Wednesday, November 18, 2009

17th November

Yesterday was very itsy-bitsy. The highlight, in one respect, was mashed-up raspberries and ice cream for lunch – one of my favourite flavours. Rae brought a punnet - the term places me geographically, ‘chip’ in Auckland, ‘pottle’ in Dunedin, I grew up with ‘punnet’ - when she came to dinner on Sunday. There were enough left over for me to have again. Yum!

I deserved a treat. I’d just come back from my six-monthly check with the skin specialist. I’ve been going for forty years – the penalty for having Scottish ancestry and a childhood wearing only shorts through the Canterbury summer – to be checked. Usually, I have spots burnt off with dry-ice, a not very pleasant experience. Occasionally I have to have them cut off – twice they have been pre-cancerous. Yesterday, I had only one burnt off, on my left shoulder – the penalty for those long ago sun-burnt days.

My caregiver Susanne comes twice on Tuesdays, briefly in the morning to dress me and then after lunch to take me for a walk. She’s been on leave – well-earnt. Coping with us old fogies can’t be much fun. For a fortnight I’ve had a succession of temporary relievers. Some of them are excellent but they didn’t know the ropes. I’m aware of a change in my attitude. At one time I felt rather embarrassed at being naked and exposed but now I accept it – it’s part of their job. Though there remains a sense of indignity at having to be looked after in this fashion.

They say there are no secrets between a man and his valet. I wouldn’t know. But there are few with a caregiver. They know the nooks and crannies of the soul as well as the body. It is a marvelous support system that the State supplies. Susanne's help is invaluable and she has grown accustomed to my quirks and eccentricities. I did not walk as far as I should have as a growing wind clinched my turning for home earlier than I had planned. I have not been out enough for some considerable time. Stamina needs building up. Resolution – do something about it.

I watched Parliament on TV over question time. Unanimous agreement about congratulating the successful All White soccer team’s success in gaining entry to the World Cup in South Africa, quickly turned to bickering over energy emissions and ACC. National’s excitable minister Nick Smith is in charge of both portfolios. He was having a hard time of it.

I’m enjoying Humphrey McQueen’s social history of Australia. His irreverence for the establishment is refreshing and after all the detail of European kings and captains it is refreshing to read about the lot of ordinary men and women in Australia. If you were at the bottom of the heap in the late 19th century and early 20th century it was a hard life. Little details are engaging. He claims the bungalows that replaced the earlier multi-storeyed buildings meant the house-wife no longer needed live-in servants. Interestingly, he calls the Second World War the First Pacific War.

He’s scathing about the White Australia policy and points out the constant political and academic demand for increased population. He quotes a poem entered in a competition which was part of the 1938 anniversary celebrating 150 years since the the arrival of Governor Phillips and the convicts, the first European settlement in Australia.

Ye girls of British race
Famous for your beauty
Breed fast in all your grace
For this is your duty.
As Anzac gave in war
So daughters at your call
Will quickly respond the more
To replace those that fall.

Writing about the health consequences of my childhood reminds me of something else related to that which Bruce my youngest brother and I talked about when he last visited. He recalled watching me spraying gorse and blackberry with 245T every summer when I was at university. Each vacation I classed the wool in the shed during shearing – my stepfather timed it to coincide – and then tackled the weeds with a back spray-pump. Stupidly as well as ignorantly I wore only shorts and boots. I have memories of the liquid running down my back from the rather crude pump mechanism. Even worse I did not have a face-mask so I must have breathed in the spray. I’ve talked about it to the doctors and they say there is possible though unlikely connection with my present illness. But that activity probably has cut down lung capacity. If tested and it were so there is nothing that could be done at this stage. Water under the bridge.

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