Archive for February, 2008

What’s in a name?

February 29, 2008

Just near where I live, there is a park which is used as a (barely adequate but better than nothing) sportsfield by the local high school. The park was enlarged some time in the late 80s by the by the annexation of a closed-off portion of the Macbethianly-named Fairfowl Street.  In what must have seemed like a terrific wheeze up in the English department staff room, the whole thing was then named the Graham Green in honour of Bob Graham, headmaster of the school for a bit over 10 years.

I wondered if something similar was afoot in Blacktown, where I went this evening to see a play Pyramids at the Blacktown Performing Arts Centre. On my way from the station I passed the council’s Max Webber Library.

Bloggers’ meet-up

February 29, 2008

This was the second such occasion I have ever attended.  It was more low-key than the previous one and consequently more agreeable.  Over-all (and intending no disrespect) the bloggers present were more on the nerdy than the sassy side than the last such meet-up.

Other participants and their takes on the event can be seen on, or via:

james o’brien

the other andrew

floating life (and here)

As it was a[n?] historic occasion, I should like to take this opportunity of acknowledging the Eora people, on whose land the meet-up took place.

There is something a bit awkward about such meet-ups.  They are like blind or internet dates – will you and the others meet mutual expectations?  – will people click?  Not everyone has even read everyone else’s blog.  Lurking somewhere in the room is a barely-suppressed spirit of emulation as we dance around our respective hit counts.  Since blogging is (pace McLuhan) the medium rather than the message, it can be a bit difficult to find and/or establish the common ground: the enthusiasms pursued in blogs can be pretty personal.  Being gay or lesbian of itself is definitely only a start.  I fear I got off to a bad start with Michael because I don’t share his enthusiasm for dogs on public transport (though I do share his dislike of the black-clad transport police).  Now that I have read some of his blog I particularly regret this, since we must be just a few degrees of separation apart.  I also would love to learn how he has managed to afford so much travel!  Likewise, I never really got to talk to Panther who was at the opposite side of the table.  It was only today that I realised once again that there would have been some associative tendrils to tease out.

It probably takes a little longer for people to relax into each others’ company than the time I had available, as I had to rush off to Randwick for the last night of the film festival at about 6.30.  Still, it was good to meet everyone and I will read everyone’s blogs now with (renewed in some cases) interest quickened by personal acquaintance.

Adrian, once of Gay Erasmus, was asked after by Witty Knitter, and I was happy to be able to pass on some relatively recent news. Adrian, we miss you!

Queer Screen Mardi Gras Film Festival 3

February 28, 2008

On Tuesday, D and I went to see Breakfast with Scot.  Based on a novel originally set in Massachusets, and transposed to Canada with the addition of an ice-hockey sub-plot, the advertised premise was as follows:

Macho sports commentator Eric is in the closet. Hiding his boyfriend was hard. Staying in the closet was even harder when 11 year old Scot, the girliest boy in Canada, moved in. Scot’s love of all things pink and frilly freaks Eric and Sam out, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In other words, as a variant on the “[straight] parents find out their kid is gay” this film offered the twist of “gay [quasi] parents find out that that their kid is gay” – or at least, very very girly.

The boy who plays Scot is terrific.  But in commending him, I am aware there is some tricky territory which is also traversed by the film.  No-one really wants to say, and the film avoids saying, that Scot is “gay.”  It is sufficient that he is very girly.  The persecution a girly boy receives is precisely the same persecution as dished out to the effeminate and presumed to be gay older male, but no-one wants to be seen confirming the persecutors’ prejudices by labelling a kid that age as gay.  Being gay is not really such a good thing yet really.  On the other hand, although there are some exceptions, under present social conditions it is a reasonably fair bet that most girly boys will grow up to be gay men.  (Though not every gay man was a girly boy.)

And this is the tricky territory in commending the performance of the boy who played Scot, because although I do not doubt that he is a very talented actor, it is hard to imagine a boy of that age being able to play such a character if there is not at least a degree of type casting going on.  Think John Megna who played Dill (a fictionalised young Truman Capote) in To Kill a Mockingbird and who died, aged 43, in 1995.

On Thursday we schlepped out in the storms to Randwick for the last night of the festival: 2 Sides of the Bed, billed as a “Special Event.” I had never been inside the Ritz cinema before.  We sat upstairs – if only because we could.

