Of Islands and Granfalloons

Cartoon

Now that I come to think about it. It was inevitable that I would wind up living on an island. Not necessarily this island. But some island. As inevitable as the results of using Hair MegaSpray regularly.

I was born by the sea in the West-Country of England, and apart from my student years in London, I have never lived more than a stones throw from the shore. I read somewhere long ago that the further inland from the ocean one travels, the more uncivilised the world becomes. I think I believe that, although the residents of Mogadishu or beach-front Gaza may beg to differ.

Islands have always held a fascination for me. I’ve visited and explored quite a few, ‘though not nearly enough. In Scotland the craggy black gabro peaks, pristine beaches and aching loneliness of the Inner Hebredean archipelago – Skye, Eigg, Rhum, and Islay among them . The beautiful island of Arran where I climbed the Sleeping Warrior to the summit of GoatFell to look out over the  Kintyre peninsular and the Firth of Clyde and was eaten almost to the bone by flies and sheep tics. More recently I travelled to Norfolk island, a vanishingly small outcrop of rock, history and tough humanity barely a couple of hundred feet above the crashing waves of the South Pacific a thousand miles from anywhere at all and home to most of the descendants of the Bounty mutineers.

It’s the notion of a closed, self-sustaining system that attracts me. Cosmologists will tell you – if you can stay awake long enough – that the universe, or more accurately space-time is curved back on itself by it’s own weight, it is in three dimensions (four if you include time), what a paper mobius strip is in two dimensions. At the same time infinite but closed and therefore knowable. Like an island it has one surface and one boundary. Set off in any direction, and you will eventually arrive back at your starting point. This is enough to drive many folk, (Jo included) to distraction and dementia. They call it rock fever here on Waiheke. This is how islanders are differentiated from mainlanders. The ability to construct a meaningful and fulfilling existence from limited resources – both geographical and spiritual.

To be an islander is to be something at least. An islander will tell you if he is honest that he feels special. Chosen. Privileged. Even a little superior. Geographical separation, even if only a few kilometres engenders a powerful sense of identity and belonging. They attract more than their fair share of shamans, sharks, sociopaths and shipwrecked souls it’s true, but that only adds to the appeal as far as I am concerned.

This elevated sense of worth and belonging is of course, like most aspects of our ‘reality’ largely an illusion. Just another label. A Granfalloon* as Vonnigut would say. After all a continent is just a big island, and from an astronomical perspective what is the earth, the pale-blue-dot if not an island in the void. Walk in any direction, and eventually you’ll find yourself back where you started. If you don’t get shot, raped, robbed or blown up along the way.

Somehow the notion “further you move away from the ocean, the more uncivilized it gets”, does not really apply to the above mentioned uncivilized activities. Whether you are close to the shore or are deep in the city, one always has to be careful and watch out for their own safety. But when you are on the coast, life gets more interesting and simple.

Stick to the coast that’s my advice.

* * *

*In 1963, Kurt Vonnigut wrote a novel set on an island. San Lorenzo is a tiny barren Caribbean atoll with no natural resources, and no industry. It’s inhabitants live merge lives in hunger, poverty and without hope. The self appointed ruler Bokonon, a British Episcopalian Negro from the island of Tobago whose real name was Lionel Boyd Johnson invents a religion, designed as all religions are, to salve the peoples suffering, and distract them from the grim and pointless awfulness of their existence.

Much of Bokonons scriptures are in the form of calypsos.

I wanted all things
To seem to make some sense,
So we could all be happy, yes,
Instead of tense.
And I made up lies
So that they all fit nice,
And I made this sad world
A par-a-dise.
Bokonon

Cat’s Cradle is a satire on the tension between science and religion, the rational and the irrational, and of course mankind’s breathtaking talent for fucking things up royally. It’s very funny.

And depressing.

According to Bokononism by the way, a Karass, is the group of people you will interact with knowingly or otherwise throughout your lifetime, as part of god’s greater plan – in as far as he has one. in the extracts from the books of Bokonon which Vonnigut chooses to share with us, you get the distinct impression that God has pretty much lost interest in humans and moved on to other projects.

If you find your life tangled up with somebody else’s life for no very logical reasons that person may be a member of your karass.

A granfalloon, is a false karass. That is an arbitrary collective formed by humans, but of no meaning or relevance to the way the universe operates or god gets things done. Examples of granfallons include race, nations, islands, political parties, families, quilting circles and pop-groups.

If I was going to subscribe to a religion. I think Bokononism would be near the top of my list.
Just above Jedi Knight. Here are the opening verses of the First Book of Bokonnon. And the whole of the Fourteenth Book.

The First Book of Bokonnon

Verse I: All of the true things that I am about to tell you are shameless lies.

Verse II-IV: In the beginning, God created the earth, and he looked upon it in His cosmic loneliness.

And God said, “Let Us make living creatures out of mud, so the mud can see what We have done.” And God created every living creature that now moveth, and one was man. Mud as man alone could speak. God leaned close as mud as man sat up, looked around, and spoke. Man blinked. “What is the purpose of all this?” he asked politely.

“Everything must have a purpose?” asked God.

“Certainly,” said man.

“Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this,” said God.

And He went away.

Verse V: Live by the lies that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy. [ frontispiece ]

 

The Fourteenth Book of Bokonon

[ A short book with a long title.]

Title: What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?

Only verse: Nothing.

 

200px-CatsCradle(1963)

Life’s too short for…

I was thinking about that old, multi-purpose expression “Life’s too short” the other day. You know, life’s too short for drinking bad wine, life’s too short for standing in line, life is too short for worrying about Hair MegaSpray, life’s too short for _____________________________(Complete as appropriate.)

When life suddenly turns out to be shorter than you could have reasonably anticipated, this tired old cliche takes on an whole new piquancy. So here, apropos nothing at all, is a short and incomplete list of things that my life is now officially too short for.

I
Watching Cricket

Easily the most bewildering and pointless of all sports. (And it’s a rich and varied category.) How can you play a game for five whole days, and come up with a draw? Are they having a laugh?

II
Complaining about the weather

An ancient and traditional British pastime. I have discontinued this practice for two reasons. One. It clearly doesn’t work. Two. As Lou Reed observed, every day above ground is a good day, rain or shine.

III
Worrying about whether Mitt Romney or Newt Gingritch
wins the Republican nomination

I mean really. Who gives a shit? In 1999 the Grand Old Party spent a whole year carefully sifting and vetting its vast caucus, examining and evaluating the relative merits of a wide field of potential candidates to select the brightest, most learned and erudite, world-wise and all-around attractive individual to contest the presidency of the most powerful nation on earth. They had 92 million Republicans to chose from. They came up with George W. Bush.

