Thursday, 31 December 2009

Out With a Bang

Here at Sommers Bay the year is going out in style. There are no streetlights to pollute our view across the bay and the distant sound beyond. Often the water glows softly green in the moonlight but tonight is overcast so the stars and the full, blue moon are occluded. The blue moon, I learn, is when there are two full moons in a month. Iris says the blue moon is also known as the ‘goals moon’, it’s an opportunity to set out clearly what one wants for the future. I am pretty clear about my goals for this year, I’ve said it often enough in my Sankalpa: “I am healthy, I am happy, I am whole, I am sexy, I am prosperous, I am loving, I am loved, I am free”. Beyond that it all gets a bit vague.

Sommers Bay is a small settlement. The nearest shop is at Murdunna, a crossroad about six kilometres distant. It’s a general store that sells life’s staples: groceries; a few local vegetables; newspapers and petrol as well as surprising delicacies such as fresh oysters and smoked octopus. Many of the houses here are holiday homes. Since it is the holidays, most of the owners are in occupation.

As I looked out the panoramic view from Mum’s front windows today I saw maybe twenty bodies frolicking on the beach, some playing cricket, others kayaking or jumping about in the water.

Over Dinner Aunty Noni and her friend Denise tut-tut. “I’ve never seen so many people here,” they both remark. Mum cooks up a feast: roast chicken with balsamic gravy; Tasmanian pink-eye potatoes and home grown green salad.

Now, as we gather on the front verandah, the neighbours start exploding sky-rockets. “Ohh,” we all exclaim and “aaah.” I wonder if they are going to start an out of control bush fire. In my mind I plan my escape route to the beach. Whizz, wheee go the fireworks and then CRAAAKABOOOOM the sky simply explodes. Huge orange sheets shoot across the horizon. Molten white daggers strike the opposite Tasman peninsula again and again. Piercing jagged branches arc horizontally from one side of the sky to the other above our heads. It’s a lightning storm of gargantuan might and magnificence. With each flash the bay lights up, bathed with a blue-green luminescence as if it’s a giant swimming pool lit from below. The show is at once mesmerising and terrifying. The neighbours continue letting off their fireworks against this backdrop of majestic splendour. The effect is comical.

As the lightning advances around the bay towards us mum and I rush into the house to unplug all the computers and phones. We hear shrieks at the door. Cousin Fay with her friend Simon and Noni's step-son Derek have bowled up. They crack open a bottle of champagne, popping the cork off the balcony and into the jaws of the storm.

Goodbye cork! Goodbye cancer! Goodbye Nick!

It’s an exhilarating finale to a strange and pivotal year for me.

Sommers Bay Beach Fashion

In Tasmania it is thirty-six degrees. Unheard of! All around mum’s house grow spiky sand-grasses called ‘Sags.’ I know from experience that I am allergic to Sags. They bring my feet out in an angry, itchy rash. So on the way through from the airport we stopped off in Sorrell to pick up a pair of knee length socks. Teamed with the rashie, Crocs and a pair of 1970’s boy’s swimming shorts I think this outfit represents a new frontier in beach Chemo Chic.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009


I am back in the arms of my first true love – cigarettes. In order to maintain a semblance of chic I am smoking Sobranie Cocktails: those rainbow coloured sticks with gold filters. I’m sure they don’t count.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Buying a Rashie

“Remember, you must keep your chest completely covered up. No sun whatsoever.” Dr Coulter’s words follow me into a surf shop in Bondi Junction. Nick brought me here to buy a rash vest or, as they call it in Aus, a rashie. A rashie is a lycra t-shirt that surfers wear with or without a wetsuit to prevent the nasty chest rash caused when bare flesh rubs against a surfboard. They have the added advantage of being UV resistant claiming an SPF of 50+. They are light enough to swim in. So what’s the down side? Rashies are universally covered with hideous logos. ROXY screams one, BILLABONG exclaims another amidst a crude swirly wave pattern. I crinkle my nose. Nick turns to the surfer-girl sales assistant, “Do you have any rashies without logos?” She gapes at us with a disdainful shake of her head. In my emotionally unhinged mind I imagine she’s thinking “Why does an old woman like her want to go to the beach anyway?”

