A Grumpy Old Grammarian

Oh, why can’t the English learn to

Set a good example to people whose

English is painful to your ears?

The Scotch and the Irish leave you close to tears.

There even are places where English completely disappears….

Well, in America, they haven’t used it for years!


Reaching Out

With the rise in online shopping and the ability to almost instantaneously communicate with others electronically, there has developed pari-passu, a new vocabulary of words, (often at times neologisms), phrases and acronyms that all generations since the Baby Boomers use with automatic ease and understanding. I am, I fear, as misogynistic and recalcitrant as Professor Higgins in “My Fair Lady”. The point of this rambling preamble is to bemoan the insidious use of the phrase, mostly emanating from businesses in the United States, but sadly in the past few years as well from Australia, of “reaching out”.

“Reaching out” to someone or some entity implies to me at least, that they are in a tiny spot of bother and  need help, so you can imagine that I am a little incredulous when there is a media article along the lines of

”Apple have reported that the dingle-dongle in the latest iPhone has been reported to come unstuck and dangles, in some instances causing bruising to the customer especially if carried in the front pocket. We reached out to Apple for comment.” 

So here we have an insignificant, minor and irritating journalist suggesting that they are sympathetic to a zillion dollar company and there is in the phrase surely an implicit undertaking that the journalist and the media organisation are there to  to help! I mean Apple needs help?

I am not a zillion dollar company but have invariably received such an email when I write to a company with a question, complaint or even a compliment. The phrase is somewhat ’touchy, feely’ and it implies that I am perhaps in a consequent state of suicidal depression and that the respondent understands completely my pain and were it in their power, would pay for psychological support, which sadly is not possible as I am in Australia and they  are in Des Moine, Iowa.

There may be perhaps one situation where ‘reaching out’ to me may be absolutely understandable, indeed appropriate. 

Hi Mr Norton, – Thanks for reaching out to us here at the ACME outdoor online store. We are sorry to learn that the “Yak” snow boot crampons which you purchased last month have come adrift from the boots so to speak and that you have reached out to us, having slipped and fallen into a crevasse on the South Col of the Kumbu Glacier on Mt Everest. As you are almost 13,965 miles from us, it is you understand going to be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible to ACTUALLY reach you, if that was your hope. I trust you understand. If you are able to reach up and grab the lip of the crevasse , is it possible that your sherpa may be able to reach out and grab you? We understand your predicament and once you return to Australia, reach out to us again and we will send you a replacement set of crampons 

What is wrong with the accepted and genuine response  “thanks for contacting us”?

Neither Here nor There.

With apologies to Bill Bryson…

Perth has, I admit, been more interesting and attractive than my preconceived notions. It is, like many world cities, saved from its’ suffocating skyscrapers by a wide clean river surrounded by ample green spaces and thoughtful walks and bikeways which separate cyclist from Commodore – although I think that the better alliteration for Perth is “separate bike from BMW”

The distinctive melaleuca species is known colloquially as the paperbark tree for obvious reason.

Its a nesting water fowl

Epilepsy conference

The conference on epilepsy is being held at the Pan Pacific Hotel. Unfortunately any edifice, development or creation – real or virtual- which bears the name “Pan Pacific” immediately brings to mind that unique cartoonish Australian movie “Strictly Ballroom”. If I have lost you, rent the movie! It’s a feast of primary colours and colourful characters. “The Dressmaker “ had similar resonances more recently.

The hotel some 20 storeys high, is however not all that modern. The bathroom always ages the structure, in my experience, specifically the fact that one showers in the bath. There is an obligatory rubber mat with suction cups to prevent the ungainly naked sway as one attempts to lather up , down below. I have a kinky voyeuristic impression that our hordes of Japanese and Chinese tourists, place their mat, suction cups up!

The gym and steam rooms in the basement were discordant as the gym was modern, well equipped yet the steam room spluttered like an ancient asthmatic kettle. The change room shower when turning on the taps, created a whining crescendo which in decibels and quality surpassed the Rolls Royce Trent 900 jet engine test bed.

Aquatic Nostalgia

Another year, another summer, The Payneham pool is 60 years old whilst the Norwood Pool is well passed that ! To celebrate the 60th anniversary, our squad swam 60 laps , on the minute ! My Apple Watch does not lie!

