Wednesday, 29 April: Of the Kindness of Friends – and Strangers (again!)

Tuesday night’s unseasonably cold. But despite that and my now-customary fan pushing out its breeze, I wake in the night wet with sweats. It’s really uncomfortable. My skin feels slimy, I freeze instantly in the draught when I get up to turn the duvet over and then there’s intermittent ache in the kidney area. A crap night and I rather dread the day ahead.

But once I’m up, there’s cheering news. Thanks to our pressure J the Goddard Inquiry into Historic Child-abuse is going to include ‘Lord’ Janner in its investigations. It just shows how pusillanimous the Crown Prosecution Services has been. Not to mention its arrogance in presuming to decide what is ‘the public interest.’ Goddard explicitly cites that as a reason for his decision. Here’s to Goddard, a New Zealander brought in because the Establishment kept delaying the HC-a inquiry by appointing puppets to oversee it. How embarrassing that one-by-one they were exposed as having links to some of the big names allegedly in the frame. While that’s good news, the bad is that his inquiry’s going to take years to sift all the evidence (Janner is, for the moment, just the topmost tip of the ice-berg) and publish its report, during which time some of the alleged perpetrators will have found themselves in Hell, which I sincerely hope will prove to be a bottom-less pit.

There’s further bad news. First the appalling revelations about child-abuse by French UN troops in Central Africa from a whistle-blower who is now  – no, not being praised, for heaven’s sake!  – but threatened by his bosses in the UN. The sheer, colonial, depravity of these soldiers towards Africa’s children echoes accusations about similar behaviour by UN troops in Kosovo and other places. The second is that the CPS is as arrogant as ever. In reply to my very polite and measured email asking for further information about their decision not to prosecute, I get a very snotty email directing me to the CPS statement abut its decision, which either does not answer the questions I asked, or does so only partially. To this was appended a curt (not to say outrageous) brush-off stating that this was the end of the matter and they would answer no more emails on the subject! So those of you who are yet to respond to my call to arms, please also remind these jumped-up turds that they are public servants, that we pay their salaries and therefore have a right to expect them to engage with our concerns in a more polite and constructive way. The more communications the CPS gets about their handling of this scandal, the more the pressure will build on this Establishment-toadying institution (whoops! Is this politics? No, I don’t think so, just what common decency requires…)

My optimism’s restored by many instances of kindness and concern in the course the day. First, there’s a fat envelope from my friend and former student, Lori who, as described in an earlier post, lives in Bournemouth. In addition to her detailed guide to places to eat, etc. sent earlier, she now sends a dossier on the best places to visit and the best half-day walks. These are accompanied by a series of hand-drawn and  -coloured maps which lay everything out very simply for the first-time visitor. I know we’re not supposed to leave our honeymoon bed-room next week-end (I wish!), but it’s very welcome, nonetheless, just in case BBC South doesn’t meet expectations.  Then the Gerda Henkel Foundation’s back to me, condoling over my illness and saying I can start any time which suits up to April 01, 2016. So no need for frantic juggling of my commitments to the Leverhulme Foundation and to Goldsmiths. Whatever happens, I’ll be out of Goldsmiths well before that date. Then an email from Kidney Cancer UK, whom I contacted a few days ago, the compassion of which makes my eyes water. Having read my blog, which she’s found moving, Julie goes to great lengths to explain what options lie ahead of me and how I might make use of the charity and its services. What really impresses is that it’s not a cut and paste job but addressed specifically to me and my concerns. How do they find the time to do this for every supplicant?

Later, my old university friend Nick Noble drops round, to both witness some the legal documents his assistant has sent with him, and to catch up. We were in the same college and read English together, too. Probably the tallest man north of Nottingham at the time, Nick was an instantly recognisable figure on the scene, as he was when he arrived in Brixton after graduation. One morning a little boy approached and asked: ‘Hey, mister, what’s the weather like up there?’   One lasting memory from our time at university was Nick’s love of Auden (whom I detested at that age) and we argued long and hard about the poet’s (de)merits. As with Auden, we diverge in many areas, from politics to religion. Yet he is one of the solidest and most thoughtful people I’ve known. When my tedious (to the general public) academic tome on Postcolonial Life-Writing came out, Nick not only worked his way methodically through it, but encouraged his family to buy each of the books I addressed to discuss among themselves. Trumping that, he read the whole of Anna’s first academic work, Rewriting Exodus: American Futures from Du Bois to Obama (2011), professing himself enthralled by its finely-chiselled prose and insight. I sometimes feel that Nick slightly regrets his meteoric rise to his current position as one of the UK’s top tax lawyers and his consequent inability to find time and opportunity to motor-bike it from Cairo to London, amongst others of his youthful ambitions.

Bart the Auden-basher - dig the crazy facial hair and wardrobe. What's that guy behind him on?
Bart the Auden-basher – dig the crazy facial hair and wardrobe. What’s that guy behind him on?

