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Like Jonathan Richman, I’m in love with the modern world. I may not be driving around Massachusetts these days, but I’ve got my radio on. Only it’s radiotherapy. I started last Monday. Every day for two weeks they clamp my head into my own personal mask and put my brain in a microwave. Or the equivalent of, let’s not quibble over frequencies. Maybe I can smell burning. It’s actually not at all painful but it leaves me a bit more dizzy than usual, and these days I am Normal Dizzy the great jazz musician at the best of times.

So, slow me down. Let me build a garden which is a haven of peace and quiet beauty. And live in it a life full of respair where despair is repaired by hope, or at least calm acceptance.

But please don’t confuse me for some apolitical moron on a path to personal discovery and heightened spirituality. I still spit with indignation at mindless repeats of old history, where right-wing bigots use the misfortunes of “destitute foreigners” to advance their own interests. I snort with incredulity that anyone can believe that the Tory agenda for the NHS does not involve causing it irreparable harm. I laugh at ex-Army types who talk about “terrorist sympathizers” but clearly have never had a serious conversation with someone jailed for planting a bomb.

Maybe I’m just more aware of the passage of time. The average human lifespan in the UK is 972 months and we sleep for 324 of those. My current personal target is to have stayed alive for 720 months. Maybe I’m aware that a high probability of early mortality was once common with World War 1, Spanish flu, etc. Maybe I see the things around me with sharper acuity.

My English teacher at the Irish seminarian school was straight out of Chaucer – a short, billiard ball of a man rigged out as a priest in his black robes. He was an 8 ball. Round glasses in a moon face on a round head attached to his round body. ‘Cream buns’ was his nickname. If we only had a bit more culture in us we could have called him ‘Skoleboller’ (‘school buns’), which are Norwegian cream buns.

He tried as teachers will do to instill some love of literature in the unwashed sons of farmers and small town solicitors. “Boys, shur ye’ll like this one, he was only a youngfella like yersels”. He was talking about Francis Ledwidge (1887–1917). The centenary of his death will be on 31 July. Ledwidge was a war poet. He survived the battle of Arras (where the English poet Edward Thomas was killed), only to die at the next one in Ypres.

The poem that the portly priest was praising prolifically is called June. It begins:

Broom out the floor now, lay the fender by,
And plant this bee-sucked bough of woodbine there,
And let the window down.

I didn’t have much time for the pastoral in those days, but it was so easy to visualise that country cottage that I was a little bit impressed. A woodbine is the folk term for honeysuckle, in case you didn’t know. The Victorians didn’t like young girls bringing honeysuckle into the house because the smell of the flowers was believed to cause erotic dreams.

You could maybe pair it with a little bit of Seamus Heaney:

Were we not made for summer, shade and coolness
And gazing through an open door at sunlight?
For paradise lost? Is that what I was taught?

Even a shower of rain is good in June. Petrichor is the name for the earthy smell made when rain falls on dry soil. Sara Teasdale (1884-1933) wrote about it:

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

I try to see and hear things better now. Swifts that scythe the summer sky, madly and constantly screaming as they fly. The chuckle-cackle cry of a passing jackdaw. The mutually-reassuring chirps of long-tailed tits to the rest of their family group. A good day is spotting a Silver-washed Fritillary butterfly in the garden (and listening to Boris Johnson make a twit of himself on live radio).

Small pleasures.

Starting this year reminded me of that alleged (as in very probably made-up) quote from the diary of Tsar Nicholas II : “The year 1916 was cursed; 1917 will surely be better”. By March 1917, he’d abdicated and his family were imprisoned.

2017 didn’t start so well. I was going inwards on myself, fighting infections. A’s bike accident left her temporarily immobilized, unable to move from the sofa bed we had to prepare. It was becoming a small world with very little in it. I took to reading Harriet Martineau, the Victorian essayist and proto-feminist, who was very ill with a uterine tumor and spent five years from 1840 confined to her sick room. She wrote “Life in the Sickroom” as a sort of manual for invalids and their carers. As she said: “When an invalid is under sentence of disease for life, it becomes a duty of first-rate importance to select a proper place of abode.” Get it right, and the whole thing can be quite pleasant: “it is a comfortable season, if it may but last, when one’s friends have ceased to hope unreasonably, and not grown tired of despairing.” Those she charmingly called “the friends of my brighter days.

