Nailless In Willetton

And I suspect I will be Sleepless In Bull Creek as well.

Those who have never visited a podiatrist may be wondering what they do there. What they do there is carry on the fine traditions of the Spanish Inquisition or the Red Indians. Physical torture has gotten a bad name in the last century ( Though that has not stopped it from being popular…) but there is still one place where it is going strong – the foot doctor’s office.

I do not mean to suggest that the professional there is a sadist – far from it. Nor do I impugn their morals or kindly character. But very little of what they do is fun; at least not on the working end of the instruments.

Many people have 10 toenails. I have 9 – now. This morning saw one disappear due to an infection that was not resolving of itself. One of those minor reminders that we are not unbreakable. The doctor made the right diagnosis and took the correct action – now we hope that the toe does its job and regrows a nail. I am not that fussy – I would be satisfied for it to just heal over and be no trouble. I rarely exhibit my toes in public anyway, and as long as they do not hurt, I am satisfied.

Like the finger episode of a few months ago, the toe combines pain with fear and shock, but doesn’t entitle anyone to feel brave or garner any public sympathy. There is something comic about it all – evident to others – that escapes me.

The basic process – inject some lignocaine into the toe then grasp the half-off nail and pull smartly, followed by mopping up and washing the wound  – is perfectly good professional practice. It is not painful once the anaesthetic is working, but getting to that point is awkward. I used to pride myself on painless anaesthetic injections but then the oral mucosa has more fluid room than a toe.

Well, the clown bandage is on and I’ll be able to exchange it for a Betadine sandwich tomorrow, but just in case of snakebite I have called at the brandy shop on the way home.

If I am going to be undignified, I might as well get to the point of laughing at myself.


Which Club Do I Belong To? Part One

Canadian Club.

And a number of other ones, too, I hasten to add. The CC, however doesn’t impose the sort of rules and restrictions that the other ones seem to. The only things that are forbidden after attending a Canadian Club meeting are driving the motor car, dancing on the dining room table, and firing off a hilarious but sternly worded email to the management. Extended club meetings may result in a certain queasiness and sensitivity to light and sound next morning, but this is probably just due to the air conditioning…

I’m drawn to this analysis of club life after making a list of organisations to which I have belonged in the past  –  ones that were voluntary, took a small club fee, or could be considered social in some respect. You may have been a member yourself at one time or  other:

a. Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts of Canada

b. Uncle John’s Radio Club

c. Wasatka Staff – Mount Pleasant , Utah

d. WA UDSS, Perth

e. WA Model Boat Club

f. Dental Association Of Australia

g. WA Naval Wargames Society

h. WA Muzzle Loading Club

i. 42RHRA

j. Grey Company

k. WA Model Collector’s Club

My current situation, as of right now-typing this post, is that all but the last two have fallen away into history. They have been laid aside with fond memories and in a few precious cases, have enabled me to make friends and acquaintances that remain with me to this day. Some have also led me to regrets…

It’s also caused me to analyse the nature of clubs and club or society membership. Of course this is a deeper topic than ever I could embrace, and has been done better elsewhere, but as you are already this far down the page, you might as well keep on reading. Either that, or get up and start to do the darned housework again.

The questions that arose immediately were:

a. What were these clubs? What, indeed, is a club?

b. Why did I join or found these clubs?

c. What did I give to the clubs? What did I get from them?

d. Why did I quit the clubs? Was it a good decision?

e. What clubs should I join in the future?

If you can find any echo in these thoughts – if your life seems to have clubs, societies, and organisations  as well, past and present – please read the next few columns. They may help you to have a better time. Or a good time. Or just a time…




The Burden Of Genius

How can you sit there at your computer and read a title like that without writhing?

Who the hell is this bird anyway? What makes him think that he has any genius to bear?What the hell has he ever done?

As much and as little as anyone else. And I hasten to add that very little of it gave any evidence of genius. There was the average number of childs’ and youth’s successes and a hope of greatness that may have been held by my parents, but eventually they probably had to accept that I was just an ordinary Joe. I discovered it in my teens – and I can’t say that I was unhappy to do so…though I think I would have appreciated more brain power as a university student and more business acumen as a practitioner.

Probably the only real genius I have ever exhibited occurred when I discovered I could draw things in the margins of my school books and on pads of yellow paper. This went on to the ability to remember and reproduce line diagrams seen in textbooks, and this in turn to passing examinations based on the false assumption that anyone who could draw well knew the subject.

