Tuesday, 22 April: Of blubbing, brotherly love and Bognor Regis

The morning starts perfectly. Maddy’s at my side of the bed, shaking me gently, quizzical face angled the same as mine, strands of uncombed blonde rendering her particularly waif-like. I’ve been dozing after reading and re-reading the myriad messages I’ve received since the ‘bad news’ post on April 20th, trying to take them all in.

‘Daddy, can I get in for a sniggle?’

‘Course you can.’ She knows she doesn’t need to ask. ‘Get right under,’ I respond, shaking the duvet over her. ‘Your arms are cold.’

‘How are my people?’

Last night she offered me not one but two of her gang to cuddle up to –  Elsa and Anna (for some strange reason pronounced ‘Arna’ in Frozen; probably just as well given Maddy’s mother’s name. Think of the possible confusions: ‘Daddy, can you help me get Anna’s dress off? ‘Daddy, Anna needs to use the potty.’ ‘Daddy, Anna’s marrying Kristoff)

‘We all slept well, baby. The fox cubs behaved.’

Her face is so close now on the pillow that those huge china-grey-blue eyes are out of focus. I swim right into them. I inhale the smell of her, the best in the whole wide world, as if it’s an elixir.

‘Let’s talk about the day,’ she suddenly suggests.

It’s something we used to do at bed-time, a way of encouraging her to remember, reflect and find her own voice and ways of narrating.

‘Which day, baby?’

‘Today, silly-billy.’

Her breath is so sweet, even after a night’s sleep. When we’ve finished talking about what we might both be doing later, she gives me a kiss, before hopping out from under the duvet.

‘Mummy,’ she calls out to a sleepy Anna, ‘time to put Milkshake on.

Once she’s gone, I start crying quietly. It’s not just her potentially unthinkable future, stomach-dropping though that is. I’m overwhelmed again by the incredible love and support in the messages I was looking at before she came in. It makes me wonder. Is it adversity bringing this generosity of spirit out in everyone? Or have I just been blind to what was already there before my misfortune? And, if so, why? How did I learn such blindness?

But once I’m up and washed, these difficult questions fade in the optimism and energy which accompanies another in this long sequence of perfect spring days. Kissing good-bye to Maddy on her way to nursery, I stride up Lavender Hill, barely aware of the gradient. It’s not long before Anna’s arrived at ‘mine,’ after dropping our little girl off. We ring Wandsworth Registry Office. By law, May 7th is the earliest we can do things. We’ve decided that Friday the 9th  – four days before the operation – would be best, allowing us to slip off for a honeymoon week-end. Why does everything in life now have to be so abbreviated? The only slot they have left, unfortunately, is 9.30 am. But we accept gratefully.

‘So you’ve got exactly seventeen days of singledom left, wifey,’ I joke to Anna, as we hug, ‘don’t waste it.’

It’ll mean brunch rather than the lunch at Gordon Ramsey’s that we are hoping to treat Elena and Tim (and ourselves) to, but there’s nothing for it.

‘So where to for the honeymoon?’

‘Paris, please. Eurostar.’

If I was well, I’d be very happy with that. ‘It’s a lot of travel for two days away.’ But I’m more concerned that my insurance won’t cover a foreign trip now. ‘Anywhere in England you fancy?’


It’s too familiar. ‘Bognor Regis?’ I’ve never been there, but the name always makes me laugh, and the place must have vestiges of Georgian grandeur.

We discuss other possibilities before deciding to consult Elena and Tim. They quite often go away for mini-breaks and are sure to know somewhere suitable.

‘Are we going to take Maddy?’

Something else to think about. I don’t think Anna’s ever been away from her so long.

Once my wife-to-be has left, I return to my desk. So much to do to get my affairs in order if I’m serious about living as though I may only have six months. Getting Anna Power of Attorney in case I go gaga. Getting her name onto the property deeds at ‘mine.’ Getting a fresh will prepared to reflect our newly honourable estate after May 9th. Transferring into our joint names any manky old ISAs which have been steadily dropping in value over the years at the bottom of my filing cabinet. Turning my threadbare bank account into a shared one. Even with the help of my legal friend Nick, who’s so kindly offered to get some of this stuff signed off for me by a colleague at his swanky firm pro bono, the list of ‘to dos’ seems endless; and I somewhat resent the time and energy they’re going to sap from me. Still, what has to be done…

Just as my resentment peaks, I get the most astonishing and amazing email of support yet. My brother Ames writes from California. I’d forgotten he’s a qualified nurse, amongst his many other accomplishments, probably because he didn’t practise long. He’s offering to come for a whole month, immediately after the operation, to take the burden of care off Anna. He reminds me that he knows what he’s doing, he’s physically strong (much more so than me) so he can shift me about if needed, enjoys cooking and even offers to do any necessary d.i.y. Does he know what he’s letting himself in for, I wonder, before bursting into tears again. Later I write back that he hasn’t made me cry since we were at kids, more than fifty years ago. I have to discuss it with Anna. I don’t want her to feel she’s being muscled out of anything to do with my care.

