The Lockdown Diaries 1: An Adventure I Hadn’t Planned For

Observatory

On Christmas Eve I came down with a severe flu-like cold that kept boomeranging back. On March 24th, the day the UK coronavirus lockdown began, I was finally diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. It was spectacularly bad timing. Getting into the system for treatment proved impossible for a month, because our hospitals were daily rethinking their structure. Doctors managed to devise a complicated multiple-therapy system for me and I’ve now started treatment.

On Monday I was in a ward that was being dismantled around me. The staff didn’t know where the unit would be the next day, somewhere further out of the city. As there was no time to print up schedules I was handed a DIY pills-and-injections regime involving many loose photocopied pages of baroque instructions. Everything was there, it just needed deciphering. I fear for first-time patients, ill and tired, navigating a dated, labyrinthine NHS system. I’m reminded of John Cleese’s abstruse public school instructions for hat-pegs and sex.

However, the system has evolved overnight, a bit ramshackle and cobbled together, but working.  It goes without saying that this is largely down to the the NHS nurses and doctors who are efficient and caring, and nearly all from countries hated and feared by Brexiters.

For a service that still serves five types of biscuit in every ward (ginger nuts, bourbons, custard creams, shortbread and digestives) it’s moving faster than it’s moved in decades. Over the next five weeks I’ll be advised of my progress, and we’re all learning. Yesterday I was due to be taught how to use a syringe at home, but the doctor broke it. The odds could be better and I’m not thrilled about making dozens of visits to a hospital battling COVID-19, but we all have challenges at the moment. 

So let’s move on. London continues to bask in delirious sub-tropical sunshine and has done ever since the Lockdown (do we capitalise that first letter now?). The grubby centre of the capital has become a flower-filled bird sanctuary where you can actually hear the breeze in the street. I’m blowing my nose and nothing black is coming out. Since the local McDonald’s burger-cum-drug-drop closed down the litter has all but disappeared from the streets. Even the junkies look healthier. The Lockdown can stay as far as I’m concerned.

I’m not one of those people who can proudly say I’ve never been sick a single day in my life. I’m more like Proust minus the bed-sores and the cake obsession, but I’m still hard at work on ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’, the 20th Bryant & May book, which is outlined and researched but not, you know, written. I can compartmentalise my thinking, though, and can promise you that no sub-standard jokes will slip through.

Being sick on lovely sunny days like this turns the mind to loss. Writers seem susceptible to early demise; I miss friends; Iain Banks, Douglas Adams, Graham Joyce, Victoria Wood and too many others. I’ve been meaning to check their websites and see if they’ve been posthumously updated. If this site flatlines, you’ll know I have. But it won’t. What an adventure! Onward!

56 comments on “The Lockdown Diaries 1: An Adventure I Hadn’t Planned For”

  1. Jo W says:

    Stay strong Chris!
    Now you have told everyone on here, we can all send you our thoughts, for getting through the treatment. Positive vibes and all that sort of thing. I won’t swear on here but I am thinking the same as I wrote in my message last week!
    Kick the little ****** into touch.

  2. Jan says:

    All the best Chris.

    It is bloody well weird watching hospitals radically change before your eyes each time you attend a clinic and that’s only me accompanying patients who need care and assistance just to see a consultant or undergo a treatment or a scan. The amount of reconfiguration I’ve seen in about 6 weeks is unbelievable. So for you as the patient it must be all be fairly terrifying. It’s the same people though the same people doing the medical work, the back up and the care. They are all bloody good at what they do no matter where they kicked off from.

    We’ll make it work this its just another problem to be solved. Keep plodding on.

  3. Jan says:

    Here Mr Fowler how come you have hit the biscuit motherlode?

    Down here in Dorset my patients and myself whilst on clinic tours are exceptionally lucky to see a Rich Tea. 5 biscuit varieties my arse. Londoners. You lot have got it all really…

  4. Chris, we are all with you.

  5. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    You’ll be surprised at how quickly all the scary new things involved in chemo become routine and much less scary.
    We’ll all be thinking of you.

    I’ve never come across a hospital with a choice of biscuits either, but I am aware of one which offered bread and dripping to post op patients. I think the hungry junior docs ate most of it.

  6. Brian Evans says:

    With all the very best of wishes, Chris. We will all be thinking about you.

  7. Martin Tolley says:

    What Brian said. Hang in there Mr F. No contact, but cyberhugs a million to you.

  8. Brian Evans says:

    BTW, I probably shouldn’t say this, but I also think, because of the same reasons as you, the Lockdown can stay as far as I’m concerned too.

    I do think there may be quite a few changes for the better in the future due to the population taking stock.

    Always remember at this time, Mr F, you do have three very important things to help you during the lockdown, and your illness: Imagination and flair on how to fill your time, a balcony to get you out of the flat and enjoy the weather and fresh air and most important of all-a partner.

