Not so bad after all

Here I am back again (again). Must write blog. Must write.

Specifically, I am honouring Erin at Daisies and Bruises who just came back from the slough of despond and WROTE!!

Last night in South Australia we had a once-in-fifty-years weather event which brought down 23 electricity pylons and blacked out the entire state for at least 8 hours. Once we had heated up some defrosted spinach soup on our (luckily) gas stove there wasn’t much to do except write a little bit of my novel while the laptop had some charge. After that it was knitting-by-candlelight.

pylons
Photo by Tom Fedorowytsch of downed pylons at Melrose, South Australia from a total of 23.

I hadn’t done anything with my NaNoWriMo novel for months when I wrote about half a chapter and researched some dialogue. Last night I did a little background writing and research on two characters, the main heroine and the person whose life intrigues the heroine. Incidentally, the basic plot has already inspired two short films by a friend who was taking a Film-making course at a local college of further education! Here is one if you want to know how a first film might turn out. With Grace.

The old Black Dog has been affecting me far less than Erin but I still have not reached my old level of productivity or anywhere near it. Mind you, I am not expecting to get totally back to my version of “normal” as circumstances have changed.

I have been able to reduce my dose  of antidepressants to half and I no longer suffer insomnia nor those dreadful “brain zaps” which cause many people to stop taking their medication. Having Omega 6 Fish Oils on a shot of cranberry juice seems to have stopped the zaps completely.

Cognitive re structuring has helped me deal with negative thoughts but I still find myself unable to tolerate daily meditation sessions and I have only the barest of daily routines. This is the sort of therapeutic self-talk I have done. I can get out of bed on time in the mornings with a smile on my face, have breakfast and a shower, plus I can get to any morning appointments, like aquarobics classes, 95 perent of the time.

Socially I am coping fine although I feel the need to get out more and have lunch/movies/coffee with people every second day. Only a few people have ever asked me out to do anything and after 18 months of phoning and Facebooking to invite others I have almost given up. Sometimes I go out shopping and have a coffee or lunch on my own, but that isn’t very social and I could do the same at home. Trips out with a busload of people to wineries and restaurants have been good and I’ve made a few new friends and acquaintances that way.

Continuing our friendly Wednesday night dinners with four mutual friends has been a very stable influence on my mental health even when I found it difficult to sit there for the whole mealtime. I also occasionally have this thing where my ear drums seem to spasm or vibrate, making some voices sound intolerable if they have a lot of high, whispery frequencies.

david-bday
Wednesday dinner with friends

 

Deities vs denigration. Or how to stop dwelling on things.

I was trying to locate some pointers on rumination that I felt were suitable to my own situation, being depressed. A few behaviourally oriented ones sounded good while others went all god-dy and totally put me off. What is the point of a deity saving you after you are dead to make everything right? You’re dead then and have no life to BE good FFS!

When I read the attached account of a woman grieving for her prematurely-departed husband I thought she was making more of a hole for herself by denigrating her own worthiness as a human and potential partner. Somehow I need to steer between deities and denigration!

My concept of myself is not that bad; I think I am worthy of love, praise and comfort and I have a fair measure of each. My social network is rather lacking at the moment and I haven’t had the cheerfulness or energy to cultivate it, so I feel a bit disconnected but NOT lonely. I am quite happy with spending every day alone, my only contact with the world through my laptop or tablet. However, my social situation of 90% isolation is NOT good for curing myself of ruminating. While I don’t blame myself for being depressed currently, being alone is provocation for negative thoughts about anything. A few years ago I was able to keep my mind active with online courses and I learned some amazing stuff. Recently though I have been unable to get out of my unproductive ruminative loops in order to learn new stuff, so unfinished online courses are just more negatives that I don’t need right now.

Iceland poppies

Iceland poppies

My Mindfulness practice has helped to a certain extent but it is not strong enough to keep all my head-crap at bay all the time. Doing something active like my hobbies would be great too, but I am in the middle of a very stuck period and haven’t got past first base with several projects that are lovely in themselves. Seeing the endpoint in my mind doesn’t seem to have the push-power it should. Somehow, my unfathomable feeling that things are not “right” gets in the way. Please contribute some ideas if you have tried successfully to fix your own stuck-ness or ruminations.

