Distinguishing Marks


Distinguishing marks were recorded on the admission forms of all enlisting soldiers in WW1. Herbert Laurence Nicholson , my future father-in-law, was seventeen when he was discharged from the Australian Army, when after 158 days of service, it was accepted he was under age for war service. His records show he had some moles on his forehead. Anyone wanting to find him could start by searching for these marks even in a crowd of 1,000 men.

Marks and scars on our face, or other regions occur, or not, on our life’s journey. We slip or fall. We cut or scratch an area on our body and our unblemished skin is marked. I have a litany of like marks myself each with its own story of how it got there.

The first I remember is a scar on my stomach. It was boldly won. I will have to take you back to when I was nine. My playground was the acres of public land dad managed as curator at the Camperdown Botanical Gardens. I spent my free time in this idyllic place whereas other children got to visit perhaps only once a year.

Most often these visits occurred before Christmas. Nearly every church group, and nearly every rural school in a fifteen mile radius booked a visit with dad so they could reserve one of picnic shelters for their annual party. When they arrived by car, truck, or utility many more people alighted from the vehicles than they were registered to carry. (Imagine the fuss today if people were transported, standing up, in the tray of a utility). They came like this in their Sunday best clothing because not every family owned a car.

Prior to their visit Dad had a busy week preparing for them. One thing he did was roughly cut the grass on a flat area they used as a running track. On this day they would have novelty events: the egg and spoon race,and the Siamese race (couples would race each other with left and right legs alternately tied together – you might know the race as a three legged race, but this was before political correctness). Another race people looked forward to was the women’s race. These women kicked off their high heels, tucked their wide skirts or dresses into their underwear and ran 50 yards as fast as they could.

The novelty was women generally did not run any where. They did not have exercise wear. Sneakers hadn’t even been invented. (Perhaps they might have played netball or tennis before they married – however few ever played sport after marriage.)

I used to look forward to the flat races. I liked watching them and became more excited the nearer the next race was for boys in my age group. I didn’t know the people, yet I fell in with them because it was a picnic and because they were generous. I would line up for a drink of their raspberry cordial and eat their Dixie ice cream. And when it came time for the race for nine year old boys I was by their sides.

The starter called go, and I ran. (Perhaps this was the fourth picnic I had muscled in on that year so I ran as fast as I could and I crossed the line first). I won. Unlike the sports events of today the line was actual. On this day it was a thin rope. I hit the line. One of the judges let go the rope, the other kept hold of it. I kept running and the rope ran across my lower stomach. It burned me as I ran and today I have a very faded scar on my skin under (my now large) belly.

That is how I got one of my distinguishing marks. I have a couple of others caused by carelessness. One on my left ankle is a reminder of a very painful scolding I received when I pulled a boiling kettle off the stove and the water ran into my shoe, pooling in the sock I had rolled around my ankle. The worst part of this came from the medical treatment I was given. Every day for weeks I had to visit a surgery and watch the nurse peel back the growing new skin and dress it. The pain has dulled but the memory has not.

I don’t intend to tell of all my careless injuries but as I write I recall it was an injury that gave me the opportunity to meet Sir Dallas Brookes the Governor of Victoria, I was a young scout. Scouts were frequently chosen to officially open the regal vehicle when it visited town, on the day he was due to arrive I could not stand because I had run across a cattle pit a few days beforehand and misstepped.

(Johnson’s lived opposite us. To keep out wandering cattle and to save the time of opening a gate, Mr Johnson had a cattle pit made at his roadway entrance. He had a deep hole made across his driveway, over this he had used some old rail lines to keep animals out of his garden. These were placed in rows across the hole 6 inches apart. People could step across, one to another, but cattle could not. If they put their foot on the rail it would slip off. Over the ages they had learned not to cross these obstacles. I had walked across it several times yet on that fateful evening I learned never to run across damp rail lines. As I ran my left leg slipped off a rail and I tumbled over leaving my leg caught in the grid. The deep wound on my left shin deserved stiches. Instead it was bound up in an old sheet torn into bandage strips to heal at my leisure).

When the Governor stepped out of his car to meet the dignitaries of the town I was sitting on a chair in pride of place. As Governor he was the titular leader of the scout movement, and given this role, he took a moment to shake my hand and exchange a word or two with me. It was an insignificant moment to him – but I was filled with pride.

Pride is my chosen word to describe another distinguishing mark we have. It is unseen and it not incautious to write it is dangerous. It is no wonder the truism, Pride comes before a fall, finds a place in our language. Take, for example the most recent example of the meaning of this, here in Australia we are all a-chatter. This week we read at least one of seven of the judges of the Australian High Court has been accused of sexual harassment. Although he denies it, the court has accepted the changes six women have accused of him and apologised. He has not.

