Disengagement


For the last couple of days, I was at an offsite session with work. It was a very instructive period.

On both days, I got there about mid-morning as I was coming from my hyperbaric treatment. It was held at a plush venue in one of the office towers in the city. The last time we did this was about March in 2019, and then Covid struck.

It was the usual mix of activities – strategy sessions, games, presentations, guest speakers, team exercises, and reviews. Back when we had it last time, it made for a change from the daily humdrum, but these days it’s quite novel. We hardly see each other anymore, and any gathering is unusual. On top of that, so much has changed, the department has grown, and there are many new faces.

Typically, these events are upbeat and self-congratulatory, and even a tad gung-ho. I’ve never been a great fit for this kind of event because I’m of a different nature. Bear in mind I’m an IT person working in Marketing, and we’re pretty much oil and water. I can tolerate the happy-clapping, but I will never be passionate about making money for other people. That’s the subversive in me coming out.

That was true again this time, though more pronounced than previously because of my recent experiences. Where before, I might have shrugged my shoulders at it, I saw it more cynically yesterday. I was there, slightly damaged, feeling a bit of an outsider, looking at it all as if through a pane of glass.

I actually do well at some of the activities because, by nature, I’m more direct. I feel too cool for school sometimes, but then I get impatient and intervene. Sometimes – previously – I’m coercive, working with people to draw out the essence of their idea and gently coordinating until a solution is achieved. Yesterday, I was more strident.

Later I wondered if my cynicism was unfair. People take meaning from their work, and they’re lucky. It’s not for me to judge that. I may have loftier notions, but who am I kidding? To each their own. I was always out of step – happily so – but I feel foreign to it now. My own is different.

This was only the second time I’ve been with the extended team since I got sick. I’m healthier than before and, in many ways, seem roughly normal. I don’t think about it a lot, but it becomes awkward at times.

To start with, I don’t know what people know of my recent trials. When they ask how I’ve been, what do I say? It’s a real downer to tell them I’m recovering from cancer, but I don’t want to lie either, and if they know and I say nothing, aren’t I being disingenuous?

It pisses me off there was no official notification back when it all started. They said they would but never did. Had they done so, the sting would have gone out of the tail long before. People would be curious, but they may just as likely be happy to see me up and about.

I have no problem with people knowing. It’s the truth, after all, and I’m alive still, so it’s a better story than it might have been (I wonder sometimes what story work would have come up with if I had perished from this?). And, I’d rather be open about it than hiding it away. It actually does me some good to talk about it.

It turns out that some people knew, and others had no clue. Many had noticed my absence and thought something was amiss but didn’t know what. For me, nothing could be worse than rumours and innuendo, but in the absence of hard information, that’s what happens. I can’t tell you how pissed off I am about how it was handled. All the pressure was put onto me.

And so, it came up yesterday, and I faced the dilemma several times, not knowing exactly how to respond. In every instance, I was honest – but you don’t know how much to say, and you’re conscious of what the other person is feeling and how awkward it is for them to respond, which becomes difficult.

What’s ironic is that we had sessions about exclusivity and accessibility on Thursday, some of which felt personally relevant and was a reminder of how none of that happened with me.

We had drinks last night, and it was another interesting and instructive experience. I found it hard because with my diminished hearing, I had to lean in hard to make out what people were saying amid the background noise.

The other side of that is that I found myself having to try extra hard to make myself understood. One guy had earlier told me how much my speech had improved since the last time he spoke to me a few months ago, which was gratifying. I’m probably overly self-conscious about my ability to speak clearly, but in the noisy environs of a busy bar that becomes very relevant. I could see people struggling to understand what I was saying, and a little bit of me died each time.

What happens? You begin to disengage. You don’t put yourself in that position of embarrassment. It runs counter to the articulate and social person I’ve always been. I feel diminished.

Shortly before I left, I got talking to one of the women there, someone I’ve always liked, a thoughtful, sensitive person with great depths. She knew I’d been away, but not why. I told her. The bar had emptied a little by then so I didn’t have to strain so hard. I sensed that she wanted to talk to me, but in the end, I walked away.

