Tag Archives: cancer

The death and funeral of theatre producer Calvin Wynter in New York

Calvin Wynter: no hair, but a big Fringe

Calvin Wynter RIP (25 November 1959 – 30 October 2015)

On 16th September this year, I posted a blog headed:

PIT BULL DOG ATTACKS CALVIN WYNTER, THEATRE PRODUCER, IN NEW YORK CITY

That blog ended:

“I’m headed off right now,” Calvin told me, “to have my teeth cleaned and also they did a biopsy on my jawbone. They performed dental surgery, removed the lesion and put it in for biopsy research. They called me on Friday which means I think I may have cancer. I don’t know. So far, everything that’s thought to have been cancerous was not – like the polyps I got from my colonoscopy. I had three polyps. No cancer. So who knows? Maybe the third time isn’t so good but, y’know look – I’ve had a shaved head before. I can have a shaved head again. I’m still Episcopalian, which is like your Church of England, but my philosophy is Buddhist which is essentially: What do we seek? Happiness. What is pain and sorrow? The route to happiness.”

Calvin Wynter wearing a yellow rubber glove this morning

Calvin Wynter when he talked to me in September via Skype

The following day, 17th September, I blogged:

Calvin has now to come back to say: “My jawbone lesion is benign… Yay!”

On 24th October, ten days ago, knowing I was going to be talking in London to US performer Penny Arcade, I asked Calvin if he could give me any background.

His replied included this:

Went under oral surgery to remove the lesion on my jaw and the bone graft from my thigh on Wednesday. I will be able to speak on Monday. Thank God I have experience at being silent. Thank you John for giving sometime to leave experience. Best wishes with your interview. – Cal

He also e-mailed me this selfie of himself headed: ‘Post Oral Surgery’

CalvinWynter_PostOralSurgery_24october

I replied: Holy shit! You look like a cartoon Godfather with one of those very high 1940s formal collars! Blog currently not happening because WordPress are fuck-ups…

His response was: Hahaha… Best wishes with your blog app.

I replied: If you want to tell me about your experience (preferably on Skype – but you might not want to actually talk too much!) just let me know when.

Calvin Wynter in 1977

Calvin Wynter in 1977

He told me: Thanks for the offer, but I can’t speak until Monday. Slow healing process.

I replied: Oh, yes, I meant after that. I doubt if I will have sorted the blog out until Tuesday.

His response was: Perfect timing.

That was the last I heard from him.

Tonight, I received an e-mail from a mutual friend in New York City. It read:

Calvin as a child with his father

Calvin Wynter – happy as a child with his father

I’m sorry to have to tell you that Calvin died last Thursday night. I don’t know specifics, 

I was hoping you could announce Calvin’s passing and the arrangements to the community over there via your blog.

The funeral will be 5.00 pm on Friday the 6th November at Cobbs Funeral Home in East Elmhurst (Queens), NY. Interment Saturday morning at 10 am. He is being interred with his parents at Flushing Cemetery. 

So it goes.

The anniversary of his birth is in three weeks time.

Calvin Wynter (25 November 1959 – 30 October 2015)

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Wilko Johnson: the rock star who lived in ecstasy while under a death sentence

Last night, courtesy of Michael (son of Micky) Fawcett, I went to the premiere of The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson, director Julien Temple’s almost abstract movie about the legendary British guitarist who also played mute executioner Ilyn Payne in Game of Thrones. There is a trailer on YouTube.

It is a companion piece to Oil City Confidential, Julien Temple’s 2009 film about Wilko’s band Dr Feelgood.

The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson was going to be about Wilko dying of terminal cancer, except Wilko did not.

The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson poster

The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson poster

Charlie Chan, a friend of Wilko’s who juggles being a music business photographer with being a breast cancer surgeon, realised that there might be some hope. Surgeon Emmanuel Huguet operated on Wilko for nine hours at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge and the result was there to see last night.

Ironically, Michael Fawcwett told me, Wilko survived because he did NOT take any chemotherapy treatment. He just accepted he would die, did concerts and last year made a hit album Going Back Home with Roger Daltrey as part of his ‘farewell’.

“I decided,” said Wilko, “just to accept the situation and go through it and die, to live whatever life I had left and go with the flow, whether it was booking gigs or Julien making a film.”

Wilko’s wife Irene had died of cancer in 2004. So it goes.

Walk performing at the 100 Club last night

Wilko performing at the 100 Club last night

If Wilko had taken the chemotherapy treatment, he would have been too ill to survive the operation which saved his life. So his acceptance of death resulted in his life continuing.

The film had a special relevance to Julien Temple because, at the time it was being made, his own mother was dying. So it goes.

“All the twists and turns,” said Wilko, “that happened during that year…”

“That’s the thing about a documentary,” said Julien. “You don’t know where it’s going. There’s something fantastic about the element of chance which is what life’s about, really. If you over-script things, sometimes you… You would never write a film like this. No-one would believe a fiction film if you had written it like this. Who would ever believe a rock star so erudite?”

“If you wrote it in a book,” Wilko said, “it would be condemned as an improbable fiction.”

After the screening (L-R) Sheri Sinclair, d Derick ‘The Draw’ Hussey, Julien Temple & Michael Fawcett

After yesterday’s premiere (left-right) Sheri Sinclair, Derick ‘The Draw’ Hussey, Julien Temple and Michael Fawcett

After the screening, I went to the 100 Club in Oxford Street, where Wilko and his band played a one-hour, sweat-pouring, full-throttle gig. I had thought the 100 Club had closed but, like Wilko, it is still very much alive.

In the red-walled basement club, I bumped into Edinburgh Fringe regular Ronnie Golden aka Tony De Meur of the former Fabulous Poodles. His girlfriend Grace Carley was executive producer on The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson. 

“I love this club,” Ronnie/Tony told me. “I remember it from the late 1970s. It looked almost exactly the same. It’s just a brilliant, brilliant shit-hole. In those days, there was no air-conditioning and they had a stall over there that sold Chinese food so you had this smelly stench and everybody smoked so the air was filled with smoke and this stench. It was insane and our drummer passed-out on stage. The sheer heat and everything.”

