Monday, September 2, 2019

All The Better Part Of Me - A New Release from Molly Ringle.

There's always cause for celebration whenever Central Avenue Publishing launches a new novel from Seattle based author Molly Ringle. This is especially true for Molly's latest offering "All The Better Part Of Me" that is due to hit stands on September 3. I had the opportunity to participate as a beta reader on an early draft of this outstanding new novel and I'm so pleased to see it come to life in its final form.

What's it all about? 

It's an inconvenient time for Sinter Blackwell to realize he's bisexual. He's a 25-year-old American actor working in London, living far away from his disapproving parents in the Pacific Northwest, and enjoying a flirtation with his director Fiona. But he can't deny that his favorite parts of each day are the messages from his gay best friend Andy in Seattle—whom Sinter once kissed when they were 15. Finally he decides to return to America to visit Andy and discover what's between them, if anything. He isn't seeking love, and definitely doesn't want drama. But both love and drama seem determined to find him. Family complications soon force him into the most consequential decisions of his life, threatening all his most important relationships: with Andy, Fiona, his parents, and everyone else who's counting on him. Choosing the right role to play has never been harder.

Who is Molly Ringle?

Molly Ringle was one of the quiet, weird kids in school, and is now one of the quiet, weird writers of the world. She likes thinking up innovative romantic obstacles and mixing them with topics like Greek mythology, ghost stories, fairy tales, or regular-world scandalous gossip. With her intense devotion to humor, she was proud to win the grand prize in the 2010 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest with one (intentionally) terrible sentence. She's into mild rainy climates, gardens, '80s new wave music, chocolate, tea, and perfume (or really anything that smells good). She has lived in the Pacific Northwest most of her life, aside from grad school in California and one work-abroad season in Edinburgh in the 1990s. (She's also really into the U.K., though has a love/stress relationship with travel.) She currently lives in Seattle with her husband, kids, corgi, guinea pigs, and a lot of moss.

My take...

Stylistically, this new novel is signature Molly Ringle, from its smart dialogue to its grounded and recognizable characters and its rich and evocative Pacific North West setting - honestly, why Molly has never been tapped to write for a Gilmore Girls-esque TV series is beyond me. Where "All The Better Part Of Me" represents a departure for Ringle is in its handling of a Male to Male relationship - one that is sensitive, deep and enriching, both for the story and for the reader.

During my beta read, Molly and I had a back and forth during which we remarked on how similar the experience of writing outside our familiar cultural sand box was for us both. I recall Molly fretting at times about whether she was unfairly appropriating a narrative in portraying a gay relationship from a heterosexual perspective - in much the same way as I worried about writing an Aboriginal story from a non Aboriginal perspective with "Gifts of the Peramangk". 

Molly's approach to the central relationship between Sinter and Andy has been handled with such a deft hand that you soon lose yourself in their love story, forgetting any baggage that may or may not come with the genre. As I have often said of Molly Ringle - she is an astute observer of the human condition and, as a storyteller, she is able to tap into something universal, no matter what genre she is writing within. All The Better Part Of Me brings together everything that makes Molly Ringle's writing so appealing and then goes further, exploring love and family and the politics of love and family in a smart, engrossing tome that will leave you heartily satisfied.

Pre-Order Purchase Links: 

Where Molly Ringle Can Be Found:

Blog: Mirrored here and here 


Saturday, August 24, 2019

A Flick Of The Switch - A Schwannoma Diary (#16).

I'm home now. 

It's been five days since my surgery and four days since my Medtronic Intellis spinal cord stimulator was switched on for the first time. On Wednesday at midday, my medical technician visited me at my bedside and programmed the stimulator in a process that took roughly fifteen minutes. 

That's all. I know right?? 

And it was cool in that all she used was an iPad with a nifty user interface and a handheld device - similar to the one I now own - to send a series of commands into the stimulator, then tweak them so that I would feel the electrical impulses in the right area - namely my left lower back, left hip and left leg. The sensations were strange to say the least. I equated them to being zapped by an electric fence when I was a kid at my uncle's dairy farm, but much more entertaining. After the initial flurry of shocks and zaps, which took place while the technician was establishing the programming parameters, the impulse settled down, becoming a ever present buzz that rose and fell rhythmically.

