Tiny Bubbles.. sang Don Ho

“Wannahini ala meanie and a waikiki..” Frank said, undulating a hula dance.

“Cut it out, Frank. You’re going to get us tossed out of here.” We were in a little bar off Bishop Street in Honolulu. The war in Vietnam was over for us and since we’d always wanted to go to Hawaii, we used our savings and bonus money to hit the warm and inviting sands of Paradise. We had thirty days leave, also typical after returning from the war so we were in no kind of rush. We’d climbed down the steps of a Pan Am 707 the day before, grinning from ear to ear. I was still wearing a cast on my leg -the remnant from a gunshot wound I suffered in my last few days in Vietnam. When you’re short, that is, about to rotate back home, they gave us light duty for the final week.  I just wouln’t be right to get shot after making it through the war.

I was sitting on my bunk, bored out of my mind in Phan Rang. Frank, my best buddy from Basic through the war had arived two weeks earlier than me and so he left two weeks before I did.  A true friend, he checked into Ft. Dix, NJ, near his home and waited to start his 30 day leave until I got back. Anyway, I was sitting in the sweltering heat when the Loo came in looking for volunteers for a short perimeter patrol.

“I’ll go, Lieutenant.” I said, violating the ages old tradition of never volunteering.

“You’re short, Kirkpatrick. No patrols for you. Maybe KP, but nothing too dangerous.”

I got nothing on the schedule board until my DEROS Loo.” (DEROS = date of return from overseas). It’s a perimeter patrol around Phan Rang, right? With a zillion soldiers and an air force base. Charlie’s crazy but not stupid.” I said, digging a pit for myself.

“Well, if you’re volunteering… go meet Sergeant Coffee in front of the duty shack.” I nodded, grabbed my M-16 and web gear loaded with magazines and a couple of canteens.  I stopped at the water spigot and filled the canteens with potable water and found Coffee where the Lieutenant said he’d be.

“Hey, Sarge,” said Coffee, what’re you doing here?”

“I was bored.” I said. Coffee laughed.

Also with Coffee were Don Turner, a Spec 4, Willie Tanner, a PFC, Ralph Mora, a hard stripe corporal and our radio guy, and then me.  “This is us,” said Coffee. The base had been taking nightly mortar rounds at night all week. We can see generally where they’re shooting from, but when they check in the morning there’s no sign except for matted down brush and grasses. We’re gonna play dirty on them and set up a bunch of Claymores with remotes and tripwires. A Claymore was a vicious weapon. Made of five pounds of C4 plastique, one side was embedded with steel shot, The backside had a sheet of steel that caused the force to move outwards, shredding and blowing up anything in a 50 foot range. It was slightly curved and it bowed out where it said “This Side Towards Enemy.” The sarge indicated a couple of duffel bags loaded with them.  We distributed them around, packing everyone’s ruck with as many as could be jammed inside. Only Ralph was exempt because he was already packing a PRC 10 radio unit to stay in contact with our mission command.

We humped it out past the perimeter and started our sweep, looking for signs of activity.  No allied personnel went outside the concertina wire except on the roads, no any sign was signs of Charlie. We found a spot and could even make out easily where the baseplate and bipod legs of the mortar had been set up. We moved away from it and set up a circle of tripwired Claymores that created a 100 or so foot circular killzone.  We moved along at a leisurely pace, placing two or three Claymores where it appeared that the VC were tamping a path and more circular killzones where we saw they’d setup shooting positions. We’d fully covered the area after about for hours worth of work and were making our way back to one of the checkpoints where the wire was separated for patrols like ours. They were guarded by a full squad 24/7.

We were about 300 yards from the breach when we crept right into six or seven black pajama clad Vietnamese. They wore the typical pointed straw hats to keep the hot tropical sun from their faces, but more than that, they each had an AK-47 assault rifle slung over their shoulder. I hate to admit it, but we were surprised to find them so close to base and we were slow on the uptake. Both side dropped to the ground and started firing. My position was too exposed for my tastes and so I scrabbled towards some brush. I was almost there when it felt like a sledgehammer hit my thigh. I rolled onto my side and looked down and saw blood soaking my pantleg. Maybe two seconds later the shotting stopped and our patrol hopped up and moved in on the VC position. I heard a few single shots as the team made sure these men wouldn’t be shooting at anymore Americans. It was then they realized they were a man down and came rushing back to find me.

“Goddammit Wheezer!” shouted Coffee. This is why you don’t do patrols when you’re short, and why you damn sure shouldn’t volunteer!”

Turner ripped my pantleg open wider and wrapped a battle dressing to my leg while Ralph called for a medivac.  The guys stood with me, using their bodies to shade me while they waited for the chopper and looking around for any more unexpected visitors. It took only 15 minutes to get a bird to me and maybe 30 seconds to get me loaded onto a little. As the Huey rose to flight level, a medic shot me with some very appreciated morphine. When you first get shot, the nerves are stunned. It takes a minute or two for the pain to set in. When it does, you start screaming and making deals with god.

They ferried me to the Saigon Military Hospital. A total example of controlled chaos. I got stitched up and confined to a bed. Five days later they send me in an ambulance to Tan Son Nhut airport with a directive to stay off the leg for a month. Too bad, they said, it would eat up my 30 day leave.

A lithe and healthy looking wahini (beautiful young girl) took Frank in had and towed him off “somewhere more private” where she could express her gratitude for Frank’s willingness to help advance time honored traditions -like the hula.

