the third degree


Why is it so?

It may be 27 years since his death, but who can’t immediately conjure Professor Julius Sumner Miller asking that trademark question in his trans-Atlantic twang?

With his outlandish wiry ear muffs and beetling black brows raised independently in fierce inquiry, he was the poster boy for the most unpopular of sciences.

He used his considerable showmanship to hook kids on the basic principles of physics.

Back in the day when there were still milk bottles, many, many eggs were sacrificed in households across the land by children trying to replicate his most famous trick to demonstrate atmospheric pressure.

This involved putting a lit piece of paper into a bottle and placing a peeled boiled egg on top: as “Watch it! Watch it!” the air inside the bottle heated up, the egg would be sucked inside due to the change in air pressure.

Miller was the bane of the intellectual elite who accused him of trivialising maths and science.

The academics were a special triumph for me,” he proudly declared. If I had done what they wanted my programs would be as dull as their classes. I knew my purpose well and clear: to show how Nature behaves without cluttering its beauty with abstruse mathematics.”

In any event who cared about the stuffy alumni. As student and friend of Albert Einstein – whose hair also famously stood on end – Miller had the world’s best brain in his corner.

Is there some correlation between genius and electrified hair I wonder?

At any rate clearly I have neither the hair, nor the head space to resolve what has become the Very Vexing Mystery of the Number Three.

For some weeks now we’ve been trying to buy a three; two stick-on reflective 3’s in fact, to affix to a trailer to mirror the ute’s registration so we can take some of the accumulated junk in the garage to the tip.

Like how hard can it be to buy a 3?

Very, as it transpires.

The hubby has been to a variety of stores at various locations and been faced by the same dearth of desired numeral on every occasion.

He felt compelled to ask at the third Bunnings what was the chance of ever getting a 3 and was informed he’d virtually need to be on the doorstep at 3am on the day of delivery to secure the elusive number.

There are never any threes mate,” the sales assistant said. “They all go the minute we get them in.”

Why is this so?

Did the Three Tenors, Three Little Pigs, Three French Hens, Three Stooges, Three Musketeers, Three Amigos, Three Blind Mice, three bean salad, Three Little Figs Cafe, three-toed sloths, three bedroom houses, Three Fates, Three Furies, three wise men, 3-D movies and Goldilocks and the Three Bears use them all up?

I am beginning to become obsessed with three – seeing trinities, triumvirates and triads of them everywhere except on the blinking trailer.

Pythagoras called three the noblest of digits.

It’s the only number equal to the sum of those below it and the only number whose sum with those below equals the product of them and itself.

But you don’t have to be Einstein to deduce that threes do not grow on trees.





wheelie bad girls


On the road again and the car is cruising at two kilometres above the limit.

Yes, officer, it has been set so deliberately, to fall within the tolerance allowed for both fixed and mobile cameras.

After all, as Hercules Speedo beside me explains, it simply wouldn’t do to get caught in one’s own trap.

Swoosh, a car zips past in the outside lane, then another, and another which has to be travelling at close to 120kmph in a 100kmph zone.

As the driver holds steady to course, it’s my job to eyeball those at the wheel of passing vehicles to gauge their gender and approximate age.

After a short distance I’m beginning to feel like the captain of a debating team that has just drawn for the affirmative and the topic is: “Gina Rinehart is really a lovely person.”

Nine cars have passed us.

Six driven by women, two by men and another by gender unknown owing to inability to see through wildly gesticulating passenger.

Of the six females two had P-plates, three looked to be in their 20s to 30s and one I’d judged to be south of 60 was driving a gleaming black Lexus.

Even if I gender-reassign the unknown driver to the male team, speeding women still out number the blokes by 2 to 1.

This pattern more or less continues for the next 20 km.

My best excuse is pretty feeble; “Perhaps it’s because there are more women on the road at this time of day.”

Though precisely why this should be at 8am on a weekday I cannot say.