I'd had a rough sleep on Tuesday night after the operation. I think that was due to the post anaesthetic fog and the inevitable pain from the surgical incisions. I have a cut in my thoracic spine, which feels like I've been kicked in the back and ribs, while the cut on my buttock makes finding a comfortable position when sitting or laying down difficult. 

The first thing I noticed after the switch on - my hip pain virtually disappeared. Instead of the ache that would usually have me struggling to move, the buzz from the unit had taken its place - and it was pleasant! The pins and needles that I usually experience often come in random bursts throughout my leg, ranging from an unpleasant popping and fizzing to an intense burning that can and has lasted for days at a time, they have been replaced by the rhythmic tingle from the stimulator. So the early signs are really promising.

I came home on Thursday and began to reacquaint myself with a familiar environment.

Working with the handheld device has been an interesting dance. It requires some playing with in order to find the best current for a given positions. I find going from a standing to a sitting position, I have to adjust the intensity of the electrical current, otherwise it can be overpowering. The ideal range when standing seems to be around 2.3 to 2.6 mA (milli-amperes). When sitting, I'm finding that I have to dial it down to between 2.0 and 2.3 mA. And when laying in bed, depending on what side I'm on (I tend to be a side sleeper), I find that sometimes I have to dial it up and sometimes I have to dial it down. Laying flat tends to push the paddles against the spinal cord - as does sitting taller - which they say is a good thing anyway.

The rules, if there are any, seem a little rubbery. For now, it's been good to discover and learn what works and what doesn't. I will meet the technician again in the coming weeks to make some adjustments and add some settings to the handheld for me to play around with.

While I heal, I have to stay out of the swimming pool. I'm not happy about that, given the progress I'd made leading upto the surgery. I was achieving 1km distances in around 24 minutes, which I thought was pretty damned good. The most important part of the healing process is ensuring that the leads and paddles don't move while the fascia and muscle layers knit together. Fortunately, I won't need to wait as long this time around.

All in all, I'm in a good place. I feel positive. 


Monday, August 19, 2019

MacArthur Park - A Schwannoma Diary (#15).

It's a strange experience being a "guest" in the place where you work. Even after a few times, I've never entirely gotten used to it. The faces you see every feels like they see you differently. Maybe they do. Maybe they don't. It's just a feeling.

I was whisked through to radiology as soon as I checked in to undergo the pre-operative mapping X-Rays of my thoracic spine. This is so the surgeon has accurate images of where she needs to enter in order to place the paddles onto my spinal cord. I have a whole bunch of writing and drawing on my back where the radiographer labelled everything. I'd take a selfie, but it's a bit hard and I don't really want to.

I'm waiting now. There's an hour to go before the 2pm list begins. I know I'm third on that list so I'm thinking it'll be around 5pm by the time I go under. I have a nice room with a window that looks over some cloisters. They remind me of the cloisters I wrote about in "The Recipient" so that's nice.

My daughter Lucy made sure she packed her multicoloured Llama into my overnight bag this morning. She said it would bring me good luck. When I dropped the children off at school this morning, her bottom lip bulged and I saw a tear. I thought I saw a tear.

I panicked this morning because I didn't have an anaesthetic song. That's a song that you take in your head to the pre-op area - one that's supposed to keep you calm, maybe inspire you. I recounted in a previous post that I got the idea from Michael J. Fox who took Pearl Jam's "Given To Fly" with him into one of his surgeries. 

I have Jimmy Webb's "MacArthur Park" stuck in my head. I didn't necessarily want it, but it's there and I guess it'll do. There is only one version of MacArthur Park that is satisfactory to me though...

See you on the other side...


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Electric Dreams - A Schwannoma Diary (#14).

I met with my neurosurgeon again earlier this week to review the series of MR scans and X-Rays that I had taken last week of my brain (I have one), my spinal cord and column and my hips. Given that a major feature of my neuropathic pain has been an intense ache in my left hip, we needed to rule out any form of orthopaedic pathology. Fortunately, both my hip joints are in excellent condition so the source of that pain can definitively be sheeted home to my damaged spinal cord.

So, the only thing left to consider was whether to proceed with the Medtronic Intellis spinal cord neurostimulator platform, which I covered in my last post.

We're going to proceed.

My neurosurgeon is confident this implanted neurostimulator will be the best option for me and that I am a good candidate for it. I'm otherwise healthy, have a reasonable amount of physical fitness, thanks to my swimming and, having reviewed and considered the technology for myself, I am mentally prepared to accept the presence of this implanted device in my body.

