1 June 2014


When I awoke this morning I was most relieved that I was neither horizontal nor upside down.

I went to sleep worried about this.

I am at my best mate Berty’s house on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Berty lives in Nevada in the USA. I arrived last Friday after 22 hours of flying and Berty and his wife Dana met me at the Las Vegas airport. Dana drove us all home. It was a fast and a bit of a frightening journey driving on what for the majority of the world is the wrong side of the road.

It scared the shit out of me.

I have since told Dana I thought she was an aggressive and somewhat dangerous driver.

She seemed somewhat taken aback at my accusation.

I am here to visit Dana and Berty and Berty’s melanoma. He didn’t know he had a melanoma until a few weeks back. Berty – who is already afflicted with a rare spinal condition that has him bound to a wheel chair, had a headache that wouldn’t go away. So he went to the doctor. The doctor did a scan thing and there in his nugget was a big ball of a tumor. He was rushed to a brain tumor unit in San Diego where the ball was removed. It was deemed malignant and then after a biopsy or two later it was determined that he has a Grade 4 Metastatic Melanoma.

I am no cancer expert but I can tell you that a Grade 1 is bad, Grade 2 is very bad and on it goes.

Life’s a bitch sometimes.

It is a real fucker.

In the brief time that Berty discovered that he has this affliction it has been described as cancer, a melanoma and a tumor. They are all inter-related.

They are all nasty.

I was put into the second spare room of Bert and Dana’s expansive Spanish style house. Dana’s good friend Lisa now lives in the other spare room that I used to stay in. Like Dana, Lisa is a highly skilled medical technician who spends much of her day elbow deep in blood and guts.

She saves people’s lives.

Lisa drives a brand new corvette. Bert’s house, my room, Lisa, Dana and Lisa’s corvette are all beautiful.

Bert’s melanoma – not so much.

We floated around in the pool yesterday - drinking ice cold beers and just chewing the fat. We reminisced a lot. It is hot here but not humid hot like it is in Singapore. It is dry desert heat with not a trace of moisture and I am loving it.

I really am.

On my first night in Vegas - when the sun went down - Lisa and I cooked some chicken and sausages and broccoli on the barbeque. Dana and Berty whipped up a sensational salad and then we opened a bottle of wine.

We all pigged ourselves out.

It was excellent.

We chatted more after dinner.  We were all of us lying back on the comfortable outdoor couches – except for Berty of course - who just put his motorized wheelchair into park. We laughed a lot – sometimes until our stomach’s ached - and we didn’t go to bed until very late. Despite the big dinner I poked around Berty and Dana’s walk-in pantry in the early hours of the morning. I was jet-lagged and was in a bit of a haze from Bert’s special medicine.

I had the munchies.

Big time.

It is enormous.

Bert’s pantry - not my haze.

I recall that Berty’s dad Brian had a similarly sized and well-stocked walk-in pantry in their houses back in Australia. These were in Berty and my childhood years – which are a long time ago now. When we were kids we would often return to Bert’s house after partying, as there would always be plenty to eat in the fridge.

We had the late-night munchies way back then too.

Quite often we selected Bert’s home to go to purely because of his parent’s well-stocked fridge and their huge walk in pantry.

They were alluring.

Bert’s mum Shirley was and still is a most excellent cook.

Just as we were agreeing that we should all go to sleep, Bert casually informed me that the bed in which I was sleeping was one of those ones that fold up and go into the wall. I asked him if he was serious and he told me that he was.

I told him quite bluntly that I didn’t like it.

I in fact declared, “What the fuck Berty?”

Berty chuckled and told me to chill right out.

I informed Bert and Dana that the only times I had ever seen these beds was on television and in the cinema. I had seen them in films and in cartoons and the results were always bad. They flicked back into the wall when people lay down on them and the occupants of the beds were crushed inside the wall. They were trapped upside down and on their heads.

I didn’t want that.

Who the fuck would?

Dana and Bert both assured me that there was no spring activated or anchoring required for the bed and there was no chance of it flipping up. I insisted that we went and have a closer look at it anyway.

I needed some reassurance.

I knelt and poked my head under it and I couldn’t see any spring-like devices but I saw a label denoting that the bed was Swedish made. I knew that springs and anchor points could be concealed and I also knew that Scandinavians were cunning and devious furniture makers who could and would conceal them.

So I went to bed worried.

