C7: THEY DON’T LIKE IT UP ‘EM

First published: 17 Jan 2017

Survey says … no answer!

Not yet, anyway. The endoscopy (down) and the colonoscopy (up) are done. The pictures are fascinating, but they reveal no lurking community of cunning cancer cells sending their conniving compatriots into my neck. So, the next thing is lungs.

Remember the really old-fashioned butcher shops? The ‘family’ business ones? The ones which had your order cut, weighed and wrapped before you actually crossed the road and entered? And threw in some scraps and free soup bones for good measure? The ones whose dog was less fit than anything you cared to compare it to (I’ve never understood that analogy?) They sold offal, including sweetbreads, things which are very difficult to come by these days, but were cheap and nutritious – always a bonus – as well as being extremely tasty. Sweetbreads are specifically the organ meat from the thymus gland and the pancreas while the rest of the offal family comprise the internal organs and entrails, in fact, anything which is used as food except for skeletal muscle. Haggis and black pudding are still popular recipes but people shy away from most offal-y stuff nowadays even though they are really scrumptious. Knowing modern farming methods, they are probably fed back to the relatives of the donor animals which produced them.

Liver and kidneys are the most acceptable, but brains are great if they’re gently sautéed in butter and cognac, a la Hannibal Lecter. The taste is exquisite. Lecter, of course, was an offal gourmet. His famous line, “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti,” played on his medical disturbance, a malevolent subcategory of an antisocial psychopathic disorder. This can be treated with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) but there are three specific dietary components which are banned during MAOI treatment: liver, beans, and wine. The good doctor hadn’t been taking his meds.

Lungs are part of the offal group. Haggis is heart, liver and lungs, ground up and mixed with onions, oatmeal, animal fat, spices, and salt, then boiled inside the animal’s stomach. Yummy. India has a delicacy presented as goat lung and liver masala curry. Leaves you breathless, eh?

Lungs are our next port of call for the primary cause of the tumor. Normally no news would be good news, but as we are peeling away layer after layer of possibilities, no news simply indicates that the problem is deeper than first anticipated. The lung guy is expected soon.

Food is on the agenda today because it was off the agenda both yesterday and the day before. I admitted myself on Sunday morning but, starting Saturday afternoon, I was confined to a ‘low-fiber’ diet and then, from Sunday morning to liquids only. Guinness and dark rum were obviously on the banned list but so was anything else that was of a dark persuasion. Only insipid, clear, boring, weak, wishy-washy, uninteresting, and dull stuff, which by taste was unsavory, and by definition was flavorless. Their best shot was Dal soup which is lentil. I love real lentil soup: thick and gooey, for Christmas starters, drizzled with real cream and lots of black pepper, but this was cold yuck. I told them not to leave any razor blades lying around or I could be tempted. Then they added the laxative.

My prior knowledge of laxatives was restricted to small tablets which gave you ‘the runs’. This was two liters of foul-tasting, opaque liquid which had to be drunk within an hour. Two liters. Two liters! TWO LITERS! TWO LITERS!

And then ……… nothing. Not a thing for ages. No gurgling. No rumblings. No eruptions. No screaming, ab-dab emissions threatening to disrupt the known Universe. Simply peace and calm. The stuff is called Peglac, a combination of polyethylene glycol and electrolytes and its role in life is to ‘lavage’ the gastrointestinal tract. Lavage: nice word. Peglac: awful liquid. It’s supposed to come in two flavors but the stuff I had tasted just like its intended target!

<Breaking news> … and there we may have it, as we speak, live reporting. The lung guy just came and he’s found a “consolidation” on yesterday’s CT scan in my lower right lung, so he needs to speak to the radiology guys to see if they agree and then probably do a biopsy. This would be a needle thrust between my ribs and poked around until he finds a nice piece of offal with which to play. More later </breaking news>

The steely knives have receded. Boy, they were nasty. Worst yet. All day Sunday, all night and then all day Monday till about 3 a.m. Now it’s bearable. Still there, but bearable. While they were at their steely height I was sitting on the edge of my bed, holding my head in my hands and rocking while mumbling to myself. A dietician bounced in and cheerily asked, “How are you?” If he understood my answer, I’m sure he didn’t like it. Strange bunch, dieticians.

The camera work was not as bad as anticipated. For some reason, I was anxious, whereas the very serious neck surgery didn’t bother me at all. It is a bit odd though having tubes down your throat and up your ass when you’re fully conscious. And, as I said, survey says … no answer.They did find a whole raft of ulcers, some small, some large, some shallow, some deep. And one which looks like a subterranean cave of nuclear submarine proportions. No pain, no bleeding, no irritation, so they should be easily treated. Probably caused by all the painkillers I’ve taken. A minor distraction from the elusive little bastard of the cancer.

C6: LIFE IS WHAT HAPPENS …

First published: 14 Jan 2017

… when you’re busy doing other things. John Lennon had it about right, didn’t he?

Thursday

I understand more medical terminology than many people, maybe even most, but I certainly don’t understand it all, nor anywhere near enough.

The ‘second opinion’ arrived tonight:

The biopsy from cervical spinal lesion reveals metastatic poorly differentiated adenocarcinoma. The tumor cells express Cytokeratin, EMA & CK-7 and are immunonegative for CK-20, TTF-1, PSA & CD 38.

So, unless you’ve done your seven plus years of training, it’s all medical gobbledegook. It suggested investigating my lungs for “a primary”. That bit seems pretty straightforward: they think the ‘thing’ started in my lungs and has then clawed its way into residence at my C1 vertebrae, but my friendly Consultants will have to explain the C-3PO and R2-D2 acronyms and abbreviations.

Friday

I have an appointment at 5.30 this afternoon. Friday the 13th. Woo-woo-woo … My Yoda-like Consultants will have to decipher the medical code.

Saturday

We got the results of the analysis from the other hospital. Not good news, really.

The bottom line is they think the tumor started somewhere else and then settled in my neck. They have to find the ‘somewhere else’ so that they can kill the ‘somewhere else’.

So I need more tests – simple ones which entail sticking a camera down my throat and another one up my ass! They are local anesthetics so no big deal, really, but I will check into the hospital for two nights so that I am monitored and supervised properly. That will be tomorrow (Sunday) and Monday, leave Tuesday morning.

The first analysis, during the neck surgery, was that the tumor was a plasmacytosis (I don’t understand these terms and there are lots of them), which I think is the localized one which just stays in one place. Then the post-operative, more detailed analysis at Reliance Hospital indicated it was worse than that and was a ‘metastatic undifferentiated carcinoma’, which is quite a nasty one and could spread. The analysis advised looking for a ‘primary’ – the starting point – in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract (upper part of the stomach) and pancreaticobiliary tracts (lower part). The good news was they were certain there were no carcinoma traces in the bone marrow.

However, they were not entirely sure about the whole thing and they were worried that it may be a worse type, so they asked if they could get a second opinion from some other experts. This is what we now have.

They describe it as a “metastatic poorly differentiated adenocarcinoma” which is a long-winded way of saying it could be particularly nasty and has likely started somewhere else and then settled in the neck just for comfort and fun. So they have to find the origin, the place where it is all starting; what they call the ‘primary’. They suspect it may be my lungs but, at this stage, no one knows.

Previously, nothing showed up on the PET scan which was, in itself, a little strange but nothing about medical science (or any other science) is yet perfect. They’ll start with the simpler test, the gastrointestinal tract, then my bowels, and, if nothing is found, then move onto my lungs.

The GI and bowel tests consist of simply sticky cameras down my throat (endoscopy) and up my ass (colonoscopy) and taking video! That should put me off photography for a while. YouTube eat your heart out. If they find something interesting they’ll cut little bits out and test then to bits. That’s simple really. Lungs may be more complicated, I don’t know.

The tests themselves are done under local anesthetic so they are not a big deal, maybe 10 and 20 minutes each. However, the preparation entails total cleaning of my bowels – probably going to the toilet at least a dozen times the night before (“ensure toilet is close by once the laxatives are taken”) – and the post-test recovery includes quite a risk of stumbling and falling, which I don’t want to do with my neck healing nicely. So I’ve opted to stay in the hospital for two nights, Sunday and Monday, rather than stay here by myself. It’s just me being cautious. Don’t want to be rushing to the toilet or falling without an emergency button at hand. Results will be three to four days.

