Saturday, December 29, 2018


"I owe my life to dental hygeine!" Batman to Robin, circa 1968.


E@L takes his mum to the bathroom so she can brush her teeth.

She is walking ahead but parks the four-wheeler in the bathroom doorway with the front wheels leading in and blocks herself. E@L has to coax her come back out again, to turn the four-wheeler around and to reverse back to the doorway. She can then turn slowly around, clockwise, step away from the four-wheeler, hopefully not leaving her left foot behind as she twists. It was her right hip that was replaced 10 years ago and that one works fine. Slowly, dreadfullly slowly, like every other action, she scuffles her foot around and straightens it to her body. With her right hand she reaches to the door frame by the bench and then leans forward to move her right foot up ahead. Her left hand can come off the pusher now, and can move to the door-frame too, and then her right hand can go to the bench.

She is the end of the bench actually, where her right hand is holding a lot of her weight as she stoops, and so long as her feet are not overlapping she can remove her left hand from the door-frame. Her left foot is still turning, her right foot is coming forward again, and yes, her right hand now slides to the corner of the bench, and she can eventually place her left hand next to it. She is inside the door, standing at the bench's corner, and only has to shuffle a little to her right and around to get to the front of the bench in order to access the sink properly and to do her teeth.

She turns and looks at E@L with upraised inner ends of her eyebrows. "Are you looking after me?"

"Helping you brush your teeth, mum."

"Who's looking after me?" Concerned eyes in deeply-creased face, so many years of weather and of more concerns, a young widow's concerns amongst others.

"We're all here, your beautiful children, all forty-eight of us."*

She scoffs and smiles. "Phff. I only have two children."

"More than enough!" E@L says.

"I'll say!" She gives a little laugh.

She shuffles further to the front of the bench and E@L stands by the doorway at the end.

"Here's your brush."

He hands her the brush, which has a grey unmarked, plain stick-like handle made of a material he is unsure of and doubts he's ever seen before. Its shape is very old-fashioned: there is a slight waist to it, but otherwise it's straight up and down, no fancy curves, rubber inserts or indentations, nor any attempt at fitting to the form of a user's hand. It looks like it might have been made of pumice stone in ancient times, but it is soft in the hand, and smooth. And anyway, the head looks normal.

Mum turns on the cold water tap, transfers the brush to her right hand, turns it to face up, and, to E@L's slight surprise, begins to rub the bristles of the brush into the nozzle of the faucet, back and forth in the running water, scraping the bristles across the inside of the tap's orifice.

E@L has never noticed her do this. Or has he? Perhaps he didn't take it in, but this day there is a slight shimmering of deja-vu about the act. Has he ever even watched her brush her teeth before?

It strikes him as a habit she must have acquired long ago. Why? Perhaps, as the youngest in a family of seven kids who were so poor they would share a brush, she had to scrape brother and sister cooties from it? No, Granddad was never that poor. Or maybe she had to take it to school and use it after whatever lunch at St Brendens Convent School the nuns would provide. Or did they bring their own lunch, her sisters and brothers, Grandma having made several sets of sandwiches for those of her children still at school with the bread she had baked the weekend before. Mum (although she was not called mum at the time), after folding back the grease-proof sandwich paper to be re-used next day, would still have to retreive the brush from within her leather satchel that had her name hand-printed in gold ink on the flap just below the handle, and maybe the brush could get contaminated in there, unless it was wrapped in a clean handkerchief? She used live only two onion-farmed paddocks away fom the school: E@L wonders if she went home for lunch?

She is leaning in low over the sink, her stoop more pronounced, and she takes her half-plate out from her mouth and, with it in her left hand, rinses it in the running water. She then scrubs the false teeth with the wet brush. E@L holds a tube of toothpaste and says,

"Here, put some toothpaste on it."

She nods, and holds the brush out for him to squeeze a small dollop onto it. But she only uses the paste for the teeth remaining in her mouth, her real teeth. She scrubs for twenty seconds at most, rinses the brush, places it back in its porcelain cup, which is where E@L's conventional Oral-B brush is also residing for this "holiday", although with a traveller's protective hood clipped over its head. He no longer bring his electric brush - it is so bulky and the battery dies so quickly. She leans in further still and with her now free right hand scoops some water into her mouth, sloshes it around and spits it out, one or two darkish spots of dinner's roast pork alighting in the sink.

E@L passes her a clean hand-towel and she wipes her face. She raises her left hand and covers her mouth as she puts her teeth back in and, uncovering her mouth suddenly like an exaggerated kiss, gives her son a big smile.

"Thank you for looking after me," she says deliberately, and winks at


* Some might say don't be ambigious or facetitious when caring for elderly people with progressive dementia, but mum still has many moments when the dementia lets her wicked sense of humour bubble out from under that forgetfulness and lostness, and the Sundowners Syndrome added with her long-standing anxiety (what she calls The Fear). When that receptivity to cheekiness goes away, it will mean someting. Exactly what, we'll find out.

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


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