Ronnie Golden, former Poodle, at the 100 Club last night

Ronnie Golden, former Fabulous Poodle – 100 Club last night

“While he was performing?’ I asked.

“Yeah,” said Ronnie. “And it happened in the Marquee Club too. He was susceptible to passing-out.”

“What,” I asked, “did you do when he passed out on stage during the gig?”

“We walked off and they played some music on records and then we came back on again.”

“With the drummer?”

“Yeah. It happened in Philadelphia too. But he would always rally very well.”

When I left the 100 Club, I walked to Oxford Circus station with Emmanuel Huguet, the surgeon who saved Wilko’s life. I asked him, perhaps tritely, what it is like being a surgeon.

“You get to meet some very interesting people,” he said.

There is a video on YouTube of Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltry’s Going Back Home.

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Ex gangster drug runner Jason Cook tells me how a rat became an astronaut

Jason Cook - from crime and cocaine to children’s books and cheese

Jason – from crime and cocaine to rats and cheese

I have blogged about Jason Cook a few times before.

He became a drug addict at the age of twelve and then started to sell drugs from his bedroom and on the streets to pay off his growing drugs debts to local dealers. Then he got into trouble with Yardies and was forced to smuggle drugs in order to save his friends and family “from danger”.

At the age of 20 he was heavily involved in the drugs world and he was also taking steroids to build himself up. He reached 18 stone, with a sizeable drug habit, was arrested and spent 3 years and 9 months in Pentonville Prison where he found drugs use was also widespread.

After a second prison sentence, he realised that he needed to turn his life round for his family and – despite being dyslexic – started to write a series of four semi-autobiographical books

Jason Cook’s first two semi-autobiographical crime books

Jason Cook’s first two semi-autobiographical crime books

Jason has five children. This month he published his first Kindle children’s book Rats in Space.

For each downloaded eBook or Kindle copy sold, 50p is going to be donated to the Macmillan Cancer fund. At the start of the book, it says:

Jason Cook’s book - Rats In Space

Jason Cook’s kids’ book – Rats In Space

The author, Jason Cook, would like to dedicate this book to his son, Hughie Cook, for truly being a brave boy during his chemotherapy treatment. Jason would also like to dedicate it to the other children and adults who are fighting this disease every day. Also to the doctors and nurses that help so many of the sick adults and children and thank them for the support they show the families. So thank you, all who helped support not only Hughie, but me and the others in our family at these tough times.

Rats in Space “tells the sad, very emotional yet ultimately happy story of the rats who live in the tunnels of the Underground at King’s Cross station…

“Can a rat really reach the moon? When a global cheese shortage threatens the entire rodent community, a brave group of rats come to one decision: if there is no cheese to be found on the Earth, then it’s time to look off the Earth. Hector Duddlewell has always dreamed of the stars and, when he catches a glimpse of glorious space travel, he’s willing to defy all odds to win the girl of his dreams and take his place as one of the first ever RATS IN SPACE.”

“It’s true,” Jason told me this morning. “Hector really did go into space.”

“Of course he did,” I said sympathetically.

Jason has plans to film Rats In Space

Jason has plans to film Rats In Space – the script is written

“He did,” said Jason. “Hector really did. He was flown into space.”

He showed me the Wikipedia entry. It read:

“France flew their first rat (Hector) into space on February 22, 1961.”

“My book tells the back story of Hector,” explained Jason. “How he actually became an astronaut.”

Stranger things have happened.

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My father dies on 26th/27th June

In recent weeks, I have been posting extracts from my 2001 diary about the period when my father was dying from cancer.

I previously posted a shorter version of what follows in November 2011, when Apple boss Steve Jobs died. I think this one has a better ending.

Edvard Munch’s Der Schrei der Natur (The Scream of Nature)

Der Schrei der Natur (The Scream of Nature) painted in 1893 by Edvard Munch

Saturday 23rd June

My father’s mind was on another planet. He did not recognise the nurse when she came in. He could not recognise words said to him. It was not that his ears could not hear them; it was that his brain did not recognise their meaning.

Sunday 24th June

When we visited my father this afternoon, he was unable to communicate, staring blankly into the middle distance.

Monday 25th June 

My father told the nurses he felt pain this morning. So he will now be given an extra daytime tablet with a morphine-element in addition to the one he is given in the evening. His eyes stared, as if at something faraway and long ago. As I left and put the trolley tray by his bed, he looked at me and said: “There’s something not at all right with me.”

Tuesday 26th June

I had a 2-hour medical check-up in a BUPA building near King’s Cross.

London was sweltering in extraordinarily hot weather, but inside the building it was cool and relaxing. Later, I sent an e-mail to my friend Lynn, saying:

They say I’m getting into the start of being dangerously overweight and VERY slightly too cholesterolly. I do wonder if it was really necessary for the short Chinese gent to put his finger up my bottom to test for Prostate Cancer. Surely there must be another way to do this or was he just ‘avin’ a larf?

I phoned my mother around 6.00pm and she told me that, when she had visited my father in the afternoon, there had been no response to anything she or my aunt (his sister) said. His eyes were open but staring ahead. “I think he was drugged up to the eyeballs,” she told me. “I don’t think he’s in any pain.” (Later, the matron told me the medication he was on was not that strong and that they had not given him a daytime tablet to avoid making him zombie-like.)

At around 8.30pm, I was mowing the grass on my front garden. The matron phoned me on my mobile phone to tell me my father had deteriorated very badly and I arranged to leave at 10.00pm, to get to the nursing home around 11.30pm, telling my mother I was getting to her home in Clacton at 1.00am and not to wait up for me. I was going to see how he was at 11.30pm and decide what to do.

The matron rang back at 9.30pm to tell me the doctor had just been and said my father only had four to five hours left before he died, so I went immediately, told my mother I had been phoned by the matron and asked if she wanted to go to the home to see my father.

