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.

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