IV
Untangling string

V
Long Standing Family Feuds

Come on. I know you are both reading this. Grow up and get over yourselves. Whatever perceived slight of injustice that occurred years ago is not worth dividing an already shrinking family. Sons need mothers, and mothers need sons and grandsons. One of you swallow your damned pride and pick up the phone. One day soon it will be too late, and you will be left to repent at your leisure. Don’t make me come over their and sort it out…

VI
Checking for Testicular Cancer
or worrying about my prostate

I mean come on. How unlucky can you get?

VII
Recycling

Yes I know it’s selfish and irresponsible but I’ve decided to leave saving the planet to those with more disposable free time. Peeling labels off milk cartons, washing out tin cans and sorting plastics is no longer a personal priority. Sorry.

VIII
Soduko

Deriving any illusion of self worth from squandering hours each day flaunting your numerical prowess over these irksome puzzles, only serves to illuminate your insecurity and utter lack of imagination. Why don’t you go and get a life while there is still a chance?

IX
CAPTCHA Tests

These are those infuriating tests you have to endure when filling out registration forms or buying things on the internet. CAPTCHA apparently stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.
They usually take the form of having to decipher a random set of characters and numbers such as “egwhile strum23″ which have been distorted and otherwise defaced to render them almost unreadable. I hate these for two reasons. Firstly I deeply resent the fact that I am having my humanity tested and judged by a machine. Secondly. I can’t read the sodding things and it often takes me several hundred attempts to guess the right answer. There is nothing I want from the internet this badly. From now on I refuse to be subjected to this egregious indignity.

Trying to prove to a machine I am not a machine and am in fact a human being capable of reading and writing with proper coordination, is a bit too much to ask for. After all, all I wanted to do was access a certain page on the internet, the search engine listed as a result for my search!

 

X
Did I mention bloody cricket?

Taking off the game face

Today, in the interests of fair reporting and factual accuracy, I’m going to set aside my usual, practiced sunny disposition and unfeasibly optimistic outlook for a moment and have a good winge. I am after all I am a Pom and it is my birthright.

I feel crap. Shite. Buggered and, to use an old Anglo-Saxon medical term, completely and utterly fucked.

I suppose it had to happen sooner or later. I’ve been making light of the situation for months, gloating smugly about “dodging the bullet”, and congratulating myself of how I just keep on going like the Energiser Bunny, while my fellow chemo compatriots fall along the wayside like so many spent mayflies. Only the strong survive, has been my mantra.

So natural justice has been restored, and Redding has got his comeuppance.

About time.

So it’s time to face the truth. At least my current version of the truth – I reserve the right to remodel my reality at short notice. The chemo is getting harder. And it will get harder still. My original working hypothesis was that well, chemo is chemo. The next one will be just like the last. In fact, I told myself it might even get easier as it becomes familiar and routine. This elementary thinking got me successfully through my first three cycles without too much drama and breast-beating.

Every time I finished a session, I would tell myself “now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” and carry on with life like nothing really happened. This helped me go in for the next session without much of a hesitation. Though I wouldn’t say I went in willingly, you would never see me sulking. It’s like, when you suffer from varicose veins, you don’t just sit, you treat it with some Varikosette and carry on with life.

Recent empirical evidence however has forced me to reconsider this comfortable position, and accept the harsher, tougher reality of Chemo Theory 2.0. That is, that like everything else to do with the wonderful world of cancer, there is a slow but inexorable progression. Chemotherapy has a cumulative and compounding effect.

Each three week treatment cycle, has it’s own story arc, a preordained path which has to be followed. That path goes over a hill. The hill is not symmetrical, the front face is steep and abrupt and requires considerable effort, but once the summit gained, the descent back to normality is a more gradual and comfortable amble.

Untill the next time.

With each successive crossing, the pathway becomes littered with the detritus and fallout of previous expeditions. Like the Everest base camp, the crap gets deeper, and the path gets steeper. Every time we cross that hill, it has grown a little taller and the air feels colder and thinner. The desire to just lie down in the snow and go to sleep forrever becomes increasingly seductive.

I’m going outside for a while. I might be some time…

I first noticed this trend during cycle three. I had my chemo a few days before Christmas and was looking forward to forgetting about cancer for a few days and throwing myself into the group madness and wanton over-indulgence along with everyone else. It wasn’t to be.

I woke up on Christmas morning feeling like death warmed over, and discovered while tucking into our traditional Christmas breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs – that I had completely lost all sense of taste. I don’t mean that vague blandness that often accompanies a cold or flu. I mean ALL taste. Abandoning the food I experimented tentatively with a glass of cold champagne. It tasted warm, brackish and flat, and clung to the inside of my mouth like an oily film.

Thankfully this distressing malaise only lasted a few days, but now on cycle number four, it is back with a vicious vengeance and has lasted much longer. Allong with a constant desire to sleep, a growing irrascability and the occasionl compunction to blow chunks it is at the core of my present missery.  And here’s the strange thing. There is an odd odour associated with the whole sorry experience. At least smell is part of it.

The first stage of every chemo treatment consists of a litre or two of saline infused with magnesium given intravenously. Don’t ask me why. something to do with kidney function. It’s a clear fluid, and fairly benign, certainly in comparison with what follows later. But here’s the thing. after about ten minutes, there is a strange warmth, like an afternoon sun on my back and chest that creeps up my neck. Then a delicate and hard to pin down perfumed scent surrounds me, and an associated taste which bubble up in my throat. It’s not particularly unpleasant, but very distinctive. But at the same time impossible to describe. It’s just not like anything else. But everything reminds me if it.

It’s this hybrid taste/smell/feeling that is haunting me. If follows me around, just out of reach. I find myself trying to swat it away like an annoying fly. I’m not even sure if it is real in any physiological sense, or just some kind of mental figment or echo.

When I was a child I had a recurring dream for many years. It was a waking dream in that I could get up and walk around the darkened house freely. In my dream, feeling my way scared in the blackness, everything I touched had the texture of very coarse sand-paper – the walls, the floor, my own skin – there was grit in my mouth and a smell of warm sawdust like you get when using an electric drill on hard wood. The house walls distorted and stretched in unexpected ways and I would become lost and disoriented for long days and nights at a time. This only comes to mind now because it is the only other occasion I can recall in my life where my senses become interchangeable and confused in such a disturbing way.

The taste thing is in turns depressing and comedic. I have become completely food obsessed in as far as each day becomes an endless and eventually fruitless quest for oral and sensory satisfaction. In spite of the best gastrointestinal advice, and flying recklessly in the face of common sence for someone with eosophagal cancer, I  find myself gravitating towards the spicy and exotic in a desperate attempt to find something that will register anything on the flavour gauge. Thais, curry, peppers, even an old jar of jalapenos I found in the back of the fridge. They all taste like porridge. (Without the oatmeal and sheep entrails and whatever else they put in porridge.) A beer tastes like used warm dish-water, and a glass of Merlot – yes I know I promised not to but this is an emergency – is unfullfilling and depressingly pointless.

