The last lap.... The picture was taken after the first full day in Albania, almost three weeks ago, but the trip is still so vivid not to say almost perfect to my memory, that I'm cheering Albania's win in the Euro Cup last night. Four old ladies were led by one entirely lovely and conflicted young - Albanian - man who the old ladies fell in love with as he seemingly fell in love with them. We never stopped talking - I don't feel crazy when I'm with you, he said - I don't think he'd met anyone quite like us - one writer, one journalist, one painter and a very senior archivist/librarian from Chatham House; all talkative. As we had certainly never met any Albanians, let alone one like him caught interestingly between the old - quite trad - Albania - we did hear rather more than we wanted about 'our national hero' - and the much more cosmopolitan life he'd led since he grew up. The promise of good weather in that picture came true the very next day and persisted. The promise added to - for me - by the fact that days starting around 7.30 pm and involvng much walking up and down lethal cobbled streets and clambering round ruins made me realise I really am almost back to normal energy levels; at last. The downside of which of course is no more excuse to spend so many hours prone watching Netflix - or stuff recorded on new, much used EE TV box. Except my advanced age, of course; that excuse persists. I shall use it.
Amd then last week - a birthday - the 7.30 start this time involving the Royal Marsden for what I hope is the very last time. To have what turned out to be a dinky little purple plastic pot - I asked to look at it - dug out from just above what used to be my right breast. It had been inserted last August under a general anaesthetic. It was removed under a local one. Outside the theatre I was told the current music inside was 80s pop - would I prefer something different? - the something different was guessed, fairly accurately, as classical.... 'Put on the Beethoven tape' said someone as I was led inside, still on foot; no being wheeled in as for an already unconscious patient. I might have begged for Nina Simone, instead but doubt they had that and, anyway, 'Feeling Good' might do for my funeral but possibly not for being cut open, then stitched up behind a forbidding blue grey kind of tarpaulin set up between me and the cutters and stitchers.
Actually, it was all easy enough. The only marginally uncomfortable bit was the insertion of the needles providing the local anaesthetic. It was disconcerting hearing the cutting and stitching sounds on my own flesh but I didn't feel a thing. And it was interesting to see just how many people in little blue plastic caps there were milling around for such a minor procedure lasting less than 20 minutes; God knows how many there must be for operations going on for hours and hours. The prime operator wasn't lovely Trinidadian Kevin this time, though I did have lovely Trinidadian nurse Naomi calming my nerves outside the theatre. It was the big cheese, Mr Gui himself, who did both my mastectomies, presiding. 'Isn't this small stuff for you?' I asked. "We've got any easy day,' he said. Those can't come up very often, so I was glad to see the lovely man. When I said I hoped it was the last time I'd meet in such circumstances he replied 'let's hope to meet again in better ones.' Quite.
So all good. Though I wonder what those particular bits of Beethoven symphonies will evoke next time I hear them.
Tea and toast and honey signified recovery. And a trip home plus umbrella - it was pouring with rain as it is today; next week, a trip to Mull is going to be wet too it seems; my birthday month that began with sunny jaunts round classical sites looks likely to end in damp trips to view puffins...
Never mind. Fair weather in a more general sense is promised, thereafter, even if that will involve sitting down to work on an M.S which has received something of a thumbs down from an ex-publishing friend. (Always distrust an email that starts by praising the research.) Believe me, documentary stuff is always harder to write than fiction. The last attempt at that took 8 years to get right.'
Still I'd much rather face that than cancer treatment - and the odd recourse to Netflix should help.
'When Adam delved and Eve span/ who then was the gentleman?' Not Mr Trump for sure, though this non-spinning Eve would not claim to be a lady either even if my name is said to mean 'weaver' - blame deep-browed' Homer for that.
Am cheerful today - largely because of multiple sightings - and soundings- of a reasonably-sized group of swifts, certainly not diminished since last year. Good. Very important birds for me - I'm like that: sorry. Plus there has arrived a ridiculously expensive pair of walking boots, a sign I am definitely proposing to get out there again. I did have a pair of walking boots already - a very cheap child's pair bought via the internet - which were OK and still fit, more or less, but did cause me to lose toenails on not very challenging treks. Why should I put up with that any longer? The one certain thing is that this will be very last pair of walking boots I'll ever buy: so hang the expense.
i've also - having viewed grey face against grey hair too long in Pilate class mirrors - rung the hairdresser to arrange colouring (of hair not face, let's be quite clear). Good. Not so good his telling me that it takes a year to get proper hair back. Six months to go then, dammit. But there are worse problems. Like those of the loving couple above. I'm so glad I've never been obliged to spin... though there were attempts to get me sewing in my youth; that's what girls were supposed to do then, not that they got very far with this thumbs for fingers one.