We do a few circuits of Westfield Shopping Plaza looking at similar but more expensive rashies before returning to the first shop. There is a different, more mature, sales assistant on duty. She directs us upstairs to the menswear department. Here we find a dark pewter coloured rashie with the single word 'O’Neill' subtly inscribed in almost-invisible black lettering. It’s on sale – 20% off. I take it.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Oh You Cruel Fool

Contrary to my expectations it is chilly and raining in Sydney. Contrary to my expectations Nick is not at the airport to meet me. Bewildered, I call him. Twenty minutes later he arrives.

We go out for delicious yum-cha (Chinese dumplings and all that, served from roaming trolleys) and then to the cinema to watch Avatar. This 3-D spectacular is the perfect entertainment for a jet-lagged body and mind. It is beautiful to watch and not complicated or difficult to understand. Unlike real life. Back at Nick’s flat Nick has an announcement: “Lily, I'm seeing someone else. I’m not in love with you.”

So, contrary to my expectations we will not be going on holiday in a camper van, nor driving up to Noosa to meet his parents, camping along the way nor any of the other lovely things that Nick had planned for us just recently when he was in love with me.

You make sense of it. I can’t. If there is anything I can learn from the situation it might be this: don’t have expectations.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

So What's Your Problem?

I got upgraded to first class on the flight. It is heavenly. I slept and slept most of the way to Sydney. Only problem is, now I never want to travel any other way.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Farewell but not Goodbye

I nearly left without saying goodbye. My head is full of visions of Love in a Camper Van and other forthcoming sitcoms starring Lily and Nick. The suitcases are zipped shut. The fridge is clean. Jamie is on his way over to lug the cases and drive me off to Heathrow.

I feel as though I’m wrapping up my year of cancer too. On Tuesday I had my final appointment with Dr Coulter. To make her day I wore a Bella Freud knitted dress with ‘GIRL’ written across the front. “Yes well, we won’t forget what you are, Lily,” said Dr Coulter, dry as ever. Yesterday I saw Mr Hadjiminas for the last time this year. “Your DNA test shows that you have both the pairs of genes that indicate that Tamoxifen will be good for you,”* he announced, beaming.

I already have the Tamoxifen in my suitcase. Dr Coulter suggested that I start taking it two weeks after I get to Australia. “At least have a bit of a holiday first,” she kindly advised. I intend to.

Mr Hadjiminas then drained some bloody fluid out of my back. “Bring a pot Honoria,” he cried, “there’s plenty here.” I tried not to wince. Mr H squirted the liquid into the pot. “At least a quarter of a pint. Terrific,” he pronounced with a satisfied tone. “I’ve read Your Life in Your Hands’ by Jane Plant, I told him. “I’m giving up dairy. What do you think about that?” “I’m the wrong person to ask,” Mr H replied, “I like cheese.” “What should I do if my back swells up again?” I asked. “Nothing. Don’t let anyone touch it,” shot back Mr H. “If it’s really bad you must see a plastic surgeon. Your chest wall is about this far from your lung,” he held his forefinger and thumb very close together.

I went around the hospital distributing Christmas cards. Bess and Karen gave me big hugs and showered good wishes on my head. So it just leaves me to wish you a very peaceful, happy Christmas and a spectacular year in 2010. This year was interesting but I'm not ready for another one like it. Thank you for being with me through the last few months.

I had always thought that when the chemo ended, so Chemo Chic would end too. But now I realise that the story is much longer. Chemo Chic is not just the tale of getting through cancer it’s about living life after cancer.

What happens next?

*I neglected to tell you about the DNA test that I had last week. Maybe I will catch up some missing parts of the story as I’m lying on the beach.

Good News

People with cancer won't get Alzheimer's disease.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Colour me Beautiful

“Hmmm,” I peer at my reflection in the salon mirror, “I don’t think this is quite the effect I was after.” Malvina, a young colourist at Kell Skott Haircare, looks at me with a deflated and slightly puzzled air. My hair is a kind of cat’s-pee yellow with grey spots. “Shall I do it again?” Malvina offers.

