Sylvia and Bruno, A Love Story

I watched an aged couple today as they made love.

She is in her late eighties, he’s a little older. Thirteen years ago, Sylvia (not her name)
became vague and forgetful. Bruno (not her husband’s name) passed the farm on to 
the children so he could care for Sylvia at home. For ten years this worked well, but as 
Sylvia became less active she gained weight and as Bruno aged he lost muscular 
strength, the strength that built the farm that sustained a family. Three years ago, Sylvia was admitted to the nearby nursing home. Bruno visits Sylvia every day.

Until today Sylvia had remained the most placid, easy-going resident in the home. When she was found this morning, burning with a high fever, pale and limp, helpless even to sit, breathing fast, her heart racing, her blood oxygen levels low, she remained that same tranquil, agreeable person.

“She’s severely demented”, said the nurse, “It’ll be cruel if we overtreat her. Let’s just 
keep her comfortable.” This is code for, let her die.’

When I met Sylvia at 0630 she gazed at me, eyes wide. Was this recognition? The opposite? What, who, remained behind that enquiring gaze?
‘Hello, Sylvia, I am the new doctor.’
Sylvia, her face pale, yellowed, smiled. I thought of my mother, another placid smiler.
Sylvia spoke, a voice soft, barely reaching my hard ears.
I leaned over her and listened as she spoke again: “You’re the doctor.”  
Attending at her bedside in the early morning, clad in my running shorts, vivid cap and colourful singlet, I don’t look like anyone’s idea of a doctor  – or a runner. But Sylvia knew. 
These were not the words of one ‘severely demented.’ 

I called Bruno, made the call that relatives know will one day come, the call they dread: ‘Bruno, I’m the doctor caring for Sylvia. She has a fever. I thought you should know… She’s not in danger, but we need to decide what treatment will be best for her and I’d like you to come in and give me your advice.’ A lot of words, too many words. Words to paper over insecurity, uncertainty.
Bruno thanked me for calling. He asked, ‘When would you like me to come, Doctor?’
‘Any time that suits you, Bruno.’
‘No Doctor, you’re a busy man. My time is my own. When will it suit you best?’
We agreed to meet at nine-thirty.

I studied Sylvia’s file. There was a reason for her long stare – she has glaucoma. And diabetes which will make her vulnerable to infection.
I read the family’s biographical notes: ‘Sylvia is a gentle, happy, quiet and kind person; compliant; she has sons, husband, extended family, friends who visit her often; she likes fruit, enjoys stories on television; she understands, even though she answers with only a few words. Please speak to her slowly.’ 
Elsewhere I read a relative’s observation: ‘I believe Sylvia does not have the ability to consent to or decline treatment.’
Once again I thought of Mum, a patient who’d always agree with a doctor, always wish to defer, to oblige.

I found Sylvia’s End of Life Directives: ‘Keep her clean and dry and as free of pain as possible. Please do not provide therapy that is futile. In the event of acute deterioration or critical event, she may have IV fluids, IV antibiotics, CPR, defibrillation not more than twice, a short course of ventilation.’

I tried to decode the directives: the family allows resuscitation, ventilation and defibrillation – more or less Intensive Care – while excluding futile treatments. But you never know whether intensive treatments might be futile. You do know CPR must be vigorous to succeed. In the words of an Emergency Medicine Physician of my aquaintance, ‘If you don’t break any ribs you won’t save them.’  And short ventilation slides easily into prolonged. Dying is prolonged and deformed; and any living that remains is disfigured.
This constitutionally gentle soul, comfortable in her frailty, undistressed even in her febrile state, would she welcome such rough treatment? What roughness, which bodily incursions, can the family tolerate? 
I needed Bruno to help me untangle this nest of contradiction.

At nine-thirty, I found Bruno seated by Sylvia, holding her hand. On her bedside table, a pear, freshly peeled and sliced, waited Sylvia’s pleasure. I introduced myself. Once again I told Sylvia I was the doctor. She looked at me, then over to Bruno. He nodded and her wide face relaxed and fell into a smile. Since my earlier visit her temperature had fallen and her breathing improved.

I listened to the front of Sylvia’s chest. I wanted to examine further, to hear the breath sounds at the lung bases. Sylvia, aged, weak and ill, would need help to sit up. Ordinarily I’d ask a nurse to support her but Bruno was here. Sylvia would know, her body would remember the touch of Bruno’s hands.
‘Bruno, when I sit your wife up, will you hold her shoulders for me?’ 
I hauled Sylvia’s upper body upright and Bruno leaned forward and placed one hand on each shoulder and steadied her. My stethoscoped ears listened intently to the breath sounds. Faint crackling betrayed the pneumonia I suspected.

