The Anzacs I remember


It’s Anzac Day today, which I’m sure I’ve written of many times before, though mostly in relation to the big footy match that takes place on this day – though once I also wrote on my visit to the place where it all started, Gallipoli. Today, I want to write about something different.

Both my grandfathers served in WW2. My father’s dad was posted to Darwin, in the north of Australia. My mum’s dad fought in New Guinea and Borneo with the 7th division. Both my grandfathers died in the early eighties.

I have strong memories of both my grandfathers, who were quite different from each other and who – it seemed – had a different relationship to the time they served.

My father’s dad was a gentle, kind, reflective man who loved books and reading. I sometimes wonder how my father came from him – a hard-edged, aggressive type, and even myself, just as hard-edged but a lot more progressive. But then, I inherited from my grandfather his love for learning and literature.

He worked as an accountant for over 50 years at the PMG (Postmaster-General – now Australia Post). He probably got a gold watch out of it. He was always immaculately dressed in the manner of his more genteel generation. As a young boy, I remember a few times being by his side as he shopped at Henry Bucks.

I would also go with him to the cricket, which he loved. I remember, we were there on what I remember as the greatest single day of Test cricket I’ve witnessed – the 1981 Boxing Day test against the West Indies. We saw Kim Hughes score a dashing, wonderful century as the team collapsed around him, then the West Indies four down for not many, with the great DK bowling the equally great Viv Richards on the last ball of the day.

I spent many of my school holidays with them in their Strathmore home. They were quiet, easy days. They had a border collie called Lassie we would walk. In the backyard, my grandfather, a very clever amateur botanist, had grafted one fruit tree on another. There were several types of apple, a pear tree, and a quince – we always had jars of homemade quince jelly. In the corner of the yard was an almond tree.

He was also a keen and handy carpenter. He made me a bookcase once and I still have a scrapbook of his containing designs and handyman articles clipped from newspapers in the fifties and sixties. I remember him measuring me when I was about 16 on a home-made ruker and proclaiming I was ‘six foot and three quarters of an inch’ tall.

Inside the house, I would scour Grandpa’s extensive bookshelves for something new to read. (Sadly, when he died, my grandma sold all his books as a job lot, including an original The Art of Cricket by Don Bradman. I wish I could have kept some of those books). In the evening, when my grandparents would sit down for a drink (brandy and soda?), They would mix me a Claytons and dry.

I don’t recall my grandpa ever talking about his service in the war. I’m surprised I never asked him. I was quite the war buff in those days, as many of my generation were. Had he survived longer, I’m sure I would have asked him more. I remember his last days in the old Prince Henry hospital but recall nothing of his funeral.

My mum’s dad – gramps – was quite a different character. He’d been a master brickie all his life, and I remember well how he would claim to have laid the first ever brick at La Trobe University.

He was a rascal-ish, cheeky character. While I would often spend school holidays with my dad’s parents, it was my mum’s parents who would babysit us often when my parents were out together. They lived in a compact house in Reservoir, built in the large backyard of my great-aunt/uncles (Elsie and Bill) home.

I remember how gramps would call ‘Brown’ – my nanny’s maiden name – when he wanted her. He called me ‘Tiger’, or ‘Tige’. He had a gimpy leg from some injury incurred during the war, the details of which I’ve forgotten. He would read Parade and share it with me and occasionally take me to the movies. I remember seeing The Crimson Pirate with him and, another time, Young Winston.

He adored me. He would say how I was ‘as heavy as a brick’ when I was born. I adored him too for his garrulous, irrepressible nature. He was much more forthcoming about his service in WW2.

He was a sapper with the 7th divvy and fought in New Guinea and Borneo. His great mate was a bloke he called ‘Popey’ (Pope), and he returned from the war with an insatiable taste for rice. Nanny was very adept at concocting rice based desserts – rice custard, rice pudding, rice cream, and so on.

There was one story he told me that I later used in a story I wrote about how a sentry one night in New Guinea had shot one of his comrades who’d gone out into the jungle to take a dump. He would laugh as he told the tale, but the smile would fade from his face as he remembered.

I don’t know that gramps was terribly reputable, but he was lots of fun. They were quite different characters my two grandfathers, but I loved them both, and both were very good to me.

I wish they had lived longer and that I had got to know them as an adult. There’s so much I’d like to have asked them.

They’re just two of the many thousands of Anzacs we celebrate on this day. It’s good to remember them.

Back in the big chair


The big digital project at work was due to go live earlier this month, but was postponed for a few weeks because the vendor was behind schedule. The new go-live date was set for next Thursday, the 28th. UAT started just before Easter and, after Easter, the project manager decided to take the week off (which I consider irresponsible).

That was last Tuesday. There’s already been negative reports coming out of UAT, but they escalated last week. Defects were being reported, as expected, but the critical issue was the instability of the UAT environment, which meant that testing veered between difficult and impossible. It was hugely frustrating and we fell days behind in the schedule, without getting to the bottom of UAT.