On arrival I asked Malvina to colour my hair with vegetable dye. “OK,” she replied, “it contains no peroxide so it will last one or two washes.” I did a fast cost-ratio calculation, weighing up the pros and cons of vegetable dye. On the con side is the prospect of having to fork out for hairdressing every two weeks. On the pro side is the fact that vegetable dyes do not contain harmful chemicals, I think, though didn’t I read somewhere that they contain metals? And are the chemicals in hair dye harmful? At that precise moment I could not recall any specific information. I made a mental note to do proper research about the hazards of hair colours. “I’ve changed my mind,” I said. “We can do a semi-permanent with one per-cent peroxide,” Malvina suggested, “it won’t last as long but I think it will be safer to make it weak.”

Now, as I study the blotchy, bilious result, I do feel sympathy for her. Following chemotherapy baldness my hair is about an inch long all over but it is uneven in distribution, colour and texture. It is thick at the back and thin at the front, silver on the tips and dark underneath, quite wiry on top but soft as velvet on the sides. I guess it is a hair colourist’s nightmare.

Lottie, the admirably practical sister on the chemo unit, told me that when my hair grows to about three inches long I should have it all cut off again. “The first growth will be rubbish,” she informed me making decisive snapping scissor gestures with her fingers.

But for now, it’s all I’ve got and I intend to work it. “Why don’t you try it with more peroxide?” I instruct Malvina.

After another forty-five minutes of dyeing and washing and a lot of checking on the part of the colourist, I emerge from the salon with a chic, sleek head of dark, shiny chestnut brown.

I buzz home. Just as I’ve put the kettle on Issy is a-knockin at my door. She’s come for the latest instalment in a series of photos that she is taking as I progress through my chemo odyssey. “Oh my god!” exclaims Issy. “What?!” say I. “You hair. It’s beautiful.” “Really?” I reply, fishing, “you don’t think I look like Mr Spock?”

From her bag, Issy produces skull-print scarves in a range of vogueish colours. "I'm following your lead," she says, "everyone is getting skull scarves for Christmas." I accept the implied compliment like a hypocrite. I haven't bought one single skull scarf for anybody for Christmas.

Issy takes the photographs in the same manner every time – against a blank background, first with a bare face and then with make-up. Today I try to reproduce the dramatic eye make-up that the lovely make-up artist at the Made For Life day showed me how to do. I start with a peachy pink base then layer on a smoky brown, dark chocolate liner and then, hallelujah... mascara! My eyelashes are back. They’re short. They’re stumpy. But they are real and they are mine.

Issy tells me that I will be able to see all the photos at her MA degree show in March. In the beginning, when my hair was falling out, my confidence was at its nadir and I imagined myself being judged by friends and strangers, I was very hesitant about being photographed at all. Now I feel an interested and pleasant anticipation at the prospect of revisiting my whole journey through the medium of Issy’s photographs.

After Issy leaves I realise that I was so involved with admiring my painted lashes that I forgot to apply the pink lipstick. I pray that Issy will not fail her MA on account of this.

The next arrival on my doorstep is Justin. You may recall that Justin has had his magpie eye on my red skull scarf for some months. This morning I washed it and hung it on the radiator to dry. “This is for you Justin, happy Christmas,” I say, handing him the crumpled scarf. That skull scarf had become emblematic of everything that this blog is about. It was the totem of Chemo Chicness. I had considered buying an identical scarf at the Indian shop and palming Justin off with the duplicate. But now I see the error of that thinking. Justin positively beams at me. “Lily, are you sure? Wow. I’m made up!” he exclaims. The skull scarf has done its service with me. It feels right to pass it on.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

A Treasured Possession

The ‘phone rings:

“Hello Lily, it’s Meg. How are you?”

“When are you going to Australia?”

“You must be so excited!”

A pause...

“Whilst you’re away, who is going to look after your eagle's feather?”

Thank heavens she called. In all the turmoil and excitement of preparing for my trip I hadn’t even thought about organising a feather sitter.

Oh You Devils

I am very disappointed at the failure of the Copenhagen Conference.

Having breast cancer is personally devastating. But it is utterly trivial when compared with the death of the planet. One of the saddest things about contemplating my own mortality is the thought of leaving this world that I love so much. What kind of a person would not value our Earth above all else?

