Wednesday-Thursday 15-16 April: Of fear, Freddie and ‘phoney wars.’

To my surprise and relief, I’ve almost caught up with myself! Here I am writing this ‘post’ on Friday the 17th. The mini-heat wave continues, the weathermen smugly boasting that it’s hotter in London than Athens and Rome as if this is further evidence of Britain’s moral superiority over the rest of Europe. I’ve had a number of positive responses to the blog and feel more confident as a result. Before I can get back to it, there’s correspondence (this is a 55-way debate with everyone on the mailing list I’m on, and there are many others) about what to do in the wake of the Southampton debacle. I urge we should appeal, carry on the fight.

However, a sobering email from Anna’s father, John, reminds us of the perils of continuing down this route. He reminds us of the denouement of a recent case in the Employment Tribunal brought by a Zionist academic against the university union UCU. The man alleged that UCU was guilty of ‘institutional anti-semitism’ by virtue of its deliberations over a boycott of Israeli universities (which never transpired), thereby infringing his rights as a British Jew under the Equality Act (yes, I know the ‘logic’ is difficult to follow.) Despite the advocacy of the highest-profile celebrity British Zionist lawyers, who were engaged on his behalf on a pro bono basis, the judge dismissed every one of the ten claims urged in the suit and reprimanded the claimant both for his “impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means” and for wasting vast amounts of public money in the form of the twenty-three day hearing his suit required (think what that could have been spent on!).

The suit was at times, quite literally laughable, as evidenced by the following passage from the Tribunal judgement:

The Claimant does much of his campaigning through the ‘Academic Friends of Israel’ (‘AFI’), an impressively-presented organisation with a PO Box address, a mission statement and a letterhead showing its patron as the Chief Rabbi and its advisory board as comprising a list of dignitaries including the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Despite appearances, as the Claimant engagingly told us, AFI consists of him, his wife and a computer.[1]

Less amusingly for the claimant, however, he was then pursued for £580,000 costs by UCU, which had had to put up a legal team to match the exalted reputation of their opponents, whom in the event they soundly trounced. John fears similar consequences if conference supporters continue down the legal road and lose. We certainly don’t have the bottomless pockets of the Zionist lobbies and the Israeli government which co-ordinates their activities. Taking his point, I then urge that we host the conference elsewhere, this time inviting the Zionist lobbies to come up with their own representatives on a panel to argue the case that Israel’s behaviour has been historically, and indeed remains, in conformity with international law. Not only will they then not be able to object that the conference is ‘unbalanced’ (not that it ever was, pro-Zionists being present amongst the advertised cast list, as we’ve seen), but we can have a few more good laughs at the Embassy hacks that they will no doubt parade to try to make the case – if they can find the balls. And if they refuse the bait, recognising the own-goals they’ll almost certainly score, they can hardly send along protest groups to an event to which they’ve been warmly invited.

What’s all this got to do with kidney cancer? Probably not a lot, except that according to the Macmillan booklet I’ve been given, anger is a very common reaction to cancer diagnosis. If I’m going to be angry, much better to focus it on certain forms of Zionism than on anything, or anybody, else.

However, Thursday brings new and more unsettling emotions. Overnight I have mild pain in my kidney. It’s nothing serious but enough to keep me awake for a while, anxiously anticipating the possibility of a new attack and wondering if I should take one of the opiated pain-killers in anticipation. It dies away eventually, however, and I drop into uneasy sleep. When I wake, I have a cough and feel like I’m losing my voice. This has happened from time to time, at least since the middle of March when my friend Nick remarked on it when we visited him for a day out in Cambridge. I try to repress the thought that it’s a sign of tumour spread, that a chunk of the wretched thing has broken off, travelled through the renal vein and become lodged in my lungs. I’m also anxious about the news we’re expecting to get from Wandsworth late in the day, telling us which primary school Maddy’s been assigned to for September. Let it be Wix, I pray, please let it be Wix. It’s simply too exhausting to contemplate having to get a massive bureaucracy to change its mind if she hasn’t got either of our first two choices.