Pneumonia, the old person’s friend. Will antibiotics save Sylvia? ‘Bruno, this is pneumonia. It’s a dangerous illness. Do you want us to use antibiotics? We’d give them through a vein…’
But Bruno, raised in a time and a school where the doctor gave orders, replied: ‘You’re the doctor. Whatever you decide will be for the best.’ 

Deep in cogitation, I applied the stethoscope again. Eventually I looked up. Two large brown hands, the joints wrecked by time and work on the farm, supported Sylvia’s creamy shoulders. Bent forward, held by her man, Sylvia gazed into Bruno’s eyes. I noticed her right hand. Sylvia moved it back and forth along the inside of Bruno’s forearm. Up to the elbow, back down to the wrist, up, down, Sylvia’s fingers stroked Bruno’s skin.
The fingers caressing, moving upon the silence.
Two people, oblivious of this interloper, oblivious of all, man and woman made love and confounded me: where I had wondered how much treatment would be too much, now I sensed how much the two still gave and received from each other, how precious to each was time with the other. 
How much treatment will be enough? 

Abbott and Abbot: The Ethics of the Fathers

One of the more accessible elements of the rabbinic literature is PIRKE ABBOT, a collection of maxims, proverbs, pithy sayings and principles of early post-biblical sages. Literally translated, Pirke Abbot should be ‘Chapters of the Fathers’, but ‘Ethics’ is generally preferred. By curious chance ‘Abbot (fathers)’ is a homonym of ‘Abbott’ (Prime Minister of Australia).

Pirke Abbot makes lively reading. It includes some very golden rules
for living. Such are the maxims of Rabbi Hillel, a sage beloved for
his humanity. He wrote: ‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
But if I am only for myself what am I? And if not now, when?’
My nine-year old grandson Miles, much troubled by predictions of a
world where temperatures would rise and life be threatened, noted our
government’s anaemic response to the matter and wrote to the Prime
Minister echoing Hillel – if not now, when?
‘Dear Mister Abbott’, he wrote, ‘Please protect our planet before we
run out of water and every living thing will die.’
Mister Abbott, as befitting the Father of his country, wrote back to
the child he’d sworn to protect:

letter from tony abbott

(In summary:)

Dear Miles,

Thank you for taking the time to write to me. It is a very good thing that you are
interested in the wellbeing of our country. I hope you will continue
to show this interest in the future.’
The letter was signed (in ink), ‘Tony Abbott.’

Miles was not reassured.

“Mummy, he did not even mention the environment and what he was going to do about it.”
When Abbott succeeded Turnbull as leader of the Liberals, I felt
Australian politics might become more interesting. Here was something
novel, a potential prime minister who happened to be a conscience
politician. Noting Abbott’s sincerely held opposition to abortion and
the unpopularity he had courted in his restriction – on principle – of
an ‘abortion drug’ much sought by both doctors and patients, I
thought, ‘Well, I don’t like his politics, I don’t think he’ll last
long, I don’t much like his style, but I respect these signs of
integrity.’ Meanwhile the urgers in the Murdoch press drooled in a
chorus of relief at the eclipse of Turnbull and of the climate.

Of course, I had misjudged Tony. Moralistic but never simply moral, he
achieved a professional politician’s capacity for the flexible
backflip. His ‘style’ flowered into an idiosyncratic misreading of the
public mind that robbed the poor to enrich the already rich; and
culminated in advising the woman whose job it is to create knights to
dub her husband, a non-Australian, Knight of the Order of Australia.

