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

Monday, December 31, 2012

Chinese twist to the Monkey tale (0)

The other day, I was wearing my Monkey t-shirt. It's a bit faded now, but he has survived well over the years. 

   I know it's weird, but never has a t-shirt I owned attracted so much comment, ever. People have stopped me in the street to remark on it, invariably with affection for the character.
I loved Monkey!
Where did you get it?
I never missed an episode.
That sure brings back memories....
    This started a discussion about the story of Monkey (not Maurice the monkey, though he has his flair as well), and I said I had written a whole lecture on the subject in the early 1980s, adding that I probably still had some sort of copy somewhere.

    I went looking for it, and after some hours and almost giving up, I located it. Why did I have so much trouble? I can find files going back more than twenty years through my cataloguing program.

    You have absolutely no interest in the reason, but I'm telling you anyway, because... it's my blog. This is what happened. 

Hemisphere Annual edition
    I had written articles on Sufism and Taoism for an Australian Government financed coffee-table Asian-Australian journal called Hemisphere. Issues of this journal were placed on the magazine tables in Australian embassies around the world, so that people waiting for visas or who'd lost their passports or were otherwise disrupting the normal functioning of a diplomatic mission by needing help had something pretty to read while waiting. 

    Hemisphere was edited by Keith Henderson, who roundly dressed me down on the phone for misspelling "odyssey" in the final draft of this article that I'd sent for publication. (I still can't spell it. It's one of those words that I get wrong no matter what I do to remember it correctly, and even now, the spell-checker picked up my hundredth time for getting it wrong.)

    The thing about Hemisphere was that the articles in it were often written in entertaining style on entertaining pet subjects by high quality academics freed of the restrictions of scholarly journal writing, which has to be as boring as possible to be taken seriously. This means that what they wrote in Hemisphere was read by thousands more people than ever read one of their convoluted articles in peer-reviewed academic tomes.

    So why didn't my article on Monkey that Keith was going to publish in Hemisphere ever see the light of day? I had checked the galley-proofs of the pages with their pretty pictures of Monkey and his pals.

   The presses in Canberra were ready to roll, when the Government of the day announced a swag of sudden austerity measures. Hemisphere was amongst them and Mr Henderson was ordered to cease publication forthwith.

    This was a bit stupid (but when did Government decisions always make sense?) because the authors had been paid, the production work finished, the colour separations for illustrations all completed and the Government Printer had no more to do than press the button.

    But it didn't happen and that's why I'm publishing it here – sadly, without the fine illustrations I'd seen in the galley proofs.

    And all that is to explain why I couldn't find a copy in digital form – one produced long after the original typewritten version had disappeared. You see, to give it a more high-falutin' title, I'd named it Buddhism through Chinese Eyes, and changed the focus a bit away from Monkey and his pals to how it fitted into the Chinese tradition.

    That's why looking for ages through my disk catalogue for anything mentioning Monkey turned up a blank. But Low-And-Be-Old, once I looked for the lofty title, there it was.

    This iteration is dated 16 April 1998. There's more to the story of its evolution to my blog than I've told you here but I'll stop while not too far behind. I've broken it into five short segments for easy reading.

    It's coming. Like the version for Hemisphere that never graced the mag tables of embassies worldwide, it's ready to roll, and come hell or high water, that's what you're getting over the next wee while.



Thursday, December 27, 2012

The unbelievable Maurice the monkey

There is quite an extraordinary sequel to this story. No, I lie. It was fantastic. Unbelievable – or at least parts of it were, or are, as you shall see. Believe me.

   On the very day the rollator story appeared on my blog, as the witching hour approached, there was a scuffling sound on the front verandah, and a tiny ting of the bell, but silence reigned soon after.

   We have become somewhat familiar with these sounds. Often, a mysterious gift appears as if by magic, and this time was no exception, except in its extravagance.

   An orphan had appeared on the doorstep. I say "orphan" because he was at least as much an orphan as Paddington Bear; but in appearance he was not like Paddington Bear, being as he was a monkey and all. Something of a cross between a chimpanzee and a spider monkey, I felt, which may be the reason he was rejected by his mother. Or, dare I say it, he may have been the issue of an illicit relationship between parents of these different species.

   Or maybe he was just a super-fit rhesus monkey. There is some evidence for the latter, as you will see. Let's just call him a monkey.