Those idiots preferred to win their arguments rather than have the courage to initiate the most vital action since the beginning of human civilisation.

I have no doubt that they will burn in hell for all eternity. But that knowledge doesn’t cheer me up much.

The Physics of Fashion

The countdown is on... Only six days until I depart for Sydney.

I’ve spent the last two hours folding clothes into four big plastic boxes. And yet my wardrobe is still bulging. Who can explain that?

Thursday, 17 December 2009

New Kids on the Blog

I have decided to schedule some guest slots on Chemo Chic. Look forward to reading ramblings from luminaries of style Kell Skott; Trinny and Susannah; Iris; Wanda; Bella Freud and my Mum, to name but a few.

To kick off the programme I am proud to bring you a Christmas Message from J.J. Connolly, celebrated author of Layer Cake.

My Christmas Message to the Commonwealth

Every year it's the same - that "where did the year go?" feeling...

Just as I'm getting used to putting one year's date on cheques and invoices, they go and change it all over again, leaving me playing catch-up. I’m sure it’s not personal. But precious few cheques are getting written these days, what with Internet banking and the much-loved inter-bank transfers. And precious few invoices either, what with that nasty global recession business.

They say as you get older the years speed up - something to do with Einstein and his theory of relativity. According to Albert we begin a sprint towards life’s finishing line. If this is the case, I’m getting worried because I appear to have gained a momentum of a runaway train coming down a steep Alpine mountainside, the years rushing past in a blur. Someone needs to pull the emergency brake handle PDQ - and hang on tight – swing on it if necessary.

Add to the heady new year party punch the fact that we are about to leap feet first into a whole new decade – that will eventually be, no doubt, christened “the teens” - it all becomes too much to bear. When I was a kid ten years was ten years – it felt like ten years. Now it seems like only the other week that we were all getting terribly excited about the turn of the new millennium. The Queen and Tony B. were down the Dome yodeling Auld Lang Syne – the Queen looking, it must be said, like she would prefer to be anywhere on Big Planet Earth than next to Tone and his Big Mad Grin. I’m not big on sympathy for royalty but you’d have to be totally heartless not to feel for the old dear...

And now ten years later we’ve been handed the check - the reality check – and we’re all scratching our heads like some squiffy Japanese tourist in a Soho clip joint.

Transpires it wasn't just me who was running a large tab throughout the spendthrift noughties and has suddenly been hit up with the mother of all credit card bills... it’s like all your Christmases and January statements have come at once. Seems everyone was living on credit - individuals, the banks themselves and entire countries - and the money was just spinning around and around and around. It was all an illusion - a nice, warm, cuddly one but an illusion nonetheless. But we were all getting a little more than just lightheaded – mesmerized would be a better word. We were behaving like sailors on shore leave.

The noughties were not as obviously brutal as the Eighties when we were all programmed to become ruthless, Armani-wearing cannibals and eat more raw red meat, but in a cunning, sneaky way, during the last ten years, we became slowly persuaded that it was foolish not to be borrowing vast amounts of money and living on limitless credit...

Bailiffs knocking the door off and making off with the telly? Priceless.

Late payment charge, sir? That’ll do nicely...

Disillusionment is sometimes a gift and sometimes a swift, harsh lesson – a big slap up around the head. Bankers, their bonuses and billion pound bailouts are the new vaudeville villains and scapegoats but the truth is, if we dare to admit it, we believed what we wanted to believe – that we were all flush and getting richer just by tumbling out of bed in the morning and being good enough to pay the overextended mortgage. The problem with spinning like a Dervish is that you get trés dizzy and start to fall over - not while you’re at it and having a giggle, but when you stop... that when the trouble starts… especially if you have to stop abruptly.

And now it’s tough “Out There” again. And maybe that will be the making of us. Maybe it will make us see the value in things - what’s actually important, who’s actually important in our lives - rather than spending our time and energy ramping each other up in some smug, ultimately hollow, mass hypnosis. But I remain, like most people, a sucker for a charming snake-oil salesman, so if anyone knows any get-rich-double-quick schemes, foolproof investment opportunities, treasure maps, disused gold mines, legal or semi-legal swindles, you be sure to let me know.

