I’m standing on Bondi Beach’s grassy hill watching Nitro the Two Toned Cavoodlle playing chasey with an especially energetic Boxer pup. Though young and boisterous, the Boxer is considerably bigger than my galloping Cavoodle. As Nitro zips past me, the Boxer barrels behind, his head ramming into my right knee. I collapse, pain shooting up and down my leg. I yell abuse at the big dumb dog and his owner. “I’m just about to go skiing – and now my knee is fucked. Thanks a lot!” The Boxer woman sheepishly apologises, clips a lead to her beast and drags him away from the crazy Cavoodle man. Despite the pain, I manage to ski anyway, discovering sliding on snow hurts considerably less than walking. Only after my return do I go to the doctor. I’m sent off for my first ever MRI scan – an annoyingly loud process. Reading the report, my doctor refers me to a knee specialist he respects for not being overly scalpel happy. “He won’t chop you up unless absolutely necessary.” How re-assuring. I rock up to the surgeon’s office and am immediately impressed. Hanging on the wall is an extraordinary collection of sports memorabilia – signed Sydney Swans’ and Roosters’ footy jerseys, an Australian cricket team bat and an autographed Wallabys’ photo. He’s a laid back and modest man, admitting that he’s not really much of a sports fan. But because he’s a knee guru, he gets lavished with gifts from grateful sports stars. He has a quick look at my knee and then sits opposite me at his desk. He places the large white envelope containing my MRI scans between us. He takes out his pen. “Ok – I’ll take a look at these in a tick but I’m pretty sure I know what’s going on with your knee.” He then proceeds to draw a knee and begins labeling each bit, highlighting where the damage is. But I find it hard to follow. Not because what he’s saying is especially technical or complicated. No, I’m distracted by the fact that this man has the mind blowing ability to write upside down and backwards. Everything from ‘Meniscus’ to ‘Medial Ligament’ to ‘Calsification’ is written so I can easily read it. In fact, his backwards upside down writing is much neater than my forwards right side up attempts. I point this out to him and he shrugs. “I’ve had a lot of practice”. After detailing what he thinks is the issue, he takes out the scans and places them on a light table. He nods. “Yes – just as I thought. The good news – no surgery.” Phew. “The not so good news – you’ll be in pain for about another three months.” Bummer. As I hobble out of his office, I conclude that if either of my knees ever do need to be sliced open, then I want it done by a man whose hand can write upside down and backwards.
Nitro the Two Toned Cavoodle is a goofy, happy go lucky dog and I love him. But every time we encounter a Husky on one of our walks, I’m reminded that these majestic wolf-like creatures remain my favourite breed. The downside for their owners is having to endure my well rehearsed spiel each time I see one. “Oh – I love huskies. They’re my favourite dogs. When I was a teenager in Canada, I went to a school where I helped to raise them for dog sledding.” The reactions vary but most owners are at least mildly interested in my ramblings. And so, briefly, I am transported back to my second year at St John’s Cathedral Boy’s School (aka ‘Canadian Concentration School’) where, as a reward for decent grades and good behavior, I was assigned to ‘Dog Crew’. Every second day, for an hour after each meal, I helped feed the dogs and clean the kennels that housed about forty Huskies and Malamutes (the Husky’s bigger, stronger and generally dumber sled pulling cousin). Oddly enough, the cleaning was less stinky and generally easier in winter when the sub zero temperatures froze solid the chocolate like chunks of poo that could then be easily shovel scooped and discarded. The same shovels were then used to chip away at yellow slabs of ice from the kennel floors. At other times of the year, a hose was used to wash away the piss and softer mounds of poo – a considerably sloppier process. The other highlight in winter was the puppy house, which had to be kept warm with an old wooden stove – a nice place to be when it was thirty degrees below outside. It also proved to be especially fun when we used ether dipped gauze to wrap around their little ears to keep them from being floppy. Ether fumes within a warm confined space full of cute puppies facilitated a few of my more enjoyable moments at Canadian Concentration School. But it wasn’t all about looking after these magnificent beasts. I was also lucky enough to go on a couple of overnight sledding trips. This meant sleeping outside – without a tent but around a campfire, nestled inside two sleeping bags. Although this seems a bit crazy now, especially as we were unaccompanied by any adults, at the time it was a real buzz. Somehow the fact that the dogs were able to cope with just their thick fur coats made it seem an almost normal thing to do on a freezing midwinter’s night. One of the other upsides of dog sledding was Gloop – a mixture of chocolate, peanut butter, honey and nuts that was then frozen into fist sized balls and gnawed on throughout the journey. My team of three soon discovered that Gloop wasn’t only coveted by teenage boys but was also popular with dogs. We had a very cunning female lead with ice blue eyes who would stop every so often and could only be persuaded to take off again after a couple of licks of Gloop (this was before I knew that chocolate is in fact ‘Doggy Death’ – though fortunately that didn’t prove to the case in this instance). Once she did get going, leading the pack behind her, it was exhilarating to ride on the back of that dog powered sled. For over half a century, I’ve been lucky enough to experience a number of amazing things all over the world. But zipping along a frozen lake behind a pack of happy Huskies remains one of the most special.