Monday, 31 December 2018

A New Year – and Peace to All People

First, an apology to Ann: I had flippantly said she was trying to forget the loss of our once-in-a-lifetime holiday in Israel, but I confess, it was really her stress at the possibility of losing me to cancer that drove her to consume an excess of Paulo's excellent sangria (see Paulo's Abba Party). I was reluctant to accept that anyone could be over-concerned for me, and I'm truely sorry to malign Ann so badly. It is the year's end; a difficult year, and at one time, one I thought not to see, but we have made it.

Some recent reports have suggested that we are living in the best of times. Universal education is higher than it has ever been, there is less absolute poverty in the world, and – despite the knife crime in London – fewer people are dying from war or violence. The world is still heating up, not withstanding Trump and others denials, but the problem has been recognised, and many people are pushing hard to get some control over the emissions problem.

Talking with the Macedonian car wash guy yesterday (A History Lesson at the Carwash), reminded me how much of human ills is caused by religious strife, although I still believe that Richard Dawkins is wrong to indite religious belief in itself. We will not eliminate religious faith; it gives comfort and strength to many, and serves as an answer to life's uncertainties for those too lazy to think for themselves. For many, belief in an afterlife is sufficient to justify even eccentric and extreme ideas, rather than contemplate the infinity of nothingness, the blank canvas of a life extinguished. We all long to live for longer, for there is ever more to see and do and feel. I too hold to a spiritual life, a theme I explored in depth in Girders in the Sand. I believe there is something higher than the mere presence of organised cells; thought itself somehow exists on a higher plain, and should be exalted.

No, the problem behind violence and prejudice is not religion per se; it is intolerance. Intolerance manifested by prejudice against anything different to oneself, whether of colour, faith, or sexual orientation. People must be allowed to have their faith, faith will not disappear from the world; but they must learn that no one faith is absolute. We must accept that there are other faiths than our own; we must strive not to impose belief, but encourage each other to find their own way, and learn what is right for them. Working together, people can achieve great ends, in prosperity, invention, buildings, and ideas. Working apart, we can only destroy, tear down, and desecrate our inheritance and our world. Each one who raises a knife or a gun to make a statement of violence is killing their own humanity, and hacking away at hope in the world.

So my plea for the coming year is simple: let us strive to welcome diversity, and opinion different to our own. Let us rejoice in the variety of our people, and work to overcome prejudice and fear. Let us accept religions other than our own, and acknowledge that other people too are searching for spiritual enlightenment, each following their own path in freedom and in peace.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

A history lesson at the carwash

Taking the car to be cleaned this morning ready for the New Year, and mine being the only car there, I was talking at length to the owner. He came from Macedonia 19 years ago, and has done well by the business. Unusually, he commutes from Cambridge where he owns a house, for prices were low 19 years ago. He employs several people, who pay £400 per month for a single room in Haverhill, but prices have risen so much even in Haverhill that he couldn't afford a house here.

He told me a little of the history of his region, and how the country had been stable under Tito when united with Yugoslavia, before the great Yugoslavian wars of disruption that ended with the country fragmenting along religious lines. He was one of five boys, but his father had earned enough to keep the whole family comfortable. Now, wages are so low each family member has to work. But he loves England, the land of opportunity, and is so well settled in Cambridge he has no desire to leave. In some way I didn't fully follow, Macedonia is not allowed to join the EU (something to do with Greece claiming it, I think).

Serbia/Croatia/Montenegro/Macedonia? The history is impossibly complicated for an outsider to comprehend, but I know from my history of Tesla (a Serb) that the Turks caused their usual mayhem, obliterating the original Serbian peoples and instilling Muslim theology into the region in the battle of Kosovo of 1389, which is still remembered. I remember an Armenian girl who told me a similar tale, of how the Turks had destroyed her people. Now, they are intent on destroying the Kurds also. How hatred perpetuates itself through the world, usually through the instigation of one wild man, unrestrained by his people.

On the domestic front, the cancer continues to make its presence known. The bladder is sore, PU'ing is difficult and painful, and dipstick testing confirms the presence of blood, protein and leucocytes, probably all a result of the vicious inflammation induced by the DXT. I continue to feel nausea, with reduced appetite, and have lost weight. Only three more treatment days, thankfully!


Saturday, 29 December 2018

Paulo's ABBA Party

Edwin with friends at the Abba party
Last night was party night at Paulo's. The theme is usually highly classical, with opera singing and professional musicians, but last night was "Abba", in a severe break with tradition. Edwin did a good job of sight reading to lead the singing, supported by Max who is a professional organist in London, and showed how to lead us in on the upbeats. The Abba songs were followed by a traditional hearty rendition of Jerusalem, in memory of the mother of Paulo's partner, John.

John chose it as a hymn at his father's funeral, despite some resistance from the vicar who declared it was not a proper hymn, but he managed to get a friend of his to sing it. John told the vicar to turn the microphones and PA system off, as it would spoil the purity of the vocalist. "But can she fill the church with her voice?" asked the vicar.

"She fills Covent Garden without trouble," John responded, and the vicar gave way after that.

