Tuesday, December 29, 2009

End of life as we knew it

Doing Christmas cards this year reminds us once again that old friends and relatives are dropping off, one by one. When your cousins and friends are in their 70s the attrition rate starts to undergo a geometric progression. This year my younger cousin's husband died of bladder cancer and a cousin of my vintage, 75, had her husband die of heart failure. There is nothing that can be said that is any emollient to the grief that comes with these partings. In the card you could say, as Percy Bysshe Shelley did, " When winter comes, can spring be far behind ?" Time does heal, and spring does arrive again. Moreover, so many of our friends now, are developing chronic and debilitating illness. Though many complain, or at least need a sounding board, or compare joints and joint replacements, there is usually, in time, an acceptance of where you are. Accepting things is what it is all about. Living with your disability and adapting your life to fit. None of this, as Dylan Thomas wrote, " Do not go gentle into that good night, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.". There is so much stress to attempt to modify the aging process that we have lost the reality of the nature of life, and illness, and death, and see it as a battle to be fought. Hopefully with age, comes understanding before dementia sets in. Think on it as "Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer "( Richard the third). Despite the risk of irritating the purists, I twisted Shakespeare's meaning around, to think of the "summer" as a return to joy in what we have left, and what we will be. If you think this is Pollyannaish, tell me something better?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Deer Damage Prevention

On Lotus island the deer have free "reign". They are medium sized mule deer and no more skittish than cows in a pasture. There are virtually no predators other than cars, except a few hunters in the fall, but even here, there are no trophy bucks. The odd hunter claims to be after meat. Whatever! One of the reasons the deer are bolder is that dogs do not run free on Lotus island. There are many sheep farmers and they shoot any dog that harrasses their sheep. Often any pretext will do! Dog lovers contain their animals. The garden damage the deer do is confined to a few species, so most of us have avoided planting the vulnerable. In my garden I have not followed my own advice. At risk are Japanese Laurel ( Aucuba japonica), Camellia, Cedar (Smaragd), Azalea,and small leaf Rhododendron. Also, most spring bulbs other than Daffodils, Bergenia and some Sedum. They occasionally chew Dahlia. Since they browse and are alert, they seldom stay more than a few minutes in any one place. Their pattern of trailwalking is absolutely consistant and predictable in time and space. I use that evil smelling deer repellant, Plantskydd, which is expensive but I dilute it plenty in a sprayer since I am parsimonious. If you spray on sunnier days it lasts one or two months. Once they've tasted a leaf with it on, they change their pattern of browse. If you leave the Plantskyddd container open it becomes even more foul and effective. Care must be taken because it stains the house siding. The stink around the house lasts for a day so don't do it before a party. The presence of the deer on your lot, within proximity, is a delight you can only enjoy if you don't fence them out. Plan to buy your vegetables from an organic marketer! I always think a home vegetable gardener spends a hundred dollars of effort and seed to grow ten dollars worth of produce.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Mentors

I had in my lifetime two men who were truly my mentors and both of them were teachers. Years ago, I went on a men's retreat to a local Anglican camp. There were about thirty men for a weekend and we had teaching sessions. The leader asked us to consider someone, or two, other than a parent, who had been a mentor in our life, and why. Virtually all the men choose a teacher who had served such a role in their lives. I often wonder if teachers really know the power for good that they have. I don't believe a parent can be a mentor. In my case there was too much baggage. I loved my dad unconditionly, and did not love my mentors, but the avuncular role they served, and the interest they took in me, made me want to emulate them. The pianist said to me once, that I even started to walk like my Consultant chief for whom I was Registrar. He was an Australian batchelor in Plymouth who was more English than the English. My other mentor was my small town high school teacher in Grade ten, eleven, and twelve. He had dignity and treated us with the same dignity, and respect, but never raised his voice because he didn't have to.I'm sure the seriousness he felt towards us was key to my desire to succeed. My son had a mentor when he first started his career as a young Anglican priest in Montreal . I am grateful to that man ,as I never questioned my son's love for me, but we had too much baggage for a mentorship role. The son must move away. Mentorship is a symbiotic role. The Mentor benefits as much as the" Mented." Mentorship is not an art, it comes from the heart !

Saturday, December 19, 2009

My father betrayed

My mother loved roast lamb and my father had a strong aversion to it! He was "unable" to eat a sheep or lamb of any sort due to his experience when farming as a young man, during the great depression. Most of his sheep sickened, and were infested with maggots. He was scarred forever from this experience. When the pianist first met my mother, before our marriage, she was told that we had " veal" from time to time that was really lamb and it was to be regarded as veal because of my fathers sensitivity! The trouble was the poor benighted gentleman was unaware of this charade. It was not the case that he simply went along with the game of denial. He thought that the veal she prepared from time to time was awfully good. He had a simple and uncompromising faith in my mothers veracity. My beloved was simply appraised of the fact that my fathers children, nudge nudge, wink wink, were familiar with that deception over the years. My mother operated on the basis of," what you don't know, won't hurt you". She provided her children with the love of lamb for all time, and a somewhat tarnished sense of ethics. I am still a little guilty of my part in the duplicity. I don't think he ever found out!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Homeless in Paradise

This season on Lotus island there are about forty homeless, almost all men. They flee the cold part of the country to survive outside here. We have had inclement weather lately and particularly cold and wet weather. Here we are in one of the worlds most wealthy countries and the best part of that country and we have this disconnect! The Community Services provides shelter for six of seven men if the temperature is below 0 degrees Centigrade. Otherwise they are on their own. Funding is always the problem. We have a food bank and soup kitchen and a Copper Kettle, but the nights are cold and wet and there is no room at the Inn. In our Anglican church we have a deck, lighted at night, over a Creche of the Holy Family at the Stable. The figures are mounted on a straw bale. It is a windbreak. Underneath the Creche or around it, sleep five or so homeless at night. We worry about cigarette butts and the "piddling pail" and the bedclothes they leave for the next night. Our janitor has a problem with maintenance of the area but, it is no accident that there is some shelter under the Bethlehem scene. We just have to live with the ambivalence, and hope the bale doesn't catch on fire and our insurance go up in smoke. It's little enough that we can do. It is another form of figurative comfort to the dispossessed !

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


When I was working hard in a career that spanned fifty odd years, time was always in short supply. The demands of work, family, income ,debt and frantic fun took up most of the day and there was little room for that state of mind that leads to discovery. Protecting ones Ego remained a important piece of the puzzle then. Now that I am seventy five I have the time since most of the demands have disappeared. I'm not too old to make a new start. Ego matters are not as problematic, as it becomes less and less important to" amount to something." There is less drive to play to the crowd. I probably had an hour a day of "out of the box" thinking time, when I worked . That meant, over fifty years of working life, gave me 18,250 hours of discovery time. If at seventy five, I am blessed with six hours a day of thinking time, over eight years, that gives me 17,520 hours. All I'm saying to myself is that " there is still time to get serious about yourself if you want to ". Things don't go on forever. " Time , like an ever rolling stream, bears all its sons away :They fly, forgotten as a dream, dies at the opening day". Perhaps I expect too much, to hope that dementia will hold off for eight years. The pianist and I sit every morning and guzzle coffee and look out the window, east, into the darkness, as the sun rises, and as the planes begin to fly over the Salish sea. Busyness is beginning in the sky ! Boat traffic begins to rumble. Busyness begins on the water! For us it is a seemingly slow and serene beginning but it is a necessary daily renewal! Time stands still for that hour or two!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Snow load

The bane of a gardeners life can be a wet snow load followed by a sharp frost. The evergreens here on the Wet Coast, Rhododendrons,evergreen Magnolia,Sweet Bay and Heath undergo breakage if the snowload is on brittle branches. Trying to brush the snow off, adds to the breakage. Best is to pray! Over the last several years I have had two mature prune plums completely topple over, due to inadequate pruning planning on my part, and heavy wet snow load, with wind. They are a shallow rooted tree here, and the above ground growth has to match the underground growth. Gardening 101! I lost this battle with my usually, very good fruit tree pruner. I have a Victoria plum that has an off balance growth habit and I think it will be next to bite the dust. That plum is not plumb. I couldn't resist that! There is nothing so revealing in the winter than the lovely tracery that the deciduous trees create against the sky. When they are in full leaf they do not reveal their true shape and the unique nature and variety of the species. Having a garden or wilderness tramp on a nice day when the snow is off the branches is so exciting and a visual treat. Also, if you look down rather than up, you can read the diary left by all your little visitors, and where they went.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Copenhagen Bells

The Anglican church bells in Lotus island tolled three hundred and fifty times yesterday in support of the Copenhagen Conference on climate change. Other churches on the island chimed in, but we have the only bell tower. The bell ringers came from far and near, including many of the community and their children. All participated! This was a World Council of Churches initiative. When you think of John Donne's famous phrasing, buried in his Meditation seventeen, it is as gripping and as relevant now, as then. " No man is an island, entire of itself: every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main: if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls: it tolls for thee . " When you think of the exchange between Scrooge and the ghost of Jacob Marley, ( Scrooge) "But you were always a good man of business, Jacob!" (Marley) " Business! Mankind was my business! The common welfare was my business: charity, mercy, forbearance and benevolence". It's no accident that Scrooges awakening was signalled by the striking of the heavy bells. As the pianist observed to me, the bell is an archetypal marker, that always has, and always will, signal to us, to come.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


