Nothing to see here …

The main news, and you will forgive me if I repeat myself, is the PSA is still undetectable.

Getting the all-clear from the good Dr P always gives me a bit of a boost. Before we saw him I had made an appointment for the following day (i.e. today) for an induction from the volunteer co-ordinator at the Melbourne Museum. (I will be working there on a project to make digital scans of archival scientific documents, and add metadata to records linked to those digital images.)  Being involved in this enterprise will be a good thing, because manageable. I will be there only a morning a week, breathing those cataloguing muscles back into life after five years of inactivity. I made notes on the train on my way in about how much I am really appreciating Melbourne this winter — the grey days, the European lanes in the CBD, the lovely gardens and Victorian buildings through and past which I walk on my way to the Museum. 

The morning went the deceptive way of days when everything seems to just fit in. I left the GT in a side street and walked back to the station. The train before mine stopped the traffic at the level crossing on Riversdale Road in nice time for me to cross, touch on with my Myki, and get the all-important coffee. I had allowed half an hour to get from Parliament station to the Museum, plenty of time to walk along Spring Street, past the Royal College of Surgeons, through the Carlton Gardens, and, with a slight detour, past the Exhibition Building. (In the course of my Museum induction, I learn that this huge structure, the best preserved of the Victorian era exhibition buildings, is technically part of its 15 million item collection.) 

Of course, when things seem to be going just right, some sand gets thrown in the gears. I had planned to do the food shopping on the way home. In my haste to leave early in order to get the coffee, I had forgotten to bring both the cool brick for the little esky in the car boot, and (disastrously) the shopping list. Rather than have to go home then go out again, I reconstructed the extensive list of comestibles as best I could on my homeward journey from the Museum. I decided to go to the supermarket, then the butcher, so that the meat wouldn’t be sitting in the esky sans cool brick. Of course I promptly forgot about this, arriving at the butcher first. Curses! Should I backtrack to the supermarket? No, I’ll just get the meat, then whiz through the grocery shopping so the meat doesn’t go off. (With ambient temperatures of about 12 degrees, this was never likely, but it is one of the things I am most neurotic about.) Of course, not having a proper list, many things remained annoyingly needing to be purchased in a second excursion tomorrow.

That day I am to have two cooks, the first to make a banana bread for morning tea. One of our neighbours is moving to the inner city; she and her daughter have been clearing the ancestral home. I offered to bring them around coffee and a snack to sustain them in this enterprise. Fortunately, they have no dietary issues for me to consider. (I wouldn’t mind if they did, it just makes things a tad more complex.) Unfortunately, I am not sure that I have enough sugar — this being one of the things left off my reconstructed list. If I don’t, I am going to have to improvise by making up the shortfall with a few spoons of jam. (I have done this once before — one just has to take a guess at quantities — but it worked surprisingly well.) The second cook is dinner for us and our niece. I have all the ingredients for the main course, but not the dessert. So I will have to head out after morning tea and get the things I left off the list. You’ll be sick of hearing about this list! I’m sick of thinking about it! My usual scattiness is being given a turbo boost by the stress of measurement anxiety — bringing me back to the start of this rather ratty blog post.

Still, compared to what they could be, the little niggles and irrits I am having a whinge about here are great problems to have. I do know this. Thank you, universe! You feel you can’t make things too easy for me — in case I get too complacent? Fair enough. You the man.

Small victories

I am now on my second laptop. They have both been Lenovos. I bought the first one while employed at RMIT. This meant I was able to salary sacrifice it, giving me a discount equivalent to my marginal tax rate, about 30%. This old one was much heavier than the present one, and was generally very reliable. (The technician who transferred the data from it to a USB stick said it was built like a tank.) Unfortunately, a couple of years ago, the fan decided to stop working. Because it was about 5 or 6 years old by then, it wasn’t possible to replace this part, and a new laptop was therefore indicated.

I got another Lenovo. Because I was, by then, a gentleman of leisure, this one was entirely on my own dime. All went well for a time, except that, a while ago, I noticed that the battery could only be charged to about 60% capacity. This didn’t matter so much because I kept it plugged in (more on this later). Then the new one stopped working altogether. While on the tram one day, I noticed a computer repair place just up the road. When I got home, I gave them a call.

