Sat 04 April: Friends ‘of the right kidney.’

Maddy is tired out this morning. We deduce that her busy holiday schedule has caught up with her. So instead of going for a family swim at the Leisure Centre, we head for Café Nero on Lavender Hill, where we spread ourselves across comfortable armchairs and a table where Maddy can do her colouring. She’s delighted with the Tinkerbell magazine I’ve bought her. In the afternoon, Anna will take her to see Home at the Clapham Picture House, the hot kids hit of the Easter holidays, while I head back to start answering some of the scores of new emails and other messages I’ve been getting.

 

I look up to see Elliot, an old friend and neighbour crossing the road towards the café. He’s in his seventies, with a mane of thick white hair and solid build. We’ve had a rewarding but intermittent relationship since meeting after a lecture I gave at the South Bank fifteen years a go or more. I saw him recently for the first time in quite a while after he sent me a most detailed and thoughtful response to my memoir. Aside from the wonderful parties he used to give occasionally until a few years back, we’ve had some good laughs together, not least the time when he stood up and interrupted an Islamophobic rant from Martin Amis at the ICA, accusing Amis in front of the sell-out audience of sounding like a third-rate leader-writer on the third-rate Daily Mail. Amis was apoplectic and sought us out afterwards. As he pushed his way angrily through the crowd, I feared fisticuffs might follow. However, once close up to my bulky friend, who towered over him, Amis must have decided that discretion was the better part of valour, especially given the vast sums he’d recently spent on new teeth. He spluttered out his indignation and tuned on his heel before we could decipher his toothsome recriminations or respond.

 

When he comes in, I wave my old mate over to join us. For various reasons, including the fact that he’s been spending large amounts of time these past few years in his native New Zealand, Elliot’s never met Anna and Maddy and is delighted to do so. Maddy, however, is a bit unresponsive, as she sometimes can be meeting older people for the first time; to begin with, she looks at him as if he might be the Beast from Neverland. Maybe she just gets tired of performing. We spend some time catching up before I tell him my diagnosis. Elliot’s extremely sympathetic and offers himself for whatever help he can give. I’m suddenly filled with concern for him. Living alone, in his seventies, how will he cope if he finds himself in a similar situation to mine? He certainly has friends, especially the loyal band which came over with him in the early 1960s from New Zealand. But they’ve now mostly gone back, died, or moved out of London. In their seventies themselves, mostly, how much could they be relied upon to rally round in a crisis? He has a son in Paris and one in London, with whom he’s been reconciled after being forced to give him up for adoption as a baby. But male relatives are generally useless, aren’t they, in this sort of situation? I make a mental note to be in touch more regularly. We only live a mile apart, after all.

Elliot
The indomitable Elliot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We go our separate ways, and after lunch at Anna’s, I head back to mine. I’m a bit intimidated at the thought of all the correspondence building up. But once I start, it becomes a pleasure. I’ve had such an abundance of supportive emails, texts and phone calls. A few of the more recent ones are particularly heartening. For example, I have a message from my younger brother in Australia, with whom I had quite a falling out in 2013, during his visit to Europe, leading to a more than year-long silence between us (we’re equally self-righteous and stubborn.) His message of support has the old characteristic generosity of spirit which I’ve always prized in him. He invites me and the family to come out and stay in Australia for as long as we want / can, once this mess is cleared out. And there’s his characteristic breezy humour, even more school-boyish than mine. He envisions me relaxing in his garden ‘with a good book and the chickens hunting around your feet….(we can attach nostril plugs for their protection).’ It’s great that this crisis has helped us put all the misunderstandings behind us and we can now resume our former, easy, bantering ways.

 

Then there’s the email from my friend Paul, a talented chef and restaurateur in St Girons, addressing me as ‘ma chère couille, ou devrais-je dire mon cher rognon… (my dear bollock, or should I say, my dear kidney…)’  and offering me one of his if it’s needed. One from a fellow-Gooner and former student, Sophia, who pays touching, and no doubt exaggerated, tribute to my role as a mentor in her on-going academic endeavours. One from my dear ex, Debbie, who burst into tears when I phoned her with the news, assuring me again that I’ll see this through and offering to look after Maddy if we need her. One from my good mate Tim, who was in our NCT group and has a daughter the same age as Maddy, wishing me a speedy return to ‘the daddy circuit’ of older (I’m much the oldest) local fathers (almost all of whom seem to have daughters) on Saturday mornings, which we’ve been part of for quite a while. And too many others to detail individually, all wishing me bon courage and offering whatever help they can.

 

I find the task of responding to everyone individually increasingly tiring. Although it’s lovely to get all this support, I can’t be spending hours every day keeping everyone updated with every little development. I hit on the idea of writing a blog. If I can manage that, it’ll provide an account of unfolding events which I won’t have to endlessly repeat. It will also, I quickly intuit, give me something to focus on. I love writing, but the thought of keeping busy by returning to the trying material of my Israel / Palestine book isn’t seductive. I’ve found it almost too taxing emotionally, at times, even when I’ve felt on form, not only because of the distressing subject-matter I am so often grappling with, but because academic writing, especially about this topic, involves keeping your emotions in strict check (unlike in a blog!)

 

So perhaps I can keep up my writing but in a different form, following on from the memoir. I think it will really help me to understand my feelings, manage them, see things in perspective, acknowledge what’s most important to me and remain of, or acquire, ‘the right kidney.’ Besides, it’ll be an additional intimate narrative for Maddy to read when she’s older (because my first 3-4 years have pretty much always been a blank, I decided to keep a page-a-day diary of Maddy’s life from when she was born, something I’ve more or less managed to fulfil.) Anna has been keeping a blog for a while now as part of her recently completed AHRC fellowship to study New Orleans. It’s supposed to help disseminate her findings to a wider public outside academia. She’ll be able to induct me into the mysteries. Next stop Twitter?

 

In the early evening I head over to Anna’s. She has been so utterly supportive since the news broke that I can’t find the words to thank her properly. Once we’ve exchanged news and I’ve had an affectionate tussle with Maddy, I raise an issue we’ve discussed several times since we’ve been together, but constantly postponed until we were ‘less busy.’ Now, despite my optimism about the future, I feel a real sense of urgency. Why, oh why didn’t we settle our affairs properly before?

‘I think we should get on with it now and get married. Will you have me, in sickness and in sickness?’ I joke.

She smiles ruefully and gives me an affirmative hug and kiss.

‘I checked the Wandsworth web-site. We have to give twenty-nine days notice and take along passports and birth certificates.’

I’m hoping that my ancient, scarcely legible document, hand-written by a long-dead registrar in no-longer existing Tanganyika, isn’t going to cause any problems. Probably more of an issue will be the date. I have an appointment to see the surgeon at Chelsea and Westminster on Monday 13 April. How long will I be out of commission for? We can’t fix anything until we know more. We discuss the ceremony and agree that, to expedite it, it should just be us and witnesses. Much easier to organise. We can have a big party later, when I’m fully recovered. We decide to ask our two close friends, Tim and his lovely wife Elena, who live locally, if they’ll agree to help.