The first two years I was at the University of Manitoba, I shipped my laundry home by baggage, for my mother to wash and press. My dad was a station agent in our little town in Saskatchewan so I had a railway pass. I used my pass as a ticket and sent my dirty clothing by baggage as luggage. My dad would pick it up from the baggage car and, when it was laundered, send it back by baggage. Clearly there was no cost in this transaction. It was transported by the Transcontinental passenger train that didn't normally stop between Winnipeg and Saskatoon, other than Rivers and Melville. We called it the "Flyer". It normally bypassed all fifty odd hamlets on the line. When it stopped to unload my baggage, no doubt all the passengers looked out and wondered why the train stopped at a place like this. "Who would be getting off here ?", was doubtless on their mind. No one! I had three dress shirts for good but I took them to Quinton's, the cleaner, in Winnipeg, and used them sparingly. My mum always put in cookies when she sent my laundry back. I think the baggage trick was an abuse of the CNR at the time and, if one factored in the cost of stopping and starting the Flyer, it was an edgy act at best. My brothers, who were still at home at the time, told me recently that they resented the fact that I always got the good cookies, and the broken ones were left for them. What a callow youth I was, underestimating the blessings I was afforded! I think now, that there was then, and still is, a sense of entitlement that allows us, erroneously, to take liberties with an institution, because, they seem to have lots, and we don't!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Prepared for snow

Lotus island, on the Salish sea, often gets two weeks of snow around Christmas time. Because we are a hilly island, it's tough to get around. Because we are part of the Wet Coast, the precipitation is sometimes huge. The pianist and I are ready! We are accumulating a reserve of foodstuffs to sustain us and our guests through the period of sequestration. We have purchased a scoop shovel. Our four wheel drive SUV has new snow tires. Wood is cut, and kindling ,for our air tight and our fireplace.Four bags of road salt have been purchased, and stored. Candles and flashlights and a wind up radio are at the ready. A small generator is in the basement with gas available. The liquor cabinet has been fortified. I have wrapped all the outside taps in burlap and the standpipes have been drained. The lining in our jackets has been inserted That's the benefit of being an old fart as you have time on your hands and obsession on your mind. Having done all this of course, is a guarantee that it won't snow. If you don't want something to happen, prepare! If you want the telephone to ring with an important subject, don't hover around the phone, sit on the toilet, it'll ring. I am unlikely to receive much in the way of thanks from the denizens of Lotus island for preventing the snow from coming, since they don't resort to magical thinking. After all they probably don't believe that King Canute could hold back the tides with his hand either!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tidy Hair

Appearances are crucial for todays young teenagers I know, particularly hair styles, bespeak who you are. I speak only for boys as I was never blessed with a sister, so girls always had a mysterious and intimidating quality for me at that age. In our home, hair was a low priority for myself and my brothers. I was verging on voice change, and hair elsewhere than the head, but I was still a boy and unconscious of style. It was the era before Brylcreem. We all still smelled like boys. We had a large quart sealer that my mother made up, what we called "green stuff". It was some sort of gel that was pale green and she made it from a powder that one mixed with water. It probably was a wave set of some sort. In the morning before school we would put our hand in the wide mouth sealer and plaster our hair with "green stuff" and comb it. It set in about five minutes. Over time and many cursorily washed hands in the jar, the green stuff became a little more like "grey stuff". It still worked well and by the time we got to school our hair was hard as a rock. Particularly in the winter it caked like cement. In the normal rough and tumble at school, someone would inevitably pass a strong hand though my hair and it would stick up like thatch. There was something quite liberating in that period of life, before Narcissus entered in, when we didn't worry about that sort of thing. If I mention "green stuff" to my brothers they cackle with laughter!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Whitewash coverup

The pianist and I live on a moraine soil that of course has a plethora of rocks of all sizes. In over thirty two years of tillage and digging and raking a large part of this acre, many of these treasures have been uncovered. I never found a rock I didn't like. They are almost always round, since they were ground up and rolled down the mountain in days of yore to create the moraine. I use the rocks "au naturel" to bank flower beds ,slopes for interplanting and to outline my homely little features. When I was a boy it was "de rigeur" on the prairies to whitewash your rocks. Every civic center, all the railway terminals,RCMP stations ,centenary parks and many businesses had whitewashed rocks. They were supposed, then, to be ugly in their natural state, so were covered up by liming! This was a job I did at the stations we lived in. Whitewash became part of the lexicon for coverup of things you wanted to hide( Matthew 23,25). It is an old variety of "lipstick on the pig" . Whitewashing structures, as well as sins, must have extended well beyond our little prairie towns, since Tom Sawyer was whitewashing Aunt Polly's fence, even before my days of yore. I cannot now ,get over how prissy that convention of whitewashed rock gardens gave. What's more, you had to whitewash repeatedly, or the truth eventually became exposed.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Two holers and the Honeyman

The science of waste disposal had a local flavor, if you will, in the olden days. As a young boy I always had an intense interest in this art. In the small towns I lived in as a boy, we had outhouses over pits. When I was a young teenager and living as we did, in the railway station we had a two holer. I never gave it much thought but considering it now, why a two holer? I can't imagine a duo sitting and chatting for the duration of their action. There was no partition. It was a two holer but the same pit. In the winter we had an indoor toilet with a can to haul out to the two holer, to empty. That was my job, as well as cutting kindling and taking out the ashes. It may have been a scam but I was paid by the CNR, twenty dollars a month, to be custodian of the two holer. Put in lime periodically, clean up, and make sure toilet paper was available. Eaton's catalogue was a myth. In the medium sized towns we lived in, there was the Honey man. There were both indoor toilets with cans that you leave out for the pickup by the Honeyman with his tank,horse drawn, or you had a outhouse with a back flap to access the can, wherein the Honeyman went down the lane to pick up your waste. In the winter the tank was not very stinky so you could hitch your sleigh to the Honeyman's tank, carefully avoiding the brown icicles. I am not making this up! These for me are fond memories. It was not girl activity.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Eating Beaver

The Scots' heraldry is the Rampant Lion. The Imperial Eagle is the American emblem, as it was for Napoleon and the Roman Legion and the Holy Roman Empire. Canadians have the Beaver. I think we may be the only country I can think of with a rodent, albeit a big rodent, as emblematic of the country. Industrious, hunkered down in the winter, hypervigilant and easily made into hats, is that us? Some time ago the pianist and I went with our son to a festive dinner and Anglican service in James Bay Cree land near Waswanipi in Quebec . My son was the incumbent priest in the district and conducted the service in the Cree language to a good degree. As it was, we had an in! It was frankly a wonderful experience and unforgetable. We had a culturally correct meal consisting of, amongst other things , chunks cut from a pit- fired beaver and a bread- cake topped with bear grease! Our normal capacity to eat lavishly was tempered, but our hosts were forgiving, after the first tentative tidbits were tried. Both the Anglican and the Catholic church proselytized in the north in the early days, including writing biblical translations and hymns in Cree. For us it was a privilege to listen in to the service, conducted with our son's mandolin and a Cree musician's guitar. I am reminded of similar, recent gastronomical episodes in the far north, with our Governor General, and later, the Tory caucus, tasting seal meat . Seal may become Canadian haute cuisine, but what about beaver! Take that Brigitte Bardot and your European Union!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Eagle attack

A while back we were watching a bevy of ducks, Buffleheads, in the harbor, with an eagle cruising above them. These were diving ducks. Suddenly the eagle spiraled down and the ducks scattered. The eagle seemed initially to have missed its strike but a lone duck, left, didn't fly off and remained on the surface. The eagle made a lazy circle over the area and then a long sloping descent onto the lone duck. The duck dived at just the right moment and the eagle seemed to have missed. This scenario was repeated at least five times and each time the duck dived for shorter and shorter periods. The eagle was relentless. It appeared to rake the duck on its last foray and then returned to pick up the duck, who could, it seemed, no longer dive.The eagle flew off with its prey in the talons. I felt a sense of horror for the duck. Even though I know this is part of life, I am always struck with the brutality of reality. Predators have to eat and supply their family. Eagles are large birds with big appetites that eat a variety of land and marine life including ducks. Still, I find it sad. I can't be a hypocrite however, since I too am part of the food chain and I am omniverous. My meat eating is at arms length from the killing fields so, as many others, my action is sanitized. I see it as acceptable. I seem to thrive on denial. Cognitive dissonance!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dressing down

The Haberdasheries of Lotus city in the 60's provided a superb stock of good men's clothing! I can't remember ever seeing a physician at work, then, without a white shirt and tie. Everyone wore a suit or jacket and pressed trousers. Men shaved. They certainly didn't wear a constant five day beard. We shined our shoes. Even the "suits" who are forced into jackets, wear an open dress shirt these days without a tie. The exception is politicians in Question Period! Are we saying appearance doesn't matter? Maybe we are saying "comfort rules".The current crop are clean and smart no doubt! But, why do they dress down? It must be a conundrum to the clothing industry to keep up with this change in fashion. It was always hard with women's clothing, but men ? When I look in to to the offices , none of my colleagues is in a jacket. I'm sure I look to them like the anachronism I probably am. When I go to church, virtually none of my colleagues is in a suit jacket! ! At least they shave. Lotus city used to have six or seven good men's clothing stores. Now they have one! I still have four worsted suits in my closet that I can fit, but there is unfortunately little occasion for them now. I could throw them out but I am still governed by "waste not, want not" . I guess I lament the passing of what I believed was propriety. I wear blue jeans a lot when I garden. They cost 20 dollars at Work Warehouse (sic). I am not against jeans! I am against four hundred dollar jeans! Seniors don't rule.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Board Games

I'm particularly poor at board games. I never win! Others feel sorry for my ineptitude and try to help. That is even more humiliating! Christmas is coming, and when our families gather, board games will be in full swing. I can see it now. Poised around the table,eyes darting here and there, almost visible cognition, racing along, trembling with anticipation to make the ultimate move, and me, an old duff, sitting out of the circle,feeling like the nursing home is just around the corner. The pianist, her grandchildren and daughters and son in law love board games and are good at it. They are not at all unkind to me as they know it is not my shtick, but what they don't know is I avoid board games because clearly there is a part of my brain that either won't, or can't, measure up to the competition, and I have a certain amount of pride that won't let my guard down. There is a particularly loathsome game called Bop-it that involves hand auditory coordination that they are all good at, and that I am a total bust at. I am lousy at crosswords and other acrostic pursuits as well. I am resigned to be at the edge of this kind of action. Lord knows I've been at the center for much of my share of life so I am not going to whinge. In the meantime the pianist will have a splendid gaming interlude that she has been denied for most of the year .