The attendance didn’t seem as large as I would have expected, and then it became obvious why: this was a lesbian film. It looks like it’s the story of the Mardi Gras all over again: the boys provide the numbers on the street and on the seats, but the girls have the numbers in those darned committees. It was a cheerful Spanish comedy, and not too serious. It wasn’t even all that lesbian – two girls who left their boyfriends in favour of each other, but by the end one agreed by the end to return to her boyfriend for half of the time. The film’s motto seemed to be that everyone is bisexual – but what this really meant was the traditional twice the chance for a root or, in this case, a comic plot mutation.

They did have some quite amusing song and dance routines which, I understand, are actually parodies of Spanish pop songs.  I imagine that, if you knew the original songs, these would have been extremely funny.

Overall, I think Queer Screen could have chosen a stronger closer.

Apparently they had planned to have some kind of a party at the cinema but had not managed to organise it properly with the theatre management. We trooped up the street to the Royal Hotel for an impromptu swarming, but the atmosphere was not really right.

Ovid among the Goths; Jacques at Mardi Gras

February 26, 2008

Last night, on a relatively late impulse, to see the Bell Shakespeare Company’s As You Like It.  The company leaves town after Saturday, and as a result of my Mardi Gras orgy of entertainment Monday was my only night free before then.

As You Like It was the first Shakespeare comedy I saw, in a kind of pop-art inspired production in 1971 using perspex cubes as props and directed by Jim Sharman for the Old Tote Theatre Company at the (now rebuilt) Parade Theatre.  I can’t remember all the cast, but I do remember an a-la-Magritte bowler-hatted Tim Elliot as Jacques, who I thought was terrific.  Elliot subsequently seems to have disappeared from the stage – I last saw him in a lemon Fab commercial.  When the action moved to the Forest of Arden, the cast ran up and down the aisles shaking a large green piece of cloth over the heads of the audience in the central section.

About 6 years later, my sister designed a production for the Rocks Players, who in those days were performing in the church hall in Cumberland Street.  Aside from some ornate masks which she fashioned for the final masque/wedding scene, my principal recollection is that the trip to Arden involved climbing down from the rear gallery, and that one of the actors had broken her leg.

There must be another production which I have seen, because at the point where Rosalind (as Ganymede) whispers in Phebe’s ear “Sell when you can: you are not for all markets” a memory of that production sprang unbidden to mind.  It was probably the Bell Shakespeare’s 2003 production. If so, my vagueness about this is odd, because I haven’t been to very many of their shows over the years and I would have expected a more precise recollection.  I probably went to it (if I did – if is a great peacemaker) for the same reason then as this time, because As You Like It is a play I have always thought I liked – most likely on account of my early exposure to it.

That “thought I liked” reads ominously.   I do still like the play, so it is difficult for a performance to live up to expectations.  For one thing, you need to relax into the verbalism and the almost operatic occasion of the play.  When I say Operatic, I mean that, as with an opera, you don’t go for the plot or even, particularly, for the characterization.  Like an opera, it has well-known bits.  You go (OK, I am egocentrically generalizing here but it is for the sake of a casual style) for the mood and the atmosphere, to become reacquainted with the work, and to see how those well-known moments are negotiated.

With experience, sadly perhaps, one becomes more critical, and especially of technique.  I noticed a few muffed lines (Celia in particular), and there were a few points in Arden when what was doubtless intended as timelessness slipped into longeur.  Nevertheless it was a delight to share in something brought to life by the actors’ (and others’) craft.  Saskia Smith, as Rosalind, was terrific.

Jacques is still my favourite character in this play.  Just before expounding on his melancholy to Rosalind/Ganymede, Jacques suddenly kissed her or, rather, “him.”   I don’t think this was just a Mardi Gras touch – that is, the kiss was apt for a girl as well as a boy as a response to or out of melancholy. However, this set me thinking.  Melancholy is nowadays a neglected humour – is Withnail the last big-name exemplar?  If so, then the Mardi Gras touch was not so negligible.

Amplified through the theatre sound system the backing music (some but not all of which was actually played by the actors) obscured the words of the songs.  This was unfortunate, especially because quite avoidable.

After this Saturday, the production tours Australia.  It is hard to work out the system, or the reason for the relative length of their stays in each place.  None comes anywhere near matching the 4-week first run in Sydney.   Presumably it is a complex agglomeration of local factors and coincidences which has built up over years of the company’s touring endeavours.   The last performances are in the first week of July at Penrith.  I am tempted to try and see the play again then.