In truth, I’ve noticed that it’s no longer so easy to stereotype bad drivers to young men in hotted-up cars and old folk in hats on Sunday.

One thing I have noticed is where traffic is slowed in the vicinity of schools the motorists who fail to observe the flashing 40kmph sign are more often than not women.

Women presumably none too worried about skittling other people’s children in their haste to pick up their own.

When it comes to traffic offences the gender gap is narrowing.

While this is partly a reflection of an increase in the numbers of cars on the road and women at the wheel generally, there is also some worrying evidence to show the new breed of hoon is a her.

In the United States the number of women who have been arrested for drunk-driving has jumped 30 per cent in the past past decade.

In Australia, too, the data shows an increase in the ratio of young women drink-driving.

Even by their own admission women are more likely to take risks, with the annual AAMI Young Driver Index showing young female drivers were almost twice as likely to have driven while over the limit than they were a decade ago.

The research showed 14 per cent of women admitted getting behind the the wheel while drunk, up from 8 per cent in 2002.

This compared to 16 per cent of young men, down from 29 per cent over the same period.

This is not the kind of gender equality we should be aiming for.

When Helen Reddy belted out the anthem I Am Woman Here Me Roar, she did not mean down the freeway at 20kmph over the limit.

the lottery


Passing a semi on the freeway I couldn’t help but smile at the the familiar blue and red logo on the side.

Is Don is Good.”

Yes, I thought, mentally punching the air.

Yes he is!

Well, perhaps not good in the strictest sense, but fit and pretty hearty all things considered.

After a second favourable report from the oncologist my dear man who goes by the name of Don is starting to feel less apprehensive about the future.

It’s just as his medical point man promised.

We’ll drink a bottle of good red to your good health in about a year,” Professor Peter Disler pledged.

Remarkably, he had called the condition even before the blood work came back.

I think we’re looking at hairy cell leukaemia,” he confided.

Why? we’d asked.

Because you’re a hairy guy,” the Prof laughed before seriously informing us if he was correct my husband had just won the jackpot in the cancer lottery.

Honestly, I remember joking weakly, I think we’d much rather take the cash.

Our introduction to cancer land was an eye opener.

It really is true what they say about no family being untouched.

On our first visit to the oncology unit a dapper bloke in a trilby absorbed in Margaret Atwood’s Blind Assassin sits directly across from an old Englishman who thumbs through a tattered western novella.

Next to him is a middle-aged lady armed with the Len Deighton spy thriller Hope and in the far corner a slim younger man with prematurely grey hair is apparently making steady progress through that philosophical blockbuster The Republic by Plato.

He has accompanied an attractive woman who holds her book down low to her lap so that the title remains maddeningly elusive, but her headscarf and lack of eyebrows convey their own story.

This snapshot of the oncology waiting room shows quite literally that cancer is a disease which does not discriminate.

About one in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with some form of cancer before the age of 85.

With more than 300 men, women and children diagnosed with cancer every day it has overtaken heart disease as the country’s number one killer.

Many will not be so lucky in the “cancer lottery”.

It’s almost five years since one of our oldest mates died at just 51.

It has led to something of a ritual for his interstate friends.

Each year we observe the Chinese tradition of QingMing which this year falls on April 5, but for practicable reasons can be celebrated any day from March 21.

The Clear Bright Festival or Tomb Sweeping Day, as it is also known, is a day when people of Chinese descent honour their dead by doing a bit of grave-side house keeping.

Sweeping the graves of Chinese miners interred in different cemeteries across the Victorian goldfields, in absence of their own relatives, might seem an odd way to remember a cricket-loving Pom.

But there’ something strangely comforting in this activity.

We think about the Chinese miners leaving loved ones for the long difficult journey to a strange land.

We think about Dave, embarked on his own voyage to the great beyond.

And, feel certain, that even though the ancestors are no more his than ours, they would welcome the new boy in town, invite him in for some yum cha and make him feel at home.