To reach the lofty bench of the High Court, and be the last arbiter of right and wrong in the country, is to reach the dizzying heights of distinction. Yet it seems that distinction was insufficient to ground the man with the humility of decency. Fortunately the Me too movement is able to right the wrongs of any misogynistic people in our midst.

I acknowledge decency is a very thin veneer. I have my own scars certainly, yet it is with thanks I appreciate the times my family and friends have grounded me. I will ever be ashamed of those marks you cannot see. If it must be known – even to myself – I am unwilling to acknowledge my every distinguishing feature,


Let the final word on this matter be from a woman.

“The prolonged slavery of women is the darkest page in human history.”

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

American suffragist, social activist

Take a seat.


Image courtesy SMT

Living with good genes you visit your doctor only to replace the medications he has prescribed for daily use, when you have run out. You trust your GP – the pills prescribed; will reduce your cholesterol, replace the hormones your absent thyroid cannot produce, or lower your blood pressure. The proof all is well is revealed with a regular blood pressure check – 120/73 at 59 heart beats a minute. Excellent result. Even for a person a quarter of your age. It is all you need to hear before you exchange pleasantries and leave to go about your daily business.

With no comprehension of Greys Anatomy, or understanding of pharmacology, you trust the diagnosis your GP advises. Even he may not decide your the treatment for every ailment from a conversation. Most likely your GP will order blood tests to confirm the diagnosis gleaned from careful questioning. She may recommend you visit a specialist before ever a diagnosis is reached.

Not every visit is conducted with such routine rhythm – but you hear things.

Today your primary carer will reserve opinion until all channels are exhausted. This is as good – as it is bad. Specialisation can become misleading unless the specialist keeps a clear mind – the whole person needs treatment, and not just a specific disease found in part of the body.

The life of the doctor is most certainly fraught. This is especially so in this Internet age. Lots of people visit a doctor after first making inquiry of Dr Google. Your friends are often more knowing (not knowledgeable) than the doctor, and hypochondria is very common among those friends who make weekly visits with yet another complaint.

This is not to condemn them. How one feels can be misleading. Too often an acquaintance has died because they ignored symptoms other people acknowledged. One person says “I feel this,” The other says nothing. The first has a diagnosis, a treatment, a short, or a long painful – convalesce, and they are cured. The second, dies, or worse – is given a prognosis and dies shortly afterwards. The difference in their lives is sometimes a matter of how they think of the medical profession.

Currently the conversation is about pain. The press is full of the dangers of opioid and other drugs prescribed for pain. Codeine, Fentanyl, OxyContin form part of the list of products which pain sufferers are very familiar. Word has it that these drugs can be habit forming, just as morphine – first discovered in 1803, is known to be.

Tragically many lives have been lost by sufferers of long term pain. Their treatment caused them to become addicted to their treatment. In time the drug becomes more necessary to them than the pain it was prescribed to aid. It has reached a stage of alarm across the developed world.

The level of pain individuals can accommodate varies from person to person. The truth is few men would be able to live with the pain of child birth. It remains one life’s mysteries how women naturally live through confinement. But not all pain is equal.

From my own experience I have learned how easy it could be to slip into addiction. Many decades ago I visited Dr Bill Davies, (the doctor that was present at the birth of out children). On this occasion I had to wait for a long time outside his rooms. Every minute I waited the second hand of the clock scraped against its body on its journey and it screeched at the five o’clock mark. “Screech screech”.

I do not remember why I had made the appointment, just the noise the clock made every sixty seconds. perhaps I talked about to him about my jumpy legs. (My wife will tell of how I kick her nightly as I am going off to sleep. I have done this for years). Anyway, when I got to see him I said I couldn’t live with such an irritating clock. He looked quizzically at me and wrote out a prescription. This I took to the chemist, and in time I started taking Valium.

The prescription had five repeats. After about the third I mentioned I was taking diazepam, and the listener said it was addictive. Instead of taking pills I should read Dr Ainsley Meares 1968 book, Relief without drugs. I did. However I had a strong feeling of wanting something despite knowing the drowsiness I felt from was caused by the Valium. So I read it again and practiced what it said.

Fortunately I persevered with the techniques recommended by the book and I stopped taking Valium before I fell into its grip. The technique explained in the book is now recommended as Mindfulness training by professional groups. This is not news to Buddhists of course. It is just one of the practical parts of their practice.

Another aspect of the “Relief without drugs” book is the knowledge it is possible to retrain the brain to think differently. Interestingly this is now a recommended pain relief action. This has lead to whole new field of pain management. One I am convinced I must turn to with renewed energy and retrain my brain for practical reasons.

One grapples with pain. When, like now, I have remained in one position too long. One winches with the odd ache before moving freely. The relative influence of pain comes and goes. The arthritis that was causing pain in my finger knuckles a few months ago is now so bad my right hand constantly aches. The truth is I am losing the use of my right hand because of pain. To the point I try to avoid using it. Past experience has taught me not to rely on medication for things you can set aside with training. My brain is being retrained not to complain about an aching hand.

