Fetch the butt-plug Mr Cunterblast

WordPress just told me that I missed our anniversary. That means I’m even disappointing software now.

The 15th of January marked a year since I started writing this bullshit, and tradition dictates that I should have gone out and, in a fit of irony that would even trouble the descriptive powers of Alanis Morissette, bought some paper for my blog service.

Remember paper? Crikey, it all seems so long ago.

So in an effort to make WordPress forgive me, tonight I took my blog out for the evening instead. First I took it my ripped-off copy of Wurd to see how many words I’ve typed; and then off to a word-cloud generator to see what it’s been about. I now know that my blog is twice as long as the novel The Life of Pi, and that I’ve spent an unfeasibly long time talking about cancer, sex and Simon Cowell.

(I also know that I’m likely to get arrested by Microsoft for having a ripped off copy of Word, but I spelled it Wurd, which is bound to baffle even the greatest lawyer. And in my defence, practically everyone else on the planet has a ripped off copy of Word too).

As a result of my research into my own blog, I’ve come up with some findings, and have decided to adapt The Naked Mole Rat into a $100 million 3D Bollywood epic, in which I’m stuck in a boat with a CGI version of Simon Cowell and have to decide whether to have kinky sex with him, or give him an aggressive and painful cancer.

It’s a real conundrum.

Actually, it’s not much of a conundrum. Simon’s getting no sweet, sexy lurve from me, which leaves him with the choice of death or death. A nation grieves. But the reason he’s not getting sweet, sexy lurve from me is because at least one of us (OK, let’s face it, it’s exactly one of us) is a raging heterosexual. And because all my romance is being directed to the lady in my life, who repays it by manipulating my head, as can be seen in this graphic depiction of our relationship.

She's so manipulative.
She’s so manipulative.

I rarely speak about my private life in detail, but for once I’m going to spill my beans and tell you that our relationship is about to go to new places. Specifically, Scotland.

I’m very fond of Scotland, and of all the people from there who I’ve met. I can’t say it’s been a representative sample, or that they’ve liked me very much. But I liked them.

It’s unrepresentative because I tend to meet Stots when, in exchange for a stuffed sheep’s stomach and a night in their bothy, I give them with enough money to buy a small island up there (approximately £78). And that kind of transaction always brings out the best in people.

And it’s hard to say if they liked me because it’s often hard to understand a bloody word they’re saying.

But I still like them. I like their attitude. On a drive up in the highlands once, I stopped at one of the tiny all-purpose stores you often find in deeply remote areas. It was a post office, off license, petrol station, butcher, fishing supplies depot, lumber-merchant and record shop. (Not a greengrocer. It is Scotland after all, and if you want to eat greens they’ll contemptibly direct you to a tuft of thistle by the roadside). The shop had the obligatory wall dedicated to tartan and shortbread, and an entirely startling wall dedicated to Native American Dreamcatchers, which seemed unusual until you realise how many Americans visit Scotland, and how gullible they are.

The shop was miles from the nearest plumbing, and the only member of staff was a short, incomprehensible object of indeterminate sex, radioactively ginger, and with webbed fingers and an advanced case of athlete’s head. So I didn’t hold out much hope when I asked to use the bathroom. It was in a lean-to against the side of the shop, and I expected a wet hole in the floor, at best. But in fact it was a fully fitted bathroom and shower, with soaps and shampoos and fresh towels laid out for anybody who needed them, and, wonderfully, a small pile of socks beneath a sign saying “help yourself”.

The climate up there puts pressures on anyone daring enough to be caught outdoors, and a shower and warm, dry socks can turn a walker’s life around. I’m taking the piss out of Scots because I take the piss out of everybody: but the shower, towels and socks were provided with generosity, and I honestly have no expectation of anything less from people in the top half of the British Isles.

I hate to say it but that open, welcoming, selfless approach to life becomes more common the further north from Westminster you get. Actually, I didn’t hate to say it at all: I like it. I like the fact that true human nature emerges if you simply leave people alone to be people, rather than forcing them to be greedy brutes in a greedy, brutal capital city. Whereas in the wilds of Scotland they have a different attitude: if you don’t hang together you’ll probably hang separately. So be nice.

I’ve expressed this opinion to people in the South of England, and been told that I’m a mad socialist fuckwit who is living in the 70s, and that the Scots are all violent thugs and a drain on the poverty-stricken folks of Surrey. And I’ve reported those conversations to people in bars in Scotland, and been told that the Scots don’t actually hate the English: they just hate the southern English.

Not that I’m any more romantic about Scots than I am about my anniversary with WordPress or my forthcoming week up there with my girlfriend. We’re going to be there on Valentine’s Day, but that’s just an embarrassing scheduling error. We’d both forgotten Saint Valentine existed (because he didn’t – even the Pope who canonised him recognised that “nothing is known about his life”).

Anyway, this 14th Feb there will be no violins or flowers, and I’m not just saying that cos she’ll read this blog, and I want to lay a false trail. The best she can hope for is that I won’t tie the ropes too tight, and will clean the ball-gag before it’s applied. And the best I can hope for is that she’ll apply plenty of lube before she does that thing to me with the object that’s slightly bigger than it looked on LoveHoney.