‘Let’s get things in train as soon as they re-open after Easter,’ Anna murmurs.

 

As the evening develops, it’s increasingly clear that Maddy is wired. Is it over-tiredness from the excitement of the last few days or the wretched avalanche of chocolate which has descended with Easter, from which we’ve tried unavailingly to shield her? Whatever, she refuses the French beans Anna has cooked. Until now, she’s eaten them with relative relish, thank heavens, because they’re the only vegetables she will eat. O for the days when she was a baby and loved my broccoli soups!

‘They stink, mummy,’ Maddy complains, putting one hand over her mouth.

I sense we’re in mini-crisis mode. It has to be resolved even if it’s the last thing I want at this moment. Fathering can’t just stop. If she gets away with it, it’ll be that much harder to persuade her to eat any kind of vegetable in the future. Not a good place to be, even if she eats masses of fruit every day. Anna and I exchange glances and we go into our unspoken routine of bad (me) and good (Anna) cop. With her habitual bottomless patience, Anna explains why we all need to eat vegetables. She reminds Maddy that sometimes our little girl finds it painful to poo. That she needs the minerals and carbs in vegetables, as well as fruit, to grow up healthy. That she’s always liked beans.

‘Carrots, I’ll have carrots,’ Maddy responds, knowing full well we don’t have any because she never eats them.

‘OK, no more TV. And no treat for dessert,’ I say, as threateningly (not very) as I can.

 

The tantrum begins. We’ve been lucky so far. Maddy’s been extremely happy, loving and co-operative since she was born. I can count the number of her tantrums, even including the so-called ‘terrible twos,’ on one and a half hands. But when they come, she makes up for lost opportunity. Soon she’s rolling across the rug, tears boiling, screaming ‘I want TV, I want a treat.’

‘Come here, we love you, baby,’ Anna murmurs, stretching her arms out.

Maddy goes to her but the upset continues from within the safety of the hug. She’s adamant that she won’t eat beans and that she will watch TV and have a treat. The stand-off continues for half-an-hour. Anna and I are about to surrender when she suddenly and unexpectedly concedes.

‘Just three spoons, then, Mummy.’

It seems like a good enough compromise to me. We can’t bear conflict with her.

‘I promise to get you carrots tomorrow.’

Maddy looks at me dubiously, as if I’ve tricked her.

 

I have a sudden flash-back to my childhood in Tanganyika. I must have been four or five and my older brother Ames, with whom I shared a bed-room, twenty months older. When my mother served up beetroot in the dining-room, we both gagged at the sight and smell (it’s one of my favourites now). We were sent to our room with trays, and told we couldn’t come out again until we’d eaten everything on our plates. We gobbled up everything else first, then proceeded to stuff the beetroot under our mattresses. Returning to the dining-room with our scavenged trays, we were given permission to go outside to play once we’d all taken our siesta. Taking advantage of her closed bedroom door, we tip-toes out with the offending beetroots and threw them into the manyara hedge which surrounded our government bungalow in the tiny village of Manyoni. Later, my mother noticed a tell-tale stain on my shirt.

‘Have you hurt yourself?’ she asked.

‘He picked his nose and made it bleed,’ Ames intervened insouciantly before my fluster gave the game away, ‘it’s alright now.’

Now I’m facing the same kinds of dilemma as my mother did. It makes me see her parenting in a different light.

Our old government bungalow in Manyoni. Photo taken in 2010. Colonial splendour!
Our old government bungalow in Manyoni. Photo taken in 2010. Colonial splendour!

Bed-time is long but fairly easy, once we remind Maddy that, like Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny will only leave treats for girls who’ve been good.

‘So thank heavens you ate your greens, baby,’ I add manipulatively.

She seems to take the point. One good thing about tantrums is that they’re as tiring for little ones as they are for their parents. Once the saucer eyes have closed, I stay on the bed, my finger nestled in her relaxing grip, wondering if I’ve been a good father to her. I compare the way I was parented with how we look after Maddy and it’s chalk and cheese. I’m old enough to be her grandfather. Am I doing things right? Or am I stuck in some old-fashioned conception of daddyhood? Do we let her watch too much Disney? Should we ban commercial children’s TV which produces the inevitable reflex ‘I want’ with every ad? Should she be on the Ipad less? Should I be putting my foot down more – or less?

 

I was pushed and pulled a lot as a child and I don’t want that for Maddy. As long as she’s happy, healthy, curious, empathetic and gregarious (all of which she is) I’m content – at least for the moment. I guess every (concerned) father asks himself the same things. Are there things I could be doing differently or better? The question seems to take on extra force now that I’ve got this wretched thing. Is it because on some level I’m beginning to acknowledge to myself that my time with her may be limited? ‘My golden boy,’ my mother sometimes used to whisper in my hair when I was falling asleep. ‘My golden girl,’ I murmur into Maddy’s.

Friday 03 April: Taking Stock

After a good night’s sleep, we have a lovely lie-in, which we both badly needed, with a cup of strong sugary tea and some biscuits. At about eight-thirty, I go to pee. To my horror, the loo’s full of blood from when I got up in the night. I didn’t flush in case more clots had passed, which I’m supposed to report. When I piss now, it looks almost carmine. Horrifying. I have the presence of mind to ask Anna to fetch a glass and we catch the last bit, which I transfer to the washed-out urine-sample bottle I brought back from Chelsea and Westminster. Yuk! Anna phones A and E and they tell us to come straight in. The taxi can’t find our address and I can feel my blood pressure mounting. However when he finally arrives, it’s a very quick journey through the Easter-empty streets.

This time I’m seen by the same doctor, Dave, who assessed me on Wenesday evening. I commiserate with him for getting the Easter shift. He shrugs. He’s off on Monday to do an amateur version of the Paris-Roubaix cycle race, a hundred and one miles, much of it over tracts of cobble-stone. I shudder to think what that would do to my kidney. He commiserates over the diagnosis, reiterating that no-one anticipated it. He assures me that blood when I pee is not overly worrying. But if it comes out between pees then I should come back at once. I ask about the pain-killers which had slipped my mind yesterday. Who knows when the next attack will hit? He nods and sets off, returning with industrial-strength opiated stuff. The packaging alone is so fearsome that I decide to use them only in an emergency. I’ve survived both attacks of pain thus far, so I know I can do so again, so long as their intensity doesn’t increase. How can it? But it’s reassuring to have the drugs in my back-pack.

Since I feel reasonably comfortable, Anna and I decide to go our separate ways. She heads home to take Maddy out to see her nursery friend Rosa and mother Imogen, neighbours at the far end of Lavender Hill, as arranged earlier in the week. I should be going along but I just don’t have the energy; and I neither want to talk about what’s happened to people I don’t know well, or pretend that nothing has. So I phone my only friend in Chelsea, Cansun, an enormously successful seismology engineer, now enjoying the fruits of his career of scientific brilliance (how nice to know someone who started his own firm after university to actually make things and has prospered by it, rather than from shuffling financial instruments around). It’s close to fifty years since we first met at school, where Cansun arrived fresh-faced from his Lycee in Turkey.

