there will be an interval



I had a letter last week. From myself. Which I had written 5 years ago. See, Time Travel is real. I am The Doctor.

I was watching an arts event, Pilots, at my local arts centre in January 2011. It was all kind of interesting and experimental, and one of the projects was by Cross Collaborations as part of their ‘Past Present Future’ project. We were invited to write a message to our future selves, to choose a button we liked from a little collection, and return it with a stamp addressed envelope to be posted 5 years hence to our future self.

As it happens, there was an interval coming up. I was bored an uninspired and had difficulty imagining myself 5 years into the future. So what I wrote was a statement of fact, what was happening in the here and now. Just a piece of information. I felt I was cheating a little and not taking the exercise seriously enough. But it didn’t have to be anything profound, or anything special. I hadn’t got any special plans for 5 years’ time.

…the will be an interval …

And completely forget about it.

I say I didn’t have plans. At least, I didn’t for five years in the future. But I was just booking a holiday for later in the year – to Peru. I’d heard so much about Machu Picchu, the Nazca Lines and the holiday included staying with a native family on tree rafts at Lake Titicaca. This holiday had all of them and plenty more besides. Some time ago I’d attended a self development workshop, where we were all asked to imagine achieving something exciting and wonderful. One very timid young girl eventually confessed to wanting to go to Machu Picchu. I brought her a brochure the next day for an adventure group I was part of (SPICE – Special Programme of Initiative, Challenge and Excitement) which happened to be advertising a trekking holiday to Machu Picchu, just to encourage her to believe in the possibilities. A year later I got a virtual postcard from her with pictures of her at Machu Picchu. She was beaming.

So I was excited, and terrified. I’d never been on for great heights, so it was also a challenge to myself – initiative, challenge, excitement. My brother, rather sensibly, suggested checking with my cardiologist as it was a high-altitude holiday. I dismissed the idea but, as the time came for the holiday, I booked an appointment.

Which is just as well. Because that’s when they found out that not only my mitral valve (which had been repaired ten years earlier) was leaking, but that there was also a problem with my aortic valve – more so, in fact. When the cardiologist delivered the news, she told me to think very carefully about the holiday to Peru, because it would be very dangerous. And then told me not to cry, as she couldn’t stand it when patients cried.

I had to cancel the holiday. Fortunately, I got all my money back on the insurance.So I didn’t get to Peru, or Machu Picchu, or Lake Titicaca. Although she had said a heart operation probably wouldn’t be necessary for 5 – 10 years, in fact I needed emergency surgery within 3 years.

There will be an interval

None of which I could know writing myself a letter to the future. As I didn’t know that I would also have testicular cancer, lose my job,or lose my driving license through an eyesight problem.

Which meant, that when I did receive a letter I’d completely forgotten about writing – in my own handwriting – I was a little confused and felt I’d suddenly stepped into an episode of Lost. And I sat and looked at the message:

There will be an interval

And I laughed. And I cried. And goosebumps ran down my spine. It all seemed so prescient, so insightful, so philosophical, naive  and so pertinent. The little message from five year ago me was like a hug from someone who really cared about me. And a phrase that meant nothing at the time – except that there was going to be an interval, a comfort break for a pee and an ice cream – put everything in perspective. An interval had almost ben a finale, the script I though would be performed had become an improvisation, and sometimes we surprise ourselves, and don;t realise the significance of what we do at any on time. And it’s not all about the big performance, the centrepiece, the main event.

There will be an interval


Whatzits and thingummybobs

d and g

I’m a really shy kinda guy. No, seriously. Not exactly a wallflower, and I’m OK once I get going. But it’s that first ‘hello’ and stuff I find difficult. Not terribly good at ‘breaking the ice’. I mentioned that in I’ve had my knob shaved.

So I always like ‘icebreaker’ tips. Something that just helps a little – I really admire people who can just start up conversations. And I don’t mean creepy or weird. Like the guy who asked me if I liked ‘The Shadows’ and told me all about his complete collection of their records, and every time that he’d gone to see them. He meant well, but that was a conversation that wasn’t going to go anywhere. I drove someone home once and he innocently asked what the noise in the boot was when we turned a corner.. ‘The bodies’ I joked. Understandably, he got a little uncomfortable. Not my best small talk.