We had discussed options around project go/no-go the week before, when it was more of a theoretical than a practical consideration. Now it became a burning question, and it fell to me to resolve it.

Of course, it should have been the PM making that decision, but he had his feet up somewhere nibbling on an Easter bilby. Theoretically, it then fell to the woman who had been the hands-on PM, liaising with the vendor, scheduling training and UAT, and managing development. This was over her head, though. This was not a decision she wanted to make, though she agreed with it. She had neither the exposure nor the relationship with the executive stakeholders who would have to be informed of this. Nor did she have the confidence to make that call alone.

It was natural for me to step up, though I relished it no more than she did. Already delayed once, a further delay to the project would be unpopular and potentially controversial. From an organisational perspective, this is a big, potentially transformational project, with a lot riding on it.

No-one knows the work better than me though. Had I not got ill, it would have been my project. All the same, is done all the lead-up work and negotiated the scope and cost of it. My absence meant I was on the periphery when I returned, but I still knew it better than those doing it. On top of that, I know the execs and they know and respect me. And, I enjoy being in the hot seat.

It was obvious we had to delay. Even the vendor accepted that. I made the decision without setting a new date. That would be contingent of certain milestones being met. I contacted the key stakeholders to let them know what was on the cards and why, then sent out the email making it official.

That left the great challenge of getting UAT back on track. We had no satisfactory answer why we had problems with it. I escalated with the vendor demanding from them hyper care until we got the problems resolved.

On top of that, there were a few functional and admin holes that no-one had addressed and, having assumed control of the project, I sought to plug them.

This was a lot of work and very demanding. It was poor, if not unreasonable that it had been left to me – recovering from cancer and only working part-time. It involved a lot of meetings, a lot of phone calls, emails detailing what needed to be done and how, reassurance and some cajoling of the people doing the work (very industrious, though naive), plus communicating with the operational stakeholders who’d been neglected throughout (and who’d made their thoughts clear).

Effectively, I took over the project and did it as I thought it should be done. In many ways, it was like the previous project I described just last week. I’d explained then the temptation to take over, and ultimately rejected it – but here, now, it had been forced upon me. I didn’t mind.

It was hard work, and particularly so that it required so much talking.

I’ve explained how speech is much more difficult for me now, how it wears me out and how I fear I’ll be misunderstood. Now I was taking the lead, asking questions of the vendor and detailing the help we needed, as well as setting priorities and tasks. I wasn’t aggressive, but the need was pointed. They had let us down and only they could resolve the technical issues. Each hour that passed was critical. We have a hard deadline of about three weeks. If we go beyond that then go-live can’t happen before July.

There were times last week I wished I could stick my hand up someone’s back and talk through them, but no-one would let me. On one occasion I apologised for my ‘afflicted’ speech and briefly explained that it was the effects of my treatment, and it would eventually get better.

It’s like I don’t have full access to my mouth. Some words come without effort, but many times I have to concentrate on enunciating somewhat clearly. It’s the one thing I remain embarrassed about, and frustrated about, too, as communication was one of my strengths. Normally I talk much as I write, though more sparingly. Now I find myself thinking about what I have to say and taking verbal shortcuts.

Ultimately, we made progress. The overlooked parts of the project were updated, and stakeholders were listened to. Unfortunately, UAT went slowly and fittingly, and it was only late on Friday that it was finally identified what was causing the problem: the vendor had sent us files with an error in them.

The good news is that finally, we had an answer, and with it, a solution. We got sent new files to upload. But the question was, why were the original files released to us without being properly checked for quality? And why, after all our complaints, did it take them so long to review and find the problem? They’re the questions I’ve left with the Sales Manager.

Not only did I return to full-time work last week, but it was also very intense full-time work. One night I was asleep, fully clothed, by 7.20. I greatly enjoyed the challenge. It’s invigorating. I got immense satisfaction at re-aligning the project and fixing the things that had been annoying it. I got to put my stamp on it, and was instrumental in getting the project back on track.

I’m not ready to do that permanently as yet, though. I don’t think I can sustain that effort for too long, not yet. I’ll be glad to hand it back to the PM on Tuesday. I’ve done my bit. I’m satisfied. I expect we’ll go-live in the next fortnight.

Out in the world


Since I was diagnosed with cancer 10 months ago I don’t think I’ve been busier than I’ve been the last week and a half. I’m weary, but I’ve enjoyed it.

It’s been a time of reunion as much as anything else. I had a friend from Mullumbimby down visiting his family. He was here for about nine days and visited three times. We had breakfast together twice and went on a drive in his EV the other time. We walked down the beach deep in conversation. Just as we used to, we discussed politics and ethical dilemmas and the morality of social media (so okay, we never used to discuss that).

He’s a gentle soul with a generous spirit and a quirky sense of humour. I was very grateful for his time and attention. He’s a great bloke.

Today, I had brunch with a mate visiting from Coolum with another mate from across town. We spoke of old times and how our lives had diverged. It was cool but the sun was bright and once more we walked along the beach afterwards.

