When you visit a place on holiday, you go there primarily for the scenery, though when you move to that place, you become a part of that scenery. Eventually anyway. I said back in February that I hoped I’d never get used to the sight of soldiers in the street here in Paris, only earlier today I realised I hadn’t even noticed them when I jogged past. They too have blended into the mise-en-scene as we’ve become desensitised to their full potential. I even wondered for a moment if they’d stepped down amid an easing of security concerns, though that was a preposterous thought, and it only lasted a moment. There they were with hands wrapped around killing machines as I meandered back up the Rue Notre Dame de Nazareth.
I realised I’d become a part of the scenery about a month back when I walked through a Jewish wedding in Belleville. Soldiers were also stood outside with attractive tilted mauve berets and massive guns. Or at least there was a shift in my perception that I was no longer an interloper but someone who actually is a part of this city. I had my guitar on me at the time, which I hate carrying in the street because I think other people are thinking I’m thinking “look at me”, when the last thing I want them to do is look at me. But Claire had made me come out of “retirement” and write and perform a song for our friends Tim and Anna-Marie who were leaving Paris, so I dragged myself out of bed and did a painful little turn in Buttes Chaumont that wasn’t as excruciating as I thought it might be.
On the way back I came across the random matrimonial gathering avec les soldats and I thought to myself, “this is what a Jewish wedding in Paris looks like in 2015”, especially when it’s in a multicultural area made up of Arabs, Chinese, sub-Saharan Africans and bobo whites. But then it occurred to me that anyone else watching the scene might have thought “there’s a Jewish wedding, some soldiers and a bellend walking through the middle of them with an acoustic guitar”. Suddenly I was playing a bit part in the narrative, and not merely the observer any more. I tried to tell this to my friend John Doran – who was visiting at the time – but he looked at me bemused and asked where he could buy some peanuts. It was a profound moment for me, though to anyone else it probably had all the gravity of someone relaying one of their acid flashbacks. Anyway, my mariachi days are over. I prefer the feeling of being incognito, floating around the streets innocuously, an ombré blending into the brickwork. One day I might join in.
It’s a cliche that the streets of Paris are deserted in August, but it feels really empty here right now. It’s Ascension Day today, so even Jesus has fucked off. It might be a sign the economy is picking up, because last year it seemed like a lot more people stayed at home, perhaps because of financial restraints. This year the cafe below us is closed, my handsome hairdresser and Jean Dujardin lookalike is probably sunning himself in the South of France right when I most need a coiffeur, and it’s particularly difficult to find a boulangerie open. Premiers problèmes mondiaux!
The easy streets are blissful though we won’t be enjoying them for long. We’ve been away and we head to England again next week. I figure I should update people on my latest health status if they’re at all interested, if only so people don’t start thinking I’ve got a touch of the Munchausen’s. Chemotherapy has been stopped for the time being, and my next appointment regarding surgery will take place in September, then they’ll make a rendezvous to slice me open at a later date, and after that I expect to do another three months of chemo. Fun times.
Right now I’m enjoying the freedom, though freedom comes in pockets, and one doesn’t know how deep they’re going to be or when they’ll offer themselves up again. It makes you appreciate all those things you take for granted, although I would much prefer the luxury of taking stuff for granted and not being aware how lucky I am to be honest with you. Returning to England doesn’t feel particularly eventful – it’s just another place you sort of almost live in, as if France and the UK are blurred into one – or at least they are in my perception, and all it does is really makes you want to travel more. The quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson, “every man has two countries – his own and France” is quite literal in my case, and it serves me right for being greedy and land grabbing more turf. Right now I would love for us to just take off and explore the world. We might have to be content with doing it in stages, health permitting and all that.Follow @jeres
Singapore celebrates 50 years of independence today, and so far the celebrations have been straight from the pages of a future dystopian novel. Maybe it’ll get a bit wilder and weirder when the fireworks go off this evening. Planes have been swooping overhead, making the most terrifying noise. Mall to mall cacophony.
Amongst the orderliness and shopoholism, you will find occasional anomolies to twist your melon though. Our taxi driver earlier was as mad as a box of black spotted sticky frogs for instance.
