Monthly Archives: December 2009

Game for Two Players, #1

Today, my mother and her father had my father’s mother and his brother, sister and my cousin around for Boxing Day lunch. Most Christmases, my mother and grandfather kind of crash my dad’s side of the family’s lunch. That’s their thing. My dad’s family is too polite and too compassionate to say hey, it’s been twenty-five years since you dumped our son, find yourselves a new family. They are lovely like that.

Meanwhile, this year, my dad and i are well out of harm’s way.

I called my mother yesterday on account of it being Christmas’n’all. She felt the need to tell me what dish she had asked my grandmother to bring along: “Her jellied vegetables.” Now, I’ve only known my grandma now for my entire life, and i think i’d remember jellied vegetables, whether or not they were officially accorded signature dish status. Grated carrot in agar with pineapple? Just not ringing any bells.

Be my potential memory lapses as they may: it was made abundantly clear to me that neither my mother nor her father actually enjoy the dish they requested. They mocked it mercilessly. It seems that their “Please Bring” request is part of some sort of perennial game, the purpose of which escapes me.

May be that I am supposed to join them in laughing at my grandmother for preparing jellied vegetables. I’d be more inclined to laugh at the nincompoops who request a dish they don’t enjoy eating – but I don’t find that funny, just perplexing.

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Nutty Little Kids

Back in the pool today after a ‘spell’ of more than a few days. I have slightly stuffed up my leg either running in the bush or sitting studying for exams. Or it might be how I sleep. Anyway my leg is slightly stuffed but that is not actually why I have been out of the pool. That was all about timing.

I had my mojo on today and was in a decent freestyle rhythm. There were two lap lanes and the rest of the pool was opened up for kids to mess about. I was the only lap swimmer, I love that about this tiny town. Sure, it makes me look like a freak, but there’s no interruption of my wonky lap strategy.

Except when kids start racing me. Halfway up the pool, around lap six, I thought hang on, these two little shadows to my left and right are trying to keep up. Lap eight, again at the 25m mark, two shadows. I throttled back just a bit and slapped the wall when I hit the end. A triumphant little voice off to my left piped ‘I win!’. I grinned at her and laughed, and took off for the return leg. Lap ten, they gave themselves a huge headstart and bailed me up a the blocks. ‘You’re really fast.’ ‘Is that the fastest you can swim?’ No, that was about medium pace. And don’t tell the kids this, but I’m really not that fast.

I spent the next half hour hanging down the deep end of the pool with these nutty little kids getting myself recruited into the local swimming club. There’s a fight on to save the Council pool, which is on bequeathed land in a prime level, elevated riverfront position. This little town has some social issues, and losing a community asset like the clapped out old pool would actually have a not-so-great impact on the less affluent end of town. But this is not about the pool, it’s about Matt and Kyesha, my new best friends.

They’ve been friends since kindy, and they both live in the rough end of town, but they’ll be going to different public high schools at the end of next month. Both of them were chirpy and articulate and confident, and they talked over the top of each other like a pair of magpies. Thanks to Matt, I now know that I can touch the bottom of the deep end, and that the deep end is 3.6 metres, which I’d have to say is currently the limit of how deep I want to go. Thanks to Kyesha, I know a little of the politics of the local street gangs and whose tags mean what, and I have a new joke for twelve year olds. There are some old people in the swimming club, like maybe they are sixty but not really old, and when you join this club you make friends with people straight away. One new lady with a walking stick would probably be my friend. Even though she cheered Kyesha on, which is really embarrassing. And then we raced a bit more, and it was time to go home.

So, do I want to join the swimming club and help to save the pool? It costs all of thirty dollars. I’d get to swim on Friday nights and I’d make lots of friends like Kyesha and Matt. Maybe even some old people. As for saving the pool, well, I’ve been avoiding the politics because it seemed like someone else’s fight. But I actually feel quite strongly that these kids from the wrong side of the highway should keep a pool they can walk to in under an hour.

