Thursday, 29 March 2012

Going Gracefully

Thursday 29th March 2012

To the Royal Academy early, to hand in two small paintings for the Royal Academy Summer Show. I haven’t had anything accepted since 2000, just D notices since then, but hope springs eternal doesn’t it – at least in me.
Mooched about a bit afterwards in this delinquent Spring sunshine which is so unexpected. Bought some delectable cheese in Paxton’s and some rose creams in Fortnum’s, to give out at Easter.
I had a sandwich in the cafĂ© attached to St. James’s Church, Piccadilly, had a look inside and saw there was an exhibition going on called, A Graceful Death.
It’s not the death that’s the problem, for me it’s the lead up to it. I usually avoid all reminders of this horrible prospect, but I was attracted by the portrait of a dying man on the poster.
Antonia Rolls painted her husband Steve while he was dying of liver cancer, and there were paintings of a few other people who had allowed her to paint them at the end of their lives, including one old cat.

It was a poignant show. In the visitor’s book someone called Sogyai Riaponche had written rather desperately:
“Moment to moment I live with the possibility of imminent death.”
I wondered if she was a tourist, going round in big trainers, trying to take her mind off things by looking at London. Some hope.

Many people like to say glibly, “We all die. I might get hit by a bus tomorrow. It could happen any time,” but they don’t really know what the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness is like, anymore than they know what it’s like to sit on death-row.

When will it come, how will it be?
I’m stuffing in veg, drinking green tea,
Sitting in the sun, grabbing Vitamin D.
Listening to the wireless all night,
Sleepless, as if waiting for news of war.
Tell me, how long now, it's almost a bore,
Like some long expected catastrophe.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Davy Jones

It was a shocked to hear about the death of Davy Jones last week. (7/2/12) A heart-attack, aged sixty six. It also felt a little creepy as I’d been thinking about him the night before, after not doing so for years. Remembering my childhood in the 1960s, he’d somehow floated into my mind – that ever cheerful boy’s face and sweet voice.
I realise that he was twenty two when aged eleven, I first saw him on TV and became obsessively in-love with him.
From the age of seven I had been a committed Beatles fan so I held out against the Monkees for as long as I could. In my last year at Primary School I went on a school cruise, and every morning in the Mediterranean, they woke us up in our sweltering cabin by playing loud music over loud-speakers. One record they chose was called, “Take A Giant Step Outside Your Mind,” sung in a soft nasal drawl by Micky Dolenz, the Monkee’s drummer.
I really liked it but didn’t admit that I liked them until I saw the TV show and instantly became besotted with Davy. Their famous song, Daydream Believer became the continuous sound track of my life. If we’d had those things you stick in your ears back then, I would no doubt have been annoying people on buses and trains by playing it at full volume.
Like the Beatles, the Monkees were all very different characters, but were all young men behaving like children. This offered us real children a sexed up version of the old Enid Blyton fantasy of children going off and having adventures in secret places where no adults were permitted. This captivating new version of adult hood was just like childhood, but without any of its pains or frustrations. They didn’t go to school, their only work was singing, they had endless time for play, they had sex, they had money. Perhaps because they were a produce of the swingingest years of the 1960s, 1966-68, they offered us children a highly optimistic view of the future.
Once I became a Davy fan, like millions of others, I started buying fan magazines I’d never bothered with previously. I once spent 3/6 on a magazine, way beyond my pocket-money, because it had a photo of him on the front, a rather bad one at that. “Sun, sand, surf and sex,” I read in one of the expensive black and white magazines showing his photo. My mother looked on it all with great disapproval, as if I was about to run away and join him.
But I didn’t want to put these photos on my bedroom wall. I didn’t want to elope with him that much, although that was there, what I wanted was to be him. On the cusp of adolescence, I could already see that my own sex lagged behind when it came to fun and freedom. Girls were already losing out, worrying about how boys would see them if they spoke up in class, appeared too clever or independent. There would be no taking giant steps for most of them. I wanted to be a young male just like Davy. He later made a record called, “I Wanna Be Free,” which he sang in a plaintive, yearning voice. From what I could see he was absolutely free, an almost grown up version of Just William, living out a perfect extended adolescence on Venice beach.
I gazed for the first time at grainy photos of wide roads lined with swaying palm trees. This confused and excited me. Brought up in a Staffordshire village, the nearest town being Wolverhampton, I couldn’t understand how L.A. a city, could look like a paradise island. The Monkees travelled those broad boulevards in open top sports-cars, shirt-less and covered in girls. They showed us a shiny new world of youth and beauty.
The summer of love came and went and I was too young to do anything other than catch its scent. By my mid-teens I had forgotten them. When I became a journalist in the late 1980s and spoke to Davy Jones on the phone, I thought he sounded nice, still chirpy, but dull.
About ten years ago when I was in Dublin, staying in the plush Shelbourne Hotel, I was told that the Monkees, who had reformed, were in the bar. I stared at my Bruchetta wondering whether to go and meet them, but what can you say when you meet your former idols? It’s tricky. Unless drunk you can’t easily tell people that they made the last part of your childhood special, gave you a psycical if not physical escape from home into a fantasy where you had an entirely different self-image and fulfilled all your ambitions. I did once say something like that to an author whose writing had made a big impact on me when I was very young. He had stared into his beer without any sign of interest.
Of course they would be nothing like the young men I remembered from puberty. They might be sporting Botox, be ravaged by drink or boring. What I was really thinking of course was that I would be the let down – what would they see now apart from a tired, sad, middle-aged woman?
I didn’t venture into the bar but as I walked past on my way out, I glanced inside. It was empty. They’d all left too, if they were ever really there and not some tribute band. I was relieved.
I didn’t think about them again until the night before Davy Jones died, and listening to the obituaries. His death was still a real shock, connected as he was to the fun in my early life. We don’t expect our childhood idols to die. They remain some how intimately connected with our own sense of well-being, a hang-over from the time when life itself seemed to depend on collecting their images and seeing them every Saturday evening.
Of course people can have heart attacks at any age, his death doesn’t mean that my generation are old and also about to peg out, but it points that way and spells out a message that it is still impossible for most of us to hear and believe – our childhood is not only but long gone.
It’s so easy for us optimistic children of the 1960s to forget this, and so hard to accept that if we haven’t driven up Hollywood Boulevard, in an open topped Cadillac, to our beach front mansion by now, we are probably never going to do it. Still being a day dream believer may amount to delusion.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Stats about life and death

