18th May. 2010.
Mum returns to her life in the Midlands, where she has many friends. At her age she has lost a lot of close ones, but continues to make more. She has a good life; pensioners’ pub lunches which involve constant juggling of discounts, and bestowing of favours. They have lunch in one place for a few months raving about the Cumberland sausage and jam sponge, then without a bye your leave, they shift off somewhere else to a better offer. There is also Towns Women’s Guild, visits theatre matinees in Wolverhampton, the local Amateur Dramatic in the village and of course the church, where she was a sides-man till recently.
Perhaps she is the last generation to be truly embedded in village life, mortgage which was never above a few hundred pounds long gone, equipped with sound pension.
We mainly keep in touch by text. I started that about ten years ago, to keep her in the loop, let her know my movements, keep her abreast of my brilliant career and stunning social life. Now she is out there texting while I am at home.
Fall asleep and dream that I have to rush off somewhere in my car, realise that I don’t have any clothes for the trip, and anyway I am in the passenger seat. The car, without a driver, is already going too fast, out of control. I struggle over to grab the wheel and manage to turn the car around. As I do this I think: “If only this was just a dream, but they never are.”
Wake up feeling as there is a cold hand clutching my heart.
I prayed a little using the Roman Missal, just some random readings. Later it comes to me that the only way forward is to carry on as normal, keep calm and carry on if you like. That is God’s message to me, and more proof if needed that God is an Englishman.
My friend Richard Pendlebury from the Daily Mail visits, bringing, “Few Eggs And No Oranges: The Diaries of Vere Hodgson 1940-45.”
Like me she came down from the Midlands to live in London, and had the good fortune or otherwise, to blog the Blitz, writing her experiences in letters sent out to all her relatives.
The inside cover is decorated with bits of good advice from the period: “Go! To! It!”
“If you must talk, talk victory,” and “Your courage, your cheerfulness, your resolution will win through.” All phrases I can employ now. Feel my courage renewed.
My oldest friend, Lucy, arrives from Birmingham bringing flowers and food. My flat currently has more fresh cut flowers than Buckingham Palace.
After she leaves I send twenty four e mails. Have a siesta and when I come to, my courage has to be renewed. Sleep has wiped it out.
I called my cancer support nurse to ask her if there is really any hope for me, as the cancer is already at Stage 4.
“We don’t have a crystal ball, Miss Kelly,” she says, sounding a bit indignant as if I have strayed into territory that is not hers.
“Lots of our Stage 4 ladies live for years.”
That’s what I am now, not a journalist or a painter, instead my new career is as a “Stage 4 lady.”
As my spirits began to droop, Father Bill arrived from Ealing by mountain bike. After half an hour he got up to go without saying a single word about the Deity. When I asked him about this he said, “Oh, I didn’t come to pray over you!”
That’s the C of E for you. He does say a prayer when I ask for one.
On Sunday I enjoyed the service at St. Michael’s, Bedford Park, more than I have ever done before. Everything was heightened, although there was a moment when the vicar pressed the wafer in my hand with great meaning and I felt I might burst into tears.
In the afternoon, Time and the Conways by JB Priestly was on Radio 4.
A bit of a gloomy play – an ambitious young family that goes progressively rotten over the period 1918 – 1939. The grabby mother, played by Frances Barber with a voice like a saw, is the worst character. I saw it at the Grand Theatre Wolverhampton when I was in my late teens, the mother played by Joan Plowright, Lady Olivier, who annoyed me with her high, fruity voice.
I was with Lucy that night and both our mothers. I suppose at the time she and I wondered if we might end up like any of the characters in the play, at least I did. I particularly dreaded the spinster blue-stocking headmistress, but listening to it again now she seems to have come out best of all, leading her own life, earning an independent living with integrity. Wonder why I was so scared of her? Probably because she was single.
Looking back to when we were so young and full of ambition, with everything to play for, I feel that Time is very cruel to humans. Priestly calls Time “a great devil in the universe,” but he also seems to be saying it is all on some kind of cosmic loop and we are going through it constantly, at all times holding all time within ourselves.
