“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
We just spent the last week in Marrakesh, a city so different to Paris that it’s impossible to ready yourself for the culture shock you’re likely to experience. At risk of sounding like a middle class idiot – which would only be half right – Le Souk, my favourite restaurant in Bastille, couldn’t resemble the Souk in the heart of the city any less, while the road our riad was situated on was maybe a little like Paris… were it still the 17th Century.
Last year we visited Tangiers for one afternoon, which was preparation in a sense, though the traders we met in the city who were selling fez hats and other plastic ephemera for a euro a pop, seemed a disorganised bunch, whereas in Marrakesh it felt like the whole city was in on the same racket. Take the guy who ran our riad. He was a helpful sort, organising trips and sending us off on jaunts we’d only expressed a fleeting interest in, only taking a tenner’s commission for himself with each expedition. Our friend slept just a few hours in the afternoon each day, and at other times you could see him offering advice to guests, phoning tours or spas, or cooking up schemes to fleece more dirham our of the kaftan-wearing walking cash machines stopping at his palatial guesthouse. And who can blame him really? Especially the Tarquins and Mirandas who arrived on our final night and spent the evening blasting ‘Buffalo Soldier’ around the riad, the fucking cunts.
Our room itself, called the Saffron suite, was rather lovely, and it suited me especially well as you couldn’t really open the windows properly. Claire wasn’t too enamoured, but at least one of us was happy sleeping half the day away like a student. Our sanctuary from the hubbub of the city – the dust, and flies, the forlorn horses and the whizzing motorbikes – was somewhat undermined the evening we returned and found we had a visitor. A massive cockroach was crawling across the floor, and I was told I had to jump on it. I duly obliged, despite my occasional animal rights rhetoric, and compared to the people on the street who like to whip out a rabbit’s pulsating liver and eat it before your very eyes, my squashing a bug seemed quite tame. At first, when Claire called out for me to kill it, I thought to myself, “but aren’t cockroaches indestructible?” I’m not sure where that erroneous nonsense crawled out from, but after flattening its guts all over the bathroom stone, I will forever be deprived of that notion.
So anyway, we had a lovely time, despite what it sounds like. And this is even though somebody spat at me when we went to Essaouira, which we think might have been because Claire was showing her bare arms at the time (it was exceedingly hot). We went to the beach after, washed gob off my ear, and slept in the sun. In Essaouira, we ate the best couscous tagine known to man, and ran into two headscarfed postmenopausal loons who’d clearly escaped there to drop acid and relive having sex with Jimi Hendrix in 1968. We met these women separately, though they were the same woman in two different bodies. I can’t really put my finger on it or explain to you what I mean, but for a moment I thought I was living in a sequel to Don’t Look Now (the dwarves generally wore green hoods though). It wasn’t the only peculiar thing to happen, but it was the most peculiar. I should have known when I arrived at the airport and the computer crashed mid stamp and I had to stand around for 25 minutes while the security guards went off to play cards that it might be a strange trip.
Some things I learned
On the way to Essaouira we discovered that some goats like standing in trees. It was like a goaty fresco of a goaty boyband, but real.
The locals tell you the Palais El Badi is boring, but don’t listen, this ruin apparently commissioned by the Saadian sultan Ahmad al-Mansur in the late 16th century was a gobsmacking highlight for me.
There are snake charmers in the main Place Jemaa el-Fnaa – and I really despise snakes – but actually, the playing is usually so charmless that they don’t bother emerging from their caskets. Around seven o’clock when the city’s musicians assemble in the old square and make a delightfully atavistic racket is when you might see cobras unsheathed and dancing to the groove.
I hate to say this but it’s difficult to know who to trust: one really old guy led us down a creepy alleyway and then took us to this fantastic restaurant with belly dancers and musicians, and we were so relieved when we got to this great resto that we nearly kissed him despite the fact he wasn’t massively attractive. But there also seemed to be a lot of yoot who were keen to send us the wrong way, and one gang we thought might have a go at robbing us, at least until Claire got cold feet and took us in another direction. I wish I could have been a bit more trusting, because the Berber hospitality is warm and most people we spoke to were great; the shitehawks and the spitters are rare, but you have to be mindful of them. That night we finally got out of the souk, our hearts beating like harrassed lapin hoping to keep our livers, and then we took a taxi and drove around the city walls while the taxi driver listened to the radio screaming in French as Luis Suarez took PSG apart. The whole thing was a surreal rush that was as close to being on some really hairy internet drugs without actually having taken anything that I’ve experienced in all the time I’ve been clean. Great in other words.
Also, if we go again, then a trip into the desert is a must, though you need a couple of days to do that at least, or so they say…
So it’s about that time of year again where I update you on how pathetic my French is, like you really care and need to know how I’m getting on with that. Let’s just say it has improved, but not a great deal. My comprehension is a little better, partly because my prof is bavard – which is French for talkative, or if you prefer, gobshite. Listening is something I needed to get better at for sure – and there is plenty of room for improvement still, you can trust me on that one. And now my spoken French is suffering because my prof never shuts his mouth and I don’t get to talk French out loud except for in the usual places such as the boulangerie. For those who’ve been reading this blog for a while, the staff at the Arsey Boulanger are no longer quite so arsey. They’ve accepted we’re not going home any time soon and are now worryingly friendly, which means they’re a lot more bavard than they used to be. This can be awkward as I just want to get my bread and coffee and fuck off out of there.
