Post for 23 November 2020

I am pretty tired after an eventful morning, so I am just going to write the basics.

I saw Phillip P, my oncologist, this morning. The PSA has gone up slightly, now 1.4. (The previous reading was 0.5.) He said it is still very low, he is happy with how I am travelling at present, and that I shouldn’t worry. He is focused less on the quantum of the PSA than on the trajectory of the rise. A steep increase would be concerning, but a gentle increase like this is not. Nevertheless, he wrote me a referral for a couple of scans (CT and bone) to be conducted before our next appointment. These will reveal if there is any spread of the disease.

(After I came home from a walk this afternoon, I got a call from the scanning centre at Epworth Eastern. The scans are booked for 17 December. It is a convenient location in Box Hill, being where I go for the Zolodex implants. Speaking of which, the next consult with Dr P, and the next Zolodex, are booked in for 23rd of December. This is a bit better than the original appointment, which was scheduled for the 30th of that month. There are lots of places at which I would prefer to celebrate my birthday than a day oncology centre!)

Dr P was running quite behind, and I had a consult booked also later that morning with my GP. I did make the latter on time. Unfortunately, it was a bit jarring. After having discussed a few alternatives for sleeping tablets, he wrote me a couple of prescriptions for some new ones. I quizzed him to make sure I understood how I was to take them — alternating one with the other, or both at once — the latter was the case.

He then said I had had my fifteen minutes and I couldn’t have any more time. If I had further things on my list (which I did), I should have outlined them at the start. I did get one more prescription out of him, for the blood pressure medication. Anyway, I will be changing GPs. I get that medicos are stressed. They need to manage that stress, though, in ways that don’t involve taking it out on their patients.

Positive points to the day included sitting down in a cafe for a coffee after the GP consult — I needed a lift by then! Another was going to the local library, picking up my hold, and taking out a few other books as well. These were both things I had missed doing for most of this year (cafes and libraries having been closed in Melbourne). Op shops have re-opened as well, so things are really getting back to normal.

Last night I took out a monthly subscription to Netflix. This will allow us to watch some more episodes of Emily in Paris, previously mentioned, and a favourite of my beloved. We will also be able to bring ourselves up to date with The Crown. The Netflix Android app works well with the Chromecast, and we were able to switch on the closed captioning without difficulty. One can just renew the subscription monthly. Entertainment is welcome at present, particularly in the leadup to The Festering Season (as I grumpily think of it).

Broken out and washed up

My beloved and I returned on Thursday from a couple of nights away, which we spent in Daylesford.

The end of lockdown has brought an exodus from Melbourne into country Victoria. I wasn’t sure that we would get anything in the rush, even though we were going mid-week. We ended up with a place called Lake Orchard Villas. The main draw with this property was its location, walking distance from the lake. You could also, theoretically, walk to restaurants and shops on Vincent Street. This would have involved a couple of fair size hills, though, so I have to ‘fess up — we drove.

The villa had two bedrooms, a spa bath, and a kitchen. The last was essential in allowing us to make breakfast for my beloved, ensuring that she got at least one “safe” meal a day. Being weatherboard, it was all very charming in a Chekhovian sort of way. The only really startling thing was a whistling kettle. (The first time I boiled it, I thought I had set off a fire alarm.) There was even a bowl of chocolates, of which I had one. One could sit on a little balcony out the front, and there was a bigger area at the rear with a barbecue and a large dining table. We are planning to go again, when I will definitely be looking to fire up the BBQ one evening.

An unexpected feature of the place was Netflix. We watched several episodes of Emily in Paris, a rather anodyne series about a young American woman suddenly sent to Paris for her work. The whole thing is really an excuse for some gentle cross-cultural comedy, and to show off the leading lady’s wardrobe. (That of her boss, with whom she has a fractious relationship, isn’t bad either.) It is all quite fun and totally undemanding — just the thing for a holiday.

We returned on Thursday via Clunes and Ballarat (where a modest-looking restaurant yielded a cracking Chinese meal). The next day the dishwasher people arrived (early) to put in the new dishwasher. I had been a tad nervous about this. Old dishwashers tend to leak: if the guys removed the old one through our place, I could see the carpet getting stained. Fortunately they had a trolley with soft tyres, allowing the appliances to be brought in and taken out via the courtyard. Once up the steps, everything happened on a tiled floor.

