My Nephew’s Tip

English: A Windsor knot.


Like most adult males, my nephew is taller than I am. Standing side by side, knotting neck ties before a formal social event, the nephew and I compared notes. Nephew slid the tie – a useless garment in our temperate clime – around his neck, the short end hanging a bit below breast level, the long end hanging between his legs. I did the same.
Nephew knotted and his knot slid into place in front of his throat with the precision of a Mercedes car door clunking true: one deft movement and there it was, perfection.
Uncle knotted and slid and there it was, a tie at half mast, marooned between navel and pubis, the ‘short’ end poking out below the ‘long,’ looking for a place to hide
I tried again – result a little better, but no Mercedes car door.
Nephew untied his knot, explained his technique and demonstrated it. I copied him and there it was, the perfect Windsor.
Now nephew is, as I wrote at the start, a lot taller than I. Our anatomies differ markedly. Yet, using a common anatomical marker, nephew’s technique works for all sizes. And, remarkably, in all seasons. Not all of my readers will enjoy an opportunity to share a dressing room with my nephew, so I pass on his advice verbatim:
“You lower the long end of the tie so it hangs precisely at the level of the end of your penis. Then you tie your knot and slide. It works every time.”
(Now, the nephew is, I repeat, longer than the uncle. But the advice works.
Winter has followed and the advice still works with the same precision.
A niece tried her cousin’s advice, making a correction for what I guess is a guess, and she found the tie tied true.
I commend the advice to you.


Questions of Etiquette – Chapter One

English: Woman getting on a tram, Brisbane, 19...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although this question is addressed to my women readers particularly, I will welcome the responses of all.

Imagine a doctor, male, say 67 years or so old, riding the tram in the Central Business District on a summer day in Melbourne. The old gent is surrounded by partially dressed women, most of them a good deal younger.

The doc’s eyes rest upon a patch of skin on the back of the shoulder of a younger female. At the centre of that patch, the doc catches sight of a pigmented area. He, the doctor, can see this. She, the spotted female cannot.

The doctor wonders about that spot. He peers more closely: is the spot pigmented uniformly? Is it black or merely brown? Are its borders regular or does it stretch its pigmented claws, crab-like, into the surrounding pink?

He cranes, then, conscious that he must appear to be exactly what he is – an older male scrutinizing an unwitting person, younger and female – he straightens. And wonders a bit and worries a bit. The skin spot is situated posteriorly, the lady’s eyes anteriorly.

This is what marriage was made for. When the Bible advises (as it does in Genesis) that a person leave the home of origin and take a spouse and become one flesh, it must be for the purpose of checking the spots on the spouse’s back. And vice-versa. The Bible does not specify any specific number of mole-kibbitzers, nor their gender. Clearly de-facto spouses (such as Adam and Eve were) are perfectly approved for mole patrol. Nowadays with marriage in flux and many settling for serial monogamy (with or without serial infidelity), the mole role loses continuity. This is regrettable. Hence the need for alertness on the part of tram-travelling mole watchers.

But what is the etiquette here?

This particular 67 year old gent has noted suspicious naevi on any number of female backs. One of those looked fairly innocent but not quite typical. The old gent advised the young woman to see a specialist who duly removed the mole, thereby saving her life. The naevus was a malignant melanoma. Continue reading

Not Immune

I remember a boy, Cain. I delivered him at four one morning. He was Jennifer’s third son. Cain was perfect. The year was 1976. We didn’t have a meningitis vaccine in 1976.


2013. A young mother sits before me. Lucy (that’s her name) leans forward in her chair, anxious, her newborn baby in a capsule at her feet. Lucy’s love for her baby ties her in knots that she can’t undo. She needs to protect her babe from all harm, from the harm of illness and from the harms of vaccines. Lucy asks me her questions, she needs me to affirm her dread – of the vaccines:

Vaccines are unsafe, aren’t they?

Vaccines are inadequately tested, aren’t they?

Aren’t they contaminated with foreign viruses?

Don’t they contain toxic additives?

Isn’t it true they weaken the immune system?

Aren’t homeopathic preparations just as effective?

Vaccines worsen asthma, don’t they?

I am unable to answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions. I am unable to meet her need. Lucy swallows unhappily. She has been seeing me since she was a young girl. I remember vaccinating her thirty years ago.  Through all sorts of troubles in her teens and in her adult relationships Lucy has come to expect comfort in my advice. But I have no comfort for her today.

Lucy tries again, appealing to me to relieve her dilemma: Infectious diseases aren’t serious anymore, are they?…Aren’t they virtually eliminated?

No, Lucy I wish they were. The truth is germs are becoming stronger, our antibiotics weaker. The germ honeymoon of your childhood and your parents’ is over. Treatments are failing, germs recovering. Only vaccination can prevent the harm that is frightening you. Only vaccines.



