Denise lived

Imagine as the father of Denise Duvall (Denise had a fatal accident on 2 Dec 1967) being asked the question no parent would like to be asked, “Do you give your permission for the medical team to use parts of your daughter’s body to save other lives?” What would you answer? Fortunately, for the family of Louis Washkansky, the answer was, “Yes, go ahead. Thus, along with his brother Marius, Dr Christian Barnard performed the world’s first successful heart transplant.

The operation was risky, yet Barnard was confident he could pull it off, and he reckoned there was an 80% chance of success. In the following days the patient was sitting up in bed and confidently discussing his post operational life happy he had taken this last chance at life. Eighteen days later he lay dead, having died from pneumonia.

His operation was controversial because the first heart transplant in 1964 to Boyd Rush, by Dr James Hardy was unsuccessful. Barnard was deemed by many to be taking a God like responsibility. It was a job for which no man was qualified to undertake according to his critics.

Through those same years my father was weakened by heart trouble that initially had him hospitalised for eleven weeks. His doctor was doing as his training dictated he do years before. From his experience rest was considered the best remedy for a stressed heart. Thank goodness Barnard stuck to his course because heart operations are now routine. Just as my sister-in-law recovers from open heart surgery all the evidence says the worst has passed. She was expected to walk the day after having four bypasses, and a pig’s heart valve, all parts were used to regenerate her heart.

In her case her troubles were genetic. A direct line of family members had each met their sudden deaths with similar problems. In other families different genetics have been responsible for a catalogue of different ailments with fatal consequences. It is just as well a fortunate few are in a position to benefit from medical science advancements. It gives us hope.

The lesson is, life is unpredictable. Birth itself is not without risk for the mother or the child. Too often, for a nation with excellent health facilities, a mother – or a child- will die in confinement. These unexpected deaths are awful, and many families never get over the loss. Fortunately we are beyond the period when most parents would make sure the family would continue breeding by having an heir and a spare. Or the terrible periods when infancy was unsure and the next child would carry forward the name of the dead sister, or brother.

As a young person death was unreal to you. You were about nine, and a troubled young lad of about seven went missing one evening. His body was found in the local swimming pool the next day. He had managed to squeeze under the gate after hours and drowned by misadventure. His death was certainly a loss to his grieving family – yet in the wider community, where it was considered sad, it was also assessed as being a fortunate release for them. It spared them the worry of his unsettled future behaviour.

Next, at about age thirteen, a boy of sixteen was killed by a car as he crossed the road. Not long after that the brother of one of your friends was killed when he was thrown from his motor bike. His leather helmet was no protection from the force of his body hitting the road. Motor accidents are cruel. One minute Clare was part of your community. The next she was gone and a gap was left in your life where she once lived.

Having lived to your thirties you saw disease took many of your loved ones. As you aged you became aware life was terminal. Many people you knew suffered with pain and disability. Some you didn’t know, but nevertheless they still they left you to feel genuine grief from the stories you heard about their brief lives.

In time you learnt a visit to a cemetery becomes a sobering reminder of how fickle life is. Especially when you pause and read the brief inscription on this headstone, or that one there. It does your head in to realise a life of any age can end in death. This is why I write today. On the weekend I was talking to Seamus. He is a tutor on – how to die.

He is a man approaching fifty. He is dying from a form of cancer. He has become quite matter of fact about his future. He says, “We all must die”. “I have cancer.” When I was given the diagnosis, I asked, “Why not me – instead of – why me? His treatment, he claims, has not caused him any bother. Having finished fifteen weeks of treatment he now has to wait two months for the doctors to reassess whether the treatment has worked. He says that despite being on benefits he will go back to work. “If two month from now the doctors tell me I am ok I will not have wasted two months. If they discover the treatment has not worked, I will have not wasted two months.” These answers are more than stoicism. He genuinely believes life is best lived – by living as best you can each day. In his conversation he followed up by saying, “We only have so much time and we should make the best of it.”

This much I agree. If we become sick our medicos may have the scientific knowledge to make us better. Or they might not. We will die. We could be hit by a tree branch just as we pass beneath it. Just as my paternal grandfather died over a century ago. Either way, living and dying is a gift. We had better get used to that.

Death can be beautiful.

Iris died looking at pictures of beautiful plants she admired, rolling on a screen, while she listened to the music of her choice. She knew she was dying. We gathered because we knew we were spending our last day with her. It was a lovely death.

Asking your friends to support your posted prepared message is wrong.

Two or three times a week someone will post a letter that makes you pause and think. The message usually says something like the following. “If you know someone with —— (fill in the disease. The messages are nearly all alike) Will you share this message with your friends as a sign you love them?” Or they might ask you to post back to them. They want to know you will do it if you love them because most people won’t.

I am one of those people who do not do as you asked. I do this because while I agree with the motherhood statement. I have no idea where the message started, or who might be collecting our names, just because the message is touching it is not enough to help others because they might have awful motives.

Do not mistrust your friends. They will love you unto death.

Thanks John

Nick used to have a chicken he would play with for hours. The now nameless chicken was happy to be carried around, in his arms lying upside down. One trick he happily played with it was to lightly run his outstretched fingers over its face. The bird would close its eyes and lie motionless on its back, even when placed on the ground, before it realised it was free to resume its day.

In our garden we watched the blue wrens dance about collecting insects from the comfort of our lounge. The tiny birds are no bigger than one of the eggs Nick’s hens laid, yet despite their bright colours it was possible to miss them except for their nimbleness. First they were here, next sitting on the barbed-wire fence 20 metres away, before we spotted them again jumping about in the grass. Their hens were just as busy but not so obviously seen. The industriousness of each bird a simple reminder there were things to do.

Frequently the jobs were ignored as kookaburras would announce their arrival with a hearty laugh. They perched in open places outside our reach. When they finished, they, like the other common resident with rapier like beaks, the magpie, would sharpen the beak on the branch beside them. These birds, each with a distinctive song, added joy to our lives.

The joy of birds is a universal thing. In the outback the chattering Apostle birds are observed as a puffin is in Great Britain, a Curlew in Queensland, the skylark and the peacock in India. Twitterers are found throughout the globe. They will stand daylong in a draughty hide to spot a rare bird. Or they will travel the length of the country to see more birds than another in the same year.

In our neck of the woods we have birds that migrate from Russia each year just to rear their chicks. When they have fattened them and taught them to fly they will be off with them, to the other side of the world, so they can gain enough strength to repeat the journey six months later.

