Saturday, December 08, 2018


Here's a controversial post that will make E@L unpopular amongst woke family and friends, and stimulate discussion on FB if he put it there (which he won't, though it will make Twitter) at least until he cut it off when said family get too enthusiastic:

Firstly, the term "woke" (of which he has no clear idea of the meaning) will upset the non-woke (is that a word? Would "slept" be better?) side and, secondly, to upset the other, this:

What if the current incarnation of the very politically correct feminist movement, mistakenly called "left" - no mention of cis, etc, terminology in Marx, and E@L has watched all their movies - and where faint-free heart winning fair maid doth not equal consent but certainly stalking and possibly/probably rape, and which might appear to some people to express an inversion of the intent of the original (my era: 70's, 80's) bra-burning days, is actually the tool of a secret celibacy cabal intent on stopping people having sex (men too scared to even approach a woman, women afraid being slut-shamed on Instagram/Snapchat/wherever) as part their nefarious quantumly*-conservative religious agenda?

Either that or is it a conspiracy of dating apps in a world that will only allow you to meet sex-partners, life-partners, business-partners (take a bow Linked-In) by pausing your swiping at a person whom at first judgement looks like the cover of a book you would want to read voraciously (but would never get beyond the ISBN number back in the day). Rather than, say, the nice people you've met in real/animated-meat life, those whom you find interesting and charming, and would like to get to know better, or you were double-blind-dated with by friends who thought you were lonely, or might be be a still-closeted homosexual and wanted to induce a crisis.


Questions only an old, white, heterosexual, no longer rich thanks-to-his-share-of-the-managed-funds--market-this-year man would ask? Someone like


* - "quantum" always impresses people, even when spelt wrong(ly).

p.s. E@L has completed his Goodreads Reading Challenge (52 books) with one month to go! And only 2500 still on the shelves unread. Infinite Jest? You may jest, indefinitely.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Letter from Dorothea

I found letters in one of the manila folders in my finance expanding files. I have been clearing out my wardrobes. (Decluttering, always good until two days afterwards, when you realise you finally need to use that widget that had been sitting there unused, taking up space just in case, for 18years.)

Who gets snail-mail since whenever? The entirety of my incoming epistolary correspondence since leaving Australia in 1998 barely raised a bump from within the folder. Some of the letters I've kept for my biographer and because I am a hoarder, but some are important to me.

The flowing script of this one indicates an education from before the 1980s, back before everyone was taught to write in Courier or Times New Roman.


Dear Phillip

I was walking in the back yard this cold dampish evening. It was beautiful, calm cold crisp air and of course there was the autumn beauty of the deciduous trees, especially I must admit to the [next door neighbour]’s yard with beautiful golden leaves of their two magnificent 35ft high silver birches. I mused, I must send a birthday letter to Phillip if I write & send it now it just might get there in time for his birthday & and that will give him a very pleasant surprise for once in a life time (from me.)

I also have a desire to rush out and get a camera to register our own Autumn leaves on the front trees. I an afraid the winds will have beat me to it and they will have blown to the ground and all that is left will be the stark branches of the silver birch and liquid amber tree, then of course the task of raking our lovely autumn coloured leaves, wet with rain and belted into the ground eventually finishing on the beds to become a great compost. This task of course will be mine, all too late for the camera!!

I am back to mundane thinking hopefully not expressing my fears and such about Dorothy ... Dorothy and her chesty feelings.!!

Have spoken to you since, before you were on your way to the Phillipines. When you mentioned it, I was immediately obsessed by the fear of your safety with the problems in Fiji. “Think again stupid!” Paula wised me up! In a nice way, she said, “You dag, he is going to the Philippines.”

So much for “time waits for no man,” that has all been ten days ago. I must wish now that you have a happy celebration for you 43rd birthday, we will be thinking of you on the 23rd June 2000! Hope your life continues to be to your liking and enjoyable in the future. A new order of accommodation, house companions, no doubt a few decisions of some consequence for you.

God bless you Phillip, take good care of yourself , we all love and care for you.

Happy Birthday,

Mumsy X

Dorothea C Ramm


Chesty feelings - anxiety, worried about a heart attack.

"Mumsy" - from a scene in a Norman Wisdom movie we both thought was hilarious back in the day.