The only problem for us was that we were two invalids, and it was tricky trying to switch between the roles of the caring Housekeeper and the failing Invalid. I suppose it didn’t matter that much in the end. After all, as Harriet says: “how unavailing is luxury when the body is distressed and the spirit faint.” Sickness applies a filter that makes sensation less bearable. It’s like Sylvia Plath in her white-walled hospital when she is given a bouquet of red flowers: “The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here. Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.

I have ignored Harriet’s other piece of advice: “There is no point of which I am more sure than that it is unwise in sick people to keep a diary.” She advised this as she was herself keeping a diary, as a sick person. Where did that reputation for Victorian hypocrisy come from? I suppose we can’t be too smug. We look on death in the same way that the Victorians looked upon sex.

Harriet recovered (the tumor probably moved to a less painful spot) and went to live in the Lake District. She was a changed woman, post-illness, and took to describing the local scenery in magnitude rather than the sick room in miniature. She entertained, and each guest was encouraged to plant two trees in the grounds. Her visitors included Elizabeth Gaskell, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Charlotte Bronte.

I too wanted that post-illness release. Peter Wildeblood was a gay man trapped by the same laws that did for Oscar Wilde. He fought back with a book published in 1955 that is often credited with changing the law. When he was released from prison he took off for a quiet life in the Canadian wilderness. There is a line in his 1999 obituary that resonates: “Here he cooked oriental meals, created a minute garden of exotic plants to attract hummingbirds, and photographed an amiable raccoon, which liked to sit in the branches of a pear tree.” That is what I craved most – an amiable racoon. Or, perhaps even just a sanguine squirrel. The other bits sound OK too.

But we came through our small-world existence in the sick room. Taking inspiration from those fine Victorians we discovered that one could simply scribble an order and then an errand boy from J.Sainsbury, the village grocer, would come tootling along with our victuals and other provisions. What a step forward in human progress!

A lot has happened since my last post. Nothing has happened since my last post. I live in a Beckettian world now. I feel like I have a lot to say, but nothing at all to report.

So, I saw Oncology on November 21. The purpose of the meeting was to review the results of a CT scan done November 15 and agree next steps avec Mon OncDoc. The waiting area was the usual gloom-ridden pit of human despair and misery. You can always tell the newcomers because they clutch the shiny blue plastic wallet they give you for your little bits and pieces. After a few weeks you have enough paper to fill many over, so it gets dumped at home. There must be a lot of sweaty palms placed on those blue wallets, and you’d like to share some experience with the clutchers. But, think about starting a conversation about your life with your fellow passengers on the London Underground. Now, double the cringe. It’s a private, silent world in the Oncology waiting area.

They were running quite late, but nothing unusual in that and I budget many hours more than it should require anyway. It was about an hour late when I got the call to one of the little rooms backstage that they use for consultations. They asked if it was OK if this nurse and that nurse sat in to listen. Fine, I muttered, but where is me consultant? Ce n’est pas Mon OncDoc. It was the same doctor I met after my infection episode. They let me out on a Saturday provided I came back on the Monday to review my blood results. I got there on the Monday, but the blood results were not back from the lab. A wasted journey for a tired body.

Now, today here she is starting our little chat with the news that the CT scan results are not back yet. I felt sorry for her. She must be the doctor in sole charge of late and missing information, the fact of which has to be communicated to the patient. I’m sure her actual job title is snappier than that, but she needs to take a hard look at the delegated jobs she is getting from Mon OncDoc. She was willing to have a go, and we could have a little hypothetical talk about might be, and what could become. I explained that, after all these tests, I could probably guess the results within a reasonable degree of accuracy. This meeting, I said, is more about the continuation of my care plan review with one who knows the history, and to obtain answers to certain questions about treatment options. So, I asked to be returned to the waiting area and recalled when Mon OncDoc was available, no matter how long that took. Not the best thing they’d heard that day, but my request was granted. Quite stressful, nevertheless.