The biggest risks of the neurostimulator remain the possbility of the leads and paddles being dislodged or migrating, though my neurosurgeon has assured me that she will make sure they are anchored securely. I'll have to watch how I move in the first couple of weeks after the surgery to allow the healing process to further ensure the leads remain locked in place. There's the potential for infection at the wound sites, which is a consideration for any kind of surgery, so I'm not overly concerned by that. My intuition as a Nurse will ensure that I take care of myself. A lesser risk is that I won't adapt psychologically to the presence of the neurostimulator in my body. It has been reported in other patients who have eventually had their devices removed because they couldn't accept it.

As I write this, I feel dispassionate about it. The chronic neuropathic pain I've been experiencing has been so debilitating for me both physically and mentally that I will try anything if it offers a chance for me to escape it. And, being a massive geek for anything technological helps.

Part of me keeps visualizing this as the outcome of the surgery...

(image credit - issam kh).

...when the reality will be much more like this...

(image credit - Medtronic)

...which is still a radical proposition when I think about it for any length of, right now.

It's all happening next Tuesday, August 20th (it's early Thursday morning as I write this). The theatre has been booked. The implant has been ordered. The requisite medical and nursing staff will have been organized - all of them colleagues of mine, which makes this next step in my little journey a bit different.

The Nurse will become the patient once more...

Stay tuned.


Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Tunnel - A Schwannoma Diary (#13).

No matter how many times I enter into the painfully narrow tunnel of the MR imaging machine, I never feel as though I'm getting used to it. I approach each machine with a similar veneer of defiance that says, "Righto fucker...You. Me. Let's ride" as if I'm goading this big dumb square donut of technology to do something fatal - like throw one of its magnets through its casing at God knows how many thousands of revolutions per minute and cut me in half. It never happens though. MR technology is so well advanced now. Safety protocols are so stringent with these machines. You'd have better luck getting hit by a car than being killed by an MR imager.

Still, when you're in that tunnel, your head secured inside the cage they close over you to keep you from moving around, with those magnets spinning around you, clanging and banging and rumbling. The psychology warfare you have to play with yourself can be considerable - especially if you're not enamoured by confined spaces and bone crunching noise.

I had the preparatory scans of my spine today. These will help the surgeon get a "lay of the land" so to speak so she can best decide how to approach the evntual surgery to implant my spine cord stimulator. Having discussed the technology with the product specialist, its likely that the leads and paddles will be inserted into the spine at the thoracic level - between T8 and T10. The product specialist - who has a clinical background - believes that will be the best place to achieve the best potential for the neurostimulation therapy.

I also had a couple of X-rays of my hips - just to rule out any defect in either of those joints that might be the source of the hip pain I described in my previous post. It's highly unlikely, but you just never know. I can't actually remember if I'd ever had any films taken of my hips previously. I've had so many.

The MR scans were pretty straight forward to be honest. I was in the tunnel for roughly half an hour, during which the radiographer was kind enough to give me a pair of headphones with talk back radio piped through them. The talk back wasn't entirely useful however as it was drowned out by the magnets around me. But I always consider it a nice thought. 

There was a short break in proceedings as they pulled me out from within in order to inject the radioactive dye - gadolinium - into my system. That's so they can take a series of enhanced images that can pick up any anomalies (god forbid another tumour) that may or may not present. Gadolinium is one of those hilarious radio-isotopes that makes you feel as though you've lost control of your bodily functions, even though you clearly haven't.

It was all over in half an hour and I was back on my feet and out., The Radiology Service has a green ethos these days meaning the images will be sent electronically to my surgeon - she probably already has them. I meet with her in a week, by which time we'll pencil in a date for the surgery.

There was a time when I would have been petrified of the tunnel.'s just mildly angst inducing. 

Me 15...

Machine 0...  


Sunday, August 4, 2019

Something Radical - A Schwannoma Diary (#12).

"I had in mind something a little more radical..." Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) to Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel), "Blade Runner", 1982.

I had thought that there would be no more of this story to tell...

Never say never - or so the old adage says. 

I'm roughly 8 months out from the surgery I had in December to remove a cystic tumor - a schwannoma from my spinal cord. This was the recurrence of a tumor I had removed as a teen from the S1 nerve nerve root some 30 years ago. No one expected - least of all me - that it would return, but it did, albeit in a degenerate form.

