Kleines bissen

As all of you know, Kleines bissen are just “little bites”. (OK, you do now.) Mozart lovers will recognise a near relative of the adjective “Kleine” from the title of his most done-to-death piece, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, K525. Anyway, those still reading by now are way ahead of me — this post is just bits and pieces.

I don’t know if John Silvester’s article Just hang on: the A to Z of pandemic politics appeared anywhere other than in The Age. If you haven’t read it, please do forthwith. I laughed so much that I literally (not virtually) had to wipe my eyes. Twice. It was both extremely funny and slightly sobering: the latter because nothing in it was either invented or exaggerated.

I had a small win a day or so ago. My vintage FM radio tuner had difficulty receiving ABC Classic. I listen to the radio a lot, so this was what polite people call a PITA. Trouble receiving ABC Classic was unusual, though; this station has a strong signal. I cursed extensively, and looked up where I could get a decent new tuner. The prices of possible replacements gave me pause. Maybe I should go for digital radio or streaming radio instead. These would present fewer problems with reception; unfortunately, to me, they sound processed and harsh.

My research, however, turned up a couple of simple things that could improve my FM reception: elevating the antenna, and moving it nearer a window. The antenna was already up on top of a cabinet, about 1.5 metres above the floor. The second suggestion seemed a good idea, though; what was to lose?

I needed a longer coaxial leads. Generally long runs of cable are not a good idea because they increase the potential for interference. I decided to give it a crack anyway. Fortunately, I had several coax leads down in the garage. The longest one turned out to be a monster; maybe 10 metres. The hernia wound was feeling pretty good, so I went through the steps necessary to disconnect the antenna, move it closer to the window, arrange the new cable around the corner of the study, and re-connect everything. Take ‘er away, Boris!

Well — my little Technics tuner sounded pretty happy with a lot more signal to munch on! 3MBS-FM was particularly improved. My antenna has a gain dial, giving some variable boost to the reception. When I moved the tuner dial to 3MBS, and boosted the gain on the antenna, I could see the signal strength meter zoom up from 4-5 to 8-9 — just about the max. (Not being a Marshall, it doesn’t go up to 11.) The stronger signal significantly reduced the hiss, as well. ABC Classic was similarly improved. Cost: 0$.

I came across a story in the Green Guide, I think, about a TV show showing celebrities reorganising their closets. Caviar to the general, perhaps. However, my beloved is very interested in a) fashion and b) closets. (Her wardrobe is organized to a T.) I therefore adjudged this story to be of strong potential interest to her. Her tablet needed charging, so I gave her mine on which to read the story. Being unused to my device, in attempting to scroll down, she accidentally opened an image. I reached over helpfully (not to say patronisingly, even patriarchally) to close the image for her. My hand was swiftly batted away. The moral — never get between a fashion maven and a fashion story!

Mr B sees it through

[Apologies — I have corrected the first sentence to remove various solecisms. Some changes further down are too trivial to mention. So no need to read further if you’ve already read it.]

Yesterday I went with my beloved to see Michael B, the surgeon who carried out the hernia operation . This follow-up consult was one week after the operation had been carried out. Mr B pronounced himself satisfied with how everything was looking. My main question was “When I can go back to exercise classes?”. He thought another couple of weeks’ recuperation should do it .

Just before Michael came in, the nurse removed the dressing that had been put on the wound after the operation. This dressing was transparent, allowing any bleeding or anything else undesirable to be identified. According to the notes with which we were supplied on discharge, this dressing could be left in place, absent any leaking, oozing, or other indications of the wound not healing. We had seen no reason to change it, however. (Several spare dressings had been included in the sample bag I took home on discharge.)

