I’m off to see The Wizard: but why will I be sad?

September 2011 Dad passed away at the age of 94. A ‘good innings’, and a pretty full life.

He’d done his bit in WW2, serving in the 2/7th Field Regiment of the Royal Australian Artillery, in North Africa and Borneo.

For many reasons, Dad didn’t volunteer a lot of information about his experiences of that time, but when he did, it was remembering the good stuff, the times when they had a laugh, not the times when fear and the chance of annihilation were present.

One story he did occasionally recount was, in the end, apocryphal of that time time abroad, when neither he, nor his mates could be certain about what was around the corner. And this story I’m recounting is in the context of an episode of remembering by my 5 year old son Max of ‘Nonno’, and what Anzac Day means now for Max. For a number of recent years we’d made the trip back to Adelaide to help Dad out on Anzac Day; either I, or my nephew Jonathan pushing Dad in a wheelchair at the head of what was left of his regiment in the Anzac Day march. The other night, at home with Max, at evening story-time, I reminded Max that we wouldn’t be going to Adelaide for Anzac Day this year, as there was really no need, now Nonno had passed away. Without a blink, Max suggested we go anyway, and push an empty wheelchair in the march, to remember Nonno: then he buried his face in his pillow and sobbed.

Anzac Day this year is in 5 day’s time. So I’m in a bit of reminiscent mood.

So to The Wizard of Oz.

Dad told the story occasionally to us of his special connection with The Wizard of Oz. Released for the first time in 1939, the story began with a night at the movies for his regiment in Perth late November 1940, just before embarkation to the Middle East. The Wizard of Oz was the main feature. The regiment arrived in Palestine mid-December 1940. Dad told the story: as they were marching in to barracks, someone started to whistle (against regulations? who knows?), We’re Off To See The Wizard, The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz – then the whole, or most, of the regiment joined in. It seems ironic now, and probably was at the time, that they were marching along to war, to a future none of them could predict with certainty, to such a light-hearted and optimistic tune.

 

We're off to see The Wizard

 

In October 1942, the 2/7th played a vital role in the Battle of El Alamein.

 

Artillery in action: Battle of Alamein

 

How many of those young men who had joined in the jaunt of whistling a happy tune didn’t return home to Australia, and family, and loved ones?

Dad wouldn’t dwell on the losses he experienced during his time in North Africa. I don’t mind that his stories of overseas service were only about the funny, the light-hearted, and the adventurous times. (The best story was when he was on duty as Officer-in-Charge, when a regimental contingent had a ‘night out’ at the local brothel…)

 

And so tonight, there’s a screening of The Wizard of Oz at son Max’s school. Max loves The Wizard of Oz, as he does many other musicals of the 1940s and 50s. We’re going as family. Any just maybe I might feel a bit sad; but then again, the movie is about hope, and optimism, and cccccourage.

 

 

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Sailing South Australia

http://vimeo.com/25067010

Growing up in Adelaide, I learned to sail off Adelaide’s beaches, and also down around Goolwa, mostly in the 14′ dinghy Dad built in the backyard.

Reading Swallows & Amazons books also made Goolwa a perfect real-life backdrop for my imagination.

In recent years I’ve returned to Adelaide to be with my Dad around Anzac Day. This year, he didn’t make it, because he was crook with another serious bout of cancer, this time in his throat. So over Easter (which coincided with Anzac Day this year), we took our Hartley 18, Woody, with us to Adelaide and even though Dad was too crook to come out with us, I hoped for a few sailing adventures that I could then record for prosperity, and also for my son Max’s future memories.

And it was perfect in so many ways. The water had returned to The Coorong, and for the first time in my life, I sailed through the barrage and down the Coorong.

Max was asleep down below, but the only sounds were the chuckling of waves under the bow of Woody, the occasional rush of the wind over the water and through the rigging of the boat coming off the dunes and the sea, and calls and cries flocks of different sea birds arcing out to us from the sky and sandbanks and reeds.

Later, sailing off Adelaide’s West Beach, wallowing downwind over a Gulf St Vincent swell, we sailed over the dark green and azure blue sea occasionally in company with a pod of dolphins.

I hope you enjoy the home movie.

Friday night fish & chips

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Roughly 40 years ago, as a kid growing up in Adelaide, Friday night was fish and chips night. Always from the same fish and chippery on Unley Road. And Dad would get ‘two suitably chilled Southwark Bitter’ from the Cremorne Hotel on the way home with the fish and chips.

Now, 40 years later, I’m getting fish and chips on a Friday night from the same shop. I’ve just got off the train from Melbourne, unloaded my Xtracycle from the luggage van, and ridden over to Unley Road. Phone orders were taken from my elder siblings who have returned to the family home to look after my 94 year old Dad, who is seriously crook with cancer.

