One Year On: Defiantly Yours
Illness is as boring as baby photos.
March 23 is not a date Iâ€™ll easily forget. One year ago on that abnormally sunny day the UK entered its first lockdown and with immaculate timing I started chemo/radiotherapy for cancer. The experience of having to visit a hospital at the epicentre of Londonâ€™s Covid pandemic every day for months was surreal but bearable because both dates had – I thought then – finite end-points.
But then things got strange. Thanks to the election of a man ridiculed for attempting to become London’s mayor, let alone the nation’s Prime Minister, Britain has suffered the highest death rate in the world. If you really want to lose faith in democracy, Winston Churchill said, let the people decide.Â Covid delayed my scans for months, and now I find myself in the same situation one year later, facing endless further treatment in a battle I can’t win. When the drugs cease to work, as they must, the cells become rampant once more.Â
All this has been made bearable by my spouse, whose silent strength is both humbling and mystifying. Curiously, life at its end is duplicating life at its start, a becalmed, quiet world of severe limitations, the attention concentrated once more on what is important and what was lost.
Intimations of mortality concentrate the mind wonderfully; in the past year Iâ€™ve written several books. One I finished as a personal exercise, not for publication. Two I finished contractually, but also because I loved writing them. Two further works are in the pipeline. As I’m being denied the chance to go anywhere else I keep working.
Writing isn’t always fun; often it’s simply a slog. Although I’m not prone to depression it’s hard to be quite as joyful when such serious matters press down. It’s tempting to think I could put away my laptop and just walk off. Two old friends of mine, Iain Banks and Graham Joyce, carried on working until they died at 57 and 58 respectively.
Reading and writing has kept me sane. Writers are very good at compartmentalising; I step into the written world, whether enjoying someone elseâ€™s work or creating my own, and forget everything else.
This is hopefully the last health bulletin you’ll have to endure for the simple reason that the illnesses of others are as boring as their baby photos. I’m a writer, not a patient.Â I type my way through the chemo treatments, regarding canulas and tubes as mere nuisances when they tangle with my keyboard. When my beard fell out I was only worried that bristles were getting into the keyboard.
To hell with it. Instead of incompetence let’s celebrate excellence. I once had a T-shirt based on a cartoon by the wonderful B Kliban that read; ‘Short on brains but a terrific dancer’. It’s time I dug it out. Let’s dance.