Friday, September 10, 2021

Our youngest son breaks his wrist

 Michael was on his way to his friend’s place on his electric scooter a few weeks ago on a Sunday night. It was after dark, he was going down a slight slope on a rough bit of footpath near St John’s Hospital, and some people stepped out onto the footpath. He braked too hard, came off and put his arms out, and suffered the classic ‘break your fall’ broken left wrist. 

We went to Emergency, but I didn’t appreciate how bad it was until the radiologist muttered “it’s a bad break” after the X-ray. I feel bad that I had actually made Michael wait until I’d finished my dinner before I took him to Emergency. His bones didn't come through the skin but they were some way from where they should have been. [I asked yesterday at his 2 week review which bones were broken, radius or ulna or both - and they didn't really answer because to them it essentially doesn't matter. They are parallel, and one splints the other, or something].

They tried to get the bones back in place. They put a tight cuff around Michael’s upper arm and inflated it; this is called a Bier block. Then they put anaesthesia into his lower arm through a cannula. Once he was numb, one doctor held his upper arm while the other hauled on his hand to try to reposition things. This was unsuccessful so they booked him in for day surgery three days later.

A funny thing; we arrived at Emergency around midnight Sunday. They gave each of us blue stickers as we came in which I was pretty sure said NOW (they actually said to us "stick it on your phone"). I was pleased that we’d been assessed as some sort of priority. Days later I looked at the sticker and realised it said MON. Far from promising expediency, this was advertising that things were slow they had to tag people by the day they arrived, not the hour.

His surgery went well, but it took such a long time. The procedure is called an ORIF - open reduction internal fixation. He now has a metal plate in his arm. We were asked to be at the hospital at 12; there was an admissions process but he was gowned up and ready to go by 1. It was after 4 when I said goodbye on the threshold of the theatre and they wheeled him in. We collected him around 7, and he said he felt fine. Even though we arrived at 12 he was the last day patient there and they were pretty much sweeping up around us.

We had to pick up some pain relief meds on the way home. On the way, the hospital rang sounding slightly panicky asking if he still had a cannula in his arm. He did not; they had not recorded taking it out. At the pharmacy, the pharmacist was not happy with our prescription. It had two different drugs on it; it has to be one drug per prescription. Amazing that a hospital registrar wouldn’t know that. Fortunately she gave us what we needed after chewing out the hospital over the phone; and them agreeing to fax her two new prescriptions. Even more fortunately Michael didn’t need much at all in the way of pain relief.

So he started mending, and living with his plaster cast. Four days later we were back in Emergency to have it replaced, after he dunked it in the bath. Emergency made an appointment for us at Plaster Clinic which is excitingly on the 12th floor, with very interesting views. But we were whisked in and out so fast that we hardly had time to take them in. 

Yesterday was his 2-week post-surgery revisit to Plaster Clinic. They took everything off, re-dressed it and now he has a light velcro/nylon splint arrangement that he can remove to shower. I finally got the answers to some vital information I had been chasing since surgery, which I will record here for posterity.

  • The consultant was Mr Petterwood, the registrar was Jaye Yick.
  • The metal plate is made by TriMed, and is either stainless steel or titanium. It will be fine in an MRI.
  • When I asked what was broken they said the radius and maybe the ulna, maybe not.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021


 My workmate Dave Macarthur introduced me to this quite addictive online geography game. I am generally not one for online games; but I am hooked on this and have spent 15 minutes every day now for 15 days running trying to guess the locations I am dropped in. 

You have three minutes to make a guess as to where you are (and there are 5 rounds). Some like this screenshot are very hard: you are haring down the road looking for a road sign or at least a scrap of writing. Is it a roman alphabet like ours or Cyrillic? Or Thai? If it's roman letters, are there any ø or ç or ü to give a hint? If you're really lucky you'll see a flag.