That’s worth thirty dollars and dipping my oar in.

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Sugar

I had been in the US for a couple of days when it struck me: everything tasted sweet. But everything.  Salad dressing, bread, cereal, milk, hamburgers, beer. Sweet.  A good old english muffin.  Sweet.  I was playing with a sachet of salt and above my thumb I saw the word ‘Ingredients’. That’s going a bit far, I thought, labelling salt with ingredients.  Surely there’s no more than salt in salt.  Moved my thumb: Wrong.  Apparently this salt also contained dextrose.  In case you needed a little sugar with your salt.

This has made me a little obsessive about reading the ingredients label on things.  Not strictly true, I was probably already obsessive about ingredients.  Now I’m just more curious about sugar.  How much sugar is in packaged food we eat here in Australia?   Answer: A lot more than there should be.

What part of the mayonnaise recipe calls for sugar?  No part.  And yet Praise 97% Fat Free Mayonnaise is 20% sugar. Why?  Eat the damn fat, people!  It’s probably vegetable oil and way better for you than the sugar.  Or just don’t eat mayo.

If you put a table-spoon sized dollop of Masterfood seafood sauce on your plate to have with your Christmas prawns, you may as well grab yourself a teaspoon and sprinkle your prawns with some tasty demerara sugar.

Tomato sauce. Sugar.  Peanut Butter. Sugar. I’m not talking about the natural sugar that foods contain intrinsically, I’m talking about sugar that is deliberately added by food manufacturers so that we will find their product more tasty and appealing.  The sugar that is listed in the ingredients list: the closer to the start of the list, the higher the proportion of sugar in the product.

Well, stupid food manufacturers, I don’t like it.  I don’t like your sweet sugary savoury things, and I don’t like that artificial sweet chemical crap stuff you put in things instead of sugar either.  I am going to live on vegemite and vinegar, you see if I don’t.

The end.

PS: I make my own mayonnaise if I want mayonnaise, and I dress my potato salad with olive oil and an acid – lemon juice or a vinegar of some sort.  And I’m secretly worried that Kraft will start putting sugar in vegemite.  Hell, they put cheese in it, who knows what else they are capable of!

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Montréal, December 1989

On the 6th of December twenty years ago, a man walked into the École Polytechnique, the School of Engineering at the University of Montréal, carrying a semi-automatic rifle and a suicide note.  In his note he named nineteen high-profile Québec women working in non-traditional roles, including the province’s first female firefighter and police captain.  He described them as ‘radical feminists’ whose lives he would have taken that day but for insufficient time.

I’m not a fan of disaster porn and I don’t need to tell you the minute details of what happened next.  Moving from classroom to cafeteria, the gunman separated women students from the men, and shot fourteen women dead.  Nine other women were wounded, along with four men.  These women were murdered for no other reason than one man’s hatred for ‘feminists’, for women pursuing a life beyond slippers by the fire.

Maybe they thought of themselves as feminists, maybe they didn’t.  Most likely, they were just living their lives the way that seemed right, not driven by any greater social agenda beyond doing something they were interested in.

Their names were Annie St.-Arneault, Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Barbara Maria Klucznik, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, and Annie Turcotte.

I think they are worth remembering.

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Aerophagia

I have been spending a lot of time in my head lately, which is probably mainly annoying for those around me.  There’s a lot going on in there, some med-related, some not, and what I’ve found over the last month or so is that one really good way to filter it down to a just a few solid thoughts is to swim laps.  Consequently as well as spending time in my head, I’ve been spending more time than usual in a one-piece swimsuit, and have been semi-naked in front of more people than I would usually care to be.

In the lead-up to exams, the sort of thing that would get distilled out in the chlorine would be something like cardiac adaptations to load, innervation of the diaphragm, or the haemoglobin-oxygen binding curve.  Even a smattering of biochemistry made it to the surface.  In amongst this there would be a line from a conversation, a line from a poem, a look, something funny that happened, a song.  I fixed some writing in the water, and I figured out a heap of physiology I hadn’t quite grasped before.  I only tried to drown myself once.

