Putain de cancer!

No swearing on this Climbers Against Cancer tee-shirt.

There’s something extremely satisfying about being able to speak another language like a native, you know, with all the idioms, exclamations, and swearing, especially the swearing if the occasion calls for it. This week, it did.

Noel and I have been going to French classes at the home of Andy and Isobel for years now. There’s only about half a dozen of us, we meet each week in term time for conversation (yaaay!), comprehension (mmmmm…) and grammar (booo!). We also gain insight into French life and what makes our neighbours across the Manche tick.

Andy always starts the lesson with the question, ‘Quoi de neuf?’, ‘what’s new?’ This week was the first class since Bastard Cancer Day, the day our world tilted a little on its axis, the day of swearing, but only in English. To be accurate, I should say even more swearing. June 23 2016 was when the swearathon really kicked off for me, I can’t say Brexit without prefacing it with Bollocks to….

Quoi de neuf, Anne? Asked Andy. I’d taken the liberty of looking up some useful vocabulary to tell Noel’s story. There was bowel (intestin) , colonoscopy (colonoscopie), stoma (stomate) and Bastard Cancer (putain de cancer).

After kind words and supportive continental hugs complete with cheek kissing, there was a healthy discussion in French of course, on the merits of various swearwords. Bastard Cancer directly translated is something like Cancer Bâtard, which doesn’t trip off the tongue very well and actually sounds like a character from Wacky Races, plus it doesn’t spit off the tongue like swearwords should, a good swear is a physical experience as well as being extremely satisfying.

French is a beautiful language to speak, flowing and expressive and swearing in it is an art. I have to confess to learning my best expletives from the gritty French police drama Engrenages (Spiral) , it’s a profanity masterclass. I don’t want to give the impression that I swear a lot, it’s just that sometimes, for me, only swearing will do, it’s liberating. And my grandma isn’t around to wash out my mouth with soap.

Naturally, like any good teacher, Andy doesn’t encourage bad language, he prefers us to express ourselves articulately , without resorting to profanity. But when he’d heard our story, he had to agree. ‘Putain de cancer’

The new vicar signed up for parkrun

There are no official parkrun hats, though if there were, they would be very good indeed. And what’s more, I would have been wearing it in a church this week.

There’s never a dull moment when you’re a parkrun event director, and those moments tend not to be confined to a Saturday morning run. That’s why I found myself in a packed church on an autumnal Wednesday evening, wearing my parkrun hat, metaphorically that is.

The Church of St Augustine, or Wrangthorn as we know it, looks out over the infamous Muddy Corner at the far end of our parkrun course at Woodhouse Moor. For a few years now the kind folk at the church have offered coffee and cake to parkrunners once a month, with a few enthusiasts from their running club either parkrunning or volunteering.

We held the celebrations for our 600th parkrun there, of course cake was eaten. We even had Leeds University medical students show us how to perform CPR there in the warmth and shelter of the church rather than the muddy, windswept Hyde Park which was our other option. And of course there was cake.

Wrangthorn has been without a vicar for a year or so, which is evidently normal in the Church of England. The appointment of a new vicar was as eagerly awaited as a parkrun PB, so when Rev Adrian Smith was announced as the new priest-in-charge, there was much excitement and maybe expectation of divinely-inspired PBs.

Along with with other local community partners, I was invited to the service of licensing. This is where clergy and members of the church team get to wear fantastic robes in snazzy colours, say prayers and lead us in song. The service was due to be led by the Bishop of Leeds, but Bishop Nick was held up in the House of Lords for the Brexit vote. Instead, we had Bishop Paul, who mentioned Brexit in his prayers, calling on divine help , there was a big Amen to that, I can tell you.

They made the mistake of asking me to say a few words, then gave me a microphone, though I rarely need any amplification. I gave Adrian a warm welcome on behalf of Woodhouse Moor parkrun, resisting the temptation to tell him that we are, according to the Guardian, one of the top ten parkruns in the world . He said his wife Sue had run a couple of parkruns and that he had *ahem* signed up, but was yet to break his duck. I did of course tell him that he would be very welcome any week…and why not this week..?

Afterwards in the church hall, as I chewed on a slice of rather tasty vegan chocolate cake (I’m not vegan, but my mate made it and she does bake exceedingly good cakes!) and looked around, I felt so proud of what parkrun has done for individuals and communities, bringing people together over a 5km run, jog or walk around a local park.

