Friday, June 29, 2007

The double whammy

I'm afraid I'm going to have to crave the readers' indulgence and make this another short entry. Yesterday was my first experience of combining my chemo with this new tablet. I seem to have reacted to it ok although I was a bit worried that I was getting a temperature again and this would mean going back into hospital. And today I felt fine again but I'm really, really tired. So, aplogies for the lack of content but I still want to keep the lines of communication open. Next time, as recompense, I'll give you a free gift. As a writer - albeit in a very small way - people always ask you where you get your ideas and they're always dumbfounded when I tell them that getting the ideas is the easy part, knocking them into shape is the hard bit. To demonstate I am prepared to give away free, gratis and for nothing an idea I think would make an interesting book or film. The only condition is that, in the admittedly unlikely event that you sell it for millions, I get a 'from an original idea by' credit and the appropriate recompense.
So, don't say I never give youse nothin'

Monday, June 25, 2007

The weekend - good in spots

Sorry, I couldn't resist it as the promised acne-like spots have begun to appear. I look like Edward James Olmos.
Actually, it was a spotty weekend in other ways, too, being our 19th wedding anniversary. My wife found it very hard; again, there's this thing about casting your mind forward to next year. The number 19 seems kinda mocking, too. It's like it's saying, Ha, didn't make it to 20, did ya? Well, we'll see. The fight's not over yet.
On the work front, the BBC have contacted me to do the VO for a forthcoming fly-on-the-wall series, so that'll be good.
Still have that big news waiting in reserve but I don't want to say too much at present in case it all comes to nothing.
So keep checking in.

Friday, June 22, 2007

New drug

So, yesterday I went to the hospital and was given this new drug which - if the side effects aren't too serious - I'll be taking in tandem with the chemo from next week. Apparently, the most common side effect is an acne-like skin rash so I can relive my teenage years. On second thoughts, no thanks...I was a miserable teenager. I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now. Finished the Brian Keenan book and am back on crime fiction, George Pelecano's 'Hard Revoltion.' Pelcanos writes about Washington DC where he's from using a cast of characters who come from the same area and sort of bump into each other throughout the novels. His main themes are the changes in race relations and the growing power of drugs. In a way, the books work together as one huge novel in which the main character is DC itself. He's also a bit of a music anorak and his novels always have a great soundtrack. This one is set in 1968 and the characters are on the cusp of the change from soul to funk, with the militancy that accompanies this. The main character is Derek Strange, a black rookie cop who later turns up in a series of contempory novels in which he's a private eye.
Anyway, if you haven't read them, check them out.
In the mean time, I'm off to watch my zits grow. I'll let you know what happens.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

How do the bad days feel?

Something like this:
Look at your body -
A painted puppet, a poor toy
Of jointed parts ready to collapse,
A diseased and suffering thing
With a head full of false imaginings.
The Dhammapada

Monday, June 18, 2007

It shouldn't hurt but it does...

Fathers Day. Hey, we all know it means nothing, that it's just a scam invented by the greeting cards industry, don't we? So how come it can still hurt so much? Losing my wife and little boy is just still such a painful topic for me. So much so that I can't even talk about without being reduced to uncontrollable sobbing. I cannot speak with crying. And, stupid tho' it is, Fathers Day is just one of those occasions that reminds me what I'm losing. Also, my wife had bought me a present for my son to give me, way back before I was diagnosed. It was a pair of new shoes as I like walking so much. With my boy knowing about them, they had to be given to me. Yet they were a reminder that, not that long ago, we were looking forward to a future. Shoes are a present for the future, they're to last months and years, they speak of a belief in longevity. In a way, those shoes were beamed in from what seems to me now to be another world, where death was a distant possibility not an ever-present reality. And that world is gone.
Still, I got breakfast in bed and my favourite roast chicken dinner made for me! So whey-hey...there's something to be said for it. Plus a great card made by my wee man.
Anyway, catch up with y'all soon.