I have to have a low-fiber diet today and a liquid-only diet from tomorrow morning. Apparently ‘liquid only’ doesn’t cover vodka and tonic.

If they find nothing they’ll assume the worst and start chemotherapy which basically bathes the whole body in cleaning chemicals. If they can isolate a primary origin then maybe radiation will suffice. That specifically targets a particular group of cells and blasts them with light-saber intensity. I don’t think we’re going to end up with light-sabers though; it sounds like a full immersion in chemicals to me.

In other news: rising from my Lazarus-like sleeping position this morning was pain-free. Quite often when I sit up I get a really bad headache for a few minutes, but this morning, nothing. Happy bunny.

C5: BELLIGERENT AVOCADOS, AGGRESSIVE SPINACH, AND HUMBLE PIE

First published: 11 Jan 2017

My Grandfather on my mother’s side could be neatly encapsulated by the description belligerent. The word covers a multitude of sins including aggressive, argumentative, quarrelsome, loud-mouthed, stroppy, confrontational, spoiling for a fight, and cantankerous. Every one of those would fit at some point or other.

The origin of his cantankerousness could be reasonably traced back to shell-shock caused by grievous injuries and associated experiences during World War I. However, my characteristics throw a spanner in the works. I can be cantankerous. The question arises, therefore; is it coincidental – highly unlikely; is it an inherited trait, part of his make-up passed down from his forefathers and onto me – if it is, then his wasn’t caused by his experiences during WWI, the tendency was always there; was his developed cantankerousness encoded into his DNA during WWI and then subsequently passed to me? That last one poses a lot of additional questions which would fuel a shed-load of PhD studies.

The cute, superficial approach of nature or nature or nature and nurture of development have both been pretty much debunked as too simplified, and the way of most thinking now is based on genes (nature) interacting with nurture and having mutually influential effects; in other words genes alter the environment and the environment alters genes. Both in real time. David Shenk has some good stuff, very well explained in his book The Genius in All of Us (Anchor, 2011).

Whatever the source of my trait I do, indeed, exhibit cantankerousness, but I prefer belligerence. I can be a real pig at it. Sometimes it gets in the way and other times it can be useful. The trick is using it as a plan or as a strategy.

Strategy is a hugely overused word across all aspects of business and is largely misunderstood. Everyone uses it as a synonym for planning, but it’s not. Planning is about methodology and systems whereas strategy is about processes and emphasis. Cutting through all the corporate bullshit promoted by Harvard Business Review and its lesser copycat surrogates and wannabe clones, we can define planning as about performance and strategy about results.

Twenty-four years ago The Economist declared, “Nobody really knows what strategy is…” Many authors cite The Economist’s unequivocal statement but then use thousands of words doing little more than unequivocally proving they are not the one to prove The Economist wrong! Most authors need to subscribe to the maxim attributed variously to Ernest Rutherford, Albert Einstein, or Richard Feynman, with slight variations in the recipient of the explanation, “If you can’t explain it to a barmaid you don’t understand it.” Swimming coaches fall into the same trap, using overcomplicating obscuration all the time. They also use multi-syllabic terminology.

As an aside I love pithy quotes: here’s a beaut I just found from Rutherford – he’s the guy who first split the atom – “If your experiment needs statistics, you ought to have done a better experiment.” Love that one. It’s true.

Anyway, back to strategy.

What, exactly, does strategy mean? Even the publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary confuse strategy and management when outlining their organization: “the Chief Executive … chairs the Group Strategy Committee … in charge of the day-to-day management …

Without a satisfactory definition, discussion of strategy descends into the murky quagmire inhabited by most authors with participants reduced to quivering, mumbling, frustrated and confused wrecks. The problem is linguistics. Strategy is a noun, in other words, a ‘thing’, but is variously used or modified as a noun, verb, adverb or adjective and is often misused as such. When most writers use it as an adjective – strategic planning, strategic learning, strategic thinking – it describes why anyone plans, learns or thinks, but they should use it as an adverb to describe how – planning, learning, thinking strategically. This confusion is the origin providing the solid basis for The Economist’s depressing statement.

Planning and strategy, like the pairing of leadership and management, are inter-related but are not synonymous. Strategy is not a synonym or a substitute for planning even though there can be situations where it is part of the planning process if no competitors indulge in it. Put simply, planning is about performance, strategy is about results. Lawrence Freedman comes close when he says strategy allows the planning to exhibit its product and “is most dramatically used when facing a stronger opponent” (Strategy: A History. OUP, 2013).

Where are we going with this and what has it got to do with cancer and fractured necks. Well, one neck and two fractures.

Yesterday was stitch removal day: twelve for the surgery to my neck and seven in the associated incision on my butt where they harvested pelvic bone for the graft into my cervical vertebrae. My head is now held steady by my ass. Very appropriate.

I had three specialists to see so I planned for efficiency: the first one, an orthopedic guy about the severe and debilitating pain in my left knee which had almost deep-sixed my discharge a few days ago. I thought it was a form of arthritis and it had come on quite suddenly making it impossible to put any weight on my left leg. I literally couldn’t walk at all. Over the space of 24 hours, the pain diminished but discharge was touch and go until the last minute. The arthritis specialist only deals with two patients each morning and his diary was full but the secretary kindly offered 7.45 am before he officially started. Yes, please.

Specialists 2 and 3 were cancer and neurology respectively. I plugged them in at 9.00 am and 10.00 am so I had buffer zones in case of delays or complications; the morning was looking like a beautiful thing.

The drive usually takes around a full hour and I wanted to be sure I was ahead of the game so I left the apartment at 6.30. A good version of sod’s law kicked in and we arrived at 7.10. Not a problem, better early than late. Reception staff perkily perked up at 7.30 and I found my way through the rabbit warren of the buildings to report at the local admin station at 7.35 for my 7.45 appointment.

7.40.

7.45.

7.50.

7.55 … I guess these guys are allowed to be late. They’re special. They rule the hospitals.

8.00.

8.05 … by 8.35 I was getting pissed off. My Master plan was in danger of imploding at the first step. If this appointment ate into the scheduled time of the second one (9.00) then I may miss my slot and that would, in turn, affect my 10.00 consultation.

I must have looked edgy because I was asked to sit in a consultation office. As we moved through the corridors I passed the Consultant examining a woman on a bed who had strange looking feet – almost a delicate hint of gangrene; mildly yellowy-black staining but without the fetid smell of decaying and necrotic tissue. She was perfectly and perfectly whiningly lucid so in no way was it an emergency. I sat in the office.

8.40.

8.45.

8.50 … that’s it. I’d had enough. Belligerence kicked in. Thank God, I hear you saying; at last, we got back to that. I walked out, past the admin desk and stalked off to the next appointment.

It’s quite amusing to see the reaction of table staff when you react to slow service in a restaurant by walking out because the bill is late to arrive. Same here. The admin guy hot-footed it after me and implored me to return. I refused and explained why. He phoned specialist #2 and then told me it was OK if I was a little late and that I should do the knee stuff first. We return to the consultation office and, da-dah, the specialist arrived immediately.

He was a really nice guy. We discuss the problem which had cured itself in the interim and was now non-existent except for the possibility of a future return. We settle on some form of arthritic gout characterized by little, green crystals which is a nice picture. I can imagine those making pretty patterns in my blood stream like the kaleidoscope things you had when you were a kid. Shake it up and look down the tube and marvel at the different colors and shapes. So, no treatment there, move to appointment #2.

Potentially this was the most sensitive, somber, grim, solemn, or uplifting conversation of the morning. This one was to receive the naughty or nice verdict about the tumor. ‘Nice’ meant it was benign and could simply be blasted into oblivion. ‘Nice’ meant it had acted like a cuckoo chick, demanding more space than readily available, and resulting in it ‘merely’ fracturing my spine. Nice indeed, but much nicer than the naughty alternatives.

