Tuesday, 21 December 2010



Woke up to the radio telling me about temperatures plummeting in Belfast. I also heard this last night, several times. I am due to drive north soon – and find myself in the grip of national hysteria.

There has been nothing like this frantic confusion and teeth gnashing since the death of Diana and news of the last serial killer – the new agent of terror and despair is the weather!

I couldn’t watch the news last night as I knew what it would be; people trapped in their cars over night or surviving in hastily built igloos with their dogs, lorries jack-knifed, a humanitarian catastrophe at Heathrow airport, forlorn people trying to get onto a Eurostar train, and reporters in thick jackets standing outside, telling us, “It’s terribly cold here!” Also more references to the plummeting temperatures in Belfast.

Oh Dear. Just like last year when I was worried sick before I set out.

I got home safely then as there was a whole area of the west Midlands that was completely untroubled by snow – and I do hope to get home again this week, in my new VW Fox, on its first big outing, without needing a shovel or space blanket.

Into the carpal tunnel


Sent off to a GP in Southall, west of Ealing, to start having my carpal tunnel problem sorted out. They give a steroid injection in one hand to begin with, see if that works, then a few weeks later do the other hand.

My hands got worse after the chemo, due to neuropathy which makes them numb and tingling, even more numb and tingling than they were. At the moment they are really bad, plaguing me night and day. While I was in France Conner gave me some splints to wear at night, which help a bit. Lord knows what people did in the old days, before steroids etc.

I had to go on an overland train to Southall. As I got there it went suddenly dark, then heavy snow began to fall. I was really early as I thought I’d have a look at the place and have lunch in a local cafĂ© before seeing the doctor, but now I had to plod through the snow which was turning into a blizzard, blowing into my face.

I found my way by asking locals, most of them didn’t speak enough English to help me, or didn’t know it. I was so relieved when a young Sikh lad gave me directions. I had to walk down a road with Victorian terraces on either side, it might have been a typical London street except that at the end, bang up against the houses was a vast mosque topped by a golden dome. I was astonished at the size of it and how close it was to the houses – it was a flagrant declaration that everyone in the houses was Muslim, marking the deliberate and proud creation of a ghetto.

I found the surgery near by. It was quiet, no one in but one young man. We sat and listened to a TV broadcasting one of those NHS films - it described the help available if you find you have a weak bladder, the actress Pam Ferris appeared telling us coyly that at some time she, “had been a carer,” but not when or for whom, there was advice about what used to be called VD and an advert for Bryn Terfel’s new Christmas recording – which could also have served as a warning against cheese.

The young man got up and spoke to the receptionist, but as he had no passport, ID, NHS number or evidence of a permanent address he went empty away.

I decided to venture out and have a look around. In the next street another very large mosque with a minaret scratching at the snowy sky. Couldn’t find anywhere to eat, apparently the main high street is full of places, but this must have been a bit out of the way. I eventually landed in a fish and chip shop. I never expected to eat this dish again, after spending time with Conner and deciding to eat healthily, but it is amazing how appetising it is, when you see it on the plate before you. In this case on the paper. Although there were tables at the back of the shop in the gloom there were no plates and no drinks available. I asked for a fork and the man behind the counter didn’t know the word, another man who looked Turkish had to translate.

I was the only woman in there, I didn’t see many women around at all, and I was the only white English person. I had a feeling of gentle, friendly people living in a very small, enclosed world and rarely leaving it. They were in a suburb of London but it could have been anywhere, a construct of south east Asia transported as if by magic carpet and randomly set down in wealthy northern Europe.

At 3pm I returned to Dr Sandhu for my injection. He kept a mask on all the time but I think there was a big beard behind it. He was a most interesting and friendly man. He told me he had worked with Sir Harold Gillies, the father of British rheumatology after the war, and had been a specialist in bones and joints ever since. He obviously had a deep enthusiasm for his work, which is always reassuring.

“A beautiful hand,” he said, turning mine over in his, “no sign of rheumatoid arthritis.” Well that’s one good bit of news.

He put the syringe into my wrist, it stung a bit, it went in further then hit the nerve – I shouted out loud. But then I felt very grateful. There is a speck of light at the end of the carpal tunnel and over the next few days I hope to get the proper use of my hand back.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Gadding About


So many people to meet, everything slightly off the hoof, as if we are all dashing off somewhere else or have just been somewhere at short notice – the effervescent effect of the onrush of Christmas, still tantalisingly out of sight, weeks to go but you can just about smell it coming.

