Not taking sides — updated


I gather there were some issues with people not being able to see the previous version of this post. Apos for that! I had restricted the access condition to subscribers, naively imagining that my readers mostly had a subscription. Some do, but have difficulties opening posts. I have taken this up with WordPress, but not gotten very far. I have definitely changed the setting on this updated post to Access: Everyone. People who get the alert, but can’t see the whole post, could try refreshing their browser.

Anyway, I am putting this update at the head of the post, so people who could read the content previously posted don’t have to scroll through it again. I previously discovered that the channels on the turntable were hooked up incorrectly, in the sense that the right hand channel was actually the left, and vice versa. Then I wondered whether I was having the same problem with my disc player. It wasn’t easy to determine, because I didn’t have a stereo check CD or DVD. However, the player (a Cambridge Audio) has a fairly primitive YouTube browser built in. So I found a stereo check video and played it back. This was basic in the extreme, consisting of someone reciting “Left channel, left channel, left channel”, then “Right channel, right channel, right channel”. (The sound was put through the correct stereo channel alternately, obvs.) Anyway, it showed me that each channel is coming through the correct speaker. Here endeth the update.


Warning — ultra nerdy content ahead.

I had an interesting trawl through my local op shop yesterday, coming back with three DVDs and two LPs. We watched one of the DVDs last night, quite an interesting 2007 “neo-noir psychological thriller”, Disturbia . A good mid-week flick, featuring a breakout role for Shia LaBeouf. (The other discs I haven’t seen yet.) I regard op shop DVDs as a cheap indefinite loan. For convenience I have the region settings of the Blu-ray recorder in my phone, so I don’t end up buying something I can’t play.

The vinyl was pretty interesting. The first one I played was Vangelis’ sound track to Chariots of Fire. (Not going to link this, you’ve all seen it!) Side 1 comprised various tracks from the movie sound track, all played by the monomynous Vangelis, except for the original choral version of “Jerusalem”, by Hubert Parry. (This must also have featured in the sound track — it was so long ago that I saw it, I really don’t remember.) Side B was a kind of fantasia on the main Chariots of Fire theme, played on various keyboard instruments also by Vangelis. This was all quite a blast from the past, and a very well produced LP.

The second one was quite an ear opener. This was a demonstration disc called “Miracle in Sound: the Festival Stereo Sampler” (Festival Records, SFL-2/1). Strangely, this is an Australian label, although the content originates in the US. Side 1 began with a follow-the-bouncing-ball track, intended to show whether your speakers are set up with the correct left to right orientation and phase. A bouncing ping pong ball sounded first out of the left, then the right channel. Following this, the bouncing ball is heard alternately left and right. Finally, the ball appears to be bouncing in both channels simultaneously, to allow one to hear the elusive “middle channel”.

I have had stereos since the 1970s, when vinyl and cassettes were all there was. I used to have about 300 records, most of which I gave to 3MBS-FM. However, the vintage Luxman tube pre-amplifier I bought about seven years ago has a very good phono stage. This has encouraged me to start collecting vinyl again. Well, when I played “Miracle in Sound”, I was glad I was sitting down! My speakers were reversed — for the turntable, at least. What I had thought was the left channel was actually the right, and vice versa. This is totally a rookie error, which I couldn’t believe I had made. Still less, having made it, that I hadn’t noticed it! Que?

Something that made the reversal harder to pick up was that the balance control worked correctly, i.e. when turning the knob to the left, sound was transferred to that channel, and vice versa. My stereo also is hellaciously complicated to set up. This is because it has not only a separate power amplifier and pre-amplifier, but also a powered subwoofer. My valve amplifier guru Dallas drew me a diagram to aid me in which leads have to hook up to what. Physical access is quite complicated also, with little room to get behind everything and check. So the possibility that, at some point, I swapped over some leads is quite a real one.