I used to send my mother post-cards from my travels in Australia - usually from conferences or locum placement - and they invariably were of women in welcoming, one-piece bikini, all-over tan, tourist-kitsch poses. I presume she thought I was funny, or was trying to be. Very rarely did she send letters to me.


We have just recently moved her into a nursing home, and she was assessed and placed in the dementia ward. Tough for her, as she pretty with-it most of the day, but then she drifts away around sundown with the old anxiety and mild paranoia.

You can see that lost look in her eyes after 6. The world doesn't make sense any more.


Sunday, August 26, 2018

Ear Ear

A change of symptoms is as good as a holiday from your disease, right?

I notice that, tonight, my tinnitus has become pulsatile in my left ear.

This could be of practical use in some situations. For example: If I don't hear my heartbeat, I'll know I'm dead.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Inertia Variations

I rarely take advantage of the US$8.99 a month I spend on the MUBI art-film service I subscribe to, but I can honestly say I got my money's worth last night.


This story of The The's Matt Johnson and his 12-15 year song-writing/performing block was fascinating. In this documentary, which covers an extended period of his recent life, he sets up his own radio station (on short-wave, so it requires a massive Eiffel Tower-like antenna on the roof of his flat - he owns the apartment block). He plans to broadcast a midday-to-midnight stint which involves live-music (other musicians performing cover versions of his songs), and interviews with socially conscious (lefties, that means) people from around the world, while doing FB streaming and Twittering during the show. It is a complicated process and his room is crowded with assistants.

In the lead up to the broadcast, we see Johnson lie on his couch a lot, thinking deeply it is made clear, or watch him as he fiddles with a vast array of music technology in his crowded attic. His closet is full of identical bespoke shirts and pants so he doesn't have to decide what to wear each day. He drives his classic Rover in the slow lane. He wanders on desolate beaches and sits in lonely cafes writing. Your classic recluse. Importantly, he also muses on the grieving processes after the deaths of his younger brother, and a few years later, his mum, which seem to have precipitated his crisis. We meet his dad, his elder brother - a wonderful artist, and his son. It is also fascinating that his former partner is the documentary maker!

The voice-over of him reading John Tottenham's titular poem cycle was haunting, and the poems' theme reminded so much of the Pessoa book I have on my bedside table [see previous post].


John Tottenham

There was a time when I thought
I might have done something by now;
But that was long ago, and over the intervening
Decades I have shifted from prodigy to late-bloomer
To non-bloomer; I have passed my peak without having peaked
Or even begun the ascent, and unless there is something inherently
Salutary to the energy I expend in frustrating myself then
My sacrifices have all been in vain.

Fernando Pessoa (as Alvaro De Campos)

I failed in everything.
Since I have no ambition, perhaps I failed in nothing.
I left the education I was given,
Climbing down from the window at the back of the house.
I went to the country with big plans.
But all I found was grass and trees,
And when there were people they were just like the others.
I step back from the window and sit in a chair. What should I think about?


A little bit of suspense is introduced, concerning whether he will finish a song, any song (he has many, many notebooks of partially complete lyrics), and perform it live for his broadcast, which would mean singing in virtual public for the first time in so many years. [I don't want to give away any spoilers, but his voice is still strong.]

And there is so much to relate to for me, in both the film and the poem, seeing as how I haven't had any belief in my own writing since that first heart scare six years ago.

Sad, but eventually inspiring for procrastinators everywhere and for lapsed bloggers such as


Saturday, July 07, 2018

On Forgetting Everything.

Quote of The Day For The Aging (like E@L):

"Everything I've lived through I've forgotten as if it were something I had only vaguely overheard." Fernando Pessoa: The Book Of Disquiet.

For example -

Visiting Friend: That's near where you took me last time I visited.
E@L: You've been to Singapore before?
Visiting Friend (confused): About three months ago. We watched the footy with your mates. I was with my girlfriend. Same as the time before.
E@L (even more confused - no memory of this whatsoever): Oh, that's, um, right.

It's time E@L was put down. Seriously.

He did recall eventually, about 30secs late. How can anyone have conversation with this person?


E@L tries to read a snippet of Pessoa before he goes to sleep. His mordant pessimism makes your shitty day seem like brilliant success and you sleep easy.


Thursday, June 07, 2018

Who Is This E@L?

Who is this person staring back at E@L?