1977. Twelve months after his perfect arrival, Cain was feverish and crying. I could not diagnose his illness. After 48 hours he was no better, in fact he was worse. I sent him to the Children’s Hospital where they performed a lumbar puncture and diagnosed meningitis. Cain survived but was profoundly deaf ever after.


1985. Cain has a younger brother, Courtney. There are four boys now, all thriving. Cain attends a normal school where he gets by because his teacher and classmates have learned to sign. Jennifer taught them.

On the morning of May16 – it is school holidays – Jennifer packs her firstborn into the car and drives her husband Chris to where he left his car the previous night. Jennifer recalls Chris had been drinking and wasn’t fit to drive. She drops him at his car and returns home where she finds an ambulance in her street. Her brother-in-law is there and breaks the news.

That same morning in the school term holidays my wife and I take our kids to the movies. During the film my beeper goes off. I call my practice and they tell me the news.

I arrive at Jennifer’s place and knock. She comes out, throws shock-driven arms around her doctor and holds hard. Neither of us speaks. After a time, Jennifer says something I don’t understand: This will make or break our marriage.

She tells me what happened: While I was out, Christian went for a walk out the back and across the tracks. He heard the train and looked behind him. Cain was following, walking into the path of the train. Christian yelled but Cain didn’t hear. Couldn’t hear. Christian ran towards his younger brother, waving, yelling, desperate.

It was no good. The train couldn’t stop. Cain was on the tracks. Christian saw it all.


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Let Me Tell You a Story

It’s about the Melbourne Marathon.

I know, I know, there’s nothing more boring to a non-runner than the idea of someone putting one leg in front of another about 42,000 times. And, yes, I did try to your patience with a little marathon piece a few days ago. Yet this is a nice story…

Last Sunday I ran the Melbourne Marathon. The weather forecast was for a horrible day – wild winds, light rain, thunder, more wind, hail. Hail!

We lined up for the start at 0645 and the weather was overcast, still, mild. Perfect for running. The forecaster lied. An attractive young woman approached me: Hello Howard. Remember me? You used to come to my shop in the city.

I don’t really remember: Yes, of course I remember! But I’ve forgotten your name…

Jeanette. Beaming, dimples in full flight: You helped me have a baby.

What a thought.

Jeanette continues: One day at the shop you asked me if I wanted kids. If I did I should not waste time. Thirty five was better than forty, you said, and twenty five was better still. I was thirty five. I did want children, we were trying, not succeeding. You sent me to the right people. We have a child, one only. IVF failed when we wanted a second. He’s wonderful. He’s Lucca, he’s six now. I work closer to home, Closer to Lucca.

I do remember now. I remember Jeanette serving in her shop, that smile, those dimples flashing above her burgeoning tummy.

We wished each other luck for the marathon and lost each other among the thousands.

The promised rain started at 25 kilometres, the slightest fall, a runners boon, like the quality of mercy ‘that droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath’Still no wind. Blessed weather.

By 35 kilometres the quality of mercy had been eclipsed. Heavy rain, rising winds attacked slowing legs, cooling bodies. Brutal conditions for the final, always testing phase of a marathon. If self pity is the sincerest of human emotions, then I was desperately sincere at the 35 km mark.

Running a little ahead of me in St Kilda Road a young couple, both tall, slim, both wearing black, caught my attention. The young man leaned down and across and kissed the woman slowly, a tender kiss, gentle rather than passionate.

I slowed and the two disappeared ahead of me.

One kilometre later I came upon the young blackshirts again. They were walking, the man’s arm around the woman’s shoulders. As I drew alongside I saw she was weeping. Are you hurt?

A shake of her head.

Can I help you? Is it medical?

The man answered: No… Thanks for offering. She’ll be okay.

I jogged on, pondering. The marathon injures your body and your spirit. Tired, deeply deeply tired, cold, unable now to run, perhaps this girl is simply sad.

My own spirit had suffered bruising as I saw my target of four hours disappear, then my fall-back aim of 4.20. Even 4.30 was beyond my moral strength as I allowed the pacemaker lady to glide ahead. One resolution – to finish. Another – not to chase, not to torment myself.

The wind redoubled its force, the rain soaked us, we lifted slow feet in their Nikes, their Asics, their New Balances, which were once lightweight running shoes, now receptacles of water. We moved forward towards a Finish that we could not see.

An hour later? An age unmeasured, the MCG at hand, the Finish somewhere inside and a small lady just ahead of me carried her little flag that identified her as the 4.30 hours pacemaker.

Wise resolutions forgotten, I raised my knees, I swung my arms, I lifted my head, I raced. Through a tunnel, onto the MCG, following the armies in their soaked flags, I raced. Huge breaths sped my new legs. Around a bend, leaning into the curve, chasing my wild legs, I raced. And crossed the line, gasped, managed not to vomit and looked at the digits on the clock that said: four hours, thirty minutes and 18 seconds.

