Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all from Michael (words) and Julie (pictures)

Friday, December 23, 2011

What did you do today?


The other day, I was complaining how busy I was to somebody and they said “So what do you do all day now that you’re retired?”

Let’s take yesterday, which happens to be a Thursday. I had been late getting to sleep the night before, but I had to be up on time to wake my sister Julie and feed the poultry in the backyard. We needed to be at the Croquet Club on time for the Thursday morning golf croquet game.

The game went off well, but we spent so much time gossiping and exchanging Christmas greetings that we didn’t have time for a second game before we had to leave for a lunch date.

Julie’s old school friend (and fourth cousin) Madeleine was in town and had a small window for lunch while her mother was at the hairdresser. We met at the Green Store cafe in New Town and caught up over a meal. She needed a few extra Christmas lights, so we suggested dropping in to Chickenfeed in Moonah.

That didn’t help much, since we discovered the Chickenfeed store had been closed for flood-related reasons since the torrential downpour on Monday. Fortunately the very similar Reject Shop is just across the road.

After Madeleine had hurried off with her purchases, Julie remembered she wanted to drop off a Christmas card at the Croatian restaurant down the street. We wandered in there to find them busily cleaning up and putting everything away, ready to leave for their Christmas holiday. “Come in, come in!” they said cheerily and we ended up sitting in the darkened restaurant with a glass of champagne while we discussed their holiday plans.

We left with a large plate of cakes that they’d cleared out of the display at closing time. “That will do us for dinner,” I observed, hefting the weight of the platter.

The next detour was in to the St Vincent de Paul shop, so Julie could go through the $1 bargain rack and look around for any knickknacks suitable for last minute Christmas presents.

From there we drove to the feed store to pick up some wheat, and then on to Julie’s property to feed her animals. After I had walked the dog, I sat down for a few minutes to wait for Julie and felt very tired. The five hours sleep I had last night seemed to have been not quite enough to recharge my batteries.

We drove back to my house and I checked my e-mails and Facebook page while we had a cup of coffee. I stuck with the decaffeinated sort, since I was planning to take a nap for a while.

Two hours later I got up feeling a little better. I woke Julie, who had followed my example, and put the kettle on again. There was nothing on television we wanted to see, so I pottered about gathering up the week’s garbage, burning some audio files onto CD, and throwing together a makeshift supper. By then, it was time to switch on to listen to the Nightlife programme on ABC radio.

We listened to the late-night quiz segment, then went outside to feed the poultry in my backyard. After that we got back in the car and drove to Julie’s place to repeat the performance with her animals.

I walked the dog again, then shared an apple with her. The ginger cat wandered in and curled up on his blanket. I raised an eyebrow and said “What have you been doing today?” but there was no answer.

After Julie finished feeding the horse and checking on the new batch of ducklings, we went back to my house. I made a cup of tea, then set the computer to record this week’s episode of Those Were The Days for me overnight.

I looked at my watch and found it was very late again. What had I been doing all day? Blessed if I know.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Goodbye Insulin, Hello Bytetta

OK, I haven’t been contributing much the last couple of months. This is partly due to the travails of the Australian winter, and partly due to some health problems.

Like a lot of people nowadays, I have type-2 diabetes. For a couple of years I’ve been taking insulin with moderate results. So I was surprised when my doctor told me that he was going to take me off the insulin and put me on something new, something called Byetta.

I was a bit surprised, since I was under the impression that once you went on to insulin you were on it for good. But I was willing to try something different. He gave me a prescription and I left it at the pharmacy to be filled.

While I waited for the Byetta to arrive, I did what you would have done - googled the name to find out what it was and how it worked.

My sister was sitting across from me and looked up when I gurgled. “What’s wrong?” she asked me.

Yes,folks, Byetta is in fact lizard spit! To be fair, it is a synthetic hormone, one that mimics a substance found in the saliva of the Gila Monster.

I had grown up reading Spiderman comics, so I knew what happens to people who inject themselves with lizard essence. I imagined looking at myself in the mirror every morning, waiting for the first scales to appear.

Despite my initial misgivings I started on the new drug and injected myself morning and night for a couple of months. My doctor was pleased with the results -- not only were my blood sugar levels as good or better than on insulin, but I lost nine pounds.

Before you all rush out looking for Byetta in your local drug store, I should say it isn’t available as a diet aid, and it has some unpleasant side-effects. Chief among these is nausea, though this eased off as the weeks went by.

The reason it is associated with weight loss is that at first it kills your appetite stone dead. Because of the effect it has on your digestive system, I always felt as though I’d just eaten. I had no interest in seeking food; if it was put on a plate in front of me at the table I’d eat it. I lost interest in tea and coffee almost completely.

The only things that I actually wanted to consume were water and fruit. I felt as though I was on one of those silly fad diets.