Before yesterday’s consult, I had imagined the dressing being ripped off in enthusiastic Nurse Ratched style, perhaps preceded by a bracing “This won’t hurt a bit!”. However, it was just gently peeled off, with zero discomfort. I was lying on an examination couch, with my shirt and jacket pulled up a bit, so I couldn’t see exactly what the nurse was doing. On our way out my beloved and I asked ourselves “Did she put another one on?”. I checked when we got home — she hadn’t. But the wound still seems dry, and neither tender nor inflamed .

A few stitches are holding the edges of the wound together. These stitches will just dissolve by themselves, so there is nothing further to be removed. Because I seem to be healing well, a second consult date wasn’t set. Of course I can ring and report any problems or complications that might ensue. Based on how things have gone so far, however, I am not expecting any.

Hospital admissions are bit more protracted, in Victoria at least, because of a compulsory temperature check, a digital form to be filled out on one’s phone, and other CoVID19 business at the point of entry. Even with these extra steps, we were in and out in less than half an hour. This period is the maximum for which Knox Private Hospital provides free parking: after this, their meter is on. Anyway, we must just have snuck under the wire — yay!

Yesterday’s visit featured another freebie: there was no charge for yesterday’s consult. I am not expecting any other charge to be forthcoming. Before we booked in for the procedure, I had requested a financial quote from the practice. According to this, Mr B’s, the assisting surgeon’s, and the anaesthetist’s fees were all to be sent direct to our health insurance fund. This seems to have happened exactly as promised. So, apart from a few dollars for some anti-inflammatories and analgesics with which I was supplied on discharge, the procedure cost has cost nothing.

We won’t (fingers crossed) have to pay anything for the costs for my overnight hospital stay, either. The hospital cover of our health insurance features a $500 excess. The hospital cover year runs from May to April. (Just to make things difficult, the extras cover corresponds to the financial year.) From May to April, the first two hospital admissions for either of us cost $250 a throw. Any subsequent admissions in that period come after the excess has been paid, and are therefore not charged.

This operation was preceded by a couple of hospital admissions during this period, each for a Zoladex implant (albeit this is only a day procedure). The lady at the cashier’s at Knox Private, by whom I was interviewed at admission and at discharge, did try to charge me $250 both times. She readily demurred when I pointed out I had already had two hospital admissions since May. No, I’m not having anything else done, even for free! I do believe in being careful what you wish for.

Avoiding the past

Last night we just finished watching the Watergate series that has been recently broadcast on SBS. Watergate started really coming to a head in 1972, the year in which I sat the Higher School Certificate. So you would expect that something that happened nearly fifty years ago would be of mostly historical interest. However, we found this recounting of it both extremely gripping, and highly relevant to the current US political scene.

Part of the interest of this series was its use of dramatised episodes. (The dialogue of these was taken verbatim from the famous Watergate tapes. ) These episodes demonstrated something we only knew intellectually: real people had said these things. Everyone involved, especially Nixon, was prepared to engage in endless acts of denial and deception, to stop the truth coming out. The scale of the cover-up was so vast, it was difficult to keep track of everyone involved. Hundreds of people (including the Attorney General), federal government agencies, the shadowy Committee to Re-Elect the President, elements of the Republican Party: all were recruited to keep a lid on things. Later on judges, standing committees of the legislature, and specially commissioned Watergate prosecutors, each with their small army of investigators, got involved.

(Incidentally, when people speculate about Trump refusing to accept the results of the upcoming election, and attempting to mount a coup, this was also on people’s minds just before Nixon’s resignation. The word was put out to army command that they were to disobey any order from the President to surround the White House with armed troops. One of the investigators said dryly that, if General Haig — then the White House Chief of Staff — turned up wearing his uniform, everyone should watch out! Fortunately, Al Haig is best remembered nowadays for offences against the English language, the most splendid of which was surely “Let me caveat that response”.)

