Penelope Green, 1979-2018.

Penelope wasn’t religious. I think it’s quite safe to say she was quite strongly opposed to religion. And what better proof that God doesn’t exist than the tragically early end to her life? What better argument against a benevolent omnipotent force than her pain, sickness, trauma and excruciating wait to die?

So she probably didn’t believe in any sort of afterlife. But if there is, if there’s a heaven of some sort; I hope she’s there and I hope there’s a really fucking long To Read shelf and she gets to read every damn book on it. And every time she reads one she gets to buy another three to replace it.

Because she loved books and she was so well read. She was so knowledgeable. She thought about the world so much and could turn any conversation into an erudite discussion. From the serious and important to the banal or absurd. Politics, feminism, sport, beer or Buffy. But you know what sucked? Do you know what the most annoying thing about her was? She was so often right. Which meant I was wrong and had to eat humble pie. Happened considerably more often than I care to admit. That’s not to say she was haughty or conceited – quite the opposite. She was just, right. And she was prepared to explain why I wrong. Very patiently. And often more than once.

We were never quite clear on where we first met. We definitely became aware of each other at various skeptic and atheist events, but it was such a bizarre coincidence that we had so many friends in common. We very likely had seen each other at weddings or social gatherings before, though. Penelope – never Penny, that was Not Her Name – was cute, and funny, and smart but at first she struck me as a bit… contradictory. I mean she seemed to really dig beer a lot, but she had this rule about never more than four drinks. She was a passionate thinker, who came across as a very academic person, yet she was also a crazy sports fanatic. And she loved Josh Lyman even though clearly Sam was the best I mean everyone loves Sam, right?

But we bonded over skepticism, we liked each other’s company and shared many views. Soon we’d be watching Game of Thrones together on Friday nights, complaining about chefs that put olives in everything, and arguing whether Summer was better than Winter1.

But there weren’t enough shared views and similar interests, and we drifted apart. We’d remain good friends but really would only see each other in group social events or Skeptic functions. I fondly remember last year’s New Year’s Eve party at Shayne and Eva’s – standing out on the road, watching the fireworks. No doubt she watched with a small degree of anxiety and trepidation about the year ahead, but of course she didn’t show it. Strong, stoic, brave.

That’s the sort of person she was. Penelope took life in her stride. Even when the cancer was ravaging her body, a week after bad blood test results in March this year, she did the 106km Great Ocean Road hike. Because she could. Because there was also, let’s be honest, a tiny bit of stubbornness about her.

But stubbornness and willpower can only do so much. And now she’s gone. Taken away from us shortly after her 39th birthday.

And it’s not. Fucking. Fair.

All she wanted to do was live and travel and see castles and do tapestry and read books and write the Next Great Australian Novel. And see Essendon win some more Grand Finals.

Yes, ok, she also wanted to rule the world and she had extensive plans for that. But even that wasn’t a selfish thing. Well not primarily a selfish thing – it was mainly about sorting things out. Getting rid of cruelty, unkindness and, well, stupidity. And intolerance – she hated bigotry in all its forms. She marched in protests, she went to meetings, she even got into politics and was an active member of the Secular Party of Australia. I have so much respect for people who get out there and DO good things.

But she can’t travel anymore. She won’t see any more castles, read or write any more books, and Ben (formerly known as the Giant Tapestry of Doom) will remain unfinished. Just as her rich, full life was unfinished.

Some castles remain strong for hundreds of years after the threat of war is gone. Some classic novels continue to bring joy long after their writers have passed. And Penelope will remain an inspiration to me, and to the many people who knew and loved her, for the rest of our lives.

Goodbye, Penelope. We drifted apart but I’m so glad I knew you, and I miss you terribly.


1 One of very few cases where Penelope was clearly wrong. Hot weather is glorious. Winter is the worst, although I will concede that she looked damn good in that red coat. She had style.

Four bricks.

Four bricks.

Four typical, standard sized bricks.