I stepped into the National Gallery and not having anything particular in mind to see drifted about a bit, then settled in front of a Leonardo, The Madonna of the Rocks. Quite a few tourists peering at it – it is strange the difference in their looking and mine, as the painting is here in London I feel a kind of familiarity and ownership about it.

When I went back onto Trafalgar Square, after about eight minutes, there were lots of students with placards gathered outside. They had arrived surprisingly fast.

Crossed the square to get to a Costa Coffee place to meet my new friend Ann, whom I met waiting for blood tests in Garry Weston. She is a lecturer, an expert on rural radicalism in the late 18th century, and as I mentioned earlier she is losing some of her sight and uses a white stick.

Sat waiting, watching the students get into a tighter bunch and the ominous sight of the police in their yellow waterproofs, blocking off one exit from the square. They looked as if they were spoiling for a fight, pre-empting it by their numbers and rigid formation.

People sitting nearer the window could see them cutting off the top of Whitehall.

“Oh dear no, not again!” said the waitress, a young Spanish girl. “The last time, all the tables and chairs outside got thrown into the air, it was a terrible fight.” She sounded like a nursery school teacher talking about a rather unruly class.

“The Police came in and closed us down and then no one could get out of the square,” she added.

I wished that Ann would hurry up so we could have our coffee and sandwich before we were all turfed out into a massive police “kettle.”

A foreign tourist started eye balling me as I was sitting there with two seats while he was standing holding a plate of food, but at last Ann arrived. At the sight of her white stick he backed off giving me a reproachful look.

It is a relief to talk to Ann as we have a shared a life-threatening situation. This gives a kind of closeness I have never experienced before. I told her I’d read there were three stages with cancer; disbelief, bargaining and acceptance. We agreed that we are both still at the bargaining stage, at least I am, bargaining with God, and we are both trying to improve our diets, which is a kind of attempted deal with nature.

After lunch we crossed Trafalgar Square, which looked strangely wet, as if the police had already been busy with water-cannon, to the Sir Thomas Lawrence exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. It would have been a whacking £12 each but she paid a reduced fee and I got in free as a “carer,” thanks to the white stick. I am still pretty bald and I couldn’t help thinking that we must look like a couple of old crocks. We have also both got incisional hernias or is it herniae, from our operations.

She has two one on each side. We both feel disgusted by them and want them fixed. She has had a few conversations with doctors about it and hopes to get it sorted out sometime in the New Year. We have had to wait till the effects of the chemo had finished. I haven’t been to my doctor about it at all yet, as I don’t feel like going near a hospital unless I absolutely have to. We both agreed that if we could afford it, we would go private to get small things fixed. It would be nice to just walk into a clinic and get my carpal tunnel syndrome sorted for instance, not because the medical treatment would be better, but just to avoid the visit to planet NHS with all its hassle and confusion.

We forgot all this inside the exhibition, sharing a commentary with two leads fixed to one i-pod, rather shackled together. Ann had to peer at the works through a magnifying glass with a lamp attached. One of the attendants sprang forwards, worried about the light, but when she saw the trusty white stick she backed off.

It was really good going round with someone who knows a lot about Regency celebrities and is passionately interested in the paintings. She was fascinated by things I wouldn’t have noticed, such as the portrait of the chaps who started Barings Bank, in 1762.

They were hated by her hero, William Cobbett, the writer who called London, “The great wen.” He was against them because they made money from enclosing land which had once been open for common grazing. He was possibly also upset that they funded the Louisiana Purchase for Napoleon, even though Britain was at war with him at the time! Bankers, I ask you.

I was interested in the difference between the paintings – a portrait of Sophia, King George IV’s unmarried sister, looked like a real, living, breathing human being, so modern in its loose handling and humanity, while right next to it was a glossy image, already in a style that became popular with the Victorians, as unreal as an air-brushed photo of Sarah Fergusson in Hello! Magazine.

We were in there for hours and had to be revived with tea. When Ann got home she found a letter waiting, with the dreaded NHS logo on the envelope. It demanded crossly to know why she hadn’t turned up two days previously for her hernia operation, which had been arranged for her.

No such arrangements had ever been made – she could only think that they had mixed her up with some other lucky person.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Winter Wonderland


Mik’s rap describes the mood and the mindset – I am going in for constant checking. When I feel tired I seem to find more lumps and suspicious bumps that have gone by the following day. But at the moment I am healthy, as far as I know. Not sure how I do know. One of the symptoms of ovarian cancer is “bloating,” and I now eat so many sprouts and pans of curly kale that I am bloated a lot of the time. Just wind I say to myself reassuringly. I have an “incisional” hernia too, created by the surgeon’s knife, and that causes some strange aches and pains too.

