January 28, 2017 at 11:50 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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Swipe right?

One of my least satisfying copywriting clients was my father.

He craved female beauty, company and utility.

Especially after my mother’s death.

In his mid-70s, he asked me to write a personal ad for the local rag.

I wasn’t keen, as I knew that the brief, product, market and customer would be difficult – if not impossible.

Then again, as he’d refused to read any of my fiction, I was curious to see what it would look like.

He wanted a woman who was much slimmer, younger, better dressed and more attractive than he.

She had to be sufficiently educated to appreciate and applaud (but neither exceed nor challenge) his gargantuan knowledge and wit.

She also needed a specific sense of humour.


To convey this mandatory criterion, he insisted the ad include the line:

‘Must love Cook and Moore.’

By this he meant the comedy duo of which he was a fan.

I tried to explain that such a rigorous standard could severely curtail replies, but he was adamant.

And so the ad ran.

On my next visit, I asked how he’d fared.

He said that only one female – ‘of limited intellect and heavy Eastern European extraction’ – had phoned with a riposte:

‘I am cook.

What is “more”?’

This blog runs on (instant) coffee.

Any sum appertaining thereto would be much appreciated and long recalled.


The great teaspoon mystery

January 25, 2017 at 10:49 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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What’s your take?

I’m interested in tea, teaspoons and tea rooms.

So it’s with fascination that I survey the Psyche Ward’s cutlery arrangements.

All utensils are metal … except the teaspoons.

These are plastic.

And, like the medication thimbles, they swarm into non-recycling bins.

In addition to regaining mental and physical stability, I resolve to use my time in here to fathom this culinary anomaly.

After two nights, I feel up to making efforts to converse.

At least I have an icebreaker.

I approach my neighbouring patient, detail the teaspoon situation and ask what he thinks.

He believes metal teaspoons would swiftly be stolen and secreted in bedrooms.

‘OK’, I say. ‘But why?’

‘So everyone’s got their own spoon.’

While I immediately grasp this theory’s comforts, a logistical flaw troubles me.

‘So, once everyone’s got their own spoon, the ward wouldn’t need any more.’

The man looks at me, then the wall, then the hall.

‘I dunno … maybe people take ’em …  when they leave.’

I feel this is a good start.

I next ask the Mindfulness Coach why she thinks only the teaspoons are disposable.

Her firm view is that if they were metal, they’d ‘go missing’.

Given the facility’s strong security focus, I find this hard to swallow.

But she’s keen to start her session, so I take her point as a second useful datum.

Time passes at unusual speeds.

It’s 6:10 on the morning of my security scare.

I’m in dire need of two coffee and four sugar sachets.

Not tea.

I go barefoot, so I don’t wake anyone.

Padding the dim, humming passages is one of the most surreal experiences of my life.

I feel like I’m on the Nostromo, but with carpet.

Piercing the darkness are distant islands of light: the nurse stations.

I pass many rooms.

Most doors are shut.

Some cracked ajar.

A few wide open.

Black holes.

In each I imagine a fresh tragedy: awake, fretting; asleep, nightmaring.

At length, I reach the common dining room – which I expect to be empty and unlit save for the predawn.

Only the latter is true.

Sitting at her customary table is a young woman who has been nothing but friendly and helpful since I was admitted.

Before her, a set of bright acrylic paints.

To her right, a stack of white pages printed with winged unicorns.

She is so intent on colouring these that she barely looks up.

She’s been in here for two years.

So I feel both comfortable and confident about relating my quest.

Her brush pauses mid-stroke and she intones while I make my coffee.

‘You know how when you’ve put everything in the cup and you give it a stir.’


‘Well, see how that plastic spoon keeps spinning, even after you let it go?’

‘I do!’

‘Well, that looks really pretty. Metal teaspoons don’t do that; they’re too heavy. So that’s why they only give us plastic ones.’

I thank her warmly and tell her that’s the best theory I’ve heard so far.

And that when I get out of here, I’ll convey her wisdom to the world.

She seems pleased with this, wishes me well and returns to her work.

Shortly before my discharge, I ask the Head Nurse what she reckons.

She doesn’t have a ‘theory’ about the teaspoons.

She knows.

But what she says next is so prosaic

it’d totally wreck this tale.

And so,

the mystery

lives on …

Got a tip?










Brown widow

January 20, 2017 at 9:12 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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What we do in life …

It is dusk.

I chat on the warm footpath with the widow next door.

She don spik Englis so good.

I no spik Greek at all.

So she’s ahead on points.

We usually get there in the end.

She ask how am I.

I say I’m OK, but dizzy (gestures) from the hospital pills.

She ask why I am in the hospital.

I pause, realising this topic will be even tougher than our council’s three-bin waste cycle.

I point to my head and say it is sick.

I point to the church hall down our street.

I talk about a man who did bad things to me (and lots of other kids) a long time ago.

I glance at her face, to see if my words are small enough.

Unexpectedly, we lock eyes.

Through these wet, brown, Mediterranean portals, I see.

Her grief, her loneliness, her inability to keep up with everything.

