xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: January 2013

Monday, 14 January 2013

Spreading happiness and joy

All my life I have tried to move around spreading happiness and joy wherever I went.
Some days I succeeded and some days I didn’t.
However, since the new year began, I can truly say that I have had my most successful happiness and joy spreading days of all time.
Everywhere I went people smiled at me, some chuckled and some burst out laughing uncontrollably.
As a spreader of happiness and joy I was an Olympic gold medallist.
How did this come to pass I hear you impatiently ask?
Oh, what's that? You are not that keen to know.
Well, I’ll tell you anyway.
Just over a week ago I was having a wonderful dream. I was playing for the Eagles in a Grand Final. I was the absolute star. I was a combination of Graham Farmer, John Todd and Jack Sheedy. Younger reader may now leave the table to google the AFL Hall of Fame and enlighten themselves on the careers of these magnificent footballers circa 1942-1974.
In my dream game it was the dying seconds of a very close match. The opposition forward was leading out to take a mark and then kick what would be the winning goal.
I was determined to stop him and launched a ferocious full blooded tackle.
The next thing I know is that I was on the floor and had blood coming from a deep cut on my nose.
So real was my dream that I had thrown myself out of bed and whacked my nose on the bedside chest of drawers. I groggily sat back on my haunches, reflecting that “living the dream” is not all that it is cracked up to be.
By this time my wife had come to my aid and led me to the bathroom to apply some first aid.
Later that morning I went to the doctor who inserted six stitches in a cut that rested painfully between my eyebrows and the top of my nose. Six stitches. My head now had a lot in common with a cricket ball.
When I told the doctor how I had injured myself he burst out laughing. The nurse who had first cleared away the debris from my proboscis had responded in exactly the same way.
My days of spreading happiness and joy had begun.
After he had placed quite a large bandage over my wound the doctor said to come back in five days and have the stitches removed. He was smiling as he said it.
From that moment everyone who glanced, gazed or stared at me was caused to smirk, smile or guffaw.
After a while I became used to this attention and forgot that I looked as if I had just gone ten rounds with Joe Louis. (Ok. Ok. For the very young, Joe Louis was heavyweight boxing champion of the world from  1937 to 1948. Does anyone know, or even care, who is the heavyweight champion of the world right now? I think he is some Polish fellow).
During the week my wife and I were dining at a very fine resort in Busselton. After a splendid meal I went up to the desk to pay the bill.
“What’s the matter with you?” queried the man behind the till.
Puzzled, I said, “What do you mean?”
“Well, you’ve got a bloody great bandage on your face.”
I’d completely forgotten about the bandage.
“What happened?" he asked.
“You wouldn’t want to know,” I replied.
“But, I do want to know,” he insisted.
"If I told you, you would laugh."
"No I wouldn't."
So I told him.
He burst out laughing. Then he  turned to some of his fellow workers  and relayed my story. They also burst out laughing.
And that is how it was for the rest of the week.
Two days ago I had the stitches removed and now just the smallest of band aids rests on my wound.
Life is pretty much back to normal. But for a week I was the world’s greatest spreader of happiness and joy.
If you feel like a really good laugh look down the page now.

Battered but still smiling

What do you mean, "What's wrong with me?"

No longer a laughing matter.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Merit pay for dentists.

