Monday 28 February 2011

Something for the weekend.

It hasn’t been the best of seasons for mine and P’s respective teams. As an Evertonian, he’s found himself hugely frustrated at a coulda-woulda-shoulda campaign of missed opportunity while, as a Derby fan, I’ve taken nothing but gleeful flack from rival supporters about a season that’s been akin to a reverse bungee jump.

As folk who regularly bemoan the loss of Saturday-afternoon, 3 o’clock kick-off football, it was especially pleasing for me and P to be able to spend last Saturday enjoying the pre-match analysis, sitting down in front of the telly for kick-off and distracting ourselves from Sky Sports News’s nerve-inducing dying-minutes coverage with tea and biscuits.

This, for me, is what a normal Saturday is all about. Football, home, tea, biscuits. And, if you’re lucky – as we were this weekend – there’ll also be smug drives through shopping streets and drive-thru coffee, rain tapping the window as you curl up indoors, a cuddly cat rolling on her back in comfort, and Return of the Jedi on the telly. And, if you’re luckier, you’ll even find the time to squeeze in an operation to hone your new nork.

It seems pretty absurd that, while achieving (or, more to the point, blissfully non-achieving) all that P and I did on Saturday, we also managed to turn up at the hospital for surgery, get said surgery done, share ham and cheese sarnies after the op, watch the pre-match build-up, have all the necessary pills and drips and tests, get home in time for the final whistle, and – most importantly – still feel like we’d had the most normal Saturday in years.

Even the surgery itself had a real Saturday-ish air about it; everything felt incredibly relaxed and hassle-free. Well, for the most part, anyway. There’s no point in pretending that I wasn’t crapping my paper pants prior to the operation. Having assumed that it would be done under heavy sedation rather than general anaesthetic, I was blissfully picturing the kind of mid-surgery scenes I might encounter while my not-quite-right implant was being replaced… the surgical team setting up an Oscars sweepstake, Smiley Surgeon tapping his foot to Radio 2, someone popping their head round the door to ask who wants a brew… And so, when it was revealed half an hour before my op that I would, in fact, be put to sleep, I was as miffed as I was anxious.

It wasn’t my favourite anaesthetic experience. Usually it’s pretty lovely; feeling like I’ve been given a Bombay Sapphire infusion, then drifting off to sleep like a happy drunk. This time was more on the painful side; feeling like my hand was on the receiving end of a cruciatus curse before ensuring I was stupefied into unconsciousness. But the recovery nurse (given the Hogwarts references, let’s call her Madame Pomfrey) saw to it that all was well when my eyes opened, grinning that wonderful it’s-all-over smile that I’ve come to love.

‘I know your face,’ I said.
‘Oh?’ she said.
‘You’ve looked after me every time I've been in here,’ I continued. (This is typical of me – the moment I’ve come round from an anaesthetic, you cannot shut me up. Last time it was about my holiday tan. The time before it was about the mid-surgery shopping errands on which I’d sent my brother and sister-in-law. And the time before that it was about P, and how long we’d been married, and how I wished the woman in the next bed would stop whingeing. No wonder they always wheel me out of recovery so quickly.)
‘Of course!’ Madame Pomfrey said, glancing down at my notes. ‘And this is your last?’
‘I hope so,’ I said tentatively, looking down and answering my question immediately upon sight of my perfect – yes, perfect – new boob.
She winked upon seeing my chest-contentment and caringly pulled another blanket over me.
‘Seriously though,’ I said. ‘Thank you for always being so kind.’ (With things feeling as final as they did, I figured this was as good a time as any to make my acceptance speech.)
‘You’re welcome,’ she smiled as a porter began to wheel me out of the recovery room. ‘Take care of yourself, Lisa. And I hope I never see you again!’
‘What a lovely sentiment,’ I thought.

Down the corridor, Saturday was happening. The porter was whistling as we went, peering down to wink at me occasionally once he’d checked that I was okay, and further down the hall, pub-style politics-chat was in full force. ‘Ah, but you see,’ a familiar voice was saying. ‘That guy in Libya; he’s… oh, hi Lisa!’
I’d never seen Smiley Surgeon looking so calm. Leaning with one arm against the wall, his blue-scrubbed legs crossed, and his surgical mask pushed up onto his head (much like my sleep-mask is currently resting on mine), he was the picture of ease; just a normal bloke hanging out with his colleagues at work on a Saturday. A normal bloke who’d finished a normal procedure for a normal(ish) patient on a normal day at the office before heading home in time for tea and the pub quiz. (Not that SS strikes me as a pub-quiz kinda guy, mind you, but sod it. Here, at least, he’s my character, and my version of Smiley Surgeon does the pub quiz after work. And wins.) ‘Now there’s a man who’s happy with himself,’ I thought. He looked relaxed; jovial, even. He looked like I do after I’ve pressed ‘publish’ on a new post.
‘Everything went really well,’ he said.
‘I knew it would,’ said the fangirl in me.
‘So rest up and I’ll see you next week.’
‘Thanks so much for this,’ I said, half-attempting another acceptance speech before deciding to give myself a few days to come up with a more rehearsed show of appreciation.