It was Easter last weekend, and on Saturday I went with a friend to Sorrento. This was quite a trip for me. For the previous ten months, I’ve barely gone anywhere. The places I’ve gone – to and from the hospital, the city a few times, and the local area – have become repetitive. A trip down the coast to a summer hotspot on a sunny day was a great change.

We had lunch at the Sorrento Hotel, which was full but pretty average.

I had an interesting conversation with an acquaintance joining us. While everyone else was off somewhere else, she told me how she had been following my cancer commentary on Facebook. She hadn’t commented but thought it was great. It was surprising for a man to be so open, she said: I was very articulate.

I’ve wondered what people think of my rambling posts, but some positive feedback lately has reassured me. I knew what she was saying. I’m conscious of how much I’m revealing but it doesn’t worry me. That by itself is quite a change to my pre-cancer self, and I’m very comfortable with it. I said that to her. I told her how I had come to realise that you can be vulnerable without being diminished by it.

Things happen to everyone. It’s a part of life. Things may happen to me but I don’t become them. They’re real, like the weather, and like the weather, I must take account of them. But, sunshine or rain, I remain the same man.

While I was down there I arranged to catch up with friends I hadn’t seen since before all this. They’re now living down there permanently.

The sun was shining and the streets teeming with day-trppers when I found them sitting outdoors at a cafe with a bottle of wine. I was with them for half an hour and it was lovely.

Part of it is me opening up to the world again. They set eyes on me and reckoned I didn’t look too bad. They asked questions, and I told stories, and at the end of it, we kissed and shook hands, and then I was off home again.

Then there’s been work. Ironic after what I wrote last week that this week I’ve had to step up and do some of the things I described and said I wouldn’t do. I’ll write about it another time. Suffice to say, I’ve worked double the hours I was scheduled to. I didn’t mind.

Severance


I finished watching Severance last week and it goes straight to the pool room. By that, I mean I reckon it’s in the top five TV shows I’ve ever watched.

I think it’s genius. Subversive, dystopian (though perhaps not for everyone), intelligent, and laced with brilliant, absurdist wit.

The basic premise, for those who haven’t seen it (you should), is that in some undefined time a procedure has been developed to allow people to separate their work life from their home life. The worker becomes an ‘innie’; the home self the ‘outie’, and neither knows what goes on in the other’s life. They work for huge organisation called Lumon, which is strange and cult-like.

Why anyone would agree to such a procedure is beyond my reckoning, despite the examples provided, such as avoiding a tragedy. Effectively, each person who submits to this has a double-life – or, rather, two half-lives – one that never (literally) sees the light of day, the other which has no understanding of the toil and interactions that make their existence possible. For me, it’s a nightmarish concept – and it becomes so in the show.

Though there is so much strange in this show, much of it feels familiar to anyone who has spent time in an office. It’s taken to a colourful extreme, but the work of the refiners in MacroData Refinement seems pointless and mind-numbing, but no more so than what many are subjected to in their working life. We turn up to the job, do our little bit, often oblivious of the point or value of what we contribute.

Likewise, the spurious celebrations and confected excitement are familiar. In the office, they are intended to engender team spirit and loyalty, much as in the show. In Severance, they’re an amusing highlight, somewhat ridiculous – the devilled egg parties, the dance parties, the Waffle reward – but they are an extreme and absurdist version of what most of us have experienced at one time or another. There is, literally, a handbook for these things, and artificial enthusiasm is all a part of it.

Looking in from the outside it seems ridiculous, but it’s much more easily accepted when you’re the recipient. I could go on, but you get the point.

So much of this show was absurdist that I couldn’t help but think of Kafka as I watched. As with him, the absurd is made to appear commonplace. Strange things happen but are accepted because no-one knows any better. The pointless work, the odd rituals, the nonsense spouted and recited, are all of a piece. Even the vaguely retro aesthetic plays into it. But, as with Kafka, there is satirical wit and, at the heart of it, a deep understanding of humanity.

Ultimately, that’s what this story is about – the gradual, dawning realisation that they have been played wrong and exploited. It awakes a need for enlightenment, which is very human, and finally a haphazard desire to become whole again, towards true humanity.

It’s a parable that encompasses so many aspects of modern life that there will be thesis and books written about it, I’m sure. I can hardly believe it could be better executed than this production. The concept is fantastic, the writing great, the acting perfect, the production design wonderful, and the direction – by Ben Stiller – is pitch-perfect.

Like much of the world, I await with great excitement for series two to reveal the truths we yearn to know.

Let it go


A couple of years ago, when I was healthy still and Covid had begun transforming the world, I was flat-out working on a desperately urgent project to get around the restrictions the virus had imposed upon us.

It was a strange time. I remember not long before, perhaps around the end of February, I’d asked one of the managers if they had any contingencies in case Covid hit the worst-case scenario – which it did and more. He smiled at me as if I was making a joke, but within weeks I was working on the most central of hastily cobbled together contingencies, and inside a month we’d left the office and were working from home.

