Friday, May 18, 2012
I apologise to all readers and followers for my lack of attention to this blog for the past few weeks.
I’m involved in a new project that is taking up much of my thinking time and all my creative energy. I hope it will be completed by the end of July so that I will be able to return to blogging by early August.
Thank you all for following this blog. I hope you will understand why I’ve had to suspend it for a time.
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Somebody once quipped that at Massey Ferguson they don’t talk about the Grim Reaper—they call him the International Harvester. But whether we call him Reaper or Harvester or use any other of his myriad names, he’s not a character we want to meet any time soon. In an episode of Midsomer Murders the inimitable DCI Barnaby and his trusty sidekick Gavin Troy had just visited an aged-care nursing home and Troy came away horrified. “Who’d want to be ninety?” he asked. “Anybody who’s eighty-nine,” said Barnaby.
Yet, once in a while we get a wake-up call and realise that Mr Reaper is looking at us ... and he’s smiling.
I had one in 2010.
My PSA levels had taken an alarming leap when I had my scheduled check-up in April and the doctor wanted to do a biopsy of my prostate. It was done under anaesthetic and was over even before I realised that I’d been asleep. Then there was a delay of a few weeks before the result was known.
During that time one of my sons rang to ask if I had the result of my autopsy. He probably meant biopsy, but perhaps he was just getting a bit ahead of himself—he may have been planning how to spend his inheritance.
When the results came through I learned that there was a small but fairly aggressive cancer and was referred to an oncologist.
I was lucky. Of the alternatives available—surgery, chemo, or radiation therapy—it was thought that RT would do the trick and I was sent to Westmead Hospital for the treatment.
Despite the comment of one of my older friends that it was a waste of time (he said that at my age I’d probably die of something else before the cancer could kill me) I found the experience mostly pleasant.
The waiting room was the best I’ve seen in recent years: it’s comfortable and bright, with fruit juice and a beverage bay freely available. The medical and ancillary staff are friendly and almost unbelievably cheerful. Everybody gets treated well and, as a result, the patients are equally friendly and supportive of each other. I asked one radiologist about it and her simple reply was, “We love what we do.”
On my first visit I was measured and tattooed. I’m sorry to say that the tattoos aren’t grinning skulls or pretty girls—they’re just four tiny spots that allow the beam to be precisely aligned during treatment.
A couple of weeks later the treatment began—thirty-seven sessions spread over about eight weeks.
I was placed on an adjustable couch under a linear accelerator, the area to be treated was exposed, and I was carefully manoeuvred so that I lined up exactly with the beam. Then everybody left and the equipment was operated from a personal computer in the next room. In my case the treatment consists of six bursts of about five seconds each, and then it’s all over—a total of five minutes on the table. It's a bit like being defrosted in a microwave!
There can be side effects and those are different for different people. In my case, the prostate became further enlarged under the radiation and, given its location, it caused problems for functions with which we would prefer to have no problems. Fortunately the medical staff are always on hand to assist and, apart from a scheduled weekly appointment during which a doctor makes sure that you’re OK, you can ask for help at any time.
There are four units at Westmead and each one treats about forty patients a day. That’s a whole lot of people getting a great deal of help—and, in spite of that, the cheerful words and friendly smiles never seem to fade.
There’s one mystery I was unable to resolve. I never met my oncologist. Every time we had an appointment he was somewhere else and I was interviewed by one of his associates. I’ve come to the conclusion that, like God, we hope he’s out there somewhere keeping an eye on things, but we have to take him on trust.
The patients are really special.
Some of us were fortunate to have a cancer that could be treated easily and with a high probability of success. Others were much worse off and I met people who knew that their treatment wasn’t working. Their courage was humbling. The children were the hardest to cope with. During my treatment period there were a three year-old girl and two boys (six and seven) receiving treatment. Death is a lot easier to face when you’ve had a good life—those kids and their parents should never have to think about it.
There's a reason for sharing this experience with you.
Cancer is frightening and when we meet it unexpectedly it's natural to have all kinds of negative reactions. Sometimes not much can be done, but more often it can be treated. I’m well into my seventies and for years I put off getting my prostate checked and ignored the possibility that I might be affected. Fortunately my cancer was found in time.
Why don’t you think about getting yours checked so that you’ll be in time too?
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
|David Evans & Bill Bloxham|
Today is Anzac Day. It is the anniversary of April 25, 1915 when the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, as part of the British Expeditionary Force, landed at Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey. Anzac Day, like Veterans’ Day in the US, commemorates the sacrifices Australians made in war but, as a military campaign, Gallipoli was a disaster.