We can all be thankful that investigative journalists had smelled a rat from the beginning. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post spent the most time on it initially. Their persistence led more and more of the story to be exposed, and its multifarious connections revealed. The grilling that their colleagues in the broadcast media, most famously Dan Rather, continued to give Nixon and his parade of press secretaries added significantly to the pressure. All these reporters (and their proprietors) withstood repeated stonewalling and intimidation intended to throw them off the scent. At the end of it all, a President was revealed to have disgraced his office and the Constitution that he had sworn — twice — to uphold.

Watergate provides an compelling background to the current attempts to make Google and Facebook pay, effectively, a levy to news originators such as Nine Entertainment Co., News Corporation, and The Guardian. (This story from The Guardian explains the rationale behind the draft legislation under which — if it becomes law — these payments will be made.)

In my view, Google and Facebook are acting in a completely parasitic way towards news originators like those listed above. The social media companies do not employ journalists, maintain newsrooms, subscribe to Reuters or any of the other news services, or write news stories. They just repackage what other people do.

This would not matter if Google and Facebook were not eating the news providers’ lunch in the digital advertising market. The story linked above contains an estimate by the ACCC that Google has about a 47% market share of Australian digital advertising (excluding classifieds). I have not seen any suggestion that the pandemic is growing the total digital advertising spend. If it is a zero sum game, these inroads by Google and Facebook represent lost revenue for the news providers on an enormous scale. All of the latter have certainly shed staff and cut back their operations in recent years, not least by the cancellation of local and regional newspapers.

It’s uncomfortable for me ever to line up with NewsCorp (the Voldemort of media companies). The Watergate investigation, however, reminds us that investigative journalism — no matter who does it — is a public good. How else are we, as citizens, voters, and consumers, to know when bad deeds are committed? Good investigative journalism doesn’t come cheap. Can we do without it, though? If the news organisations all shut up shop, are Google and Facebook really going to start shining light into dark corners on our behalf?

Hernia, I’m home!

It’s day four since the operation, and things are improving. The main obstacle to overcome to date has been constipation (not to put too fine a point on it). The surgeon’s practice put me in touch with a nurse, who made a few suggestions. After applying several of these, I think I am back to normal.

I know that certain medications, such as opioids, can exacerbate this problem. Fortunately, I don’t think I will need these meds from now. I’m not having any pain from the wound, which is not looking at all alarming. (I got a page or two of notes about recovery; these have been helpful. Where did we put these things before fridge magnets were invented?) I am seeing Mr B, the surgeon, on Friday. He will look me over and tell me, among other things, when I can resume exercise.

Melbourne is obviously still in Stage 4 of lockdown. Consequently, our book group remains in virtual (or possibly nominal) mode. We could, of course, have a discussion using Zoom. However, there is zero interest in learning this platform, and no-one wants to do the hand-holding required to get people up to speed with it.

The original list of titles that I scientifically selected (in throw-a-dart-at-the-list style) has been honoured more in the breach than in the observation. The book that has turned up this month is an interesting one, however: Furious hours: murder, fraud and the last trial of Harper Lee, by Casey Cep.

Harper Lee might have been the most famous author to be affected by second novel syndrome. The author of To kill a mockingbird became intrigued by the murder in Alabama of a black preacher, the Reverend Willie Maxwell. Lee returned to Alabama to attend the trial of the man accused of this murder.

About 10 years earlier, Truman Capote had enlisted Lee to help him research the murder of a Kansas family. Capote used this research as the basis for his true crime book, In cold blood. This may not have won its author the Pulitzer Prize, but it was nevertheless a huge hit. Lee might have thought to work the Maxwell case up into a similar book. However, the project came to nothing.

The point of writing a book about a book that never left the launch pad may not be obvious. Furious hours might seem like an archival exercise: a hunt through Harper Lee’s laundry lists. It actually tells a fascinating story that is not short of angles. The Reverend Maxwell was accused of murdering several of his family members for insurance money. The man tried for his murder was acquitted in spite of the testimony of many witnesses. The accused’s defense attorney had previously represented Maxwell. Then there are Lee’s attempts to turn all this into a book. Casey Cep organises all these narrative frames in magisterial style. (I don’t wish to carp, but an index would have really put the cherry on top.)

