Important

The WHAT'S NEW! page contains the latest medical updates. If you're wondering how I'm going as far as health is concerned, this is the place to start. Latest: Wed 27 Nov 2013. 7.20AM

Search This Blog

Loading...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Diary Update Sunday, 31 October 2010


Too many words? OK, just read the text in bold face then, lazybones!

It’s Sunday, and I can’t say it’s been a bad week for the James-Pearson-Wright household, though with no glittering stars at any point apart from a visit to the Morgan estate and a first happy encounter with Miss Eilish Morgan. [see photo below.]

It’s Halloween as well, for those who have decided to go over to the Dark Side and celebrate it. Tracey pointed out we have nothing in the house for Halloween Demons but I suggested we could offer them a glass of prune juice and a few of my blood pressure tablets.

Tracey has been having fun mowing the lawn, which seems to have the same properties these days as the magic beans that got Jack up the beanstalk. Warm humid days do that. Yet I wear a light coat because I can’t quite get used to the draught around my ears caused by sudden hair loss/thinning. When Christian walks past me as I’m sitting in the lounge chair, it’s like he’s carrying this little fan with him and blowing air across my neck. OK, he does displace some air given his height, but it shouldn’t feel quite like that!

He is out at the moment walking the Pine Forest with friends. It’s great for them outdoors and they are all ‘survivalists’ [my term] – I think there’s a strong Bear Grylls factor there. If you don’t know what I mean, forget it – they are hiking and looking forward to a camping trip in the National Park after HSC is finally over on Wednesday week – just the one exam after a gap of a couple of weeks.

Medically, I have been OK – a bit touchy with the decrease in steroids – well, I’m putting it down to that. Tracey might think [though she hasn’t said it!] that I’m just developing into a Grumpy Old Man at times when some limitation frustrates me.… come to think of it, I would be a very good candidate for that show, as I’m sure I could turn grumpiness into the art form that is required for it, if they want new grumps.

Just as happened last month, I feel as if the Avastin euphoria tapers off after the first fortnight and it’s a bit like my get-up-and-go clock slowly winds down till the next hit of the drug. It’s not quite like I feel it got-up-and-went: I feel as if gravity has increased by about 30%, and if I lie down to get my twice-daily hit of Clexane, I just want to stay there and sleep. This may be steroid withdrawal effect too, I suspect, as we continue to decrease the dosage. It has gone down this month from 8 units with chemotherapy to 4 to 3.3 to 3 and will be 2.5 tomorrow. What a junkie!

I haven’t worn a right arm support sling for days. But I think I should be exercising it more. I must be lazy. I am sleeping pretty well but at odd times.

Let’s look forward, not back.

Tuesday: 
GP visit, blood tests, physiotherapy for me, a couple of appointments for Christian. I think I’ve had twice my body weight of blood sucked out of me in the past 10 months, but you wouldn’t want any of it, believe me.
Wednesday: 
MRI in Tamworth – what fun! But MRIs don’t bother me any more now that we appear to have no great fear of sudden seizure. It’s just a very boring 50 minutes or so going in and out of the MRI chamber with those weird noises and nothing to do but count my breaths.
Thursday: 
Friend’s visit at 5 pm. Other visits are welcome but best to check by phone or email first or you may find me asleep – and my guardian angel won’t wake me for anyone. Not even someone as fantastic company as you are!
Saturday: 
California Suite. You guys better be good. This is my first foray into the theatre world since Into The Woods. If I’m going to climb those stairs at the Hoskins Centre you better make it worth my while! OR…GRUMPS WILL GET YOU!!!!

Me, with my latest girlfriend, Eilish Morgan

Saturday, October 30, 2010

My brain





Have a look, if you will, at the above diagram. Tracey found it here and I have to say, it's perfect for describing what has happened to me since that first day. 


This image shows the very part of my brain affected by the tumour and the seizures related to it. I am far from an expert on the anatomy of the brain, but I do have an idea how this relates to my situation. It also makes me aware of how unique each case is while having characteristics in common with others, and how right my instinct was not to try to talk about these things till I had some confidence at least that I knew a bit about it - enough to relate to my experience.


My additions to this diagram are very crude and not exactly to scale. I could do better if I had the use of my right hand when using Photoshop, but it will give you an idea at least. Below is where the tumour was located when I first became aware of it. It is in the left side of the brain so we are talking about how it has affected the right side of my body.



See how the hand and arm were affected first. That's where the most damage was done to the connections between brain and body, and the places where most remedial physiotherapy is required.

The craniotomy removed as much of the tumour as possible, but there were limits to that. Over the months of radiotherapy and oral chemotherapy earlier this year in Melbourne, the tumour was attacked by these treatments. An MRI established a baseline to check the progress of the tumour in July. Another one two months later showed that the yellow area in the diagram below indicated a continued growth in the tumour and inflammation around it. All these diagrams are misleading in that they don't show the very large area of brain affected by serious inflammation.


I haven't shown the area of inflammation [a by-product of the partial removal of the tumour and the radiotherapy] on this diagram but it was considerable. Inside the yellow area was and is, almost certainly, dead tissue, the result of the radiotherapy. That seems reasonably stable and surrounded by a wall of thick tissue, behind the active tumour wall itself. The active tumour wall's expansion destroys brain tissue and the associated inflammation together produced the seizures once or twice a week, each time doing more permanent damage to the neural pathways getting messages from brain to body. 

Notice too how the tumour was extending into the Trunk area. That produced an additional seizure area in my body - very unwelcome as you may imagine. Over weeks and months between June and September, this area of seizure expanded, and with it, the area of inflammation of the brain.



Once the ankle/foot became affected by the seizures, mobility was seriously affected. In August-September, the area of tumour/inflammation increased, spreading to the hip. This is just a slice; you'd need to see it in 3D and not just a slice to become aware of how much of the brain was/is affected.


It was the lowest point for me to this time, psychologically and physically, mobility reduced to using the doorways for support in walking or wheelchair outside. This was when we started with steroids to tackle the inflammation causing the increasing number of seizures and the damage they were causing. This produced relief but offered no hope of slowing down tumour growth in the longer term.

This is where Avastin has come in. By stopping seizures through tackling inflammation and possibly, tumour growth, much more mobility is possible and retraining of brain to tackle upper body is possible. Well, it's happening, but for how long and how effectively, we don't know. All we do know is that the seizures have to be kept at zero to continue any improvement. As I  write this, it is 8 weeks since the last one. Thank you, Avastin!