That’s how much more weight I was carrying around with me at the start of the year. I weighed 113kg. This morning, I clocked in at 99.8kg. A loss of 13kg, or about the weight of four bricks.

weight 99kg crop

I’ve been lugging around four bricks that I didn’t need to lug around. Because I was fat. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m still fat. I still have a belly that makes Buddha look trim. I still send sales assistants hiding under tables when I go clothes shopping. I still make beeping noises if I walk backwards.

I’m still fat.

I’m just less fat.

My goal, when I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes was to get under 100kg by June. That seemed reasonable – a bit under a kilogram each week. So, yeah… goal achieved! I’ll have a celebratory ice-cream tonight, and then I’ll start working towards my next goal: 95kg by September. That should be doable, right?

This isn’t a brag post. Well ok it is a brag post, but it’s also a thank you post. Because this wasn’t a solo effort. I wouldn’t have lost those four bricks if it hadn’t been for the incredible support network that have helped along the way. I couldn’t have done it without my parents and family, and their continued encouragement. I couldn’t have done it without the excellent medical professionals who have been keeping an eye on me: my GP, my endocrinologist, my dietitian, my diabetes educator and now my exercise physiologists as well. And I definitely, absolutely could not have done it without the amazing friends who have travelled part of the journey with me. Thank you Nancy, Jo, Raya, Marcos, Peter, Kate, Penelope, Lucas, Dave, Hamish, and anybody else who I’ve somehow forgotten. Thank you all – and even if you haven’t joined me on a walk or a swim thank you still for your support and encouragement!

I hope y’all will join me for the shedding of many more bricks!

I’m Too Damn Sweet

When talking about everyday words that, given context, can also be rude, George Carlin once observed: “You can prick your finger, but don’t finger your prick!” This is a story of how pricking my finger could potentially have saved my life.

And has also become a colossal annoyance.

It begins about a week and a half ago. And somehow I got a small cut on my little finger. A tiny prick, if you will. I don’t know how, I didn’t even notice it when it happened. But over the weekend, I saw that it had become infected. Annoyed, I booked an appointment with my GP and took time off work to see her and get some antibiotics.

So far, so good.

While I’m there, my GP says “Hmm, it’s been a while since you last had some blood tests. And it’s a bit unusual for someone so young to be getting bacterial infections.” Someone so young! Lady, I thought, 36 is NOT young! “I want you to go and get these blood tests tomorrow,” she says. So I take some time off work the next day, and give two beautiful vials of my cherry-red life juice to the pathology nurse.

Later that day, my GP rang and told me to come see her as soon as possible. My blood glucose levels were at 16.6 mmol/L – a healthy person’s should be roughly between 4 and 5.5 mmol/L.

So yes, dear reader, I’m a Type 2 Diabetic.

Many people, upon hearing such news, would be distraught. They might be overcome with emotions – anger, fear, sorrow. But not me. To me, this is all just one giant annoyance. An inconvenience. Terry Pratchett used to describe his Alzheimer’s as an “embuggerance”, and that’s exactly what this diagnosis is for me.

And I can afford to be annoyed by this – I’m fairly lucky (if luck can have anything to do with it). I’m not showing any real symptoms (My GP’s exact words: “How you’re not feeling absolutely awful is beyond me!”). And of course, there are far worse illnesses to have than diabetes. With significant changes to diet and lifestyle, and some medication, I can beat this. I went on a health kick several years ago and dropped nearly 10kg. I’ve seen various specialists already, with appointments to see more in the near future including a diabetes educator and a dietitian. But I also have two key weapons in my arsenal: the ability to turn on the willpower and determination when I set my mind to something, and a freaking amazing support network of friends and family who can encourage and assist me. And a surprising number of them have kicked sugar in the balls. So, keto or near-keto friends, I may be asking for low-GI suggestions in the future!

Like I said, I’m seeing various experts, learning things and making plans on an ongoing basis. But for now I’m taking Metformin (the standard first-line diabetes drug that lowers blood sugar and increases sensitivity to insulin), monitoring my blood glucose levels with a wicked cool little gadget, and significantly reducing my portion sizes while increasing my amount of exercise. See! an embuggerance.

So, I guess the moral of this story is don’t get fat, be active, watch the sugar intake, and have regular checkups with your GP – even if you feel fine. And remember: you can finger your prick, but you should also prick your finger!