They first informed me of their charges; $95, I think, for an initial diagnosis. This was rebatable if I got them to work on the machine. They had a look, and called me back. The hard drive was cactus. There were three options for replacing it, in ascending order of cost and desirability:

  1. the same kind of HDD, a mechanical one (the most old-fashioned type);
  2. a less expensive solid state drive; and
  3. a bigger and more expensive, Samsung SSD.

The last two options would have certain advantages, being much faster and more reliable. All options included installation of the drive and Windows 10, and recovery of whatever data was recoverable from the old HDD. (There wasn’t much to recover, as almost all files I create are stored in web-based applications.) I chose the middle option.

I am very happy with that choice. Now, at bootup, I don’t have to enter my password; I just have to click on the Sign in button. The machine starts a lot faster than before. Of course, I perform backups on a regular basis (yeah, right). Actually, I have OneDrive switched on, which allegedly uploads all modified files to a mysterious place in the cloud. (I accidentally wrote “in the clouds”. Is this place Valhalla? Nirvana? Atman? Is the cloud really just an expression of the collective unconscious? Time for another coffee.) 

The really good thing is that I have accidentally fixed the battery. All that was required was to use the laptop unplugged, to the point where the battery saver came on. Then plug it in until fully charged. Repeat the first measure. Now it is back to 100% capacity after charge. This is good because, in this model, a) the battery isn’t removable, so I can’t just buy another one, and b) I forgot to mention it to the technician when getting the HDD replaced.

I have the laptop now sitting on top of a wooden box about the size of a shoebox. I keep the mouse, USB light (for illuminating the keyboard), and memory stick in the box. The laptop sits on top regardless of whether it is being charged or not. The power board that it plugs into is just behind the box. I can reach everything from my chair in the study. These are small things, but it is surprisingly satisfying to have them sorted.

I also now have my power amplifier back from its second visit to the repair shop. This one was entirely my fault. I was baking some bread about a fortnight ago, and needed to raise the yeast mixture. This requires it being exposed to gentle heat for about 15 minutes. The amp gets pretty warm, so I put the bowl of yeast mix on top.  It was on a plate, and covered with glad wrap. However, I reckoned without the fact that, because that I was making two loaves at once, I was using double the quantity. It therefore expanded more, over the top of the bowl and the plate, forced its way through the glad wrap, and some dripped down onto the vacuum tubes. Some unscheduled noises alerted me that all was not right.

Several hundred dollars later, everything is fixed. It actually sounds better than before; I have also solved a minor but annoying issue with the stereo. It was making some intermittent kind of rustling, tinselly sounds through the left channel. I checked all the connections and tried unplugging various bits to see if they were causing interference. Among the bits I unplugged was the antenna — this has a little signal amplifier in it to improve the reception. None of these measures fixed the problem.

When I got the power amp back, I took the opportunity to re-site the transformer, and plug everything into a new power board. I plugged the antenna back in, and used it as intended to boost the signal from the tuner. Now the rustly-tinselly sounds have gone away. I’m not sure exactly what I did to solve the problem, but so far, so good.

Last weekend I went to the 3MBS book and record fair. Fortunately I had decided to leave the car up on Studley Park Road and walk the rest of the way to the Abbotsford Convent, where the station is located. This meant carrying a shoulder bag in which to bring back what I bought. By this means I both got my steps up, and inhibited my purchasing — knowing that whatever I bought, I would have to carry back up the hill.

I got

  • on vinyl:
    • a complete Hansel & Gretel, with Anna Moffo, Christa Ludwig, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Arleen Auger, and Lucia Popp — what a cast!
    • Verdi Requiem
    • Bruckner 7 and Wagner Götterdämmerung suite;
  • on CD:
    • the complete Beethoven symphonies with Harnoncourt,
    • Songs of the Auvergne with Jill Gomez
    • Shostakovich 13 & 15 with Solti, and
    • the complete Debussy orchestral music with Boulez,

all for about $40! The vinyl is in much better condition than LPs from the op shop, some of which are very scratched. So I think I will be restricting my purchases of that format from the fair.

Rules are rules

When I wake up early, like before 5.00 am, and can’t get back to sleep, I think “Oh, OK, coffee with breakfast!”.  It is a small but genuine consolation for a night that was a bit light on. 

The coffee rule which I am invoking is: I have to have two teas before I have a coffee. When I need to get up early, I will make a tea then, and another one when I bring my beloved her coffee at 5.45 am. (This waking time is only on her work days — I wake her at a later time on her days off.) So on the days when I wake up earlyI have therefore had my two teas before I have breakfast, making a coffee with that meal permissible.

