Wednesday, March 28, 2007

doctor doctor give me the news

coffee $2

The new coffee machine was a good omen I thought. I arrived at the hospital and found they'd finally replaced the machine they used to have in the old hospital.

It was pretty elaborate. If Doctor Who had a dalek barista, this is what it would have looked like.

A two-dollar cappuccino helped settled my nerves while I waited to see the endocrinologist.

What was I going to say to the doctor? I had made up and discarded a dozen excuses over the last week. It was obvious that I couldn't live up to the promises I made last time about improving my lifestyle and controlling my diabetes.

But when I got into his office I was stunned. He opened his folder and ran down the list of test results -- each was either "normal" or "improved."

"If you continue to make this sort of progress, I'll have to think about reducing your medication" he said cheerfully.

"I'm speechless" I replied. I honestly never dreamed that I'd have such a result. Even good news can be a shock when it's that unexpected.

"Pride is said to be the last vice the good man gets clear of." - Benjamin Franklin.

I was reading recently about Ben Franklin, who once embarked on a plan to achieve moral perfection, only to discover this was "a task of more difficulty than I had imagined."

He drew up a list of 13 virtues as follows:

The interesting thing is that originally he had only put twelve virtues on the list, but a candid friend pointed out that Franklin was often overbearing in debate and conversation.

Franklin added humility to his list and did his best to remove words like "undoubtedly" from his vocabulary. He avoided contradicting people even when he knew they were wrong.

As a result, he found people were more receptive to his ideas and he became known for his tact and diplomacy.

Maybe there's a lesson here for us. We've often heard that "low self-esteem" is a problem, but the opposite extreme can be just as undesirable. We all know persons who are difficult to hold a conversation with because they are sure they're right and are only too willing to explain why at length.

Whenever I can, I try not to come out and tell people that they're wrong. If I think they are I'll say "I'm surprised to hear that." If I'm certain of it, I'll say "I'm very surprised to hear that." Let those that have ears hear, as the good book says.

Perhaps we should all take a leaf from Franklin's book. Resolve to be a little less dogmatic and a little more diplomatic. It might make the world a bit more pleasant for all of us.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

hold that horse!


Unexpected midnight adventures can sometimes result from horse ownership. Just ask my sister Julie.

Monday night we'd been out to the monthly quiz night run by the Irish Association at the New Sydney Hotel. We'd finished second in line for the silver medal category, but it had been an entertaining evening as usual.

So there we were at Julie's house. I was playing with her cats while she got ready to give the livestock their late-night feed. Then over the sound of the radio, there was a loud noise from outside. "What was that?" we said and looked at each other.

We only discovered after Julie went outside that her walnut tree had unexpectedly toppled over in the lower paddock. And Shadow, her horse, was nowhere to be seen.

It took us quite a while wandering about the paddock in the dark with very small flashlights to find him standing by the fence in the upper paddock, completely silent and motionless. A bit of a change from his usual outgoing and demonstrative manner.

Apparently he had been standing down by the footbridge when the tree toppled over and he got such a shock that he spun around, slipped off the bridge and scraped his shin scrambling out of the creek. By the light of our torches we could just make out some nasty looking abrasions, but the blood seemed to be just weeping slowly as it ran down his legs.

Julie fetched the headstall and fitted it onto his head. She handed me the rope and told me to hold on to him while she fetched her First Aid supplies.

So there I am standing out in the paddock in the moonlight, hanging on to a large nervous ex-racehorse. I hoped for two things -- that Julie wouldn't be too long and that Shadow wouldn't take fright at anything.

At least everything was quiet. Standing there at the top of the paddock we looked down to the house and off in the distance the road. All the homes were dark and quiet, the neighbours unaware of our activities. At least I hoped they were -- anybody seeing our lights bobbing around aimlessly in the darkness might have been tempted to phone in a UFO report.

Julie returned and we led him over to the shed so we could see a little better. "Hold him ... if you can. Let go if you need to." said Julie warily as she picked up a bucket of water.

I watched as she threw the water over the wounds. The horse's head went up as the bucket of water hit him and he jumped sideways a step. Julie made soothing noises and he eventually decided nothing nasty was happening.