“I love UK people…” he said with a caveat clearly on the way, “but I don’t joke with them anymore”.
“Last week I tell a man from the UK that his son is so handsome that I want to kidnap him. He get very angry, so I shut up after that.”
The man’s wife ended up apologising for the angry Brit, and we found ourselves apologising for him as well. The Indian driver has no intention of being quiet today, and I can fully understand why.
“My wife will die today,” he declares suddenly.
Apparently she’s been in a coma for months. Brain cancer. We ask him why he’s working, but he tells us he has no choice. He’s had to pay all her bills with cash, having no cover to speak of. We wish him well and wander into the mall, saddened by this poor man’s distress. Fucking cancer, can’t get away from it. So much pain all over the world. How can there possibly be a god?
Elsewhere people are buying vociferously as Cara Delevingne monitors them from every advertising orifice. A 50ft Foxes lords it over the traffic from a giant hording outside H&M. Accoutrements include Gucci handbags, shopping bags and the new addition of selfie sticks. Taking a selfie used to be a shameful thing, using a selfie stick in public to me is like the government suddenly legalising wanking on the bus. We pass legions of people and they’re all carrying bags. Loyal pooches do what they figure they’re supposed to do. They’re filling the hole left by religious adherence, but it’s a hungry hole and it requires brand after brand ad nauseum. Consume or be consumed.
The juxtaposition of people buying crap they don’t need and the poor bastard in the taxi struggling to pay his medical bills isn’t lost on Claire. To be fair, I’ve just bought a pair of Levis and her a Fjallraven bag, so our misgivings are a little hypocritical. The capitalist draw is just too strong for our feeble spirits to resist, and you look like an alien without bags dragging around your ankles. It’s merely assimilation.
In this Warholian nightmare, Starbucks seems like an oasis of tranquility. I sit there and imagine I’m in London in 10 years time. People often say Paris is sold out, but give me a place where everything’s old and everyone smokes and every shop vendor is a lazy pain in the ass any day of the week. We’ll be back there on Wednesday, and then the prodding and the machinery and the treatment all begins again. I’ll be putting the celebrations on hold this evening.Follow @jeres
I’m not sure who sits on the committee that gets to select the Seven Wonders of the World, but how the temples of Angkor have never had a look in is beyond me. Stonehenge, for instance, is one of the stingiest experiences you’re ever likely to endure, and only a very easily pleased simpleton could squeeze any wonder out of the racket National Heritage have going on there now. You have to pay £5 to a trustafarian in a tabard just to park, and the stones are all cordoned off and about as approachable as Avril Lavigne at a meet-and-greet, and that’s even after you’ve paid the £14.50 it costs to get in past the perimeter fence. You’d have got more satisfaction from a £1 Soho peep show back in the day (before they bulldozed the place to make way for more bijou flats for yuppie bellends). All that money goes into maintenance they say, though why it needs to be maintained after standing freely for 5,000 years is anyone’s guess?
For 20USD each, we got a pass to enter all the temples outside Siem Reap yesterday, and so we beheld the sunrise at Angkor Wat and were awestruck at the magnificence of Angkor Thom around lunchtime. In between, Chan – our tuk tuk driver – dropped us back at the hotel for a power nap and breakfast. In the hotel they treat us like gods, bowing, pointing their hands at us in prayer, laughing at our jokes, asking why we allow natural disasters to happen… It’s a bit embarrassing actually, but tourism here is relatively new, and I suspect they’ll relax eventually. It must be exhausting being in the hospitality trade here, and they could learn a few tricks from their former imperial masters, who don’t give a shit about making the right impression.
Claire wondered aloud how gobsmacked the French must have been when they stumbled upon the Ta Prohm Temple when they first came to Cambodia 150 years ago. Ta Prohm is a union of antiquitous ruins and stealthy nature, with trees entwined in the sandstone, and jungle strangling the gopuras as you rock up to the entrance. The French still come here now, and they’re easy to spot among the wheezy, flip-flopped Americans and shutter-happy Japanese; they’re the ones dressed like depressed archeologists (head to toe in black with a keffiyeh around the neck is à la mode Parisian garb, even far from home and in this heat).