A couple of months have gone by, and things have changed only a little. I’m still eating less (and enjoying it less -- no “comfort eating” for me). I can tolerate a bit of coffee, though I drink almost no tea. In accordance with Murphy’s Laws, it was only a few months ago that I stocked up on my favorite brands of tea, meaning that I probably now have a life-time supply of tea-bags.

I do have a little appetite in the middle of the day, after the morning shot has started to wear off and before I take the evening shot. My between-meals snacking is a thing of the past though.

It will be interesting to see what the long-term results of the change in medication will be. If the weight loss continues, I may be able to get out those trousers that I banished to the back of the wardrobe a few years ago!

We shall see.


November is a novel month

November is always a trying time of year, because it’s National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo). People all over the world set themselves to producing 50,000 words of fiction, starting on November 1st and going through to midnight on the last day of the month. It can be done, but it isn’t easy.

This was the seventh year I’ve taken part, and each year it seems to get a little harder. Last year was especially difficult and I felt a lot of dissatisfaction after cranking out a potboiler titled “The Purple Page.”

This year I was hoping to produce something better. I had spent a lot of time during the year musing on the plot and I felt I had a reasonable plot skeleton worked out.

The title was “The Moonlight Visitors” and would concern a man who discovered that his house guests were actually from a parallel world - that explains the
Tasmanian Tiger he saw in the back garden.

Things would have worked out all right if I’d been able to write every day -- about 1700 words a day is recommended. But things distracted me, and I had three or four days when I didn’t write at all. I was short of sleep, averaging about five and a half hours a night. There are some things that you can still do on four hours sleep, but writing fiction is not one of them.

The end result was that I had half the novel written by the time we were two-thirds of the way through the month. My maths isn’t great, but I knew I was in trouble.

I re-organized my schedule for the last ten days of the month to allow me more time to write. Especially the last three or four days. Who was the author who said the secret of writing was applying the backside to the chair and the fingers to the keys?

A pleasant surprise, I managed to finish at 4:15 pm on the last day of the month. Story completed, and almost eight hours to spare. “Wow!” I thought.

Next year I’ll be better prepared.... But then I say that every year.  

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Goodbye to good books

In the city this afternoon, we took a walk through a shop that had been there all our lives. Seeing it closing down was like losing an old friend.

OBM (Oldham, Beddome and Meredith) began business in 1922 selling books to the people of Hobart. As a schoolboy, I used to go through there whenever I passed the corner of Collins and Elizabeth Street. The shop was shaped like an L, so you could walk in through the Collins Street entrance (the bookshop) and walk out into Elizabeth Street (where they sold newspapers).

In the centre of the shop was the OBM Circulating Library. They had yards and yards of books that you could borrow for a week for sixpence or ninepence. I think I worked my way through their entire Crime and Science-Fiction sections over the years.

By the end of the twentieth century, the shop had been taken over by the old-established [founded 1884] chain Angus & Robertson. It seemed odd at first when they changed the name of the shop, but it was still referred to in our family as “the OBM arcade.”

Alas, like many bookstores the chain fell in to the hands of conglomerates whose business was business, not selling books. I guess the trend to on-line sale of books didn’t help either. Whatever the cause, the Angus & Robertson chain went under, something that would have seemed inconceivable a few years ago, and the Hobart store was dragged down with the rest.

Walking in from the Collins Street side, it seemed as though there was a sale going on, with prices slashed on everything. But walking on a bit further, the real situation became obvious -- acres of empty shelves, stripped of every volume.

The Elizabeth Street side was almost empty, with a few rows of greetings cards at 75% off and a pathetic little table of stationery items. Gone was the array of magazines from all over the world, the dozens of different calendars, the complex window displays.

A skeleton staff forlornly sold what they could. Asked how long they’d be there, they replied “Wednesday is our last day.”

Who would believe that it could end like this?

Goodbye Oldham.

Farewell Beddome.

So long Meredith.

We shall not see your like again.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

They want your brain....

Yesterday I was off to an early start so I could be at the Menzies Research Centre by 9:15. I was taking part in a study called CDOT (Cognition in Diabetic Older Tasmanians) which involved some physical measurements, blood tests and sessions in which I had to remember shapes and numbers.

The mental testing was more taxing than any of the physical things. I went through this three years ago, so I knew what was coming but that didn’t make it any easier.

Trying to remember a group of unrelated words was difficult enough, but I blew one question entirely I suspect -- “Tell me all the words you can think of that start with the letter A.” My mind went completely blank. “All right, there’s... well, there’s... umm...” I did manage to think up a few but I felt a bit foolish.

The one I dreaded was the numbers section. They tell you some numbers and you have to repeat them back. But then they ask you to repeat the numbers backwards ! Yikes!

In comparison, the MRI scan was quite restful. They now give you headphones and play music to you. This is an attempt to disguise the noises that sound like the USS Enterprise is being attacked by Klingons nearby.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

on the road until...

The message this month, boys and girls, is “Never leave home without fastening your seat belt.” Let me tell you why.