There is a subtler extenuating factor, if you like, to do to with orchestral layout. Growing up and going to concerts in Australia, one might think that orchestras are always sitting with first fiddles on the conductor’s left hand, followed (reading left to right) by second fiddles, violas, and cellos. Second and third tiers are woodwinds and brasses, with double basses behind the cellos. Percussion at the back. Well, after looking at maybe a hundred Berlin Philharmonic concerts (on their Digital Concert Hall service), I can tell you, their string sections sit quite differently. First fiddles on conductor’s left (same as here), but then violas and cellos next to them, then second fiddles on conductor’s right. Alternatively, the violas can swap with the second fiddles. Double basses can be behind the first fiddles in the second tier, on the conductor’s left, or in the middle. It all depends. All these seating arrangements affect the sound stage; otherwise, I might have realised something was wrong earlier.

Fortunately the pre-amp has a nifty feature — a “Reverse Stereo” switch. This swaps around the channels left to right, without having to touch any wires. Everything suddenly sounded as I imagined it should! Simple. Except that now I have to figure out whether the outputs from my my disc player are reversed left-to-right as well. If so, when I am going from playing a record to a CD or DVD, I have to remember to un-reverse the channel reversal. Hifi paranoia, here we come!

PS Please, no advice to ditch the stereo for something simpler! If I didn’t have this to fiddle with, what would I do?

TV or not TV

I recently stumbled across the title of a book that I read, then lost track of: Bowling alone, by Robert D. Putnam (Simon & Schuster, 2000). The author, professor of Public Policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, was exploring the phenomenon of the decline in social capital since the 1950s. By “social capital” Putnam meant the participation of Americans in social institutions by standing for public office, and joining political parties or trade unions, religious groups, parent–teacher associations, veterans’ organisations, volunteers with Boy Scouts and the Red Cross, and service clubs such as Rotary. People are now less prepared to join these groups than was the case in the post-war decades. The level of trust they express in governments and social institutions generally has also declined.

I don’t doubt that this trend was a general one. In my childhood in Darwin, I remember my parents going to card nights, singalongs around the piano, and picnics with friends. OK, Darwin was a pretty small place then. The past is a foreign country, as L P Hartley observed. If you lived in Darwin in the 1960s and had a family, you mostly made your own fun. But when we moved to Sydney, my parents stopped participating in most of these forms of socialising. Of course they knew many fewer people there. Sydney offered substitutes, however, such as the Mensa organisation, which would probably not have been an option in Darwin. Joining this gave my father the opportunity to organise bridge and chess games at our place. There was also TV.

Why have overall levels of sociability and trust receded from their high in the decades immediately following WWII? Putnam attributes these phenomena primarily to the increasing prevalence of television and other electronic forms of entertainment. Other factors included the increasing participation of women in paid employment, and the effects of suburbanization, commuting, and urban sprawl. (I have cribbed these and other details from the Wikipedia article about Bowling Alone.) It all might sound rather dry, but Putnam, as I recall, is a graceful writer. As one might expect, his conclusions are all well buttressed with survey and other data, and his book has a substantial bibliography. It made quite an impression on me when I read it, so I was glad to be reminded of its title.

Independently of this, I had been thinking about television and the tremendous ways in which it has evolved. This was particularly clear to me, given that Darwin in the 1960s did not have TV. (The fun I had to make there included playing records and listening to Tarzan serials on our Kreisler radiogram.) I first saw TV in Brisbane during a family holiday to Queensland in the 1960s. I found it entrancing. As soon as we returned to our accommodation, I would switch the set on, regardless of what was being broadcast. The medium was truly the message.

TV then of course was black and white, and limited to a handful of channels. My beloved grew up in a regional area where there were two channels — the ABC and a commercial. She became an authority on the programming available at any given time of day or night. Before programs were shown, at 8.00 or 9.00 in the morning, the test pattern was broadcast. The evening’s viewing always concluded with the Union Jack rippling in the breeze, to the strains of God Save the Queen. (I’m sure some people would have stood up at home while this was playing. When writing this, I was curious about whether this had actually been a thing. All I could find was a story about how the Mission Barbecue chain in the US plays The Star-Spangled Banner at 12 noon, at which patrons may stand, doubtless with the encouragement of some of their fellows.)