Finally, looking at this diagram, I can't help but think how lucky I have been in one way. Look at the diagram again and see what's affected, but look especially at what could have been affected in the past 10 months - face, tongue, larynx - and that's only in this diagram! Other parts of the brain could be much worse - not that I have no risk of that happening in the future. This is just the motor area, left side of brain, and I retain full use of my left hand [my dominant one!] and my rationality. Things could be much worse.

So far, so good.... let's see what the MRI next week shows.....



Friday, October 29, 2010

Reality check 2

A couple of nights ago, I got quite a shock. We went to the pub for dinner, and Tracey pointed out to me that this was the first time she, Christian and I had done this, just us, since before I fell ill. A year ago, to be precise, since we had eaten out together.

One of the things I noticed was that even the pubs have fallen under the Masterchef spell. Instead of the usual mountain of food, piled high and everywhere on the plate, there was an amount about half the size, plated up and presented Masterchef style. Now I’m not complaining about that because I usually got more than I needed in the old days, and ate it anyway, whereas this amount was just about perfect for a main course. The price was about 30% higher, though, and I suppose the smaller main course encourages a foray into the dessert area, so the Masterchef strategy isn’t a bad one for the coffers of the pub restaurant.

We didn’t have dessert, as it happens – not a pub one anyway. We decided to raid the new ice-cream bar at the 7/11 for a little treat, and eat it with a coffee at home, a short way away.

That’s what this is about, not the meal at the pub, novelty though it was for us. We went into the deli, to choose our ice-cream. Yes, I know about avoiding angiogenesis promoting food, but just this once was relying on the Avastin to counter the effect on its own.

Anyway, in the deli, I noticed this guy. He was about my height - a bit shorter maybe, though his face was fuller than mine, flabbier definitely, and I would say about 7 or 8 years older than I. His hair was much thinner than mine, and in the light in the café, it looked almost as if he were completely bald. His face had that look about it that said, yes, the road's been a bit rocky lately. I felt sympathy for him.

I moved to go to the ice-cream counter and was shocked to discover this old chap moved at exactly the same time. I then realised I had been looking in the wall mirror behind the shop counter, and who the old bloke was.

I haven’t been looking in the mirror much these days. Maybe I better, a bit more often, for a true reality check.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Stuck on you: my early love life [Final Part]

However, when we tried to ease ourselves apart as the dance ended, nothing happened. 
Well, I mean by that, something happened, and that was we became aware that were firmly attached to each other precisely at the navel. Navels. My three belt prongs and her dress trimmings had become inextricably intertwined during the second Pivot. 


I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, but if it hasn’t, let me tell you it’s amazing just how tightly conjoined you can get during a Pivot if you’re wearing adventurous clothing, as you can tell from my description that we were. Let me tell you also, with one mother looking at us from one side of the dance floor as we were trying to unbind ourselves, and the other mother watching from the opposite side, the fumbling of fingers must have looked…. odd. Suspicious, even; though we dancers didn’t think of that. We just couldn’t move anything except our fingers in the zero space between us, as all the other dancers cleared the floor and the hall fell eerily silent, just the two of us left, slap bang in the middle. 


Pivoting us back to her seat conjoined was out of the question. A three legged race is bad enough, but you just can’t do a four legged race under those conditions - especially one with the demanding requirements of the Pivot. It's one thing to have navels as close together as possible as a consensual act on a glassy-surfaced dance floor. It's quite another when consent has been withdrawn by a Greater Power with a puckish sense of humour and nothing better to do on a Saturday night.

After a few failed attempts to release ourselves surreptitiously from each other’s umbilical areas, we both looked up in some alarm to see our mothers rapidly descending upon us in a pincer movement, while everyone else just gazed on bemused at the spectacle. 

‘What d’you think you’re doing?’ demanded Lorraine’s mother before mine could get the same question in. 

‘We’re STUCK!’ said Lorraine, to which I added unhelpfully, with rising panic, ‘…..together. We’re stuck together.’ I told you Lorraine's mother was a little bit fierce, so I wasn't thinking all that clearly. It wasn't like you could really be stuck apart, after all.


It would no doubt have been a strange thing for two mothers to take in. Poor Lorraine, my fair-skinned honey blond lovergirl, was blushing pinker than the dress she often wore in summer; the one that was my favourite. And that little cotton dress that swished like palm fronds when we did the Mexican Hat Dance on hot summer nights was very, very pink.

I don’t know about how you'd react, but when two mothers start interfering with parts of your adolescent body that you usually regard as your own private domain, on a dance floor in full view of everyone in the entire world, it’s a very odd feeling, but they were determined to resolve the issue with all possible speed. Mrs Rideout in particular took the lead in this enterprise, intent on avoiding damage to the smart woollen dress bought only that day from Manahan’s [slogan: ‘Manahans are Marvellous!'] in Gladstone – and with little regard for the delicacy of the matter from the point of view of either of us pubescent dancers. Certainly she did not consider my feelings as of any consequence while I was being intimately woman-handled, but worked the three long prongs of my buckle slowly out from the threads and trimmings. 


At last we were separated after what seemed an eternity of interference, one which might have been an interesting experience under other circumstances but not this time round, and definitely not with mothers, and the dress was then carefully inspected for prong damage. There was none. No prong damage of any description.

Down at the Gents end of the dance floor, there appeared to be much merriment as the separation took place and the initial bemusement turned into high and ribald amusement. Eddie Roberts was strumming air guitar and loudly singing the brand new Elvis song, ‘Stuck on you’, which had been playing on Radio 4RO Rockhampton for a few weeks by then.

You can shake an apple off an apple tree
Shake-a, shake- sugar,
But you'll never shake me
Uh-uh-uh
No-sir-ee, uh, huh-a
I'm gonna stick like glue,
Stick because I'm [boom boom!]
Stuck on-a you …..

Lorraine’s mother gave him a withering stare and the faintly obscene gestures timed with shaking apples off apple trees and the 'boom boom!' also wilted away. She was a bit fearsome, I know I keep saying, but after all, family honour was involved, and a girl’s virtue was jealously guarded at least until she had safely donned the long white frothy dress and veil, and was no longer a moral or social danger to family or community. But, it did take more than a few weeks for us to live the incident down, and the Elvis song regularly rang in my ears for some time afterwards. Sometimes I could hear it being hummed behind me in the street by unkind people. Fortunately, the collective folk memory of it did not survive till my teaching days in Calliope, or I may have had discipline problems with the Grade 6 boys – and possibly the girls, come to think of it.