The federal government wants to bring in merit pay for teachers. It sounds like a really great idea. Until you think about it. Politicians are very keen on the idea because they believe it resonates with the voting public. Funny thing is, you never hear politicians talking about merit pay for parliamentarians. Now, why is that? Or dentists for that matter.
My dentist is great! He sends me reminders so I don't forget checkups. He uses the latest techniques based on research. He never hurts me, and I've still got most of my teeth.  When I ran into him the other day, I was eager to see if he'd heard about the Federal Government's latest program for improving the dental health of our children by introducing merit pay for dentists.
"Did you hear about the new federal program to measure the effectiveness of dentists with their young patients?" I asked.
"No," he said. He didn't seem too thrilled. "How will they do that?"
"It's quite simple," I answered. "They will just count the number of cavities each patient has at Grades 3, 5, 7, 9, and average that to determine a dentist's rating. Dentists will be rated as excellent, good, average, below average, and unsatisfactory. That way parents will know which are the best dentists. They check the results on the government's Myteeth website and make wise choices."
"The plan will also encourage the less effective dentists to get better," I said. "It will improve the entire dental system because poor dentists who don't improve will lose their licenses to practice."
"That's terrible," he replied.
"What? That's not a good attitude," I said. "Don't you think we should try to improve children's dental health in this country?"
"Sure I do, but that's not a fair way to determine who is practising good dentistry."
"Why not?" I asked. "It makes perfect sense to me."
"Well, it's so obvious," he said. "Don't you see that dentists don't all work with the same clientele, and that much depends on things we can't control? For example, I do a lot of my work in a rural areas with a high percentage of patients from deprived homes, while some of my colleagues work exclusively in upper middle-class neighbourhoods. 
Many of the parents I work with don't bring their children to see me until there is some kind of problem, and I don't get to do much preventive work. Also, many of the parents I serve let their kids eat way too much sweet food from an early age, unlike more educated parents who understand the relationship between sugar and decay. To top it all off, so many of my clients use rainwater tanks which are untreated and have no fluoride in it. Do you have any idea how much difference the early use of fluoride can make to dental cavities?"
"It sounds like you're making excuses. I can't believe that you are so defensive. After all, you do a great job, and you needn't fear a little accountability."
"I am not being defensive!" he said. "My best patients are as good as anyone's, my work is as good as anyone's, but my average cavity count is going to be higher than a lot of other dentists' because I chose to do some work where I am needed most."
"Don't' get touchy," I said.
"Touchy? I'm furious." His face had turned red, and from the way he was clenching and unclenching his jaws, I was afraid he was going to damage to his own dental work.
"In a system like this, I will end up being rated below average, or worse. The few educated patients I have who see these ratings will believe this so-called rating scheme is an actual measure of my ability and proficiency as a dentist. They may leave me, and I'll be left with only the most needy patients. And my cavity average score will get even worse. On top of that, how will I attract good dental hygienists and other excellent dentists to my practice if it is labelled below average?"
"I think you are overreacting," I said. "'Complaining, excuse-making and stonewalling won't improve dental health'... I am quoting from a leading member of the DOC," I noted.
"What's the DOC?" he asked.
"It's the Dental Oversight Committee; a group, made up mostly of plumbers and hair stylists, to make sure dentistry in this state improves."
"Spare me! I can't believe this. Reasonable people won't buy it," he said hopefully.
The program sounded reasonable to me, so I asked, "How else would you measure good dentistry?"
"Come and watch me work," he said. "Observe my processes."
"That's too complicated, expensive and time-consuming," I said. "Cavities are the bottom line, and you can't argue with the bottom line. It's an absolute measure."
"That's what I'm afraid my parents and prospective patients will think. This can't be happening," he said despairingly.
"Now, now," I said, "don't despair. The Federal government will help you."
"How?" he asked.
“If you receive a poor rating, they'll send a dentist who is rated excellent to help straighten you out," I said brightly.
"You mean," he said, "they'll send a dentist with a wealthy clientele to show me how to work on severe juvenile dental problems with which I have probably had much more experience? BIG HELP!"
"There you go again," I said. "You aren't acting professionally at all."
"You don't get it," he said. "Doing this would be like grading schools and teachers on an average score made on a test of children's progress with no regard to influences outside the school, the home, the community served and important factors like that. Why would they do something so unfair to dentists? No one would ever think of doing that to schools."
I just shook my head sadly, but he had brightened.
"I'm going to write to my parliamentary representatives and senators," he said. "I'll use the school analogy. Surely they will see the point.”