Oh, and Ovid among the Goths?  My own classical education is patchy and distinctly second-hand.  As an example of this, that line (which may in fact be a pun on “Goats”) reminded me of David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life.  Not that I was ever able to finish that book.  (D claims he once caught Malouf checking me out at the opera: my brush with fame!)

Queer Screen Mardi Gras Film Festival 2 etc

February 24, 2008

The writing was on the wall.  D and I had seen too many films and our tastes were becoming jaded.  On Saturday aternoon we walked out half way through El Calentito, which was, roughly speaking, a film about a lesbian/bi/will-she-won’t-she punk girl band in Madrid in the 1980s.  I couldn’t really get into it or care enough about it, and I decided I would rather have a little more of a nap before going off to hear the SSO at 8 pm.

There were all sorts of warnings abroad about how one should not be driving into the city on account of the visiting Cunard liners, and I took these unnecessarily to heart.  Not that there wasn’t a great buzz of people about at Circular Quay just to see a big ship built for rich people.  It’s amazing really, but not really any less amazing than the thought that the Labor government was worried this time last year that it might lose office over a few traffic jams when the Queen Mary and QE2 were in town, whereas nobody seems to have even blushed about the state of town planning at Wollongong and elsewhere, which can only be described as a total fuck-up.

The concert, an all-Ravel all-orchestral program (no soloist) was enjoyable.  Ravel is something which Gelmetti does well.  The best touch was to allow the Bolero to start straight away at the end of the Pavane for a dead princess, so that it snuck up on us without any of the usual inverted commas or metaphorical (and actual) throat clearing from a point where the audience was already calmed into silence.  It is a corny piece and you couldn’t listen to it every day.  As Ravel said, there is not much music in it, but I don’t think I’ve ever been to a live performance of it which has failed to make a terrific impact.

As they say when you fall off a horse, it is important to get back on as soon as possible. In that spirit, this afternoon we returned to the film festival to see Right by me – yet another coming-out film, apparently based on a story originally set in Mexico but in this case set in Thailand. Another amateurish but still charming effort (I’m a sucker for those cuties) even if, when one of the characters started saying “I forgot…” I found myself completing the sentence as “to go to acting school.”

After the film, we went to Randwick to buy a ticket for for D for the last night of the festival (D was abused on the street as a poof by some passing hoons) and then on to the wonderful Wileys Baths at Coogee for a swim (for me) and fish and chips and a walk (for D).

Only 3 more films for D and 2 more for me. This week we are branching out for some live events, and will be seeing Margaret Cho (10 pm (!) on Wed); The Pyramid (a play by a friend of ours about a closeted lesbian, her husband and their gay dog which will be my first trip to the Blacktown Performing Ars Centre) on Friday and Blowing Whistles on its last night on Sunday. On the night of the big parade itself, we will be turning our back on all of this and seeing Carmen.

After all of that calms down I suppose I had better try and do some work in order to pay for this all.

Queer Screen Mardi Gras Film Festival

February 23, 2008

D and I have been going to rather a lot of films lately.

So far we have been to see:

 THE BUBBLE
Israel, 2006, 100 min
Director: Eytan Fox

SOLOS
Singapore, 2006, 77min
Director: Kan Lume / Loo Zihan

KISS THE BRIDE
USA. 2007. 97 min
Director: C Jay Cox

The Man of My Life (L’Homme de sa vie)
France, 2006, 114 min
Director: Zabou Breitman

BEFORE I FORGET (Avant Que J’oublie)
France, 2007, 108 mins
Director: Jacques Nolot

HATSU KOI (First Love)
Japan, 2007, 97 min
Director: Imaizumi Koichi

SPINNIN’
Spain, 2007, 109mins
Director: Eusebio Pastrana

A Jihad For Love
US / UK / France / Germany / Australia, 2007, 81 min
Director: Parvez Sharma

SATURNO CONTRO (Saturn In Opposition)
Italy, 2007, 110 mins
Director Ferzan Ozpetek

EAST SIDE STORY
USA, 2006, 88 min
Director: Carlos Portugal

We still have a few more to go. 