When I finally did see Mon OncDoc, I said I was disappointed that the results were late but no matter, here is my guess at what they were likely to be. We crossed swords on some of my terminology (he didn’t agree that the tumours in my pelvic area were “rampant”, for example). But I pressed on. What I really want, I said, are answers to three questions. One, should I be more concerned about the recurrence of tumours in my pelvis rather than the secondary metastases in my lungs? (Subtext: is primary cancer location more fearsome than secondary?). He told me that the lung tumours were the priority. I’m sad to say he resorted to the war metaphor to explain why :-). Two, if in 2009 the preferred plan was surgical removal of the colorectal tumours, why not do another resection down there now? He said no-one would ever agree to that. He didn’t spell it out, but I’m pretty sure the cost/risk of surgery is out-weighed by any benefits to a patient with multiple site malignancies.

So, question three, given your answer to question two. What about this drug “Lonsurf” that I’m reading about in the Bowel cancer forums? It’s a third line treatment. I tick all the boxes. Would you consider it for me? He cogitated, but said “yes” reasonably quickly. He expressed his doubts about the drug efficacy, but thought it worth trying. Now, a “yes” means that he will submit an application. This is one of those drugs that are not cheap, and NICE needs to approve each case. I would come back on December 12 to hear the outcome.

After the drama, it was time for a quiet expedition to Thoracic Park on November 28 for another round of cryotherapy. There is an especially worrying tumour in the left bronchus that could shut down the whole left airway, and that would be the end of the rest of my left lung function. They had a good old go at that, and it was fun to watch the monitor as they ‘looped’ the tumour with what I guess is a very thin wire. Tighten the loop, and whoosh! A proper horrorshow, my droogs, with plenty of the old krovvy on show, if you pony me.

There was still time too for a trip to the Piss Factory. My colorectal specialist nurse fixed me up an appointment with her counterpart in urology. She changed all the pipes for a fresh set. I asked her to tell me the part number for the bags so that I could get my GP to prescribe. But, she went one better and phoned the medical supplies company to register me and arrange it all for home delivery. What a champion!

She wasn’t long on the phone, but what struck me was that here was a medical professional talking *about* me. Usually, we’re talking to each other. In answer to one question, she replied “He has cancer”. This is the weird thing. I sat four feet away and thought: “Do I?” It’s only been eight years for me to get used to the idea. But I was still thinking “Is that true?”

Later the same day I was at a techie event to do with Virtual Reality. I was mainly there because they followed it with a showing of the movie “Notes on Blindness” that I have been desperately trying to see. One of the talks on VR said their big problem was creating and maintaining what they call “Presence”. This is where they design the software and headsets such that your brain accepts the experience as feeling real, even if you’re know you are actually inside a game. For a moment there, in that urology consulting room, I had lost my sense of cancer presence.

But, as Nick Cave says, the tree don’t care what the little bird sings. It’s there. This not The Matrix.

So, this drug Lonsurf, what’s that all about. It’s another of those ‘double whammy’ combinations of two compounds. The first, called TFD, gets into the DNA and kills the cells. The second, called TPI, stops cell re-growth. It’s not a trial drug. It passed all the Phase 3 tests and it proved to be “fairly well tolerated” and “elicited an immune response in some patients”. It’s an oral therapy, so no hanging around for hours hooked up to a drip.  I’ll probably start on 3 cycles of 28 days each.

Why did I ask to do it? Let me borrow the answer to that from another cancer blog: “I got very depressed by the idea that I had to choose between nothing and chemotherapy”. What do I expect from it? For all these ‘wonder drugs’ that ‘cure cancer’, I get the impression there is no impact whatsoever on 80% of the people who take the drug. Of the remainder, 18-19% might get a temporary pause in disease progression, as if the cancer was figuring out this new variable. That leaves 1-2% who are the ‘super achievers’. They get the headlines.