As I walk, I ponder the chaos this crisis is bringing. Most immediately, I have to cancel my trip to Israel / Palestine. What a lot of wasted work I’ve put in to arranging it! I’ve booked nearly all of my accommodation and have interviews and meetings arranged for most days there. I particularly regret that I won’t be seeing A.B. Yehoshua, to my mind the greatest living Israeli writer, whose books express the possibility of a far better future for the region than some of his public pronouncements. And also Atallah Mansour, the first Palestinian to write in Hebrew, way back in the 1960s. I’ll also miss Vivian Eden, the translator of the brilliant Palestinian novelist and poet Anton Shammas, who also wrote his one-off masterpiece, Arabesques, in Hebrew. And the possible meeting with David Grossman, still being negotiated, the spokesman of ‘liberal Zionism’ and, to my mind, the second greatest living Israeli author. I wonder what he’ll have to say about the recent Israeli elections and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s rabid racism towards his Arab fellow-citizens.[5] ‘Democracy’ Israeli-style! Imagine if Cameron warned his supporters that ‘the Jews / Muslims / former eastern bloc EU nationals are voting in droves, they’re being bussed in and you must therefore come out to cast your ballots for the ruling party.’

Aside from a number of other publishers, writers, academics, critics and artists, I’d also hoped to get up to the north of Israel for the first time and see the Galilee and the Golan Heights illegally annexed from Syria (another reason to suppress the Southampton conference, no doubt. We don’t want anyone talking about that.) And perhaps to get the first sea-swimming of the year between appointments in Tel Aviv and Haifa. I’d also planned a long week-end back in the Occupied Territories with the lovely Christian Palestinian friends I made last year in Jifna and Aboud, who made my stay so memorable despite the appalling daily oppressions they suffer. There’s no hospitality like Palestinian hospitality, though the Israeli version, at least that of my friends in Tel Aviv, certainly comes close.

The Khourys of Jifna - to exist is to resist
The K***s of Jifna – for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, to exist is to resist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sadly, my trip to Denmark in early May is also off. I’d been invited in my capacity not as an academic, but as the author of the memoir which I mentioned earlier. It’s very flattering to think that The Setting Sun has already made its way across the North Sea. I’d been offered flights and accommodation for three nights in a five-star spa hotel (complete with all the treatments) beside the sea facing Sweden. Just to chat about my book! I was so looking forward to this trip, partly because it seemed like it would be the perfect farewell (and antidote) to the academic conference circuit, which I’ve traversed for more than thirty-five years. Looks like I’ve blown my grand finale!

Stock - or remainders in the bookshop?
Stock – or remainders in the bookshop?

And what does all this imply for retirement? I have five months remaining of my Leverhulme Fellowship. Given what I’ve been told at C and W, I’m likely to be off for about four months. That would only give me August before I’m supposed to leave college. But if they’re right, I’m determined to use August for a proper holiday. Will Goldsmiths now allow me to defer retirement until such time as I can finish off my fellowship? Or are they going to be strict about the agreed retirement date? Funny that I signed on the dotted line just a few days before the testicle attack. And what of my Department’s plans to replace me? Understandably, they’re keen to get on with it on order to have someone in place for September and the new academic year. Cock-ups all round. What do I really want for myself? It’s not clear yet. I know only that I am not going back to work until I’m fully recovered. I’m desperate to continue with my book on Palestine / Israel but not at the expense of my long-term health.

More immediately still, there are the issues of Maddy-care and the extra burden that this will put Anna under. I’m just going to have to do my best and help as much as I can. I’m reluctant to take Maddy on my own for the moment, in case of an attack. Fortunately, Anna’s family have stepped up nobly with many offers of help, as have some of our lovely friends, who are all rallying round. I feel very lucky. Regrettable though the situation is, I couldn’t really feel better supported. My friend Carla has emailed from Hanover that if I need a hug, I am just to say so and she will hop on the next plane. It’s just one of many such messages that seem to be arriving by the minute as word spreads.

One such good friend is my old school-mate Cansun, who greets me at his door with a big grin and immediately starts to tell me that his brother lives with one kidney and it hasn’t prevented him for enjoying a good life these past many years. We chat about the prognosis and he assures me that these days an operation to have a kidney out is routine. He makes a delicious light lunch before offering to drive me home. Perhaps I’m showing more exhausted than I realise. Anyway, it’s fun to get into a Maserati for the first time in my life and hear it roar across the Thames and down Albert Bridge Road. When we arrive, he presses me to tell him if there’s anything he can do. But I can’t think of anything for the moment.

Cansun Guralp, Seismologist Extraordinaire
Cansun Guralp, Seismologist Extraordinaire

I’m properly on my own for the first time since I got the bad news. To my surprise, I feel very calm and optimistic. I respond to some of the many messages I’m getting but soon I feel utterly weary. I have to lie down and snooze. Placing the pain-killers within easy reach, I drift off into a troubled doze.

I wake up feeling quite refreshed, however, and set off to Anna’s for the night. They’re back from their visit to Rosa which went so well that another meet-up has been planned for next week to go to the fair. My little girl tells me her first ever ‘proper’ joke.

‘Daddy, what do you get if you cross a kangaroo with a sheep?’

I repress my knowledge of the faded gags of a hundred Christmas crackers. ‘What, darling?’

She’s already in fits of giggles and can hardly get the answer out. ‘A woolly jumper, daddy!’ she chortles.

She’s such a tonic. Whenever she sees me looking glum, she always enjoins: ‘Laugh, daddy, laugh!’

It rarely fails. There’s no need now. Every time she giggles again, I join in.

Later, as she’s cleaning her teeth, she prematurely swallows her tooth-paste, a habit we’re trying to wean her out of.

‘It wasn’t me, mummy,’ she assures Anna, ‘it was my naughty shadow.’

‘Naughty shadow?’ I query, mock-solemnly.

‘Yes, daddy, whenever I’m naughty, it’s not me, you see, it’s my naughty shadow,’ she explains in all seriousness.

Bed-time’s always been one of my favourite fatherly experiences. I usually get to read the last story, after Anna’s finished hers, then Maddy asks me to tell her one of mine. A particularly nice development is that in recent weeks she wants to join in and co-narrate. The last fortnight, it’s generally been either the further adventures of characters from Toy Story (Maddy particularly identifies with Jesse, the cow-girl from the mid-West, whom she does in a better American accent than I can manage) or from Frozen, the last year’s biggest Disney hit. Tonight we continue the adventures of the three fox-cubs which Queen Elsa has lately rescued from the forest and taken home to look after in her Ice-Palace. Maddy contributes a very detailed description of their accommodation, a wooden shed built by Kristoff on the veranda outside the ice doors to Elsa’s bed-room. Soon enough the huge wondering china-grey-blue eyes begin to glaze. She wraps her hand round my little finger and after a few flickers of the eye-lids and a last check that all her ‘people’ (dollies) are also tucked under the duvet, she’s off. Tonight, the whole performance feels particularly poignant. The three fox cubs need looking after because they’ve lost their parents.