A former housemate of mine referred to a female life partner as “she with whom one watches TV”. During the thousands of hours of TV I have watched with my beloved, we have gone from her flickering old black and white set, to a hulking Philips colour cathode ray TV that I lugged around to three domiciles, to our current Panasonic flat screen. We had the Philips CRTV for about 16 years. it had the boxy 4:3 aspect ratio; when digital channels came in, it required a set-top box to receive them. When we bought our place in Burwood in 2014, I refused to move this heavy old relic one more time, and bought the wide screen Panasonic from a Dick Smith store — back when these places still existed.

Our previous place, in Camberwell, had ushered us into the era of the second TV. The first of these was a tiny set, purchased in about 2013, which had a screen about the size of a microwave oven door. This tiddler went originally to the sunroom of our house in Camberwell, then to the study of our current place in Burwood. It gave up the ghost (no pun intended) just a few weeks ago. I replaced it with a much bigger Blaupunkt set, purchased in a Coles supermarket for $210. (Only a few TV manufacturers make their own screens, so a no-name TV will probably work as well as a recognised brand, and certainly last as long.)

When we bought our first VCR, this ushered in the era of time-shift programming, a.k.a taping off-air. The Green Guide insert in Thursday’s The Age lists the TV programs for the week. It became a ritual to go through the Green Guide and set up the following week’s programs to record. This could be a delicate operation: allowance had to be made for programs which started early and finished late. The commercial stations were the worst for running behind time, particularly when the programs had been preceded by a football match, charity broadcast, or other program likely to run over time. Much unhappiness was expressed when once (once!) I failed to sufficiently “pad” the end time of a recording of Cold Feet. Consequently the precious last few minutes of an episode were missing in action. (Of course this was the exception which proved the rule. On a very few of those occasions, too numerous to mention, when we had been able to watch the entirety of a program, I allowed myself to point this out. This did not prevent some good helpings of hot tongue and cold shoulder from coming my way after the initial offence.)

Other pinch points occurred with taping off-air. The early machines had a limited capacity to record, so when multiple programs earmarked for off-air recording overlapped each other, some bargaining had to be engaged in to pick a winner. The VCR could not record while a program was being played back. Thus when we were playing something back, and the VCR began setting itself up to record a second program, the playback had to be suspended until the recording of the latter had been completed. Our current hard drive recorder allows not only the recording of three programs at once, but also playing one of these back while it is still recording. Better still, it records closed captions. A program broadcast over several episodes, such as a series, can be set up to record in one go, and will stop recording when the series is completed.

Despite all these refinements, our current HDD recorder will probably be our last. I still engage in the weekly ritual of setting up programs to record. Each time yields fewer noteworthy offerings, however, to the point where it has become bit of a waste of time. The streaming services have such a wealth of content that I can’t remember when we watched something on a free-to-air channel. Like everything, this has its advantages as well as drawbacks. On our recent trip to Singapore, we found the TV set in our hotel room had none of the streaming services we watch at home. Fortunately, I had installed the apps for these services on my Samsung tablet. The TV in our room, also fortunately a Samsung, had a feature called screen mirroring. Using that I was able to first tune into Netflix on the tablet, then mirror the tablet screen on the TV — including captions. The broadcast could be paused and continued at will. None of this would have been possible before the advent of wifi, streaming television services, et al . (Perhaps my rigging up this Rube Goldberg arrangement restored a few brownie points, after having cut off Cold Feet, as it were, many years previously.)

Streaming brings a torrent of content to our living room. It can also split us into electronic tribes. When free to air TV was all there was, at least this provided a lot of people with a water-cooler topic. In the glory days of FTA, gangbuster series like The Ascent of Man, The Forsyte Saga, and Brideshead Revisited gripped millions of people, all at the same time. Everyone had a theory about who shot JR (except refuseniks like me who didn’t watch Dynasty). Apparently, whenever a commercial break occurred in these shows, water and electricity networks experienced peaks in demand, as their audience everywhere got up to have a pee and put the kettle on.

