Friday 22 July 2011

Hello, you.

You don’t know me yet, nor do I know you, but I’ve been wanting to say hello for a wee while now. I know your blog-reading days are a way off yet, but I always feel a bit daft talking to someone else’s belly, and this is as good a platform as I have for getting a message out into the unborn ether. Maybe your Mum or Dad will read it to you when you’re keeping them awake with your kicking one night, I don’t know. Either way, the bones of what I’ve been wanting to say are this: despite us not yet knowing one another, there’s one thing of which I’m certain – that you and I, little man, are going to be best mates.

If someone could have told me five years ago that my kid brother would have a baby before I did – let alone be the only one of the pair of us to do so – I’d have bet my firstborn on them being wrong. What I’ve learned in the meantime, however, is that life has a funny habit of biting you on the ass in rather spectacular fashion. You don’t need to know about the sequence of events that made it so (it’s boring and, frankly, you’re the first person I almost know who needn’t have to hear it), and nor do you need our first correspondence to be a lecture about the nature of life’s unexpected quirks. That’s something you should, and will, learn in your own time. And when you do, come to me and we’ll laugh it all out over a few beers. It’ll always be my round.

Something else I’ve learned – albeit in the last five days more than the last five years – is that, despite me being three and a half years older than Jamie (you’ll soon realise how important a half can be), he’s not my kid brother any more; he’s your Dad. And, if you only ever take one piece of advice from me, it’s to listen to him.

We went to your Mum’s dancing show this weekend (she and your Grandma run a dance school – but don’t worry, you won’t be expected to wear tap shoes unless you really want to… though it’d certainly help when it comes to embarrassing you on your 18th) and, when we walked into the theatre, I saw your Dad standing on the stairs. He saw me walk in too and gave me a huge grin, as he always does (sometimes with a cheeky bird-flip too). We’d already seen each other that morning, but I started walking towards him for a hug when another woman got there first. ‘Congratulations, Daddy!’ she squealed, throwing her arms around him. Perhaps it was pride; perhaps it responsibility; perhaps it was just because he was standing on the second step… but, in that moment, your Dad looked taller and wiser and happier than I’ve ever seen him. I cried immediately, of course (I have a habit of doing that), because that was the moment when it finally hit me that you’ll soon be here.

His wedding to your Mum in October 2008 was another such moment. (Your Mum, by the way, is the sweetest person you could ever hope to meet. And this coming from your archetypal big sis for whom nobody – well, nobody but your Mum – is good enough for her kid bro. Look after her, please, she’s precious.) In my eyes at least, that was the day on which your Dad became a man. Now, though, he’s not just a man; he’s the man.

At the risk of making your pa sound like he was some kind of delinquent tearaway (when, in fact, he was born with a frighteningly sensible head on his shoulders and has always been the very definition of a Good Bloke), I think I was always the more likely of the two of us to do the sensible-life-pattern thing. As I write this, however, I’m approaching 32, working at home in pyjamas at 2.30 on a Friday afternoon, downloading photos from a gig at which I danced on the front row, and sitting on a patio littered with the cava-cork remnants of last Friday’s impromptu party. That might look like a bit of a tragic picture to a lot of people – and yes, there’s tragedy in there somewhere – but I prefer to think of these things as examples of the happy life I’m fortunate enough to lead. It’s often different to your Dad’s life – and the life I thought I’d have too – but it’s important for you to understand that your Dad and I, though in different cities and perhaps even different mindsets, are no less family-focused than the other.

There’s no escaping what comes next, so I might as well come straight out with it: when it comes to the clan into which you are being born, the concept of family is KING. And what’s more, you jammy shyster, there’s simply no better family for you to be born into. I’m not saying that because it makes a good story; I’m saying that because it’s the truth. So whatever happens in your lucky little life, please remember this fact. That might have sounded like an order when, actually, it’s just a reality. You won’t be able to help but remember it. And by ’eck, it’ll serve you well.