If you want to try this, here are my hints garnered from 2 weeks’ experience

  • I have never yet been dropped in China, USA, Canada or France. 
  • The creator is Swedish. Scandinavia and the Baltic states occur quite often; so it pays to bone up on the telltale look of those languages. They don't all have Ås.
  • The graveyard for high scores is South America. If I wanted to turn Pro at this, the first thing I would do is dedicate some time to researching the telltale differences between say Uruguayan and Mexican countryside. A newbie like me see signs in Spanish, some rundown abobe buildings with rebar sticking out the top, jungly trees and ocean. You guess Tampico in Mexico but it's Maldonado in Uruguay. Sorry you are 7,700km out and you score 3 out of a possible 500 points.
  • No-one says you can't Google things in another tab during your 3 minutes; BUT my personal rule is you go in with your pre-existing knowledge and do your best. I have been known to yell to others in the room “which island in Indonesia has all the volcanoes!?”

Monday, July 19, 2021

I built a handrail

Our steps up the front are steep and uneven. Our older visitors sometimes find them hard to get up and they are perilous for anyone going down, especially when wet or icy.

So I have built two sections of handrail. I am not a builder, and I took a very long time dithering over design, materials and tools. I was keen to do it without concrete ended up going for concrete footings, and 10x10cm cypress pine poles, with slices of cypress for the handrails.

My first baby step after the 3 metre poles were delivered was cutting one in half. It was easy with the handsaw, and the sawdust smelled amazing. 

I cut six poles in half, and with Nick and his table saw, we sliced the rest into planks. His saw blade is just off vertical so the planks have bit of a line running one side where the cuts refused to meet. 
I wanted the handrail to follow the curve of the step, so I tried wedging some planks between the posts of the retaining wall and a regrowing gum sapling located in the perfect spot. I wet the planks twice a day for a week. 

They retained very little if any curve after all that. But I found that they were thin enough to bend nicely anyway, and as the posts followed the curve, so did the rail, once screwed firmly to the posts. My inspired* idea was to make a good handrail width by screwing a second layer of planks to the first. 
*This construction method has not yet passed the test of time.

The junction at the post 2nd from the top had to be more angular, as the posts were too far apart for one 3m length to span two gaps. Up near the house I had a lot more trouble digging good deep holes.
It lacks refinement and has a few ugly details, but I am actually really pleased with it. I had to solve a series of problems as I went and that was satisfying.

Now I just need to convince Dad (in his eighties) to use it.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Outdoor confusion

Sometimes, maybe once a year, my brushcutter feeds out the nylon line like it's supposed to. And it confuses the hell out of me.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Marcus bound for Hong Kong

Our boys have incredible abilities. Michael does not like to be literally outstanding; he often keeps his brilliance to himself. But Marcus has always been happy to be identified as gifted and to take advantage of the opportunities available. I am more like Michael, so I admire Marcus the way you can only admire someone who does things you cannot.

I tend not to let my mind roam too far forward. I do not plan on my own behalf, and I have not really imagined the boys’ lives very far in advance either. Let’s call this living in the moment rather than a lack of vision. In any case; I had not really pictured a time when Marcus would be 19 and living and working in Hong Kong.

This week he is into his last semester of his BSc. He has started some elements of next year’s Honours already (you can do that now) but he has been applying for summer internships and many scholarships including the Tasmanian Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford.

He had some quite long Zoom “interviews”, which in some cases were more like exams. He had a few call backs, including one with a securities trading firm called Jane Street in Hong Kong. They also have offices in all the other financial capitals.

They offered Marcus a 3 month internship which he is planning to take. He is not a complete babe-in-the-woods, but still was stunned to be offered a salary about triple what he was expecting. If he worked a full year at that rate he could pay off our hefty mortgage (should he so choose). 

This has given me all sorts of feelings. I will miss him like hell, as I would if he was in Launceston or Melbourne; but I will also worry because Things Are Happening in Hong Kong. Of course I am very proud of him as well. He has no intention of becoming a Quantitative Securities Trader, but what if they offer him a job at a E-Class-Mercedes-driving salary? I don't think I could knock it back – could you?

One thought that occurred to me was just what a quantum shift it would be for our family, between a generation with someone earning the average Australian income and the next generation earning more than 3 times that. And going back through the paternal line in our family, something like this happened between my great great grandfather David and great grandfather William.