For some unknown reason, maybe all this talk of the filthy lucre, I am reminded of the gent who, when asked - in the unlikely event of him being fortunate enough to win millions on the national lottery - what he would do about all the begging letters. He replied that, in spite of his newfound wealth, he would continue to send them - you never know what's around the corner.

I take his point.

- J.J. Connolly

Dairy Alternatives

“We’re not having milk in our tea anymore,” I inform Daisy, my singing teacher. “I am!” she exclaims. “Well, today you’re not,” I reply, “I chucked all the milk down the sink.” I brew up two cups of Rooibos Earl Grey tea with rice milk. It is delicately fragrant and tastes slightly sweet.

Yesterday, in a quest to find yummy non-dairy alternatives, I emptied the shelves at Portobello Wholefoods. Since then I’ve been stuffing my face on your behalf. Here is what I’ve tried so far.

Plain Soya Yoghurt (Alpro brand - organic). This is surprisingly good. I added a few teaspoons of Tiptree Rhubarb & Ginger Conserve and it made a delicious breakfast. I also mixed a spoonful into scrambled eggs and they turned out light and creamy.

Almond Milk (EcoMil brand - organic). The Spanish drink almond milk by the bucket. I’ve tried several different brands. This is definitely the best. It is slightly sweetened with Agave syrup which makes it more palatable. Almond milk is delicious in porridge or poured over muesli. It also makes a really good chocolate drink. It's not great in tea because it leaves a grainy residue at the bottom of the cup but I imagine it might work well in coffee.

Rice Milk (Provamel brand - organic) I like it in Rooibos tea. It is much thinner than milk so one needs to use about double the amount.

Soya Milk (Alpro brand – organic) I can’t understand why anyone drinks this stuff.

Chocolate Soya Milk (Provamel brand - organic). Just divine. Better than the real thing.

Agave Syrup. There are two types, light (Crazy Jack brand - organic) and dark (The Groovy Food Company – organic). They pretty much equate to white and brown sugar. I’m not a sweet lover but my cousin Ben hoovers up the Agave Syrup in his coffee and on cereal, so it must be good.

Japanese Style Tofu Filets (Taifun brand - organic). These yellow, vacuum-packed cutlets looked bland and insipid. I did as suggested on the packet, i.e. fried them in olive oil and served them with brown rice and vegetables. I was uninspired by the look of them so I just cooked one. It was utterly delicious. I wolfed it down, along with the rice and veg and then sprang back into the kitchen to fry up the other one.

Marinated Tofu Pieces (Cauldron brand - organic). Quite nice. A bit salty. Good in a stir-fry.

Marinated Deep Fried Tempeh (Full of Beans brand - organic). I keep reading that Tempeh “tastes like veal” and so on. I’d never tried it. These dark brown slices were marked ‘ready to eat’ so I took a bite. Hmmm. Then I tried grilling a piece. I added some tomato relish. There’s no getting away from it. Tempeh tastes like deep fried stale chewy bread.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Let the Celebrations Begin

I’ve just returned from Harley Street and my final radiotherapy session.

It was a strange farewell. I shook hands with today’s radiographers, gave Bruce a little pat and then left. I will be back there next week for final chit-chats with Dr Coulter and Mr Hadjiminas. And then in three months time. And then every three months for a year, every six months for another year and then every year for the rest of my life.

I feel I will celebrate with a big glass of celery and grape juice and a tofu fry-up.

Oh My God, It’s Nearly Christmas!

I have been consumed with the anticipation of finishing radiotherapy treatment today and then jetting off to the sunshine. I depart from Heathrow on Christmas Eve and arrive in Sydney on Boxing Day. Thus Christmas Day, for me, has been vaporised.

But not for you... I receive an email from Eleanor asking what she might give her breast cancer afflicted friend for Christmas.

Here are my top tips.

If your friend is having or is about to have chemotherapy she will probably lose her hair. A soft cotton or silk sleeping cap is a necessity both for catching falling hairs and for keeping her bald little head warm in the cold winter nights. Similarly, a cotton beanie is great for wearing around the house. If it’s freezing outside, she can don a cashmere hat over the top of the beanie.