‘You know you’re going to have to do some major ass-kissing on Thursday,’ said P, back on the ward.
‘I know,’ I said, thinking back to the last appointment in which I’d narrowly avoided offending my whiz of a Wiz. ‘But he deserves it. In fact, I reckon I’m going to lay it on really thick this time.’
‘Prepare yourself for a seriously inflated ego,’ advised P.
‘Bring it on,’ I said. ‘This’ll be the last time I’ll see him in a long while anyway.’
‘I can’t believe this is the last op,’ said P, shaking his head. ‘Do you really think it is? I mean, really?’
‘I hope so, love. I’m bored of it all now.’
‘Me too. I just can’t wait for us to start getting back to normal,’ he said with a cheekily raised eyebrow. ‘I’m sick of you being faffed with. I want people to stop tinkering with you now.’
‘Amen,’ I concurred.
‘I want your body to get back to normal,’ he added. (A sentence I translated as ‘I want your body to get back to being mine.’) ‘At this rate they’ll be calling you Claudio Ranieri soon.’
‘He was the Tinkerman, see, cos he never put out the same team.’
‘So you're like the Tinkerwoman.’
‘Ah, I getcha.’
It was a perspective I'd never seen before. All I’ve thought about are my responses to the ‘tinkering’, never acknowledging that P has actually had to loan my body, whoring me out to the NHS for the best part of three years – and now he wants me back. He wants me back, and he wants his normality back. And I reckon he’s well on the way to getting it.

‘So that's that now,’ I overheard P saying to his dad on the phone when we got home later that day. ‘Everything's fine.’
I couldn’t make out the muffled scouse tones on the other end, but when P excitedly replied with ‘They did! It’s fitting!’ I knew instinctively that his old man’s response had been to enthuse about the wins that both Everton and Derby had miraculously chalked up that afternoon.

As I sat up in bed – cat on lap, surrounded by Saturday papers, still wearing my hospital wristbands (as though they were from a festival whose memories I didn’t want to dilute), and feeling better than I’d ever imagined I would while staring at the pink sky through the gap in my bedroom blind – I responded to the excited texts from my Derby-supporting family as P continued to talk to his dad from the next room.
‘I know, it’s amazing,’ he was saying. ‘Lisa’s fine. Everton won. Derby won. And I’m home on a Saturday night. You know what, Dad? All’s well with the world.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Give P a chance.

Meep left a comment on last week's post, asking whether P might ever consider writing a guest post on Alright Tit. ‘It struck me that one thing I can never remember seeing on your blog was a guest post from your husband about how HE felt,’ she said. ‘And so I wanted to ask you if you would consider asking him if he would do one?’ I promised I’d do my best to persuade him (read: gently suggest that if he didnt, hed be a black-eyed P), and was surprised to hear him happily tip-tapping away on the laptop over the weekend after I’d gone to bed. And so here, for the first time, is a post from his point of view. I'll allow his words to speak (brilliantly) for themselves, but I’d still like to preface his post by saying that a) the below is typical of P’s modesty – he doesn’t take an ounce of credit for the part he played in seeing me back to health when, in truth, I simply wouldn’t be here without him; and b) since hes finally getting the chance to speak for himself, its only fair that I introduce him properly.

And so, dear reader, with a heart bursting at the seams with adoring pride, I give you... my Peter. 

Help! Yes, just anybody.

The difficult thing I’ve always found about writing is knowing where to start. My first thought whenever I pick up a book is ‘how the Sam Hill did this person even come to begin this story? But I guess innate writers don’t look at things that way; I imagine they must note down ideas, plots, sub plots, formulate characters, devise endings – and if they’re really, really, really clever – intersperse their prose with symbolism and allegory and all that shiz.  Then it’s just about putting it all together. Easy, right? Well not for this dude.

Okay. Down to it. I'm writing this post (get me!) because my wife had breast cancer. Or, to give it its apt name: The Bullshit, as we all came to loathe it. Of course when I say ‘we’ I mean my astounding wife Lisa, our family, friends and the ‘online community’ (and the Wankiest Phrase Of All Time award goes to Mr Peter Lynch...  well, I did have a bet with Lisa that I could work in at least one Mailism. [Oh how I love saying that.])