At midnight in these dances, the National Anthem would be played, at which we would all stand to attention, Lorraine would wave me a cheery goodbye and smile with just the right amount of wistfulness, take her place sitting between her parents in the front of the family ute, and back to Targinnie they would go. I imagine the conversation was a bit muted on the night of the buckle incident, but it soon blew over, as there was clearly no evil intent. It just looked that way for a while, but I guess being extracted from such situations are what mothers are for. Besides, Mrs R. liked me, and had had a brief but unique opportunity to check me out at puberty in ways I imagine most prospective mothers-in-law never chance upon, nor would want to. I am pretty sure there was a lot of muffled laughter about the incident between Mum and Dad as we drove home in our nearly new Holden ute, parents in the front, kids safely out of earshot on a blanket in the tray.

So now you know an almost seamy episode in my early love life. There was an unseemly one to come, a love triangle a year later that was entirely my fault. But I'm sure this holds absolutely no interest for you. If it does, say so and I'll do my best.
[Back to Index]

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Stuck on you: my early love life [Part 1 of 2]

Look, I suppose I better be upfront about this right from the start. If you are hoping for a full frontal exposé in the style of D H Lawrence in Lady Chat, then you may as well go back to the sort of thing the elderly lady beside me was reading in chemotherapy the other day, and getting quite flushed in the cheeks. She would read a page, use the book to fan her face, avert the text from me – something about Falconhurst and slaves - and then resume reading. I do know she was 79, having heard her date of birth read out by the nurse, and for someone having cytotoxins pumped into her at the time, she was enjoying herself a good deal more than she was letting on. Then she’d complain about how lurid the novel was, but it was pretty clear to me that the lady was protesting way too much.

Anyway, that’s not going to happen. The account of my romances, as my age clicked over to something ending in ‘teen’, bears no resemblance either to that novel or what was rumoured to have happened in Koppo’s purpose-built cubbyhouse under the wooden floor of the Diggers Arms Hall, a space about a metre high. The courtship, it was claimed, was between Koppo and the new Diggers Arms publican’s daughter. Bimbo Brown and I were privileged to inspect this love nest on the way home from Sunday School once, and it was pretty danged impressive, I can tell you. At the time, I had no idea what it was for really, or what 'they' claimed it was for, but it looked a great place to have a comfy snooze one arvo or hide from a bushwacking by Wayney Wright with his star-spangled gun.


Then word got around that the cubby was there, and the publican demolished it promptly, which I thought was a great pity, as it was nicely built, was quite private and had lots of old blankets. As I said, a great place for the lads to hang out, but obviously others thought it was a place of evil of a type I was blissfully unaware.

No, nothing like that sort of seaminess in my tale. This is about romance, passion of a gentler sort, worthy of the best traditions of a 1950s Mills and Boon…. HEY! Where are you all going? I haven’t started yet and already I’ve lost half my audience! Is romance dead? O ye of little faith – have I let you down so far? 


Oh…. I see. Well, I’ll try not to this time. At least my wife, my daughters and sisters can breathe a sigh of relief that the family name is not going to be blackened entirely. A Whiter Shade of Pale, perhaps, by the end - a bit grey, but not entirely trashed.

Enough of this nonsense, let’s get going.

Lorraine Rideout [pronounced ‘ride-out’] was from Targinnie, just down from the Yarwun White Russian settlement amongst the paw-paw farms. Targinnie was so small that the YOU HAVE JUST ENTERED TARGINNIE welcome sign doubled as the YOU HAVE JUST LEFT TARGINNIE goodbye one. Leastways, someone had put a line through ENTERED and neatly printed above it LEFT, and it remained like that until another person or persons unknown demolished it entirely with a .303 rifle. Some blamed the Russians but I never believed that, as my White Russian friend Alec Guerassimov from Yarwun, the most likely person to have done it, only had an old .410 bore shotgun. But Targinnie was as pretty an area as the name suggests, nestling in the low hills with Mt Larcom in the background.

Lorraine Rideout was my girl. There, I’ve confessed that, and what that entailed on her part was not particularly onerous - probably more so for her parents in fact. She badgered them to drive her to the dance at Calliope every Saturday night that one was on – about 40 km each way – and it was a good social outing for the family. ‘Chippie’ Rideout sat in the pub opposite the Diggers Arms Hall and drank beer till closing time. 


Everybody in Calliope drank beer, as wine of any description hadn’t been invented yet as far as we were concerned. In fact, round 1960, anyone who might have been so weird as to ask for wine at the Diggers Arms would have been regarded with great suspicion by the locals. It was claimed, though, that a rough red had once been served at the Top End pub near Milne's store, but a fight had almost erupted over the publican's insistence that the 10 oz. beer glass it was served in should also have a generous number of iceblocks in it. On the way to Biloela, the stranger, reportedly swarthy of appearance and merely wanting a drink for his wife in the lounge, won the war of words, but thereafter wine was not on displayed openly in the Top pub either. Words like 'Dago' were also alleged to have been used at the time, but I can't verify any of this.

Lorraine’s mother sat in one of the canvas chairs around the dance floor and watched like a hawk, just as any other mother with a teenage daughter at a country dance would do, eyeing the talent and possible competition. Lorraine herself only had to turn up and dance the night away with her One True Love, namely me. She had a cute bowl-over smile, good solid teeth [regarded as a strong asset where we came from], a turned up nose and bobbed honey-blond hair, and seemed as happy with the dancing arrangements as I was. She must have been, or the romance would have faded quickly, with the affaire de couer ending promptly: we don't have time to muck around in the country in matters of the heart. We danced every dance and never got tired of each other. In Gypsy Taps we twirled lightly through the waltz section, galloped through the gallops, and held each other tight during the Jazz Waltz. Well, as tightly as we dared – her mother didn’t miss a thing and scared me a bit.

In the Quickstep, there were a variety of complicated steps, few of which I could do well, though my sisters Jan and Lyn aced it every time if they had a partner who was any use at it. One of the ones with a high degree of difficulty was the Pivot. It’s even more complicated to explain than to do, but it was a step that was a bit like riding a bike no hands – you just had to speed up a bit, take a leap of faith that you’d retain balance and let go the handlebars, but the moment you thought about it too much you’d fall off the bike. Well, without pushing the analogy too far, as I can see some dangers in that as a visual image, pivoting during a Quickstep was like that - you clung to your partner, and spun foot to foot in tight whirling circles. It looked and felt spectacular when it came off, but pretty ordinary if it didn’t.