So I’m always looking for tips to help me out. I’ve been on confidence building courses, I’ve been on a ‘flirting for fun’ workshop (loved it despite the rice cakes…) and done lots of lovey theatre ‘learning to trust/get to know you games’.

And I bought a book called How To Talk To Anyone by Leil Lowndes (HarperCollins, 1999). It’s a delightful little treasury of developing small talk and conversations with strangers. It’s not a bible, but it does have some tips I really like.

One of them is about whatzits. What’s a whatzit?

A Whatzit is anything you wear or carry that is unusual – a unique pin, an interesting purse, a strange tie, an amusing hat. A Whatzit is any object that draws people’s attention and inspires them to to approach you and ask, ‘Uh, what’s that?’ Your Whatzit can be as subtle as your personality and the occasion permit.

I prefer to call it a thingummybob. Mine is my ‘cancer watch’ (I know, that’s as bad as the bodies in the boot small talk, but bear with me). It’s a D&G watch with a design that reminds me of the ‘testcard’ that that used to be broadcast on British TV whenever programmes were off-air. I saw it in the jeweller’s that exists in my local hospital (yes, really, a jeweller in a hospital – presumably for all those death bed proposals from the terminally ill in need of an engagement ring in a hurry.) while I was having treatment for my cancer. It caught my eye, and it reminded me of whatzits.

It really works. As a conversation starter, it’s perfect. Eye catching, and I can choose how much of its story to reveal – an innocent conversation about TV nostalgia, a conversation about bling and D&G, or a deeper connection about my cancer treatment. It’s my most successful thingummybob to date.

I haven’t dared to wear my thingummybob #2 – a badge that says ‘I f*ck on a first date’. Like I said, I’m a really shy kinda guy … just look out for my thingummybob.

more beautiful for having been broken


Kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold paste, ‘to repair with gold’  has also been described as ‘more beautiful for having been broken’, or the beauty of being broken. It’s been part of this year’s blog experience for me as rogue and queen (from the Eartha Kitt song All By Myself, also about becoming beautiful through painfulexperience.) The proof of its fragility and its resilience is what makes it beautiful.  I even like the fact that the gold paste used is potentially poisonous – repair itself is dangerous.

My journey this year has been through cancer, strokes, heart surgery and loss of lovers and loved ones. The picture above is of something I chose not to repair, as it reminds me of my best friend Mary Harlot, who I wrote about in another blog entry Betty Bones And Mystery Of The Phantom Clipper Knicker. Mary was my oldest, oldest, oldest,  schoolfriend and I bought him the candle holder  as a birthday present to keep on a lovely glass table in his beautiful scarlet papered front room in his home in South Wimbledon home (once used as a setting for a hovel in an episode of The Bill which caused me no end of amusement.) At some point, in drunken revels, he broke one of the glass candle holders. He died suddenly and tragically over ten years ago and I read a poem , shaking like a leaf, at his funeral. When his parents cleared out his flat, they offered me the opportunity to take something away as a momento and I chose the candle-holder. When my Mum saw it, her immediate reponse was ‘you can get that fixed.’ I told her I didn’t want to fix it. Dad understood, but she didn’t – she wanted to repair it, as she always wantes to make things better. I keep it broken, because I like fragile things, and resilience. Not quite kintsukuroi, as it’s not mended with gold, but certainly more beautiful for having been broken.

This year, I’ve written two novels Second Moon and Endlings (which, to be honest, I should be working on finishing now),  and a collection of short stories A Happy Finish. Both novels have touched on my experiences of being broken, or beautful fragility and resilience. Earlier this year, I had a very polite thank you/but no thank you rejection for an earlier romance novel The Leading Man I had published a while ago which I was looking to re-publish. It was also written after a period of illness and brokenness.  Fortunately, as a writer, I’ve had very few rejection letters, but know it is part of most authors’ experience, and we have to believe in the beauty or resilience of our writing to carry on. I encourage myself, and other authors, to treat rejection with politeness and gratitude – not only might you need the contacts again, but someone has taken the time to read your work and respond, and you can learn something valuable both from their criticism and the experience.