As I walked to the train afterwards, I regretted that. You know how sometimes you think of things you should have said after the moment has passed? Generally, I say those things at the time, but they’re in the way of wit. Last night I regretted not being more open with her.

I have this great idea of being more transparent and authentic with others. It appears one of the great lessons from this experience – and yet, with a sympathetic audience, I failed.

At the time, you feel awkward. I’ve experienced the hardship, but I don’t want to make it about me. I know how tricky it is to respond to something like that, and I don’t want to burden others with my story. Yet, I feel there are some people happy to learn.

I had the chance to be quite honest last night with someone I respect and who has the sensitivity to accept and understand, and I walked away. When it comes down to it, I feel embarrassed, which is not something I deserve.

The week before


I’ve had my next surgery confirmed for next Wednesday. It won’t be much fun, but I’m looking forward to it. They’ll be removing the plate and other fixtures from my cheek and mouth and patching the exposed bone with skin grafts from I know not where. I should be out of hospital on Friday and on a liquid diet for the fortnight after.

I’m hoping this will be the end of the pain; that, after this, I’ll be able to open my mouth to it’s full extent; and that there’ll be no more nasal infections. I’m just about at the end of my tether at the moment – more impatient than anything else, but then I did wake up this morning half-closed because of swelling.

I’ve done about half an hour of work today and am now taking the rest of the day off. This is to make up – just a tiny bit – for all the extra hours I’ve been working. And because I’m worn out.

I’ve had problems sleeping lately. Every second night on average, I don’t get to sleep until the wee small hours. The other night it was after 4am. The main reason for this seems to be an overactive mind.

I turn the light off and my mind is full of thought. Some of it is current stuff, thinking about work and the things that need to be done, and so on. Some of it is random memories that return to me for no apparent reason. Some of it is the usual wonder about the state of my health and the journey that has led me here. And some deals in possible futures, most particularly, future conversations word by word.

Yesterday, I tried meditation for the first time since I was about 27. I’ll have another session today.

And tomorrow, I have the long-sought-after, long-planned, ritual steak for lunch.

This was to be recognition that I was well again, but I’ve jumped the gun because I was so impatient. I’ve invited the same crew who were intended for my last supper – a steak – booked the weekend before surgery to remove the tumour. That lunch was cancelled because of Covid, which was unfortunate and somehow poetic.

It won’t be the same tomorrow, but I look forward to it. I’ll have to cut my steak into itty-bitty pieces to fit it in my mouth, but it will be worth it. Good to see the guys again for what will surely be an afternoon of many laughs.

Out in the world


Since I was diagnosed with cancer 10 months ago I don’t think I’ve been busier than I’ve been the last week and a half. I’m weary, but I’ve enjoyed it.

It’s been a time of reunion as much as anything else. I had a friend from Mullumbimby down visiting his family. He was here for about nine days and visited three times. We had breakfast together twice and went on a drive in his EV the other time. We walked down the beach deep in conversation. Just as we used to, we discussed politics and ethical dilemmas and the morality of social media (so okay, we never used to discuss that).

He’s a gentle soul with a generous spirit and a quirky sense of humour. I was very grateful for his time and attention. He’s a great bloke.

Today, I had brunch with a mate visiting from Coolum with another mate from across town. We spoke of old times and how our lives had diverged. It was cool but the sun was bright and once more we walked along the beach afterwards.

It was Easter last weekend, and on Saturday I went with a friend to Sorrento. This was quite a trip for me. For the previous ten months, I’ve barely gone anywhere. The places I’ve gone – to and from the hospital, the city a few times, and the local area – have become repetitive. A trip down the coast to a summer hotspot on a sunny day was a great change.

We had lunch at the Sorrento Hotel, which was full but pretty average.

I had an interesting conversation with an acquaintance joining us. While everyone else was off somewhere else, she told me how she had been following my cancer commentary on Facebook. She hadn’t commented but thought it was great. It was surprising for a man to be so open, she said: I was very articulate.