I hustled up on my one leg and started to try to hula myself. “Mini winnie foo fah and a waikiki, the chucks chucks islands all call to me…” I sang, barely able to stay erect. I piece of thrown lettuce coated in mayonaise stuck to my short and a pickle slice hit me in the cheek.

A couple of good looking ladies handing out leis and kisses glared at me. “Making fun of our traditions isn’t very nice!” said one. They all turned up their noses and went off to spread their message of love and welcome elsewhere.

“But… Hey, wait!” I said, confused. But they ignored me. I left my lunch uneaten on the table. Sighing, I hobbled the two blocks to where Waikiki beach was, and hopefully a new opportunity make some friends of the fairer sex.

Sitting around and hoping to exploit the empathy of a vacationing woman, I only managed to attract some stares and little kids pointing at my cast.  I didn’t catch a lady, but I sure caught myself a nasty sunburn.

 

In July

oh, for goodness sake. What do you expect when parents decide they can ‘trust’ their 14 and 16 year old kids to keep the house shipshape and Bristol fashion for 21 days in July while they jot off to Jamaica. We stood in the driveway next to my mother’s Thunderbird. She was sitting in the passenger’s seat for the trip to the airport. Dad always drove. Right now he was leaning on the open driver’s door and going over his list of rules again, wanting to make sure that we understood all twenty five of them. He covered Locking the doors, collecting the mail, bed times, no parties, assignment of chores and the other very specific enumerations of how it was going to be. My sister stood there doe eyes and nodding, wishing he’d stop talking and get it the car and go. He got into the car and shut the door. Yes!  Then he powered the window down and said maybe he should go through it one more time. My mother spoke up suggesting that  they needed to catch their flight and no telling how the traffic would be. My dad nodded and then pointed first at my sister and then at me. “Don’t let me down.” he said. With that, the window slid up and away my parents went, echoes of calypso music in their heads. The car disappeared around the corner and my sister said “dibs on the phone!” I nodded in agreement. “Dibs on the sea skiff!” I replied.  My sister nodded in agreement. She needed the phone to call her friends to arrange a party and I wanted to take the Duet, a 30 foot Henry Lures Sea Skiff, out for a party with my friends. I walked over to my friend Toby’s house and used their phone to call together out little six man crew for some fishing, junk food, and sleeping in the comfy bunks. One unlucky participant would have to sleep in the bows, a triangular sort of bunk thing that was usually a pile of life jackets, water skis, tow ropes and water toys. The parents readily agreed;  if my mom and dad had confidence in me to do an overnight fishing trip then they saw no reason to be a wet blanket. Plus they knew I was all over the sound with my Boston Whaler, going so far as taking it into the Atlantic to go up to Nantucket. When asked where we were heading to fish I replied we’d be going up sound, which meant ‘east.’  Fact were, we had no idea where we were going. We’d just set a few trolls and and run before a following sea. Gentle and smooth. We cruised more or less randomly, the throttle in ‘troll’ position. It gave us about 8 knots of forward speed. The wheel could pretty much be ignored, it didn’t matter if our course wandered a little. It might deviate one way for a bit and then the other. Our trolls garnered a few good hits on bass, perch and a dogfish. The dogfish looks like a little shark and they aren’t very good eating. With only two fish in the cooler, we cut the engine, a 200 hp Mercury Marine inboard, and tried for some bottom fishing. We had better luck, managing to come up with a few flounders and a couple of cod. We pulled up the wax table, a piece of plywood with a roll of waxed paper stuck to the end, and went to work cleaning the fish.  We got  about 14 decent fillets that looked so good that we just had to set up the barbecue. We had regular and BBQ flavored chips and with a choice of orange and grape crush, coke and seven up, we were ready for some serious eating. It’s surprising how much of an appetite you can get fishing the ocean, and just how tired you can get. We’d managed to troll and drift our way almost to the Connecticut River, just about where the crush began. The crush was where Long Island bent itself toward Connecticut and ended the sound in favor of the Atlantic herself. I took us withing a mile of the coast and dropped a pair of anchors, letting one go and then giving line and drifting back about 50 yards and then going forward and off to the right even with the first anchor. This created a V of anchor lines and guaranteed we’d be right where we left us in the morning. A couple of us had a cigarette, demonstrating our clear alpha status as adults. I made sure to have two. My boat, after all. We all found our bunk space except Donny. He’d drawn the forward mat and there was too much crap there. Dog took pity on him and said if they could have the master bed, which was the biggest, they could share. Done deal. We talked between ourselves for about another hour and finally we all winked out.  It seemed like just a moment later that we were all awakened by loud noise. Clumping motor, groaning and creaking pulleys and cables, and maybe a radio too. Suddenly the boat was yanked 180 degrees, throwing us all to the floor. Awake and frightened, we scrambled up to the deck. There was a mussel dredge about 60 feet in front of us and one of my anchor lines pointed straight at it. “Jeremy, Toby, go pull the second anchor before this jerk rips us up.” They hopped to it, winding the anchor line onto  winch and hauling it in. Luckily, it didn’t bind up on any rock and they soon had it on the foredeck.  Meanwhile I was yelling at the dredger that he snagged my anchor and he needed to stop and cast it loose. His reply was to shoot me the finger and yell back he wasn’t going to break his dredge line for some punk kid.  Donny, Doug, Toby, Jeremy and I stood in a huddle and Jeremy made a suggestion about a trick he saw in a movie about Greek fishermen. Toby fetched a fender and fifty feet of hemp rope to tie to one end of it. The idea was to speed up and pass the dredger a little and then throw the fender across in front of his bow. If we timed it right, he wouldn’t be able to stop in time to keep the prop from getting fouled by the rope. I took the wheel, cranked up the motor and steered us up even with the dredge. He looked over at us and gave us the finger again. I waited for him to turn away to tend a line or something, and when he did, I stabbed the throttle forward and Jeremy, whose idea this was, tossed the fender. It was a perfect shot. Toby was holding the fee end of the rope and immediately started taking up slack and we all watched the rope as it slid toward the stern of the dredger. The old fisherman must have seen the same movie because he figured out what we were doing right away. He jump to slam his transmission into neutral, but it was too late. Toby let the line go as it wrapped up on the dredger’s prop shaft. There was a lot of threats and a lot of curse words, but with five of us and one of him, we could cut loose our anchor and move on. The dredger didn’t know about how dim a view my dad would take of a lost $200 Danforth anchor. We told him to raise his dredge and cast loose our anchor without cutting the line and in return, we’d dive under his boat and cut the rope off his prop. He grudgingly accepted the deal. We could have taken our anchor and left him, but a deal is a deal and in spite of my friends calling me a wimp, Toby and I dove in, each of us with a filleting knife. It wasn’t too bad a knot. We had it cut loose on a single breath and swam back to our boat and climbed up the skier’s ladder. “You’d have better cut me loose!” yelled the dredger. His response was five boys shooting him the finger as we cruised westward back to Rowayton. Comparing note with my sister that night it appeared that we both had a good time. She and her friends had gotten a little tipsy on beer and danced in the living room, playing demon rock and roll on my dad’s precious Fisher hifi. The boys were gentlemen and left at the appropriate time and the girls stayed over and helped clean up in the morning. My friends were equally helpful cleaning up and Duet. We still had 19 days to go.