She said (quite rightly) No, with a sad, tired, tone to her voice, and I phoned her just after 11.05pm when I had gone in and seen my father briefly. I suggested my mother take her two nightly sleeping tablets and go to bed and I would stay with my father all night and phone her at 7.00pm when she got up. She knew it was terminal because she had told me where the undertaker was. There was some surprise in her voice when I phoned her:

“Is he still here?” she asked.

When I arrived, the nursing home’s night sister warned me he had deteriorated a lot since my mother had seen him this afternoon and warned me “his eyes are open”.

The first thing that shocked me when the door was opened, though, was the sound. I had never realised the phrase “death rattle” was anything more than a colourful phrase. It is an exact description. I had also thought it was a brief final sound rather than an ongoing sound.

It was a rhythmic, rasping sound.

His face was side-lit in the darkened room by a yellow-cream glow from a bedside table lamp sitting not on a table but on the floor of the room with old-fashioned floral wallpaper. It was bit like a Hammer horror movie of the late 1950s in slightly faded Technicolor.

His bed was behind the door and when I saw him lying there on his back in bed I was shocked again because his face was like Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream.

His false teeth were out, so his mouth was abnormally small considering it was open to its fullest extent, the skin between his upper lip and nose seemed wider than normal; and there was an indented line on his nose between his nostrils which, in profile, made him look like he had two noses.

He was lying on his back staring straight up at the ceiling with wide open, unblinking eyes as if he was shocked by something he saw on the ceiling. His head was tilted back slightly from his torso as if his head had been dropped into the soft pillow from a great height.

This tilted-back head, the shocked eyes, the open mouth all combined to make it look like he was frozen in a silent scream yet the sound coming out was a death rattle from his throat, as the air mattress beneath him made discreet little isolated cracking sounds presumably caused by the slight movements as his body made the rattling rasping breathing and his distended stomach rose and fell under the bedclothes.

The rattle was like a machine breathing through a very slightly echoey plastic tube partially blocked by air bubbles in water. I wondered if he was dead already, inside. It was as if his brain or heart must be telling his throat and chest to desperately gasp for air even though they knew it was pointless.

Towards the end, the rattle became less pronounced as the sound of the breaths within the rattle became slightly more human.

Towards the very end, the rattle slowly died out and human light breathing returned, getting gentler and gentler as his life ebbed away. When the breathing ended, I pressed the buzzer for the night sister.

When she arrived, there was some slight breathing again, but only for 40 or 60 seconds. For perhaps the last 15 seconds of his life, his mouth – until now rigidly open – partially closed then reopened three times, then his eyes slowly closed, his mouth partially closed and reopened twice more and he was dead, his eyes closed and mouth open. It was 00.35am and 22 seconds on Wednesday morning. I had arrived at about 11.03pm.

After he died, I went downstairs to the nursing home office with the night sister, whose father-in-law had died in the same room – Room 11 – of the same disease. I then went back up to the room where my father lay for 15 or 20 seconds during which time there were a couple of tiny surreal flashes through the window from the outside world.

When I went outside to my car, the black sky was flashing white with lightning. Every few seconds, the whole night-time sky was silently flashing white with increasing – but still silent – violence. On the drive back to my parents’ bungalow in Great Clacton, the flashes became whiter and more frequent and the thunder sound arrived. On the drive beside their front garden, small surreal white specks were being blown across the tarmac. When I got out of the car at my parents’ – now my mother’s – house, there was a neon-like flash of vertical lightning and a sound of rustling which continued for 60 or 90 seconds.

I took my bags inside the bungalow and then the rain started. Torrential rain thundering on the streets and windows and roof. Violent and angry rain.

It all struck me as unfathomably dramatic. My father’s death… then immediately the heavens in turmoil… then strong winds… then thunder crashes and angry, violent rain… As if the heavens, in turmoil, were protesting.

It reminded me of the death of Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s play.

I looked up the quote later:

There is one within,
Besides the things that we have heard and seen,
Recounts most horrid sights seen by the watch.
A lioness hath whelped in the streets;
And graves have yawn’d, and yielded up their dead;
Fierce fiery warriors fought upon the clouds,
In ranks and squadrons and right form of war,
Which drizzled blood upon the Capitol;
The noise of battle hurtled in the air,
Horses did neigh, and dying men did groan,
And ghosts did shriek and squeal about the streets.
When beggars die, there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.

My father was a very ordinary man. Yet it was like the heavens were protesting.

Wednesday 27th June

In the morning, my father’s dead body lay on an occasionally cracking air bed in Room 11 of the nursing home.

People were talking about the dramatic overnight storm. The telephone lines had been cut at Weeley Crematorium but the fax line was working, so the funeral director could only talk to the crematorium by fax.

Thursday 28th June

The curate who will lead the service at my father’s funeral came round to chat to my mother.

“What was Harry like as a person?” he asked my mother.

“He was very placid,” she told him. “But if he was riled he would go through a brick wall. It would take an awful lot to get him riled, though.”

My mother partially broke down later in the day saying of the funeral: “It’s only his family that’s going to be there – only his family not my family.”

Almost immediately – within 15 seconds – the phone rang. It was her cousin Sybil ringing from Edinburgh to say she and husband Osmond (who is dying of cancer) would be coming down to the funeral.

Friday 29th June – Clacton

My mother partially broke down again in the evening.

“I’ve been worrying about this all day,” she cried to me. “When I said yesterday I had no family……. I’ve got you……. That was a terrible thing to say!”

Of course, when she had said there would be no members of her family at my father’s funeral, I had taken it the way she had meant it.

Her parents were dead. She was an only child. Almost.

She had had a brother. He died when (I think) he was aged 16 and she was 11.

Her parents had adored her brother. He was the perfect son.

My parents after their wedding

My parents married in the 1940s. My mother died in 2007, aged 86

My mother was born with no left hand – only a rounded stump. When she was a small girl, her mother told her: “Keep your left hand in your pocket. Don’t let anyone see.” She always hid her left hand from strangers.

Once, in the 1930s, she saw a man in a Glasgow street – she still remembers him clearly – leaning on the wall by an office doorway and she saw he “had exactly the same as me”. But he didn’t care if people saw it; he just behaved as if it was natural. “I wanted to talk to him but I didn’t,” she told me. “I wish I had.”