It was either the concern of being propelled upside down into the wall or my jetlag that prevented me from sleeping, so I got up and wandered around the house a bit. I was drawn back to Berty’s pantry where I found some wicked pickled onions - then I discovered some chocolate dipped strawberries and a huge lemon curd tart in his refrigerator.

So I pigged out once again.

With a full belly the jetlag hit me like a sledgehammer and I once again inspected the bed to see if it was secure before I tentatively and somewhat nervously lay down and closed my eyes. I fell to sleep quickly and I slept soundly that first night and each night since – but I have always been a bit worried that I would awake in a vertical position and upside down.

Every morning that I have had a horizontal awakening is therefore a blessing for me.

One of Dana’s best mate’s Sue – the flying doctor chick – arrived a couple of days ago. She – like me – is visiting Dana and Bert and the melanoma and she is staying for a few days. We are sharing an adjoining en-suite bathroom. The expansive marble-topped vanity bench that 48 hours ago was adorned with just my blue toothbrush, my razor and a bottle of Lagerfeld aftershave is now cluttered and heaving with make-up and a myriad of other girly potions and lotions.

I quite like it.

I don’t know why.

Sue has a surfboard on the roof of her car - which I thought was a bit strange as we are hundreds of miles from the nearest beach and are in fact way out in the middle of a desert. When I pointed this out to Sue she told me that she has a week off work and after a few days visiting Berty and Dana and the melanoma she is driving down to California to have a surf.

When Sue arrived she parked her car in the driveway and she asked Bert and Dana whether the surfboard was safe on the roof of her car. They told her that it wasn’t.


They told her it would be nicked.

So she moved it inside.

Sue and I remembered that we had met each other years ago at one of Dana’s birthday parties. It was an absinthe party and we were all hammered. Sue lives in different places around Arizona and she buzzes around the state in helicopters as a Flying doctor.

Sue sees a lot of bad shit in her job - and like Dana and Lisa, she spends much of her time with bloody hands and saving lives.

Heroic huh?

I think so.

We talked about death for a while one night and we discussed what we thought might happen afterwards. Berty said he hoped that we would go to a better place and Sue and Dana and Lisa said that they all hoped so too. Sue told us that she thought that we might as well.

Go to a better place.

I made no comment on the matter but I told Berty that I didn’t want him going anywhere at all anytime soon. We all then agreed that this fucker of a melanoma must be fought and fought hard.

There are a lot of us on Berty’s side supporting his fight against the cancer beast and Berty is one of the strongest people I know.

Sue told us that she thought that there might be a better place we go to when we die because of one emergency case she attended in her helicopter a couple of months back. It was a very bad car accident in which a victim was clinically dead for a number of minutes. Sue said that when the man was resuscitated and ‘came back’ - he told her that he briefly went to a ‘better place’ that was white and warm and peaceful and he felt a profound sense of loss at ‘coming back’.

Sue said she felt some sense of consolation in the bloke’s declaration and I told her that I quite liked it too.

I myself though like to think that the Hindu and Buddhist concepts of rebirth and reincarnation might have some merit. The belief that all life is a massive and moving mass of data that we call souls gives me some solace - as is the notion that life and death is simply a journey we all travel in eternal and concentric cycles.

We come and go from it in an endless series of birth and demise.

We all cooked together again that evening in Bert and Dana’s huge kitchen. We cooked pasta with pesto sauce and baked up some gorgeous Italian garlic bread. We drank Chianti and cold beers. We ate at Berty’s outdoor dining suite as the sun set over Mount Charleston and a nice breeze blew in.

We all laughed a lot again.

This morning I started cooking one of the pavlova I promised to make for the Wednesday barbeque with the neighbours. I have one more to make tomorrow. As all pavlova makers know - the secret to this most excellent Australian dessert is in the preparation and the cooking and the cooling times. Dana is cooking an all-day Bolognese sauce that is thick and tomatoey and delicious.

It is truly scrumptious.

A good Pavlova and a good Bolognese sauce both take a long time to make properly.

I have to go back to Singapore in a couple of day’s time to my job that does not involve bloody hands or saving lives.

I ain’t no hero.

I wish more than anything that I could take Berty’s melanoma back with me but I know that I can’t. My visit here is to give what support I can to my best mate and to drive Lisa’s corvette as fast as possible without crashing it.

And I go to sleep each night hoping and praying that this fucker of a flip up bed doesn’t land me upside down and horizontal in the middle of the night.

That would be really shitty and I wouldn’t like it at all.

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