Came the winter night when my Lorraine walked into the hall, dressed in a smart woollen number that had lots of fancy vertical plaited threads joining the bodice to the skirt. I’m sorry if that’s the wrong description of the parts of the dress, but my mother and sisters were all dressmakers and used terms like that when sewing bits together so I have a vague idea. Anyway, I think you get it. It also had a belt, and the metal buckle was bound and completely covered by the same type of thread. This all becomes relevant in a minute, so bear with me.

That night, we tried to Pivot during the Quickstep and it worked a treat, so, near the end of the bracket, we tried it again, squeezing firmly together as you do when you Pivot. I was wearing a broad leather belt that was very smart – it had not one but three prongs and was even a bit Elvis Presleyish, and I’m sure I could have done a good impression of him if I looked like him, had jet black hair, was a foot taller, and could dance, sing and play the guitar in such a way as to shock vulnerable mothers, which was most of them round our way. 


I was not really qualified in any of those departments, so let’s just stick with the belt. We were doing that second Pivot, and going great guns, when the bracket of songs came to its scheduled end. All that remained was for me to escort her back to her seat near her mother, and to thank her formally for the dance. That was the way it was always done. We hadn’t entirely discarded the lessons of courtly boogeying of late 18th Century Europe, though how such etiquette made it down to us in 1960s Calliope remains a bit of a mystery I don’t even want to think about.

However, when we tried to ease ourselves apart as the dance ended, nothing happened. 
[continued] [Back to Index]

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How come I got a brain tumour?

.
One thing I can tell you for sure is that a Doctorate in Philosophy is totally useless when it comes to trying to diagnose my own medical complaints. I have been to ten times more doctors in the past ten months than in the whole of the rest of my life, and my diagnoses of my minor illnesses have been pretty much up to putty. I always had a good logic, or I thought I did, but it usually turned out to be totally wrong.

So when people who feel comfortable enough to do so ask me why I think I have this brain tumour – what actually caused it in the first place – you can be pretty sure what I say below counts for nothing. Your guess is as good as mine, maybe better. But, I can’t help pondering, of course, if for no other reason than if I knew, there’s a chance that knowledge could help someone else.

What would be really helpful would be to know the precise time that the rogue cell started to multiply. Was it a year ago, or ten, or has it been quietly but slowly reproducing itself since I was a child, until it reached that exponential level when all hell started to break loose? I don’t know, but if I did, it could surely eliminate some of the possibilities below. Here’s what I think they are. Feel free to add your own.

Mobile phones?

Firstly, that's one thing I doubt it could be. I have used mobile phones very sparingly compared with most people, though the tumour is in the left side where I would be more likely to have the phone to my ear. About 20 years ago I did have one of the first mobile phones – I called it a brick and it was about that size! It could pull in the signal from further away than some modern ones, even though there wasn’t such a complete network, so it must have been quite strong. Still, I have my doubts. And there’s nothing conclusive about any relationship anyway, between mobile phones and brain tumours, though I wouldn’t have had one stuck in my ear as long as many of you do, I have to say, and a lot of you better hope that there’s no nexus.

High voltage cable radiation?

Something makes me keep coming back to radio wave interference of one sort or another, and of course, we baby boomers have had plenty of that. When I was a child, a high voltage electric cable system passed through our property, one pole of which was very close to the house itself. On foggy mornings, the cable where it passed through the insulators on the pole would crackle audibly for as long at the moisture was around. There must have been quite a magnetic field emanating from those high voltage cables. That system was there for much of our childhood.

Microwave ovens?

We also had the first of the microwave ovens, and I don’t know how good their seals were protecting people from radiation from them.

Atmospheric atomic testing?

Atomic testing in central Australia in the 50s also meant that considerable radiation passed over the eastern coast of Australia. It was claimed to be harmless but we know what has since happened to those soldiers ‘volunteered’ to be in the vicinity of those atomic explosions.

Solar radiation?

Of course, we spent long periods out in the sun with little headwear as children, and who knows what radiation we absorbed from sunspot activity, solar flares or normal microwave radiation from the sun over the years. It only takes one cell to divide into a cancerous form to begin the process….

X-rays?

Baby boomers had notoriously bad dental health as children, as fluoride wasn’t in vogue in toothpaste and we didn’t have fluoridated water, as we used rain water. This often meant x-rays of the face when dentists investigated tooth decay, and I wonder how effective shielding was then and what dosage of x-rays we often received.

CRT screen radiation?

I also was one of the first to have a personal computer, in the early 1980s, as I could see its potential for word processing. [The internet was quite a way off at that time.] This was about composing articles, lectures, etc. I sat for very long periods in front of bright CRT screens at close range, and I wonder about the effect of those.

Carcinogenic chemicals?

Leaving aside radiowave activity as a possible cause, on farms in the 50s, there were many dangerous farm chemicals. On ours, for example, there was Rukream [I don’t know its proper name, just the trade name] which was a strong poison for dipping cattle – subsequently withdrawn from the market. I can smell it even now, as the air was full of it even in the dairy round dipping time, which was frequent as cattle ticks were a major problem.

We often got splashed by it as the cows plunged into the dip, or when we handled containers of it. We just washed it off, if we thought about it at all, and it didn’t seem to hurt us, but of course these are cumulative poisons, and carcinogenic. The warning labels were tiny and though we knew there were dangers, we took them lightly as far as skin contact was concerned. After dipping, we had to wash the cows’ udders prior to milking, and we just did that by hand, with cold detergent water. As well, sometimes heavy rain meant that the dip poisons got into the gullies below the plunge dip and ended up in the creek, where we swam and played, and drank the water.

I mention this specifically because my youngest sister Kay died of breast cancer two years ago. She had an excellent quality of life and did not smoke or eat the wrong foods, nor lived in an environment as an adult that would promote the possibility of cancer of any sort. Cancer of course often appears to be arbitrary in who and when it strikes, but she shared a childhood environment with me that had all those common characteristics. So I can’t help wondering.

Predisposition?

Then there’s genetic predisposition to cancer, and there’s nothing all that indicative in our family. I realise how little I know about the cause of death of some of my immediate ancestors, not that I think it’s greatly helpful unless there’s a strong indication of predisposition to the disease. My mother survived till almost 90 with no indication of it, but her mother died of cancer in her early 60s. I don’t know for sure of anyone else in the family who died from it, but no more than in any other family, probably.