The person in the bathroom mirror with the zipper line of scabs peeling from a scar down the middle of his chest. The person with the healing wounds where drain tubes once sucked out blood accumulating in the spaces between his heart and his chest. Who is the person who would submit himself to such surgical ignominy? Certainly not E@L. E@L would never let people hack at his sternum and prise open his ribs, nor let let them stop his heart, nor let them place a clamp on his aorta - the source of oxygen to his entire E@Lness. He certainly would not let them dig arteries and veins from arm and leg. E@L does not know this front-to-back reversed E@L.

Who is he?

What sort of person is he?

What sort of person is this E@L, who decided such violent effrontery was the best idea at the time. This acquiescent E@L, this bowed into submission by logic and research E@L. This E@L who knew that he might die, and comfortably made the choice to take the risk. This E@L who put thing in order: will and testament, bank accounts, password list. 3% is not an insignificant statistic when they do 60 of these a month. This E@L who really thought he was going to be the one in 33 1/3 who died, the one every month and a half. This E@L who shelled out $50k for the promise of staying alive a bit longer. The E@L who wanted to live but knew, in his cramping heart, that he could die: and die easily, quietly, quickly, never waking up. Death. If not now then eventually, and he couldn’t decide which would the be best outcome. The slipping into oblivion, into annihilation and pre-birth emptiness. Peace. Who is he?

Where is the E@L without these battle wounds? The E@L who feared the pain and dependence that would last for months after, should he survive those first few days. The E@L who said “No fucking way.”

Who is this E@L who dismissed the anxiety. Who is this E@L who knew what could go wrong, but shrugged. Who is this E@L who, while on the operation table, agreed to being intubated while still awake, because of his severe apnoea. The E@L who was hit with a massive headache that burst up the large muscle (sterno-mastoid) in his neck next to his skull, that went up into his brain when the central venous line was inserted, and who mentally shrugged and thought (he could still think!), well that’s it, a massive stroke, but whose both hands still felt strong when he squeezed them as he kept testing them.

But the E@L who joked with the anaesthetist about upgrading his ultrasound machine when he came through this, now that sounds like the real


Monday, May 21, 2018


Every (well, several of them) morning when E@L takes the excellent Singapore public transport to his office way up in the North-East, temptingly close to the airport, he walks down his street to the corner of the main road, to the bus stop (or to the train station, depending on his whim, and the weather), and he is confronted by droves of small children.

They are in their peak cuteness phase, toddling to keep up with their parent or minder, or scooting on mini-scooters (they are under 12, so E@L permits this). They are all tidily dressed in well-ironed pink checked gender appropriate uniforms: shirt with shorts, or a dress, shiny shoes. They are heading to the old building next to E@L's condo. It was refurbished into an upper-echelon pre-school a few years ago.

(E@L recalls it from when he first came to Singapore as a ramshackle old place, dark and a bit spooky, most likely destined, he wrongly assumed, for a complete replacement with a crappy modern, too-small roomed, over-priced, low-rise apartment (height restricted area!) abomination. But no, it was restored into a "Keeping those annoying creatures out from under mum's feet" operation instead, and it looks like it's doing well.)


Often E@L has seen one particular lad going slower than the others, on his way to the kindergarten. It's not for lack of enthusiasm though. He moves with an agitated gait; his arms splayed and flailing, his legs kick out in jerks and spasms. His head stays relatively still however, and he seems quite capable of keeping his balance for much of the time, teetering a bit, without his two minders, or maybe with only one.

(Birth trauma or prematurity or something, has left cystic gaps near the middle of his brain that have severed the pathways of his motor nerves to give him such a manifestation of cerebral palsy. For several reasons, E@L prefers to slot his small change into, of all the options, the box held out by the Singapore Spastic Society's porcelain leather and steel calipered girl who stands humbly, demurely, sadly, aching to be pitied, or forgiven, in a blue dress and white pinafore at the exit to the Cold Storage super[well, reasonable]market where he shops.)

This morning, the young boy has ventured from the concrete path, his two minders chasing him as he moves as quick as he can, unaided, on to the wide nature strip, under the lee of a tall tree. There, anfractuous roots are exposed, certain to catch his feet. But he easily skips over them and makes a clang on the steel cover of a concrete drain access. Perhaps he is heading to a small construction machine, a digger parked behind a safety barricade on the grass. (The area is always being dug up and restored.)