Later, before we go to bed, Anna and I review the day and its developments. We’ve made a pact to be as optimistic as we can and to shield Maddy for the moment from any upset. We begin to talk about the longer-term symptoms leading up to the testicle attack. Now we’re in review mode, we kick ourselves for not joining up some of the dots. I think I was blind to them because in mid-July last year, I had a series of blood-tests checking, amongst other things, for the proteins associated with prostate cancer. Since a couple of my friends had fallen prey to this in the last eighteen months or so, I’d decided to get tested. Lots of other things were checked at the same time (I must ask my G.P. if renal function was included) and the report came back giving me a completely clean bill of health. Mr Fit and Healthy could happily carry on his way…

Looking back now, perhaps the very first signal that something was wrong came when I returned to France in the second half of August 2014 for a holiday; and to tie up some loose ends from the sale of the house, including the shipment of my remaining possessions out there. As has been my wont for the last seventeen years, since I first discovered the charming, ramshackle market town of St Girons, I was soon at the fabulous outdoor municipal pool. It’s very old-fashioned, thirty metres long, fifteen wide and two deep at the ‘shallow’ end. But the water’s crystal clear – I think they use ozone – and it’s less and less used now that so many people have their own pools at home. Consequently, it’s a great place for lengths. Previous to last summer, I would start with 30-35 lengths of crawl at the beginning of the holiday, which quickly built up to 55-60 by the end. Last August, however, I was running out of puff at 35. I just couldn’t manage any more. I attributed it to not having done enough exercise over the previous winter (though I did plenty) and perhaps the fact that I was on my way to 62. I didn’t take further notice beyond promising myself to get into better condition before my next visit.

In the autumn, I accompanied Anna and Maddy for part of their trip to New Orleans, where Anna had a month’s fellowship to pursue ongoing investigations into the cultural and other consequences of Hurricane Katrina. It was a bummer returning in early November to the onset of an English winter and I immediately caught a cold. A series of minor sniffles followed at short intervals. Though I’m not usually afflicted in this way, I attributed it to exposure to Maddy’s nursery, where all the kids give each other stuff which they then pass on to their parents. In hindsight, perhaps it was a sign that my immune system was becoming compromised. Then there were the feelings of tiredness. Having spent my childhood in Africa, I was brought up in a siesta culture and have very often taken a 20-minute nap after lunch, when occasion permits, all these decades since. After Christmas, however, these naps began to turn into sleeps, sometimes lasting the best part of an hour. Despite that, more and more frequently I found myself wanting to start preparing for bed at ten, a good hour earlier than my usual bed-time since Maddy arrived. Again, I attributed this to having a bouncy three-year-old, to winter and, again, perhaps to age.

There were a couple of other odd developments. First, after Christmas, I began to have an aversion to exercise. At the slightest excuse I started skipping Pilates or postponing my trip to the gym. Completely unlike me. As was a new-found aversion to alcohol. I found myself nauseated by the smell, let alone the taste. Happily Anna gave up alcohol in the New Year, so I didn’t get tested often. Then, having enjoyed perfect circulation all my life, this winter I began for the first time to get cold hands. Indeed, even though it was comparatively mild, I felt the cold keenly and would often catch myself at my desk feeling frozen. In contrast, I began to have night sweats from time to time, nothing serious, which I attributed to having a new, over-warm duvet. Finally, I began to have to get up not once but twice in the night to pee. Given I’d been given the all-clear on the prostate, I didn’t take too much notice and further related my increasing tiredness partly to disrupted sleep patterns. The last thing on my mind was that a tumour might be pressing down on my bladder. So take heed, folks, these are some of the warning signs…

Perhaps I’d have begun to take notice of them earlier, if it wasn’t for the apparent clean bill of health I’d been given last summer. Quite unjustifiably, Anna blames herself for missing these signs. But perhaps most of them didn’t mean anything in themselves. It does raise the question, however, of when this blessed tumour began to take root. Can it really have grown so large since August? Or were my blood tests only looking for certain proteins specific to prostate cancer? Does each cancer have its particular kind? I’m going to have lots of questions for my GP and the surgeons…

[1] See http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/what-is-ttip-and-six-reasons-why-the-answer-should-scare-you-9779688.html

[2] Besides silencing principled academic discussion of Israel, UK Zionist lobbies have, of course, long objected to any discussion of Palestine which doesn’t toe their ideological line. See, for example, http://www.standard.co.uk/news/michael-gove-bars-schools-from-palestinian-literary-festival-6449578.html; and http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/asa-winstanley/jewish-defence-league-uk-extremists-sentenced-assault-palestine-activists

[3] That pro-Zionist voices were included in the conference is proved by this very interesting letter protesting at the cancellation of the conference by a prominent British Zionist academic slated to appear. See http://www.thejc.com/comment-and-debate/columnists/133640/an-own-goal-southampton

[4] Of course, some Israeli historians have (belatedly) begun to document a process long described in Palestinian historiography, though some also claim that the multiple atrocities and systematic ethnic cleansing of 1948 were a price well worth paying for the establishment of a ‘Jewish State.’ See, for example, Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem 1947-49 (Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 1988, revised edition, 1994). If you follow this up, don’t skip his footnotes, which are particularly revealing of the dark side of the process.

[5] See http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2015/03/17/on-israeli-election-day-netanyahu-warns-of-arabs-voting-in-droves/

Thursday, 02 April, 2015: the Diagnosis

After a pain-free, uninterrupted sleep, I’m quite chipper as I head back to Chelsea and Westminster in the morning. This should all be sorted out today, leaving me free to enjoy Easter and paint the eggs which Maddy will hunt for in her grandparents’ garden. I feel a little light-headed walking the final hundred yards or so from the bus. But once in A and E, I’m again quickly assessed and within another half-an-hour I’m with a new urology specialist. He’s young, sandy-haired, Scottish, and we quickly strike up a rapport. He, too, is confident it’s kidney stones, though he’s a puzzled why my kidney isn’t tender when he presses it. When I praise the service I’m getting, he expresses concern about the pernicious potential effects on the NHS of a Tory success in the upcoming elections, particularly their enthusiasm for TTIP (The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership)[1] agreement currently being negotiated (in secret) by the UK government and others. He fears that, if adopted, it may open the way for predator private health companies to hive off even more of the ‘profitable’ parts of the NHS; and allow foreign ones to sue the UK government (and therefore us) if they feel their ability to make profits is compromised by legislation such as the minimum wage. Utterly iniquitous!

