I wake up feeling good. ‘Resurrection Day’ brings bright warm sunshine and Maddy’s growing anticipation. For her, this is much the biggest thing since Christmas. We’re expected at Anna’s family in Balham around 12.30, so we pass the morning in making things for the occasion. Anna puts together an Easter bonnet, with lots of adornments, which our little girl looks lovely in. Then Maddy helps me hand-paint the eggs I’ve boiled for the hunt. She loves painting and colouring and I love the concentration on her face as she carefully adds layer on layer of colour to the eggs. She’s becoming increasingly dextrous and sensitive to colour combinations. Between coats, I blast them with Anna’s hair-dryer and the result is a lovely rippling marble effect with a sheen-like varnish. Perhaps there’s a future career for her with Fabergé. Apparently the best-selling text on Amazon at the moment is a colouring book for adults, which is being sold as an antidote to stress. I can well believe it. I’ve been just as absorbed as Maddy in our joint efforts.
We gather our many bags of presents and go down to wait for the taxi. En route, we pass Café Nero and there in the window, reading the paper, is my New Zealand friend Elliot. I feel a pang on his behalf, though I know that he’s probably very happy to be on his own on Easter morning, doing his thing. Maddy gets very excited as we pass the fair on Clapham Common. She’ll be going there on Tuesday with Rosa and Anna.
Before I fell ill, I’d been slightly wary of this event. Anna’s large family and I haven’t always seen wholly eye-to-eye and there’ll be other guests I barely know. Now I’ll have to either talk about my illness in front of strangers or not mention it at all. However, once we arrive, I realise that the crisis has produced the same positive results as it’s done with my brother Lindsay. Any sign of the friction we’ve sometimes been prone to seems to melt away in the genuine warmth of their welcome and I begin to relax. Maddy is a brilliant solvent of any lingering awkwardness. Everyone here adores her and gathers round, admiring her bonnet.
‘Mum, has the Easter Bunny come?’
Hearing Anna always calling her mother Caroline ‘Mum’ when she was younger has convinced Maddy that ‘Mum’ is what she, too, should call her grandmother. I hope I never have to one day pick our little girl up from nursery with Caroline, or tongues might start to wag.
Caroline is an excellent cook and my appetite’s good, though I eat with more moderation than normal. The conversation’s entertaining. There’s discussion of the notes Ed Miliband left behind before the recent televised leaders’ debate, enjoining himself to stay calm, be ‘a happy warrior’ – in short, to be ‘of the right kidney. I’m dismayed. Is that what he’s going to do before meeting people like Putin or Big Business? But his vulnerability also engages me. Behind his occasionally robotic demeanour, Ed is human and humanly awkward. And most of his ideas are sound.
Particular fun is bantering with Anna’s younger sister, Gemma, a pretty aspiring actress who, despite her undoubted talents, is struggling to kick-start her career. Gemma has a new girl-friend, Georgia-May, who was supposed to be coming for Easter lunch, too. However, Georgia-May’s phoned to say that her mother, a hair-dresser in Leeds, has offered her a free colouring for Easter. Hence she’s going to have to catch a later train. Gemma is pretending (I think) to be annoyed. But there’s no doubt she’s more excited than disappointed because at least her new squeeze is still coming. She wants us all to stay until early evening to meet her. She furtively shows me Georgia-May’s picture on her Iphone, carefully shielding it from the others. I feel honoured. Georgia-May’s extremely pretty and I congratulate Gemma on her taste.
‘Can I see the rest of your Grindr account?’ I ask slyly.
Gemma looks appalled. ‘Please! That’s for gay men.’
‘Ok, well your Tinder account then,’ I counter, hazarding a guess.
‘Datch, actually,’ Gemma responds with a smile. ‘And no bloody way.’ It’s an open family secret that she had three dates on the go until settling recently for Georgia.
‘Come on, I promise not to tell Georgia-May.’
‘Isn’t Datch for gay and bi people?’ someone asks.