The Vacation

And so there it was. A holiday, a vacation, a trip to somewhere that was not the hospital, Mamma Jones’ or a basic hotel in Wakefield located off the M1. My first holiday post diagnosis and post transplant is complete, it is done, it is over. Finito. As I type this, I am sitting in a bar surrounded by my hand luggage, EMan and Mamma Jones waiting to disembark from this tiny boat from where we will begin our journey back to London Town. I am using this waiting time most productively and I am reflecting. I will probably still be reflecting when I return to London.

I love reflecting. I seem to reflect all the time. My permanent state of reflection was, as the title suggests, present throughout the last seven days. If anything, being in different surroundings and different circumstances, outside of my protective myeloma bubble, made me reflect more than usual. I know what you are thinking and yes, ‘crikey’ would be appropriate right now or indeed so would ‘shit, here she goes again’.

I can honestly say that this holiday has been the most delightful seven days I have experienced in a long time. I may have been a lazy, cruising and thus slightly unimaginative Brit abroad, but in being that, I have been able to safely see beauty in things that one would not find in my 21 month long Bermuda Triangle. That is all I wanted. I have sailed into various pretty ports, enjoyed the luxury of using my credit card for multiple massages and acupuncture, sat and ate and expanded and took so many photographs that only I will ever be interested in them. I have been to Venice, Kotor, Corsica, Corfu, Genoa and Rome, and rediscovered my love of a sunset. Tasty.

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Of course, things are never that straightforward. Everyone, accept the self entitled elderly folk on this boat, knows that I have been delivered quite a curve ball in life, limiting my enjoyment of it. I can say with a tongue most bittersweet that going on holiday, whilst wonderful, highlights a number of the the bad things myeloma loves to dish up at the all you can eat buffet. My current state of reflection may exaggerate it, but I knew on Day 2 that myeloma makes the act of a holiday hard. I knew this when I was forced by my body into going for an afternoon nap, whilst simultaneously feeling I had just been kicked in the back by an ass as his buddy, the wild boar attempted to remove my armpit. Everyday since has featured a similar period or periods of sheer exhaustion, zombie-dom and an uncontrollable desire for Oramorph. Evidentially, these periods have been at odds with my overall excitement and determination.

A holiday by definition is a period of leisure and recreation, and will usually experience an interruption to one’s schedule. For me, my daily life is structured far more than I wish it and this is done to allow me the chance to feel like I am living it. In going on holiday, I naively assumed that I would not need to factor in as many break times and that my sheer will and excitement at being on holiday would overpower My Myeloma. I was incorrect. Myeloma makes holidaying hard. It makes it hard because I had to wait so long to have one skewing my expectations, a change in routine impacts on both my pain levels and the productively of my bowel, I could not swim not sunbathe, and most of all, I felt like my need to lie down or go to bed at 22:00hrs every night was wasted time. It was like resetting my understanding of a holiday.

And this is the bitter part. I knew my holiday reality, I think I did anyway otherwise I would not have agreed to a cruise or planned the excursions I did, but I think I really hoped that My Myeloma would not impact on my ability to do whatever I wanted to do. The only limitations on a holiday should be monetary and I have always found ways around this. There is no way round the fatigue.

Fortunately, I am well versed in managing the disappointment myeloma produces and thus, the sweetness far overpowered the bitterness. There may have been frustration, but I managed to find the fun in every good hour my body was awarded. I even have a few achievements in physical capability, which has made me think that in a few years, maybe my body will let me walk up Monument. Who knows? It’s a nice feeling to hope for something that feels remotely within the realms of possibility again.

