THE NEW NORMAL #40 – KICKING THE BUCKET LIST

Right, monotony levels are reaching ridiculous heights now. I’ve done the ceremonial handing over of my Smurf collection to the little one – he was amused for about 48 hours and then declared that he was “over Smurfs”. I held back 39 years’ worth of tears and lovingly placed them all back in the box. Poor Smurfs. I have been through every single physical photograph I own and categorised them (‘Growing up’, ‘University’, ‘Various bands’, ‘Grandparents’ etc.), parted company with all manner of tat that I’ve been hanging on to for years and read through all my teenage lyric books to see if there were any nuggets of inspiration (spoiler alert: nothing much apart from the fact that I was a very angry teenager and was particularly productive at times when a budding romantic relationship ended. I know, shocker). Daily/Weekly excitements have boiled down to the postman coming, recycling being taken away, the phone ringing unexpectedly and recreating much missed ITV Saturday morning show the Chart Show by putting together YouTube playlists.

I can’t get my head in to the world of video calling no matter how much I miss my friends, family or colleagues. It feels like pressing your grubby little urchin face up against the window of a restaurant where you can see the warm glow of good times and even better cheer but you can’t touch, taste, smell or feel any of it so I’d rather scavenge in the bins for now and wait for the doorman to let me in when it’s good and safe to do so. I’ve tuned in to a few live streams of musicians but, with the best will in the world, watching somebody play their heart out in their spare bedroom with daylight streaming in while you’re sat on the sofa with a bowl of tomato soup just isn’t the same as jostling for space with a bunch of pissed up folk in a dark and sweaty basement, is it? We even had a go at a couple of quizzes with friends/family but Cornish Wi-Fi and various levels of technical ability make these generally quite painful experiences.

However, in amongst all of that, we keep getting messages of admiration and encouragement like “I don’t know how you’re doing it”, “How are you coping?” and, my favourite, “Just make some memories with the family”. I particularly like this last one because although it is meant with nothing but love and care, the reality is far less inspirational or heart-warming. Memories we’ve made so far include;

  • Making a scarecrow (inexplicably named ‘Popeye’) who we awoke to find covered in snails the following morning. I mean, if you can’t even scare the snails away then you’ve essentially failed at your job on day one at Scarecrow Academy, haven’t you?
  • Baking ourselves to death with more cake than Bruce Bogtrotter could manage in a particularly glutenous month.
  • Laughing until we cried after my five year-old tricked me in to putting a pillow case over my head repeatedly in a version of peek-a-boo that resulted, on turn 5, in him punching me square in my ‘gentleman’s area’ at 8.00am. I think we’ve raised a gangster. Or a Bond villain.
  • Having evening meals around the table in almost complete silence because we’ve been together as a family for nearly six weeks and nobody has anything new to say anymore.
  • Trying out different accents on Alexa to see what she/it can understand. So far so good but I’m building up to a strong Welsh accent early next week….
  • Having my belly and or back fat wobbled by an excitable five-year-old accompanied by “look mummy, watch it wobble”. It. Charming.

You see, it doesn’t matter how poignant the moment feels or how heavy your heart may be as an adult, kids just want to carry on as normal and if that means throwing stones at a fence, laughing maniacally at a squashed snail (seriously, Bond, your days are numbered) or just playing endless games of Lego Batman on the Xbox then that’s what it has to be. You can’t force special moments out of life, they just need to happen and that’s a hard truth to accept when you’re living on borrowed time.

Nevertheless, thoughts have frequently turned to the time after lockdown when we can emerge blinking into the world and start to create scenarios where special moments are more likely to naturally blossom. This has brought me to the conclusion that I need to make a proper bucket list but one with a two tier system that covers off what I’d like to do in the free world and how I would go about recreating that during lockdown if the cancer doesn’t let me get to the freedom stage. Obviously, like almost every thought, feeling, twist and turn I thought I’d share it with you lot because, well, who else am I going to share it with?

  1. Hot air balloon ride – this was a passing thought when I first decided to write a bucket list but the more I think about it the more I want to do it. I’ve never been able to sleep on planes because of the excitement of seeing the world from up high through a tiny window so the idea of a 360 degree view with the wind in my hair (OK, bald patch) is massively tantalising.