And her children’s thirst to flog her home of 40 years.

I wait for her reply.

She nods slowly,


points to a riot of Agapanthus and says,

‘I think this is too much for the bin.

I don kno if the man – he will take.’

For some seconds, I plan an entirely different response.

Then, I assure her all will be well.

And that if the man – he no take,

I will call the council.



He take.

Pic by Roger Culos.

If you found this interesting or entertaining you may like to:

Even a buck or three will keep me in the hunt. With many thanks, Paul.


January 15, 2017 at 7:28 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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This is my first memory (so far) so feel free to skip it.

I’m lying on my back in a small bedroom in suburban Melbourne.

Beneath me the white, relatively rough toweling of a many-times-washed nappy.

Not one of today’s supermarket disposables.

An old, analogue version.

The type that began square and was somehow folded to approximate an infant’s pelvis.

With wrapping done, there remained the task of fastening.

For this there were enormous (to me) ‘safety’ pins – likely made in England.

Long, strong and sharp: to penetrate the many folds.

The ‘safety’ bit was a (baby blue) metal cap that slid over the workings once each pin was in place.

I don’t recall this device malfunctioning, but I feared it doing so.

I do recall strong fingers simultaneously holding a stacked fabric corner and striving to penetrate all layers without ‘overshooting’.

I remember worrying that it may be tricky to arrest a pin’s progress into my flesh should it pass through warp and weft with unexpected alacrity or ease.

I also recall two types of strong fingers wielding these fasteners.

This may be a manufactured memory.

Nor, of course, did I possess any descriptors.

The first type of strength was my mother’s.

Skilled. Determined. Busy. Efficient.

The second type was my father’s.

Coarse. Hurried. Annoyed. Not to be bested.

I feared both kinds of force – lest I be pinned to the bed.

But the first kind, less so.

I was thus much relieved when the ultimate pin withdrew,

freeing me for new

(though not always exciting)


Much adieu

January 14, 2017 at 9:08 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Poor soundproofing, my nearness to the ward’s security portal  and my lack of headphones give me little option but to overhear all manner of farewells.

Here’s a particularly poignant one – modified to respect the parties, but intact in essence.

‘Goodbye, Darl.’

‘Do you really have to go?’

‘Yes; I’ve been here for ages.’

‘Can’t you stay a bit longer?’

‘I really can’t.’


‘Visiting hours are over, Darl.’

‘But can’t we go back to my room, just for a minute?’

‘No, Darl; we really can’t.’

‘But what about my slippers? Are you sure you brought them?’

‘I did, Darl; they’re in your case.’

‘Should we go back and check? Just to be sure?’

‘No, Darl; I definitely packed them. I know they’re in there.’

‘Are you certain?’

‘Yes, Darl.’

‘Do you really have to go?’

‘Darl; yes. I really do. You … you really have to let me go, Darl.’

‘Do we love each other?’

‘Of course, Darl!’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes, Darl; I’m sure. And now I really must go. Goodbye; Darl.’

‘I’ll see you tomorrow, OK?’

‘OK, Darl; goodbye. I love you. I’ll see you tomorrow. OK?’

The man exits and the portal reseals.

The woman remains.

Frozen in silence.

She’s there for so long that I fall asleep before

her footfalls

retrace the


Just a wee one

January 10, 2017 at 7:57 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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The medication dispensary is highly sanitary, but frightfully wasteful.

Pills are popped into a 30 ml clear plastic ‘thimble’ (of which there are hundreds stacked in ‘towers’ – ready for use).

The pills are then taken with water in the kind of polystyrene cup endemic to climate-careless corporates.

After the exchange, both vessels are binned.

The process is repeated several times, every day, with dozens of patients and (I assume) in every ward – possibly even every hospital.

Until now.

Having found no evidence of recycling in the facility, I eschew the foam cups for my refillable tap-water bottle.

I also reuse my initial thimble which, on reflection, looks a bit like a shot glass.

Retaining my thimble lets me examine it closely in my room.

Which gives a sense of how easily I’m amused.

The thimble is a masterpiece of design.

A generous lip aids trembling hands.

The measurements are raised like Braille to facilitate grip.

The myriad units seem picked to cover every conceivable medicinal format, geographic deployment and historical period.

They comprise:

CC (Cubic centimetre).

ML (Millilitre. While the capitalisation doesn’t comply with the International System of Units, you get the idea).

TSP (Teaspoon).

TBS (Tablespoon).

FL OZ (Fluid ounce).

and finally

DRAM (From one to eight).

It was at this point that my interest really piqued.

Dram is ‘a small drink of whiskey or other spirits’.

Only in its second sense is it ‘another term for drachm‘.

Drachm is ‘a unit of weight formerly used by apothecaries, equivalent to 60 grains or one eighth of an ounce’.

Thank you, Oxford.

As an editor, I’m a big fan of making every character earn its place.

But in the context of a psychiatric ward (likely to contain alcoholics with too much time on their hands) I queried the thimble content creator’s quest for concision.

I also questioned several dispensing nurses.