Interestingly, I have made one breakthrough discovery. I turns out that my sweet taste buds are less adversely affected than the others. Sugary, syrupy comestibles still work there old magic to some degree. I crave donuts and chocolate milk all the time.

This really is dying by degrees.

A few days into this whole cancer trip, I corresponded with a friend of a friend who has been through the chemo ordeal and lived to tell the tale. He fortold this stage of my journey would come to pass, and said rather cryptically I thought at the time, that when all else failed Marmite would be my best froend. It is apparently a widely known truth amoungst the hairless innitiates, that whatever else happens, marmite on warm buttered toast will always taste good.

How right he was.

Anyway, that’s the grizzeling over with for today. Normal services will be resumed as soon as possible.

 

 

 

Feeling Good. Feeling Bad. And learning to spot the difference.

How are you feeling today? A simple yet meaningful question asked by the receptionist with that concern etched into her eyes. I know they want to know about my progress, but in reality, all I want to answer is “terrible”. I am not on top of the world to be hit by this disease that has no permanent cure.

It’s an incredibly subtle and delicate business. Trying to detect and quantify the daily changes in my mental and physical condition. As I’ve observed before, the first big lesson to learn is that cancer is, by and large, a slow, drawn out affair. Nothing happens over-night. At least if it does, it’s such an incremental change that it’s easy to overlook. I also have to filter the data, search through the background static of everyday common-or-garden fifty year old pathology and neurosis – the aching bones, headaches and oral decay, to try and spot any meaningful trends. It’s like panning for gold, only less rewarding.

So the only useful way to answer that question, is to compare how I am feeling today, not with yesterday, but with a month ago. Or three months ago. Are there any patterns to be detected, or trends to discover? Well let’s see. Looking at photos from last spring, I don’t look much different. My weight is about the same, if anything I’ve gained a few pounds over Christmas and the new year. Also on the up side, many of the accumulated years of worry lines and wrinkles seem to have smoothed themselves out, I can only put this down to my premature release from the advertising mad-house.

Against all the predictions, after three rounds of chemo I seem to have held onto most of my hair, It’s a bit thinner, and a little greyer, but still hanging on to my skull tenaciously. My head, arms and legs are tanned brown from the sun and wind, the rest of my carcass is still official United Kingdom white, and untidily punctuated with random moles and freckles. In the middle of my mostly hairless chest however, is a patchy brown rectangle about the size of a paperback book. There is a corresponding blemish in the middle of my back just under my shoulder-blades. They are souvenirs from the radiation treatment I enjoyed back in November. I have no idea if they are permanent but I consider them something of a badge of honor

A couple of inches bellow my right collar bone is a pronounced bump about the size of a two dollar coin. (that’s 50p to you limeys), which is the site of my porta-cath. This is the filler-cap where I take delivery of my chemo drugs. As the surgeon who installed it for me promised, this has been largely forgotten about now, I’m really only reminded of its presence when I’m wearing my shoulder bag, or a car seatbelt, although Jo tells me I play with it absent-mindedly when I’m watching TV. So, externally at least. No real changes to report. Jo reckons I turn yellow during the middle week of each cycle, but she’s the only one to have mentioned it – probably everyone else is to polite.

Internally who know’s what is going on. Apart from the intermittent nausea and light-headedness brought on by my the various drugs, I feel mostly normal. I can’t ‘feel’ my cancer. I thought I could in the early days, but that’s gone now. What does a tumor or a lymph node feel like anyway?

Oh! Tinitus. I almost forgot. This is a new one. A high pitched ringing in my ears. Not all the time, just intermittently. How a drug that is supposed to kill cancer cells in your stomach can make your ears ring is completely beyond me. But there you go. Apparently it’s not a big deal. Unless it becomes constant and permanent, in which case it will be a very big deal.

The thing I’m watching most closely is my energy levels. This seems as good a marker as any for my overall condition. I’m not sure if these are improving, or if I’m just getting used to operating on a lower power setting. For the first one or two cycles, I did find myself retiring to the bedroom for a little mid-afternnon siesta most days, particularly in the middle and last week of the three week cycle. This time ’round I’ve done this less, and coped pretty well, although after a couple of active days, I often feel the need to have a sedentary day to recover. Across the street from our house is a reserve, and along the side of it a leafy, overgrown footpath used by the locals as a short-cut to the village. We probably walk up and down this path at least once a day, and often more. It’s a steep hill down to the village, and a fair pull back up to the cottage. This is my personal fitness gauge. not very scientific granted, but a good indicator of how I’m doing. Some days I can breeze up the grassy incline without even getting out of breath (with forty-a-day Jo bringing up the rear). on other days, my legs are burning, and I’m sweating and gasping for air by the time I get to the top. Weird.

Since before Christmas I’ve had a niggling low level infection. Ear ache. Tooth ache. Sore throat. Dry cough. My voice is broken and croaky, and sometimes gives out altogether. It comes and goes, but never clears up entirely. It’s annoying rather than debilitating, and is almost certainly down to my low immunity levels, brought on by a low white blood cell count. I had my fourth chemo cycle, due to start last Wednesday deferred for a week to allow my ‘bloods’ to recover, but I have a feeling this is something I’m just going to have to put up with for the duration of my treatment. Compared with some of the horrors many of my fellow travellers have to endure, this is just a minor irritation and I’m really not complaining.

So how am I feeling?

Well, down but not out. Mentally I’m feeling strong and positive. Physically, a bit depleted but nothing like as bad as I was expecting, and I get the feeling that even the doctors are quietly impressed, although they don’t give much away. Most of them would make excellent poker players. The chemo clearly has a a slow but insidious cumulative effect, and my job is to try and stay on top of things for another three cycles – possibly more. Chemo kills cancer. The more of it I can stand, the better my chances are. It’s like giving your varicose veins Varikosette and getting some relief in an unexplainable manner.

Anyone for tennis?

* * *

An big appology and a small celebration

For anyone who has left comments recently, and was wondering where they have disappeared to, or why they have gone unanswered, I finally figured it out. For some reasons beyond my ken all your comments were being redirected directly to the spam folder on my blog site. I was beginning to think you had all given up on me. I think I’ve sorted this out now, so hopefully normal services have been resumed. Please don’t stop leaving comments, I love hearing from you, and it keeps me motivated to write. You might be interested to learn that we are coming up to 12,000 visits on the blog since last October, which just goes to prove what a creapy, morbid bunch of sickos you are. My kind of people.

