Monday, 5 November 2018

Kent Characters

Joyce at 90
Continuing the theme of Kent Characters, we visited Ann's cousin Joyce in Deal yesterday. She is 90, but fit enough to talk for England, and still walks to the supermarkets for food and to the pub for a drink. She has smoked all her life, and knows all the spots outside pubs and hotels where she can still puff. She defends this by relating friends she's known who were told they must stop and were dead within a few weeks. She is thin and fully mobile, and fitter and less breathless than me. She reminds me less of a Dickensian character than of one of Alan Bennett's Talking Heads but with a London accent, for she never ceases talking about her relatives, other residents, the people she meets in the shops, or her past, in a jumbled montage of reminiscences, laced with advice and humour that has us constantly laughing. I would need a tape recorder to transcribe it, and can see how Dickens had a clear advantage in recording his lives by using the shorthand he'd learnt as a journalist.

Joyce has paid for her funeral, and made all the arrangements, because she doesn't want her children squabbling over who chose what hymn or reading. She has already asked them to choose what they want from her estate, and written it down so they can't start bickering over her possessions when  she's gone. She married at 18 and has been widowed for two years. Only now does she know freedom, and is the happiest she has been.

Today was my consultation with the oncologist at the Macmillan Unit in West Suffolk. This waiting room is so different from urology, with its rows of old men with bladder and prostate problems. Here are rows of younger people, half women, many with head coverings – hats, knitted caps, bandannas, scarves – or wigs of various colours and lengths. To one side sat a younger man, a prisoner handcuffed between two guards from Highpoint top security prison, awaiting transport back to the cells. A good proportion of the chemo population are children with leukaemia, though there were none in this room; probably they have a time slot separate from the adults.

Dr Martin carefully explained the pros and cons of chemo, reading out an arm's length of side effects. My face grew longer as the list grew. Ann and Edwin could hardly stop giggling as they watched me. One side effect would be thinning of the hair. Though young, Dr Martin had a gaunt face and very sparse hair, making me wonder if he too had had chemotherapy. Then he added, the treatment would run right through Christmas, and I'd have to be admitted to hospital immediately if I ran a temperature. Even if I finished the complete course the pros were just a tiny improvement in my overall chances. As I always get a chest infection each winter I declined it.

In the cafe afterwards, a foreign lady in the queue asked what soup it was. "Soup’s all gone," said the woman behind the counter. "Oh, soupsalgone- that’s my favourite!" said the woman. We left quietly for the sane little world of Hundon.