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, Lisa mentioned that a respondee to her blog (sorry if that sounds impersonal, it’s not meant to offend) had suggested that I write a guest post from my perspective in order to assist their friend who was struggling to cope with his partner’s recent Bullshit diagnosis. Hence, I reluctantly agreed; the only real reason for my reluctance being that I wouldn’t know where to begin. Because, come on, where do you? With that in mind, then, I’m just going to recount some stand-out (if indeed that’s the right word) moments from my experience in terms of the stuff – and, more to the point, people – that helped me ...and if, in turn, that helps anyone else, then fantastic.

The darkest hours have been brilliantly and searingly documented throughout Lisa’s blog and subsequent book but I think we both agree when the darkest moment was. Black Saturday. Literally and metaphorically. The sodding sky didn’t lift all day. I vividly recall standing outside a garage whilst the mechanics put some new tyres on the car so we could make a quick escape up North. Lisa and I just had to be around people. More than that, people we loved and who loved us in return. I recall the mechanics chatting, laughing, making innuendo, and eating bacon cobs (rolls to you Southerners). ‘Bastards,’ I thought. ‘Callous bastards, at that. How fucking dare they do that while my wife’s got cancer?’ But they weren’t to know, were they?

Some four hours later we were in Derby and Lisa’s little brother Jamie (James to his Mum and wife) made me wake up and smell the coffee. We’d just arrived and Jamie came round with his then fiancee, the lovely Leanne. Jamie, almost instantly I recall, said something along the (now immortal) lines of ‘Lis, I’ll come and see you every weekend, except I’m busy next weekend, oh and obviously I can’t come down when Derby are at home but other than that…’ Before he could finish his sentence there was uproarious laughter. It was the most innocent, inappropriate, heartfelt, amusing and honest thing he could possibly have said and it told me instantly that life would go on. A fact not to be underestimated on the worst day of your life. He was brilliant thereafter; publicly denying his own pain and suffering (in his wedding year ferfuckssake) so that Lisa and I (and her parents, Jane and Ian) could adjust to a new life of surgery, chemo, endless appointments, phone calls, work juggling, driving up and down motorways, grocery shopping, keeping people informed (fuck, that was hard), eating cherries, eating watercress (both allegedly have anti-cancerous properties) and watching back-to-back Sopranos. The list was endless.

Jamie knew instinctively and quite possibly subconsciously what his role in the team was (the happy one who’ll be utterly normal and keep everyone laughing) and he galvanized us all because, from that day hence, everyone knew what their job was. Lisa: be amazing and strong and just fucking get better. Jane and Ian: selflessly trek hundreds of miles, do all the jobs round the house, be unstinting in your love and support, and generally be superpeople. Me: simply be with Lisa as much as was humanly possible.

There were, of course, many other protagonists: my Mum and Dad ‘did’ a chemo, bless ’em, and helped in any way possible, our closest friends were incomparable in their brilliance, and other family members chipped in from both sides. Then there were the internet folk, the local mates, the far-away mates, the neighbours, the work colleagues (not to mention CEOs), the friends of friends, the colleagues of friends, and their friends. They all chipped in with idle banter, positive messages of support, cards (factoid: girls will always love cards more than boys), silly drawings, pictures, photos and even offers of financial support. Oh, and flowers. Fucking shitloads of them.

Writing this now is actually very humbling, such was the overwhelming nature of public and private goodwill. How can you not stay positive and have a firm belief that everything will be ok with that weight of goodness behind you? And that’s not a rhetorical question.

See, there is no go-to manual, no literature, no guidance on how to get by or what to do to help your partner in any life threatening situation. If there were, it should read, ‘Look guys, it’s the most terrifyingly subjective thing, dealing with this shit, and whilst we can dole out some practical tips that might help, we’d actually recommend a) seeking the best medical advice you can get b) drawing inspiration from whomever and whatever you can (believe me, you will find some) c) keep calm and d) drink so much tea that you’ll surprise yourself with your piss count at the end of the day.

Lucky for me, I had no shortage of inspirational characters or tea bags. And finally (I might not know how to start, but I sure can finish), if you feel that you’re ever lacking inspiration then know this: there are two people (and a cat) in a little corner of South West London that will be forever rooting for you.

Friday 11 February 2011

Hope springs.

He’ll kill me for telling you this, but my Dad has a little routine that – among the confines of me, Mum and Jamie (and now you) – he’s become rather famous for. Not a routine in the hair-gel-before-aftershave, right-shoes-before-left-sock sense, but an actual routine. A tap-dancing routine.

It’s a daft little skit that only tends to come out in happy moments. Not weddings or birthdays or parties or any of that (although, that said, he did once do it in a shoe shop on holiday in Mexico, and still basks in the glory of the horrified looks on his teenage kids’ faces); more like contented moments at home in pyjamas eating biscuits. Which, of course, only makes the dance all the more glorious.