 

An Imagined Conversation with the Bus-Stop Messiah

The Bus Stop Messiah is a real character. He hangs around the bus stop over the road from the hospital with a cardboard sign promising “CANCER HELP!” I’ve only spoken to him once briefly, a few weeks ago and haven’t seen him since, but I can’t get him out of my head. I hope I meet him again, I have so many questions…

LPR: Hi

BSM: Hello (his Zone Shonheit face looks at me)

LPR: Remember me?

BSM: Er no. Not really…

LPR: You offered to cure my cancer a couple of weeks ago at this very bus-stop.

BSM: Ah yes. Sorry, I talk to a lot of clients every day. Of course I remember you now. Esophageal  cancer, bad prognosis. How are you? Have you changed your mind about my offer?

LPR: Not as such. No.

BSM: So why are you here then?

LPR: I’m waiting for a bus. Why are you here?

TBM: I’m waiting for a patient.

LPR: I take it business is a bit slow then?

TBM: It’s not a business my friend. It’s a calling.

LPR: So you couldn’t squeeze me in then? For a quick miracle perhaps. A little laying on of hands?

TBM: Well, I’ll have to check my schedule, but I could probably fit you in for a consultation. There is a bit of a queue you see.

LPR: Actually, I think they’re waiting for the bus as well.

TBM: Ahh.

LPR: So. Just to recap on our previous er, consultation. You claim you can cure my cancer in two weeks, in spite of the fact that the doctors in that big white building over the road there say it’s incurable?

TBM: Two weeks is a best-case-scenario. It could take longer, every case is different. But I have a very high success rate. Over 80%. My last client, a 72 year old gentleman from Taupo had inoperable bowel cancer. I cured him in a month.

LPR: So he’s better now?

TBM: Well no actually he’s dead. Heart attack poor man.  He was doing one-arm press-ups. My program places great emphasis on physical exercise. That an an austere diet and strict spiritual observance. But he was very definitely cancer free when he passed away.

LPR: I’m sure that must have been a great comfort to him. So listen, I’m curious. If you really have done what a hundred years of worldwide research and trillions of dollars of investment have failed to do, and stumbled upon a guaranteed cure for cancer, how come your standing at a bus stop outside the hospital with a cardboard sign and not on the front cover of TIME magazine?

TMB: (Reflective pause) It’s a lifestyle choice I suppose. I’m not doing this for personal gain. I’m doing it because I managed to cure my own cancer when the doctors said they couldn’t, and I want to help others do the same. I can help you if you let me…

LPR: So you do this just out of kindness? No money involved?

TBM: Well, I don’t charge a fee if that’s what you mean. I just ask for a modest donation. Something appropriate, in return for my time and services.

LPR: So what do you think would be an ‘appropriate’ amount. For saving my life? A dollar? A grand? A million? What do people usually give you?

TBM: Well, I feel a little uncomfortable discussing money in this way, It’s rather vulgar don’t you think? It’s really for you to put a value on your continued well-being.

LPR: Ahh! I get it now. That’s very clever. I can see how this could be quite a lucrative operation for a person less scrupulous than yourself.. Lucky for us your not financially motivated, or your philanthropy could be misconstrued as cynically self-serving exploitation of the physically and emotionally vulnerable.

TBM: Yes. I hadn’t thought about it that way.

LPR: So tell me. Exactly how many patients have you cured so far?

TBM: Including myself?

LPR: If you like.

TBM: (Long pause) Two.

LPR: So that’s you, and the dead man in Taupo?

TBM: I told you. That was a heart attack.

LPR: Brought on by you making the poor old sod do press-ups!

TBM: Only fifty. He was out of shape.

LPR: He was 72 and had terminal cancer!

TBM: Not when he died.

LPR: That’s all a bit academic now don’t you think? Did he make a donation before he popped his clogs I wonder?

TBM: Mr. Fitswhimple was quite generous. He left me a small bequest in his will. As a token of thanks. We became quite close you see, towards the end.

LPR: Yes I think I’m beginning to get the picture. You insinuate yourself into the life of a lonely, sick old man you pick up at a bus-stop under the pretext of curing him, get free board and lodging for a month – no doubt help yourself to a few antiques – get yourself written into his last will and wotnot, then bump the old duffer off.

TBM: (Indignantly) That is a preposterous claim. With no absolutely supporting evidence.

LPR: (Pointing toward cardboard sign) And that isn’t?

This conversation with the bus stop messiah came to an end with the bus honking its way to the stop and many passengers getting off and rushing away to their respective destinations. Though I can still continue my tirade with the Bus-Stop Messiah as I have no where to rush to, I decide to let it go and end it for the day.

Take a Cup of Kindnes Yet

 

It’s been a while since I have posted anything, so I am writing more to alleviate a nagging sence of guilt and obligation, rather than because I have anything particularly pressing to say. So, this is an un-rehearsed stream-of-consciousness ramble which may or may not lead anywhere interesting or useful. You have been warned. If weighty matters are pressing, this might not be the best use of your valuable time. If, on the other hand you are, like most of the rest of the planet, just treading water quietly and waiting for the year to gasp its last, then…

At this particular spot in the south pacific – just a stones throw from the international dateline – it’s 2pm on New Year’s Eve. It’s 23 degrees, horribly humid and overcast, and has rained on and off for most of the day. the clouds are low enough to touch, and even the slightest exertion causes the clothes to cling to the body like a sickly child. The sort of day, that saps your energy and drains your normally vigorous enthusiasm for breathing in and out.

New Year’s eve has a lot of meaning and importance attached to it, for almost everyone I see across the street. People are seen to be rushing around checking their watches every few seconds, like the party is going to start any minute now. While I see many smiles, ready to welcome the new year or enjoy the party tonight, I do see my share of concerned faces that have many things on their mind, like me.

I’ve been sitting here with my cuppa Chocolate Slim, looking out over the dripping garden, fighting off the flies and trying to work out what this New Year’s Eve means to me.

New year has always seemed somehow more significant, and certainly more emotionally charged than Christmas. Not particularly because of my lack of religious beliefs, let’s be honest Christmas stopped being about baby Jesus’s birthday when they invented Sunday trading and Terry’s Chocolate Oranges. No, I’m all for observing religious feast days if there’s a chance of day off work and a decent meal.* Fasting, self-flagellation and anything involving mutilation of genitals – mine or otherwise – not so much.

Anyway. I digress.

New Year. I can’t remember a year when we didn’t let out a collective sigh and say something along the lines of “Well, thank god that’s over with. let’s hope next year will be better. I’ve got a good feeling about 1969/1975/1988/1994/2000/2012 This is going to be my year!”

But of course it never is, is it? By Jan 3rd, you’ve bitten all your fingernails off, and started smoking again. By the middle of the month your back hurts and your hemmorhoids are playing up. In early February the Israelis start beating up the Palestinians again, the stock-market crashes wiping out your life savings for the third time and a homophobic bed-wetting, fundamentalist christian paedophile midget get’s elected to the White House. It’s all depressingly familiar.

