Soyez calme…

I had no plans to write a blog here having written about our experiences at the Stade de France on Friday here and a piece about Le Bataclan here, so I’ll attempt to keep it brief. I certainly don’t want to oversaturate you with my musings, but being woken up by sirens in the morning makes one more productive. Writing that first piece was actually cathartic, although speaking to media has been less so. I’ve spoken to a few agencies, one that was inaccurate enough that by the time I talked to the next one, they presumably couldn’t use what I’d said as I was so cagey (to be fair, I was all over the place for the first one as it was on Friday night). It’s strange having broadcasters you’ve grown up with leave messages on your phone, and you wonder where they got the number from. It’s not me they’re after of course, it’s the story. I’m a hypocrite really, as I needed comment from friends on Sunday who were too in bits to even speak because of loss. Even so, there’s something tawdry about news journalism, especially of the TV variety. I got a call from a long-running prime time weekly news magazine programme in Australia on Tuesday.

“Do you think you could speak with us, Jeremy?”

“Um, okay. When?”

“As soon as possible, mate. Now if you can. We’ve got to wrap this thing up today”.

“Okay, fire away.”

“Ah no, we wanted to take you back to the Stade.”

“Erm… I’d rather not.”

“Can we come ’round to your house then?”

As he’s talking I envisage the programme going out live Down Under, with me stood in the centre circle with a tricolor scarf around my neck that they’ve made me wear, my face stained with one tear as the camera pans in for a close up as ‘Trouble’ by Coldplay tinkles in the background. I politely declined.

I’m trying to ration my news consumption too, because it just makes you feel so horrible. It’s like an overdose of Haribo. 24-hour rolling coverage that’s as eventful as geriatric test cricket, reporters on the prowl for scoops that are all about ratings and nothing about safety, throwing live rodents to reptiles all the while with a disingenuous smile on their faces… I think I hate TV. Ask me onto your show if you want me to talk about how great Stromae is, or how rubbish the Boomtown Rats were, but don’t ask me about sad things please, I proved how inept I am at that when I went on France 24 (who are a nice bunch btw) to talk about Lou Reed. I’m no Paul Gambaccini, that’s for certain.
I must say, people keep reminding me, but it’s really not been lost on me that my life has been eventful of late. I do appreciate the concern though, and right now “concerned” is perhaps putting mildly how Claire and I feel. I’m jumpy but trying to stay calm, because we don’t want to give the crab any more encouragement do we? The people of the 11eme are stoic, despite the fact the quartier has been shot up, and if their kind smiles in shops and cafes belie the fact they’re quaking inside then they’re all doing a damn fine job of hiding it. Just thinking about how brave some people are ironically makes me feel like weeping. No shame in it, but not again, I’ve got shit to be getting on with.

Paris will get through this. History all but guarantees it. Mythology too. There’s a siege in Saint Denis right now, a place named after a Saint who had his head cut off at Montmartre, and who then picked up his erstwhile noggin and ran as far as he could with it (the cathedral there is apparently built where he landed). Such behaviour pre-dates le décapité récalcitrant illusionist Houdini by about a millennium-and-a-half, while you could argue he also invented rugby. Ever since there have been insurgencies, uprisings, revolutions, counter-revolutions, coups, and whatever other word you can think of that means more or less the same thing. Paris has a richer history than most of violence, and its most celebrated moment culminated in the beheadings of the Royal Family (they brought them back for a little bit, but everyone likes to forget that part as it doesn’t serve the narrative). Communists storming Hotel de Ville, anti-Royalists storming the Tuleries Gardens, starving proletariat storming the ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes to feast on exotic beasts so hungry were they during the revolution… there’s been a lot of it. Just up the hill from us is Père Lachaise where 147 Fédérés were lined up and shot and thrown into an open grave, while the Sacre Coeur on the hill at Montmartre was built to “atone for their sins”.