Here I was in a church hall with cake and new friends and acquaintances from all walks of life. There was a variety of faiths, including the local Iman and representatives from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (another blog there) and folk from many different backgrounds, including a few parkrunners. These were all people I’d never have met if it wasn’t parkrun. Hooray for parkrun!

We’re going to need a bigger bus

No tattoo photos, but here’s Noel with cats

Noel came back from the hospital the other day with a tattoo, actually, that’s not true, he had four of them. They aren’t anything fancy like ‘I luv Anne’ or ‘Programmers do it in code’. Just four tiny blue dots to mark the spot where the death ray will zap the Bastard Cancer ™

OK, not a death ray exactly, but a linear accelerator, which will dose that damned tumour with radiation five days a week for five weeks. Take that, Bastard Cancer.

We started the journey on June 25 with just five words from the consultant, ‘It’s bad news, I’m afraid’. It’s a journey I travelled more than 30 years ago with my mum, when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. What a contrast, then it was all about the treatment, not the patient, no flexibility, no information, it was done to you, not with you. It was a lonely, miserable, distressing, uncomfortable journey for everyone involved.

What a contrast in care and treatment today, we’re on first name terms with everyone, except the consultant of course, a bit like teachers, they don’t have first names. Yes, it’s a journey we’d rather not take, but we really feel that NHS clinicians and all the other staff are in the bus with us rather than giving our broken-down car a bit of a push.

Then there’s the support from friends and family, which has been overwhelming, but in a good way. I’ve been humbled by the kindness of others, from messages of support and sharing of experiences to offers of help and food, including broccoli soup and squash, Bastard Cancer hates brassicas. Suddenly the journey doesn’t feel as long and dark and lonely as it did, I think we’re going to have to get a bigger bus.

A hospital for introverts?

I’m an extrovert, I know you’ll find it hard to believe, but there we are. I love people, I love being with people, I get my energy from people, some say I’m a tad loud, can’t see it myself. Noel, on the other hand, is an introvert, if he spends too much time with too many people, it saps his energy, he likes his own space and a bit of peace and quiet.

He was recently in hospital and I can tell you, it’s not a place for introverts to thrive. Nothing is quiet, clatters and bangs bounce off the walls as trolleys full of tubes, plugs, cups and flasks of weak tea are pushed around and occasionally come into contact with a wall or door.

He was reclined on a squeaky bed with a cacophony of beeps and bells from the kit attached to him and his three wardmates. The loud over-enthusiastic exclamations of daytime TV was punctuated with the cheery chatter of staff as they went about their very important business of looking after patients. What’s an introvert to do?

Noel has the answer. An Introvert Ward, similar to a quiet coach on the train. Each bed would have a ‘DNT’ (Do Not Talk) sign, on threat of being transferred to the Extrovert Ward where the TV would be always turned up to 11. Equipment would be wrapped in (sterile) cotton wool , everyone would whisper, including the consultants. OK, not the consultants, they can do what they want, and food and drink would come in bamboo cups – no plastic here, we’re very sustainable on the Introvert Ward. I’m putting together my PhD proposal as I write, though I may be disqualified for being too loud.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying Noel has cancer or, to give it its full name, Bastard Cancer. We have another name for it, but it’s not for delicate ears. It was a shock and has been the worst few weeks of our lives, bastard cancer. As an introvert, he finds it draining to tell people this news, as an extrovert, I offered to blog about it.

He’s had surgery and has been home a couple of weeks under strict instructions not to drive or lift anything heavier than a full kettle. That means no digging in the allotment, as you can imagine, he’s gutted about that! He starts chemoradiotherapy soon, prior to more surgery. I’ve told him he’d better be sorted for the ski season, he says he fully intends to.

We have the best health service in the world, he has already benefited from the expertise and dedication of an amazing consultant who has overseen his (and I assume others’) care while on holiday. Noel agrees he can talk as loud as he wants, anytime. The healthcare system is very well joined up, quite simply the best and you can quote me on that. If only the hospitals had Introvert Wards.

You can dig it

Photo courtesy Left Bank Leeds

Fresh air is my drug of choice. I make sure I’m outside for some part of the every day, preferably all of it, taking huge lungfuls of lovely air, enjoying the colours, sounds and smells. Oh my goodness, it makes me happy, relaxed and there’s always the possibility that I could get properly mucky.

So when I was asked to help with the new garden at Left Bank, Leeds, where I’m a non-executive, I was there straight away with my spade, gloves and stout shoes.

Left Bank, the former St Margaret of Antioch Anglican church, was originally designed to have a tower, but the funds ran out, which was bad news for tower-lovers, but good news, more than 100 years later, for garden lovers. The church was left with an area of land where the tower should have been.