At this stage the public gasped in disbelief, Abbott’s own party
gagged and even the Murdoch Urgers looked about for a successor to
anoint. Commentators commented – that’s what I am doing now – and we
all had a wonderful time frothing at the inevitable (if not imminent)
fall of this man of hubris.
Enter another grandson, Joel, aged nearly four: fresh off the plane
after three years’ exile in Britain this young citizen observed the
image of Tony Abbott appearing day after day for on the front page of
the paper.
He asked: ‘Who is that man, Mummy?’
‘He is the man the people of Australia chose to look after us, darling.’
‘Why is his picture in the paper?’
‘People are feeling cross at him.’
‘You know how people in this family try to be kind to each other?
Well, people feel cross at that man because he hasn’t been kind to the
people he should look after.’
[At this stage I need to inform the reader of the Corrections
Protocols operating in Joel’s household: in the case that one child
having many toys withhold a toy he isn’t using from his smaller
sister, who then purloins said toy; and that older child then belt the
younger, the older child’s conduct is designated as ‘not kind’; and
that elder child is directed to take some time out. He is sent to the
staircase where he must sit and reflect upon his unkind action until
he feel ready to seek forgiveness and make amends]
Joel, regarding the image of the Prime Minister pictured descending
his aircraft’s steps in Canberra, said: ‘That man needs to go to the
time-out step.’
In the event, ignoring Hillel’s second clause of selflessness, the PM
followed only the sage’s first clause: ‘If I am not for myself, who
will be for me?’ He brought forward the party room meeting to deprive
plotters of time to plot. His party met and voted him not time out but
more time in.
Abbott vowed he would change. He’d listen. He’d become consultative.
Good government would ‘start today.’ No-one believed he could change.
I do not believe he can. But how miraculous would it be to witness
such change, how interesting to watch a small spirit grow and enlarge
and show kindness?

House Fish

Before my father’s first cousin’s son came from Dayton, Ohio, to visit us in Australia he quoted his mother of blessed memory, by way of warning: ‘House guests’, he wrote, ‘are like fish. They go off after three days.’

Now that particular son of the first cousin of my father (by name of David) is a fish whose four-day stay was all too short. David’s brother Bob, has visited repeatedly, and three days were never enough for him to go off either. But the principle underlying the Law of the departed mother of the sons of my Dad’s first cousin is sound and it is this: HOUSE GUESTS HAVE A SHELF LIFE.

Over twenty-one nights recently I was a serial housefish.

In Pittsburgh my host David stayed up until 3.00am to receive his flight-delayed guest. At seven he got up and went to work. Next morning hostess Nancy was busy baking, preparing for a soiree she and David planned for their visiting friend, Howard. To attract guests to drive through the snow to hear this unknown writer from Australia, the couple provided an elaborate dinner for twenty captive friends. This couch was hoisted and shoved out of the way, that dining table moved against the wall, those folding chairs hauled in from the basement and set up in ranks, choice napery and tableware and stemmed glassware for wines and cordials and foods and fruits were arranged for delectation. Dave and Nancy

turned their house upside down and their lives inside out simply to expose their guest to new readers.

Three days later I swam away through the snow to meet my wife as she arrived in New York. There followed five nights beneath my sister’s roof in the Bronx, one night with friends in Manhattan, then a final Bronx night. The visits seem to have left friendships unharmed. But a sister is a sister and a brother is a brother: siblings are species designed for propinquity. If indeed we are fishes that go off, we sibs are inured by long years to each other’s offness (and onness).

A sterner test found our hosts in Boston, Sarina and Alan, an accidental couple who happen to be neighbours of my niece whose house was already chockers. Sarina and Alan work for a living. They spend long hours every day outside the house, which was now peopled by strangers who might pinch the silver in their absence or fracture the ceramics, or serve meat with the dairy cutlery, or leave smudges on the Royal Doulton in their lavatory.

Their nights would afford little rest as the guests floundered up and down the staircase, with feet unerringly finding the one stair that always groans, a burglar alarm that sound like a bass-baritone whose scrotum you have just stood upon. Would we pinch the morning strawberries reserved for the breakfast of the coeliac? Would we insist on washing our coffee cups in rejection of the preferred dishwasher? Would we use the dishwasher when they’d prefer we didn’t?

Conjugal copulation is the never-spoken, inescapably real arena where the fishes’ presence is felt: copulation – widely practised among both the sacred and the profane, and highly praised in Jewish Sabbath tradition – might be inhibited – or in some cases – who can know? – stimulated by the presence of self-same guests. The hosts wonder whether their guests are asleep, whether we lie with ears cocked for their licensed exertions. They lie in mounting suspense, listening for the sounds of listening. When finally they hear our snores they mute and stifle and censor their customary jactations lest they wake us.

We admit guests by instinct of blood, by example of Abraham, and for delight in company. Thirty years ago my New York sister sent word of friends of friends who’d be visiting our town. By Abrahamic reflex we welcomed them, a honeymooning couple. By the exuberance of their Americanness they won us. Their exuberance exceeded their caution to the extent they called out early one morning for rescue. We found them entangled in each other and in the bunk beds that had collapsed around them in their ardour.