   Not only was he a monkey, he seemed not the least perturbed about turning up. He had a devil-may-care face, a veritable wardrobe of clothes, and instructions.

   That's right. Instructions. They were clear enough, but slightly puzzling. For a start, although taken as a whole they suggested quite an active lifestyle, Maurice, as he was named by his obviously highly literate mother (we forgive the spelling of pyjamas as it's not the easiest of words), was remarkably inactive, as you see below.

   It was rather like he was pining for the fjorests, in fact, if not the mighty fjungles. He was as inert as argon, helium, xenon, radon, neon and krypton put together.

   (As an aside, I had forgotten about krypton being an inert gas till I looked it up you-know-where. What a sissy is Superman that he gets bowled over by the product of an inert gas?)

   "He doesn't do much," I said as I put him in the 'stroller'.

   "Apparently not," said Tracey. "You're going to look a right berk walking down the street with him if he can't even wave at our friends."

   I had to agree. But being people of goodwill and with Christmas Day less than a fortnight away, we took Maurice in.

   "I wonder if his name's pronounced Maureece or Morris?"

   These are things Tracey is sure to know. She looked thoughtful.

   "Maureece, I'm guessing. He has something of a cavalier look about him that suggests the great Maurice."

   She wasn't as sure as I expected, but she loves those dastardly Frenchmen, so it figures.

   In the days that followed, leading up to the celebration of the Birth of our Lord, a strange pattern began to emerge. Maurice was not as inert as he appeared to be. He was never quite in the same place when we came back to him, or when I went to walk him.

   This was eerie, in a really eerie sort of way. Each time we came back to him, he was in a slightly different position, as if feigning his status as a mere child's plaything, but not quite succeeding. Was he one of Dr Who's fearsome Weeping Angels, a shape-shifter? Maybe not. We didn't die when we looked away, and I don't want to strain your credulity too much now.

   By setting up cameras to detect movement when we were out, we discovered an amazing thing. Unbelievable, as I warned you at the start. Behind our backs, Maurice was leading a double life, one of activity beyond our wildest imaginings.

   No wonder he appeared so knackered each time we observed he had altered his bearing. Can you imagine the sheer willpower it takes for a critter to do all this stuff and have no evidence of a skeletal structure?

Daytime wear - exploring the wilderness
Evening wear - expecting Patsy and Edina
Pyjamas - a spot of research before sleep
Adventures - pullups on the benchpress
   On reflection, I suspect his mother, or guardian, was not heartless at all, but a creature of incredible generosity, who probably, with buckets of tears, gave up her precious baby to be a walking companion for me. We will continue to nurture him and allow him his pastimes, with gladness in our hearts and thanks to his parent – and we have a pretty damn good idea who she is.

Secret cameras expertly set up by Tracey James

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

"history that we could not protect"

On this Christmas Day 2012 this may seem a strange posting, but... I don't think so. My blog.

I have been to many ancient sites in the eastern and western world. Some, like those of the Indus Civilisation, have been recovered from deep under the earth, and some rescued from the jungles of Southeast Asia. I have seen these sites in restoration, being saved for posterity.

   In looking at sites like Mohenjodaro, of the Indus Civilisation, I always reminded my students when showing them:
Don't forget that you're only looking at the skeleton of this city, without everything that gives it life – the colour, the smell and the noise.... People. Animals. Gardens. These images we'll see today are of an empty shell.
With other cities it's very different. They are ancient cities but have always been inhabited. They're alive. When something is destroyed, it is rebuilt stone by stone, if their inhabitants don't want the character of the city utterly changed. 

   Of course, they get their share of modern buildings and innovations. It would be a strange city that did not. So the city evolves.

   Some very old ones have seen deaths of their inhabitants on a grand scale, but the character of the city survives over millennia. Even during the great European wars of the twentieth century, there was some containment of destruction of cities, leaving aside some notable exceptions I don't want to talk about here.

   But what about when a bloody civil war is going on today in one of these living ancient cities, where the weapons of war are monstrously powerful? The attackers' targets are the city dwellers and enemy combatants, and the easiest way to expose and kill them is to destroy the places they live, even though they are part of the civil heritage of the country. Today's gains must be made at all costs.

   Take Syria, now engaged in exactly this sort of war, killing and maiming and ruining the lives of millions who have formerly shared their past and their lives willingly. Its leaders have turned weapons of vast destructive power on their own cities, and the loss of life and utter misery is incomprehensible to outsiders. Nothing or no life is sacred, not even the great places of worship that have stood for centuries.

