to wear an ankle brace in public was a contravention of the Magna Carta…or did former Prime Minster’s insist that I had to be comfortable with a certain level of ankle injury in order for the rest of Australia to enjoy a strong economy.
But perhaps the biggest difference was that both the experts and the internet agreed that if I just did the right thing I would be back to normal within 4-6 weeks…and right now the pandemic is offering no such consensus, timeframe or hope.
For a world that has become so used to predictability and control that we have taken to electing a procession of increasingly batshit insane leaders just to make life interesting…we’re suddenly having to deal with complete uncertainty…and I for one am REALLY glad that my ankle has recovered so that I can at least go for a run and enjoy 60 mins of escape.

Wear a mask, be careful on ladders…and if you’re in Melbourne, stay the course, you’re doing an incredible job!

The upsides to COVID-19

As Melbourne goes into week three of our second lockdown, it’s pretty easy to get mired in melancholy. Our movement is restricted, we’re wearing masks, and parents are once again having to pretend they understand Yr.9 maths. Where in the first lockdown, young children would occasionally appear in video meetings in cute and endearing cameos…they now crawl all over their parents yelling into whatever microphone the parent is using, and no-one bats an eyelid…because ultimately…who could really give a sh1t! And we’ve all come to the realisation that going on a holiday anywhere that involves a plane, is about as likely as ever returning to the office…with all of your co-workers…who have arrived on public transport and are just looking to book a meeting room.

So I think it’s my duty to focus on a few of the good things about these COVID times, because there have definitely been a few silver linings to all of this.
I will stress that these are MY silver linings, and may not match up with yours. For example, when you’re telling me how much you miss being able to just give your friends a hug when you see them, and I’m smiling and nodding as if I agree with you. Rest assured I am actually thinking that I feel like someone who is two thirds of their way through a conversation with a Genie that has already resulted in; not having to do that ‘kissing on the cheek’ thing with people you know, AND not having to hug people you vaguely know when you see them. I’m not sure what the third wish will be…but it will probably involve someone un-inventing social media.

So with that in mind, here are my upsides to COVID.


Now I realise that for those of you who like to play team sports, this has been pretty tough. But for those of us who enjoy running alone for 1.5hrs listening to Neil Gaiman audio books, and sitting on a cycling trainer in a shed watching episodes of Snowpiercer on Netflix…this has been a true renaissance.
You may say ‘But Chris you could have done these things in pre-COVID times! This is not a win for anyone!’ But that’s just not true. With an 8.30am work start-time and at least a 40min commute, outside of waking at 5am everyday, there was no way I could work everything in. But now that I’m working from home everyday, I can get an hour long run or ride in EVERY morning and still get to work on time!

Selfish portrait.


At the other end of the working day…it’s only an 8 second commute from my workstation/dining room table to the kitchen. So suddenly it’s possible to cook dinner every night!
If we, as a family, want to spend our lunch-break making slow cooked Wallaby shanks, and smell them for the rest of the day…then damn it…that’s what we’ll do!
If we want to cook vegetarian meals for the week, then we’ve got the time to actually find some good recipes, rather than panicking at the end of the day and just throwing something together.
Best of all, with ‘after school activities’ severely curtailed, the kids are available to begrudgingly assist. There is no happier face, than that of a child who has been dragged away from their screen to cut up vegetables for a meal they didn’t particularly want to eat in the first place!

Wallaby Shanks…a great dinner…and even better movie character name.
We should never have let her watch those Gordon Ramsay shows!
So angry.
So much swearing.

Visit Victoria

Half way through last year, we were offered the opportunity to stay at our friends place in France again as we did in 2017, but this time it would be for Christmas 2020. By December of last year we were looking at airline tickets and biding our time to get the best price. By January I’d told my Manager that I would be taking some long-service leave at the end of the year. By the end of March we were letting our friends in France know that we were still coming over…but were just going to see how this COVID thing goes. Now…well I think there are only 4 planes left in Australia…and we won’t be going on one any time soon. So it was pretty awesome to get away during the brief lull in lockdowns to a few places around Victoria.

Walking on water at Sandy Point
Fox in Porepunkah
Sunrise at Lorne

There’s nothing like necessity to focus the mind…and so if all holidays for the next year or so are in Victoria, I reckon I can handle it.

‘D’ya like dags?’

