neck on the block


There is one piece of brown furniture that stands out from the polished professionalism of this room.

Judging by the handles on the cupboards it looks to date from the 1920s – 1930s.

The owner confirms this is so.

He is the third surgeon to use this examination bed.

There are marks round the bed base where the shoes of three successive medical professionals have worn away the varnish as each has tended to his patients.

I wonder how many thousands of people before me have lain here. Who’d emerge as the average patient if you tallied up all the ages and ailments?

The bed is horribly uncomfortable – the horsehair padding having compacted to a plank by more than 80 years of use.

Yet, it has an imperfect beauty or what the Japanese call wabi-sabi which very roughly translates as ugly but interesting.

The surgeon appears pleased to have learned something from a patient and seems to think I am fluent in Japanese, but really I’m just blathering incoherently with nervousness as he prepares to stick a large needle in my neck.

Every since mum died I’ve had a lump in my throat, quite literally.

It’s called a thyroglossal cyst and is apparently the most common congenital neck cyst.

The surgeon explains they result from the failure of the normal developmental obliteration of the thyroglossal duct during the eighth and 10th gestational week.

According to the best definition I have found: “The thyroid cells move down a canal, called the thyroglossal duct, to the final location of the thyroid in the neck. Once the thyroid reaches its final location, the duct involutes, or disappears. If the duct does not fully disappear, portions of the duct can create pockets, called thyroglossal duct cysts. These pockets can fill with fluid or mucus.”

Earlier the surgeon felt my neck, reading the soft tissue like biological braille beneath his fingertips.

Now, he draws off a syringe full of something which is definitely not blood.

Eew,” I exclaim in disgust.

Why eew?” the medico asks examining the vile vial, “it’s part of you.”

Yeah, but not a part that should be there.”


The surgery, he explains, involves removing the cyst and its track, as well as a small portion of a horseshoe-shaped bone I didn’t even know existed called a hyoid bone.

It seems a lot of trouble to go to, to remove a lump which is causing me no pain, is not cancerous nor infected.

It’s just a trifling lump, but still it makes me feel ridiculously self-conscious.

It probably sounds conceited to say it, but I have never thought myself particularly vain – but if this silly thing can challenge my notion of myself I wonder how people deal with serious disfigurement.

We all have things we loathe about our bodies, but my neck has, until now, never been one of them.

It’s not that it’s swan-like or anything, but it does a pretty fine job of separating my head from my body. 

Soon it will be gone, this duck egg in my throat.

This man with his beautiful, sure, steady hands will remove it for me. And then my neck will no longer be – at least to my mind – ugly. But nor will it be in any way interesting

They do say vanity comes at a price.



gotta be kidding


Some things are plain stupid … installing a punching machine in a pub for instance.

I nearly choked on my chardy recently, watching a group of young men clustered around a machine in a pub pool room take turns bashing a roughly head-sized object as hard as possible against an electronic backboard.

The object was to score the biggest king hit complete with ridiculous Darth Vader-voice encouragements such as “Awesome, knockout.”

Like hello; haven’t both NSW and Victoria introduced one punch laws?

Wouldn’t someone, the licensee perhaps, make a vague connection between machines testing machismo by playfully bashing the bejesus out of a rubber noggin’ and alcohol and violence in the street come closing time.

Seems you can legislate all you like against idiocy, but there’s nothing stopping people from being idiots.

Sometimes, of course, even the most well-intentioned laws and regulations throw up ridiculous anomalies. I refer here unashamedly to mine own true love’s favourite tipple and the so-called alcopop tax

What sold the man on ginger beer was a drop from Harcourt Valley Vineyards in Central Victoria called Ginger Kid.

Now, there is nothing the slightest bit juvenile about this drink. Even the makers say you can’t really drink more than three or four 330ml bottles because the ginger gets too hot, but at 4.5 per cent alcohol you could at least have a drink or two responsibly.