Monday, November 30, 2009

The archive committee

I went to the Medical Archive Committee the other day. We meet a couple of times a year. The committee is comprised of the old and the very old. We have a nice lunch supplied by the Lotus City Medical Association and discuss historical matters. Interest in history seems confined, at the moment, to those of us who are history. Our main man, Stewart, has devoted much of his time to what is now, finally, a National Historic Site. This is the first free standing operating room in the Pacific Northwest, built in 1896. That is, all the area north of San Francisco. This little, 24 foot octagonal building, was approved for use, once built, by Lord Lister when he visited Lotus City and it was supplied with a carbolic acid gas spray machine of Lister's design. The significance of free standing was the separation from the hospital wards which fitted with the then, new concept, of germ avoidance. Despite the significance of such a site it is difficult to generate much interest in younger physicians who are dealing with today's realities, and impossible to interest the hospital bureaucrats for whom the bottom line is king. This small building now sits in a site surrounded by a massively reconstructed hospital and is a lttle treasure that needs restoration and preservation.What we require is dynamic younger physicians, or individuals with more Mojo than Elderly Eclectic Gentlemen can muster, to raise money ! Preservation of our history,whether it may be Medicine or any other endeavor, helps us to see ourselves as part of a long chronological line of participants in a Way of Life, in continuity with our past and our future.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Pee on your compost

My friend Doug told me years ago that his prospective in- laws, who had never met his parents, came to visit them unexpectedly. The old boy was out, said to be turning the compost pile at the time, and the enthusiastic mother-in-law to be, volunteered to get him and rounded the house only to catch him taking a pee on his compost pile. Since he was an Englishman, he raised his hat to her. What else could he do? I was relating this story to my family ,as I thought it was funny and the pianist said to me, "You've never done that have you? " She looked at me through querulous eyes. "No" I said. My daughter said, "Yes he does. I've seen him stand and pee on the compost". You can rarely get away with anything in a family! So, I told this whole story to my friend Ez'. I excused our behaviour on the fact that both Doug's father and I lived in an area of Lotus City that was private and secluded. Ez' lived in a wealthy enclave of Lotus City that was less secluded . I said, "You, on the other hand couldn't get away with it because your properties are more open. Your neighbors would see you". "Yes", he said, "that may be true, but my neighbors have too much "je ne sais quoi " to say so. Touche!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Crum jelly

We have a forty foot plum tree that is an escape from somewhere,( Prunus cerasifera) . It is a red leaf plum that produces an abundance of small, one inch, somewhat sour red plums in such an abundance that the birds cannot keep up to them. I probably collect fifty pounds of plums and boil them down for the rich red juice of superior color. There is , however, little or no pectin in these plums . We, the pianist and I, also have a mature Dolgo crabapple (Malus domestica) , that we also collect a great many crimson crabs from and boil down as well for juice of a similar rich color. I have been doing this for decades. The crabs have lots of pectin and when the two juices are combined for jelly making, a very superior, piquant jelly emerges. This is Crum jelly and the family favorite for bread and for meat. I hang the boiled fruit in the basement under the rafters in big cheese cloth bags which I make from small bolts. The boiled mash drips overnight . The scene may appear grotesque to some, in the semidark. Years ago, my little daughter came screaming upstairs because, when she looked in the semidark basement, her elder brother told her we had butchered and hung the dog, our white Samoyede, and it was dripping blood. Forgiveness sometimes needs a long reach!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Church Bazaar

This morning the pianist and I are taking our culinary efforts to our church bazaar. The convenor is an exacting taskmaster and the purchasers are certainly of a highly discerning nature when it comes to the culinary arts. I have tasted a sample of the pianists product, which is really good. They are brown sugar meringues, coating walnuts and pecans, and a flat cake for slicing, loaded with flaked pecans. Delicious! However, my product is my Dolgo crabapple jelly. I don't use pectin and my jelly is in jars so I can't sample it. It has good color. The pressure is on me. It usually is just for the family so it doesn't matter if it is hard jelled or lightly jelled but now that I'm into the quasi commercial racket, it has to be just right! I suppose it is pride so I hope it doesn't " goeth before a fall ".Since it's been stored for a short while, I washed any sticky bits off the lip sides and polished the brassy lids for presentation purposes so, I.ve done my best. I carefully labeled the jars with my best printing which does not measure up to the pianist's hand. I appear to be the only male providing his effort in the food division! I seem to be the only member of the food division with primitive printing on my labels! So what! I love food. I could eat bread and jelly slathered with butter " from now, 'til the cows come home ". Comfort food!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Balance or Focus

I was privileged several years ago to be part of an interview team for applicants to medical school in a major Canadian university. These were applicants that had already traversed the long list, where marks were the consideration, and our job was to interview secondarily for character. The interviews were searching and in depth. The candidates were universally outstanding scholars.I found it awe inspiring and was mighty glad I was so long in the tooth. I could have never competed in that group.Most had higher degrees and long resumes with focused science backgrounds, and a history of community and national service activity. All interviewees were on an equal footing since we did not know the marks they had obtained in their previous life. All we knew is that they all had exceeded the high threshold marks agreed upon. Much of the information we were provided, orally and written, described personal accomplishment. What was intriguing to me was the singular focus on science, and social contributions. There was not one applicant I met that talked about or responded to questions concerning a wide avocation of literature and history and culture, for it's own sake. I think we have made it so competitive and forced such a requisite focus on utility, that somewhere along the line, balance is sacrificed. I really have no solution, given the edge necessary to succeed, but I hope there develops an awareness, at some point in the career, to broaden those magnificent brains.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Wet Coast

This is monsoon season on the wet coast in the Salish Sea. We have had a solid week of heavy rain and wind and another week to come of the same. Lotus lsland is soaked through and through and all the water can only gain the surface of the full sponge. The tides are high during the day so with a southeast wind and a flood tide, the waves are at least brisk, against the rock wall. All decked out in raingear I look like Captain Ahab on a bad day. Living on the seashore is a weather experience. One is always aware of its presence. Luckily when we had our builder construct the house he made sure the underground drainage piping was placed in critical lies to carry the water away from the foundations. They need to be checked and cleared from time to time to prevent silting up. Water does not flow up hill. This wet weather is a boon for the Rhododendrons and the Western Red Cedars. They had been stressed by the long hot and dry summer, particularly the Cedars which showed a lot of leaf death. We are experiencing El Nino ( the Boy), arriving with the warm, wet, windy weather of the early Christmas season. Some call it by it's secular name, the Pineapple Express. It's as wet as wet with any name. Just tonight the Hydro truck is in front of the house chainsawing a tree trunk off the road and our power has been out all last night. In a world that is frequently suffering for lack of water, most, if not all of the time, we should be thankful for large mercies and minor inconvenience.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Goodbye ain't Au Revoir

The pianist and I are selling our home we have lived in for 32 years, since, it is now too much for us to look after! We want to turn the page and start afresh in our mid 70's. Still, one's decisions in these matters are always conflicted with the losses that we will experience despite the pragmatic and sensible approach. It is always a difficult matter when one ages, to choose to march to the tune of sense, or sensibility! Once the page is turned we cannot go back. Whether it is "stuff" that makes one hesitate or, "stuff that really represents memories", I'm not sure? Once sold, all control is relinquished to the new owner! " Will he cut down my sweet bay tree ( Laurus nobilis) I have nourished over 20 years?" " Could I put a codicil in the sales agreement that it stay?" The real estate agent would have "a hairy" ! "Would they tear the house apart and change it's character totally, revise the studio and greenhouse?" " Would they prize the same things we do? " Of course they will change things to their own style and so they should. We said to one another a year ago "Are we ready to do this?" and agreed we were. Over time, once the loss of anything valued may be imminent , reappraisal occurs, since the putative event now becomes more real. " Maybe we can manage if we can't get our price." " It's not as much work as we thought. " " Now that we have it in show condition it's so nice." I have many friends that have waited too long and become too old to turn the page effectively. Their properties have deteriorated badly and they cannot cope with the move and the losses. I understand how hard all this is. It comes down to doing the right thing at the right time and the only matter of real importance in life is relationships, not "stuff". Memories will continue; after all they are memories!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Failed Handyman