I don’t think there is a smoking gun here, but I do suspect there is a very long fuse.

If you have any thoughts on the matter, please share them.
. 
.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Footnote to last story, Diary Update

Footnote to my last story: 
It's been suggested that it is hard to imagine how all the events described - from Grade 7 at primary school, to teaching primary school children, completing a university degree and then becoming a staff member of the University of Queensland - could be packed into little more than a decade. 
Here's how it worked. 
1959 Completed the State Scholarship public exam at the end of Grade 8. If you wanted to go on to High School, you had to pass this exam.
1960-1963 student,  Gladstone State High School. There was a public exam [Junior] at the end of the second year at High School [now called Grade 10] and another public exam at the end of the fourth year [Senior - now called Grade 12 or Leaving]
1964-1965 Student at Kelvin Grove Teacher's College. 
1964 Studied 'Cultural History of India' at Queensland University by Evening Class
1965 Studied 'Contemporary Southern Asia' at Queensland University by Evening Class
1966 Appointed primary teacher at Gladstone Central State School
1966 Studied 'The Modern Far East' by External Study from Queensland University while teaching
1967 Studied 'Europe to 1815' by External Study from Queensland University while teaching
1967 Transferred to Calliope State School as Primary School Teacher
1968-1970 Studied full time on a Commonwealth Scholarship at the University of Queensland, with Honours in History
1970 [December] Appointed as Tutor, History Department,  University of Queensland.
Diary Update:


HSC Maths exam for Christian.
After this, just one to go!


Medical: Swelling in right ankle remains, but stable. Maybe a little reduced overnight. No residual pain.


Our theory is that, as the only medication change has been to continue the planned incremental reduction in amount of steroid, that the reduction is allowing symptoms from the presence of the clot to be unmasked. But the swelling will definitely have to be monitored... it's an indicator.
In other words, inflammation could be slightly increased, which may also explain increased tiredness, 'heaviness' in right leg, and decreased mobility. The right arm seems to be little affected and remedial work on it is continuing.


Three weeks of Clexane injections have been completed in this last session of blood thinning - 42 injections so far!


Me at high school







Sunday, October 24, 2010

Making Choices for a Lifetime [Part 2 of 2]

[Continued from Part 1]
‘No, sir.’ This was surely not a time to fudge the truth. Right then, ignorance was the best defence, or at least, a fair delaying strategy.