A degenerate little offspring.

My recovery from December until now has been slow but steady but I have struggled with the effects from the damage to my spinal cord. Pain, altered sensation, bladder and bowel dysfunction (which has, thankfully, improved). Pain has been the overriding feature with much of it localizing in my left leg and hip. While constant, it varies in intensity from an ache that prevents free movement to an intense, deep pain that is accompanied by an electrical storm of pins and needles. Sometimes I feel as though my legs are on fire. At its worst, I can't walk. I can barely move. Most days, I can push through and function with the help of medication, but there are days when I am reduced to tears and I have to hide myself away, let the tears flow, and then somehow carry on. 

It's not sustainable. 

I returned to my neurosurgeon last week to discuss the situation and, hopefully find a way forward. I wasn't expecting much - possibly a repeat injection of corticosteroid into my spinal cord at the level of the surgery and damage to the cord. I was introduced to something a little more radical. Neurostimulation or Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS). 

The theory behind SCS holds that by implanting a series of electrodes into the spinal column, just above the first layer of the protective tissue of the spinal cord itself, and then passing a precise electrical current through those electrodes, it is possible to interrupt the pain signals travelling from a damaged region of the spinal cord to the brain. Interrupting those chronic pain signals leads to less pain (obviously), less dependence on pharmaceutical interventions and an improved quality of life. The therapy has had a profound effect on many thousands of patients, changing lives and freeing them from crippling chronic pain from spinal cord injury.

Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS) device and electrodes (image credit The Doctor Weighs In).

So, I have to undergo a surgical procedure. Another surgical procedure. 

This will involve my neurosurgeon placing a pair of leads or paddles into my spinal column, positioning the paddles over the dura of my spinal cord, then tunnel those leads down to an area just above my pelvis where she'll implant the device and battery pack. The leads will be connected to the device and she'll close up.

Medtronic Surescan "paddles" come in two different configurations (image credit Medtronic).

Medtronic Intellis Device & Battery Pack (image credit Medtronic).

I'll then work with a product specialist, who will give me a device about the size of a smartphone, and set up a series of programs that will enable me to manage the device day to day in a variety of situations. The end goal, hopefully, will be an end to the chronic neuropathic pain I've been suffering from since early last year. 

Had it been anyone else suggesting this course of action, I would have dismissed them as crack potted. Because my neurosurgeon suggested it - a) I'm surprised and b) I'm now very interested. 

I met with a representative from the medical technology company Medtronic Australia this morning to go over the technology, the benefits and potential risks, to discuss the surgery and post surgery pathway and what to reasonably expect long term. I am a good candidate for SCS because in most other respects, I'm fit and healthy, I'm active - I swam my first, unbroken 1000 metres over the weekend - and the nature of my spinal cord injury has been shown to respond well to SCS in a large population of similar patients. It isn't a sure thing however. I have been warned that it might not work, or work as well as I might hope. I'm keeping my expectations in check.  

So, I'm moving forward with this. It is worth a shot. I want to be free of this pain. I want to eliminate or, at the very least, reduce my reliance on medication to manage my pain and I want to swim. I want to swim a lot. In amongst all of the bad stuff, swimming has been the one refuge from pain, my inability to move and my depression and anxiety. I think I'm actually really good at it. 

I want to write again. A lot.

Tomorrow, I undergo a series of X-rays and MRI scans to map out my spinal column in detail in order to assess and plan for the surgery. I meet with my neurosurgeon again next week to go over the results and then book a time for the surgery. 

I'm sharing this - mainly for myself. It keeps things clear for me which helps when I'm not feeling so good - this tends to be a lot lately. I'd be happy for you to join me on this one. I'll post more as things develop.


Monday, June 10, 2019

Reflections - The Holocaust Tattoo & The Barber Shop.

When I was a kid, I used to sweep the hair in my Dad's Barber shop. I have always equated Dad's Barber shop, in the Gippsland town of Moe, with the bar from "Cheers". Dad used to advertise it as "three chairs, no waiting" and it was the kind of place where "everybody knows your name." I have many fond memories of that Barber shop as a place of rich conversation, friendship and it was a place, through which I learned a lot about the world outside my small town confines. I learned about places and people, their vocations, the lives they led, the dreams they had. 

I also learned a lot about history.

