The Lockdown Diaries 14: The Rock & The Hard Place


When you go to hospital you fantasise that it will look like this. A cross between ‘2001’ and ‘Gattacca’.

This was the view in my hospital at 9:00am today. A cross between an Alan Bennett play and Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’.

It has no external windows (because of radiation). The suites have the unlikely names of Cedar and Sycamore. To differentiate them, both have pictures of a cherry tree. The lighting is low and buzzes just enough to make your eye tic. The name Cedar unfortunately conjures the name of the Cedar-Sinai Jewish hospital in Los Angeles, voted eighth best in the world. Try the lox, apparently it’s fabulous.

My waiting room (thoughtfully kitted with comfy wipe-clean chairs) has a small TV permanently playing ‘Good Morning Britain’. I had no idea presenter Lorraine Kelly was still alive. Her concerned, kindly, caring voice makes me want to take a cricket bat to the set.

Occasionally an elderly person with dry Simpsons-yellow skin shuffles in and waits placidly until called. Sometimes someone confronts the unfazed receptionist in a state of panic that prevents logical conversation. I wonder if I look like any of these patients now but just can’t see it, although I definitely smell of chemicals. I’m considering wearing Tom Ford to the treatments.

Right now the staff (many of whom living within walking distance in provided accomodation) get to see a small room by day and a small room by night, until this is all over. They have patience but are also brisk and efficient. System improvements are made constantly; small groups of usually about 5 or 6 people gather and discuss them while on the move, implementing changes right then and there. This must be how military hospitals work.

In this exhausted and noticeably run-down NHS hospital I feel paradoxically safe. All the patients must attend alone until COVID ends. Nobody speaks, which is a blessing as I’m reading. I’m getting to the worst part of the treatment, in which the errant body defies control. Never one with much of an appetite, I suddenly can’t stop eating. My body has changed; despite having had no alcohol for three months I have gone from rangy to stocky. Because of the need to be awake all through the night I find myself sitting on the terrace at 3:30am eating an M&S trifle. I hate sweet things – what the hell?

Some days symptoms seem to change every 3-4 hours. Despite chemo my hair seems to have got thicker. I remember thinking that my last extended bout of radiotherapy 25 years ago involved something like a primitive alien death ray. I guess it has refined but still seems like a video game blaster that scorches and scars its way through the body like a high tech blowlamp.

Today I’ll have my penultimate treatment, getting ready to leave the rock and enter the hard place I’ve been warned so much about. But pain is not the enemy. The enemy is banality. Being sick is as boring as watching a new dog owner fussing over a puppy, or waiting for someone to Google something on their phone. A passive and dull secondary activity, it shows you what a life without energy must be like. And as my mould-mouthed old Auntie Nellie used to say, ‘Fuck that for a game of soldiers.’

26 comments on “The Lockdown Diaries 14: The Rock & The Hard Place”

  1. Jo W says:

    Can’t think of any comment to that,except we are still sending positive thoughts to you Chris and to your husband, who may be feeling all your treatment at a step away. I’ve been in that position, helpless but still trying to help.
    Your Auntie Nellie sounds like a true Sarf Londoner. 😉
    Keep your pecker up- if you can find it after all the treatment……..

  2. Rachel Green says:

    Love you, dear sir, but please tell me you haven’t skinned poor Mr. Ford and want to wear him a la ‘Silence of the Lambs.’

  3. Roger says:

    Good luck! you’ll come through.
    Giving up alcohol had a much more drastic effect on my appetite – and my figure – than giving up smoking. Like Satan, I was walking up and down seeking that which I might devour. There’s a certain irony, in fact giving up Falstaff’s habits made me look like him.
    Nearly forty years ago I has a CSI(?) – certainly an early brain scan. The machine was in the deepest, darkest basement of a Victorian hospital and the woman in charge obviously had severe rheumatoid arthritis – her wrists were bent severely back. I was recovering – as far as you do – from a fractured skull and brain damage and it was just like being in a 1940s Universal horror film, or so it seemed.

  4. chazza says:

    More like “Les Yeux Sans Visage” to me!

  5. Polly Dymock says:

    My hospital is certainly more Alan Bennett but there are rooms (notably the nuclear Xray room) which are high tech. It’s the sheer volume of old people and carers in the routine clinics, such as eye testing, which make it frowsty. Old men striking up conversations and who are not easily rebuffed but continue at full volume – usually about immigrants, despite being treated by superb medical staff from all over the world….

  6. I remember an old hospital (not in the UK) where bugs used to run back and forth on the wall of the waiting room. Since they were usually in groups, we had fun guessing which would arrive first.

  7. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    My family member had steroids one week in four with his chemo, and we had to buy extra food that week.
    Leaving the ‘protection’ of the hospital is indeed hard, but, like everything else, it passes. Five minutes at a time if a day at a time is too long.
    Your Auntie Nellie was correct.

  8. SteveB says:

    Hi Chris, I like so many others am thinking of you. Yes it does get worse and worse until the end, because the chemo accumulates. That’s just what it is, but – it’s life. I really wish you good luck and also much strength and willpower. Think of Arthur! And you are lucky with your husband.

  9. Liz Thompson says:

    Not sure keep soldiering on is better than fuck that for a game of soldiers, but grit your teeth and stay determined.