My eyebrows are back, in fact they came back suddenly in Venice as if two insects had blown in across the Lagoon and stuck to my face. They are thicker than they used to be, perfect dark bows. My hair is also coming back, “gamine” people say, and more pepper and salt before.

This is by far the best time of year for me, cold, which in London is easier to manage than hot, you have an excuse to eat mince pies and cream, and there is nothing immediately ahead but parties, lunches, mulled wine and fairy lights.

There have only been two downers so far this month. A letter marked NHS, which fills me with more foreboding than a bank statement. It was long and detailed and referred to my complaint about the district nurses who didn’t call at the beginning of October. I was waiting, they didn’t turn up and I got no help from what the letter calls their “referral service,” i.e. their call centre, called Harmony – or rather I now see from the letter, “Harmoni,” which is even dafter.

The letter does show that they have made a thorough investigation into what happened. Only one person denies anything, but then apologises. This is certainly much better than the response I received to my complaint about my treatment on the Victor Bonney Ward at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital back in May. I am still smarting from that letter, which implied that I had made everything up because nothing had been written down in their book at the time. They also dismissed my comments because I had not brought them up with my cancer support nurse, although I had no idea I was supposed to do that. They spoke to her after my complaint apparently, but she has never mentioned any of it to me, which is a bit embarrassing.

My other recent problem was Tescos. Set off there with a pile of their hard earned coupons, only to find that the best one could only be used on line. Last time I tried that their whole system had gone into meltdown, they couldn’t even send me my new password. I also noticed it is for £7.50 and there is a £5.00 delivery fee. Even with my bad maths I could see there was not much point in that one.

Today I found that the shop near me doesn’t have many of the items listed on the coupons. I was told to go to a bigger store. Two of the other coupons wouldn’t go through, one because it was just out of date, the other because he hadn’t rung the item up properly. I then made the mistake of asking for a wine box, which he couldn’t open. While all that was going on I was aware of an angry looking young man with metal in his face, who looked like a bouncer but who seemed to be in charge, staring at me in annoyance as an irate queue forming behind me. It’s that unpleasant feeling when you know someone thinks you’re a trouble maker.

I did come back with a crate of mulled wine. Had trouble finding it though and for some reason they sent a young Muslim lad to help me locate it. He had no idea what it was and told me rather accusingly that he wouldn’t know where it was because he doesn’t drink. I expect he will be in charge of their wines and spirits the next time I go in.

Two small blips because I am living in a winter wonder land. Last week I was in south west France, visiting Conner Middelmann-Whitney, who runs an anti-cancer cookery course in Toulouse.

As I am slightly unbalanced at the moment, or I was at the time, I didn’t think how long I was going to impose on her when I made the arrangements, but I arrived on Wednesday and didn’t leave her home till the Saturday, and she took me to visit a spa, for the Daily Telegraph’s Spa Spy section on their Wellbeing Page.

She said it wasn’t a long trip, but it seemed quite far to me, through the snow up into the Pyrenees. She didn’t complain and was such a lovely hostess.

It was a fascinating trip for me – I got the chance to live in the French countryside for a few days, in a beautiful house decorated for Christmas, with a real family. She has three children, the oldest is 13, and they are all tri-lingual.

I read to them in the evening from Dr Seuss. I love that Green Eggs and Ham thing, with the lovely little rodent skipping about, and I was able to lie on a sofa, wrapped in a blanket watching the children sitting at a table quietly doing their homework by lamp light. It reminded me of a scene from an Ibsen play, where people sit at a table, getting on with something, before something else happens.

During one meal, the oldest boy, who was very good looking and intelligent, asked me, “What was Prussia?” I love it when children say things like that. It’s so fresh and makes you think carefully about what you actually know. I remember a little boy in a restaurant saying to his father out of the blue, “Daddy, where is Poland?”

There was also an ancient ginger cat called Paddy. I was a bit worried when I saw his bed in the garage as it was below freezing, but when I first met the children, I realised that Paddy was with them, completely wrapped in a shawl.

He wasn’t very well, and after I left they took him to the vet. He was found to have hepatitis and an old bullet lodged near his spine. Cat’s all have their own stories.

The first evening I was there we went out in the dark to a local farm house, to collect a large bag of organic chickens, actually they were hens, something we don’t eat in England now. It was rather unsettling to see their heads and bluish-pink wattles inside the bag. They have the same expression dead as when they’re alive.