One particular day, when I was maybe eight or nine years old, an elderly gentleman - a regular - came in for his regular tidy up. Despite his thinning, silvery hair, he always requested the same - a short back and sides, and a shave. Dad's work with the cut throat razor was quite a thing to see. It is a skill that you don't often see anymore, so to watch one do it with the skill of my father - it is artistry.

Anyway, this regular. He was an impish fellow, always well dressed and he had a sparkle in his eye, as though he had a deep appreciation of the world. He was always happy. I remember he had an accent. It was lyrical - not in the manner of the Irish or Scottish or even Welsh accents, which were the ones I'd heard the most as a boy in the early 80's. It sounded very much like the accent of our then next door neighbours, Tina and Rudy, who displayed lots of crockery and dinnerware with windmills on them in their home. I was to learn that this man was from Holland. 

For pocket money back in those days, I would man the broom in the Barber shop and sweep up the hair that would fall to the foor as my father clicked his scissors against the comb. Too much hair around the base of the barber's chair was hazardous, so I always swept with a sense of urgency, making sure the linoleum floor was clear (it should be said that an 8 or 9 year old boy armed with a broom and sweeping furiously while a barber is trying to work is just as much a hazard. But I was nothing if not task oriented).

I happened to be sweeping by my Dad's leather and chrome Barber's chair as the eldrely Dutchman sat down. Having stowed his coat and hat on a hook near the waiting chair, he'd dropped into the seat, settled back with a satisfied sigh, glad to be off his feet for a little while and he rolled up his shirt sleeves. As my Dad turned and flicked a barber's cape with the flourish of a matador, I noticed a simple tattoo on the elderly gentleman's forearm. Though it was but a moment, I immediately recognized a series of numbers. 

The gentleman saw my moment of pause and my puzzled expression and he smiled. As the barber's cape floated down and around him, he jutted his arm out from underneath and he showed it to me. 

I hadn't been mistaken. I saw a faded series of numbers, etched into the tanned skin of his forearm.

Max Kaufmann shows his Dachau tattoo --- Palm Beach Daily News photo by Chris Salata.

He explained that he was a prisoner of the Germans during World War 2. I knew a little bit about World War 2 from my own grandfather, who served during that terrible conflict. The elderly gentleman before me said that he was held in a camp in Holland, before being transferred to a place called Auschwitz. I had never heard of that place before. He told me many people were taken there and were given a tattoo, just like the one he had. He told me that it was a dark place and many people had died there, but he had been rescued.

That was the first time I'd ever heard about Auschwitz, the Holocaust or the Jewish people. I sensed, even then, that I been told something important. The encounter with this man has stayed with me. It was such a fleeting moment, but from that, I explored the Second World War in depth and, in particular, the Jewish experience. 

It was around this time, that I turned my attention to writing. In a grade three creative writing class, I wrote a short piece about a war experience from a soldier's perspective. I can't be sure if that occurred around the same time as my encounter with the elderly Holocaust survivor...but I like to think that it did. 

Moments of deep learning come from places and people you might least expect. This was but one of many lessons I took from my Dad's barber shop.


Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Star Wars - The Future, Clouded It Is...

I was alerted to an article this morning from i09's Beth Elderkin, confirming the news that the first film in the new Star Wars trilogy - after December's "Episode 9: The Rise Of Skywalker" - will be helmed by Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff & B.D. Weiss.

screen grab from i09 article by Beth Elderkin (credit i09).

Quoting directly from Disney CEO Bob Iger, who was speaking at a MoffetNathanson Media & Communications summit this week, 

"We did a deal with David Benioff & B.D. Weiss, who are famous for Game of Thrones, and the next movie we release will be theirs," Iger said. "And we're not saying anything more about that." 

Side note - it remains amusing to me that Lucasfilm CEO Kathleen Kennedy remains pretty much invisible from any Star Wars related announcements - although that is not unsurprising these days.

A few things stand out to me in the reading of Elderkin's article.

I've watched the on-line backlash to the current/final season of Game Of Thrones. Criticisms around the overall tone of the final season, narrative choices and the disjointed nature of the characterizations have abounded, with much of that criticism being directed at Benioff & Weiss.

Walt Disney CEO - Bob Iger.