So I was delighted to be of help when it came to his own publishing endeavours. Nick recently edited the journal of his great-aunt, Diana Lewes, who visited Jamaica briefly at the turn of the last century and produced a striking and dramatic account of colonial life and mores, as seen through the eyes of a ‘naïve’ observer. A Year in Jamaica  (2013) now nestles on his shelves next to the many forbidding-looking standard works on tax-law which he’s written (Nick’s available for a modest fee to talk about this fascinating subject at stag-parties, for best man’s speeches, children’s parties etc. Unfortunately, owing to the rushed circumstances, he won’t have the opportunity to expatiate on the more recondite aspects of medieval German Trust law at our wedding (perhaps at the big party later.)

Nick - Senior Partner at the top City Firm of Jarndyce and Jarndyce
Nick – Senior Partner at the top City Firm of Jarndyce and Jarndyce

It was eagle-eared Nick who first noticed my cough on March 29, towards the end of a family day out to visit him, his lovely wife Frances and daughter Victoria – who was captivated by Maddy and super-sweet with her. After my two left for London, Nick and I got ready to meet our favourite old Durham tutor, David Crane, for dinner – David (long-retired now, supposedly) being in town for a teaching gig. Before the rendezvous, Nick took me on  a short tour of college Cambridge – I wanted to see my brother Patrick’s old college, St John’s again, and the Copper Kettle, where Patrick occasionally took me out from school for a mind-boggling ‘high tea.’ I was very quickly – and utterly – exhausted. But not suspecting the true cause, and not wanting to spoil the fun, I steeled myself for dinner – when all I wanted to do was get straight on the train and shut my eyes. For the first time, I remember, I found it hard to talk. My voice sounded thick and strained and Nick remarked that he didn’t like the sound of my cough. Fortunately, I managed to get through the meal, though I cut it shorter than I’d have liked, just to get on the train and rest. Three days later came the chronic attack of kidney pain…

Documents done with, we settle down for tea and biscuits (just for Nick, of course!) We discuss how such a prognosis changes one’s attitude to life and I tell him how determined I am to have as many holidays with my girlies as I can. Nick’s recently back from Switzerland and he makes Pontresina, the winter resort he stayed in sound amazing. It’s added to the list. No more caution about money now. And if travel insurance problems stop me taking Maddy to Africa to see the animals amongst which I grew up (assuming there are any left by next year), then we’ll just have to make to do with all the places in Europe we haven’t been. Not to mention Britain. How little I know it, despite having lived here for fifty years…

Once Nick leaves, I have a long and helpful chat with Sam, who I went to the Transport Museum on the day of the kidney attack. We have a frank and honest conversation about her husband Stew’s diagnosis with cancer (remember I went to his funeral in December), how the news was progressively broken to little Anna, how she responded and how Sam herself coped. I feel reassured that we’re dealing with this OK in respect of Maddy at the moment, though I may have to go back for more advice further down the line.   However, my confidence on that score is shaken when I get over to Anna’s to find her, Caroline, cousin Tara, Anna and Maddy tucking into post-nursery pick-up ‘jam cake.’ Anna and Caroline need to sign and have witnessed some of the legal documents Nick brought over. As they make to leave the flat to find a willing neighbour, Maddy starts to get very upset, clinging to Anna’s leg and refusing to let her go. I’m baffled. We try explaining that mummy and Caroline are just going down the corridor and that Tara and I will stay with her. It takes a good ten minutes of agitated negotiation before the signers are able to sneak off while Tara and I distract our little girl.

While the other adults are out, I talk with Tara who has her arms round Maddy and in her lap. Her little cousin’s attention is now fixed on the awful Lazytown (the first time I’ve been glad to see it arrive on-screen). Tara’s a thirteen-year old who’s impressively overcome more than her share of difficulties in home life and is always poised and collected when I see her. As I’ve said before, I can’t find words enough to praise the way she is with Maddy, so patient and caring. She tells me that her father, who lives north of London, only has one kidney, the result of a motor-bike accident when he was a teen-ager. He’s been fine on the remaining one. Then she looks at me a little shyly. ‘Bart, would you mind if I did a 5k charity run in your honour?’ I’m taken aback. ‘Me and some of my friends want to enter an event to raise money for cancer.’ I’m so touched. Soon she’s rolling back onto the floor with Maddy, arms still wrapped round her, so I can give our little girl some of the longest, noisiest raspberries ever in her belly-button, while the victim shrieks with delight, all her anxieties forgotten. Kids. Talk about teaching us how to live in the moment.

Later, in bed, I ponder what it means to live with one kidney. Does it mean I’ll piss only half as much? Or twice as much? Will I have to get up twice in the night – or not at all ? And what of being pissed, of being on the piss, of being pissed off, pissing off, being pissed at things – will it affect any those things?

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