Perhaps it’s all too soon to go on about this. And I did say I wouldn’t go on didn’t I? Anyway, to wrap up one can only reiterate the mantra of unity, if anyone’s reading and feeling malleable, and if not then it hasn’t done any harm anyway. Also, if there’s another march, then Francois Hollande should probably not invite Benjamin Netanyahu again for that same reason, though it might be difficult to reason with him as he enjoys his John Wayne moment right now. Tragically his approval rating is probably soaring. And to paraphrase my friend Bester, because my French isn’t the best, do remember to cut the arm off any journalist thrusting a microphone anywhere near Marine Le Pen’s face. I thank you.

Chemo fillips

When I first moved to London in 1997 in the year of Our Tony, I quickly realised how naive I was, and how I’d be taken for a ride if I didn’t wise up quickly. I went through a succession of jobs in the back of The Loot that seemed too good to be true, and sure enough they all were. One “sales” job in a basement off the Old Street roundabout involved cold calling parochial backwaters and pretending a major film production was coming to their area. I can’t quite remember how the embezzling part worked; I wandered off at lunchtime and never went back.

I’d go to the pub on my own and make new friends, and I was easily taken in. One guy in the Toucan in Soho who I’ve oddly never really forgiven gave me his number and told me assuredly to ring him if I ever needed a job. I called up three days later and he sounded embarrassed at the other end and said he couldn’t help after all. I realised it was all a charade to impress the company he was keeping that night. At the pub people would ask me what I did, which had never happened before. It was a weird question because in Cornwall I didn’t do anything, and nor did anybody else my age – not unless you meant staying up until 5am smoking dope while playing PGA Golf on the Sega listening to the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. I turned up at a friend’s house in Finsbury Park one Sunday morning after I’d pulled the night before, and was told by his (understandably) annoyed wife that I looked “dirty”, and I got the distinct impression that I shouldn’t ever just show up unannounced again, because that’s not how things worked in the cultivated metropolis.

A few weeks later I had to go to the dentist, and afterwards the practitioner said he’d book me in with a hygienist. I thought, “ooh, that sounds nice, a hygienist, I’ll look forward to that one”. A week later a herculean Swedish lady with the Rachel was pressing into me with her knee as she shredded my gums with a circular saw, with blood spurting everywhere like the finale of Carrie (or at least that’s how I remember it). I was told to come back next week, and of course I never set foot in the place again. I quickly learned that not everything was what it seemed, though I have to concede, I was a little dim in those winter months living temporarily in a friend’s spare bedroom in Willesden Green.
The world now seems more full of charlatans, liars and twats than it ever was. I look around and I see artifice and extravagance and selfishness everywhere and it’s ugly, and I have no idea where I fit in. It’s like a recurring dream only it’s not mine; it’s wet and it’s horrible and it belongs to Ayn Rand. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling like we slipped into some wormhole in the mid-90’s and things have been a little funny ever since. Are governments more deceptive than they used to be or is it freedom of information, whistleblowers etc, that make us more aware of their brazen duplicity?

There are certainly more pointless celebrities in the ether that come and go like protons and neurons, suspended there in a fleeting tweet for all of a second before they slide down the screen into obscurity (though somehow Peter Andre keeps getting retweeted). These people act as part of the putty needed to try to replace the fallen church. The resurgence of the Royals too – who would have been down and out in 1997 had Blair not intervened – is indicative of how desperate people are to believe in just about anything no matter how repugnant in order to maintain some kind of stability in their rubbish lives. I’m pretty sure there’d be a special place in hell for Bob Geldof too for his part in the creation of celebrity culture if there were such a thing.

Before I attack everything in a fit of puerility, what worries me most – and this I think is important – is the fact we live in an age were the information keeps coming quicker, and increasingly our binary brains are compartmentalising everything as either good or bad, as a success or a failure, victorious or tragic. We don’t appear particularly bothered with nuance any more. We’re dilettantes sucking up lots of information with very little detail because there’s barely any time before we move onto the next thing.