Before my mother married my father, my aunt (my father’s sister) told her: “I wish Henry could marry a whole woman.”

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… and, as my father dies from cancer…

My parents in Edinburgh, perhaps in the 1970s. Who knows?

My parents in Edinburgh. My mother is hiding her left hand. She was born with no left hand – only a stump. As a child, her mother told her: “Keep your left hand in your pocket. Don’t let anyone see.”

Over the last few weeks, I have been posting occasional extracts from my 2001 diary, when my father was dying of cancer. Here are some more extracts:

Saturday 16th June – Clacton

The other night, my mother’s cousin Sybil phoned. Her husband Osmond is dying very painfully of cancer in Scotland and her sister Daisy is visiting from the USA. Sybil almost broke down talking to my mother on the phone. Tonight, my mother said to me: “I think Sybil might be upset about Osmond. Or maybe she was just upset that Daisy was going home.”

Sunday 17th June – Clacton

Father’s Day. My mother did not want to visit my father today: she said it was too cold and windy outside. I went on my own. He was comparatively perky: when I went in, he was watching tennis on television. While I was there, lethargy slowly took him over but then he started watching TV tennis again and his brain was able to concentrate more on that.

Monday 18th June – Clacton

A neighbour came in, telling my mother that she thinks her son has managed to sell the family butcher’s business in Walthamstow, East London. It has been in the family for 60 years and the neighbour can remember when there were 9 or 10 staff. Now there is just her son and a couple of youngsters. The business has run down particularly recently because of BSE (Mad Cow Disease), the recent outbreak of Foot & Mouth Disease and now scares even about chicken meat. She also says the area has become 75% Asian and they don’t shop in “our” (ie white) butchers’ shops.

Tuesday 19th June – Borehamwood/Greenwich

I went down to see comedian Malcolm Hardee in Greenwich. He is still living in a council flat opposite his club Up The Creek but has just bought a 22-tonne ship moored at Surrey Docks and he partly moved in today, courtesy of my Toyota’s boot. Since April, he has been sharing the council flat with another comedian. Malcolm told me the other comedian idolises him to the extent that he is now going round sleeping with women Malcolm has slept with in the past. Malcolm came home one night and found the other comedian “had just been shagging” an ex-girlfriend of Malcolm and was even wearing Malcolm’s dressing gown.

On the phone, my mother told me that my father today was “very confused and very yellow – jaundiced”. When telling me how confused he was, she got very confused.

Wednesday 20th June – Clacton/Colchester

When my mother and I visited the nursing home in the afternoon, we were told that, in the morning, my father had been bleeding a lot of “frank fresh blood” from his bottom, but it had stopped itself before the nurses came in. “Frank” is a medical term apparently just meaning “fresh” too. My father was confused, with a faraway look in his eye and slightly yellow, but not as badly jaundiced as when my mother saw him yesterday. When I left the nursing home, the matron told me (alone) that she thought the liver cancer was taking over.

In the evening, my mother and I went to Colchester for the arranged appointment with the bowel consultant and his associate the cancer consultant. The appointment – as it had been a month ago – was supposed to be with my father, but he is in no condition to travel from Clacton to Colchester.

My father was given two liver function tests two weeks apart (the second one yesterday morning) as well as one after the operation. The one after the operation was OK though not very good. The one given two weeks ago was worse. And the one given yesterday was worse still. We were told that there could be several reasons for my father’s jaundice and physical weakness.

The bowel consultant described the arteries going into the liver as like a tree. There’s the thick main trunk, then less thick branches, then thinner and thinner branches. When he operated, the tumour seemed to be tucked away, not affecting any serious part of the tree. It could have moved and be affecting a more important branch, preventing bile being drained off and causing jaundice/lack of energy. Or the cancer could have started to take over significant percentages of the liver, preventing it functioning more and more. If the latter was the problem, there was nothing that could be done.

If the former was the problem, then they could put in an ERCP – a small plastic tube. This is inserted via the mouth into the liver. It might drain away some of the bile, alleviating the jaundice and lack of energy problem.

In order to know the cause of the jaundice, they would have to give him an ultrasound scan in Colchester – he would have to come up from Clacton for the day. If – and only if – the problem could be treated by the plastic tube, then he would have to come up to Colchester again for the insertion of the tube and he would return to Clacton the following day. If – and only if – the tube was effective, then his jaundice and energy problem might be slightly alleviated and there was a chance – but only a chance – that his liver function test results might return to what they had been three tests ago and, at that point it might – but only might – be possible to give him chemotherapy treatment.

The decision for us was whether we wanted to put him through that process for the possible result. My mother’s reaction was to say: “Is it worth it?” She didn’t think so. Neither did I.

Returning to Clacton, I stopped off at the nursing home at 7.45pm where my father’s GP had been due to see him at 7.30pm. I waited until 8.00pm talking to the night supervisor. She was horrified at the very thought of my father being subjected to any trip to Colchester: “He’d never make it,” she told me. When he is taken to the commode in the mornings now, they mostly have to use a hoist for him because he hasn’t the strength to go supported by two nurses. He is basically, now, incontinent and, before I arrived, he had been again bleeding from his bottom though slightly less so than this morning.

The GP eventually came around at 9.15pm after going to an emergency elsewhere. He has prescribed daily 30mg doses of pain reliever MXL, which includes some morphine… and three 2mg doses per day of the steroid Dexamethasone to try and relieve the liver. When the GP saw him, my father was very confused, saying he lives in Thorpe-le-Soken (a village several miles away), is eating very well and is going home soon.

The night supervisor had told me that, this morning, my father looked at her and said fatalistically: “I’m not going anywhere, am I?”

Back home, my mother partly broke down in my arms. After I had phoned to tell my aunt (my father’s sister) the news, my mother said to me: “She’s hard as nails. Last night she said to me…” then partly broke down again.

Last night, my aunt told my mother: “We’re going to lose him.”