5/3/ 12
Had to go to the hospital for my 3 monthly results this morning. It's like facing the death sentence every few weeks, not nice at all. For a few days before I go I feel shredded, knowing that on a certain date my life could easily stop. There is also the thought that, if it's OK this time what will happen when one day it isn't OK, how will I cope with getting that news?
My CA125 which is a cancer marker in the blood was low as usual. "Your tumour doesn't show any signs with this test," said the doctor.
What was she on about - "my" tumour?? I thought I had given it away in May 2010. And if it doesn't show up in the test, may be it isn't there? Doctors seem to think that an ovarian tumour is a permanent guest which never goes away entirely. That is their view, I think mine has gone!
An examination showed that everything is still OK. The doctor said that 70 % of people have a recurrence within two years, but my two years is up in May, and if I get there, I can "relax a little."
"Perfect," she said, optimism again like the last time. I floated out of her surgery out of the clinic and across the road to the bus stop.
You always hear different things though. I remember Proff Gabra, head of the department, saying that I could start to relax in 2014.I wrote it in my diary.
They used to say that 37% of ovarian cancer sufferers survived after seven years, but that recently went up to 40%. But this doctor seemed to be working on a 30% figure. Or maybe the survival rate after seven years is an entirely other set of stats.

As soon as I got home I went out again for a swim. It feels almost prayerful to me, this pushing water, rhythm building, the feeling of being transported into another element, sunlight shining through the windows onto the blue and yellow tiles on the bottom of the pool, it's almost like being in church.


So it's three months until I reach a marker, where I might be able to say that statistics are now more on my side - just over eight weeks away. But does it count as the beginning, middle or end of May? In which part of the month will I be more safe than I am now? And after that - no, I cannot allow myself to relax, not for may be seven years. Suddenly this has become rather tough, a three month wait in hope, a sprint to the end, or just a long excruciating holding of breath.
The doctor was trying to be helpful, being so positive, "perfect," she said smiling as I was going out the door, but now my mind has gone into knots.
Swimming today I had gone into something like a calm trance, but able to think clearly. Not far from the end of the lane I was enjoying the lights you can see underwater when a begoogled, fat arsed woman swimmer, wet and round as an orca, swam straight into me, smash, then plunged away. I had committed the cardinal sin of going too slowly in the fast lane. Perhaps they should put a notice up on the wall, along with the "No diving," could be "No praying."