Friday, June 15, 2007

When 4 weeks is a lifetime

Went for chemo and everything was fine. My consultant, in whom I have a great deal of trust, also told us that, from next week she plans to introduce another drug in combination with it. Although we live in isolated old Donegal, she's spent a lot of time in the states and, in fact, came up with this idea while talking to a friend of hers in New York who specialises in pancreatic cancer. The new drug won't work miracles but it can add 4 weeks or so on to your life. In my situation, 4 weeks more with my wife and son would be very precious. There can be side-effects everything from acne to a heart attack! - but I think its worth trying. I'll keep you up to date on how it goes.
Reading Brian Keenan's 'An Evil Cradling' at the minute. Another book I've had for ages but never got around to reading. For some reason, I've always liked to read about people in extremis, whether they were in prison, at war, in the wilderness etc. I suppose I was curious to know how the human spirit reacts when tested to the limit. Or mebbe I'm just a sadist by proxy? Came across this quote as Brian & John McCarthy are talking about how, despite no attachment to conventional religion, they still find some comfort in prayer: "In its own way our isolation had expanded the heart, not to reach out to a detached God but to find and become part of whatever 'God' might be." I think this reflects my own feelings, that sense of disinterest in a theological construct in preference for a sense of how concepts like 'god' and 'compassion' relate to me.
Overall, it's a fascinating book with some interesting observation on 'terrorism' that come from Keenan's comparison's between Beirut and the Belfast that both he and I grew up in. Pity it all remains so topical. The relationship between McCarthy and himself is also fascinating. It's clear that a real love existed between them. Of course, in our debased times, we tend to sexualise such realtionships and believe they must have had a homosexual component. In that way, we're no different from the guards in the book: because they live in such a repressed society they are unhealthily fascinated with the hostages' sex lives etc. We're in what is supposedly a much freer society yet are equally interested in the most squalid details of people's private lives. What's our excuse?
Did I turn into my grandad there? I hope not.
Anyway, see y'all later.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Email now ok... thanks to everyone for their suggestions. Chemo tomorrow so I'll let y'all know how it goes.

Communication breakdown

Apologies to anyone who has been trying to email me. Someone has obviously sent me an email that is too big for my little Donegal dial up to cope with, or else is booby-trapped. The result? - everytime I try to get mail it loads up all the emails until it comes to this rogue one, then crashes. When you try again, it starts the whole process from the beginning again, crashing out part-way thru', altho' sometimes an additional message gets past.
I, of course, being completely techno-illiterate, don't know how to fix this so any suggestions vis the blog would be welcome.

Valhalla! I am coming!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Cops and cocoa

I just noticed that 2 posts back, I described myself as heading off for a 'cop of hot chocolate.' Phnarr, phnarr...!

The consolations of philosophy

I found this great quote from David Hume:
"I am dying as fast as my enemies, if I have any, could wish, and as easily and cheerfully as my best friends could desire."


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Birthdays, radio and sunshine in Donegal

Yesterday was my wife's birthday. I kinda don't want to go into this too much. My wife and son deserve some privacy in this blog, it was my decision to write it, not theirs. But, like school sports day, it as one of those very bittersweet experiences. In normal circumstances, events like these tend to make you nostalgic. But for me and my wife, you can't help projecting forward and wondering about next year.
Anything that involves looking at the future is very perilous for someone in my position. The only way to really handle it is to try and live as much in the moment as possible. I know this can sound a bit new-agey, Power-of-Now-ish but it really is a common feature you find in all sorts of spiritual teachers. Not least of all Jesus, who told us to "take no thought for tomorrow for you know not what tomorrow will bring." Did I ever discover the truth of that! See, that's what I mean about the relevance I've been finding in spiritual stuff. It's not in the theology, it's in the practical stuff that people with more insight than you and I try to tell us about who we can live valid lives. And that's what interests me, not heaven, hell, resurrection, reincarnation, any of that.
As regards sunshine in Donegal, we're actually having some really stunning weather here. I know that you'll think it's the drugs kicking, but this little Inishowen penisula really is a very special place and in the's just breathtaking. Another good thing to store away for the times to come.
I was in hospital when it happened so I wasn't able to put in an entry on my appearance on BBC Radio 5 Live. In fact, I did the interview on my mobile phone in the corridor of the oncology ward of Letterkenny hospital so, if omeone's heart monitor conked out elsewhere in the hospital, I'm the one to blame. The presenter, Chris Vallance, was really kind about the blog and you can check out what he had to say at:
If you're interested in blogs at all, pods and blogs is really worth listening to.
Anyway, a cop of hot chocolate and some morphine awaits.
See you later.