It was silly of me to think that a holiday would be any different to any other part of my life when it comes to my relationship with myeloma. There are limits and concessions to be made everywhere.

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And so there it was. A holiday, a vacation, a trip to somewhere that was not the hospital, Mamma Jones’ or a basic hotel in Wakefield located off the M1. It is complete, it is done, it is over. As suspected, this holiday meant so much more to me than simply a holiday. It was a huge milestone and one that I gained more from than what it showed me I had lost, and my
my my, is that a wonder.

EJB x

P.S. In 10 days, I am off to Berlin. There, I will no doubt learn more concessions whilst pretending to be like any other 30 year old. One is excited.

Holiday Celebrate. Holiday Celebrate.

August 20th, T13, University College Hospital

“But we are going on holiday in November, she will still be able come on holiday won’t she?”

“No. No, she will not be well enough to go.”

✈️⚓️☀️✈️⚓️☀️✈️⚓️☀️✈️⚓️

When those words were spoken 21 months ago, I had absolutely no idea what they meant. I did not realise what not being well enough to go on holiday meant, nor did I have absolutely any idea how long I was going to have to wait to feel well enough to go on holiday. I most certainly had no idea how difficult I would find dealing with the fact that I could not go on holiday. I was definitely shipwrecked upon these fair shores.

We all know that myeloma is like a lifelong prison sentence; it is one big fat miscarriage of justice. For the last 21 months, I, unfortunately have been held in maximum security. Not a maximum security on the UK scale of prison decency, I am talking about American style, 23 hours a day lock down that would feature in a sensational Louis Theroux type-documentary about how barbaric imprisonment can be. That is how I have seen parts of My Myeloma life.

In my mind, nothing exemplifies the hardship that myeloma represents more than the inability for me to go on holiday. A desire that grew and grew after I was told that I could not do it and I grieved when it became evident that I was not physically capable of doing it and I would not be for a very long time. My freedom had been taken away. I was trapped in a triangle of the flat, Mamma Jones’ and the hospital and they were the only places I packed for.

In those dark times, when crying myself awake was a normal occurrence, I dreamed and I planned of so many holidays. I was promised some too. When there is no chance of one going away, one’s imagination really can be inventive. The idea of a holiday, to be more specific, going abroad on a holiday was my hope. My hope and my pain. It was a target and one that I could not help but set my sights on. It became a symbol of my health improving and thus if I discussed going away, my response would have been as emotional as if I had been talking about my potential recovery. Going away means freedom from my daily myeloma toil. It’s a break from it.

My last trip abroad was in June 2011 and the last time I travelled by air a volcano in Iceland decided to be a dick. Needless to say, my mind has been short on new discoveries of late; the East Coast Mainline and Tottenham Court Road, whilst special can become tiresome.

No more though. No more. I am at Gatwick Airport and my bags are nowhere to be seen (I like to think they are also on the plane I am sitting in). Any minute now, I will be forced to turn off my mobile phone, a small sacrifice to make for in a few hours I’ll be in Venice. After all those months lying in a bed, building up my energy and hoping, I am actually on a plane en route to a land that is not ours. I am on annual leave. Not special or sick leave, actual annual leave.

It has been so long coming.

You could say I am free. I would not, for I am not that cheesy.

I am going on holiday!

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And myeloma only cost me £154 extra for insurance. A bargain. I will tell you about all the other planning some other time. Right now, I am celebrating.

️⚓️☀️✈️⚓️☀️✈️⚓️☀️✈️⚓️

EJB x

P.S. Mamma Jones is pleased because she was just hanging out with Simon Callow in the club lounge. Swish. To be sure.

Sky Skiing

The old indian was sitting in his usual spot. A stubby jetty of rock that pressed into the crystal waters of Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay. He held an old fishing rod that looked to be as old as he was and next to him, dangling in the water was a stick that fed through the mouths and out the gills of four large trout. He waved to me as I padded, barefoot, over to where he sat. My family had been coming to the Emerald Bay area for the past few summers. The whole family looked forward to the trips throughout the year. We had a cabin that stood on the western bank of the lake, sitting five hundred feet from the shore up the steep mountain wall. It sat on the opposite side of a road that skirted the edge of the lake, a road that almost yearly experienced closures due to the landslides of rock that would tumble down over it.  ”Hello, my young friend!” called the indian.

“Looks like they’re biting today.” I said, eyeing the gleaming rainbow trout on their skewer.

“The mighty Da-ow is generous today.” he replied. Da-ow was the native American name of the lake. Pronounced dah ow, the white man heard and pronounced it Tahoe and the name stuck. I loved the lake and particularly Emerald Bay. Its waters were so pristine and clear that the bottom was clearly visible even at its 130 depth. Sitting in a boat and shading eyes from the glare of the sun, one could literally read the labels of pop and beer bottles that low life tourists had tossed overboard from their boats. Refraction made it look as though the water was much more shallow than it was, and many people, myself included, had tried in vain to swim down to retrieve the litter. Looking into the water now, I could see schools of minnows that seemed to be swimming in air. That’s how clear the water was. I sat down next to the old man and quietly watched him fish and looked around at the beauty of the area. Back then, in the fifties, there weren’t very many structures, just a few lakeside homes and tiny clusters of tourist cabins like the one my family rented. Just up the shoreline a half mile was a village with a coule of restaurants, a food and variety store, a post office and a long pier that jutted out into the water. A collection of bait shops and boat and ski rental shops gathered on its shoreward end.