Breaking down, my mother told me: “That doesn’t help…”

“The meeting with the bowel doctor was a big shock to you?” I asked my mother.

“Yes,” she told me, “I’d hoped against hope.”

I think this may be the first time she has fully accepted he is going to die. She blamed herself (unjustly) that he cannot come back home because she cannot cope. And she is deeply upset at the decision she has now taken not to drag him to Colchester for the ultrasound and possibly also the ERCP treatment. “We can’t put him through it,” she told me, partly breaking down.

Thursday 21st June – Clacton

The matron told me that the GP last night found my father so confused he thought there might be secondary tumours in the brain. I noticed my father was no longer wearing his wedding ring. I guessed his fingers had become so thin that it had simply slipped off.

Friday 22nd June – Borehamwood/Clacton

As soon as I got back to Borehamwood, my mobile phone rang – it was the matron at my father’s nursing home. My mother and aunt had walked in to see him and found him lying back with his mouth open, apparently not breathing (and, as I later found out, his false teeth dropped down from his upper gum), a spoon in his hand and a bowl of jelly in front of him. My aunt, a former nurse, found he had no pulse.

The nursing home matron was up in the room within about a minute and found he had a strong pulse but, by this time, both my mother and aunt were in tears.

I drove to Clacton from Borehamwood in the early Friday rush hour – about 2 hours 45 mins instead of the normal 90 minutes – to find my father looking dramatically thinner, bonier than he had when I saw him yesterday afternoon. I got there around 6.30pm by which time my mother and aunt were dry-eyed but still twitchily upset. I drove them back to their homes around 7.00pm – my mother broke down in my arms – and then I went back to the nursing home where my father was asleep. When I had left, I told my father:

“I’ll be about half an hour.”

“You’ll be back – and the boatman?” he asked me.

“The boatman?”

“The boatman.”

“Probably.”

When I got back, I asked my father if he felt hot.

“I really don’t know,” he replied.

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While my father is about a fortnight away from death in 2001, life goes on

My father and mother on Clacton seafront

My father and mother on the seafront at Clacton in Essex, UK

In the last few weeks, I have been posting extracts from my 2001 diary, when my father was dying – quite quickly – from cancer.

In the extracts below, he is still alive but only about a fortnight away from death – which, of course, I did not know.

Thursday 7th June – Clacton

I voted in Borehamwood this morning. There were three voting slips despite the fact I am only aware of there being two elections. One was for today’s General Election; one for a local election. I have not the faintest idea what the third slip was for, but fear I may have subscribed to Readers’ Digest.

Then it was off to Clacton to drive my mother to vote, take her for lunch and shopping, go visit my father in the nursing home, then take my mother to her GP to re-dress her scab. It now looks like a miniature deep-pan pizza.

Friday 8th June – Clacton

We were told that, from Monday, the local Clacton health authority will pay for my father’s costs at the nursing home. Until then, we will have to continue paying.

Saturday 9th June – Clacton

My mother does not like going to the nursing home: seeing the man who was always physically stronger than her and who has always ‘looked after’ her lie in bed weak of mind and body. The irony is watching your partner fall apart physically and mentally in front of your eyes and not realise it’s happening to yourself too.

My eye is mending. The previously bloody half is now mostly yellow with vertical red streaks and most of the blood has now gone below the pupil, so if I raise my eye to heaven, it looks like my pupil is supported on a pillar of blood.

Sunday 10th June – Clacton

Sometimes I wonder how I will die and, if it is to be in bed like my father, think it would be good to allow my brain to drift off into a fantasy world, allowing the whirling confusion to take over and go with it. Flowing with the stream of consciousness.

Monday 11th June – Borehamwood

My mother told me, on the phone, that when she arrived at the nursing home, my father had been watching TV and knew the names of the people he had been watching.

Tuesday 12th June – Borehamwood

My mother told me my father was quite chatty again.

Wednesday 13th June – Clacton

I went with my mother to visit my father. He was a little brighter but still terribly confused and unable to put his new hearing aid in properly.

Malcolm Hardee rang up this afternoon to tell me he has “bought a ship – not a boat – off a man in Ware”. He says he is going to live on it at Surrey Quays in Rotherhithe……Why do I think this is all going to end in nudity and flames?


 POSTSCRIPT

Three months later, the planes hit the Twin Towers in New York.

Four years later, Malcolm Hardee fell in the water and drowned, while walking a few feet to his boat in Rotherhithe.

So it goes.

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As my father dies of cancer, there is a slapstick moment

In the last few weeks, I have posted occasional extracts from my electronic diary in 2001, when my father was dying from cancer. I will continue until he does/did. The extracts below are a strange interlude:

My father’s father was a Merchant Navy captain

My father’s father died when my father was 3.

Saturday 2nd June 2001 – Clacton

Driving to Clacton in the morning, it was like someone sticking a needle in my right eyeball. When I looked in the mirror, there was a vertical line of red blood in the white to one side of my pupil.

At the nursing home, my father asked me: “What do you think?”

“About what?” I asked.

“About me going home. I was thinking about the cost to your mother.”

I explained she couldn’t cope with him being in bed 24 hours per day, couldn’t support him to the toilet (he needs two nurses and a zimmer frame) and he needed professional tending.

“Do you agree?” he asked my mother. She nodded. I think she is frightened he might come home and she might somehow have to try to physically cope.

In the evening, my mother phoned her friend Doug in Canada to tell him about my father’s illness, his operation and the fact he is now in a nursing home. Doug’s wife answered and my mother was flustered.

“I couldn’t remember what I was phoning for,” she explained to me afterwards.

Sunday 3rd June 2001 – Clacton

My eye is still sore, the blood spreading in the bottom half of the outer white of my right eye. I presume it is a burst blood vessel.

Monday 4th June 2001 – Borehamwood

My eye was still achy so I popped into an optician who said it was a burst blood vessel and it would last a week. She recommended I have my general blood pressure tested but do nothing. The right hand white of my eye is white and the left hand white is doing an impression of the closing scenes of The Wild Bunch.

Tuesday 5th June 2001 – Clacton

My eye is itchy like taut skin.