Going to that hygienist in the 90’s taught me that things that sound nice might not necessarily be. For instance if something has the word “therapy” at the end of it, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get massaged in a jacuzzi and dried with warm towels after. I’m back on the chemo friends, having thought I’d dodged a figurative bullet, although of course doing it as a precautionary measure means I might escape something literally fatal in the future. It was a blow to be honest, but I know why they’ve done it. My surgeon didn’t think I’d need to do more, but anyone who’s seen that Alec Baldwin “I am a God” monologue from Malice will know surgeons have to have a level of self-confidence that may spill over into belief in their own infallibility (I’m not criticising my surgeon – when we have babies we’re going to name them all after him).

Having to endure chemo again feels like failure, even though I’m taking tablets and I don’t have to endure the most sinister part (which is apparently called oxaliplatin) while being hooked up to a machine by a man who looks like Hannibal Lecter at the hospital (not his fault, but he’s the spit). Part of this feeling of failure is down to the fact that people were so damned nice when they heard the operation was a success, and please believe me, I’m not blaming anyone or begrudging anyone being nice, cos I bloody love it when people are nice, me. The thing is, despite my best efforts to play it down, some of the messages I received seemed to suggest it was all over. I didn’t want to be a rotter or piss on anyone’s parade but it just doesn’t work like that. I’ve got another four months of this, presuming my next CT scan doesn’t bring up any nasty surprises this month, and then there will be further three month scans dependent on the fact the cancer doesn’t return, and for some time yet. I’m optimistic, but I also think people should realise there’s no black and no white, not yet.

My oncologist said the other day, “I’ll [hopefully] give you back in five years”, but maybe that’s too messy for a lot of people to comprehend. There’s no resolution. How can things be left in suspense like that for so long? It’s the binary thing again, where it’s either cure or death, and any nuance is impossible to compute for some. The newsreader George Alagiah has just been through a very similar resection operation to me, and he’s going to be back on the telly again very soon, fantastic news for anyone who isn’t Morrissey. Unsurprisingly the Daily Mail ran a piece about how he was “clear of cancer” the stupid, shady bastards, when he’s clearly stressed that that is not the case [looking online after writing this, the Telegraph use the word “beaten”, which is worse]. I’m hoping this hasn’t come across like one big moan, and I certainly don’t want anyone not to feel positive – because I feel positive – but it’s important to stress that neither I nor George Alagiah bless ‘im are necessarily out of the woods just yet. To think anything else would be naive.

A vache in the pan

I’ve not eaten meat for 20 years. I’ve not drunk alcohol or taken anything pharmaceutical that wasn’t legally prescribed to me in over five years. I’ve not smoked for nearly three years. During much of the last decade I attended gyms up to four times a week and was a keen runner, so you can probably imagine how miffed I was when I was diagnosed with cancer. Not only did it take away my health and stymie activity, it also stripped me of my insufferable smugness regarding such matters.

I read with interest today the news that the WHO has declared that processed meats have carcinogenic properties, and red meats are risky too. It hardly surprises me really, though as somebody who was struck down with the big ‘C’ who hasn’t touched any flesh in two decades (dead flesh, give over), I’m not about to tell you to stop eating meat to safeguard yourself, because I’m not really sure if that’s possible or if I’m indeed the right person to tell you whether or not you should do anything regarding your well being. It seems to me that on the whole you either get it or you don’t (cancer I mean). I’m not suggesting that you go off and chain sixty a day and drink red wine until it drips out of your ears, but you know, you might as well if you want to.

There are plenty of reasons not to eat red meat, but I would personally put contracting some kind of cancer quite low on the list. Meat production causes 15% of all carbon emissions, so if you’re serious about preserving the planet then you should think on. Also, eat enough red meat and you’ll end up with forty pounds of impacted faecal matter in your colon like film cowboy John Wayne, who was actually part cow, part man when he died. And finally, future generations will not be horrified with you like they’re horrified with everyone else who eats pig, our cute little oinky mammalian cousins. We taste just like them, you vile cannibals.
The cause of my cancer is unknown. They ruled out that it was hereditary, which I’m pleased about for my bros and for future generations. Whenever I ask at the hospital if it could be linked to my former Dionysian lifestyle, they tend to shrug insouciantly, and then tell me it’s doubtful. At that point I want to inform them just how hard I used to cane it, but it would just seem like I was showing off. [I wonder from time to time if I should share this kinda stuff in my blogs, but they do say “write like your parents are dead”. Mine both are, so I don’t have to even pretend. Now there’s a slice of luck.]