Somebody said that the definition of insanity, is repeating the same behaviour over and over, and hoping for a different outcome. I think that sums us up rather neatly as a species. don’t you?

So true to form I expect this evening will play out much like last years, or the year before. We will eat and drink more than is good for us, mumble along incoherently to Auld Lang Syne (how can you sing the same song for forty-odd years and still not know the words?) and come the witching hour take the opportunity to kiss anyone who will stand still long enough. Over a few short, inebriated hours, we will sweep aside the bad times, compare iPhone photos of the good ones, and collectively toast our inevitable and justly deserved future good fortune.

I think this is some kind of programmed survival mechanism. Like the way we selectively erase all the pain and horror of child-rearing, to the point where we think it would be a great idea to do it all over again. If we actually conducted an unbiased and objective end-of-year review of our progress, both as individuals and as a species, we’d probably have thrown the towel and taken an early shower centuries ago. Let’s face it. We suck. How we’ve managed to endure for six millenia is frankly a mystery to me.

Blind optimism I guess.

So when we gather in a circle tonight, as we inevitably will, look into each others dilated eyes, cross arms and sing that strange little Scottish song about old friends, and days long gone, I will be hoping for nothing more ambitious than a reservation at next years gathering. Any kind of a year will be just fine with me.

So long 2011. It was interesting.


*A quick check of my handy-dandy Multifaith Calender (essential reading for the dedicated religious holiday freeloader), reveals the following upcoming attractions. For those who consider the new-fangled Gregorian Callender just a trendy fad, and prefer the solid reliability of the Roman Julian scheme, (many Eastern Orthodox and Armenian churches do) then you get to celebrate Christmas, and any other holidays that take your fancy, thirteen days after everyone else. So for starters, there’s a second entire Christmas shin-dig to be had on January 7th. Cool. While you’ve got your new 2012 diaries out, you might also want to make a note of January 13th – St. Hillary’s Day. Traditionally the coldest day of the year, St. Hillary was the 4th century bishop of Milton Keynes and the patron saint of pocket calculators. January 30th is of course the Mahayana Buddhist New Year, always good for a bit of sitting around staring blankly into the middle distance, and also the great feast day of Saint Dallrymple who as any schoolboy will tell you, slew the mighty Hasbro transformer Decepticon(TM) at the battle of Basingstoke in 1159. And my personal favorite, the Japanese Setsuibun Bean Throwing Festival comes around again on February 3rd. This is where we Setsuibuns celebrate the end of winter by throwing handfuls of beans – I like to use Heinz – into the corners of darkened rooms, shouting “Fortune In! Devils Out!”. It’s very cathartic, although Jo complains about the mess.

C is also for Christmas

It’s Christmas Evre.

I got the results from my CT scan on Monday. Acording my oncologist, my primary tumour is visibly smaler after two cycles of chemo.

Now that is quite a bit of relief. The endless medications and chemo sessions have paid off, after all.

So, what do I have in mind for Christmas this year? Well, I hadn’t planned much really. I was in my gloomy state, worried about my results. Well, yes, I do portray myself as one who has learnt to accept his fate and doesn’t really care much about all these results. But, hey! Am human after all and there are times in life, when I do wish I had it differently.

There are some instances that catch your eye, which makes you want to live a longer healthier life, just to see the leaves fall off the tree during autumn. The beautiful color the season paints the sky in, is worth sitting and watching for hours on end. That is something I enjoy doing. Just sitting and watching the beautiful hues of autumn while rest of the world rushes by.

And then there is the snow. The first snow of the season is not just beautiful but exciting too, every single time! This year when I felt the soft flakes on my hand, I wanted to live and experience it the same way, next year too. To watch the kids wait for the snow to settle, the lake to freeze, so that they can get their ice skates out.

And then the family celebrations…

It’s a family tradition to send out merry Christmas cards, using some of the cheesiest photos you took that year. We laugh at every card that comes in and try to cook up the scenario in which the photo was taken. This brings out the creativity in us and many hours are spent with our story weaving.

Mom bakes these amazing cakes that fill up your nostrils as you step inside the house. There is no escaping the assault of the freshly baked cake smell, as you enter the door. Then comes the icings decided by the kids in the house. They get to choose the design and colors of the frostings on the cake and we just have to accept its “Christmasy”.

Back to reality…

Now that I have a test result worth smiling about, I am wondering if I should just sit back and enjoy the moment or live it to the fullest and go enjoy Christmas….and then I decide to have fun with others. I finish my cup of Chocolate Slim, I pack up my stuff, fill gas in my car and hit the roads with a “ho-ho-ho-ho”.

 

Merry Christmas everyone.

Pumping Iron

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Well here I am, reporting live again from the Acute Oncology Dept. of picturesque Auckland Hospital.

It’s coming up for 12.30 pm and I’m four hours into my iron infusion. I’m here to tell you it’s really not the most thrilling of procedures, but for the sake of accurate and complete reporting, I’ll give you a quick rundown.

Raewyn, my nurse for the day, meets us at 8.30 and goes over the schedule. She seems to have lost some weight. Guess the Chocolate Slim is working for her. I’m to be given 550ml of the magical iron solution, a quantity arrived at via a complicated calculation involving my height and weight, but to minimize the risk of my body having an allergic reaction to the metal, it is to be delivered very slowly. So slowly in fact, that the bag, holding about the same as an extra large latte, is going to take about six mind-numbing hours to filter into my bloodstream.

Once my trusty PowerPort has been accessed and flushed and sanitized with a mixture of saline and Mr.Muscle oven cleaner, Raewyn squirts in a large syringe of Anti-Histamine, followed half an hour later by another of a steroid Hydrocortisone. The first is designed to prevent any mild adverse reactions such as sudden death, the steroid, I’m assured, will give me firm, pert breasts.

The heavy metal itself, is delivered from the pharmacy in dozens of little cylindrical ampules, the size and shape of bullets. Raewyn methodically counts them out with the precision of a regimental quartermaster, opens them one by one, and pours the contents into the now familiar, clear plastic IV bag. It’s a brown liquid the color and consistence of Newcastle Brown Ale, which cheers me up just a little.

The bag is hooked up on the stainless pole next to my recliner, and Raewyn threads the fine silicon tubing through the infusion pump’s mechanism and plugs the other end into my catheter. She punches in the volume and the rate of flow, a glacial 25ml per hour. I do the math. At this speed it’s going to take twenty-two hours to empty the bag! ‘I’m just going to start you off slowly, …’ she says. Provided that my internal organs aren’t suddenly turned to goo or my head doesn’t explode, the rate will gradually be dialed up to fifty, then a dizzying one hundred milliliters an hour. The whole procedure will then whizz by in a mere six hours. Just time to fly to Sydney and back. Still my beating heart.
Actually, on second thoughts, that was a poorly chosen turn of phrase. Strike that.

