Friday, January 27, 2006
As dentists we are quite familiar with having to deal with pain. Often times, God willing, we are pretty good at it. However, I have to tell you that there are times when what we know and what we have been taught simply isn’t enough. Then we find ourselves using old fashioned remedies and failing treat our patients well. We have a professional title, doctor, which comes from the Latin and means teacher. Literally we are charged to be teachers, and to inform our patients about their clinical choices so that they can make an informed decision to acquiesce and accept treatment alternatives.
Daily I try to remember that, but let's get back to facial and head and neck pain. There are occasions when dentists and physicians, I express it that way because I am tired of the distinction between dentists and doctors which are one and the same, are unable to diagnose the cause of pain, because we are not trained to identify the symptoms correctly. Tragically we discover our errors after a line of root treated teeth have failed to stop the pain.
Fortunately, there are teams of specialists now who can treat the most obscure pains and get relief of symptoms using astonishing new diagnostic tools and treatment modalities which were simply not available until relatively recently. I recently heard Steven Graff-Radford, D.D.S. , Co-Director of The Pain Center at Cedars-Sinai, speaking at the Beverly Hills Academy of Dentistry. Frankly I was blown away and it wasn’t because of his South African accent. He and his team have ways of diagnosing migraine and Tic dolaru and a host of other very nasty conditions including brain and head cancer, and can break it down and find specific treatments that really work. For example, it has been discovered by using M.R,I, (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and CAT scans (Computed Axial Tomography) that certain patients who complain of blinding pain have an enlarged blood vessel that lies adjacent to a nerve bundle where it exits the base of the skull. In such cases a delicate procedure to displace the blood vessel completely solves the problem. This was never known or even possible before. Needless to say I am really glad to have professional colleagues like Steven and Dr. Victoria Wexley to whom I can refer.
So the point is this. If you, or some one you know has pain in the head or neck give a call, we may be better able to help solve the problem now than we ever were. There are a lot of people who suffer excruciating pain simply because they have given up and don’t think any one can relieve it.
Saint Mary's School Msongari
Before posting a new poem “The Cuts”, I wanted to recall two school songs from my days in Kenya. They are most revealing. They remind of that the nuns and the priests employed physical pain to teach and to punish. (Blubbing means crying, which us boys were not supposed to do even after a beating)
"Glory, glory hallelujah,
Sister hit me with the ruler,
The ruler bust so she hit me with the shoe
And now I’m black and blue."
...and now this end of term song:
"No more Latin, no more French,
No more sitting on a hard school bench.
No more going to Harny’s door,
Coming out with back side sore.
Kick up tables kick up chairs,
Kick old Harny down the stairs.
If that’s not enough to make him blub
Stick him in the washing tub."
The use of corporal punishment to maintain discipline in schools and other communal environments has been a standard in human society for centuries. Today’s kinder gentler policies seem more humane, and in line with a permissive all forgiving tolerant society. From my perspective, and much though I abhor personal brutality on the Rugby field, locker room, in a public bar, on the streets or in the cell of a dean of discipline, I can not help wondering if without it we have grown a new community where the consequences for your own actions are not daunting enough, and that there is now no discouragement for unprincipled behavior.
I think random acts of violence, destruction of public and private property, Graffiti, are the result of the anonymity that is now possible and the lack of appropriate punishment and the fear of it.
From 1955 -58 I was sent to boarding school in Nairobi. The School was called Saint Mary’s. It was, and probably still is a Catholic School run by the Holy Ghost Fathers and was arguably one of the finest schools in Africa. I never really liked it, but knew that with my father gone, we all had to put on a brave face and get on with it. Mum was wonderful about taking us out on certain weekends. We loved those times together. The worst thing about being at school, apart from the bullying, was getting the cuts from Father Harnet.
Neil Alan Roida and Ewan McLeod in descending order
After prayers on Friday night
Some of us of boys were beaten
Nothing too serious of course,
Just a sound caning with three or six of the best.
We dreaded the litany that always came
After the Dean of Discipline’s indictment
“The following boys will report to my room
Immediately after prayers”.
We thought it normal
And if you had heard your name
You would scoot and edge to the door
While others had their eyes shut tight.
Then slipping down the corridor
And up the stairs to the dorm
You rushed to put all your week’s underpants
On beneath your khaki shorts.
Silently we lined up by the cell door
Knowing the cane was kept in a tube of linseed oil
From the inner room we heard the practice slashes
On a cushion and we shuddered.