Just because your friend has cancer doesn’t mean she can’t be drop-dead glamorous. Get her a velvet turban for topping off dramatic evening looks. If you want to splash out, an Hermès scarf is a gift that will be fabulous for a lifetime and then be handed down to her daughter.

Cancer treatments can be very drying to the skin. Here are three products that she will thank you for: Spiezia organic rose and vanilla face oil; enriched hand cream by Absolute Organics and organic foot softening balm by Saaf. I found myself keeping tubes of lip balm everywhere that I went - in my handbag, in the car and by the bed. Burt’s Bees do a three-pack of their lovely beeswax balms.

Your friend will be spending a lot of time lying on the couch. A pair of cashmere socks or a luxurious cashmere throw will make her feel more like a reclining princess that a languishing invalid. A subscription to Lovefilm is like giving a present every week.

There’s not much that you can do about the fact that everything she eats will taste revolting. But even at my most ill I could always manage to force down a bar of Green & Black’s Mint Chocolate. Alternatively, if your friend is of the 'all sugar is poisonous' camp then Sanchi Furikake Japanese Seasoning and Clearspring Ume Plum Seasoning are a couple of condiments that will lively up her brown rice.

What with feeling sick all the time and the thought of food being enough to turn one's stomach there are few pleasures left in life. Things that smell nice will give her a lift. Either a divine scented candle or a bottle of gorgeous Weleda bath milk is a sensory treat.

Reading trolley loads of cancer memoirs, cancer cures and cancer diets can be overwhelming, not to mention tedious. If your friend is the kind of person who likes to help herself there is one book that I would recommend: Your Life in Your Hands by Professor Jane Plant.

When your friend finally does haul her backside off the sofa, encourage her to go out dancing. To distract from the fact that she is bald a really bright lipstick and a pair of drop-dead chandelier earrings are in order.

If you're feeling super-indulgent, here are the most outstanding anti-cancer gifts that I have received. First, a Champion Juice Extractor (thank you Flossie). With this you friend will have life-giving, energising juice of the highest quality every day to keep her going. Add in a weekly organic fruit and veg box for good measure. And an aeroplane ticket (thank you Mr P), dated for two weeks after the end of her treatment will give her something to look forward to throughout her darkest days.

Finally, the best gift you can give is your friendship at a lonely and frightening time in her life. Make a commitment to visit once a week. Whilst you’re there make her a cup of anti-nausea ginger tea, cook her dinner, water the plants and take out the rubbish.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Temptress be Gone

From: Iris

To: Canalily

Subject: link

It’s a blog! A woman photographs her breakfast every day. Simple. Beautiful. And every photo features a slice of toast dripping with melted butter, or a bowl of granola with creamy yoghurt or a steaming mug of lovely milky tea.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Tofu Rules!

I’ve been up since four a.m. reading Your Life in Your Hands by Professor Jane Plant. Actually it would be accurate to say that I’ve been up since four skimming Your Life in Your Hands. It’s a five-hundred page tome. Anyway I’ve flicked and sped-read and the gist of it is this: Jane Plant was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was caught quite early on. She underwent a mastectomy, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and had her ovaries zapped to stop them producing oestrogen. Despite all of that her breast cancer came back five times.

I can barely contemplate the despair and defeat that she must have experienced at being given that particular piece of news five times over.

When the cancer returned for the fifth time Jane was pretty much told to clear her locker. The doctors estimated that she had between three and six months to live. That is when she decided that it was up to her to discover the defining factors that may make the difference between life and death for her. Her starting point was the observation that breast cancer is uncommon amongst Chinese women. And what is the one thing that we all eat by the bucket load but that would almost never pass the lips of a Chinese woman? You guessed it. Milk! Milk, cheese, butter, cream, ice-cream, yoghurt and Yakult, in fact all dairy products of any description. She then goes on to explain why milk may be the big villain in breast cancer. It’s full of stuff that makes things grow fast: growth hormones. Now growth hormones are just the ticket when one desires to build up a nice fat, bonny baby but they are like petrol on the bonfire of a cancerous tumour. The last thing one wants to encourage that sucker to do is grow. It makes sense to me.