Other than that, it’ll be the usual mixture of visceral abuse about my hairy back, six-hour fights about how the duvet is shared out, and vain attempts to make her murder look like a tragic accident. I’ll be as cheeky as a 6-foot six-year-old can be, and she’ll respond with a torrent of abuse and profanity, and many, many slaps about the head and neck. I just hope I can persuade her to save her filthy mouth and spanking until we get indoors and naked, where her vocabulary is rich, varied, and remarkably inventive. I flatter myself that I have a wide lexicon and a seedy mind, but she still manages to startle me rigid. It’s a rigidity which comes in handy, when it works.

Damn being old!

I’m not old old, not like the mad racist who lives upstairs and must be avoided at all costs. We popped round to ask if he needed anything from the shops during the recent snow, but after 3 hours all we’d learned was that black people are ruining this country. I’m not there yet, and you have my permission to throw me down a well if I do. But I’ve reached the point at which my body starts to disintegrate, and indeed I got a head-start with the cancer that kicked off this blog a year ago. I’m grateful to the doctors, but have decided to never see one again after accidentally catching an episode of House.

Hugh Laurie, House
No wonder he’s grumpy: he’s wrong almost all the time.

This week, a man went to see House with hiccups, and after getting his diagnosis wrong five times the so-called “best diagnostician in America” finally worked out that the man’s marriage was doomed, along with his liver. He did this in much the same way as the people in CSI solve crimes, and the people in Church work out how the universe was created: random guesswork and a lot of mumbo-jumbo. This week’s patient thought he had hiccups, but apparently he had something which, from memory, had 3000 syllibals and ended in “itis”, and which every actor on set looked proud to have memorised.

I don’t know why anyone goes to see House anyway. He diagnoses patients without even seeing them, is wrong 9 times out of 10, and it’s pretty much always cancer. So House’s oncologist mate could solve the problem anyway, if he wasn’t too busy being slightly cross-eyed and wetter than a turbot’s handbag. And when the guest-star disease isn’t cancer, it’s something you’ve never heard of; so it’s a bit like reaching the end of The Usual Suspects and being told the villain is a Mr Ted Cunterblast, a total stranger who wasn’t mentioned during the previous 2 hours.

Ted Cunterblast is mentioned by Hugh Laurie though, in his previous career as a purveyor of amusing japes and elaborate swearing with Stephen Fry. (If you’ve never seen their terrific sketch show, imagine Armstrong and Miller, but with Armstrong and Miller being replaced by somebody who can be arsed doing a different sketch every week).

My girlfriend could learn a lot from Fry and Laurie, and I fully expect her to call me Ted Cunterblast upon our next meeting. Although part of me hopes she saves her filthy mouth until we’re on our own in a bothy in Scotland, so there isn’t a repeat of that time she loudly called me a twat in the children’s section of Ikea. I don’t think the Scots are ready for her vocabulary.

Of course, it’s perfectly possible the Scots have learned how to swear by now. I seem to remember Frankie Boyle using a bad word once, and Billy Connolly too. Not as bad as the word I used about him today, when I read this article in the Guardian, in which he was given a free £5,000 holiday and then proceeded to bitch and moan about the whole thing. Well don’t fucking go then! Give the money to some poor kids from Glasgow.

The acquisition of large amounts of money seems to turn even the best person into an utter bastard. Take Sean Connery, a man who bestrides Scotland like a colossus… from his home in tax haven of The Bahamas, where he pays not a penny in tax to support the nation for whose independence he vigorously campaigns. Why do so many nationalists have such a strong objection to spending any money at all on the country they claim to love? The Tories are the same, wrapping themselves in the Union Flag and bellowing at Johnny Foreigner for having the temerity to introduce laws to protect British jobs. But ask that noble, blue-rinsed defender of the UK to pay a single penny more tax to fund his own country, and he’ll let his wife out of the kitchen long enough to fetch his shotgun and let the dogs out on you.

I do find it galling to have the Tories “protecting” Scotland from independence at the same time they insist on “protecting” Scotland from the support of Europe. The EU seems to have funded 90% of the bridges north of the border, and if I were a Scot I’d kick England out, get married to Europe, and stay happy. If they do, I’m going to campaign for Manchester to be officially recognised as a district of Dundee, cos I don’t want to be trapped here with David Cameron.

So there you have it: my 91st blog, and the end of my first year as a blogger. Next year it’s the cotton anniversary and I’m going to get WordPress some knickers, but the year after that it’s the leather anniversary. Stick with me, cos then the filthy sex will really start to get interesting!

About luck

I was 40 when I got cancer.

I didn’t smoke, didn’t drink excessively, was reasonably healthy, but still managed to end up with a malignant lump on my kidney that was as heavy as your hand-luggage allowance. I’m fine – I was lucky to have a good surgeon and lucky the cancer hadn’t spread, and lucky that I’m having wonderful care in a first-world country with a marvellous health system.

It was just luck.

Of course, getting a massive, rare cancer is also quite bad luck. I’ll give you that. Granted.