Here is the woman who is down on herself in her grief:

REALITY: WHY IT IS LIKELY THAT A LIFETIME OF LONELINESS AWAITS ME.

 

When will things be RIGHT?

Over-wintering ducks

Over-wintering ducks

Hello Kind Readers (if any of you check back here),

I am in the grip of a two-year plague of procrastination and holding back from whatever I am holding back from. Somehow I am writing this, so I have now conquered a tiny section of it, inspired by commenting on Lori Stone’s piece, The hard work of fun. This was my comment on her struggles with perfectionism in everyday life:

 

  • I DO have trouble letting go and having fun! However the big block in my chakra is procrastination while in the grip of the Black Dog. Somehow the conditions for having fun – having anything at all – must be “right” before I can let go. My head is constantly full of ideas to create and see and do and learn but I can’t make myself DO anything because the conditions have not become “right”. Unlike you and your perfectionism, I don’t mind if things are out-of-line, messy, incomplete or whatever unless it’s something like driving the car or taking the correct dose of pills. But, yep, I’m having a lot of trouble having fun. When will things be “right”? 

The depression around the shortest day of Winter has been worse this year than for several years but I have been coping marginally by trying to practise some useful habits like mindfulness meditation, regular exercise, taking my pills and almost cutting out alcohol (normally I only have a few glasses of wine per week, but now I’m down to zero for a while). However I cry easily, quickly become irritated by certain people and things and spend a lot of time huddled under the quilt mindlessly playing word games on the device. I have managed to keep up with the washing, aquarobics (mostly), looking after my painful wrists, cat maintenance, preparing 50% of meals, going to Wednesday night dinners and keeping the bathroom mould at bay.

I won’t mention things I HAVEN’T managed as that would be allowing negative stuff to intrude on my achievements! I do confess to having missed one or two showers in the past three months but that’s it.

Purple haze

Purple haze

Getting down to the nitty-gritty: What is stopping me from having fun? What conditions must be met before I can let go and enjoy my time? Should I go back and have some more counseling? But I know what the psychologist would suggest and I’m obviously not getting on with the job, so – duh.

Admittedly I have had some setbacks in my life the past few years but most of them have been worked through although some could use still more effort. Lack of cash stopped being an issue a few months ago which is the best and biggest boost to life I’ve had in decades! However Spotrick says my generosity has brought more troubles upon me and that is true to a certain extent, but why are people so demanding and judgmental? Disappointment in human nature is definitely part of my current low mood although that hasn’t been the problem for long. Before that I had some big hiccups around money, with the tax department chasing me over imaginary debts and then trying to fine me thousands of dollars for not reporting my non-existent income. I also have continuing problems with my bank where they keep cutting off online access because I am too slow (apparently) inputting my security numbers (my hands are not wonderful any more). It is so frustrating and I feel so helpless because I am being “punished” for a disability. After I get cut off things snowball as creditors start contacting me for automatic debits that have ceased etc etc I just want to relax and have a life. With no job, alone all day and no family I COULD be quite OK except for these money hassles I don’t need at ANY time.

We have green winters

We have green winters

When I Tweeted about not being able to start anything,

  • I’m definitely in the wilderness again. Empty horizons in all directions. How to escape?

    @LaLegale replied:
    Rather than “escape”, create. Imagine your life as a blank tapestry, which you embroider with the things that you do every day.

But that’s exactly what I CAN’T do – my life IS a blank tapestry and I can’t make myself start the bloody embroidery. Who would want to embroider on the topic of the washing or cleaning the floor beneath the cats’ bowls?

So, sweet readers, how can I start or get some enthusiasm for the various projects I would LOVE to do including photographing stuff, getting back into film (rather than digital), sewing, knitting, and yes, tapestry; also I almost wrote the first draft of a novel during NaNoWriMo last year, so when will I resume writing, blogging regularly here and on my Health for Humans blog; there are some songs to work on, bits of the garden to rejuvenate, yummy things to cook, places to visit, people I’d love to see more of, and holidays to plan?? Ideas, quick, please!