 I was still standing in front of the table he sat behind, my knees knocking slightly. He would have known that for sure if he could have seen them, as they were pretty knobbly, but maybe his view of them was shielded from sight by the table. Or perhaps, he chose deliberately to ignore it.
   ‘Gatton College is a place where students can go after Grade 8, to learn about farming. It is the most highly regarded agricultural college in the state, equal to any in the whole country.’
   Learn about farming? What was there to know I didn’t already know? From sunrise to sunset I knew all I thought I needed to know about farming. But this line of questioning was now easing my mind somewhat, and I guessed that, at least, Mr Sugars was not on his way with the handcuffs.
   The truth was that our farm was managed pretty much on nineteenth century principles, not modern ones. My father had learned farming in a purely pragmatic way, and my mother applied her considerable intelligence to it when the Grammar School girl married the local farmer. However, there was no real science to it, and my father was set in his ways most of the time. Attempts to improve herd quality, while well meant, were sometimes totally counter-productive. Like most farms in the area, it was pretty inefficient and, not the fault of the farmers, production was poorly managed, even by 1950s standards. 
   I did not of course understand that then. I was thinking only of the bits I didn't want to be a part of my future life.
   ‘At an agricultural college like Gatton,’ he went on, ‘you can learn the things you really need to know about managing a property. Beef, dairy, sheep, poultry, grain, fruit and vegetables, animal husbandry….’
   Animal husbandry? I didn’t want to be the husband of any animal, or learn to manage husbands for them, if that’s what he was on about. We already had way too many 'husbands' on our farm, and if they were roosters I had to chop their heads off, or if they were bull calves.... let's not go there right now. Still, this lecture was way better than a caning, and the likelihood of that was receding every minute.
   ‘As a headmaster in a rural area, I am asked by the Department of Education each year for my recommendation for a full scholarship for one boy to study at Gatton College. Do you know what that means?’
   I didn’t have the faintest clue, or how it was relevant to me, but I was pretty sure I was about to find out.
   ‘If you were selected….’ Ahhh, the penny dropped, very quickly, ‘you would get four years of schooling, particularly in agricultural science, you’d be given an allowance, all your fees would be paid, school uniform, transport to and from Gatton by train for the holidays, you would live in a dormitory with other boys during term time….’
   My head continued to reel. I took in very little of what he was saying.
   ‘I know this is all very new to you. I can tell you that if you want to do this, I have little doubt you will be selected, even though you’d be a bit younger than the other boys in your year. What do you think about it?’
   I didn’t know what to say. There was a long pause, because I was thinking hard, and the prospect of giving the wrong answer weighed heavily on me. But like the prospect of hanging, it did tend to concentrate the mind.
   ‘Do you think you would like to do that?’
   I hesitated again. Finally, I spoke. I had no choice but to nail my colours to the mast.
   ‘No sir.’
   He gave me a really long stare this time. I thought he’d be angry, but the look was steady and non-judgmental. There was no anger there, just a question mark.
   ‘Why not?’
   I then made the most definitive statement of my life to that time, and one of the most important I would ever make.
   ‘Sir…. I don’t want to be a farmer. I want to be a teacher, sir.’
   Both statements were true. Now, I admit that I had seen Old Jim many times ticking the Attendance Register and totting up all the figures neatly on each page, and I was worried that I would never be able to perform that task as a teacher, as it looked so complicated, so I feared I may not have made the grade on that account. But we bypassed that serious obstacle to my teaching career for that moment. Other issues suddenly loomed much larger.
   Again he stared at me, and there was a softness in his eyes that I had never noticed before. Actually, it was always there for us kids, for he was a good man and very far from the monster that I might have unjustly painted him as in earlier tales, but we often failed to see it. As children, you only see this tall imposing figure, lined and severe of face, with a booming voice and quick temper. And, of course, never very far away, that omnipresent instrument of torture, the cane.
   At home in the school house, which was part of the school complex, he loved his family and the peace and quietness of his garden, and a pipe of tobacco. He had been in Japan for some time during or after the war – in what capacity I don’t know - and every now and then a large parcel would arrive at the school. 
   He would open it there and then so we kids could see what was in it. Invariably it contained beautiful Japanese pots or plates and dishes, often black as I recall but gracefully decorated; fairly formal and none of it raku in style, but more suited to the western tastes of the 1950s than styles that became fashionable later in the century. You could see in his eyes how he loved these objects.
   But, back to the conclusion of my story.
   ‘I see. Well, talk it over with your parents, and I’ll then talk to them again.’ He might have said, you foolish boy, you are wasting a huge chance. You could learn what you really need to know to live on the land, on one of the best blocks in the district. You would be making life easier for your family in these times of drought – we were having terrible droughts at the time – but he did not attempt to influence me in any way. 
   Nor, I must say, did either my father or mother when the matter came up again at home. If I didn’t want to be a farmer, then there would be no emotional blackmail laid on me by either of them. Mum would certainly have taken a bullet rather than steer me into a career pathway I did not want. There was only one thing in my mind. The idea of milking 60 cows twice a day, rain, hail or shine for the rest of my life was ghastly. Hideous. And neither of my parents wanted a farm life for me if I showed no enthusiasm for it. 
   Of course, Gatton might well have changed my outlook on farming totally, but I was having none of it. And I’m not sure what four years of living away from home in a boarding school would have done to me as the youngest child in a tough group of male adolescents, many of them straight off big properties, but I think it would have been a total disaster for me. Like Billy Boys on the property next to ours, they could slit the throat of a calf or pig, hang it up by the hocks and have a cup of tea and a sandwich while the blood was draining out a metre in front of their noses, but I couldn't even kill the green frog that was living up the pipe in the milking machines, even though commanded to by my father. I just whacked the ground behind it with a stick and pretended to be trying to hit it. 
   Later on in life, Mum told me how much amusement my attempt to save the frog's life had given them both as they watched my feeble pretence at despatching it, knowing that my stick was never going to go within cooee of it. My point is that both of them knew at heart that I wasn't cut out to be a farmer because - and I hope if you're a person with romantic notions about farm life you get this right between the eyes - farming is as much about killing your livestock as it is about rearing them. Mostly you, with your own axe or knife or gun, with your own hands. In my mind there was a distinction between a frog that had chosen the wrong place to set up home and a vealer that had to be killed and butchered.
   I didn’t know it then, of course, but at the age of 10 or 11, I had just made the greatest decision of my life in terms of my future. Amazingly, nine years later, I would be standing in that very same room, teaching a composite Grade 5 and 6 class, the school now filled with the children of my childhood playmates locked in that game of rounders while I was refusing, point blank, the Gatton College once in a lifetime offer.
   That was 1958, when I was in Grade 7. Less than a decade later, as a teacher in that same classroom, I only had to look out the school door to see in the distance the house I had lived in all my childhood, as well as the farm around it. My world and that of all my family had changed radically - had been torn asunder, even if that sounds too clichéd and melodramatic. My father would have been dead for two years, destroyed in his late forties by the misery of droughts, depression and constant handling of the lethal farm chemicals that had poisoned his body. The farm and the house were sold, the property now cut to pieces. My mother, Kay and I now lived in Gladstone and I commuted to Calliope daily in the new Datsun 1000 I had saved and paid for in cash after two years teaching. Jan and Lyn were married, and I had been an uncle to their children since before Dad had died.
   And at one point, early in 1968, I would have had a letter in my hand from the Federal Minister of Education. Well, signed for him by a pen-pusher in his department…. 
 Dear Mr Wright, based on results you have obtained in four years’ part time study at the University of Queensland, we are pleased to inform you that you have won a Commonwealth Government Later Year Award, to continue your university studies on a full time basis for the duration of your degree.
My primary teaching career ended with that letter, and yet another new chapter in my life had begun. Within three years of that date, I would have gone from teaching primary school kids to teaching Asian cultural history at the University of Queensland, showing first year undergraduates Japanese pottery not unlike those exotic pieces that came out of the boxes in the Calliope schoolroom. Thanks to the profound influence of Devahuti and Damodar and an eccentric American historian of Chinese culture, Clayton Bredt, I would be viewing the world illuminated by something extraordinary: the brilliance and depth of Oriental philosophies. Would that I had been able to extract their wisdom decades before I really understood them and apply them to my life, but you can't put an old head on young shoulders, and regrets are not only useless but destructive.
[Back to Index]

Making Choices for a Lifetime [Part 1 of 2]

The beauty of writing this way is that I can change horses in midstream if I feel like it. I’m interrupting the tale of the other ten shilling note, just because I feel the strong desire to tell this one first. Besides, too many horse stories at one time is overkill. So let me talk about something else, something that changed my life completely, and come back to the other ten bob note story later. It can keep. It's kept for half a century so far and will be all the better for the final maturation in the cellar of my 3.00 am mind.