Thursday, June 7, 2007


Chemo today. Everything seemed fine and, a I've completed 7 sessions, I might get a week off while they review where they go next. Generally, all the tests seemed to come back positive. I'd lost weight last week but have regained some of it in the interim. This is good news because it probably indicates the weight loss was just a blip, not the start of a period of decline.
My chemo is a gentler routine than most people but the day is still a bit of a drag. The problem is, you turn up at 10am and give a blood sample. This has to then go the lab who take a couple of hours or more analysing it. They then send the results back to the Dr who decides whether you're ok for chemo and, if so, whether the strength has to be adjusted etc. The dose is then made up and administered. So, while my treatment - ie the actual giving me the stuff thru the drip - takes 30 minutes, it actually wasn't administered today until 3.30.
As for the bowels...Well, it's just one of those things about being under medical care. Every week, you go through a list of questions including, inevitably, "How's your bowels?" Not a question that tends to be asked in other social situations. However, in the world of medical care, the bowels retain their importance . And why not? Personally, I think we all sense that the bowels have a democratising effect; reminding us that even the greatest among us still have to make poopy.
While I remember, watch this space for some exciting news about the blog and its future..!


Monday, June 4, 2007

I asked Van Morrison for his autograph - and lived

First, let's put this in context. I didn't want Van's autograph. This was the early 80s, I was 20 or something and cultivating my I'm-not-impressed-by-anybody pseudo-cool. But I was out on one of the earliest dates with my wife, who had recently seen him in concert. The fateful confrontation occured in a hotel in Bangor, County Down. It was a Tuesday night or something and the bar was deserted except for us, Van Morrison and a female companion. Van is - surprise, surprise - in a bad mood, his mid-Atlantic accent carrying all thru the place. I have a bad feeling.
'There's Van Morrison...'
'Uh-huh, ' I awknowledge while trying and hide my whole face inside my half-pint glass.
'I'd love his autograph...'
Of course you would. And you want me to get it. And we've only just starting going out so, you know, I want to impress. I gird my loins, get a piece of paper and a pen and get up and start walking towards Van.
In an empty bar, it's pretty clear that I'm headed for him. I'd like to tell you that I strode proudly towards him, head held high but actually I was staring at the ground. There was a lot of bar to cover and always the possibility that Van would start lobbing glasses or something.
Eventually, I reach his table. I've worked out a strategy. Mea culpa, I will confess that I am intruding but promise to leave him alone as soon as the deed is done.
I get as far as saying,'Look, I'm sorry, I know you don't like this sort of thing...' when VAn responds.
'So, why are you doing it, then?' the great man asks.
I start to say my girlfriend is a big fan, go for the all-lads-together approach but, no, he's off. For the next 10 minutes he tells me how pathetic this is, how everybody bothers him, how he wants to left alone...10 minutes! He could have a) signed the thing or b) told me to bugger off in two seconds and it would all be over. But no. I stand there, looking at the ground while Van tells me how I'm symptomatic of everything difficult in his life. All I was lacking was a flat cap to twist between my hands while he delivers his message. Finally, he does sign the thing with a contemptious gesture, and I back away muttering embarassed thanks and we leave the bar soon after. I don't wave.
The autograph? Lost many moons ago.
Still think he's produced some works of genius but nothing worth paying too much attention to since No Guru, No Method, No Teacher. Well, I'm going to be a sucker for a title like that, aren't I.
So, that's it. I'll be back soon. After all, it's too late to stop now.


Sunday, June 3, 2007

Clint Eastwood, VAn Morrison and a flickering torch

The future: it's amazing how much time we spend living in a place that doesn't exist. Until it's taken away from us, of course. I suppose Sports Day got this into my mind. But there was another seemingly trivial incident that reinforced it. As you know, I am a complete music/book/movie junkie, so I was always ordering stuff off the internet etc. Just before the diagnosis, I'd preordered a box set of the 2 Clint Eastwood Iwo Jima movies. When they arrived this week, they were like a relic from another age; a time when I believed I could simply order something like that and then have all the time in the world to watch it whenever the notion took me. Before my life stretched in front of me like a path seen in the sunlight of early morning. Now, it's more like I'm walking in the dark. I have a flashlight but I'm not exactly sure when the battery will run out.
Aside from such morbid stuff, my reading is actually quite light. I've just finished Johnny Rogan's book on Van Morrison, No Surrender. Belfast being such a small place, those of us from there tend to have a fascination with those sons of the city who've made names for themselves outside our own little world. For all you Van fans, I'll include in my next post my own personal encounter with the (alleged) grumpiest man in showbiz.
See you then.