24/5/10 Get a phone call, from a nurse from Queen Charlotte’s, calling me “Kelly Jane,” saying that they have had a terrible struggle to get me an appointment for a colonoscopy. It has to be this week, if not it will be the end of June, which is “too late.”
What has happened, is the whole of west London queuing up to have their backsides examined? The government must have been publicising it, perhaps on those horrid films they now show in the doctor’s surgery during the interminable wait. I didn’t think anyone listened to them.
Knowing that I am “Stage 4” is on my mind all the time. Fear comes and goes in waves, like pain. Lie in bed letting BBC Radio 4 and 7 tell me long, cosy stories. The older programmes are more comforting than the new ones, a bit like nurses, as the priorities in the past were quite different, more about plumping up pillows and making you feel good than hectoring you on correct attitudes.
Listen to an episode of Take It From Here, circa 1959. The writers had composed an updated version of Trilby, De Maurier’s melodrama. Interesting that the audience, which cackled like a crowd at the music hall, all knew what Trilby was about.
There were also references to Gigi, a popular musical film at the time, which the audience was expected to have seen, and even jokes about opera: “She will next play “Rose” in Der Rosenkavalier,” says one character and the audience hoots with laughter at this play on the German title.
Someone should try that one again now and see what happens.
At tea time I catch a contemporary Radio 4 comedy, put out when children are listening. Someone with a voice like a Geordie lout regales the delighted audience with a joke about Santa, “shitting down the chimney.”
Also have a go at watching films on TV in the afternoon. They can be as good as Diazepam for taking you out of anxiety. Night Train to Munich starring a young Rex Harrison was made while the war was going on and as soon as I saw the news-reel footage of the Nazis stamping through Prague I started blubbing.
Watching sexy Rexy firing bullets at a particularly horrid German whilst hanging from the side of a cable car over a Swiss gorge, realised that I will probably never now have a real rip roaring adventure like that myself. This is my adventure, my night train towards extinction and you can keep it.
Next came Green For Danger, starring Alistair Sim at his oddest as an unlikely detective. This was also made during the war, adding an extra layer of frisson to each English character portrait. I first saw this on a neighbour’s TV in the 1960s when I thought it was very scary and longed for it to end. Now I realise that it was mainly a comedy of English manners, and when it ends I am back in reality, breathless with fear.
Find a dead magpie fledgling on the lawn. It looks as if it has been sucked to death. Its anxious parents appear on the fence. All that time they invested for nothing. I feel sorry for them but at the same time think that the death of this bird of ill omen might mean good luck? I’m clinging onto anything hopeful. Magical thinking comes easily.
More practically I decide to eat myself healthy with immune system boosting foods. Also discover on line that there is now a multi-million dollar industry in purveying these “super foods” to anxious members of the public.
At 4.30pm set out for the local Tesco's, although I have been advised not to lift or carry anything for weeks. Fight my way through streams of veiled women, people in Nigerian national costume and men with dangerous looking dogs.
I felt much better once I start thinking about my diet as it allows me a sense of control at last, as if I can really do something to help myself.
My friends also help. The biographer Neil McKenna says, “Eat broccoli until it comes out of your vagina, Darling.”
My friends are full of interesting cures for cancer. Charles Thomson, leader of the Stuckist painters, swears by a strange brew called Kombucha, which is a pancake made from mysterious wild mushrooms. He says that Alexander Solzhenitsyn cultivated these mushrooms when he got cancer while he was in a labour camp in Siberia.
On line it says these pancakes will diminish liver spots, prevent certain types of cancer, relieve constipation, sooth aching neck muscles, improve vision, cure insomnia, balance blood sugar and prevent baldness.
Well I need help with all those. He says he has been taking the potion himself for a long time and always has some on the go, as if that explains his natural loveliness. People who take these potions always believe they have been markedly enhanced by them, which makes it difficult to argue.