They say that a lot of car accidents happen within a few blocks of home, and it seems that this is true. One Thursday afternoon last month I drove out of my street and turned left down the main road in my Toyota Corolla. I had travelled only half a block when I heard my sister (sitting in the passenger seat) give a gasp of horror.

I started to turn to see what she was looking at, but at that moment there was an almighty impact. A green Mazda, trying to get across the traffic and turn into the other lane, had driven straight into the left side of my car. 

I don’t remember if I tried to brake or not, I was just conscious that my car was spinning to the left and there was a loud grinding noise.

It’s not like they show you in the movies. Time didn’t draw out into a slow-motion scene or anything like that. It was all over in the space of five or ten seconds. What was most startling was the sudden cessation of motion and sound. My sister and I just sat there not moving for a few seconds, stunned by the unexpectedness of what had just happened.

What had happened was that the green Mazda had collided with my passenger side door and scraped along the left side. My car spun sideways, bouncing off the bull bar of the Tarago van beside me; this impact forced me forwards into the rear right hand corner of the blue car in front of the Tarago. The Mazda must have been trying to turn right because my car spun sideways and ended up facing left in the middle of the road.

There was minor damage to the blue car’s rear but apparently no damage to the Tarago. The Mazda’s front bumper bar was detached and hanging down. My car suffered an impact to the passenger door and that side, and to the back wheel on that side. The bonnet was crumpled up concertina-fashion in front of the windscreen.

After a few seconds, my sister and I emerged from the car and looked about blankly. Strangely neither of us seemed to think about whether we were injured (I had a scratch on my right elbow, but incredibly that seemed to be the only physical sign of the crash). I suspect we were both in shock, because we were also oblivious to the fact that we were standing in the middle of a main road at rush hour, with cars trying to get past the accident scene. We just stood there, staring at the damage, joined by the drivers of the other vehicles.

The police turned up -- well, one of them did -- and a tow-truck to take my car away. It was obvious that it wasn’t going anywhere under its own power, since the left rear wheel looked as though it would fall off if you tried to move the car.

I felt sorry for the driver of the Mazda. He was a young African guy, and he looked as glum and unhappy as you would be in his place. I went over and spoke to him a couple of times, but the body language of the others standing around obviously spelled out who they thought was responsible.

The driver of the Tarago van was amazed that I had stopped against his bull-bar but without actually crashing into his vehicle. He had watched me spin into his path and was sure that we were going to collide. In fact it was only later that we absorbed the unbelievable truth that nobody had been injured at all in any of the automobiles involved. That was our miracle for the week, maybe for the year.

As they towed our car away, my sister and I were still wandering about vaguely wondering what to do next. Fortunately a friend named Leon had been driving past and had spotted us standing next to our wrecked car. He turned around at the first opportunity and came back to offer us a lift home.

Leon helped us gather up the stuff we’d removed from the car and drove us to our destination (Julie’s house to feed her animals), returning to take us back to my house. He stressed that we needed to take it easy and suggested we might want to get checked out by a doctor the next day.

It all seemed unbelievable as we sat in our familiar armchairs that evening. Had it all really happened just hours earlier? Was my garage really empty? Perhaps this was all some sort of dream and I’d wake up to find it hadn’t really happened.

The next day was taken up with the usual business. I contacted the insurance company. We notified friends that we wouldn’t be able to join them for dinner, since our movements were now restricted to places within walking distance.

It all worked out all right in the end. The insurance company wrote off the Corolla and I used the money to buy a Hyundai Lantra. Neither my sister nor I seemed to suffer any aches or pains from the impact. If there were any legal problems resulting from the accident they obviously didn’t involve me.

Only gradually did I try and process what happened. The possibility that one or both of us might have been killed was almost impossible to take in. It’s a cliche, but I didn’t seem to be able to comprehend my own mortality.

A few days later, the man at the supermarket check-out asked us if that had been our car he’d seen. When we said it was, he asked if we’d suffered any after-effects from the accident. “Surprisingly, no” I had to say. And it was true. I had expected to have some trouble sleeping that night, but I had dozed off after a few minutes. No dreams or troubled sleep.

Maybe I was made of sterner stuff than I had realised.

Or perhaps the ability of the human mind to avoid unpleasant subjects is even more powerful than I had imagined.


The King’s Speech won a load of Oscars last night. I saw it a couple of months ago and thought it was a fine film.

What struck me about it was that it was basically a movie about the power of radio. In an earlier generation, the speech impediment suffered by the new King would have been a difficulty for addressing visitors to the palace. Probably people attending a royal garden party would have been embarrassed by his problem, but the awkwardness would have been confined to a small number of people.

But speaking to the entire British Empire over the air made it even more important to find a way of dealing with his stutter. As war loomed, the ability of the King to speak to his nation became virtually part of the arsenal of freedom. This sounds like a job for Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue [Geoffrey Rush].    Great stuff.