This year botanists, who watch for these things, are reporting their numbers are down again. Their reports are beginning to become alarming. The retuning birds are fewer than last year. Worse they are lighter than their great grandparents were just ten years, ago and fewer nestlings are expected to survive. It is not unusual for the returning birds to die when they reach land. The mass deaths have occurred from year to year when the days before their arrival is unusually stormy. What is happening now, apart from the hungrier bird arrivals, is the difficulty the birds have in finding space to nest.

This country has become obsessed with urban growth. In most other parts of the world we have visited the demarcation between agricultural land and urban land is sharply defined. Here our suburbs just roll on through farms. For instance chicken farmers have industrialists develop housing blocks to their fence line. When the new residents move into their new homes they complain to the authorities, (those that approved the development) the place stinks and the poor poultry farmer has to close down his operation.

Closing pig farms or poultry farms is as commonplace here as is knocking down sprawling trees. Trees that have grown on the same undisturbed land for hundreds of years are bulldozed just so a road can be built to the next tree, that was knocked over, to build a housing estate.

The poor residents that have lived happily in those trees for just as long are homeless. One of the biggest birds often dislodged this way is the sulphur crested cockatoo. The family of this big white bird, (as intelligent as all-get-up), has had to wait at least 80 years for a nest. They choose to watch the spot, a branch once grew – to form a scar on the trunk – and use that hole when big enough as a nesting home. (That shows these birds are patient as well.)

(Unsurprisingly the new home buyer looks forward to settling down getting to know the neighbours. What they find, is the sulphur crested cockatoo. This bird, with the long memory, does what has been done to it, and it systematically starts to demolish the new home in much the same way as the demolisher once did to them. In no time at all the human neighbours lose all patience with the avarian and the bird is banished. It is never, however, vanquished.)

In this multicultural land we have lots of birds from many different lands. What scientists tell us is. the indigenous birds that once lived in lightly inhabited grasslands and forests are seeing off the birds of migrant origin that once happily reigned over the cities. Black birds used to cause havoc on dusk as they met before roosting for the night. These common birds are being driven away and our original birds are flexing their muscles shouting, “enough is enough.”

I don’t think a lot about birds anymore but like most Australian children I grew up as a member of the Gould League of Australia. This association did so much to engender into young minds the importance of birds. This was especially so when in came to our wild birds. The birds found here had no pressure to develop by natural selection as those born on different continents. Our birds are uniquely beautiful and the Gould League helped us understand that. I guess that is why I now have a renewed interest is spreading the word we must not continue to destroy the habitat of our birds because when we do we destroy our inheritance.

John Gould was a nineteenth century Englishman who visited Australia and recorded many of our birds. His illustrations of our bird life are wonderful examples of beautiful birds and birds exquisite art. His folios are must see treasures. Thanks John.

Remembering Chloe the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo I had as a pet. Each year she laid an infertile egg at the end of winter, just to remind me she deserved the wild life I denied her.

Perhaps I should draw a breath….

I don’t know what happened but I lost my first draft of this post before I had finished. Let’s start again…

There was a joke in our neighbourhood cows needed short legs on one side so they could walk around the hills without falling over. (By international standards our hills were hillocks, yet when the cows grazed they tended to walk around them. Thus they drew tracks that resembled map like contour lines across the country. So long before I learned about those lines I understood how geographers arrived at the notion of them.)

It has been hard to avoid lines because they were everywhere I looked. From our vantage point above the plains, through the clothesline mum used, I could see the steel lines of the railways beyond the Princes Highway. In fact lines were so common I wrote about them in my last essay. Here is another story where I expose much more about myself than I should feel comfortable about, that uses lines of another type to draw you closer.

After qualifying to teach I worked at earning a Certificate of Art. This was a short undergraduate qualification accepted by the Education Department as an additional study needed for promotion. Twice a week, David,( a more experienced teacher), and I, would drive to a city tech school after work and take lessons on art. Art history, painting, ceramics, sculpture, fabrics, commercial design and other subjects such as costume and figure drawing were all part of the curriculum. Included in this study was a unit on Art Philosophy. I found the text book chosen for us to study included the most difficult of any reading set for me. The language chosen had me reaching for the dictionary. (Perhaps, to constantly remind me of how difficult this reading was, our youngest son has almost finished a Ph D on, you guessed it, Art philosophy. Such is the mysterious workings of the Universe.)

These were busy years as the study and folio presentations had to fit around work and family commitments. Of all the subjects undertaken the one subject I got lost in was drawing. One of the drawing skills we practiced was to draw what we saw without lifting our pencil, or charcoal, from the paper. This became even more difficult when the medium was changed to applying fluids such as ink or paint in an unbroken line on wet paper. Any pause in our movement was a reminder of the unintended blot made when learning to write.

It was from experiences like these the mastery, and the genius of stroke makers whose work rests on gallery walls around the world even centuries after it was produced that has compelled me to visit these celebrated works whenever I could. (I could deviate from my story and write about my visits to these hallowed halls of famous artists but I will plod along reflecting on the things I learned by drawing lines.)

The goal as I have said was not to produce artwork but to get a qualification. Come to think of it it has been the only motivation in nearly all of my studies until after I fell off the ladder of ambition. (I believed, falsely, I could only be recognised properly if I was something other than myself.) When I did return to visual art for a short time, I rediscovered a love of drawing. For instance, I amused myself holding a pencil in my hand and drawing images on paper while I watched television. (The images came from my deep unconscious mind. The surrealities emergence often surprised me. The outcome was unimportant but it stimulated me to discuss my life with a psychologist, or two, and discover Carl Jung’s concepts of anima and animus.)

To lose myself, (Infrequently,) I have joined line drawing art groups. (Life drawing is the polite way of saying I drew nudes.) In life drawing I lost myself and discovered time evaporated. The ability to examine positive and negative shapes and express them on a one dimensional piece of paper I find absorbing.

As a warming-up exercise the model might hold a pose for thirty seconds. In those thirty seconds the task is to record the shape of the pose. There is no time to concentrate on detail. After several short posed exercises the poses adopted might last five or ten minutes. This allows the executioner more time to capture detail and some chance to indicate light and shade and indicate shape.

The remaining hour of so goes like minutes as the model adopts longer, more complicated poses. Some models like to bring along props to model with. This includes a little drapery, a sphere, or a hula hoop. (A hula hoop is distracting because you are aware when someone is viewing your work they will recognise it for what it is. Therefore it’s scale has to remain in keeping with the body you are attempting to capture.)