But all of this plays into my thesis: luck is an incredibly important factor in life, and we tend to underestimate it. We especially underestimate good luck, or at least we ignore it and assume we deserve good things that happen to us: it’s down to some attribute of ours which others simply don’t have.

If you’re a generous spirit, you might say, “hey everyone, this wonderful thing happened to me, so it can happen to you”. But that’s disingenuous, and the same kind of lie the National Lottery uses each time it says “it could be you”. Yes, it could. There’s a 1 in 14 million chance, and you’re 5,000x more likely to be murdered by your wife. But it could be you.

But most people aren’t that generous or well-intentioned, and tend to start acting like twats as soon as they get a bit of cash. They are better human beings than you, and you’re all layabout scum who need to have their benefits scrapped and their children pushed up chimneys.

The sheer, enormous, gallumping good luck of being born in Chipping Norton to a stockbroker father who sent them to Eton doesn’t occur to the fortunate: they got there by the sweat of their smooth, egg-like brow.

But it’s not just the rich. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for class-war, especially as the rich have been winning the class war for a generation, and it’s about time we fought back a bit, rather than voting against our interests because we’re idiotic enough to believe we have a chance of being let into the exclusive club at the top. But this isn’t a dig at the entitled, landed gentry. This is a dig at those who attribute their success to skill, rather than chance.

My brother is an example of misattributed good luck. We work in the same industry (web stuff) but he’s so rich he spends his evenings making paper-aeroplanes out of £50 notes, and throwing them into one of his many solid gold fireplaces. Whereas I earn the average salary, rarely get paid on time, and spend most evenings scraping burned cheese off a baking tray so I can have some sustenance to gnaw on as I warm my fingers around a guttering candle. It’s positively Dickensian round here.

Yes, he’s worked hard, but so have I, and so have you – but he’s managed to be lucky too, and that makes all the difference. He is, at best, moderately good at programming and fairly smart – although we shared the same teachers, and every one of them said I was the smart one, and my brother was the future accountant. I’m not boasting, I’m just trying to place my brother in context.

(But I am dead smart though.)

He wanted to work with computers, but he dropped out of university after 6 weeks, and took a job at the nearest place to home: he was lazy and didn’t want to travel. Luckily that company, which only employed 3 people at the time, grew over the coming years, and he remained senior because he was there early. He didn’t make it grow. He was just a functionary. It just grew under him.

So dumb luck ends up pushing him into being a director, because all of the first intake of staff were made directors. As a director-by-politeness he wasn’t really trusted to have responsibility, and didn’t have a department to run or any great strategic role. But it worked out OK for him anyway: he was on £75k, and when the company was bought out by a larger organisation he took home a cheque for an additional £128,000. And because he was a director of the small company, he remained a “director without portfolio” at the larger company, got a 50% pay increase and 7 weeks holiday per year.

That’s how it is for directors – no lack of money up at the top, folks!

After a few years of this he was head-hunted, because he was a director of a big company, so must be good, right? Well, not really – he’s kind of average, but the fact that he’s been lucky means he’s in a position that appears to demonstrate some kind of skill. It’s why Keira Knightley still gets acting jobs – she’s absolutely awful, but she was in that thing that made money in spite of her presence, just because she was lucky to be born to a casting director (there’s that luck again!). So people think she’s a safer bet than… well, practically anybody else. And as a result, she keeps being given roles that the hedge in my garden would be more convincing in.

It’s not skill. It’s luck. I just don’t have a lucky hedge.

So my brother was head-hunted, and is now a director (again), this time of a very large company. I won’t tell you their name, but they trade autos. Trading autos is what they do. They are, you could say, auto traders.

Does he have to work hard or be inventive or do anything to earn his position there? No. They don’t invent new things, they don’t employ a million people, they don’t help with Britain’s balance of trade. They’re what’s called an “agency business”, which takes a slice for putting customers in contact with suppliers. He doesn’t make cars, that’s done by a proper economy in Germany (where they don’t leave every damn thing to the market, they go out and try to make the market function for the good of all, so everyone is benefiting and feels they belong).

As a director of this massive business, my brother doesn’t even need to go out and find new customers, or even run a good website (just look at it – it’s gruesome). He is, entirely by chance, sitting at the top table in a business which dominates about 95% of car buying in this country.

But ask him, and he’ll tell you he earned all of that. He, alone, was able to achieve those things, and deserves £160k (plus bonus) for sitting in an office while you buy cars he doesn’t make and doesn’t even sell. It had nothing to do with just happening to live close to a company which needed a cheap junior programmer, it was just skill and dedication and a hidden, secret knowledge which the rest of us have no access to.

I like the guy. But he’s a real cunt.

Businesses rely on serendipity just as much as people do. When a company employs a guy, it takes a risk that he’ll be good at his job. Most are competent, some terrible, but occasionally you’ll get lucky: you’ll employ somebody who has connections, and they’ll land you more work. It’s not your skill, or his skill – it’s luck that he’s connected to the right people, and those people are also lucky (often by birth, race, sex or location) to have strings they can pull.