I’ve wondered what people think of my rambling posts, but some positive feedback lately has reassured me. I knew what she was saying. I’m conscious of how much I’m revealing but it doesn’t worry me. That by itself is quite a change to my pre-cancer self, and I’m very comfortable with it. I said that to her. I told her how I had come to realise that you can be vulnerable without being diminished by it.

Things happen to everyone. It’s a part of life. Things may happen to me but I don’t become them. They’re real, like the weather, and like the weather, I must take account of them. But, sunshine or rain, I remain the same man.

While I was down there I arranged to catch up with friends I hadn’t seen since before all this. They’re now living down there permanently.

The sun was shining and the streets teeming with day-trppers when I found them sitting outdoors at a cafe with a bottle of wine. I was with them for half an hour and it was lovely.

Part of it is me opening up to the world again. They set eyes on me and reckoned I didn’t look too bad. They asked questions, and I told stories, and at the end of it, we kissed and shook hands, and then I was off home again.

Then there’s been work. Ironic after what I wrote last week that this week I’ve had to step up and do some of the things I described and said I wouldn’t do. I’ll write about it another time. Suffice to say, I’ve worked double the hours I was scheduled to. I didn’t mind.

Where to? How?


Last night I lay in bed with my head hurting and my breathing laboured, unable to sleep. Eventually I got up. I took a pill with a glass of water. As I stood by the sink my eyes went to the digital device on the kitchen bench, on which rotated some of my favourite snaps. The picture was of Rigby, and I stood there looking at it until it changed to something else.

For about 10 minutes I sat in the recliner in the living room, just resting. It’s where I sit to read sometimes or have a cup of tea. Mostly, before, Rigby would sprawl on the floor in front of me. I looked at the place as if he was there still. Sometimes, he would come and rest his head in the space beside my leg, looking up at me. My hand went to him.

I was in a bad way. I’m utterly worn out, physically and emotionally. I’ve got little life outside of home because I’m not up to it. I’m back working and doing my best, but I’ve lost all faith in the people there, and rouse little interest in the work I’m doing. And, Rigby is gone.

I wouldn’t feel that so keenly if my life was happier. I always had him, at least, and now I don’t even have him.

It’s funny how you still expect him, if only momentarily. I get out of bed and I look to him, knowing that he will follow – but he’s not there. Struggling as I was to sleep last night, I might have reached out and found some comfort knowing he was there. I miss his companionship obviously, and his love for me, and the love he created in me.

This is not about him though. I miss him terribly, but he’s a symptom of my current state, not the cause of it.

I need to find something to believe in. It’s hard. Physically, I’m not right. Work has failed me and the life I had before seems far distant. And Rigby, who could always make bad things better, is gone.

I’m doing things because I don’t know what else to do. And because I need to. I don’t want to fail. But what comes next? When? And why?

I need to find a way out of this mess but have to do it alone.

It’s mid-morning. I’m still in bed. I feel better than last night, but not great. I woke from an ugly sleep at about 9. I feel exhausted. I wish I knew more. For once, I feel incapable of navigating a way forward. What is right? What is wrong? I don’t think I can go on like this unless I have a sudden upturn in my health. But even then – what does it mean? There remain many unanswered questions.

Pushing on


I’ve just got off the phone from the office, having tentatively agreed to return to work in February on a part-time basis.

I don’t know if my physical state is much advanced on what it was a couple of months ago – perhaps I’m a bit stronger? – but as our esteemed PM keeps telling us, we have to learn to live with it. At this point, I’ve said I can do three hours a day/15 weekly. All going well that can be increased in March. Given the limited hours, I’ll be focussing on specific tasks rather than general.

I’m curious to see how I go. I’ve spoken before of how I have no interest or motivation for work, having faced down death. I expect that will pass, but it’s a real thing for now.