While he takes blood samples, we hear an appalling coughing fit from down the corridor and, with a knowing shrug, my doctor gets on to the cost of tobacco abuse to the NHS, telling me that the financial burden on the NHS now far outweighs the tax revenue it brings in. As an ex-smoker, I listen somewhat guiltily, but I acknowledge that it seems plain crazy that tobacco’s still allowed to be sold when everyone knows the harm it does. We discuss the formidable power of the tobacco lobbies and I get on to the subject of lobbies in general. He is appalled to hear that Southampton University has just cancelled a major international conference on Israel and International Law, as a result of the pressure of Zionist lobbies and their poodle MPs. They’ve cited health and safety concerns – as if a gang of Zionist trouble-makers, or the EDL thugs (judge someone by their friends!) to whom they sometimes franchise out their trouble-making,[2] can’t easily be dealt with by the police.

‘We’re all Charlie Hebdos,’ I comment scathingly, ‘if we want to insult Islam. But not if we want to have a rational academic debate about Israel.’[3]

I make an instant decision. Once this problem is sorted out, I’m going to stop being an academic anti-Zionist and become an activist one – at least as regards the abhorrent forms it so often takes in contemporary Israeli  political life and as manifested in the pressure on Southampton University. If we surrender the rights of free inquiry and speech to this lot, next they’ll be burning books.

Fear not, gentle reader, you aren’t going to have to put up with a sustained anti-Zionist rant disguised as a blog. However, Israel and Zionism are much on my mind at the moment, not least because of my current research project – and I’m sure this preoccupation will be reflected from time to time. Besides I’m supposed to be going to Palestine / Israel this coming Tuesday for a much-anticipated research trip as part of my Leverhulme Fellowship. I’m not clear yet whether this problem will allow me to go. I’ll have to ask as soon as the tests are complete.

–           –           –           –           –           –           –           –           –           –

I’m soon up on the next floor for my CT scan. I’ve never seen one of these machines before and I feel like a character in 2001: a Space Odyssey as I’m first injected with dye to make the kidney show up better, then lined up and fed into a circular tube with spinning entrails, like a Dyson fan. All the time I hear commands to breathe in and out delivered in a HAL-like metallic voice, complete with American accent, coming from somewhere deep inside it.

Afterwards, I’m accompanied back to A and E. Although my Scottish doctor said the results would be through in twenty minutes, the wait is much longer. The day before Easter, I guess, and staff already signing off. I take the opportunity to review the evolution of symptoms prior to yesterday’s attack. On Saturday 14 March, two and a half weeks ago, I went with Anna and Maddy to a birthday party for one of her nursery friends. It was quite a production, in a large community hall, with masses of people, entertainments and events. As the party wore on, I realised I wasn’t feeling quite right and told Anna I thought I should leave. As I had to be up very early the following day to attend a conference on Israel / Palestine at Birkbeck (which seems to have escaped the attention of the Zionist lobbies), I decided to head back to mine and have an early night. I felt very tired when I got back but, knowing I’d be missing my regular Sunday Pilates because of the conference, I forced myself to do some exercises, including lunges and squats, which my teacher has suggested I need to do more of. I felt pretty whacked after about half an hour, so decided to head off for a bath and bed.

I fell asleep at once, at about ten-thirty. At half-one, I woke up suddenly in the worst agony I’ve ever experienced, as if someone was squeezing my right testicle in a rapidly-tightening red-hot vice. It was so bad that I was only just able to get to the loo before vomiting, which provided some relief from the pain. I stayed there for about an hour, sweating profusely, trying to breathe deeply, while the pain slowly died down. My first thought, ironically, was ‘this must be cancer.’ I could think of nothing else which could possibly cause such torture. But if it was, this attack suggested it was manifesting very late in the day. Not a comforting thought. Unwilling to phone Anna, who would have had to get Maddy dressed to come over, I managed to get back to bed once the pain had died down a bit. I lay there uneasily and had a second, equally nightmarish attack about an hour later. Looking back, I don’t understand why I didn’t call an ambulance straight away. I think I was in a state of shock and panic and confusion, unable to make the right decisions in the middle of the night. Later, I woke up aware of a strange emission. I didn’t turn the light on to look but it felt just like sperm. How on earth? I wondered, before falling back into a doze.

After what seemed like an age, but with no further attacks, it got to seven in the morning and I phoned Anna. She told me to call 111 at once (why didn’t I think of that in the night!) The man who answered seemed pretty concerned at my description of the symptoms and within about five minutes a doctor called me back. He told me not to eat or drink anything and to go straight to the NHS drop-in centre at Clapham Junction station (thank God for living so close!) As I hobbled down, I realised that the injunction not to eat or drink might be related to the need for an operation and therefore this was clearly some sort of emergency. I tried to steel myself. Losing a testicle. Not something anyone would relish. But why?

I was assessed by a very sympathetic Philippino nurse who diagnosed testicular torsion, a twisting of the tubules, veins etc. serving the testicle which can cut off the blood supply and thereby quickly kill it. I had to get to A and E straight away, he insisted, the chances of saving it already being slim because I’d waited so long before doing anything. Needless to say, I was at Chelsea and Westminster in record time – happily it was still earlyish Sunday morning and there was little traffic. Once there, I was assessed quickly and within half an hour was with a pleasant young female urology specialist, originally from Manchester. After an examination, she ‘confirmed’ the diagnosis from the drop-in centre and said I’d have to be operated on as soon as a slot became available. The nurse began to fit me up on a drip and put a tag on my wrist and said the surgeon would be down to see me shortly. Once alone again, I started to panic. The chances are very small, but people do die under general anaesthetic and here I was, possibly with no chance to see Anna and Maddy before the operation. My voice breaking, I gave Anna some instructions as to where to find my will etc and told her I’d update her as soon as I’d seen the surgeon.

She was very young, personable and reassuring. ‘We’re really protective of testicles here,’ she smiled as she asked me to repeat my story and examined me again.

So there I am, having my balls felt by a third different person in barely an hour, and a less erotic experience I can’t imagine. After a good amount of poking and prodding, some of it very uncomfortable, she stood up.

‘I don’t think it’s a torsion. You’re presenting many of the symptoms but I’m not satisfied. Your nervous reactions down there are good. Besides, testicular torsion is extremely rare in people of your age.’

‘So what is it, then?’

She scratched her green stretch cap. ‘Look, I can’t rule torsion out completely, but it’s been so long since you had the initial attack that there’s a max 5% chance of saving it now, probably considerably less. You have to operate within six or seven hours and we’re past that now. I think it might be an infection. That could explain your emission. Pus, not sperm. The acute pain could come from the pus being forced out of the tiny tubes round the testicle and into the urethra.’ She paused. ‘If it is a torsion, then the testicle will shrink over the next few days and we’ll remove it. Are you thinking of having more children?’

I shrugged non-commitally. I don’t want to influence her decision.

‘Men are lucky that way, aren’t they?’

I nod, a little shame-faced beneath her penetrating look. But not if they have to feel this sort of pain in the bollocks, I want to protest.

‘If it isn’t torsion, we might take off a healthy testicle unnecessarily. What do you want me to do?’