The poor spinner and delver here, by the way, came from the museum of the Duomo in Florence. The queues for the Duomo itself were so long that these plaques had to make up for Michaelangelo tombs; never mind; the museum has still more - much more- greater glories than this. But along with swifts I have always been particularly fond - and have had more familiar feelings, obviously - for all, first unfairly tempted and then maligned and over-burdened Eves. So here she is. Blessings.
The picture I will explain in a moment. All to say at the moment, healthwise, is that I'm fit, well, getting less tired and my hair has grown sufficiently that I even dare go out in public with it, though it still doesn't feel or look like me. (It's called avoid catching sight of myself in shop windows, not that I care to do that much these days at the best of times.) The only contact with the hospital - as usual I had to set this up myself - was an appointment to arrange the removal of the port from my right shoulder; the thing enabling the insertion of the horrible chemicals that took the hair away. They'd forgotten all about this, of course. The NHS really doesn't communicate with itself very well. Alas the only dates offered were either two days before we are due to go away at the end of June, or, on my birthday the week before. Hobson's choice. I settled for the birthday, though I would not really have chosen to celebrate that by appearing at the hospital at 7.30 am, in order to confront the lovely Trinidadian nurse, Kevin, who in a not so lovely way will be digging the thing out of my flesh, this time only via local anaesthetic. I suppose we can while the not very comforting time away, by discussing Napaul's a house for Mr Biswas, which he was reading at the time, and I have since re-read, finding I remembered nothing about it whatever.....but enjoying it all the same. Hey ho for medicine and literature. But it won't be the best of birthday celebrations just the same. Himself will have to fetch me home and maybe will be persuaded to cook me a perfect birthday dinner. Who knows?
Meantime, I have been away already, with friend who has flat in Florence which she is about to sell -hence need to visit now. Florence pullulating with youthful tourists and it was hotter in London I do believe, but not too bad there either. I spent one day largely in train down to the coast, to Carrara, from which come my dear friends, Benedetta and Gabriele (Benedetta has translated Charlotte Sometimes, so you see.) Carrara is the site of the raped marble mountains, though the rape can be forgiven, I guess, given that one of the rapists was Michaelangelo who would come down, choose his marble, and have it pulled back, painfully and very slowly, by bullock cart, all the way to his studio in Florence. No bullocks any more, apart from some marble ones in the little museum: only flat bed trucks which local drivers do their best to keep well away from as blocks of marble have been known to fall off and crush them. A lot of such trucks these days too -the rapine has accelerated considerably; over the past twenty years as much has been quarried as in the whole of its previous history; most of it as far as I can see going to make marble halls in China or the Gulf. Blocks of marble line the railway line I came via - interspersed with gleaming white heaps of marble dust. This, it turns out, is used for toothpaste. Well well; marble good for art and hygience, both, who knew. Not me for starters.
Still I was taken to walk on the beach which my friends assured me was from where Shelley set sail to be drowned; I thought that was some way down at the coast, from Livorno, but perhaps I got it wrong.
Good to be alive though; (even as on that day, with lungs full of marble dust.) Always good to be alive in Italy, of course. I appreciate such things these days more than ever. Especially the home-made pasta. Yummy.
Coming home OK too; to a woman with breast cancer having won Master Chef and a Muslim Mayor of London; can't claim to have done anything to assist the former but I did vote for Sadik Khan. GOOD ON US.
Well, sorry, this time you have got the selfie, friends. And no, my hair has not grown that much. Here you see the loathed Joan Collins which has the advantage, admittedly, of being far more tidy not say soigné than the real thing ever managed to be. I still revert to it. Even with increased use of eye make-up, I do not recognise myself in the boy cut I now sport; its having grown out quite grey does not help. When my fringe has grown long enough to hide behind I will return to the hairdresser to have the whole thing coloured and then we'll see. Meantime it's still hats, scarves, turbans and the Joan Collins for me, in public at least.