I changed three light bulbs in our spotlights yesterday.Since retirement I have convinced myself that I have become a bit of a handyman. Now that is truly pathetic, that a man who can change a light bulb considers himself to have become handy ! I have many colleagues all of whom have been handymen of note. They built cottages, repaired plumbing and electrical faults, fitted windows and built furniture. I lacked all these capabilities and during my working career, when presented with a handyman problem, I would suggest we call "a man" to fix it. The pianist, early in our marriage, gave me an encyclopedia of home repairs which I confess I never read. My eldest daughter is handy in spades. She can build and repair anything from buildings to tractors to barns. She is a farmer and so does not need help at every turn. I asked her where she learned all this and she said she just read a book if she needed to. Much of this skill is acquired by thoughtful planning and self confidence. I think I never ventured forth in the handyman world for fear I would elicit scorn on the part of my handy friends and others of a naturally talented bent. Better do nothing than display my feeble talents. Fear of failure! Though I was of reasonable competence at work, and could grow a good garden, my skill at domestic matters ended at that juncture. For carpentry with inert materials, my credo seemed to be, " measure to cut and hammer to fit ". I consoled myself that the shoemaker should stick to his last.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


When I was five years old and living a life of crime, an alchemy occurred and I went from sounding brass to gold. C G Jung, the alchemist of the mind, would have fully understood. I have some early memories of this period but my mother filled in the gaps over the many years we comported ourselves together! I sojourned briefly in Davidson, Saskatchewan with my mother and infant brother in 1939 and stole beer bottles , eggs and chickens from a man who accosted my mother about this. I vaguely remember enjoying myself with my friend, and our activities. My mother was on her own at that time and was horrified because the man had suggested reform school as a cure. She told me up until then I had been a good little boy. Now Borstal bound at five! She told me, when I was sent to the attic room by myself, she spanked me everytime she thought about it, repeatedly, over the next day or so. Fear was rampant and she was alone and newly in town. I remember standing in that attic room at sundown by myself. I can still see the sepia like quiet atmosphere of the room and feel the complete sense of abandonment. The spankings were nothing; the sense that my mother would be lost to me was everything. I truly believed her admonition that the man would bind me over. That must have led to the alchemy, an epiphany of childhood. Things only change when they get bad enough! My behavior became exemplary. I can't say I didn't lapse back into brass from time to time in my life, but I never forgot the sense of abandonment that straightened me around. I wonder if they still remember me in Davidson?

Saturday, November 14, 2009


The spate of popular apocalyptic writing ,movies and articles these days, would amuse that sage of yesteryear, Alfred E. Neuman. I do not claim to be free of worries, but hopefully most of them are rational. Certainly the seriousness with which the students of pessimism order their life and advise everyone else to do the same is perpetuated by this overburden of fear. It is the "spirit of the age". Of the apocalyptic movies my preference is Waterworld and the Mad Max series all of which clearly defined themselves as outrageous entertainment, rather than prophetic. What a serious bunch! How a secular world could steal from Revelations, the most cognitively strained part of the Bible, without admitting it, yet reject almost all of the sensible bits of the rest, is a reflection of the unreasonable fear that surrounds us. No one I know would advocate literalism in interpreting scripture, but it does give some good general advice. As Alfred E. Neuman says "What, me worry? " In the darkest days of the world the most hardy of the survivalists, at least for a time in the case of some, retained a sense of humor along with a tenuous hope and some energy. They had no guarantees! Think of Viktor Frankl ! Think of Corrie ten Boom !Think of Nelson Mandela ! Think of Roberto Begnini ! Then think of Alfred E. Neuman and relax. The world will unfold as it will, Governments notwithstanding! When I think of someone saying "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you", I think of "The Ministry of Silly Walking".

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pecking order

In my late adolescent and early teenage years we moved frequently from small town to small town since my father bid in a succession of railway jobs to gradually increase his income. Each time we moved, after a few weeks settling in, it was customary for a boy of roughly my age to wrestle (pronounced rassle) with me to establish where, in the pecking order of boys, I fitted. It had something of a ritual and was an invariable consequence of each move. It was never angry and once over was not repeated. I accepted where I was in the hierarchical structure and, as a result, adapted relatively easily . This establishment of hierachical placement , though primitive in adolescent boys, is widely applicable in societies structures generally. If I join the golf club or the faculty club in Lotus City, there is a "hydrant sniffing activity" that both preceeds and follows admission. Some free spirits may have a problem being sniffed out, but in fact the Free Spirit club will also perform it's own due diligence and classify its newly arrived members as it will. Much of this is surreptitious in the adult world. If, however, you have never seen the enactment of the "wounded chicken syndrome" in the chicken coop, you will be thunderstruck at the barbarity of the attack on the vulnerable. This is a pecking order in spades. Civilization, for what it's worth, has softened the pecking order. The "wounded chicken syndrome" is still around, not so overtly violent, but let's not kid ourselves! I happens less! Thank God for small mercies.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Low threshold cryers

When I would leave home to go to university,after holidays or summer, my father would cry. It used to embarrass me because it didn't seem manly at that time. I certainly didn't cry at that time. My father would also bawl every Christmas day that I can remember, ostensibly because his mother's funeral was on December 25, 1932. Not much later in life, I started to cry. Sometimes it was maudlin I am ashamed to admit. A sad, or happy movie with a poignant ending, an endearing embrace, bagpipes, Amazing Grace or other sweet sad songs. I have to take Kleenex to weddings and funerals. I have three brothers and two of us are cryers! We were never able to do a eulogy for our parents because we bawled our heads off and choked up. My other two brothers were at least as loving, but didn't cry , so were useful in all circumstances ,whereas we were useless. The pianist and I have three children. The youngest displays my crying capacity. If we go to a movie there is always something to at least sniffle about. What is this curious dichotomy ? In the practise of medicine, I encountered the saddest of events and crises in people's lives but my effectiveness never allowed even a scintilla of tear pass my lids. My crying daughter is a nurse and experiences the same events in her work, crises and sad events. She doesn't cry at work. I guess, in our jobs , the role we play, accepts the nature of the work without qualm. We wouldn't be useful otherwise. It seems however that the response that some of us have inherited, in our case from my father, allows us to wring out the feelings when it is safe to do so. There is something comforting about tearjerking activity. I don't get embarrassed anymore.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Give and Take

Convention usually says we may adopt much of ourselves after our parents, but the reverse is also true. Much of our parent we may struggle to avoid copying, often with less success that we might have hoped. Much I have learned in my adult life, I have learned from my mature children as they accepted the inevitability of the template we provided and struggled and succeeded, or failed, to separate from it. I have learned as much observing the arrows as they have from the bow.As I have watched our grandchildren move from under the shadow of their parents, I see the repeated sequence again. What goes around comes around! The blessing of children is, in time, both give and take but always a blessing! Psalm 127, which we sang today and which has occasioned this post, as Remembrance day approaches,the psalmist sings,
Children are a heritage from the Holy One
the fruit of the womb,a gift from God.
Children born in one's youth
are like arrows in a warrior's hands

Happy are those
who fill their quivers with them;
they shall not be shamed
when they talk to enemies in the gate

Saturday, November 7, 2009


When the pianist and I were first married in 1957 we made our nest in what was then Vancouver, now Olympic City. The pianist was developing a culinary style that has served her for many years. Food was a major issue for my inlaws since my father-in-law was a wholesale grocer of note and his wife a discriminating cook and shopper. One day, shortly after settling in, I asked my newly wed if she would cook fried bologna for supper. She had never experienced such a request or even considered it before, but she gave it a try and it made her nauseated. I ate it alone that night.It was nothing like I expected. It was everything like I should have expected. Much earlier, when I was a youngster, I recall a picture in a magazine of the King brothers. They were Hollywood B movie producers and the photo showed them eating chunks of what I remembered as raw bologna from a big bologna tube and drinking ginger ale. That image captured my attention as a child, mentally labeled as, "what famous people eat!" I must have retained that critical piece of knowledge in my subconscious soft wear; retained it up to my early marriage period, when it surfaced. It must have always been 'de rigueur' in my mind storage, since it looked like the King Brothers were enjoying their feast. It looked better to me as a youngster, than macaroni and cheese and better than canned spaghetti in tomato sauce. I may have thought It was a dish fit for a King. I don't think that you can even buy a big tube of bologna now, as if anyone would really want to. I have never since that culinary fiasco, lusted after bologna. The pianist would ignore me if I did! Postscript. (The picture I saw was in Life Magazine, Nov 22, 1948, and lo and behold, it's salami, not bologna!) A life long illusion shattered!