Iger's quote states that the next film in the Star Wars saga will be Benioff & Weiss' - but that's it. He apparently refused to elaborate on the trilogy, which has a planned release schedule every two years, from 2022. Elderkin's article seems to suggest that Iger has only committed to this pair for the first film in the new trilogy. Does that mean that we can expect Benioff & Weiss to helm/write the first film only, with others taking over for the 2nd and 3rd films? Or will they write the trilogy and hand directing duties over to others? 

("Always in motion, is the future..." Yoda).

Elderkin is, perhaps, being a little coy but I do find merit in her suggestion. I wonder if Iger is watching things unfold really closely, assessing the reaction to the Game Of Thrones final season and preparing contingencies for the Star Wars franchise, as production on the new trilogy ramps up. There feels, to me, a lot of ongoing uncertainty in the Star Wars cinematic IP - particularly in the wake of Rian Johnson's disastrous "The Last Jedi" (2017).  

There are positives to take from this announcement though. 

I am heartened by previous statements from Bob Iger that there will be a three year hiatus between Episode 9 and the new cinematic trilogy - which will be a separate narrative from the Skywalker saga. That will give the writers time to properly flesh out the 3 film cycle - a'la *George Lucas* - and they can avoid the terrible narrative mess of the sequel trilogy. 

We need to remember that Benioff & Weiss are showrunners for Game Of Thrones, tasked with wrangling the source material from George R.R. Martin into a cohesive whole for the medium of television. They can't be expected to take full responsibility for the outcome of the presentation nor the response to it.

Freed from the shackles of that property, and the shackles of the Star Wars/Skywalker legacy, Benioff & Weiss have the potential to put together a compelling trilogy, with a strong, *planned* narrative arc and fresh, new, archetypal characters that reflect the best of Lucas' mythology and the Campbellian influences Lucas drew on to create it. 

What Lucasfilm has to focus on lies outside of the cinematic/filmed universe. I am still hopeful for a clean out at the top of Lucasfilm from CEO Kathleen Kennedy, through to the Story Group and those in the customer engagement space, who have behaved appallingly towards a large body of fans since around 2016. 

Kathleen Kennedy has been an abject failure as CEO, mishandling the hiring and firing of directors of Solo: A Star Wars Story and original Episode 9 helmer, Colin Trevorrow. The resulting financial mismanagement of the Star Wars brand is clear - as illustrated by the critical and financial failure of Solo: A Star Wars Story.

(Empress Palpa...I mean Kathleen Kennedy. image credit

Kennedy has presided over a dysfunctional culture at Lucasfilm - most notably in the Lucasfilm Story Group. Storytelling by committee is a terrible form of storytelling for a cinematic IP. That there was no plan for the narrative arc of the sequel trilogy, disunity between certain creators and identities at Lucasfilm and the tacit endorsement of terrible fan engagement from company representatives like like Pablo Hidalgo, (now fired) Kiri Hart, (now fired) Chuck Wendig, (soon to be fired?) Rian Johnson, Matt Martin and others within Lucasfilm have done as much damage to the Star Wars brand as Kennedy's faulty decision making. The lack of discipline and respect by these individuals towards fans and a lack of any form of social media policy that would reign in the behavior of these individuals on-line is perplexing. 

As a writer myself, I have been routinely exposed to fans and critics alike over the years and the one thing I've learned from that is engagement is a one way street. You can only have positive engagement - even when you'd love to stab critics and trolls eyes out.

Star Wars remains a entertainment brand on life support. I remain unconvinced that Episode 9 will be a success at the box office, though I do still hope that J.J. Abrams has been able to do something with film that will erase much of the damage from "The Last Jedi". It remains to be seen how David Benioff & B.D. Weiss will transition from a property like Game of Thrones, which has earned a reputation for blood drenched violence, gore, murder, graphic rape and sex to the family friendly Star Wars franchise.

Regular readers of my blog will know how passionate I have been about Star Wars since I saw "A New Hope" as a four year old with my Dad back in 1977. Hell - Star Wars was the reason I became a writer and pursued my dream of publication. So I don't say these things lightly.

As for the future of Star Wars, beyond Episode 9 - I'll watch and see from the peripheries, how things develop. Star Wars has been in an enjoyment free fall since "The Last Jedi" and it appears the culture at Lucasfilm shows no signs of abating. I remain terminally ambivalent about the future of the cinematic universe.


Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Victorian Trooper - Dedicated Site Now Live.