Gemma nods, a little glumly. ‘Georgia-May’s bi.’
‘In that case, I’ll definitely stay on to meet her,’ I joke.
Maddy, meanwhile, has disappeared from the lunch-table with her cousin Tara, who’s just entered her teens. Despite that, she’s brilliant with Maddy, infinitely patient and willing to play with her; and as a consequence, our little girl adores her. As a range of delicious-looking desserts arrive, she returns, looking resplendent. They’ve found an old drawer of clothes and fished out a bridesmaid’s dress which Anna wore when she was five. It fits Maddy pretty well; and they’ve also found a kind of orange-red lace throw which is now round her shoulders. With her bonnet and a basket to collect whatever the obliging Easter Bunny has deposited round the garden while she was in the other room, she’s gagging to get on with the main business of her day.
Dessert finished, Maddy heads straight out. The goodies haven’t been hidden with any great thoroughness and our little girl whizzes round, hoovering up everything she can find, until her basket’s overflowing. A budding May Queen. I head back indoors quite soon, unwilling to be in the sun too long in my present condition. Anna follows and shows me a photo of herself when she was bridesmaid age. Startlingly pretty, even then; and how much Maddy resembles her – colouring, shape of face, lips, hair. Sometimes people say our little girl looks just like me and they can’t find any of Anna in her. They should see this photo. Other than her brow, and the grey-blue eyes which have skipped a generation down from my father, I can’t see too much Moore-Gilbert in her at the moment.
It’s been a lovely day but I’m getting tired. I find myself slipping into a slightly strange but not uncomfortable state which has overtaken me once or twice these last few days. It’s like being cocooned in a translucent carapace which allows me to enjoy reality but also keeps it at arm’s length. Almost like the state of meditation. I guess the diagnosis still hasn’t properly sunk in.
Before we leave, Tara and Gemma want to do a musical performance for Easter. Tara has got much better on the piano and it’s always a pleasure to listen to Gemma sing. Afterwards, Tara puts Maddy on her knee and gets her to press the keys, following her own fingering. A very passable tune comes out but as if with an echo. I feel we’re witnessing her first musical performance and she’s loving it. Oh dear, I think we have another arty person in the making. All my efforts to get her interested in Lego building blocks and miniature medical equipment, in the vague hope she might become a doctor, an engineer or scientist, could be in vain…
Soon Jonathon, Caroline’s partner, kindly drives Anna and I home. Maddy’s having a sleep-over in Balham before the family heads down to Jonathon’s mother’s place in the country for Easter Monday. Once home, we make fried eggs on toast. I’ve neglected the fridge these last few days. I have to find out about diet. Perhaps my unusually pronounced craving for chocolate over the winter was the tumour making its demands felt? The internet, which I’m trying to avoid as much as possible in terms of managing my illness, for fear of (contradictory) information overload, is predictably inconclusive when Anna searches. Some say avoid sugar and fat, others say it makes no difference.
Despite our pact, we’re both a bit down. This time last week, we didn’t have a care in the world, beyond deciding dates for our summer holiday in France. And now everything’s on hold. Waiting’s the most difficult part. We’re only half-way between last Wednesday and next, when we should know the full truth. I wonder when Goldsmiths will be able to get back with a response to my request to postpone my retirement date in order to go on sick leave and resume my fellowship once I’m fully recovered. There’s nothing to do, we remind ourselves, but keep calm and stay steady. Poor Anna’s very tired. I know this situation’s putting an incredible strain on her, even if she doesn’t complain. She can hardly keep her eyes open as we watch Ajami, a noir Israeli/Palestinian co-production about the dark underbelly of modern Palestinian Jaffa. Despite my resolution to avoid anything to do with my research project for the moment, it’s the only thing I have which neither of us has seen. It reminds me a little of Gomorrah. Beautifully acted, it’s nonetheless incredibly bleak. When Anna finally falls asleep at about half-nine, I’m relieved. I can postpone watching the rest of it to another time – perhaps when I resume my fellowship.