Hernia op all done

Many of you will have found out, directly or indirectly, that my hernia operation went successfully yesterday.

I didn’t get much sleep last night. The wound made it difficult to push myself up the bed far enough so that my feet weren’t pressing against the end of the bed. Fortunately it was possible to raise the middle of the bed independently of the top section. This raised my knees a bit, which took a lot of pressure off the feet. By the time I fiddled around with this, however, I had woken up, so I had to go through all the business of sitting up again. Laughing was the worst thing for the wound — I had to press on the wound site to avoid straining it too much. (Of course, trying not to laugh at something that is bloody funny is next to impossible.)

I felt a lot better after breakfast this morning, and was able to get up, shower, and dress myself independently. (These always seem like major achievements after surgery!) Kudos to the nursing staff at Knox Private Hospital, who were kind and attentive. I was sent home with painkillers and anti-inflammatories, and strict instructions not to lift anything much, or strain the site in general. Today when I stand up, the wound is a bit painful. When sitting I can still feel it, but there is only a mild discomfort.

Fortunately I had taken in a few things with which entertain myself. Among these was Night letters, by Robert Dessaix. I hadn’t read this since it came out in 1996. It had a lot of extra resonances for me this time through. I gather it was written after his diagnosis as HIV positive. (Fortunately his Wikipedia entry only has a birthdate after his name, so I gather he is still with us.) Dessaix vividly describes how receiving a diagnosis of a serious medical condition throws one’s values and plans into disarray.

One of the nurses was interested in it. I tried to explain that the book purports to be a series of letters written by a character strongly resembling Robert Dessaix, who is travelling through Italy and Switzerland after receiving a life-changing diagnosis. Night letters is both an epistolary novel and a memoir, and a great example of both genres. It has some playful mock-academic apparatus in the form of a “translator’s” foreword, and three lots of end-notes. If this all sounds bit drearily post-modern, have no fear — the narrative pulse beats strongly throughout.

My tablet is running out of charge, so I am going to press “Publish”.


I heard from Dr P. The PSA score in the most recent blood test is 0.5. Previously, it was 0.3. According to him, this increase is nothing to worry about. (I was told that at least twice.) He won’t be concerned until it gets “into double figures”. (I clarified this — yes, he did mean 10.) So he doesn’t propose any change in the treatment unless and until that happens.

You’re doubtless (both of you) dying to know what I scored in the opera quiz. Well, I got 10/11. Just saying. There were 6 Wagner operas that I can remember — assuming you count the Ring Cycle as 4, which makes sense. I am still poring over the comment received re a hypothetical quiz for classic novels. Ahh — a rural romance/epic of some kind? Middlemarch? The Chronicles of Barsetshire? You got me!

I’ve got a classic movie for you: (T.N.T()–✹

And another classic novel (trick question alert): 🔎⌛️ 

Of course, we know no-one says “Over and out” when terminating a radio conversation. So I am just going to say “Over”. See the Prof. Paul Brians’ explanation, should one be required. (Warning — this web site is a paradise for pedants! His entry for “I/me/myself” is a classic. He missed out on “sanction”, though, which I will leave for someone else to disentangle. I found a typo in a heading, though, which I will leave for fellow pedants to rootle out.)

Snakes and ladders

Apologies in advance for any repetition of anything covered in previous posts, errors, or other solecisms. I have had rather a lot to arrange just lately. Please therefore take this as both an apologia and a disclaimer for this and all subsequent posts.

I had previously scheduled my next Zolodex implant for Monday 12th October. This date was made long before I knew I had to have the hernia operation (the latter scheduled for Friday 9th October). The hernia op can cause some bruising in the general area. So, on my oncologist’s advice, I rescheduled the Zolodex implant to be done before the operation. I had this implant yesterday, which was uneventful.