Why do I have this rule? It’s complicated. I really prefer coffee to tea. So if I had it all the time, I would have four or five cups of coffee a day, which seems undesirable. Limiting my coffee intake is a hangover from the days when my insomnia was really bad. Then, I used religiously to have only one coffee each day, at 10.30 am. I have since concluded that this doesn’t noticeably improve my sleep, and have thus relaxed the rule somewhat to have two or three coffees each day. Once I have had coffee, I don’t want to go back to having tea. 

This may not be very earth-shattering in itself, but it strikes me as a neat example of the little rules that we like to construct for ourselves. They go by several names: maxims, rules of thumb, heuristics. Many are relics from more leisurely ages: one for each person, and one for the pot. (Does anyone still make leaf tea any more?) Many old saws contain practical advice, like eating shellfish only in months containing the letter “R”, and planting your tomato seeds after Melbourne Cup Day. My beloved said her father put his in earlier, raising another rule: there are exceptions to every rule.

Then there are the proverbs that everyone knows: a stitch in time saves nine; look after the pennies, and the pounds will look after themselves. I remember a few bridge-related ones from Dad; always lead with the third highest of your longest and strongest suit: never trump your partner’s ace. And one, from a bygone era, that he loved to quote: there’s many a man walking the streets of London for not having played out his trumps.

There is a range of these sayings based on superstition: if you give someone a knife, they have to give you a coin, or else you’re symbolically cutting the friendship. Other sayings use rhyme as a mnemonic. In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Thirty days hath September (etc. — I could never remember the bit about the leap year). Everyone will have their own examples — please add as a comment.

I find this plethora of little guideposts to daily life intriguing. How have they come to be so ubiquitous? As usual, I think there are several reasons. One is to do with efficiency. Practical rules do distill some useful experience. If you can’t remember when you changed the battery in your smoke detectors, you may as well do it every Easter. Shellfish apparently can taste different when they are spawning. In the Northern Hemisphere, the months-with-an-R-in-them rule is a handy mnemonic to avoid this season. (In Australia, according to Richard Cornish’s column, this doesn’t apply.) The same with planting your tomato seeds. Rules of this type give a handy mental hook on which to hang a fact that would otherwise swim away. (This, of course, was from a pre-Wikipedia era, when everyone was expected to have “general knowledge”, whatever that was.)

Food is something that is both rule-ridden, and reflective of social change. Mustard with mutton is the sign of a glutton — guilty as charged! Red wine goes with meat, white with chicken or fish. A meal isn’t complete without bread. Mealtimes now are vastly different to when most of us were growing up. There is obviously a much greater range of foods consumed in Australia and New Zealand, and much less of that food is made in-house. It is also consumed in a much more hedonistic way; food is now seen as something interesting and pleasurable. Back in the day, some households operated an immutable seven-day menu. Saturday was roast day. Sunday lunch was leftovers from the roast with salad; dinner was scrambled eggs. Monday was a casserole, and so on. 

These kinds of arrangements reflect the good and bad aspects of rules. Having a rule is reassuring in the same way that habits are. Rules can provide not only useful guidance, but also a sense of continuity in a world that can feel hostile and overwhelming. They can also be boring and constraining. In this way they are a bit like the Queen’s Christmas message. One might like the fact that HMQ is still pegging along and giving us her take on things, but her comments are often so anodyne as to be pretty dull. (Just the thing after a day’s epic consumption!)

Having just finished reading Willpower, by Roy F Baumeister and John Tierney, I have a another explanation for rules. The main function of rules is to simplify the decision making process. Having to make a lot of decisions leads to a state known as decision fatigue(I think this is similar to cognitive overload.) Anyone renovating a house, or who has looked at a number of properties, will have experienced this state. Decision fatigue leads to impulsive decision-making: you just want to get it all over with. This in turn makes bad decisions more likely.

Back to my tea and coffee rule. The obvious question is: why don’t you just have what you feel like? That actually involves more work in that I have to make this decision several times a day. If I do that all day, I’ll spend all my decision-making energy on this little stuff. I’ll have nothing left in the tank when I get to the big decisions.

Sounds fanciful? Baumeister and Tierney’s main contentions are:

  1. You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it.
  2. You use the same stock of willpower for all manner of tasks.