Basically you could say that me getting struck down with cancer was unlucky, but I prefer not to prescribe to the pendulum of fortune, or the whims of divination. If I was unlucky to be struck down with the disease, then I’ve been lucky to be alive at a time when so much can be done, and find myself in a place where I have an amazing team looking after me and one of the best surgeons in the world slicing me open and sewing me back together. I live with the girl of my dreams in the city I love best, and both have been great sources of inspiration throughout this whole ordeal, so if you think I’m unlucky then keep it to yourself unless you want me to punch you in the face. Life is magnificent, and it’s often difficult too; c’est la vie as they don’t say much in France. At this stage I still don’t know if I need more chemotherapy – the meeting was put back after they analysed my liver and it came up negative. Lucky. If I need more chemo then unlucky. And on it goes… It’s just stuff, and the hope is that we get through it.

The last time I saw Prof. Siksik, he warned me gravely that alcohol is prohibited, and I mustn’t drink it under any circumstances. Lucky then that I haven’t touched a drop for five years since giving myself up as a raging dipsomaniac. Although weirdly, a while after he told me and it began to sink in, I started to feel somewhat resentful that the choice had been taken away from me completely. And it has been a choice not to, up until then. A difficult choice at times, but a choice nonetheless.

It started me thinking about my (admittedly quite hands off) recovery and whether I should start working it a bit harder again. Most reformed alcoholics will tell you dramatically that if they’d continued drinking it would definitely have killed them. The fact is that in many cases that could be true, but it might well manifest itself in the most miserably prolonged suicide note in history. My old sponsor used to say, “if you go back out there, it could take you 20 years to finish yourself off.”

Now I find myself in what feels like a unique position that if I start drinking again now, it will be les rideaux immédiatement (that’s French for ‘immediately curtains’ – not sure if the idiom works over here to be honest). I probably wouldn’t see Christmas for starters (I should probably come up with a date or occasion less likely to tempt me to plough back into the whiskey). My dear brother had a friend in a similar position, who came out of hospital and cracked after about three days of going up the wall, and he started drinking cider again. Poor bugger couldn’t help himself, even faced with certain doom; his skin turned yellow and he was gone within 10 days. So when you look at it like that, the fact I’ve been monastic bombastic for so long, might have done me some good after all.

Bonnes nouvelles from the bowels of hell

Have I been back from the hospital a week or two weeks? When you’ve been lying on your back in bed perspiring or shaking with cold with just enough strength to steadily deplete your surprisingly modest Twitter following with lame tweets about football, then time becomes somewhat elasticated (all football tweets are lame by the way, because whatever you think you’ve come up with and how original it is, you can guarantee it has been written at least 200 times that same day with varying levels of literacy. Just type “Juan Mata” into Twitter search when he’s been brought on late as a sub and will barely affect the outcome of a game, and you’ll see what I mean).

My Google Nexus might be able to tell me how long its been since I’ve been home, because it seems to know all sorts of things about me that I haven’t specifically told it, but which it has found out through the process of spying. For a while it thought I supported West Brom and West Ham, presumably made socially acceptable in digiland by the Prime Minister, but now it’s worked that little kink out (supporting two teams might be okay for some, but placing your old chap in a dead pig’s face is still interdict with most members of the public). Another thing the Android has got slightly confused about is the location of my work (ha!), as it now gives me daily updates about traffic to the hospital, which it calls “work”. That’s right, I’ve spent so much time there recently that it thinks I actually have a job at the Pitié Salpêtrière, the befuddled little A.I. dunce.
You might be able to guess that I’m stalling a bit here while I collect my thoughts, because I don’t really know what to feel right now given what I’ve just heard. You might also be wondering why I’m not telling you this on the phone or by way of email or whatever, so apologies if it feels a little impersonal, but please accept I have a lot of people to get around and I’m still in a fairly weakened state. Listen very carefully, I shall say zis only once (probably not true)…

The operation on my liver was a success, there seems to be no doubt about it. In fact to a scientifically inept twit like myself, I’d be tempted to chuck words like “miracle” around, but let’s not get carried away, not yet. After thoroughly examining the chunk of liver they took out, they’ve not been able to locate any trace of cancer. My surgeon says chemotherapy has completely destroyed it, though to find no trace at all is very unusual. It makes me wonder whether it was there in the first place, but I will care precisely no fucks whatsoever if it means there might be an end in sight to the misery.