The drawings I produced were never the motivation for drawing. (I have only ever framed one and that is to remind myself how I get lost in the execution of the drawing.) Nearly all the drawings produced in groups like this allow the model to walk away into the community unrecognised by any viewer of the work because it is rarely truly illustrative. Over time my work has been destroyed, or lies forgotten somewhere in the house. Only twice have people shown any interest in purchasing my drawings. The first time it happened the parents of one of the costume models we used for Cert A wanted to buy a drawing of their son. The other was a friend wanting to help me financially who bought a two minute sketch from me. (One nude model that sat for us did say she was sitting for a recognised realistic artist in her spare time because she had commissioned the work so she would have a permanent record so she could say, “I once looked like this.”)

Sometimes I have got used to drawing the same model each week for a term. It is difficult to then draw with another model. To draw a female figure one week and draw a male the next is difficult. The more muscled body is harder to capture in flowing lines. The poses adopted are often more extorted. Therefore the softness of the female form is more easily captured. Although none of it is easy without regular practise. Some models will sit immobile, others cannot hold a pose for long. The models that move are really hard work for the sketchers.

For modelling is hard. The pose might sometimes be kept for two hours, except for short breaks. In the days of supervised work the teacher might have forced the model’s body into an uncomfortable position for lengthy periods just to obtain an interesting negative shape.

If the work is to be done in natural light it is easier for the model than to pose in the heat of a spotlight. But light and shade do make the work of the artist easier than flat light.

These lines are almost done. I have attempted to tell you something more of how I now wear lines on my face because they were drawn in days of light and shade. Perhaps this is why I prefer sunny days. May we both enjoy many more.

Between the lines

In the same year the Bíró brothers escaped Germany for Argentina, I was born. By the time I was attempting to earn the right to graduate from pencil to steel pen the Bíró pen was being sold in stationery shops for as much as a dinner in a fancy city restaurant. In the years before pencil I had learned to write on a slate board. This was because paper was scare and a slate board, once obtained, was cheap because if a new “sheet” was needed all one had to do was erase the last entry. (It does not explain my poor handwriting as other children learnt this way as well, perhaps it just says I never got better at writing than a stone-ager.)

My pencil work was never very good possibly because of the earlier experience I had had with slate so getting my license to use a pen was hard work. A steel pen was even more difficult and I fully understand why pen use was restricted to children who could demonstrate they were not going to leave drips, smudges, or other signs the drying ink, or (forbid the thought) spill the fluid.

It took skill to master the pen. The nib was dipped into an inkwell that sat in a hole bored into the right hand side of the single desk, of if it was a double desk in the centre. The nib once dunked was not to dip further that the hole in had in it that split the steel in two parts before the point. On reaching the paper one had to confidently press the point onto the paper and apply weight enough to allow the ink to flow down the split onto the surface between the red and blue guide line printed on the paper. Some letters dropped below the lines to the red guide lines, some were written between the blue lines, and some reached up to the red line above.

The ink took some time to dry and rather than wait until it did, one dried it with blotting paper. This absorbent paper had to be applied in a rolling motion that soaked up the excess ink as it was applied. If the blotting paper was applied too quickly, or it brushed across the drying ink it left an unsightly smudge. A blot was just as unsightly, as the zealously overfilled nib would leave a trail of blots across the page produced by an untidy boy. This lad would go home each evening with ink stains on his fingers. These formed in much the same style as the nicotine stains, found on the hands of heavy smokers, did.

Just holding the pen took a great deal of dexterity. It had to be held between the thumb and middle finger, with the pointer finger resting lightly on the top to help guide it to form the letters of the alphabet. It was only after competence was shown one could do this were we allowed to join the letters in the running style of copperplate. (As with all things change was as constant then as it is today. No sooner had we started to write in copperplate than the writing style was changed to something called Victorian Cursive.)

There were some perks for good pen writers. The first was to become an ink monitor. The ink the class needed daily was kept in the inkwell on the desk. A child chosen by the teacher could fill each inkwell from the big bottle of ink kept in the classroom each day. The ink bottle had a rubber pourer on it. The stopper-pourer extended about an inch (30 cm). It would hover over the ink well from the bottle stopper as the bottle was tipped. The ink would flow into the inkwell as it tipped and be stopped from overflowing by the monitor when, he or she, pressed a finger against the air intake hole on the rubber stopper and stood the bottle upright.

The best monitor’s job was to be trusted to collect all the class inkwells and wash them out on a Friday afternoon. Because this was messy job a couple of trusty children would be sent from the class to wash them with running water at a drinking trough in the playground. The job was painstaking when done properly, but the perk was to escape the eye of the teacher and miss some class time.

Kids in class were normally well behaved because they had respect for the authority of the teacher, and their parents. (If a teacher complained about the behaviour of a child to the parents they would normally accept the teachers word and the child would cop some additional punishment at home.) Yet despite that many classrooms had nib darts stuck in their ceilings. (A dart was fashioned after splitting the rear end of the nib by jamming it under the desk lid. The enterprising kid would fashion a fletch from a piece of paper. This was inserted into the split. Half of the nib was broken off and when the teacher’s back was turned it was flung at the ceiling. Most times it was left dangling above the class and the teacher was unaware anything was amiss.

At secondary school we were considered mature enough to use fountain pens for note taking. These were not trouble free though. On hot days the ink would leak. Or the owner of an old pen would find the rubber bladder would perish where the lever used to compress the air out of the bladder so it could be filled, rubbed against it. If the pen was dropped, nine times out of ten, the nib would no longer work trouble free. It was customary for kids, and business men, to carry their pens in a shirt pocket, or if the pen was smart enough, in the top pocket of their jacket. (An important person might carry three fountain pens like this. Filled with blue, red, and green ink. The nibs, and the ink filling levers of these jewelled instruments were gold indicating the owner’s distinguished status.)

By the end of my secondary education the biro became ubiquitous. It was now produced by many new manufacturers and cheaper. With the bic, and the Victorian Cursive style writing, Copperplate and calligraphy marched off. Today my grandchildren have more aptitude with the keyboard than any epistle demonstrating mastery of enforced practice at handwriting. The little they do write by hand is printed in lowercase style, and when measured by the past standards, unacceptable to many of my former infant school teachers.

Does that matter? Surely expressing ideas and showing understanding of new concepts is enough?

I very much prefer to think my mother’s hand, or the writing of my late father-in-law Laurie, better conveyed true emotion. For their hand writing was masterful. A message of sympathy penned as condolence to loved ones really meant something to those receiving them when written so neatly. A message cannot be understood as meaningfully to the recipient as an email no matter how heartfelt the messenger.