Friday, November 6, 2009


My mentor was reading from "Gargantua" yesterday in our little literature group on Lotus island. Rabelais ( b. 1483 d. 1553) was an Eminent Elderly Eclectic Gentleman ,lawyer, cleric, physician and author. The point Rabelais addressed was the popular view, wrongly attributing the great movements in history to leadership individuals. Rabelais asserted that populations began movements at a critical time for change, and that the leadership arises as a result of the movement. I believe such a role is, as a surfrider catching the right wave, waiting on his board, seeing the wave develop out at sea, anticipating and picking it up at just the right time, standing and steering the board through the violence of the wave, avoiding getting ahead of the wave and taking a tumble. All waves eventually come to an end on the shore. All wave movements end, though they add to the changes on the shore, some more than others. Those who manage to ride the wave will end with it. When we think of Stalin, Churchill, Hitler, JF Kennedy, both the good and the bad, they caught a wave at a critical time of change and managed to stay afloat for extended periods for better or worse. Whether Devil or Messiah, we probably, as Rabelais suggested, attribute too much to the individual and not enough to the movement of change, however subtle in the first instance. Rabelais was not always rabelaisian in his writing! He speaks for today as well as yesterday! Nothing changes! Everything changes!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

toilet reading material

The criteria for useful material in this arena requires short, interesting and light reading! As we age, the material can be of somewhat more length, though care should be taken that your leg doesn't go to sleep. Usually on a visit to the washroom I snatch whatever I spy en route lying on the chair or table for perusal. I was somewhat taken with my random selection today, following two earlier visits where no literature was found at hand. First, "Collapse" by Jared Diamond, "How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed", and then the magazine, "Aeroplan, Arrival" fall winter, 09. What a contrast ! "Arrival" promises a life of exotic travel, fine dining and bauble-mania, if you spend ,spend, spend, and use your points to advantage. "Collapse" promises disaster after disaster with societies living a life of waste and wanton disregard of the consequences of overuse by individuals. What an edgy world we live in! Clearly, I did not have time to do justice to the reading material in my stay in the washroom but I got the idea. Picking our way through a pockmarked world littered with minefields of our own making, or striding briskly through a world of enchanting fantasia, with not a shred of misgiving. Certainly in a free society such as ours we are free to choose our own poison, within limits. I wonder sometimes whether greed and voluptuary activity, or paranoia and envirophobia are taking hold, or are the ordinary people still in charge. I hope so! The truth of most matters lie somewhere in the middle. It's just less interesting and harder to sell. The bathroom remains a good place to think things through.

winter moon

The full moon is small and silver tonight! It looks like a winter moon and appears to be moving rapidly through the grey drifting cloud in the blackness. It seems early for a winter moon. The tide has been out at night here on Lotus island for the past month, so it has not been my inclination to dig clams. I like to make clam chowder with tomato sauce and lots of chunky vegetables. We have abundant little neck and butter clams . The pianist is not keen on clams, so I do it for me. I'm waiting for daytime low tides as it is difficult digging under a torch. The moon is too small to cast a good light. Besides that, it's cold out on the beach in the dark. The garden still has to be fully put to bed and tucked in. Dahlia bulbs are put to sleep under straw and covered with an anchored down tarpaulin. Then, November really kicks in with dark nights, wind, low tide, clam chowder, fireplace, and pale silver winter moon riding the dark clouds. You have to take November by the neck and shake it to get rid of the doldrums. Probably the brisk winter winds drive out the doldrums! There is nothing like activity, wind or human energy to banish them. Beautiful summer days are easier. Lovely fall weather is exhilarating. I need to work at November to make it palatable.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Anglican Communion

The safest way to administer communion in these days of Swine flu is with a minimal touch technique. Where both elements are insisted on, the use of the wafer, intincted 50 percent of its circumference, and placed directly on the tongue, holding the dry side without touching the tongue, while not 'no touch', is minimal touch . Both administrants would move together to each communicant. As a physician, I assert there is no safety in wiping the chalice lip and less safety in the use of dipping crumbly bread. The restriction of administrants to," fewer the better", with scrupulous use of hand sanition, goes without saying! Having said this, I can hear it all now from the other side of the pew and, I sympathize with the Rectors and Bishops who would meet with fury if it were imposed! We are not talking about someone saying " I will risk the chance of Swine flu for my Tradition" . We are talking about the real possibility of someone with a subclinical flu, risking being a carrier to their Christian colleagues. This may be a misguided variety of "beggar thy neighbor ". I guess I know that this proposal will not happen ,but I feel at least I have said my piece, which is incumbent upon me to do, since my role is both a people's warden and a fossilized physician. It's just a matter of generosity toward others!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The crack in everything

Leonard Cohen says, "That's how the light gets in" . He also says" Only drowning men can see Him". I can't say exactly why but I never gained any spiritual insight myself when things were going swimmingly for me. Drowning is something that may happen when your ideas are all wet! My exterior at one time, was as smooth as a snooker ball. It took a while but I learned well how to slide smoothly by and get to the pocket. Adversity caromed off me. It sure was comfortable! Not!!! Inside I did have a growing unease that things weren't perfectly right. Then the crack in the surface starts to let the light in and your life begins to get progressively more and more uncomfortable . There is a crack in the wall ! Then you find out there is a crack in everything! Then you find out slowly and haltingly that that's how the light gets in. The difficulty with insight is, it always preceeds action! The minute you change in response to the insight, by action, further insight appears, and you are in domino effect that you cannot fully control. Let go! Go downstream like the fingerling you are. It's only the old salmon that swims upstream, discharges its milt and becomes eagle food. The flashlight shines only as far as the next step. If you can't make the journey, it's best not to start. Leonard's, Book of Mercy, is truly for him a creative stations of the Star of David. The pianist pointed out to me it was copyright in 1984. He has done a lot of living since then. May he continue to do so!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Grinches and the Olympic Flame

It's Halloween on Lotus island and the Olympic flame is arriving here at 2.30 pm by seaplane. It will be here for half an hour or so and the many young people and families will get to see it and are thrilled to be part of it. However, we have a large number of home grown Grinches on Lotus Island. We are not Whoville! The Raging Grannies , The Marxist Leninists,the disaffected and the tax revolters will be out in force competing for the annual award of the Cup for the most Churlish. A waste of money they say! What about the arts, the health, the climate, the war and the corruption? All probably true, but please, let's at least have a little joy. I was going to go down to the dock to watch the plane come in the harbour and cheer but I'm afraid it will just make me cross with the protesters. I'm staying home and making Jack-O- Lanterns for tonight and putting batteries in my Singing Fish. The pianist has made about 20 candy coated apples and put our label on them so the mothers will not worry about razor blades. What a world! The pianist thinks my Singing Fish might be scary but that's what Halloween is all about. All Hallows Eve! The small children are protected and hallowed on All Saints Day by the saints called Parents.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Contract to tease

When my children were small I told many stories in which they were often the principal character. The events of the story were not prethought but simply unfolded at random , generally had a happy ending in which the characters had a somewhat heroic role. They often began with the generic "Once upon a time ", and the contract to tease initially went like this! " Once upon a time , ( Pause )," when the pigs chewed tobacco and the hens drank wine!" ( Laughter) . "No , come on, tell us a story." " OK , now I will. Once upon a time," ( Longer pause ) ( tantalizing smile ), when the pigs chewed tobacco and the hens drank wine". ( Loud Laughter ). Then the story would truly begin with "Once upon a time" . Then later, " Tell another story." " OK I'll tell you a story, ( Pause ) about Jack Mc Nory, and now my story's begun. I'll tell you another about his brother and now my story's done ". (Laughter ) "Please tell another story". "Ok, this time I will. There once was a calf, and that's half. They hung it on the wall. And that's all ". (More laughter and pleadings) Then the second story would begin. At the young age they were, the familiar teasing was always funny though totally predictable and was an expected ritual . If it was not done in this fashion there was a sense of loss. The teaser and the teased were bonded in the silliness of it all. Thank God for silly.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Moxie (Savvy) (Street smarts)

Elderly eclectic gentleman may be too prideful an eponym for me. Doddering old fool would be too much self abasement as yet. On the spectrum of these descriptions, the development of moxie is essential. How the old are advised by the young entrepreneur in matters of business,needs intelligent dissection. The pianist has more moxie than me when it comes to ascertaining who is helping us and who is helping himself helping us. Thank God for the pianist! My adult children and to some extent the adult grandchildren also lend a portion of good advice. This enables me to proceed merrily along the financial road with the guarantee of a buffer against foolish or precipitate action. What do those without a pianist or children do, in a world that has certain pitfalls for the elderly with means? What happens with lack of moxie, savvy, street smarts, that may have been present at one time, but are now lost with the desire to "fit in" and to appear "with it"? We want to believe that people have our best interests at heart. We have had the same accountant since 1966 and the same lawyer since about the same time. The pianist and I have relied on them but they are retiring now. We're going to have to take stock. Self reliance is fine but you have to find people to assist who share your values. You may not always be as self reliant as you hope. As a Christian we are to value connectedness and see the good in everyone. It doesn't however, jibe with reality. People who are alone, at a certain age, must protect themselves somewhere along the spectrum before EEG becomes DOF.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Tortoise and the Hare

This morning the tree men came. They scampered up a 40 foot plum tree with many dead branches that thankfully could still be identified, from the live branches, as the leaves have not all fallen yet. I was impressed with the agility of the tree men and had initially worried about damage because of all the rhododendrons under the tree. They took the branches off in incremental portions and not a rhododendron was crushed. Then they did a tidy up of some of the very tall Western Red Cedars. Tree fallers rarely clean up the mess. They are high flyers! They finished their work in less than an hour and now the elderly eclectic gentleman has to cut up the debris with his loppers and tote it off to his shredder. It's going to take me two days. I enjoy shredding! The family will not allow me to have a chain saw as they believe I will chop off a finger or another part. They might be right! I prefer to shred rather than burn branches as it seems more organic. Cellulose gives body to the compost though it decomposes slowly. All the dead branches are also identifiable by the presence of Aaron's Beard. That probably makes it appropriate for me to deal with them at my stage in life. If you think this is a plaintive post it is not. It's just the contrast between the young and the old, the strong and the feeble. I can celebrate that! At the same time we all have our strengths and one of mine, that I have learned the hard way, is time and patience will accomplish much. The tortoise and the hare!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fauna change