There is something of a gender-divide in the festival: lesbian films are being shown at the Dendy in Newtown and gay ones at the Academy Twin, in Paddington.  So far, I confess, we have only been to Paddington.  Sometimes the organizers seem to have misjudged things: Spinnin’  was a film which would have appealed to lesbians as well – it comes out of a more coalitionist social environment than that which prevails in Sydney.  Sometimes I wonder if the social separitism between gays and lesbians in Australia is just an updating of Australia’s famous social gender separation (evidenced by the traditional parting of the genders at social functions) in general.

The film festival brings me to what I will call the “gay dividend.”  This is actually a reverse dividend, or a dividend for the supplier rather than the consumer.  It is the factor which means that the world over (perhaps because you are meant to feel grateful you are being catered for at all, or guilty about your abberant status) the drinks (or DVDs or magazines) will be more expensive or of lower standard (eg, Dawn O’Donnell’s alleged watering of the beer), or the toilets will be more revolting.  You know what I mean.  It is a variant of the the vice dividend (in prostitution and pornography) and related to the contraband dividend (for, say, illegal drugs).

Applied to the film festival, it means that there are films which we went to see, because they were “gay,” which we otherwise would not have dreamt of paying money to see in a cinema.  For, example, “Solos”, advertised as the film which was “banned in Singapore” (not that was saying much) was stylistically very much in the vein of the most boring film in the world. Apparently, when you are dealing with a taboo subject, the price to be paid is no dialogue and scarcely any plot.

A Jihad For Love  was a documentary about gay and lesbian muslims. The director was there and there was a Q & A session. D wanted to ask: “If they won’t accept you, why do you bother with religion? Why not just say ‘Get stuffed?'”  I now regret dissuading him from asking this question, even though I can see the mutual incomprehension which it expresses: D’s upbringing is so staunchly atheistic, and even Chinese traditional “religion” is largely so non-theistic, that D cannot think of religion other than as an institution made of  and by men (OK, and women) and of religious belief as something essentially voluntary.  For believers, however, belief is not voluntary and apostasy in some countries can carry severe consequences. 

Still, as someone who has walked away from Judaeo-Christian religion in part because of its [anti-] sex ethic, I am sympathetic to D’s view.  So much of the film (the people of Sodom were punished for their inhospitable rapes, not their homosexuality; Allah is loving and must love people as he has made them) reminded me of similar contortions amongst gay and lesbian people who strive to remain within the church.  Even the perennial: “I’m gay because I was born that way; I cannot change” is, as D pointed out, an attempt to defend a point which need not be conceded, so far as it is an attempt to answer arguments about gay sexuality as a sin or as unnatural.  D believes you can choose to be gay – though he may man that at least you choose to “act” gay.  And isn’t this the real point?  Not “I can’t help it!” but “It’s my life; I want to do it; it isn’t hurting anybody.”

In the meantime, in the film and the Q&A session, we got the usual chestnuts.  Mohammed was a feminist (wishful thinking in my opinion and just a religious variant of “the emperor is kind and just, but surrounded by bad advisers”); everybody is just picking on Muslims because they think Muslims are all terrorists (maybe that is so in UK and UK but not much so in Australia; and anyway, the gay/lesbian gripe is about oppression within Islam).

Back to the festival generally.  When you see so many films at once, you begin to imagine that you are seeing some trends.  One, especially in the more “arty” ones, is for fragmented narrative which skips around in different time periods.  I don’t know if I was suffering a surfeit of films, but I found that this made some films really hard to follow.  Sometimes this was because other clues as to temporality (as in Spinnin’, where chronology was aligned to the fortunes of Madrid Atelier football team) were beyond my ken.

Other films (especially the comic ones) seemed to suffer from too much enthusiasm.  The scripts were just bubbling with ideas and jokes.

It is easy to understand why both these things happen.  Films are incredibly complicated things to make, and very labour intensive.  But in the end they are an art form experienced in real time, and mostly (despite the new DVD culture) seen just once.  The true art, I think, must be the art which conceals art and smooths its elements so it can be comprehended within these parameters.  This must be difficult for the filmmaker who has lived every second of the film a thousand times over.

So far, the stand out best film of the festival is The Bubble (an Israeli-Palestinian gay Romeo and Juliet).  The Man of my life and Saturno Contro come next for me, in that order.   You will be able to see A Jihad for Love soon on SBS, which has provided some of the funding.  Hatsu Koi was amateurish but charming.    

