Monday, 20 April: Of Battersea Park, a Setback and Being so Young

I’m back, dear reader! You didn’t think yesterday’s post was the last you’d hear from me? Oh ye of little faith…

The prognosis, strangely, has made me determined to continue the blog. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been so motivated if my surgeon had simply said: ‘OK, kidney out in May, then get on with normal life in July.’ Now the blog seems more than ever a life-line. Perhaps I should call it Life Lines if it ever appears in a different format? Much more appealing than His Autothanatography, by Bart Moore-Gilbert? Writing has been central to my life for so many years now that to give it up would be conceding to the tumour and its treatment. No way for the moment I’m headed back to academic writing to get my fix. Besides, this morning I’ve received a beautiful message from my dear friend Carla in Hanover, which includes the lines:

I just wanted to thank you, your blog is absolutely inspirational. In your last post, you asked your friends to stay positive and strong for you, but I must say, it is you that gives me strength.

Can’t let my public down 🙂

So, I’ve recovered sufficiently from yesterday’s news (I’m writing this on Tuesday 21st), which I so didn’t want to hear, to try to put it into some sort of context. After the apparently good omens of Sunday, I had another, in the form of a wonderful, uninterrupted night’s sleep. No sweats, no grumbling pains, only one trip to the loo and a crystal clear stream. I woke on Monday morning full of beans, somehow convinced that turmeric, wheat-grass and almond milk were already doing the trick. It was such a kicking feeling to get the last but one blog up and be caught up to the present just in time!

My mood then dipped for a moment when I opened an email from Yosefa, informing me that the Zionist lobbies are now going after The Lancet, the world-respected British medical journal, because of its alleged bias in reporting on the medical effects of Israel’s latest war on Gaza, particularly on its children?[1] How can you be ‘biased’ in discussing wounds and trauma caused by white phosphorous bombs, for example, which Israel – in contravention of international law – liberally sprinkled on the captive civilian population its imprisoned in the enclave for nearly fifty years? Or in pointing out the willful and deliberate destruction of Gaza’s pathetic medical infrastructure, including its one mental asylum, with so-called ‘smart’ bombs and shells? When I have the time, I’ve got to follow up this latest outrage and threat to free scientific research.

But I have to leave that to the side for the moment. Today’s for other things. My mood brightens again during a visit from my friend Richard Skinner. We first got to know each other at Goldsmiths, which he joined as one of the creative writing tutors. We got on well from the beginning. What I particularly liked about him was that almost from the off we were able to discuss pretty intimate details of our emotional life in a way I’ve generally only been able to do with the same lack of inhibition in the company of women friends. His great powers of sympathy and empathy have made him a very interesting writer. I was blown away by the technical savvy of his first Faber-published novel, The Red Dancer, a fictionalized rendition of the life of Mata Hari, the legendary World War One spy. Since then, Richard’s written further novels, the most recent being The Mirror, as well as a Handbook for writers, based on his long experience of teaching creative writing, several volumes of poetry and a book of essays. He’s no longer at Goldsmiths, alas, having defected to Faber to direct its Academy, which since his arrival has turned out one new published author after another and several bestsellers. On top of all this he runs a monthly programme of readings for budding writers, entitled Vanguard, which is held in a pub near where he lives in Camberwell.

Richard’s popped over to drop off a couple of c.d.s of music he’s kindly made to keep my morale up. He has wide-ranging and eclectic tastes and I’m really looking forward to hearing them. He’s also brought a copy of his latest book of poems, the fourth thing he’s published already this year! I haven’t read any of his verse and look forward to doing so. I’ve already asked one of the administrative staff at Goldsmiths to raid my office and send me my copies of my volumes of Hardy, Marvell, Yeats and Gerard Manley Hopkins. I look forward Richard alongside my all-time favourites over the next few weeks. No pressure then 🙂

We catch up over a cup of tea, traversing our usual diverse terrain of topics which includes how we’re both feeling physically (Richard’s been in and out of King’s with blood pressure problems), our affective lives, the art(fulness) of blogging, football, literature, the latest establishment paedophile scandal (child abuse seems to be systemic from top to bottom in British life, a real stain on us all for not having taken it seriously for decades) and the forth-coming election. Like Anna, Richard’s lovely partner Jacqueline has signed up to work for Labour. When I complain they’re Tory-lite, he rightly reminds me that that’s better than Tory-heavy and that however corrupt and rotten I think the whole system might be, until the revolution comes, I have to do my duty. Prevent the Tories executing the next phase of their war on the poor and disadvantaged.

Richard with his latest tome!
Richard with his latest tome!

Richard leaves after an hour or so. Whenever we part, I’m left with the feeling that there was still so much more to talk about. However, I’ve got lunch with Anna to look forward to in the other branch of Il Molino on Battersea Park Road. We’ve chosen it because of its proximity to the park, thinking that a leisurely stroll through its spring-time finery will relax us nicely before the big meeting with Mr Khoubehi.

Lunch is fun and Battersea Park at its majestic best. It’s long been my favourite park in London, not just because of its proximity. The Thames flows down one side and it’s astonishingly varied in amenities and topographies. But today we’re here for the blue-bells and blossom – and neither disappoints. In the bright, increasingly warm sunshine, the colours are simply dazzling. I’d have missed all this if I had gone to Palestine / Israel. We spend a good hour strolling slowly round, pausing at the wonderful Peace Pagoda built during the height of the Cold War in the early 1980s, astonished at the abundance and variety of flora. (I’ll spread some pix thru this blog for ‘uplift’ and keep others for for tomorrow’s blog cos I don’t have any illustrations!)