Generally, I see the oncologist (Dr P) on the same day on which I have the Zolodex implant. This time I had to have the implant before having gone over my most recent blood test results with Dr P. He will be ringing me some time today, however. I will put the results of that conversation in a separate post.

This morning I also had a COVID19 test, now required in Victoria (and probably everywhere else) before any operation can be performed. The office of the surgeon who will be doing the hernia op (Mr B) requested that I have this test a couple of days beforehand, at the pathology office located at Knox Private Hospital. (This was to ensure that Mr B gets the results in good time before the operation on Friday.) We therefore headed out to Knox Private this morning, where I had the usual back-of-throat and nasal swabs. My eyes watered a bit, but otherwise it was not too bad. I have to stay in isolation until I get the results of this test. Unless the result comes back positive, everything is set for Friday.

One of the snakes referred to in the title to this post has been the health care card. I successfully applied for this card in July (uploading, in the process, a significant number of documents about our super and other assets). This card entitled me to various concessions, all of which I duly applied for — power and gas, water, car registration, and so on. A week or so ago, however, a couple of these organisations informed me that I no longer had a valid concession. On Monday I spent the best part of a day attempting to re-apply for the card, by uploading a different form and a lot of other scanned documents. I could upload the former, but not the latter: it just gave me an error message. (Later on I got a different message, to the effect that the site was down for maintenance.) Eventually I did what I had avoided doing until absolutely necessary, and rang them.

The person I eventually got to speak to confirmed that I had lost the concession. (She acknowledged I hadn’t been informed of this decision by the Illuminati bureaucracy; this omission was “unusual”.) I could make a fresh application: if that were successful, I would be sent a new card. I could then apply to have the date of the new card backdated to that of the original card. When this was done, I could apply retrospectively for the concessions that I had missed out on in the period between the expiry of the first and the beginning of the second cards.

Clear as mud? After I translated this out of bureaucratese, I looked again at the guidelines, and our finances. I can’t see how we can now satisfy the former. (I believe a recent change in our circumstances is why we got pushed off the concession. In the interests of privacy, I won’t go into more detail here.) So it’s back to being a self-funding retiree — for a while at least.

As oldies like me know, age pension eligibility depends on one’s birth year. Theoretically I become eligible for this entitlement at the very end of 2020. Meanwhile I could make an early application for the age pension. If this application is successful, the pension and the other entitlements will be ready to go from one second after midnight on the day on which I come of age. (Sorry to be a tad vague about this — privacy again.) Anyway, I will save this task for when I am recuperating from the operation. They can only say no!

On a lighter note, as the saying goes (and correct me if I misuse the expression) — if you like opera, here is a small diversion. The British Classic FM station is running a quiz about famous operas. The exercise is to match a set of emojis with an opera. No prizes — just a bit of fun. The spirit of competitiveness and one-upmanship is obviously just as strong among my faithful readership as elsewhere. So I will reveal the score I got in this quiz in the next post. Bragging rights are up for grabs, so have a go! This link should open in a new tab: opera quiz . (It isn’t over until you-know-what happens.)

Didn’t see that coming!

Note to siblings: I have already alerted you to the main matter of this post.

This Friday, 8 October, I am booked in to have an operation to fix an inguinial hernia. This is quite unrelated to the cancer. I’m not sure how I developed the hernia — possibly through lifting weights that were a bit heavy for me. The weakness in the abdominal wall might have been there for quite a while. Anyway, it’s something that has gradually developed until the time has rolled around to do something about it. It is good to get it dealt with before it develops into something more serious, i.e. incarceration or strangulation, as set out in this Healthline article.

Naturally I checked with my oncologist before booking the surgery. He strongly encouraged me to have it. He said (words to this effect) “You’re very fit, you’ll breeze through it”. Having the hernia fixed will allow me to continue exercising, something of great importance to cancer patients (as for everyone). I sought a few other opinions as well, about the surgeon, and the technique he proposes to use. All these came back favourably as well. So I am as confident as I can be that the outcome will be positive.