The installation was mostly uneventful. The old dishwasher had started leaking, and this moisture was mopped up by the installers before putting in the new appliance. Dishwashers sit on adjustable feet; if these are jacked up, the gap which this creates underneath is hidden by a kick plate. The Siemens was not quite as high than the old Dishlex, so I had to choose between having a noticeable gap at the top (between the dishwasher and the underneath of the bench) or a bigger one underneath it. I chose to even them out and have some gap top and bottom. The new kick plate is a lot more recessed than the old one, and this exposes a grout line in the floor tiling that we had never seen before.

The kitchen floor is tiled in a diamond pattern. Underneath the cabinets, for some reason, this changes to a square grid pattern. The grout line from the second pattern is what is now exposed, along with a gap of 1.5 cm or so underneath the dishwasher. It is possible to have the old kickplate trimmed and fitted back underneath the dishwasher. That will mean that it matches the cabinet underneath the sink, but not the dishwasher door (which is stainless steel). Anyway, all these things can be fiddled with at our leisure. The installers ran a test load, and the Siemens is certainly incredibly quiet compared to the Dishlex, which used to groan, gurgle, and thump away.

I had a bad moment reading the warranty leaflet, which mentioned a factory warranty of two years. This was a surprise, as the store had advertised a five year warranty for this brand. I got on the blower to the salesman, who knew straightaway what I was ringing about. The leaflets are printed overseas, and reflect the warranty offered in other places. Siemens dishwashers in Australia have a five year warranty. He sent me an email to this effect so that I had it in writing.

Having taken what will probably be the last trip in the Camry, I read with interest a road test of a Mercedes Benz GLC 300 PHEV. (PHEV, as you will no doubt know, is a plug in hybrid electric vehicle.) This was the same model that we had hired over a year ago when I won sixth prize (!) in the 3MBS-FM radiothon. (That one, though, had a diesel engine.) The GLC is a big vehicle, to be sure, but I really enjoyed punting it around the Dandenongs for a day. $80,000-odd is out of our range, though, so we will probably end up with another Camry. The last one is still going strong after sixteen years, just getting a bit elderly and cranky — like one of its owners.

Rest & recovery

When I started writing this post, I was trying to remember when I had had the hernia operation. According to an email message in my inbox, this took place on 9 October. I came home the following day. By now I am therefore well past the four week mark in my recovery. According to what the nurse told me, I have a couple of weeks to go.

The wound site was never really painful, and over the last few weeks has become gradually much less sensitive. It was always a bit worse in the evenings, when I generally felt more crummy. Now I am only conscious of the wound if I do something it doesn’t like. Yesterday was one of those days.

Sweeping the courtyard was one of the jobs I had been putting off. This procrastination isn’t unusual for me, but in this case I was conscious of all the bending down this job would involve. (Bending from the waist is better for me at the moment, as it puts less strain on the wound site.) By now, though, I thought that I could probably handle a little task like this. Sweeping the courtyard always makes it look neater and more inviting. Afterwards, I pictured myself sitting out there in the shade of the umbrella, enjoying my handiwork.

This was pretty much how it transpired. The sweeping, picking up all the debris into the big garden bag, putting some of that into the compost, and the rest into the green waste bin, all took about an hour. Along the way I re-fixed some shade cloth I have rigged up over the daphne in the front garden. I interspersed these with hanging out a couple of loads of washing, including the towels. (All these little tasks took me over my step target for the day, without having gone past the mailbox.)

I did notice the hernia wound after a while. It wasn’t painful exactly — just enough for me to think, okay, that’s about as much as I can manage right now. But I enjoyed being outside, getting things looking a bit better, and having a closer look at the garden.

The main problem I’ve had over the last few weeks has been my sleep. I think this has to do, at least in part, with my not being able to exercise as much as before the operation. (I did resume a modified exercise class just last week.) Consequently I have been getting, on average, an hour and ten minutes less sleep than I was having before the operation. I have also been waking several times a night, and getting up in search of something that will knock me out for a while. So the sleep has been both shorter and more fragmented.

The other reason is to do with my sleep medication (Stilnox), to which I have been gradually becoming habituated over the years. I really need a new one. Whatever I take, however, has to not interfere with the Zolodex — while I remain on that treatment. I will be seeing Dr P on Monday week to discuss all this, together with my most recent blood test.

I have had insomnia for about 25 years now. Over this time I tried most of the sleep treatments around. None delivered a cure, so I just learned to live with it. The last four weeks has been an extremely sustained patch of sleep deprivation, however, and I have been finding it pretty tough. I hope that gradually getting back to my full exercise program will help.