   We don't want to know. It's Christmas and we have other things to occupy us. We don't face death every moment in the way these people do. We don't see the headless little girls or the horrors beyond description, unless you've been to hell.

   And we don't know what to do.

   Here's the ancient Syrian city of Aleppo, a home for all the Abrahamic faiths. Islam, Christianity and Judaism rub shoulders here. I'd tell you about its ancient past, but it's not my story. What I do want to mention is a story, all too true, pointed out to me by my old friend, Grant Winkler. 

The Land of Topless Minarets and Headless Little Girls

It's a beautiful piece about an subject with more than its share of ugliness – perhaps it's more sadness about loss of identity than anything else. It's rather long; about 3,500 words, and I don't expect many will read it to the end. I would have found it challenging myself these days, in front of a computer screen, but on a little Kindle screen, lying in a comfortable bed, it's very easy.

I'd like to share with you just a few tiny excerpts. Disjointed scraps. That's all.

Watching death has become a pastime of the revolution. 

The once-vibrant cities cannot be saved, so you watch, helpless, as they become ruins.

Ruins are sold to us as romantic and poetic.

But that kind of romanticism is only afforded with the distance of time and geography. In war, ruins-in-the-making are not beautiful....

We walked on history so deep, we did not understand it....

After you leave, no matter where you are in the world, you know that Aleppo is there, waiting exactly as you left it. Instead, it is you who returns in a reinvented form each time you come home....

It is a city of churches, temples, relics, and graves of revered mystics.

Misplaced pride has proved us unworthy of this history that we could not protect.

Syria has become the land of topless minarets and headless little girls.

You learn about things when they are broken — friendships, love, people, and even cities.

Things take on new, unimaginable forms when they are destroyed.

...places from your childhood have disappeared forever.

People forget that the reason Aleppo was the best-preserved historic Islamic city in the Middle East was a result of neglect rather than care.

What had been painstakingly rebuilt stone by stone, refurbished, reclaimed, and reinvented, is now destroyed in minutes.

We hear rumors of our antiquities disappearing through the open seams of our country....

Don't you dare, even for one second, believe that your people and your cities are immune to what happened to my country, my friend. None of you are.

Just as no parent should ever have to bury their children, no citizen should have to bury her own city.

Why post this on a day of fun and revelry for many? You can come to your own conclusions. Just make a note of the place to find it, and come back to it another time.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Looking ahead, being here today

Compliments of the season to you for 2012, and a happy, fruitful 2013 for you. It seems that a lot of us haven't had the best of years in 2012, but look at it this way.

We're here. We're lucky enough to have a device that reads what's on the screen before our eyes. We may be suffering in some ways, or be with someone who is, and who takes much of our loving care and effort. We may be people in the full flush of life. No matter what, we're here.

I hope you are able to be in contact with family and with those others who matter, over the next few days at least.

My wish for all for 2013 is for contentment and peace of mind, no matter what the year ahead has in store for us.

Carpe Diem. As Erma Bombeck said, "Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.”

Friday, December 21, 2012

The strange encounter with Dippy Duck

I rolled out into the kitchen a day or two ago. That's not a typo, by the way, because 'rolled' better describes my assisted walk than 'strolled'.

   I rubbed my eyes in disbelief at what I was seeing on the ledge above the kitchen bench.

   "A Dippy Duck?"

   "It's a Duncan Duck," she said.

   "I'll believe his name. What I don't believe is that you bought one."

   "We had one of these when I was little," she said, a bit pouty, "and I just ... wanted him."

   "You bought a Dippy Duck."

   He was doing his thing, rocking back and forth, slower and slower, until the point at which he dipped his head in a strategically placed glass of water, and swung upright again, ready to repeat the performance. Ad infinitum he was capable of, as long as his bill could reach the water.

Very modest version**
   We never had a Dippy Duck when I was a kid, as it went against farm principles to have a paid-for critter that didn't produce any perceivable or potential income. Entertainment value? Limited, you must admit, after the first two thousand or so performances of his one single trick a day-old duckling could do, and swim as well. Aesthetic and artistic merit?

   Well, just look at him. Would Michelangelo be keen to whip up his portrait or sculpt a Duncan rather than a David? You choose.

   But then the lad came in. Twenty, he'll be in a couple of weeks. He stared long and hard at Duncan and his tireless antics. Antic.

