Monday-Tuesday 06-07 April: Of Girding, from ‘Loin to Groin’

After breakfast, Anna and I have a discussion about the ‘aesthetics of the blog.’ She’s been reading and commenting on my draft entries as I generate them, in her habitual supportive way. While I’ve really enjoyed the process, and it’s certainly providing a real and useful distraction, it’s also tiring and time-consuming in its own way; and that’s only likely to get more so as the weeks go on. Perhaps, in my inexperience (the only blog I’ve read is hers), I’ve made it too diaristic and tried to cover too much ground. I’ve written 10,000 words in the last few days to try to catch up to the present – a crazy level of output which nonetheless hasn’t got me where I hoped to be. The last thing I want is for it to become a burden.

Anna says she posts something new maybe once a month on hers and she reminds me that if that’s too little for my purposes, nonetheless I don’t have to post every day and I don’t have to be so detailed – unless I want to be. It seems like good advice. At the same time, I want to keep a strong chronological spine to the posts and try to pin down the evolution of events and my reactions to them. So I’m going to try rolling some days up together and see what the results are. This reminds me of the experience of writing the memoir which was published last year. It took quite a while to work out what worked and what didn’t…


So what do these two days bring?


Monday is my mother’s birthday. She died of bone cancer in 1999, having first had breast cancer in the late 1960s, something which she kept to herself for a good many years (I seem to be taking the opposite tack to her!) She lived thirty years after that first attack, so perhaps that’s a good omen for me. But I don’t want to get to 92, surely? It’s not something I’ve ever thought about. Perhaps I do, now I have a family. How nice it would be to play with Maddy’s children. Her generation will on average live to 100, provided climate change, the disappearance of effective anti-biotics, war, pollution, foolish life-style choices and genetics don’t determine otherwise. Let’s hope she doesn’t leave it as late as I did…


When Elliot responded to my memoir, he commented that there was almost nothing about my mother in it, even in the sections of childhood memories of Tanzania. I responded that the book was about my father and my relationship to him; moreover, it was primarily a period of his life before he had even met my mother – India 1938-47. Still his surprise has stayed with me. Perhaps I’m starting to make up for it in this blog.


My mother and I had a difficult relationship after my father died, especially in my teens, which I now attribute to her undiagnosed depression following his death in a plane crash in Tanzania in 1965, when I’d just turned twelve. She was left with his three children to take back to England and begin a new life in a country she hadn’t lived in since 1947, where she barely knew anybody any more. Alongside caring for her own increasingly sick mother, she had to bring the three of us up and get us educated. She’d already lost her first husband in the war and, worse, was pregnant with my oldest brother Patrick (ten years older than me) when he went down with his torpedoed destroyer. It wasn’t until I was an adult, and she had long moved on to New Zealand and then Australia, following my younger brother and her friends from Africa, that I began to appreciate what she’d gone through. Although I made several visits out to see her, especially when she fell ill, it was difficult to sustain our rapprochement across the span of the globe. Now I’m a parent myself, I see even more clearly what she went through to make sure we had as good a start in life as she could manage; and the trials and tribulations which sometimes stubborn and wilful off-spring, who almost always know best, can bring.


Still, alongside somewhat sombre memories, the two days also bring plenty of laughter. My friend Paul calls from France to offer his kidney again.

‘What, you don’t want it? What’s wrong with a French kidney?’

‘It’s not that it’s French, Paul, but think of how much you eat and drink. It would wither up on my abstemious intake.’

‘You calling me fat?’ He’s a big fellow and makes no bones about his passion for food and alcohol.

‘Well, my friend it would take up a lot of room. Probably more than mine, even with the tumour. I can’t be going for a piss every two hours because it’s squashing my bladder.’

Salaud, I insist.’

‘OK, look at it this way, Paul. If you give me yours, then I’ll have two and you’ll only have one. So I’ll have to give you one of mine. That could go on for quite a while.’

He roars. ‘T’es un vrai con. But make sure you get out to France this summer. We still haven’t climbed Mont Valier together, you lazy ****.’

At 3000m, it’s the biggest peak in the vicinity of St Girons. One summer, a while back, Paul claimed he’d been going up and down it every Friday. Oddly enough, as I like to remind him, that never happened while I was there. But I can believe it. Big he may be, but he’s powerful, too. Think Depardieu with a much nicer nose – and personality. Is it something one could do on a single kidney? Definitely worth a try. I have another goal.


Paul with his wife Julie and daughter Rosa, 2014
Paul with his wife Julie and daughter Rosa, 2014











I also get several long phone calls from other friends and visits on successive days from two of them. Debbie is a very talented artist, several of whose valuable paintings hang in my flat on semi-permanent loan. She’s also a yoga teacher and I’m going to ask her for some remedial sessions once all this is behind me. She has an extraordinary gift for empathy which perhaps originates in the fact that she lost her father when she was pretty much the same age as I was when mine was killed. Although it was soon obvious that thee was no going back once we broke up, we’ve remained very close friends since and always looked out for each other in times of strife. To my surprise, she tells me that at her exhibition last November, her son Theo remarked that I looked ill. We go over the signs and signals I mentioned earlier in this blog.

‘I think it was just one of those evenings. As you’ll remember, I’ve always had the capacity to look like shit at times.’