"Well that’s not too hard," I think, "I will cut out dairy." I skip out of bed, skedaddle to the kitchen and brew up a nice cup of tea. Then I top it up with almond milk. It’s delicious. Right there and then I dump all the cheese from the fridge into the bin, along with some mouldy baked beans for good measure. I pour half a litre of milk down the sink. Full of excitement, I Skype Mum. “Mum,” I trill, “we’re giving up milk. We can have almond milk in tea and coffee. It’s just as nice.” Mum looks a little crestfallen. I know how much she loves a milky coffee and a slice of cheese on toast. But this is for her own good. You’ve got to be cruel to be kind. “Well maybe we can have goat’s cheese in salad,” I ruminate.

I’m afraid not. Goat’s milk is milk. It is full of growth hormones that make baby goats bigger. And I think I know what you’re going to ask next, “What about pro-biotic yoghurt? Surely that is good for me?” No, it’s made from milk. And Jane Plant insists that we must abstain from all milk of any description, even human milk, once we have passed toddlerhood. So no Devon clotted cream, no organic aged Parmigiano, no grilled Halloumi kebabs, no Ben & Jerry’s.

I wish that I had come across Your Life in Your Hands six months ago. When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer I threw myself into desperately searching for solutions - things that I could do to help myself. I started out by trying to devise my own anti-cancer diet: lots of brown rice and organic vegetables; no dairy; small amounts of fish and no meat. But I had no real solid information to back up my instinctive inclination. Well-meaning friends, misinformed alternative therapists and the internet all offered scraps of information about miracle cures: enemas; Essiac tea; give up wheat; cut out sugar; eat an alkalinising diet (but what is that?); don’t eat aubergines. I felt obliged to investigate every one of them. On the other hand my doctors did not support any changes in my diet. I became confused, overwhelmed, mentally exhausted and distressed. After about six weeks I just thought “The hell with this” and ordered up a full English breakfast.

Now I’m sure that one fry-up will not kill me. But since then I have definitely let my standards slip. These days I find myself noshing down packets of Custard Creams and tubs of chocolate ice-cream, things I hardly ever ate B.C. It doesn’t sit well with me.

Jane Plant takes a methodical, scientific approach to her subject. She explains why certain foods are recommended and others are to be shunned. She backs it up with evidence. Best of all, she debunks a lot of the common food myths that have taken on the aura of a modern gospel. As I have long suspected, tomatoes are good for one, wheat won’t kill me, small amounts of meat impart vitality and aubergines are not evil.

Iris and I have lunch at Soho House. Apparently we have been invited there to a party that Boy George and Fat Tony are throwing. We are told that all manner of pop stars, transvestites and tramps will soon be swarming all over the place. Kylie is coming. I envisage she and I relaxing over a bit of breast cancer chit-chat. “Anyway,” I inform Iris, “that’s it! No more dairy for me.” I scan the dessert menu and then call the waitress over. “Are any of these desserts made without dairy?” I ask. My tone of voice makes it clear to all that our table is a dairy free zone. “I will ask the chef,” she replies and scoots. “Lily,” Iris says, “you can’t just become a scattergun Vegan. It might be wise to choose a day and decide to start from there.” “I have,” I reply emphatically, “today is the day.” Iris looks at me with a furrowed brow and a puzzled expression. “I mean, I haven’t had any dairy at all today,” I elucidate. “Well what about that big pile of mashed potato that you just wolfed?” she demands. I am stunned. I hadn’t even thought about all the butter and cream in the mash.

Just then our waitress returns, “The chef says that there’s dairy in everything.” It seems that giving up milk is not as simple as one might think.

Monday, 7 December 2009

A Lovers' Spat

Spare a thought for Bruce, that benign beast forever entombed in its lead lined basement with only Sir Elton John for company. As I settle my body onto the bench I try to imagine what they talk about when I’m not there.

The bunker is a busy place whilst the radiographers take their readings and cross-check their measurements. As soon as they leave and the heavy door clunks shut I begin to sink into my two-minute meditation. Then I hear the distinctive voice, crooning softly:

...why can’t we talk it over?

Sorry seems to be the hardest word.

Could it be that Elton and Bruce have had a tiff?