When I say there is no impact on 80% of people, I don’t mean the side effects. There is a 100% chance that everyone will get some of those. The most likely is rapid decline in white blood cell and/or platelet count. Ulcers and skin reactions are also possible. But I’m willing to accept that.

On the subject of miracle drugs, the DeathLit Cafe had a new customer, but unfortunately he was only able to linger for a short while. The journalist AA Gill died only three weeks after dropping off his first dispatch. It was good copy. He had the “full English” of cancers, he wrote, which invited a visceral imagining of tainted kidney and liver pushed across a breakfast plate of foul malignancy. In fact, he had lung cancer that spread to his neck and pancreas. It sounds like it was a pancreatic tumour that finally did for him.

It’s a shame such a talented polemicist had such a short time to hone his experience and get down his insightful views on our very pet topic, Living With Cancer. The more so, because his fame would provide a powerful platform for any opinions that he did get time to share. His opinion was that a drug called Nivolumab would be his life-saver, if only the bad old NHS was not withholding it from him. I’m afraid this is just the optimism of a neophyte. He did in fact get access to the drug, but it made no difference.

The death list from 2016 grew a bit longer. Not a popular year, 2016. And yet, it occurred to me (too late as usual) that it would have been an awfully handy year to die. For decades to come, people could say about me: “Yes I remember the year he went. Same year as Bowie and Leonard Cohen and a bunch of other greats. Not that he was in the same league, of course, but it was the same year”. Btw I put the last bit as a nod to modesty. You don’t have to use that bit if you think it makes the paragraph too long :-).

Still, no use crying over missed hearses.

There is a short list of blogs I read that are written by other cancer (what is the word? – Sufferers, victims, patients, survivors?). You can’t help but read the notes passed to you by other ambulators among the walking dead. One came closer than most for a number of reasons.

She died on Christmas Day. I did not see that coming. The book she wrote in her final months has not even arrived on my doorstep yet, and I had expected many months more of following her blog.

Her book takes its title from a poem by Raymond Carver called “Late Fragment”. For a modern American novelist, Carver was a true working class boy with a story back-lined with a heavy-drinking father and his own alcoholism. He died of lung cancer at the age of 50, in 1988. The poem was written in the final stages of his illness and appears on his gravestone.

And did you get what
    you wanted from this life, even so?
    I did.
    And what did you want?
    To call myself beloved, to feel myself
    beloved on the earth.

To paraphrase another bit of Carver’s writing, this is what we talk about when we talk about death. To try to make sense of the dichotomy between the wonderful life-fullness of still being in this world and the pain and melancholy that lies just beneath. Where human kindness reigns supreme.  Where late December sunsets paint skies of infinitesimal beauty. Where, sometimes, nobody bothers to look.

A few weekends ago I was listening to a website of Indian music ( and especially their Hindi Oldies section. I adore songs from the old B&W Indian movies of the 1950s and 60s. My long-suffering family knows my idea of a perfect take-away evening is to recreate the background music of the restaurant, but usually a bit louder and with less modern (as in bland) songs. You have to find those songs from somewhere.

Then it occurred to me that I didn’t have enough names behind the songs. What I mean is that I wouldn’t be so crass as to watch a BBC documentary about Glam Rock without knowing the difference between David Bowie and The Sweet. Whereas you could have summed up what I knew about Indian music artists into one reference – that indie song by Cornershop called “Brimful of Asha”.

At least I knew the person in reference is Asha Bhosle, who was best known as a playback singer in Hindi cinema. A playback singer makes prerecorded songs for use in the Bollywood movies. The actors or actresses then lip-sync the song lyrics during those wonderful song and/or dance routines that zing with joy or pathos. In fact, “Dhingana” is a  Marathi word that means joy, zeal and frenzy. That sums it up, right enough.

Playback singers worked really hard.  So hard that the Guinness Book of Records (2011) acknowledged Asha Bhosle as the most recorded artist in music history. Ever. She’s done the singing on over a thousand movies.

Now, it turns out (a) that Asha has an older sister, and (b) that many of the songs I like but didn’t know the artist were sung by her. Her name is Lata Mangeshkar, and she was also a playback singer.