Now that I've completed my series of articles tracing the life of my great great grandfather, Joseph Ladd Mayes, I'm pleased to announce that I've launched a dedicated website that contains all of the articles I've presented here in a revised and updated form (always trust an author to pepper the first iteration of anything with grammatical flubs!).

The site is located at The Victorian Trooper

This series is designed to be a living document - that is - a document that I will add to or subtract from as new information comes to hand. Already, in the week since the site went live, I've come across new information that I've been able to add to the site, which is really exciting. I've also been in contact with some great people who are closely associated with efforts to bring more stories about the Victorian Police Force and its officers during the 1850's - 1900's forward. So that's been exciting as well. 

For years, many descendants of good and honest police officers have been ignored and treated with antipathy by many who have perpetuated a myth that the Constabulary in Victoria, Australia was a corrupt and evil one, while bushrangers like Ned Kelly were elevated to something akin to Robin Hood status.

It is my hope that my great great grandfather's story and others like him will be given the chance to be reviewed in a new light - that there were many principled and dedicated policemen during that era whose primary motivation was to uphold the law and protect the community.

I hope you can visit this tribute to my great great grandfather and explore the turbulent historical events he was immersed in.


Monday, April 8, 2019

The Victorian Trooper #11 - Legacy & Tapestry: Joseph Ladd Mayes Jr.

Joseph Ladd Mayes Jnr. was born on the 8th December 1886 at the Kyneton Hospital, near Lancefield in Victoria, the fourth child of Joseph Ladd and Eugenie Mayes.

We can only guess at Joseph's childhood but the bulk of it would have been spent in the country town confines of Lancefield, living a tranquil, rural existence as the son of a highly respected policeman. He most likely attended the local Primary School with his older sisters Florence, Dorothy and Eugenie and, being the first young boy sibling they would have experienced, there's a better than even chance the young Joseph Ladd would have been doted on by them.

By the the time of Joseph Ladd's birth, Lancefield was a bustling little rural town servicing many farms in the surrounding district and offering quite a diverse commerical centre. A description from an 1887 edition the Victorian Municipal directory illusrates the town;

It would appear that Lancefield had everything the Mayes family could want and need during those early years and one can only guess that they had a happy existence for the time.

Joseph Jnr. was 9 years old when his father retired from the Force in 1895 and the family decided on a move from Lancefield to the City. I wonder how the move from the country to the relative bustle of suburban Brighton would have affected the young Joseph and his sisters. Where would they have gone to school? Were there regular trips the beach? Visits to the City on the expanding Melbourne tram network?

By the time of his father's death in 1902, Joseph was 15 years old. We know that his first occupation was a laborer for the Victorian Railways and this is where we find him at the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914.
Living with his mother at New Street in Brighton, Joseph Ladd answered the call to arms and enlisted in the AIF on 12th October 1915. It is from his subsequent service record that we are able to glean much information. 

It appears that Joseph Ladd intended following in the footsteps of his father as we see that he served seven months in the Australian Light Horse before his enlistment in the Australian Imperial Force. We currently don't know anything more about this period. 

By early 1916, recruiting in Australia had raised sufficient troops to replace the ANZAC losses. Having completed basic training in Toowoomba in Queensland, Joseph Ladd emabarked for Eygpt on the 31st January 1916 to join the 4 divisions that were amassing there for the push onto Europe's Western Front.

In March 1916, the Australian Imperial Force moved to France, and by July/August, the Australians were heavily involved on the Western Front. As part of the 9th Battalion, (3rd Brigade) of the AIF's 1st Division, Joseph Ladd Mayes was embroiled in the fierce fighting of the Somme offensive at Pozières & Mouquet Farm. Over the course of six weeks, the AIF suffered aproximately 28,000 casualties. 

On the 23rd July, Joseph Ladd Jnr. sustained several gun shot wounds to his left elbow and was shipped to England via Calais. At Cambridge, far from the front, he spent the next five months recuperating. 

Reviewing his Army service record, it is somewhat amusing to note that Joseph Ladd Mayes was absent without leave for a period of 15 days from the 29th December through to the 12th January 1917 for reasons unknown. One wonders whether the New Years festivities might have had a part to play in this little "vacation". It is tempting to think that Joseph Ladd Jnr. might have enjoyed a raucous time, perhaps in Cambridge or London. It is a mystery but, in any case, when he finally turned up, Joseph Ladd Jnr. was immediately charged, found guilty and was fined a total of 33 days pay. 

