Sunday, 14 November 2010

An Angel in the Living Room


How’s this for a bad start to a day; 9am decided to order some wine from Tesco on line, using my vouchers. Last month they went out of date before I got round to using them. Got to the “check-out” thinking, this is easy, then it wanted me to register or start a new account. As I once had an on line account with them years ago, it wouldn’t accept a new account and need my old password. I couldn’t remember which cat’s name I was using at the time, so I had to apply for another. An hour later it hadn’t come. Tried to get through to one of their numerous electronic numbers. Permanently engaged. Speak to a Scots lassie on another extension who says she’ll send me a new password, and also advises me not to try extension three for on line shopping as no one can use their vouchers on line and everyone is ringing up to complain. No new password arrives. It would have been simpler to have used a phone in the first place. Write a letter of complaint wondering, uneasily, if I am the only person left who still does this?

Unexpectedly the doctor I spoke to last week then rang to tell me I hadn't had a blood test and needed to come back for one. They are like vampires those doctors. I had one when I went in on the wrong day, the week before. She obviously didn't know that and I forgot to tell her.

Then I made the mistake of talking to her about our last chat, which had become so muddled in my head. She chose her words carefully but it was all dire and tipped me back into the terror which had been ebbing away.

“No one knows how you will respond to the chemo as it’s so early in your treatment,” she says. “Early?” Of course it’s the start, not the end.

Some people are still alive after being diagnosed in 2003, but she says, that is after “a couple more rounds of chemo.” Only a minority have long remissions.

Heard the eleventh hour being declared on the radio, national silence falling like a stone, while sitting at the computer I felt as if my own life had been snatched away by a silent, sneaking disease, as effectively as by sniper or shell fire.

I’d got a great day planned; pay over the money for the new car, two exhibitions at the RA, meet friends later and go to the Private View of the Discerning Eye exhibition, where my painting, Chemo I is on show.

Thanks to Tesco and the conversation with the doctor tears had run into my make-up. I decided to try out the wig, as I am going to Venice on Monday and think it might make me feel more confident with style conscious Italians.

As I set out I cautiously observed people’s looks. They didn’t seem to notice the wig and I didn’t get the same sidelong glances I get when I go out with just the turban. The shaggy thing hangs down into my eyes, covering up my lack on eyebrows.

In the bank I became boiling hot, and felt the remains of the makeup sliding off my forehead and nose. The girl behind the counter looked at me scornfully, what fright must she have seen before her? Her voice was very curt and unfriendly. In my hurry to get out I forgot to get my Euros for the trip to Italy.

As soon as I got to the RA I slid into the ladies loo and removed the wig. The turban felt much more normal.

Back in the Treasures of Budapest exhibition carried on where I left off before. I was stuck by a painting of Christ healing a man, by Tiepolo. It was so wonderfully humane with modern looking figures. I spoke to it, in my head, urgently, admitting for the first time how much I want to live, how much I don’t want to go back to that clinic. After the intensity of this I felt slightly better, as if I had managed to release my subconscious in some way.

In the afternoon as I was drawing St Roch, focussing on his sore leg with its wonderful sharply sculpted knee, my friend Helena appeared behind me. Then my friend Ann from the clinic also arrived. We had an enjoyable time in the Friends’ Room, with tea and shortbread, then set off in the rain and dark to the Discerning Eye at the Mall Gallery, Ann feeling her way with her white stick, whilst I limped along on throbbing nuropathetic feet, what a couple of old crocks we now are!

Quite a good show, lots of wine but no food. Prince Charles had two paintings in, the usual tightly constrained water-colours. One had some very tall, pointy poplar Cyprus trees, which made me wonder if he is having some sexual insecurities. Next to his work it said, “Price on application.” Much of the work was wildly overpriced, it would have been interesting to make that phone call.

He didn't win any prizes and neither did I. First prize, £5,000, went to a sickly looking confection called, “Strawberries and Ice-cream,” showing just that, one of those airbrushed, photographic things, without a visible brush mark. This was rather worrying as I thought the Discerning Eye was one show left which eschewed paintings which aren't paintings but copies. I can't understand why judges go for them.

Helena hurried off to get her train leaving Ann and I together. It was as if we both breathed out with relief – like two compatriots from a foreign country, eager to speak their own language together – ours is the language of cancer-land; symptoms, pains, lingering effects of the operation, what this doctor said, what that one said that was different, things other people have said, the reaction of her partner, feeling our way towards prognosis, and the fear which is the culture and the continent we share.

Friday 13/11/10

Letter from the hospital saying that when they last saw me I had, “no residual disease.” It added that we had had "a candid talk about the future."

All I need now is the faith to live fully. But I want to know that I am cured. If an angel appeared in my living room and said that I certainly was, I wouldn’t be that surprised to see him, after all this praying before old master paintings, but I probably wouldn’t believe him.


  1. Jane! If an angel was about to visit you with such news, I think they would be aware of your expressed tendency to disbelieve what he/she might say. As a result, I don't think that that angel would decide to appear before you, knowing well enough that it would just bring to you consternation- ie. that you would carry around the resultant thought that the only angel ever to appear to you was unreliable!!!
    : ) Dave

  2. That is a most amusing thought!

    I have just put up a new post, but can't edit it, I mean change the font on line, and it seems to have altered some paragraphs. I can't see how to change it, are you any good at these things?