What’s real also is that I don’t have the energy or enterprise generally, which is a bit disturbing. I’m tired, I’m in pain, I’m deaf in one ear and walk with a limp, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that I don’t have that drive. And, I still don’t know if I’ve made it through the woods – whether I’ll survive this or not. Still, it feels foreign and unwelcome. I’m used to doing things. Used to striving for something. It was a part of my identity, but with so much of my identity disrupted – most likely permanently – it makes sense that my sense of purpose has diminished also.

The best way to illustrate that is this blog and how rarely I post anything. These days it’s a chore, something I have to do, whereas before it was a vital means of expression for me. Then, I bubbled over with ideas and words. Not now, though I still have strong opinions (which I can’t be bothered sharing).

As someone who has been working on writing a couple of novels in his spare time over the last few years, you might think this was a great opportunity to put more time into those. But no. I’ve written nary a word. It’s not that I’ve lost interest – what I’ve lost is the sense of enterprise and discovery. I feel mentally spent, with nothing left for acts of creation.

Surely some of that is physical and presumably will change with time. However, I also think that having a serious illness has changed my perspective and the nature of my creative thought.

In my situation, you tend to live day by day. There’s little sense of the future and little point to it, really when you’re not even sure if you’ll be around for it and what state you’ll be in, presuming you are. It’s very confused. You deal with the circumstances of the moment, resting as you need to, taking painkillers 24/7 and attending medical appointments. You drift. Until you feel well again and get the all-clear, all bets are off.

My imagination feels like an indulgence in this situation and has slipped down the list of priorities. If I forced myself, I’m sure I could be just as creative as ever, but I don’t have the energy for it.

This is one reason I’ve started being more proactive in my recovery process. I need a sense of control. I hate being passive. I’ve had a physio appointment and have referrals for a psychologist and hearing specialist. And now I’ve organised a return to work. That’s where it’s at, I feel: I need to force things.

I still don’t know what lies ahead, but I’m through with relying on hope. It’s easy to do nothing, but that makes me aimless. The world doesn’t stop, nor should I.

All the same


I wonder sometimes if I’m getting better at all. I’m a little stronger perhaps because I’m eating better, but otherwise I don’t feel much different to a couple of months ago. I take more painkillers these days, so perhaps I feel worse.

Because of my condition, and covid, my days are quiet. I barely go out, and only because I must.

I had a visit the other day from someone from the office. He’s the first and only. I was grateful for the effort. He brought me a book by Eckhart Tolle.

The rest of the time I’ve been watching the cricket. A friend comes each afternoon to watch it with me. In times between, I read. Earlier in the month I was getting through a book every day and a half.

My favourite time of day is the evening. I allow myself to take one of the heavier painkillers, which takes the edge off. I watch pay-TV, enjoying the distraction. I’ll go to bed between 9.30 – 10, and read for up to an hour. Often I’ll take a sleeping tablet.

I look forward to lights out because with unconsciousness comes relief. In the morning, I wake slowly. Often I’ll feel a second wave of tiredness afflict me. It recurs throughout the day to the point I can barely keep my eyes open. It could be the humid weather. I thought I had passed that stage.

I have another day like that ahead of me, and for the foreseeable future, until I really do start to feel better. The only variation is that I’m going out to see a movie tomorrow. Otherwise, it all seems the same.

Surviving the season


Yesterday, I had appointments back at the hospital to check my progress. I couldn’t get a lift, so I got the train in.

I left early, intending to visit the Exhibition building to get a Covid vaccine booster shot. I’m vulnerable to any infection, and the AZ shots I have appear quite ineffective against the new omicron variant. With cases exploding in NSW particularly (the mate I stayed with last week now has Covid), and across the country, I wanted to do all I could to safeguard my health.

It was a good plan, and I walked out of there with the Moderna vaccine as my booster, but it was a bit hairy in between.

It’s quite well organised, however, there are extended periods standing in queues. This can be problematic for me at times, and it was yesterday.

At no stage did I feel particularly strong, and travelling in by public transport had probably put an additional strain on me. I managed to weather it initially, but after about 20 minutes felt increasingly unwell, which included the splotches that appear in your eyesight. I hoped to make it to where others were seated waiting to be called up for their vaccine – perhaps 6-7 minutes away. If I had a seat, I could recoup my energy.

