Friday 03 April: Taking Stock

After a good night’s sleep, we have a lovely lie-in, which we both badly needed, with a cup of strong sugary tea and some biscuits. At about eight-thirty, I go to pee. To my horror, the loo’s full of blood from when I got up in the night. I didn’t flush in case more clots had passed, which I’m supposed to report. When I piss now, it looks almost carmine. Horrifying. I have the presence of mind to ask Anna to fetch a glass and we catch the last bit, which I transfer to the washed-out urine-sample bottle I brought back from Chelsea and Westminster. Yuk! Anna phones A and E and they tell us to come straight in. The taxi can’t find our address and I can feel my blood pressure mounting. However when he finally arrives, it’s a very quick journey through the Easter-empty streets.

This time I’m seen by the same doctor, Dave, who assessed me on Wenesday evening. I commiserate with him for getting the Easter shift. He shrugs. He’s off on Monday to do an amateur version of the Paris-Roubaix cycle race, a hundred and one miles, much of it over tracts of cobble-stone. I shudder to think what that would do to my kidney. He commiserates over the diagnosis, reiterating that no-one anticipated it. He assures me that blood when I pee is not overly worrying. But if it comes out between pees then I should come back at once. I ask about the pain-killers which had slipped my mind yesterday. Who knows when the next attack will hit? He nods and sets off, returning with industrial-strength opiated stuff. The packaging alone is so fearsome that I decide to use them only in an emergency. I’ve survived both attacks of pain thus far, so I know I can do so again, so long as their intensity doesn’t increase. How can it? But it’s reassuring to have the drugs in my back-pack.

Since I feel reasonably comfortable, Anna and I decide to go our separate ways. She heads home to take Maddy out to see her nursery friend Rosa and mother Imogen, neighbours at the far end of Lavender Hill, as arranged earlier in the week. I should be going along but I just don’t have the energy; and I neither want to talk about what’s happened to people I don’t know well, or pretend that nothing has. So I phone my only friend in Chelsea, Cansun, an enormously successful seismology engineer, now enjoying the fruits of his career of scientific brilliance (how nice to know someone who started his own firm after university to actually make things and has prospered by it, rather than from shuffling financial instruments around). It’s close to fifty years since we first met at school, where Cansun arrived fresh-faced from his Lycee in Turkey.

As I walk, I ponder the chaos this crisis is bringing. Most immediately, I have to cancel my trip to Israel / Palestine. What a lot of wasted work I’ve put in to arranging it! I’ve booked nearly all of my accommodation and have interviews and meetings arranged for most days there. I particularly regret that I won’t be seeing A.B. Yehoshua, to my mind the greatest living Israeli writer, whose books express the possibility of a far better future for the region than some of his public pronouncements. And also Atallah Mansour, the first Palestinian to write in Hebrew, way back in the 1960s. I’ll also miss Vivian Eden, the translator of the brilliant Palestinian novelist and poet Anton Shammas, who also wrote his one-off masterpiece, Arabesques, in Hebrew. And the possible meeting with David Grossman, still being negotiated, the spokesman of ‘liberal Zionism’ and, to my mind, the second greatest living Israeli author. I wonder what he’ll have to say about the recent Israeli elections and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s rabid racism towards his Arab fellow-citizens.[5] ‘Democracy’ Israeli-style! Imagine if Cameron warned his supporters that ‘the Jews / Muslims / former eastern bloc EU nationals are voting in droves, they’re being bussed in and you must therefore come out to cast your ballots for the ruling party.’

Aside from a number of other publishers, writers, academics, critics and artists, I’d also hoped to get up to the north of Israel for the first time and see the Galilee and the Golan Heights illegally annexed from Syria (another reason to suppress the Southampton conference, no doubt. We don’t want anyone talking about that.) And perhaps to get the first sea-swimming of the year between appointments in Tel Aviv and Haifa. I’d also planned a long week-end back in the Occupied Territories with the lovely Christian Palestinian friends I made last year in Jifna and Aboud, who made my stay so memorable despite the appalling daily oppressions they suffer. There’s no hospitality like Palestinian hospitality, though the Israeli version, at least that of my friends in Tel Aviv, certainly comes close.

The Khourys of Jifna - to exist is to resist
The K***s of Jifna – for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, to exist is to resist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sadly, my trip to Denmark in early May is also off. I’d been invited in my capacity not as an academic, but as the author of the memoir which I mentioned earlier. It’s very flattering to think that The Setting Sun has already made its way across the North Sea. I’d been offered flights and accommodation for three nights in a five-star spa hotel (complete with all the treatments) beside the sea facing Sweden. Just to chat about my book! I was so looking forward to this trip, partly because it seemed like it would be the perfect farewell (and antidote) to the academic conference circuit, which I’ve traversed for more than thirty-five years. Looks like I’ve blown my grand finale!

Stock - or remainders in the bookshop?
Stock – or remainders in the bookshop?