The possibilities of naughty spanned a localized cancer and one which was hell-bent on world domination.

Localized meant it would keep growing unless killed, but it wouldn’t spread to other parts of my organism. Treatment for this would likely be radiation therapy (highly focused light-sabres!), either in one big blast or a series of thirty or so small ones. World domination, however, meant it would potentially spread through the vascular system or the lymphatic system to other organs and other tissues. Sir Isaac Newton almost cracked the solution – action and reaction are equal and opposite, but war doesn’t have equal as its goal; it demands that you win. Stalemate or equilibrium is not allowed. Like with like is not enough, you have to be more brutal than the opposition. That was Hitler’s problem when he blitzed London in 1940. The attacks were inconclusive and, contrarily, served to galvanize the power and emotions of the British peoples. Contrast this with the USA bombing Hiroshima, a civilian target just like London. The Japanese went into shocked but temporarily stunned defense mode. 72 hours later Nagasaki was bombed; will-power and emotional-response-ability were destroyed; no retaliatory counter-attacks were possible Surrender was immediate.

Hitler’s approach was not strong enough. Germany used force, whereas the USA used violence. Violence is an over-use of force. Hitler was not nasty enough. The USA ‘got the result’.

If the enemy wants world domination then bring it on. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgical removal, thermo-nuclear warheads, handbags at dawn, snakes on a plane, whatever it takes.

That’s what we were supposed to discuss. No such luck.

The analysis didn’t give a definitive diagnosis of the type of cancer involved in the tumor so we still don’t have a clear direction of world war three or a relatively minor skirmish of the radiation therapy type. There was a possibility that the cancers had started lower in my body than the tumor, say in the gastrointestinal tract, and then snuck their sneaky claws into a cozy and comfortable space between my C1 vertebrae and my spinal cord. Dr. Manish suggested that I agree to send the tissue samples to another hospital for a ‘second opinion’. I instantly agree but it will add three or four days to the diagnosis timetable. Can’t be helped and it’s better to be more, rather than less, certain.

During appointment #2, Consultant #3 arrives. #2 and #3 are the guys who led the two surgical teams while I was in theater. They are great. I look on them as friends. They care. We banter away, do the mundane neurological tests – squeeze hands, squeeze eyes, follow a light, walk on my heels and on my toes, stand with eyes closed, hammer response to knees and elbows etc. – and then change offices for the real physical part of the morning.

This is Dr. Vevek. He always looks at me quizzically as though he’s trying to work out just what the hell makes me tick, whereas Dr. Manish simply smiles like a bemused Uncle watching a distracted puppy spin circles while chasing its own tail. Today’s big thing is to remove the stitches. This is a bigger delight to me than it would normally be because it means I can wash my hair. The last time I washed my hair was Christmas Eve, 17 days ago. I wash my hair every day. I like the feel of shiny, squeaky-clean hair, so the hair-wash break after the fracture diagnosis and the ban since the surgery has driven me mad – not allowed to get the scar site wet.

The scar has healed wonderfully well. Incredibly neat work. 12 stitches mean no short line but it doesn’t look as if it will be a public distraction when I’m strutting my stuff on the Bali beaches. The 12 give up their respective roles with no arguments. Everything is good. Likewise the other seven stitches in my hip where the donor bone was harvested. He also sorts out the two fall-induced scars on my leg which are now well on the way to normality. In one short period I am transformed from an advert for walking-wounded to a cunningly disguised, smooth-skinned picture of health and vitality. It’s all relative of course.

I have to collect the tissues for transportation to the other hospital but I also need sustenance. My original morning’s plan included the buffer time where I could grab a bite and a caffeine fix, but that was derailed so I am now hungry. I woke at 5.30 am, I skipped breakfast in anticipation of eating mid-morning, and it’s now 11.00 am. The cafeteria menu is all Indian gobbledegook. I know it’s going to be all vegetarian because I’ve endured seven days of all-veggie and no alcohol. The soup of the day is not available until noon so I order French fries and a latte. That’s what I order. What I get is latte, because there are apparently no French fries in the city of Mumbai. Soluble solution: double the usual amount of sugar and hope that substitutes.

By around 11.30 I find the tissue collection department. It’s not easy because of the rabbit-warren cloning of the hospital buildings. Some are reconstructed ‘heritage’ buildings, some are new, and the result is a marvelous mix of character and purpose, but it is really difficult to navigate. The department is on floor 3 but payment of the deposit, for the glass slides and paraffin blocks etc., has to be done on floor 1. I troddle down to floor 1, pay and return to floor 3. It is 11.45 and I am greeted with, “You will come back at four this afternoon to collect the samples?”

Beligerence returns. Son of belligerence. Belligerence II. Belligerence, the sequel.

How about ‘No!’”

Blank stare.

No. Do it now!”

Four this afternoon’ becomes 11.51 am. Beligerence works. Plans are good but strategy gets the result.

I descend through the maze of corridors, the lifts, and the doorways, collect some print-outs of reports and I am in the car by noon. “First, food; second hospital wherever; thirdly swimming pool.”

Off we go, me desperately searching for a suitable cafe, my driver absently looking for the same. Mumbai is a strange place in many ways. You can drive for a long time and not pass any eateries at all. Which is what we did. For an hour, arriving at the other, ‘second opinion’ hospital around 1.00 pm. The delivery desk is on floor 2. Guess what? The payment for the analysis has to be done on floor 3. Same old, same old. Floor 3 presents an obnoxious queue jumper and a lot of helpful and reasonable people. I tend to be larger and taller than many Indian people (except the cricketers) so I inhibit the obnoxious guy by looking as though I might throw him out of the window. I pay and return to floor 2 to collect my documents.

Food is now becoming a matter of urgency rather than convenience. I spy a cafe, The Rolling Pin. It looks modern, neat, clean and enticing. “Latte for starters right now please?” The menu is … vegetarian. Heart sinks; I’d been looking forward to sinking my incisors into flesh, but I rationalize by telling myself that most of the population look healthy. So a health approach is what I take. Or not. For one of the few times in my life, I need copious amounts of sugar so I go for a buttermilk pancake with honey and blueberry compote, spread with Belgium chocolate, topped with banana, and accompanied by ice-cream. Yummy.

Then the bad news: it will take 20 minutes. I may die of sugar-deprivation in 20 minutes, so I do a complete pivot and really do go the health-kick: the ‘Green Goddess’, listed under sandwich and toast. This masterpiece comprises avocado, spinach and feta cheese on toasted ‘hand-crafted’, sourdough rye bread and served with house fries: “Five to ten minutes.”

It arrives in exactly ten minutes. The pancake could well have been too late. I sipped the way-too-hot coffee. Good coffee in India is inevitably served way-too-hot. Starbucks allegedly serve at around 145 degrees Celsius, but most Indian stuff must be near 180. That temperature scalds the beans and brings out an excessive bitterness. Whatever, strong hits of caffeine are what is needed and this delivers.

<Aside> I took a writing break to cook, eat and watch some of Trump’s press conference crap and the steely knives came back. Jeez, painful. Painful indeed. It’s mostly passed now and most of it is reasonably good and endurable, but, wow, that was painful. (/aside>

The Green Goddess beckons: I have a knife and fork so I spear a couple of fries, dip them in the mayonnaise and eat. A tad too much salt but pretty good anyway. Crispy and tasty. Hunger is the best sauce, eh? I turn to the multi-layered sandwich as I am approached by a senior-looking uniformed servant of The Rolling Pin.

“Good afternoon, Sir. Can I ask you if all your food is to your satisfaction?”

“Well, no, because I haven’t started eating it yet, as you can see.”

“Very well, Sir,” and he vanishes.

That lack of observation is indicative, characteristic and typical of everything I see in catering throughout India. Lack of effective management and staff training. I progress.