I am also going to investigate contactless shopping for groceries. In this scenario, I drive to the supermarket, open the boot of the GT, and send a text to the effect of “I’m here”. Someone will put the bags into the boot of my car, I drive home, and at this point my beloved will bring the bags inside. This way I will get a mini-outing, and she will have the chance to catch up on her work a tad. From each according to his ability, to each according to her need.

We did some old-style shopping over the weekend. Our dishwasher packed it in last week. (I think the noisy, thrashy thing is about 20 years old.) I read lots of reviews, and measured the recess in which it sits under the kitchen bench several times. Yesterday we headed to one of the nearby big box stores to kick some tyres. Did we want a two or a five year warranty? Would a cutlery drawer be a good thing, or would we make do with a basket? All the alternatives were worked through, and we chose a German make with which to replace the tired old Dishlex. The credit card was unfurled to good effect, and the new dishwasher — a Siemens — is being delivered on Friday.

In the meantime, my beloved and I have had some slightly nostalgic times handwashing our dishes, and drying them with a tea towel. I seem to remember Mum and Dad having sotto voce arguments while doing this. Like them, we have fallen into gender roles — my beloved washing, me drying up. We haven’t had any arguments so far, though, even when I queried her practice of putting the cutlery into the sink first. I will remain a cutlery-last man to the end of my days! (I hope this preference will soon revert to being a theoretical one.)

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!

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.)

Mini-snake

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()–‚úĻ

And another classic novel (trick question alert): ūüĒé‚ĆõÔłŹ¬†

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.)

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 Handw√∂rterb√ľch 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
  • B√§kerei (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 Schl√ľssellworte (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. 

The (provisional) new normal

First the news — we saw Dr P this morning, and the PSA remains undetectable. (This has been the score the last few times (with minor variations in 100ths of a per cent). Today’s consult was followed by a Zolodex appointment; the latter was scheduled half an hour afterwards. Dr P was running a tad behind, so after the consult I legged it off to the oncology unit at Epworth Box Hill for the implant. That was delivered uneventfully. (I had had a little bleeding from the previous one, which was unusual. There were no problems today, though. The implant is only about the size of a grain of rice, so it is not a big thing to put in.) ¬†

After that we had a coffee — takeaway of course — drunk back in the car. Then we headed off to Mitcham, where my beloved wanted to check the size of a pair of shoes she had bought on Thursday. It was good that she did, as she ended up getting a half size bigger than those she had been sold previously. Finalising the transaction took some doing — there were complications. She had purchased two pairs on Thursday, one of which she took with her, the second to be mailed to us later. Much checking was required to distinguish the pair being returned from the pair being sent! (We will have to return this pair to the store for a refund — whenever they arrive.) We had gotten a discount on the price of the pair she had bought on Thursday, and this was duly applied also to the pair bought this morning. Of course the sales assistant we had today was not the one who had done the transaction last Thursday. Etcetera. Anyway, after trying on several further pairs, the slightly-too-small ones were “swapped out” (as people like to say) for the correctly sized pair. We thankfully headed for home after our voyage around the ‘burbs of outer eastern Melbourne. When large areas of the globe were still undiscovered, early cartographers used to write in the blank spaces — here there be dragons! ¬†

Over the weekend I caught up with an old friend, with whom I had shared another takeaway coffee and a wander around the local park. He is working at a university library. All Australian unis depend on foreign students to remain solvent; with COVID19, a smaller number of these folk is expected to enrol in 2021. I think many people in the university sector are waiting to see what their jobs will look like when this happens. My friend is no exception. We swapped health updates as well while working our way around Wattle Park. 

A lot of people seem to be in this very provisional space at present. Whether we go up a ladder or down a snake seems to be one set of numbers away. The best to be hoped for is to keep plodding along, and staying off the radar. Is it a life stage thing? Was life always like this, or has it become more so recently?  

I wore a pink shirt this morning to give myself a bit of a lift, and, I hoped, to cast a healthy glow. I am developing a shirt colour theory of history. Garibaldi’s volunteers wore red shirts (the “Camicie¬†Rosse“). So did the illegally-employed minions working for Victorian Labor Government MPs. These minions were paid out of public funds despite doing electorate work — quite naughty of their employers. (See the ABC News story for those who, like me, had forgotten about this rather sordid tale.) The fascists wore black shirts, Hitler’s Storm Troopers wore brown ones.¬† Conservative¬†pollies¬†— male ones, at least — seem to¬†favour¬†white shirts.¬†Incidentally — hold the presses — I¬†realise¬†I have hardly worn my white shirts since leaving the paid workforce. So¬†colour¬†does stand for something. But what?¬†