   He was entranced, but for neither entertainment nor artistic reasons. He's developed a passion for physics and chemistry – and mathematics. All the things he didn't want to study at school no way no how.

   Better late than never, I suppose, but I wished many a night as he looked glumly at equations that his timing could have been better.

   His interest was in how and why Duncan did his dunking. He's quick on the uptake with such matters when he wants to be, and worked out everything except the vital piece of chemistry; the bright blue fluid that Duncan harboured in his generous bladder. Fair enough; methylene chloride is not something you can guess, is it?

   Once he'd solved the physics and chemistry of Duncan, he took no further interest in the performer, but went back to catching up on the five years of maths he spurned at high school.

   I do have to say, in spite of my scorn for Duncan as an objet d'art, the science of what he does is quite amazing.* Sincerely. It does my heart good to see where university research grants went in the late 1940s, and one day, Duncan might make some unexpected contribution to human progress.

   He's on his 9,786th dunk, day and night unceasingly as I write, and will probably make it to five figures well before you get this far, if you ever do. Tracey looks at him with great fondness and keeps his cup almost runneth-ing over. I suppose the 10 mls of water per day he needs aren't too hard on the budget. But being a snob, I just wish he wasn't the first thing guests see when they come in – although explaining the science of Duncan is a conversation-stopper.

   Sadly, not often in a good way. People can be such peasants.
*A simpler explanation for the physics of Duncan the Duck for ummm... pheasants.
** Source for original David sculpture I added the generous figleaf myself. This you may have guessed.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

El Torito: love and aggro in the cowyard (3)

It is not good animal husbandry to have the same bull too long with the herd, otherwise he is bound to meet up with his own daughters as adult cows, and he has no idea nor cares a jot that he's their daddy. So change is inevitable if the dairy farmer is not to end up with all the problems of inbreeding.

   My sister Jan tells me that El Torito replaced a bull called Mike. I don't remember him. She also tells me that on one occasion when her husband Ken came a-courting, he jumped into the pen with El Torito, who charged him directly, and Ken barely touched the rails getting up up and away. As she recalls:
I’ve never seen anyone move so fast.  El Torito was left disappointed at the bottom of the yard and Ken headed white-faced back to Dad, who was just about in hysterics.  He laughed about it for years afterwards.
   El Torito remained as long as there was no chance of inbreeding, but as that time approached, Carl, a gentle-natured young red Angus-cross bull, was introduced.

   You may remember at the end of the last episode that I called him Karl. Given that he was as red as the best Bolshevik in the USSR, I thought it was a political comment, but now I remember we got him from Uncle Siv, whose full name was Carl Siverine Jenson. He preferred  to be called Siv, so we appropriated "Carl" in the same way we called the cattledog "Ted" after Ted Whitney and "Rusty" the grey mare after Rusty Toohey, for the obvious reasons.

   This innovation was not to El Torito's liking. Carl was meek and deferential and did his best to keep out of El Torito's way, but Carl still got shown who was boss as often as possible, with a horn in the ribs or a lunge at his belly. On the very rare occasions where passion overcame discretion and he was caught by El Torito in flagrante delicto, his ardour was as quickly cooled as is that of a lover with an angry husband's pistol pointing at vulnerable parts of his anatomy.

   But what El Torito didn't count on was that Carl was a growing boy, and the testosterone was flowing. One day, when El Torito warned him off the lovesick Lurlene with a fierce prod to the gut, Carl decided he'd had enough. Deference disappeared in a flash of rage, and El Torito realised his worst nightmare was on him. No longer meek, a hand taller and fifty kilos heavier than his tormentor, Carl took him on – in the small yard next to the dairy. The cows scattered but there was no escape for El Torito, with Carl trapping him in the corner.

   The battle was short, violent and noisy. After extracting from El Torito a bit of revenge for the scores of jabs in the ribs, Carl would have happily gone on with it, but El Torito saw a strategic gap through which he escaped, Carl hot on his heels. El Torito made for the gate beyond the poinciana tree and leapt the sliprails. More accurately, he broke them down with a splintering crash and fled the field of battle.

   Most animals are smart. Unlike humans, they know when to call it a day and feel no dishonour in defeat. Carl didn't even follow him through the shattered sliprails. He just turned to the cows, vapour fuming from each nostril like you see in cartoons, with a triumphant and pleased look on his face. And a glint in his eye. Carl's cows they were now.