Except, as Kye Livingstone, one of the owners of the family-run winery has discovered, it is a far more expensive proposition to produce a low alcohol ginger beer than a high strength one.

If you make it at 8 per cent it falls into the fruit wine category and for tax purposes it becomes a sparkling fruit wine,” he explains.

A six pack retails for $25 for 4.5 per cent alcohol and for high strength $20. Really on that low strength, we should actually charge more but we have absorbed a little bit of the excise which is $28 a case.

But obviously we can’t absorb it all and remain viable.

We are still selling the low alcohol version, but really from a consumer’s point of view why would they want to pay more for a low alcohol product when it should be the other way around?”

The ginger beer market – alongside the demand for cider – is growing strongly.

Our first batch was 400 cases and was only distributed locally, but now we are selling it by the pallet to bottleshops all over the place and have just sent three pallets to Canada as a trial and there is interest from China,” Livingstone reveals.

Harcourt Valley Winery will continue to make a low alcohol option, but expects to export the bulk of it.

It will be cheaper to buy in Canada, even with the cost of shipping it there, because they don’t have to pay Australian taxes.”

It’s doubly ridiculous because there is little to no evidence the Federal Government’s alcopops tax has done anything to deter young people binge-drinking.

A three-year study of alcohol-related admissions to Queensland hospital emergency departments found the number of people aged 15 – 29 did not change following the introduction of the tax in 2008.

Seems the kids, ginger, blonde and brunette, just switched drinks.



book keeping lessons

smudge books

So it’s been almost a year and a half since we renovated the kitchen and most of the contents of the old cupboards are still in the shed.

At first it was a case of simple expediency, bringing in only what we needed to prepare the first meal in the shiny new space once it was reclaimed from the tradesmen.

There were a few trips to the shed in the following weeks to retrieve specific items: the blender, sandwich maker and a couple of extra glasses for a dinner party, but since then we’ve been able to cater for every occasion using a fraction of the stuff.

So the two boxes of mismatched tupperware, the too small and too big saucepans, sherry glasses, brandy balloons, piemaker, rice cooker and almost the entire contents of the third drawer down including the solitary knitting needle and three lemon zesters remain in exile.

The kitchen is so much more pleasurable to work in and not just because it’s no longer burnt orange and mission brown.

Now you can actually put your hands on what you want straight away instead of having to first grab a miner’s light and a canary before diving into some dark corner.

I just wish the same could be said for the rest of the house.

Last week a nasty virus forced me to bed for three days. As I lay half-delirous reading the spines in the bookcase alongside I began wonder if no one had actually opened that copy of Blackstone’s Tricks Any One Can Do since 1985, much less learned or performed an actual magic trick wasn’t it time for it to disappear.

Could anyone’s life ever be long enough to fully appreciate Linda Barker’s seminal work Napkin Folding?

Was it possible to live without The Aquarium Fish Handbook given that we have not and have never had an aquarium nor fish to place in it?

Wasn’t it going somewhat overboard to keep three copies of Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News?

Does anyone else out there have to circumnavigate a pile of Manning Clark’s complete History of Australia in order to turn out the light?

The cupboards and filing cabinets are just as bad. As journos we’re hoarding enough newspaper clippings to fuel an apocalypse.

So much stuff! And we are not alone. According to a Newspoll survey commissioned by the Garage Sale Trail folk two-thirds of Australians say they have “too much stuff at home and not enough space for it all.”

The survey also found that 86 per cent of people had either bought things they did not use or hardly used at all while 79 per cent admitted to buying things on impulse and later regretting it.

A staggering 91 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement “as a society we buy far too many things we don’t really need.”

With spring upon us it is the perfect time to declutter and join upwards of 350,000 Australian expected to take part in the fourth annual Garage Sale Trail on October 25.

This year householders are expected to list more than 1.5 million pre-loved items for sale, earning sellers an average $323 each.

Now, if I can just interest someone in the 1984 Guinness Book of Records …