After the open radical prostatectomy, this should be much less of a production. Having had the former operation unfortunately rules out keyhole surgery in this case. Hernias are still much easier to get at than prostates, lymph nodes, etc. I am scheduled to have the operation on Friday morning, and be in hospital overnight. I will have to take my music player in! I will also take in something a bit lighter to read than what I chose for the prostatectomy — Gödel, Escher, Bach, by Douglas Hofstedter. (It’s not every book that gets its own Wikipedia entry. Who was I trying to impress? Needless to say, three years later, including six months in lockdown, I still haven’t read it.)

Another unexpected development has occurred, this one associated with my foray into the German language. My patient and good-humoured teacher Jörg told me on Friday that he now has a full-time job, starting in the middle of the month. He and I will finish up the two lessons remaining in the current block of ten. After that I will have to either find another teacher, or join a class. I am leaning towards the latter of these options, if I can find a class that is at about my level, and at a convenient time. (I was planning to have a break for a week or so in any case with the operation.) Of course I am happy for Jörg that he has a better position. I have come to look forward to the lessons, though, and it is a little sad that they will not be continuing after the next couple. We have developed something of a rapport, even after I corrected one of his corrections — something he took in good spirit! (As Mime says to Siegfried, in the opera of that name, “den Lehrer sein Knabe lehrt” — literally, “the teacher learns from the lad”.)

Schumann surprise

The Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov is someone I had heard of, but missed seeing when he came to Australia a few years ago. I was therefore interested to catch his performances on the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall. One I have watched a couple of times now is that of the Schumann Piano Concerto, with Mariss Jansons conducting the BPO. (NB: because the Digital Concert Hall is behind a paywall, this link will only point to the trailer for this concert, unless you are a subscriber, or have a 7-day free ticket.)

Trifonov is an artist who seems to feel the music deeply each time he performs it. His emotions are signalled by his facial expressions, and his swooping and bending over the keyboard. Tempos get pretty pulled around around in the process, in ultra-romantic style. Fortunately, Triifonov has the virtuoso chops with which to put his view across. The solo part in the Schumann did not seem to stretch him. He had a good rapport with Mariss Jansons, whose accompaniment was sensitive, but full-blooded in the tuttis. He and Triifonov seemed to enjoy their collaboration. This was one of these old-young partnerships that can provide real excitement as well as deep musical understanding. (Think John Barbirolli and Jacqueline Du Pre in the Elgar Cello Concerto.) After the concerto, Triifonov played a stunner of an encore: an arrangement by Alfred Cortot for solo piano of the Largo from Chopin’s Cello Sonata.

I realised, while listening to the performance of the Schumann, that this music has been in my life for over forty years. The first performance I heard of it was the classic recording by Sviatoslav Richter with the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra, made in 1958. (I reckon I bought it on vinyl in the early 1970s.) However, it still stands up very well, particularly in the DGG remastering on CD. Richter’s account of it is considerably more urgent than Triifonov’s, getting through it four minutes faster overall. The CD also includes the Introduction and Allegro Appassionato for piano and orchestra, some short solo piano works, and the Forest Scenes. Richter was a superb Schumann player: you are always caught up in his vision of the music.

The Schumann is obviously a staple of the concerto repertoire. It was often coupled on LP with the Grieg concerto, another “only child” piano concerto. I came across a discussion of Schumann piano concerto recordings on a discussion group. The message that started off the thread listed 162 recordings of this work. As one might expect, just about everyone has had a crack at it, some pianists several times. Among the repeat offenders: Martha Argerich, Claudio Arrau, and Richter (all 7 times), Annie Fischer (5), and Walter Gieseking, Clara Haskil, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, and Rubenstein (all 4 times).