   Henceforth, the wrinkling of the nose would be his task – or pleasure, whatever you want to call it.
POSTSCRIPT Thursday, 20 December 2012 12:25 AM. 
Both Tracey when she read this, and my friend Anne, as you see in the comment below, asked the question, "What happened to El Torito?"

The short answer is, "I don't know."

Why not? How dare you not know! you may say.

When I went off to Teacher's College, El Torito was still with us. When writing letters home from Brisbane, the subject didn't come up. The question of his future was not likely to, in spite of the fact that, as you can see, he made a strong impact on us all. Dramatic events in our lives made El Torito's future the last thing on our minds.

But I can tell you this. There are only two prospects for a bull who has done his time on one cattle property. Either, he is sold on to another one to take up his duties there, or he goes to the meatworks. There are no retirement paddocks for bulls. Every item of livestock on a farm must earn its living, except maybe for a dearly-loved old horse or two.

In El Torito's case, he may have been saved from the meatworks for quite some time because he was a pedigreed bull and his progeny was more valuable than usual in the 1950s. Ultimately though, like all other livestock, his fate eventually would be the slaughterhouse. No farm is a charity – it's a business where sentiment leads to failure. Buy a farm with stars in your eyes and a romantic vision of idyllic existence, and it will end in tears.

That's why I became a teacher, until the university took me into its arms. I always said that farming was a great stimulus to my education, and that's  partly because I vowed never to earn my living running a farm.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The toadstool battle

My Dad, who always appeared to be a bit severe to me, could sometimes surprise me mightily.

   One day, a couple of days after a big storm it was, we were walking by the creek for some reason down Aunty Anne's end of our place, so now you know exactly where I'm talking about, and we came across a great toadstool clump in the grass by the creek bank.

   There were heaps of little puff-balls about the size of a mandarin (pronounced "mandar-een" for the unknowing) and a few huge ones that would have been near as big as a rock-melon (honey-dew).

   "Let's have a toadstool fight," Dad said.

   I was shocked – this didn't sound quite like my father, but I was definitely up for it. I may have been only eight or so, but I had a sturdy arm and great throwing accuracy derived from my practice walking home from school of hurling good sized stones at fenceposts – and though this appears nowhere on my academic CV, I say now with pride that I very rarely missed. No Goliath could have approached me, mate – I would have struck him down without the encumbrance of a slingshot and cut off his head just like David did, except that my little pocket-knife would have been stretched to its limits….

   Where was I? Oh yes, the toadstool fight.

   Never had I fought my Dad on such terms. Let's face it – on any terms. Usually, he told me what to do and I did it. And now he was telling me to try to hit him with toadstools from a range of ten metres. No kid could resist that, surely.

   Within a minute I had gathered a good sized pile, having no idea how long the battle would last.  He collected maybe eight, at most. The battle began. I couldn't believe how agile he was at dodging my well-aimed toadies, but fenceposts aren't a moving target and my father was an ace rugby league player in his day, and he'd sidestepped many a tackle.

   My approach was Gatling gun. His was heavy artillery. He hurled one or two my way, but I could duck and weave every bit as well as he. A fraction better maybe, and I was a smaller target.

   My ammo supply started to run low. He had but one left - a monster. I bent down to pick up the best one of the few remaining. I straightened up and was about to position myself for a throw when I saw it coming. It looked the size of a Jap pumpkin. Off-balance, I could do nothing but turn my back.

   I don't know if you are aware of the consistency of a big toadie but it's about that of fresh cowdung when the mob has been feeding on new spring growth. Sloppy. Very sloppy. There was this splattery noise and I can still feel to this day the sensation of almost being knocked over by a direct hit square in the middle of my back.

   I had a sudden appreciation for what it must have felt like on the Bismarck when she (he?) copped a torpedo amidships. All right, I don't really know if the Bismarck copped a torpedo amidships but I'm on a roll here, so let's not be bothered by a mere historical trifle.

   What did I do? Would you believe it? I burst into tears. The utter shame of blubbing like that. There was my father, cackling away like a schoolboy and me thinking only that my mother was going to roast me for getting the back of my shirt ruined. It was a good one too – you know, the white cotton one with the green bands on the sleeves. That one. Every time I said to Mum, "I like this shirt," she would smile and say, "I like that shirt too." So you can imagine how sad she would be now that it was spoiled.