I was allowed myself a post swim latte and toast – justified by my caloric energy burnt!

This is not fake news

There is an epidemic of obesity – adult and alarmingly- in children. A modern catastrophe, the consequences of my favourite “3M syndrome”:

  1. Microsoft
  2. McDonalds
  3. Motor Car

These basically contribute to a sedentary lifestyle with too much caloric intake. This picture from the 1950 tells it all! Pick the obese kid?

These two photographs are now on display in the entrance of the Norwood Pool.  Both are taken in the late 1950s. I remember those times well. I grew up in rural  NSW  a country town, Temora and in summer, before and after school and on weekends, virtually lived at the local Olympic swimming pool. Boy did I play games under water, in fact all those activities illustrated -the underwater duels were achingly enjoyable. Who cares about the coloured rag, I just lunged for the belt and pulled … so perchance to glimpse a pert natal cleft… and as for undressing underwater, it was as natural as butterfly, although breaststroke was completely foreign, one could in fact say, unnatural, for me.

Mathematical conundrum 

This picture is of a modern hot and cold water tap, of the type common in European hotels. It is indeed the tapware here in the Foss Hotel Reykjavik. The chrome cylinder has at either end a barrel action which may be rotated clockwise or anticlockwise. Both of these rotating ends have a black rocker which can be pressed down or up. So stay with me here as I indulge in some basic concepts of permutations: there are 4 separate manoeuvres each of which as 2 choices.  I recall this means it’s 2 to the power of 4 or……… 4 to the power of 2, which is the same result for both : 16!

What’s the point I hear you ask ? Well I am standing naked on tip toe in the shower recess fiddling the knobs working my way through these permutations whilst goose bumps the size of a Viking maiden’s breast break out on my body!  My needs are simple  and the correct answer to my mathematical equation is quite simply =2  

1. hot water 

2. Lots of it 

I did not even have the time or inclination to address the issue of what the long smaller cylinder that looks like a curling wand does whilst bathing. 
Finally sorting  out the shower (lasting but a few minutes which recreated a Swedish spa experience: sauna-ice pool plunge-sauna-ice pool plunge,) I faced another cleaning dilemma.

I have always been mildly confused, in fact irritated, by the 2 washing container options in the shower recess:

Body wash


Let’s face it, we all know they come out of the same huge vat, and the only difference is then colouring and perfume! You all agree?

Well in the Foss Hotel Reykjavik the options are 

Body/Shampoo wash – a blow for reason I smile as I lather up but wait what is the second bottle? Conditioning lotion? No it’s Hand Wash. WTF! Was I supposed to wash my hands with this specific preparation before attacking body and scalp? Was the order of application vital? Would my hands drop off or worse other parts of my body if I blindingly used hand wash on it or vice versa? Lest you think I am a grumpy old man, I am taking orders as a gift for anyone upon my return


Sydney revisited

It’s always exciting to visit Sydney, repeat, visit.  I could not live here unless around the harbour, which immediately implies money, lots of it! 

I am here for a 2 day College of Physicians workshop! I took time out in the evening to wander around …

Spectacular light display on the sails

Of cacti and other prickly observations 

The iconic cactus is unique to Arizona and thrives only between the altitudes of 1000 to 3000 feet. It does not begin to sprout its’ characteristic arms until more than 60 years old! These arms appear to help with stability once it grows to be a certain height. Thousands of cacti were dug up and used in landscape gardening around the city of Phoenix where they sit forlorn and stressed. Thankfully it is now illegal to uproot the cactus. 

I write this blog as I relax in the Phoenix Hilton Suites for an extra unplanned night! Snow in the Grand Canyon. The suites are fabulous. Separate bedroom, bathroom and lounge room. This compares to what is apparently the single if not singular, place to eat at this hotel – the “Great American Grill”. It is one of the saddest, bleakest and depressing places at which I have ever sat to eat. It is situated in the huge atrium with the glassed in lifts that the reader will immediately correctly visualise as common to many upmarket high rise hotels. In this establishment the elevators ascend into heaven on the 12 floor suite but truely descend into hell. 