So my comprehension is certainly improving but it’s still a long way off. I reckon I can pick out about 40-50% of the words generally, but stringing them together and guessing the correct meaning someone is trying to convey is more problematic, especially as I try to bluff it out and pretend I know what they’re going on about. Earlier in the pharmacy the girl behind the counter tried to make a joke as I was leaving about not knocking the display of lozenges over (she must make this joke 50 times a day). I misunderstood and thought she was trying to give me a free pack of lozenges, and it took another customer to mime knocking the display over before I understood. The whole charade became an embarrassing farce, especially when I tried to tell her in French that it was a strange place to put the display. I should have just nodded, shut my mouth and looked for a hole in the ground to swallow me up.
Anyway, something’s changed. I don’t have the same compulsion to maddeningly drop random French words into my prose anymore, which either means I’m getting a grip or I’m losing interest. Or it might just mean I’ve had a word with myself.
Despite what you might read in the press, Paris is still lovely. There seems to be an obsession from what I can gather to portray it as war-torn and divided, which isn’t true in my experience, but then what would I know, I only misunderstand people in the pharmacy. One thing I don’t like though – and it’s something I’ve noticed recently that might have been going on for a while now – is this: brands posting wallpaper on walls that tries to look like graffiti. Netflix took the massive wall on the Canal St Martin recently where street artists normally doodle to their hearts’ content, and thankfully someone saw sense to whiten the whole thing out the next day. I’ve also seen Nike do it. I think it’s fine for these corporate behemoths to find celebrated street artists and commission them to create things for them for fuck tonnes of money, but when they’re trying to muscle in on the streets themselves then they can just jolly well get fucked. As if brands aren’t everywhere else in society as it is!
The Nike ad in particular was the most embarrassing thing I’d seen since some Liberal Democrats tried to chop up a speech by Nick Clegg to resemble Cassetteboy. This pernicious absorption of street culture isn’t anything new of course, but I’m fearful where it might end. I might start a campaign to keep street art pure, though you need to keep a check on yourself if you’re ever using “start a campaign” and “pure” in the same sentence. And anyway, I’m sure some prick has already started a petition on Change.org by now.
Back in 2013 when I was a shit writer and I’d just started this blog, I got rather sniffy about the David Bowie Is… exhibition taking place at the V&A, mostly – I think in hindsight, – because I didn’t have a ticket. As a defence mechanism to protect myself from heartache, I suggested it would be a load of old shit. “Surely the best place to have seen Bowie flouncing around in his Ziggy suits would have been live incarnate, and given that I wasn’t yet salient or solvent enough to see him at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1973,” I said, sniffily, “my Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars DVD will have to do.”
So anyway, we went along to the Parisian edition yesterday at the Philharmonie de Paris and obviously it was fantastic. The attention to detail was exquisite, the curating second to none. My only disappointment was the fact I’d been told Bowie’s coke spoon would be on display, and now I’m wondering if it was an urban myth, somebody was having a laugh or I dreamt it.
Verdict: David Bowie Is was… fantastic. To celebrate, here’s my David Bowie: 10 of the best I wrote for the Guardian recently. How’s that for a bit of neat self-promotion?
At one stage during the viewing, I bent to my knee and took a photo. A security guard came along and started having a go and I thought I was going to get my collar felt. Thankfully I was near the exit so I offered an insincere “désolé” and minced away quickly in the direction of the shop. I felt like a philistine, but fuck ’em I say. I might watch The Man Who Fell To Earth again tonight to celebrate.
Today my beloved, Claire, completed a Half Marathon in Paris. I’ve rarely, if ever, felt so proud. If you’d like to donate money to the Bobby Moore Fund then please click on the link and do so. We’d be most grateful. Thank you!
I’ve been rather neglecting this blog for a while, which is a shame as we’ve been up to all sorts of lovely stuff, but I’ve been engaged time wise in something else that will hopefully launch soon. There are all these things I’d like to write about, the Picasso museum, the Klimt exhibition, the Palais Garnier, Argentine jazz at La Grotte, trying to sing Karaoke in French and failing abysmally, last but not least picking up our PACS certificate… but as the time slides away it feels fraudulent to write about it unless it’s for a memoir or money; it’s like those swine who upload their histories to Instagram when it’s not even a Thursday.
We went to see Baxter Dury last night at l’Olympia, which was smashing. Here’s a piece I did with him for The Quietus at the end of last year.
Here’s another piece for for the Quietus, a live report from the Fat White Family’s show in Paris last month.
And here’s one more for the Quietus while we’re about it, where I try to discover why Seven Nation Army crossed over into sport and became the most ubiquitous riff of the 21st Century. Some really interesting interviews in that one.