   But it's true – what a wuss. A sissy. I didn't think it all through at the time, standing there with yellow goo running down my back, or I would have realised one incontrovertible and consoling fact – there is no way you can get into trouble with your mother for a ruined shirt if it was your father who had done the deed. No way in the world.

   And there was my father, just grinning away.

   "Come on now. Stop being a girl and get your shirt off."

   I peeled it off, still sniffling a bit, and he waded into the creek. He rinsed the shirt thoroughly in its crystal-clear spring water, and wrung it out with the strength of a man used to carrying a bag of pollard over one shoulder. He waved it about a little. It was a hot summer day and barely damp when he finished.

   I put it back on and it looked only a little bit the worse for wear after the assault. Maybe Mum wouldn't even notice. It wasn't as if any shirt of mine ended the day as it started, ever. And by then I had realised the clause in the contract "Dad did it" was going to be my saviour anyway. I was as untouchable as Al Capone until they got him.

   The relentless drone of the cicadas seemed quite cheery as we walked home in the Queensland sunshine. The bottlebrushes looked redder than ever against the deep green of the branches shading the water. The tropic sky was blue and cloudless.

   In retrospect, toadstool fights with your Dad are fantastic fun; if you let him win, of course.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Walkin' the walk: the rollator

Sometimes I am unjustly accused of being pig-headed. Well, I was born in the Year of the Pig, so it's fair enough to be determined and tenacious, yes?

   Not always. I do know when I am risking life and limb unnecessarily, and then it's time to call a halt to the nonsense to avoid being the biggest, and possibly the deadest, ninny of all time.

   When Julie first offered me her late Mum's walker [more accurately, a 'rollator'] I didn't feel my balance problems warranted it. Besides, only one of my arms was working properly. I'd never be able to grasp it with the right hand well enough to be of any use....

   But when I started crawling hand-hold by hand-hold along the wall, or accepting Tracey's arm to get from desk to dinner table and back, I knew the time for mulishness was coming to an end.

   You see, walkers are for old ladies like my Mum when she was in her 80s, right? Or the occasional old bloke who survived long enough to get some use out of one.

   Not me. I'm just... not old.

   But no, says I to me finally. You have a condition that warrants a change of attitude. Accept gracefully that you should try something different.

   So I did. The moment I put my hands on the grips and realised the right hand was going to stick, I knew my pig-headedness was a big mistake. With both hands, I had permanent walking support, finely adjusted by arm power over foot wobbles.

   Handling the brakes was no problem, given my experience riding motorbikes and cycles. All that was needed was to learn accurate judgment with the wheels, as the back ones are fixed, unlike your supermarket trolley's all-wheel steering. At the start I bumped into a few things with a back wheel while screaming round corners like Sebastian Vettel.

   It's great. If I get caught out with a seizure on the way betwixt destinations, at least I can spin it round and sit down. Or if I get tired while making some early morning repast in the kitchen, I can rest.

   There are other fancier models, but I don't need it for mountaineering or as a dune buggy; just for getting there inside our house. However dependent on it I may get, it gives me independence of a different and vital type, and I'm hoping Tracey feels that I'm safer with it too and doesn't have her heart in her mouth as she did when I tottered along.

    If my knee gives way, which it seems is almost inevitable at some stage, I have the walker to lean on and take the weight off my leg. Even if I went down on that knee, the fall would be broken by the walker rather than my hip or arm.

   There's only one thing that seems wrong. The last time I pushed something like this, there was a toddler in it. It now seems empty, as if it had no real purpose.

   I'm thinking maybe I should get a Pooh Bear or something, and wheel him along.

   What do you reckon? 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

El Torito: love and aggro in the cowyard (2)

El Torito, as I said, was fiery and aggressive. This showed up in many ways. When we first acquired him, he looked round for something to beat up. The first thing that caught his eye was a 44 gallon drum partially filled with molasses up near the diary.

   Perhaps he liked the smell, because molasses is what we used as a stock food supplement. His horns were a better shape than the ones on the bull in my previous illustration; more sturdy, wider angled and vicious. Much more like the ones shown here and now gone to the highest bidder on Gumtree, which I'm sure you'd love mounted above your fireplace with your Goya or Picasso bullfighting prints on either side.

   Ripper bewdy.