It hasn’t been decided yet whether I will need more chemo, but my surgeon expects not. I have a meeting with my oncologist next week and will find out more. So anyway, if I don’t sound like I’m ecstatic then I can only say we’ve been here before. After the bowel cancer surgery was so successful, they were stunned when metastasis appeared in the liver. In fact I was told to go home three times before a call came that filled us with existential doom all over again. Presuming this is all correct, and I still can’t quite accept that it is, then there will be three-monthly check ups and all the usual shenanigans for some time yet.

So then, here comes the most tentative high five in history, why cinq you very much! I’m not going to dare to dream its over by any stretch of the imagination, but I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all my friends who’ve been nothing short of fantastic so far, and also ditto to the good people at the Pitié Salpêtrière. And let’s hope they’ve got more of a clue than my Google Nexus has.

Resection, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll

The second thing I did after discovering I had metastasis in my liver [the first thing I did was assume I was a goner] was attempt to send positive vibes to it. You know, ruminate in a cod-spiritual manner, imagining positivity beaming into the large-lobed glandular organ, healing it with cheery vibrations, or something along those lines. Or at least I was going to try and send positive vibes to it, until I realised I didn’t know where the fuck it was. In the back? At the side? I know it’s not in my legs. The liver is the Kazakhstan of internal organs, a huge landmass that you never really think about and have little idea where it is geographically, but once you consider it, you realise there’s probably plenty of stuff going on there that you don’t know about. Mine might have an amazing band in there playing Bedouin drone rock, you never know. I’m not really very hot on this stuff, you can probably tell. I asked Claire the other day why they call it a “livery section”, which sounds a bit vague for my liking. “You mean a liver resection?” she replied. If the Two Ronnies were still around then there’d be a sketch in that.
To be honest, I don’t want to know anything about the procedure if I can help it. It’s my highly effective way of dealing with it. Keep your statistics, unless they’re going to make me feel upbeat, but do tell me things I might like to hear, like about derring-do warbler Bruce Dickinson singing all 92 minutes of Iron Maiden’s excellent The Book of Souls  in discomfort and then getting himself checked out, zapping the tumour with radiotherapy, and now getting ready to fly Ed Force One around the world again, the tenacious sod. Or how about my old workmate at Playlouder, Melissa Fehr, becoming a world record holding transplant athlete after competing at the World Transplant Games in Argentina last week. Go Melissa! She had her bone marrow transplanted which sounds really involved; I’m just having part of my liver sliced out, which means I get another cool scar. My torso is beginning to resemble the Helmand Province, but you won’t catch me grumbling too loudly, or at all if I can help it.

I realised recently that the French medical staff at the Pitié-Salpêtrière have become my higher power in many ways. I don’t pray to them, though I do inwardly implore them to do a decent job. I have trust that my surgeon will do the business for me with the resection, and the nurses will pump me with enough drugs that I won’t feel it too badly when it’s done. Dr Siksik has a good firm handshake, which is important for instilling confidence I think. According to the Serenity Prayer – which I usually say without uttering the word God (though sometimes I do say it) – this is something I have to accept I cannot change myself, and the courage merely involves me turning up. The rest is out of my hands and in the hands of experts, though that doesn’t make it any less frightening the nearer it approaches. I’m booked in for next week, and we’re off to Dublin this weekend to have fun and maybe take our minds off it a bit. I’ve been to Dublin twice before though I only ever really saw the inside of a pub. This time we’ll get some fresh air and I’m sure we’ll appreciate every moment.