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Fitness and The Uncertainty Principle

It’s a cinematic bonanza weekend. Last night Sheldon and I went to see the Coen Brothers’ latest, A Serious Man. It’s beautifully photographed and witty, a study of uncertainty... I think. As always with films that are unresolved at the end I didn’t know whether to throw a brick at the screen or simply “accept the mystery”. A Serious Man stylishly illustrates the fact that just about anything can happen at any time and generally does. That’s certainly been my experience. In my life I have travelled from pavement to penthouse and back several times over. I’ve been paralysed. Then made a full recovery. In a recent six-month period my cousin died, all my work was cancelled and I fell in love. Then one day I was diagnosed with cancer. When these things happen I often go out and buy a lottery ticket on the strength of it. I reckon the odds are about the same.

This morning Ted and I go down to the Electric Cinema to see a preview of Unmade Beds. I recommend this if you want to see a happy-go-lucky feel good film about making one’s own family out of the people that are in one’s life. Afterwards over tea Ted gives me a beauty tip. “Did you know,” he confides, “that hair conditioner and shaving foam are made of the same stuff?” I gape and look amazed. “So when you’re conditioning your hair you can just run your hands over your face and have a shave. It saves money” “Thanks Ted,” say I, “I’ll remember that.” I make a mental note to write a blog on Novel Ways to Economise.

My cousin Ben is back in London following a long stint making a movie in Liverpool. He invites me to lunch at the Westbourne pub with two old friends, Stanley and Inigo. I haven’t seen those two for some time. Stanley has made a healthy pile of money as a property developer whilst Inigo manages one of the hottest-of-the-moment female singing stars. Stanley and Inigo are ahead in the finance stakes but Ben is definitely the winner when it comes to fitness and trimness. I seem to be lagging behind on all counts but I’m a girl so I’m probably not considered to be a contender.

Inevitably, the conversation turns to how much older we all are now than we were twenty years ago. Inigo tells us that his health club is associated with his health insurance company. Every time he goes to the gym and swipes his card, his premium is reduced. “I joined that health club,” says Stanley, “after I didn’t go for two years I cancelled my direct debit. And then they took me to court!” “So,” interprets Ben, “you were sued for not paying for not going to the gym?” Apparently it is a fact that only thirty per-cent of gym memberships are active. Over lunch we decide that it would be a good idea if health clubs instituted a system whereby the more often one goes, the less one pays.

After a slap-up feast of oysters, roast chicken and apple crumble with custard I head to the couch for a little lie-down. Hours later my slumbers are disturbed by the ringing ‘phone. It’s Flossie. “Do you want to go to the Handwritten sample sale? Handwritten turns out to be the new venture from Tanya Sarne, founder of Ghost. “I’m just going there to get a top for twenty quid,” Flossie assures me. We zip up to Kensal Road and manage to barge in just as they are trying to lock the door. The clothes are along the lines of Ghost, crinkly viscose over-dyed in soft colours. But the designs are a lot fresher and funkier. Flossie marches up and down the racks with the air of a Field Marshal. “This will really suit you,” she tells me, holding up a backless dress. “I’m not buying anything,” I state. Flossie folds the dress over her arm. “And this is just what you need for Australia,” she enthuses, displaying a dark grey bias-cut top. “Hmmm,” I reply. “Just try it on!” commands Flossie.

Handwritten clothes are perfect if you are looking for easy, comfortable, feminine gear for lounging around in.* I should know. I just bought a backless dress and a bias-cut top. Flossie approaches the till with two dresses, two jackets and two tops. “That will be £250”, says the cashier. On the way out to the car Flossie hands me one of the dresses, a beautiful soft grey flowy number. “Happy Christmas” she says. “Come back to my place and we’ll have fish pie.” “No, I can’t eat any fish pie, I’ve just eaten a huge lunch,” I protest.

Over fish pie Flossie bemoans her figure and brings up the subject of the gym. “I joined Body Works West. I’ve been once this year,” she confesses. I gave up gyms long ago myself. I realised that they only serve to make one feel like a miserable failure. I do remember warning Flossie that this would happen when she signed up to that overpriced joint. But now is not the time to rub it in. I give her a sympathetic look. “I told you so,” I tell her.

*You can buy Handwritten at Liberty and Fenwick.