I didn’t make it, though. Feeling as if I might faint at any moment, I dropped to my haunches. The man before me in the queue and asked if I was alright. I swear, for most of my life and 99 out of a hundred times, I’d have answered that I was okay. But, this time, I answered honestly, “no” I said I wasn’t alright.

He went to speak to an attendant. Another woman in the queue came to check on me. I was very grateful for their attention and just a mite embarrassed by it. I admitted to the woman I had cancer as if a tall, fit-looking guy like me might be faking in. A wheelchair was brought to me, and I was wheeled into a medical room accompanied by a doctor, where a nurse looked after me.

They took my blood pressure and checked my heart rate – activities I’ve experienced hundreds of times in the last few months. I had a glass of water. Lying down, I began to recover.

After about 10 minutes, they gave me the vaccine (no side effects except a moderately sore arm). After another 10 minutes, they let me go.

I was much better and made my way the short distance to the hospital. There I was told that if the swelling and redness didn’t improve within a couple of days, I’d have to call up to be re-admitted to hospital for another course of IV antibiotics. I don’t want that, and it’s probably not feasible given there’s no-one to look after Rigby.

Because I was in town, I’d agreed to visit the office. It was the first time I’d been there since about June. I met with my team leader, and we went to lunch. He wanted to know when I might be able to return to work. I told him it was a week to week proposition and that things could change quickly – but, I said, maybe February, on a part-time basis.

I also told him I might need a holiday first to clear my head of everything. I need to make sense of things. I can’t understand. It’s been a terrible year. I don’t know what’s to come of me, but what justice is there should I be cured when my dearest companion is (likely) condemned?

I came home and slept for about 90 minutes. I felt washed out, but I had a dinner to go to.

As in previous years, I met with friends at a restaurant in Hampton to celebrate the season. It felt very different for me.

I didn’t feel great, and it’s hard to be as light-hearted as in previous years with everything that has happened. I’ve realised these aren’t enjoyable occasions for me. I can’t hear very well, and what I hear sounds muddy. I expect most of the hearing loss will be permanent and that I’ll have to get a hearing aid down the track. The effect right now is that I feel out of it and in a separate bubble from everyone else.

I was tired, and the act of speaking – with my face swollen and mouth half blocked – was wearying.

I made the most of it, but I don’t think any of us were in a particularly festive mood. It was an early night. I was home by 9.30 and straight to bed, sleeping just over 12 hours straight.

Pushing on regardless


Probably for the last 6 weeks particularly I’ve been looking ahead yearningly, expectantly, to a time when I might consider my state of health and being as ‘acceptable’.

In my mind at least, acceptable equated to minimal pain and much greater capability. I expected to be stronger in body, to the point I could walk down the street without fear of potential collapse. The pain I was less fussed about, though fully expected that I would breathe easier and the congestion I’ve suffered from would be gone, and probably with it the swelling.

From a purely cosmetic point of view, I hoped that my hair would begin to regrow as the swelling came down, and that I would get greater command of my mouth.

In the last couple of weeks there’s been a series of events that suggest nothing is as simple as that. I guess I knew that already, but I hoped for the best.

I ordered a new bed about two months ago. It was meant to be delivered within a fortnight, but a part was missing. I had to chase it up, and when they finally delivered it a month later they didn’t put it together, as requested. I slept on a blow-up mattress that night and then went into hospital for the next four nights. They finally returned last Wednesday to set the bed up.

I’ve spoken of my time in hospital. I picked up very well in there, but almost collapsed leaving the place. I‘d picked up diarrhea, which undid all the good work. I was frail for days after, and the congestion returned. My head would spin as my body sought comfort.

In the meantime, my work advised they’d paid nearly $1,000 to my account in error: could I please pay it back? It was a blow to my budget, but pay it back I did.