Big brother Ames (far right)

We do so over lunch at ‘hers,’ to which I stroll down through the gorgeous sunshine. Even dirty old Lavender Hill looks transfigured and there’s a spring in everyone’s step, including my own. I even overtake a couple of youthful dawdlers. Anna met Ames and his wife Nancy a couple of years back when they came to stay with their lovely daughter Sophie en route to Africa for a look around the old places. Sophie was awarded her PhD in big mammal ecology just two days ago. Clearly, something of Africa’s come down through her genes. I’m so pleased for, and proud of, her. They all got on very well with Anna, who’s very touched by Ames’s offer and fully sees the sense of accepting, though she insists conditions are placed on it – like paying his fare and ensuring he takes proper time off to enjoy London. There’s an additional reason why I’m glad to have her enthusiastic approval. Ames is the most elusive and enigmatic of my three brothers and over the years I’ve seen less of him than the others. Perhaps a month together will make up for that.

In the afternoon, I get back to the blog. I’m doing this the wrong way round. I shouldn’t waste the morning, when I’m at my most furiously energetic, on dross. But it isn’t dross, I remind myself. If anything untoward happens, Anna will have quite enough on her plate to deal with, without having to sort out ancient Premium Bond parchments and such like. I want to have a clear list of everything, all sorted, just in case.

Later, darling Elena drops round with a meal she’s prepared for me. Mince (which isn’t alkali), smothered in turmeric and with lots of finely cut vegetables. She’s with her new baby, Lucia, who gazes quizzically at me from her buggy. I smile at her, envious.

I eat my friend’s meal-on-buggy-wheels in the early evening. I’m staying at ‘mine’ tonight because poor Anna is back teaching at Birkbeck in the evening and Caroline has kindly offered to take over my normal Tuesday 5-10 pm teaching cover Maddy care. It’s a good job she has. I’m whacked. It’s a full-time business being ill. Can’t remember when I last felt so busy. The food is quite delicious, as I’m coming to complacently expect from Elena. But it does give me pause for thought. Mr Khoubehi told me to carry on eating normally. Should I be going any way at all down what my Californian friend Victoria mischievously (she’s a believer herself) calls the ‘woo woo’ path? Today, in Whole Foods’ extensive complementary medicine section, I overheard the woman who runs it telling a customer that Manuka honey is brilliant for fighting MSRA. My ears pricked up at one. After all I’m having open surgery and I’ll be at least five days in hospital. I ask for a jar. Ouch! Nearly £50 for the strength and size she advises. Still, if it’ll prevent MSRA…

On the one hand, The Guardian has just reported that taking nutritional supplements can actually increase the risk of cancer[1] (though it doesn’t say who, if anyone, funded the study.) Moreover, when I went into Whole Foods,’ they told me they don’t stock B 17, claimed by some to destroy cancer cells, because they’re not allowed to. On the other hand, so many people swear by these remedies, not necessarily as an alternative to conventional medicine but as complementary to it. And it’s absolutely clear on all sides that mental attitude is key to conquering the disease. So if you think it’s going to work, surely that must count for something, placebo or not? I decide to compromise. I’ll go for a 60 (alkali): 40 (acid) diet, with no chocolate (boo!), sugar or wheat. I’ll keep on taking turmeric and wheat-grass but push the Vitamin D to the back of the cupboard – it’s primarily for liver functions, after all.

And so to bed, after a call from Anna reassuring me that the class went very well, even if she’s whacked, too. It’s a real relief. I’d been worrying that the stress of being back in the seminar-room, on top of everything else, might be too much for her. On the contrary, she laughs, it provided a great distraction from everything else that’s going on.

I’m aware I haven’t offered too many laughs today. So I’ll leave you with this, from our walk in Battersea Park on Monday.

Battersea Park 20 April
Battersea Park 20 April

Blue-bells spring eternal in a young mans heart
‘Blue-bells spring eternal in a young man’s heart…’

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/apr/21/vitamin-supplements-increase-risk-cancer-heart-disease-research

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