The building went from church to not-church to a lovely arts venue, all the time with an outdoor border of overgrown trees, bushes and an abundance of bindweed and sticky willie, with additional late 20th century detritus, most of it fast food related.

Thank goodness for grants and generosity, within a few weeks and help from big diggers the near wilderness was transformed into a beautiful new garden. All it lacked were plants, lots of them. That’s where I and fellow volunteers came in.

Within a couple of hours, lots of digging, quite a few cups of tea and a surprising number of cigarettes, not me of course, I’ve already said fresh air is my drug of choice, the plants were in place, and, although I say so myself, it all looked rather good. We are always looking for volunteers to join the team, let me know if you want to join us!

Good luck, Mr Gorzky…..

The TV image I saw on our tiny black and white TV

It’s not true, I wish it was, but it’s not. However, like anything populist it becomes bigger than the truth. And the truth is that 50 years ago, Neil Armstrong took that small step down a rickety ladder covered in tinfoil and became the first man on the Moon. It was a giant leap for mankind and there was no mention of Mr Gorsky.

My childhood was punctuated with radio and TV broadcasts of astronauts going to and returning from space. Thanks to Blue Peter and enthusiastic teachers, everyone at school had an Apollo rocket made from the inside of toilet rolls, topped with a Ski yoghurt command module covered in the gold foil from Cadbury’s Bournville dark chocolate. I reasoned with my parents that only gold foil would do for my masterpiece, the fact that it was my favourite chocolate was neither here nor there.

I loved all things space, though from the comfort of Earth, where there is proper food and flushing toilets. I ate my bodyweight in Cross and Blackwell spaghetti hoops to collect enough tokens for a commemorative poster of Apollo 8, the first rocket to orbit the Moon. It was worth it, though I’ve not eaten spagehtti hoops since.

When the Eagle landed, I saw the scratchy images on our tiny black and white television and cheered, along with the rest of the world. When Neil talked of peace on earth and left the plaque on the Moon saying just as much, my childlike heart was happy. The world was happy, unless you were in Vietnam, that is, they weren’t happy there, neither the Vietnamese nor the American soldiers in that pointless and inconclusive war. But that was forgotten for those few amazing days in July 1969.

The scallywag who spread the rumour that Neil uttered ‘Good luck, Mr Gorzky’ while waiting for Buzz Aldrin, gave us all a bit of a giggle. The story goes that Mr and Mrs Gorzky’s argument was overheard by a youngster playing in the yard. ‘Sex? You want oral sex?,” she yelled to her husband. ‘You can have it when that boy next door walks on the Moon’. That boy, so the story goes, was Neil Armstrong.

I’d like to imagine that after he took Communion on the Moon and tidied away the wrappers and other litter, Buzz put his arm around Neil, looked over that curved horizon towards Earth and shouted to all mankind ‘It’s a beautiful world, don’t fuck it up, it’s fragile, it’s precious’.

Jam to Japan

A trip to the allotment with my Japanese friend confirmed something I suspected. There are no gooseberries in Japan.

I’d told Maika about goosegogs, which raised an eyebrow. She’s used to Yorkshire isms but that was a new one on her, so I used the common name for the sour, spiky seedy fruits. No, she said, never had one, never seen one but was prepared to try.

Before I could warn her, she popped one in her mouth, oh my goodness, if that had been me, I’d have spat it out so fast it would have broken the sound barrier with gooseberry sonic booms shattering the peace of the allotments. Maika, however, has a study palate, she’d eaten mucky fat and bread without batting an eyelid, tried tripe without batting an eyelid and developed a passion for Marmite. She found the gooseberry tasty, if a little on the tart side.

Gooseberries are not widely available in the shops, they are easy enough to grow, but the thorns are vicious, making harvesting them a scratchy affair. And when there are strawberries and raspberries available, why would you bother with gooseberries, eh? They need their own weight in sugar and then some before they are palatable.

Fearing for Maika suffering a belly ache from too many uncooked gooseberries, I offered to make them into jam. She tells me the Japanese have a sweet tooth and jam goes down very well, and as my gooseberry jam won top prize in the village show, I thought it would be a good idea to start an export business, developing a trading partnership outside the EU. Jam to Japan, it has a certain ring to it. Maika has offered to help with the quality control and translation. I reckon that with this year’s crop I could have as many as a dozen jars. I think I’m going to have to plant more gooseberry bushes…….