Angelina Jolie famously came here too to film Tomb Raider, and there’s a bar on Pub Street that even commemorates the spot where the Hollywood actor once stood and guzzled a pint. I’ve not seen the film, but I’m reliably informed that Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm are also stars of the movie. Angelina also fell in love with and adopted a child from Cambodia; we didn’t go that far, though we did pick up a couple of toy baby elephants and a knockdown Buddha from the night market. Even the mass produced landfill they sell here is better than the souvenir shop at Stonehenge.Follow @jeres
As we drove into the city of Phnom Penh at dusk last night, I was struck by how much the architecture reminded me of New Orleans. I’ve never been to New Orleans in person (I’ve been to the old one if that helps), but there’s more than a passing resemblance between the vieux carré in America and the vibrantly colourful bâtiments that decorate this most hospitable of neighbourhoods. There are traces of the French everywhere, but the young don’t speak the language anymore; they’ve adopted the lingua franca that I’m fortunate to have as a first language instead (after Khmer of course).
Today we met one of the older generation, 83-year-old Chum Mey, a remarkable man who was one of a few people who survived being tortured to death by the Khmer Rouge in the Tuol Sleng Prison (known as S21) thanks to his ability to fix typewriters. I can’t even get the ribbon on mine to work, which hints at how long I would have lasted. The museum was originally a school, which was taken over during the reign of Pol Pot. I won’t go into the various methods of torture we never knew existed before today, but it’s almost incomprehensible that human beings even came up with the ideas. The fact it all took place in a school makes it all the more harrowing, especially as I was just starting school myself at the time, a world away in the safety of Trithal County Primary where the only horror involved our dinner lady Mrs Barnes trying to force feed me liver. It’s good to get perspective on your own life sometimes, while the Cambodian people can be proud of how far they’ve come.
Before Cambodia, we were in Thailand. I enjoyed the time we spent in the city greatly, though our trip out into the wilds was a mixed bag. Adventure is good so a few days ago we went for a bike ride out of Bangkok with a tour party. Soon we were traversing jungle (apparently it wasn’t jungle, but it was jungly enough for me) and circumnavigating swamps and stiff upstanding plants of splendorous green on rickety bridges and vertiginous walkways. Some of the steep inclines were terrifying, especially after my episode. To cut a long story short, Claire braked on some broken cobbles, then I lost my balance behind her and ended up falling into a swamp with the bike following after. I didn’t spend enough time in there to find out what it might be infested with and scrambled up the bank looking like a British bellend covered in Thailand’s finest shite. Man of the day was an old Thai dude who hosed me down, pissing himself laughing as he went. A few kilometres away some nice Buddhists gave us food, and Claire gave me her spare Sex Pistols t-shirt. Which is how I came to be standing in front of a giant gold Buddha in a mildly offensive girĺ´s muscle vest.
“Ceci n’est pas la fin”. These are the words I cling to in my darkest moments, said to me by my assigned infirmiere Sophie at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital. This is not the end. They’re useful to remember when friends mail me to tell me they’ve been reading about my predicament, and not to soft-soap them because they can handle the terrible reality of my situation, and then you find yourself trying to reassure them with what you’ve been told, all the while wondering what the bloody hell it is they’ve read. A word to the wise: telling someone who has cancer how anguished you are about the Sword of Damocles hanging over them is not comforting.
The Pitié started life as a gunpowder factory and has served as a prison for prostitutes and a home for the criminally insane over the centuries. Famous in-patients in the modern era have included Ronaldo, Michael Schumacher, Valérie Trierweiler and if you like the macabre, the operating theatre where they sliced out a chunk of my colon was also where Princess Diana breathed her last. When you first arrive there it appears to be the size of a city, but the more you go back, the smaller it gets. I had to return there the other day to pick up a coat I’d left behind. It felt like I was going to work on my day off.
My partner Claire told me it was a year to the day that I came out about my illness from when they first found a tumour, during what I assumed was a routine colonoscopy. I suppose a year is long enough to keep these things to yourself, though what surprised me most was how many people I thought I knew quite well who contacted me to tell me they’d gone through – or were going through – something similar. When I say many, I mean I couldn’t count them on one hand. Most wanted to keep quiet about it themselves, confirming my suspicions about stigmatisation that I spoke about in my last blog. Last Wednesday turned out to be an emotional day for me, and a busy one too.