A large number of experiments have confirmed these statements. One early piece of research is known as the radish experiment. Students, who had been fasting, were assigned to one of two groups. Each group was put into a lab with freshly-baked chocolate biscuits, chocolate, and raw radishes on the table. One group was told they could eat anything, the other group told only to eat the radishes. Both groups were then given a large number of difficult geometry problems to solve. The chocolate biscuit group persevered longer than the radish group. This confirmed the hypothesis that the willpower of the radish group would be eroded by refraining from eating the biscuits and chocolate.

Ever tried to compare phone plans or health insurance? The tasks are so difficult one soon hits decision fatigue. Given that this results in most people staying put, it’s not hard to see how this state of affairs is in the interest of the telco or health insurer. There have recently been reactions against all this complexity. Health insurers have been forced to offer bronze, silver and gold plans. Some telcos offer basic plans, as well as ones with the lot. And in fashion, there is talk of the capsule wardrobe; a collection of garments in a restricted colour palette, all of which go with each other.  One may not take Mark Zuckerberg’s advice in many facets of life, but he has a relevant sartorial rule. He only has T-shirts in one colour: grey marle. This way he gets to leave the house with his decision-making mojo intact. Your time starts now: tea or coffee?

Round and round we go

After some agonising, comparing, and general research, I took the plunge and got a new turntable — see below.

Audio Technica LP120 USB

This is actually the fourth turntable I have owned. The first was a Dual. That was a rim drive (a technology I am not sure is still used), and had a fair bit of rumble. That was followed by a Sony direct drive. The Sony was incredibly reliable, as their products tend to be. It had some quite good features like a strobe band around the edge of the platter, so one could see whether the record was spinning at the correct speed or not. The platter itself was carbon fibre, supposedly, with funny little rubber mushrooms to support the record. That deck went through a house fire which buckled its dust cover so severely I had to take it off and throw it away. To my surprise, the deck still worked. It was still working when I reluctantly put it out on the nature strip over forty years later. So why did I get rid of it? I had no room in the stereo cabinet for a turntable.

It was succeeded by a much smaller Akai belt drive deck. This was a modest machine, sourced from Cash Converters for not very much money. I intended to use it just for ripping recordings from my few remaining LPs. I recently liberated the stereo from its cabinet and re-housed it in a new console, where I could now get at the back of it. I also got some LPs from the op shop, and a record cleaning machine. The limitations of the Akai were becoming more obvious as the quality of the vinyl improved. So when I saw the Audio Technica on sale online, I realised it would be a major improvement.

The major feature of this deck is the capacity to record vinyl records directly to a USB stick. However, I bought it for its other features:

  • direct drive (no messing about with drive belts)
  • S shaped tone arm (supposedly better for tracking toward the LP label)
  • prefitted cartridge
  • universal headshell, giving the capability to upgrade the cartridge
  • capacity to use
    • the deck’s inbuilt preamplifier, or
    • an external phono stage, or
    • the one in your amplifier. (The Luxman has a good phono stage with switchable impedance, and it seemed a shame not to use this.)
  • hydraulically damped lift control for the tonearm (although you need to lift the arm at the end of the record).

It even has a dinky little pop-up light so you see where to put the needle at the start of the disc. And, for members of the Illuminati (and the tinfoil hat brigade), one can actually play discs backwards. Yes, subliminal messages encoded onto The Beatles, David Bowie, and other such seemingly inoffensive artists, can be — ah — outed? Revealed? Whatevs.

The handful of Melodiya discs I picked up in a junk shop in St Kilda plays beautifully. I remember asking the assistant what the story was with these. Apparently no-one had picked them up from the dock after they cleared customs. Melodiya is the number one Russian record label; the discs I have date from the Soviet Union era. Material includes the Shostakovich symphony no. 5 (conducted by Maxim Shostakovich), four of the Sibelius symphonies with Rozhdestvensky, the Schumann piano concerto, and Schubert impromptus. The Russian orchestral sound is unique, particularly the brass playing — where else can you hear horns played with vibrato?