Jerusalem was especially poignant, as Edwin has left for a 10 day vacation in Isreal today. Ann and I should have been going as well, but this was lost when my cancer treatment intervened. Indeed, the whole evening had more the atmosphere of a wake than a party, as the principle harpist who normally performs for us is on extended absence at her majesty's pleasure.

Ann and Grandad-John at the Abba Party
Paulo is Portuguese and Edwin's piano teacher, and makes a fair sangria, mostly containing vodka with a dash of fruit juice. I am saddened to say that Ann drowned her worries about me by consuming this to the point of unsteadiness. She has no recollection of getting in the car to return home, or of falling out of the car to lie with her head in the bush at the gate. We carried her in, but she was certainly a little the worse for wear even 24 hours later.

"Why do people get drunk?" she asked the next day.
"To forget," I said. "If you get drunk at my wake, you'll forget who I was!"

The BBC are running a series of 100 influential women. Everything these days seems to be about women; the BBC are shutting out half their audience. They should aim to be more balanced in their broadcasts: I paid my licence fee as much as everyone else, until they said I was too old to contribute. Why not a series of 100 influential old people of both genders? I'm sure there must be some oldies who've continued to add to the world in meaningful ways, rather than merely being the drain on society that we're painted to be these days.

Please send me a comment if you feel neglected by the BBC
Mail comments to: grandad.john@2from.com

Friday, 28 December 2018

Birthday gifts

My birthday passed quietly, although for most of it I lay covered in a blanket in my chair following my morning dose of DXT. Many wives would never tolerate having a Great X in their home, and many people have commented how unusual it is for Ann to host the Great X. But Ann is a very unusual woman, and the Great X behaved with dignity and compassion. She was a hospice nurse once, and his not forgotten the role, though she did apologise after blurting out, "of course, this cancer can't be cured - only held at bay."

Mary-Anne and the girls brought a basket of wonderful gifts for my birthday:
A basket of birthday gifts
  • Balloons to help the celebration go with a bang
  • Bubble gum to remind me to stick with it
  • Tea bags for when I need a cuppa
  • Elastic bands to keep me flexible
  • A lollipop for when life sucks
  • Paper clips to help hold things together
  • A yo-yo for life's ups and downs
  • A magnifying glass for when I lose my glasses
  • A pen for when it's too rude to go on the blog
  • An eraser for when it should be rubbed off the blog 
  • A ball of string to tie it all together when things fall apart
  • A name tag in case I forget who I am
  • A pair of scissors for when I need to cut people's heads off (in joke! see finding-zillian)

Be free to comment if you've received a special birthday gift
Mail comments to: grandad.john@2from.com

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Happy Birthday To Me

Eds brings the cake
My birthday and three quarters of the way through the DXT ceremony. A number of visitors came to cheer me on, including the Great X with son Matthew and his new partner Rosie, and Mary-Anne and Sam and their two girls. Sam told some wonderful tales, such as the report on the Hundon Facebook page that a local burglar had been caught and would be sentenced in the new year. This brought a number of comments, including one from the burglar himself who said, "I didn't do it. You'll regret this when they find me not guilty!"

Another of his stories was of a mate of his who was having a microwaved Christmas dinner for one. His wife had walked out, and his own mother helped her pack up the things and move them out. She went off with a new man, drained his bank account so he couldn't reinsure his van for work, and took his name off the school mailing list to prevent him ever attending things involving his children. Definitely a candidate for Alan's SAD (Society-for-Acrimonious-Divorce). 

Sam is good at topping stories. Ann mentioned a friend of hers who had a strong odour, whom they used to call Bo. She thought it was a compliment referring to Bo Derek, even when her work mates left antiperspirants and talcum powder in her drawer. But Sam found one of his work mates shaving in his wing mirror. Another candidate for SAD, his wife had also thrown him out (the mate, not Sam), and he was having to sleep in his car. He smelt so bad he was banned from the bookmakers!

Please add any comments if 2018 has a special memory for you too
Mail to: grandad.john@2from.com

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Empty Chairs


Empty Chairs

Christmas,
a time to remember
a time for those who are gone,
and those who cannot be here –
those familiar dear faces,
with the now vacant chairs
we miss those we have loved –
the absent and dead.
So raise glass with a tear
"God please keep them safe
those who cannot be here."

Asked if I ever had a hero, someone I looked up to in my youth, someone admired, I usually say no. I had one or two 'good' teachers, who taught well and whose lessons have stayed with me. One especially was the English teacher at Caludon Castle School, Mr Bennett, who gave me a love for Milton, but none were inspirational as role models. I had no school-boy 'crushes', I did not admire the athletic ones or the high achievers, for each one of us has some gift – why should one be favoured over another? But some people I did admire more than others: Victor Daniels who gave me my first freelance work, with huge encouragement; Sir Allen McClay, founder of Galen Pharmaceuticals and Almac Sciences, who took me on board as a pharmaceutical medic in 2003, and with whose companies I have worked ever since; but both these men are now dead.

Now too, we hear the news that Sister Wendy has died today. She I never met, but only admired from afar for her television series on art. The Sunday Times slated her once in a review, calling her an "old bat-like figure, fixated on Freudian imagery', to which I wrote a vigorous defense. The letter was published, and I had a treasured reply from Sister Wendy saying my words "assuaged the hurt". I thought that was a lovely phrase, and assuaged was a word I never used, but is now for ever associated with her memory. Alas, she stopped broadcasting after the criticism, for she was genuinely modest, and retreated to her caravan in the grounds of her Norfolk nunnery.