I sat quietly and waited, knowing the old man would tell me a story or two about the days when he was my age, and he would share the traditions and explain their purpose to me. I loved hearing them. But today he didn’t tell me a story, instead he said that Mr. West was looking for me. John West was a seaplane pilot and the man who ferried my family up here from San Francisco. He carried us in a large DeHaviland Norseman seaplane with room for the four family members, our French poodle, Vicki, and our luggage. At the moment he was using a Cessna floatplane and I could see it tied up at the dock up the shore. “What did he want?” I asked. The indian shrugged and said he didn’t know, but that I should trot over and see what he wanted.

It was just after seven in the morning and few of the tourist visitors were out. The restaurants were serving a few people, but it would be around nine before the late rising vacationers would be up and about. I found Mr. West in a booth eating a plate of bacon and eggs, a mug of coffee sitting my his wrist. “Master Kirkpatrick!” he said in his booming voice. “Just the man I wanted to see!” He took a sip of coffe and indicated the seat across from him in the booth. “Word has it,” he said, “that you haven’t learned to water ski.”

I felt the heat rise and knew my face was turning red. The few people in the tiny cafe looked at me, appearing incredulous. It was my imagination of course. Still, I felt the barb of humiliation. “No, I don’t.” I admitted.

“Well now, we’ll just have to fix that.” he said. He took a last bite of egg, took a few bills from his wallet and dropped them on the table, stood up and said “Come on.” I followed him out and down to the pier. Different boats were tied along its length. Outboard and inboards, Chris Crafts and sailboats bobbed on their tethers. I wondered which one he planned to use to teach e to ske. But he didn’t stop at any of the boats, but made his way to the end of the pier where his floatplane was moored. He hopped from the dock onto a pontoon, opened the door and pulled a ski tow rope from inside. He affixed one end to a support strut at the rear of the pontoon and then pulled a pair of skis from inside the plane. I watched all of this go by, a sense of apprehension rising in my gut and sending waves of chill through me.

“Which boat are we going to use?” I squeaked.

“Boat? Heck boy, boats are for sissies.” He tapped the fuselage of the airplane and said “By God, we’re going to get you up on skis today one way or another!” I felt momentarily faint and envisioned myself hanging from the tow rope thousands of feet in the air. Suddenly, I wanted to go home. Go back and fish with the indian. Take a class in advanced mathematics, go to the dentist. Anything but what appeared to be my fate. 

I gulped. “You’re going to tow me with the airplane?”

“You damn betcha.” he boomed, smiling. Seeing the action, a tiny crowd of onlookers gathered at the end of the pier. Some instinct in them knew there was going to be some serious entertainment in the offing.

“Oh, gosh.” I whimpered as he fastened a life jacket around me. He then carefully explained how things worked with skiing, telling me to relax and float on the jacket and to hold the tips of the skis up out of the water, keeping the tow line between them. 

“Are you ready?” he asked. I shook my head to indicate than o, I wasn’t anywhere near ready. “Okay then, let’s go!” he said. He untied the airplane and climbed inside. He opened the window, hinged at the top. and clipped it to the underside of the wing. Leaning out he shouted for me to sit on the dock, put on the skis, grab the tow bar and hop into the water. A moron, I did what he instructed.

I floated on the vest but had a hard time getting the tips of the skis up. I finally succeeded. I heard the airplane’s motor crank over and come to life with a belch of gray exhaust. The plane began a very slow taxi towards the center of the lake. Not ready for the pressure of the tow, I ended up being dragged slowly through the water with the skis behind me. West was shouting instructions and encouragement at me over the sound of the engine and I finally got into the right position. The plane suddenly accelerated and I plowed through the water, slowly rising onto the skis. I lost balance and fell, dropping the tow rope. West, who’d been watching, throttled back and moved the plane in a circle around me, the dragging tow rope coming right to me. I grabbed it and got a grip on the bar again and as I was slowly dragged, got back into starting position. The plane accelerated again and I fell again.

“Come on, come on!” shouted West. You can do this!” Our repeated tries eventually had us on the far side of the bay and West turned us around and headed back in the direction we came. On the tenth try, much to my surprise, I found myself standing on skis that were planing across the lake. I was bent and wobbling, but I was skiing! West reached out the windows and made an OK sign with his thumb and forefinger. I went to wave back in triumph and the act caused me to lose balance. I fell and cartwheeled over the water, the skis flying off. West.s hand changed to a thumbs down gesture. 

A small speedboat was skipping over the surface towards us. The plane was stopped and West was standing on a pontoon directing me in finding and collecting up the pair of skis. The boat pulled up and cut its motor. At the wheel was my father, his face beet red with anger. “What in the HELL do you think you’re doing?” he shouted at West.

“Just teaching the boy to ski, Kirk.” he replied calmly.

“Who are you to make that choice. When he’s ready to ski his mother and I will decide that and make arrangements for a professional teacher!” shouted my dad. He put emphasis on the word professional. 

“I was doing him a favor, Kirk. Not many kids get to brag they learned to ski behind a plane.”

“That’s another thing.” barked my dad. “Using an airplane? My God, man. y son could be killed. He could be chopped up by the propeller or fall from a great height. I can’t believe you’d do something so stupid!”

