Why I Haven’t Written

This blog has been silent for a good while. I have been remiss. Happily, of the blog’s three-or-four hundred nominal followers, one only has complained. Perhaps she alone has noticed. The truth is a lot has happened: spring came to Melbourne; a surgeon cut my eyes open and melted my cataracts, bunging in a couple of new lenses; a dear friend has died; we experienced a hit-and-run road accident; and Bert the half-hearted came through his surgery and battles on.

I’ll start with the least material of these events, the road accident. I parked my wife’s pretty little red car outside a travel agency and went off to buy bok choi. I came back to find the front defaced and a note attached to the windscreen:

31 AUG 2018, 11:08 AM




I surveyed the alterations to my wife’s car, then entered the travel agency. The travel agents described the event, described the driver, wished me well in the manhunt and assured me they’d testify. They shared a lively indignation; the driver’s amorality offended them.

I post these particulars by way of invitation for the assailant to come forward, confess, throw herself upon my wife’s mercies and pay up. Under those circumstances we need not trouble the constabulary.

Surgery is one of the everyday miracles of life in a city like Melbourne. Two crazed lenses are literally melted in the eyes and sucked away like so much snot. New lenses are inserted and the world gleams. Then spring arrives. I see the green greener, and – thanks to the new hearing aids – the birds sing. (One of the saddest little lines in poetry closes Keats’ La Belle Dame sans Merci. The line of four words – and no birds sing – suffices for desolation.) Once again my spring sings.

Little Bert underwent his second heart surgery. His heart, sized like an apricot, was showing strain. A vascular detour improves his prospects. Inside Bert’s chest the so-called great vessels are like thin tubular spaghetti, cooked al dente. Somehow a surgeon cuts, stitches, reroutes, and attaches. Somehow blood flows through the pasta. And Bert breathes on. The praying continues.

In the mid-seventies I met a bearded maths teacher who took me on lengthening runs up and down the green hills of the Diamond Valley. His name was Dick. One day we paused on a high hilltop and watched the shafts of sunlight pierce the winter mists. A moment of silent communion followed as we share revelation. That was ten kilometers, said Dick. We breathed together, blowing out mist, thinking the same thought: If I can run ten, I can run a marathon. With Dick as my inspiration and my training partner, fifty-plus marathons followed. And a few weeks ago, Dick, who’d developed and survived lung cancer, Dick who never smoked, Dick died – of breathlessness. At his memorial service a large congregation paused and wondered: How is it we live? How is it we cease living? What is this miracle we call friendship? Which is the greatest wonder?

I write this aboard an aircraft from Phoenix, Arizona, where I’ve just said goodbye to friend Paul, struck down by a stroke on a Sunday morning late last year. I asked him had he felt fear. No, not fear. I found it difficult to dress for church with my right hand paralysed.

I’ve written previously of Paul, surgeon, aviator, morbid anatomist. Paul is a man of deep faith. He’s certain he’ll be reunited with Beverley, his beloved wife who died eighteen years ago. I noticed the words printed starkly on the band he wore on his left wrist: MEDICAL ALERT – DNR. Knowing his confident belief in rising again to bliss, I asked: Paul, does it make you sad to persist here in life? His voice of deep gravel remains strong and clear. His word choice carries all the old inventiveness, no stale phrases: After my stroke I’d awake in the mornings quite surprised still to be alive.

Paul and I sat outside in the heat of the Arizona afternoon while he smoked his daily cigar, holding it in his left hand. The right hand remains weak but to my astonishment the strength is returning steadily. Such vitality! I thought of the tiny trees growing in their cleft rocks at Fitzroy Crossing. Germinating from seeds dropped by birds, these miniature saplings force a root downwards through great basalt rocks, emerging into air as a tendril that dangles down to the river surface, down through the great waters to the muddy riverbed. His one-hundredth birthday falls early in 2019. After today I do not expect to see this marvellous man again. But on parting Paul asked, when will you come out this way again? The question was not facetious; he’s lived this long, why not a few more years?