I shrug. Obviously I want to save the Crown Jewels if possible. ‘You’re the expert. I’m happy to follow your advice.’

She smiles. ‘Ok, I’ll sort some strong antibiotics for you. If you have any more attacks, you come straight back here. And keep a look-out for signs of shrinkage thse next few days.’

By the end of the course of antibiotics on Sunday two weeks later, I was feeling much better. No shrinkage. And no more pain. Monday and Tuesday, I was full of energy and in a great mood. I’d got much the hardest chapter of my book on Palestine / Israel finished at last and sent off to various friends and colleagues who’d agreed to read and comment on it over Easter. I went into college, meeting administrative colleagues and my Head of Department, as I made preliminary arrangements to empty my office before August 31st. And I had the trip to the Transport Museum to look forward to the following day – and seeing lots more of Maddy than usual for the next week or so now nursery was on its break.

–           –           –           –           –           –           –           –           –           –

What, I wonder, as I continue to wait for the CT scan results, is the relationship between the testicle and kidney pain? My sandy-haired doctor friend speculated this morning that the former might be referred pain from the kidney stones. On the other hand, I reminded him, an ultra-sound I underwent later in the week of 15 March had apparently vindicated the surgeon, confirming the presence of infection in the mass of tubules and blood-vessels which anchor the testicle. Possibly the infection was passed down from the kidney, he responds. I spend some time updating Anna, who’s out with Maddy at Bertie and Boo’s Café in Balham where they’ve teamed up with Maddy’s best friend Lucille and her mother, Gillian. I assure her again there’s no need for her to come to the hospital. I’ll be out as soon as the scans arrive and I’ll be given some medicine for the kidney stones.

I pass some more time reading an Israeli writer I’ve just discovered, Oz Shelach. Picnic Grounds is a series of beautiful miniatures in English, sometimes less than a page long, rarely longer than two. He’s the first Israeli writer, albeit now an exile in New York, that I’ve encountered in these last nearly twenty months of research who frankly acknowledges the true horrors of what was done to the Palestinian Arabs to secure the establishment of ‘the Jewish State’ in 1948 – and the systematic attempted erasure of evidence of their presence afterwards.[4] Quite a revelation this far into my project! It seems like a very good omen. I’d like to send a copy to everyone who pressured Southampton University into abandoning the conference.

At around One o’ Clock, I catch a glimpse of my Scottish doctor scurrying past the half-drawn curtains of my cubicle. He’s gone before I can call out for an update. But it’s not long before he’s back.

‘We need to get you somewhere else,’ he announces, with a tired expression.

I follow him from the cubicle to a consulting room. He closes the door and motions me to a seat before parking himself uneasily on the table.

‘I’m sorry it’s taken so long but several different people had to see the scans.’

I stare. Why?

‘There’s no easy way to tell you this. They show a 6.4 cm tumour on your kidney. None of us expected anything of the sort.’

It feels completely unreal, as if I’m watching myself in a film. 6.4 cm? ‘What does it mean?’

He pats me on the shoulder again. ‘You’ll have to have it out. Lots of people lead perfectly normal lives on one kidney. It’s a fairly simple operation.’

I nod. I feel quite calm. But I’m flummoxed. How could something so large and poisonous have grown silently inside without me noticing?

‘But first we’re going to have to do some more CT scans.’

‘Why?’

‘To check it hasn’t spread to other soft tissue.’

Oh Jesus, I think to myself. Still everything’s out of my hands now, I remind myself with a deep breath, there’s simply no point in panicking.

‘I’ll take you back where you were. The surgeon team will be down to see you shortly. I’ve booked you another CT slot for this afternoon.’

He offers an arm, but I don’t want to feel like an invalid yet.

‘Would you like me to ring your partner?’ he asks kindly. ‘Sometimes it’s easier if they hear it from a doctor.’

I shake my head. Better from me, I think.

As soon as I’m back in my former cubicle, I phone. In the background, I can hear Maddy and Lucille laughing away, then Gillian’s New Zealand accent, calming them down. At a momentary loss for words, I repeat the doctor’s formula.

‘Listen, sweetheart, there’s no easy way to tell you this but it isn’t kidney stones. They’ve found a tumour. A big one. I have to wait for more scans.’

Anna starts sobbing and that sets me off. I can hear the concern in Gillian’s voice as Anna asks her to look after the kids while she goes outside. We struggle to collect ourselves.

‘I’ll come straight over in a taxi. I’ll ask mum to come and collect Maddy after lunch. Gillian will look after them until then. I love you. Let’s try to be as positive as we can.’

It’s a stroke of luck that Maddy’s grandparents live just a short walk away from Pizza Express in Balham.

London’s fast emptying for Easter and Anna texts regularly to say the taxi’s stuck in traffic. In the meantime I’m visited by a three-person surgeon’s team. The main man introduces himself as Mr Khoubehi and explains he’s going to do the operation. We fix a time for me to come and see him the Monday after Easter to plan ‘the schedule of works’ in the light of what this afternoon’s CT scans reveal. Once he’s left, the other surgeon, a pleasant-faced woman called Pippa, sits on the bed beside me and asks if I have questions. Strangely, I can’t think of any. So she asks me about myself, if I have family and so on. Overcome for a moment, I cover my face. I just about croak out an explanation and she asks how old Maddy is. I can’t get the word out, so I hold up three fingers. She puts a reassuring arm round me.

‘She’ll really help you through this.’

Once she’s left, the third visitor gives me a thick, forbidding-looking booklet entitled ‘Understanding Kidney Cancer.’ There’s a card inside with the contact details of a Macmillan nurse.

‘We’re not going to be able to get the results of this afternoon’s CT scans through today because it’s Easter. I’m really sorry, you’ll have to call next Wednesday once the inter-disciplinary team has met. Then we’ll be able to tell you if there’s been any spread.’

I’m not sure how to react. On the one hand, for the first time in my life, I find myself in agreement with David Cameron, who promises a 24/7, 7-day-a-week NHS service if he’s re-elected (but remember his promises in 2010 to be the greenest government ever, to get rid of the deficit, and to reduce immigration to a few thousand by this year?) On the other, at least I’ll be able to enjoy Easter without the burden of knowing the tumour has spread. Suddenly I have lots of questions.

‘It depends whether they can do key-hole surgery or have to do open. Assuming key-hole, it’ll take about a month for you to get back on your feet, then 3-4 months before you’re fully operational. That’s if it’s just the kidney,’ she emphasizes with a firm but kindly smile.

Anna’s still stuck in traffic by the time I’m called up for the next set of scans. Two lots of high-energy x-rays in one day doesn’t seem like a good idea, but needs must. I go through the same routine, obeying the American-voiced order to ‘breathe in and hold your breath…now breathe normally again,’ as the machine travels up and down my torso.

‘You’ve had two lots of dye today,’ the radiologist reminds me as I get up. ‘It will work your kidneys hard, I’m afraid, so prepare for that.’