An odd sight

February 22, 2008

This afternoon at about 3.40 pm I spotted Justice Spigelman, Chief Justice of NSW, sitting alone in the food court in the MLC Centre eating some kind of pastry and drinking from a take-away coffee cup.  All so far unexceptional, and I rather like the demotic touch. 

What was rather odder was his reading matter.  This was a stapled set of the daily [Supreme: including courts of appeal] court list.  He appeared to read it or at least flip through it right to the end before departing. 

It’s good to know that the Chief Justice has his finger on the pulse.  Does this presage more judicial crack-downs on dilatory practitioners in the name of court productivity?

I shall keep this blog posted of any further developments or portents.

Curial productivity

February 20, 2008

This morning I went up to the directions list in the Equity Division of the Supreme Court [of NSW].  Something was different.  There was a (mild, very mild) buzz of excitement.

This list is usually heard by a registrar. Most of the time that registrar is Deputy Senior Registrar Musgrave.

Today, Senior Deputy Registrar Musgrave was sitting to one side of the bench, looking a little uncomfortable.  At first I thought he must be training some new registrar, as the list was being presided over by another man to whom SDR Musgrave was handing the files as need be.  But no: the presiding officer was being addressed as “your Honour.”  I then realised (a South African accent helped) that it was Justice Hammerschlag. (Note for the cognoscenti: if anyone thinks lawyers stick together, they should see what the then Mr Hammerschlag said about Justice John Dowd at paragraph 82 or thereabouts of this case.)

At the point I arrived (and until I left), the judge was dealing with directions to be made in cases where the parties have agreed on what directions they will seek.  As each set of legal representatives stepped up to the bar table in turn and announced their matter, His Honour kept asking them if timetables had been complied with.  Where they hadn’t been, he was making directions which included orders that, if directions were not complied with, affidavits had to be filed in court on the next occasion explaining why. 

I assume that Justice Hammerschlag had been sent down by the Chief Judge in Equity (Justice Young) to put a dose of salts through the list.  He didn’t seem to be in a very good humour at all.  In fact, grumpy would be putting too mild a word on it.   I don’t know whether the grumpiness was assumed as part of the dose administration, or was a result of his own unhappiness at having to carry out such a menial judicial task.

Such directions lists are confidently predicted soon to become a thing of the past, once e-court, now called Justicelink , is “rolled out” over the entire NSW court system.

There is more to say about this, as well as whether monstering litigants to comply with court timetables really leads to efficiency, given that (1) expenditure by the litigants themselves is not taken into account and (2) the quality of justice achieved is probably immeasurable. The intention, of course, is to monster their lawyers, but a bit like when old people’s homes (or, more recently, colleges for overseas students) are closed down for non-compliance, it may sometimes be the very people you are trying to protect who are punished, at least in the short term. I presume economists or at least law-and-economists must have a special term for this, but I can’t say I know what it is.

Unfortunately, there is just too much I would need to explain about the process of litigation to make any kind of intelligible point, and the resulting post would be far too long for anyone to read.

Today I escaped a monstering because my matter was, at least recently, up-to-date. If (as seems likely) the judicial visitation continues or is emulated as presumably the registrar is meant to emulate it, things will be trickier for me on Thursday when I am next there. The matter is one which on any view involves so modest an amount of money that any costs incurred will definitely be disproportionately large. If the court goes around ordering affidavits to be filed to explain delay it will only be making things worse.

(Do you like this lawyer-speak, “the court?” It still ultimately means the registrar or, if we are so lucky, judge, grumpy or not.)

Hello Again

February 10, 2008

On Sunday night, D and I went to this musical, which is a 1994 reworking of the classic, La Ronde.

The conceit (as adapted in the musical in a series of vignettes spanning the twentieth century) is as follows:

  • the prostitute does a love job with the soldier, who then steals her brooch;
  • the soldier has a farewell fling with the nurse;
  • the nurse seduces the schoolboy;
  • the schoolboy meets the married woman for a blow-job in the cinema;
  • the married woman persuades her husband to stay in and have sex rather than go to the opera;
  • the husband, returning from London on the Titanic, dallies with the young man from steerage, choosing fulfilled oblivion over the lifeboat (the young man is not so amused, which leads to a piece of business (**) I refer to further below);*
  • a working class young man goes home from the disco with the wannabe script-writer/auteur;*
  • the author of the musical has a honky-tonk scene with his leading lady who demands a rewrite;
  • the leading lady (now a film star) entertains the congressman, and gives him a brooch given to her by an admirer;
  • the congressman, drunk, wakes up in the arms of the prostitute who has picked him up for a love job – she won’t take money, so he gives her the brooch.