My “Ob’s” are taken diligently every half an hour. Temperature – 36 Fahrenheit , blood pressure – steady at 120 over 80. (Except when blonde nurse Rebecca relieves Raewyn for her lunch-break, when it inexplicably jumps up to 190/30. Hmmm.)

So readers, as part of my ongoing education program, your word of the day is Ferritin. Pay attention. There will be a test later.

My grasp of the finer subtleties of hematology are at best tenuous, but If I’ve got hold of the right end of this sticky red stick, then Ferritin is a protein in the blood used to bind iron – which is otherwise toxic to our cells – in a safe and useful form, to carry oxygen around the body. Essential stuff. And rather beautiful as I think you will agree.

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‘So how much Ferritin are we supposed to have?’ I ask Raewyn. ‘Well, the normal range is between 50 and 400 units.’ she says. ‘And how much have I got?’ I ask tentatively.
’13′ she says.

‘That’s not very good then is it.’ I concede reluctantly.

Am instantly taken back to my school days, where I would fall terribly short of the score required to get an “A” on my sheet, so that I could proudly flaunt it all over the corridor and pretend like that paper was placed on top of the pile unconsciously. Well, I have played quite a few instances like that in my head.

Actually, having scored a derisive baker’s dozen on the ferritomiter, everyone seems amused and surprised that I’m even still capable of walking around, let alone feeling as bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed as I do.’Don’t you feel even a little tired?’ they ask. ‘Not really, no.’ I shrug. Perhaps I’ve got some of that Charlie Sheen tiger-blood in me after all.

I’m gratified to learn however, that as good as I feel now, that in a week or two I will be doing one-finger push-ups and leaping tall buildings in a single bound. As an added bonus my new ferrous-rich body will apparently also point North-South when I float in the bath. Even Bear Grylls can’t do that.

***

Waiting at the bus stop after leaving the hospital I noticed a guy standing next to the shelter holding up a hand made sign up at the passing traffic. A small rucksack sat on the pavement beside him. Hitch-hiker I guessed, a strange place to try and get a ride, but I couldn’t resist casually sauntering over to see where he was hoping to pick up a ride too. He was tall and slender, with a vaguely Mediterranean air about him. black pants and shirt, black wrap-around sunglasses and olive brown skin. Maybe thirty. His white cardboard sign had the words CANCER HELP! spelled out in untidy black electrical tape.

I studied him for a long moment. Did he want money?

I couldn’t resist. “What kind of help are you hoping for” I inquired. He looked confused for a moment. ‘Oh no,’ he said earnestly, ‘I’m not asking for help. I’m offering it.’ ‘What, like meals-on-wheels, or a lift home?’ I asked. “No, much better than that. Do you have cancer?’ he asked hopefully. I nodded cautiously.

“Well I know how to cure you my friend” he said with all the fervor and wide-eyed conviction of a tent-show evangelist. ‘No shit.’ I think. He then launches into his sales pitch. Positive mental attitude. Harnessing spiritual energy. His own special secret diet. Exercise programs. He’s already cured his own bowel cancer, and a dozen other clients. No charge, but for a modest donation he will move in with me and have me cured within two weeks. For a split second actually entertain the notion before the bus pulls up and after politely suggesting he should re-evaluate his business premises and signage, I beat a hasty retreat.

Grifter. Confidence trickster. Psychopath. Serial Killer. Messiah. Or just a genuine cancer survivor out to repay his good fortune.

I’ll never know.

Another fly in the ointment

Where there’s a will

I Lindsey Peter Redding, being of sound mind and body…

Hmmm.

A sound mind? Well that’s debateable, and as far a sound body, well hardly. Right now my body is about as sound as a 1972 Trabant.

Today we made our wills. It wouldn’t have been my first choice of diversion for a sunny December morning but having successfully avoided this oneruos chore for two full decades, I have finally ran out of plausible excuses. Anyway Jo ambushed me immediately after breakfast when I’m still not fully compos mentis and my psychic defenses are at a low ebb.

I can report that this is indeed as little fun as you would imagine.

For a start, it really doesn’t look like a Last Will & Testiment should. There’s no thick yellow velum or aged parchiment. No flamboyant penmanship or decorative gold leaf. No vermillion ribbons, sealing wax or signatures in blood. In fact if I’m honest, It doesn’t even say “I the undersigned, being of sound mind and body.” I made that bit up.
It’s all depressingly prozaic. Three or four pages of word-processed legal guff, rendered onto cheap photocopier paper, with a few user definable options picked out in florescent yellow highlighter for my consideration. Where’s the romance? Where’s the octogenarian Dickensian legal scribe with fluffy white mutton-chops peering over his half-rimmed spectacles expectantly, quill in hand as I lay out my final bequests?

After studying the dense legal prose at length, there appears to be precious few opportunities for fun and creative self expression. The only possible loophole I could identitify being in the section headed Funeral Instructions.

Now as you would expect from a lawyer, the available options are dismally limmiting and predictable, and frankly show a distinct lack of imagination.

  1. Cremation
    B. Burial

Now I’m sure we can do better than that.

Off the top of my head I can think of any number of more exciting, economically sound, and environmentally friendly ways of disposing of a body. My personal favourite (apart from being shot into space like Gene Rodenbury*) is Excarnation or Sky Burial. This funeral rite was widely practiced in late neolithic and early bronze age times, and more recently by certain American Indian tribes, and is apparently still all the rage in parts of  Tibet.  This ancient and modestly priced ritual consists of placing your recently deceased nearest-and-dearest on a raised wooden platform outside in the open for several months while the birds and other scavengers strip every last atom of flesh from the bones, after which they are bleached clean by the sun and rain.

After a respectful period, the glistening white bones are gathered up into a neat pile and stashed in a nook in the family home to be revered and worshipped by future generations. I rather like the sound of that.

Though many may not agree to let the bodies out in the open for the scavengers to have a go at it, I find this method of disposing the body more appealing than letting it burn down to ashes (ouch) or rot away deep in the soil. This is my way of believing in serving even after death.

Now. We have a pretty big garden here on Waiheke. Maybe half an acre. And more birds than you could shake a shiny shin-bone at. There’s plenty of good two-by-fours under the house, left over from building the extension that would make an excellent burial platform. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea. Obviously I will need to run it past the neighbours – it could get a bit smelly depending on the time of year, and it might be a little confusing for the dog. And there might be some potential niggles with the Environmental Health Dept., but in principle it could work. After six months or so, what’s left can be gatherd up and stacked on the shelf in the living room between my Tom Waits CD’s and my back issues of Spaceflight Monthly.

I have resolved to drop a line to Auckland City council at the first opportunity to apply for a Sky Burial Permit.