Lockdown version: I’m going to take the washing basket up to the top of the garden and sit in it with a candle and a balloon.

2. First football match – For a while I’ve been saying I wanted to take Jake to his first football match as some kind of rite of passage and I wanted it to be at Home Park (aka the Theatre of Greens), home of the mighty Plymouth Argyle. The trouble is, I am a bit jinxed as every time I’ve seen them play they’ve either lost or drawn so I’ve been waiting  for a game that holds no meaning just so I don’t curse the team. Maybe there will be a pre-season match I can get to and introduce the boy to the world of half-time pasties, creative swearing and generally being among a few thousand football experts.

Lockdown version: basically making him watch me play FIFA on the Xbox for hours on end as Argyle rise to the top of the Premier League. And eating pasties at regular intervals. It’s basically the same, right?

3. Go back to work – this might sound incredibly dull but I’d defy anyone with a mind and a job they even semi enjoy not to want to get back to this part of life. I dream of the day when I can sit in an office space and ask questions like “is anyone else’s internet being really slow today?” and “did you watch [insert TV show of the moment] last night?”. Even better, I’d love to feel that rewarding glow of helping a colleague to solve a problem or make them feel better about a bad situation.

Lockdown version: I’m going to have to teach the kids how to use Excel and give them arduous tasks before then revealing the magic of sorting data and creating pivot tables just to see the mixture of joy and relief on their faces. We can discuss last night’s episode of Peter Rabbit and whisper about who has the dirtiest mug in the kitchen.

4. Sit in a pub garden with my friends – This one has been specifically inspired by lockdown and the lack of social interaction, but this is definitely one of the things I miss the most. Warm sun on my back, cold cider in my hand, hastily ripped open bags of crisps and kids running over from the climbing frame asking “can I get a coke and some chips?”. Throw in some good mates, nowhere to be for the rest of the day and maybe someone setting up for a little gig in the evening. Ruddy bliss.

Lockdown version: sitting on the front step with a can of alcohol-free cider (still can’t stomach alcohol) and trying to strike up conversation with passers by while Jake asks if he can have another bloody biscuit.

5. Big family meal – you know those families that take up an entire corner of the pub and order a three-course meal along with coffee and maybe something a little stronger? That’s my family at it’s best and I love it. This bucket list wouldn’t be complete without getting us all together, last supper style, for a big pubby lunch where we all sit down one side of a long table so that somebody can paint us while we eat (fun fact; my mum has made a voluntary photographic career out of snapping people mid-gobble to the extent that she could easily put together an exhibition to be opened by Ed Milliband with mini bacon sarnies served as canapes).

Lockdown version: Face timing my family while I eat a bowl of instant noodles and taking a photo of the screen.

6. Visit London – I spent ten years living in the big smoke and I don’t really miss the city that much but I do miss certain aspects and I really miss some incredible people I befriended there. I’d want a clear weekend with Jake and the rest of the family to take in all the touristy bits in the day and then catch up with friends in the evening. I want a kebab from City Kebabs in Stoke Newington, I want to have a wonder through Portobello Market and/or Brick Lane and I want to see the wonder in Jake’s eyes as we take in the Science Museum/Natural History Museum/Hamleys.

Lockdown version: Aside from online tours and showing him old photos from when I’ve done these things before, there isn’t much that can replace the real experience. Still, I can do it all with a cockney accent so it will be pretty authentic.

7. Sit outside a French bistro – I’m not sure there are many greater pleasures in life than sitting outside a little bistro in Paris with interesting people to watch, fresh bread in a basket in front of you and cheap wine being served by the carafe. These are the times when the world, my world, stands still like you’re in the eye of a storm and you can just let go. Bliss.

Lockdown version: Again, this is going to have to involve sitting on my front step drinking alcohol and trying really hard to imagine that the Cornish accents of passers by is a rare strand of French. My lockdown bucket list is starting to look an awful lot like I’ve been made unemployed in the late 70s which isn’t a good look on me.

8. Travel somewhere new and foreign – I love a bit of travel, discovering new places and trying new things. Wifey and I had great plans to do so much exploring with and without the kids but now I’d settle for one more chance to put my seat in the upright position, pretend to pay attention to the safety information and take off for somewhere I’ve never been so that we can explore and make memories. Greece maybe. I’ve never been to Greece.