Before Covid hit I was responsible for the maintenance and development of the company’s chatbot and live chat platform, and the structure surrounding it. I knew it very well. I’d designed and built most of what we had, right down to the scripts the AI would deliver and the policies that governed the process.

When it became clear how much damage Covid was likely to inflict, the ability to maintain a connection with our customers through the web became critical, especially when our customer facing employees were sent home.

There were great pow-wows about what we could and should do. It required a transformation of the functionality and logic that dictated chat performance. Everything came to me. They were desperate times and no-one had the knowledge I had and there was not the time to ramp up a proper project. I loved it.

They knew, more or less, what they wanted of it, but only I could properly conceive of it. I saw it in my mind’s eye like a complex 3d model. It would have seemed nonsensical to most people, but it was absolutely clear to me. It fell to me to re-architect the solution and manage its redevelopment.

This would have been a 3-4 month project normally, but our goal was to get it done in three weeks. That required a lot of hard work and a few creative short-cuts to achieve. I felt energised by the challenge of it. Exhilarated, even, and it brought out of me the mercurial aspects of my character so often dormant otherwise.

In that mode, I felt augmented as much as I did inspired. I saw things in absolute clarity and had faith that all was within my power. I never doubted success. Whilst much of the challenge was technical, it would be impossible without the buy-in and support of the people doing the hard yards building it – the developers, some in Australia, the rest in India. I was very aware I had to get them on board early and I sought to inspire them by the scale of the demand to get the best from them – to outdo themselves. I wanted them go be proud of what they did and motivated to do more.

In that state of mind, I bypassed exhaustion. I worked for 21 days straight, often for 10-12 hours a day, dealing with the onshore team in the daylight hours, and the Indian team when it got dark. I slowed down very quickly once it was done, but not before.

When I think back to those days it seems characterised by constant motion. I think I was on my feet 90% of the time, because it was apt to the work was going, always moving. Probably 60% of the time I was on the phone to someone checking on this, asking about that, suggesting one thing, urging another, and so on. The rest of the time I was either racing up and down the stairs when I was in the office, or at my laptop working on a spreadsheet or a design document or sending emails.

I was very demanding, like a benevolent, though insistent, dictator. I had to manage stakeholders and from some required decisions to be made, “like now”. I always knew the right answer but would let them come up with it. If they were incapable of making a decision I would do it for them. If they made the wrong decision I would ignore it and do the right thing.

It’s all very well working your butt off and looking heroic, but it doesn’t mean a thing if when you switch it on it doesn’t work. After 21 days we got to that point at about 9pm on a Monday night. We turned it on – and it worked! It didn’t stop working and it required no significant adjustment. It was a remarkable achievement and we were recognised for it.

Last year, we decided it was time to upgrade to a new chat platform with something a bit more and with a lot more bells and whistles. We began sparking to an alternative vendor, with me leading the way.

I spent the first 6 months of the year in heavy consultation with our account manager wrangling requirements, functionality, timelines, and cost. I worked and re-worked a proposal for the board explaining what we planned go do, why we planned to do it, what the benefits would be, and how much it would cost.

After 6 months of intense work it was approved and we just had to set start dates. And then I got sick.

I was gone by the time the project kicked off. It was my project and I would have been the central figure in delivering it, except I couldn’t. My place was taken by two who had no direct experience of chat and only basic knowledge of it. For me, it was like handing over the blueprints of the house I’d designed to other people to build.

In all the time I was away, I had little to do with it. I’d occasionally hear something, but no-one consulted me or asked my advice. It was meant to be implemented by December, but by the time I returned in February it was still ongoing – and remains so. With a bit of luck, it will go-live on the 28th.

The predominant sense when I returned was disappointment. A lot of critical things had been overlooked or not been considered, there was confusion over the scope, and I felt the vendor had taken advantage of some lenient supervision. None of the nice to haves I’d identified with the account manager as things we’d try to implement through the project had been done, despite an extra five months on the project (to be fair, the account manager, who was very good, had left in December and not been replaced).

The ‘house’ I’d designed was half-built, there were rooms in the wrong places, half the walls were off square, the floors not level, and key plumbing was missing.

What do you do? I’d returned from cancer and was only working three hours a day, and felt pretty ordinary much of the time. As this post demonstrates, I was pretty invested in the solution and felt I owned it – but now I had to accept it wasn’t mine anymore.

I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I wondered how much I should care, but in reality the concern and care I felt was reflex. I did what I could to guide and inform and put in a lot of work speaking to stakeholders and writing emails and explaining what exactly needed to be done to catch-up, and how to do it.

Now we’re less than a fortnight from the big day and for some of these things it’s too late. The general sense around the business is that the project has become a mess and we’ll just have to deal with it.

I find it hard and very frustrating. I attend meetings and sometimes I speak up and at other times I bit my tongue. Making things infinitely more difficult are the problems I have with my speech. I feel quite embarrassed sometimes, but regardless it’s hard work getting my point across. It’s easier to remain mute.