There are a few other things you perhaps ought to know about your family, mind you, and I might as well be the one to fill you in. For starters, you’ll have noticed that you’re currently being called Tito. That’s largely down to this picture, and the impressive calves that you’ve demonstrably inherited from your Dad – calves which have, many a time, been compared to those of ex-Derby-player Tito Villa. You’d better get used to this stuff, actually, for nobody in your family is called by their actual name. There’s your Mum, also known as Fanny, or Spesh or, thanks to you, Fatty. There’s your Dad, also known as Charlie, or Arseface, or Dave. There’s Grandad: Dave 2, Yoda, GOG (grumpy old git) or SFB (shit for brains). There’s Nana: Doofus, Boss, or Little Piranha. There’s Uncle Pete: Dave 3, Whacker, or The Evertonian; and me, your Auntie Shitface. And, as you’ll come to see, there’s plenty more equally daft Derby folk besides.

We stick together (sometimes, dare I say it, to the point of suffocation; albeit suffocation by candy floss), we take an interest in each other’s interests, we send each other cards on even the most unthinkable occasions, and we do a great line in fart-jokes. Your Dad is going to show you how to swing a golf club and always say the right thing. Your Mum is going to show you every Disney film that’s ever been made and how to treat girls with respect. Your Grandma is going to show you how to point your toes and the perfect time to step into sensitive situations. Your Grandad Stewart is going to show you your way around a toolbox and how never to forget a name. Your Nana is going to show you how to be the perfect host and the importance of kindness. Your Grandad Mac is going to show you that fairness comes first and how imperative it is to buy the first round. (Unless you’re with me. Or him.) Your Uncle Pete is going to show you how to talk in funny accents and read any situation with incredible accuracy. And I’m going to show you where to put an apostrophe, how to strike the right sentiment and the value of a smile. But most of all, mate, we’re going to show you how to love.  

Since we’re best mates, though, I’m going to show you a whole lot more. I keep being told that it’s my job to teach you the things you’d never hear – or want to hear – off your Mum and Dad, so I expect you’ll be looking to me as your example of how to swear and deal with difficult kids and organise a party. I’m already keeping a list of songs I think you should own and, as soon as you have a name, I’m going to set up your first email address and iTunes account, and fill them both with things I hope you’ll like. I’ll apologise now, though, for the times when I’ll probably bore the arse off you. I’d love to tell you that this’ll be the last time you hear me stress the importance of Macs being better than PCs, or Paul being better than John, but I fear we both know there’s plenty more where this sentence came from.

Lesson one though, mate, is this: ignore all these daft lessons. Because, if you’re anything like me or your Dad, the important stuff will be that which you learn by accident. So do whatever the bloody hell you want, whenever the bloody hell you want to. There’s not a lot of people I’d say that to, but then there’s not a lot of people who – even before they’ve seen the light of day – are lucky enough to have it so good. And so, my best friend, I’ll see you when you’re ready. I can’t wait to tell you in person how brilliant it is to be you.

Monday 11 July 2011

A reminder.

Last week, blogger @billygean tweeted me a link to a story about familial breast cancer; specifically, about some poor bugger who’s had it seven times. As it was, I somehow missed the link and so when, later, Billygean mentioned it, I had to admit the truth that I would be giving the story a miss. ‘Think I’m going to swerve it, pet,’ I said. ‘I’m not giving the c-word any attention today.’

In short, ‘not giving the c-word any attention’ is pretty much how I like to live my life. Admittedly, that’s not always easy when a) you’ve had it, b) you’re living with the consequences of it, c) you’ve made a career move out of it, and d) people are, quite naturally, keen to talk to you about other instances of it, but – for the good of my sanity – I give it a go regardless. But, alas, it’s a tactic that’s not without its downfalls.

Take Glastonbury, for instance. Given the frequency at which I bang on about the festival, you’re doubtless sick of hearing that it’s my favourite place in the world. And, for those of you who’ve never been, I ought to explain why. Yes, there’s great music and yes, it’s a brilliant laugh – but, actually, my reasons for loving it so are more to do with the relaxation, the freedom from contact (and I mean genuine, no-juice-left-in-your-iPhone freedom – as opposed to the didn’t-ought-to-be-on-data-roaming-but-I-am-anyway kind), the slow pace, the fresh air, the kindness with which everyone treats each other, and ­– at the risk of sounding like an irrecoverable hippy – all that lovely sky.