Key to Dad’s routine is its simplicity. (Well, its simplicity and the daft grin on his face. And the fact that it’s usually performed in socks.) His arms stretch out at perfect, proud right angles, his feet press together, and before you can say ‘5, 6, 7, 8’ his little legs are going ten to the dozen, toe-tapping, heel-digging and shuffle-hop-stepping to the tune of Keep Young and Beautiful. (Message to BBC Drama researchers: THIS is my family. You’re welcome.)

Dad’s routine is inspired by an episode of my folks’ favourite TV show, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, in which loveable Brummie Barry declares to the lads over a pint that he once took tap dancing classes. (‘Me auntie was the teacher so I got a rebate on the lessons.’) Amused by his revelation, his mates encourage him to give them a quick performance in front of the dart board and, after some gentle persuasion (‘Off yer gan, lad – one little bit and you’ll not have to buy a drink all night’), he obliges. Maniacally shuffling around in a circle, he looks as proud as punch. ‘It’s comin’ back, lads!’ he enthuses. ‘It’s comin’ back!’ 
As far as I’m concerned, it’s Timothy Spall’s finest moment in front of a camera – and if you scroll to 1.50 here, you can see it for yourself.

I spent a few days back at home with Mum and Dad last week, while Mum recuperated from her double mastectomy – and by ‘recuperated’, I mean ‘made her family and friends immeasurably proud with the bravest, most brilliantly can-do attitude and startling mental strength ever displayed’. (Seriously. The woman is a marvel. And I want the world to know that said marvel is my Mum.) I’d been tentative in my approach to what I’d find behind their front door, but the moment my ringing of the doorbell was answered by Mum looking unnervingly resplendent in pyjamas and a dressing gown (with the drains from her wounds being carried in sparkly gift bags), it was clear that all was well at home. Better than well: happy. And, given the number of Geordie-accented comedy-quotes both Mum and Dad were coming out with, I gathered that said happiness was thanks in no small part to the Auf Wiedersehen, Pet box-set marathon they’d been watching both prior to her op and immediately after she got home.

It goes without saying that these past few months have been a funny old time for my family, with the discovery of Mum’s BRCA-2 gene dropping a bomb in the middle of the rubble that was left over from my diagnosis and Jamie’s redundancy (to name but two of a number of chip-pissers). But those few days at home, in the company of my happy – and, more to the point, relaxed – family were as sure a sign as any that the balance is tipping back into more contented territory. The worry about Jamie’s redundancy has turned into excited anticipation about his new job. The fear about my recurrence chances has been assuaged by the success of the prophylactic procedures I’ve had. And, more importantly, the anxiety about Mum’s painfully difficult decision to go ahead with her own preventative surgery has been replaced by the most wonderful wave of relief that’s seen Mum and Dad in particular return to a place where they’re as lightheartedly positive as it’s possible for them to be. (And, at the risk of getting all soppy on you, I can’t let this paragraph go by without saying what a magnificent thing it is to behold: this couple, who adore each other so much, at the kind of comfortable, cheeky, cheerful ease they so deserve.)

It’s funny how you pick up on those kind of changes, though. I thought about it this week when I bought my first daffodils of 2011 (if you can find me a more optimistic symbol than that, I’d like to see it) and texted Mum with a picture. It’s a long-standing tradition of ours, racing each other to find the year’s first daffs, and something I remember Mum doing with Nan  (a much nicer gene we share that hasn't had the limelight it ought to have). But, to my mind, it’s the daft little things that are the most reliable indications that things are getting better. Mum writing shopping lists for Dad from her hospital bed; Jamie spending his final few days of work-free freedom panic-buying Rock Band accessories; breaking out the posh biscuits for an 11 o’clock cup of tea… and Dad entertaining his convalescing wife and daughter with a tap-dancing routine.

With Mum out of action, it’s fallen to Dad to cook (a man who famously gave his son tinned curry on toast the last time his wife was unable to do the dinner) and, as it turns out, his skills don’t just extend to tap.
‘Are you going to do more of this when Mum’s better then, shitface?’ I asked, leaning on the kitchen worktop as he hung up his oven gloves.
‘Don’t be daft,’ he said.
‘You do realise that tonight is the first time I’ve eaten any food you’ve made,’ I ribbed. ‘And I’m 31.’
‘Oi, piss off. I’m a very sensitive person, you know,’ he winked.
I grinned my approval at his cooking and, with a cheeky look in his eye, he paused, then responded in the only way he knows how: by stretching out his arms at perfect, proud right angles, pressing his feet together, and toe-tapping, heel-digging and shuffle-hop-stepping to the tune of Keep Young and Beautiful. And, bugger it, I joined in too. Because, yep – it’s comin’ back, all right.