No. I knew the drawing. Later on in my career I would have to try to translate the drawing – that perfect clinical diagram – to the actual teeth, gums, cheeks, lips, blood vessels, and noses of the patients. Did you know that a high-speed drill will go through all of the above?

One day I was sitting at the dining room table with a pad of yellow paper and decided to test out my childhood ability to draw a circle freehand. After a few goes I got it. Then I decided to put two Disney eyes on it. And a hat. And from there it all took off. I found my own style of cartoon drawing – very crude by the standards of others – but made it serve me as a vehicle satire and jokes. I learned early on to draw myself in cartoon style and then used that as the basis for all the send-ups and pratfalls that poked fun at others.

It was profitable. I drew cartoons for my own profession’s gazette, then for hobby clubs, and eventually for a European toy manufacturer – they paid me handsomely in toys!

I have used the style here in this weblog column as Brother Stein, the sanctimonious Quaker and again for the commemoration of the start of WW1. It is still useful whenever I want to zing one past the censors here or on Facebook.

And the nice part of it – the simple Photoshop Elements drawing section contains most of the raw form shapes I need to continue the style long after my own hands go shaky. All I need to find is a suitable topic and away we go.

The Little World – The Pup

dscf5464Twenty years ago a small hardware store that was near my first surgery closed its doors – the owner had been offered a redevelopment buy-out and was ready to retire. As he had been a patient of mine and I had been one of his customers, he gave me a parting gift. From somewhere in the recesses of his old shop he pulled out a 1950’s or 60’s hobbyists kit –  A Picador Pup.

It was made in England to old designs and standards by a firm that wanted to help miniature engineers. The basic device was an adjustable grinding machine, wood-turning lathe, and miniature circular saw. It was configurable as a sanding machine and horizontal drilling machine.

dscf5465A friend found an ex-washing machine motor and rigged a couple of pulleys to drive it. In its first mounting it was noisy, smelly and frightening…but it did sharpen drill bits, sand accurately, and cut strip wood. It went out of commission for years, though, as there was nowhere to put the awkward mounting block.

This week I changed that. Our local hardware store sells a line of Chinese shelving units in modular form, and they are inexpensive and very well made. I had several components already so a few more struts and shelves gave me a way of making the Pup work correctly. It no longer groans as it works nor moves alarmingly. I can now saw strip wood for models…and if I can find even finer blades I’ll be able to stop buying the Artesiana Latina stuff at the hobby shop. Note: The stick with the duct tape is the pusher that keeps my fingers out of the blade.

All the twist drill bits in the shop are going to get a damned good sharpening. A man with a Pup is never at a loss.

Thank you, John Sweet, for such a kind gift.

Selling The Truth Part Three: Delivering The Bads


Whoops. That’s the auto-correct* mechanism in this blogging platform at work again. I did type “goods”. Really I did.

Whenever someone has paid for the truth, and you have made sure the transaction has gone through to the bank, and the bank clerk has bitten the gold coins to see if they are genuine, it is time to provide the service. The Backstabbers Guild Of Australia is nothing if not reliable. We can always be relied upon for nothing.

How do you tell someone the truth? In the case of wives and rulers of the Communist party of North Korea, very carefully. In little portions, lest it do them, and you, great harm.

Some truths are self evident, which means that all you have to do is wrap yourself up on the flag or the Constitution, or an asbestos blanket, and open the oven door. They’ll shine out and do good or ill without you interfering. No explanation is needed for a self-evident truth. If anyone does not understand it, that is their fault. Things like gravity come into this classification. They work all the time.

Some truths are so simple, once someone tells them. Many medical and most dental diagnoses are in this category, but you must get someone who is trained in that truth to tell it. No good getting your local homeopath to provide a three-surface gold inlay with bottles of water that have had teeth soaked in them. And it is a wise patient who accepts the truth when it is proffered – in some cases it is covered by Medicare and even if there is a gap payment it can be covered by selling one of the children.

Some truths are hidden. A lot of Queensland’s politics are like this, and in many cases no-one wants to buy them at any price. Do not be offended if a Banana Bender claps their hands to their ears when the truth comes out and runs away yelling ‘ Lalalalalala…”. They had Jo Bjelke-Petersen as premier for many years and lala was a state-sponsored thing. If you need to provide a hidden truth it is best to make arrangements for the person who buys it to “uncover” it themselves.