I’m off nervously early to C and W for the last and most ominous-sounding test of all, the bone-scan. I arrive early and have time to sip a latte. I feel increasingly at home in the hospital. Having always irrationally dreaded them in the past, I’m very lucky that this is the one closest to where we live. For all the sick people, there’s generally an uplifting atmosphere, even today when my mood’s fragile. It’s light and bright and clean – even the busy loos are kept acceptable. A few other things have made me warm to C and W. First of all, they currently have an exhibition of photos of Palestinian pottery, created through from a collaboration between a school in Gaza and the hospital’s own educational trust. The Gazan pupils scanned and sent their designs and the resulting pieces were made by kids over here. Then they have some marvellous works of British art. My favourite is an acrylic by the great, recently-deceased, Bert Irvin, a fellow-Battersea resident and, to my mind, one of the giants of contemporary British painting. It must be three metres long and another high, a fabulous wash of fluidly-applied colours, through the abstract energy of which one can glimpse something like the form of land- or urban-scape. Apparently Irvin laid the foundations for his technique way back in the 1940s when he did several tours of duty as a bomb-aimer in the RAF, lying flat on his stomach for long periods over landscapes turned into two dimensions by altitude.

The amazing Bert Irvin…

Time for the bone-scan which I’ve been told will take 3-4 hours. I report to the CT suite again where, to my surprise, I’m told to follow the green ceiling lights to the ‘nuclear medicine facility.’ ‘Nuclear medicine?’ What the hell, why wasn’t I warned? But the receptionist’s smile disarms me. When I arrive there, I wait in a little area next to a door marked ‘Gamma Ray Suite.’ From inside come the incongruous sounds of Peppa Pig. Can’t get away from the annoying porker, even here. I guess some poor kid’s been given it to watch to distract her from her treatment. ‘Gamma Rays,’ what are they used for? I guess I’m lucky. Imagine if Maddy had to undergo such things.

Not where you want to be heading...
Not where you want to be heading…

Soon enough a technician appears and takes me into a room where I have to roll up my shirt-sleeve for yet another infusion. The waste bin unnerves me: ‘Hazard: Radioactive Material: Do Not Remove,’ it shouts.

‘I’m not a junkie,’ I reassure him lamely, as he tries to find space amongst all the pock-marks of previous syringes on my inner elbow. ‘What are you putting in this time?’

‘It’s an isotope with a half-life of six hours. You’ll have to wait a couple of hours or so for the stuff to pass through your body and settle in the bones. There it’ll give off the x-rays which make scanning the skeleton marrow possible.’

Why wasn’t I told? Perhaps people wouldn’t come if they thought they were going to end up glowing in the dark.

‘They only show up the inside of the bones,’ he pronounces, as if reading my thoughts. ‘But you must avoid pregnant women and small children for twenty-four hours.’

Why wasn’t I forewarned? There goes the evening I’d planned with Anna and Maddy to celebrate the end of the scans and – we’d hoped – good news from Wandsworth Council. What a total drag.

‘Make sure you drink lots of water.’

I have plenty of time to kill now. Anticipating a break sometime during the treatment, I’ve brought along a baguette. I sit for a while eating it in the central atrium before picking up my book. Such a pleasure to be reading a mid-twentieth century British novel again after so long. Especially as, to my shame, I’ve never read any Patrick Hamilton. He’s one of a number of mid-century British novelists, including Rex Warner, Stella Gibbons and Winifred Holtby, who’ve slipped into undeserved obscurity. I plucked Slaves of Solitude off Anna’s shelves last week and it’s been the perfect companion on my recent hospital visits Though sometimes represented as a somewhat depressing novel about the home front in the 1940s, I find it very funny, spliced with the kind of dark humour which I think exquisitely appropriate for the pettifoggingly selfish provincial people in the blacked-out Britain whom Hamilton anatomises. I think I’ve got problems? Hamilton ended up drinking three bottles of whisky a day!!

Unexpectedly, something very weird happens. I have to put his book down because my hands are shaking. With fear. It comes in a tsunami, carrying everything before it. I have to bow my head in case people around me notice. Just when I can feel a cry of terror rising in my throat, the wave washes back, sucking most of the fear away in its train. The remaining streams and rivulets I can deal with after a few deep breaths. What is going on? This is my first such episode, sudden as the testicle or kidney attack and, its own way, just as disconcerting. I need to rationalise it. I slowly come to the realisation. After this afternoon’s scan, the ‘phoney war’ is over. There’ll be a truce between Friday and Sunday, another limbo period, before the real hostilities commence on Monday afternoon. I’m afraid of the unknown. I can’t take the initiative. I’ll have to sit there and be told what’s up without any proper means to prepare. I remember the advice of Patrick, my oldest brother: ‘Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.’ Something like the Palestinian idea of ‘pessoptimism.’ In any case, like my Christian Arab friends in Jifna, I have to be sumud (steadfast) for Anna and Maddy. But my stomach falls when I remember I won’t be able to see them tonight.