As a lucky company, which felicitously employed somebody who, by good fortune of birth, has those connections and can land new contracts, you will be able to make money. And sometimes you will make enough money to let you start crushing rivals. In time you’ll dominate to the extend that luck stops playing a part.

Luck is a throw of the dice, but if you dominate 95% of the market you own the dice and the table, and are guaranteed to win. That’s what globalisation has brought us: a dozen lucky fuckers who now own the casino, and appear to own governments too. Every party must be “business-friendly” as though being helpful and sympathetic to normal people is a sin, but being friendly to blank-eyed, environment-destroying, soulless money-making machines is a cardinal virtue.

And that’s why the neoConservative, Tory, Republican view of the world is bullshit: they want to be “business friendly”, and reduce taxes for those who are successful in the belief that it will encourage more success. But most success is dumb luck, and you can’t legislate for luck. So all they’re really doing is ensuring those who are born into that club (which, let’s face it, is most of the members) are well rewarded for being incredibly fortunate that they fell out of a wealthy womb.

Coping with not having cancer

Not having cancer is turning into a real pain in the arse.

Last year I found out I had cancer. Bummer! I got better, and other than a foot-long scar and an increased determination to be selfishly happy, I’m the same as I was before.

But it’s a pain in the arse to not have cancer any more. It’s not that I want sympathy – far from it, sympathy makes me feel very uncomfortable. But having had cancer once upon a time means that people look at me differently from now on. They assume I’m rotting away from the inside, or that there’s something about me which might be contagious, or that my body is somehow “wrong”. My body is wrong in lots of ways, as anybody who’s seen me naked can attest, but most of my wrongness is caused by Hobnobs.

In case you’re from overseas and don’t know what Hobnobs are, they’re an oaty biscuit with a delicious topping made from chocolate and crack cocaine. They’re also the gnarliest of the biscuits: you can dunk them in hot tea for hours at a time, and they retain their structural integrity. Only the Bourbon Cream is anywhere near as tough. For the benefit of Johnny Foreigner, the Bourbon Cream is a sandwich made up of two crunchy biscuits, bonded together with a layer of what might be cat sick.

Enough biscuit news, back to cancer. Yes, I’m missing a kidney, but loads of people only have one functioning kidney and never even notice. There’s a fair chance you’ve got a knackered one, or maybe even an excess of kidneys. It’s not uncommon.

Because of my many personality failings I barely know any other humans. But even amongst the tiny group of people who can bear me (mainly employees, which surely doesn’t count, because I have to pay them to hang out with me) – even amongst those few people, I know one guy who has 6 kidneys and another with 8. And that’s somewhat lavish, given that I’m living proof than more than one is totally unnecessary. If I was missing two kidneys I’d be worried, but missing one is no worse than losing a middle toe: unsightly, unexpected and requires explanation, but it doesn’t really impact on your life.

The worse thing about not having cancer, though, is having to mix with people who do. It’s not them, it’s me. No, really, it is. They hate me.

I’m taking part in a clinical trial to find out if it’s safe for former cancer patients to take a drug that might (fingers crossed) cure a load of kidney cancers that currently only have a surgical solution. My cancer was one of those – if the surgery had failed there was, at the time, bugger all they could do. I was lucky mine was operable, in spite of being enormous. But this drug offers the hope that surgery might not be necessary, and I’m doing my little part in checking for side-effects. I’ve been doing it for a year, and it’s perfectly safe so far. But it means every 6 weeks I have to go to Christies Cancer hospital for a scan.

And that’s where the trouble starts.

I roll up to Christies at 9am, and they plonk down a vat of putrid liquid that they’ve tried to disguise with chemical that I’m sure is Agent Orange, or possibly Draino. I have to drink 2 small cups of it, and then another cup every 15 minutes for 2 hours. It’s got radium in it, so after the scan is over I’m made to chew a chalky and nasty iodine tablet to soak up the radioactivity, and although it’s (sadly) never happened yet, I’m always warned that the drink might make my poo glow in the dark. I’ll keep you informed about my motions.

Then they make me dress in a humiliatingly arseless hospital gown, shove a canula into my arm, and sit me in a waiting room with 8-10 cancer patients who are waiting for scans too. And we wait, often for 2 hours.

If you’re in a cancer hospital, cancer is the sole topic of conversation. They’re like those old women who start every discussion with the words “I’m 87, you know”. There’s a polite silence when a new person arrives, but within 15 seconds somebody asks “What’s wrong with you, then?”.

They don’t want to know what’s wrong with you really; they just want an excuse to tell everybody what’s wrong with them. They should blog, it’s much less intrusive.

There follows a litany of melanomas, carcinomas, lymphomas and sarcomas. It would scare the bejeesus out of me if I wasn’t aware that 90% of all cancers are now completely curable. This ward is full of the exceptions, but it takes presence of mind to remember that, and not to suddenly freak out that every human on the planet is currently host to a massive tumour

They take it in turns to tell their story, and everyone says the same things:

  • The NHS is a marvel, Britain’s greatest achievement, and we’ll be lost without it (are you listening Andrew Lansley, you callous cunt?)
  • Christies cancer hospital, in particular, is a cathedral of care, filled with love and genius, and performing miracles at every moment
  • Life is a good thing, worth fighting for, and they are determined to live every second

If you’re depressed, go and hang out there. I know I sound like Fight Club, but you’ve never met a bunch of people so determined to have fun. I think that in life we all need something to kick against, and cancer is certainly that. In energises your spirit in some way – I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, not even Thatcher (which is saying something); but it has a remarkable ability to focus your attention on what’s good about life. In case you’re wondering, what’s so good about life is almost everything.