I must remember to ask about pain-killers, I remind myself.

I’m barely back in my cubicle when Anna arrives. There’s lots of hugs and mutual reassurance. I feel bad for her, after all that effort to get here, that there’s nothing else to do now but get dressed and leave the hospital. But it’s so nice to see her and have company. I shudder with a sudden inkling of what it must be like to be single and face this sort of ordeal, especially if you have no wider family.

It’s now mid-afternoon and I’m starving. We repair to Carluccio’s across the road. While I eat ravenously, we talk over the diagnosis and the implications of the various outcomes that can be inferred from what I’ve been told. Obviously the crucial next step is to find out if the tumour has spread. If it has, I suspect the way forward’s going to be much more complicated than the kidney removal option. Still, that’s for another day.

I was supposed to be looking after Maddy tonight. But Anna’s mother has kindly stepped in and offered to host a sleep-over at her place so Anna can be with me. I feel bad causing all this disruption. Caroline works very hard and her own health isn’t so good. This is going to increase the pressure on her. Anna and I head to my place. She goes out for a Vietnamese and, despite everything, we thoroughly enjoy a rare evening together, just the two of us. After I’ve sent some preliminary emails to college, the Leverhulme Trust, friends and family, we watch the leaders’ debate on television.

It’s far better than I’d anticipated – even quite gripping at times. Nicola Sturgeon and Nigel Farage are the clear winners as far as I’m concerned – at least as TV performers. If UKIP was a film, it would have to be an Ealing comedy. Farage is a character out of the black-and-white 1950s, a cross between a Ted and a Spiv. I can see him campaigning happily alongside Hattie Jacques and Sid James. He and Nicola Sturgeon are so easy in their own skins, unlike the staring, lizard-eyed Cameron, who looks tired and unconvinced by himself; and awkward Ed, who robotically turns to the camera to engage ‘the people at home’ at the exact same interval after every question. Let’s hope people concentrate on the substance of what his says, and not his style. In alliance with the SNP, I think Labour might just live up to some of its promises. As a hitherto ‘undecided,’ I’m beginning to shift back towards the party from which Blair’s madnesses drove me away over a decade ago.

And so to bed with Anna, for lots of healing cuddles.

[1] See http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/what-is-ttip-and-six-reasons-why-the-answer-should-scare-you-9779688.html

[2] Besides silencing principled academic discussion of Israel, UK Zionist lobbies have, of course, long objected to any discussion of Palestine which doesn’t toe their ideological line. See, for example, http://www.standard.co.uk/news/michael-gove-bars-schools-from-palestinian-literary-festival-6449578.html; and http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/asa-winstanley/jewish-defence-league-uk-extremists-sentenced-assault-palestine-activists

[3] That pro-Zionist voices were included in the conference is proved by this very interesting letter protesting at the cancellation of the conference by a prominent British Zionist academic slated to appear. See http://www.thejc.com/comment-and-debate/columnists/133640/an-own-goal-southampton

[4] Of course, some Israeli historians have (belatedly) begun to document a process long described in Palestinian historiography, though some also claim that the multiple atrocities and systematic ethnic cleansing of 1948 were a price well worth paying for the establishment of a ‘Jewish State.’ See, for example, Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem 1947-49 (Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 1988, revised edition, 1994). If you follow this up, don’t skip his footnotes, which are particularly revealing of the dark side of the process.

Wednesday 01 April, 2015: the Attack

It’s a beautiful spring morning, cold and a bit blustery, but sunny, as Maddy and I head off to Clapham Junction. I’m trying to think of April’s Fool jokes to play on her but wonder if she’s old enough yet. I think of the ones my father used to play when I was little. Definitely not suitable yet! She’s on holiday from nursery and Anna and I have planned a series of days out to keep her entertained and occupied over Easter. I’m so glad that Anna’s getting a day off from Maddy-care, not least because she has a demanding job – she’s an academic, too – with a book deadline looming, so she’s getting very tired.

Today, my little girl and I are off to the Transport Museum in Covent Garden, an outing recommended by another friend with a three-year-old girl. First stop is the station to meet my old friend Sam who has a daughter, also Anna, a few months younger than Maddy, with whom we’re teaming up for the expedition. Very sadly, the last time I saw them was in December, at the funeral of Sam’s husband and little Anna’s father, Stu, who died of cancer at the tragically young age of 52. Sam and I have been in touch by email since then but because they live in a village near Horsham, and Sam has been busy embarking on a new and challenging phase of her life, this is the first time Maddy and little Anna will have seen each other since August, when we had a lovely day in the country. Stu was obviously seriously ill but nonetheless made sure we had an occasion to remember, including making an amazing lunch. Afterwards there was lots of jumping in muddy puddles (Peppa Pig cognoscenti will understand) en route to the local playground, where the girls did a joint rendition of ‘Let it Go’ (word- if not pitch-perfect) from their favourite Disney film, Frozen. This has now made its way onto Youtube in case anyone wants to track future winners of The Voice.

Stu, Anna, Maddy and Sam August 2014
Stu, Anna, Maddy and Sam August 2014

 

Once we’ve gathered, bought some snacks and checked no-one needs a wee, we head outside the station to catch the 87 bus, which will take us pretty much all the way. We’ve decided on this route so that Anna can see a bit of London, including Big Ben, which she’s become fascinated by because of its prominent role in another Disney favourite, Tinkerbell and The Great Fairy Rescue. She’s also never been on a double-decker bus before, so is delighted to sit in the very front seat at the top alongside Maddy, while the latter provides an impressively reliable commentary on our surroundings. As we approach Parliament Square, for example, she explains to Anna that ‘this is where the government sits;’ and adds, ‘we have to put this government in the bin’ (the things they pick up at nursery!). Little Anna, however, is less interested in the upcoming elections than in Big Ben which soon swings into sight in all its Gothic grandeur, prompting gasps of delight from both girls. No sign of Lizzie, her father or any other characters from The Great Fairy Rescue, unfortunately! They also love the mounted cavalrymen in their shiny breast-plates whom we see later, outside Horse Guards Parade.

 

We get off in Aldwych. I’m impressed that despite being on the bus for the best part of 50 minutes, neither girl has got twitchy. And they seem to be getting on very well. As I’ve had time to catch up with Sam on developments since Christmas, and to be deeply impressed by the amazing positivity and dignity with which she’s adjusting to her unwanted new life, I’m thinking this is going to be a great day out. Walking to the Transport Museum, something odd happens. My mouth fills with saliva and I feel nauseous. It quickly passes, however and, not wanting to disrupt the day, I don’t say anything. After a latte in the museum café, I feel absolutely fine.