Finding richness in the shade

Finding richness in the shade

We need this program in Oz: Ruby Wax’s Mad Confessions

Ruby-Wax-Black-Dog-Tribe_1

Ruby Wax

Ruby Wax’s Mad Confessions | Channel 4 goes mad | Documentary | Blog | Time To Change.

Reading the summary and readers’ comments on this British TV program from their Channel 4 made me think about how I am coping right now with my own head.

Crepe myrtle from L Street

Crepe myrtle from L Street

In the midst of a few physical health issues I’m not doing too badly. As the people in the above program and the commenters pointed out, I could do with some company and a  bit of real-life support. I feel a bit stigmatised as people don’t invite me to stuff. Now maybe they’ve just forgotten about me because I’m not around much or maybe I DO make them feel uncomfortable. That must be the difficulty about having a mental illness that doesn’t make you think or behave in  unexpected ways – you can never quite tell if a drop off in friends is just chance or if they’re deliberately avoiding you.

As I’ve said before, I never really feel lonely and I AM alone during working hours; I just feel the need for different environments and social input from different human beings. Now I can’t drive or walk to the bus stop, my lack of regular company apart from Spotrick and the cats has become more salient. What strategies could I use, apart from spending even more time on the Interwebs?!

Chunks of Pi

My friends and I have been rather tardy in going to see The Life of Pi at the local cinema, but we managed it last Sunday night. I thought that the book was un-filmable, even without modern CGI effects and animatronics, but the movie was an enthralling adaptation of the book in startling 3D [we wore Clark Kent glasses].

Scene from the movie

Pi & Richard Parker

We were all very happy with it and I felt rather inspired by what I saw, which is unusual for me. For the very few who might not have read the book by Yann Martel [Winner of the 2002 Man Booker Prize] nor seen the recent movie, it is about a boy who finds himself alone in a lifeboat with a tiger after a ship sinks containing his fathers entire zoo exhibits.

When I first read the novel, which is quite short, I liked it OK although I didn’t think it was great. The writer seemed to go well for the first third of the book and then hit the doldrums, just like the boy in the lifeboat! To my mind the symbolic and philosophical themes didn’t seem to progress for a long interval and I was tempted to abandon ship/book. However, I knew there had to be some sort of resolution, so I went along for the ride. I was rewarded in the end and concluded that the book was an allegory of nature, growth, life and death, where the elements could each mean a number of things, depending on the mindset of the reader. I didn’t relate the themes to my life at the time, but seeing the interpretation of the book by Ang Lee (of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon fame- is he getting stuck on tigers??), I felt quite touched. As said by reviewer Gary Krist in the New York Times Review of Books;

Pi understands that his own survival depends on keeping his ferocious opponent alive and well — ”because if he died I would be left alone with despair, a foe even more formidable than a tiger. If I still had the will to live, it was thanks to Richard Parker.”

Pi to multi decimal places

Pi, as Pi writes it on the blackboard

The film said to me “Get your tasks of necessity over with and just enjoy doing your own thing. Life won’t come back and give you another go.” That’s quite revolutionary to me at this stage of my life. For years I have been wanting to get my Masters degree and find a job in Public Health, preferably in Policy and Research because I am so drawn to them in many waking moments. However, no one has been very encouraging and I haven’t gained any jobs or scholarships to study further yet, having arrived at a sort of “fallback” position of trying for a PhD for lack of a job. I figured I could still immerse myself in the subject area even if I couldn’t work in it. With the stimulus of Pi I may be shifting my thinking to accepting I have finished my working life and settle for enjoying the crafts and hobbies I can still do with my disabled hands and wrists.