One by one we filed in
Hands on the desk we took up ‘the position’
And when it was finished
Choking and humiliated we said “Thank you Father”.
On Saturday night we had the flicks
A newsreel, cartoon and a feature
Which was always fun
If you could sit without wincing.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
When it comes to restoring teeth there is no better longer lasting restorative material that the gold only or inlay. None, no matter how you argue the case, and many have. To start with, gold onlays have been placed in patients mouth for longer that any other material, and for the second nothing withstands the punishing demands made on the teeth over years of use.
In my practice, one of the oldest in Los Angeles, where I am the third dentist (principal) to be running it, we have patients in their nineties who have onlays placed in the 1950's that are still functioning and look like they were placed last week. You can’t argue with success like that.
The longest lasting porcelain crown can only have been in the patient’s mouth since the early 1970's, because Jenkins, of Newcastle University, only developed his technique for bonding aluminous porcelain to platinum in the late sixties. By experience we all know that the porcelain crazes and can cracks off anytime after seven to ten years. Not always, but often enough to convince me that gold is better that porcelain in areas where it does not show.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want my patients having gold showing in their smiles, although if that is their wish, we can provide a parrot and patch to go with them. You have seen gold front teeth on some of our patients in the entertainment industry who wanted gold front teeth, but that was their particular preference. But take a look at this amiable smile and tell me if the gold in this mouth mars its appearance. You can't argue with work that has functioned well for thirty and forty years.
The fact is that silver/mercury amalgam, composite resin or porcelain and processed fillings don’t hold a candle to gold.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
I want to exalt prayer and encourage you to do so, and I want to focus on two things, the Hollywood Prayer network which is headed up by my friend Karen Covell. So go ahead check that out.
The other thing I wanted to share has become a chestnut now since the publication of Dr. Bruce Wilkinson’s book, the Jabez Prayer. It is one that I think is particularly appropriate for a dentist. This is my take on it:
THE HOUSE OF SIGHS
Inspired by Dr. Bruce H. Wilkinson’s book, “The Prayer of Jabez”, at a time when David Karkenny had asked me to give a short address to the graduating class of the Kids of the Kingdom Sunday School, at Hollywood Presbyterian Church.
Now listen, I give you my blessing,
A wish that your lives will be saved,
That the road you now tread to the future
Will be straight, well marked and well paved.
I pray that we'll meet as we're destined,
In heaven, on that sacred shore,
And through all eternity share in
The treasures that God has in store.
When we get to heaven, they'll show us
The sanctuary called "House of Sighs"
Where in boxes in rows, wrapped in ribbons,
Is a sight that will tear-up our eyes.
Each box is named, and when opened
Reveals a well-scribed lengthy list
Of the blessings that God would have granted
On earth, had we asked, which we'd missed.
So, let's take our Bibles together,
Just let them fall open at will,
Then work your way back from the middle
Through all of the pages until.
You come to the list in First Chronicles
In endless parade, each strange name,
Makes a litany of Judah's children,
Inscribed with their sorrow or fame.
Each reference is brief and un-telling,
With little to set them apart.
Yet one name stopped the Chronicler scribing
And caused him to write from the heart.
"Oh! Here is a name I must mention,
Of him you must know a bit more,
It's Jabez*, who among all his brothers
Got more of what God had in store.
“Jabez, more than all of his brethren,
Was honorable,” so the words claim,
“And was given this name by his mother,
Because she had borne him in pain.”
The scribe goes on further to tell us
That Jabez had offered a prayer,
And that God up in heaven had answered
Each request in the lines uttered there.
Jabez called on the Lord, God of Israel,
"Oh that you would bless me indeed;
Increase my borders, my tenure;
May I from all evil be freed.
"And Lord keep your strong hand on my shoulder,
Lord, guide me that I cause no pain."
And God granted him all he requested,
And that's why we remember his name.
The litany continues longer
Four or five chapters or more,
It leaves us to wonder and ponder
Why Jabez was held in such store.
In the Gospels we find there an echo,
Revealed in the teachings of Him
Who said, "Ask and it shall be given thee,
Lead us not in the pathways of sin."
So my prayer is to beg that you follow,
The pathway that Jesus has trod,
That you pray for a blessing each morning,
And offer your prayer up to God.
For He will hear the prayer that you offer,
God will bless you, and stretch out His hand,
So the box with your name will lie empty,
Exactly the way God has planned.