And in most cases, cancer makes you laugh a lot more. Odd, but true. The other patients in the waiting room tell their stories with excellent black humour, giggling at their imminent death or the grisly prospect of a month sat in a chemo chair being carefully, skillfully poisoned to within an inch of their life. They’re brave and honest and clear-eyed and keen to laugh.

But sometimes it stops being funny. Last time there was a guy sitting opposite me, telling his tale. I’d say he was 75 or 80, with male-pattern-baldness and thin, whispy hair lingering above his ears. Sunken eyes, and his hoarse, cracked voice was barely a whisper. He had no teeth, and his skin is like tissue paper. He told us all, with not a hint of self-pity, that he hoped to make it to his next birthday, because it’s an important one.

He’ll be 40.

It’s such a shock to find out that this 80-year-old geezer is actually a couple of years younger than me that I was still slightly speechless when it was my turn to tell everyone what type of cancer is gobbling me up, and I didn’t take enough care to explain things carefully. I just told them truth: there’s nothing wrong with me.

I tried to laugh it off, gave an apologetic shrug and hoped they’d move on. But judging by the looks they gave me, I would have been better to announce that I’d deliberately flambée’d their grandmother and reversed over their dog.

In the normal world, whether you like it or not, you have a disgust of cancer. When somebody tells you they have it, you shrink away from them, avoid them. They remind you that death is at the end of the road, and you don’t want to know that. But I remind these mortally ill people that life is at the other end of the road, and I don’t think they want to know.

They looked at me like I was a fraudster, which is how I feel every time I go to Christies. No matter what’s wrong with you, you can always find somebody worse off in a hospital. But in Christies every single person has a variation of the same thing: their body is turning against them. But not me. I’m fine. I know I’m doing my bit to help them all, but that’s hard to explain. The truth is, I feel like I don’t belong, and am just here to gobble up resources and mock their death with my life.

I have rarely felt so unwelcome. It’s not easy to not have cancer.

7 x 7 x 7 x 7 challenge, damn you.

I’m a lover, not a fighter.

And while I’m quoting classic songs, I’d also like to say that I may be a lover, but I ain’t no dancer.

I live in Manchester, literally the greatest city in the history of the world (or at least, the greatest city called Manchester in the history of the world. Sorry Manchester, New Hampshire, you just don’t cut the mustard). If Manchester has a flaw, it’s the weather. Today it’s gloomy, rainy, and the sky looks like a grey and ancient dishcloth, or Morrissey’s soul. Or as we call it in Manchester, a normal Sunday.

So to cheer myself up I was about to watch Das Boot, a 3.5 hour long, claustrophobic 1981 German submarine movie, with subtitles, in which (spoiler alert) everyone dies at the end. Although I am – as I mentioned at the beginning – a lover and not a fighter, right now I feel a certain growly resentment towards Natalie, because I was just about to cheer up my Sunday when she callously flattered me in her blog, and then set me a challenge.

I can resist almost any challenge, being preternaturally unambitious and idle, but I can’t resist a compliment from a pretty lady; so here I am, ignoring one of the great depressing German movies (and believe me, there’s a lot of competition) and doing this:

1) 7 Blogs I enjoy reading:

  1. It would be perverse not to mention All Sweetness and Life, which makes me laugh more than it really should given that the girl who writes it, @katy_red, has made frustrating flirtation her life’s work. She is 49% carrot and 51% stick, a ratio which means I’m never going to get her, will forever wonder what she tastes like, and will always have a smacked rump. Sadly for my physical prowess, that’s where the equine metaphors end.
  2. Scarlett Wonderland is admirable and annoying, because it constantly reminds me that girls like Jen are incredibly mature and smart by the time they’re 22. When I was 22 I was, by the miracle of XY chromosomes, also 7, and remained 7 for many, many years. Even today I’m essentially a 16 year old boy, trapped in the crumbling husk of a man’s body.
  3. Girl on the net is probably known to you already, and if it isn’t you’ll be glad you followed this link. She’s a girl. And she’s on the net. But be warned, she says and does things that will make you want to touch your nether-regions, and then question your moral centre for doing so. She’s very rarely safe for work, unless you work as a porn star.
  4. At the time of writing Single and Fabulous is absent and lamented. I think she’s taken it offline to cope with a private matter, and as a private person I won’t probe any deeper. If/when it returns, I suggest you go and find it. It’s a lovely blog: funny, smart and blisteringly honest to the extent that it makes you wonder how a girl can reveal so much and still seem immune to life’s vicissitudes. She’s from Leeds. They’re gnarly round there.
  5. Sam Salandar is relatively new to the blogosphere, but she writes long, rambling and entertaining posts about her frankly startling sexual adventures and predilictions. It’s fun, even if you’re a mouse-like and vanilla little thing. Think of it as peeking over the fence into your neighbour’s hot-tub-swingers-party. You might not have an invitation, but you definitely want to know what they’re getting up to, if only to tut to your bland, beige wife about it and secretly long for such a vivid existence.
  6. It’s cheating, and I feel bad for doing it, because I’m a contributor. But my fellow contributor would kill me if I didn’t mention Honey and Cream.
  7. I’m genetically incapable of coping with more than about 4 people in my life at any time, and the same seems to be true of blogs. I shall mention 1ndierock, which I also follow, but it seems a bit circular to send you back to the blog you probably found this from. But just in case you didn’t find me via Natalie, try her. She’s good. I didn’t mean that to sound so pimpy.