Another important personal anniversary is coming up, a milestone in any recovering alcoholic’s life. On Sunday I celebrate five years clean and sober. The malady has taken the shine off it a bit, but then I don’t suppose I could have got pissed to celebrate anyway. Instead I’ll be doing the Paris 10k, which is far enough from my last chemo session to be manageable. I should probably pick up a chip at an AA meeting, though I’ve not attended one in months. In meetings they ask that you share exclusively about alcohol, but to be honest – even through this whole nightmare I’ve not felt like a drink – which makes sharing difficult and I end up wondering why I’m there. I love my life too much here in Paris with Claire to want to jeopardise that, and besides, I only have enough money now for vinyl and books, and drinking looks expensive these days! I’ve come a long way and I have no intention of stepping backwards, no matter how often those in recovery tell me to keep going to meetings to keep reminding myself. The 12 Steps has served me well up to now, so I don’t want to denigrate the process, but right now the programme feels inadequate.
In meetings other people’s problems are trite to me, handing it all over to a higher power of your own delusion is folly. The cold reality of machinery, injections, scans, yet more scans, endless waiting, pills, suppositories, more pills, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, waking up three times a night to go to the toilet, excruciating pain when you do, operations, being shaved in intimate places by strangers in scrubs, being forced to wear a bloody hairnet, having to sleep on a rubber mattress away from the person you love because you’re too sick to go home, these things just can’t be remedied by lofty claims about a God of your own choosing and a bunch of pseudoscience, though the meditation practices I learnt from 12 steppers helps, as does a steady drip of morphine. It’s very bad manners of me given the hours my sponsor and others spent sorting my contorted little brain out back in the bleak days of 2010, and without them I wouldn’t have made it I don’t think, but the God of my own choosing – were he or she to exist – would have the good grace to expunge the world of all stupid cancers. Perhaps there should be a 13th step: We were told to get over ourselves, and we did eventually, when we realised we weren’t the only poor sods in the world having a hard time. Anyway, this is the end… of the blog at least. À la prochaine.Follow @jeres
I had a dream, and while I don’t normally share dreams on account of them being garbage, this one made sense of my predicament in an impressively parabolic manner, so much so that I almost bought my subconscious a pint to thank it for being so melodramatic. While taking a short break in La Rochelle a few weeks ago, I drifted off in the hotel bed as Claire went into town to get coffee and croissants. Suddenly a white mouse was right there crawling on the covers; I flipped the duvet and the mouse was jettisoned off the bed, and when I looked up to see where it had landed it had disappeared. While I wondered about where it could have got to, I returned my gaze to the bed before me, and there in its place was a gnarly black rat staring me down. I awoke startled, my heart beating in my eardrum. It didn’t take long to make sense of it.
Last year I was diagnosed with and treated for colonic cancer, a fairly dismal experience but one I remained upbeat about throughout and didn’t allow to get me down too much. I didn’t want to blog about it because for me there felt like there was enough bad in the world, enough outrage, and there are plenty of people out there already writing about their experiences of cancer, some probably very well, although I tend not to read about it if I can help it. Most of all I didn’t feel like I needed to add my voice because it felt like an aberration. This year it now feels like a part of life though. A few weeks ago after being told I was in fine health, my oncologist phoned me to tell me that he now thought some dots that had shown up in an MRI scan of my liver were the first stages of metastasis. I didn’t know what metastasis was so I broke my golden rule and started Googling, and naturally I fell down a rabbit hole and came away fearing the worst. Fairly quickly I came to terms the best I could with the knowledge that I might die, and soon. You start thinking about how big the universe is and how unimportant you are in it and throw in the fact that everybody does it (dies I mean) and you start thinking “hmmm, it’s annoying, but what choice do I have?”
But actually, after speaking with some very talented people at the hospital who I assume aren’t just trying to make me feel better, I hopefully don’t have to countenance the fact that this might be the end just yet. There are no guarantees of course, but what I’m up against is treatable they say. I’ll take that. A bit more pain and hanging around and being at the mercy of machines is doable. It’s a bit like going on a long tour with a really shit band. The chemo I’ve done for the last two days is certainly not as bad as my worst hangover was back in the day, but it does feel like the most oppressive jetlag, the plane having flown in from Mars.
