On Thursday 14 October 2010 and the following day I received much support and encouragement from old friends, not least from a group of five men I met originally … (think of a number) years ago at university.
One sent me a CD of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, whose music I had been aware of dancing around but not to for many years.
Another, who has an extensive knowledge of light (no, I do not mean insubstantial) entertainment sent—and continues to send—links to youtube clips of classic British comedians. It is an education in craftsmanship: Tommy Cooper may have appeared chaotic and disorganised, but that was his act and the fruit of intense preparation. Change one letter of “act” and you have “art” and are borne towards the Latin maxim “ars celare artem”, which may be translated as “art consists in concealing the artifice behind it”. I have searched the supposedly wonderful www in vain for the correct attribution of this quote: I recall it as being from the Roman lyric poet Horace, but trawling around has left me unsure and not a little anxious as to the state of my memory. Onwards, regardless…
Yet another friend sent me a message designed (successfully) to inject some much-needed stiffness into my backbone. To quote from this would make me appear vain, so I will just say that he was very generous in his assessment of the more positive aspects of my character!
The fourth of this group has offered to lend his skills and experience in long-distance running towards fund-raising for my rare lymphoma, while the fifth came to visit me on this very 14 October (and is, at the time of writing, on his way to see me again).
Friend 5 arrived safely, showing all the cheerfulness appropriate in one who has recently retired from the hard work of school teaching, a career in which he had invested all the years since graduating in classics all those … (think of a number) years ago. He brought with him a packed lunch, a wealth of news and conversation, a calming presence and the loan of two DVDs of a progressive rock band whose music he and I, alone among our friends, appreciated without collapsing into mocking laughter. The band in question is Gentle Giant, loved in their native England by (ahem) all too few, but rather more appreciated in Europe.
My friend and I rounded off our time together with a stroll down to the nearby Thames and tea and cake in the excellent local bookshop that is not Waterstone’s.
On Friday 15 October I became Medallion Man when I took delivery of a customised dog tag that would give brief details of my medical condition and treatment to suitable people should I ever collapse in the street. It was not that I considered this particularly likely, you understand, but I was apprehensive of falling into the hands of medical personnel whom I might not be capable of informing that the compound effect of disease and current chemotherapy was that my immune system could be severely compromised. I was carrying a warning card as well, but what if that had fallen out of my back pocket as I had collapsed in the street? So, belt and braces it was…
I listened to the CD of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra that had arrived the previous day and it was wonderful to concentrate on music that I had previously only experienced as background. The pieces had a minimalist style that filled me with a gentle energy, reminding me of an elegantly engineered clock mechanism. Although not overtly emotional in style, this was music with a beating heart and crafted with tenderness. It brought me tears of joy and gratitude for the love of friends and my ever-lurking fears were eased in an affirmation of the much that is good in life.