My neck brace is a magnificent contraption. An Aspen cervical collar which was specialist fitted in Canada and is, unfortunately, unavailable in India. It is a piece of surgical support which truly helped enable me to travel nursing a double fracture from Vancouver to Mumbai. However, it does restrict my jaw movement. That’s part of the deal. So, eating is more difficult than usual. I have to cut my food into small portions rather than bite and chew them. My toasted ‘hand-crafted’, sourdough rye bread is speared with my fork. Gooey avocado, spinach, and feta ooze out as the two layers of the plump, toasted bun are compressed. I position my knife, press and start to saw through. I press harder. And harder. Gooey mixtures slide across the table but I am undeterred. I saw and saw, rip and tear sideways, and eventually I produce a bisection of the toasted bun. I re-start and continue until I have enough Clive-sized, bite-pieces to offer a reasonable meal. The taste is terrific. Now and again, and once more, again, I encounter slices of avocado seed where the huge nut thing has been included in the slicing and dicing before the filling of the sandwich. Fortunately, my teeth survive.

I complete my feast. That is what is tasted like. Terrific. Except for the avocado nut. I waved over for the bill and asked for the manager to return. He pranced across and I asked him to identify the pieces of avocado nut. He was mortified. We agreed it was a problem that shouldn’t have occurred, but I assured him the sandwich design and construction was, indeed, top class. I then handed him the knife and suggested he try to slice through the substantial remaining piece of bun. He didn’t even try. He suggested that the knife was blunt because it wasn’t expected to be used.

Why give it to me, then?”

Miming, he demonstrated his words, “We expect you to pick it up and eat it [like a beefburger].”

I can’t do that because of my collar but, even if I could, how would I deal with the gooey filling spilling out across the table and my clothes?”

Let me deal with that, Sir.” He vanishes.

A new bill arrives with a complimentary Green Goddess sandwich. I am quite mortified: that wasn’t my purpose at all. I have been an avid student at the knee of the best restaurant complainers in history, but I wasn’t looking for a freebie. The sliced nut was one thing but the blunt knife was a restaurant-wide oversight which could have been solved overnight: simply give out sharp, appropriate knives. I advocate for being charged. The manager tells me I have found a problem and it is against company policy to charge me. I am both humbled and impressed. I am torn between being too embarrassed to return and being a passionate advocate of avocado. I opt for passion. I thoroughly recommend The Rolling Pin. Next time I’ll devote twenty minutes.

My bill is timed at 2.37 pm and extreme hunger may have played a part in my judgment, but I think I was not at all belligerent.

C3: Kick-off

First published: 30 Dec 2016

It all kicks off tomorrow morning around eight of the clock. I may be in there for seven or eight hours depending on what they find and how they find it.

The explanation includes lying prone for the whole period so my eyes may be “very puffy” when I wake up and there may be “discoloration of my cheek skin”. Providing the waking up part is included I don’t see that as a problem.

The neck bolts will severely restrict my future movement but it’s been restricted for months anyway so it may actually feel like an improvement. Apparently 60 percent of the up and down movement of the head – looking up at the sky or chin on chest – is dealt with by the vertebrae which will be locked, so I’ll only have around 40 percent of that option available. Similarly, 75 percent of Exorcist-like swiveling is controlled by the upper vertebrae so that leaves 25 percent for rubber-necking as we drive past future Mumbai car crash sites. Hey-ho.

Then there’s the tumor. Naughty or nice, that’s the big question? It will only take around ten minutes to get a verdict when they cut out a small part. Then they decide what to do with whatever answer and tissue they are presented with.

It will be nice to get the neck brace off and, sometime soon, have a shave.

The hospital food is vegetarian only! Much of India is veggie, in fact, I’d guess that it may be the majority. I’ve asked for very bland food, no spices, but that request is in the too hard basket. Today I got a snack which was accompanied by a written note from the Dietician informing the Chef that it should be “chilli-free” but, guess what? Chilli-full! Coffee has been explained as “black with cold milk on the side” but it often comes with no milk, or with hot milk, or already mixed in a very milky mixture. And the ‘coffee’ is not really coffee, it’s Nescafé. Hope they can read the surgery manual better than the menu manual.

The Consultants are terrific. Very willing to explain all the procedures and, of course, I’ve asked for videos, images and annotated drawings of what they are going to do. Quite fascinating.

I feel sorry for Martini. She’ll be sitting here twiddling her thumbs or watching TV all day, waiting for Old Puffy Eyes and Discolored Skin to appear through the door. It’ll be nice to see her when I wake up, though. That thought makes me smile.

C2: But They Just Can’t Kill The Beast

First published: 30 Dec 2016

I have two knives sticking into my head. The one at the back is horizontal and poking straight through towards the front, just above the strange depression at the base of my neck. The other one enters my temple above my right eye and angles itself diagonally downwards. The two points meet somewhere in the middle of my brain.

The nurses seem to be under the impression I am a waif-like creature because the painkillers they prescribe wouldn’t push a weakened butterfly towards mild drowsiness. 500mg of paracetamol doesn’t come anywhere near what I need. Even with my weight loss I’m pushing 100kg and have, no doubt, developed an advanced degree of paracetamol immunity over the past few years. At least double is called for.

Paracetamol, acetaminophen, Panadol, Tylenol, Depon, Perfalgan, whatever you call it, depending on the style of absorption and the geographical location, it’s all exactly the same, some just cost more than the other. They took me off Tylenol 3 (a combo of acetaminophen, codeine, and caffeine), confiscated my morphine and banned my vodka, then replaced them with some insipid and useless pink and beige tablet. The colors should have given the game away. I mean, how can a pink and beige anything be efficacious?

In other news: Martini managed to get the emergency visa yesterday, but it was too late for yesterday’s flight. We canceled it and re-booked for this morning. She’s boarding in a few minutes, be here late tonight. Nice. No idea when the surgery will be. I guess the surgeons will want to celebrate the New Year but I’ve told them only a little celebrating. If I go weak they’ll do it straight away.

The steely knives are a weakening force.

C1: COOKING AND TALKING ARE BAD FOR YOU

 

First published: 29 Dec 2016

There you have it: confirmation that cooking and talking at the same time are bad for you.

That’s what I was doing in my mother’s kitchen when I heard a loud, sharp, high-pitched sound, somewhat like a gunshot. The sensation told me my neck had cracked but there was no pain, simply a sensation of spinal re-alignment. Little did I know at that point that the crack was, in fact, not a chiropractic-induced ‘crack’, but a double structural break; fractures; a broken neck. And I was literally standing and talking. Not jumping around or demonstrating Regan’s Exorcistic head-spinning, but simply standing watching a pan of mince hot-pot, merrily bubble it’s way to goodness and gently commenting on the state of the world and it’s wife.

It took me three days to have the diagnosis, so let’s backtrack a bit and explain some perspective.

I know I’ve been a pain in the neck for many, many years but I’ve actually had a pain in the neck for seven months.

I’ve had multitudes of physio treatments both in Bali and in India but nothing solved the problem. I put it down to my chronic troubles which traditionally have been temporarily solved by the witchcraft of chiropractic but I haven’t been able to find one in India and they are now illegal in Bali because some charlatan Australians (no surprise there, then) misused their manipulative powers and imposed catastrophic damage.

In mid-to-late November I succumbed to an MRI scan (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) which found “a homogenous mildly expansile osteolytic lesion”. I was pretty sure this could be described as “a lump”. It was 1.3 x 3.2 x 2.2 cm up, down and across and there was a “mild associated soft tissue which bulges into the spinal canal without causing significant stenosis of cord compression.” I guessed that that confirmed my perception that it was not pressing on my spinal cord. No tingling, no numbness; air-piano still exceptional and wiggly-toe dancing no problem at all.

Also, “a small posterior protrusion” was seen in C2-C3 disc “without causing canal or foraminal stenosis.” That explained the chronic cervical problems over many years, none of which appeared to be more than an irritating discomfort.