It was mounted as part of the Mardi Gras festival at the Darlinghurst Theatre by an outfit called the Gaiety Theatre, which proclaims its mission as to mount theatre which includes gay characters and by representing gay people thus affirming their existence (that’s my own paraphrase).  You might think it’s a bit late to still have to do this, but probably it still isn’t.  That aspect is represented in the musical adaptation of the original play by the asterixed scenes above and by the simple device of changing the gender of one character (the sweet young thing from steerage).  Anyway, any excuse to put on a show is a good excuse, I suspect.

There is a cast of 10; a band of 4; stage and lighting crew of 2 or maybe 3 as well as front of house (2). The theatre seats 111 if full (or so I read somewhere: and this seems roughly right). The tickets were $30/$35, which is pretty reasonable. The run is 4 theatrical weeks (31 January to 23 February with, I guess, some previews). You can do the math for yourself, but I presume that they can only be doing this on some kind of a profit share basis. Once you factor in the rights, the director (who is also the choreographer, which might account for one reviewer’s view that it was “just a touch over-choreographed”) and at least, I would have thought, a 3-week rehearsal period, that would have to be a pretty tight ship.

I enjoyed it.  D did too, though over all he felt it didn’t really make the grade – he is a bit intolerant of imperfections – and bewailed the necessarily straitened production values.  Bryce Hallett, in the SMH, referred to the “talented young cast, including several recent graduates of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts” and then added “the approach inevitably invites some miscasting and a lack of necessary depth here and there.”

I think this is a fair comment.  Not all of the cast could really fill their roles (though not necesssarily the WAAPA newcomers), and there were a couple of scenes which fell a bit flat.  But for the price it was better than good enough, and worth going to see. 

I presume further that the point of “this approach” (including the profit-sharing aspect, if that is the case) is that the cast are in it for the exposure and the chance to develop their craft.  This makes it all the more inexplicable that the budget didn’t run to a printed cast list and some degree of biographical information about the performers and other participants. So I can’t say much about them here.

Many years ago my elder sister was in a rock band, The Laughing Clowns, which at the time enjoyed cult status amongst the (self-appointed, as ever) cognoscenti.  A few clips still turn up occasionally on Rage.  Eventually, they set off for London where, not long after, the band broke up, although it reformed once or twice after that back in Australia.  I still remember picking her up in spectacularly stony silence from a band meeting at the end of an Australian tour for which she had returned from London. At the meeting it had emerged that, after paying the roadies and for the equipment hire, there was less than $50 each for the band members on top of the dole-equivalent subsistence allowance they had paid themselves for the tour.  (In the world of rock and roll, the roadies are proverbially always paid.)  There had been a gap in the middle of the tour and there was some talk of the savings which could have been made if the manager had thought to return the hired equipment for this period. Fortunately, my sister had stipulated for a return air ticket before accepting the engagement.

I hope the actors do better out of this show than that. However, like those proverbial roadies, the musicians and the crew probably deserve to be paid properly or at least adequately first.

Apart from being concerned for the cast’s economic welfare, at one point (**) D became quite agitated on OH&S grounds.  A glass was knocked to the ground and it broke.  Some of the cast were dancing barefoot. (At this point I noticed a bandage on one actor’s big toe.)  The glass-knocking was a predictable incident of an essential piece of business.  Could they not have anticipated this and run to plastic “glasses”?

Perhaps this is another of those things that they teach you to look out for at stage manager school, because the stage manager called out from the last row where she was [wo]manning the lighting desk that the performance had to stop to sweep up, because “My actors are dancing with bare feet down there.” The stage hand swept up, first ineffectually with a brush and pan and then a little more effectively with a large broom. The stage manager made some rather gruff remark about the joys of live theatre and the performance resumed. It still seemed rather slap-dash, and we scanned the stage anxiously for tell-tale glisterings of glass.