All this time I had my eyes on a trip to Sydney I’d booked in more hopeful times. As the day approached I was afraid that I wasn’t up to it. I feared that I would get there, take a turn, then be stuck. I was determined to make it, but wasn’t sure if it was wise.

It seemed even the gods were against me when I got to the airport on Friday. The flight left at about 11am; by 2pm it was back in Melbourne. A storm cell in Sydney had prevented landing. We sat on the tarmac for another hour, before finally we jetted off again. I arrived in Sydney at about 5pm.

The last couple of days I’ve spent in the Blue Mountains. It’s been very pleasant, though it’s tested me. Because I came away with a purpose I’ve wanted to do things, and I’ve been 2-3 more times active than before.

I tend to think of that as a good and necessary thing, though I’m not always certain. I feel like an invalid much of the time. Like a faulty part. I hate that and I push against it. It would be easier to stop, but if I never try how am I going to get ahead?

There was an episode on the way up which is symptomatic of much. We’d stopped at a second-hand bookstore to browse. We’d been there about 20 minutes and I could feel it wearing at me. Then I suffered one of the dizzy spells as I clung tight to a bookcase. In my head was some kind of crazy notion I was trying to figure out, as if it might cure my ills. I was like that for about 10-15 seconds before I came to. I had realised it was nonsense and knowing that broke the chain. I blinked, feeling weak and scared, but back in the world.

Otherwise, I need to take regular breaks to sit down, even if I’ve only been standing. I’m breathless often, occasionally without having exerted myself. But then I think, I can only get fitter by pushing the envelope – and I’m doing over 4000 paces daily, up from under 2000.

It’s frustrating, and psychologically challenging at times. I feel old and helpless; it will pass, I tell myself. I’m self-conscious about my appearance and wary of speaking too much – it comes harder than before, and with a thicker tongue. None of this is like H of before, and that’s the thing hard to overcome.

I don’t hide from it, though. I accept what is because I have no choice. I can’t hide away. I can’t take the easy option. I have to push, hoping it will get me where I need to go sooner.

I enjoyed my time in the Blue Mountains. Most of it we spent in Blackheath, where I have memories of a previous visit 30 years ago. I’m eating much better, which is a plus, but still not getting much joy out of it. In theory, I’m becoming stronger.

I’m back now at my friend’s house in Wahroonga. It’s very leafy and serene here. I’m sitting out on his deck typing this, in between reading. I might take a nap soon. It’s good to get away. Good to see familiar faces again, and to take in an environment far different to the stultifying world I’ve been stuck with these last four months. I return home on Friday.

Venturing out


For the first time in months, I went out over the weekend – and what I mean by out is that I went to places where I could sit with other people and be served. I had a brief taste of it a few weeks ago, but this was the real thing.

Both days were sunny. On Saturday, Donna came over for the first time since I moved. We walked down the road and sat in the sunshine, having coffee and tea and picking at a muffin I couldn’t enjoy. Afterwards, we walked by the beach.

One of the best things about it was having a meaningful conversation, and not just the practical, passing conversations I’ve had for most of my time in isolation.

Yesterday, another friend came over, and we drove towards Mordialloc. We sat in the sunshine again. He had lunch. I ate a few fries for the carbs, not the taste. When the clock ticked over to two, we ordered some gin from the dispensary there – first a cocktail, then a blood orange gin with tonic.

I didn’t know what to expect of this. I haven’t had an alcoholic drink since July. I’m much out of practice. Plus, I’ve lost all this weight since. But, no problem – except, because of my taste buds, I didn’t experience the complete enjoyment of the moment. I could taste about 40%, but no matter, the moment was symbolic.

It was good to get out, and if I pushed the limits a little, that’s okay. I pulled up well.

I’ve decided the time has come for me to push it a little more. I know most of my friends think it’s premature, but I feel as if I’ll never get ahead unless I begin to test myself. The simplest things have made me breathless. I have to push the envelope.

I’m still fatigued. I’ve spoken how I can sleep so easily. I’ve resisted it to a degree, though I realise I need it to heel. I feel a bit of a slop sleeping during the day, but if there’s any time I can be a slob, then surely it’s when I have cancer?