I will still need to learn to value myself and accept I am worth Spotrick supporting financially as my childhood background has almost brainwashed me into thinking I must always have an independent income. At least now I have been unemployed for many years I have somewhat forgotten what it’s like to have my own money to spend the way I wish [while keeping up my household contribution, of course]. It’s still fairly sad for me to see friends going away on holidays to places I had planned to visit before the end of my life, but I am trying to experience those things vicariously now. I have been asking my friends to take lots of photographs when they go away – photos of the places, rather than the standard touristy pix of “me in front of the Tower of London” sort! My friends are beginning to co operate, but they take a bit of flogging [you know who you are, LOL!]. I still get tears in my eyes regularly when I see places on my Bucket List on the internet, but I’m improving.

Scottish loch

Scottish loch

 

So this week could be quite influential for me and I haven’t changed my mind yet in the light of a week’s distance or reality biting.

Does this sound like a good thing? Have I missed something that’s going to wreck it all?

Comments welcome.

Here are some reviews of the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/life-of-pi/

Acknowledgements: Pi poster with multi decimal places http://hoffnermath.files.wordpress.com/2009/

Movie poster: http://theawesomer.com

 

Praise was a no-no

Child development: The right kind of early praise predicts positive attitudes toward effort.

_____________________________________________________

When I taught developmental psychology to young teacher- and childcare-trainees, I fought a losing battle most of the time trying to show them how to use praise in the best way to enhance the lives of the little ones in their charge. All the other teachers on the programs thought that you must “treasure the precious little children” by [wrongly] “boosting their self-esteem” in saying “wow, that was good” or “don’t you look gorgeous”, no matter the merit of child in any way.

This article points out where I was doing OK and they were NOT encouraging the children to try hard and put their best efforts into whatever they did. I believe the “wow, you’re wonderful” style of upbringing has resulted in generations of youngsters who won’t put in an effort, try to get by on appearance [at which many succeed & others derive much misery from], feel entitled to a good job no matter how lackadaisical their performance and are intolerant of less than perfect traits in a partner. Who knows?

As I mentioned on Google+ in response to this article, my life has been heavily influenced by getting no praise or the wrong kind when I was a little kid. I was virtually “squashed down” because apparently the “tall poppy” syndrome reigned in the 1950s. I can only remember a few instances where I was praised for any achievement, and this was by school teachers or other kids’ parents. As an adult [in years, maybe not in mind!], I have not usually tried very hard at most things, because I achieved most things as a kid by just turning up and doing. No one will believe me, but I got into med school that way- however, lack of effort after being ill for a long time probably made me drop out, where I might have been able to cope with some coaching and support for a while.

Kids I went to school with apparently often tried to topple me from the top of the class, but, not having put any effort in myself, I didn’t notice their frustrated efforts! Therefore, I didn’t congratulate them or praise them either because I hadn’t experienced it myself. These days I sometimes chat on Facebook to some of these old friends and discover how “victorious” some of them felt when they topped me at something and how some of them were jealous of my performance/”marks”, disliking me as consequence. It all seems so trivial now, but THEY have mostly succeeded in life with good jobs and happy families, whereas I am long term unemployed with a still “itchy” mind!

So, from many years of experience and contemplation I would say to parents “Be alert to your children’s achievements in every sphere and give them plenty of praise about the way they achieve.” My idea would be to teach kids as many things as you can quite deliberately so they don’t have to make so many mistakes along the road to becoming adults themselves. Teach them about praise too, once they are old enough to get the idea, and they will become sought after companions in life for their peers. Show children how to do things and don’t keep saying “No not that way” and correcting them – let them work through and discover for themselves the best methods once you have shown them, except when it’s dangerous, eg. diving off the high board!

Surely I might be happier and healthier now, maybe even suitably employed if I had been able to build on a solid basis of feeling competent and autonomous when I was learning to become human. I’m working on it.

What’s affected me this week?

I was chatting to a friend at aquarobics this morning and he said that I tend to promote a lot of causes and “sad cases” on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. He thought this was all very noble but he felt that I should try to communicate about happier themes, since I am becoming like the national news! Maybe I would be able to dig myself out of my frequent depression by latching onto cheerful topics.