(Laurie produced the most beautiful hand writing. Each letter was carefully crafted onto paper whether it was important or not. He learned to write so well with his right hand, despite having the tripe beaten out of him because he was a natural left handed from day one at school. (It is worth noting good handwriting is near impossible in left handed people because they cover their work with their hand as they write from left to right. They also have the disadvantage of using implements designed for the opposite hand.))

Those red and blue lined handwriting exercise books of yesterday did help many people develop signatures with sincerity.

It’s a matter of health

I visited the chemist today. The purpose was another supply of life giving drugs prescribed by my doctor. While killing time I wandered aimlessly around the shop and when I spotted them they reminded me of yet another incident this witless fellow has faced. Years ago, an ancient heirloom was in need of some loving attention. Its wood was riddled with borers. For which the man at the hardware shop had a cure.

He said, “You can rid the wood of the infestation if you apply this chemical in every hole you see.” The borer holes were small and the bottle label suggested a needle was the best way to inject the substance. So on a Saturday afternoon, when dressed in the old rags I kept for labouring work, I drove to the only place I thought would have what I was after. The chemist in Eltham was open. So off I went.

When I entered the shop the female attendant who was more used to selling cosmetics to fashionable ladies walked up to me , and she asked the question she was trained to ask, “May I help you?”

“Yes, I would like to buy an empty hypodermic needle, thanks.”

Her facial expression immediately changed. She walked back sideways, training her eyes on me until she was able to reach out and select a needle. Then I asked if could have two of the largest needles she had. After finding them she reached forward lest I touch her and took the money I was holding out for her. Without so much as dropping them into a paper bag she handed them to me with out stretched arms. It was the memory of this whole exchange that returned to me today.

What if I needed the implement to administer drugs? Lots of people have legitimate reasons to inject themselves. The unfortunate infantile diabetics sufferers have the curse of needing daily use of them for life. Some cancer suffered have to use them periodically especially after radiology. People with iron problems, or pregnancy, and some take Vitamin 12 for anaemia. The truth is there are very many reasons an ordinary visitor to a pharmacy might need a needle to stay well.

The response of the female attendant was biased because she determined the only reason I would need a needle was because I was a bad, mad, druggie. Drug users are madly addicted to the drug of their choice. Last night we watched an insane program called Patrick Melrose. It reminded me of Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, This was a drug fuelled semi biographical piece that was later named the Gonzo movement where drug induced people wrote about their tortured minds and drug addiction.

Drug addiction is not nice. Few nights pass in my life when I do not give into the desire to have a drink of wine or of spirits. Alcohol is bad, it ruins many lives, yet it is a drug I have consumed most days for years. If I was told I couldn’t drink I would become upset. Yet no one seriously proposes the closing of bottle shops today. Strangely they are more common today than Wine Shops ever once were.

Alcohol kills people. So do drugs of dependence. The list of banned substances includes marijuana, heroin, cocaine, speed. I’m sure you can add another ten drugs that people regularly consume. Ice is apparently one of the most often consumed drugs of choice. According to health workers it is BAD. It causes people to do irrational things. I causes violence. It causes blackouts. So does alcohol.

The American nation discovered way back, almost 100:years ago, banning alcohol was impossible. To ban it just created a master class of criminal. One who specialised in selling banned goods. The War On Drugs being waged across the globe is making many bad people rich. It is also making many sick people sicker. It is making them badder but it is not treating them as people in need of compassion. We need to show compassion to those in need of their daily fix. Because they’re people who need treatment. This is different from saying they need to be locked up. It is different to saying they need the Lord’s loving help to turn away from sin. They need treatment in the same way as any person with an addiction does. No one proposes we lock up cigarette smokers. We understand they need to have nicotine for it is greater that their rational want to give up smoking.

Fortunately I can say one member of our family has had the judicial responsibility of recognising the need for the drug addicted. The opinion is, it is the need for medical treatment that is the primary responsibility of the medical profession. As a result of the direction given, the State Government has reacted. It now provides a centre where the drug addicted will be helped. They will be assisted to give up drugs, If on the other hand they elect to take drugs they will be supervised, from the moment they have made the choice to inject a dangerous substance into their system, they will be monitored until they are safely delivered on the other side. The work of this person is one that allows this writer to live in reflected pride.

The fact is it can happen to anyone. Anyone putting anything in their mouth takes a risk. Some learn a drink of coke is enough for them to be addicted to the hit sugar gives. Some become addicted to medication given to them to reduce pressure and later get to hate ever taking Valium. Some who live in countries where alcohol is banned will travel to countries where it is freely available just to gain a moment of freedom without religious persecution. No one sets out to become addicted. Some will happily tell you they have taken banned substances for years without detection. They are like the drinker who learns to drink in moderation. To be moderate is all anyone aims to be. Sadly to learn your body reacts differently makes you a victim in need of help not derision.

It’s time for a milkshake.

Every week, sometime after school, the man from Moran and Cato would turn up. He would walk into the kitchen and drop off the box of groceries mum had telephoned to him that morning. I never had a lot of time for (his) choice of the things needed to feed us because there was never anything in his box to eat. Once or twice, in all the weeks he delivered groceries, I may have helped stack that which was delivered into the cupboard. The rest of the time I was disgusted by the lack of treats.

It nearly always included staples like; flour, sugar, tea, breakfast cereal, (perhaps once I opened the pack and removed the plastic toy included out of the order negotiated with my sisters, but then again it might just be a false memory.) The grocery delivery also included, oranges, or apples depending what was in season. Occasionally there would be potatoes or some other vegetable however that was not so frequent as dad grew most of the vegetables we ate in season. The only dairy product was cheese. Milk, cream, and cream used to make butter, came from our cows.

(It is now an aside but the cheese delivered was for Dad alone. We didn’t eat his cheese because mum bought Kraft Cheddar Cheese for us. This is a product I still find difficult to describe because it had a bland taste and a plastic feeling. This pale goo was unlike any product I now know to be cheese.)

In describing the list of foodstuffs bought, I have to include a list of dried fruits. Dates, sultanas., currants, raisins all come to mind, but as I have stated there was nothing to eat. When I was in the homes of my school mates and the delivery occurred their parcel always included treats. Tasty goods such as; chocolate, bonbons, biscuits, lemonade, raspberry cordial and ice cream. Foods for a party were in the grocery packages of other homes.

How we got anything to eat at all was because our parents sacrificed their free time to grow food, milk cows, and cook every god given hour. They did this week in and week out without complaint except from me on grocery day. A more grateful lad would have acknowledged a gardeners pay was tight when spread among six people.

