The best haters are the worst spellers

letter to editor

(In response to Dr Justin Coleman’s Medical Observer column “Irritating my whole profession”)

Dr Justin Coleman may be irritating to many, but to me he remains a hero. I’ve long admired his talents as a writer, speaker, physician and musician. Much as I wish it was otherwise, I have no chance of ever matching his self-deprecating, satirical wit or deft word-play. Likewise, I have neither the passion nor the stomach for being pugilistic for a cause, but I’m ever so grateful that the Justins of the world are willing to do so.

Unlike many university students, I never went through the marching-in-the-streets, burning-my-bra phase, partly because I didn’t fancy sunburn or unsupported breasts, but mostly because I was too busy working to support myself through med school.   I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that wasn’t able to summon up the necessary drive or single-mindedness to become an activist, then or subsequently, but I sympathise with and admire those who do.  Especially those who cop a heap of flack doing so – the “seasoned warriors” amongst us.

In his recent post, “Irritating my whole profession”, Justin gives us a taste of the feedback he’s received in response to the “No Advertising Please” campaign. From “poopy cock” to “unresponsible”, the vitriol again reinforces my observation that the best haters tend to be the worst spellers. I’ve never understood why the outraged will happily criticise others for their choice of words, but don’t seem to hold their own up to the same level of scrutiny.

During my tenure as a Last Word columnist for Australian Doctor, I received a surprising amount of hate mail.  Surprising to me at least, not because I thought I was above criticism, but because I was writing a light-hearted fluff column. The erroneous assumption I made was that as I didn’t take myself seriously, neither would others.  I once had someone write a three page rant about how offended she was about a particular column (which was, incidentally, about my dislike of dogma and black-and-white thinking). She was obviously quite crazy (concerning in itself given that she is, presumably, a practising doctor).

Mind you, I was also criticised for being trite. Some people went to the trouble of writing unsigned letters to say that reading my column wasted their precious time.   I never could comprehend why they wasted more time by bothering to complain I’d wasted their time. When you find something boring or offensive, isn’t it just easier to stop reading or watching it?

I’m all for constructive criticism, and like a good whinge as much as the next person, but I can’t see why being petty and mean is anything but… petty and mean.  Free speech is an important right, but does it really need to be exercised quite so pointlessly?

They say that unlike sticks and stones, words will never hurt you, but that is a load of poppycock and balderdash, or, as Justin’s detractor would say, “poopy-cock and bolder-dash”.  Much as I tried to ignore the more extreme character assignations, they did cause the occasional flesh wound. I hope that Justin has thicker skin than I and has thus dodged any bruises from misspelled threats to hurtle tomatoes or otherwise.

It certainly helps to laugh at the situation though, and Justin wields his comedic pen with aplomb to do just that. I dips me lid to you, Justin. You have my admiration and moral support, but for now at least, I’ll do so from the sidelines, sitting safely, and some would say cowardly, on the fence.



Gloat-worthy Geography (Geo-bragging)

I’ve just read an amusing column penned by my favourite medical writer, Dr Justin Coleman, in which he mused about life as seen while luxuriating on a beach at Byron Bay.

(I know we’re not supposed to play favourites, but let’s be honest, we all do, whether they be friends, colleagues or patients. But you have to maintain plausible deniability when it comes to your offspring.)

Justin’s column got me a-thinking about using places as status symbols / envy-elicitors.

I’ve spent most of my life living in places where other people holiday. I was born and bred on the Gold Coast, moved to Noosa as a GP registrar and have lived in the Byron Bay region for the past 22 months.  If ever challenged, I would hastily defend my choice as being all about lifestyle and not a jot about status, but would also have to admit that I do like to geo-brag now and then, and achieve this by using gloat-worthy geographical descriptions.

Living at Pomona0020

Take my home in “Noosa” for example. Technically, I did live in the Noosa Shire for ten years (although the shire has been since been amalgamated) but the little country town in which I resided for much of that time, Pomona, was forty five minutes and a world away from the luxury and prestige of Noosa Heads.  While its location could be accurately described as a small inland town 37km north of Nambour (Clive Palmer’s new heartland) and 37km south of Gympie (where Clive Palmer is thought to be far too left-wing), describing it instead as “an idyllic town in the Noosa Hinterland” conjures up a more enviable picture.

Likewise, my current home: Ballina.  “Just south of Byron Bay” (31km) sounds more enticing than “east of Lismore”.

My current residence - not hard to gloat about this location

My current residence – not hard to gloat about this location

 Mind you, as soon as I mention that I live only a couple of hundred metres from a picturesque beach, and not much further from the magnificent Shaw’s Bay and the mouth of the gorgeous Richmond River, I don’t have to do much selling!


Justin also made an interesting point about the girth of the typical Byron beach goer, or rather conspicuous lack thereof.  The North Coast of NSW (as defined by Medicare Local boundaries) came in the top 10 “slimmest” regions in recently released figures, and the area around Bryon Bay (which includes hinterland towns such as Mullumbimby, Nimbin and Bangalow) would have no doubt helped to decrease the North Coast’s collective average BMI considerably.  Mind you, it also helped to decrease the region’s childhood immunisation rates. We came in the top 10 for the slimmest (aka lowest) childhood immunisation rates (by Medicare Local region) too.

Interestingly, several of the Medicare Local catchments in the bottom 10 for childhood immunisation rates, were also in the bottom 10 for obesity rates, including Eastern Sydney and the Sunshine Coast.  Probably not a chicken and egg conundrum, more a likelihood that conscientious objectors to immunisation have similar conscientious objections to eating egg McMuffins for breakfast and KFC for lunch.

My local "near-Byron" beach.

My local “near-Byron” beach.

Time for me to go for a stroll on my near-Byron beach before I prepare my chicken-and-egg-free Byron-style dinner.

To finish, I will just point out that I’m not the only one to use Byron’s name in vain. Even Ballina airport calls itself Ballina-Byron, proclaiming itself as “the gateway to beautiful Byron Bay”.  But be warned, there is a long, albeit scenic, driveway.  The taxi fare from the “gateway” to your hotel in Byron may cost you more than your airfare from Sydney!