Lockdown version: it’s a toss up between watching lots of travel videos on YouTube or just selecting different dishes to cook each night based on varying cuisines but neither option quite has the zest of a real holiday.

9. Swim in the sea – As a child, I used to live for swimming in the sea in the summer and the days at the beach that surrounded this experience. Nowadays, I live closer to the sea than ever before but rarely get myself under the waves. So, one more time I’d like to taste the salty zing of sea water on my lips and that feeling of freshness that a gentle sea swim brings.

Lockdown version: This one is actually achievable, but I just need the weather to warm up a bit and for someone to keep watch on the shore so that I don’t accidently break social distancing conventions with a jellyfish.

10. Go to a gig – Regular readers will know of my love for music and there is no greater rush in this world (for me) than feeling a tight rhythm section reverberate through your rib cage while the melodies get to work on your ears. If I was being incredibly picky then I’d opt for a band I already love supported by a band that I’ve never heard before who put on a great show. I would also enforce a height restriction so that no tall folk would block my view and if anybody starts having a chat that goes beyond “these guys are great” or “check out the bassist” then they will immediately be ejected from the venue after being forced to buy a round for everyone who is left.

Lockdown version: I guess it’s going to be live streaming some random bedroom gig by popping on one of my live DVDs of Reef, Muse, Incubus or Reuben. The no chatting rule still stands though.

11. Get published – It has always been a pipe dream to see my name on the spine of a book so if I can turn this sorry saga in to the type of book that helps other people through a difficult time then I can die happy. An added bonus will be leaving this for my little boy to show him that, despite all my old photos, I didn’t spend my entire life in pubs or staring in awe at a bunch of dudes with guitars.

Lockdown version: Well, there isn’t enough ink in my printer to make my own version but if push comes to shove I could try to self-publish or write the whole thing out on the walls of my house like a slightly less mental Jack Nicholson in the Shining.

For now, the most immediate item on my bucket list is to have a successful operation on my blasted big toe which is now booked in for Tuesday 5th May. That’s right, for the third time in my life, I’m going to have anaesthetic injected in to my right big toe so that they can rip (sorry, surgically remove) my entire toenail, scrape out the melanoma from beneath it and then bandage me up like a cartoon character with a splinter. I’ll be up on bricks for a few days and hugely twitchy about people going near my feet but then I should have halved the number of known cancers in my body and that’s got to be good for my immune system, right? Immunotherapy then resumes on 15th May with treatment #6 and then I’ll be riding that hot air balloon all the way to Paris to watch Reef play before Plymouth Argyle take on Paris St Germain in the final of the Roland Monger European Cup which will be played out in the field behind a pub with all my mates and family watching. Man, these NHS drugs are gooooood.

THE NEW NORMAL #39 – GROUNDHOG DAY

Hey, how was your day? Same as yesterday? Same as tomorrow? Not sure if it’s a weekday, weekend or Christmas day?  Yeah, this coronavirus lockdown thing is getting pretty samey, isn’t it? It occurred to me and my family the other day just how similar to the classic Bill Murray film Groundhog Day the current world is but with the key difference that we’re all playing Phil Connors with an acute and unnerving awareness of the repetitive nature of life. I mean, if I wake up tomorrow and Alexa is playing ‘I Got You Babe’ then I’m not getting out of bed for all the PPE in China.

It was at this point, however, that my wife picked up that thought and spun it around as she so often does; “I’ll take this day over and over again right now”, she said. You see, for us and so many others (maybe even you) just getting through each day in good health, with full bellies, under a solid roof and with our loved ones around us counts as a massive win. Yeah, the process of waking up, getting all the kids fed and dressed and set up to do something resembling schoolwork (this week alone we’ve made a massive stick man, done a huge amount of spelling, constructed a scarecrow called Popeye and embraced the nationalism of St George in a way that I had never before entertained) can get a bit monotonous but is that really so different to normal life? I mean, I have to admit that I’m loving the fact that I don’t have make a single packed lunch, there are no afterschool clubs to ferry children to and from, and although I am missing the peace of my commute I haven’t spent any time staring at the back of a tractor for over 5 weeks so that’s a big fat win.