Can you imagine how lucky I felt to be sent away from this deprivation? Each school holiday we went to spend time with our grandparents and their home of young aunts and uncles. Every other year or so a relative left to marry and start their own family until there was just Paul and Pauline left to treat us.

(I have written previously about how I loved to spend time with Paul. Today I turn my thoughts to Pauline. She is the last of the twins. I note soberly, she is also the last of her generation.)

It was a summer day when I arrived in Lilydale. I was alone with Pauline in the car. She was recently married and she picked me up from the station. I was to spend a few days with her. Before we drove up the mountain to her new home she stopped the car and bought me a malted milk shake. Ice formed on the metal shake container as I poured it into the glass. The drink bubbled up until it nearly overflowed and then I tasted the glorious, unexpected treat. I rarely visit that town now, but every year after that drink I have not driven past that cafe without being reminded of that special day.

Notable as that treat was to me, it was just another expression of love from her. After she left school she got a job at Spicers Shoe factory. This girl spent a lot of the little money she earned treating me to experiences kids from the country never got. I went to the Tivoli theatre for pantomimes. I rode, ride after ride at St Kilda’s Luna Park. I had trips to the Melbourne Show and took home arms full of show bags,

According to Dr Google it now takes about an hour and a half to drive from her home to Rosebud. All those years ago I was taken for a day at the beach to the Port Phillip Bay summer escape. We had to be up early and we drove forever. We turned from one suburb after another. We drove through countless traffic lights. And we drove along the never ending beach road all the way to Rosebud. The water there was much less interesting than the lakes near my home although the sandy beach was much broader. Despite that I had a great day out. Towards evening we made the return journey. I don’t know how many of us there were in the car but when we finally got home I got wakened up and was lifted from the shelf behind the seats in front of the rear window where I had been sleeping.

This was just another of those special days I had with her. Long before she had taught us kids the fun you could have on the street with soda bombs. I can’t remember how they were detonated, but if you took the little bomb ( that thing used to turn drinking water into soda water with its canister filled with carbon dioxide) they would shoot into the air. Pauline could also attest they could remove part of your leg if you were too late to jump out of its way. That momentary incident would have curbed the enthusiasm for games in many people, but not her.

She was also the one who gave me my first swimming lesson. Despite my confidence in her I had too little confidence of the water to support me to relax on my back when held up just by her small frame. To her credit she had tried may times to stop me standing instead of floating. To reinforce the knowledge I should float on water and not try to stand she moved me from the shallow end, to the deep end of the pool. My first lesson became even more traumatic when I realised she didn’t want me to hang onto the edge either. Before I drowned her she allowed me to dance in the shallows as she went happily back to diving and freestyle.

My school days came to an end, her family developed and I grew away, but I remained forever in her debt for the good times we shared.

Around this point I would finish my entry and return with another theme a few days later. Today I will post a personal reflection I wrote as a tribute to her twin when he passed away earlier this year. I will post it without amendment and my tale will have some repetitiveness.


My sister Elizabeth and I were the first grandchildren born into the large Mason family. As the first grandson it is only now I am able to recognise how fortunate we were to know each of our aunts and uncles. Each treated us an honoured child. We were given experiences by them younger generations missed. This privilege of age was special and we benefited in a manner our cousins haven’t, I have felt the need to pen some words on the bond I have enjoyed with Paul.


Gradually the threads of my childhood have broken. Sometimes I have felt like a body caught up in the fibres of a spider’s web and been happy to have broken free of the past in much the same way as the person caught in the web might. The sticky threads of childhood have clung onto the skin and irritated until they have been brushed off.

The string that has bound me to Paul is not like that. It is more a memory of times of my growing to independence. A time when a boy met a man prepared to gently shine a light into the fog of the future and show the dimly lit road ahead. Significant moments began for me when Paul himself was not not long past his youth. He was working for the Board of Works. In that big building near the railway line we saw as our train pulled into the city station.

He always worked – just there – in that building. Before that our mother used to remind us that where he worked was a sign of his industry. He was one of those particularly talented students selected on his merit to go to Melbourne Boys High School. That school by the river with the big oval in front of the gothic building. That school where only the best students were selected for attendance. (That school, even in my wildest imagining, I knew I would never be chosen to attend.) Paul had attended there and as a result he had a reliable job with the government. (Or more precisely municipal government. At any rate it was the only sort of job one like me should aspire.)

It was a good job. Paul was not long at this job and he had earned enough to buy his first car. That meant he never had to travel in the crowded red rattler from Lilydale ever again. I was fortunate enough to travel with him to the City – down Whitehorse Rd , turn left here, so that you can avoid the Mont Albert Station, Turn into Mont Albert Rd. negotiate the S bends at its end and take Barkers Rd etc into town.

Grandma used to complain, (probably too unkind an adjective), that Paul would wear two, sometimes three, neatly washed, blue treated, starched, and ironed white shirts every day. He also possessed some very flashy printed silk ties he wore with them. He was dapper.

I can’t be sure of the timing but before he married he drove a big black Riley car and I sometimes had the pleasure of riding with him in it. Every week he collected records in their brown paper envelopes from shops specialising on music of the twenties and thirties. These he filed and cataloged meticulously in his neat hand. Occasionally he would play an Al Bowley tune to me he had just acquired but only after he fitted a new needle into the head of the record player. He was just as careful to only ever handle a record with a soft cloth.

In the months before he married I met Elaine. I think it was he who took me to my first Melbourne show. In the coming months I saw less and less of him. The couple married and I remember being shown photos of the lucky couple.

In the following years I never saw Paul without also seeing Elaine. Some years later, possibly on the Colac station I appeared as a passenger in one of his 9mm movie films in which he had developed an interest. Somehow or other I met the train carrying the couple as it passed through the town. At any rate Paul was no longer Paul to me but, It simply became Paul and Elaine to Jennie and me whenever we mentioned them.

Later Jennie and I were shown the improvements they made to their house in North Melbourne and the threads of our connection became thinner as life intervened. Our family grew and the links of them with the wider family have diluted in time and they know nothing of the people and things I now record.

In time we heard about the arrival of girls whose names conveniently were the same as of places of interest in Victoria. Somehow Russell never made it to my awareness and that was just the fault of our seperate lives.

Much , much later, Paul managed a brake manufacturing company in Ballarat I lived there but we never really got to meet up in that period. If we did occasionally bump into each other, we talked of places he might search for records, but Paul knew every opp shop I named as a place of interest to him I realised he knew his way about. It turned out he had searched their premises for any music they had that he had never been able to find elsewhere.