Ironically, now I think of it, the one time I overheard someone on the train talking about last night’s TV, they had been watching Frontline. Seinfeld was a TV show about nothing; Frontline was a TV show about a TV show. Can we get more postmodern than that? Of course — now we have Gogglebox. At least this program “surfaces” the all-pervasive aspect of TV by depicting people doing what they actually do, most of the time — watching the box. Now we can watch them doing it.

I’m not having a shot at TV — I watch as much as the next person. I am just fascinated by the way it simultaneously isolates us while (kinda-sorta) connecting us. Can we imagine life without it? There must be a show about that.

Snakes and birthdays

I went to see Dr P yesterday and received some mixed news. The bad: the PSA is now 24, up from 16.The good: he emphasised that I looked “fantastic”, and that the disease is not causing radiological progression. (This will be tested the next time I see him in 4 weeks, by which time I will have had my three-monthly CT and PET scans.) I asked him if he was happy with me and he replied he was “happy with everything”.

Obviously an increase in the PSA is no cause for celebration. However

  • the reading hasn’t doubled (Dr P’s criterion for intervention);
  • one should remember that this is an increase recorded over two months, i.e. double the usual obervation period; and
  • the PSA itself is just a marker of the underlying disease. It is therefore a mistake to fetishise it. It’s not the quantum of the PSA, but the trajectory of the increases that is important. As long as I feel well and can do the things I want to do — both of which are the case — the number can be what it likes. (Short of point #1 above.)

So where do birthdays come in? This morning as I was trying to get back to sleep, I had the following thought. You know how after you’ve had a birthday, you think “Actually, I don’t feel different from when I was a year younger”? A monthly PSA score is a bit like having a different age each month. I was 16 in April, and 24 now in May. Something is happening, but I’m still the same person.

Dr P and I were both away in April (hence the two-month gap between consultations), he in Rome, we in Singapore. Below are some brief impressions from our five nights there:

  • Getting on the plane was a bit ugly (a one hour queue at Tullamarine for seat allocation). We learned later that Singapore Airlines had oversold premium economy. Also, my beloved and I were both affected by an annoying issue about our tickets. The form of name appearing in our passports was different to that on our tickets, the passports bearing our middle names, the tickets not. We had asked then travel agent specifically if that would be a problem, to which she replied “No”. Unfortunately she was wrong. This meant we couldn’t use the automated kiosk for seat allocation, because it couldn’t reconcile the two forms of our names, and we had to find a human to resolve this — who were in short supply.
  • The flight over was OK, and the hotel (the Shangri-La) was fantastic. My left ankle had gotten quite sore from all the standing at the airport, but I bought a (very expensive) sports elastic bandage for it, which made walking around a lot easier. The hotel is in 11 hectares of beautiful grounds, so we had a couple of tentative wanders around there.
  • The weather was very hot and humid — even the locals said so. So it was a bit too hot to walk around outside any distance. Fortunately the hotel had a shuttle bus to the CBD, and taxis were readily available — both air-conditioned.
  • The highlight of the trip was a visit to the Peranakan Museum , a tribute to a particular aspect of Singapore’s multicultural heritage. Fortunately this had a lift! All very fascinating with lots of personal stories.
  • The flight back was on a newer aircraft (Airbus A830), with better entertainment facilities and quieter. We had been to Singapore about 11 years previously, so knew what to expect. It is a very painless and tidied-up bit of SE Asia, redolent with shopping malls, great food, and tous les conforts modernes.

An equation in hydrocarbons

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that I had a letter published in yesterday’s Age. For convenience I reproduce the draft I sent them below. (The Letters editor made a few minor changes to this wording.)

Jacqueline Maley’s piece in The Sunday Age (“A tribute to my noble 2004 Ford Focus”) claimed that it was more environmentally friendly to maintain an old car than to replace it with a new one. We recently replaced our 2004 V6 sedan with a hybrid SUV. In so doing we reduced our tailpipe emissions from 250 g/km to 107 g/km on the combined cycle (source: Australian Green Vehicle Guide). We also more than halved our annual expenditure on fossil fuels. The old vehicle required regular and increasingly expensive repairs to keep on the road. Although we had to part with a fair chunk of capital to purchase its replacement, the fuel savings alone compensate for the income we have foregone. The result is a vehicle that is (as Jacqueline noted) more pleasant to drive, that reduces our impact on the environment, and the running costs of which are predictable at least for the next five years.