Now I fight the urge to act. I feel like picking this thing up and carrying it across the line as I did two years ago. I remember the feeling and know it’s possible to do a lot more, but also that it’s too late for that. And anyway, I’m not capable now because I can’t speak it.

I should let go. It’s not my responsibility. If there’s one positive out of this it’s that I can’t be blamed for what will be a mediocre outcome, at best. That’s not me though. I don’t really think that way. What eats at me is that it should be better.

Let it go. Soon, when I’m back to full-time, it will be mine again. I can make a difference then.

Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid – The Atlantic


It’s not just a phase.
— Read on www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2022/05/social-media-democracy-trust-babel/629369/

Fascinating article, but sure to be controversial. Ironically perhaps, it, and the author, are now likely to be subject to the sort of rabid censure he describes. I find little in this to disagree with.

I had an old friend visit yesterday from interstate. We spent about three hours discussing politics and ethical dilemmas and the state of society. This has been typical of our discourse always, and it was nice to sit with someone I could have these discussions with.

A lot of what we spoke about alluded to behaviours and modes of thought that are discussed in this article, sometimes explicitly. He has a brother – a pleasant, intelligent man in my experience – who has become a fanatical anti-vaxxer who spouts ludicrous conspiracy theories and appears to have gone down too many rabbit holes. How did this happen?

Whatever the reason for it, he’s drunk the cool-aid propounded by that fringe group of ratbags. Even the most preposterous can seem reasonable when you believe enough. The thing is, as I told my mate, the cool-aid comes in different flavours.

It’s easy to mock and dismiss the absurd, but not all of it plays as extreme. And, as I reminded him, sometimes we can be prey to it ourselves.

It’s why you hear me repeat the notion: be yourself. As this article outlines, much of society and discourse has been utterly warped by the power and misuse of social media. My conjecture is that social media has taken people away from their true selves in the search for approval, the fear of rejection and, often-times, the desire to belong.

I’m careful that I’m not easily labelled. I’m not much concerned with what people think of me, approval, rejection or belonging. I’m always urging that every issue should be considered on its individual merits, and not checked against the prevailing orthodoxy. What do you think? Forget about the mob.

That’s rare these days. Social media is blamed here, with good reason, but I think our education system has contributed to this, as has much of our media, which is neither as independent as it once proudly proclaimed, nor nearly as capable and critical, as it should be.

We’re left with the individual. To rise above this and think independently requires an open mind and a critical faculty. Question, examine, compare.

Unbowed


I visited the office on Friday for an all-team meeting. It was to be the first time meeting everyone since well before my cancer, and so I’d targeted it as something I had to attend.

I didn’t know what everyone knew of me, and figured there might be a bit of innuendo and mystery about my health status. I wanted to clear that up. I attended, not so much for myself, but so everyone could set eyes on me and see for themselves. I wanted to get it out of the way and move on.

I’ve been asked if I was nervous: not at all. It’s strange in a way as I have moments of self-consciousness now when strangers set eyes upon my imperfect visage. I’m much better looking than I was, and much better than I expected, but I still look a bit beaten up, and there’s a permanent blood stain at the corner of my nostril. One look at me and you know I’ve been through travails, and may be still. I dislike the attention.

I had no fear of that returning to work. I probably looked forward to it, and not only because I could tick the moment off. I wanted them to see me and know that no matter how tough it had been, I remained strong.

That’s more or less how it worked out.

I was early and went for a coffee. At the cafe, I ran into some women from the office who gushed over me. They asked questions and proclaimed how well I looked, as if surprised. One was kind enough to be shocked when she heard my age – she thought I was at least ten years younger, or so she claimed, and that’s with the beard I have now and the misshapen bits. Now, that’s more like it.

I was bright and even a little provocative. A tad raffish, and even a little flirtatious. I enjoyed the attention.

Upstairs, once we all collected, I had people greet me or pat me on the back as they passed by. I didn’t seek attention, nor to make anything of what had happened to me. I was there in the same capacity as everyone else, and when I came to talk to some made sure it was as much about them as it was me.

For a while, I’ve wondered where I’ll end up at the end of all this. Lately, I feel as if I’ve got a better idea of that.

For want of a better word, I’ve felt more vibrant. Serious illness tends to make you more insular. If you’re like me, you gather all your strength and will to resist it, physically and mentally. It takes discipline, but in the act of it you withdraw further into yourself and become – unsurprisingly – self-absorbed.

I don’t know why it’s changed, but I feel myself looking outward more often lately. I have no doubt about my strength or capability. In ways, this experience has given me insight into the stuff I’m made of. At the same time, I feel as if it’s cleared out some of bad habits and ways of thinking that were holding me back before.

Looking back over the last 8-9 years, I feel as if I experienced a series of traumas that inhibited me. I hate to admit to that, but the evidence is pretty clear in my inability to properly settle or believe in good things. It affected my personality as well, something that seems clear now that I’m feeling differently.