D remained concerned that a chaise longue which lay in the line-of-shatter might still have glass on it.  He was right. Two scenes later, a terrible disaster was only just averted when, seconds before the leading lady plunged dramatically onto the chaise longue, her fellow actor in the scene spotted and removed a sizeable segment of the bowl of the glass.

Professional services

February 10, 2008

On Saturday I went to the doctor.  To be more precise, I went to see a doctor.

I went to a medical centre which I am sure I have never attended before but which nevertheless (presumably as a result of some doctorial migration) had an address for me which I left in April 2000.

The consultation cost me $55, of which I will get back $43.55 eventually.  But it was a great disappointment.  I don’t go to doctors very often at all: often a whole year will pass without a single visit.  I only generally go if I want treatment and preferably drugs.  If I could buy these myself, I would, but you can’t because that is the doctors’ monopoly by reason of what used to be known rather quaintly as the Poisons Act, now the Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Act.

The first drug I wanted (based on a little internet searching, which I am sure is the bane of doctors’ existence as it is of lawyers’) was valium.  This is the drug that every woman of a certain age seems to have to hand virtually as a matter of course – or at least this used to be the case; perhaps things have tightened up.  I only wanted a 2 or 3 day course.  The doctor refused outright.  This confirms my belief that it is almost impossible for a man to be prescribed valium, even if on the not entirely scientific basis that I have never felt comfortable abasing myself to the requisite degree of fragility to ask for it until now.

Desperate to turn the consultation to some account, I raised two other symptoms.

The first of these was a  sharp pain together with some surface numbness on my elbow at a spot where I broke my arm falling off my bike 17 years ago.  I’ve been meaning to get to see a doctor (or, as my parents used to say, in a piece of old-fashioned slang which I realise I haven’t heard anyone else use for years, “the quack”) about this since I first started experiencing it some time over the Christmas break, but I never get around to doing it.  The doctor told me this was a bone inflammation.  If it swelled up it would be possible to operate.  It could also be treated with cortisone injections.  No, there was nothing which he proposed doing now.

The second is more embarrassing to spell out: suffice to say that I did manage to make the doctor take a look, and that he put on a rubber glove for this purpose. This (looking, rather than gloving) was an improvement on the last 2 doctors I saw about this (almost exactly 12 months ago) – first a GP and then a specialist, who were content respectively to refer to a specialist and then recommend quite complex treatment without so much as a look-see.  This doctor said that some of this symptom could be treated with an ointment.  But he declined either to tell me what ointment or to give me a prescription (assuming that was required).  

And don’t even get me started on this doctor’s bedside manner.  Even though other patients were waiting just outside, it was only at the rubber-glove moment that he went to shut the door.

I complained to the receptionist (just venting, I know) as I gave her my money, and she didn’t seem so surprised.  I think I now know why this medical centre was so empty and why this doctor was working on Saturday.

Now, I am not 100% blaming this doctor for his refusal or failure to give me any treatment or prescription whatsoever.  Perhaps his clinical judgment was correct on all fronts  But there is a massive misfit between the internet searches which led me to ask for the valium, which envisaged a series of ongoing consultations between the patient and “his” doctor, and the spot-transaction approach which characterises my dealings with the medical profession.  If you just roll up to the clinic (and many clinics will not even make appointments) you just can’t get that kind of treatment. 

When D heard of my elbow problem he laughed.  “You’re getting old,” he said.  As Yeats said (in a different context, admittedly), things fall apart.  I think it is probably time for me to bite the bullet and establish a more ongoing and satisfactory relationship with a particular medical practice and doctor.   

This raises a problem common to many professional and other services – how can we judge the quality of what we are receiving?  Certification ensures a certain minimum competency, but good enough to practise is not necessarily good enough for me, or even (because of personal fit factors) good for me.  It is hard enough to find a barber who cuts your hair the way you want it, let alone to procure services which, if botched, will not simply grow out.  Thank goodness the barber problem has pretty well solved itself for me, now that I have so little hair on my head that the “less-is-more” no 1 cut is the way to go.

If I were a parent concerned about the education of my children, this might well be the point where I would start putting my child down on some private school waiting list.  Not that I am going to rush in the opposite direction to the most expensive society doctor I can find, but experience from the other side of the counter in my own profession suggests that the cheapest and/or most available doctor will not necessarily be the best.  Unfortunately, I also know from within my own profession that the most “charming” practitioner is not necessarily the most competent, which would seem to take me right back to square one….