(I haven’t provided a link pointing to Jacqueline Maley’s article because it is by now behind The Age‘s paywall.)

My modest epistle coincided with a couple of articles about different aspects of EVs. The piece in The Guardian, “I’m glad you’ve bought an electric vehicle. But your conscience isn’t clean“, by John Naughton, addressed the question of the embodied carbon debt in each electric vehicle, and how far has to drive to repay this debt. The piece outlined the adverse social and environmental consequences of mining minerals such as graphite, lithium and cobalt, all of which are central to the batteries in smart phones and EVs. Naughton began by outing himself as an EV owner. This admission was followed by an epic sneer at at anyone else foolish enough to follow suit: “You’re basking in the warm glow that comes from doing one’s bit to save the planet, right?”. (Maybe that tofu vindaloo had given him acid reflux.)

A similar surely-you-don’t-still-believe-in-Santa-Claus tone surfaced also in a recent New Daily article, “Clean energy often has dirty ethics based on human rights abuses“. The author, Andrew MacLeod, covered some of the same ground as Naughton. He concluded by giving EV owners a (possibly fossil-fuelled) drive-by:

So when someone tells me they are ‘good’ because they have an electric car, but have no demonstrable record in calling for clean supply chains, I don’t think they are ‘good’. I think they have a problem with ethics.

These articles both contain lots of great information. But maybe ease up on the snide remarks, guys! EV owners are not all card-carrying members of the wokerati. Most people would agree that everyone has to do their bit in helping the planet stay within its carbon budget. Of course driving an EV by itself isn’t going to achieve this. However, according to the National Transport Commission, transport contributes about 18% to Australia’s total carbon dioxide emissions. So switching to a vehicle with lower emissions, and which relies less on fossil fuels, does not seem like a bad place to start.

Obviously no fuel, propulsion, or energy storage technology offers a free lunch. Any vehicle, and the fuel it requires, represents a significant amount of embodied energy. I had a discussion along these lines years ago with a former RMIT colleague, who was concerned that the takeup of electric cars would just shift energy consumption from petrol to electricity. This is of particular concern in Victoria, which has historically generated almost all of its electricity from brown coal — one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet. However, we have become so used to pulling into a service station and filling our tanks, we have forgotten that the availability of that tank of petrol rests on ten discrete processes:

  • carrying out geological surveys and exploration
  • drilling
  • pumping crude oil from the wellhead
  • separating the crude from gas, water, and sediments
  • transferring it to land via oil tankers or pipelines
  • “cracking” or refining into various grades of liquid fuels
  • pumping these into bulk storage tanks
  • being distributed via the road network by tanker
  • pumping into a service station’s tanks
  • pumping from the bowser to a vehicle’s tank.

So our tank of petrol represents a huge amount of embodied energy. Of course the same can be said for electricity. In Australia, however, many of the dirtiest coal fired generators are being replaced by gas powered “peaker” units and solar farms and other large photo-electric arrays. These are being supplemented by millions of domestic and commercial rooftop installations. The increasing addition of renewable energy to the grid allows everyone to choose green electricity from their energy retailer. Is this always totally kosher? Of course not. Greenwashing does no doubt occur. Many energy retailers depend on offsetting their emissions in order to label their premium product “green”. This has always seemed a bit like the medieval practice of buying indulgences. Even so, while green electricity may not be all it’s cracked up to be, there ain’t no such thing as green petrol.

As Jacqueline Maley found, it is always easy to rationalise not replacing the old clunker right now. Hybrid vehicles like ours, along with PHEVs and EVs, are just steps along the road to a vehicle fleet powered by renewable energy. But as the Mitsubishi ad used to say — please consider. Perversely, I continue to believe that the perfect need not be the enemy of the good, and that it is better to do something than nothing.