  9. Brian Evans says:

    Whoops, that’s four things.

  10. Mike says:

    Wishing you all the very best and hoping it all turns out fine.

  11. Ian Luck says:

    My best wishes and hope of a full recovery are with you, Chris. Your path, as Blackadder would put it, seems to be strewn with cowpats from Satans own herd. I’m sure that you’ll be able to step around them.

  12. Debra Matheney says:

    So sorry. All the best with your treatment. Life is so surreal at the moment. Take care.

  13. Fiona Callaghan says:

    So sorry to read this. My best wishes, and hope you recover fully.

  14. Helen Martin says:

    I know we have a tendency to pick up on the oddest parts of your posts – you didn’t actually post this from a hospital bed, did you? – but a choice of biscuits? I have such good memories of my London hospital experience that I can only wish you the same and a quick recovery. I assume there is a good healthy cuppa to go along with the biscuits, too.

  15. Wayne Mook says:

    Thinking of you Chris, and look forward to reading many more stories from you in the future.

    I was just looking at book you helped with, well had a story in, End of the Line ed. Jonathan Oliver, my copy is signed by Joel Lane, another one we lost.

    last time I was in hospital and it was a quick ultra sound scan, no bikkies but they ran out of warmed gel, it was cold I now feel for my wife when she was scanned, cold gel has a special coldness to it. The time before I Had orange cordial and fruit shortcake biscuits, I was offered bourbons as well.

    Wayne.

  16. Nelle Stokes says:

    Dear Mr. Fowler,

    I’m writing from New York City. The Bryant and May books and your blog have made my quarantine so much more bearable. I really appreciate your wit, and have taken advantage of your suggestions for films and books over the past six-plus weeks. (Thinking about that, my husband and I veered from Netflix binges to BLITHE SPIRT over the past week. I would love to hear Noel Coward’s thoughts on the TIGER KING.) Wishing all the best for your treatment and recovery. We need you and your talent for many years to come.

    Yours,

    Nelle

  17. John Griffin says:

    Too valedictory, me auld sausage.
    As someone who survived severe sepsis in 1986 (I was put on the death ward, and was the only one alive the next morning) and married to a cancer beater, these maladies are often the gateway to greater productivity, cos the rest of your span is a freebie. It’s a hiccup two-thirds of the way through.
    Anyway, you’ve got to carry on, your fans and pals need more B&M (though I’ve given up on a Plastic sequel).
    Bon chance!!!

  18. Ben M says:

    Stay strong Chris and keep thinking positive. Everyone is with you on this one.

  19. Agatha Hamilton says:

    I’m so sorry to hear this, Chris. Bad enough to have this diagnosis without the delay for starting your treatment and then having to decipher complicated instructions to administer your own drugs. One does wonder how less intelligent people would cope.
    Still, you obviously have the right philosophy to deal with it – an adventure, and so it is. Uncharted territory.
    Good luck and bon voyage.

  20. Linda Schmirler says:

    Wishing you all the best Chris – I have read just about all of your books (the ones I can get hold of through my sister in London or buying through amazon. I have pre ordered Oranges and Lemons and look forward to receiving at the end of the year here. Best wishes for a full recovery for I am avidly awaiting the book you are currently working on. You are in my prayers.

  21. Richard says:

    Best wishes from here too. Your attitude does you proud!

  22. Stephen Morris says:

    Best wishes as well.

  23. Bruce Rockwood says:

    Keep safe, get well, follow doctor’s orders! It’s a hard time to have any illness. I’m lucky to have got my knees replaced in January and February, before they cancelled doing elective surgery. Now doing virtual p.t. via a laptop. Many changes will come from all this. Virtual parliament. Virtual peculiar crimes?

  24. Rhonda Swanson says:

    Oh hell no!

    Mr. Fowler, we will have you and yours close to heart and send good thoughts your way. Tough times ahead but I am sure that you will weather this storm. There are a lot of people out there wishing you well.

  25. Rachel Green says:

    Be well, sir

  26. Rh says:

    Sad to hear this and very best wishes for your treatment and recovery.

  27. chazza says:

    Biscuits only? My local hospital has a moustachioed Pete cycling round the wards with a mobile doner kebab unit and there’s a Wimpy takeaway by the entrance!!
    God, these drugs are strong…
    Keep safe1

  28. Tim says:

    Chris, I would just like to say that your books and this blog have meant a lot to me ever since discovering them, and particularly during this lockdown. Stay strong and best wishes for your recovery. Love the positive attitude

  29. JanW says:

    Ginger nuts were always the ones to go first in the chemo ward I was in- they help combat the nausea many chemo patients struggle with. Custard creams always the least popular. But yes, always biscuits in chemo suites becuase they don’t want people to collapse and chemo can take a long time to deliver. MY very best wishes to you Chris, you books and blog mean a lot

  30. Liz Thompson says:

    All the best for the decipherment of the instructions, and for your full recovery. A choice of biscuits! What do you think this is, a NATIONAL Health Service?