And what does all this imply for retirement? I have five months remaining of my Leverhulme Fellowship. Given what I’ve been told at C and W, I’m likely to be off for about four months. That would only give me August before I’m supposed to leave college. But if they’re right, I’m determined to use August for a proper holiday. Will Goldsmiths now allow me to defer retirement until such time as I can finish off my fellowship? Or are they going to be strict about the agreed retirement date? Funny that I signed on the dotted line just a few days before the testicle attack. And what of my Department’s plans to replace me? Understandably, they’re keen to get on with it on order to have someone in place for September and the new academic year. Cock-ups all round. What do I really want for myself? It’s not clear yet. I know only that I am not going back to work until I’m fully recovered. I’m desperate to continue with my book on Palestine / Israel but not at the expense of my long-term health.

More immediately still, there are the issues of Maddy-care and the extra burden that this will put Anna under. I’m just going to have to do my best and help as much as I can. I’m reluctant to take Maddy on my own for the moment, in case of an attack. Fortunately, Anna’s family have stepped up nobly with many offers of help, as have some of our lovely friends, who are all rallying round. I feel very lucky. Regrettable though the situation is, I couldn’t really feel better supported. My friend Carla has emailed from Hanover that if I need a hug, I am just to say so and she will hop on the next plane. It’s just one of many such messages that seem to be arriving by the minute as word spreads.

One such good friend is my old school-mate Cansun, who greets me at his door with a big grin and immediately starts to tell me that his brother lives with one kidney and it hasn’t prevented him for enjoying a good life these past many years. We chat about the prognosis and he assures me that these days an operation to have a kidney out is routine. He makes a delicious light lunch before offering to drive me home. Perhaps I’m showing more exhausted than I realise. Anyway, it’s fun to get into a Maserati for the first time in my life and hear it roar across the Thames and down Albert Bridge Road. When we arrive, he presses me to tell him if there’s anything he can do. But I can’t think of anything for the moment.

Cansun Guralp, Seismologist Extraordinaire
Cansun Guralp, Seismologist Extraordinaire

I’m properly on my own for the first time since I got the bad news. To my surprise, I feel very calm and optimistic. I respond to some of the many messages I’m getting but soon I feel utterly weary. I have to lie down and snooze. Placing the pain-killers within easy reach, I drift off into a troubled doze.

I wake up feeling quite refreshed, however, and set off to Anna’s for the night. They’re back from their visit to Rosa which went so well that another meet-up has been planned for next week to go to the fair. My little girl tells me her first ever ‘proper’ joke.

‘Daddy, what do you get if you cross a kangaroo with a sheep?’

I repress my knowledge of the faded gags of a hundred Christmas crackers. ‘What, darling?’

She’s already in fits of giggles and can hardly get the answer out. ‘A woolly jumper, daddy!’ she chortles.

She’s such a tonic. Whenever she sees me looking glum, she always enjoins: ‘Laugh, daddy, laugh!’

It rarely fails. There’s no need now. Every time she giggles again, I join in.

Later, as she’s cleaning her teeth, she prematurely swallows her tooth-paste, a habit we’re trying to wean her out of.

‘It wasn’t me, mummy,’ she assures Anna, ‘it was my naughty shadow.’

‘Naughty shadow?’ I query, mock-solemnly.

‘Yes, daddy, whenever I’m naughty, it’s not me, you see, it’s my naughty shadow,’ she explains in all seriousness.

Bed-time’s always been one of my favourite fatherly experiences. I usually get to read the last story, after Anna’s finished hers, then Maddy asks me to tell her one of mine. A particularly nice development is that in recent weeks she wants to join in and co-narrate. The last fortnight, it’s generally been either the further adventures of characters from Toy Story (Maddy particularly identifies with Jesse, the cow-girl from the mid-West, whom she does in a better American accent than I can manage) or from Frozen, the last year’s biggest Disney hit. Tonight we continue the adventures of the three fox-cubs which Queen Elsa has lately rescued from the forest and taken home to look after in her Ice-Palace. Maddy contributes a very detailed description of their accommodation, a wooden shed built by Kristoff on the veranda outside the ice doors to Elsa’s bed-room. Soon enough the huge wondering china-grey-blue eyes begin to glaze. She wraps her hand round my little finger and after a few flickers of the eye-lids and a last check that all her ‘people’ (dollies) are also tucked under the duvet, she’s off. Tonight, the whole performance feels particularly poignant. The three fox cubs need looking after because they’ve lost their parents.