Another word I learnt, probably when I was but eight or nine years old, was from The Eagle, when Captain Dan Dare told Digby to press three buttons "simultaneously". This was a word never used in our household, or by any of my friends, and I had to look it up. I think this as much as Milton was the foundation of my love for our English language, its wonderful vocabulary and rich rhythms.

I think most of my heroes, even now, are fictional: people like Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls. He was everything I admired: a true professional and the best at the job he loved; loyal, trustworthy and honest. Even his enemies said he never told a lie; and even at the risk of losing his greatest bet, he won it with guts and integrity. A true hero.

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Happy Christmas, and Peace Throughout the World

Ann on Christmas Day 2018
Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas Day to all, and an especially happy Christmas to darling Ann, for all her support throughout the year, her special strength and nursing care over the last few months, and who acts as unpaid editor for these jottings.

This year, we have a Gay Pride Christmas Tree, chosen specially by Edwin, to celebrate human rights throughout the world (my interpretation!)

The burning witch within is well alight now - yesterday was my 14th treatment with DXT, with six to go. The burning is evident from the pain and dribbling, but at least it has a purpose. In Starbucks afterwards, someone rushed forward and gave Edwin a massive hug, while Edwin tried desperately to remember who it was. He was the former manager of Costa in Haverhill, where Edwin had been a regular customer. He'd been moved to Brighton but was now back running Starbucks in Addenbrooke's. "Get Edwin an extra grande latte with caramel shots," he ordered, "and charge it to the manager's account." Edwin didn't like to say that he also wanted a second drink and food for two, so we ended up having our snack at Costa. On the way home, we stopped at Wandlebury to walk the dogs. It was warm, bright and clean in the clear woods, and wonderful to take the fresh air after the stuffy treatment rooms of Addenbrooke's.

Edwin then told another 'story. A post-grad friend of his is currently doing some teaching, when a friend of hers requested that she accompany her to the STD clinic. Walking in, she was certain she would be confronted by a room full of her own students. Far from embarrassed, she told Edwin she would just be impressed by how mature her students were, and how sensible to be careful of their health.

Christmas

Today,
is His day,
named for Him,
A day of remembrance
for his Father's gift,
not wrapped up
in pretty paper and string.
I will stop for a moment
to remember Him.
At Christmas, it is time to remember empty places at the table. There are so many now (though some of them are missed for the wrong reasons, and with pleasure rather than sadness.) The Great X is determined to come and see me and will visit on my birthday. For the first time in 41 years, Lucy will not see her mother over Christmas, and the Great X will not be with her grandchildren. It is at Christmas that we especially miss our loved ones: parents, brothers, sisters, children. We remember the old times, the times past. We remember the fractures and disagreements. Following divorce from the Great X, each year on this one day, I felt torn from the children one inevitably leaves behind with divorce. For years afterwards, Christmas day was always a day of depression for me, and I could only slink off to bed in the afternoons. I still miss them, of course, the memory of their youth and happiness, captured in my book "The Magic Quilty". But now I go to bed not from depression – for they are fully grown with children of their own – but from illness. This year, alas, I feel too sick to take delight in food or chocolate, but the memories survive. May God bless them every one!

Monday, 24 December 2018

Drones over Gatwick

The news for the past few days has been filled with pictures of tired travellers frustrated by a single bit of plastic waste polluting the sky above Gatwick Airport. The police have arrested one couple, although it is now claimed they may have had good alibis and are released from suspicion.

Drone spotted near Gatwick?
Yet one drone was supposed to have circled the control tower to taunt the ATC people working up there. For all the hoo-hah, we have not seen one picture released showing the drone. Are there no cameras amongst these people? Usually we are overwhelmed by these poor quality pixelated pictures. Indeed, one story is claiming there was no drone! It was all in the imagination of the public!

Either way, even assuming the story is true, and the police do eventually parade someone without an alibi, we are told that "it is not terrorism", and the culprit(s) will only get short sentences. If the perpetrators were crying to their god as they brought disruption to the skies, they would have been accused and prosecuted as terrorists. The crime should be on the deed, not the religion or creed of the perpetrator, therefore it is the deed itself that should be deemed terrorism, even though the perpetrators may prove to be white environmentalists. The ultimate disruption to our integrated way of life is the same; the consequences for tens of thousands of travellers is the same chaos. Let the punishment be the same. These are terrorists, and shall be brought down, as they brought down so many flights. We are fortunate indeed that there has yet been no life lost from drones. The warnings are in place – let us trust that the responses are equally ready.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Death is in the air

Dead Flowers to mark the solstice
Yesterday, 21/22 December 2018, was the turning of the year, usually marked in our family with a small celebration. I always believe, marking as it does the ending of the year, that the winter solstice be of greater importance than its summer cousin. And believe me, 2018 has been a right bad year. So, despite knowing Ann always thinks of cut flowers as 'dead things' (see: pacifying-pilot), today I bought a bouquet to celebrate the death of the year, complete with Lilies-of-the Valley, white roses, and gypsophila to mark the passing of the year. I told Ann, "I know you don't like dead things, but I've bought you some flowers," and explained their symbolism in this case, but she didn't seem to believe me, saying "Only you could buy me something I don't like!"