Paul’s work with community radio is the stuff of legends and one of my pleasures is that he gave me a cassette copy of one of his broadcasts on one of our irregular contacts. It was not that I unaware of this work, my life was too self absorbed for me to remember to tune into one of the many programs he made of my own volition. The other thing is these programs would never have been so successful without Elaine’s support.

And here is another Mason influence. The twins, Pauline and Paul, were both a wonderful uncle and aunt to me. However their influence on me would have diminished in childhood without the joint influence their spouses. Together they had a lasting effect on me as I grew as a person. I will ever be grateful to each of them individually.

To leave the story there is to leave out the influence of something intangible each spouse contributed to my life as a whole. The fact they, the twins, married people who built them as people is something I have happily learned to imitate by their example.

In life I have also learned much about the impermanence of the moment. I have learned that people continue to live on – influencing us long after their living days. It is in this moment I realise the broken threads of life are recreated as living memory in us who continue to live. It is sad illness has ended Paul’s life but I am grateful on this occasion to record Paul will forever be loved by me.

Written when afloat on the Arabian Sea miles from land.

Fang this(

Homes end up with all sorts of mementos. They are usually relics of a past trip or given out as a mark of a significant event. It was commonplace for the government to produce medallions and we had several of those. We also had dog eared postcards sent to us from places someone once visited. After a single Brass Razoo the strangest thing we had was much weirder than that.

In the back of the oddments draw where these things finished up we had a miniature plate with two or three baby teeth on it. We were told this was once worn by dad. All these years later I have no idea what became of them. I also have no idea why someone thought my father needed such a thing even as a baby.

I just accepted he had worn them because rotten teeth were very common in children years ago. Many children half rotten teeth even when they started school. A grin of black teeth filled with holes meant lots of kids kept their mouths closed for school photos. It is hard to imagine the pain some of these children lived with even before they grew their permanent teeth.

Permanent teeth. Permanent at that time was not what one might accept today. In the first instance just as the kids were beginning to understand the loss of that wobbly tooth would mean a visit from the tooth fairy, they were just as likely to chip a tooth at sport. Many kids banged their teeth on the school monkey bars. It was only some months later when the tooth started to turn black the parents realised they had killed the nerve in it.

In my case I had appointments with Dr Sinclair. (To protect his reputation perhaps it was the man before he arrived) He removed several of my permanent teeth because my mouth was too crowded. Having a tooth removed was painful but after a day or so I forgot about that and the only reminder was to put my tongue into the gap where a tooth once stood. The day I hated was the day he checked my mouth and dictated to his assistant the teeth in need of repair because he easily found holes. On those days (too many of them) he decided he would fill one or two of them that first appointment. The remaining holes were considered too big and he would fill them over the coming weeks.

After sitting in the surgical (smelling) waiting room it was awful to be escorted into the surgery. In there he had an enormous enamel couch. He could lie you down on it and then pull the search light toward you until it burned your face. Then he would pedal the treadle that wound the thin leather strap around the room, that turned the drill he held in his hand. The leather went around and around. If you weren’t careful it could mesmerise you as you looked for the metal join that linked the leather into a band.

As the hand piece buzzed he manipulated the pointy end into your mouth and it ground out the edges of the holes in the tooth. Bits flew off and landed on your tongue. The buzzing hand-piece made my head vibrate. After some hours of this ( perhaps I exaggerate) he would sit the chair up and say you can take a sip on this green water and flush out your mouth. He would resume his work and when the hole was big enough to need barrows full of amalgam he would cement it all into place. Pounds of cost later our parents would send another child to him for dental attention.

Kids whose parents were not as giving in childhood, or adolescence, would save up and before their daughter (I only remember this happening to girls) married they would pay for a set of false teeth as a twenty-first birthday gift. Many girls who had not smiled for years had wonderful wide smiles when they reached maturity. (It was only when their gums shrunk and their teeth wobbled it was obvious their smile was false.)

Fortunately dental practice improved. Drills became water jets. Holes were also less common. At least they were in our children. The Colac Shire started a program offering free fluoride pills for children, as science showed fluoride use reduced the incidence of tooth decay. If children took a pill each day for a year the likelihood of caries was reduced, so they advertised. As both of us had had childhood experiences best forgotten we decided our children would benefit if we gave them 365 pills. The youngest was too young to have them when we lived there. By the time he needed them it was added to the local water supply in Ballarat. Sometimes he drank the water supply but for an equal period we lived on rain water. His teeth were the only teeth to develop a hole. (Only one filling was required before he reached maturity.)

The benefits of fluoride are argued every time a local water supply is treated with it. Many people argue, my cattle don’t need it. Some say, my vegetables don’t have teeth. Or something else. The argument is always fierce. It seems only a little is needed for dental care and some even argue just using fluoride toothpaste will do the job. On a one family example it seemed to us one experiment worth taking. Dental health requires people regularly clean their teeth. As In loco parentis I have had to oversee lots of children take time each day to brush their teeth. Many kids unused to the discipline thought the practice strange but their teeth differed from their neighbours.

What doesn’t differ enough is the choice of toothpaste brands. In supermarkets and in dental practices one major brand collects nearly all sales. I have preferred a German brand for some time but I was pleased to find MacLeans, the brand the fourteen year old Oliver Newton John advertised as a teenager, is still on the supermarket shelf despite the monopoly of the other brand.

Dental health remains a major health burden in our country. A visit to a dentist is easy in major cities, if you can afford it, outside those cities only 20% of the register dentists work. In remote regional areas less than 1% of all 12,200 dental practices exist. This is a major problem there but it is a real problem everywhere. The first hurdle is the cost because not all health insurance policies cover this item. Secondly people needing assistance from government services find they are almost non existent. Years ago a government dental van made regular visits to schools. They would repair the worst damage on the spot but they also gave instructive lessons to children. This is gone and so has the health of the nation. Without good dental care people’s health suffers in other parts of the body. It may cost billions to fix but dental health is of primary importance in all people. And it is cheaper than not doing it.

As dental health has improved (was it fluoride in the water?) the work performed by dentists has become specialised. Tooth straightening is now a modern thing. It wasn’t. (If you don’t believe me check out the teeth of Queen Elisabeth. Her family had no monetary reason not to straighten her teeth. It just wasn’t once a common thing to do.) Another very new thing to do is to whiten teeth.