*Jabez - 1 Chronicles 4:9-10. Pronounced Ya a baytz. Cited in the 18th Century by Rabbi Jacob Emler (ben Zvi)
Monday, January 23, 2006
Getting men to come to a Men’s Breakfast at church is like extracting teeth, believe me I have done both. And yet the benefits are similar, the aching pain is removed by both services, from the tooth with the extraction, and from the conscience by attending the gathering. There is something wonderfully uplifting about praying together with a group of guys who all want to know God better, in their hearts they know they should be doing more, and the message at breakfast will last through Sunday and maybe all week helping us to be mindful of our walk and its purpose.
On February 4th we are hosting our monthly Men’s Breakfast at 8.00 a.m. in the Mears Center at Hollywood Presbyterian Church, and our speaker is Mark Roberts.
He is a truly inspiring teacher, an author, husband, father and Senior pastor at Irvine Presbyterian Church.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
It took months to craft the model of the ship so that it was ready to put into a Dimple Haig bottle. All the sails have to lie down on one another and then be unfurled after they are placed inside.
The 'Wild Deer' is the ship my great grand father sailed upon to New Zealand in1872. It took a hundred days at sea on the great circle route, and as steerage passegers they were sealed in the hold when the weather was rough.
The Wild Deer
Boldly then she plied the Southern Seas
From Scotland, horsing past Brazilian coast
Her speed and sail the China trader’s boast,
For racing home a hold of fragrant teas.
And from her prow Diana scans the view,
A figurehead the goddess of the hunt,
An oracle, carved from a solid stump,
To guide her charge upon a course that’s true
On she drove, this ship of wood and steel,
A clipper in the zenith of her prime,
With hardy crew who dare to boldly climb
Her rigging high above the plunging keel.
Then Lesseps scoured his ditch across the sands
And changed the course of history for all time,
Diverting from tea trade ships-of-the-line,
To carry immigrants to foreign strands.
And then her cargo’s price beyond compare,
In steerage sealed beneath the rolling deck,
Without life boats their fear is of ship wreck,
Those emigrants who for new life prepare.
Black and sleek she lunges on the breeze,
By iceberg-flows in endless summer’s light.
For a hundred days they crave the sight
Of Port Chalmers in the south’s antipodes.
Sunday, January 15, 2006
Tony Campolo, Neil McLeod, Michael Bruner and Patrick Hare after the Martin Luther King concert at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, Sunday January 15th. 2006
The concert on the 15th of January was a truly memorable event, and Patrick Hare pulled the rabbit out of the hat again. Sorry I couldn’t resist. Professor Michael Brunner was an excellent Master of Ceremonies, with well researched and succinct comments on the participants. All the choirs were dazzling and The Hollywood Mass Choir just tore the place up, and we were ready. You had to be in a wheel chair if you weren’t standing and clapping and tapping.
Andrea Kim Walker’s dramatic tribute to Rosa Parks has added a new dimension to the breadth of subject matter that might be considered suitable for a Martin Luther King celebration, and her performance of the scene on the bus when the arrest occurred was compelling.
I got to play harmonica again as I went up to recite my poem “Oh Black and Unknown Bards”. I find it adds a little sparkle to the water.
Now the real kicker. Tony Compolo's message that was brilliant. This is a man who knows how to work even the stiffest crowd, and he had a good message. I found myself softening my stance about leftist ideology. I found his arguments valid, that the analogy of what could be done in our society if we spent three trillion dollars on the poor and the needy and the underprivileged rather than war convincing. He mentioned gay rights once, and only glancingly, but still this was the wrong platform to do so. Personal sexual preferences have nothing whatever to do with a forum on civil rights. The extreme left constantly tries to equate the two and to blur our perception with a seductively juxtaposed argument. They want a morality-blind and color-blind society. Well I don't. Saying part of the truth is just as good as saying a complete lie.
But I am convinced that this preacher/speaker/author is one of the best on the circuit, and found myself wanting to buy one of the books that he was signing after the concert. That I resisted. I thought of my bonny bride at home, and our three children, and I knew that for the moment the money would be better spent on them.
One final thought. The Martin Luther King holiday has been a minor American holiday, one upon which many still work. Personally, I have always have been confused between celebrating human rights, and justifying public handouts. I do believe now that there is more to the holiday than that. It now seems the be the focus of the next area of growth in our democratic experiment, and I and America are growing.