So, the next obvious thing was a biopsy to check whether the lump was naughty or nice. I was traveling job-wise till 1 December then went to Bali where my doctor opined that it may not be straightforward because it was close to the spinal column so I then saw a neurosurgeon guy on the 14th December after my return to Mumbai. He advised a whole body PET scan (Positron Emission Tomography) to see if there was any other hidden treasure anywhere which could be biopsied much easier. That happened on the 15th. I was injected with radioactive isotopes so I probably glow in the dark and have acquired super-powers but, unfortunately, they don’t seem to include forecasting the winning 6/49 Lotto numbers or toughening up of bones. The results came through on Friday 16th and included a change from “.. mildly expansile” to “metabolically active” and the measurements were given as 3.6(AP) x 2.2(W) x 2.1(H) so it’s either growing or PETs are more accurate than MRIs or the other way around.

The same week ago I also started with a sore throat which made it very, very painful to swallow. No idea if the esophagitis and the C2 lesion were connected but they are at the same height, aren’t they? The PET scan said it was “likely due to an inflammatory process, such as (?) esophagitis.” Not eating or drinking much at all resulted in a loss of around 1kg per day because I was existing on nothing enhanced with nothing. A quarter cup of soup laced with soggy bread was my slow-sip limit. One can of beer on the plane took me three hours to finish. And, anyway, I definitely needed to lose weight. Once in Bali, it improved a lot; I could drink pretty well (not quite normally) and eat stuff like scrambled eggs and such – pretty normal food. At that stage, I hadn’t tried meaty lumps but there is no doubt in my mind that getting away from the ubiquitous spices of India helped immensely.

The good news: the PET scan found nothing else anywhere. “A CT guided biopsy may be performed to obtain tissue for histopathological confirmation …” So, that pointed to the next big thing – a biopsy. First Christmas festivities and then ‘events’ interposed themselves.

I was at a conference in Canada between 1 and 6 December where I fell badly, smashed my nose and injured both hands and added a serious wound to my lower right leg to join the serious one, still healing, from seven weeks previously. By serious, I mean 12 stitches. I put the falling down down to bilateral cataracts which are due for surgery in the New Year. Guinness could also have been a contributing factor but I tripped again three days later, stone-cold sober, when someone caught me before I could further practice the face-plant. Cataracts win the day. I think I’m falling apart.

I was back in Bali again so my local doctor was supposed to remove my 12 stitches on the 18th but the middle of the wound had pulled apart and she left them in. The plan was to get them removed in Canada after arriving back there on the 21st. India-Indonesia-India-Canada-India-Indonesia-Canada-India.

My glasses, only 8 months old – $1,000 down the drain – were destroyed/lost in my Canadian face-plant and, with traveling, I haven’t had time to seek out new ones. I tried in Mumbai but, because of the varifocal and photosensitive lenses, they couldn’t be made before I left. I tried again in Bali, same story and I guessed it would be the same in Vancouver so I am stuck with my falling-apart 9-year old ones for the time being.

Which brings me to my mother’s kitchen on the 22nd.

After the crack, my neck was sore and stiff but I guessed it would loosen up and sort itself. Cracks usually do that. The following day (23rd) most of the family – Tom and Christen, Hannah and Trevor – were gathered at Elliot and Jillian’s house for our Christmas dinner. It was undoubtedly a sprout that did the evil deed, but it was a well-cooked sprout, roasted and coated in crushed almonds and part of an all-round delicious offering. My neck muscles suddenly went into extreme spasm. No doubt I revealed my shock and pain because everyone became rather concerned. Scale of one to ten it was a 9 or a 9.5. Not a 10 – that’s when I scream and I was at that stage back in February/March when my lower back ‘went out’. Paramedics, incredible drugs and two, three-day of hospital stays sorted that, but 9.5 is not a good place to be. No screaming, though.

I sat stock still for two hours, no eating, and gently sipping heavily watered-down malt whisky; another first – the heavily watered, not the malt. Then I ventured standing and slowly moving around. Gentle walking helped but it was still pretty extreme.

Driving home took a strategically placed scarf as a neck brace to alleviate the ups and downs of Vancouver winter roads. Relatively smooth journey. I dosed myself with borrowed Tylenol 3 and lots of other goodies plus copious amounts of vodka and tried to sleep. No such luck.

The following day (Christmas Eve) there seemed to be a slight improvement if I was really careful, but as the day progressed it didn’t continue. I decided to give it another night.

Christmas morning I gave in and off we went to Emergency. Sat around for ages, then got the initial examination when the guy read all my previous scan reports and, in his best bedside manner, pronounced, “Well, that’s not good is it? I’ll copy these and send them to our radiologist at home.”

Which he did. The radiologist recommended a CT scan (computerized tomography) so I was parceled up and delivered to another department. The guy obviously wasn’t impressed by having to come out on Christmas Day because he was short-tempered and rather unhelpful, especially after the scan when I was trying to sit up. Have you ever tried to sit up from a prone position without tensing your neck muscles? No, thought not. Eventually, I did the scarf round the back of the neck thing and pulled myself up by my ears!!!

Then he examined the scans and, Whoah! What a change. Mister Bedside Manner charged into the room and, in front of all the other waiting patients told me I had a double fracture of the C1 vertebrae and, that if I moved wrongly I would be lying on the floor with my breathing paralyzed. I was strapped to a body board, with difficulty, and readied for transport to another hospital because the brace they needed to fit could only be done by physicians specifically trained in that item. So, a Mee-Maw, badly sprung ambulance ride (as in the siren sound: mee-maw, mee-maw, mee-maw) through rocky Vancouver. Mee-maw ambulance rides are rather fun but a pinned-down ambulance ride isn’t the same.

The specialist trained Neurosurgeon guy was straight from Central Casting. Remember the mad scientist in Independence Day? The one who looked after the Alien in the underground vault? “They don’t let us out much.” This was the guy’s identical twin, separated at birth. Very efficient, though. Brace fitted and off we go. No problem standing or walking around. My head is fixed. Really fixed. Fixed in position. No sideways, no up or down, no round and round and no backy-fronty movement. I’m a zombie.

Sleep that night was without copious drugs and I was up and at it the following morning like a fresh thing: clean sheets, freshly baked bread, favorite song on the radio, popping bubble wrap, dancing like no-one is watching, freshly brewed coffee, cleaning your ears … all that sort of thing. Christen, however, did point out that I’d had Tylenol 3, Morphine and vodka before hitting the sack but I think she was just trying to make me feel guilty.

My return flight to India was brought forward by 24 hours so Elliot and I went to a Thrift Shop to buy shirts – imposing neck braces don’t sit well with t-shirts or golf shirts, then for lunch, which for me consisted of a partial attempt at a pint of beer and half of a cup of soup. Then to the airport to meet Tom, Christen, Hannah and Trevor who were already there. Another attempt at a pint. Still unsuccessful. A worrying trend was emerging.

The flight from Vancouver to London was delayed so my connection was potentially compromised. Hope for a following wind.

264 films later London appears. The approach path took us directly over the Gurkin, the Shard, Buck House, Parliament etc. I’ve done that before at low altitude and it’s pretty awesome. Fairly gentle landing so all is good. Now to change terminals and hope the connection is OK. Can’t run. Only walk, gently and smoothly. The inter-terminal bus driver uses kangaroo petrol; not good, and the woman sitting next to me as I stand ignores the notice which says This Seat Reserved for Passengers With Difficulties.

I arrive at the gate just as the flight is closing but the pilot is a parent of one of the Mumbai swimmers and has arranged an upgrade to seat 1H. My debit and credit cards don’t work! The transaction is done from India and onboard I glide. Another 264 films and another acceptable landing. Thank you Air Canada and thank you Air India. My driver awaits.

We get to my apartment at 5 am so I try to sleep. Totally unsuccessful. Neck too tired and painful after being awake for two days and nights. I phone the hospital and make an appointment for late morning. They admit me immediately and explain the planned procedures:

  1. They will cut my neck and screw together the top vertebrae and my skull. Literally, screw together with small titanium screws. That will stabilize the vertebrae and I won’t need the brace. That bit is fairly straightforward assuming the fractures are separated from the spinal cord so I should be able to get out of bed in a couple of days. Maybe go home and come back when the stitches need removing.