At the nursing home, my father’s hand was cold and he said he was cold.

Until now, since the operation, he has been boiling hot.

Wednesday 6th June 2001 – Borehamwood

Just for safety, I popped into my GP this morning to ask about my eye. He too, immediately, said it was a blood vessel and said it would take about two weeks to clear. He too said to do nothing. I did not mention blood pressure to the GP but he volunteered: “It’s got nothing to do with blood pressure, but I’ll test it anyway,” and did the tight-thing-round-the-arm blood pressure test.

I asked if it could have anything to do with glaucoma and he immediately said no. (I have glaucoma on both sides of my family: it is incurable once it sets in, but can be prevented if caught at an early stage, so I have annual glaucoma tests.)

As I walked to the doctor’s surgery, I was looking at an interesting row of houses to my right and walked straight into a concrete lamp post in the middle of the pavement – right full-force into my left temple, left cheekbone, left leg of my spectacles and left knee of my leg. I have never found slapstick particularly humorous but this was real Harold Lloyd stuff.

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Extracts from a diary about a man dying of cancer in Great Britain in 2001…

I was supposed to waken up at 8.30am today. Instead, I woke up at noon.

This is what comes of spending too much time in Cumbria.

So, instead of the planned blog (which involved transcribing a chat) – and because it just involves copy-and-pasting – you are getting extracts from my 2001 diary when my father had cancer.

There have been previous extracts, so I can claim it is a running thread.


My parents in Edinburgh, perhaps in the 1970s. Who knows?

My parents in Edinburgh, perhaps in the 1970s. I do not know

Tuesday 22nd May 2001

When we visited my father this afternoon, he had one bite of a chocolate cake, then stopped. About three minutes later, he was sick, the chocolate-brown liquid dribbling from his mouth. Today, he had walked eight steps (aided by zimmer frame and two nurses) to his commode (he is badly constipated). Before he was sick, he told us he had little pains all over his stomach – perhaps, I thought, because the liver cancer is gaining strength. How much longer before he needs opium?


Wednesday 23rd May 2001

In the morning, when I got up, my mother was sitting weak in her chair, saying: “I can’t use my legs”. Over the course of the day, they got back to normal.

My father in the afternoon was still constipated, as he had been yesterday, still weak and his mind unable to take in anything he was being told until the second or third repeat. My mother, her mind unable to think in a linear way, would say something without context to my father who would be unable to understand until she repeated it, I guessed what she meant and repeated it again to him. Today was the first time he used the phrase: “If I come home….” instead of “When I come home….” The palms and fingertips of his hands were abnormally pink, his fingers thinner and bonier than before, his eyes with a distant white light in their pupils.


Thursday 24th May 2001

After lunch, coming into the living room on her zimmer frame, my mother looked in amazement and confusion at the television set in the far corner of the room, showing an Australian soap, mute. After a few seconds, she said: “I’m going mad. I didn’t know what the TV was.”


Friday 25th May 2001

My mother fell down in her bedroom at 6.30am this morning and was unable to get up for, she told me, half an hour – though I suspect it was much longer.

I knew nothing about it until I got up at 9.00am.

At the nursing home, my father has been given an airbed to avoid bedsores.


Bank Holiday Monday 28th May 2001

Extract from a letter delivered to Colchester General Hospital:

Mike Pollard
Chief Executive
Colchester General Hospital
Turner Road
Colchester
Essex CO4 5JL

delivered by hand 28th May 2001

Dear Mr Pollard,

This letter is a complaint that Colchester Audiology Department are refusing to supply my father (who has liver cancer) with a hearing aid specifically made (after many months) for him. I am being told that the hearing aid must lie on a shelf in Colchester Hospital until such unknown time as a Colchester Audiologist may decide to wander down to Clacton Hospital. This, I am told, could take “up to six months”. I am further told I cannot collect it from Colchester and it must lie unused there “in case it does not work”  and “so we can show your father how to use it”.  These are direct quotes and the reasons given for keeping the hearing aid lying useless on a shelf.

If the hearing aid is supplied, there is – let’s be careful and say – a 10% possibility it will work and my father will benefit from it. There is – let’s be careful and say – a 10% possibility we can work it and my father will benefit from it. However, if Colchester Hospital do not supply the hearing aid, there is a 100% certainty my father will not benefit.

This is not healthcare, this is vacuous, mindless bureaucracy with the emphasis on mindless. My father had his first appointment to arrange the hearing aid at 11.15am on 13th September 2000 although, over-all, the process has been going on for a year.


At the nursing home, my father’s mind was very, very confused. After seeing him, my mother, my aunt and I drove back in total silence.

At home, my mother was very depressed, with deep furrows on brows above pained eyes: “He’s not getting any better,” she said flatly.


Tuesday 29th May 2001 (I was working away in Cardiff)

On the phone, my mother sounded depressed, telling me my father was very confused – even moreso than yesterday.


Wednesday 30th May 2001 (I was working away in Cardiff)

“His mind was much clearer today,” my mother told me of my father.


Thursday 31st May

When my mother and my aunt (his sister) went in to see my father today, he was wondering where his sister was, despite the fact she was sitting by the bed. Both the matron and my aunt thought he was looking jaundiced, though my mother did not think so. The last time I saw him I, too, had thought his skin looked a little yellow.

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My father’s cancer develops in 2001 and a new club for surrealists opens in 2014

My father in 1976 on the beach at Clacton

My father in 1976.

Sometimes, people ask me: “Is it difficult to find something to blog about every day?”

“No,” I tell them.

As I mentioned two days ago, through happenstance, I currently have an awkward blog-jam: I already have enough chats ‘in the can’ and events coming up to publish one-blog-a-day for the next 21 days. This is a problem.

In a blog on 21st April this year, I ran some extracts from my electronic diary back in April 2001, when my father was ill with cancer. I felt I should follow this entry up today. I put a note in my diary to do this.

Sophie Parkin (right) with mother Molly Parkin (left)

Sophie Parkin (right), mother Molly Parkin (left)

But, last night, I went to the launch party for Sophie Parkin’s new club Vout-O-Reenee’s, whose opening deserves a mention and at least some pictures. It is described as “a private members club for the surrealistically distinguished”.