Wittering on like this on such a narcissistic matter is a means, partly, of not surrendering wholly to today's date: 11th April: the 25th anniversary of my twin sister's death from the family lurgy which for all its efforts has not yet managed to claim me: but then I always was the lucky one as my sister, if tacitly, sometimes made clear; or maybe I just felt she did. What she would say at my having survived a quarter of a century longer, I hate to think. I don't like the fact that she did not live those twenty-five years either. Life never is fair of course, and if I suffer from guilt about this - maybe I do, a bit - I have never for one single minute wished she'd survived instead of me. Brutal I know, but natural probably. On the other hand, how I do wish that we could still love, hate, spar with each other in real life and not just - as sometimes - in my dreams; I really do.
It's a funny time. April always is a funny time: grey skies and daffodils, warmer rain and chilly sun. Oh and lambs. My sister died in Oxford on a perfect sunny day. I drove to and fro from Oxford over this weekend much as I did over the week before she died, primroses, daffodils and cowslips on the banks of the M40, lambs in the fields alongside and a hazy green beginning to appear on trees and hedgerows just like then; all that renewal of life going on beyond the room where I sat for hours listening to my sister's ever more laboured, ever fainter breath, wondering if each one was the last; until finally, around nine o'clock at night, it was.
All sorts of other memories just now. Readers not in the UK will not know what I mean by the Archers, 'an everyday story of country folk' which has recently turned into an everyday - alas - story of pyschological marital abuse. Now I would not say that I or anyone I knew had psychotically abusive husbands. On the other hand we were and are of the generation which had begun to realise that there was a life for women outside marriage and children; something the husbands concerned, no matter how enlightened compared to their fathers, had not totally reckoned with; this did not make for easy marital relations and led to a fair amount of not always comfortable complaint. Some of us, at some point, voted with our feet; as I did, as did a few others. One husband of such a woman was a psychoanalyst; he blamed me and my best friend - still best friend - for subverting his wife. The husbands got together and sat around blaming the whole thing on penis envy - this was the 70's you remember and such men did talk like that; some time after the dust had settled my by now more or less ex-husband reported the conversation. Anyway: the story in the Archers has had the effect of bringing some uncomfortable memories right back - I know I'm not alone in this, judging by what has been said all over the press and the social media. Actually it's a good thing the issue has been raised, so powerfully raised at that. This subject needs to be recognised and taken seriously, and still isn't; the poor abused wives are often further abused by incomprehending police and the legal system - the fictional story has reflected this in the most upsetting ways and will continue to do so, according the programme's producer, for at least another year; can we bear it? It's strange to think that in the age of the Internet a so much more primitive medium, the radio, can have such an effect. But so it has had. At times the story has kept me awake at night; the power of fiction I explain to Himself, the scientist, who regards all fiction as entertainment rather than significant additions to human understanding; I think he is beginning to get the point. (Much as I have begun to understand the meanings in science; even if I don't always get it any more than he gets literary metaphor. This makes for interesting discussions over dinner.)
April the cruellest month in so many respects ...... birth and death; grief and laughter. Longing, loss and new arrivals. RIP Judy, beloved twin, 25 years dead.
Some minor dilemma here; whether to head my new post with photo of self in the Joan Collins or photo of charming lambs - admittedly these charming lambs were probably someone's Sunday lunch a while back - I haven't yet photoed this year's batch - but still they are lambs and appropriate for the season. In the end charm won out, retrospective or not. T'is April 1st after all, let's avoid jokes and concentrate on the promises of spring - even if my spring currently, when not standing in a howling gale down where Himself rents his little bolthole, surveying the dear new born- is spent trying to prevent a pair of not very salubrious pigeons setting up house on my London balcony; they have a long courting season it seems, given how long this fight goes on. But aren't I mean....?
Funny time of year, though. Between March and May come the anniversaries of two deaths - 5th and 11th April - and no less than 6 births. The deaths were of my mother - 5th April - 53 years ago - and of my twin - 25 years ago - both succumbed to the dread gene, from the effects of which I am now - yet again - surfacing. The births are mostly of grandchildren - or quasi or step-grandchildren - plus of one daughter; ages between 4 and 52. Amid memories of mourning I rush round looking for presents, cards etc, and standing in post office queues despatching said presents or cards. Exhausting stuff. Am still tired, if better, and in betweenwhiles trying to clear decks - years' worth of paper, drawers full of too many clothes etc - ready to start work. Getting my life back, you can see, one way and another.
So why do I fail to write more blog posts? God knows. Can't quite bring myself to somehow. Can't quite bring myself to add much more here, either. Sorry. Still, winter has passed, more or less, my sitting-room is full of tulips, the days zoom by in acceptible fashion, pretty much, and life is alright; really. Cheers.