To Isaia, Terry and all those who fell while scaling Mount Difficulty

The following two tabs change content below.

Your face wears the marks of age
As a warrior his moko,
Double the beauty,
A soul like the great albatross.
– He Waiata Mo Te Kare, James K. Baxter

Oh what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

– La Belle Dame Sans Merci, John Keats

Perhaps it was the almost brooding stillness of a dank and cloud-covered Discovery Bay as I looked out just after dawn this morning. Perhaps it was the obituary I needed to write as my first task of the day. Perhaps it was my choice of a Mount Difficulty Pinot Noir as my wine of choice last night (more of that in a moment). Or perhaps, linked to the same theme, it was the seemingly coincidental article I just came across on a Kiwi website headed ‘Stomach Cancer Awareness Month: Dunedin dad with CDH1 gene on life without a stomach’.

Whatever the prompt, or the combination of them, I’m feeling every bit as reflective as those beautiful early morning waters beneath my Hong Kong home.

Back to that obituary. Writing such stories (I try to make them more than simple ‘death notices’) is the aspect of my job that I dread the most yet simultaneously one I consider a responsibility and a privilege.

Whether I know the person or not – and I have bid farewell to far too many good men and women close to me down the years – it is important to note their passing and to honour their lives. Families and colleagues tend to appreciate it and often such a notice, though written amid great sadness, rekindles warm memories and spurs reunions.

Terry Clark: ‘Mr Glenfiddich’

One such man is long-time duty free executive Terry Clark, whose passing after a long illness I so sadly note on our website today. Terry was the most cheerful, warm and gentlemanly of characters. He held senior duty free roles with tobacco house Carreras Rothmans and for many years with William Grant & Sons, where he was affectionately known by many retailer clients – including, I recall, Gebr. Heinemann – as ‘Mr Glenfiddich’.

Terry battled cancer over recent years. Or should I say confronted it. I did not know him during this period but a good mutual friend who did said that Terry somehow remained the most stoical and jolliest of characters for most of that difficult time.

And the Mount Difficulty? Alas, the bastard disease that is cancer rears its ugly head in that anecdote too. Long-time readers of this Blog may recall it was the perhaps fateful choice of wine I opted for on 9 June 2010, the day of my own diagnosis with stomach cancer.

I recall to this day walking into a Waitrose supermarket in West London after I received the news and vowing to drink a good wine that night, a defiant toast to what I was perhaps illogically convinced would be a successful fight against the illness.

Uncannily, the first wine – the very first wine – I saw on that circular gondola was Mount Difficulty from New Zealand. Both its name and its provenance made it an irresistible choice. Every year on the anniversary of that diagnosis (and on other occasions such as last night) I open a bottle of the same wine to remind me of having scaled that figurative and deeply challenging mountain.

And the headline about the Dunedin Dad? Perhaps coincidentally while scouring the New Zealand Herald website this morning for news of my beloved All Blacks in the run-up to the Rugby World Cup next month in France, I chanced across the article.

Published to promote Stomach Cancer Awareness Month in New Zealand, it tells the tale of a 40-year Māori (Ngāti Porou and Te Whānau-a-Apanui) named Isaia Piho who had his stomach removed (a procedure known as a Gastrectomy) after being told in 2011 at the age of 28 he had the genetic mutation CDH1, which increases the risk of stomach cancer by +70%.

The article points out that for a variety of reasons the Māori and  Pasifika peoples are three times more likely to develop stomach cancer than those of European ethnicity.

Like me, Isaia now has no stomach (a gastrectomy can mean partial or full removal of the organ) but has lived to tell his tale. Others are not so lucky. The article points out that global survival rates – at 29% for those still living five years after diagnosis – remain among the poorest for all cancers.

It’s important we keep telling the tale and upping that percentage. Stomach Cancer Awareness Month in New Zealand (many other countries have similar programmes) supports efforts to educate people about the disease, including risk factors, prevention, and (crucially) early detection.

Tonight I shall indulge myself by polishing off the remains of that Mount Difficulty while toasting both my fellow Kiwi survivor Isaia and those who have fallen along the way. It’s a 2020 wine. Back in the darkest days of 2010 I would have very gladly accepted the prospect of one day drinking such a vintage.  ✈

  • Hi Martin,
    Voice from the past 🙂 ! My part in the DF&TR industry has shrank from the global role during 25 years with Weitnauer group to the small duty free world of Samnaun, Livigno, and some very special accounts like IAEA Vienna and The Vatican etc for another almost 25 years as distributor for L’Oréal Travel Retail on the one side, and the hard work to launch new and nicht poducts in the TR market with Lutz and the team of Travel Retail Experts Ltd. on the other. It has also shrank from lots of dear business contacts many of them grown into great and long friendships, like the one with Terry, to a world where mails and video-calls have displaced personal contacs to a large extent . It is so great to know and see people like you keeping us informed not only on the commericial aspects of this fantastic business but also of the personalities who have made and still make this business so special! And using this unique platform and heart and soul to help less privileged people A great thank you for this!

Comments are closed.