Bird & lotus

Bird & lotus

Now, I hadn’t noticed that I was negative in this way before and it hurts a little to think that the things I am most passionate about – affordable health care for all, looking after our ecology and food supply, reducing the use of manufactured chemicals in our food and environment which could enter our bodies, using discussion not weapons to solve national, tribal and territorial disputes and being at least civil (if not kind) to each other and to animals – seem negative. All these things tend to occupy my mind during the day, when I am mostly alone, since I don’t go to work like my partner. How am I going to change these themes around? Perhaps I could seek out positive stories or I could blog about other topics altogether. Would anyone like to weigh in?

Bronwyn Clee was saying, in her blog announcing #52b52w that:

Ideally all posts will be authentic and informative and have a clear message.

I’m not so sure about sticking to all three guidelines all of the time. However, I’m being authentic in asking for some ideas on how I can be more positive. I’m just not into positive affirmations like “I write uplifting blog posts” for motivating myself, although I’ve adopted the

Almost 22

Almost 22

practice of putting Smiley stickers on lots of things. Some friends have been mildly shocked by finding the Smileys on my laptop, phone and handbag! For a long time I had an excellent Smiley on the kettle so that I could smile at it every morning. It even had a name, Edwin, and I would say good morning to Edwin & grin cheesily as soon as I got up. One positive step I can take is to put a replacement Edwin sticker on the kettle right now!

Ending on a positive note! How did I do?

Finding hope

I’ve joined the 52 blog posts in 52 weeks blogathon started by Bronwyn Clee, so I thought I would announce my theme. My personal goal is to find hope for the longer term future for myself.

If you’ve ever visited this blog before you might have noticed I get visited by the Black Dog quite a lot, although less during the past 12 months [yayy!]. Hearing about my miseries may have put you off coming back, so I’m resolving to pursue a happier path if I can, blogging about daily events and topics that take my fancy, tying it all back to the “HOPE” theme.Cawfee

Just a bit about the “setting conditions” so you know where I’m starting from this year:

I’m now over 60, feel as though I’m about 30; I live with my partner Steve, aka “Spotrick”, and currently, three cats: Moustiers [nearly 22 years old], Mogadon [six] and Bendix [four]. No kids or grandkids courtesy of mistaken genetic instructions. I’ve had several “careers” and I had been hoping for a new one, but it hasn’t happened. Firstly I was a junior sort of university lecturer (in developmental psychology), then I was a researcher in mental health (mainly on a psychiatry ward of a general hospital with eating disorder patients), then a general public health and computer network dogsbody all over the place. I’ve been doing a Masters in Public Health over the last several years and have finished except for the details that I and my supervisor need to decide about my dissertation/journal article. Hopefully I can sneak into the April Graduation Ceremony.

I V

I V

This year has a loose plan of generating some longer term hope for me and I don’t plan on applying for any more jobs because that could mean pressure and negative mood triggers. My application to volunteer at the South Australian Museum for one day per week is being considered right now and I hope to get that so I can introduce some outside structure into my week. If successful, I will be part of one 4-person team among several, which will digitise the non-written Aboriginal artefacts the museum holds in storage. Only 2% of the collection is ever on display, so we have the other 98% to record in detailed photographs and notes before they need to change the display again! It sounds like quite an intriguing project. We will be cataloguing everything from tiny pieces of bark cloth to whole canoes hewn from trees.

When I get this structure to my week, there are other things I would like to fit around it such as doing more online courses to keep my brain alive, rallying people in the field of public health around Australia to use online social media to keep up to date and have short meetings, my various crafty hobbies, continue my Street Name Alphabet photography project started last year, keep socialising with friends every second day on my shrink’s prescription[!] and make our small garden beautiful again by looking after what’s there and adding to it. That’s plenty to do, I reckon, without having any pressure or time limits and should keep me moving forward while I search for long term hope.

Knowing that most of the other bloggers in the  #52b52w crowd have jobs/careers/family commitments to occupy their time, it might seem a bit weird to have my sort of goals, but that’s the way it is and I’m sticking to it.