Classy combos for your fireplace
   So it was with these horns that El Torito set about doing a number on the 44 gallon drum of molasses. First he bunted it all the way up the hill from the dairy as far as the old Toohey's house, and then down again, past the dairy. The speed of the downhill run pleased him enormously so he belted that steel drum right down into the gully, into half a metre or so of water. There his enthusiasm for the project left him, and left Dad with the task of getting the now battered 44 gallon drum back up to the dairy. This did not please him but he was impressed with the fact that the drum didn't yield in the slightest.
Genuine 44 gall drum

   A 44 gallon drum is incredibly versatile but its multitude of uses isn't the subject here. I'm all too familiar with them from working for Shell when a student as a storeman and packer on the Gladstone wharves in university vacations, but maybe another time. Back to El Torito.

   My sister Lyn also tells me that one day in the "pepper" tree as we called the pepperina:
   ... I climbed up the sloping trunk to look at the baby possums in a nest in the first fork of the tree. I went to climb down and there he was looking up at me and shaking his head as if to say 'you come down and I'll toss you over the slip rails'. He would have too, more than likely. I had to yell until Dad heard and came and chased him off.

The pride and joy of the family – the '57 ute
   El Torito must have liked the feel of heavy metal against the horn. The crowning achievement in his relationship with large steel objects came when we bought our first car – a brand spanking new 1957 Holden ute. Dad's pride and joy.

   Yes, you know what's coming so why describe it in detail? I won't. But here's the gist.

   One fine day, El Torito had nothing to do in the romantics department, it seems. Canary daughter of Camembert (aka "Bertie") couldn't care less and Leila daughter of Lila daughter of Lily had a headache.

   El Torito decided on some horn practice now the drumming option had closed, the 44 gallon drum having been put in the shed in case he decided to tango with it again.

   But there was the shiny new car....

   My mother saw the fruits of his labour first. Wisely, she chose to give Dad his lunch before acquainting him with the spectacle, knowing that he'd be so furious and upset that he wouldn't eat, and would remove El Torito's horns with the ring-barking axe, beginning at the neck.

   That lunch probably saved El Torito from being flogged to within an inch of his life. Not being a student of Indian philosophy, Dad didn't always appreciate notions of dharma ("things act according to their nature") in terms of animal relationships with shiny new vehicles, although he did have his own concept of karma – of cause and effect. In this case El Torito had caused the rakings up and down both sides of the new car and the tailgate with horrifying effect, (although the bonnet, it must be said, survived miraculously intact) and Dad's view on the matter was El Torito should have known better.

   He did not get off scot-free. Dad picked up a piece of perished rubber hosing that had been replaced in the milking machines, and belted him with it as many times and as hard as possible before El Torito retreated for the hills. Given the time lag between the vandalism and the flogging attempt, El Torito must have been as puzzled about my father's sudden choler as a puppy is when pee is discovered in the corner of the lounge hours after the deed is done, and Prince gets his nose rubbed in it.

   Nevertheless, Dad couldn't afford to be too harsh on his expensive stud bull, knowing that El Torito had quite a ways to go yet before earning his hubby-price. That probably saved El Torito as well. Dad was nothing if not mindful of money.

   There is a Part 3. I have not quite done with El Torito yet. The last chapter is about what happened when Karl, the red bull, entered the scene.

Monday, December 10, 2012

El Torito: love and aggro in the cowyard (1)

It's a peculiar thing that jersey bulls are aggressive little sods, while jersey cows are generally docile. One young bull we called Victor, whose horns had barely grown to full size, laid my father out over a rail on one occasion.

   Victor did not last long. It was not my father's way that any animal, let alone a half-grown jersey bull, should question who was master at Sunny Hills.

   But well before we had Victor, we had a jersey stud bull called El Torito. That's what we named him, and a fine name it was. It also suited his personality, because he would have made a hit in the bullring. Literally. He was agile, fearless and fiery.

   In the course of a couple of years, El Torito sired many fine calves, but his prowess in that sense isn't the subject of this story. It's about his outlets for aggression. We kids were wary of him for good reason; we chose to give him a wide berth, and even Dad kept a sharp eye out for him, particularly when one of El Torito's amiable wives developed a sudden fondness for her lord – one that evolved from biological imperative.

   Actually, why not talk about his lovelife? How many townies know about Love Among the Jerseys in fields of barley [and the cowyard] when you've got one testosterone-charged stud bull and his sixty or so wives it was his duty to tend? This is racy stuff, so I put an appropriate label on it. Parental Guidance. You have been warned.