Other op shop finds, not all played on the new deck yet, include

  • Brahms: Alto Rhapsody, Wagner Wesendonck Lieder; Strauss orchestral songs, with Janet Baker
  • a Nielsen symphony
  • Debussy: La Mer; Ravel: Daphnis & Chloe suite no. 2, Pavane, with Szell and the Cleveland (extremely well played)
  • Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherezade with Leinsdorf (pristine condition, very good performance, and a great recording — the trifecta)
  • Beethoven: Pastoral symphony with Charles Groves (pretty good, as I recall)
  • Verdi: Don Carlo with Karajan (mono, from Salzburg Festival)
  • Schubert: Unfinished symphony and Rosamunde excerpts, with Paul Kletzki and the Philharmonia Orchestra (from the 1950s, the glory days for that band — how could you go wrong?)
  • Marschner: Hans Heiling and Der Vampyr (a gift from a mate — a terrific discovery of a composer I hadn’t heard of, let alone heard. Private recording.)

Some of the best of this bunch are World Record Club pressings. There is a story worth telling here — if only the business records from this enterprising outfit are still around. I had quite a few of their records in the 70s and 80s. Only two of these old-timers survive; a volume in the complete Haydn string quartets, with the Fine Arts Quartet, and the Sibelius Violin Concerto with a Russian soloist, Tossy Spivakovsky, and the London Symphony Orchestra. The latter is one I liberated from the music department at North Sydney Technical Boys High School. (I would return it, but the school closed down in the late 60s or early 70s.) This was the recording through which I got to know this work. I always liked Spivakovsky’s performance; it made me think of a soul wailing in frozen wastes. After a wash, the disc (although pretty worn) doesn’t sound at all bad on the new deck. I can hear now, however, that the soloist is balanced extremely close. Some things just ain’t the same forty years on!

You are what you eat

This is a minor rewrite of a previous post, published under the title ‘The more things change’. 

First, the breaking non-news. I saw Dr Parente (oncologist) yesterday, and the PSA is still undetectable. So everything is the same as last time. The next appointment, in May, will be a Zolodex one. This means, after seeing Dr P, I get a new implant up in the oncology ward. (I say “up” because it is on the 4th floor of Epworth Eastern. If your station overlooks a window, there are soothing views over the nearby park. I always take my noise cancelling headphones, and usually listen to ABC Classic.)

My beloved has just returned from Paris. She had a week there, mainly for work, but added a couple of days to the end of the trip. I was to go with her initially, but we decided against this. Having flown business class on our last trip, it is pretty well impossible to go back to economy. (I would have needed to keep my feet up in any case, for the lymphedema.) We would therefore have been up for another BC ticket and extra accommodation costs. We looked at tacking on a river cruise or something similar to the end of the week. At that time of year, however, there is nothing much available — it’s just too cold.  I had Dr P’s appointment to go to as well — these things can usually be changed — but I wasn’t sure that I wanted to. So I was baching for the week.

It was a strange time. We hadn’t been away from each other for that long for twenty-five years. So I decided I needed things to do. Fortunately there was no shortage of projects. We had a big sheet of plywood sitting down in the garage, about 1.2 metres square. With the help of a neighbour, I cut a roughly triangular piece out of it. This I used as a floor  underneath the vertical garden. The latter is in a corner of the courtyard which faces west and north. Being on casters, is obviously meant to go on a smooth surface, not resting on the ground as I had it. Having the plywood underneath it means I can now move it around to follow the sun, which is now much lower in the sky, and shining more on the northern wall.

This project actually took up quite a bit of time. First I had to measure up the corner. When I had a triangular bit of plywood, I removed the vertical garden and other things, then put the plywood in the corner to see if it fitted. It did — after I dug up a bunch of the native grass that is planted in the corner. (I will tell you what I did with that in a second.) The plywood has battens along two sides, so it is not lying flat on the ground. I decided I would paint it, however, to protect it just a bit from the rather boggy conditions in the corner. So I spread the tarp out on the driveway, and rustled up a miscellany of bits of cardboard packing and other things to rest it on. I had about ten litres of paint left over from painting the fence, so after pulling it out of the corner, I slapped a bit of that paint on both sides. The next day, I put it back in the corner, and arranged the vertical garden and another pot, into which I put the clump of grass which I had dug up before.

Sorted! Well, almost. The pot that holds the grass clump is slightly too small for it. (It isn’t a proper pot, but an old rubbish bucket that I have repurposed by drilling some drain holes in the bottom.) I have an old recycling bin which is a lot bigger, and is already equipped with drain holes. When I dragged this out, however, I realised it was about double the capacity of the present pot, and I didn’t have nearly enough soil or potting mix to fill it. When I shopped yesterday I bought a bag of potting mix. I expect therefore to have the grass in its new home as soon as I can get to it today.