I went with performer/artist Martin Soan, showman Adam Taffler and comedy performer Matt Roper. The ticket only gave entry to me +1. But Sophie Parkin is very generous woman.

Guests chatted at Vout-O-Rennee’s last night

Guests chatted at Vout-O-Rennee’s last night

Under a church in the City of London, Vout-O-Reenee’s certainly attracted an eclectic mix of people – everything from a former Channel 4 Head of Entertainment to a man who made his living by painting giant beetles to a prospective Liberal Parliamentary candidate to a man dressed as a monk with a painted face to a local who had managed to gatecrash the party because he had heard there was free booze for two hours.

My blog is called So It Goes because of the phrase repeatedly used in Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five. That book partly involves an alien race on the planet Tralfamadore.

Kurt Vonnegut’s novel

Kurt Vonnegut’s novel. He is dead now.

In Chapter 2, the hero Billy Pilgrim writes about the Tralfamadorians’ concept of time:

“All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist… They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.”

Below is an entry from my electronic diary today in 2001. It may be slightly pretentious. I can’t help that:


WEDNESDAY 16th MAY, 2001

In his nursing home bed in Clacton this afternoon, my father’s eyes were staring blankly, focussed on nothing, like the eyes in the photos at the Tuol Sleng interrogation centre in Cambodia: the photographs of men and women before they were taken to the Killing Fields outside Phnom Penh.

As my father is in no condition to travel, my mother and I went to Colchester on his behalf tonight to have the arranged meeting with his Private Consultant (a bowel man) and, it turned out, a second chap (a cancer man).

As we already knew, when my father was opened up, the bowel tumour had been much, much bigger than expected and had grown outwards, infecting the pancreas and a small part of the liver. The bowel tumour was removed during the operation and most (but not all) of the pancreatic tumour. But none of the secondary liver cancer was removed. It was too dangerous to do this.

Currently – four weeks since the operation on 19th April – my father remains easily exhausted. The three steps he has to take from his bed to his commode exhausts him for about two hours. Eating still exhausts him. He cannot get up without the help of two nurses and cannot walk even with them. His appetite is very low, he feels very hot inside and, although OK when lying prone, he is in extreme pain if upright or seated.

His exhaustion and lack of appetite could either be because he is still recovering from the operation or it could be the symptoms of the liver cancer progressing – although the symptoms usually also include nausea, which he does not have. Apparently the heat he feels inside himself is either the wounds from his operation mending or the cancer spreading. He has a slight discomfort but no pain when lying horizontally. Neither Consultant knew why there should be any pain difference between lying and standing.

They told us the only possible treatment for his liver cancer is three months of chemotherapy which in this case, allegedly, would not be as nasty as chemotherapy usually is. The point at which this chemotherapy treatment starts is not too important – there is no vital urgency. What is more important is that he is strong enough to take the chemotherapy, which he is certainly currently not. The way the cancer man phrased it was: “The start date isn’t important; it’s how you get through it.”

With people who have this chemotherapy treatment on the liver, the effect rate is roughly:

35% get more than 50% better

50% remain steady (ie it has no effect)

15% get worse

If my father is not strong enough to have the chemotherapy treatment – or if the chemotherapy treatment is ineffective – there is no other treatment. Their opinion was that, “He is more likely to die of this liver cancer than anything else,” because, by and large, he is otherwise OK for an 82 year-old man.

A worst-case scenario (which my mother now knows) is that my father could die in “a month or so”. When I asked for a longest-term duration a couple of weeks ago, I was told around 18 months. My mother has not been told this. My father’s sister (who is an ex-hospital matron) had assumed a year.

The main Consultant (the bowel man) is writing to my father’s nursing home. They will arrange to get blood for two blood tests which will enable the Consultants to know if the liver is deteriorating quickly and if it seems likely he could take chemotherapy. Another appointment has been made for 20th June in Colchester for consultation – theoretically with my father or, if not, then again with my mother and me.

Tonight I went to tell my father what we had been told at the consultation, but he was asleep and, when awoken by me making noises, was not really together enough to have any sensible talk. He and I agreed I would talk to him tomorrow, though I guess he will forget I was there tonight. His ability to think clearly or to remember anything has been virtually non-existent the last couple of weeks and it is deteriorating, so whether much will sink in I don’t know. Anyway, I will see him tomorrow.

On the drive back from Colchester, my mother said to me: “It’s much worse than I thought it would be.”

When she got home, she phoned friends and neighbours to tell them what had happened and said: “Just don’t give me sympathy. I can cope provided I don’t have that.”

THURSDAY 17th MAY

I went to tell my father in the morning but he was being bathed before lunch, so I went back at 4.00pm – long enough for him to recover from the inevitable exhaustion.

He seemed brighter after his bath.

I told him what the Consultants had told us: that he had cancer, that the only treatment was chemotherapy, but that he could only be treated if he got stronger.  I told him the effects of liver cancer were exhaustion and lack of appetite, which he has, but also nausea which has never had. Inevitably, about four minutes later, he started feeling nauseous.


In Chapter 2 of Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy Pilgrim writes:

“When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in a bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘so it goes’.”

The stand-up urinals in the Gents toilets at Vout-O-Reenee say: ceci n’est pas une pipe

The stand-up urinals in the Gents toilets at Vout-O-Reenee’s say: ceci n’est pas une pipe

With me – with most things – I simply shrug and think: Life’s a bitch and then you die.

One source says that quote only dates from 1982, the year it appeared in the Washington Post, although the rapper Nas extended it rather well in his 1994 Life’s A Bitch song featuring AZ:

Life’s a bitch and then you die; that’s why we get high
Cause you never know when you’re gonna go

I don’t do drugs. I go to comedy shows and appreciate surrealism.

Vout-O-Reenee’s is an interesting club.

Matt Roper told me that yesterday would have been his father’s 80th birthday. His father was stand-up comic George Roper. He died of cancer in 2003.