Forsythia on fire...
Forsythia on fire in Battersea Park

We’re anxious not miss the appointment, so we arrive on the Fulham Road ridiculously early and have a drink and a scone in Maison Blanc. No more of this kind of stuff after tomorrow…

Then it’s the Urology department of C and W. The waiting room’s full and there’s a distinctly horrid smell of bowel which makes me pray Mr Khoubehi won’t keep us waiting. He doesn’t. We’re ushered into his consulting room in the company of a senior-looking nurse. Mr Khoubehi’s well-groomed, of middling height, in his forties, with a Middle Eastern complexion. He’s pretty brisk, which suits me, no introductory pleasantries, asking if I’m currently having any symptoms. Then he breaks the bad news I posted yesterday, going over each of the scans in turn. Anna is distraught. I feel I’m keeping keep pretty calm until I realize that my legs won’t let me get up to go over and comfort her properly. The nurse, however, is offering paper hankies and sympathy. Mr Khoubehi continues on his bustling way, discussing the alternatives and reluctantly coughing up an estimate of how much time I’ve got. Despite my legs, I remain calm, unlike when I was first told about the tumor and had to cover my face when he came to see me. It’s not such a shock to me as for poor Anna. Ever since they asked for further CT scans to be done on April 02, followed by the MRI and bone-scans, it’s been pretty clear to me that they’ve had grounds for worry. Perhaps unconsciously, I’ve built in the possibility of bad news even as I’ve continued to try to be as positive as possible. As my brother Patrick advised, ‘hope for the best and prepare for the worst.’

Could it be worse? A couple of things Mr Khoubehi says unnerve me, apart from the revelation that the tumour’s spread into the lymph glands and each lung. First of all he asks if I actually want to have the kidney out. I infer that he might be suggesting there’s perhaps no point now – it’s done the damage and I really don’t have more than the six months he mentioned at the lower end of his reluctant computations. Then he suggests that chemo and radiotherapy won’t work on the lungs, which will be scanned after the operation to check their current state. I may, however, be offered ‘biotherapy,’ he says. ‘May be?’ Biotherapy’s bad enough, but far worse might be inferred if I’m not offered it. Finally, I don’t much like what he says about open surgery. Not only will recovery time be much longer than key-hole, but there’s the risk of infection (the dreaded MSRA) and of damage to the liver, bladder and lungs from the invasive procedures. Sounds like the cure could be worse than the disease …Mr Khoubehi’s tight professional smile relaxes only when we leave his room. ‘Is that an Iranian name?’ I ask, nodding at his identity tag. Finally his eyes warm up. ‘Indeed.’ I suppose he has to say the dread things he’s told us time and time again over a several decades; and he’s consequently developed a manner which will allow him to conserve his emotional energy for the more important duties he has to perform. I appreciate his direct, no-nonsense manner. And have every confidence in his professional skills.

Afterwards, we hang around the hospital, unsure what to do. Anna reminds me that the comment about ‘biotherapy’ may indicate the opposite to what I’ve inferred, that what’s in the lungs may not be a threat for a long time. I cough skeptically. But there’s nothing I can do but wait. Grandma Caroline’s picking up Maddy and Rosa this evening so Anna can be with me. We discuss the implications of the revelations all over again but neither of us is able to add much to what we’ve already rehearsed. So we decide to head home – me to post the news everyone’s been primed for; and Anna to confer as best she can with her mother, out of the little ones’ hearing.

After winter,  spring...
After winter, spring…

I head over to hers in the early evening. Caroline and Maddy’s cousin Tara are still there, but our little girl’s in a terrible strop. ‘Mum’ has plaited her hair ‘wrong.’ It’s Friday night’s behaviour all over again. I wonder where this run of tantrums is coming from. Has Maddy intuited something’s wrong, despite our best efforts to protect her? She’s a little animal as well as a little human, after all. Certainly her routine’s changed significantly recently and we no longer spend time together on our own as we used to do. I’m still too nervous about the possibility of an attack while I’m out with her. Perhaps I just have to pluck up courage and try picking her up from nursery as a first step.

Like a summer storm, Maddy’s mood passes quickly enough. She’s exhausted and lies on the sofa watching Lazytown. Soon she’s her old affectionate self. In the bath-room, she returns to one of her favourite topics, the age difference between Anna and me.

‘Daddy, you’re the same age as Rosa.’ There’s no irony in her assertion.

‘Yes? You mean I’m four?’ I’m loath to correct her.

‘I’m going to be four soon.’

‘That means we’ll be the same age?’

She nods. There’s no incongruity for her. ‘And mummy’s thirty-six.’

‘Indeed.’

‘So she should be your teacher,’ she pronounces sagely. ‘And daddy, that means you’re going to have a lot of birthdays before you catch up with her. You’ve got lots more birthdays.’

God, I hope you’re right, my little golden darling, I murmur under my breath.

When she’s in bed, I tell her the next episode of Kaa’s adventures in New Orleans. She listens open-mouthed with that wondering look I adore, as if asking herself what on earth I’m going to come up with next.

‘You can make a story out of anything,’ Anna’s told me more than once. ‘Maddy says I’m rubbish,’ she adds glumly.

‘Nonsense,’ I encourage her. But I don’t offer any advice. She’s supposed to be my teacher, after all.

We have an emotional evening once Maddy’s asleep, up and down, up and down, again going over the various possibilities, remembering questions we were too paralyzed to ask in the afternoon. But despite the occasionally dismal elements of our conversation, one thing strongly impresses me. Adversity’s bringing us closer and closer, encouraging even deeper levels of trust and intimacy. Together, all three of us, we’re going to smash this tumour, macerate it, pulverize it, liquidate it, terminate it….for once I run out of words.

[1]  http://jfjfp.com/?p=70630. Please seriously consider signing the protest petition at http://handsoffthelancet.com/add-your-name-to-the-list-of-supporting-signatories/

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