Some truths are unpalatable. Politics has a lot of these, and military decisions as well. Parenting truths are the hardest to bear, but parents are pretty hard in some cases. You can deliver the worst-tasting medicines with sugar…or a 20G needle…and you can make some of the most awkward social and family revelations acceptable as well provided you hit the right part of the skull with the needle. Practise, practise, practise.

Some truths are too good to keep secret. Too good to be true. Too good to keep to yourself.

See? You read that last sentence and didn’t snort chocolate milk out through your nose…you’re getting good at this sort of thing. Want to join the Backstabbers Guild Of Australia?


*In our case we prefer the auto-incorrect…

Snow Blowing In Western Australia


The recent demise of another beloved pop idol has left me wondering about the circumstances. I suppose there’ll be an autopsy and I suppose there’ll be a report  but I also suppose there’ll be a fair bit of media footling about…

My own experience with cocaine has been limited, but I did once have my hands on 1.58 Kilos of the stuff…

My father -in-law was a dentist, as I was. When I was a student he purchased a practice in Victoria Park, a Perth suburb. About 1971 or so. I helped him out in cleaning the place and in refurbishing the old equipment for a more presentable surgery. No little thing, this, as with the foolish confidence of the ignorant I disassembled a 1950’s Japanese dental chair and unit and repainted it in powder blue. And a damn nice job it turned out to be. Dental units in this days were a mass of electromechanical parts and frequently had hydraulic-powered delivery systems reminiscent of naval gun turrets. I loved ’em and am glad I never had to use one.

Any rate, this old surgery had a dental laboratory attached to it, with lots of old gold scrap and dust buried in the floorboards. We vacuumed it all up, panned out the dirt, and took the result down to Matthey Garret to sell. It was a considerable sum. I scored a centrifugal casting machine and a set of 1940’s acrylic chisels that were used to finish dentures. The casting machine was eventually sold, but the chisels were of such good quality and form that I kept them all through my now dental career. Some tools are just made right!

The cocaine? In the drugs cabinet, under neither lock nor key. 7 eight-ounce bottles of the stuff made by Boots Pharmaceutical in England. Perfectly pure medical grade white cocaine powder. Not a good anaesthetic for dental purses but useful for nasal surgery. One wonders about it in a suburban dental practice, but given the age of the equipment and the lab, it was probably left over from the 40’s. The glass bottles had screw-top aluminium seals. They had the Boots label and contents information pasted on the front and were contained in grey cardboard boxes.

We unscrewed the tops, poured the 1 .58 Kilos of cocaine down the toilet, flushed it, and rinsed out the bottles. That was a serious mistake.

We should have kept the empty bottles and filled them with caster sugar. That way ants couldn’t get into the sugar.


The Class ( War ) Photo

Black cat

A recent picture of a number of young black women cadets from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York posing on the steps of one of the academy buildings in cadet uniform and giving a Black Power salute while a couple of their members hold sabres over the group seems to be causing a little controversy. It put me in mind of the class pictures taken during my own time at our local university – in my case it was the UWA Dental School down on Wellington Street.

Once a year, Clive – the clinical photographer – would take a break from recording oral surgery and pathology specimens and herd us down onto the steps of the school facing the street and record us. It was the only time any of us were on the steps – they were not sacred ground, just disused. I think Clive grabbed one of the Dental School’s Exakta cameras for the task….and that’ll tell you how behind the times the whole show was.

We dutifully lined up and posed – some in coats and ties and some in clinical tunics. We were as good looking as we were ever going to be and that must have lent some grace to the pictures but they really were a minor record of faces. Still, I cannot remember any picture of the time – late 60’s and early 70’s – that showed us raising our hands or fists in military, naval, Nazi Party, Communist Party, or Black Power salutes. None of us is visibly identified with the IRA, the KKK, or the RSL. We just look like dental students.

Had we indulged in any gestures or postures we would have been speaking to Dean Sutherland fairly quickly. He would have been very polite, and very educated, and very cutting. Whether he would have cut us out of that year’s class or the school entirely I do not know but some action would have been taken to install more dignity in us and our colleagues. The future trust that the profession and the public might wish to place in our judgement and actions would have been in question and there would have been some soul searching to see whether we were going to justify that trust.

What will happen to the cadets? Hard to say – some will probably quit and some will probably go on to military service, but if they do, wherever they go there will be one page of their manila folder that will go with them. I should imagine that for the brighter officers it will act as a drag upon the caisson of their career – it may go rolling along but there will be more hills than dales and the trail will be mighty dusty…