The saga of the low platelets continues. I probably knew I was on a mission of forlorn hope when I trekked off to Surrey for my latest chemo session last Tuesday. A few days before, my platelet count reached a new personal best – a low of 54. They took the blood sample around 9am, and by 11am the doctor was telling me to pack my bags and leave. It had soared to the dizzy height of 55.

So, that was that. Up at 4:50am and on a 6:15 train so that I could be there by 8:30. Out the door again with a three hour+ journey back home. I had hoped at least to hear the results of my CT scan from that previous week, but they only review those at their 1pm meeting, so the results were not available yet. My parting request was that they should phone me later that day when they knew.

I know the journey from Cambridge to Sutton very well indeed now. It started in the bleak morning darkness of January, and now the mornings shine with the jabbing finger of an April sunrise, the sun still low but now bright. I have two alternative routes out of London, depending on how fast I need to move. My preferred one is St Pancras to Sutton, which rumbles through the South London Hills (Tulse, Herne, Gypsy) that I have not set foot in since the 1980s. On the way back it passes though what used to be the terminus station for the old BedPan line. I remember that Pentonville Road station when it was new and modern. Now it is dilapidated with signs every few yards mandating “Do not alight here”. As if. They should have that as a sign over my hospital bed instead.

I like riding with the commuters. I do not mean to belittle their daily struggles, but I like to feel detached as the man with the death sentence striving to extend his time. We rumble through the City and it feels abandoned to me, even though it is crawling with people. But they are all silent. They bang rocks on their daily lives, trying to catch a fire. But the spark never takes.

My spark is feeble too. But, as Stevie Smith once wrote: “We carry our own wilderness with us”. My spark now is the buzzard that hunts near Baldock. Every trip, she is there hovering over the same field in the same gyratory like it alone knows where the gyres of air are found. She alone knows how to soar and hang; and is always in the right lane to suddenly swoop for a choice rodent or a rotund rabbit. We do not need to mention the earthworms that have to suffice when other prey is scarce.
As the train rumbles back into Cambridge it passes a demolition site. I think it is Homerton College clearing a space for a new conference centre. What caught the eye was a piece of street art / graffiti on a small building. A stone shed. The tag was “Nothing Lasts 4eva”. It seemed like an apt message these past two months as I trundled out or back from cancer treatment. In more ways of meaning than one. I resolved to take a photograph, but I was lazy or underestimated the difficulty of shooting from a moving train. So, I missed a part of the building. Never mind. Next time. But, the next time it was gone. Reduced to just a pile of bricks. It had lived up to its own message. Now I have only an incomplete record of a transient thing.

Transience has always been a bit of an issue. There is for example that graffiti said to be carved into a wall (of an entrance, a bar, or a bedroom, depending on who you read) in Pompeii just as the volcanic ash was settling:

Nihil durare potest tempore perpetuo;
Cum bene sol nituit, redditur oceano,
Decrescit Phoebe, quae modo fuit,
Ventorum feritas saepe fit aura levis.

[“Nothing lasts forever; Once the sun has shone, it returns beneath the sea; The moon which was recently full, wanes; Love’s tempest often becomes a gentle breeze.”]

Apparently it is part of a poem by Catullus, probably written around 85-54 BC. It was discovered in 1913, but in the winter of 1915 there was a spell of very heavy rain and the wall collapsed, taking the message with it. Once again, there you have it.

So, take your portion of the timeshare of experience while you can, for tomorrow you are just the animated dust billowing in the streets of an abandoned city. I will follow my own advice, and make the best of the “controlled ruination” of what I have left.

Oh, and the CT results? It was a brief call. One word – “Stable”.

“I must confess I made a mess of what should be a small success”. From her new album “Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Think”. Apt title.