Anyway, coronavirus aside, there have been further developments in the cancer house, so I thought I’d pen you an update because, well, what else are you going to do? Seriously, you can’t really prefer to watch another version of the Baked Potato song, can you? Today, I spoke with an incredibly lovely and knowledgeable cancer specialist in London who is working as part of the team at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and there was a key phrase uttered in amongst this conversation; “There’s no point pretending this isn’t an extremely serious situation but it is not one without hope”. Hope. That’s a word that has come to mean so much more recently, so any offer of hope is as welcome as a bag of flour or a box of doughnuts. The hope in this instance comes in a number of forms which I’ll try to outline below:

  1. Immunotherapy – I’m continuing with the treatment as previously documented but what I hadn’t realised is the dose of Nivolumab has now been trebled. The key message from today though was that I shouldn’t be too disheartened that the treatment to date hasn’t worked. Treatment should and will continue to make sure that the tumour doesn’t haven’t a chance to spread unchallenged. In addition, it seems that although the cancer has grown, it hasn’t grown as rapidly as you might expect an aggressive melanoma to grow and at the centre of the growth there is something crucial: necrosis. This essentially means that the heart or the centre of the tumour is dying which could be really good news as you might expect but there is potentially a downside too. Necrosis can mean that the cancer has decided to move on, much like early settlers who realised that the although the pancreas lake was good for an initial base camp but they’ve decided to up sticks and move on to the port of lungs/kidneys/liver or somewhere else with more fruitful farming land to exploit.
  2. Surgery – not completely off the table if immunotherapy can help to diminish the tumour but there is some serious untangling to be done first, particularly if the tumour has wrapped itself round the portal vein. If the portal vein is involved then it gets tricky as this is the key vein that moves nutrients and toxins in and out of the gallbladder, pancreas, spleen and liver – you really don’t want to damage that sucker.
  3. Embolisation – this is essentially the option of cutting off the blood stream to the tumour which would stop it getting the energy and nutrients that it needs to grow and spread. Again, because of where the tumour is, this is a risky option but would buy me some time in the search for another option.
  4. Radiotherapy – we’re keeping this one in our back pocket for now. It won’t present any kind of cure but like the first wave of uncredited actors in a World War II film, it might just knock a few holes in the defences to allow the immunotherapy and my immune system (aka the second wave of actors in khaki) a better chance at actually inflicting some real damage.

All of the above, however, is just stalling tactics; medical kettling, if you will. There are clinical trials out there which might help me beyond just treading water but I can’t get on to any of these during the coronavirus so everything else is about delaying, holding, distracting. I’ve thought about trying the “hey, cancer, look over there, what’s that?” rouse but as cancer doesn’t have eyes (or ears for that matter), I don’t hold out much hope. Also, no medical professionals have suggested this so it’s probably a non-starter.

The other big theme of my conversation today was my big toe. New readers may be utterly confused by this but I’m not going to repeat the whole sorry saga apart from saying that considerations for a title of the book version of this blog haven’t got far beyond ‘My Big Toe is Killing Me’. A few weeks ago, just before that phonecall, I noticed that I had once again developed a dark mark under the toenail of my right big toe. I did the responsible thing and sent photos to my team at the hospital and they, in turn, sent it on to London which feels a little weird – I mean, I’ve hardly left the house for five weeks but my toe has been all the way to London. Just hopping along with a tiny, toe-sized nap-sack. The two photos I sent in have drawn the unanimous conclusion that this is probably a recurrence of the same melanoma that started this whole sorry affair back in the day.

So, here we are again. Groundhog day, week, month, year. I have something black and cancerous under my toenail that needs removing, I have some medical treatment that may or may not deal with the cancer living inside me and I have a little boy who is insanely excited about a Friday afternoon dance party which is on his timetable for tomorrow afternoon. I am less thrilled given that his favourite two songs at the moment feature a bald man singing about a baked potato and singing stick insect from Hey Duggee. Then again, would I take that over not being there to dance with him or being stuck in a hospital ward and only having that experience over Facetime? Oh you bet your ass I would, every single day. Altogether now, “Stick, stick, stick, stick, sticky, sticky, stick, stick”.