West bristled at that. “He was on the wrong end to be cut by the prop, and I wasn’t taking off, just taxiing fast enough to pull him. Calm down, you’re being ridiculous. There’s no way I’d hurt your son.” My father didn’t reply, instead he ordered me to the boat and pulled me in. He unstrapped the vest and threw it at West, who caught it.

“We’ll leave your skis on the dock.” my father barked. They were bobbong next to the boat and he reached out to pull them in. In the doing, he lost balance when the boat bobbled a but from the waves and fell into the water. He came up sputtering and furious. West broke out in laughter and I had a hard time suppressing a smile. I succeeded in keeping a straight face, my dad was already angry enough and I knew there would be a price to pay. He pulled himself into the boat, started the motor and sped off back towards the dock. He yelled at me all the way back. “You don’t go anywhere without asking permission. You know that. You have no business asking West to tech you to ski.” I didn’t tell him that I accepted an offer and didn’t seek it out. ut my father was already mad at West and I didn’t want to make it worse.

Of course, I ended up on restriction. I had to stay with either my father or mother for the duration of the vacation, which made it pretty boring. I was happy when it was time to go. When we left, we ended up being driven to a train station and caught a run back to San Francisco rather than flying back with Mr. West. In fact, I never saw him again and the following year we moved from our home in Atherton across the country to Connecticut.

West was right, of course. Not many people could claim to have learned to water ski behind an airplane. I still appreciate the gift of the experience.

Vacation rules

I’m posting this, sitting in my car at Dover docks, waiting to board a ferry to France, for my Grand Tour of Italy.

Number 8 on my List for Living is to drive through Italy on my very own ‘Room with a View’ tour of stunning Italian cities (Venice, Rome, Siena, Florence, Naples). And that is exactly what I’m about to do. Yippeeee!!!

You may not hear from me for a few weeks, but rest assured, despite having lots to write about regarding my health and so many other things, I am fine and intending to have a good time abroad, so there’s no need to be concerned.

With any luck, I’ll have plenty of time when I return to catch up on blog writing. Bons vacances!!!

Travellin’ shoes

Travelin' Shoes

Norway was amazing. My worries and anxieties came to nought in the end. I was never cold and only fell over once, in lovely soft snow. All the gear I bought did exactly what was required. Ice grippers are a marvel!

P1060383_2          P1060441          P1060390

I went dog sledding… Twice! I survived quite happily in -18°C temperature, but the moisture in my nostrils froze and tickled, like a tiny hedgehog up my nose – not painful, just a bit odd (only one night, way up north, near the Finnish border).

I saw and awed at the Northern Lights dancing, even took a few photos. I ate, drank, sledged and watched reindeer racing. I managed my fatigue and appreciated the calm, snowy, monochrome landscape. I even quit worrying about the outrageous prices (a poor exchange rate made them even worse).

P1060504   IMG_0728   IMG_0752   Tromsø airport with Wendy

I enjoyed the company of my travelling companion. It was a truly fab trip. Thank you Wendy, for encouraging me to join you and making it so easy and fun. x

More than simply enjoying the trip, what I’ve gained from daring to go, is renewed confidence… to travel again, excitement, desire and, just as importantly, energy for travelling again. I’m not quite in a Dexy state, but just knowing I can handle travelling and have fun without being too worn out is such a boost. So different from my uncertainty, fragility and anxiety of the summer. I feel like a huge barrier has been broken… I can do anything, go anywhere… as long as I can afford the health insurance!

Antwerp Antwerp cathedralAs a first step, I’m off to Antwerp in two weeks to meet up with family on my dad’s side, a Belgian friend and to enjoy a beautiful city. What’s great is being free of any feelings of being daunted at the prospect. EHIC at the ready, any butterflies I have are down to excitement. It’ll be exactly a year since I was last in Belgium, only this time without the steroids!

So, what other plans are afoot?

StatueLibertyIMG_0627I’d love to go over to New York to see my cute two year old nephew before he turns three.

I’ll see my brother and sister-in-law at the same time… if they insist! :)

I’ve made two online friends through blogging about cancer, Rachel in Salem, New Jersey and Marie-Chantal in Vancouver, who I’d be thrilled to meet too. Well, if I go as far as the States, I may as well cross the continent, right? And if I go that far, then I may as well drop down to call in on some old haunts and friends in San Francisco, where I lived for a while many years ago. But actually, I’m still hoping that MC will make it over to Europe – we have an outstanding rendezvous in Paris!

Marianne's house in MarrakechMarianne's house in Marrakech 2I have an invitation from another online myeloma buddy, Marianne, a Norwegian artist, to visit the old house she has been lovingly restoring in traditional style in Marrakech, Morocco.

keffiyehI watched a TV programme on Friday about ‘Wild Arabia‘ and found myself excitedly considering experiencing the Sahara desert, which would fit in perfectly with a trip to Marrakech. Lawrence of Arabia, watch out!

Now where did I put my keffiyeh? Or as the Jews call it, my sudra.

Turkey-making-breadava sofia mosque - istanbulIf that isn’t enough Eastern influence, Wendy and I are already in discussion about a trip to Istanbul, somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for some years.