Don’t crack the Easter eggs yet

Following my last scans last Friday, we saw Dr P on Wednesday. The news was much the same as previously. The PSA has crept up again, 16.3 (from 14.7). In his words, this is “neither here nor there”. The good news was

  • the CT scan looks normal — everything the same as last time.
  • ditto for the bone scan. The scan folk mistakenly wrote on my report that there were no prior scan results with which to compare these ones. Of course I have been having these scans every three months for the last few years. Dr P rang them during the consult to query this. Whoever he spoke to found the previous results and said “nothing’s changed”.
  • Dr P is going away in April, and happy to kick my next consult with him forward to May, i.e. in eight weeks.
  • At the last consult we had asked him about going away for a holiday. He said he would be guided by the next scan results. So the uneventfulness of these scans led him to give us a leave pass until my next appointment with him.

I have been taking prednisolone over the last few weeks for the sciatica — see below. My GP wanted me to have a DEXA scan to establish baseline bone density data. (The scans I have with Dr P don’t give the right data for this.) So recently I had a BD scan, followed by a consult with the GP to discuss these results. As above, everything looks normal. The BD scan surveyed in particular the lumbar spine, femoral neck, and hip areas. (The thigh bone’s probably connected to the hip bone, or however the song goes. So sue me.) The lumbar spine is “in the normal range”. The left femoral neck is technically in the mild osteopenic range, but only just. (The osteopenia T-score range is between -1 and – 2.5; I scored -1.1, so only just within the range.) I eat plenty of calcium, and exercise quite regularly, so wasn’t expecting to have low BD. Nevertheless, it’s always good to have these things confirmed.

(We all know prednisolone reduces bone density. So in order that the DEXA scan would give me a proper set of baseline results, I held off on taking it until after the scan.)

The consult with the GP explored whether I could have something other than prednisolone. I said I had tried stretches, analgesics and anti-inflammatories, none of which worked satisfactorily, whereas the prednisolone does. (The effect of one 25 mg tablet each morning, followed by a coffee, is quite magical.) The GP ended up giving me a script for another medication, tapentadol, which should have a similar effect to the prednisolone, but without its side effects. I am yet to try this one; I have first to taper down the prednisolone over a week or so.

When too many Beethoven concerto cycles are never enough — I am just listening to the recent recording on ABC Classics with Jayson Gillham, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, and Nicholas Carter. I had heard most of this when first broadcast on ABC Classic (to whom a shout-out for promoting Australian musicians is due). Gilham has plays with neatness, clarity, and spontaneity, and gets up quite a head of steam with Carter. All beautifully recorded at live concerts in the Elder Conservatorium. I actually like it even better on CD. Who else have I got? Stephen Kovacevich/Colin Davis, and Maurizio Pollini/Claudio Abbado are the only complete cycles on modern instruments. (I also have several of the Christian Bezuidenhout/Pablo Heras-Cassado cycle on original instruments, which are quite fabulous.)

A moderate start to 2023

We saw Dr P this afternoon for the first appointment of the year. (He had been on holidays in January. Rather than being referred to someone else for a one-off consult, he and I had agreed to skip the January appointment.) Anyway, my PSA had risen slightly at the blood test a week ago, to 14. However, a rise of 1.2 over two months is nowhere near doubling. So no-one was bothered by this development.

The only complaint I have had since my last consult is the sciatica, which has become quite persistent. I had been told about various stretches, all of which I have been carrying out. The sciatica just keeps coming back, so persistently that it kept me awake last night. So yet another medication is called for. With Dr P’s blessing, last week I started a short course of prednisolone. (Family members will remember that our mother was taking this steroid for yonks.) According to Dr P, this drug is used in chemotherapy, and could well bring down my PSA a bit. My initial impressions of it were positive — it seemed pretty efficacious. However, this seems to be wearing off. (No-one wants me to be on it for long anyway. I am well aware of its effects on bone density and so on.)