None had noticed the unfortunate word choice, or thought it mattered.

Quite likely,

you and I are the only ones

who ever will.

If you found this interesting or entertaining (and you’re new to this blog) you may like to:

Even a cup of coffee will keep me in the hunt. With many thanks, Paul.

Milk run

January 9, 2017 at 8:00 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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I’m shown the shared kitchen’s refrigerator and told it has strict demarcation zones.

After a ten-year career in human resources (personnel administration), I well know how deadly this field can be.

Beneath the sole common shelf (milks, juices) sits an unruly array of variously personalised perishables.

Yet by an amazing stroke of supply chain good fortune, I note that almost every dairy product already bears my name.

And so I prepare

to revel in my time.


January 9, 2017 at 6:47 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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I get my device cords back.

Mobile, radio, laptop.

Of these, the last is most precious.

My Nokia dumb phone can go weeks without charging.

And my interest in radio has waned since the ‘summer series’ began endless reruns of last year’s worst bits.

Once was quite enough.

On admission, I was told the cords had to be ‘checked by an electrician’.

While this was surely for safety, the precise nature of the threat isn’t discussed.

A later survey of my room leads me to surmise that the cords’ potential lethality lies in  unorthodox use – not electrical integrity.

If this is true, I imagine holding strength is pivotal.

If so, they needn’t worry about me.

At my current weight, nothing short of a three-phase (or possibly undersea) power cable would suffice.

Then again, I’m told there are other patients in here who wish themselves terminal harm.

In which case,

the niceties of entering another’s room

probably don’t apply.

And so,

though my weak wires are deemed ‘harmless’,

I hide them well.


On return from an accompanied outing, I’m asked to surrender all plastic bags (e.g. with better food and cleaner clothes).

I query this, then recall the movie House of Sand and Fog

and figure

fair call.

Shower scene

January 7, 2017 at 6:23 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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My room is next to the ward’s security portal.

At 2:00 am, I wake to what sounds like agitated people making repeated efforts to get in, out (or possibly both).

My door has no internal lock, so I lie in fear – hoping not to get caught in the moment.

At length, the situation seems to resolve.

Shortly after which, my door handle turns.

I can only hope it’s the night nurse, so pretend to be asleep.

The door cracks open and I feel eyes upon me.

If I overact, I may appear dead – thus triggering entry and further examination.

It’s a nuanced role.

After silicone seconds, the door closes and I breathe again.

I remain sporadically alert for the next three hours.

On a happier note, the hot water’s back on.

A welcome relief.

Alas, the shower curtain doesn’t fully circumscribe the recess.

Either an intruder can see me from the toilet,

or I can see myself in the mirror.

I debate which is worse.

Then I put a bet each way by standing closer to the curtain, with peripheral eyes on the most likely lines of attack.

The bathroom door has an internal ‘lock’ – but this can be overridden from the other side by a key, a coin or even a stout thumbnail.

Also, the door’s hinge pins can be removed by hand.

That said, my shower concludes without incident.

But when I pull back the curtain, I’m dismayed.

The slope of the tiled floor has failed to deter water from most of the bathroom.

I must soak the bath mat to clean it up.

This means the grumpy towel woman (the others aren’t) may have to replace the mat mid-morning.

And last time she stormed out (doubtless with her own travails) she took all my positive vibes with her.

To curtail a repeat, I’d hoped to make the bath mat last the week.

So I set it with the wish

that it’ll dry

in time.


I ask the day nurse about the night’s events.

She assures me only one person left the ward – at 11.30 pm – with no disturbance.

She suggests my proximity to the noisy security portal may have magnified things in my mind.

She seems genuine, and I want to believe her, but I’m reminded of a childhood riddle.

If she’s lying, I’m an acute observer, but may never get out of here.

If she’s truthing, I’m a great storyteller, but not ideally suited to the real world.

And so,

may never get out of here.

If you found this interesting or entertaining, you may like to:

Your smallest kindness will keep me going strong. With many thanks, Paul.

Night stalker

January 6, 2017 at 6:17 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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There are female screams in the night.

The like of which I’ve never heard.

I put down my book, turn off the light and strain to listen.

(Is this not what I paid for?)

The strange, strangled ululations seem without end.

Why do staff take so long to attend?

Or have they arrived, only to face some primordial force beyond their control?

The more I think about it, the weirder it seems.

I ask the next nurse who checks on me and she says,

‘You should be pretty safe in here.’

Yet we don’t get banshee caterwauls like this at home.

The longer I ponder, the more possibilities emerge from the gloom.

Is my neighbouring inmate watching a horror film?

Heaps of people like that sort of thing.

Could he simply be viewing the news?

Today’s monstrous bulletins seem bereft of censorship.

In which case,

would I actually be safer beyond these walls?

Still troubled, I ask my wife on her next visit.

She points to a laminated map of the complex:

an adjoining ward deals in maternity.

And with her unerring good sense,

she cuts my twisted logic in a trice.

If you found this post useful or entertaining, you may wish to:

Your smallest kindness will keep me going strong. With many thanks, Paul.

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