Street facile

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.

Singapore sting

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”.

“Why not?”

“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.
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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.

The Temples of BOOM!

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.
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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.

Something like a Phnom Penh, non?

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.
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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.

L’Incroyable Hulk

I feel so well at the moment that it’s hard to believe there’s anything wrong. I couldn’t say the same on the days where they slowly drip poison into my liver via a cord attached to a disco ball of chemo fun in my pocket. To make this neo-mediaeval torture possible, they had to slip a Cronenbergian device under my skin approximately three inches above my right nipple. The weirdest thing about the operation is the fact they did it while I was still awake. A plastic sheet was draped over a stand about a foot from my face, and then they deadened the area on my right side so I couldn’t feel a thing. I think they call this local anesthesia, although I did sense the muscles spasming and contracting while they worked.

I always imagined theatres to be silent and sombre places where assiduous surgeons fear slicing into the wrong arteries or whipping off the wrong limb, though this particular crew were singing Catalonian folk songs (one was from Barcelona), laughing and joking amongst themselves, and generally having the time of their lives. I hate parties normally, but how could I be a party pooper when this one was being thrown in my honour? “Good news Monsieur Allen,” shouted the experienced surgeon over the carnivalesque din, “we’ve located the correct vein!” Relieved though I was to hear this, the implication seemed to be that they sometimes found the wrong vein. The Pitié is a teaching hospital, and we all have to start somewhere I suppose.

On the whole things are bearable, though it never ceases to amaze me how they manage to come up with new and inventive ways to torture a person in the name of making them better. Susan Sontag (her again) said that “the treatment is worse than the disease”, and the whole thing does feel incredibly counterintuitive at times. You just have to keep reminding yourself that they aren’t in the business of leaving things to chance, and sometimes life will feel like 120 Days of Sodom, but without the sodomy. Look for the positives, like the fact I’ve been offered surgery when about seventy per cent of people in my position aren’t. Patients my partner Claire has spoken to on the internet keep telling her how lucky I am. I can’t help picturing Michael Palin chained up in Life of Brian, shouting, “oooh what wouldn’t I give to be spat at in the face, you lucky lucky bastard…”

I thought the colostomy bags that I had to attach daily to my stomach for three months – the ones that I was constantly at war with – were the worst things I had to endure. At least until the day they poured fluid into the hole in my stomach to clean me out before a scan. That was definitely the most horrific moment, at least until I stepped off the metro at Rue Oberkampf on the same day and liquid began firing out of me and didn’t stop gushing from my trouser legs until I reached my doorstep. That period was so traumatic that I barely remember it – as if I’ve suppressed it or made myself forget.
Yesterday was easy in comparison, though they did manage to blow my face up so I looked like the Incredible Hulk for a few hours. Or maybe Sam Allardyce. I’d had the warm feeling enveloping my torso from the fluid pumped into my body before – it’s standard procedure with a CT scan – but it had never spread to my neck and face before. When the scanner was completed I put my hands to my cheeks and feigned surprise in a Larry Grayson-like manner, so disorientated was I. I knew something was up, because the nurse pissed herself laughing when she came back into the room (it takes a while to get used to the French sense of humour, but I think I’m getting there. It’s like when a waiter says you can’t have something on the menu, and then starts chuckling because you can after all have the thing you’ve asked for – it’s best to just play along.)

The nurse laughing at me indicated something was up, that perhaps my face had melted, and when I went back into the changing room, I stared into the mirror where a simulacrum of me under heavy prosthetics – like a character from a stupid superhero movie – stared back. I only wish I’d taken the initiative at the time and painted my face green, then videoed myself saying things like: “HULK NOT HAPPY ‘BOUT GREEK SITUATION. HULK SLAP GREEDY RAHEEM STERLING. HULK PEEVED BY FOX LAW. HULK SMASH DAVID CAMERON IN GAMMON KISSER.” You had to be there, or rather you’re probably glad you weren’t. As bleak as things can get, nothing will deter me from doing risible hulk impressions.


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