Legends from our own lunchtimes

Thursday, June 05, 2008


We love living where we live, in a land of endless blue skies and glorious beaches, and wide open spaces and in a place which, if you ignore the odd poisonous snake and spider and the apparently constant risk of being taken by a shark or crocodile there is really little risk of injury to life or limb.

The most common risk to all is skin cancer, a disease which impacts on about half our population and if caught early enough is usually without long term effect. If not, the consequences can be dire, to say nothing of being terminal.

Most of our country is below a hole in the ozone layer in earth's atmosphere which allows an unnecessarily large amount of UV radiation to interrupt our outdoor pleasure, and while it all feels pretty good at the time, the long term consequences are not.

Having been born at a time when the impact of this was not at all understood, much of my time in my formative years was spent in what were thought to be healthy outdoor pursuits, time spent hatless and shirtless and if there was a dressing, it was called "tanning lotion" not sunblock, and always contained some sort of oil to hasten the frying process. Usually the only body parts that were protected in any way from the sun’s ravages were the nose and occasionally one’s lips, which would get great lashings of Zinc Cream, a white goo with enough heavy metals in it to run a small power station.

From an early age I had been the subject along with the others in my group, of stern warnings from our kindergarten teacher Mrs Kennedy, who would warn us every day to put on our hats when we went outside or we'd have "Freckles as big as Penny's". Even at the tender age of four, I didn't think was particularly fair to single out Penny, who had a shock of red hair and a complexion to match and was probably been born completely dappled. I didn’t believe that a hat would make one jot of difference.

Sometime in the 70's a public education programme was introduced and we all became aware of the risks, and UV inhibitors became available along with shirts to wear while surfing, but it appears it all came too late for me, the damage was done.

In my fifty-fifth year, a Basil Cell Carcinoma appeared on my shoulder.

This unwelcome little spot was barely the size of a one cent coin and was duly exorcised, with a mere flash of a surgeon’s knife, but Mrs Kennedy’s words began to haunt me.

"Freckles as big as Penny's", she had said, and I'd remembered without question for half a century, never thinking for a second that her grammar may have been open to interpretation. What was it she was really saying?

My four year old brain knew better: My hair wasn't red, I didn't have any freckles, I didn't need a hat. I would tan.

I hadn't for a minute considered she'd been talking about something else, the copper coin about thirty millimetres in diameter that were valued at twelve to the shilling in those days long before decimal currency.

If I had, would I have taken her advice?

Possibly not, but even though I hadn't, my nasty freckle was only as big as a five cent piece, nowhere near the size of a Penny.

If you can’t trust your kindy teacher, who can you trust?


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