There are two performances missing from this list, the more famous being Stephen Kovacevich/BBCSO/Colin Davis. (I checked for this pianist under all three forms of his name, i.e. Stephen Bishop, Stephen Bishop Kovacevich, or Stephen Kovacevich; he didn’t get a guernsey under any of them.) A considerably more obscure recording that didn’t make this list is Oleg Boshniakov/Moscow Radio Great Symphony Orchestra/Näämi Järvi. I only know about this one because I have it on vinyl (Melodia 04189-90(a), 1978). I felt a rather juvenile thrill at having a performance not listed on this supposedly exhaustive list!

The record is one I acquired fortuitously. While living in St Kilda in the 1980s, I used regularly to wander down to Acland Street. One of these excursions led into a second hand shop, which was selling quite a range of Melodia records. The proprietor explained that these had been imported from the USSR, but never picked up after they had gone through customs. They were being cleared out for a few dollars each. I got about eight, including a Grieg piano concerto, the Tchaikovsky 1st concerto with Richter, the Shostakovich 5th symphony, and the Sibelius 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th symphonies. The recordings were variable, but the performances were usually very good. The Sibeliuses are performed by the cumbersomely named Great Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio & TV, conducted by Gennady Rhozhdestvensky. All four are keepers.

A tale of four dictionaries

Sometimes learning German feels as if I am struggling through a thorny thicket.

Some of you know this is my second go at this language. My first was four years ago, before Jill and I travelled to Austria and Germany. I started learning through the East Melbourne Language School in its summer school in January, 2016. The school occupied a double story terrace on Victoria Street. Our teacher, Andreas, was an agreeable young guy with a pony tail.

My fellow students included an opera singer, a retired nurse, a youth worker, and a hairdresser. Once a week we straggled up its steep and narrow stairs, and squeezed around the large table which took up most of the top floor front room. One had to stand up to allow late comers to find a seat. No-one seemed to think to leave the seats near the door unoccupied. (This was rather un-German behaviour. I had heard about how German concert audiences would leave the aisle seats vacant until the last minute, to make things easier for the people sitting in the middle of the row. This proved pretty true in practice.)

After I came back from our trip, I had missed out on a term of lessons. While I had been away, my cohort had progressed to one of the levels beyond Kinderdeutsch. I therefore switched to a weekly lesson with Carolin, one of the partners in the school. (There was a vague intention that I could catch up with my former classmates, to rejoin them in future.)

Carolin and I got along well — she used to make me a mug of licorice tea, another discovery. However, I found her teaching method quite disjointed. She mostly ignored the textbooks, and we seemed to do something new each week. I came away with folders full of photocopied notes on disparate topics: the dative case, plurals, prepositions, and lots of other stuff. I must have done some English grammar at school, but I couldn’t remember any of that, so I had next to no background to build on.

On another front, I was trying to figure out what was wrong with me. During our trip I had caught a cold, and got tired very easily. This was worst in Berlin: on a couple of days there I just hadn’t been up to doing anything. My beloved went off for a couple of day trips by herself. She had even less German than I had; I imagined myself trying to explain to the local polizei where she had been going. (Of course, she came back to our hotel safely both times.)

When we got back to Melbourne, though, something clearly needed further attention. In the course of the numerous tests this involved, the prostate cancer was discovered. Everything else got put on hold. During my various rounds of treatment over the next few years, the prospect of returning to Germany seemed remote.

Fast forward to May of this year, and in Stage 3 of the COVID19 lockdown, I realized I needed a project to keep me from going round the twist. I was using Zoom videoconferencing for a few things. Maybe I could use it for going back to German? I could indeed. Fortunately I had kept everything from four years ago: the set of textbooks, my notes from the summer school and all the lessons with Carolin, and my dictionaries.