It was a long and shivering walk of four kilometres to my car. Enjoying the sincerest self pity, I was disturbed by a young lady on my right, who exclaimed: Dr Goldenberg! Do you remember me?

The same lie: Yes, of course.

Remember I came to you when I couldn’t get pregnant? You sent me to Dr Raphael and – look in the pusher – there’s Chloe!

Chloe, her round face pink and warm inside her rain spattered shelter, slept peacefully. I thought of my newest granddaughter, Ruby. Same age, same round face.

Yes, I do remember.

Marathon Thoughts, 13.10.13

Today I was to run the Melbourne Marathon, my 15th(?) Melbourne and my 43rd marathon altogether. Last year I injured a calf (leg, not poddy) and had to pull out at seven kilometres. I had never failed to finish before. It was a painful moral injury; the calf recovered but the moral wound did not. Today was to be my chance at redemption.

Forty three is a lot of marathons. Enough to learn quite a lot. I’ll list what I know for you. You never know when you might used them.

Running a marathon is hard. There are 42.195 kilometres to complete, equating to about forty two thousand steps. My car gets tired after 42.195 kilometres. The tough news is that every one of the 42,000 steps needs to be run.

Double knot your running shoes. Then they won’t come undone.

Apply Vaseline to toes, groins, armpits, scrota and nipples. Especially nipples. (Runner’s Nipple is one of the more dramatic running injuries. The nipples haemorrhage spectacularly. Why? Well, the nipple is an erectile little gadget. As you run, your skin heats up. Sweating follows, then evaporation of the sweat. Evaporation cools the skin, the nipple leaps to instant and enduring attention and the salty residue of the sweat on the nipple rubs against fabric. Forty two thousand wobbles of a breast result in a nasty dermatitis. Bleeding follows. Pain attends.)

Apply a curved line of Vaseline across your forehead, thus creating an eave, along which sweat can run to your temples. This spares your eyes hours of sweat sting.

Don’t run a marathon.

Having disregarded the last piece of advice, you’ll understand its compelling good sense. Corollary: if you run more than one marathon you are a person who persists non-sensible behaviour. Spouses and families will point this out to you.

Running a marathon damages your body. Within days or a week or two, your body will usually recover (The exception is the case where you die running the marathon, as happened to Pheidipides of old.) Do not imagine you are doing this for your health.

Running a marathon requires a lot of training. Racing a marathon – quite distinct from merely running to complete the event – requires a shit load (that is the technical expression) of training. Spouses (see above) do not generally like this. Sometimes you come back from a marathon to find the spouse has gone.

Running a marathon requires courage.

The marathon humbles everyone who attempts it.

The marathon runner discovers something about herhimself every time shehe runs it.

The marathon is an extreme test. Its extremity evokes extremes of feeling. Tears can flow.

The marathon runner who is forced to pull out due to injury within a few kms from the Finish is a tragic sight. In horse racing a steed that is injured can be shot on the track. A quick gunshot is an expedient that would be welcomed by both the injured party and those runners who witness that colossal grief.

(Death by gunshot is readily available in the USA.)

Plan to have a poo before you run. The runner has consumed megabites of carbs the previous day and all things come to pass. The alternative to evacuation prior to the run is to do so during. This wastes valued time. Unless, like the woman winner at Boston about twelve years ago, and like De Castella at Rotterdam three decades ago, you don’t stop when it starts and you go with the flow. In the case of the brave German girl, diarrhoea and untimely menstruation coincided. Unlike the runner herself, it was not pretty.

Although it must occur to about one in five females on a given race day I have no advice to offer regarding prudent management of marathon menstruation.

Trim your toenails a week before the event. Otherwise the nail might leave your toe somewhere between Start and Finish.

That is the totality of the wisdom I have to impart.

I did run today, I did finish – in brutal conditions – and I am requited. A little bit proud, self-amazed, a bit sore (I’ll be at my sorest the day after tomorrow), weary and happy. And very, very thankful.

A Review of One Thousand Cuts, by Rod Moss

One Thousand Cuts by Rod Moss

One Thousand Cuts by Rod Moss

One Thousand Cuts: Life and Art in Central Australia

A book of the dead?

Yes, explicitly so.

Names are named, a violation of all norms, all practice in both whitefella and blackfella Australia.

Rod does this by virtue of trust, explicit consent, indeed the command of Rod’s friends.

Rod Moss’ singular role – to witness, to record and transmit.

Rod Moss grew up in the country. Well, in the 1950’s the Dandenong Ranges were country-ish. But he was never “in country” until some time well into his long apprenticeship under Edward Arranye Johnson, in and around Alice Springs.