Another little bit that needed fixing was the irrigation to the vertical garden. This is now a metre or so further away from the tap. I therefore had to cut a longer piece of hose to go on using the irrigation. When I move the vertical garden back in its original position, I will have to fit the shorter piece of hose to keep it connected to the tap. To do this easily, I will have to get some more of the click fittings — the bits that accept the male click-in portion.  Another trip to Bunnings! (Not that I mind — there is a coffee cart at the Chadstone store that sells the most insanely delicious Nutella doughnuts — giving my wanderings around its endless aisles a turbo boost.)

I have had very little success germinating seeds in the spot I originally set up for this purpose. So I am trying a new, shadier location, and giving it some more protection from slugs this time. They will have to be like Siegfried and pierce the ring of fire! In this new spot I put out dwarf beans and some more parsley and chives. The first of these have sprouted extremely vigorously — I will probably have to thin them out. So I have planted them out into the top layer of the vertical garden, where they get maximum sun, and have a trellis behind on which to grow.

The other seeds are not doing anything yet. To the ranks of these recalcitrants I added some baby beet seeds, having first soaked these in water for a couple of hours. When are you supposed to water seeds, by the way — as soon as you put them in, or after a week or so? The back of the packet doesn’t say anything about this. With the beets, however, I reasoned that, as they had been soaked in water, they wouldn’t mind a bit more straightaway. Incidentally, my helpful neighbour showed me a good way of labelling seeds or seedlings. This requires a packet of paddle-pop sticks (available from the $2 shop), on one of which one writes the name of the seed with a permanent marker. 

Another thing I did a fair bit of during this week was cooking. I did acquire a Sunbeam Nutri Oven for $20 in very good condition from the local op shop. Whenever I mention this device to anyone, they look puzzled, and I end up trying to describe it. A picture is worth a thousand words, however, so I am pasting in a picture below.

Nutri oven

The big ugly-looking unit on top contains the heating element. The vertical slots conceal a fan which circulates air around the food. Yes, folks, this is the predecessor to the air fryer we see advertised on late night TV. The Nutri Oven is a lot better, however, because it has a much larger capacity. Using the extension ring (not shown), you can cook a whole roast. Why bother when I have a perfectly good wall oven? The weather is chilly now, but after the hottest March on record, I was interested in something that wouldn’t heat up the whole kitchen. There is actually very little this thing can’t do! I have roasted, grilled, sauteed (sort of), and baked in it, all very successfully. You can do steaming as well, after a fashion — results with fish fillets and potatoes wrapped in foil are very good. I have also baked about half a dozen cakes and three loaves of bread. Being able to bake bread is particularly good for my beloved, who has to avoid bread containing any preservatives. (These don’t have to be listed on the packaging if they constitute less than a  certain percentage of the food.) She can now have a toasted egg sandwich, with Nuttelex, iceberg lettuce and salt. Raymond Blanc, eat your heart out!



Nothing to see here …

We saw Dr Parente yesterday morning. The PSA is still undetectable, and I remain in remission. After receiving this good news, we went to the oncology unit, where I had another Zolodex implanted. (You will remember that this is the hormone treatment — androgen deprivation — that is aiming to starve the cancers of what they feed on.) The implants are about the size of a grain of rice and last about 3 months. They just go in in the abdominal fat, of which there is still plenty, even after the gastro! There is very little discomfort. I booked in the next appointments with Dr P & the oncology unit, for the next implant.

My beloved is going to Paris in early April for a few days. She will be representing her work at an international transport meeting. We thought of me going as well, and tacking a cruise or other expedition onto the end of her work commitments. However, there is bugger-all happening in that line at that time of year (too cold, I suspect). So I am going to hold the fort. Of course this depends on nothing going awry in the meantime, but (touch wood) all seems to be quite stable. I have been going to an exercise class for oncology patients run by Lauren, the exercise physio, and this is pretty good! I will be going back to the gym soon as well (I stopped for a few weeks with the gastro).

My lovely old Luxman pre-amp has spat the dummy again and is only working on one channel. This is a real bore as I have to disconnect everything, pull it out, and run it over to the valve amp guru in Glen Waverley. He will have it for however long he needs to ponder its mysteries — could be weeks. (His workshop is like an Aladdin’s cave of amplifiers, many much more expensive than mine. So he knows whereof he speaks.) This is not my first pilgrimage there, however, and to be honest I am a bit over the vintage gear. Maybe I should sell it on Gumtree and get a nice, soulless, reliable, solid state integrated amp!