Sadly, I walked away.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Red Wine is a Health Hazard

At this time of year many people make resolutions for the new year. I gave up doing this many years ago because it seemed silly to be making big statements about personal commitments and then breaking them less than a month later.
However, if I ever was going to make a New Year resolution it would be to avoid red wine at all times. Of course, I know that this will never happen so I don't make it. However, I must say that I now drink red wine much more circumspectly than in my younger days.
Red wine is a health hazard. This is quite true. In fact many people have a problem with red wine. In my case it is an allergic reaction which affects my memory. I have a drink of red wine and cannot remember how many drinks I have had. This can have a severe impact physically, mentally, culturally, socially and emotionally.
For years I attended Western Australian Primary Principals’ Conferences at the Sheraton Hotel. Generally I would share a room with my good friend and fellow principal, Jim Bray. Prior to these annual conferences the organizing committee of WAPPA would send around a survey sheet asking members if they had special dietary needs for the Conference Dinner. I would always write, “No red wine to be served at conference dinners”. But they never did take any notice.

I attended a WAPPA Conference at the Sheraton. They had red wine on the table. My mother had always told me that when you are a guest it is always polite to accept whatever food or drink is offered. They offered red wine. I drank it. I liked it. I drank more of it.

After the dinner, Jim and I went across the road to the Langley Plaza Hotel and into the Fenians' Bar. Here we met a lot of friendly Fenian folk and continued drinking, singing and solving all of the world’s problems. We did this until the wee small hours.When you drink all night you find out why they are called the wee small hours. In the small hours of the night you have to get up and wee.

Anyhow, after a night of eloquent discussion, jollification and mirth, Jim and I went back to our hotel room.The next morning, as the sunlight filtered into the room, I found myself sleeping on the floor. Well, actually I was awake when I found myself on the floor but I had obviously spent the night sleeping there. I did not feel very well. In fact I felt terrible.

Slowly I climbed up the side of my bed and peered across the room to see Jim , in his bed, looking over at me. He was very glad to see me, for when he woke up and saw my empty bed he was worried that he must have lost me somewhere during the night. I told you he was very good friend.

By this time I was standing, very shakily, running a check over my legs and arms to see if they were still with me. I was standing up but in my decrepit condition I could have been presented as empirical evidence that there really is life after death.

“And how are we feeling this morning, Mr Bourke?” asked Jim. He often calls me Mr Bourke. I think it makes him feels younger, which he is.

I had to tell him that I felt absolutely rotten. Now my theory at that time, which I explained to Jim, was that it was not the red wine, but sleep, that did all the damage. I mean, last night I had been full of fun and feeling great. After five hours of sleep, I felt terrible. It had to be the sleep. Jim said it wasn’t the sleep, it was the red wine. He seemed quite sure about it.

For the rest of the day at Conference we were both fairly fragile. In fact we both decided that at the next Conference we would be much more circumspect. Not abstemious, but circumspect.

Well at the next year’s Conference, despite my dietary needs survey sheet comments requesting “Nil red wine by mouth”, they still served red wine. But I was circumspect. Naturally, I drank some red wine, as a polite guest must, but I was very circumspect.

The next morning I woke up. I was IN the bed. Well done! I got out of my bed and, as I was checking myself out, Jim inquired as usual, “And how are we  feeling this morning, Mr Bourke?”

Well the fact was, despite being very circumspect the previous evening, I did not feel at the peak of Olympic fitness. Far from it.

“Well, Jim, as a matter of fact I don’t feel all that brilliant. But one thing I am very glad about is that we  were very circumspect and did not go to the Fenians Bar after the dinner last night.”

“But we did,” said Jim.Yes, red wine kills the memory. It is definitely a health hazard.

 Two Drips

I continued to write “Nil red wine by mouth” on my pre conference dietary requirements sheet.
At the 2000 Conference, held at The Burswood Resort, my friend Jim  with the help of then  Principals' Association  President, Rudy Rybarczyk, took note of my request and attached me to a red wine drip during the dinner.
Now you know what two drips look like.