However, and this is the difficult bit, when they’ve done the screwing they will cut out as much of the tumor as possible and send it away for testing – is it going to be naughty or nice? Until the go in and look they won’t know how much they can safely cut out without risking damage to my spinal cord – it may be a lot or it may be a little. If they get that bit wrong I am a mess. Sorry to put it that way but it’s the fact.

When they test the tumor they will likely get one of three answers: 1) benign – meaning it’s just a lump of stupid tissue which has been pressing on my bones – remove it and no problem; 2) A localized tumor which has been attacking the adjacent bone (that’s my guess because there’s nothing else showing up anywhere). That is relatively easy to treat with radiation therapy; 3) A full-blown invasive cancer which will spread through bones or other tissues unless it is treated aggressively. That means chemotherapy, radiation treatment and a host of other nasty shit.

The two dangerous bits are now, before the surgery, where a wrong movement could send a bone splinter into my spinal cord and paralyze me if I’m lucky! If I’m not lucky it paralyzes my breathing because it’s the top vertebrae we are talking about (C1). The brace is magic so providing I behave myself and don’t trip, it should be ok.

All my neural responses are great at the moment so there’s no additional damage apart from the fractures. I can walk on my toes and on my heels, my eyes accurately follow a light, my tongue sticks out in a straight line, no tingling or numbness anywhere – everything is good.

The other danger bit is when they cut out the tumor. If they touch the spinal cord they may produce damage. It all depends on exactly where the lump is and they can’t tell that until they go in with a knife.

The grisly details upset some people but there they are. They are what they are. Everything will be OK in the end: if it’s not OK, it’s not the end.

Martini is currently trying to get the Indonesian Consulate in Bali to issue an emergency visa but, if my previous experiences with them are anything to go by, that may be problematical.

The title, C1 refers both to the vertebrae and to the first of the Cancer blogs. Updates later. Motto of the story: try not to walk around for three days with a fractured neck!

Pigs’ Blood, Groaty Oats and Disappointment: Dull Brown is the New Black

 

First published 10 November 2016

Value for money eating in Bali is best done at a roadside Warung. These, usually one-man operations, comprise a single burner gas stove or a small wood-burning barbecue, and a wok of enormous proportions.

We have a series of “little men” who cover off all our favorite, local needs and they cope very well indeed. We have a “little man” (he’s actually very tall and angular) who builds tables and chairs from stupendous Indonesian teak; a “little man” (really little) who crawls into the loft to liberate mother cats who have decided it’s the ideal place to raise their litter; and a wizened “little man” who pulls up all the weeds from the garden, especially after the rainy season when they assume Triffid-like qualities and dream of world domination. Our best discovery, however, is the stocky “little man” who cooks Chinese food.

This guy has his one-burner gas stove. His wok looks big enough to take a fully-grown elephant and it not touch the edges. It is a truly impressive, nay stupendous, piece of culinary hardware and he orchestrates its magic like a Maestro commandeering the Berlin Philharmonic.

Diagonally in front of him is a shelf with his condiments and spices. To his right is a table where two women prepare the ingredients. We stand to his left and marvel at his dexterity and skilled professionalism. An expert in his craft is always a joy to behold.

We tend to order sweet and sour chicken, soy sauce chicken, roasted chicken thigh, mixed vegetables (carrots, cabbage, bok choy, tomatoes … etc.), all of them arrive in their own delicious sauce and are accompanied by the whitest, fluffiest rice you could imagine. We feed four.

All this arrives with a bill for around 50,000-60,000 Indonesian rupiah ($3.80 to $4.60). Last night we added another chicken dish, katsuop Inggris ayam (English chicken, which is something I, being English, have never encountered before) and the whole lot came to INR 70,000 ($6.00). There was enough to “fully book” our intestinal hotels and have enough left over for a hearty breakfast this morning. It’s crazy. The quality is 11/10, the portions are 10/10, and the cost is 1/10. Think about the capital costs ofthe land rent, the cooker and the shelves and the Jumbo-wok. Think about the ingredients, always fresh. Think about the three staff and their lives and families. How is it possible to sell such quality at these prices?

Contrast this with the formal restaurants. They try to be elitist in their ingredientcombinations and their menu descriptions, but they seldom hit the mark.

We ate lunch today at one such pretender. I’m going to omit the name because it’s next door to my wife’s office and is owned by my wife’s boss. He may not like the report. The establishment is still in the throes of a ‘soft’ opening so there may be changes in the pipeline. They are needed.

The layout and décor are pleasant. The outdoor section opens directly onto a busy road which tenders to 52-seater tourist buses, so civilized conversation are often a challenge. The table staffs are not trained up to a high standard but that comment would apply to 99% of all restaurants in Bali. Only the very top-line places have staff who predict your requirements, make suggestions based on customer care rather than owner profit, and can adequately explain dishes and interpret your requests accurately. It’s not their fault; they are just not adequately trained. Cheap management. Sad.

Today my wi-fi ordered a mixture of two listed dishes. She wanted eggs Benedict, but being Muslim, that couldn’t pass the taste test so she substituted salmon for the ham. She could have chosen salmon Florentine but the Hollandaise of the Benedict won out over the Mornay of the Florentine. It was a generous portion which she declared “too much” and then proceeded to devour the lot to leave a spotlessly clean plate and possibly save the kitchen staff some cleaning chores.

I scanned the menu and alighted on Butifarra blanca/negra which translates to a white or black pudding. Growing up in Lancashire I was raised near the epicenter of the black pudding Universe: Bury.

Black puddings are a delicacy, one of the great dishes of the world, relatively rare and largely unknown. If you’re squeamish, look away now.

Bury black puddings are made from pork fat, pork blood and oatmeal, sometimes cut with oat or barley groats. It’s a horrendous looking concoction which is reminiscent of the old, untouched horse droppings which littered the streets in Victorian times when black puddings gained popularity. The art was refined from the reign of George III through George IV, William IV and Victoria and onto the present day.

The UK, as a whole, has embraced black puddings and the Stornoway variant enjoys Protected Geographical Indicator of Origin status; high recognition indeed. There is a World Black Pudding Throwing Championship where the Wars of the Roses are re-enacted with Lancashire black puddings being venomously hurled at Yorkshire puddings.

Butifarra hails from Catalonia, part of Spain, and South America, mainly Peru. I guess it depends on your relationship to Ferdinand Magellan and his seafaring journeys. The word is used for the sausage in Catalonia and for a sandwich, sporting various fillings, in Peru. Butifarra blanca and Butifarra negra, therefore, should refer to the meaty persuasion rather than the doughy one. Negra VigRx Plus has various meanings. Musical terminology in the UK embodies it as a crotchet whilst the United States, as always, insists on changing the language and bestows ‘quarter note’ on it. The sound is the same. In chess, it denotes the black side of the board and the black pieces. There is, however, another meaning, related to destiny and meaning bad luck. I should have crammed up on my Spanish.

The description appeared clear: white or black pudding sausage served on bread with fresh grated tomato and EVO. I opted for the black. Bread came in two varieties: sourdough or whole grain. Whole grain it was.

Preparation took a long time. Too long. Inexplicably long. I’d had eggs Benedict a few days previously and it was served in goodly order so I have to put the delay down to troublesome sausages. When it did arrive I was shocked.

Two pieces of medium-sized bread, perfectly toasted: couldn’t be faulted if you tried. But lying on top was a group of medallion-shaped slices of some grey-brown-pinky stuff. They were so thin as to be almost transparent. I checked the menu. Beef Carpaccio was in a different section altogether. Hmm … negra. Destiny.

I carefully tasted a small piece. Well, I tried but there was no taste. Nothing. Just a damp feeling of thinly-sliced wet cardboard, and maybe cardboard would have excited me more. I added my own olive oil because there was none and then I added black pepper. No. Add more. OK, try salt. That helped, so I added more salt and more pepper. And more olive oil. Eventually I got there. Edible. Just. The toasted bread saved it.

Oh, the grated tomato? You are joking, aren’t you? No sign of it.