By May 1917, the Australians were heavily engaged at Bullecourt in the North East of France. His service record entries put Joseph Ladd Jnr. Bullecourt where the Anzacs endured some of the fiercest fighting of the war, facing German machine guns, barbed wire and the trenches of the Hindenburg Line. The Australians suffered some 7000 casualties from the battle.

(A scene in the Hindenburg Line, showing Australians with a Stokes mortar assisting in the operations near Bullecourt (AWM E00457)

One of those casualties was Joseph Ladd Jnr. He sustained severe artillery wounds to his left thigh, pelvis, buttocks and lower spine. Considering the gravity of his injuries, he probably should have been killed. Somehow, Joseph Ladd survived to be shipped to the Southern General Hospital in Birmingham England. Remarkably, Joseph would recover from his injuries but he would never return to active duty.

A rather utilitarian letter was dispatched home to Australia, informing his mother Eugenie of his injuries - no doubt causing her great anxiety until she was able to contact him to ensure he was safe.

Joseph Ladd Jnr. spent the remainder of 1917 in England recovering before returning to Australia - much to the relief of his mother. He was home in Brighton for New Years Day 1918 - as attested to by the precious photographs that found their way into our collection. 

Surprisingly, his greivous injuries appear not to have deterred Joseph Ladd Jnr. from trying to re-enlist in the Army. He tried no less than three times in the period from 1918 through until 1920. Owing to his injuries, however, her was unable to gain much more than a clerical posting and, by 1920 it appears he'd given up on a ongoing career in the military. Discharged from the Army, Joseph Ladd Jnr. returnend the Victorian Railways Department as a clerk, based in the Melbourne suburb of Greensborough. 

Joseph Ladd Jnr. met Gertrude Rose Stock at Greensborough, Victoria and the two married in 1919. Together Joseph and Gertrude would have 9 children starting with John Joseph in 1919 followed by Mavis Jean (1921), Edward George (1923), Allan (1925), Kathleen Jean (1927), Ivan (1929), Donald Gordon (1931), and Margaret (1933).

Joseph Ladd Jnr. suffered declining health, throughout the 1930's, the ongoing result of his war injuries and he retired from the Railways Department. It appears he was in and out of a military hospital at Caulfield, while maintaining a residence at Andrews Sreet in Ringwood. Sometime after the birth of Margaret in 1933, his marriage to Gertrude Rose broke down - most likely due to his war experience and its damaging after effects. She left her husband, raising their children single handedly in a house that was regarded as immaculate. Gertrude Rose herself had a reputation as a outstanding cook and could serve up almost any dish imaginable. Gertrude eventually moved to Warracknabeal in Western Victoria. Joseph Ladd moved to the Anzac Hostel at Brighton.

Previously known as Kamesburgh, the Anzac Hostel became a home for permanently incapacitated WW1 veterans.

From left to right, are: Mr Joseph Mayes, 1st AIF; Mr F Leach, orderly; Mr Albert (Wardie) Ward, 1st AIF, whose bed is in the collection of the Australian War Memorial; and Sister E M Flower, assistant Matron. The patient in the wheeled bed is Mr Harold Wiseman, one of the first residents to arrive at the Hostel when it opened in July 1919. 

Joseph Ladd Jnr. spent his later years at the hostel. A family anecdote tells of his son Edward George Mayes making regular visits to his father and spending time with him. It was Joseph Ladd who introduced his son "George" to one of the Nursing Assistants at the Hostel, the daughter of a farming family from rural Victoria named Dorothy Preston. A romance soon blossomed between the young couple and George and Dorothy Mayes married during the height of WW2.

Taken at the Anzac Hostel, Brighton c. 1940s.

I imagine Joseph Ladd Mayes had a reasonably comfortable life at the Anzac Hostel - as comfortable as 1940's medicine could cater for. It seems to have been a well euipped facility with lovely gardens and set well back from the bustle of the surrounding city. I had the opportunity to take a tour through the former hostel in the early 2000's. By then, it served as a private school, though it retained all of its original character. You could feel the spirits of the past there.

Joseph Ladd Mayes Jnr. died, July 18th, 1955 and was interred at the Springvale necropolis. His estranged wife, Gertrude Rose died in Warracknabeal in 1966 and was buried at the Burwood cemetery.