My other reservation about going public with this illness is that you become Cancer Boy. You know, Cancer Boy! I might be 42, but I’ll still be Cancer Boy to a lot of people. Stuff I’ve done before just becomes one blurred prelude to the main event. Editors stop giving you work because they think you’re off convening with cancer somewhere. Someone jovially asked me the other day why I was in hospital, perhaps expecting me to tell him I’d got a splinter in my thumb; when I mentioned the ‘C’ word I saw the blood drain from him. Susan Sontag wrote Illness As Metaphor in 1978 and I read it in 2015, and while the treatment aspects she talks about have improved, the stigmatisation is still very much as real as it was nearly 40 years ago, but what can you do? I guess come clean, and try and carry on as normal. She also said this: “Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”
I wish I could say I have nothing to declare right now.Follow @jeres
My half-brother is voting UKIP. It shows how far we’ve lurched to the right that he’s not embarrassed to admit this. I’m embarrassed to admit this, and it’s perhaps given me some insight into how Christopher Hitchens must have felt about his little brother Peter. UKIP to me are the acceptable face of fascism, the bungling Oswald Mosley kind rather than the organised, efficient Hitler kind, but we’ve all got to start somewhere, and with Hitler it was a laughable failed putsch in a Munich beer hall in 1923. I think UKIP are a red herring though (although they’d probably prefer to be white herrings), because thanks to First Past the Post they’re not going to get very many seats even if they do end up the third largest party.
All the predictable “most dangerous woman in Britain” rhetoric about Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May’s hilarious “biggest constitutional crisis since the abdication of Edward VIII” baloney has actually detracted (which is what this campaign has been all about) from the actual most dangerous man in Britain, David Cameron. And I’m not just talking about the fact he wants to “finish the job”, which for anyone claiming sickness benefit or unemployment benefit at the moment must sound terrifyingly ominous. I’m also not talking about a man who shouts “that pumps me up” like Tom Cruise dancing on Oprah’s sofa or a man who can’t remember which football team he supports, which surely proves once and for all what a disingenuous cunt he really is. No, I’m talking about the old in out.
Firstly I’m not entirely sure there will be one under the Conservatives, because he’s a liar, and he’s lied to us before, about the NHS for starters. Dave doesn’t want a referendum, but he does want UKIP’s support back, because without it he can’t win outright. But if his hand is forced and we do have a referendum on Europe, then I predict chaos and a protracted period of heightened xenophobia and self-loathing. Does anybody really want two years of political and economic uncertainty and beastly racism from the redtops? Paul Dacre yes, the rest of us? Let’s hope not. I could go on about trade, China, the 3.5 million jobs directly affected etc, but actually I think leaving the European Union would be a regressive step backwards based on nothing much more than prejudice and an anachronistic view of Britain’s place in the world when it was apparently Great and knew how to keep foreign folk in check. Last year I underwent a serious operation here in France, and the medical care was incredible. Nobody said I should go home (okay, perhaps one person did), despite the fact I’m a terrible immigrant who struggles with the language and hasn’t contributed anything like what he’s taken out yet. Paris is my home, and it’s where I plan to stay for now. Coming out of Europe would complicate that.
I’m disappointed to see Labour take a hard line on immigration, but at least they’re talking about raising the minimum wage, which is actually putting money where their mouth is rather than talking hard ball and not being able to deliver (the Tories said they’d keep immigration down to below 10,000 a year, which was another lie). Personally I think people in England should vote for Ed Miliband because you can actually detect traces of humanity where you can’t with Cameron or Clegg, and under him the Orwellian bedroom tax will be repealed and fewer poor people will die in penury. So he eats a bacon sandwich funny, which only really proves he’s a bad Jew. A vote for Labour isn’t so much a vote for hard working families, which is the rather tedious slogan they’ve persisted with throughout the campaign that says nothing to me about my life, it’s a vote for basic decency and concern for fellow human beings. Dead-eyed psychopaths are excused, they were always only ever going to vote Tory, but what’s everyone else’s excuse?Follow @jeres