   Townies wouldn't know it, but cows fall in love. Briefly, admittedly – but I'll come to that, now I have the attention of the romantics among you. Sometimes it’s the cow that decides to hang around the bull, but usually it's when the cow is performing the erotic art of urination that the bull suspects something, especially if he happens to be downwind of the lady. It's in the air. It gets his attention.

   If she's still in the erotic act by the time he gets close enough, he does a spot ovulation test. I'm serious. Any dairy farm kid has seen this performed hundreds of times, though the whole thing puzzled us deeply when we witnessed it at a tender age. While the tap is still running as it were and puts his nose under the sample issuing forth. Then, his nostrils dripping, he moves his head back and upwards from the golden stream, and does this strange wrinkle-up-the-nose thing for a few seconds. You'd swear he was looking displeased. It's usually not the case at all.

   Something in the wrinkling-the-nose process tells him she's ready. Hot to trot as it were. In season. They fall in love instantly – don't let anyone ever tell you love at first...smell... isn't possible. There's a brief honeymoon of some two or three days (I'll spare you the Fifty Shades details) but we observed in awe as our parents looked sheepishly uncomfortable, watching us watch in the milking yards what was being enacted before those childish eyes.

   Another ovulation test with just as much nose-wrinkling after a day or two of these lustily amorous sessions presaged what may appear to be a sad story. The honeymoon was over. The lovesick bulling and mooing of the past days ceased, particularly if a whiff from another direction indicated to El Torito that love as a unit of production had to be shared around a bit.

   Neither seemed to mind about the breakup. The joys of love are fleeting, we were told by the Seekers, and there were no tears, no angry moos or stamping of hooves. Each got from the dalliance what nature said they must, and it was time to move on.

   Right. Now I'll get back to the point. I had no idea that we would be taken down this pathway to the Chapel of Bovine Love. 

   I do want to say though, that when it comes to humans, I'm glad there are other ovulation tests.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

The fruits of Narcissism

A tricky combo: Dali and Narcissus

It's an oddly Narcissistic thing I have to admit to, with no right. I have a reason to visit an older page in my blog, and I start reading. Then I look down the other postings for that month, and wonder, what the hell was that about?

   So I start reading. Another, then another. I discover that some things I thought to write on in the future that I already have, some in detail. They're not bad either, for the most part, but it's disconcerting.

   So it was that I stumbled across this one from August 2011, which, in my defence, I did know I had written about.  But on reading the comments, I saw, as happens all to often, that someone has made a comment that I've missed, or given scant attention to.

   And I rediscovered this gem of a comment, from Joan. it's worthy of its own posting, and perhaps I can assuage my guilt at not acknowledging it properly first time around by reproducing it here. It's so relevant.

   Over to you, Joan. Maybe it was that it simply needed no comment!

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Here's something from Ram Dass about memory. Painfully true, but at the same time, you have to laugh or you're finished.
Just a line to say I’m living,
that I’m not among the dead.
Though I’m getting more forgetful
and more mixed up in the head.
For sometimes I can’t remember,
when I stand at the foot of the stair,
If I must go up for something,
or I’ve just come down from there.
And before the fridge, so often,
my poor mind is full of doubt.
Have I just put food away,
or have I come to take some out?
And there are times when it is dark out,
with my nightcap on my head,
I don’t know if I’m retiring
or I’m getting out of bed.

If it’s my turn to write you,
there’s no need for getting sore.
I may think that I have written
and don’t want to be a bore.
Remember, I do love you
and I wish you were here.
It’s nearly mail time,
so I’ll say goodbye, dear.
There I stood beside the mailbox
with my face so very red.
Instead of mailing you my letter,
I have opened it instead.
I love my new bifocals.
My dentures fit me fine.
My hearing aid is perfect,
But, O Lord, I miss my mind.

I laughed and cried when I heard him recite this. We're all headed in this direction, some of us faster than others. I take refuge in the Yoga Sutras which say,
Drashtri drishyayoh samyogo heya hetuh.
If you can say that, you're okay :).

What it means is "The cause of pain is the union of the seer with the seen." Meaning, basically that we think we are the body, but our true identity is the consciousness which observes the body. If we can identify with the consciousness rather than the body, then the suffering of the body can be avoided (or at least mitigated). A big ask, and much easier said than done, but worth a try. There has to be some truth in all these ancient books, otherwise how did they survive?

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