Julie looked over at me and said "That was all right. I wasn't sure about giving him to you to hang onto, but I couldn't pass on ten years of experience with horses in ten minutes."

"That's OK," I shrugged. "He wasn't too bad."

We inspected the wounds that Julie had washed down, then she sprinkled them with powdered sulphur. (This is basically the same stuff that people used to put on their wounds before antibiotics came along.) He definitely didn't like this, but we managed to get a bit on.

Over the next few days, Julie kept this up and the wounds gradually wept less blood and the swelling began to go down.

It just goes to show you -- most evenings I sit there with the cats while Julie takes care of the animals, wondering why I bother to accompany her every night. But every so often I feel that I might be needed after all.

I keep getting queries from people who want to buy my house. Not real estate agents -- these are people who wander in off the street and ask whether I've ever thought of selling the place.

One particularly persistent couple returned to add that if I needed any help in moving out they'd be happy to assist me. Well, thanks, (I guess) but I think that would be my responsibility.

It's always interesting to consider how you're seen by other people. In this case I suspect they may see me as one of those old codgers who might need a nudge to start thinking about moving from the family home.

I actually had one couple turn up who'd looked at the area on Google Earth and were impressed by the size of the backyards in my street... Sheesh!

A vague memory surfaced of someone on a television show years ago giving advice to house-hunters ... "Buy the worst house on the best street." Hmmmmm.

It's true that I haven't paid much attention to the house since my mother died. The grounds certainly have that uncared for look and the interior is even worse: literally every flat space is cluttered with bric-a-brac, while in some rooms there has been a desultory attempt to bring order out of chaos.

Perhaps this winter I shall be able to pull myself together and make some progress at last.

Monday, March 05, 2007


Arthur C. Clarke obviously still holds a fascination for me, since I got through "Jupiter Five" last night between going to bed and putting the light out. I haven't done that for a couple of years.

It's a wonderfully entertaining story, though maybe a little low-key by modern standards. A scientific expedition to the moons of Jupiter makes an amazing discovery, as illustrated on the cover of IF in 1953.

Thanks to the Centrepoint newsagent for helping me get re-acquainted with Clarke. If it hadn't been for them including Reach for Tomorrow among their bargain paperbacks, I might have taken years to getting around to re-reading him.

One of my readers was surprised to see me write a piece about Clarke without mentioning 2001. I guess that's because I'd read all Clarke's novels and short stories before that famous movie was released.

I remember getting a letter about 1969 from Gary Woodman in Melbourne (whatever happened to him?) saying "I've just seen the most extraordinary movie. You've got to see it, even if you have to fly to Melbourne."

That wasn't necessary -- I was in the audience as soon as the film was released in this state, and sat there stunned as the end credits ran up. In fact I think I sat there for a couple of minutes before I could collect myself enough to leave the cinema.

The end of February has brought with it some milder conditions. And about time too. Last week not only were we plagued with an invasion of tiny little flies that followed us everywhere, but the humid weather made life very tiresome. One night the humidity reading was still 90% at midnight, which is almost unheard of.

Roll on autumn, that "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness."

"Hiro, there are tweleve and a half million people in this city. Not one of them can bend space and time. Why do you want to be different?!"

Yes, I've been watching Heroes on television. I've only seen the first five episodes, but it certainly is an intriguing show.

The plot is complex and involved, but what struck me was the whole ambience of the story.

Let me explain. Heroes makes no bones about being in the style of super-hero comic books, frequently referring to them in its dialogue, though it isn't based on a comic book itself.

And that's what intrigues me. Over the years I've seen many comic books adapted for movies or television and seldom have they captured the essence of the original. Lots of colour and movement and people in funny costumes seems to be enough, they feel. (The makers of The Flash television show had to fight the network every inch of the way to try and make their show more like the comic book.)

But Heroes succeeds to a surprising extent in replicating the experience of reading one of those complex story arcs that used to be all the rage in Marvel Comics when I was a teenager.

Whether it manages to keep up this standard or not remains to be seen. But I for one shall certainly be watching next week.

Sheridan Morley died recently and his Sunday night slot on BBC Radio 2 has been taken over by Alan Titchmarsh to present Melodies For You. The programme remains, as ever, a pleasant mix of light classics and show tunes and has been extended to a full two hours.