I should have been immediately suspicious that all was not as it seemed when for most of the night, the Great American Grill was as silent, dark and empty as the Tomb of King Kanute. I succumbed twice –  being twice, the lone diner . Both nights I ordered the Avocado, walnut, artichoke salad with cherry tomatoes and garden fresh lettuce.

One assumes that in describing any menu dish, the literal order of ingredients would refer to the importance and hopefully the quantity – the one caveat perhaps being caviar or black truffles. Let me tell you that at the Great American Grill the order of the list is inverse. So in an iceberg sort of way, the eponymous lettuce submerged to the bottom of the ocean all other ingredients, drowning out any evidence of avocado and there were perhaps two if not three crisp Californian walnuts all smothered in an emulsion of balsamic vinegar, an oil of some sort and sugar, having the consistency, colour and taste of sugared sump oil.

I was almost about to mark the kitchen up after two bread rolls arrived which had been warmed. If the bread has been heated, this is usually the first indication to me of an honest attempt at haute cuisine – I am easily pleased. Sadly the bread rolls were heated I suspect as it was the only way to rescue two bread rolls that were so stale as to resist all attempts to cut them in half even using the hand saw of an Arizonan lumberjack. Tonight I will try Tony’s Diner in downtown Phoenix.

A couple of random observations: 

In breathless anticipation of some retail therapy I took the tram and bus to the Scottsdale Fashion Precinct – well,  in much the same way as every airport duty free shopping is same, same – so the Scottsdale Fashion Precinct is an  exact replica of any and all Westfield shopping complexes in Australia! Food court on the lowest level where the vast majority of humanity sits and consumes and then groan and waddle their way through 3 floors of speciality shops without actually buying anything. 

A young woman accosts me at a booth and asks if she can apply an anti wrinkle cream to my lower eyelids. Normally I would politely decline but as I am in a foreign country – everything is foreign to me even the language, I allow her to apply this miracle unguent to my left lower eyelid. She chats away as only the Americans can, whilst fanning my face and then after a minute asks me to sit in front of a mirror and compare my left lower eyelid with my right lower eyelid. She is, as god is her witness, convinced of the miraculous improvement in my left eye. If this single application makes such a difference, imagine what an application of the miraculous unguent to both eyes, every night at bedtime for six months, would do! The only way to extricate my way out of this potentially financially crippling dermatological soft sell is to inform her that I am from Australia and a plastic surgeon specialising in face lifts! 
What’s more unlike Sleeping Beauty, “mirror, mirror on the wall who’s the fairest of them all?” , the mirror is not reflecting a falsehood. I still see wrinkles even without my spectacles! 

Arizona is and always has been, Republican. It is a macho white male state where the motor car rules and this is not any motor car! Indeed the vast majority are huge  SUV ‘s that resemble a Hummer that has been cut in half and called a “Suburban”. It has seating for 8, a huge rear compartment and comes, like the model T Ford, in multiple colours as long as it’s black. I failed to see any such “Suburban” SUV with more than a single occupant in all the time I walked the streets. 

As I travelled by bus to the Scottsdale Fashion Square a van drew alongside with this advertising slogan:

Phoenix Arizona Electrician

“Let me take down your shorts”


What every gym junkie should wear a steal at $US 895 at Marcus Neimann

Yes a genuine latte! In Phoenix Arizona! The Barista was even up to scratch

MLK day

​​​Today is a national public holiday – The anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. I was not aware of this and was so bemused by the desolate major roads in the city – so desolate as to make Adelaide on an early Sunday morning appear as congested as a Catholic Church at midnight mass!

I politely asked a passing pedestrian if it was indeed Sunday?  She was in a severe degree of,  I presume drug induced brain fog and shrugged! The iPhone came to the rescue and having already automatically set the date and time to  American central time informed me it was in fact Monday and moreover MLK day! 
There was a picnic in the park and the entertainment on the stage included this offering.  Vivienne may well be invited to join the band – if she can send off her saliva for genetic testing and confirm her Afro-American roots


This video doesn’t exist

6 degrees of geographical separation 

All American medical conferences have routinely between 5 to 10000 registrants, in other words they are big! This “breakthrough” event was small , I would hazard a guess at about 1500 neurologists. On every table at which I sat, the conversation would immediately or within minutes, rapidly open with a passing query as to from whence one came. “Oh I am in Philadelphia, County Clinton, east side”. The other responded that he had recently moved down south from Alaska to New Mexico, County Cibola, west side. 