Hopefully I can gain some ideas that will lead me towards my goal by seeing how the rest of you are travelling towards your goals and futures in your blogs. Happy blogging  #52b52w crowd.

 

What will keep me going in 2013?

Just gathering my wits at the moment to make a blog post. I managed to get through 2012 with a few wobbles in the middle surrounding mis-haps in the arts and the inability to intervene in the fate of a beautiful cat. Around Christmas things were better than the previous year due to a win in the arts, brought swiftly to earth by an abrasive encounter at a pre-Christmas party.

On the upside, I managed to recover from the abrasive encounter with the support of dear friends and family, plus juggling my pills and vitamins! Currently I feel pretty good and I’ll do my best to continue along this trajectory.

Several things lying around the house (never tidy, but usually not a pigsty) have reminded me that reading has been a good tonic in the past, so I am glad to have a large pile of reading to look forward to this year too. Sonia Faleiro‘s book Beautiful Thing. Portrait of a Bombay bar dancer, is still sitting on the edge of the coffee table, reminding me how surprisingly moving some books can be. I was captivated by this tale of the knife-edge existence of a young woman with the “ambition” to be a genuine dancer, not just a roughly used barmaid. Convinced that her life was quite positive compared to others in India, she made me realise how different circumstances shape different personalities and how everyone has their own frame for their dreams of a “better life”.

While there is nothing in my “to-read” pile that promises to be as inspiring as that book, there are plenty that will keep me occupied with mayhem and mystery!  eg. Michael Connelly‘s The Black Box. He’s always a good read.

Spotrick gave me for Christmas a little book of poems titled I Could Pee on This and other poems by cats.(Author Francesco Marciuliano). On the cover is a cheeky ginger & white kitten who looks similar to our Bendix. The contents are hilarious and are good cheer-ups if I’m feeling a bit meh. Here’s the beginning of “Unbridled love”:
I knead your chest with my sharp claws
To show you my affection
I bite your arm and don’t let go
To show you adoration…

That is sooo characteristic although I wish there was something I could do about the biting! My forearms sometimes get gory teeth-marks from those “adoring” chomps- ye-owww.

I could pee on that

I could pee on that

Books are generally for bedtime reading for me, whereas I often get occupied with online courses during the day while Spotrick is at work. While in 2012 I was finishing my Masters degree, with that merely needing some corrections this month, I’ll have more time to concentrate on other things. Last year I did some online courses through EdX and Coursera including “Listening to World Music”, and “HarvardX: PH207x Health in Numbers: Quantitative Methods in Clinical & Public Health Research” , gaining course credits that could be used in real life if I wanted that. Several other courses I sampled, but didn’t complete formal assessment were Computing for Data Analysis (4 weeks of learning to progam in R), CalTech‘s Machine Learning and Community Models of Public Health . I have just started “Economics for Scientists”  as I think it will help me understand more about health economics and the political economy of health, with the hope of enrolling for a PhD connected with those later in the year.

Incidentally, I was stunned to hear of the death of the man who practically invented the “political economy of health” . Gavin Mooney was murdered in Tasmania, along with his second wife Del Weston, whose son from a previous marriage is being held in connection with their cruel slaying. I only met Gavin late last year at a seminar and he seemed a great believer in making the best health facilities available to the most disadvantaged people. He was a lovely guy, and was obviously held in very high regard by people throughout the community as seen by the tributes in Melissa Sweet’s Croakey blog.

Not ruminating about things like the previous paragraph is something I have to develop this year and I have become sufficiently motivated (I think) to get back to some of my art & craft activities, like knitting and quilting. I meant to make some cushions for several friends for Christmas, but time flew by too fast while I was finishing off the degree. Though Christmas is almost a distant memory, I’ll keep going on the cushion project, starting with a log cabin pattern in greens for a friend who has an unusual green leather lounge suite.

Green theme

Green theme

These fabrics are in the mix and I am putting my new electric scissors to work cutting the strips just right as my wrists and thumbs are wrecked for working with manual ones.