But by the vagaries of scheduling, this means that there is now a news bulletin at the 135 minute hour mark before the show resumes for its final 20 minutes.

It seems to be one of the pillars of public broadcasting around the world that everything stops for the news. I remember the furore that was caused a few years ago when ABC television cut away from the final moments of a cricket test match because it was time for the evening news!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Reach for Tomorrow

Reach for Tomorrow, published back in 1956, was Arthur C. Clarke's second collection of his short stories. I read it about forty years ago but the other day I picked up a nice new copy on the sale table at the newsagents.

Like most modern paperbacks, it doesn't give you details on the date or origin of the stories, but fortunately these are easily accessible on the web:
--Rescue Party, 1946. (novelette) (Astounding, May, 1946.)
--A Walk in the Dark, 1950. (Thrilling Wonder Stories, August, 1950.)
--The Forgotten Enemy, 1949. (New Worlds, #5, 1949; Avon Science Fiction and Fantasy Reader, January, 1953.)
--Technical Error, 1950. (as The Reversed Man, in Thrilling Wonder Stories, June, 1950.)
--The Parasite, 1953. (Avon Science Fiction and Fantasy Reader, April, 1953.)
--The Fires Within, 1947. (as by E. G. O'Brien in Fantasy, August, 1947; Startling Stories, September, 1949.)
--The Awakening, 1951. (Future, January, 1952.)
--Trouble with the Natives, 1951. (as Three Men in a Flying Saucer, in Lilliput, February, 1951.)
--The Curse, 1953. (short short) (Cosmos, #1, September, 1953.)
--Time's Arrow, 1952. (Science Fantasy, #1, Summer, 1950; Worlds Beyond, 1952.)
--Jupiter Five, 1953. (novelette) (If, May, 1953.)
--The Possessed, 1952. (Dynamic Science Fiction, March, 1953.)

It's a bit strange to look at these stories again after such a long time. The one I remember best is the first story "Rescue Party", which was Clarke's first sale and still one of his best. Aliens discover Earth is doomed and come to our rescue, only to find that the human race has already made its own arrangements.

"The Forgotten Enemy" I remembered really well, but I sat down and re-read it anyway. A very low-key end-of-the-world story.

What I didn't remember was that some of Clarke's early stuff was horror stories. Tales like "The Parasite" and "Walk in the Dark" are far from typical Clarke, and some of the other stories (like "The Possessed") depend on the twist in the last line that was often found in genre magazines of the time.

However I enjoyed re-reading "The Fires Within" and I look forward to re-reading "Jupiter Five", which was written decades before space probes actually told us anything about this distant body.

I've been saying for years I'd like to go back and re-read all my early Clarke. Fortunately if I want them, I have them all still on the shelf in my library.

For some time I've been aware that replacing my collection of SF would be expensive or (in some cases) almost impossible. When I began collecting around 1965 there was simply less SF on the bookshelves and the classics of the field were reprinted regularly.

But today there is just so much in paperback that the famous names tend to be crowded out by wave after wave of new authors writing enormously thick trilogies. I saw a Murray Leinster collection in the shops last year for the first time in about 20 years.

Congratulations to Jazztrack on its 30th birthday: a vital part of the jazz landscape in Australia since it began in 1976 on ABC Classic FM.

Its first and longest serving presenter Jim McLeod brought sounds both new and old to listeners and also featured many exclusive recordings of local and international artists. Mal Stanley has continued that tradition since Jim's retirement a few years ago.

To celebrate 30 years of the country's flagship jazz radio program, ABC Classic FM presented a week long festival of jazz and jazz inspired programs, culminating with a live concert broadcast from Melbourne's legendary Bennetts Lane on Sunday 25 February.

Jazztrack aims "to cover the increasingly diverse styles of jazz from both international and Australian artists, and has been a beacon for music lovers for over 30 years." Long may it continue!

There's nothing the average Australian likes better than a good meat pie, but some of those ones you get in the supermarket freezer can be a bit mediocre.
But lately I've taken a liking to Sargents' Premium Steak brand. 23% beef, 5% mushrooms and 3% red wine. Not too bad.

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