I was in Grade 7. It was lunchtime and we were engrossed in our favourite game, rounders. The way we did it was to allow two kids to be team captains – not the same two every time – I don’t know how that part was decided, but most of us got a turn at it. These captains chose team members from amongst the assembled multitude [about twenty kids], till the last unfortunate was allotted a spot. They really knew their place in the playground pecking order if they were always picked last – but, on the bright side, they were always picked in one team or the other, however grudgingly, so they always got a go. They even had a chance of promotion next time round should they perform some unexpectedly creditable feat. 
   Teams chosen, you’d look at your team members to see how good yours actually was, by which I mean how many of the alpha males or females you had in it. Not necessarily the best hitters or fielders, but a sizable smattering of ones who could win disputes should they arise, as bickering about the finer points of the rounders laws was endemic in our play, and whether someone was in or out was always a fertile point of contention.
   Anyway, on this day, I was on a reasonable team with a nice balance between kids with good coordination and those with good debating stamina, should a dispute arise as to whether x was out or not. A kid from Grade 2 came down to me just as we were about to start. Grade 2s were deemed too young to play in our keenly contested games, as they tended to cry when they were declared out or got hit with the ball, and they appealed for justice to their older sisters and brothers in either team. Blood often being thicker than water – and there was an awful lot of thick blood in our school – the game flowed more freely if the Grade 2s were barred altogether.]
   ‘Mr Curtis said he wants to see you.’
   My heart  jumped, knowing that the only time he wanted to see me was when I was in trouble. I rapidly went through my repertoire of probable sins of omission and commission, but none registered significantly to justify worrying about yet another nomination for the Punishment Register. In a way, that made it worse, as you can’t prepare a defence, however weak, when you can’t anticipate the crime of which you are about to be accused. 
   But I was summoned, so there was no escape. I glanced up apprehensively at the school building. Old Jim was standing at the window looking down on the rounders field at the time; in my mind, to ensure that his directive regarding my presence in the Big Room had reached my ears. He did not have a cane in hand, and I derived a tiny measure of comfort from that; cold comfort because I knew the cane rack was only a few steps away once you got there. But when you are as wimpy about the stick as I was, you tend to grasp at any old straw, and pray that Old Jim didn’t grasp the really big straw as you came in the door. The metre long one, that is.
   My knees were knocking as I walked into the room, and I know that my lip was not that far off trembling. If you think I’m exaggerating, well, I’m happy about that, because you must imagine I was braver than I am letting on, but the truth was I was scared to death. I’d had just enough encounters with the stick to keep me in that state when summoned before the headmaster.
   ‘Yes, sir?’
   He towered above me and regarded me gravely. He was well over six feet tall, lean and lanky in that grey cardigan he always wore when the temperature got down to a brisk 27 degrees centigrade or so, and I would have been five foot nothing. Then he sat down at his desk, printed documents with the familiar Queensland Department of Education crest in front of him.
   ‘I’ve spoken to your mother and father….’
   My heart was now absolutely in my mouth. That was a truly fearsome statement – head teacher allied with parents, everybody obviously knowing what terrible sin I had committed except me. Maybe it was even worse than a caning offence, though what could be worse than that I could not imagine. Maybe Mr Sugars, the town policeman, was involved, and was using the Singer Sewing Machine oil can on his handcuffs even as we were speaking, to make sure they were in perfect running order when he marched in the door. 
   A caning was even starting to look like a preferable outcome of the discussion. OK, just give me six of the best, I don’t care what for – put them on reserve for a later offence if you like – just don't send me to jail… Such are the things that flash into the mind of a boy with a permanently guilty conscience and a vivid imagination – a worrying combination, especially when I was that boy.
   ‘….and I want to ask you some questions.’
   This was getting worse by the second.
   ‘Have you ever heard of Gatton Agricultural College?’
   Heard of what? My head was truly reeling now and nothing was making sense. Maybe if he had said ‘Gatton Reform School for Uncontrollable Country Children’ or something, we might have been getting on to the same wavelength. But Gatton College? I didn’t even know what that was or where Gatton might be. For all I knew, it could have been on Jupiter, and I definitely didn’t know where that was.
   ‘No, sir.’ This was surely not a time to fudge the truth. Right then, ignorance was the best defence, or at least, a fair delaying strategy.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Diary Update [brief!]

Avastin = no seizures = start of serious self-performing physiotherapy for rewiring unused part of brain [90% of it! :) ] to regain more mobility and right arm movement. Very exciting.

This will continue as long as there are no more seizures.


Post chemotherapy recovery going well.

Christian’s Ancient History exam nearly over…. Much to relief of his mother.

Topsy and the Ten Shilling Notes...... [Part 3]

[Continued from Part 2]


Changes had taken place since Rusty Toohey had given Topsy to me a couple of years before the horse-breaking. OK, I know they don’t call it ‘breaking in’ these days, as methods have changed, fortunately, but that’s what it was then and that’s what I’ll call it for the purposes of this account. The Tooheys had decided to sell up, and with Mum’s keen instinct for timing, she had persuaded Dad that we should at all costs buy his place. It adjoined our property, some paddocks on it even had separate title, and Rusty was keen to get out, as he wasn’t really a farmer. In fact – and I discovered this only yesterday in a message from my sister Jan, he was a hopeless alcoholic – which may at last explain his fit of generosity when he gave me Topsy. He could well have been dead drunk at that moment – but in his favour, he kept his word if so. It was too small a property on its own to be viable anyway. The price was fair. For the first time in our lives we were starting to make money; from whole milk sale, not just cream, so I imagine that was where the finances came from to buy up that extra 160 acres.
   But let’s cut the fake movie directing and get back to the main story. Back to our ten shilling notes. Remember, in some stories, it’s better to travel than to arrive. I hope it’s the case with this one, anyway. Or at least as good.
   At about 10 years of age I went to Pony Club weekly. You know what? I didn’t really like Pony Club. And you know what else? I didn’t even like riding horses much. You want to know why? I’ll tell you, seeing as you asked. Because practically every time I got on a horse on the farm, it was to do work, not play. Rounding up cattle to be milked, dipping, branding, mustering - all involved often lonely hours on horseback when there were way better things to do, as far as I was concerned. And in all sorts of weather – driving rain or cold drizzle, frost, dust, heat… So romantic notions about horse riding for me are few and far between.
   Having got that off my chest, I was pretty handy on a horse, years of bareback riding giving me the riding instincts of a Mongol horseman on one of those rough-as-guts tough-as-boot-leather ponies they still ride. The reason why there was so much bareback riding for me was that Dad and I only had one saddle between us for many years and it never seemed to be my turn. Besides, I was often too lazy to throw on a saddle and would just catch the horse, jump on, and do the job. Sometimes on really hot sweaty days I’d throw a jute pollard bag over the horse’s back and sit astride that. Though it got prickly, at least you didn’t get sores from the horse sweat constantly under the backs of your legs. But when I went to Pony Club, Dad bought a brand new saddle I could use, and that swung things round a bit for me. It was a no-nonsense stock saddle, not a show one, but the comfort factor was ten out of ten. Bareback riding compared with a secure seat in a saddle is like chalk and cheese, and I liked cheese, when I could get it.
   I went to Pony Club for two reasons. Firstly, it was decreed by Dad that I needed to learn good riding habits. The proper way to mount and dismount, to hold the reins, to deal with double reins for show riding, good posture, use of stirrups, to saddle up, grooming, etiquette etc etc. – that sort of thing. It was true – I did need to know all those things – especially if I wanted to be a show rider.
   Secondly, and a reason not at all to my credit, Pony Club was on Sunday afternoon, exactly when the milking was on, so if I went to Pony Club, I was excused my share of the milking, and I’d much rather ride round and round a paddock in pairs or fours with the other kids than milk cows. The extra load in the dairy fell mainly to Mum, so my motives were far from honourable. But it is true that I became a reasonably classy horseman by Pony Club standards, and won ribbons at the Gladstone Show to prove it.
   If I rode Topsy at Pony Club, the other kids had to put up with her incurable, exasperating determination to be half a head in front of any other horse we were paired with or riding fours. A nose in front of her by any other pony and she would snap at it. If that wasn’t enough to show the other pony who was boss, she would turn her head around and bite the leg of the kid riding the horse. I vividly remember the wails of protest from some of them. 
   So, all I can say is that most of my best work at Pony Club was done solo. No-one wanted their group of four judged with one pony permanently out in front, so I wasn’t popular in such group activities. I was a solo performer, mainly because of Topsy’s contrariness. I reckon if she had been the size of a racehorse, she would have won the Melbourne Cup, the Grand National and the Kentucky Derby as long as she got a head start, as she would have scythed down the opposition one by one as they tried to stick their nose in front of her. Is that allowed? I guess not.
   That first ten shilling note. I’m really sorry it’s taken this long to get this far, but it could easily be treble this length if I’d put in everything I’d like to, and still only be at this point. OK, let’s really focus.
   There was a Pony Club gymkhana on in Gladstone. A man called Gregory [or Geoffrey] Nathan was going to be there acting as a judge, along with his wife, Claire, who had distinguished herself by winning an equestrian medal at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956; bronze I think – but as we’d never seen an Olympic medallist in anything, that impressed us. It was like being in the presence of royalty, or even Slim Dusty. 