THE NEW NORMAL #38 – FAITH, HOPE AND CHARITY

Right, change of plans everyone. One thing you get resignedly used to on the great cancer road trip is having to make detours, follow diversions and do a whole lot of waiting at temporary traffic lights. You know how I mentioned that we were going to head back and check out radiotherapy-town again? Well, actually, we’re going take the scenic route through a lovely little village called immunotherapy that I visited earlier this year because we might be upgrading to a nicer hotel in London. Right, this analogy had got out of hand, I’m going back in to straight talking mode. Sorry about that.

Essentially, I have taken the option of a second opinion from a doctor at Guy’s & St Thomas’ in London which might have the result in getting involved with a clinical trial. The trial is researching a new type of cellular treatment taking healthy cells from areas of my body that show high immunity and putting them in the affected area to do their worst (or best). I don’t know a huge amount about this treatment and there’s no guarantee that I’ll be suitable or that it will even work but I’m imagining it to be a little like when your goalkeeper gets sent off and you’ve run out of substitutions so you have to put your outfield player with the best goalkeeping skills in nets. Anyway, this means that I have to put radiotherapy to one side for now as starting that treatment would preclude me from being part of the trials and I have to have faith that someone in this medical chain knows what might be best for me. It might seem odd considering the number of blind alleys and wrong turns my medical journey has taken me on but if I don’t have faith in the medical professionals then who am I supposed to have faith in? Idris Elba? Madonna? John Craven?

All this brought me to the unexpected scenario of being allowed to break out of quarantine after 5 weeks to get a portion of immunotherapy and I was ready for anything – and by ready I mean racked with anxiety whilst wearing a face mask, a visor and two pairs of gloves with a packed lunch that my mum hastily put together for me because I’d left mine at home in the fridge (remember, I’m an actual adult). Now, Immunotherapy doesn’t hold any great fear for me as I’ve been through the process before but this time I had to go to the Nuffield facility across the road from the main hospital as all Oncology ‘action’ had moved up there. Driving there from my sleepy Cornish village felt like driving into a minefield of potential coronavirus infection so I did what any sane person would do – I turned the music up and locked all the doors on my car. Ain’t no Covid-19 punk gonna car jack me on the way to the hospital.  

The Nuffield felt more like I was going for an appointment with a solicitor than anything medical – there were carpets for crying out loud – but no sooner had I arrived that I was whisked up the stairs by the first of many masked nurses I was to meet today.  My temperature was taken by zapping my forehead (a new experience), my bloods were checked, and I was placed into a familiar chair in unfamiliar surroundings. The clever oncology folk had converted a space normally used as an operating theatre in to a chemo/immunotherapy treatment ward so, with excellent social distancing in place, four of us sat facing each other in a windowless room that felt as clean as if it had just been opened that day. Nevertheless, unwrapping my cheese and pickle sandwich to eat in an operating theatre that would normally be used for endoscopies and other such invasive procedures felt like I was ticking something off a particularly bizarre and very niche bucket list. On Eurotrash.

I always go into these sessions on a real high for some reason, I think the idea of getting drugs that give my body a boost feels like I’m legitimately taking steroids before the big game which is pretty exciting. This mood is usually boosted by my fellow cancer folk and the nurses who all help to make this as enjoyable an experience as possible but today was different for two distinct reasons. Firstly, although the nurses remained chipper and full of quality banter, the fact that every one of them was wearing a visor, a face mask and a bandana was particularly dehumanising. I can only imagine what having an army of these brave souls buzzing around you in ICU must be like but even the limited interactions I had felt a little like letting a group of very polite bank robbers stick needles in your arm while you make small talk. Also, an unexpected side-effect of the face masks is that everyone talks with a particularly nasal tone due to the pinching strips on the nose which, once you get over the idea that everyone has a cold, is actually pretty comical. Secondly, all the other patients were nervous. There was no chit-chat today, no gallows humour and certainly no banter which made for a much quieter and less convivial environment. You could see the grim, steely determination on the faces of all those having treatment and it’s a look I’ve only seen once before – on the faces of parents about to accompany their pre-teen children in to Primark with a “in, out, no messing about” vibe.