He handed me a heavy bottle of the stuff and some of the mushrooms in a jar. It tasted quite pleasant, like weak cider vinegar, but the instructions seemed terribly difficult to follow:
No metal must come anywhere near the mushrooms, you must be in a state of calm when you make it or they will get upset, you need a strainer and something non metal to brew it at room temperature for ten days.
Father Bill, surprisingly swears by Olive Tea, found on the internet at www.detoxyourworld. (A clever parodist couldn’t make that up) I couldn’t find it and ended up ordering “High Strength Olive Leaf Complex,” in a bottle. This tastes t like syrup of figs.
When I went over to the Ealing vicarage for the usual Tuesday afternoon tea, he showed me how to brew it up in the bottom of a cup, with a layer of highly expensive Japanese Yamamoto tea at the top.
If I remember rightly, Yamamoto was Commander- in- Chief of the Imperial Japanese navy. Despite small distractions such as the attack on Pearl Harbour and the Battle of Midway, he stood on his head on deck every morning to encourage his sailors. Perhaps his lively behaviour was due to this tea, so I will definitely try it.
Father Bill is certainly lively, despite his hairy beard. He claims to be wearing a toupee which can only be seen in very bright light, so he says he lurks in doors most of the time. His vicarage does resemble a boy’s bedroom, with a few sticks of furniture provided for elderly ladies to sit on. The rest is turned over to his mountain bike, Spanish and electric guitars, and skiing equipment. There is also an odd stuffed terrier.
After showing me the wonderful tea, in the large, cold kitchen, he gives us all a demonstration of his new i-phone, playing Mac The Knife at full blast, followed by “Move Closer,” by Phyllis Nelson. I wonder if he dances alone in the dark when we’ve all gone.
Eleven people drift in for the tea and Bourbon biscuits, sitting on the assembled chairs, mostly elderly ladies, some very old indeed. One cheerful, youngish man tries to entertain me and a very old lady sitting beside me, by telling us a joke.
“What did ET’s mother say to him when he got back home?” he asks gleefully. The old lady has never heard of ET so this has to be explained to her.
“Where on earth have you been?” is the punch-line, and he almost falls off his rickety chair with mirth. The old lady says that is odd, because she has just written a letter to her nephew, who is very keen on astronomy, and in it she wrote exactly the same joke, thinking she had made it up herself. Perhaps she too is on the olive tea.
My Japanese friend insists that she herself is “a healer,” she says she cured a woman who fell over in the shopping centre in Ealing and cut her leg. She wants to come round and see me for a proper healing session. When I demur she seems offended with me. “You are clearly not interested,” she says huffily.
My Polish friend e mails to ask if I have heard of “The Buwig Quark Diet?” Well no, can’t say I have.
This was developed by one Dr Johanna Budwig, a German dietician, and promises, yes promises to cure cancer with a mixture of flax oil and cottage cheese.
Their web page offers “Cancer cures and remedies,” “emotional rebalancing and re-mapping,” “herbal formulas,” and refers you to their diagnosis of the “Cancer personality.” You can also fill in a “Carcinogenic Personality Profile,” to see just how you gave yourself the illness by having the wrong attitude.
Apparently the typical cancer personality is “very tidy,” with “a fear of spiders and other crawling creatures.”
I am someone who does her housework once every month and never does anything to remove spiders or their webs. I have some in my hall who have been there for years. They look incredibly spindly and dessicated. I look on them as a kind of arachnid women’s group, and speak affectionately to them whenever I go out. So cancer must be entirely down to my bad attitude and avoidance of cottage cheese, which I gave up in my mid 20s at the same time as I gave up dieting.
Frau Budwig’s remedy is “all proven and effective,” it says on her web page, “synergistically with the Budwig Protocol.”
You can attend their clinic for some of their special salad, a snip at $8,500 for two weeks.
Her followers also claim that she was up for a Nobel Prize, “six or seven times.”
As she did her groundbreaking work in the early 1950s I would like to know exactly what she was doing during the prime of her life, in the Third Reich – awarded a judgement at Nuremberg more like.