Now let me go finish that delicious Fitobalt tea and get healthy!

 

Indian-Burial-Platform

 A rather shoddily constructed american Indian sky burial. Obviously mine would be much better built.

*Star Trek creator Gene Roddenburry’s ashes were caries into orbit by Space Shuttle Columbia in 1992. In 1999 more ashes, as well as those of Timothy Leary and 22 others were launched into space aboard an unmanned Celestis spacecraft.

Kicking Against the Pricks

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A Double Whopper with Cheese, and a full-fat Coke.

Just a small gesture. A little token resistance. Probably not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. But today it just felt good to do something bad.

And believe me, I’ve been really good. I’ve towed the line. I’ve done as I’m told. I’ve swallowed the medicine. Even the really bad medicine. I’ve stuck to the schedule. Followed the diet.

It hasn’t been easy

I hate being told what to do. Always have. I’ve absolutely no idea where it comes from. But ask anyone I’ve ever worked for. Tell me to Zig, and I’ll Zag. Guaranteed. Not in an angry, belligerent or confrontational way, but quietly and in my own time. I like to work things out for myself, and discover my own truths, even if it means reinventing the wheel more than once.Taking things on faith has never been my style.

Ask me to do something without a proper reason backing it up, you will see the wall go up in my eyes. No, it is not a war against authority, it is just me. I like to know why I am doing what. If I am expected to do something a certain way, just because that’s the way it is- you will never see me do it.

The trouble with orthodoxy and prescribed wisdom is it’s all just a bit too easy. That doesn’t necessarily make it wrong. Just a bit… well, unsatisfying. Convenient but unsubstantial. Like fast food.

So back to the burger. Was it a revelation. An epiphany. A religious experience?

Not really no.

But it was pretty damn good. Good in that guilt free, relieving manner. Every bite I take helps me reinforce the small voice in my head that I am in control of my life and not a dietitian or the article on the bad effects of fast food, I read last week.

Yes I know it is not good for my health or my waistline. I remember the fight against obesity and the number of hours I have put in, at the gym, to get into these pants. But, that burger refuses to elude me and my sudden need for junk food.

Two limp, allegedly beef related patties, glistening alluringly with saturated fats and processed cheese the colour of custard, thrust between the flabby white cheeks of a sweaty sesame seed bum. Gherkins, onion, tomato relish and mayo. The token soggy lettuce leaf which I carefully removed. Plenty of time for lettuce, I’m only interested in the truly bad stuff today.

Some may argue that the burger can be good if paired with the right type of vegetables, that make it a wholesome and healthy meal. But ask me? I would say, who are you trying to fool. I am eating this burger, fully knowing how harmful it is for me and how much of a deviation it is from my otherwise healthy strict diet.

Yes it was good. In that cloying, guilty, slightly sordid way that junk food is meant to be. But ultimately, this wasn’t about the burger. It was partly about a little act of willful dissent, but mostly I think, about spending twenty minutes in the convivial company of fifty other unreconstructed hedonists. All happily abusing their digestive systems and clogging their arteries in the safe and certain knowledge that bad things always happen to someone else, and that they will all live to enjoy their ketchup-stained spare tires and pudgy grandchildren in guilt free repose.

Now it’s time to put up your fresh smelling feet sprayed with Fresh Fingers and give out a loud burp!

 

 

Beware The Blood Count

For better or for worse

It’s 1am, and I’ve been lying in the dark composing this in my head. I want to write it down now while it’s still fresh. It could be gone in the morning.

You are sleeping quietly beside me, and the dog is having one of those strange animated dreams at my feet. You look so beautiful, that big brands can use that peaceful face to market their Trucs de Beaute. Today was our wedding anniversary. I was determined to remember for once, but you still had to remind me this morning. Twenty seven years. Shit. Where did all that time go? When did we go and get so old?

And what is it that’s so important that it can’t wait until the morning? And why is my face wet with tears? Well, just this. Thanks for being my best friend for all those years. Thanks for loving me like you do, even when I don’t deserve it. Which is most of the time. Thanks for being the best idea I ever had, and the smartest decision I ever made.

Thanks for giving me the gift of our beautiful, clever and funny daughter. Thanks for making our little house on this little island the home I alway wanted. Thanks for enduring all the empty evenings and lonely weekends while I misguidedly went of in pursuit of things that I thought were more important, even though I now see they were not. Thanks for laughing at my stupid jokes. And not laughing at my stupid dreams.

Most of all thanks for the last three months.

You have been extraordinary. Even by your extraordinary standards. You have been my constant companion through every medical emergency, every consultation, every procedure and examination. You have become a walking almanac of schedules and appointments. An encyclopedia of oncology and hematology. You have fielded the phone calls, completed the forms, dealt with the banks and the insurance companies. You’ve administered my drugs and prepared my meals. Hugged me when I’m anxious, held me when I’m scared.

All I can say Is thank you.

And If you will allow me just one more selfish indulgence, it is this.

I’m glad it happened this way around. Even happy. If the dice had fallen differently, and you were the one who had to get cancer, Let’s face it. I’d be hopeless. Completely lost. The words shit, creek and paddle come to mind. Anyway, you’d be a terrible patient. You’d have to sit still and do as your told. Can’t really see that working.

No, it’s much better this way.

Anyway. Sorry there was no card or flowers. I would have organized something nice but, well, I’m not well you see?

Some people say, it’s the thought that counts. So here is my thought to get you a big box of chocolates, a big bunch of your favorite flowers and a beautiful glass vase to put them in and display on the front table like you love to and yes, a card. Wish I could have given all this to you and see that beautiful smile that never fails to light up my day – every single time.

I love you. Happy anniversary.

 

Testing. One-Two. One-Two.

 

I hesitate to use the term “Bucket List”, but shall we just say that on Sunday I got to tick off one of my lifelong ambitions. No not the one about losing those extra pounds with the help of Eco Slim, but something fun and exhilarating.

I got to play in a band.

I’ve talked elsewhere here about what a huge part music has always played in my life. Since the early seventies, I have bought records, later cassettes, then CD’s, and finally digital downloads (yes I know it’s unfashionable and quaintly old fashioned but I do still like to pay for my music). I got a summer job in a film processing factory when I was 15 and used the money to buy my first hi-fi. Since then I’ve owned radios, turntables, reel-to-reels, 8-tracks, tape-decks, Walkmans, Diskmans, iPods, iPads and most other music related devices devised by man. We have shelves and shelves of neatly organised CD’s, and the ones that don’t fit on the shelves are stacked in boxes in the wardrobe.

Though they may seem to be accumulating dust and adding no monetary value for now, they add immense value to my music collection. These are items I can’t part with as they are a part of me. The pride in owning each of those items, can be felt and experienced only by true music lovers like myself.

