I Am Dalek … on tanks and their metaphors

ianfacewave tank

look at me, I’m waving. Big Jessie.

So last weekend I was driving a tank. As you do. And a few things struck me. Not literally, like bombs, or grenades, or mortar shells. I’m a lover, not a fighter, and the tank driving was purely for the experience of doing something I wouldn’t normally do. The ‘Jessica’ on the tank refers to the tank’s name (yes, they name their tanks), not me. Though I do answer to the term ‘Jessie’.

So this tank business. It’s all very butch. And the inside of the tank is filthy (as,actually, its the muddy outside). Somewhere in my mind, I thought they’d valet it to make it all clean. We had to wear the most unflattering jumpsuits – vaguely camouflage design, but there aren’t many places to hide in a Leicestershire farm field occupied by a herd of domestic cows and a handful of military vehicles. Certainly nowhere to hide a tank.

A couple of friends who’ve seen pictures have commented that I ‘wear a tank well’. Strangely, I agree with them. Which is a bit disappointing – I can’t camp up the machismo size and context of a tank. It consumes you, so you have to become part of this military machine.

So there was me, a woman I didn’t know who was part of the same group, and the instructor who told us we could call him  ‘Big G’. I don’t think so. He gave us a spiel which included a lot of statistics on the tank’s weight, what it did, how fast it went – all of which went over my head. He said, almost proudly, that it was the type of tank used in Afghanistan. I wasn’t proud, or impressed, having taken part in many anti-war protests. If anything, the enormity and ‘in-humannesss’ of the tank – its ‘dalekness’ – made me feel distinctly uncomfortable, even in a farmer’s field in Leicestershire.

We went round the field twice each – first time round looking out of the turret, the second time with the cover down so that we could only look out of a pillar-box viewing slit. Much more difficult, and much more Dalek-like. My co-driver declined to have the cover shut her in, but she did manage to reverse park the thing, thanks to instructions from ‘Big G’.

We got the opportunity to buy some pictures taken on our way round (£20 for a disc of around 100 pics), and then to look round the other armoured vehicles on show. Some of The Guys were terribly interested in all that – but it just seemed like big cars to me, and I’d already played with the biggest.

Meanwhile, in another part of my life, I’ve been helping with online research for Macmillan. One of the questions was around the language used in illness, and how useful it is. This followed a conversation I had with a lesbian feminist friend I’d had after seeing the film Pride which had prompted us to look at the langiage of struggle and, partifularly, the domination of militaristic language, and how a friend of hers was ‘battling cancer’ but had no lnaguage to expeess how she really felt. it turns out those of us who have had cancer aren’t all that keen on the whole ‘battle/fight’ analogies – and why would we? Who wants to be at war with their own body? Susan Sontag identified the importance of language and metaphor around illness, and AIDS taught me the importance of reclaiming terms like ‘victim’ or ‘sufferer’, ‘fighting’ and ‘losing the battle’.

I’m a lover, not a fighter.

Somewhere in my online response around illness imagery, I waffled about positive imagery, and recognising that, whatever the illness, the body does its best. I do my best – I’m not separate from my immune system, or a broken heart, or a tumorous testicle. I don’t want to fight my body, I don’t want to see it as my enemy, or to hate what it becomes or how it changes. In a previous post, I referred to my favourite book of the moment, The Wounded Storyteller by Arthur Frank, which describes the struggle of a person designated ‘ill’ to own their  narrative, and come to terms with ‘the diminished self’. That may be a struggle, but it’s not a fight, or a war, which we’re in danger of ‘losing’. It’s an experience, which is what it is – sometimes up, sometimes down.

We’re living in peacetime but in a time of war – Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Ukraine, Gaza, an Ebola Crisis,  a ‘war’ on ‘terror’, the challenges of climate change…You can add to the list, I’m sure. But let’s not make ourselves victims, and let’s not wage war on ourselves. Let’s not become the enemy, or the battleground.