It’s all a bit of a balancing act. Exercise is good, but it burns up calories, which I struggle to get in. I can’t be silly.

Previously, I averaged about 1500 paces daily, which is fuck all (it was around 9,000 when I was healthy). I’m going to push the average up to 2000, then 3000, and so on.

I’m encouraged in doing this as the situation with my taste buds is improving. I need to explain this.

It’s my theory only that two factors were affecting my taste buds. The first was the backwash of all the cells killed by my treatment, flooding my nose, my mouth, my stomach (making me nauseous). This is pretty nasty and made practically everything inedible. The overwhelming taste was salty, smoky, bitter.

The second factor relates directly to chemo, which makes things taste metallic. These two overlaid each other. Now I’ve stopped treatment, the backwash has diminished, though a remnant remains. It makes eating easier, though – thanks to chemo – everything tastes metallic.

I’m testing the limits regarding food also. Nothing is enjoyable, though some things go down easier than others – sweeter things and some fruit flavours.

As always, it’s a day by day proposition. I’ll be in a much better place when there’s no more backwash, and my nose is cleared, and when I can taste truly. I can hope for part of that in the next 2-3 weeks, I think, as for the rest, it could be anytime now, or in months.

Bros


We’re back in lockdown for a week as of 8pm last night. At about 4.30, I got a call from Cheeseboy telling me that he’d planned to organise a drink with me Friday night but, as that was no longer an option, why not tonight – sneak one in before the deadline?

I was in bed and not feeling much like doing anything, but I said yes. Opportunities for me to get out and see people before I go into surgery were diminishing anyway, and with lockdown, very little remained possible. I’d organised lunch on Saturday at a steak restaurant. Bit of a last hurrah and the final to get something decent I could chew on before being restricted to a liquid diet. Now, that was cancelled too.

It was a good decision to join him. We went to True South, which is walking distance from home. It was packed with people with the same idea as us. There was a raucous, almost festive atmosphere, full of good fellowship. It had very much the last supper vibe, with people opening up to between tables, laughing and joking with bitter humour at yet another lockdown. We’re old hands at this now. No-one likes it, but most of us understand why.

We were there for a bit over two hours. We had a couple of pints eat, a bowl of fries, and a couple of pinot noirs – including some shelf stuff the proprietor let us have knowing that for the next week, he would be closed to custom.

I was grateful to Cheeseboy. Gratitude is a recurring theme over the last month or so. I’ve been blown away by the kindness of friends and acquaintances. The Cheeses have been particularly good, supporting me through the house move and providing help at every turn. I expect when I return from the hospital that Mrs Cheese will have rallied her network to provide me with the pureed foods I must sustain myself on. She’s also coordinating with a nutritionist friend of hers to put together a meal plan. Cheeseboy also promises to do a few things in the new home while I’m in hospital – including, he reckons, selling my dining table, too big for the house.

While the practical help is a boon to me, the moral support really fills me with humble joy. It fills me with warmth.

So it was last night. We sat there having a drink, as we have a hundred times before, and the conversation, more or less, was like we’d had a hundred times before. The exchange of easy friendship lends perspective to what I’m fighting for and gives me strength.

We laughed a lot, as always. At one stage, we got talking to the people at the next table. The woman there thought we looked like brothers. Yes, he’s my Dutch brother, I told her. It’s the first time that’s happened. We don’t really look alike outside a few generic descriptors – both have glasses, our face shape is probably similar, both with a light fuzz on our cheeks and both greying, though he has the edge on me. People say he looks like George Clooney, which I don’t (though some claim I have his personality), and I’m about four inches taller than Cheeseboy. We are brothers in spirit, though. This is what you live for.

At 7.33, the proprietor came out to say the place would be closing in five minutes. Some had beers in plastic cups so they could finish them outside. Cheeseboy and I, we left at about 7.40.

It was a good experience in a lot of ways and probably emblematic of the times.