There’s no doubt I was scarred, and for good reason. But there’s no bigger scar than when you survive stage four cancer, and it appears to have over-written the previous scars in my mind. And surviving – well, it’s the best sort of scar, no matter the fear that led up to it. I’m a survivor.

I felt that on Friday. I stood there feeling dignified and strong. I felt people checking me out and I wanted them to know that – but it felt true.

I still don’t know what course I’ll take once I’m free of this, but feel sure I’ll be direct and uninhibited in my manner. I’ve always been direct, but in recent years it’s been tinged with anger. That’s gone, I think. I’ll be true to myself, without any second-guessing. It’s just a moment in time, but I feel elevated in ways – just as smart and strong as I ever was, but with a calmness now that was missing before (people have always commented on how unflappable I seem, but in recent years I often seethed beneath the surface). With that comes an openness, and even warmth, absent since my mother died.

All this is talk and there’s a long way to go, and there will be setbacks. But, at least, I can see now how things can be.

Just quietly, when the cancer is behind me, I have a feeling I might do great things.

Midnight ramblings


I don’t know if you know this, but one of the prime aims of this blog is to record the happenings in my life, and the associated thoughts and reactions. That means putting down the good, the bad and the ugly. I want leave something behind. I want people to know that I lived and I had a mind.

During the week I posted a couple of pieces to Facebook. One was written at about 1.30am when I couldn’t sleep, and has typical aspects of that. It remains true, nonetheless:

I can’t sleep for thinking, which is most nights now. I try to figure things out, as I always have, though it feels more personal now. I dwell on the things I can’t do. I can walk, though not far. I take stairs one at a time, and not two as I did so blithely before. No social life really, because there’s little pleasure in it – too tired, too sore, can’t eat, can’t drink. At least I can hear now. I watch others and hear their stories of things I was once part of. I miss women, flirting. Being tender. With a damaged mouth and lips that are numb I wonder if I can still kiss as before. I feel separate from life around me and stuck on pause. There is force in me still, but no might or power.

All I have left is my mind, or so it feels. It ranges far, never stopping. It was always active, but there is a difference now. There was a lazy intent before. A smug indifference. There was always time and I was always capable. Now it becomes concentrated and forced back upon itself and the words, as you see, must tumble out. Thought is my only real activity, and my mind the only part of me unconfined by the physical limitations imposed upon me. It’s just as nimble as it ever was, but now it searches for justification. If this is what I have, then it must mean something – or so I conjecture.

Endure, I’ve told myself along the way. Be strong. Though they seem the same, they are different. Endure is simple. Take the pain and keep going. Keeping turning up. Overcome. I’ve practice at that and it’s easier than it sounds. As for being strong – what I mean really is, be defiant.

There are times it gets to me – the pain, the fatigue, the uncertainty, the sheer unending-ness of it all. How it makes me feel small now and how I have to force things – even speech – just to seem normal. But then something triggers in me. I get angry. I’m not about to let some grubby little shit like cancer get the better of me. And I won’t be small. Sure, it’s hard, but who said it would be easy? I shake my head. Get over yourself. Suck it up. And so, I become defiant.

These are necessary attributes and I’m lucky they come easy to me. My dad always said I had a chip on my shoulder, and it’s damned useful sometimes.

I can handle that, but there’s another battle. My ego makes demons and it’s my ego that knocks them down. The battle is in my head. The battle of my body is fought by surgeons and medical science and maybe a little bit of fortitude. But it’s the mind battles that animate me, drawing me back and urging me forward.

I remember once figuring that the choice in life was to act, or be be acted upon. It was easier to do as the invisible forces direct, move as convention dictated, but that wasn’t for me, I thought. I wanted my thoughts to be my own and damn whatever anyone told me. I wanted to step my own way, be my own man and have, as they say, agency in my life. Easier said than done, but safe to say I’ve been a stubborn pain in the arse most of my life. I have acted.

That is more difficult now and perhaps that’s why thoughts of it become more vivid to me now. The battle is in my mind, but often I feel myself wanting to take a more active part. There are times I imagine my hand on the throat of cancer squeezing the life out of it, never mind the do-gooders whispering in my ear that “violence is not the answer”. To hell with that – and I imagine giving the corpse of cancer a good kick for good measure. To act when no action is possible is forlorn desire.

All that is fantasy. And really, I’ve got the cancer beat – it’s the side effects I have to contend with now. There’s another surgery to come, and I knew that – but it’s more than I thought; not as easy as I had presumed. There may be more. The doctor this morning used the word ‘saga’. The thought wearies me, but I feel no extra fear. The road’s just a little longer than I hoped. And there’s no point in worrying about what I can’t control. I’ll leave that for the doctors.

I know that when it’s over I’ll have lost something I can’t recover. Physically, I won’t be as strong as before, or able, or even as virile perhaps. The macho, strident part of my ego (and yes, it exists and makes a lot of noise) struggles with that as if an existential threat – which it may well be to that part of my ego. But the smarter me knows I have to adjust to it – and I can probably learn to kiss again, and won’t it be fun?