It really has been a stunningly bad year for so many of us. Now we hear the announcement that Paddy Ashdown has died from bladder cancer. It was only one month ago that I wrote to welcome him to the BCB (Bladder Cancer Brigade, see: paddy-ashdown-joins-BCB). He was one year older than me, but he must have had stage 4 - that's the stage where they just say, "go home and keep warm."

Yesterday, too, Ann's friend Sylvia fell and damaged her wrist sufficiently for me to agree she should get it X-rayed and may need to visit A and E over Christmas! Her son-in-law is now so ill and debilitated with pain from the cancer of his face and DXT that he is wishing he were dead. Now, to add to catastrophe, comes in the report of a tsunami in Indonesia with hundreds dead. Another poor Christmas for so many.

Friendship

We are suffering here
while other lives go on,
we welcome not New Year
to pin our hopes upon,
instead, we live each day,
with friends we hold most dear
who offer their support
to share this pain we bear.

 Annie Elliott
This year has almost seen the death of Brexit as well. A satisfying article by Julie-Burchill in The Telegraph today, "Not even a Christmas miracle can save the sanctimonious, obsolete and Orwellian BBC". So many of us who voted 'out' are derided by the powers that be as intellectually lacking. The great campaign of fear that drove the remainers was one of the convincing arguments for me voting for Brexit. I hate being told what to do, and the more people try to scare me into something, the more I wish to rebel and oppose. To be coerced into remaining in Europe is the opposite of freedom - we heard not one word of all that is good in unity; there was no plea to higher causes or to the harmony of peaceful coexistence, or the sharing of historical ideals. If I had pleaded the Brixit cause, it would have gone very differently. Thank you Julie-Burchill.

Please add any comments if 2018 has been bad for you too
Mail to: Grandad.John@2from.com

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Society for Acrimonious Divorce S.A.D.

Alan, Ann's cousin, added to his observations about difficult divorces. We know so many people who are going or have been through problems with divorce, he is considering starting a special group to meet and compare problems. It is to be called S.A.D., or the Society for Acrimonious Divorce. He plans to charge a small fee as a fighting fund, and members shall gather round the bar of their local pubs to discuss tactics in warding off the evil ones. Members can contribute towards Jamaican obeah if they want their Great X dealt with.

Two friends came round today for coffee, Robin and Yvonne, who live in Tilbury Juxta Clare. They are the parents of Sam, Mary-Anne's husband, and always full of interest and fun. Today they were telling about Robin's cousin, Paul, who had to have a cataract operation. He worked as a signwriter, but his sight was so poor he had to put stencils of the lettering on van sides, to paint through. After the operation, he could see well enough to paint directly as he used to. Another relative of Robin lives in Southend, and after his cataract operation his sight was so good he began to take walks to the coast to eye the girls in bikinis. He had forgotten how much he had missed seeing, and wanted to make up for lost time.

They were reminiscing about Tilbury Hall, when the lady of the Hall used to hold the Christmas Carol service in her home if the church was too cold. Yvonne described her as speaking in a voice that 'made Prince Charles sound common!' Now the Hall is enclosed by a high fence and the owners have shut out casual walkers with a locked gate across the old footpath. The new lady of the house is a chain smoker, who has a private helicopter and plane so she can continue smoking.

Please add any comments if you have been through an acrimonious divorce


Friday, 21 December 2018

One down one to go

Some good news this morning - I had a scan of the lymph glands in my neck, to check for any spread from the melanoma of the ear, and they are all clear! The doc didn't even find one big enough to biopsy. So that front's looking good – one cancer down, just the bladder to go. As a second bonus, I love to listen to Bach Before Seven each morning, as an oasis of peace before the madcap day begins. This morning it was Céline Frisch playing the third of the 48 on the harpsichord, which is the best way they should be played. Absolute bliss, joy and beauty.

We have Ann's cousin Alan staying with us this week. He's always interesting to talk to, full of stories and usually they're about strange things that have happened to him. His current saga relates to his former second wife, Iris, whom he's trying to divorce, though without much success yet. Iris is from Trididad, the larger of the two Caribbean islands comprising Trinidad and Tobago, and he and she both starred in a TV programme about retiring to a dream home, when they looked at a potential house on Tobago.

Iris seems to be intent on dragging out the divorce for as much as she can screw out of Alan. This seems to be something she is professional at, as it's her third marriage, plus a number of commercial interests she has sued. They were only married for four years, and the divorce looks like it will take longer than the marriage lasted.

Alan's new girlfriend is from Jamaica, and very strong on obeah, or Jamaican voodoo. We think he may be leaving the Trinidad fire for a Jamaican frying pan - she's already referring to him as "her fiancee". She has organised various exorcism rites to rid Alan of the evil spirits within his soul (meaning Iris). Now she has asked if Alan would like Iris "dealt with". However, Alan has said only if it resolves the drawn out divorce – but a definite no if it involves anything violent! As Iris was his second marriage, the way it's progressing, for Alan too it's going to be one down and one to go!





Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Some other patients

My treatment was delayed as I waited whilst an ealier patient was wheeled through on a bed for his treatment. He was in a bad way, with bags attached that had blood-stained fluid collecting in them. He took a good half an hour for the treatment to his bladder.

Cancer

How hard to watch
                      the weakening limbs,
the sagging flesh and creasing skin
of a once strong granite stone
now cancer scorched
through to the bone.

Another patient came in to sit with me, an American with a scared bald head from his chemo. He said, "what do you say when people ask how you are? I tell them, 'I've got cancer and I'm dying, how are you?'" I had no ready answer to this, but I know what he meant. He has a lymphosarcoma of the pelvis, with blood-spread secondaries. It is strange and sobering to know that most of the people waiting with me are at least as ill as I, indeed many are at a more advanced stage.

Another day, another cancer.




Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Schrödinger Witch

Ten treatments down and ten to go. Half way through. I feel as though the witch inside my bladder is half-dead and half-alive – a true Schrödinger witch, simultaneously in both states that will only be resolved into one state or the other when it is finally looked at.

Waiting with our coffee, we shared a small table with another cancer patient. She has already had both breasts removed, and is in the midst of chemotherapy before starting her own course of RT. She had had her blood test at 12:00 but has to wait until 4:00pm for her next treatment, so was bored with the place and happy to talk. She was eating a chocolate bar and works by refilling the various food slot machines, including the ones in Addenbrooke's, but didn't expect to back as a user of them. A young teenage girl was wheeled by with a drip and nasogastric tube in place, reminding us all of how fortunate we have been to have enjoyed relatively long healthy lives, and how unfortunate are some fellow creatures.
Nimue and Merlin by E. Fortescue-Brickdale

I am reading the wonderful modern version of the Thomas Malory King Arthur legends, The Once and Future King, which is a revelation and pleasure to take my mind away from myself into the mythical land of neverwas. White was such a deep scholar, his use of multiple words from ancient English is overwhelming, and I have begun to read it with the computer switched on to look up meanings, and am pencilling them  in the margins, for future reference. Almost every page has a new word, and they're all wonderful:  kerns were peasant foot soldiers; Nimue was the ancient name for the Lady of the Lake and keeper of the sword. I know little of these Arthurian legends, but they are wonderful stories. The first part of the book, The Sword in the Stone, strongly reminded me of some features in Harry Potter, and it is interesting that J.K. Rowling described White as "her spiritual ancestor".

Although legend, it is surprising how much overlaps even present day life. "England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity", as Merlyn says. How truely prophetic of the current impasse in extricating ourselves from Europe! Ireland seems to be the one difficulty that cannot be overcome. How cursed we are to have taken Ireland, and left a land divided. Now we must reap that which are ancestors have sown.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Some family history

Ann has been researching her family history, and discovered that, as a McVey, she is related to the McBeth's on her father's side, but her grandmother was Flora Elliot, which is a clan in its own right.  "That's why we're so fierce. We all know what McBeth was like," she said.

"But," I said, "McBeth did the murder, but his wife ordered it. He was trembling with his conscience."

"Yes," said Edwin, "and she didn't start out a McBeth. Before she got married, I bet she was an Elliot."

The Elliots were a great, fierce and rebellious border clan, also known as reivers. Ann said, "they caused so much trouble, they were cursed by the Biship of Glasgow. In 1525 he put a curse on the whole clan."

Ann looked it up; the curse is substantial and comprehensive. “I curse their head and all the hairs of their head; I curse their face, their brain, their mouth, their nose, their tongue, their teeth, their forehead, their shoulders, their breast, their heart, their stomach, their back, their womb, their arms, their leggs, their hands, their feet, and every part of their body, from the top of their head to the soles of their feet, before and behind, within and without.”

It runs to three pages in 1,100 words, and concludes:  “And, finally, I condemn them perpetually to the deep pit of hell, there to remain with Lucifer and all his fellows, and their bodies to the gallows of Burrow moor, first to be hanged, then ripped and torn by dogs, swine, and other wild beasts, abominable to all the world. And their candle  goes from your sight, as may their souls go from the face of God, and their good reputation from the world, until they forebear their open sins, aforesaid, and rise from this terrible cursing and make satisfaction and penance.”
(The Curse of the Elliot Clan)

I could only comment that I hoped their penance had been finally made and the curse lifted, but I do sometimes wonder that there maybe something witch-like about the Elliots and their line.

Ann loves to play her favourite tunes on her Apple HomePod. She keeps it in the kitchen, so it is often playing through the day, but it does have an independent mind. She told it once, "Siri, stop playing!"

Siri answered, "I'm not playing anything!"

In the meantime, I continue by resting, and dosing myself with antiemetics and antidiarrhoeals. Eight days done, twelve more treatment days to go.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Finding Zillian

Another day, another treatment. Yesterday continued much the same, with Edwin taking me to hospital. This time, they told me my bladder isn't emptying properly, and will have to be sorted out. So yet another hiccup to add to the diarrhoea and nausea. I just hope they don't need to recatheterise me.