We’re all broken. We’re all beautiful. I remind my counselling clients of The Power Of Gratitude – reflecting on the things we can be grateful for, however difficult or painful the experience might be. Often, they will choose to create Gratitude Lists – reflections on what is positive in their lives, as an antidote to the Negative Chatter we often experience. Gratitude often allows us to accept, to look beyond and through the pain itself, and move on.

I hope your experiences of being broken reveal your beauty in 2014.

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It’s too big, Jamie….!


A lot of this blog to date has been accompanying a journey of ill health, a recovery from cancer and heart surgery. Which, strangely, is the easy thing to write about. I just write about how something happened to me ,  how I responded, and maybe I aso have a few stories along the way. And you, gentle reader, become my best friend, my confidante.

So what happens when things go OK, and I’m not relying on bad things happening to me to write about? I had a week without hospital appointments last week – my first in three months, and strangely I panicked. What do you do when you’re not relying on doctors to test your bloods, and your body, to see what’s working and what isn’t ? Strangely, you’re supposed to actually enjoy being healthy. No special professional attention – just get on with it. Enjoy your life. It’s a long time since I’ve been there, so it’s disturbing new territory.

And now for the good news

So, for a start, they rediscovered 9 lost episodes of Doctor Who from the stories Web Of Fear and Enemy Of The World, both starring the remarkable  mishchievous space hobo of a Second Doctor Patrick Troughton, of Whose tenure we have so few episodes but so much to  be thankful for – if that first rejuvenation hadn’t been successful, Doctor Who would have died with William Hartnell. So the re-discovery, accompanied by  tales of derring do and secret deals and danger and threats, is terribly, terribly exciting for a Doctor Who fan like myself. Even if I haven’t rushed to appease the BBC’s commercial interests by immediately downloading episodes from i-tunes. I can (just about) wait for the DVDs to come along…

…because, in other good news  (though this won’t shake down the Twitterverse in the same way) I’ve bought a spanking brand new smart/3d tv, blu ray player and fancy soundbar. So I’m all set up to watch black and white episodes of a 60’s cult science fiction show! And, yes, I do find myself losing the remote but I’ve also got a fancy Sonic Screwdriver Universal remote… how does any of it work?!

I started a film course – watching a film a week with a lecture beforehand on a relevant aspect of the film. So far, none of the films have been much cop really. But it gets me out of the house (and away from hat spanking brand new tv).

You gotta accentuate the positive and that’s challenging after being so cautious, so anxious, for so long. But a recent CT scan for the cancer was clear, my cardiologist has reduced my medication and is very pleased with the recovery and rehabilitation. I can let go a little. Retrain myself to think healthy, tothink about now  rather than what might or might not be in the future, what might or might not have happened in the past. Try it for yourself. You might yet find the equivalent of Doctor Who episodes you thought long lost. And find yourself watching them on a glorious widescreen 3D smart tv with realistic surround sound. Which is, after all, how we get to experience that ole thing called ….life. Related articles

#amazeballs – Never Mind The Bo##ocks

It’s a year since I had all that unfortunate business in the ‘downstairs department.’

Originally, I went for a check up to distract me from waiting around for heart surgery. ‘It’ll re-assure me’, I thought, after thinking ‘it doesn’t quite feel right’ for a while, although I already knew I had a torte (undescended testicle) and that seemed OK. I’d been reassured several times I was still fertile and could have children (leaving me feeling weirdly, and rampantly, heterosexual).
The Doctor – a young and very polite trainee – was terribly, terribly embarrassed by the whole thing. I’d gone with a list of things including repeat prescriptions, request for flu jab, and finaly thecheck up. Clearly, doctors need to feel another man’s genitalia a lot more than they do in training.He waited until the very end of the consulation befoe donning blue latex gloves ‘for that other thing you mentioned’ and asked me if I wanted a chaperone, which sounded quite glamorous. He fiddled around for a while and then went out of the room and came back with a more experienced colleague who introduced himself with his hands round my nuts saying ‘this is an unusual way for me to introduce myself’. ‘Not for me’, I nearly quipped. He then asked if I could get an erection. ‘What, right now?!’ I thought before letting him know that I had no problems performing thank you very much. They sent me for an ultrasound’ ‘just to be sure’.
The appointment came for the day I wa due to be ‘ringholder’ for a friend’s wedding vows renewal. They cover you in KY jellyfor the ultrasound, so I figured someone could be in for a fun night later. We know what straight men are like at weddings.