Saturday, January 14, 2006
As a boy I thought a day had been usefully employed if I could boast a ring of Siafu ant heads around the hem line of my khaki shorts. We would catch a large soldier ant and hold him so that his pinchers could grasp the bottom of the cloth. Then as soon as he had bitten we would nip off his body leaving the head permanently attached. I have been told that it is perfectly possible to align the edges of a severe skin wound using siafu heads as sutures. These migratory fire ants will pass through an area and eat every living thing in their pathway.
Siafu, Siafu, they travel in lines,
Sometimes in tens and sometimes in nines,
Sometimes the ranks are ten yards wide
With big soldier ants that keep guard at the side.
Siafu, Siafu, I’ll tell you no lie
You had better move quickly when they come by
For if they catch you and if you should fall
There won’t be much left of you at all.
Siafu, Siafu the cleaning brigade
In Africa we all know why they were made
They march in their rows and where ever they’ve been
Not a living thing’s left, the whole place is clean.
Siafu, Siafu, the farmer’s prayer
They scour through the fields and leave nothing there
Not a mouse, not a mite, not a snake nor a snail
Only the crop’s left when they end their trail.
Siafu, Siafu, you’ll be on the run
Ants in your pants was never such fun,
They climb up to places that you never mention
Then all bite together as if by intention.
Siafu, Siafu, they make a cow shudder
They crawl up and bite them from eyeball to udder
They stagger and fall it’s a pitiful scene
In a day and a half their bones are picked clean.
Siafu, Siafu in rain or in drought
When they move in, why you move out,
There really is nothing else that you can do,
They invade but are gone in a day or two.
Neil, Ewan, Alan and Roida by the river in Rumeruti 1956
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Networking - the big picture
Any one in sales and marketing, anyone with a product or service they want move, anyone who wants or need to make money should know about networking. It’s the big 'N' word.
Let’s talk networking, you know, the standing around balancing a drink and chatting to people trying to maneuver the conversation in the direction of “let me have your card” at which point you will promptly present them with yours. Then after the obligatory three to five seconds of appreciative glancing at it, the card is stowed away in the left side pocket to be conned and analyzed later as the information is stored in your data bank. Does this ring a bell? What about the endless cards at various festivals that say thinking of you, I just wanted to stick advertising promotional specialty under your nose so that you might think of us if you or some one you know needs our service.
There is a better way. There is an American way that really works, and you will find it in the networking clubs. I found it in LeTip. Go on say it again LeTip, I’m sorry if it sounds French. At these weekly club meetings everybody gets everyone else’s card and what is more you get a chance to stand up, while no one interrupts you, and say exactly what you do one time so you don’t have to repeat yourself over and over again. To stay in a LeTip club you have to give business leads to other members of the club, and your performance is measured. I know it sounds crazy, but let me tell you that in my club, the Executive LeTip of West Los Angeles, which has about ninety members, we produced over three and a half million dollars in business last year, generated amongst ourselves. Now you do the maths say there are a hundred of us, divided equally that is $35,000 each. Would you turn your nose up at and extra 35G’s, not me. Read the Time Magazine, Los Angeles Times and the New York Times articles and you will see that this phenomenon is getting the attention of top business analysts. Fortune Magazine made quite a point of it.
The bottom line, is do what works best for you. Personally I can not see the point of spending time and socializing with people who are not sufficiently interested in what I do, to find out about the quality of dental care that I provide to my patients. Life is too short to spend with people who do not support your business, the trick is to find people you like in various professions and cultivate the referral base. That is the opportunity LeTip gives us. A great concept started by Ken Peterson in San Diego, and now going world wide. Get on the band wagon check out LeTip and see why I made my choice and why I am so pleased with it.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Grand Pa Mac from New Zealand with our Kipsigis at a kill
The Night Guard
When we moved from Kericho to Kitali, about 1953, the Mau Mau emergency was underway and we always had an armed guard, usually a Kipsigis Warrior, to protect our home while we slept. When great aunt Kitty came out to join us in the colony, she would sit rifle on her lap for many a night, then retiring late have tea at eight in the morning.
When night was almost falling, with the shadows getting long
Then came our noble Kipsigis with bow and arrows on.
With ‘Chamge’ we’d greet him and we were pleased to see
His semi and his arrows while he had his cup of tea.
When as the dusk fell deeply and mosquitoes start to sing,
We’d close the house and spray the eves but he’d not say a thing.
All through the night he’d be there some where near our home,
Guarding us against some Mau Mau villains on the roam.