We have a good catch-up about what’s been going on in her life, her family and the relationship she’s been settled in for several years now. Very sweetly, she’s brought a lovely grey velvet hand-bag for Maddy. Our little girl will be delighted. Once I’ve cunningly removed the chocolate eggs inside it, it’ll go perfectly with her new favourite dress, the dark purple Merida outfit. Debbie leaves, entreating me to let her know if there’s anything at all she can do to help.

Deborah Lanyon, painter extraordinaire
Deborah Lanyon, painter extraordinaire








Equally generous is Sally, who turns up on Tuesday. I’ve known her even longer than Debbie, ever since she was a mature student at Roehampton, where I taught before Goldsmiths, in the early 1980s. Quitting her lucrative career as a TV actress (she was Jenna in the cult SF series Blake Seven), she embarked on the quite different path of studying Shakespeare, Jonson and Hegelian theories of tragedy. She also directed some memorable productions in Froebel College’s gorgeous gardens, making – as I often like to remind her – full use of the rhododendron bushes.


She offers to upload a ton of music onto my Ipad and to show me how to use Apple Suite to make simple home movies etc. from the videos I’ve accumulated, in case I get bored over the next few weeks. I admire her tech-savviness. In contrast to most people of our age, she’s not in the slightest fazed by new developments. And I equally admire her adventurousness. She’s just back from a trip to mainland China, on her own, whizzing all over the place by plane, train and bicycle. I particularly enjoy her photos of Chinese breakfasts, which include sizzled scorpions impaled on tooth-picks like spiky satay. An hour or so in her breezy company is a boost and we make arrangements to meet up to do the music.


Sally having fun 2015










Once she’s gone, however, I suddenly feel tense. Tomorrow is the big day, when I’ll find out whether I get the all-clear to simply have the kidney whipped out; or whether the scans taken last Thursday have revealed further problems. I spend some time getting up-to-date with Maddy’s diary. Once I’m up to speed, on the first line of tomorrow’s page, I write: ‘The biggest day of the rest of my life?’


I think it’s good to have these moments of uncertainty, even if it means I feel like a bit more of a yo-yo than I’d like. They’re a kind of inoculation against the shock of potential bad news tomorrow. Anyway, I’m in a very good mood again when I head over to Anna’s on Tuesday evening. Tomorrow morning we’re going to the registry office in Wandsworth to give our notice of intention to marry. We think it’ll be a good distraction from thinking about the phone call we’ve been told to expect from the hospital sometime after 12.30., when the multidisciplinary team of radiologists, surgeons and urology specialists have finished their morning meeting.


Maddy’s on form at the end of her nursery holidays and says she’s looking forward to getting back there in the morning. She loves it at Blundell’s Day-care. She once asked if Anna could find out whether she might be able to get a job there when she’s older. She enthuses about Easter, especially the visit to Clover’s yesterday. She was fascinated by the collection of soft toys apparently abandoned at her step-grandmother’s front door by the neighbouring foxes. It sounds bizarre, but Caroline confirms that these sometimes dismembered objects turn up from time to time and Clover’s decided that, in the absence of other neighbours, it must be foxes. Sounds like a cross between Toy Story 3 and my tale of the three clubs.


Today, Tuesday, Maddy’s been out with Anna, her friend Rosa and cousin Tara to the fair on Clapham Common. She did a couple of rides but one made her a little scared and she settled for watching Rosa, who’s many months older, on some of the more challenging ones. Caution is one of Maddy’s characteristics. We’re still trying to coax her onto her scooter and trike more consistently. Anything which involves balance seems to slightly throw her. Anna looks exhausted by the experience and says she couldn’t have managed without Tara’s help. It’s the combination of heat (nearly 20 degrees this afternoon) and having to carry so much tackle for the little ones – besides her own stuff. Like last night, too, we have something of a repetition of the tantrum over the green beans. But on both occasions, happily, Maddy concedes much sooner, as if acknowledging that my purchase of the ‘requested’ carrots has given her little choice. Once in her mouth, she even seems to enjoy them.


For three days now, I’ve managed to do without a nap after lunch. I feel I’m walking more slowly, however, and I fall asleep instantly each time I get into bed at night. Yet there’s been no sign of another of the dreaded kidney attacks. Urine remains clear and I feel no discomfort at all in the testicle. At moments I feel quite bouncy, even. That’s another thing I must find out. Should I be doing exercise, or continue to avoid it, unlike me as that is?


On Tuesday night, I take up the story of the three fox-cubs and Elsa (last night was Jesse goes to the sea-side to meet ‘Sleep and Beauty,’ Maddy’s name for Sleeping Beauty, which we can’t bear to correct because we find her alternative so cute.) Quite by, I tell Maddy, while they’re out exploring in the forest with Kristoff one day, the fox-clubs stumble across their mother. After lots of huggles and sniggles (Maddy’s words for cuddles), she tells her lost cubs that she scented them at the Ice-Palace but has always been driven away by the resident guardian Ice-monster whenever she approaches. Henceforth Mummy Fox and Elsa will take turns to look after them. Maddy seems to find it a deeply satisfying episode.

‘Perhaps they’ll find their daddy, too, next time?’

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