Spot the cancer patient.
It’s the relaxation thing that does it for me most, though. This coming from a girl who, quite honestly, is never relaxed. I’m not relaxed on holiday (far more concerned with how awful I look in a swimsuit); I’m not relaxed in bed (for that’s when my worries present themselves in full technicolour); I’m not even fully relaxed in the company of friends and family, so continually paranoid am I about the way I’m coming across. But the moment we drive our van through those farm gates: bam – I’m as chilled as a penguin in a freezer compartment. I’m unconcerned with who’s jacket is cooler than mine, I couldn’t give a crap about my visible pores, and the last things on my mind are flyaway hair or WeightWatchers points. (‘Do you know what’s amazing about this place?’ said my first-time Glasto-buddy Jess. ‘Everyone stops being tied up with their looks. Nobody gives a shit any more; it’s amazing.’) All of a sudden, every worry – however daft or however significant – falls by the wayside, flushed down a long-drop loo along with… well, I’m sure you can imagine the rest. For this Glasto-goer perhaps more than most, then, it’s a pretty special thing. Because, at Glastonbury, I don’t feel like the recovering cancer patient I do everywhere else; I just feel like one of the crowd. And bugger me, it’s bloody wonderful.

Usually I am, of course, acutely aware of my worries. That’s not to say that I can’t live a wonderful life because of them – quite the contrary. But, much as The Bullshit has left behind a number of parting shots that necessitate daily acknowledgement (the lymphoedema in my left arm, the decreasing bone density, the various scars on my body, the unusual – but nonetheless fabulous – rack), I do work hard at not ‘giving the c-word any attention’. But, alas, there’s always bound to be a moment when that can’t work. Ignorance is indeed bliss... but by ’eck, it’s risky. And so, when something comes along to remind you of your real-world status – finding your arm rapidly swelling up in a crush on the way to the John Peel stage, for instance, or struggling to find something other than a can of pre-mixed G&T with which to take your oestrogen-suppressing pills – it hits like a sledgehammer.  

But, compared with the other reminders that cancer has up its sleeve, that’s nothing. Because, lately, it issued another reminder: specifically, when it planted The Bullshit – and then, as if that weren’t quite enough, a Bullshit recurrence – inside my mate Leo’s body. I first ought to point out that his is a body so fit (yes, ladies, in every sense of the word) that cancer has got a serious bloody cheek renting space there in the first place. I mean, I can just about get my head around a tumour having found a cosy home inside this lard-arsed structure, but he’s a decathlete, ferfuckssake! Surely there’s no space within his frame for anything other than muscle and Lucozade and frighteningly focused PMA?

It’s with some confusion, then, that I find myself still able to be shocked by this stuff. I’ve said before that there’s a strange comfort to be had in the lightning-strike of this happening to you. But to then discover that said lightning isn’t just striking elsewhere in the abstract world, but directly at someone in your Twitter stream? Sheesh. And so apparently I’m still as much a Bullshit shock-target as the rest of the world. I mean, yes, we’ve established that it’s possible to be surprised by the reminder of cancer even when you’ve had it, but to be shocked by other occurrences of it in your pitifully young age group is a whole other beast; less slap-in-face than piano-on-head. And all of that’s quite aside from the shock of discovering another cancer blogger so bloody brilliant with words that it rather puts you to shame. (Not that I’m shocked that clever, fit, funny, cancerous Leo is raining on my parade, of course. Although, let’s be honest, he is.)

Of course, neither I nor Leo want to be examples. (That said, we’re shameless attention-whores, so perhaps we secretly do.) Neither of us chose to be the kind of reminders that make you snap out of your blissful ignorance and wonder whether, even at its best, your health might not be everything you assume it to be. But they’re the roles we’ve been given, and we’re stuck with them. Hence what I perhaps ought to be saying – as much to myself as to you – is that, instead of getting angry about the Bullshit reminders that occasionally present themselves (whether theoretical or in person), what’s more important is to learn from them, being vigilant where necessary and keeping in the back of your mind that nothing is so precious that it can’t be snatched away from you at a millisecond’s notice.

That’s what I ought to be saying. But actually, sod all that. Because Leo, I’m sure he won’t mind me saying, is more proof than I’ve ever seen that you can be as healthy and positive and determined and young and whatever else as you like – it simply doesn’t matter to The Bullshit. And so, actually, I’d much rather tell you to ignore the above paragraph and live your life however the bloody hell you want to live it. Because, yeah, unwanted reminders may rear their ugly heads from time to time, administering the occasional shock-treatment but, if it’s all the same, I’d much rather ignore mine as much as I’m able, and take my blissfully ignorant moments where I can get them. Because, whether they come at Glastonbury or on holiday or in an average hour wasted away on Twitter, they’re just too good to spoil.