Today the Oregon Junco has returned en masse to Lotus Island. They are slipping and flitting everywhere, reexploring the locale. Next will be the Rufus sided Towhees. They, like their cousins are our winter bird. They fly so close to the ground in the underbrush I have momentarily mistaken them for a rat. Startling! The Black Tailed Mule deer have lost their smooth caramel coats for a heavier grey brown and the young bucks are starting to rut and have already slashed my declining Gunnera to pieces and soon will sharpen up on the bark of various defenseless trees. The pianist and I watched a river otter run across the lawn from the harbour yesterday and it flushed out a bunny that it startled. I don't really think an otter would eat a bunny but the bunny obviously wasn't taking chances. The otter with a long body and tail and short legs runs in a sinuous, loping fashion,quite ungainly. The California quail walnuts are now large but still clinging together and listening to mum and dad. There are a few runty sized deer still around, late gestations, and I fear for them this winter as they have little flesh. There is often a corpse or so later, under the tool shed, frozen stiff. The deer here are endemic as there are virtually no predators. We have all adapted to the deer and they to us. This is a great spider season. The webs in the morning with the dew are fantastic and if you don't duck, wherever you walk outside you get a face full of web. We are careful around the old woodpile for the "Widow and the Brown Recuse". A large empty wasp nest we finally took down from the top of a pear tree, wasps long gone. The nests are beautifully made. The fruit flies in the compost generate at an unbelievable rate and it is not surprising that the ancients believed in spontaneous generation.Thank goodness the fruit is soon finished, however there is an interesting observation to make. The fruit in the house has a myriad of fruit flies, whereas the supermarket fruit section has no fruit flies. Tells you something doesn't it?

Rink Rats

Skating behind and pushing a ice scraper between the periods and after the hockey game was a job done by the rink rats. In the olden days of the late forties there were no Zamboni's. The rink rats, of which I was a member, were proud to be noticed as we skated up and down the ice , caroming against one another,pushing our snow load to the big door at the end of the Kindersley arena. The biggest rat shoveled it out the door. We got to watch all the hockey games free. The Kindersley Klippers were a great Intermediate B team. We all had a certain pride with our small identification. I lived on 3rd Avenue east ,a half block from the rink and like all small town rinks, it was available most of the time. Rink rats did lots of other little go-fer jobs as well. The whole management was volunteer. It seems in retrospect we practically lived in the rink in the winter. There were PeeWee, Midget and Juvenile teams and there was nightly shinny in between times when the ice was occupied, usually on the road near the rink in front of our place. I don't remember any Junior teams of ours at that time. If we had anyone that was good at Junior age, they usually went to MooseJaw. Hockey was as natural for us as skiing for an Austrian and swimming for an Aussie. There was no money in those days for the players who made it big. It was love of the game. Players like the Bentleys and Geordie Howe and the Huculs would have made more money staying on the farm in those days. What was it that drove us? The pure love of the game, and the sure knowledge that it was our game, and still is in all of small town Canada. It had everything to do with participation and dreams. We played it in our sleep.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The aftermath of war

stalaag 8B

My father's mother died on December the 23rd 1932 and was buried on Christmas day. She left his youngest brother,who was 15 years old at that time to be raised in a family of adult brothers and father. It was the height of the depression. My father's brother was Edgerton, known to his nephews and nieces as Uncle Edgie. He joined the Canadian army after schooling and was shipped to England as a corporal in the Canadian 2nd Infantry Division. He was part of the Dieppe raid on August 19, 1942 and was captured by the German army after 4 days inland. He was to remain a prisoner of war in Stalag 8 b for the remainder of the war. I must have written to him when I was 8 years old because he wrote to me thanking me for the carton of cigarettes and the chewing gum. I still have the letter from Stalag 8 b with the censor stamp. When he was repatriated he tried a variety of jobs in the Okanagan where his brother and sister lived, but he was rootless. He became an alcoholic and was convicted of manslaughter and jailed when he had a drunken car accident with a friend, who died. He was jailed again for cheque passing and forgery. Thoughout the time we knew Uncle Edgie he was sweet and kind to his nieces and nephews and always interested in us. There was a Jekyll and Hyde quality to him in retrospect. He eventually came to realize that he couldn't cope with the "civilized world of the 60's" and learned to cook and spent the rest of his life working in the mining camps of northern Alberta and the Yukon. He wrote to us at Christmas and more often to his sister. My father received a letter sometime in the 80's from a friend of Edgie in Edmonton who reported that he had been in hospital with TB and had died several weeks earlier. He left no possessions of value and he had no issue. He had enough money to pay for his burial. His family had eventually despaired of him and came to try to forget, as much as one can.Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was not defined in Edgie's time. We were black and white people in those days and wondered why they didn't, "just get on with things!"

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The anatomy lab

I entered first year Medicine in September 1953. The first year of medicine at the University of Manitoba, and in the Canadian schools at that time, entailed long hours in the anatomy dissection laboratory. Our class of sixty four had twenty one bodies to dissect and it required a full academic year to do so. The first day we entered the lab room was an awe inspiring event. Twenty one cadavers, each on a separate table, encased in vaseline and wrapped like a mummy in muslin. The enormity of it was awe inspiring. Each three students were given one body to dissect for the year. We started on the back muscles. Prior to beginning, the Professor, Ian MacLaren Thompson, gave us a lecture on the need for decorum and respect of the persons who had donated their bodies to science. The ethical responsibility he stressed would serve us well in practice, to learn to be respectful of both life and death. He well knew he was addressing a collection of spirited twenty and thirty year olds. The teaching of Anatomy has completely changed with the evolution of virtual reality,modeling, imaging, and fragmented anatomy teaching, concurrent as pathology and clinical work is linked. The volume of required medical knowledge has increased considerably, since my day, and I am sure the current methods are geared to more rapid and comprehensive learning. What is lost, I suspect, is the intimacy and connectedness you develop with a once human structure, over the year. The doggedness that is necessary to display a perfect dissection and teasing out of anatomical structures common to all of us. A respect for an authentic person we called a cadaver but knew that once their's was a life. The patience required to persist, slowly and carefully, laid the ground work for a surgical career. Most of the science in Medicine is rapidly subject to change. What you learned ten years ago is often wrong with new knowledge gained. Gross anatomy does not change. You learn it once for all time. Ethics don't change. You retain, or don't retain them, for all time.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Gandy dancer

In 1952 and 53 my summer job was working as a sectionman on the CN railway. The official title was a Maintainence of Way employee and the job was to maintain the track and right of way in good condition. The jobs included correcting the inevitable heaving of track on the mainline due to winter and summer extremes, changing deteriorated ties, and constant inspection for track defects. It was hard and heavy work and in that era the bulk of workers were of middle European origin. The job was critical to the smooth running of the railway and the track was aligned by educated eyeball at that time.Though some of the workers were married, many were not, and lived in bunkhouses in the small prairie towns we lived in. The wage was small but adequate for bunkhouse living, if that was your fate. I of course, was still living with my mum and dad and brothers so I had a family and all my needs met. I tried sharing the bunkhouse for a few days at the start, since it was more convenient to the workplace but I guess I was spoiled. I was content to walk the 5 miles back home after work.To call the railway track workers, gandy dancers, seems to me a derogation provided by someone who never did such a job but wanted to give it a romantic spin . It seems it arose in an earlier time for black railway workers in the south and Chinese workers in the west. Neither of those groups would have believed the job had a romantic spin. For me it served a useful purpose in that I knew what I didn't want to do. Why is it we try to color the reality a brighter picture than it really was? It may have been part of Jump Jim Crow originally. It may have been part of John Henry, the steel driving man. Gandy dancer indeed!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Homemade wine

Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. It coincides with the Christian, Harvest Festival. My daughter is a nurse and worked a twelve hour shift, last night. She will work again tonight, so her family, who usually come to Lotus Island for Thanksgiving, are unwilling to leave her. Well, Mohammed this time will go to the mountain, so the pianist and I are going there with the cooked turkey. It's a bit complicated as it's over the pond by ferry. Food transport in a critical warm mass is a consideration. Our daughter asked in an E-mail this morning, when she went to bed, if we would bring some of our homemade fruit wine from the celler. It's not rotgut, but it is not stellar either. I usually use that wine with family, but this time it got me thinking, that we often take the people we love best for granted and don't always provide what we prize most, because we don't need to. Why should we reserve our VQA quality wine for the dinner party with friends who we like, but do not love, and settle for less with some of the most important people in our lives? The answer to that is obvious. Because we can! Perhaps we should reevaluate where we put our first fruits. It's kind of a useful question to pose as a Thanksgiving Day thought!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Runcible spoon

Just to contribute to the conjecture on the nature of the runcible spoon, I had a few thoughts. It seems to me that Edward Lear may well have loved the sibilant quality of the word, since his poetry was really meant to be spoken as well as read. Primarily spoken in my view! The hissing quality that runcible and spoon and pussy bring, has that vocalization one can hear from a cat in distress. Certainly the owl and the pussy cat would require a special tool to eat both mince and quince at the same sitting. If you have tackled a quince you will know they are as hard as rocks unless mercilessly cooked, so a sharp serrated edged spoon coupled with a three pronged fork tip of a broad nature, might be just the ticket to carve the quince into fragments, spear them, and chew. Lear does not address the nature of the quince, cooked or ripe! The spoon like quality would, at the same time, contain the mince so it did not fall through the cracks. The wide spread use of runcible of course was not confined by Lear to the spoon. I can only think the word produced the sounds which pleased him. What do I know? Etymology is not my bag! Phonation also, not my bag! I have never allowed lack of knowledge of the facts however, from giving my opinion on a variety of subjects.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