My friends were right. I wear a tank well. But I choose not to. I don’t drive with the lid down, and with my view restricted.

But you can still call me Jessie.

May I borrow your testicle?


Time flies… almost Christmas, over a year since I had a cancerous testicle removed. Movember has just passed.So it’s time to check the baubles.Fortunately, so I hope, it’s all routine. I get a check up every 4 months as part of a 5 year outpatient review. Next week a chest x-ray. Which fits in nicely with a haematology appointment – no sign yet of my home testing kit coming through, so I’m still hoping Santa’s got that in his stocking.

This time, it’s not a long wait. I’m a little disappointed as the Jessica Stevenson lookie-likie isn’t on reception. Her replacement has a look of Susie Blake, the Victoria Wood continuity announcer (‘we apologise to those of you in the North … it must be awful for you’). There’s a tiny Christmas tree on reception ‘That’ll be the recession’, Mum says knowingly.When I was at the hoispital last week (haematology again, a pricking of my thumbs…) there was a beautiful rainbow over the carpark. I’d rather a rainbow than a suicide attempt, which there was on a previous visit.

I’m called in and get weighed. The nurse apologises for the state of the blue vinyl chair. It is, I admit, 70’s vulgar but I call it a throne and park my arse anyway. ‘I’m wearing my invisible crown,’ I tell her.

This week I’m seeing the Macmillan Specialist Nurse, who’s seen me through most of my treatment. My consultant is retiring, so I’m also in the proces of being ‘handed over’ to a new consultant who I haven’t yet met. Someone new to fondle my testicle. There are hreee tiny mince pies to one side of her desk, and I don’t get offered one. Just as well – you never know what they put in them these days. There’s probably a horse at least.

Preamble over and we’re on to the physical exampination. I’ve self examined, and apparently this is enough to rule out any lumps or bumps down there.

‘They say it’s quite hard examining yourself when there’s only the one,’ she says. ‘You don’t have anything to compare it to.’

‘Perhaps I should ask someone if we can compare testicles?’ I say. She thinks I’m joking, but has obviously never seen me cockwatching in the changing rooms at the gym.  I don’t gawk, gentle reader,  but really – you can’t help but look. I’ve nearly had my eye poked out on a couple of occasions. It’s terribly disappointing, though, when some sweaty hunk comes in, strips off and reveals … a pair of Batman boxer shorts . And that’s not the worst of it. By a long way. The other week someone tweeted that they’d found a shit in the shower. No, really. A shit in the shower!

Chsritmas  is the time for baubles. Sparkle is everywhere. Christmas is our showcase  of how the world would be if it was run by The Gays fulltime. There’s a reason for the saying ‘Camp As Christmas’ – it’s our gateway drug. That’s the real Gay Agenda – everyday will be ChristmasDay. Baubles  are  everywhere. Santa, I’m told has an enormous, wrinkly, white haired drooping giftbag of balls. Wispy. And you know what they say about Rudloph? He’s not only known for a big nose. Holly berries and misteltoe? Constant reminders. Look again at your xmas tree and it’s just tinsel and balls. With a fairy on top. I haven’t even started on snowmen or snowballs. 

On the way home, I shop off at the supermarket to buy vodka to make a seasonal Cranberry Vodka. The label says ‘everyday vodka’. Everyday vodka?! Something to go with your baked beans… in fact, I notice, they actually have ‘Bloody Mary’ baked beans. I don’t even like vodka, but you never know when the apocalypse if going to start so I get a couple of tins on the offchance.

But now I have a mission. Fellas, make yourselves useful.Next time you see me and I slip a hand down your pants, I’m doing us both a favour, right? Thi is the season of good will among men. There’s nothing wrong with  comparing, and it beats pissing up a wall. It would be a much nicer world if instead of a handshake we cupped each other’s balls as a greeting. Much more trusting. None of that ‘limp’ or ‘firm’ handshake nonsense. You know where you are with a guy’s gonads in your hand.

Jingle Bells, anyone?

#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