Later, before we go to bed, Anna and I review the day and its developments. We’ve made a pact to be as optimistic as we can and to shield Maddy for the moment from any upset. We begin to talk about the longer-term symptoms leading up to the testicle attack. Now we’re in review mode, we kick ourselves for not joining up some of the dots. I think I was blind to them because in mid-July last year, I had a series of blood-tests checking, amongst other things, for the proteins associated with prostate cancer. Since a couple of my friends had fallen prey to this in the last eighteen months or so, I’d decided to get tested. Lots of other things were checked at the same time (I must ask my G.P. if renal function was included) and the report came back giving me a completely clean bill of health. Mr Fit and Healthy could happily carry on his way…

Looking back now, perhaps the very first signal that something was wrong came when I returned to France in the second half of August 2014 for a holiday; and to tie up some loose ends from the sale of the house, including the shipment of my remaining possessions out there. As has been my wont for the last seventeen years, since I first discovered the charming, ramshackle market town of St Girons, I was soon at the fabulous outdoor municipal pool. It’s very old-fashioned, thirty metres long, fifteen wide and two deep at the ‘shallow’ end. But the water’s crystal clear – I think they use ozone – and it’s less and less used now that so many people have their own pools at home. Consequently, it’s a great place for lengths. Previous to last summer, I would start with 30-35 lengths of crawl at the beginning of the holiday, which quickly built up to 55-60 by the end. Last August, however, I was running out of puff at 35. I just couldn’t manage any more. I attributed it to not having done enough exercise over the previous winter (though I did plenty) and perhaps the fact that I was on my way to 62. I didn’t take further notice beyond promising myself to get into better condition before my next visit.

In the autumn, I accompanied Anna and Maddy for part of their trip to New Orleans, where Anna had a month’s fellowship to pursue ongoing investigations into the cultural and other consequences of Hurricane Katrina. It was a bummer returning in early November to the onset of an English winter and I immediately caught a cold. A series of minor sniffles followed at short intervals. Though I’m not usually afflicted in this way, I attributed it to exposure to Maddy’s nursery, where all the kids give each other stuff which they then pass on to their parents. In hindsight, perhaps it was a sign that my immune system was becoming compromised. Then there were the feelings of tiredness. Having spent my childhood in Africa, I was brought up in a siesta culture and have very often taken a 20-minute nap after lunch, when occasion permits, all these decades since. After Christmas, however, these naps began to turn into sleeps, sometimes lasting the best part of an hour. Despite that, more and more frequently I found myself wanting to start preparing for bed at ten, a good hour earlier than my usual bed-time since Maddy arrived. Again, I attributed this to having a bouncy three-year-old, to winter and, again, perhaps to age.

There were a couple of other odd developments. First, after Christmas, I began to have an aversion to exercise. At the slightest excuse I started skipping Pilates or postponing my trip to the gym. Completely unlike me. As was a new-found aversion to alcohol. I found myself nauseated by the smell, let alone the taste. Happily Anna gave up alcohol in the New Year, so I didn’t get tested often. Then, having enjoyed perfect circulation all my life, this winter I began for the first time to get cold hands. Indeed, even though it was comparatively mild, I felt the cold keenly and would often catch myself at my desk feeling frozen. In contrast, I began to have night sweats from time to time, nothing serious, which I attributed to having a new, over-warm duvet. Finally, I began to have to get up not once but twice in the night to pee. Given I’d been given the all-clear on the prostate, I didn’t take too much notice and further related my increasing tiredness partly to disrupted sleep patterns. The last thing on my mind was that a tumour might be pressing down on my bladder. So take heed, folks, these are some of the warning signs…

Perhaps I’d have begun to take notice of them earlier, if it wasn’t for the apparent clean bill of health I’d been given last summer. Quite unjustifiably, Anna blames herself for missing these signs. But perhaps most of them didn’t mean anything in themselves. It does raise the question, however, of when this blessed tumour began to take root. Can it really have grown so large since August? Or were my blood tests only looking for certain proteins specific to prostate cancer? Does each cancer have its particular kind? I’m going to have lots of questions for my GP and the surgeons…

[1] See http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/what-is-ttip-and-six-reasons-why-the-answer-should-scare-you-9779688.html

[2] Besides silencing principled academic discussion of Israel, UK Zionist lobbies have, of course, long objected to any discussion of Palestine which doesn’t toe their ideological line. See, for example, http://www.standard.co.uk/news/michael-gove-bars-schools-from-palestinian-literary-festival-6449578.html; and http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/asa-winstanley/jewish-defence-league-uk-extremists-sentenced-assault-palestine-activists

[3] That pro-Zionist voices were included in the conference is proved by this very interesting letter protesting at the cancellation of the conference by a prominent British Zionist academic slated to appear. See http://www.thejc.com/comment-and-debate/columnists/133640/an-own-goal-southampton

[4] Of course, some Israeli historians have (belatedly) begun to document a process long described in Palestinian historiography, though some also claim that the multiple atrocities and systematic ethnic cleansing of 1948 were a price well worth paying for the establishment of a ‘Jewish State.’ See, for example, Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem 1947-49 (Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 1988, revised edition, 1994). If you follow this up, don’t skip his footnotes, which are particularly revealing of the dark side of the process.

[5] See http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2015/03/17/on-israeli-election-day-netanyahu-warns-of-arabs-voting-in-droves/

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