David Rees was a puddler in a steel mill, who was convicted in 1843 of “manslaughter of John Bolan in a row at Swansea” and transported to Tasmania. His son William Rees became an insurance agent, and when he died his wife Martha carried on the business. His son (my grandfather Didds) started as a clerk at the local coal mine and retired as chief accountant of a large woollen mill. I wrote a bit more about it here in 2011.

In this analogy I am the convict and Marcus is the one making the leap into respectable white collar work. But I want to stress that I haven’t killed anyone and I can both read and write.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Marlion Pickett 2019

In December 2019 I posted a clip of this work in progress, but I have just realised I never posted the finished piece here. I’d like to add more Grand Final Moments, starting with Jesaulenko's mark in 1970. Stay tuned for that.


Thursday, May 20, 2021

The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott

Zoe kept going out with her aunt, although her aunt did all the bleeding. She itched to wear scars of her own, to draw the squid with her own blood, but her aunt would not allow it.

When you’re older, she’d say. Your mother would kill me if I let you open a vein at your age.

Then she would laugh, because Zoe’s mother was dead. Her aunt didn’t find that funny – she laughed because she laughed at everything. It was the only response she was capable of, regardless of the situation. She laughed at jokes and television, but she also laughed at food and trees and weather reports. Breakfast made her laugh, as did rain, splinters and trousers. She laughed at good fortune and horror. The more tense or difficult the circumstances, the wilder she laughed. When she learned that her sister – Zoe’s mother – had died, she screamed, bit her cheek and cackled, spraying blood from her mouth across a tiled floor.

This the 2nd novel by my workmate Robbie Arnott. By day he is Senior Copywriter at Red Jelly ad agency, and contributes about 45% of the human energy manifested in the large mezzanine space in which we work. He did not give me this copy of his book, I bought it with my own money, and my resentment about this will surface later in the review.

Robbie Arnott by Matt Osborne
Robbie Arnott by Matt Osborne
You read one book by someone and believe it gives you an insight into their stock-in-trade. Robbie's first book Flames was very grounded in Tasmania. "The environment is a character in the book" people sometimes say, but usually not to this extent. It had wry humour, relatable family dynamics, and a strong current of the fabulous running through it from go to whoa. It did really well too. To some degree I looked forward to this as a sequel.

What Flames didn't have was evil. (Thurston Hough was nasty but not evil). However one of the main characters in TRH is dispassionately brutal. There is wild remorseless nature, there are the usual human failings of greed, envy and obsession; but this one character named Harker damages others in a coldly calculating way, a way that is hard to take in large doses. I put the book down a few times for a break from Harker.

The setting of the book is a time not unlike now, in a place not unlike here. Imagine an unbroken landmass that encompasses climates from Tasmania's bitter, cold and mountainous southwest, up through the mainland wheat belt and desert, over into the high Australian Alps, and then further north into the sub tropics. The flora and fauna are familiar species, both endemic (cedar gums, quolls) and European (fir trees, deer).

The story is broken into Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4; different settings which melt into each other as you progress through the book, with some surprising connections. This is done very cleverly and with a light touch. 

There's a skill in songwriting, in setting up then avoiding an obvious rhyme. Eg Clementine by Megan Washington [It sounds a lot less banal than this looks]. "Oh my darling / Clementine / Turn the water / into holy water". Robbie pulls a similar trick towards the end of The Rain Heron where you start to feel you know his methods, you have the pattern of the book, you are galloping towards the climax and he just declines to provide the obvious narrative end point that you are anticipating. You are left with an itch unscratched. I assume he has deliberately crafted this, just like I assume Washington knows full well that the only thing anyone turns WATER into is WINE.

There is a lot of flesh in this book; beautifully described. Corpses, wounds, infections, real and imagined anatomies. One of Robbie's friends said to him "oh god do you realise how much PUS is in this book?" 

I give it 4 stars out of 5. I would have gone for 4.5 stars except for one word: "navy" as a synonym for the ocean. I'm just not having it. He did it in the first book too. I have addressed this with him and I trust we will not have to have that conversation again.