In this small island in the Salish Sea, one of the questions frequently asked is "How long have you lived here?" That passing conversational gambit, innocent enough, places you in a category. When, if ever, does one become a "local" ? If you were born here you are a local in island terms, but some places may require generations of you as a necessity to be a "local". Otherwise you are "fromaway". Much as I love this place I am glad to be a "fromaway". Thirty two years here does not entitle me to use the term "local". When we moved to the island there were barely four thousand people and now there are over ten thousand. Some are part-timers as we were then, and often now, houses that are cottage country places of part-time repose, remain empty for extended periods. This is not particularly healthy for a neighborhood. Notwithstanding that, the influx of "fromaways" has contributed enormously to the welfare of the island and it's cultural mix, bringing diversity and economic wellbeing . "Local " may in fact be better described as the degree of engagement and contribution to the welfare of your community, rather than the time you spent on the cracker barrel ! In the meantime, my best nature suggests I celebrate the commingling of the locals and the fromaways. A drink, blended well, is worth celebrating and will bear repeating.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Nitpicking nattering nabobs of negativism

William Safire died recently (Sept. 27 ), and The Economist obituary recorded some of his lexicographical tidbits which I have taken liberty with, as above. He analyzed nabobs, nattering, and negativism. He may or may not have seriously studied nitpicking. Certainly in politics at the Federal level in Canada today the opposition, all three of them, are guilty of a certain degree of this. I don't think the present government was any less guilty when it was in opposition. When you are in the business of government, whatever stripe, it is so easy to fall into the habit of the four N's. What if, wonder of wonders, electability was put on the back burner for a period of time in order that the public good is served by positive and collaborative action on the part of our politicians. Things are bad enough for many Canadians that selective criticism, with a bent that can lead somewhere cooperatively, would be a blessing. The voting public is less and less enamoured these days with nitpicking nattering nabobs of negativism. Just a thought!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

the mixed hedgerow

The hedgerow that separates our property from the beach was, to my knowledge, always there. All the hedge shrubs are indigenous to the area. It consists of snowberry (Symphocarpus Albus), ocean spray (Holodiscus discolor), Nootka rose ( Rosa Nutkana), Bigleaf maple (Acer Macrophyllum ), red alder (Alnus Rubra) and common hawthorn (Crateagus Douglasii). We only remove the new growth to avoid disturbing the nests in the hedge structure. When this hedge is pruned annually or twice annually at four feet on the property side and twelve feet on the beach side it still has a look that belongs, rather than cultivated. The diversity of plants , however, does provide a certain amount of chaos and informality that a diverse population of people also display. Varying growth rates both in time and season, varying production of flowers and fruits, early and late, deciduous dropping at different times gives a kaleidoscopic aspect to the hedge. The presence of a diverse indigenous mix provided by Mother Nature rather than the pianist and I, gives a greater sense of durability than we could achieve. I have resisted the temptation to monkey with it. "Don't just do something, stand there!" It, I think, represents the strength of a country like ours and a province like British Columbia, where strength,durability and color is present in its diversity. It just takes a little more work to manage than monoculture.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Great Depression

My father was not interested in farming as a boy and after high school, he learned the Morse Code and joined the Canadian National Railway. This was 1929. The market crash did not fully bite on the prairies until the dirty thirties. There was virtually no work for my father. The farms failed, including the farm he grew up on. He tried growing mushrooms and sheep and potatoes in the early thirties as well as the occasional relief telegrapher job, but it was hard, and no one bought his produce. His sheep got maggots, he poured his potatoes down the coal shute into the basement where they rotted and the mushrooms wouldn't produce as advertised. He was scammed by spawn sellers. By 1934, when I was born, he had somewhat steady relief work on the railway but traveled to it extensively, so my mother and I lived with my maternal grandparents for a further three years. The great depression introduced fear into people of that generation that is ill understood today. My father, thoughout his life, had no use for healthy people who did not work. He paid a bill in cash, the day it arrived in the house. He never had a bank loan and never would have had a credit card. He took a two week holiday every year. He rode a bicycle to work for years. He biked because he couldn't afford a car, not because it was politically correct. He smoked a lot, but rolled his own, and used Zig Zag papers because when you laid the cigarette down, it went out, and you could relight it without waste. How could you avoid being raised by this man and not value work!

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Here, at the end of September, the sun rises behind the cedars to the southeast, so we will no longer see it rise in the morning from our vantage point in the livingroom. What we will see, is the dawn of a new day, as the photo shows. We will see the sun rise again in late March. The wall of Western Red Cedars buffer us against the November gales as they come from the southeast, so the trees are a blessing. The harbour goes abruptly from the 20 fathom mark to a 7 fathom mark a bit out from us, so the large rollers generated in the storms of the winter are bracing, along with the wind, and there is lots of flotsam thrown up. Our bank is protected by a massive rock wall, piled to move with the waves. Those who flee to the desert in the south may not miss the season's change, and the rain and wind, but the pianist and I would miss it, though a couple of weeks in Mauii wouldn't be a turnoff. Getting through November to Christmas is the dreariest time. The winter ducks, American Widgeons and Buffleheads, return through the winter, till April. They choose to come here. The Widgeons are dabbling ducks and stay close to shore. The Buffleheads are diving ducks and feed further out. They fatten up at the March herring spawn time, the hallmark for their migration. The ducks don't seem to mind the wind and rain. The day in March that we see the clear view of the sunrise from the living room, for the pianist and I, is the hallmark of the new season.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Altar guild

A great pleasure afforded me is the elegant displays of the altar guild women who provide flower arrangements for the Sunday service. For the months in August September and October the dahlias are used along with the peony leaves, which are turning russet and are a great complement to the dahlia colors. I feel honored that they take from my dahlia and peony patch. I suppose in a sense we all have some icon we worship, in or out of church, that tends to distract from the whole meaning. I suppose there is a certain ego satisfaction in supplying flowers for this period, but it is an act of love and duty on the part of the altar guild women, a form of worship combined with a sense of unavoidable pride. One can certainly be forgiven for being human. We take so many things for granted in a church or any other organization that depends on volunteer labor. The people who are on the ground, doing the regular hands on work as a matter of committment and love are the people who really make the organization work. Some of the most unsung of groups are in fact the connective tissue of the church. You only notice when they are not there, and then it's a catastrophe. The care and skill of the arrangements provided by the altar guild are a reflection of their love and worship of the church. Take the time to thank them for the beauty they provide, week by week.


The Michaelmas daisy, which is really an aster, is a blessing that arrives here in bloom in the late fall, in time for the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels, that is, September 29. My daughter who lives nearby, gave me a clump of her asters several years ago for a vacant spot. Here is a photo of them today! What a complement to the chrysanthemums and the maples. I have a number of planter boxes adjacent to the house. I ruthlessly removed the rangy summer blooming flowers, snapdragons, lobelia and alyssum and replenished the soil with compost, then planted chrysanthemums and daffodil bulbs together. Two birds with one stone. Hopefully the chrysanthemums will bloom till mid December and the daffs will carry on in February. All of these flowers are deer resistant, which is necessary here. That is, except the mums, on which deer will graze a bit, so I spray them with that Swedish muck you probably know about, Plantskydd. It stinks for a day. The berries on the Holly trees are now turning deep orange so they are on the way. If we want holly for Christmas we have to pick it by Dec 10 because the birds eat the ripe berries after that. It's a curious thing that my neighbor has an hybrid holly hedge loaded with berries that the birds never eat. Our blueberry bushes have started to turn red early this year and still have a final pick available since they are all bird netted. My big job over the next few days is to get rid of the old raspberry,tayberry and loganberry canes and string up the new vines. Routines like this give one lots of time to ruminate and talk to oneself. I hope my lips don't move! The garden is still alive at Michaelmas. It takes a rest at Christmas!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Halloween party

For many years until recently the pianist and I went to Gabriola Island to celebrate with old friends the weekend of Halloween. I,ve never met Jeffrey Simpson's mythical uncle but the island is full of characters. Our host, we have known for 40 years, and there is a gathering of some twenty other old friends. At least there was, before time has taken it's toll. We party, drink a bit, eat well, and continuously talk. There is not much exercising. We, of course carve pumpkins. The pianist always made Sunday breakfast of bacon and blueberry pancakes,the last berries from our patch. These were friends from another era that keep in touch once a year and we never run out of things to say . The clean up is as much fun as the dirting down. It is in fact the annual closeup for the summer and fall cottagers. We say goodbye each year, hoping it is au revoir! Years ago our host showed us the large cored holes in a granite tumulous near her cottage. There were dozens of them, measuring four feet across and five feet deep. The large intact grindstones extracted from the holes were transported to the Vancouver Island pulp mills to grind pulpwood in the old days. By Halloween the holes are full of water and, in attempting to traverse them I was less nimble than my hostess. I fell in up to my armpits and eventually struggled out. As I was falling I had that split second thought that the holes might be 30 feet deep and I was a goner. It is hard for an old fellow with gumboots and a thick, soaked, parka to extricate himself from such a situation. That night at the party, my cracked rib and the heady atmosphere caused me to faint and, since my fellow celebrants were less than perspicacious at that time, they thought I had no pulse and called the fire department. The firemen had just finished their fireworks display in the harbor and were in need of action. All was well. It was an inconvenient way to be the center of attention, but we were invited back the next year, hopefully for me to provide further excitment.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Green Tree Frog