Deaths, deaths. I write of them so often – naturally so, as I age and those I know slip away. In my work too, the farewells are many, and not all of them to elderly persons. Long ago a friend remarked of my writing that I what I was really doing was coming to terms with my mortality. At that time I didn’t see it. But I know now he was correct. I know too, death is not the worst thing.

13 thoughts on “Why I Haven’t Written

  1. So happy to read your blog Howard. I did miss them. We do reflect on the past as we grow older. It’s wonderful to have fond memories of times shared with people, who have been, or are important to us. I remember Dick, he will be missed by you. We have friends who make a very big impression on us. For me, you are one of those. Love to you and Annette xx


  2. You may not have written for a while – but this was worth waiting for! (I must say I am so slack at keeping up with blogs that I don’t always notice gaps – in truth, as much as I love my chosen blogs, I’m relieved when there’s quiet for a little while to give me time to catch up. I do like to know though that my favourite bloggers are alive and kicking still.

    Love your appeal to the hit-and-run driver. Do involve the constabulary if necessary. This person needs to know.

    I have an uncomfortable story. Early one evening a few years ago now, I reversed my car into what I thought was an empty spot (in a big carpark) only to hit something. It was a motorbike, which toppled over onto the car in the next spot. I got out, and checked. The motorbike was fine, but it had damaged the car – had badly bent the external mirror. So, I found some paper, wrote a note and slipped it through the open slot at the top of the driver-side window, hoping it would land on the seat. It didn’t. It fell down between the seat and the door. Hmm, the driver could very well not see that, I thought, so I got out another piece of paper, and wrote another note which I slipped under the driver-side windscreen wiper. This all took 15 minutes or more, and no-one appeared, so I left. And never heard another thing. I really hope the person got one of my notes and decided not to follow up, though I really do think it needed repair. I would hate to think they’d felt badly done by.

    Anyhow, I enjoyed your reflections on mortality and the death of friends, if “enjoyed” is the word. As people of a certain age, it’s worth thinking about. Oh, and I love Arizona.


    • My dear eucalypt

      Or should I write gingiva?

      Gratifying to resume contact

      Given your past carcrashing delinquency it occurs to me to wonder whether you drive a little white Honda…

      Following Phoenix I alighted in Sanfranjollycisco then Seattle

      Golly those are cities with character

      Good wishes, as ever,



      • I think I’ll take eucalypt, thank you. Gingiva conjures other things I’d rather not consider right now!

        Haha, no I don’t – it’s a white medium Subaru – though, now you mention it, Mr Gums drives a little white Honda!!! Mostly in Canberra though so perhaps he’s off the hook.

        We visited Seattle for the first time last year. A wonderful city. (I’ve been to San Fran too but in the 80s and 90s and somehow, though I’ve enjoyed those visits, it, itself, hasn’t quite come together for me. If that makes sense, which it probably doesn’t.


  3. We, too, seem to be saying goodbye too often to people dear to us. Yet we now have the joy of a new life to celebrate. One small grandson arrived late last Friday spreading joy in two families. (If you did email me a while back, the waitrose address no longer works – it is now threadgoldpressATgmailDOTcom).


    • Hilary!

      What joy!

      Dare I suggest, what hilarity!

      Send photos in order to provide proof of this huge claim

      While we are in this autumn of life and we farewell those whose winters are ending, come these babies to restore the ledger of loss and of gain

      I find the newborns restore the joy in living
      And somehow bring this bruised and ragged world to rights



      Thanks for writing


  4. It’s wonderful to see you back blogging again, Howard. You’re right, I didn’t notice the gap – because I was distracted by my hectic life – but I’m grateful for your return. I’m listening to birdsong through my open office window as I type; appreciating it more now.


    • Such a warm, heartening response, Helen

      Thank you

      Just attended a child psychiatry conference in Seattle
      Where I heard a welcome to country by a native american that was stunning in its power

      See next blog





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