Mr Nathan was not only a recognised national judge of Arab horses, but also judged aspects of gymkhanas, so the pair were good value in the competition as far as being fair and independent were concerned. The latter, independence, was deemed a vital requirement in Gladstone, especially amongst the 'town' mothers. Some of them at gymkhanas were as bad as those Child Beauty Pageant mothers - you know the ones.
   The older kids in their late teens were in the individual competitions, but I was chosen to be in one of the fours. As you now know, Topsy had presented an insurmountable problem for the Calliope Pony Club for months. Not even the combined experience of the girls who taught Pony Club, Trish and Cathy Boys, had solved it. I was one of the better junior riders, but everyone hated my horse. Heck, when it came to Pony Club, I wasn’t that keen on her myself, but we developed an understanding over the months on the biting habit. It involved a switchy stick in my hand and a sharp whip across the nose with it if she turned to bite any other beast or child. Still, it meant I had to be constantly on the alert, as she would take any opportunity she could to harry the horses beside us if I didn’t keep an eagle eye on her.
   So we ended up solving this by a piecemeal solution. The problem could be cut in half in one fell swoop by having me on the wing; an end spot. One fewer horse to bite. I had noticed that for some reason, Topsy also favoured biting the pony to her left – the side that Juno had inched up on that very first time, so I was posted at left flank in the fours. Bimbo Brown had a pony nearly as mean-spirited as Topsy could be, so he was placed next to me on my right side, while Wendy Mossman and Sue Moran, both great show riders, took the other starboard slots. Topsy wasn’t that keen to bite Bimbo’s gelding so there was an uneasy but fairly stable truce between them for the competition. As long as I was very focused and made Topsy stay in line, we weren’t a bad foursome at all, and ready to take on all comers.
   A story like this has to end in a win, of course, and we did. Neither of my parents could be present - there was milking to be done. Dad would have enjoyed it - well, both of them would. I was gobsmacked early that morning when I went to clean my riding boots to find that Dad had polished them himself the night before, and I could nearly see my face in them. Never had anything like that happened before. 
   Individual prizes were awarded to the senior solo performers, and we juniors got our blue ribbons, presented by Mr Nathan himself. Then a strange thing happened. As we got ours, Mrs Nathan left her seat in the judges’ stand and walked out to him in the ring. They exchanged words, she pointed at me, and from his pocket, he took out what looked to me like a huge roll of banknotes and peeled off a ten shilling note.
   Being on the left flank of our foursome, I was right next to him.
   ‘What’s your name, son?’
   I told him, not sure whether it was something I’d rather he didn’t know. He passed the name on to his wife, together with the money.
   ‘I want to make a special encouragement award, for commendable horsemanship and concentration,’ she said through a microphone that boomed out all over the showgrounds, and handed me the ten bob note. I never heard my name roll around the hills amplified through huge Vic Shellard speakers before - any speakers for that matter. Calliope wasn't big on microphones. I was stunned.
   I felt an utter fraud. For one thing, my position on the left flank in the particular fours manoeuvres we were doing put me right in the limelight. Most of the time, I was the only one of the four of us she could have seen, or at least I thought so. For another, I was so intent on making sure that Topsy didn’t try to bite Bimbo’s pony and stay perfectly in line that I guess I must have looked very well focused indeed. To this day I don’t know exactly what made her rip ten shillings off her husband and give it to me, but I wasn’t complaining. I was a fraud, but temporarily a rich one, and that was good enough for me. Sue and Wendy, my fours partners, were very gracious about it, but Bimbo looked displeased. Would I share my good luck with them? Not on your Nellie.
   Claire Nathan wasn't finished with me.
   'She's naughty, isn't she?' Topsy pricked up her ears and then flattened them immediately, in aggressive mode. 'Hop off a minute.'
   I dismounted, very correctly.
   'Nice saddle. Good quality'
   'Dad took a long time picking it out.' He certainly had paid plenty for it.
   'It's new, I can see. And you've been looking after it.'
   Not true, but I didn't let on. Dad had been looking after it, regularly using the Coachaline saddle grease that our other old saddle all too rarely saw in its life.
   She lengthened the stirrup leathers in a flash and swung into the saddle.
   Topsy's ears pricked up again sharply, but didn't go back into fighting mode. Then the whole audience and I witnessed the most amazing thing. She rode Topsy in circles, zigzag, over a hurdle, pirouetted, things I couldn't even name... and Topsy behaved like an absolute angel. Everyone appreciated the spectacle and clapped, except me. I was standing there like the village idiot, ten shilling note in hand, gaping open mouthed like a newly caught cod. Topsy had been ridden by an Olympic medalist! 
   Mrs Nathan jumped off and in a flash fixed the stirrups for me to mount up again.
   'See? She could do that for you. Get back on.'
   I obeyed with alacrity. I was sitting in my saddle, still warm from an Olympic medallist's bum!
   ‘Do you like show riding?’ Mrs Nathan asked.
   ‘It’s all right, Mrs Nathan.’
   ‘You should do more of it.’
   ‘I will.’

It was a sincere lie. The truth was that one of the last things in the world that I wanted to do was ride round and round a show-ring, demonstrating mastery of boy over unwilling beast. But the ten shillings was nice and she had a great smile, and deserved that predictable response to her question.
   But how I got that other ten shillings, now - that’s a far better story than this one!

Topsy and I, with our farm in the background.