In blackest night he’d be there watching loyal and true,
Listening for a break in cricket song because he knew
That when they stopped their calling there was something going by,
Something that un-noticed could mean he and we might die.
And if the air was clear and star and moonlight fell around
He would hide in bushy hollows or by lying on the ground
And all night long he’d be there, yet never make a sound
And even if you looked for him he never could be found.
When night was nearly over, and the air was chill and damp
You woke and wondered if your “Kip” had gone and broken camp.
You’d prime the stove fire embers banked from the night before
And having made the tea you’d take a cuppa to the door.
Peering out with caution you whispered ‘Chamge’
Thanking God you’d made it safely to another day.
And then out from the flower bed right before your nose
To take his ‘kongui mising’ our Kipsigis arose.
Chamge - Hail, Hello, a Greeting - with an extended sing song delivery on the last sylable.
Kipsigis - A large tribe of Kalenjin speaking people who live in the Nandi Hills near the Kericho district of the Rift Valley province in Kenya. The language is shared with the Nandi, Keiyo Turkana and Cherangany tribes.
Kongui Mising - Thank you.
Discovering what my father’s job really was
I asked my father one day when he was visiting me at my old home in Laurel Canyon, “Do you remember the first time I ever saw a dead body?” We were sitting in the hot tub underneath the eucalyptus trees.
“Was it at Guy’s?” he replied casually. This was the obvious answer, for I had spent a number of years there studying dentistry at the medical school. It was on our minds as he had just given me an engraving of the Royal Albert Hall where he had watched me receive my degree from the Queen Mum. She was the Chancellor of London University. The graduation ceremony seemed a long time ago now, and I was ensconced on the hill with a practice on Sunset Boulevard. The present had brought it all back, it showed the Albert Memorial at the Knightsbridge side of Hyde Park, and the concert hall with its wide flattened dome and red brick facade across the road. I loved the hall. We would go there, ‘to dress the theater’ as students. Free tickets were made available on the day of performance, and could be obtained from the college porter at The East Wing at Guy’s Hospital. Once I went to hear the first concert after the new circular fiberglass dishes were suspended from the dome ceiling to improve the acoustics. It was an amazing program that included Bruckner’s sixth symphony which commemorated Wagner’s death, and has beautiful soft string passages and brash brassy highlights in the Wagnerian style, and also the 1812 Overture with cannon at the end.
“No!” I answered. “It was on the escarpment road going up to Nairobi.”
“Good God! Do you remember that?” he queried, leaning in from the side of the tub. He was more intent now than I had seen him appear in many a year, yet he had that rye knowing smile that said there’s a lot more to tell.
“Oh yes! And I’ve wanted to ask you about it. There’s something I don’t understand.”
“Go on.” he said looking directly at me now. The level of casualness had vanished and I felt scrutinized, glad that only my head and neck were out of the water. The recorded African jungle sounds were coming from the two speakers on the low dias, with potted geraniums at their sides. The controls for the bubbles and the heat were there at a touch of a button.
“Do you remember that time we were driving up the escarpment, I think it was in your new blue Chevy truck. You were giving two Askaris a lift. We had passed the little church build by the Italian prisoners of war, and we suddenly stopped to let them take care of that body that had been run over.” The road up from the Rift Valley was steep, with lots of bends and sharp turns. It lead up to the Kenya highlands, the plateau dominated by Mount Kenya at whose feet the Aberdere forests spread out and were watered but the mists, and where to the south, the capital, Nairobi ,was nestled on the some-times river at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The Askaris were the native police. They wore dark blue Fez hats with the silver Kings African Rifles crest, a matching blue jersey with leather shoulder pads, a white lanyard with a whistle on the end, and khaki shorts and navy putties. Their feet were bare.
“I never understood why they were fiddling with it and adjusting its position, nor why they didn’t just pick it up and take back with us or just chuck it over the cliff down the side. And another thing,” I said, “why did you leave them there out in the middle of nowhere?”
“Your memory is pretty good, Neil! I am surprised that you recall all that so clearly. You were only, what, about five.” His tone softened and he dropped the level of his voice as if he were going to tell me a secret. “Look son,” he said almost apologetically, but looking me straight in the eye, “we had that body under the tarpaulin in the back. We took it out there to set a trap, to see who came to collect it. We put the news about in the neighborhood that this man was missing, and had been run over, because we wanted to track the people who knew him and would come to claim his body.”