But it isn’t all about the singers. Those actresses were eye-catching too. There’s Suchitra Sen for example, an Indian actress who has acted in many Bengali films. Possibly the most surreal plot-line of any of them is “Deep Jweley Jai” (1959). It means “to light a lamp”. She plays a nurse who is working for the R.D. Laing of Indian psychiatry, and many of his cures for patients involve Suchitra forming a personal relationship. With this one guy, for example, who is diagnosed as having an unresolved Oedipal complex, she has to impersonate his mother. But in a more loving sort of way than usual. If all this sounds like a bad porn movie plot, I refer you immediately to the year it was made. It’s as chaste as anything. But it is full of partly-lit and shadowy cinematograhy and she looks stunning in those close-ups. In a word – iconic.

They all look iconic, these singers and actresses.

Most of these women are still alive, and now in their 80s. For myself, I was pleased with my web surfing on that Sunday evening, and knew that I had some great Hindi songs to listen to as well as a better grasp of who was behind the music and the films.

On that same evening of October 28, an Indian woman died in the same hospital where I was born. Savita Halappanavar was 31 years old. It isn’t difficult to do a quick search for the news details. The basics are that she had a miscarriage. Because (allegedly) there was a foetal heartbeat, she was denied a termination. Because her cervix was dilated she suffered septicemia and organ failure led to her death. She seems to have been denied basic Christian charity in a “Catholic country”.

When the pictures of Savita appeared next to the awful news, they too seemed iconic. Just iconic for the wrong reasons.

Many people in Ireland (and the diaspora) were shocked and angry. Personally, I was angry to read that a symposium on maternal healthcare in Dublin a month earlier had concluded that abortion is never medically necessary to save the life of a mother. As you might imagine, the Pro-Life mob had a field day with that. I was also dismayed to see several Labour politicians had voted last April against a Bill on Termination of Pregnancy in Case of Risk to Life of Pregnant Woman because (I can only presume) it was put before Parliament by the other side. You don’t have to read back too far in this blog to know I’m no fan of Sinn Fein either; but what happened to all those campaigns I took part in during the 1970s that were all about the issue, not who had proposed or seconded it?

The symposium in Dublin got some of its scientific respectability from the eminent doctors who spoke there. One of them has worked in Galway for decades. It was sobering to me when I talked about the Savita case with my mother: she reminded me I was a difficult birth (a breech who kept turning back the wrong way, no matter what they did – nothing changes). Without prompting, she tore into the same eminent gynecologist. Her feeling was that he saw women suffering as part of some Divine glory, and that they should endure it. Strong stuff, and coming from a pensioner not some snotty young Leftie.

Maybe I write these stupid posts as a form of catharsis. Maybe it’s to let out the anger of the fuck cancer / why me? But I want to turn back the clock many years and tell immigrants such as Savita and her husband: there’s a reason why so many of us have emigrated from that Island, and it isn’t all to do with economics. Too late now for her.

Have finished reading “The Prague Cemetary” by Umberto Eco.

It’s a tough read, mostly because it’s main character is an anti-hero called Simonini who doesn’t like much apart from fine dining. He’s especially anti-Semetic, and the intensity of anti-Jewish comment never lets up. The storylines concern his exploits working as a forger in the employ of various Secret Service agencies from European countries including France and Russia. The timing of the novel is late 19th Century and it’s leading up to the struggle between imperial powers that was WW1.

The ‘life work’ of this anti-hero is the creation (i.e. forgery) of the infamous “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” which you’ll find even today quoted as a real document on far Right websites propagating the myth of Jewish dominance and emergence of a new world order. In the words of Rabbi Joseph Teluskin, “Thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands, of Jews have died because of this infamous forgery.” I think he may still be under-estimating it, so if you ever need an example of a dangerous book, this one will meet the criteria. It was a favourite book of Adolf Hitler’s, so this is also a backdrop to WW2, the Holocaust and the Final Solution. The title is taken from the ‘fact’ that these protocols are a record from a meeting of Rabbis in the Jewish Cemetary in Prague. The Rabbis discuss how they will corrupt Gentile society and culture for the benefit of Jewry and Zionism.