Somehow the combination of staying afloat, counting laps, remembering to breathe, and moving my arms and legs at the same time in a coordinated rhythmic fashion clears my head like nothing else.

Except for today, only my second post-exam pool session.  Didn’t really help at all.  In the first few laps I managed to squeeze out a couple of lines for something that I’m working on, but in the end I got out of the water with sore toes and a feeling a whole lot crankier than when I got in.  I also seemed to be swallowing a lot of air, which suggests that I may have been breathing some water.

It seems natural to me now that medical terms pop into my head with only the slightest provocation.  Aerophagia, the act of swallowing air, met me at the 400m mark and is now firmly lodged in my lateral sulcus.

Meanwhile, I can’t help thinking about the line in my old airline Emergency Procedures Manual explaining first aid procedures for trapped abdominal gases.  Encourage the passenger to belch or pass wind.

(Then walk briskly away)

Great, that was almost a fart joke.  Standards are slipping around here.

That’s a little what it’s like, being in my head.  I think I have lost the plot at least twice in the last few weeks, and the weirdest things I’ve done  have happened after not swimming for three or more days.  I don’t mind air in my stomach, but the less of it in my head, the better.  Maybe swimming is my brain-belch.  Maybe I’m drawing a long bow, and maybe now I’m mixing my metaphors.

Whatever:  the bottom line is, I’m ready to get back to the textbooks to backfill some of the holes exams laid bare for me, and I’m getting back in the water because that’s what seems to make sense.  As for being in my head, I guess there are worse places I could be.

As a good friend of mine recently observed: we are all crazy all of the time, it’s just a matter of degrees.

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Anatomy: 1; Toast: 1

Poor old anatomy, it’s not really fair of me to update the score like this since the anatomy exam was not, in fact, an anatomy exam.  It was however an exam which took place in the anatomy lab, which is more than I can say for the other two exams.

So, this week started on Monday with my head pretty much ready to explode.  First exam, Monday morning, started with good company and an average coffee; tension set to 37.7ºC (mild fever pitch).  Three hours and fifteen minutes of pure hell.  Page one, question one, Tetralogy of Fallot. D’what?  We covered that?  Well, that was twenty marks out the window right there.  The rest was a blur.  I remember the paper finished with a heart attack, which was pretty much how I finished as well.  Many shell-shocked faces.

Sitting back down to study for the afternoon I realised nothing was sticking in my head and I needed sleep.  So I lay on the bed for a half hour with my heart pounding and my head churning, then cut my losses and went around the corner for a Thai massage.  Note, I was out of town for the exams, we don’t have Thai massage where I live, worse luck for me.  This turned out to be a very good use of my time, as I remembered many things I had written in the exam and they made me laugh somewhat hysterically.  Dermatomes ≠ Desmosomes.  Just something to remember for next time.   Hot bath, music, sleep.   That was my study regime.

Tuesday started early, I read over some notes and tried not to dwell on Monday’s disaster.  Better coffee, more relaxed, the next exam turned out to be on things I actually knew.  It felt good to know something, and even better to walk out ahead of time with a spring in my step.  Killed two hours before suiting up for anatomy.  This was a weird exam.  Fifty stations, ninety seconds at each, some sort of visual prompt and a scenario (mostly clinical).  My favourite question: Stylised picture of a cell, with various organelles labelled A through E. Which of the labelled structures is responsible for producing ATP?  That, my friends, is what you call a gimme.  My hours of organelle study back in April actually paid off.

Wednesday, just tired and feeling old.  Thursday, somewhat on edge all day waiting for the dreaded “you failed and need to attend an interview” phone call.  But it never came, because I passed.  First year is over.  Just like that.

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