Plural? Yes, reader, I had acquired four German-English dictionaries. These are all bilingual dictionaries, translating from each language to the other. I picked them all up from op shops, second hand bookshops, and antiques stalls — all places that now might as well be on Mars. Here they are:

Meine Wörtebuch

From bottom left, and going clockwise, they are:

  1. Hugo Pocket Dictionary Deutsch (Deutsch-Englisch, Englisch-Deutsch):
  2. Collins Gem German Dictionary (German-English, English-German):
  3. Collins Concise German-English, English-German dictionary; and
  4. Langenscheidts Handwörterbüch Englisch. Teil 1: English-Deutsch; Teil 2, Deutsch-Englisch.

The Hugo was my first German dictionary. It is quite an eccentric little thing: I suspect Carolin thought it slightly weird (although she was too polite to say so).  But it has its charms. Its 622 pages are very readable, each being laid out in a single column. Published in 1969, I suspect it to be letterpress printed: the type is mostly very crisp. Its dinky size makes it extremely portable. This is the one I took on our trip. To this end I annotated the inside front cover with travel-helpful words and phrases:

  • Es tut mir leid (a cover-all apology. “Entschuldigung” came in handy as well; Germans tend to be very punctilious);
  • Polizist/Polizistin (you never know when you will need a policeman, or woman);
  • Krankenhaus (hospital)
  • Apotheke (pharmacist)
  • Kaufhaus (department store — for when you’ve recovered); and
  • Bäkerei (German bread comes in many varieties, all extremely moreish). 

At 627 pages, the Collins Gem is quite chunky for a pocket dictionary, although it remains very portable. This is a serious bit of a kit for a travel dictionary. The text is arranged in two columns, packing in many more words than the Hugo. Although the Gem is only 5 pages longer than the Hugo, it is a lot wider through the spine. The pages use a heavier grade of paper, which should be more durable. They are rather yellowed, though, suggesting a higher acid content.

The Gem has several useful features. Where a noun forms its plural irregularly, as many do, this is given in the definition — something lacking in the Hugo. It also marks some words as Schlüssellworte (key words). These supposedly are words which occur most frequently, or morph into multiple parts of speech). Hoping to get an inside track on some good vocabulary, I wrote these all on cards. This wasn’t all that useful, however, yielding mostly conjunctions and prepositions, with a handful of irregular verbs. There are lists of irregular verbs in both languages at the back; not the full conjugation, but enough to get by.  

As a desk dictionary, the Collins Concise is really an advance on the Gem, being (obvs) quite a bit bigger. Not having a desk, though, the Concise is just a bit big for me. I only have a little lap-desk, previously the back of a picture frame, which I covered in some rubber floor tiles from Bunnings. This has to hold one or two boxes of index cards, the Android tablet, and occasionally a clipboard, as well as the dictionary. So I tend to only reach for the Concise when its smaller brother is found wanting.

The same applies to the Langenscheidt. At nearly 1500 pages, this is the Big Bertha of the four. Its text is laid out in three columns, which looks just a tad crowded. The type is very clear, though, and stands out against very white paper: all highly legible. There are some great tables in the back  — would you believe four versions of the phonetic alphabet? Go on, you want to know what they are:

  1. German;
  2. British English;
  3. American English;
  4. International; and
  5. Zivil-Luftfahrt (civil aviation).

Oscar Kilo! Being taken by surprise by a dictionary is maybe a bit sad. I’ll ‘fess up to it nonetheless. The Lango is obviously a more-is-more kind of tool. Like the Collinses, it is part of a large family of dictionaries, generally regarded as authoritative. As this rather stuffy phrase might suggest, I hardly ever use it. Es tut mir leid

The internet has a huge range of online tools as well: dict.cc and Reverso are two I like. The latter is particularly good for looking up a phrase in context, and verb conjugations. But the Luddite in me thinks: what will happen when the internet is down? When my battery needs charging? What about if I cancel my subscription? Print needs no backup. Besides, I will always enjoy a good print dictionary, whether large, small, logical, or a touch eccentric.