In 1915, Australia was still in its cradle. The loose collection of English colonies that had been growing since 1788 had been granted Federation in 1901 when they joined to become a single nation. There was a widespread belief that England, “the Old Country,” was in some way superior to Australia—indeed, that belief was still rampant when I went to school during the 1940s, and the English version of history was taught as though it were holy writ.
It is probable that Australia’s involvement in the Gallipoli landing completed the birth of the new nation and, although sealed in blood, it saw the beginning of national pride and our unique identity.
The Gallipoli invasion failed for many reasons, the most obvious of which was that the English officers directing the attack landed at the wrong beach. The invading force had to contend, not only with the Turkish defences, but with a hostile terrain that made any advances extremely difficult. The troops stayed and fought from April 25 until December 20. During that time the Australian casualties were 27,000 including 8,706 killed; New Zealand casualties were 7,250 including 2,721 killed.
|Dad's unit in France.|
My father was an Anzac but, fortunately from my point of view, enlisted too late to go to Gallipoli. He was Private David William Evans, 4593, 5th A.L.T. Mortar Battery.
He embarked on the troop ship Nestor on April 9, 1916—just four days after his 32nd birthday. He never spoke about the war but he was a mortar gunner who fought at Ypres and Passchendaele, among many other places. He was wounded by shrapnel and blinded in one eye by mustard gas. He also had another injury that couldn’t happen in modern warfare. In June 1917 he was kicked by a horse and injured so badly that he was hospitalised for nine days.
Dad had a close friend during the war—an accountant named Bill Bloxham. They shipped out together on the Nestor and stayed close friends until October 7, 1917. Bill went missing in action that day and was never heard from again. Dad kept a photograph of the two of them, on leave in “Blighty”, beside his bed for the rest of his life. He died on November 25, 1955.
There is an interesting side-note to the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign. It was so badly led that there was a cover-up to prevent word getting back to England. It was a young Australian journalist who got the story back to the Australian prime minister who in turn passed it on to England’s PM, David Lloyd George. That led to the dismissal in disgrace of the British commander, Sir Ian Hamilton, who was never again trusted with a senior military command. And why is that interesting? Because the Australian war correspondent who blew the whistle was Keith Murdoch, the father of media baron Rupert Murdoch—about whom you will form your own opinion.
|HMAT Nestor photographed later in 1916.|
Sunday, April 22, 2012
An English tourist once told me that when she saw a parrot flying across the street she said to her husband, “Look, somebody’s pet has escaped.” Then she saw another, then another, and realised that the land on the flip side of the planet is their natural habitat.
Our birds come in all shapes and sizes, from finches to emus, and just after dawn this morning I heard of chorus of shrieks and squawks. I looked up and was surprised to see that the sky was full of white, sulphur-crested cockatoos. They’re not an uncommon site and we often have flocks of them in the neighbourhood but never as many as this. I tried to count them in sections and estimate that there were well over a hundred of them. I don’t know where they were going but it was obviously somewhere they all agreed on.
We didn’t always have them in our part of the mountains. Australia is a land of droughts and, about thirty years ago, we had a particularly harsh one. A lot of different species found their way across the mountains and settled on the eastern slopes, sometimes pushing out those that had normally lived here. Once upon a time when Daizy and I were digging the garden we could be sure of two or three kookaburras sitting on the fence, or in the eucalypts, waiting for us to turn over some grubs. We still get them occasionally but they’re no longer an everyday occurrence and their laughter is always welcome.
Kookaburras are persistent but may not be the brightest of birds. I remember a time one of them swooped on a plastic snake belonging to one of our kids and took it up into a tree. It bashed the thing’s head against a branch, trying to kill it, before dropping it to the ground a couple of times. Eventually it flew off with the “snake” firmly gripped in its beak. I can only hope it didn’t try to eat the thing.
When the cockatoos arrived they were accompanied by lots of pink and grey galahs which had been a rarity until then. My home is just to the west of a hilltop and, as the sun rises, the tree-tops catch the sunbeams while the street level remains in shadow. When the galahs play in that high band of sunlight while everything below is still shaded they are beautiful to watch. Indeed, so many of our birds are so colourful that they are like a living rainbow.
The photograph with this post shows me feeding some rainbow lorikeets. They’re wild birds but can be taught to eat from your hand. In fact the only birds I’ve ever had problems with were magpies, and then only in nesting season.
One of my friends ended up in hospital when a magpie attacked when he was cycling under its nest. It wasn’t the bird that put him there, though—he did that for himself. He fell off the bike and broke his leg while he was trying to hit it with his pump.