But that will have to wait, at the very least until she returns from an imminent three-week trip to India. (Yes, she too has itchy feet.) I doubt my consultant would recommend me going to India at this point. And I’m not quite ready for that much adventure yet either, nor for the cost of insurance…

A Tom Swift Weekend Cruise

A film about the Hindenburg kept me occupied for a couple of hours. It starred George C. Scott and told of intrigue in the skies which led to the disaster destined to become the cover art for the first Led Zepplin album. I spent most of my time ignoring the film and indulging in a bit of daydream engineering. I’ve always thought that dirigibles were a nifty way to travel and I still do. Especially now that we have such a wide array of ultra strong and ultra light materials to work with. It certainly wouldn’t be a terribly time efficient way to travel, but think of it in the same terms one might a few day cruise or scenic train excursion and it becomes attractive. At least I think so.

I imagine a group of perhaps 20 to thirty guests and an appropriate crew to operate the vessel and provide amenities to the passengers. There would be separate cabins, a few recreational areas and a dining hall available to the airborne clientele. A sizable ship, obviously. I think it would be very pleasant to rise above the hustle and bustle of the frenetic earth and move among the clouds. The views would be spectacular, of course, giving a perspective on the planet that is actually uncommon despite the air routes zig zagging around the globe. Commercial jets fly so high in order to travel efficiently that you’re actually too high for a really great view. Not to mention the scenes viewed through the crazed and often condensation blurred plastic windows can’t exactly be called panoramic. Plus, the thin and frigid air at 40,000 feet is hardly conducive to opening a window, which is a feature my envisioned dirigible would possess. Actually, I’m not the only one to have such an imagined future. Even greater plans than mine are in the works.

I like to imagine moving over and around the many scenic locations, flirting with mountains and valleys, lakes and coastlines while being pampered with delectable consumables by smiling attendants. No aluminum carts that barely travel the aisles, offering stale bags of chips and half cans of semi-chilled beverages. Real foods: omelets and pancakes, bacon and eggs in the morning, sandwiches and soups, cheese and crackers to lunch and snack on, and gourmet dinners following a cocktail hour. At bedtime one would snuggle into their ample sized memory foam beds. Of course, WiFi would be available and at no time would electronic devices need to be placed in airplane mode or turned off. It would be a luxury boutique hotel that moved along at a maximum of forty-five miles an hour. In the course of three days a distance of 1500 miles could be covered.

Of course, I imagine the flying behemoth to be electric, keeping noise and pollution to a minimum, all that surface area seeming to beg for solar cells. Wide bladed, slow turning propellers sliding the huge tube through the air without the whine and rumble of the jets and turboprops we associate with air travel. Of course, in my vision it’s not the speedy arrival at a destination that’s the point, instead it’s the leisurely journey that stars the show.

I’ve shared this idea with others since I first started thinking about it –back in the early 1970s as I was getting my pilot’s license. I’ve always been enthralled by a perspective of altitude, but one in the moderation of the small planes I flew and enjoyed so much. People would tell me that it would be too big and cumbersome, be too subject to the winds and weather, too expensive and prone to financial liabilities. No investor would risk it, so I’ve been told. But I think differently, of course. I think we have come a long way in the materials to make such a thing with, and that it wouldn’t be so frightfully expensive that it wouldn’t make a profit. Rather than thinking about the negatives, I keep my head in the clouds where my lumbering giant would roam. The more I think about it, the more developed it becomes, taking on more roles than whimsical voyages to get away from it all. I think of it as a research platform, offering an observation platform different than the planes, helicopters and ships employed.

But my mind feels comfortable just weighing the impractical journeys, showing a relaxed view to relaxed passengers that parades the world by at a relaxed pace. Sometimes you just have to slow down, and perhaps even stop to smell the proverbial roses. And I think a blimp would be a great way to do it.

Fb-Button

Dorothy said, There’s no place …

Well, well, well. Here it is, another Labor Day. Through the weekend many families have flocked to campsites, lake homes, and other recreational spots to make a last grab at summer vacation. Of course, very few of them went very far, what with gas prices so high and airline travel morale so low.  In most places the weather is cooperating by providing sunny skies and warm breezes for this last fling before the chilly breath of fall ebbs the summertime urges. I toyed with many thoughts of taking a vacation, to visit somewhere that had the three elements required to make me smile about where I am: warm turquoise water, warm open sands, and warm sunlight tempered by trade winds. The three warms of paradise.

I mulled over a few spots and began my investigation that would lead to a choice of which one I would go to, taking my first recreational trip since 2006. It was the mental image of a place just like this that kept my spirits at least a little buoyed during those dark days of chemotherapy. I would try to recall the sensation of wading while my feet screamed with the varying discomforts of peripheral neuropathy. In no particular order, the following are the places I chose and the elements that qualified them or disqualified them as my vacation destination.

Hawaii. This was the last place I went, visiting Oahu during October of 2006.  A friend lives there and owns a home right on the beach at Kailua, just across the brackish canal from Lanakai. Since I was there, Barack Obama bought a house there, just a few doors down from my friend,  and the entire island has become one great big no smoking zone.  On my last visit, I spent 80% of my daylight hours on that particular beach, staring at the waves, reading books, and smoking. I have already heard that the presence of the president’s house has put a kind of chill emanating from Secret Service in spite of their attempts to remain innocuous. This makes sense to me, as I never picture or see the Secret Service being all that innocuous. I mean, everyone remembers Clint Eastwood’s role in Line of Fire, just seeing an agent would be enough to remind one that there are a lot of people who are unhappy with the president, some enough to do something foolish. Otherwise, why would they have to protect him? Since the Kailua beach is really the only place I really like in Hawaii, and I can’t smoke there, even though I am trying to quit the habit I really don’t want to do it when I am paying so much to feel relaxed and at peace with the world as I enjoy my days in the sun. Scratch Hawaii.