 

We indeed have a fantastic day, the girls delighted by all the strange old coaches, train carriages and buses, the chance to get their entrance cards stamped at the ‘ticket machines’ positioned strategically round the galleries – and the dressing-up stations. Maddy can’t resist any chance to dress up. First she puts on a child’s London Transport uniform jacket, then a black bowler hat from the costume cupboard. I suddenly realise I’ve never seen her in black before and with her blonde hair and blue-grey eyes, she looks gorgeous! I have to find her a bowler online! ‘I’m going to school, daddy,’ she first announces proudly, getting into the mock-up tube carriage. Then she comes out and stands by the door. ‘I’m a ticket respector, daddy!’ She proceeds to ‘respect’ the ‘tickets’ of various somewhat bemused children, before moving on to the Transport café dressing-up station, where she’s soon in her apron and white chef’s hat, dishing up to all and sundry.

 

The Ticket 'Respector'
The Ticket ‘Respector’

We lunch at Jamie Oliver’s outdoor place in Covent Garden Market (6/10 max for those who might be tempted), where I enviously watch Anna eat up all her salad and greens while Maddy looks on disdainfully. Afterwards, we return for more dressing up etc at the Museum. When it’s time to leave, Maddy needs to use the loo. Accompanying her, I follow suit. I get a sudden aching pain in the right testicle, as if someone has squeezed it violently and let go. The utterly sickening feeling goes as almost as quickly as it came and soon we all set off to catch the bus back to Clapham Junction. It’s so nice to see Anna and Maddy sharing their remaining snacks and holding hands and giving each other affectionate hugs.

The girls say good-bye, minutes before the attack begins
The girls say good-bye, minutes before the attack begins

The day out has worked as well for the kids as it has for the adults. Shortly before Clapham Junction, Maddy and I get out, leaving little Anna and Sam to continue their journey to the station and catch the train back to Horsham. As I semi-jump down from the bus to the pavement after Maddy, I get a violent stabbing pain in the kidney area. It takes my breath away and again I have the feeling that I want to vomit. But I don’t want to alarm Maddy so, after a short pause to catch my breath, we resume the walk to our Anna’s flat.

 

Let me explain. Although we’re a single family unit, we have two flats. This is because I recently sold a large house which I bought many years ago in France and was keen to do something useful with the proceeds. Haunted by the fact that so many young people today remain at the mercy of more or less scrupulous landlords well into their thirties, and even forties, I thought that we could invest the money in a small place so that Maddy would have a starter home when she was older. Otherwise, if circumstances changed, the money would at least have kept its value, allowing us to be able to sell both flats and buy a family-suitable house. With the help of a massive new mortgage, funded by Anna, the five-bedroom early nineteenth-century French stone house with enormous garden in the Pyrenees transmogrified into a modest but pleasant flat in an unprepossessing block a few minutes walk from our original place, which is now known as ‘daddy’s flat.’ From our point of view, the real coup was that the new flat was in the catchment area for two very good primary schools – far better than those close to where we were based before. Since buying last July, we’ve been spread somewhat awkwardly across the two properties, while we wait for news of school placements for Maddy before deciding on longer-term housing.

 

As we walk down Queenstown Road towards the flat, my mate Paddy the framer comes out of his shop. I don’t want to linger but it’s impossible to resist his broad Irish smile.

‘Maddy,’ I say, ‘this is Paddy. Say hello?’

It takes her a moment to start tittering. She points first at herself, then at the two of us. ‘Maddy, Daddy, and Paddy! Paddy, Daddy and Maddy!’

She keeps repeating the doggerel rhyme all the way back to Anna’s. Her three-year old’s sense of the hilarious is a useful distraction.

 

On arriving at Anna’s, she makes me a cup of tea and we exchange the news of the day. Not wanting to discuss it in front of Maddy, I defer mentioning the pain. However, I quickly notice that I can’t get comfortable on my armchair, so after a few minutes, I lie down flat on the rug on the living-room floor. Big mistake. When I try to get up again to go to the loo, I have the second most excruciating pain I’ve ever experienced (on what topped it, see the next entry below.) I manage to get away from Maddy and into the loo, where I kneel down and retched repeatedly, every few seconds, for about two minutes, without bringing anything up. Because of the frequency of the spasms, I can barely breathe, let alone call Anna, so it’s a while before she comes to investigate why I’m taking so long. She finds me in a miserable state and does her best to comfort me, despite being in obvious shock herself. However, within a few minutes, the pain passes as mysteriously as it came and I’m able to stand up.

 

By a complete miracle, I’d made a doctor’s appointment at my local surgery for the early evening to follow up a previous problem (see also below). I manage to get a bus there and after some delay get in to see him. He examines my abdomen, testicles and kidney area and pronounces that I have a testicular torsion. Since this is potentially very serious, he advises me to head straight to A and E at Chelsea and Westminster, across the Thames from Clapham Junction.

 

On arriving at A and E, I hand in the letter from my doctor and am seen pretty quickly by an assessment nurse, to whom I deliver the urine sample taken by my GP and we discuss my symptoms. He soon tells me to take a seat outside. The moment I sit down again in the waiting room, I break into a cold sweat – perhaps because my kidney’s resting against the back of the metal bench. Leaning forward provides some relief but every so often a wave of pain passes arrives, not as intense as in the afternoon, but again making me want to vomit. Keeping Anna updated at regular intervals, I drink as much water as I can, though I dread going to the loo again after the museum experience. Eventually, after a two-hour wait, I’m seen by a young urology doctor who describes himself as a ‘loin to groin’ specialist and is compassionate, reassuring and friendly. After a careful examination, he rules out testicular torsion and focuses on kidney stones, which he seems pretty confident is the problem and which he says inflicts the worst human pain short of childbirth without anaesthetic. Still, he insists, these days they’re pretty easy to treat. He explains that it’s too late to do a CT scan to be 100% sure and that I should return in the morning to have one.

 

Leaving the examining room, I go to the lavatory. My urine’s darkened considerably; to my horror two small, semi-solid objects also pass through while I’m weeing. I call the urology doctor who’s at a loss, no doubt because it’s difficult to see much through the bloody mixture and he understandably doesn’t want to have to fish them out. He eventually ventures that they might be kidney stones which have already passed through my system and been broken down in the bladder before being expelled. Exhausted, but somewhat reassured, and reasonably comfortable again, I leave the hospital and gingerly set off for home.

 

Anna being with Maddy, and it being nearly ten now, I don’t want to ask her to get someone in to look after our little girl for the night so that she can come to mine; nor did I want to go there in case of a recurrence of the attacks and potentially serious disruption / upset for her and Maddy. So, mine being closer and simply desperate now for rest, I decline her repeated entreaties to come over and we agree to review the situation the following morning. ‘And so,’ as Pepys, a great sufferer from kidney stones, habitually wrote – ‘to bed.’ Reassured by the doctor’s assertion that the problem can be sorted pretty easily, I spare a thought for poor Michel de Montaigne. When he had stones, his ‘physician’ forced a long wire padded with waxed cloth right up his urethra in order to try to fish them out. I wonder if it was all the suffering this involved which gave him the ‘right kidney’ to become one of the greatest writers of the Renaissance… But I fall asleep thinking not of Montaigne and Pepys, but my lovely women-folk, whom I hope I haven’t alarmed too much.