There are two treatment rooms through the door I entered, and as I came out of mine to go back to the waiting room, I was pushed back and a crash team came hurtling past, so fast they misjudged the turn into their room and crashed into the door, sending equipment flying! When I finally got back out, poor Edwin had been sure it was being sent in for me, and was thinking how to tell his mum that I wouldn't be coming home with him! Even as we waited, two more teams raced past challenging each other to run faster. Then a trolley bed was rushed in, complete with drip, until there must have been a dozen or more people rushing past in total. Addenbrooke's is certainly the right place to be, if you must have a heart attack.
Me with Zillian the first table-tennis robot

Ann had a ghostly experience, looking for an old picture of me with my robot Zillian. She spent the evening looking through all 78 albums, representing thousands of pictures collecting a lifetime of memories, without finding it. She finally gave up and put the last album away when she saw a picture on the floor that had fallen out of one of them. It was the very same picture she had been searching for. She went cold like there was a creepy spirit in the room. Alas, poor Zillian is no more - only his ghost remains.

In the evening, we went for our annual Christmas Dinner to the Swan in Clare. This has become a tradition over the last few years, and was booked some time ago, before these treatments started, so we didn't want to cancel it. I managed to survive quite well, albeit without alcohol, and dosed up with antiemetics, but it was enlivened by the chatter of our granddaughters, who are a delight. One told us how she loves to cut off the heads of old photos, usually of her mum. When the photo is pulled from the album, the head stays behind, and they just get the shoulders coming out. She says it's fun to mix them up, and she has a bag of heads, like some psychopath. If someone annoys her at school, she can cut the head off their picture, and post it through their locker.


Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Br-exit blocked at the barrier

Another kindness today, this time from Mary-Anne who took a turn to take me in for treatment. Addenbrooke's car park is expensive; it cost me £6.80 on the first visit, when I was over the two hours. But they do have a valuable concession, with a week's parking ticket for £3.90 when one is on constant treatment like RT. Coming into the car park, the machine took my ticket and returned it, but on the way out, the barrier refused to rise. The ticket had expired! I had to wait at the ticket office to get it renewed, as a queue rapidly built behind Mary-Anne's car. The other drivers glared at her as though it was her fault, and horns sounded, but the only way she could have moved would have been to  reverse into them, until I reappeared with the new ticket. She remained as calm and uncaring as usual.

Only one quarter through, but already I feel like death. The day was bright and sunny, but I was too weak to walk the dogs. The nausea is terrible, and I travel in the car with a towel across my knee and a sickness bowel beneath my chin. My head is bursting, and I dare not even drink a glass of wine, let alone a good malt. The last couple of nights, I can manage no more than toast. Oh the agony of abstinence. But I live in hope that it will be for a good result. I dread the approach of Christmas and New Year, for I fear these side effects can only worsen. Even mid-winter, normally my favourite day, is something I will be unable to celebrate this year. 


Monday, 10 December 2018

Trinken den Wein

Although it sounds a contradiction, Edwin visited a German market in Cambridge last night. He said he intended to "trinken den Wein", so I told him not to "trinken too muchen den Wein!" but he's never paid much attention to advice.

For myself, I haven't "den Wein getrunken"since I started this treatment last week. Not from any reason of virtue, but in case booze of any sort clashes with my stomach and makes me feel even worse than I already do. Matthew and Rosie came over today to take me in, and I carried a towel and sick bowl in case I vomited again. I spread the tablets out over a longer period today, and that seemed to help a bit. Though still nauseous, I avoided embarrassing myself or messing their car.

Radiographers wanted
There were delays for us all on treatments this morning, and the waiting area was full. One small child with no hair was wheeled in by her parents. Several women had scarves to cover their hair loss, and one woman had a large bald area over a depression over her skull, where probably she was being treated for a skin cancer. A man next to me, also with a cap on, told me he had surgery for a brain tumour followed by chemo and now radiotherapy. He was still in his 50's, and said he'd expected to have much longer to live. Now he was going to work through his money and get things he really wanted, starting with a set of Beat headphones, then taking his family on holiday early next year for which he'd rented a holiday home in Norfolk.

We are all at the point in our lives where cancer is the signpost to change, usually degenerate change. It served to point to the variety of people getting radiotherapy treatments, although a poster in the waiting area pointed to another reason for the delays: a shortage of radiographers. My radiographer explained that most people have never heard of therapeutic radiography as a career option, though it is so rewarding a career and full training offered. Anyone interested can contact their nearest hospital training group.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Chasing Dreams

Our conscious hours are so filled with existing and coping with reality that we ignore the underlying patterns of mind. We read, we converse, we cook, or eat, or watch TV.  We distract ourselves from our own being. Only in dreams do the elements combine in diverse ways to give presence to new thoughts. But for most of us, these thoughts vanish again in the bright glare of living.

Triviality

Alone
now as always
fighting new and menacing demons
wearing their black cloaks
and carrying winter scythes,
Alone
while battling petty minds
sweating stuff that is so small
not even a magnifier could find
its worth.
The subconscious behaves like an abstract mathematical construct. As in mathematics, where the ordinals are abstract concepts when unspecified until we give them specific form, such as two pens or three oranges, so too are our ideas like life or death or love. We can specify specific instances but in our subconscious being they are complete abstractions that can only present themselves to our conscious selves as concrete representations, such as the image of a broken car, or a pen that will not write, or an empty, dark room. This may be death of a life, or death of a relationship, or leaving a home that is loved.