Eventually I was given an emergency appointment with my GP – which I knew was a bad omen as you can never get an appointment that quick usually. He told me that to expect things like this ands the heart surgery ‘at my age’ but that everything gets better when you’re in your fifties. At one point he paused the consultation as another patient wanted to know if they’d left their bag in his room. He shook my hand, wished me luck, and told me he hadn’t had any of his patients die from this. Which was comforting.

I was offered surgery pretty quickly, and as the Macmillan nurse felt my crown jewels, I learned she knew my mother – formerly also a Macmillan Nurse. Not the most comfortable of conversations to have whilst undergoing that sort of exam. ‘We never did physical examinations’ my mother told me later, leaving me unsure if I’d been molested or not. They mark which testicle to lop off with a big blue pen, and asked several times ‘which one?’ Fortunately, I kept giving the same answer, and did the marking myself, commenting the right one was always my least favourite anyway. I was offered a ‘replacement’ but, disappointingly, that didn’t include my request for a glitterball (bit or razmatazz, I thought) or even a dongle – ‘That could be really useful, I thought, like you do when you see a pineapple corer or other kitchen item you know you’ll never use. Like my pasta making machine.

The oncologist offered me a single course of chemotherapy to reduce the (slim) chance of a recurrence. That wasn’t pleasant, but I’m glad I did it, even if I ended up like a pin cushion following the pre-treatment blood tests they carry out (I counted 20 injection points where they tried to get blood from). My brother accompanied me, and fainted in the corridor.

I was in and out of hospital within a day, and told friends I was walking lop-sided after the operation. The outlook for this thing is very good, apparently, apart from the annual facial horrors of the well-meaning fun ‘charity fundraisier’ Movember, where guys can show support for testicular and prostate cancer by wearing the most ludicrous and terrifying facial hair furniture. Why not just grab a mate’s gonads for a good feel and check-up instead? At the hospital today, I saw a man attempting suicide, trying to jump from the top of the car park. He was by the entrance where I left after the surgery – ironically, next to the ‘mother and baby’ ward. He was prevented from jumping by 3 or 4 burly, but caring, security guards and paramedics. Just another reminder of how difficult, painful and fragile life really is.

For more information, try:

Macmillan Cancer Support

Sleepless In Coventry

My second night where, although exhausted, sleep hasn’t come easy. One of the things about being ripped open like Christmas is having to sleep on your back as the scar and chest heal. It’s not my usual style, so I have a mound of pillows for support to keep me upright, like the princess with the pea. I’m wearing my invisible tiara.

I’m cutting down on painkillers and that rat poison warfarin keeps changing, so the drugs may be having an impact too. Some of the meds are supposed to give me vivid dreams … If only! It’s all been a bit of a dream, full of Chinese paintings and alligators and floods and curtains getting changed at midnight in the hospital.

I’m trying to catch up with 9 months backlog of Doctor Who Monthly, started reading books again but hiding from daytime TV.

And people are being kind. Cards, good wishes, hampers, DVDs, a family offering 24/7 support. Return to living on my own in the flat where I collapsed is a daunting prospect, as is yet more surgery. This time last year I was just coming to terms with cancer and losing my least favourite testicle.

But Peter Capaldi is the new Doctor, and tonight I might sleep. Apparently my scar ‘looks great’ but not to me. I’m going to pretend it’s a shark-bite or an attempt at cyber-conversion. I’m still hoping to be Upgraded …