No guts, no glory

I was originally going to call this blog post “Smörgåsbord”, and it’s not surprising I should have had food on my mind. I came down with gastroenteritis on Thursday, and since then I have subsisted mostly on dry toast, tea, water, and electrolyte drinks. Forays into peanut butter on the toast and lentil soup were unsuccessful. I have only been beyond the gates a couple of times since it all began; the excursion yesterday was to a GP in Camberwell. My loyal readership might think I am taking an attack of the runs a bit seriously to call in a medico. For those who have had immuno-suppressant treatments like chemotherapy, however, the recommendation I have read is to call in a GP if the gastro goes on beyond a couple of days. (This was also the suggestion of my oncologist Dr Parente, with whom I had a brief phone conversation yesterday.) So it’s not just me being a wimp!

A medication that Dr P recommended is called Gastrostop. This contains both loperamide, which helps the bowel contents to firm up, and another ingredient meant to reduce abdominal swelling (which can be quite painful). I can report that this combo works well. It is delivered via a chewable tablet, wherein lies its only disadvantage in leaving a bitter taste. (This may not happen for other people.) To get around this, I have been breaking the tablet up and swallowing it in water. When I did this this morning, I felt quite nauseated; fortunately, I wasn’t sick. This could have been related to my being unable to swallow the tablet fragments, and having to chew them after all. Maybe there is a reflex that makes you feel nauseated if you chew something you haven’t been able to swallow. For anyone remotely interested in how their tums work, I can recommend Gulp: travels around the gut, by Mary Roach. (The link points to the Boroondara Library service record.) This is a great piece of science writing. Just don’t read it in your lunch break: especially when she is talking about vomiting and elimination!

Further in this vein, a good source of information about gastroenteritis (which I sincerely hope you won’t need) is the Better Health Victoria web page . From this and other sources I learned that my gastro is viral, not bacterial. Bacterial is accompanied by vomiting and abdominal pain, and can be treated by antibiotics. Viral has neither of these effects, and can’t be treated by antibiotics, or anything much. The main recommendations here are rest, very plain food, water and electrolytes to replace the fluids. Paracetamol can help reduce fever, but won’t do anything for the gastro. (Something nobody points out — stay near a toilet — i.e. at home. And wash your hands every time you go. My beloved has so far not succumbed, although it is way contagious.) The BHV page is superior IMHO to the equivalent federal government one, which is well written, but contains some weird advice along the lines of “Eat normal meals if you feel hungry”. This is pretty much guaranteed to irritate the gut big time! Stick with dry toast, maybe chicken noodle soup, plain rice or noodles. Avoid coffee, alcohol, chocolate, butter, spicy food, and all other fun things. Some GPs feel that loperamide-based medications like Gastrostop prolong the condition by stopping you up, and thus inhibiting the virus from passing through the system. I tell you what, though — if you have been to the toilet ten times, a bit of stopping up starts to feel like a good thing! At the very least, if you want to get a half-way decent sleep, have one or two of these (as directed) before you go to bed.

Coincidentally with this happenstance, we have been down to one car (the GT) in which to get around. Someone ran into the Camry while my beloved had it parked at Chadstone shopping centre. (She wasn’t in it at the time.) Fortunately the driver of the other car left a note under her windscreen wiper, apologising profusely and including her contact details. After quite a number of phone calls, the mobile C-suite has a new bumper, paid for by the other lady’s insurance. Drop-off Thursday, recovered yesterday. (Fair play to the repairer, Capital Smart, for providing my beloved a free Uber ride home and back to the workshop in the wilds of Mulgrave.)

Things got faintly complicated when our insurer got involved as well. We had a comprehensive policy on the Camry at the time of the accident, and ended up paying them the excess on that policy for the current repair. (When our insurers are reimbursed by the other insurers, we should be fully refunded.) Before I got crook, I ferried my beloved around in the GT; fortunately she also had a couple of drives with me as the passenger. This came in handy when I couldn’t stray beyond the front door! She is a very capable driver, however, and got the hang of it in no time, looking very Agatha Raisin in her string-backed gloves and big sunnies. She ended up taking it out for quite a few spins, including a night-time trip to a pharmacy. We bought an automatic model partly so that we could both drive it, and this turns out to have been a good move. It is a very entertaining little device, and injects fun into the most mundane supermarket trip.