Like the Fourier representation of a waveform, the components seethe in the brain like separate harmonics that can come together to build something new. Our mental knowledge is fragmented into tiny components joined by some algorithm of mind or memory. The elements are almost like coherent or entangled quantum waveforms. It is the conscious expression of them that 'collapses the waveform'.

The artist may seize these elements and recombine them as a new picture, a poem, an architectural construct, or a new mathematical theorem. But their underlying components are mere abstractions, and conscious striving to grab them leaves us but grasping air.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

The ending of a bad year.

The year looks like ending as it's been all through. The company I work for is transferring my project for development in Japan, so I may be redundant before the year's end. And now the main sewerage drain is blocked with a tail back of filthy sludge, so we'll have to call the drain men out.

On only the third day of my radiotherapy treatment, scheduled for 6:30 last night, I was already dreading taking the huge doses of Vitamin B3. Edwin took me to Addenbrooke's, but I was right about the tablets, He had to stop on the way home to let me out, when I was repeatedly sick, and I have spent most of today in bed or shivering in a blanket.

One bright spot was a letter from my grandson, Luke. It is two full pages of beautifully written and interesting items, spelling out his hopes for A-levels and university, and quite unlike what one reads about messaging by today's youth, with their texted emphasis on Emojis and weird abbreviations. The art of letter writing is clearly not dead, and I was hugely moved to get the letter. Now I shall lie back and have another sleep, to gather strength of my next treatment on Monday. Only 17 more to go.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

An Unexpected Treat

Edwin called Ann and me into the sitting room this morning, told us to sit down, and presented us with an envelope. It was a plane ticket to Brussels, with a five-star hotel, for a long weekend at the end of January once my treatments are over. After we had lost our special holiday to the Holy Land at New Year, he has treated us to this trip off his own initiative to make up for it, and give us something to look forward to. We are both touched by such a kind and thoughtful thing,

Last night I phoned an old friend in Luxemburg whom I was at college with. Colin has developed Alzheimer's and now has just been released from hospital with Parkinson's. His wife, another Ann, was showing him round the house, trying to revive a memory of the rooms he has lived in for 40 years. He barely remembered me, so although I had been hoping to visit him, I think it would have been more for me than him. 

Day 2 of the radiotherapy. The Vitamen B3 tablets are having a strange effect, with a sensation of facial tightness like draw strings being pulled about me. But compared to Colin, I think all this must be minimal. He was aware of losing his mind several years ago while still teaching, and realised he could no longer remember his students' names - something he had always prided himself on, and something that caused him to retire early. Perhaps I will be able to see him again next spring.


Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Burn the Witch!

Lining up the lasers
The day began cold, with heavy cloud leaving the sky still dark at 8 o'clock and wet with clinging drizzle. Cancer is like a wicked witch working evil within. And like witches of old, the evil must be burnt out. Let the fire begin!

The first ritual burning began at Addenbrooke's Hospital this morning. I stopped in a lay-by en route, to take the ten vitamin B3 tablets I am instructed to take one hour before the appointed time. Then I am stripped to my underpants to expose my tattoo spots, and laid on a cold steel slab. The oxygen mask is fitted across my face, and the laser guide beams turned on. I am moved and poked to manoeuvre me into position, then everyone leaves and a siren sounds to warn of radiation danger. The machine thuds to life, and cold air from the cooling fans adds to the discomfort. To the sound of loud bleeps, the whole thing begins to turn round me, blasting the bladder from different angles. Opening my eyes is highly disorientating; the optical illusion is so strong that it seems to be me that is rotating, rather than the machine, making me dizzy, certain that the table itself is tilting and will tip me off. So I keep my eyes closed, or stare through the gaps to the ceiling of the room rather than at the machine. Then there is silence, and a voice says "that's all done," and they release me from the straps and let me down.

Many people waiting for this treatment seemed to be alone; it was strange to think we all have cancer in common. But I was so glad that Ann and Edwin had come with me. They steadied me as I left, and gave comfort that I was not alone, and we would get through this together.


Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Perfect Dawn

Too early yet for vapour trails, the sky glows a pure blue robe, soft and dark light until it touches the sharp edge of the waiting day. Venus swings bright, high in the horns of the crescent moon. There is no cloud. A sharp frost, the first of winter, whitens the roofs, covers the earth and crunches underfoot. The trees stand bare against their horizon of flaming red, too early yet for the hiding sun to show. Not a breath of wind shall stir a leaf to fall. It is a perfect dawn.

Bitter Fruit

Before I knew you
I was like a bitter fruit,
old Miss Haversham
biting into lives
I was jealous of,
envied, filled with spite,
felt they did not have the right,
to contentment, companionship
when my cobwebbed room
saw no light, was ever night,
even the mouldy fruit cake
knew the warmth of mice.
But you brought embers,
glowing logs of hope,
made the willow an oak
and the toad beautiful.