There are still stories to be told. Adventures to be had. Victories to be won. I might lose a little, but I might gain something too. The wheel keeps on turning.

There’s a comment I made that should also be recorded as it contains details of my latest diagnosis, previously alluded to (and which I don’t want to speak of otherwise):

I wonder sometimes if I say too much, if people think, there he goes again, blathering away and feeling sorry for himself. It’s just that it’s never settled. This thing in me is always on the move and my thoughts follow it.
Imagine a hose with water gushing through it and it writhing like a snake from the force of it spraying water everywhere and that’s how I feel. Until the water stops the thoughts will come.
So, the latest is that what I thought would be the last surgery might be the first of a series. They fear that my bone has become unhealthy but won’t know for certain until they go in. If so, I’ll need more reconstructive surgery. Experience tells me that’s not much fun as they must take bone from one part of the body – my hip last time – to place it in another. They also speak of hyperbaric chambers.
I doubt that it’s as bad as all that. I have high hopes that this surgery will do it but then, I’m an optimist. If it were another part of my body it would be easier, but these are the cards I’m dealt.
Whatever happens, I have no choice but to deal with it. I’ll come out of it. For now, let’s hope there’s nothing to it, which must be at least a 50/50 shot
.

A couple of days later I posted something else as I felt as if some had misconstrued me. I’d had people contacting me directly to check if I was okay. Well, I’m not perfect, but in terms of mentality, I’m impatient but determined. I’m better than I was a few months ago. This is what I wrote:

I just want to reassure everyone that, notwithstanding the situation, I’m pretty good. Don’t read too much into my ramblings. I remain capable and resolute.

What you’re seeing now has been true of me my whole life. I’m one of those thought-addled people who overthink everything. I’m the type who needs to unpick and understand all I experience, never more so than now (and there’s a lot of it). For once, the curtain has been swept aside and you’re seeing it. Surprise!🙀

A lot of people have bad things happen to them. Mine is on the lesser end of the scale, different only because it’s personal. Forgive my wordiness.

In truth, I take it as a personal challenge. It will end and the reward will be good health and, perhaps, a kind of wisdom. (So much of what I’m experiencing is objectively fascinating and worthy of analysis, but I’ll spare you 😏).

Hang in there. 😎

Hospital days


Having a quiet day today. Did a couple of hours of work this morning because I had meetings booked, but did them hurting. Today isn’t a good day but I’ve dosed myself up with some endone and paracetamol and spent the last couple of hours sitting on the couch.

I was back at the hospital last Wednesday for a procedure to fix the hearing in my right ear, as I described yesterday. I’d been there the Thursday before for a check-up when they’d come up with a solution to my hearing problem. The plastics specialists had also looked at my mouth and figured they needed to do something about that as well. They had concerns that it was cancer causing the issues in my mouth. I thought that unlikely, as has been proven since.

I was glad to be back in hospital getting looked at. When you’re in my situation every little bit counts if it means you’re closer to being healthy again.

I was in the hospital at 10am. I turned up to the same place I did all those months ago when I had the big surgery on August 12. Same place, much different vibe.

Going back I had all those memories return to me. This time I was there for a relatively simple day procedure. I has no nerves. I just wanted it done.

I wanted it done the time before too. I remember fearing every day delayed was an extra day for the cancer to take hold. I wasn’t looking forward to it. I was probably nervous, though I don’t remember it. Fourteen hours of surgery was a spooky concept. What if something went wrong? And I knew that being under for 14 hours was tricky. I was going to get cut, never a pleasant prospect. I didn’t know how id look coming out of it. Hell, I didn’t even know if the surgery would be a success. But, it had to be done and, no matter what I felt, that was the bottom line.

I remember getting there early in the morning. It was 7am and still dark outside. The fluorescent lights were bright and there was the air of controlled urgency in the ward. I was given a gown and asked to change into it. My clothes were put into a locker and then I was taken aside by a couple of plastic surgeons to discuss options. It was all very efficient. Within 20 minutes I was lying in a trolley bed. Ten minutes after that I was in an operating theatre with doctors and nurses bustling around me. Five minutes later I was out to the world. And about 15 hours later I came to in a very strange place.

There was none of that urgency last Wednesday. I was there at 10am and, as before, quickly changed into hospital smock and gown – but it was near three before I was wheeled into the theatre.

I sat and waited. I didn’t feel impatient. I didn’t even have my phone and there was nothing to entertain me but my thoughts, and a television over my head showing prosaic daytime TV.

It was busy. Most of the othe4 patients were middle-aged men. They seemed more vulnerable all in hospital gowns. There were no signs of status or background. One man, his silver hair close-cropped, had the palest of blue eyes, opened wide, as if from fear. When his name was called one of the other patients told him: “have fun!”. He responded as he went by, “Do my best.”

It was the sort of locker-room antics men resort to in times like that, but I didn’t approve altogether. It felt dishonest somehow, and insensitive.

I sat there as the man who made the comment regaled another another man with his story, and particularly the story of his brother, a drummer in a rock band. It was the sort of conversation best experienced vicariously, but I recognised the need of the man to let things out. It was his fourth visit in a month.