My message from all this? What happens next is up to me.


What is said today about opioids

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/medication-treatments-led-to-80-percent-lower-risk-of-fatal-overdose-for-patients-with-opioid-use-disorder-than-medication-free-treatments-301011220.html


Dr Ainsley Meares was a Melbourne psychiatrist. He learned about pain and how injured soldiers reacted to it in WW11. The photo is of a memorial to him. Co SMT

I don’t mind if you pause before you leave and read some more, or you make a comment. Thank you for reading this.

Regrets

Author supplied image

This moment is the most symbolic one I have lived. You and I share this moment to think about how our lives are better because of the past. Reflection is the reverse of how we actually see things – so learn from it. (Your hair -for instance – is parted left or right. In reality whether it goes this way, or that, depends on which side of the mirror it is seen.) Any regrets we have are experiences of the past that have shaped us. Regret must not hold us forever in its grasp, for if it does, it is to die in loss. In my eighty years I have learned real happiness is found now, not when.


This thought was prompted from a list of possible regrets I just read. How you respond is something we might both learn from. Tell me what it has done for you. Thanks for stopping by.

I have been called, The Weirdy Beary

Edmund Barton, first prime minister of Australia, stood out in the photograph taken of the founders of the federation. He was clean shaven. The other members wore beards. Today it is a matter of preference both men, and women, have a love hate relationship with beards. Naturally occurring on the faces of most men what becomes of it is largely a matter of fashion.

Your fascination with the beard is a matter of when you were born. It also depends on where you were born, and the wealth of the nation into which you started life. Born, as you were, at the beginning of WW11, most able men were enlisted, and later, conscripted into the forces to defend the country. Enlistment meant men gave up much of their independence to the service in which they served. Those enlisted in the army were clean shaven by order. Those in the airforce fielded a moustache – if they were flamboyant enough. The men of the senior service were allowed beards, however few but officers, followed that naval practice.

At that time shavers still preferred to use a cut throat razor because it could be resharpened easily with a leather strop. The safety razor invented nearly one hundred and fifty years before never really caught on until King C Gillette invented the double sided razor in the early 1900s. These blades were disposable, however after a few uses they became dull. Perhaps understandably the privations of war reduced their use during those years. As any shaver will tell you using a blunt razor will give you an unsatisfactory shave.

After the war men generally preferred the practice they had become used to in wartime and in our neck of the woods most were clean shaven. You were through your adolescence before you saw your first full beard. On that occasion the immature face it hid was nowhere near imposing as the Royal face of King George the V whose profile graced many of the coins still in circulation. The curly bristles barely covered the acne on the face below and you were not impressed.

Within a decade you recognised you shared a birth date with Alfred Deakin, (03.08) our second Prime Minister. This man wore a beard and like him you decided shaving was for the birds. You came to this decision slowly – but resolutely. The safety razor was too wasteful, you decided. For a start it was near impossible to use the same blade for a week. (Every cent spent on a razor, was one less you needed to keep your weekly spend within your limited budget, and here was a way to save.) You soon reasoned scraping hairs off your chin with a spent blade only gave you a rash. The electric razors you tried never cut as close as a blade. That meant if you were to shave with an electric razor you were doing it twice a day. This was, in your mind, just ridiculous.

At first you allowed your beard to grow while you were on holidays. You discovered a beard was irritating at first but you persevered and after a week of growth you began to relax about it. After five weeks is seemed such a shame to cut it off but you allowed the mores of your community to dictate how you should look and you cut it off. As soon as you had you were reminded, once again, how uncomfortable it is to shave.

Thirteen weeks later you regrew your facial hair. You allowed the hair on your heard to grow as well. With long hair and a long-standing beard a Russian woman you knew remarked you resembled Rasputin. (It was an undeserved comparison, by the way, as you knew no czarina then, and not even now.)

Over the years your beard has fluctuated in length. It has varied in colour as it has been exposed to the sun, and more remarkably as the snow has settled on your head, it has also descended to your face. It has also been remarked on as being much softer than was first imagined. (That bit still seems a bit off the mark because your hair is straight. It is stiff and unyielding. In fact it would make an excellent shoe brush for muddy boots.)

By the time you entered the corporate world you were unperturbed by what others thought and you were one of the very few in the world of finance, to wear bristles above the company tie. This little no no was so long ago whether it upset people or not is no longer of consequence.

Of course today what you wear and how you wear it is not something one dare mention. If perchance you should be so bold as to comment on the feature of someone before you you will be covered in the confetti of writs that follow such indiscretion, even before dust can settle. The people you meet today are influenced by the label they wear, the social media they follow and those who wear beards with self determination as as rare as Harnaam Kaur. (The media figure teaches us all how to be self accepting – good on her I say.)