There’s stirring around me. Two young women in what look like Thai silk dresses and with bells round their ankles are setting up an amplifier. They usher a couple of patients out of the space between the benches which soon fill up with curious onlookers. I turn to find a couple of small children clambering onto the seat behind me.

‘Hello, I’m Freddie,’ the older one grins. He’s Maddy’s size

‘Please move them away,’ I urge their startled mother, ‘I’m radioactive.’

She stares for a disbelieving moment before shooing her kids off. Next up’s a heavily pregnant Asian woman. I repeat my warning. Clearly not understanding English, she leans in towards me with a beaming smile as if about to ask if I can repeat. I jump to my feet and take up a place against the wall where no-one can approach from behind. Now she looks at me as if I might be a UKIP supporter.

I’m beginning to feel a bit of a leper by the time the performance begins. A banner unfurls, proclaiming that this is part of a series of Thursday lunch-time events which C and W puts on for all and sundry. However, I’m very quickly hypnotised by the beauty of the dancing. It’s north Indian and the music’s as soothing as I could wish. The women take turns at solos before performing a couple of duets. The woman in blue keeps smiling serenely at me, as if she knows what I’m going through and is dancing specially for me. I know I’m kidding myself but when the performance ends half-an-hour later, I’m ready for the final scan.

The Kathak twirlers
The Kathak twirlers

‘Bit of a cough you’ve got there,’ the new technician comments, not very reassuringly, when I report back to ‘Nuclear Medecine.’ ‘I’ll need you to keep completely still during the scan, so please try to control it.’

He asks me along series of questions to only one of which I answer in the affirmative. Yes. I do have one joint which I think is arthritic. Though perhaps it isn’t any more? I strip off everything with metal in it, double-check my pockets for loose change and lie down. This time there are no weird noises, just the sound of a classical station playing in the background as I’m fed into the tube. Once I’ve been done top-to-toe, I have further scans on my feet and arms. The technician shows me a scan. It’s beautiful, white patches of denser bones and the pale outline of others swimming in liquid darkness.

‘See there?’ the technician asks, pointing to a my forefinger. ‘It’s picked up the arthritis.’

So that’s it. No more tests. Perhaps these technicians will know all the answers I’m after before I get home. I leave C and W and walk into brilliant sunshine. I phone Anna and tell her that I can’t come over. She’s very disappointed, as am I. What to do now? I can’t think what to do, so I just hop on the 345 which takes me straight home. Once there, most of the afternoon still lies ahead. But I’m feeling very flat again. I try to take up the blog; but for the first time I feel tremendous resistance to it. What the hell am I doing this for anyway? Isn’t it just a vanity project, to keep me in people’s thoughts? I can’t be arsed.

A little while later Anna phones again to check in. I tell her about the wave of fear I experienced. She tells me that she, too, has suffered moments of deep anxiety, even panic, but hasn’t told me for fear of worrying me. Talking to her makes me feel much better. I’m in this with someone who loves me, whom I can rely on. When I eventually get back to the computer, I feel better still. There’s a message from Goldsmiths HR saying they’ll support me and be as flexible as they can as long as this lasts. They’re governed by the doctor’s notes I produce, of course, but within those constraints, they’re right on my side. It’s a huge relief, removing one of the nagging anxieties I’ve had for some time now. It looks as if I’ll be able to finish my Leverhulme, after all, once I’m mended. Another reason to fight.

Remotivated, I return to the blog and soon find the usual pleasure of writing washing over me. If I have to be on my own tonight, best make the most of it. There’s an even bigger boost to morale when Anna phones again later, her voice full of colours.

‘Guess what? Maddy’s got into Wix.’

I leave my desk to do a little jig.

[1] For more detail about this symptomatic case of Zionist ‘lawfare’ ( increasingly resorted to when straightforward intimidation or moral blackmail doesn’t work), see

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