Straight white teeth are more noticeable than false teeth today. Not that people need a mouth full of teeth on a plate anymore they can spend a few tens of thousands of dollars and have them permanently attached to their jaw.

So common is it now at least one health insurance company will cover people who elect to have their dental work done outside Australia. Thailand seems to be the place people go for treatment in what is now a new form of tourism, the medical holiday.

These old fangs of mine are still where Dr Sinclair left them. Long in the tooth but still sound. Thanks to the early intervention of my parents, my genes, and my long term use of a tooth brush they still stand proudly, but discoloured from tea drinking.

A week or so after my post I add this reference. It tells Australians are also heading overseas for medical treatment. The warning is some of it is risky, and worse some of it is possibly unethical.

Australians heading overseas for ‘transplant tourism’ could help organ traffickers, experts say

Hurry up – and wait.

When the fishing rod was bobbing up and down in the water I knew I had caught a fish. I loved standing on the craggy point looking into the water watching the minnows feed. This day I was fishing not far from where I lost mum’s chip frier. She said, “If you take that thing make sure you bring it back, your father likes chips.” On that occasion it was a matter of losing the frier, or losing my footing and falling into the water and swimming with the minnows I had been attempting to catch. I chose to stay dry. The day I elected to get wet and swim into the wintery lake and retrieve my rod I was bored. While waiting for the fish to bite I had built quite a big fire and I knew I could dry off by it if I swam to get my rod. My new insight is, fishing was something I did while waiting for something else to do. Anglers have more patience.

The Southern Ocean has been a constant factor in my life. I have driven the western Victorian coastline over and over. Therefore this little insight could be from anywhere in all those kilometres. Instead of illustrating the bravery of the deep water seamen who put to sea each day from one of the dozen piers in their ‘Couta boats, only to over- fish Barracuda, or Southern Rock Lobsters I choose to tell the story of the amateur. The Lorne pier is the place to recall the stoicism of fishermen.

At any time, in any season, on a visit to the pier, you will find at least one lone person with the patience to fish with a rod and reel. Silently, crouched to avoid the wind, the rain, or any other element the world can throw up, the fisher waits to catch a pinkie, a salmon, or common fish swimming by. If they catch a fish and drop in in their fish bucket they simply return to throw their line in and do it again without fuss. Even if they go home without a catch they will tell you they have had a good day. Their love, is the experience of doing.

My life companion has a different attitude to routine. She gets enjoyment doing things precisely, step by step. She knits while watching television. The thousands of repetitive steps, twisting wool this way, catching the tread, and twisting it around her finger so she can reverse it on the the opposite needle, is therapeutic. To her it is not a chore.

Neither is, it seems, anything requiring repetition. Take jig saws. In order to improve her failing eye sight she willingly chooses to spend leisure time tirelessly selecting this shape and the colour to match a picture with pre-cut shapes. Strangely she finds ironing a basket of clothes no more difficult than piecing together a thousand jig saw pieces When it comes to repetitive jobs in our house one person will elect to do it without complaint.

Back in the seventies the Buninyong Shire faced a storm of new arrivals. We had chosen to live on farmlets. Our rates went up overnight. The reckoning was with so many new residents the Shire had to raise revenue quickly in order to pay for the services now demanded. They determined a range of new residents had chosen to live on their properties for lifestyle and they were not farmers. The new system meant we were moved from the affordable Farming Rate ( rated so much in the dollar per acre) to Residential (a rate based on the house value.)

Naturally this caused a lot of disquiet. With the aid of some neighbours we called a meeting of affected people. The meeting was a hostile affair but there was consensus the size of the property was not an indication of its use. Some people could illustrate they were working their land full time. Most could not. My very smart neighbours said they were planting fruit trees (walnuts to be precise). They argued their farm should not be rated as a lifestyle farm as they were farming but they had to leave their properties daily for a paying job because their trees could not be harvested for at least seven years and no one could expect them to live without an income so long.

In the end the council had a problem it could not easily solve. In my case I moved to a new position. Lead on by my internal fight, flight seemed easier than staying. Before we left we had planted lots of trees. We planted so many it is impossible to see our old house without making a detour. Our neighbours that planted out their property with fruit trees have left their family an inheritance that will keep giving for generations. That is the benefit of patience.

When it comes to patience. The most patient people in this land are it’s first peoples.

Many years before my skirmish with the council a protest started in Canberra. The Aboriginal Tent Embassy out side old Parliament House started in1972. It was a protest about land rights.. In the intervening years the fight for Aboriginal Land Rights has been constant. The right to land rights was won in the High Court with the Marbo case. That was only the beginning because every agreement has sine been a hard won negotiation and taken years longer than imagined. (unless you think it has been too easy for people who have lived continuously on that land have no right to it.)

Either way, the perseverance shown to obtain those rights illustrates, right is ultimately stronger than mere political bastardry. This is the common arsenal used in Canberra when things don’t go the way directed by the political class.

Some things are worth fighting over. Take for instance the carbon bank we call trees. A reasonably short protest has been occurring on the Western Highway. The road department is building a four lane highway joining two country towns. The only thing preventing the development pressing on are a few trees. The trees in question have resisted fire, flood, and drought for six hundred years. This is just a heartbeat in the life of the world itself but generations of mankind. And this is its significance.

Our seaside village is undergoing a rapid change. A new city is being built. The developers have bought all the land they could. Before they build they raise everything that once stood on that ground including the life giving top soil. Six months after the bull dozers leave a new suburb of chocolate boxes stand where people tilled the land.

The developers have hurried, so the people who arrive after them can slow down and rest in their new homes. To help the future heat bank effects of those homes be reduced, avenues of saplings are planted. In sixty years the shade needed will be enjoyed as a resource worth keeping. When thought of in this simple way trees ten times older are worth the inconvenience of making a detour on a country highway. Somethings are worth waiting for.

Keep your hat on

Service member 118040 was a quiet man. It troubled him when I asked,”May I take your Black Watch Glengarry to school for “show and tell?”. It was the only physical reminder he had left to remind him he had served as an adolescent with the Kings Own Scottish Borderers in WWI. Certainly, I gave an elaborate one sentence talk on the bonnet when he approved. As it happened, after that, as was the custom, I stuffed it into my school bag, on the peg, in the corridor, outside the classroom. Neither of us saw that object again. Gone! Disappeared! Stolen? Who would know? Many fine objects of memorability, once owned by this family, went the same way from that corridor. Seventy years later I still feel the loss of that piece of cloth. What he lost was more than a cap, I remain sure he was forever concerned by me.