Friday, April 6, 2012
National Service, as it was practised in Australia from 1951 to 1959, was a waste of time. Introduced as a political knee-jerk reaction to the Cold War, Korea, and the spread of Communism in Asia, the format chosen was almost completely useless.
Conscripts to the Navy or Air Force served six months. The majority were conscripted into the Army and we did fourteen weeks’ basic training following by two years in the Army Reserve (at that time named the Citizen Military Force). It consisted of one night a week, one weekend a month, and one fortnight camp each year.
It was supposed that, in the event of war, such training would save two weeks in preparation time. With hindsight I have nothing but respect for the regular army instructors who were given the job of training such a recalcitrant group as we proved to be.
After the usual induction-cum-pep talk given by a CSM who hat cut his military teeth fighting the Japanese in New Guinea, we were quickly shown that things were different in the army. We did the sort of thing you would expect—mostly marching, drilling, and various camp duties— for a few days until, on a rainy afternoon, our platoon was marched to the back of the Orderly Room. There we found a large pile of sandstone rocks, all of a size that a man could just lift and carry. We were ordered to move them to the bottom of the platoon area, behind the fifth hut.
There was some grumbling, of course, but after a couple of hours the job was done—and we were all pleased that it wouldn’t have to be done again.
The next time there was no specific training scheduled we moved them back behind the Orderly Room—this time carrying them up hill. A day or so later we had our typhoid injections and moved them down again to work the poison out of our systems.
We were soon to learn that those rocks had multiple uses.
Their prime purpose was to fill in our time if we weren’t gainfully employed.
They could be used as punishment if we didn’t satisfy a drill instructor.
And they were a veritable cornucopia of volunteers. How so? We soon became used to choices like, “Volunteers to attend Church Parade form up on the right; volunteers to carry rocks on the left.” or
“Volunteers to donate blood to the right…” but you get the idea.
I did my basic training in 1956 and many of the people and much of what we did remains as sharp in my memory as if it had been last year—but nothing is more clearly remembered than that pile of bloody rocks.
Monday, April 2, 2012
When Daizy and I picked up our dog from a boarding kennel recently I noticed a car that carried the number plate OMG-666. The owner was obviously playing it safe, dedicating his car to both God and the Devil. I said as much to the owner who explained that the car belonged to a friend and that she didn't like it. She said, “My kids go to a Christian college and I had to pick them up in that car last week. It was so embarrassing.”
But there are some clever registration plates on the road and I always enjoy seeing what people have come up with. Those that just show a person’s name “WOODSY” or “SMITTY” don’t take much imagination; others are so obscure that, even with a lifetime spent solving cryptic crosswords, I can’t work them out.
Some Australian number plates are completely personalised so that you can have almost anything you want. Others are set up in the format of three letters followed by two numerals than a final, single letter. Those tend to be the cleverest.
Our local newsagent has one of those: NOO00Z—News. Not bad.
I played in a major Sydney chess tournament a few years ago and noticed a car parked outside with GAM81T—Gambit. Now that was clever.
Even so, it was not as clever as the truck I followed with the number plate KEB00M. It was owned by a demolition company.
One of my friends owned the numberplate TWENTY20 which was his little joke. He was completely blind and, apart from the time he drove in a Blindfold Derby (which he won) his wife did all the driving. He died while training to be the first blind man to climb Everest. I wrote about him elsewhere in this blog and if you want to read about this extraordinary man the story is AT THIS LINK.
But the cleverest number plate of all is one I have never seen. It was published in a Sydney newspaper and may be only an urban myth. The vehicle was a black Jeep and the number plate was BAA-BAA. And if I have to explain that, you won’t find it funny at all.
Friday, March 30, 2012
It was a long commute from my home in the Blue Mountains to my job in the Sydney CBD. Sixty kilometres, necessitating a change of trains, took well over an hour—and that was if the trains ran on time.
The trains filled quickly and, by the time we reached Emu Plains at the foot of the mountains, it was always “standing room only”. By the time we reached Parramatta, a little further on, the carriages were packed and people found seating where they could.
One morning I was sitting near the stairs that led to a lower compartment and I noticed that a young woman, sitting on them, was caressing herself. She was stroking her neck, shoulders, arms, and as far as she could reach, her back. After about ten minutes I leaned over and asked what she was doing.
It’s my experience that if you approach people the right way they’ll tell you almost anything and, rather than telling me to mind my own business, she explained that she was doing exercises for her RSI. (It’s called Overuse Syndrome now, but then it was still Repetitive Strain Injury). When I asked how she had hurt herself she explained that she worked for a Public Service Department and that “six of us caught it the same week”.
Straight up! That’s what she said. It must have been a virus.