These early efforts having proved ineffective, today I booked an MRI of my lumbar spine to see whether there is any disc compression going on. Fortunately the scan clinic had a vacancy for tomorrow afternoon. I will be seeing my GP the following Monday (20th) to see what, if anything, this scan reveals. As far as I know there are not that many treatments for sciatica other than a steroid injection. If this is appropriate — bring it on! TBC.

More good than bad

At our last consultation with Dr P on Wednesday 21st, I knew the PSA had gone up without him saying so. (When it has gone down he leads with that – when it has increased, he prefaces that with some positive news.) So it was on Monday, when, after a couple of encouraging comments, he told us the PSA had gone up a bit to 12.8.

The good news, however, was quite encouraging. I had had my three monthly CT and bone scans the preceding Monday. According to these, everything is stable. (My take on this — the hormone treatment is continuing to suppress the cancer.)

Dr P added that he was going to be away in January 2023. I generally see him every month, but in light of the scan results (and how I’m looking), he’s happy to not see me until February. This is the first time that I will have had a two month gap between consults for years. So if he feels he doesn’t have to keep such a close eye on me, for the time being at least, well and good.

Recently I read the old joke about averages, along the lines that someone with one foot on fire, and the the other foot in an ice bath, should, on average, be quite comfortable. On average, therefore, I am quite OK with this news. If the PSA grumbles along, but doesn’t do anything startling, that is all anyone can hope for. Shit happens, but we deal with it as and when. Meanwhile, we sat outside on the first warm day for ages and had Christmas a deux — which was what we both wanted. Props to those catering for and delivering comestibles to a crowd! Love and comiserations to those digesting difficult news. Both require good old-fashioned G and D — qualities I know you lot all have in spades.

Ten-four, good buddy

We shuffled along to our monthly consult with Dr P to get some better news. The PSA has gone down from 12 to 10.4. Everything else in the last blood test is looking good as well (liver and kidney function and so forth). Dr P repeated the usual flattery about how well I look, which I must say, went down well. But it was the headline number which was reassuring; not so much the quantum, but its welcome southwards direction for a change. Of course it will continue to move around, and doubtless give us concern again. But for now, we’ll take it.

Things elsewhere are improving as well. After our recent excursion to the Blue Mountains, my beloved came down with a nasty cough, which morphed first into a virulent cold, then sinusitis, complete with throbbing pain in the top right hand teeth. Her face also became swollen on that side of her face in a fashion she found most unbecoming. A phone consult with a GP (not her regular one) produced a prescription, delivered via SMS, for an antibiotic. This had some effect, but not as quickly as we had hoped. So we were able to get in to see her regular GP in person, who gave her a stronger antibiotic script (Augmentin). She supplied a script also for a super-duper analgesic with a decent whack of codeine. A few days of this combo have pretty much eliminated the swelling and tooth pain. The patient has also progressed from foods like soup, yoghurt, and mashed banana and mango, to more solid fare.

While this was going on the GT also to be dropped off for a service (booked weeks ago), and I had an appointment with my GP to renew my mental health plan. In one of the better kept secrets of public medicine, one can receive (on the say-so of one’s GP) six subsidised sessions with a psychologist. This can be extended if desired by a further four. This initial lot of 10 sessions can itself be extended, again under the aegis of the GP, by a further 10. These, in combination with an antidepressant, have been brilliant. For anyone feeling worried or distressed (and there is a lot of worrisome news around), I recommend asking your doctor about this. I was lucky to find a psychologist pretty quickly – they are usually snowed under. Another positive also is the number of people who are being open about their mental health struggles, and who are encouraging open discussion of these issues, which may lead to people seeking help.