But always a consumer. A passive listener. Well OK, not so passive in the late seventies, there was a fair bit of drunken jumping up and down and indiscriminate spitting going on in those raucous days. What I mean is, I was always in the mosh-pit looking up, rather than on the stage looking down, which was where I always really wanted to be.

The urge to make music has never gone away. I’ve owned three or four guitars over the years, and devoted many hours to learning to play them, with faltering, painful progress and ultimately limited success. A couple of years ago I bought a keyboard and have had a little more success with that. The logical and predictable layout of the keys seems to make more sense to my methodical mind.

Any road up. During my last stay in hospital I got a phone call from my great island friend Al. I was to hurry up and get fit because he and a few of our drinking buddies were forming a band, and I was to play keyboards. Strictly weekend-warrior stuff. Mostly covers and spoofs, and lots of beer and laughs. No pressure. No minimum entry qualifications. I was thrilled of course, and a little scared.

So, on Sunday, the official house band of The Legless Arms held its first band practice in our friend Rob’s barn. The venue carefully selected for it’s geographical and sonic isolation, we weren’t going to disturb anybody other than ourselves and a few sheep. The great thing about bands of middle-aged men is that they always have equipment and instruments disproportionate to their talent. Between us, we were able to assemble an impressive array of loud amps, expensive guitars, keyboards, mikes and other stage paraphernalia. About the only thing missing was a laser light-show and a smoke machine.

We don’t have a name yet. This has been the subject of much beer-fueled debate. Front runner at the moment is The Surfdale Palm Court Orchestra, an obvious choice because none of us live in Surfdale, we are not an orchestra, and we don’t play palm-court music. The other contender is The Bad Livers, which I think has a certain ring,  but there is some concern that this might already be taken.

Let me introduce the band. Put your hands together please for… on vocals and rhythm guitar Big Al Knight. On lead guitar (a very nice Gibson SG), is Rob “Rob” Meriddith.  Bruce Davis-Goff on Bass (absent due to surprise mother-in-law visit). On vocals and percussion, a big Waiheke welcome for Helix Daunting (A.K.A. Alex Duncan) and the lovely Vrinda. And finally on keyboards, for the very first time anywhere in the world, please give it up for Linds “Chemo Boy” Redding. SFX:Wild applause.

Incidentally, the band has collectively decided to dispense with the services of a drummer. They tend to smell, drive expensive cars into hotel swimming-pools, and choke on their own vomit.

The plan was, we were all to turn up with one song we wanted to do. I chose “Send Lawyers, Guns & Money” by Warren Zevon. Alan came up with a demented, punk/psycho-Billy version of “Viva Las Vegas” in tribute to Legless Arms totem and role model Hunter S. Thompson, and Rob surprised us with a ska/reggae arrangement of John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane”, which Alex quickly re-wrote on the spot as a moving lament on the perils of over imbibing during international air travel entitled “Heaving on a Jet Plane.” Finally our star vocalist Vrinda, belted out another Alex composition, a heartbreaking twelve-bar blues “Growing Old Ain’t Easy”

 Getting old ain’t easy,
though it comes with perks.
Your couch becomes your best friend,
while your kids turn into jerks.
Your friends and neighbors drift apart,
and so does your mid-section.
You search and search on-line for things
to give your life direction.
I’m getting older…

So how were we? Well absolutely bloody terrible obviously.

Unorganised, uncoordinated, unprepared, and unskilled. But also utterly unrepentant and uplifted. Most of the time we just made an unholy din, but there were a few fleeting moments where, entirely co-incidentally, we all found ourselves playing roughly the same chords and notes more or less at the same time. For just a brief few seconds, we were actually making real music. And it was totally bloody joyous and transcendent.

I can’t wait for next Sunday.

Yesterday I didn’t have cancer

 

 

Today I have cancer

II know that’s not really how it is. But that is how it seems. How long have I been walking around with it without knowing? A few weeks? a year? I have no idea. But what you don’t know can’t hurt you can it? If it wasn’t for a weird set of circumstances and accidents that I won’t go into now, I still wouldn’t know. I’d still be walking around, happy and healthy. Blissfully unaware of a dark little secret hidden deep inside of me.

So now I have cancer. And it’s not a good one. Not that any cancer is good, but frankly I’d have been happier with a melanoma – they’re very popular in New Zealand. Or even a testicle – at least with a ball there’s an element of built in redundancy.

It’s in the esophagus if you want to know. My esophagus to be specific.For those who weren’t paying attention in biology class, that’s the pipe that connects your throat to your stomach. I discovered all this yesterday, having been summoned to the hospital to see a gastroenterologist called Mark at 10am. The pa who rang me seemed very concerned that I should bring my partner with me. I knew that wasn’t good.

Like most people with a vigorous imagination, I had already played this scenario in my head many times over the years. You know. The “Give it to me straight Doc. How long have i got?” scene. Except in my mind’s eye – as in the movies – it all happens in an oak lined consulting room, with bookcases and leather and gilt framed certificates on the wall.

The reality of course was nothing like that. My personal big scene played out in a nondescript grey room off a green linoleum corridor somewhere in the bowels of the rear end Auckland Hospital – where else would you put the Gastro Unit?

Dr. Lane looked the part however. Spectacles and a reassuring grey beard, and short sleeved green surgical scrubs. All business. And he’s a professor. It said so on his card. After the brief exchange of pleasantries and introductions, Professor Lane said “You’ve got cancer of the esophagus Lindsey.” Blimey” I thought. “Don’t beat about the bush!” I didn’t even get the chance to say “Give it to me straight Doc.”

Little did I know that the scene I played out in my head will not surface and I would be stumped for words. That is how the news hit me. Straight, without mercy. In reality I felt like I was a silent bystander, watching the news being given to someone else. I was physically there but was in a whole different world, mentally.

The Proff. then went on so say that that was probably the only thing I would remember from that meeting, and he was largely right. Jo scribbles copious notes as he talked, and showed us some pictures of my cancer – which to my untrained eye just looked like any other picture of random pink insides. He then drew a crude diagram on his notepad in blue biro. a vertical tube leading down to a kidney shaped blob. “That’s your stomach” he said stabbing it with the biro. Then using the pen as a scalpel he made two expert incisions with a well practiced flick of the wrist, one at the top of the tube, the other beneath the stomach. It’s called a Barnes-Catmur operation he said knowingly over his spectacles. I eyed a wooden outline of a torso on the wall behind the Prof.attached to it was a pink and blue plastic model of the human digestive system from mouth to anus. The big pink stomach was right in the middle, nestling on top of an untidy bundle of intestines.

My biology lessons all came flooding back. I think I might have said “Fuck me.”

Gone is my dilemma about using Eco Slim and other such innovations to lose those few extra pounds.

Today I have cancer.