  10. I’ve just finished reading your totally engaging Book of Forgotten Authors – though I would have to take issue with some of the classifications! I run a little second-hand bookshop in Wimborne Minster, Dorset, and stock many of these authors, which I’m very happy to report are mostly alive and reasonably well here. (probably to do with the town’s age demographic). One of those you mention is Sheila Hodgetts and you say you only have a much scribbled upon copy of Toby Twirl Tales. I have a copy of The Magic Wishing Well/On the Farm which I would so happily send to you in the hope it just might help pass a couple of those interminable night hours. My email: With warmest good wishes, Victoria Sturgess

  11. eggsy says:

    “…both have pictures of a cherry tree”
    Ha! Even a self-confessed city boy is annoyed by arboreal inaccuracy.
    All the best to those at Fowler Towers.
    Any more of the tao of Aunt Nellie?

  12. Jan says:

    Everything’s so much more targeted now. Compared to you last bout this present process has been fantastically fine tuned it’s a pretty precise art form now. Like comparing Seurats pointillism with that American fellas massive swathes of colour and brushstrokes. They both form pictures but very differently (Bloody Hellfire whats got into me! I’ve gone mad). Today’s equipment is just so much more precise.

    There’ll be the odd wonky day you’ll have for sure but hopefully not the constant sickness or dizziness or the complete unpleasant side effects collection.. now in a sense you are talking about rogue cell groupings being targeted and by no means large cell groups either. One day it’ll be amongstthe first cell malformations it will eventually be that precise.

    Don’t tell every one about the hair development situation certain specifically targeted Harley street clinics will subvert the complete process….

    Keep going with the accumulation of calories like a squirrel saving nuts for winter. Take it steady!

  13. Ian Luck says:

    I’m wishing you well. You need a break – your health has not been great over the last few years, with your eye problem for example.
    So, Chance, Chaos, Deity, Great Engineer from Outside – who or whatever turns the wheels of the universe – give Chris a break. He’s made millions of people’s lives more enjoyable, and possibly better. He deserves it.
    Get well, Chris.

  14. Diane Englot says:

    Buckets of LOVE to you ❤️

  15. Debra Matheney says:

    May your husband be the rock now and the hard place over soon. Time during illness passes like a slow drip of a faucet. Take care and know how many of us hold you and your husband in our thoughts.

  16. Jan, if American fella is Bob Ross, I’m sure he’d be happy to appear in the same sentence as Seurat. Personally, I’ve learnt a lot more from Bob and his white wash brush.

  17. Martin Tolley says:

    Hang in there Mr F. All of us are with you cyberwise.

  18. Ian Luck says:

    Bob Ross – someone that everybody seems to like. His shows were great, and his mantra:
    “There are no mistakes, just happy accidents.”, is positivism that people could, and should learn from. Bob Ross is cool. One of the high – end action figure makers has produced a 12″ Bob Ross figure, complete with palette, brush, and easel, and a superb facial sculpt. What Bob would make of it all, I don’t know. He’d probably be very pleased. It’s Ironic that most of the younger people who have discovered him, probably did so by seeing the extremely funny ‘Deadpool II’ trailer, with Ryan Reynolds playing Deadpool, playing Bob Ross. It’s superb, and affectionate. I’m always in awe of people who can create beautiful pictures, and Bob did it, and made it look so damn easy. But yes, a really cool guy.

  19. John Howard says:

    I find it strangely cyclical that I read Brant and May whilst in hospital and now the author has his own trip there…. Sorry, strange thought I know.
    PS: There is ALWAYS a reason for wearing Tom Ford. (Irrelevant Tom Ford story – I was going through Geneva airport a few years ago and instead of the usual perfume emporiums that are found in regular airports they had a whole Tom Ford shop…. So I just had to get another for the wife’s collection. Couldn’t quite justify buying myself one).

  20. admin says:

    Back in the old days when I flew regularly (er, February) I worked airports. I know exactly where to find the Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille sampler bottle in Duty Free on my zoom-through to the gate.

  21. Andrew Holme says:

    Can I put this old joke on record please. I too seriously reduced my alcohol intake and am now on one small glass of white wine with my evening meal. Unfortunately I’ve put on weight from eating twenty plates of cod and chips a night.

  22. Sarah Griffin says:

    Treat yourself to a bit of Tom Ford whenever you want Now’s the time to enjoy the little gorgeous moments. We your faceless readers (slightly spooky image there, hope that vision doesn’t come back at 3am any time soon) will always look forward to your words so whenever you have the strength and the inclination, do what you do best, put it down in black and white it will be appreciated and enjoyed by all.
    All the best to you Mr Fowler.

  23. There’s a Wikipedia page called Physician Writer which lists all the novelists who were doctors and another page entitled Nurse Writer in the same vein.

    Astonishing to see Stanislaw Lem and Chekhov on the first and Agatha Christie and Mary Renault on the latter.

    I suppose doctors and nurses are trained to observe people forensically which must be a v useful skill for writing.

    Very best wishes

  24. Richard Nordquist says:

    Take your time recuperating, Mr. Fowler. I’ve begun rereading the B&M novels (in order, this time), and I’m enjoying them even more the second time around. Med vänliga hälsningar!

  25. snowy says:

    The Tao of Nellie, was never written down by the lady herself, it exists only as an oral tradition. The knowledge contained still remains a closely guarded secret known only to those in the Film Industry.

    Though a fragment of the core philosophy was revealed accidentally by Noel Coward, [well he never could keep his mouth closed], at the sage lady’s inhumation:

    “We’ve come here to pay our respects to Great Aunt Nellie. She brought us up properly and taught us loyalty. Now I want you to remember that during these next few days. I also want you to remember that if you don’t come back with the goods, Nellie here will turn in her grave, and, likely as not, jump right out of it and kick your teeth in.”

  26. Jan says:

    I think A. Christie was in fact a pharmacist or pharmacist assistant. She had a prodigious
    knowledge of poisons which obviously came into play in quite a few of her novels.

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