Eco finishes with a message that “they” are still among us. Given the deeds of far-right maniacs in Norway (for example), he isn’t wrong.

Most of what comes from the mouth of Simonini  is pure vitriol. The beginnings of conspiracy theories start with an actual book published by a French Jesuit named Abbé Augustin Barruel who reckoned that Philosophers, Freemasons and the Illuminati were plotting the overthrow of all European heads of state and religions. Of course, at the time  there were actually Jacobins behind the French Revolution and other radical movements, so like in any good conspiracy the seed was watered and fed. You might laugh, but when I was passing through religious-taught schools in 1970s Ireland, there was still a deep and vocal distrust of Freemasons and Communists  among the priests (Orwell’s “1984” proved it all, you see). Later I became aware of the existence of Catholic Secret Societies such as Opus Dei.

Life is really stranger than fiction. One quotation I’d hear from communists during my student days was that people would never be free until “the last of the kings was strangled by the guts of the last priest”. This is actually a quote from Jean Meslier, a 17th century Catholic priest of 40 years service who (it turned out upon his death) wrote the first book recommending Atheism as a philosophy.

It’s a bit of a jump, but the attribution by footnotes style of the opening chapters of The Prague Cemetary put me in mind of Brian O’Nolan (writing as Flann O’Brien) in “The Third Policeman”; and especially the way he uses the fictional polymath of the de Selby character. These footnotes ramble on, appearing to provide an anchor to the increasingly surreal elements of the main book, but in reality doing nothing of the sort. Just like conspiracy theories…

It’s a very 19th Century device. By using it so well Eco shows that he understands how novels are constructed, and in his time Brian O’Nolan had the same ability. There’s one wonderful example where he starts a footnote on one page and finishes it eight pages later having completely wandered off the original topic. A genius.

Another infamous anti-hero is that of Jean Des Essientes who appears in “A rebours” (“Against the Grain”or “Wrong Way”), a novel by Joris-Karl Huysmans. It was written in 1884. It’s said to be the “poisonous” novel that Oscar Wilde references as the one that corrupts his character, Dorian Gray, and leads to his downfall. The book was cited during Oscar’s trial by the prosecution as evidence of sodomite leanings. The Des Essientes character has also tired of life, and seeks solace in the sensual. It’s the book where he covers his tortoise in jewels, leading to the allegorical death of the unfortunate creature. One of his few remaining pleasures is Gastronomy, and that reappears with Eco’s Simonini. I like the story where Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley went on a sort of pilgrimage to meet Huysmans in Paris, only to find that he had become a Trappist monk who refused to meet them and encouraged them instead to abandon their wicked decadent ways. Beardsley must have took him seriously – he later converted to Catholicism and wanted to burn his erotic drawings before he died.

What links Huysmans, Brian O’Nolan and Umberto Eco is they all possess an encyclopediac knowledge that they can unleash upon their novels. It’s as if they have rummaged in a library of classic texts until every word was jumbled up inside them in a seemingly useless mess. O’Nolan and Huysmans also shared the dubious distincton of working as bored Civil Servants in Dublin and Paris respectively, but as far as I know Eco has only ever been forced to become an Academic.

Nothing surreal happens in my life. However, I did return from my holiday in Ireland to find two letters waiting. The first was from the President of Ireland wishing me a recovery from my Cancer (sincere thanks, Michael D, it lifted my spirits big time). The second was from the British Army containing a medal for my voluntary service. Before the big bad bogeyman (aka Gerry Adams) gets the wrong idea, I’d like to put it on record that I have never served the British Crown nor furthered her interests (apart from paying tax, like). Like John Lennon before me, I’ll be returning the medal.

Given the brouhaha I raised when I found out that I probably couldn’t make it to the Cambridge 39th Beer Festival, it’s only proper that I tell you that I did in fact go last night. My budget was 1.5 hours and no more than 3 or 4 half pints.

It was great walking past the long queues and going straight in as a Camra member. Highly recommended.