2) 7 Questions set by my tagger:

  • If you could only eat one meat for the rest of your life, what would it be?

In 1810 the British Navy was fighting Napoleon’s navy all over the world, and men would be at sea for months at a time, living on the crappy salt-beef that has since been carefully rebranded as “corned beef” (a “corn” being the lump of salt used to cure the meat. Think of that next time you reach for some Fray Bentos – the name, incidentally, is taken from the Uruguayan port of Fray Bentos, from where the world’s cheapest beef is exported).

Anyway, back then the rule on Royal Navy ships was to have a “Banyon day” once a week. On Banyon day, no meat was consumed. It was known back then that eating meat every day is bad for you, so they didn’t do it – they ate bread and fruit and cabbage, and shat like a waterfall the following morning.

I try to do the same: I’m not a veggie, but I try to avoid eating too much meat, and have at least 2-3 days a week without. So I could give up meat if required. But in the meantime, I’d probably stick with lamb. It’s just utterly delicious.

Supplementary lamb fact: Oliver Cromwell and his Puritans didn’t like people to enjoy anything except prayer, so they made it illegal to eat lamb unless it was accompanied with mint-sauce to ruin the taste. And that’s why we eat lamb with mint. It was supposed to be awful, and is only really palatable by the addition of a lot of sugar. Now you know!

  • What is your favourite book?

The funniest book in the world is The Bible, but for all the wrong reasons. Don’t bother reading it: it’s all bullshit, there’s a hell of a lot of begetting but no actual sex scenes, and even the Whore of Babylon is a sad disappointment.

For the all right reasons, the next funniest book is Catch 22, which you should read immediately. Turn off your computer, go to Waterstones, buy it, and begin reading before you’re even out of the Arndale Centre. You’ll walk into a lot of people, and might get on the wrong bus home, but you’ll thank me later. It’s not like anything else.

  • What is your ideal holiday? Relaxing beach or action/adventure?

Cuba was super. I stayed in a nature reserve less than a mile from 3 of the 10 best beaches in the world, relaxed for a week, and then went to Havana for a few days – an amazing city. It’s what the world would be like without the pernicious influence of American commercialism. And I drank a lot of rum, but you kinda have to. It’s used instead of currency over there. I’d go back to Cuba any time. Brilliant people, brilliant place, music everywhere.

I liked The Maldives, very pretty, but it was dull after a few days. Tiny island, and unless you’re happy to just sit and look at the horizon in baking sun, there’s not much to do.

  • Favourite alcoholic drink?

I got a bit of a poorly in my kidney, and had to wave it goodbye. So my drinking days are over, not that I was ever much of a drinker. I like Glenfiddich and Talisker Scotch whisky, but have to avoid it most of the time. I cry a lot.

  • Favourite band or musician?

I like most music if it’s made with passion and integrity. Everything from gentle stuff like Ray LaMontagne, Belle and Sebastian and Fiona Apple, through to avant garde Bowie, Sigur Ros, Cake, Queens of the Stone Age and NIN. But it’s nearly 30 years since I first heard Pink Floyd, and I can still listen to them every week and am always moved. So it has to be them. Hey, I’m in my 40s, I’m allowed to like dad-rock!

  • Top 3 favourite songs?

It doesn’t matter. They’ll be different again tomorrow. Pick any three!

  • If you had to only sleep with one person for the rest of your life, who would it be?

She knows. You don’t need to.

3) 7 Things about myself:

  1. I worked in a bar in 1990, and next door was a rehearsal studio. One day a couple of musicians got chatting to me, and mentioned they needed a new drummer. I play drums, so offered to try out. We played a few Beatles standards, it worked out OK, but I didn’t think anything would become of them – I’d played with a hundred similar student bands, and most of them had singers who didn’t seem like a violent primate, whereas this band did. So I packed it in. A year later they were Oasis.
  2. I had cancer, but got better. I’ve got a 12 inch surgical scar across my belly. It really does change your life: it makes it better, because you value it more. Try to value your life. It’s a brilliant thing. That’s the only wisdom I can offer.
  3. I was at school with Mick Hucknall, and he was a tosser.
  4. I’ve never seen Coronation Street or Emerdale, or anything you could call a soap opera. No, I tell a lie: I once turned on BBC1 to watch whatever was on after EastEnders, and saw the last 2 minutes. A furious, wheezy man with a head like a radish was ordering a crying woman to “get dahn them stairs, you slaaaag”. As I understand it, that’s pretty much every episode.
  5. Before the beard, I looked so similar to one of the members of Barenaked Ladies that I got asked for autographs at a gig – even though the singer was on the stage at the time. Explain that.
  6. I find intelligence much more attractive than breasts. And I really like breasts, so that’s saying something.
  7. In my head, my voice is barely Mancunian at all. In reality, it appears it is.

4) 7 Questions for my victims:

  1. Have you ever committed an act of vandalism, and if so, what was it?
  2. What’s the biggest animal you could knock over with a single punch?
  3. Explain how you think they put smooth chocolate on Maltesers – there’s no flat bit where it stood while it dried, and they must put it on wet – so how do they do it? Think about it, and describe the mechanism you reckon they use.
  4. What would you do for a living if you didn’t do whatever you do now?
  5. The first man who ever milked a cow: what do you reckon he thought he was doing?
  6. Would you rather be the person who wrote a great movie, directed it, or starred in it? And why?
  7. What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

Weird after-effects

I’m 100% over cancer.

Except of course, I’m not. I don’t know if I ever will be.

It affected me in several ways: as a medical emergency, as a psychological shock, and as a variety of minor changes to how I feel, who I am, and what I can do.

Medical stuff

The medical emergency part was fine. I wasn’t unsettled or concerned. There was pain, but there was also pain medication. And I took the view that everything that could be done was being done.

So I wasn’t too worried, because you should only ever worry about things you can change. And within 6 weeks the medical aspect was over.

Physical recovery

In the immediate aftermath, everything was wonderful. The birds in the trees, the kids playing next door, the feeling of rain on my face. Life was grand.

I struggled to move for a few weeks, but then suddenly one day I could do a sit up or two, and before you know it I feel more or less fine. It’s about 10 months since the operation, and my scar-area still feels a little odd. Slightly bruised, and slightly numb too. But physically I’m back to normal.

Side-effects

I’m taking part in the trial of a new drug, which is a smart chemotherapy that targets cells which mutate into the cancer I had. It’s shown a lot of promise in people who have the cancer, and now they want to try it on people who don’t, but who are at risk of it coming back. That’s me. So I take the drugs.

There are side-effects, but not terrible. My hands and feet ache. I sometimes get headaches, but not noticeably more than I used to. One of the side-effects is that the drug makes your skin itch, so to counter this there’s a steroid in it, which makes it difficult to keep weight off. I have to watch the biscuits (which is a problem when you’re addicted to HobNobs).

I found out today that I’m not allowed to go to Kenya. The drug reduces my resistance to yellow fever, and a vaccination would be useless. So I’ve had to cancel a trip that I was looking forward to. It was only business, and only a few days, but I’m disappointed. I’d been dreaming of an African sky.

Psychological stuff

I’m not immortal. I think boys believe they are, and even though I’m 41 now I still retained that sense that life would just bounce off me. That feeling has gone. I don’t tiptoe through life in constant fear, but I’m aware now that shit happens. Injury and sickness are not just abstract ideas now. They feel very real.

And I’m going to die. This is different from simply not being immortal. The immortality thing is a feeling that I have a certain vulnerability. When I say “I’m going to die” I mean that inside me, at the back of my head, there’s a clock ticking. It’s going all the time. It’s reminding me that a year ago I thought for a while that I was on my deathbed, and that a whole army of regrets swarmed up around me.

I don’t want to regret anything. I want to grab hold of life and shake it up. I find myself frustrated and saddened by people who do exactly what I wanted to do a year ago – sit on the sofa after work, and forget about the world.

I’m aware that this makes me a total hypocrite. A couple of years ago I would be happy to get drunk or stoned, and lie around all day watching TV. I still like to lie in bed longer than I should, especially when it’s cold outside. But that’s a definite pleasure in itself, not the refusal to do anything else. As soon as I’m up I want to make the day count.

Oddly, people who know me say I’m much happier and more positive about life since the cancer. I thought I was happy before, but apparently I’m full of beans and smiles and action today. Who would have imagined that illness, vulnerability and intimations of doom would make a person so happy?!

Am I a sociopath?

In an earlier post about my strangely numb reaction to cancer, I jokingly suggested I might be sociopathic.

It’s been pointed out to more than once: I often seem to have a very low level of emotion. I just appear to breeze along, making crap jokes and singing little songs to myself. But when the shit hits the fan… I make crap jokes and sing little songs. I even do it when coping with tough times, illness, personal crises, arguments and fallings-out.

So. Am I a sociopath? Am I really utterly unfeeling? Is it weird that I’m not even having an emotional reaction to the accusation, I’m just pondering it and writing a blog? Probably!

Maybe I’m broken inside.

But I don’t think so.

It’s tricky to discuss because of the age-old “platform problem”. There’s a great discussion on this subject in the life-changing Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It’s about how some people respond to surface (Robert Persig, the author, calls these people “Romantics”) and others think more about what’s going on underneath (he calls these “Classics”).

To a Classic person, a Romantic is flimsy, lightweight, shallow, obsessed with packaging and surface and gossip, and unable to do proper assessments of the important stuff in life.

To a Romantic, a Classic is cold, callous, obsessed with nerdy things, unfeeling, uncommunicative, and doesn’t have any appreciation of art or beauty or loveliness.

Both sets of people are equally wrong and equally right. But in order to talk about it you have to stand on one of the two platforms: Classic or Romantic. And just by standing on a platform you immediately offend the other set of people.

The problem is exacerbated because on the one hand we have Classic people, who are unlikely to get offended (or even see the point of being offended) by the words used to describe them. They’ll hear them and analyse them, but won’t feel any offence.

But on the other side are Romantics, who are more likely to take offence, even if the words used are no more offensive than the ones they use to describe Classics. It’s entirely normal to be a Romantic, and to have a strong experience of the surface meaning of the word. A Classic hears “calculating and emotionless” and writes a blog discussing it, with references to source materials. A Romantic hears “hysterical and over-emotional” and gets hysterical and over-emotional.

See? Even when I try to avoid the platform problem, I still use terms which are bound to offend some people. Totally unintentional. But try talking about this stuff without using those terms!

Thinking about this made me look back on moments when I really should feel something. If I felt something, then I’m not a sociopath; I’m one of Robert Persig’s “Classics”.

My dad died. I should feel that, right? The hospital had phoned to tell us we should hurry to his side. I knew that probably meant he was already dead. That’s how they do it; they don’t tell you over the phone, they get you to come to the ward urgently.

I picked up my mum and took her with me. When I got there my brother had already arrived, and was crying. I didn’t cry. A day or so later, when I was sorting out clothes for him to be buried in, I bawled my eyes out.

Does this make me a sociopath? Or does it just mean I (entirely subconsciously) recognised that everyone in the room needed someone to do the tough stuff, and so I boxed my emotions up until the pressure was off? I think the latter.

I can think of other instances:

My disappointment at losing a job, which I had to control because I needed to act fast to secure another.

My anger at being mugged, which I had to control so I could focus on defending myself against 3 attackers.

My genuine fear in the middle of the night about a week before my cancer operation, when I had lain awake for hours listening to Alzheimer’s patients singing at 4am, and considering how debilitating chemo might be. Not death: that seems easy. But a tough life, that’s really hard to face.

Did I feel these things? Damn right. But it’s part of who I am to be in control of emotions, not – and this is the platform problem again – not a victim of my emotions. Not overwhelmed by them.

It’s not a trick or a strength. It’s not a boast, any more than you can boast about being tall or having big feet. You don’t wake up every morning and practice being 6’5″, it’s just who you are. And my controlled emotions are who I am.

And if that hurts people around me, then I feel genuine sorrow, but you’d never know it to look at me.

Getting cancer results, and £18,000 of hard drugs

A month since the surgery, and I’m invited back to hospital to get some results.

Girlfriend comes with me, and as we sat outside the surgeon’s office I happened to mention that she might find the surgeon appealing. As much as I could tell, which isn’t very much at all, he seemed like the kind of bloke girls like: he has a booming, confident voice, hair, hands and teeth. There was something hero-doctor about him.

I had no idea. She was positively gooey about him by the time we’d had the results, although part of me wonders if she’d be quite so keen if the results weren’t quite so positive. I found a photo of him when we got home, and made it into her iPhone wallpaper.

For those who care, I had chromophobe renal cell carcinoma (cRCC). He showed me a photo of my kidney. Here it is. The lower image has my drawing of the correct size/shape of a normal kidney.

Dear reader, you’re probably hurling all over your laptop, but I think this photo is seriously cool. How many of us get to see one of our own internal organs on a slab?

The cancer is pretty big, as you can see, but it’s slow-growing and doesn’t appear to have broken out and spread anywhere else.

Kidney cancers don’t respond to chemotherapy or radiotherapy (who knew?), so if the same cancer occurs anywhere else in my body there isn’t much they can do.

But fortunately, cRCC doesn’t spread very easily, and even  if it does come back I’m having a series of scans for the next 3 years to spot it early. There’s a 50-50 chance of a recurrence, but if it rears its pug-ugly head again they’ll do a microsurgery to whip it out.

And I’m being put on a trial of a new drug, which is a “smart chemotherapy”. It’s been trialed already on people in end-stage cancer, and now they want to try it on somebody like me: just had the cancer, but it’s been removed with surgery. They want to see if, in lower doses, it can prevent the cancer from returning.

“Here are enough pills to last 3 months”, says the man. I take the pills. “Be careful with those, they cost £6,000 for a month’s supply”.

Gulp.

So I’m on this for 3 years. That’s a total of £216,000 of drugs. Add to that the cost of surgery (let’s say £10,000) and a six-week hospital stay (let’s say £2,500 per week, or £15k) and full body CT scan every 3 months for 3 years (let’s say £3,000 per scan) and you come to a total cost of….

Fucking hell. That’s £350,000.

Fucking hell.

All to keep me alive? Me! Am I worth it? Seriously? Wouldn’t it make more sense to just hand me £100,000 on the understanding that I drink myself to death in a Dutch brothel within a month.