With the unusually vile weather in Melbourne, and my beloved being laid up, we have been cocooning and watching the Kingsman movies (pure spectacle), and one for Agatha Christie fans, See How They Run. There are some good series on Disney as well; Andor, which is a kind of Star Wars prequel, and The Offer, a series about the making of The Godfather. All replete with A-list talent and excellent production values. This morning I also finished vol. 2 of ‘In search of lost time‘: In the shadow of young girls in flower. (Other translations give the series title as ‘Remembrance of things past‘, and the volume as In a budding grove. The former title is a bit more accurate; Proust aficionados just call the cycle ISOLT. ) November 2022 being the centenary of Proust’s death, there is a lot about him in the press. In the case of both the primary and the secondary materials, there’s a lot of it about. (Thanks to everyone who has sent me messages about these pieces.) There is a great article by Helen Elliott about this centenary, and Proust in general, in The Monthly . Unless you are a subscriber, you will have to give them your email address. Live dangerously and just do it. Neither care nor responsibility!

12 is the new 10

At our last consult with Dr P, there was an unwelcome turnaround: the PSA had gone up to 12 (from the previous score of 9.7). This was a bit disappointing in that we had hoped to continue the previous slight downward trend. Putting it in context, however, as Dr P is always doing, he said the cancer is grumbling along, but the medications are doing their job and keeping the rises small. I had had the CT scans only a month ago, and the results of those had been good. He actually apologised for being a touch paranoid in having me do the scans every 3 months. I said he could be as paranoid as he liked. He said I looked great and he was sure I was enjoying a good quality of life. I’ll take his word for the former, but the latter is certainly true; I am feeling fine and being very well looked after.

Straight after the consult I went to the day oncology ward and had the Zolodex implant. This was uneventful except for a small bleed from the implant site in the abdomen. (I think I caused this by bending over to pick up the cover from something on the tray of sandwiches I had been brought by a volunteer.) Anyway, no matter: I have had this before. The nurse just put a new and bigger dressing on it, from which there have been no further bleeds.

The day after I felt vaguely unwell — nothing specific — we both always have a bit of measurement anxiety before each consult. It was a rotten day, with steady rain, so I cancelled exercise class and had a day at home, spent largely on the couch, apart from attending to a loaf of bread. The latter was successful, and the day proved very therapeutic.

We have a break from the rain today (although showers are forecast), and tomorrow is Cup Day. Because of this my Tuesday exercise class will be cancelled. So I don’t miss out on two classes in a row, my beloved has made a one-off appointment with an exercise physiologist for us both; exercise is a vital part of our maintaining ourselves in a well space. I am pushing ahead also with Proust, as per the following quote:

“We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness that no one else can take for us, that no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world.”

Marcel Proust, In the shadow of young girls in flower (In Search of Lost Time, vol. 2), p. 482. Translated by C K Scott Moncrieff, edited and annotated by William C Carter. Yale UP, 2015.

Going down in style

We saw Dr P this afternoon. Cutting to the chase, the PSA has actually gone down down a titchy bit; the one from the previous consult 9.9, while today’s score was 9.7. A small decrease, but welcome after several consecutive rises. (I had gone there expecting to be told that everything had zoomed up, and I would need another round of chemo.) Dr P was very pleased, as (obviously) were we.

There was more good news. A couple of days before today’s consultation I had had my scheduled isotope bone scan and CT upper body scan. To quote from what that found, “avid foci in the lower thoracic region in the previous study have largely resolved with the activity at the L4 level not being substantially altered”. My inexpert translation: spots that were lighting up in the previous isotope scan didn’t light up this time; the exception was the one at the L4 vertebra, which is still lighting up. As before: no questions by request. If you want to read up on the isotope scan, have a look at Bone scan from the Mayo Clinic.

The only fly in the ointment is quite a decent bit of sciatic pain in the left thigh. This is exactly where it was when it first reared its head, less seriously, 5 or 6 weeks ago. (I had mentioned this to Dr P at our previous consultation, who said “Sounds like a touch of sciatica”.) At that time I was able to resolve it by stretching the thigh and running a spiky ball over the painful area. This afternoon those things, plus some escalating pain relief, made it go away for a bit. After this, however, it pulsed back to life, although less strongly than before. (Sitting for a while does seem to bring it on; apparently this is classically associated with the condition.) So maybe I need a steroid injection in the site. I will try a quad stretch, and/or running the spiky ball across the quad, when I have sent this off.

For now, as the man used to say, that’s your bloomin’ lot.