There are lots of shades of black. Almost as many as there are shades of grey. Coal black, light black, dark black, noir, jet, and many, more, but black, per se, is a pretty black and white description when applied to food color. Grey-brown-pinky is not black. Not noir. Not negra. It was more reminiscent of Butifarra Soledana which hails from Colombia and thrives on a lime juice dressing. Limes are so cheapin Bali they may as well be free. Use them. Use seasoning. Be a tourist and visit Bury, Lancashire. Eat congealed pigs’ blood.

Cost for two with two beers? INR 198,000 ($15.14), so still cheap compared to other countries but the “little man” wins the day. By a country mile. In fact by the size of his wok.

Halt! Who Goes There?

First published 9 November 2016 

BACKGROUND:

When you enter Bali you can buy a Visa on Arrival. It costs $25 and lasts something like a month. It’s easily renewable. Well, easily as far as anything bureaucratic is easy in Bali.

Longer term stays are made easier by obtaining a KITAS cheap nfl jerseys – a temporary residence permit which is valid for 6 to 12 months or, better still, a KITAP which allows you five years. Both allow you a ‘family route’ which permits work so you can feed the hungry horde. KITAP has lots of hoop-jumping attached so Iwent the KITAS route. My current one expires on 5 December but I’ll be in Canada then so I applied this week.

A month ago I’d gathered all the government forms and Martini had filled them in while I was in India, so Monday morning I rock up to Imigrasi with a happy, smiling face and an armful of documents and dutifully present them to the Customer Service desk.

The forms are an eye-opener. Apart from interesting questions such as height, weight, and hair and eye color, they ask the shape of your face (weary and wrinkled), your hobbies (!) and … wait for this … the color of your skin. Can you imagine asking that question in most countries?

I have ‘previous’ with Imigrasi. Quite serious previous.

My first encounter was when I turned up at Singapore airport ready to travel to Jakarta and the check-in lady told me I didn’t have enough space in my passport for the immigration stamp so I couldn’t travel.

Oh yes I do.”

“Oh no you don’t.”

“Oh yes I do.”

“Oh no you don’t.”

“Yes I do. Yes I do. Yes I do.”

She showed me theavailable space. I showed her where my many previous visits to Jakarta had resulted in Imigrasi happily overlapping stamps and stickers.

No, not possible.”

“Possible.”

I asked to see her superior and she was adamant that she was the most senior ranking staff member in the whole of Changi airport. I persuaded her to let me on board but she was obviously of the vindictive persuasion because when I turned up at Imigrasi at Jakarta airport the guy looked at my passport and immediately said, “Come this way please.”

Off we go to a back room where six guys with guns cheap jerseys form a circle round a table where I am ‘invited’ to sit.

“You don’t have enough space for a visa stamp.”

“But in the past, you’ve overlapped them.”

“We can’t do that.It’s not allowed.”

“But you’ve done it. Look” I show them examples of beautiful overlaps.

“We can’t do it.”

“So, what do we do?”

“You go back.”

“I can’t go back, it’s midnight. There are no flights.”

“Tomorrow morning.”

“What do I do until then?”

“You stay here with us.”

“Can I have my passport?”

“No, we will keep that.”

So, I have to stay in Imigrasi all night. Martini manages to talk them into letting her through customs and security to talk to me but they won’t let her stay.

The following morning I am collected by a guy with his hand resting on a holstered gun.

“Follow me.”

I dutifully follow. He has a gun, I’m not going to argue.

We proceed in a north-easterly direction at a brisk pace and arrive at a boarding gate. He gives my passport to the boarding agent and then escorts me on board before any of the other passengers. I am seated on the very rear row.

“Can I have my passport please?”

The gunslinger ignores me.

The plane fills andwe take off en route for Singapore.

On arrival, I am cheap jerseys China told to stay seated. When the plane is empty a gun-toting guard comes on board and asks me to follow him. As we cheap jerseys nfl approach the cockpit he collects my passport and a letter from the pilot. We progress through Changi Airport towards immigration. Into a back room we go.

The guy smiles at me, examines the documents and says,

“Why didn’t you bribe them?”

“There were six of them. If it had been one I would have tried that.”

He stamps my passport and, grinning, hands it back to the guardian.

“Follow me.”

“Can I have the deportation letter? I want to frame it.”

“No, we need that.”

Bugger!

We move through the airport cheap tom brady jersey towards the taxi-rank. Once I am inside the taxi I am finally handed my passport and I launch the taxi-driver on his way.

The following week I was due to go back to Jakarta en route to Hong Kong so I got a temporary passport and applied for a real one to be collected in HK. Nothing is as simple as it seems, eh?

The temporary one works OK. Singapore has a question on the immigration form which asks if you’ve ever been refused entry. Indonesia does not have that question so I’m wholesale jerseys allowed in on my temporary passport.

When I arrive in HK I troddle down to the Consulate and ask to collect my new passport.

“We mailed it to you in Singapore.”

“Well, I’m not in Singapore and I won’t be for months and months.”

“Not to worry. Can you come back in four hours and we’ll do another one for you … on second thoughts, its nearly lunchtime, give us 20 minutes.”

Coffee calls. Twenty minutes pass and I return. The new passport is handed to me with no fuss, no hindrance, and no questions. Good old British diplomacy.

That’s encounter #1 with Indonesian Imigrasi. Here’s #2:

When I moved to Bali my intent was to start a small swim school and do some basic stroke technique coaching. Island living beckoned. I did a deal with a new sportscenter who offered me the use of a 6-lane Wholesale Jerseys 25m pool and I produced some wicked flyers and posters.

One day I get a call from Imigrasi.

“You have to come in to talk to us.”

“OK” …..

“You don’t have a work permit.”

“No, not yet. I’ve applied for one.”

“But you don’t have one.”

“No, but I haven’t done any work.”

“But you intend to.”

“Yes, but I haven’t done any.”

“It is illegal to intend to work before you have a work permit.”

“Show me the law.”

Which he dutifully did. Indonesian laws are published in Bahasa Indonesia and in English. The wording was clear. Intent is a crime.

“Hmmm …. So what do we do?”

“We deport you.”

“You don’t want to do that.”

“Yes we do.”

“I don’t want you to do that. How do you feel we deal with it?”

“I’ll ask my boss.”

He vanishes for some minutes.

“My boss says ten million will cover it.”

Ten million Indonesian Rupriah is around $750. Never accept a first offer, right?

“No.”

“How much?”

“One million.”

“I’ll ask my boss,”…..

“Two million.”

“Done.”

I wander down the road to find an ATM coz I’m sure a check or a credit card won’t pass muster with the culture of Imigrasi. The two million goes into an envelope. I return to the office.

A witness has materialized at the shoulder of the junior officer. I guess he’s there so they have plausible denial if I complain to a higher authority. The junior guy slides my file across the desk. I surreptitiously place the envelope inside the file and slide it back across the desk.

“Wait here.”

He returns.

“All is good.”

“What do you mean, all is good?”

“All done.”

“I can go?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Nothing else? No record? No problem?”

Blank look. “About what?”

“OK, goodbye.”

So, as I say, Imigrasi and I have previous.

Now to this week:

My Bali phone cards need feeding and I know I’ll have to speak to Martini during the Imigrasi encounter so I go to Telkomsel first. They can’t process my Indian credit card. It takes forever. I am behind schedule. I arrive at Imigrasi at 11:05.

I present the KITAS renewal documents at Customer Service and ask them how long they need my passport for?

“At least one month.”

“You can’t have it that long; I need to travel next Sunday.”

“Maybe three weeks.”

“No, not possible.”

“Anyway, we close at 11:00. Come back tomorrow.”

“No, that won’t do. I have to get the process started.”

They point me in the direction of desk number five.

Imigrasi has moved premises since my first two bad encounters. Everyone seems much happier. The queues are nowhere near as long. I’ve actually seen tourists air-punching and dancing as they move away from the agents. Can’t be weed coz Bali operates, imposes and uses a death penalty for drug convictions.

The guy at desk five listens to my story and offers ten days.

“No. I have to go back to India next Sunday.”

“Show me the ticket.” I do so.

He goes through all the documents.

“Where is the letter from your sponsor?”

“It’s there,” showing him an unintelligible document adorned with an old-fashioned postage stamp which is signed across and beyond.