His face is aglow, beaming blissfully! His eyes wide and his mouth full of laughter - this was all amazing to him. What joy to see a digger! Look at it! All yellow, metal, angular, mechanical, and caked in mud! How awesome!


This same morning, after 10 days of following his bosses advice: "Take it easy and rest at home, big fella", E@L has to go the office to get his replacement work visa. He is reluctant, like most of these little kids. His eyebrows are close together in a scowl, as they often are when he is outside (or inside). It may be that the sun had assaulted his eyes when came out of the apartment (he raises his arms across his face in a mock vampire pose and hisses, but no-one is there so the gag remains his own, for himself to enjoy with a sardonic grunt as he takes out his sunglasses), or it may be chronic misanthropy, but the permanent crease to the left of his glabella* is a reminder to him, in the mirror, of how little he sometimes admires the physical world.

Now, as he walks, head down, on his street towards the gauntlet of children, his sunglasses are on, his ear-pods are in. They cancel (at $400, so they should) the white noise of the planet, the chatter of the children, the roaring traffic, replacing it all with a left-of centre political podcast which is in the business of confirming all the nastiness and misery that pervades the planet. His feet ache already (still!) despite expensive medication. His chest feels funny. Is it another heart attack, more angina? Can he take another step without falling down dead? Shrug. So what? Or should he belch away some gastric wind; would that be the issues this time?

He knows he has limited time - a mild heart attack two weeks ago... Wake up call number two. But the arteries can't be stented this time. So it's next week for the big bypass operation. He wishes he didn't know so much about cardiac surgery.

He wishes he hadn't observed open heart surgery himself, seen the beating heart glistening in the space between the retracted halves of a split sternum, watched it slow and then pause as the heart-lung machine took over. He wishes he hadn't wondered if they would be able to start it up again.

He doesn't know everything about the procedure and its complications, but enough to scare the living shit out of him if he lets the thoughts creep in... And he knows exceptionally well how smoothly things go when they go right, and how quickly they can go wrong. He has worked in, or visited in his clinical/commercial capacity, hundreds of hospitals over the last 40 years....

He looks up to see a spastic child in rapture at the orange safety barrier next to a small dirty excavator.


Hey, E@L, what's your problem? You're rich beyond your needs, you have a ridiculously untaxing job where you turn up, sit quietly and unobtrusively, keep your poppy-head down, and take home a packet of money each month. You travel extensively for work into fascinating places, stay in great hotels. You have all the books you (and 500 other people) would ever need, let alone read. Your domestic helper has been cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner for you this last week - plus popping her head in at night to confirm you are still breathing.

You are a literate, well-fed(!), employed, home-owning, tertiary-educated, Australian, white male. You are well into the top 1% of the earth's human inhabitants.

You have friends and acquaintances coming out of the Whatsapp and FB wazoo.

What is there to melancholy about? Really. Why be sad? Harden the fuck up, snowflake.

Why worry?

Open heart surgery coming up next week, E@L points out. I could die. Really, I could. This is no joke.

Is that it E@L? Is that what you're concerned about? Everyone knows your heart will, literally, be in good hands, in a world class place.

Stop reading about Ivan Ilyich, and stop memorising those meaningless Japanese Death Haiku.

That 1-3% risk, does it really matter? Just because the previous 97-99 patient were fine doesn't mean you number is up. That's the Gambler's Fallacy: you know this. You're not a smoker, not diabetic, only 60.


As one of those Japanese poets says: If you don't wake up, you'll never know that didn't wake up. If you do wake up, even better.


Yeah, pain, pain, bad, bad, bad pain for a few weeks. Big man, be tough. It's the price to pay for the next 10-plus years of not worrying about any funny feelings in you chest, because you know all has been sorted.

Maybe even 20 years of getting back on track with your life. Writing (good, bad, crap, funny or not, who really cares?), travelling with friends, laughing, and enjoying great times those good people in amazing places with wonderful wine and food. Won't it be magnificent! Decades of it!

So wake up to yourself now, instead. Look at this kid on the nature strip by the digger.

Give the world a second chance, be thrilled by it. Jump for joy. Laugh. Crack a bottle of that 2006 Barossa Valley Shiraz tonight (and give me a call when you do).

Be the ecstatic kid with cerebral palsy, not your miserable old self.

Enjoy life. It's all you've got.


Good luck with the surgery,


and never refuse an offer of that blissful pain relief.

(* Look it up.)

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