One thing that is still present, however, is the concept of hope. Despite the lock down, coronavirus, isolation and the general bleakness in the world at the moment, people wouldn’t come to Oncology if there wasn’t the slightest morsel of hope left rattling around at the bottom of their soul. The saying has always been “it’s the hope that kills you” but I am increasingly finding myself of the opinion that it’s the hope that keeps you alive – that and the cocktail of drugs I’m taking. And if the drugs start to fail then I know I can rely on an army of friends, family and acquaintances to share stories of their uncles, aunts, neighbours and the like who have defied the odds to live lives full of fun, meaning and, most importantly, a number of years rather than months.

Finally, I just wanted to take a moment to focus on the goodness of people. Throughout the past 5 weeks, I have, of course, had excellent support from the NHS who have recognised the difficult situation that I’m in and gone above and beyond to make sure I get everything I need. Beyond that, however, there have been so many excellent people starting with the numerous postal workers and delivery drivers involved in brining essential and non-essential items to our door. We have had numerous doughnuts, flowers, cards, 3 packs of top trumps, corned beef, tinned ham, booze, Easter eggs, the best Brownies in all the South West (thanks to the good folk at the Early Bird), a fully made up picnic and, well, inflatable reindeer horn hoopla. These gifts have come to us from family and friends which, at any other time, would make me feel uncomfortably like a charity case but I have learned to recognise the signs of people who genuinely want to help so now I just wave and say ‘thank you’ from a safe distance.

One question that gets asked alongside the handing over of well wishes and gifts is “how are you coping? How are you being so brave?” to which I smile and mumble something about just getting on with things. What I really want to say, however, so I’m saying it here is “I am not brave”. What people see from the outside is someone trapped in their house with an indefinitely short life span and no idea when they’re going to be able to see loved ones again. What I see from the inside is that I’ve got my family with me, I can speak with anyone I want or need to, and I have trained medical professionals working in my favour. Now, compare that with someone who has to work in an ICU every day while their children stay at home or someone who has to say their last goodbye to a loved one over the phone because they are too infectious. How about someone opening their small business to serve their local community with food or someone going out into the homes of the vulnerable to provide essential care? Or how about those coming out of retirement to serve the NHS or those travelling thousands of miles to work in a country where they aren’t fluent in the language just because they have the required skills to save lives. Those people are brave. Those people are coping. Those people are the stars of the show. The rest of us are just part of the chorus line so memorise your lines, learn your steps and stay the hell at home.

THE NEW NORMAL #37 – SCARED OF THE DARK

At some point in your life you will have been in a cupboard or a room or a wardrobe with no source of light and no concept of distance. Absolute pitch-black darkness that is as deep as it is claustrophobic and as vast as it is enveloping. For the past two weeks I have been in this proverbial wardrobe with my wife and it’s been a pretty horrible experience but today our eyes finally started to adjust and we could see the cracks of light seeping in through the cracks in the woodwork. Up until now it’s been all coat hangers in the eyes and questions like “what material is this?” and “When did you by a velour playsuit….Roland?”. But today the phone rang and there was something which, to our massively dilated pupils, looked a little like good news but don’t say it too loudly, you might scare it off.

Back in the real world (we haven’t really been in a wardrobe in case you were worried), what actually happened was that my oncologist called and offered the possibility of a way forward. There are still no clinical trials on offer at Derriford, the Royal Marsden or Christie’s due to ongoing Coronavirus efforts so the next option would appear to be returning to the world of Radiotherapy with the intention of shrinking the tumour that has set up home on my pancreas like some kind of squatter with a ghetto blaster and a UB40 greatest hits compilation (the worst kind of squatter). At present, the tumour has grown to a size of roughly 13x7x7cm which is roughly the same size as double cassette including the case and as much as I love my music I could really do without that growing in to a double CD or a bloody gatefold 12” concept album.

So, back I head to the laser table to have my pancreas zapped on a daily basis, probably some new tiny tattoos and a whole lot of feeling a little bit less than ideal. The added challenge to this level of the cancer game is that is that each time I go in to the hospital for treatment I’m going to have to run the Corona-gauntlet of trying to not pick up any infection while my immune system is jeopardised by the ongoing and aforementioned lasering. I’m considering getting some sort of Radiotherapy Onesie to wear for treatment which I can change in and out of in the hospital car park to avoid infection coming home with me – and to look a little bit sexy when I saunter in the Radiotherapy suite.

