Monday, 12 July 2010

Lots to do before number two.

Lots to do before number two; start the day at Garry waiting in the crowded bit of corridor while the phlebotomist plies his trade, very, very slowly. He did tell me the long wait was the fault of the computer, but I wonder.

He is very young, and looks Malaysian or perhaps from Singapore but apparently describes himself as Spanish. He has hardly any English and his manner bothers me as he sniggers to himself and calls me, “luv.”

“Hello luv,” “Give me your arm, luv,” “Date of birth, luv.”

It sounds absurd and inappropriate. I ask him why he uses that word and he just sniggers and mutters, then carries on with it. Don’t say anything reproving, perhaps because he has to stick a syringe into my arm.

Can’t help wondering why we don’t have a young English phlebotomist and why do we hardly see any English male doctors anymore? A friend who works at the Neurological hospital organising junior doctors’ hours, says that almost all the young medics she sees are English Muslim men. Apparently they, along with some English women, are the ones getting the right grades for medical school. Perhaps English boys just no longer work hard enough.

Got to Ealing in time for the monthly vicarage tea party. From somewhere in the parish Father Bill had acquired half a Victoria Sandwich with white icing and cherries on top. I looked at it greedily – real comfort food. Just what the doctor ordered.

Moving the table outside Father Bill seemed a bit worried by the garden which is overgrown and looks like a hay field.

Someone asked him how anyone could manage to tackle it.

“It will soon have its summer cut,” he said sounding testy and bored. “It gets one twice a year.”

He seemed as edgy as a moulting cat and soon disappeared off to his office to stare at his computer.

His church, St Martin’s, is setting up a “Men’s Group.” This would once have been considered retrogressive but is now rather trendy. I thought I’d give him some amusing gossip about St Michael’s Men’s Group, who usually meet in the Tabard Inn.

They were assigned to provide the food at our summer lunch recently in the vicarage garden. Unfortunately they ran out early leaving a long, disgruntled queue, and had to dash across to Marks & Spencers, happily now open on a Sunday.

Bill wasn’t interested in this bit of gossip and went on staring into his screen.

“The Diocese wants me to find new ways of having church,” he said gloomily.

“This tea party is now church,” he said. “Our Wednesday coffee mornings in the Greek Taverna are apparently a type of church. We are having having a summer fair on Sunday. We’ve never had it on Sunday before as that used to be a special day, but not any more. We’ve got to move with the times.”

Apparently the highlight of the fair will be a chance to throw a wet sponge at the vicar. That seemed appropriate somehow for the way things in the C of E are going.

The French windows in the front room soon filled with elderly ladies. They seemed very interested to see me, showering me with praise for turning up, as if I should be lying in a darkened room somewhere.

“You are so brave,” “So positive!” One of them adds, “My husband was like that. I think that’s why he lasted as long as he did.” He’s obviously not around now.

At the table outside was a smiling middle aged woman with a skimpy top displaying a chest scorched to the consistency of roast chicken, and her husband, a good looking working class man.

He was worrying about their daughter who is a singer with some concerts lined up. For a moment I imagined an opera singer or someone like Charlotte Church. But he said she is going off to Spain to “impersonate Lady Gaga.”

He was even more anxious and upset when a stout German at the table said there was a World Cup match on TV at that very moment, which he was obviously missing.

Klaus sat with his disabled English wife. She had an ugly crooked front tooth stained green and spoke slowly but very loudly.

“Where do you come from?” she asked me. I said I usually go to St Michael’s in Bedford Park. “Well what are you doing here?” she boomed. I said I came along because of my friendship with Kayoko who belongs to the parish but didn’t feel sure that my reason was good enough for her.

She began ordering him to get her tea and biscuits, no please or thank you but he bustled off obediently.

Later he began telling me about a wonderful trip he’d had at the last eclipse of the moon, when he had travelled by train from Moscow, through Mongolia to China and then on to Japan. He said he’d found a way to travel very cheaply in Japan.

“I don’t want to hear about all this,” she suddenly bawled at him. “I want to listen to these other people!”

He glanced at me sheepishly and fell silent.

Couples fascinate me, probably as I’ve never been part of one for more than a few weeks. There always seems to be one person who wins the fight, crushes the other. Not so simple of course, the squashed person probably likes that position, or takes petty revenge and complex but defeatist avoiding tactics.

I realise now that I never had the wherewithal for any of that, hating both sides of the battle. I’ve only realised this clearly since the diagnosis of cancer which shocked me so much and made me really see myself. Standing aside from the “mating game” for the first time in my life, I saw how ill equipped and unwilling I had always been to really play it. This could be the chemo talking – I realise that since I have started the treatment my thoughts have darkened. Not all the time, but in strange bleak patches which descend unexpectedly.

As the day cooled I managed to get on with some painting. I have just sold two paintings to my private collector in Luxembourg and feel encouraged. I have four on the go, self portraits trying to capture the fear I first felt when all this started. Don’t think I have succeeded except in one.

There is also a nude self-portrait showing my hysterectomy scar. I’ll have to turn that to the wall when mother arrives in a few days time. She strongly disapproves of nudity in any circumstances. Even I suspect when she’s alone.

I have been invited to show in an exhibition in September and will hopefully exhibit some of these. The critic Jane Shilling wrote a review in the Daily Mail of my book, Inside, about my experiences teaching in prison, calling it “solipsistic.” She should see these!

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