“What kind of work were you doing, Dad.” I asked, confused by this revelation which jarred with my notion that my father’s occupation was as a Labour Officer, working with the local District Commissioner, a man named Mason.
“It was Government work, son. Government work. You know Mau Mau stuff. Nasty business!”
I did know, and I was horrified. A flood of memories came rushing back. The awful slaughter on the farms, and tragic return home of the farmers to find their hard work decimated by this terrorist madness. The abduction of Robin Touie, whose lacerated and fly blown remains were found rotting under a bush not far from the Spread Eagle Hotel. He had just gone out on his birthday to try out his new air rifle, and was never seen alive again. Oh yes! And Aunt Kitty sitting up late at night with the lamp out, and a rifle across her lap, waiting for a break in the song of the crickets, the warning sign of the approach of an intruder.
The rest of that evening is a blur to me now. I know we talked for a long time, but not much more was said about Africa, and dad always seemed reticent to dwell on any of his wartime or Kenyan experiences. In a way I suppose they were all part of the same collection of memories which for him were better not discussed. They were “Government work”. By the time I retired that night, the moon had crossed the sky and though hidden behind the cloud which surrounded us then, its light fell on the comforter of the waterbed.
Caroline Elkin’s book “Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya ” which I have read has provided me with the answers my father never gave me. In grim detail the appalling nature of the Mau Mau uprising and the drastic measures taken by the British Government to crush it are spelt out. A million people were incarcerated during the 1950's. I remember we were terrified of the ‘oath takers’. We felt that they would come and murder us all in our beds. That is why we had armed guards protecting our home every night. Our fear dehumanized our enemies, and in our minds nothing was too bad to cure them, to make them admit their status and recant their oaths. When you feel that an individual has information the possession of which will prevent others from being hurt, harmed, killed, and they insist on concealing it, it is a natural instinct to exert what ever pressure you can to extort it. This had lead to cruel and barbarous treatment of prisoners, and wrong though we think it is, in the clear light of our land of the free, it was handed out by the British in Kenya, the Japanese in southeast Asia, and I strongly suspect that it is being carried out today by the American Government where necessary. War is not, never is, pretty, and the exposed underbelly of the victors in any conflict can not be expected to be all roses on close examination. Britain's attitude was that it had never happened.
Understand me, I am not defending what my father was doing in Kenya. Quite the contrary, I am saddened. The fact that he never talked about his war in Malaya and North Borneo, or his activities as a Labour Officer in British East Africa is witness enough to the fact that he was not proud of his actions. I just think there is a self righteous liberal seam running through western culture that fails to recognize that moving forwards traditionally means moving your opponents out in toto. Forgive them or re-intergrate them and you leave yourself permanently exposed to conflict and insurrection. The fact is that when someone needs something you have got, and they want it badly enough, they will go on hurting you, humiliating you, emasculating you, torturing you until you deliver or die from the cruelty. This is an aspect of war which we are refusing to accept, and will not condone in our own military, and it is a lie to say that it does not happen.
There is a particular image in the book of a lorry loaded with men standing in the back. The are the rounded up Kikuyu, being taken off to their misfortune in the screening camps. The moment I saw it I recognized it as a real and not infrequently seen. I was there in Kenya and this book has filled in the blanks
Monday, January 09, 2006
Torn between the choices
I can’t tell for sure when thespian tendencies surfaced and became an influencing factor in my life. I don’t think it was as early as the time when, at five years old, I failed to follow Mary, the one with the lamb, and make my grand entrance late as Old King Cole. My green tunic was raised, and in front of the entire rehearsal team I was roundly smacked, and me with no under ware. No it wasn’t then. But may be later in Oxford, when I strode the boards with the CODS, the City of Oxford Dramatic Society, and in the part of a young knight, took “All’s Well That Ends Well” in my stride. Yes, then it was that the ever glancing eye strained out for the proscenium, any proscenium.
Now I write and perform poetry with the least provocation, and welcome invitations. So it was that when Patrick Hare asked me to perform again for the Martin Luther King Concert I said yes.
I did not ask with whom I would be sharing the stage. I just assumed that as a church endorsed event it will be above board and in good taste. Once the advertising fliers came out I saw that Tony Campolo is to be a key note speaker. I also noticed that there is a distancing of any complicit support the church might have for this event on church property because of the inclusion of this caveat “The views expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect the views of Hollywood Presbyterian Church, its staff or its members”. I asked myself why they would feel the need to state that. They never published that when I was to read from Luke on Christmas eve. No, something was different. It was the controversial nature of our key note speaker and his support or lack of condemnation for the non biblical interpretation of the gay agenda which has characterized his public appearances.