Leaving Boston for my daughter’s place in London I became a fish in a familiar pond. But the little fish my wife and I spawned is now herself a spawner. Lying on the air mattress below their bedroom I sought the decency of unconsciousness, all too conscious that my couch lay directly beneath Spawner Corner. In the daylight I changed nappies and read stories and gave thanks for the pond life.

Fifty years ago my sister and I visited my newly married cousin in Sydney. Our visit coincided with the last night at home of the bridegroom before he entered hospital for elective surgery. Ringing in my ears was the observation of a veteran nurse on the surgical ward where I was a student. She said: ‘We test the urine of every patient. There’s always protein and sperm cells in male urines. Men MUST copulate the night before before surgery – in case it’s their last chance.’ I don’t know what my cousin did that night. I hope she had a pleasurable night’s unrest.

Now, flying home to Australia with the daughter and her spawn who will be our house guests for a time, I realise the shoe will be on the other ear.

The Faithful Fibroblast

Late last October the Boston Athletic Association sent me an email which read:

‘Dear Pheidipides Goldenberg*,

Kindly advise us of your postal address forthwith so we can forward the race package for your entry to the 2015 Boston Marathon.’

I sent my details forthwith and equally forthwith I began to train for the great event. Now, my alert reader might recall the sincerity and warmth with which I wallowed in self-pity in my incapacity last (southern) winter. I posted a piece titled ‘Farewell’, a lament for injuries that would permanently prevent running. I indulged in a prolonged period of warming sorrow, recalling better times. After three decades of running that were halcyon my winter of 2014 was halcyoff.

I know well not to expect an injured and abused skeleton, aged in its late sixties, to heal. My forty-four marathons had smashed knee joints and mashed vertebrae. Sciatica taunted my left thigh with every footfall. I stopped running and I rode a weasel bike. This morally feeble substitute served until osteoarthritis screamed from my left knee whenever I pushed down on the pedal. I stopped all exercise and sulked and nursed that achilles’ limb.

Sulking did me good. After a team of physiotherapists rubbed and probed and pressed sore spots until I squealed; and having found those sorest spots they pressed harder and I squealed the more; and after they prescribed exercises too intricate for me to conceive, to be repeated thirty times a day; and after I tried each exercise once before giving it away; after all this I sulked. And in my sulking I enlisted the faithful fibroblast and it is to that unglamorous cell that I owe thanks.

I last met the fibroblast in my second year of medical school. That was in 1965. I learned then of that industrious cell, of its role in building connective tissues. The fibroblast is the humble builder’s labourer of the foetus. It creates the neonatal skeleton and muscles. Once the human – so intricate, so cunning, so elegant in design, so glorious in execution – has been built the fibroblast might deservedly rest on its laurels. But it does not. Instead it lurks and waits for any damage it might be called upon to repair.

Sprain an ankle and fibroblasts swarm to the site, building, building, building. They create a fibrous scaffolding which, together with nests of new capillaries, is appreciated as a hot swelling at the site of the tear in the ligament. Slowly, thanklessly, this busy little cell knits new fibres to replace the old. Slowly the damaged dancer or skier or hockey player rises and flies again.
But that leaper or runner or slider is fifteen or thirty. Chockers with fibroblasts, at those ages she is indestructible.

Then the day arrives that she turns fifty, when her collagen sags, her ovaries shrink, her mood sours and she sweats her nights through and celebrates the menopause ‘and all the daughters of song are brought low.’

Her man is even more pathetic when ‘desire fails and man goeth to his long home and the mourners go about the streets.’

On the other (more cheerful) hand the poet John Donne wrote:
‘… from rest and sleep
Which but thy pictures be
Much pleasure…’

My spine had rest and my knee slept. June came and passed and with it passed the marathon in Traralgon. August came and for the first time in ages I missed the marathon in Alice Springs. In October Melbourne ran its annual marathon without Pheidipides Goldenberg.

Then Boston sent me that email.

And together with Johnny Donne my knee sang and my spine caroled: ‘Death, thou shalt die,’ as I rose and ran. Since October I have tested the knees on the rocky slopes at Wilson’s Promontory. I have tried but failed to provoke the sciatic nerve in Central Queensland and in outback NSW. I have thrashed the skeleton in Pittsburgh, in New York and in Boston where, three weeks ago I ran the slopes of Heartbreak Hill. I froze but I felt no pain. The next week I ran fast up the length of London’s Muswell Hill to the top, then I turned around and galloped down. This short run constitutes a brutal abuse of synovial membrane, of articular cartilage, ligament and tendon.