This news has given me some focus, a purpose which has been missing these last few weeks and that is a huge relief because, well, you wouldn’t like me without a purpose (you might not like me anyway, I’ve never ruled out the possibility of people tuning in to this blog just to find out when I shuffle off my mortal coil). Distraction tactics over the past fortnight have included gardening (lots), eating (too much), not drinking (just don’t fancy it), making dioramas with my large collection of Smurfs and desperately trying to order food online. I have played numerous games with my son, dispensed hundreds of bubbles from the front garden for no good reason, sighed at regular intervals and cried – boy have I cried. But then there have been moments of laughter and the laughter starts to outweigh the crying like goodies beating baddies in some last hurrah of a battle.

The adult part of me has been writing a will (essentially I’ve left everything to Anneka Rice but only if she can find it during the one hour immediately following my death using nothing but a helicopter and a series of obscure clues otherwise it all reverts to my wife and children), putting together a memory box for my little boy (initially this was just photos of me in various states of inebriation but I’ve managed to find some more meaningful items now), sorting out my finances so as not to leave a mess behind me and just generally trying to stay fit and well so that all of this will become laughably premature. I’m not particularly great at the whole ‘being an adult’ thing but it has been mildly reassuring to have something relatively positive to focus on with the idea of providing for my family in my absence being some kind of comfort. I’ve also made plans for some sort of a plaque and a flower patch in the local memorial gardens which means I’ll be close to the sea and in earshot of the pub so if you’re playing there and I’m not by the bar then turn the volume up a bit, will you?

One interesting aspect of all of this, of course, is that all of this is being played out in the new world order of Coronavirus which makes things both easier and more difficult. On the plus side, I’ve had nothing but time to spend with my wife and kids, a delivery of potatoes or mystery doughnuts feels like winning the lottery (not the full jackpot but at least 4 numbers) and the love via social media has been truly comforting in a way that is very hard to either fathom or explain. I’ve had recommendations for medicinal cannabis variations, advice from people who’ve been through similar with family members and contacts with medical experts that I wouldn’t have had access to were it not for the personal friendships I’ve built up over the years. All this from the comfort and beauty of my coastal home with seagulls squawking overhead and an overtly positive playlist looping on Spotify. If I’m going to go out, then I’m going out in a pretty idyllic place surrounded by people I love so it could be a whole lot worse.

So, here we are. Radiotherapy this way comes (Covid-19 or no Covid-19), there’s then the option of something a little more experimental but I’ll hold on to those details for now if you don’t mind and finally the challenge of preparing myself and the rest of the family the worst case scenario (e.g. Anneka Rice solving all the clues in an hour and turfing them out of the family home whilst rifling mercilessly through my extensive music collection). For now, I just wake up every day and run through a checklist of potential ailments (has my pancreas exploded? Do I have a dry cough? Have any of my legs fallen off? Any? That should be either probably) which, assuming everything is OK then leads to the standard blood test, two insulin shots, six tablets and remembering to get dressed even though nobody outside my house will see me for a good while yet. All the time wondering which one of the C words will burst through the wardrobe doors first – cancer, coronavirus or cure.

Or Columbo. I only mention the diminutive detective because I have to mention “one last thing”. A few months ago, a friend and I came up with the idea of doing a podcast called ‘It’s Your Funeral’ and, a few weeks ago, we finally got around to recording it in his garage. The idea is to discuss what you want from your funeral and death experience with a bit of humour, some music and the breaking down of a few taboos around the one thing the binds us all together. It seemed a little too ‘on the money’ two weeks ago but having had a listen I think it actually helps so have a listen and see what you think. All being well we might do some more episodes but, unfortunately, we only have one microphone and it’s in Simon’s garage so, for now, we’ll wait.

It’s Your Funeral: https://soundcloud.com/sizzlebotiot/its-your-funeral-pilot/s-QtGPzvLu5Sp?fbclid=IwAR0lkw6TUfqNi5N-P-HNZHwDUSrvRxxf3rdovaBy6KGRLpUGyHZpdev1MVs