More blogs soon…
I stumbled across Ahmed Merabet’s shrine yesterday on the Boulevard Richard Lenoir. We walk that way all the time, and I’d almost forgotten that the atrocities of last week happened there. Marching through and then becoming aware we’d just trod through the scene of a murder, oblivious… well, it felt odd. I’m sure when I lived at the bottom of Brick Lane I walked absent-mindedly through the scenes of murders by Jack the Ripper all the time, but this is still so fresh in everyone’s minds, and still so painful. I could have cried for Ahmed there and then for all the good it would have done.
People keep asking me if Paris has changed, and to be honest I don’t know, as I’ve hardly left the flat. I’m pretty sure Lutetia has big enough shoulders to cope. It’s a big, metropolitan city with a history of resilience and resistance, and while it doesn’t feel like it right now, it has weathered worse. In my last blog I mentioned worrying about men on every corner with guns. Well earlier I took a walk down the Rue Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth, and there were men with guns, military men, stood outside a synagogue, watching, waiting. I wonder how long they’ll have to remain there? I hope I don’t get used to them.
I mentioned in an article in The Guardian the other day that ‘Je Suis Charlie’ is everywhere, and you wonder if it’s going to look as tired as an I Shot JR t-shirt in 1981 quite soon. I’m still not going to backtrack and renounce the hashtag, I think it was important for solidarity, even if it feels a bit hackneyed now. One day it’ll become just another answer in a pub quiz, but right now it has taken on a life – or many lives – of its own. I was looking forward to reading the Charlie Hebdo paper and enjoying the beleaguered cartoonists ripping into the likes of Benjamin Netanyahu, but the sloganeering has been so effective that you can’t buy the publication for love nor money unless you’re up very early and committed.
Today things feel a little more normal. I’ve had trouble sleeping recently and on Wednesday – the day the paper was published – I was clearly rattled. A scruffy young Arab boy came around to read the gas, and after I’d let him in I realised we didn’t have any gas. It went coursing through my mind – as embarrassed as I am to admit this – that he might have read one of my articles and not liked it, and suddenly I was treading into a land of enormous egotism and taking a boat ride to the isle of paranoia. Later that day I saw an Algerian man with the biggest rucksack I’d ever seen walking into Parmentier Métro. My heart stopped as I recalled 7/7 and the way London felt in the aftermath, and suddenly I found myself calling Claire and telling her to get out at République, which to her credit she ignored. Suddenly I was faced with two futures. 1. that the station blows up, or 2. I end up feeling like a racist. I was marginally more pleased with the second outcome. After rebuking myself, I resolved to drink less coffee and read less bullshit – two slogans I think we can all get behind. The historic march on Sunday was unifying, and we mustn’t lose sight of that, no matter who tries to fill our heads with angry nonsense.Follow @jeres
This was a week so dark it put the cul into crepuscular (cul is French for ass in case you were wondering), but today was a celebration of freedom, one of my favourite things. I’d perhaps forgotten how much I enjoy my freedoms. It’s like losing use of your sphincter or having someone impound your passport so you can’t get back to your adopted home country – a couple of things that have happened to me in the last year bizarrely enough, but those stories are for another time. Let’s get back to freedoms shall we? Freedoms eh? Marvellous aren’t they?
And ideas. Brilliant they are, and I wouldn’t want somebody telling me I couldn’t have them. It’s not like I have much control over them anyway, and I wouldn’t mind if the buggers fucked off for a bit when I was trying to meditate, but up they keep popping, poking me with a sharp pencil. The other night I had to write a piece for the next day, but could I sleep on it? Like fuck could I. I jumped out of bed at 5am and finished it off just to shut my head up.
Anyway, it’s been a difficult week and my brain could definitely do with shutting down now, after being part of a magnificent march and apparently the biggest gathering ever in central Paris. Today we followed leaders, but didn’t have to watch parking meters, as they came and took away all the parked cars in the middle of the night. An astonishing undertaking really. I’ve not always been the most vociferous and vocal supporter of the police, but they do a difficult job (blah blah blah) and this last week they deserve some kudos. Today they managed to fend off the terrorists and they also had a much easier job than usual arresting the drug dealers, as they were the ones in the ‘J’ai charlie’ t-shirts.
After 7/7 in London it took a while before I stopped wondering if every bus I boarded was going to blow itself to smithereens. The odds are always slight, but you can’t help but imagine the worst when terror is fresh and seemingly everywhere, shouting “boo!” from every news stand. In Paris this week I was looking for gunmen on every corner, even though I knew they wouldn’t be there. Sometimes you have to just keep your cheveux on, get back on the cheval, and dance like Hugo Chavez (I’m running out of che words now). I think as well as sending a message to the world, for a lot of people today was a gentle way to allay fears and return to some kind of normality. It was safety in (massive) numbers. It was like the time I got put in hospital in a street fight one Saturday night, and the next evening I went straight to the pub after I left hospital in order to prove to myself that I wasn’t frightened. And because I was an alcoholic who was gagging for a pint.Follow @jeres