The day continued well. We had a great walk with the dogs in Haverhill, which has a glorious park. In the deep shadows, the heavy frost still lay even at midday.  I have completed my tax returns and got them into the accountants  in good time this year, without facing a late fine, and even better the money is ready to pay the demand. Coming out, I met Linda outside her antique shop in Clare, whom we first met when we ran our own unit in the antique warehouse. and Ann's ear rings were ready to collect from the jewellers, repaired after the pin had worn through.

Ann went for lunch and shopping with Mary-Anne, and Edwin went into his University for an assessment  which he proudly told us he had passed with ease and he was now a full PhD student.  so I had a quiet afternoon alone working. Work is still coming in, and I am still able to complete it, so that's good too. Even the Great X sent a text wishing me well for tomorrow. Ah yes - tomorrow I start my bladder burn. But today has been a good day.


Monday, 3 December 2018

Endings

All Shall End

A glass that cannot be drunk from, 
jagged on its rim to rip a mouth.
Wine spilt upon the table.
The pen that will not write.
The boat smashed upon a shore.
The car a wreck to nowhere.
Blood drips on the porch
from a top room 
till the stain spreads.
All shall end.

JHM Dec 2018


The people of my dreams are the people of my youth. Hope is gone and there is no future. I march towards death bravely. But the route is set for me. There are no turnings, no detours I can take. It is a road set without choice or possibilities.

Awake I get on with my life and all is normal with no conscious concern. I laugh, I work, I chatter and I write. But the dreams seem to tell it all, and I write a poem of nightmare dreams. Each Christmas, each New Year, is counted on an abacus whose beads rattle away the years. My deeper mind teems with a storm that will not abate and of which, awake, I am unaware.



Sunday, 2 December 2018

Watching Middlesbrough

I have finally succumbed. Villa and Boro are two of the oldest clubs in the league, but unlike Villa, Boro have never won a major tournament. Middlesbrough is one of those places that never quite seems to succeed. It is often drawn as the epitome of the North: poor, drug-ridden, with high unemployment, and teenage pregnancies. Having lived there, I know a better side to the town, and from loyalty to my Middlesbrough children, I still support the Boro, if only from a distance. So Middlesbrough gets my cheer when they do well.

Boro vs. Villa
Ann in Aston Villa goal
In contrast, Ann grew up in Birmingham. She supported Villa, went to many of their matches, and actually played for Aston Villa ladies' team. When Tommy Docherty, "The Doc", told her she could play for his team anytime she liked, it was still a complement rather than a feminist insult.

Last night, Villa were playing Boro, and the match was being screened by Sky Sport, so I have finally succumbed. To the prompting of my son, Ben, I paid £8 for a day's pass to Sky Sports channels to watch this match with Ann. I anticipated each of us cheering like mad, to support our opposite numbers. Unfortunately, there was not much to watch - certainly not much to cheer about, not if you are a Boro fan. Villa completely outclassed and outplayed them, winning by an easy 3-0. I sat in glum silence as the goals piled up, but Ann is a good sport and didn't openly gloat, although I could see in her eye she was well pleased. Poor old Boro! Perhaps next time...

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Meeting Sylvia

Two days ago, I had a meeting at the Holborn office of the company I work for, staying at a hotel in Stratford.  Ann came with me, to meet up with a friend she has not seen for some time. Sylvia is tiny, but a wonderful, vivacious lady who came into our lives when she was tutoring Edwin for his A-levels. She habitually dresses in black, and is even more intolerant of gluten than Ann. Food allergies are serious, and she is wise to take them seriously for there have been several incidents recently of people dying from incorrect labeling. We met for lunch in Jamie's, where she quizzed the waiter at length to make sure the pasta really was as gluten free as it boasted on the menu.
Ann and Sylvia meet in Jamie's, Stratford
Her son-in-law has cancer of the face, discovered by chance by the dentist who noticed a small ulcer. He had to have the side of his face, one eye, and some of his jaw excised. He is now having radiotherapy to the area, and will have to go into hospital to be tube fed during the last treatments, as he will be unable to swallow. Sylvia is struggling to support her daughter and grandson through it all. It rather puts my radiotherapy into perspective; the worst I anticipate having is being unable to wee.

Going home, there had been an accident on the M11 which was closed below Stansted. The information suggested it wouldn't be cleared for two hours, and the queues were unbelievable as everyone tried to divert off at the M25. We attempted an alternative route, but it took over four hours for a journey of normally one hour. I especially feel sorry for those trying to catch a flight out of Stansted, or a train from London. How can one person's thoughtless stupidity cause so much havoc to so many tens of thousands of people?  One blessing of autonomous cars should be a freedom from this type of accident. I do not even know if the driver lived, but when they do, those drivers who cause major delays through their selfishness should be automatically imprisoned.

I am listening to Schubert's string quartet No. 14 as I write this, the Andante con moto section of "Death and the Maiden". The tonal changes are breathtakingly moving, and lift one to another dimension. How can one person bring such wonder into the world? This too seems to put our problems into perspective.

Most of us achieve so little with the lives we have, whereas one person can change the lives of thousands, for ill or good. For most of us, the changes we make in the world are tiny, but whether we strive to bring poison or platter to the world is a choice we must all make.