So I find myself in a state of internal conflict. I agreed to support my friend Patrick Hare and the Hollywood Mass Choir, and yet I am anxious that none of the liberal agenda contaminate our celebration of the work and life of Martin Luther King in aiding the emancipation process in our great country. The two are entirely separate agenda. My piece this year is James Weldon Johnson’s “Oh Black And Unknown Bards”. I will be performing it this Sunday 15th January. The hyperlink can lead you to an audio recording.
Oh Black and Unknown Bards
2980 Los Feliz Boulevard, Los Angeles
Doctor Neil Stewart McLeod
At the Tam
Slaying the Haggis Again
January, Wed 25th , Thu 26th.
evening, for reservations 323 664 0228
Here we go, one month after Jesus’ birthday Scots worldwide celebrate their national bard, Robert Burns. The corporal details of this much loved poet are drummed out once more, and favorites like “To A Mouse” and “To A Louse” and of course “Tam O’ Shanter” will delight audiences and diners alike. More than enough "horizontal lubricant" will be consumed in stark contrast to the reserved polite Christmas revelry, and undoubtedly there will be ample opportunity for those who neither care nor know better to degrade themselves in public and private. January 25th is Robert Burns birthday, and he is well remembered.
Not least among the literary treasures that are trotted out is the “Address To A Haggis”. It celebrates a humble dish made of left overs and oats, spiced to taste. It has become traditional, and nothing thrills the Scots more, to invoke pangs of squeamishness in the lily-livered hearts of their neighbors to the south by exhorting in grim detail the fanciful contents of this large round sausage. So much is this so, that a mythology has arisen concerning the origin and nature of the beast called Haggis.
It is with little reservation that I admit to you now that I shall be slaying the haggis again, first at the Mayflower Club, Eileen Selby’s British flagship on January 14th and then at the Tam O’ Shanter Restaurant on January 25th and 26th. My special dirk, I call it “Haggis Slayer” has been used for this one purpose for close to thirty years, and considering that it has sliced open haggis between twelve and sixteen times each year, I would hazzard a guess that it may have been used over four hundred times. I am sure that is some kind of record. Would any body like to correct me?
Sunday, January 08, 2006
We lived on a bungalow in Koru in western Kenya in 1951, and the ceiling of the dining room was made of the plywood sides of tea chests. Across three of them the outline of the snake could be seen where it had died in the roof. Around two walls of the room was a python skin it must have been over twenty feet long. One morning I woke early to see what I thought was the hooded head of a cobra. As the morning light grew, I could more clearly see where the dogs may have torn the fly screen. The picture is of my mother, Frances, and my sister Flora, and Judy our dog that they have dressed up for the occasion. In the background you can see the Snake House.
I called it the snake house.
Others may not have done.
My mother and father may have known its address,
The house in Koru, on the hill
Half way up to the soda water bottling plant,
where heavy limbed trees arched across the road
And pigeons cooed when the light was soft.
I called it the snake house
My aiya might have done so
Having snatched me up when the green mamba
Was seen in the bushy hedge
Separating the terraced lawns with rose beds
From the fir tree forest
At the bottom of the garden.
I called it the snake house
And I always will
For three tea chest sides that panelled out the ceiling
Above the dining table
Were marked where the oils of departure
Seeped through to stain the wood
Showing where coiled one lay.
I called it the snake house
And so it is forever
For round the diningroom atop two walls
Was a python skin, full fourteen inches broad
No wonder when I woke one morning to see dimly lit
The dog torn fly screen
I mistook it for a flared cobra’s hood.
So I called it the snake house!
Saturday, January 07, 2006
Friday, January 06, 2006
That is not what I got
when bloody gummed
I hid the remnant of my tooth
beneath the soft down pillow,
Having played with it for hours
over the last two months,
and worried it till nothing but a tag of pink tissue,
was all that was left between me
and the visit from the tooth fairy.
Failing to mention it to my mother,
sleep slipping soundless through me
with expectant dreams,
yet in her own inscrutable way
she arranged it all,
and two ten cent coins
replaced my trophy of approaching manhood,
thrilling me more than the paper dollars
the modern children tell me they get today,
Especially when they compensate
for times the fairy failed to arrive at the divined appointments,
as working mothers, too tired to remember
let the moment slide away.