“No, the letter is another document. Have everything back here by two o’clock and we’ll process it.”

Martini is my sponsor. I send her a sample sponsor letter and start driving to meet her. She also needs to print out my flight ticket and I need to photocopy everything. The Whattsap/Messages/email system decides to play silly-buggers. Eventually, sitting outside her office, I manage to transfer the files. She arrives with newly stamped and signed letters, printouts; the whole eight and a half yards. What a difference a half yard makes.

I spare no horses to get back to Imigrasi, arriving at 1:27 pm. Result!

…… “Where’s the Family Card?

“What Family Card?”

He points to an item on the document list. I text Martini: it’s in the house, on the third shelf from the top under the second star from the right and straight on till morning.

The horses are whipped into a frenzy. Isn’t it infuriating when someone continually texts you while you’re driving to ask if you’re there yet?

I ransack the third shelf from the top and find two different documents which look as if they may fit. Off I go, reading as I drive. I arrive at desk number five at 1:58 and 46 seconds – 74 seconds until the bureaucratic drawbridge is lowered, tomorrow never comes and I have to revert to being a visitor.

All the documents check out.

“Come back at 2 pm tomorrow for photo and payment.”

It is now 2:25. My phone rings.

“Papa, have you forgotten to pick me up from school?” Oh dear.

Tomorrow does arrive and I do the payment, the photo, and the fingerprints. The fingerprint guy is a Manchester United fan. Aren’t they all?

“Collect your passport at 2 pm on Friday.”

Assuming I do actually collect wholesale nfl jerseys China the passport at 2 pm on Friday I am a happy bunny.

SLUSH AT 30,000 FEET



 

First published 9 November 2016

I’ve piloted a micro-light in a sleet and snow storm, so slush at altitude is an old friend of mine. Having it whip into your eyes as you deliberately stall the airframe to experience a bigger adrenaline rush is one thing; having it served up to you as fine-dining fare is a whole other ball-game.

‘Airline food’ has long been an oxymoron but some carriers have made a major effort to reverse the perception and, if not attack, at least nuzzle the passengers’ taste buds.

My favorite frequent flyer affiliates are the Star Alliance group. Many quality airlines such as Thai, Air Canada, Lufthansa, and United combine along with my all-time favorite Air New Zealand (“Good afternoon Mister Rushton, welcome back.”).

Conversely the One World Group has some members who have never impressed me: KLM (rude, brusque staff and cripplingly uncomfortable seats), Cathay Pacific (never been a fan), Malaysia (need I say more?); as well as some which I can endure if I have to: Qantas, BA, and Qatar.

One which has totally impressed me in the past has been Singapore Airlines, a Star Alliance member. ‘In the past’ is now the operative phrase. Usually, their total experience is exemplary: check-in; security; boarding; polite and helpful cabin staff; not overly intrusive cabin announcements; and good-to-great in-cabin entertainment (ICE) available right through to docking – no cutting off the video feed when you’re 30 minutes away from the final approach.

Last week I flew Mumbai cheap jerseys to Singapore and then Singapore to Bali. The ‘Singapore Girl’ was true to the company’s word and everything progressed smoothly. Check-in offered me a very reasonable upgrade to Premium Economy. I was traveling overnight and I tend not to sleep so I readily accepted.

Mumbai airport has the slowest immigration and security checks in the world. The security staff is always miserable, abrupt, offhand with you and rough with your x-rayed hand luggage. Bad management. Sad.

Then we were delayed, so my connection in Singapore was in danger. No problem; well, a problem but not a problem that I could do anything about.

The seat on the first leg was terrific, well worthy of business class just a few short years ago. The ICE menu looked satisfactory. The cabin staff understood “Whisky and dry ginger” and weren’t averse to refilling with a simple raising of my eyebrows. The Airbus designer wonks had cleverly hidden the headphone jack behind me which is a strange approach but we’ll let that pass.

Meal time arrived. The trolley stopped alongside my shoulders and the pleasant voice mouthed, “Indian or Western?” Noise-cancelling headphones (the best present I have ever given myself) make it impossible to converse with fellow passengers (a good thing) or with cabin staff (a frustrating thing). I press the pause button on the film, switch off the noise-cancel, remove the headphones and say, “Excuse me?

Indian or traditional?

I’m very wary of local food served by Indian airlines because it is ultra-spicy and my delicate constitution doesn’t cope too well. On Indian airlines you always get the choice, “Veg or non-veg?” Here it was Indian or Western.

Western, please.

The food tray alighted on my lap tray. I tentatively scanned the contents. A chicken-looking, pasta starter; the main dish, still enclosed in its space blanket of tin-foil, presumably to preserve its vital signs; a cheap jerseys dessert which I never eat so I have no idea what it was; and the ubiquitous bread roll. Not only ubiquitous but traditionally hard and stale. Do they deliberately store them for a day or so to force a loss of freshness? Do they have a secret dough recipe which infuses staleness right from the get-go? One of the great mysteries of the Universe.

It was time to remove the space-blanket. What was revealed would have done great credit to a documentary enlightening us to the horrors of texting yourself into fleshily-mangled oblivion while driving on fast, country roads.

On the left were vegetables. Not crisp and tasty. Not soft and chewy, but soggy, slimy, mushy things which used to be nutritious cheap jerseys nfl vegetables. On the right was a portion of mash. At first sight, it looked edible but on closer examination, it had obviously been so jealous of its sinister counterparts that it had surreptitiously adopted a persona of squelchy, waterlogged wall-paper paste.

But the pièce de résistance lay lurking malevolently in the center. Mounds of car-crash-mangled flesh could take acting lessons from this work of Tracey Emin art. Damien Hirst would salivate if he was presented with this biological abomination. Ozzie Osbourne would think he’d died and gone to culinary heaven. Freddie Starr, of Freddie Star Ate My Hamster headline fame (The Sun, 13 March, 1986) would be embarrassed at his own lack of ambition. Mere hanging had been too good for this ‘Western’ protein. Previously emasculation, ritual disemboweling, and beheading were deemed appropriate, and then the poor victim was chopped into four discrete portions so that the parts could be displayed across the lands as a warning to others.

I carefully scraped the bloody gore away and underneath revealed an inconsistent, gelatinous, pasty mess pretending to be chicken.

Remember the starter was chicken and pasta. That should have raised warning bells all by itself; why would a chef concoct a starter and a main using the same protein? Slack thinking? Laziness? Apathy? Planned starter not ready so use yesterday’s? None of those really mattered because if the main had been good the chef would have been forgiven.

Intrepid is a great characteristic to emulate so I plowed on. Cutting into the ‘chicken’ and tentatively raising it to my trembling mouth brought back reminiscences of compulsory tablespoons of cod-liver oil after WWII. There’s a cough-medicine sold in New Zealand called Buckley’s. It suppresses the urge to evacuate mucus and broadcast it to the general population. Buckley’s strap-line is, “It tastes awful, but it works.” Brilliant advertising. Genius. This stuff tasted awful but it didn’t work.

You’d think it couldn’t get worse but wait! There’s more.

As the chicken-thing parted it revealed a lake of watery goo swilling around on the floor of the meal tray. This is what had infected the vegetable with sog, slime and mush; this is what had infused the water-logged mash with squelch and wall-paper paste. Or the cooking methodology had been carefully designed to expertly extract all the moisture from the veg and potatoes, deposit it in the base of the tray and then absorb it back through a transmogrified process of osmosis.

Seriously Singapore Airlines; this is not a grade of ‘could do better’; it’s a grade of ‘couldn’t possibly do worse’. Gordon Ramsey would give it an F.

Addendum: My ICE froze during the ‘meal’. It took about twenty minutes for the cabin staff to sort it. But they did; they were good. I did make my connection; however, the aircraft used for the second leg was old, rickety, and tired. The upgraded seats were out of the Ark. The meal was much better – fresh looking and crisp but inevitably including the ubiquitous hard and stale bread roll. And the smiling cabin staff still understood “Whisky and dry ginger.

Oxymoronnoun. A figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction.