Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Gone to the cogs

I have this chick-flick DVD box set. Now, before I continue, I just want to clarify something. I know that I have already mentioned two DVD box sets and I don’t want you to think that I live in a house with walls covered in shelves filled with DVDs, because honestly, I don’t. I have only three DVD box sets. Two were gifts and one was a present to myself – I work on the basis that if you are disappointed and don’t get the gift you were hoping for that the best thing is to just go out and buy it yourself. Until seven weeks ago I watched very very little TV, not even DVDs. For example, I have been sitting on the Sex and the City box set for two years and I only opened it last week. Today I fiinished Season One – Carrie and Big have just split for the first time, if you really want to know.

Anyway, this chick flick DVD box set consists of Bridget Jones, Love Actually and Notting Hill. I love the first two – absolute classics – well if you like that kind of thing – but I am not sure about the latter. For those of you who haven’t seen Notting Hill then in summary it is: guy who owns bookshop accidentally throws orange juice over famous Hollywood star, as you do. He really likes her, she kind of likes him, but they have a misunderstanding and she storms off in a huff without listening to him – that's the realistic Mars vs Venus bit.  A year goes by and they meet up again, it turns out she really likes him after all and they patch things up and live happily ever after. Well sort of. I think the reason I am not so keen on Notting Hill is that Anna, the film star, played by Julia Roberts, is very cool and aloof. In the other two, Bridget is ... well just Bridget ... kind of average, a bit curvy, with a habit of opening her mouth at least 20 seconds before her brain goes into gear. In Love Actually there is Natalie, the one which falls for the Prime Minster, again played by Hugh Grant. Natalie is the “chubby” one, with the “thighs the size of big tree trunks” who also has a problem with her brain/mouth choreography and, on top of that, swears like a trooper. Say no more ...

Anyway, although I am not that keen on Notting Hill there is a scene which I have always thought was really innovative and clever. Often, when films want to demonstrate time has passed they show pages of a calendar been torn away or flipped through rapidly. Instead of this, in Notting Hill Richard Curtis had William Thacker, played by Hugh Grant, walking through the markets of Portobello Road amidst the rotating seasons of a year. The weather changes accordingly, Thacker’s clothes metamorphose as he strides along, and the goods being sold on the stalls interchange. The whole piece only lasts a moment or two but must have taken absolutely ages to film. It is very clever.

When it was confirmed that Yukky Lump was indeed breast cancer, I just kept thinking about this particular scene. I just wanted to go to London and walk through Notting Hill and have that same time-travelling experience. Stroll from one end of the market to the other and be magically transported twelve months into the future. Avoid this long journey of mine – bypass Christmas and the New Year, and the chemotherapy - omit Valentine’s Day, and my surgery - skip my birthday, and radiotherapy ... and the rest.

A couple of weeks ago, just before my second chemotherapy session, a dear friend of mine offered to take me out for the day. We went down to the coast - down to Bantham to be precise. It is one of my favourite places. Not so much during the summer, when it is full of grockles, but, as it was on that day. When it is unhabitated ... barren ... deserted ... Just enjoying the wind blowing on my face and through my hair. Well, at least I did when I had hair ... before my head was uninhabitated, barren and deserted.

Prior to our walk we went for a light lunch at the pub down there. We had pan-fried halloumi on a bed of dressed rocket leaves. With a sneaky bowl of chips. I must admit that when the waiter put the plate in front of me it crossed my mind whether this was a "middle-class" version of cheesy chips. It was nice. But I do confess to liking "working class" cheesy chips - a bit of grated cheddar - with a lovely dollop of Hellman’s on the side... mmm ...  Anyway, I digress ... ruddy steroids ...

It was a simple lunch, just washed down with orange juice, but we still managed to sit there for an hour and a half. Because we talked, as we always do. Not just about the "usual" stuff. Not just about cancer, and the chemotheraphy, and the fact that it was making my hair fall out ... as it was there and then ... but about other things too. About the stuff that other people don't automatically think about or consider when someone says cancer. The fact that your ticking-along-life is swept right from under your feet - by a tidal wave.

Today, here and now, as I type this blog, there are things which would have a bigger impact and possible consequences on my life and mortality other than breast cancer. If I feel unwell then I need to take my temperature. If my temperature reads higher than normal then I have to contact the hospital, whatever the time, even if it is the middle of the night. This is because of my compromised immunity from the chemotheraphy and that something like flu or a virus could be really serious.

The risk of catching something nasty means I can’t do the things that I used to do. Just normal things that I took for granted. Going to work, doing a job I love, being with colleagues and friends. It is a long long time since I went clubbing, but until recently I enjoyed the occasional party or bash. However, I now feel like Cinderella. I don’t need Prince Charming to turn up with his shoe so as I can go. Let’s face it, I have enough shoes and frocks to go to a ball every night between now and Christmas. No ... my problem is that one of the Ugly Sisters might take their revenge by popping a cockle in my soup or by sneezing on me.

And travelling - I love holidays – and to be truthful there is nothing stopping me from going on holiday. That is just as long as I squeeze my vacation into my three-week cycle of chemo treatment. Not during the first week when I feel tired and grotty - and so that I am back in time to have my bloods and see my oncologist during the third week, in preparation for my next session. Oh, and as long as I don’t travel by train ... bus, or plane. And as long as I don’t stay somewhere they are likely to dish up salmonella in my supper.

So what did my friend and I conclude over our pub lunch on that day? Cogs. We decided that aspects of your life can be illustrated by cogs. A map of cogs. Cogs that can change in size, and reduce or increase in the speed they turn. Some cogs are older, well worn, slightly oilier, and even rusty. Cogs can disappear, or be joined by larger, shinier, newer cogs. All this depends on what is happening in your life at any point in time.

So what do my cogs look like at the moment? The fact I am now recognised and greeted by my first name when I visit my GP, or go in to hospital, means my healthcare cog has taken centre stage, is large and turning pretty steadily. But sadly my work, social and travel cogs have shrunk somewhat. So has my photography cog, but there is a new blog cog in its place. Right next to the DVD box set cog. Replacing the hairdresser cog. My shoe cog has shrunk and has been replaced by a newer and shinier scarf and hat cog. Oh ... and a new green pepper cog ... of course. I hanker after my aged and familiar cogs. I am just not quite so fond of those newer and shinier cogs that have appeared in their place. I know my dear old cogs haven’t disappeared for ever. They have just shrunk and slowed down temporarily – but I miss them.

So going back to that scene in Notting Hill. Some weeks on I now accept that there is no way that I can press a fast forward button on life. Normally I grieve the end of summer and hate the thought of Halloween, followed by Guy Fawkes and then Christmas. However, this year is different. As I look out of the window, watch the golden amber leaves spin in the wind, listen to the rain on the pane, put on my wellie boots to grab some fresh air, I appreciate that each of one those calendar events is a milestone on my own walk through the market. Although it doesn’t feel feasible now, I am hoping that this time next year this journey will feel like a distant memory and that I will be able to reflect on it in just a moment or two.


  1. I understood this so completely it was as if you had visited my own brain. Unfortunately, your thoughts came from your own experience. I'm sorry for that. But let me give you some perspective from the other end of it. You will get through the chemo, and the radiation, and a year from now, you will be looking backwards and thinking, "Gosh, the year has been a blur..." I just hit the one year marker two days ago. Treatment is a hard time, and as you slog through it, it seems interminable, but when it's done, it will all blend together, and, if you're anything like me, your sleepiness and sickiness will all blend together with comforting moments of friends, family, good books, faith, the like (yes, even TV). That blur has become more than something you simply want to forget about.

  2. Hello, Paula. I just wanted to tell you that you are thought of this day.

  3. Love always from your cog n' posh chips buddy xxxxxxx

  4. Paula: I hope that these days are passing quickly for you. And that you are well. Thinking of you this day!


I love to hear from you ... even if it is just a 'hi'!