Thursday, 10 February 2011

A Club No One Wants To Join


Attend a book launch in Chiswick. This one was in a sofa shop but it was a bit like the old days when I had a note on my desk saying, “Gone To Launch.”

A few of us were talking about the wonders of Venice. Someone said, “I know Venice very well but of course I have never stayed in the wonderful places Jane has.”

The editor who sent me to Venice in November, said, “Oh you know Jane, she just saunters in and asks for the best room.”

Strolling into grand places and expecting to be treated like a princess was part of being a journalist on the Daily Mail of course, travelling the world at someone else’s expense and pretty glorious it was. Later I reflected how badly my attitude to hotels had compared to my attitude towards men. Even when I was successful, a member of Groucho’s, world travelling and well off, I always took the worst on offer, the most battered, flea bitten and down trodden. I expected to be short changed and I always was.

I remember all this with detachment as if it was someone else’s life a long time ago. I am now living in the present tense and all that I know for sure is that I am a new member of the cancer society, the club no one in the world wants to join. Perhaps it only seems like this because I am taking two courses at Maggie’s, Stress Management, and Nutrition, but most of the people I meet are sufferers, I seem to be surrounded by cancer, and the news papers are full of it.

At Maggie’s on Monday we talked about the pulses, plants and juices which might keep us alive – foods which do not suddenly increase insulin. Cancer loves sugar, so they say. The aim is to only eat and drink things that are low on the glycemic or GI index.

On Tuesday we had our class teaching us to relax deeply. In the room with cushions, hand stitched rugs, carefully selected paintings behind glass, and bowls of smooth egg shaped stones, we all settled down for some deep breathing. It seemed almost incredible to me that people cared that much about us, to want us to be more comfortable as we wait like condemned prisoners. Maggie’s is an extraordinary example of sheer human kindness.

The group is no longer intimidating to me. We have all become familiar very quickly. Sometimes I look around at the comfortable sofas and divide the women on them into threes thinking, “which one next?” But mostly it feels like attending a very good coffee morning, or rather green tea morning.

As we chatted in the break, I glanced up and saw a beautiful young girl sitting by a window crying then smiling and waving her arms around in self-deprecating gestures as if she could charm or dramatise the reality of the thing away.

Our jolly group leader decided to help us to sleep better. She told us to use our beds for nothing except sleep or sex, banning even reading or listening to the radio.

“I will allow that rare thing, a breakfast in bed,” she said.

I said it would have to be the cat bringing it to me.

“I don’t know what it would be like if a cat brought it to you,” she said quite seriously.

Bizarre conversations are frequent in this club. Later Conner, who runs the anti-cancer cookery school in Toulouse, told me that her lovely old cat had brought in a mouse for her, then eaten it himself. I wondered where a mouse would be on the Glycemic Index ? She said that with the “bones and the hide” it would be quite low.

The idea of a “mouse hide” was amusing.

My feature about Conner’s school, and her book, Zest For Life, appeared in the Daily Telegraph. It was spread out on the big table at Maggie’s. People were interested to see it, but sadly my line about some of the profits from Conner’s book going straight to Maggie’s had been subbed out. So a major plug for Maggie’s was missing.

I was relieved to see the piece, which was written in November. “Making cancer pay for itself,” as old Miles Kington used to say.

Just before I left Maggie’s I got a text from my friend who had very bad results when we had our three month check up on the 25th. Her emergency scan was OK, the problem is just the level of cancer showing in her blood. This was a great relief. As a religious person, albeit a member of the Church of England, I regard it gift from God.

At 5pm I set out for my anatomy class in north London feeling like a different person from the slightly spaced out one who was there last week. A few days ago it felt as if my friend and I were physically grappling with death, now he has laid off, at least for awhile.

The horrid dark, dirty building at the Back Hill site still bothered me and unlike the other students I had to sit down while the teacher was talking. My energy disappeared as I got there, perhaps because of the stairs, or meeting another group of people I don’t know, all younger than me.

Stan the fractured skeleton on his broken stand fell over at one point. I asked our teacher, the painter Stuart Elliot, if he couldn’t ask the principal of the prestigious Central St. Martin’s School, to buy him a new one, perhaps one with detachable muscles too, the sort you see in medical shops.

“You won’t get anything like that in an Art college!” He said.

I have already gained some knowledge of muscle groups, and an idea for a painting from this class but more importantly the chance to complain to my doctor about the pain around my “xiphoid process.” I can also now whinge that “my vastus muscle is too vast.” But nothing yet beats NF Simpson’s line, “Doctor, the small of my back is too big.”

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