A good start to the New Year

Bali, c1983. NE of Kuta, probably covered by houses and carparks now. © PJ Croft

Phew, day after day in the mid 30s, definitely a heat wave. It’s not too bad at night, thank goodness, down to 18C last night. I still have the fan on all night but I must admit it gets a teensy bit chilly in the early hours.

I’m sleeping quite well since I dropped that medication (yes, it was an antidepressant) and I fall asleep within 10 minutes or so. That’s a complete contrast to when I was taking it. I was seeing four or five am every night before I finally succumbed to exhaustion and dropped off. I was fearing going to bed, whereas now I look forward to it.

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I’m doing a fair bit of reading before lights out and I’ve just finished The Surgeon of Crowthorne, by Simon Winchester. I’d heard of it for a long time and now I’ve finally found out what it’s about.

In fact it’s the story of the Oxford English Dictionary, and the surgeon is an American, Dr William Minor who found himself in Britain in the mid 1800s. Unfortunately, due to a predisposition to mental illness, exacerbated by service as a doctor in the American Civil War, he developed a fear of Irish immigrants fighting in the war. He had to carry out some horrific acts as a surgeon, including branding a man as a deserter, and became unemployable by the US Army. As he was a man of means with an army pension, he moved to England.

Unfortunately in his deranged state one night, he shot and killed a stranger, an innocent man who he thought was an Irishman. He was found not guilty by way of insanity and sentenced to imprisonment in Broadmoor Hospital for the Criminally Insane, which is is just outside the village of Crowthorne, hence the title. It’s an hour by train from Oxford.

Dr Minor finds out about a new attempt at a comprehensive English dictionary being compiled starting around 1880. He happens to be an intelligent and learned man, despite his delusions, with a large library in his adjoining cells in the asylum. He writes to the man in charge of the OED project, Dr James Murray, and his help is eagerly sought and accepted. Yet Dr Murray doesn’t find out for more than 20 years who this man is or what his address at Crowthorne means. In that time, Dr Minor contributes tens of thousands of entries to the new dictionary, all on small sheets of paper laid out in a specific way for the checkers and classifiers in London, and later in Oxford.

Finally, curiosity by Dr Murray leads to their meeting, in the asylum, of course, and a firm friendship develops, despite the circumstances of Dr Minor. This continues for another 20 years or so, when Minor, by now very frail in his eighties and having lost most of his mental faculties, is given permission to return to America, where he dies a few years later.

I enjoyed this book very much. It’s a Penguin, so not expensive, and expanded my knowledge quite a bit, not just about the dictionary but also about the American Civil War and mid century London. Highly recommended.

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Speaking of words, I’m peeved!

Pre-prepared. This is ridiculous. If something is prepared, there’s no need to say it again as pre-prepared. This is a tautology in a word.

Lay is the past tense of lie. I do not lay down to sleep, I lie down. Chooks lay eggs.

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Woolies has Easter buns (hot cross buns) on sale already. Good Friday is 2 April this year, three full months away! But I realise I’m being ridiculous – if people want to buy and eat these fruit buns, why not? I’m very partial to them myself.

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I shouldn’t support Amazon, that huge anti-union, anti-competition company, but I admit to buying a few things during the COVID restricted times last year and, in order to save on shipping and postage as well as expedite deliveries, I joined their Prime scheme. It costs about $8 per month, i.e. $96 per year, but I reckon I’ve easily saved that in shipping and postage costs already. As well, delivery times really are fast. That new big tripod wasn’t scheduled for delivery until this week but it surprised me by arriving last Wednesday.

In the Prime deal you also get Amazon Music, access to ‘free’ music streaming over the internet. Boy, I’m hooked. The big deal for me is that it allows me to try a much wider range of music than I’ve had access to before. I think I’ve said, I’m a stick-in-the-mud when it comes to music. I made my choices in the past but when it comes to forking out $20 or so for a new CD that I can’t pre-listen to, I hold back. Consequently, although I’ve got more than 1,000 CDs on my hard drives, I wasn’t listening to them much.

But now I can wander anywhere in the recorded music landscape. Usually I just listen, but if I particularly like something, OK I’ll search out the CD and probably buy it.

One CD I’ve ordered this way is by a group called Liquid Mind. I know nothing about them but this is ethereal meditative music with a subtle beat and I’m hooked. They have several CDs so I’ve chosen a cheapish entree. Recommended (if you don’t want your music to interrupt your thoughts too much).

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Note the dates, 1750, 1762 and so on.

I’m pleasantly free of urgent things and able to choose what to do next. My first priority has to be the Croft History volume 3, 1955 to ?? Unfortunately I was boarding away from home at Northam in the early 60s, then moved to Perth in 1965 and I didn’t have a camera, so there are very few photos from then. Dad took a lot of their Beverley life so that’s OK, but I have very few of me growing up then. It’s not all about me, though, and I have the words to write clear memories of that time.

In fact I have two quite long illustrated articles I wrote for our school 50th reunion in 2014, so I can just incorporate those. Must press on with it.

I nearly forgot, my cousin Stephen in the USA sent me his file, 60MB of it, of all his scanned family history documents. Holy hand grenades, it is huge. There are 141 A4 pages. I’ve hardly had time to start on it yet, although I’ve looked at every page.

So much of it is scans of official documents going back to the mid 19thC, all the marriages, births and deaths, old photos and newspaper clippings. His mother, my aunt, apparently collected all this stuff – I had no idea.

The immediate benefit is that I can finally put definite dates to so many people, and work out who they were, what relation to me. There’s months of work here. Months? Hah! Years!