I listened for protests from the body. But neither degenerate hip nor spinal nerve made any murmur. Incredulous, I gave thanks to the long ignored, sadly neglected, ever-faithful fibroblast.

One of my favourite poems for sulking is Ecclesiastes, 12. With language like this it’s a pleasure to be sad. Here’s a fuller portion for your enjoyment. You don’t need to run a marathon or injure your body:

1 Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;

2 While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:

3 In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,

4 And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;

5 Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:

6 Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.

7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

8 Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.

*My running name


The Sweet Taste of Revenge

The oldest friend of our married life is a parson. After inspiring and marrying hundreds of young believers and unbelievers and halfbelievers; and after watching their marriages fragment – fast or slow – and die, John concluded he was not a success in bringing people’s lives together. He left the parsonage and took up God’s work in a new business: in his own words, ‘I spent a year in gaol.’ The parson became a chaplain.
‘Long Bay Gaol was just like other congregations I’d worked in – lots of sinners, lots of righteous people (“I never did it… it was someone else’s fault…I was framed…”), and lots of people who couldn’t care less about religion. I didn’t mind the unreligious and they didn’t mind me. The convicted were just people, by and large. I found most of them likeable enough.
‘But a few of them were hard to like. There was one man who’d been convicted for trying to incinerate his girlfriend. She survived, horribly burned, but in the process he killed the masseuse who was treating her at the time. He was quite unrepentant, quite without conscience, but nevertheless he became one of my most frequent parishioners. He’d visit my office frequently, ostensibly for spiritual guidance. All he really wanted was the luxury of private conversation. I did not like him, but I couldn’t let on.
‘There were others in the gaol who were just as unlikeable. One was a warder, one of the ‘’screws’’, as the prisoners called them. This fellow treated the prisoners brutally. He was feared and hated. He used to visit me often and he was just as persistent, just as falsely pious and just as unwelcome as the murderer.
‘The murderer confided once how “cons” had their ways of getting back at the screws they hated most. He said, “Father, we piss in their tea.”
‘I understood how that might be. The best-behaved prisoners enjoyed the privilege of waiting on tables in the Officers’ Dining Room. That was where I ate. The prisoners prepared and serve beverages. One day I went to that Dining Room for lunch. I loaded my tray and sat at a table out of the way to enjoy some privacy. Out of the blue, bearing his own tray, that brutal fellow was at my shoulder, declaring, “Father, you don’t mind if I join you.”
I did mind of course, but I said the opposite, of course.
A prisoner turned up and asked us for our beverage order.
“Tea, white, two sugars,” said my guest.
I asked for the same. That waiter, my religious friend the incinerator, said, “Certainly, gentlemen, I’ll bring them presently.”
The con returned carrying two mugs. ‘This is yours, Father”, he said, as he laid my drink on the table. Then he walked to the other side of the table, placed the mug before the screw and said, “And this is yours, sir.” As he spoke he shot a huge wink in my direction.
‘What did you do, John?’
‘It was a moral emergency. If I remained silent I would be party to a wrong. If I spoke I would breach a confidence. I drank my tea. I watched the screw drink his.’

John’s story brought to mind my cousin’s account of certain events In Israel during the first Intifada. She wrote: ‘Consumers of a particular brand of hummus remarked on a change in the product. It didn’t taste bad, just subtly different. Closed circuit TV in the factory caught Palestinian workers wanking into the vats.’


Neither the hummus masturbators nor the prison micturators could have read the more recent American novel, The Help, in which a white racist woman consumes chocolate cake containing the ordure of the ‘help’ – an unfairly dismissed African-American woman.
I recount these stories to offer succour to a friend, a novelist, Margaret.
Now Margaret enjoys the attentions of a literary assassin, a relative by inheritance, a sort of outlaw-in-law. That person claims a critical authority and a mission to improve HCG by means of brutal dismissal.

The critic and the writer are destined to meet from time to time; what can Margaret do to fight back?

All the examples quoted have their appeal. The cake is of course, irresistible but time-consuming. The hummous is nourishing but beyond the resources of an unaided female. I suggest Margaret make her nemesis a cuppa tea – white, of course, with two sugars.