There comes a point in any lockdown (usually about day 3) when everyone in the household gets PRETTY sick of everyone else in the household’s shit. But do you know who doesn’t get sick of everyone else? Dogs. Do you know who will be excited by your return…even if you’ve just been outside hanging out the washing? Dogs. Do you know who will fall asleep in hilarious positions just to remind you that there is still fun in the world? Dogs. Do you know who provides the best reason to get up off your arse and go for a walk? Doctors, Physios, Life Coaches, OH&S reps, Personal trainers…but also, Dogs.
For a pack-dog like a Beagle, the idea of having all of her people constantly around her, and with 70% more baking being done in the house (and with all of the scraps that this entails)…Marnie couldn’t be happier!

Beagle therapy


I can pretty much guarantee that when you think of me, ‘Hirsute’ is not one of the words that jumps to mind. Nor ‘Rustic’, or ‘Rugged’…or ‘Man’. I think that at least 83% of this can be levelled at the fact that I’ve never managed to grow a beard (the remaining 17% is a combination of the very soft skin on my feet, my obsession with pronouncing both ‘d’s in ‘Wednesday’, and the fact that I quite like the new Taylor Swift album).
As this tragic video shows, I am simply not not designed for facial hair.

Well that’s not strictly true…I am capable of growing facial hair, it’s just that without the crutch of ‘I’m doing this for charity’, it’s very hard to withstand the humiliation of that first 4 weeks of looking like someone with a fake ID trying to buy a 6-pack of Vodka Cruisers from a bottle shop.
In fact the only way I could contemplate growing a beard is if somehow it transpired that I was restricted to only seeing my immediate family for 4-6 weeks, and everyone else saw me via a webcam that could be turned off…or set up with so much backlight that I may as well have been a mafia informant trying to hide my identity.
Well that has transpired!
And while I don’t think I will be confused for Ned Kelly or Gandalf anytime soon, I do think I have achieved ‘Detective from Scandinavian TV series who has seen too much of the evil that lies in the hearts of men, but dammit, that’s what makes him such a good cop’ level of beard. And that will do…that…will..do.

‘Prestön’ – Starring Kristof Rjordanson

It’s oh so quiet

This September will mark 20 years since Katie and I moved to Preston. In that time there have definitely been some improvements; our ratio of $2 shops to cafe’s has definitely improved, Courtney Barnett has written 100% more songs about it, we now have 12 trees across the entire suburb (up from 9 in 2000), and bike commuting has become marginally safer as as result of traffic being in a state of perpetual gridlock. But one thing it has not become is quieter. Every time a house gets sold, it gets bulldozed and replaced with 308 apartments. So there are more people, more cars and more hard surfaces to bounce the sound off.
Plus the upward mobility of bogans across the board, means that the roar of a HRT/FPV V8 along St. Georges Rd, is now ensembled with the delightful sound of a Mercedes or VW DSG having the guts floored out of it.
It’s enchanting.
But the COVID times have lead to a LOT less people being out and about, and so while the Preston Market does now have a slight ’28 days later’ vibe, a walk around the streets of Preston is now so quiet you can actually hear the birds…or the podcast your listening to.

So yeah, it’s tough at the moment…and there’s no foreseeable end to it. But there’s still plenty of good in the world, and plenty of things that we can look to maintain once we return to regular programming.

Stay safe, and wear a mask.

The National Photographic Portrait Prize 2020

In what was described by some people as ‘an affront to a once-great institution’ and others as ‘that’s nice dear’, I was a finalist in this year’s National Photographic Portrait Prize (NPPP).
Before you become too invested in this, I will warn you that I did not win. But it was still an amazing experience that I would love to share with you.

The lead up

A lifetime of New Year’s Eves has taught me not build events up too much. If you go in with minimal investment, and even less expectation, at worst you will get exactly what you anticipated. But I was really excited about this! I had no delusions of winning, but just getting the chance to see one of my photos in the National Portrait Gallery and getting to swan around with actual, bona fide photographers, seemed like a pretty good way to spend a night.
So Katie and I hatched a plan. I would take three days off work, and we would do a family road-trip up to Canberra. We could stop at Illabo on the way and stay with some friends there, and I could use the time to get some great photos along the way. A road-trip so often throws up photo opportunities that haste to get your destination, or a back-seat full of surly children, ensure never become actual photos. So I was really excited about having an excuse to make photography a feature of the trip…after all, it was photography that made the whole trip possible!
Then I got to thinking, if I’m going to be taking such amazing photos, I really should see if Fuji would be willing to lend me a GFX for the trip in exchange for some photos and social content. I could shoot with a camera that I could never afford, and they would get some free publicity!
Everyone wins!
This was going to be great!
A family road-trip, an epic camera I had always wanted to try shooting with, and a night where I get to extort information out of some amazing photographers!