Florida Keys. Now here is a place of great fascination. Both John D. MacDonald and Paul Levine have written wonderful descriptions of the gateways to the keys, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. Perhaps I could even run into Travis McGee or Jake Lassiter as I moseyed about looking for US 1 to drive on down to the southernmost tip of the US. Maybe not. Stephen King told me about life in the string of islands in his book, Numa Key, and Tom Corcoran lay the real Key West open in his Alex Rutledge books. I had a tremendous number of facts about the Florida Keys, and sadly, the idea of so many dead bodies and random gunfire is kind of put offish when one is considering a place to relax in. Of course, my wife and I both know that there are a lot of bugs in the keys, both those that take flight and those that don’t. They range in size from miniscule, earning the name “noseeums,” to “Oh God, that almost shattered the windshield” gargantuan beetles and even larger moths. It seems that the bulk of information I possess about the Keys is negative, albeit for the inviting way they look as I focus Google Earth on those stepping stones to Cuba and zoom right in. The water has just the right sparkling light blue shade to it, and the photos from Google and Bing images show delectable palms, white sands and cheerful people in colorful albeit brief attire frolicking in fun filled endeavors. What to do, what to do? Actually, I have been there and I have seen and felt the bugs. I was only eight at the time I was there, standing on a beach near Hollywood, Florida. Even with a solid breeze I had been tormented to tears by the sorties of full dark clouds of them all seeking shelter in the corners of my eyes and up my nose. If I opened my mouth to call for my father or mother, they would fly in my mouth. Okay, screw this, the Keys are out. Besides, there’d probably be a hurricane.

Australia. I figured that any place that required $2000 tickets and 28 hours of flight time from Spokane had better be a place we really, really wanted to go. I looked at my wife and said “Hey, we could go to Cairns, Australia and dive on the Great Barrier Reef!”

“I suppose. Yes. We could do that. I guess.” said my wife with all the verve of an undertaker. I looked at her deadpan face. Okay, next destination?

Whoops. There isn’t another on the list. So I take a review of the places I’d just dismissed due to one reason or another, and yep, I still feel the same way I did before, so I figure that perhaps I should set my sights a bit lower. I figured that perhaps Cancun might be nice, but I don’t speak Spanish and I like Mexican food only occasionally, usually centering around Velveeta and Chili without beans and chips to make Nachos, or the ever popular Taco Bell beef taco. Not Taco Time, Taco Bell. There’s a big difference. I didn’t even have to ask my wife how’d she like to eat nothing but Taco Bell for a full week, three times a day, so I went ahead and crossed it off the list. Then I thought that maybe somewhere a bit closer to home would be in order. So I checked out San Diego. Those egotists have the gall to cost the exact same as an equal trip to Hawaii, for crying out loud. I gave them points for not being a no smoking town (pardon the double negative) but it just wasn’t sufficient to make me feel it was worth the expense, what with paying all that and not even getting Don Ho. Plus that, the place isn’t all that different from Cancun; everything nearby had similar sorts of names.

Resigning myself to merely a small change in scenery, I turned to neighboring Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. It’s only 40 minutes to their most famous resort hotel and boatramp, and the hotel had some pretty amazing views of Lake Coeur d’Alene which, I do admit, is highly picturesque. From the resort hotel, it’s a mere hour or so up the highway to Silverwood, the areas theme park boasting a train, a wooden roller coaster and s few of the other attractions found in theme parks.  It’s very nice and all, I guess. Maybe. But even closer to the resort is Wild waters. It’s a waterslide park with a number of slides which are great fun to slide on. Of course, the steep walk back to the crest of the man-made hill that supports the slides is sufficiently aerobic as to summon cardiac arrest and possible stroke. But then, half the medications I take have warning labels that say the same thing. Also, back in the early days when I’d first met the lady I married, she burned like a lobster in boiling water and turned a similar color over most of her fair skin. We washed her over with white vinegar, giving her some relief after the agonizing ride home with the kids all noisy and active in the back seat. Her burn hurt too. As a matter of fact, her primary memory of that day has tunnel-visioned itself to that sole memory, which she speaks of almost every time someone uses the word “sun.” So all in all I figure that a trip to Coeur d’Alene is probably not all that great an idea, but check on their package prices anyway. What is with this? Their prices equal out to what I’d pay to go to, yes, Hawaii. What is it with that figure? Have all of the possible destinations conspired to charge exactly the same in some kind of level playing field agreement? Is NAFTA to blame?

Here it is Labor Day and I am in the back yard, having a coke pop and playing with my Parrot A.R.Drone. In the house, my wife is cooking hamburgers for our dinner. Our choice for a vacation spot, our back yard, appeared to be the best choice in the end. I wouldn’t have to spend six grand of my hard and long saved nest egg, the people nearby all speak english and our street names are regular nouns with no south of the border flair. There are no lines in the kitchen or to the bathroom, and the hospitality is so nice it feels just like home.

And that’s what we want in a vacation, right?

You want me to do what?????

Just exactly two weeks from the day we left home, we returned home. What?? Weren’t you planning on staying a month?? Yes, in fact, we were.

I think my honey thought this trip would be magic. We’d take off in this rolling hotel (RV) of ours, with him at the helm (most of the time, I drive …..the car), we’d stop along the way at Rest Areas, and have breakfast or lunch…….just like we used to do…….before cancer.

He got tired, as we loaded, but I thought nothing of it. I got