I was, as always, observant of the things around me, and questioning when the opportunity arose. This was a step on the journey towards being my healthy self again.

I remember the small, curious things after that. I remember an oxygen mask being clasped tight to my face and being told to breathe deeply. I breathed in perhaps three times, then everything went out, as quick and clean as that – as if someone had flicked a switch.

And I remember sometime later opening my eyes and I’m in a different room and beside me is a woman talking, as if she’s flicked the switch to turn me on again. The procedure has been a success. Time has passed. Somewhere along the line they also did a CT scan. And I’m lying there groggily while the woman, and then the surgeon (the same guy who did my surgery in August) talk to me.

He reassures me. We won’t know the results until the biopsy is checked, but he didn’t see anything that suggested cancer. That was good enough for me. There was inflammation and signs of infection – they’d cleared out some pus from my sinus – but that was it. There was bone exposed in my mouth and nose and someone would talk to me about.

I was taken to a recovery room. I had a sandwich and a cup of tea. I was given some medication and ear drops to take home with me and told howto use them. I dressed and then was taken downstairs for my lift home.

They told me I couldn’t spend the night alone, just in case, and so I went to the Cheeses. I had dinner there and a long conversation and watched some of the Shane Warne memorial with Cheeseboy. It took a while for me to sleep in the unfamiliar surroundings, but next day I felt more vibrant than had for a long time.

Overnight, my ear had crackled and popped and by morning some hearing had returned. Days later, I’d guess I have about 70% of my hearing returned in that ear, though I don’t have the clarity of hearing I did before. Not yet anyway.

In about a month I return for what should be my last surgery, give or take some dental stuff. I’ll be in hospital for a few days and will leave with the plate and all the foreign bits and pieces removed from my mouth and cheek. It should lead to much less pain, and less infection too, as the surgeon seemed to think that is the cause of the other problems.

Time will tell.

One more op


This is from Facebook. I’ll update with more detail when I’m inclined:

I was back in hospital on Wednesday for a minor procedure and back home by that evening.

There were a few things done. The main reason I was there was to repair the hearing in my right ear. Since chemo and radiotherapy, I’ve been profoundly deaf in my right ear, which has been quite a challenge. I’ve had to switch on the subtitles on TV to watch, and any conversations with background noise or with more than just another person involved have been lost to me – very off-putting for someone as opinionated as me.

I hoped that some hearing would return as I recovered, but wasn’t certain of it. It turns out though that there wasn’t anything wrong with my ear – rather, the canal leading from my ear to my brain was full of fluid that wouldn’t drain. The solution, familiar perhaps to anyone with young children, was to insert a grommet into my eardrum so that the canal could drain and my hearing return. The good news is that it’s worked. I reckon I’ve had about 60-70% of my hearing return, and hoping to get to 100%.

I’ve also had problems with my mouth, highlighted by the screw that fell from it a few weeks ago and the shifting plate in my cheek, causing a lot of pain. There was a concern that a lurking cancer, invisible to the scans, might have led to this problem.

While I was under, they took a biopsy to check for that and examined my mouth to plan for a fix to it.

The good news is that the biopsy was clear, which just about guarantees there’s no cancer remaining. They discovered that bone was exposed in my mouth and nose. It feels like I have sandpaper in the roof of my mouth, which is quite unpleasant and problematic when I eat.

This afternoon they called to advise of the surgical plan going forward. In early May probably I’ll be admitted to hospital so that they can remove the plate altogether and patch up the exposed bone.

It won’t be great fun, but I’m glad to have an outcome. This was my preferred solution. I was uncomfortable having a foreign body in my face, particularly when it has come loose as in this instance. Apparently, the bones have healed sufficiently that a plate is no longer required.

I’ll also need a skin graft, which means another operation. I’m not so keen about that, but it has to be done. I’ll be in hospital for 2-3 days, and back on soft foods for another few weeks after that. But then, I should be right.

No more pain, no more swelling, my speech should return to normal, I’ll be able to open my mouth further and eat whatever I want, and my face should begin resembling what it was before, handsome devil that I was.

There’s a bit of work to be done, but I’m very happy now that I can see a solution – and end – in sight.

One thing I’ll add now is that I’m not quite as sanguine as I show myself to be here. I try to remain positive for my Facebook audience.

Overall, I’m very happy that we have a plan, though it’s unfortunate it has come to this. I’m glad they’ve decided to remove the plate. I’m a little wary of what the surgery will mean for me.

I’m hoping that they can complete the surgery within my mouth, without needing to open up my cheek again. I expect that will be the case, but can’t be certain. It won’t be comfortable, but it’s better than risking more nerve damage, and the potential of more scarring and degradation of my not so good looks.

I’m not thrilled about needing to donate another patch of skin. I’m still limping from the last op on my hip, though on that occasion they took bone as well. It should be much simpler this time.

No complaints. As I wrote that I’m happy a resolution is at hand. Hopefully.