There’s a lot of fabric hanging around here that needs to be made into clothing as well, but I’ve been very slack on the sewing for many years- I can’t get moving on it. This year I’ll get out some projects and see what happens- maybe inspiration will stay with me for a while. I really like these bright, lightweight cottons for making summer dresses and tops:

The garden is starting to look more lush than it has since we moved in, largely due to Spotrick’s efforts in tidying up old plants and pots. I’ve also been blitzing the plants with plenty of fertiliser and misting water under the larger ones on hot days. My ambition is to almost obscure the courtyard walls!

 

These Were a Few of Their Favorite Things – and a few of mine

These Were a Few of Their Favorite Things – NYTimes.com.

I’ve been interested in science, reading & discovering things since I was tiny, but never had any of those wonderful construction toys that boys seemed to get for Christmas. I had plenty of dolls that I loved to dress up with clothes I had sewn & knitted for them & I was always pestering my mum for “scraps”.

At about 4 or 5 I received a wind-up train set and rails for Christmas, but never really got to play with it the way I wanted because my father immediately commandeered it and made long guided rail things from plywood around the rooms. He would usually take the wind-up bit out of my hands saying “don’t overwind it”.

Wimmer-Heinrich-HWN passenger train set

Wimmer-Heinrich-HWN passenger train set

I quickly learned about the remedy for “over-winding” by taking the little engine apart while dad was at work in the South Island (NZ; he was a government statistician in the 1950s and actually went around and collected some of the data, as they did in those days!). After figuring out clockwork motors, I proceeded to take apart music boxes and wind-up monkeys & put them back together again without anyone noticing. What fun!

No chemistry set ever came my way, in spite of pleading every year, but I did get to play with the usual household substances like vinegar & baking soda, making terrific froth plumes out of soft drink bottles. Developing films in the laundry was vaguely chemical, but you couldn’t experiment with that stuff.

I WAS really interested in stars and space, due to my father showing me the Southern Aurora and tracking the first orbiting space satellites, like Sputnick I & II. He kept an ear out on shortwave radio to find out what times to expect them and we always went out on the front lawn with his old German Field Ambulance binoculars that he had acquired from a mate when he was younger. I can remember the first space dog Laika and the poor monkeys & chimpanzees that were sent up to perish in plumes of fire on re-entry.

Laika - Russian space dog

Laika – Russian space dog

We kept track of many space objects and star and planetary happenings, and when I was a young adult (at least in years), the appearance of the comet Kouhoutek was quite a colourful spectacle low over the Pacific Ocean in front of my parents house. There was a phase I went through when I was around 14, wanting to be an astrophysicist & work with the Parkes radio telescope (The Dish). I would try to figure out the speeds and heights of orbits necessary for satellites of various weights to circle the earth and where they ought to appear at certain times – what a mess of maths that was!! No computers to help me then.

One thing that really cemented my interest in science was a children’s encyclopedia “of everything” that I received when I was eight. I read that thing to death, over and over. The parts I remember best are the chapters about the solar system and “how the body works”. I knew then that I wanted to be a doctor “when I grew up”.

From my encyclopedia

From my encyclopedia

However, the book puzzled me for years because it didn’t explain exactly what happened to food-waste, once it went past the stomach: I spent years thinking that the solid waste went out through the large intestine and somehow got separated from the liquid waste that exited via the small intestine! It took some exploration of mum’s nursing textbooks to get a handle on the kidneys, which ultimately fascinated me with how they could extract the liquid from blood without letting it all leak out in your pee!

I was a pretty weird little kid at times, with allocating all my little friends in third grade a strange “disease” out of my list from the Pears’ Cyclopedia (1960 edition; I was 8) when we played hospitals! My pals got sick of it before we’d even finished “A”: they’d had achondroplastic dwarfism, asthma, acromegaly and ataxia thrust upon them before I was outvoted on what to play at lunchtimes! Incidentally, the poinciana thorns in the playground (horrors they’d say these days) got a good work-out as “needles” for the play-nurses to prick their victims!!