For openers I wasn’t overly impressed with the “Wild Swan” (Thornbridge Brewery, Bakewell) which is a white gold beer at 3.5% with aromas of bitter lemon and a hint of herbs. Yes, it was refreshing but it was nothing special. Should have gone for their “Sequoia” instead, with its promise of citrus and pine with hints of roasted hazelnut, toffee and caramel malt flavours. But alas it has now sold out.

Very drinkable was the half-pint of “Brassed Off” (Spire, Chesterfield) which is a good solid amber ale at 3.7%. Nothing too dramatic in the tasting, just a well-balanced smooth bitter. I tried “Bruins Ruin” (Beartown, Congleton), a 5% ale. It was like the “Brassed Off” in many ways but with a bit more character – a bit more fruitiness going on.

Beer of the evening for me was “Jubilee Ale” (Bullmastiff, Cardiff), a 5% amber ale that promised a mix of biscuit sweetness (think digestives rather than custard cremes) and dark fruit. But the standout taste for me was the caramel or toffee flavour. Great aroma, excellent taste and very nice follow-through. I could see this one being a source of pleasure for maybe 2 or 3 pints before the taste overkill occurred.

The sun shone and we found some comfortable chairs outside in the sunshine. The company was genial and the conversation sparkled. There were as many untried and promising beers as there were tried ones. Might be worthwhile doing this recovery malarkey and staying on in this cruel old world after all 😉

In my last post we were riffing on the First World War poets and Edward Thomas in particular.

In this one we’ll quote a better known one – Wilfred Owen – mainly because I want to use the word “Futility” and that’s the title of one of his best and my most favourite poem ever.

Move him into the sun –
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.

But I’ll tell you what’s truly futile, my young chum.

Futile is when you have a stroke of genius that this year you won’t end up queuing for an hour to get into the Cambridge Beer Festival to be held on the Jesus Green in the merry month of May. Starting on Monday 21st, to be precise. So, you decide to join CAMRA and take out a year’s membership.

Futile is when you see that James Yorkston is playing Cambridge in the same week (Weds 23) and you think “how many times am I going to want to go to the beer anyway and surely one night off will be good for me”. And so you buy a ticket for that. Well, two tickets actually.

Futile is when you then pop along to the hospital for a pre-admission clinic thinking it will be all very routine and they’ll tell you stuff you already know just so you’ll be ready for when you go in at the end of May or early June.

Futile is when they tell you that, actually, they have you down for a provisional entry date on Sunday May 13th for an operation on Monday May 14th.

That’s what yer feckin’ beer membership card and yer feckin’ gig ticket is good for now, clever boyo. You get to lie in a hospital bed lookin’ at the feckin’ futile yokes.

They say I’ll probably be in hospital for a week so technically speaking I might be out in time. But I can’t see really myself drinking pints of beer in a tent with big slits in me and maybe a tube or two hanging out. Them weird beardy fellas that you always find there would be standing behind me waiting for the great beer dispenser on two legs to replenish their tankards. They always bring their own pewter tankards, in my experience.


In hospital I will be having a Metastatectomy which is the removal (resection) of the lumps (metastases). There is one lump on the left side which is now grown up to 1.2cm, and it’s located in the centre of the lung. The surgeon will do a Thoracotomy which is a cut from under the shoulderblade on my back, around the side and to just under the breast. They then spread apart the ribs with a retractor, also known as “rib spreaders”. This is as wonderfully manual as it sounds. If I were them I’d bring some BBQ sloppin’ sauce for the ultimate rib experience. The surgeon then apparently has an excellent view of the inside of the chest. Because of the location of the lump. I’ll lose a portion of my left lung when they cut out the tumour.

There are also two nodules on my right lung, but these are smaller and located on the outside edge of the lung. In this case they do a wedge cut which is like a V shape slice from the side of the lung. I will need a similar cut for this but on the other side naturally. Mmm, ribs and wedges. It’s like a night out at the greasy spoon diner.

The lungs (unlike the liver) won’t grow back but I’m told they are like wet sponges and so they expand to fill the space.