He worried me as well. He alway wore a hat. A battered old thing covered his pale skin, his comb over hair style, and his face when he worked. On Sundays he wore a new Akubra fedora. Both hats were of grey felt. In the nineteen fifties all men wore felt hats. They were smart things but most of all they were a reminder to Br’er Rabbit, or if you prefer Flopsy, to run whenever they saw a man with a gun. Rabbits were more plentiful then than hats, however style dictated a need for hats. The slow ones in the pots, gave their skins to be made into headwear for men and women. It troubled me dad wore a hat, because I had too had to wear a school cap, and I was a boy uninterested in resembling an old man.

They were ridiculous things. The short peak barely covered your forehead and your nose and your ears got sunburnt, or in my case, they developed chilblains in the winter. I hated them. To be seen on the streets before or after school not wearing one met with admonishment from a teacher. Like the unfortunate time I guessed everyone was locked into their homes for the night, and I flipped off to the shop. Just for a second. I failed to stop at the corner. Mr Plod came around the bend behind me and flashed his blue lights seconds after I changed direction. This time I wasn’t wearing a hat, but before marching toward me he reached into his car, and put on his cap. I knew the admonishment was going to be at least as severe as it had been to be caught cap-less after school.

Today I wear a hat. I learned its value in the outback. It keeps the sun out of my eyes. It shades my blotchy brow and sun damaged ears. I also once wore the hat with pride. The Canadian Mounties crown of the hat was just as the founder of the scouts Bayern Powell asked. At another time I wore the slouch hat of the Australian Citizen Military Forces. All of them were reused, repurposed bunny skins.

Hats are symbols. I have been close to a few men who wore mitres. I have saluted men wearing the red band officer’s peaked cap on parade. I have followed the advice given to me by the hard hat wearing company fire officer. Most young Australian boys would love to be awarded a floppy Australian cricketer’s cap. To wear a mortar board is a sign of academic success. To better that and wear the Tudor style bonnet of a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is a sign of academic distinction.

Hats maketh the man. Or so the swanks, who still wear black top hats to the Melbourne Cup, would have you believe. (The day is so important Victorians are given a holiday for it.) it is a feature for women to wear elaborate head gear on that day. (Years ago hat wearing was a feature only noticed on Sunday on the heads of the church going matrons.)

For over a century the most common hat worn by Australians has been the Akubra. In the dusty outback, where the sun bakes everything, even if the hat has missing bits, or it has lost its colour and shape, men would not venture into the sun without it. “Our Bobby”, as Bob Kater the Queensland parliamentary is known, is never seen without a white one. The entertainer Molly Meldrum made it his signature to wear one on TV. As I could demonstrate the list is long. Pat Dodson, former priest – now activist indigenous MP, wears his black model – even In parliament. John Howard, former Prime Minister, preferred to wear the Pastoralist model. Was this a pretence he was from the land? Governors-General now wear the rabbit felt hat to civic functions outdoors as a sign of their common sense.

The world changed (No doubt for the worst.) when Donald Trump started wearing his peaked tractor cap, bearing the words, Make America Great Again. Some would call it a baseball cap. Whatever it is called it has no place in Australian tradition. For a start the game is barely played in this country yet cap wearers are taking over. Our PM Morrison, the man who was re-elected unexpectedly, is modelling himself as Trump.

The most ridiculous part of his schtick is to wear that cap and imagine it lifts his status as a man of the people. Next, will it bear our version of the Trump message? I’m not holding my breath. The treasurer looked even less convincing on last night’s News emulating his boss. Leading Airman 118040 would not recognise our current PM. Even if he was wearing the jaunty Glengarry type WWII RAAF cap it would not help. Why? To get the answer you have to find someone, who after two world wars, is prepared to send young men to die for ideology before the ideals of peace.

It is confusingi

As I age I become more aware merde happens all the time to innocent people. It happens to good people of any age. Horrible as it seems, anything can happen to anyone, and it seems it usually hits those who were about to say their life is good.

Long ago I realised my health has been a gift. I do have a little story though. In my case, I was four when I ran in through the front door of the house and by the time I reached the hallway door it slammed shut and I ran into the door knob fracturing my skull. (Not that anyone has ever confirmed officially my skull was broken but it is the way I describe the indentation on the right side of my head.) Apart from a visit to the vet surgery across the road, and the clever advice my mother accepted that it would be better if I was treated at the hospital, it has been of no bother to me accept it is a bother to my hairdressers. That was until I turned fifty three and I commenced drug treatment for a stroke.

Some thirteen years later I had a month or so of TIA s. These temporary blood blocks would starve my brain for a second or two, and I would lose track of what I was doing. I cannot describe now the occasional trouble it caused me except for these examples. The first time I became aware I had no idea of what I was doing I was in Stabby’s butchery.

Before I left home I had grabbed a handful of coins as I had no notes in my wallet. My meat purchases came to say, $8. I reached into my pocket and started to count the coins. I got worried because I only had half as much as I needed in my hand, but I handed to to Gordon and told him I would return later with the remainder. Instead of agreeing he started to hand me back some of the cash, saying I was overpaying him. I was further confused. I took the cash and the meat and realised I was counting $2 coins as 20 cents. On the second occasion I was trying to learn the script of a play I was scheduled to appear in. Try as I might I couldn’t remember more than one line. With the aid of the playwright I was allowed to read my lines and it didn’t affect the play.

With luck by my side these events happened long ago without lasting effects. In the last case I found the remedy after another brain scan, and a change of medication.

Brains hadn’t figured at all in my life again until I learned a couple of my friends are headed the way of the Hungarian, the politician’s wife, and the bishops. All these people have died with Alzheimers condition.

In the case of “Celery” (my wife’s nickname for Cecilia) it has been a total shock. This woman has been a wonderful caring teacher, she remains, the devoted wife of a friend even though she is now in a nursing home. Sadly she can no longer respond to the frivolous nickname as she did years ago.

In the case of the biker, the disease has not yet progressed as far. A recent meeting with him reminded me of the confused lesson the Hungarian gave me on cheese making. It was purposeful but inconclusive, and didn’t result in cheese. A little while later he was in care and unable to recognise me. The biker is now fighting the disease walking everywhere.

The journey these families are on is too familiar to me. The results of the illness is not at all like forgetting your PIN number, or what you have to do later. Neither is it forgetting to put money in the parking meter. In time it will progress until the very purpose of the meter is forgotten. A comparison in this digital ages is to compare it to the slow destruction of your computer’s hard drive.

My thoughts are with my friends. This is my chance to thank them for the richness they have added to my life.