But then of course, the Gods looked down and said ‘Chris looks so happy! Look at his contented face…and look at how he has dreams and aspirations! Let’s throw a veritable shit-storm at him!’
And so we found out that Holly had her School Photos on the Friday of the event (these would be her photos from her first year of High School and so she really wanted to be there), then Xavier had an excursion for school on the Thursday and Josh had a basketball semi-final on the Saturday and his first night of Air Cadets on the Friday night, and Katie got work on the Wednesday and a gig on the Sunday arvo, and Holly got invited to a horse-riding birthday party on the Sunday, and Holly’s brass band got a slot at the Preston Market, and Fuji explained that they didn’t have a GFX I could borrow…and, well…I started to feel that perhaps this was not going to be the epic experience I had hoped for.


So, to cut a long story marginally less long, I ended up driving to Canberra with Xavier on the Thursday, Katie and Holly flew up on the Friday to arrive just in time for the big event at the Portrait Gallery, and Josh stayed home. We would stay with my sister and niece at their place, and my Mum and Dad would travel up and stay in a nearby hotel.

The big event

So having spent all of Thursday driving, and listening to an audiobook that told the story of what happened on Tattooine between the time Obi Wan Kenobe landed there with a baby Luke Skywalker, and when Luke came and found him as an adult (I shit you not…this is what I listened to). It’s fair to say that my excitement for the event on Friday night had been tempered a tad. But all of this was turned around on Friday morning when the National Portrait Gallery called my mobile!
Now I have been involved in enough events to know that the winner is usually given a bit of heads up so that they can plan a speech, or at the very least, ensure they will be wearing pants at the award ceremony. And here was the Portrait Gallery calling me on the morning of the event! This could mean only one thing…I had won the National Photographic Portrait Prize!!! $50K worth of prizes and a lifetime of bragging rights! This was amazing! This was UNBELIEVABLE!!!!
Indeed it was unbelievable, because the first thing Sheridan from the Gallery told me was that the reason that she was calling me was because the event that night had been cancelled because of the Corona Virus.

So that was cool.

On the bright side, I now had all of the time I would have spent writing a speech and putting on pants, to go and take some photos around Canberra. Plus there was still going to be an event where all the photographers got to see their artwork in the gallery, and where the National Portrait Gallery would announce the winner…and they had organised for the artists to have a dinner in the restaurant of the hotel where a lot of people were staying. So while there wasn’t going to be a big event and an after party, there was still going to be an event with the finalists, and a free dinner with a guest of my choice!

Take that Gods!

Channeling my inner Alex Ellinghausen
About 2 seconds after I took this shot a flock of birds flew right above me and would have made this shot epic!!
Rollerblading in the echo chamber

The event itself was pretty awesome. We all were given a lanyard that had our photo on it which was great as it made it easier for me to stalk those photographers whose work I really liked.

The only lanyard I’ve ever been happy to wear!
Tough crowd…and no I didn’t realise how much smaller my photo would be than everyone else’s!!
For posterity, me in front of my own photo at the National Portrait Gallery

If nothing else, walking around looking at all of the other photos made me realise just how tough it is to be a judge in a competition like this. There were so many amazing photos, so many brilliant stories and so many totally different approaches. But if there was a correct decision…then I think that the judges made it. All three winners (the overall winner, the highly commended and the ‘Packer’s prize’) were all outstanding, and you can see them here https://www.portrait.gov.au/exhibitions/national-photographic-portrait-prize-2020

Holly and Pebbles

A huge note of thanks to the judges and the National Portrait Gallery for selecting me as a finalist, and to the NPPP staff who did such an amazing job of still making the event a night to remember, in spite of everything else. And to the staff at the Midnight Hotel who were able to provide meals for all of us at remarkably short notice.
A big thank-you to my sister and niece for putting us up in Canberra, to my parents for travelling all the way up to Canberra, to Katie for pulling out all the stops to get from Melbourne to the gallery in time to see the portrait, to Xavier for being such a great road-trip companion, and last but by no means least, the biggest thanks to Holly (and to a lesser extent Pebbles) for giving me such an amazing portrait!

And of course if you want to vote for the portrait in the ‘People’s Choice’ category…you are more than welcome to here https://www.portrait.gov.au/npppphoto/94441/