Thursday, 19 November 2009

A Walk in the Park

Recently I’ve been feeling more tired. I was warned that fatigue is a common side effect of radiotherapy but I didn’t think it would come on so quickly. I’m finding that I’m too bushed at night to stay up late writing Chemo Chic. So I resolve to write in the mornings. Only today I didn’t get up until midday, so there’s that plan out the window.

“Remember what Dr Coulter said,” Nick reminds me, “rest, good food and get some exercise. We must get out for a walk today.” “Mmm-hmm,” is my non-committal reply.

By the time we’ve bathed and dressed and eaten some muesli Daisy is ringing on the doorbell. She’s come to give me a singing lesson. Daisy says that singing is “an invisible anchor for the spirit.” I have to say that I agree with her. I find singing uplifting yet at the same time grounding, if that makes sense. It’s a wonderful therapy. We start with rhythmic breathing for five minutes then kick into scales and arpeggios. Daisy encourages me to do the vocal exercises with accompanying actions, for example stomping around the room, throwing my arms up in the air and pulling faces. It takes my attention away from my fear that I won’t be able to hit the high notes. Like most things, singing is largely in the head. Henry Ford coined a much-used aphorism: “If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right.”

Finally, we have a bash at a song. This week I choose Trouble by Cat Stevens. It always brings to my mind the exhilarating scene at the end of my all-time favourite film, Harold and Maude. Maude has died and Harold just speeds fatalistically through the rain lashed countryside in his E-Type hearse. I can feel the emotion in Cat’s words. It sends tingles through my entire body.

Buzzing now, it’s time to head off to Harley Street for my daily zapping. Today I have a proper look at Bruce. It really is a gargantuan machine. If Bruce were in my flat it would fill the entire living room and kitchen as well as busting through the ceiling for good measure. Dan, one of today’s radiographers, tells me that to install Bruce they removed a part of the roof then lifted it over the top of the building and dropped it down in four pieces. Bruce was then assembled in-situ, inside its concrete and lead lined basement room. In the room next-door lives and identical machine, Bruce II. One has to wonder at the logic of situating modern, high-tech hospitals in grade-one listed buildings.

It’s dark outside by now and still we haven’t had our recommended daily exercise. “Let’s go to Hyde Park” I suggest. The Serpentine car park is deserted. We walk down to the quiet water. In the lee of an island a small flotilla of ducks are sleeping. Tethered rowboats bob gently. Geese paddle silently behind us hoping, no doubt, for a stale bread crust.

At the end of the lake looms a gigantic Ferris wheel sparkling with white fairy lights. “What’s that?” asks Nick. “It must be the Christmas Fair,” I gasp with excitement, “Oh Nick, let’s go there!” We stride on, aware that we have come out with no money whatsoever, yet drawn onward, mesmerised by the lights and distant music. Before we know it we are walking in the midst of Winter Wonderland.

It turns out to be a fantastic fair. We stroll past big swings that spin around, an inflatable monster that one can walk inside of, Waltzers, Bavarian sausage stands, a Ghost Train, a Hall of Mirrors, a wooden Helter Skelter, an Edwardian penny arcade and finally and ice-skating rink. We reach the front entrance by the Queen Mother’s Gates at Hyde Park Corner. A young PR type woman with a clipboard approaches us. “Are you on the guest list?” she asks. “No,” replies Nick, “where can we get tickets?” “You can’t,” she informs us, “today is for the media only.” Not to be defeated we cry out in unison “But I’m in the media!” and then look around sheepishly to see if anyone noticed us being so rapacious. Nick flashes the girl one of his charming smiles. Under such an onslaught of foolishness she crumbles. “Well, because I like you I’m going to give you two passes,” she pronounces. We grab them with glee and run away before our good fairy can change her mind.

“Oh Honey,” I squeal, “can we go on the Waltzer?” “No, no,” counters Nick, “the giant swings first.” We go on the Waltzer and the swings. We ride the huge wheel and have our photo taken. We play games of chance and skill in the Penny Arcade. Nick is fascinated by a What the Butler Saw machine featuring saucy photos of Edwardian babes. We get utterly lost in the Hall of Mirrors and fly on mats down the big slide. Nick finds a cash machine and buys us roast beef rolls and hot sausages with mustard. At last we find our way to Zippo’s Circus tent and settle into plastic seats to watch a show of ladies being sawn in half, magnificent strong men and lithe ‘African’ tumblers. It’s pure classic entertainment.

As we finally depart, all the stalls are closed up. The German fairground workers cluster around in little groups, smoking and quietly chatting. The big monster lies deflated on the ground. We walk back along the shimmering Serpentine arm in arm and I lean my head on Nick’s shoulder. “That was the most fun,” I sigh. And it was. After cancer, every gift seems like a treasure. Every day is special. Some are simply magical.

Things I got for free today: tons of fun and a singing lesson.