  31. Lyn Jackson says:

    So sorry to hear of your terrible health problems Chris . Your courage and sense of humour will help you stay strong to beat this. All our best wishes to you for a full recovery.

  32. Bee says:

    I am so sad to hear of your illness and sorry you’ve had the rotten luck to need treatment right now in the middle of a pandemic. I do hope the system works for you and hope you get better soon. I look forward to the 20th B&M and many more great books in the future.

  33. Brooke says:

    Sending you and partner cyber hugs and as much mental strength as I can…

  34. John Howard says:

    I will forget admin for now and just say, Christopher, please stay safe, be happy, don’t worry, always look on the…….. Oh, sorry, drifted away a bit there.
    Seriously, please take care and just know that there are a lot of people out here who care how you are doing.

  35. Dear Chris,
    Well that’s good timing!
    I hope you manage to find a working syringe soon and that all goes well. All the best, Des

  36. Jean says:

    Please get well soon. All your friends and family are thinking of you and praying you will overcome this crap disease. We are all looking forward to your new Bryant and May adventure .
    Stay well and safe Mr Fowler we love you x

  37. Roger says:

    You can snobbishly comfort yourself that it’s a rare form of cancer and not the plebiaean coronavirus.
    Hope you’re self-administered medication goes well and there are more books in store.

  38. Mish says:

    I hope that you will be as well as possible.
    Sending good thoughts to you and your husband!

  39. Adam says:

    Best wishes for a full recovery. All the very best from Dorset, and here’s to many more books.

  40. Vic says:

    All the best to one of the Best.

  41. Jonathan Oliver says:

    Wishing you all the best Mr Fowler. We Olivers are all rooting for you

  42. Risto Raitio says:

    sad to read about this extra plight in the present circumstances that seem trying enough on their own.
    I discovered your delightful and eminently entertaining series of Bryan & May’s cases by accident – no, strike that by a fluke, and a serendipitous one at that – in what used to be the biggest bookshop in Scandinavia here in Helsinki (although we’re not exactly Scandis, but never mind): it must’ve been about 15 yrs ago now (!) when Full Dark House came out in pbk, and was hooked with barely a sinker peeking through my teeth practically overnight (after reading it first, naturally). Been following the series diligently, and trying to take it slowly rather than binge-read, ever since and in the correct order. So just to put in my ha’pennyworth, the world needs more B&M, especially now – so stay safe, recover, get through this ordeal and keep on keeping on, please! With fondest thoughts and wishes from Helsinki…

  43. Allyson says:

    Just reading this on Sunday here in the US during my weekly blog catch-up. Having helped my mother through cancer, I know it’s an up and down path. I wish you strength during the down parts and I trust you will make the most of the up parts. Re-reading Bryant & May during quarantine- thank you for helping me through this.

  44. linda ayres says:

    Not much to say that would be any help at all but I am thinking of you and sending positive thoughts your way. When it comes to coping with any illness you need to find what works for you. I have a friend who insisted on washing down all her pills with a choc ice.
    Sounds like you have interesting neighbours , could this be where Brad Pitt came from?

  45. Stuart says:

    All the very best! I haven’t come across biscuits in hospital before let alone a choice! I’d be very happy to send you your choice of biscuits if the need arises!! Stength and good fortune to you.

  46. Frances says:

    Dear Chris,
    Sending my best wishes to you as you face difficult health issues. I also had my elective surgery cancelled – although it wasn’t really a choice, it just wasn’t Covid-19 – as I would need the ICU afterwards and it was deemed too high a risk. I imagine you also would have liked to get things sorted calmly and an unbroken syringe.

    I do love the Bryant and May books. Three cheers for senior heroes! We need more of them. The quirky bits about London are wonderful and thank you for the research which must go into that. I will be looking forward to book #20!

  47. eggsy says:

    My word, Mr Fowler. I’m away from the interweb for a few days and you spring this on us. In spiro spero, sort of thing, or as they say in these parts, chin up lad!
    I’m sure you’ll show those freeloading somatic cells a thing or two.
    All the very best.
    Hang on a mo – no Garibaldis? I understand economies have to be made, but really….

  48. Davem says:

    Just caught up with this … all the best Chris, my thoughts are with you during the treatment.

  49. Bruce Wells says:

    I’m so sorry to hear of your cancer diagnosis. Your novels have provided me with many hours of pleasure over the years, and inspired me make it through some very tough times of my own. Wishing you all the best for a complete recovery, my friend!

  50. Rich says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading your novels/short stories since I read Spanky about twenty years ago. I wish you all the best with your treatment and send you as many positive thoughts as possible.

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