This time, there’s no Southwark Bitter for Dad, and no fish and chips either. All his nutrition is taken in prescribed liquid form, straight into his stomach, via a parental feeding tube.
The fish and chips kinda tasted all right, but it wasn’t the same really.

Such is life.

Cancer Day

I’ve been over in Adelaide for almost 2 weeks now, assisting my older siblings with home care to my Dad, who is in the middle of a course of radiotherapy for cancer in his tongue.

I’m a trained nurse, and have had a lot of experience looking after people in all sorts of situations, including cancer, but it’s when cancer is in the family that all my professional expertise is called upon.

Because it isn’t professional knowledge that’s required, even though my family asks for professional advice from me most of the time – it’s personal advice they and I need. Which off course is nothing new, because cancer is an unknown. Every individual course of the disease is different, and most of all, the prognosis can only be guessed at.

So what do you do?

Find the daily routine that helps the patient (my Dad) the best, according to what he wants and needs.

And by the end of the day after – a quick ‘bird bath’, oral hygiene, a swill of oral anaesthetic, 3 feeds through his stomach Peg, skin care around the radiation site, more oral care, more oral anaesthetic – the one thing Dad wants and needs by the end of the day is a game of Scrabble.

 

And it’s very satisfying for all of us involved – we can forget for just 1 hour what’s happening, and Dad goes to bed relaxed.

When I’m home with my own family, it’s what we do with our kids – ‘quiet time’ before bed. Everything else has been taken care of, tummies are full, jarmies are on, and teeth have been cleaned.

It helps. We give our brains time to clean out the day, and go to bed somewhat relaxed.

In my Dad’s final time, it’s as good as anything any health professional can prescribe.

Cancer is really a bugger

If you fear it, that is.

The fundamental fear (my fundamental fear) comes from feeling that cancer is a monster that will just materialise overnight and take over my life. It’s irrational, I know.

I think I’ve read somewhere that the body produces cancer cells all the time, but most times the body’s self-defence mechanisms are able to kill off the cancer, before it’s out of control. Well that’s good. Good on ya body!

But I’ve read a couple of books by Sherwin Nuland, an American MD, whose prose on the mystery of the body is not only informative, but elegant, and very understandable; and he’s illustrated what happens (in his book How We Die) when cancer gets out of control, and most importantly what can be done about it.

In lots of ways, I can’t stop it happening – my body will do it’s best – but it’s how I confront cancer that will make the difference. And confronting it is what I need to do. I always take measures, such as sun protection cream, and a hat, and eating plenty of fruit and veg, and getting daily exercise, and having regular appointments with my dermatologist, and so on, and so forth.

Cancer is a bugger if I let it. Dealing with it is being matter of fact. And people who have the resilience to cope with serious change in their lives tackle the change in a matter of fact way. “OK, shit has happened, what do I need to do now, how can you help me deal with this?” And don’t forget the life that’s going on around you as well. I am more than the sum of woes, difficulties, and ailments I am experiencing.

So, sometime in the next couple of weeks I’m going to have a conversation with my Dad about palliative care; not mine, it’s for him.

He’s at the crossroads with the treatment he’s having for throat cancer, go on with it, or change tack, that is the question.

I’ll keep you posted.

>Winter sailing days: cool & invigorating

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Living as we do in Melbourne with water restrictions courtesy of a 10+ year drought, this year’s winter, as have many over the past decades, has been cold, but essentially dry. Of course there has been some occasional rain. It isn’t good for living with ongoing water restrictions, but the plus side has been there’s no reason to stop sailing.

In fact, some of the best sailing I’ve experienced in recent months, has been on the coldest, calmest days. On lakes, such as Lysterfield Lake in the Dandenongs, and on Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay.

There’s something invigorating about rugging up for a day of cold winds. Finding zephyrs of breeze is so much easier when the air temperature on land is many degrees lower on water. Only streaming eyes and a snotty nose complicates detecting changes in wind direction and intensity on your cheeks and ears.

Our most recent winter sailing day had Max and I on a friend’s Hartley 18 on Port Phillip. The wind and waves were calm; we were occasionally becalmed. We occasionally took a break from staring out over the sun glinting on the water through the winter haze to thaw out with drinks of hot chocolate and a slab or two of fruit cake.

No divesting of layers of warm clothing. There was no effort involved in sailing with a 10 to 15 knot breeze. While keeping the boat balanced, we had to take turns getting out from under the mainsail’s shade to thaw out under the weak sun. We returned to the boat ramp at the end of the day with as many layers on as when we left.

All in all, with the calm and cool weather, Max has continued to enjoy a series of nautical excursions. Turning 4 soon, his growing interest and innate ability for nautical sojourns, and sailing in particular, warms my heart.

Here’s my Flickr page of photos from the Port Phillip sailing day.