Thursday, January 05, 2006
The Tree House Song
Up in the garden we have a tree
That’s where my dad built a house for me,
With hammer and nails
He built up the rails
So I wouldn’t fall
When the wind would blow
And fall all the way down below
And fall all the way down below.
And in the night when the wind would blow,
The tree on the hill would rock to and fro,
But the house in the tree
And the hammock and me,
Were safe, with the rail
That never would fail,
Or let me fall all the way down below
Or fall all the way down below.
The house in the tree has a roof on the top,
So the rain as it fell on the roof would stop
And not fall through the tree
And land on me
But flow past the rail
Like the wind in a sail,
And fall all the way down below
And fall all the way down below.
When I’m grown with a daughter and son
I’ll remember the tree and the hours of fun
And the house in the tree,
Built by daddy and me
With hammer and nails
And the safety rails
To guard lest I fell down below
To guard lest I fell down below.
October 25, 2004
This poem is in a collection called "The Persimmon Tree " available on Amazon
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
In the early 1950's we lived up country in Kenya and my father provided us with meat from the game on the plains outside Kericho. We had no refrigeration, just a fly proof meat safe with double screen doors. A Thompson’s Gazelle could provide us and our staff with food for a week. I shot my first buck from the back of a green Ford pick up truck in 1952.
You may never have stood and looked down the sight
At the tommy buck out on the in the breeze
With the barrel on the side of the truck
As your father says, “Gently now, squeeze.”
You may never have felt the kick of the butt,
Then heard the report with a crack,
Or seen the buck just scatter away,
Leaping this way and that.
You may never have smelt the smell of the air
After a fire on the plain
When fresh grass shoot are pushing through
With mushrooms, after the rain.
You may never have heard the kru kroo of a dove
When at dusk to its mate it is calling,
As shadows are lengthening out to the east
And the African night is falling.
You may never have felt the pump of your heart
As you slam the truck cab door
Then lurch on the seat as you cross the plain
To the prey when your only four.
You may never have ridden with game in the back
As rain clouds blacken the sky,
Or heard the clank of the tail-gate chains
And, never again shall I!
Neil Stewart McLeod 11.4.2005
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
As a boy I was raised in Kenya, and our first home was way up country in a place called Koru. My father’s work took him away from home on extended hunting trips. During one of these absences my mother had a bout of malaria, and we went to stay at a mission station run by the Röetikinen sisters. I believe they were Lutheran missionaries. At mid-day when the day was hottest, they always rested, and they wanted us children to stay in our room and be still. They confined us there by taking away our shoes.
When ever I touch the ground that’s hot
With the sole of my foot that’s bare,
I never fail to recall a time,
And the memories lingering there,
Of a day when I was just a boy,
Beneath equatorial skies,
And the tactic used to keep me indoors
While the missionaries rested their eyes.
My mother was sick with malaria
The curse of the tropic zone,
And while my dad was away on the hunt
Their station became our home.
And after lunch when the sky was hot
And the morning’s work was done
They took my shoes away from me
To keep me out of the sun.
The veranda air was still as a grave,
Not a sound to could be heard outside
Save the click-click-click from the beetles
And the grasshoppers jumping to hide.
Or the scratching scaly slither,
Of a snake on the flowerbed verge,
Or the distant cry of the crested crane,
These are the sounds that merge.
The sight of the distant Koru hills
Shimmering in the haze
Beyond the frangipani trees
Return once more to my gaze,
And the prickly spiky Crown of Thorns
That lined the garden ways,
These are the sights that ribbon back
From my early Kenyan days.
The smell of the room was a mixture
Of scents on the garden air,
And creosote coming up through the floor
From the pilings under there,
And paraffin from the pressure lamps
Which hissed as they gave us light.
With the hint of oil of pyrethrum
Sprayed round the eves at night.
The step to my door should I venture
At noon was as hot as a stove,
The soil on the paths and driveway
Would burn if ever I strove.
And the thorns in the earth would prick me
As I cautiously picked my way through
To the shade of the frangipani tree,
From there I took in the view.
So, when ever I touch the ground that’s hot
With the sole of my foot that’s bare,
I never fail to recall a time,
And the memory lingering there,
Of a day when I was just a boy,
Where the images I find,
Set smells and sights and sounds of
Africa sizzling in my mind.
Written on July 4th 2005 in Redding, California, temperature 105° Fahrenheit