So it goes.

Life’s a Bitch is currently on YouTube.

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Life is but a dream of Nazis, Russians, the Ukraine and my father’s fatal cancer

A map of the Rhineland in 1905 looks like the human brain

A map of the Rhineland in 1905 looks to me rather oddly like part of a human brain – but, then, I am only very barely awake…

On the rare occasion when I remember a dream, I feel obliged to write about it.

This morning’s blog had been going to be about my father’s cancer in 2001, but I woke up at 6.22am and remembered I had been dreaming about some presumably purely fictional Rhine mine line deaths in the Second World War. The rhyming phrase Rhine mine line was what kept swirling round in my mind. It was something about large numbers of people being taken or thrown down a mine in the Rhineland by the Nazis and a railway line that led to the mine.

Just a dream.

I guess it had something to do with me half-seeing an anti-Ukrainian documentary last night on the RT (formerly Russia Today) TV channel. The purpose of the documentary was to link in viewers’ minds the wartime Nazis and western Ukraine which, admittedly, did have a fair number of Nazi sympathisers. Is it my imagination or is Russian propaganda getting more sophisticated?

The whole Russia-Ukraine thing is so complicated and swirling dreamlike with facts intertwined with the past and political spin that it is rather unsettling because it echoes the build-up to the Second World War.

There are lots of Russian-origined people in Eastern Ukraine. When I was in Kiev in 2012 and 2013, there was talk of the slightly more than vague possibility of the country splitting in two even then.

There were lots of Germans in the Sudetenland in 1938.

The Crimea’s links to Russia and it being part of the Ukraine are complicated, For all the entirely justified Western words about how Russia’s invasion and take-over is beyond acceptability – and it is – the Crimea situation was/is very complicated.

When the Nazi army marched into The Rhineland in 1936 and took over the Sudetenland (which was part of Czechoslovakia) in 1938, there was some similar understanding in the West of the arguments the Nazis put forward for taking them over, just as there was when the Nazis took over Austria in the Anschluss in 1938.

Apparently Hitler had said things like “German-Austria must be restored to the great German Motherland” and “People of the same blood should be in the same Reich.”

Now the Russians are rattling on about ‘protecting their own people’ in eastern Ukraine and there is a clear threat they might invade especially as they claim the recent changeover in power in Ukraine was a ‘neo-Nazi coup’ – thus all the fact-based documentaries on RT and homeland Russian TV about Ukrainian Nazis in the Second World War.

It all swirls round like a dream muddling the past with the present. And I am writing this after waking up ungodly early at 6.22am.

If the Russians were to unacceptably invade and take over eastern Ukraine, there would be a lot of shouting by Western politicians but the Russian propaganda machine could spin the reasons.

Hitler in 1939 believed he could take over the rest of Czechoslovakia without starting a war; he was wrong. If Russia took over western Ukraine, political life would get complicated.

A Google Streetview image of Dreams

A Google Streetview image of Dreams somewhere in London

What all this has to do with my dream of fictional Rhine mine line deaths is another matter.

A couple of days ago, I wrote a blog about my father being in hospital in 2001. He died a couple of months later. Several people asked me what happened next. So I was going to write about that today, but I was sidelined by this Rhine mine line thing.

It was all thirteen years ago anyway and, at that remove, it all becomes a dream. I would not remember any details if I had not written bits down. Just bits. The rest has drifted off, dreamlike, in time.

Never be afraid to write a pretentious sentence is what I say.

Thirteen years ago today – 23rd April – I had an Instant Message exchange with a friend. I pasted it into an electronic diary I kept at the time. My father was due to have a meeting with the consultant/surgeon on May 16th, when he would decide what to do about my father’s remaining cancer.

The Instant Message exchange starts with what my friend wrote…


Monday 23rd April 2001


My father in 1976 on the beach at Clacton

My father in 1976.

Your father sounds like he is doing better than everyone expects.

Well, I think the consultant thinks he is recovering fine. He is still very weak, hasn’t been given any food and gets about half an inch of water per hour to drink. He is on drips from bags of clear liquid (glucose and saline) suspended above the bed. It seems like he has 101 tubes stuck in his hands’ and arms’ veins, has his urine piped to a bag under the bed, has some odd bag of green liquid behind his shoulder and has a couple of tubes taped up his nose under the oxygen mask.

That might mean his resistance and willpower is higher than he’s been given credit for by the surgeon. And that counts so much in something like this.

Well, every time I mention the word ‘liver’ to anyone who knows anything about cancers, they wince.

If your father asks you about life expectancy, which isn’t impossible, then you will have to decide on the spur of the moment how to answer.

I would lie to him and say I don’t know. Hopefully the seriousness will slowly dawn on him and the 16th May should solidify it. As I understand it, chemotherapy is used on the whole body and is horrendous; radiotherapy is used on a specific area and isn’t quite so bad. Presumably the consultant (who is a bowel and nether regions man not a cancer man) is going to… um… consult a cancer specialist before the 16th May. He told me he was going to discuss the case and the possibilities with “colleagues” to decide what to do.

Depending on his and your mum’s mental state, I would tend to think honesty is always the best option. 

So do I, which is why I am none too happy about it, but I think they (particularly my father) should be allowed to try to recover from the operation first. May 16th is proverbially another day. At the moment, my father is incapable of having any type of treatment because he has not recovered from the operation, so time is not of the essence before the 16th May.


If I had not written all that down at the time, I would barely have remembered the details of it.

On YouTube, there is a rather dreary audio recording of a song called Life Is But a Dream by a group called The Harptones.

I have never heard of The Harptones. Apparently they were formed in Manhattan, New York, in 1953, recorded the track in 1955 and it was featured in Martin Scorsese’s over-rated 1990 film Goodfellas.

According to Wikipedia, The Harptones “are still considered one of the most influential doo-wop groups” partly because of (says Wikipedia) their lead singer Willie Winfield. Wikipedia has no entry on Willie Winfield. He may be dead. Or not.

So it goes. Or not.

I think I may go back to sleep and post this blog later. Dreams are strange things.

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