Originally I thought they might do the two on the same operation but there are sound reasons why that is a really dumb idea so I will it done in two operations – first the Left and six or so weeks later, the Right.

Today I’ve been telling people connected with work that I won’t be able to keep my comittments this summer. All have been very good about it.

Yesterday I planted out the tomato plants for the summer. It’s a bit early to do it as the nights are still cool but time is marching on now and soon I won’t be able to bend or lift things again, at least for a few months. I will instead have to sit in the garden with a carafe of chilled white wine or a gin and tonic. You are obliged to feel sorry for me. I’m a cancer victim after all 😉

The bittersweet of human life is always expressed by weddings and funerals. Mark one up, take one down.

The sweet part was a trip to Liverpool to attend a fantastic wedding. While there we made a visit to the Tate Liverpool which has an eclectic collection of (mainly) sculpture on show. I like the way that people famous for something else are asked to co-curate exhibitions. At the time we were there that included the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy and the hat designer, Philip Treacy. One of my favourite artists, Richard Long, had a piece on show. Art made while walking in landscapes.

The bitter part came in news that a friend from college had died at the early age of 49 from Cancer. He had a varied academic and work life before he went back to our home town in Ireland to pursue his first interest – Theatre. He worked on through his illness to the end because he loved his work. They buried him a week ago, in the Rahoon cemetery I have mentioned before.

From around the time I was first diagnosed with Cancer we’ve made a couple of visits to friends in Devon and to Exmoor in particular. One especially good walk takes you along the bank of the Barle river.

One aspect of walking in a region that is not your home is the comprehension that your feet may never touch that particular spot ever again. On the first visit in particular it was obvious that the river, though now quiet and low, might be a torrent in the wintertime. It seemed anything put in its path might not survive for long. Even something as solid as rock would be swept aside.

So I offer you, with pretension to the max: Devon 2009 – 2011 – Installations on the River Barle

Impermance I (13th April, 2009)

Impermance II (14th April, 2009)

Impermance III (24th July, 2011)

It’s the anniversary of my dad’s death this week, 17 years ago now.

Bows – It’ll be half time in England soon

For me to get to see a live Arsenal football match when I was a kid took a lot of planets aligning. We’d have to be in London for our summer holidays. It would have to be during the football season. I’d have to get someone to take me.

My dad usually stayed at home in Ireland when we went to the UK, and I don’t know why he was there in August 1971. From the photos of the time everyone was well so it wasn’t for a funeral or something like that.

I managed to convince him to take me to Highbury for the first time to see Arsenal vs Stoke City on the 28th August 1971. There’s no need to say it was a 3pm kickoff because on a Saturday back then they all were. There was a *lot* of opposition to the idea from my mother and grandmother – in fairness this was at the height of the football boot boy era, but he stuck with it.

We ended up in the Clock End. We were a bit early (like about an hour) because we didn’t know the form. He decided that about 1/2 way down the terrace would be a good spot to see the action. Of course all these beered-up men descended on the place at 2:58pm and I was suddenly looking at the backs of people. So it was up onto one of the crowd barriers for me, hoisted up by the adult men around me like that old stereotype of football times past.

I remember the game was a frustrating one for Arsenal. The dastardly villian was the referee and it the was the first time I’d heard the chants pondering who indeed is that person dressed in black clothing and favourably inclined towards sexual self-gratification? When that line of inquiry failed them they resorted to the more direct assertion that the referee lacked parentage of the married variety.

It didn’t go well. Arsenal lost the game 0-1. It was iirc John Ritchie who broke my boyish heart, but I sort of forgive him now. It was the year Arsenal were defending their champions title and they went on to only finish 5th. I think that was the year when Brian Clough’s Derby beat Don Revie’s Leeds to the title by one point, and there was a fair bit of muttering about match-fixing.

My dad thought it would be safer if we hung back a while after the match and I remember eating a bag of the fattest, hottest, most vinegary chips that ever saw the inside of a deep fat fryer. I got a red satin Arsenal scarf and a white mug with the crest on it – I still have both to this day.