One day we went into the local village where they have a market. Conner knows all the suppliers. The cheese seller had twelve kinds of Roquefort, and next to him a man was selling acorn fed ham from the Basque country. Not so delightful perhaps that they also farm donkeys in the area, for sausage meat.

One evening we collected two of the children from the home of some neighbours. She is Swiss he is German. Their house was large and open plan, overlooking a valley. It reminded me of a house I visited in the 1960s, when everyone was excited about seeing The Sound of Music.

They had a bushy Christmas tree going up to the ceiling and a large wooden crib on display for the children. A party was about to begin, a “Raclette evening,” not sure what that is, a cross between roulette and a wine and cheese party perhaps, but you wouldn’t have known it was a party at all, as the guests sat very quietly speaking in low voices. Apparently that is the Swiss way.

I was interested to hear that the Swiss lady had had cancer, while she was expecting their first child. Her chemo had been delayed until she gave birth – how ghastly is that? He works for the local aerospace industry where they make the Airbus. The French government are cutting back on the project and sacking many of their foreign workers, mainly British, German and Swiss and sending them home. They are not allowed to do this under EU law, but get away with it somehow. The couple might lose their grand house if his job goes. Almost every one I meet seems to be struggling in some way. I wonder if people always went through such traumas in middle age?

I loved Conner’s cookery class, with its interesting collection of ladies from all over the developed world. The spa, at Ax les Thermes, was rather strange, but fun. Not often you get the chance to run about in the snow in your swim suit, or jump out of the snow into a really warm thermal bath.

It was pleasing to see the local men in their tiny Speedos. Apparently they have to wear these by law, probably brought in at the request of Mme Sarkozi.They are not allowed to wear baggy boxer shorts in swimming pools, as they are deemed street clothes.

Ax became a well known spa at the time of the Crusades, and French doctors still send their patients there for three week stints, free of charge. I was surprised when a German friend of mine was packed off to the Saxon forest for a few weeks R & R after she broke her nose. Now where exactly is the NHS equivalent?

Since I’ve been back I’ve been buying some of the healthy foods that Conner recommended, including walnut oil and a delicious cherry concentrate which you add to juice. Despite that, I’ve somehow got a cold – and a large lunch party looming up!

Zest for Life The Mediterranean Anti-Cancer Diet

By Conner Middelmann-Whitney published by Matador £12.95

(25percent of all royalties go to Maggie’s Cancer Support Centres)

Nutrelan Cookery School: Four hour’s tuition for 45 €, including lunch with wine, recipes to take away and on-line support.

E – mail conner@nutrelan.com Phone (33 5) 06 76 96 99 00


Saturday, 11 December 2010

Mik Artistik

9th December 2010

In bed on Thursday night, I heard The Bespoken Word on Radio 4, recorded at the Cheltenham Literary Festival.

Being Radio 4 they had selected a bunch of rap poets. I wasn’t too keen on this and wondered whether to switch it off, but among the yowling, growling voices, I heard someone called Mik Artistik.

Apparently he makes a living by touring the north of England drawing portraits on brown paper bags. As I listened he performed a rappish poem called Cancer. Defiant and perceptive, it acutely told the tale of someone living with the disease.

The next morning I e- mailed him and he sent me a copy of the poem.

I spoke to him later on the phone and apparently he doesn’t have cancer, has never had it. It was purely a work of the imagination.

Hello Jane,

Thank you for your email. It gave me a jolt and made me thank God

I can run about painting and doing poetry and music.

I am happy that the cancer poem has given you a buzz and some cheer

and I hope you continue to paint and create Stuckist stuff.

It's a touchy subject for lots of people, I think.

I am in rude health and had some misgivings about doing it initially because

Ben and Johnny who are in my band, Mik Artistik's Ego Trip, both lost their parents

to cancer. However we had a few chats about it and boom it's out there now.

Here it is...

Woke up this mornin ..Cancer ,

had a cuppa tea .. .. Cancer,

went for a wee............. Cancer

Cancer's killin me.

Went to the pictures ...Cancer

had a cuppa coffee .. Cancer,

had a fuckin toffee.. Cancer

Cancer's all I see.

There's nothin that I want for Christmas,

There's nowhere that I want to be,

I sometimes feel like killin meself,

..but Cancer's killin me.

I've lost four stone... Cancer,

I can fit in me jeans ..Cancer

I look like a dream..Cancer

Cancer's killin me.

I wish it were flu but it's ..Cancer.

What can I do I've got.. Cancer.

I wish it were you that had Cancer,

instead of ..Cancer killin me

It's also on our album "BLASTER" with a Latin backing, available on cdbaby.com

Merry Christmas lass,