As I was coiling up my hoses I heard the little green tree frog with his mighty voice summoning all or any females to his side. They are very cute and Telus uses them in their ads along with lambs and lizards gamboling about. My friend, a greenhouse man, puts them in his green house , I suppose to eat the insects, but I'm not sure the" amourian" is in the appetite mode for anything but a lady frog. Certainly those of other species, including our own, in a state of unrequited love are not very hungry for food. I never had much luck with my friend's tactic. He told me he enjoys the frog music but I found it was quiet when I was in the greenhouse. My transplanted frog in the greenhouse withered on the vine, as it were. I think there was a pining and a wasting away because of unfulfillment. You have to face the music, and leave the frog alone. The rule is probably don't muck about with Mother Nature too much. To employ a frog to do your dirty work, in the guise of being organic, is no excuse. Think of his feelings. He is a brief enough candle as it is, what with working for Telus, and seeking and procreating, and surviving the environmental degradation to which he is so vulnerable. As you know he is the canary in the cage. He won't live beyond his alloted life span, greenhouse or not. There isn't anything fundamentally wrong with a short but happy life." Let it Be!"

Monday, September 14, 2009

The past is not a foreign country

David Lowenthal wrote a book called The Past is a Foreign Country in 1985. It's a wonderful book describing history,memory and reliquary amongst others, and the desire to relive or collect the past. The pianist and I and one of our daughters and two of our granddaughters made apple cider yesterday from some of the Gravenstein windfalls. We made 30 quarts of juice heated to 200 degrees to pasteurize. Our press is a 30 year old, hand crank, but sturdy, and our routine is long established. The design of the press is probably hundreds of years older. The mash is great compost. We have a country kitchen, and we press on the grass just outside the kitchen door. This link from the past is lived by us today in a real sense. The software we call a brain, somewhere, has a face book page that is part of my father's farm and my grandfather's orchard. It is indelible and structural. My granddaughters, as sure as the sun rises tomorrow, will one day press their own apples in their own orchard. Yesterday as well we went after church to an old folks home. Some are blind or have short term memory problems but they respond to the singing of the old chestnuts that we sang in church yesteryear. They have intact long term memory. So do I. The pianist organizes this hymn sing and an old chestnut would be, "Jesus loves me", but now modified for the oldsters. It's a hit. It goes, "Jesus loves me this I know, though my hair is white as snow",... and so on. They also love "In the Garden". I love the song too, primarily since the funerals of both my mother and my dad had this song at their request! This linkage to the past, away from the day to day doings, is evocative for me of the connection with my grandparents and my parents. I do not long for the two holer, or the town pump, or the kerosene lamp, nor do I wish to see one. But I don't believe the past is entirely a foreign country.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fall Season

Fall is my favorite season. Gravenstein and Cox's Orange to harvest and press for juice and pies. Pears,... Angou,Bartlett,Clapps Favorite and Conference.Transparent apples put away in pies in early August and Northern Spy and Red Delicious for keepers to come later. The summer heathers are still hanging on and the split leaf maples are changing into riotous colors. The Big Leaf Maples, indigenous to the west coast, provide great compost material, and, cover the Gunnera to prevent frost kill. The Dahlias are in slow decline but the Chrysanthemums have taken over and what muted but beautiful colors they are. We don't spray so we have a lot of scabby fruit that composts beautifully as well and reacts with all the shredded branch prunings that provide cellulose to the mix. The Hawthorns are turning leaf yellow with reddening haws and look like a gorgeous shawl. The Dolgo crab has been picked for juice and will be mixed half and half with the wild cherry plum to make what we call Crum jelly. The pile of the summers compost is out of the bin, ready for this fall's stuff.When I was young and strong I used to haul seaweed up for compost but I am too feeble to do this now. Sea lettuce shed in June, and sea eel grass in October. The quince doesn't ripen till November here and often cracks. I haven't been able to solve that. The Rhodo,s have made it through the very hot summer with frequent watering so there is no further need to do anything till the spring. I have more than enough to do to bother heading them. I suppose I should if there were enough hours in the day. Stone fruits don't do well in my hands. The peaches were short lived as were the prune plums,fifteen years and the last five were spotty. The Japanese plums bloom here in March which is too early for the bees except for a few bumble bees. We only get a few plums with them. I guess as our parish priest once said in a sermon," the mind of God for you is to always do the next necessary thing". For me the only way I can do this is to sit briefly every morning and say " What is the next necessary thing?" Then I forget everything else so I am not fragmented. The pianist and I assemble ourselves early in the morning with several cups of coffee to decide on our day, and pray that we are both doing the next necessary thing!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Babe and the secret of life

"Baa-Ram-Ewe, Baa-Ram-Ewe, to your breed and fleece be true, Baa-Ram-Ewe!" This was the password Babe learned to communicate and gain the trust of the sheep, and he never let them down in the end, nor they him. Remember, these are sheep. Babe knew this. They , as sheep, follow a creed and the leader. Babe was an individual. It was hard for him to be a pig and learn to be an individual. He had no parenting that prepared him to pighood, but when the border collie took him on, he began to realize instead, his apotheosis.He had the right stuff! He suffered mightily through the pilgrimage of his life but despite his parlous state, he remained loyal, saw things with optimism, and ultimately he prevailed. The farmer that believed in him was not let down! The farmer saw the greatness in his pig. His individuality of being,his courage, but his willingness to open his heart, led the farmer to the same willingness to risk, that Babe had. To be an individual in this world and to be true to yourself takes courage. Don't be like a sheep, running with the crowd. No matter how consoling it may be to run with the fleece, if you have a muse, you need to follow it. The need to belong may not be your karma. The need for a creed by which to live will limit your horizon. It's safer to belong! In the end, Babe and the farmer prevailed, to the adulation of the many. This is a fairy story and real life does not always come with a win. Thats the risk! Better alone, and have followed your star, than compromised for the comfortable second best. In the end you have only to answer to yourself, and your Maker!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Eating styles

Having lived with the pianist for 52 years, our clearly apparent difference in eating style has remained largely unchanged throughout the years. She eats a bit of the four portions on her plate in rotation. I eat all of one portion and then proceed to the next. Both she and I are fork stabbers but I stab where the food lies and she continually moves the food around on her plate gathering it into the center and stabbing. Neither of us do that ergonomically unsound American way of, after pinning down the meat with the fork so it will not run away , cutting and then, changing fork hands and scooping. We're Canadians eh! When we eat soup or cereal or toast, she spoons away from herself and I spoon toward myself. I often end up with a spot of food on my front and more toast crumbs on the table cloth on my side as a result. I'm not sure whether speed,direction or portliness is the main factor. Probably all three. She cuts her apple fully into quarters and removes the core on each. She likes to dip them in melted chocolate. I cut slices of apple with a sharp knife and work toward the center, eating as I go, knife and thumb.. She says my style reminds her of a medieval barbarian. We both chew and swallow at the same rate but she takes much longer intervals between bites so I finish much faster and have learned to wait comfortably between courses. In my family, once we began to eat we didn't talk, we ate. After the plate was finished, we talked. In the pianist's family they ate and talked. This can be dangerous for choking I fancy, so the Heimlich maneuver should be at the ready. I have now adapted to eating, drinking and talking but with precaution. She puts sugar on her tomato slices and salt on her corn on the cob. I put pepper and salt on them both. She always insists on a serviette which I am always provided but rarely seem to use. I can't say why, but if this blog is boring, then you are under 50. At 75, food and meal time assume an importance of increasing degree. The eating habits that evolved are a reflection of your present persona. This is basic stuff and we are just addressing the nuances of prairie Canadians. Think of the world view!

The Worried Well

The bane of a surgical practice over the years was the frequent referral of the worried well by general practitioners. They were referring the neurotic who needed an opinion to confirm what their doctor had already told them. I understand the need, but it was tiresome in a busy surgical practice to repeat what everyone knew. Occasionally however there was a new discovery which meant the prudent never said ," No! " The decision to operate on someone based on symptoms, or sympathy, or speculation is a recipe for disaster. It is not dangerous to send someone for treatments that carry little or no risk , but there is considerable risk to ill advised surgical treatment. Harm can be done! Surgery is never, however, the last resort. It is best done at an optimum time and it has to be based on the objective (that is the measurable) findings rather than based on the symptoms (the subjective findings), or the patient's desire. That may seem a cold approach to some, but it is a reflection of the science rather than the so called art of medicine. Hippocrates said, in his aphorisms, "Cure occasionally, comfort always! " but, it is cold comfort if you do an operation for reasons other than on a scientific basis. It is incumbent on the surgeon to be selective, which may offend some patients. A surgeon may get away with doing the wrong operation well, and may get away with doing the right operation poorly, but they never get away with doing the wrong operation badly. A little vignette from the distant past I remember is, someone asked the professor why he did that clearly non-indicated operation. He said it was a mistake, "They came to see me once too often !"