Now the USA covers an area of 9 million square kilometres and has a population of 435 million. It is a remarkable fact that into which each and every conversation I eavesdropped, not one of the attendees did not immediately give the nonchalant impression that each, to within a bald eagles pin feather, knew precisely where the other lived as they forked food to mouth. 

“Oh yah” each says in a way that reminds me of laconic Brainerd police chief Marge Gunderson in that memorable Cohn brothers movie Fargo. Turns out that each had either been born in the others current town or attended the local kindergarten or went there over more than 25 years to spend every Thanksgiving with their Ma and Pa or did a year of their training at the city hospital in 1995.

This compares to my response if I attend an Epilepsy Congress in Adelaide ( local) and a colleague shares his present address as Clovelly Park in the southern city of Onkaparinga. 

Upon my return will install a similar billboard at the intersection of Grand Junction Road and Main North Road 

Brain Screening can help you think clearly

Bulk billing with Dignity

Norton Synapse Institute

The Naive American – an oxymoron?

From afar the daily news of deadly gun massacres, the impending Trump presidential ascendency, paints the USA as a confusing, frightening cauldron of reactionary discontent. Yet from my first step on American soil I am amazed at the open, friendly welcoming citizens. They are to a man and woman – genuine! “You’re welcome” they respond to my “thank you” and I actually believe they mean it! 

I ordered for “starters” at dinner last night the Purple Kale, pine nuts, raisins and Arizona goats cheese salad with a quince aioli dressing! My attentive waiter, Brian responded with a somewhat unsettling instantaneous, ecstatic affirmation of my request, so effusive, that I reasoned that I must have been the first person to order this wondrous salad which had been added to the menu 4 months ago at the beginning of autumn and neglected by every uneducated, unadventurous diner till this obviously cultured antipodean gourmet descended upon the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Restaurant on January 13th 2017. It apparently was their autumn signature salad. Again I actually believe he was genuine in his praise of my choice compared to the mostly superficial response “excellent choice” by his Australian counterparts.

Super size me is an American expression and the starter size salad set before me, was sufficient to satiate the entire table of 8 morbidly obese Americans seated at the adjacent table. For one fleeting moment I considered that the serve size of my Purple Kale signature salad was a consequence of the possibility that I was the lone order for the evening, and that the kitchen was faced with the prospect of a rather large barrel of wilting Kale lettuce by midnight. The Arizona goats cheese of course would be all the better for another 24 hours of maturing. I dismissed this as an unedifying if not unpalatable thought.

The other slightly unsettling aspect to my dining experience was that having done justice to the salad, Brian returned seeking my mains order and understandably I guess with breathless anticipation assumed I would opt for the Cheeks of Arizona Prairie Bison poached in elderberry juice with roasted cactus pine needles. I had to politely decline and he became as crestfallen as the Coyote in the Roadrunner cartoon.

Finally it was brought home to me as I dined in the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass restaurant, that Americans have a 2 step approach to eating: cut and dice with knife and fork then drop the knife and use the fork to “spoon ” food towards the mouth. I felt on principle I would continue to eat with both knife and fork as my dear mother demanded all those years ago holding the knife as it SHOULD be held ( never like a proletarian pencil – a solecism that invoked the feather duster across the knuckles).

 To a man I was convinced that every diner lay down their fork and gazed at me as I demonstrated my dexterity and were in awe of my manifestly amazing fine motor skills. 

The Olmo is no more 

After my altercation with a car 3 weeks ago , I was relatively unscathed. Sadly the Olmo , which I have had I reckon for 10 years, sustained cracks in the frame! 

Upgrade time! 

It’s a Pinerello Opera! 2016 model the frame is new all other components have moved across from the Olmo. 

Exactly same geometry and goes like a rocket!

From Gold to Opalescent White

My faithful gold Mitsubishi 380…

Has lasted 10 years and after a spell at the panel beaters to repair several minor car park knocks, a set of new tyres and a major service, has been passed on to my daughter. For $1. Thank god I only had one child. 

But, I hear you ask, am I travelling now by Titanium bike? Of course not! 

Yes, it is fabulous, a Lexus, or in other words Toyota answer to a BMW or Audi