Moss’ first book, “The Hard Light of Day” recounts that apprenticeship, which began with a spontaneous act of neighbourliness and evolved through friendship to become a connection of spiritual father to son. The building and the losing of that bond are the subjects of that first book, winner of the Prime Minister’s Award. It might sound like a large statement that the second book builds on and exceeds the first in its power. It does so by the swelling sorrow of loss after loss after loss, of the weight of pain.

The present volume is unique in the way it illuminates the experience of being “in country” – an opaque expression that whitefellers who work outback hear often from blackfellers. Subtly, delicately, in a characteristic Moss undertone, being ‘in country’ becomes luminous. The light is shed by Moss as he moves around Arranye’s hereditary domain as his named spiritual heir.

Moss gives us birdsong, birdflight as he walks beneath. He breathes the breezes and tempests that flutter or flatten foliage and carry mood or prophecy.

He names and describes the fauna – from grub to reptile to marsupial – that create the country.

Moss does all this in the same manner as in his painting. His colours are florid, his verbal sallies frequently outrageous, his attack fearless. But in all this bravura there’s nothing flash or glib, as Moss walks and paints and photographs the lands of his spiritual patrimony, bearing the loss of spiritual father (and of many brothers and sisters), accruing more and more losses until their weight becomes unbearable.

Most of the losses come abruptly. Each comes with the force of a thump to the solar plexus.

Moss, with his reader at his shoulder, absorbs blow after blow.

At this point we have Moss Agonistes, crying: “It rains in my heart. One drop at a time.”

Moss misses a much anticipated funeral: “I find myself crying on Saturday morning …Though I was sad at the gravesite, it has taken until now, opening the brochure and studying the commemorative words…for me to be sobbing.”

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The Very Bad News and the Unexpectedly Good News of Entropy

For fifty years I have waited for the repeal of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which I first encountered as a vulnerable schoolboy. Entropy is the unutterably bad news of eventual, universal, ineluctable doom.

The Law, which I reproduce here in italics, is too sad to know:

In all energy exchanges, if no energy enters or leaves the system, the potential energy of the state will always be less than that of the initial state.

Please disregard the Law. If you can. I have never managed to do so.

Its corollary – or perhaps its meaning – is entropy. Entropy is what increases when energy decreases. It is, as Hill and Thornley pointed out in Principia Discordia (via Wikipedia) “the most pessimistic and amoral formulation in all human thought.” This is a big statement that relegates Mein Kampf and Mein Electricity Bill to the ranks of the ordinary.

All predictions of physical science are subjugated by the Second Law. As Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington wrote in 1927 (inThe Nature of the Physical World, also via Wikipedia), “The law that entropy always increases holds…the supreme position among the laws of Nature…If your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.”

The quite unexpected good news filtered through to me only slowly, across the passing decades. The Law has financial corollaries: your income taxation liabilities will not endure forever. You need not hurry to pay off the mortgage – better to linger.

In respect of the environment, the Law promises an eventual end to global warming. Instead the big chill. The final freeze. “An isolated system will eventually come to a uniform temperature” – Wiki again.

As far as metaphysics is concerned, and metaphysics ought to be, very concerned – where have the rabbis and mullahs been, the priests, the popes, the theologians, the nuns, the godbotherers since the Law emerged? – entropy means “The end of all flesh has come before Me” (Genesis, not Wiki). It can only mean the messiah is a certainty. The date of arrival (see my earlier blogposts on the subject remains in contention.

My advice – cheer up and don’t tell the children. Lobby your Local Member and God for a repeal.

Virgin from Christmas Island to the Mainland

A man walks into my consulting room with a bouncing limp. He is tall and upright. He bows slightly and shakes my hand. The familiar courtesies.

I greet him: Salaam Aleikhum.

He responds: Aleikhum Salaam.

We exchange names. His name is Ahmed. He says: “My foot is painful. Please excuse me. I am afraid I must remove my shoe.”

His problem is visible through an opening in his sandal: the left great toe is infected. The flesh of the nail bed is hot and red, a crescent of swollen skin surrounding a sunken island of nail. The skin is shiny, stretched to bursting. A promising eyelet of pus peeps from beneath a corner of the cuticle.

The infected nail bed is about to burst in a flow of laudable pus. The pus will stink, Ahmed will feel better and so will I. Finally, a patient telling me a straightforward story. Finally a patient I can cure.

I treat the infection, dress the toe and ask Ahmed to return tomorrow to renew his dressing.

“I cannot come tomorrow.” His manner is politely regretful. “I will leave here tonight.” He speaks softly, practicality competing with swelling happiness: “I have my visa.”

Ahmed’s smile is a field of waving daffodils.

As it happens I will fly out tonight too. After three weeks of seeing patients here, Ahmed is the only one I meet to win a visa. The remainder reside in trailer parks of hope and despair.

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