Once Upon A Writer

Once upon a time I was a writer… No, not once – thrice upon a time.

First time: in second or third class the teacher directed us to write a composition. We did as we were told. I enjoyed writing. My composition was chosen and read to the class. I was a writer and one year later, when the Melbourne ‘Age’ published a little piece, I was a published writer.

Second time: at medical school, achieving mediocrity in exams, I found relief editing and writing for a paper. I published what I wrote.

Third time: with a family now grown up and my own parents failing, I was a writer heavily charged with material. I wrote and my friends and family responded. Among the responders one friend in particular responded decisively. Often enough she responded derisively; and not just often enough but more often than enough.

I had good reason to pay attention to my critic friend. She had been an adult reader for many more years than I had been an adult writer. Further my critic was trained in criticism while I was untrained in writing.

Curiously my early vulgarity didn’t trouble her much. My sentimentality (an abiding tendency) excited little reproof. And even the structural shambles, the way narrative fell upon narrative by accident into a happy enough heap, provoked no rebuke.

The problem with my writing was the writer. Contrary to my critic’s command I did not write of Howard the way Howard should write of Howard. In truth this was not willful delinquency (another abiding tendency) but incomprehension. So stratospheric is my critic’s sophistication, her principles eluded me.

The pages of my first two books are Howard-haunted. Howard Bloody Goldenberg is to be found in the middle of every page or in its margin or inescapably behind every page, pages that can never be thick enough to disguise Howard. This drove my critic mad. It was not that Howard was full of himself (he is that) but that Howard was represented without precisely the ‘self-reflexivity’ (my critic’s term) that she demanded. ‘Howard’, she wagged her finger imperiously, ‘Howard, you are refusing to become the writer Howard should be. Your subject, your great subject, is Howard…’

This criticism, emphatic and oft-repeated, merely increased my self-consciousness. Eventually it would drive Howard from the page. Thus, in book number three (‘Carrots and Jaffas’) there exists a character who resembles Howard but is not Howard. Although that character is a male in his sixties, a compulsive storyteller, an outback doctor with a large nose and lavatorial obsessions, he is not Jewish, not Howard per se. In truth I no longer trusted Howard to create Howard. My critic had achieved something worthwhile; she had demolished a formerly impregnable exhibitionist. This was surely to the good, for Howard the person showed an objectionable and retrograde refusal to adopt my critic’s view of the world. (The critic started adult life as a social activist, becoming a member of a commune, a welfare worker, resolutely a conscious and conscientious proletarian. In time she learned the profound error of her ways and unlearned her early amused tolerance of Howard’s political softheadedness.)

Meanwhile Howard had become a blogger and my critic became my bloggee. I would write, my daughter would post and my critic would criticise. More and more my critic criticised Howard for not being my critic’s faithful disciple. At one stage, in outraged surprise, she accused me of being ‘green’.

Given this blog’s unrepentant diarising of Howard’s life, his thought, his memories and stories – in short this blog being Howard on the virtual page – my critic found the entire exercise personally provoking. Possibly intentionally so. Her criticisms of Howard were now unrelenting, and of course, public.

It is timely here to remind my reader that my critic is a friend, that she certainly wishes for nothing more than my improvement. She has in mind my ascension into a literary realm which exists clearly in her sight and quite outside my powers of vision. In her private love of Howard this friend is staunch. In public she is an attack dog. At first puzzled, later a little hurt, eventually wryly amused that such a thing might be, I accepted her blank rebuttal of my private objection to her tone. ‘Howard’, she wrote (publicly of course), ‘Once your writing emerges into the public sphere you cannot expect criticism to remain private.’ Fair enough. Perfectly logical, fully consistent with literary purity. And perfectly blind to the imperatives of friendship.

I came to accept a painful reality:

The moving finger writes,

And having writ, moves on;

Nor all thy piety nor wit

Can lure it back

Nor cancel half a word of it

(From the Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam)

Eventually the moderator of this blog published guidelines of the limits to decent blogly conduct; and the critic, declaring herself to be my ‘troll’ (to me a new concept), banished herself from these pages.

My critic helped me immensely. She forced me to examine every self-syllable I wrote. She required of me an intensification of my self-consciousness. To this day she shadows every line I write, shaping my writing to conceal my thought, as she peers through the ether for Howard malignancy, stimulating me to a meticulous attention to some standard I never grasped but for which I blindly reach. Of course the cost is a friend who, in the name of friendship, has shat upon friendship.