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.


now as always
fighting new and menacing demons
wearing their black cloaks
and carrying winter scythes,
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


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.