Goodbye To My Little Brother (Part 2)

Llyr

Okay. Deep breaths.

This is the story of me and the dude up there that I have affectionately referred to as ‘my little brother’ for years now. When I finally publish this, I’ll have lost track of how many drafts I’ll have written, hated and discarded.

What I hope is that what follows does my best friend Llŷr justice.

What I know is that I will have been a howling mess of snot and tears on several points through it.

It’s a story that I wish I’d written ages ago, after he gave me his blessing to write about him, and while he was still around to actually read it.

Whilst I’ve mentioned Llŷr many times, until my last post I’d never mentioned his actual illness, because I knew he didn’t want it to define him, and I wanted to respect that. I want to remember him how he was too.

I got his consent two years ago, when we shared a hotel room at a friend’s wedding. He’d want me to tell you it was twin beds, not a double, but it wasn’t. He’d definitely want me to stress there were no shenanigans though, no “those aren’t pillows!” moments:

The wedding just happened to fall on the same weekend as his 40th birthday. Typically Llŷr refused to let us properly celebrate his milestone birthday as he didn’t want to steal the limelight from the happy couple.

But him reaching forty was something to celebrate, more so than anyone else I knew, and so I started writing this post.

But much as I tried to, I couldn’t find the right words.

Nothing seemed appropriate, didn’t do him justice, just didn’t seem right. So I put it on the back burner, resolving to return to it once I’d had chance to mull things over some more.

And now it’s too late for him to read it.

On Friday I went to his memorial service and then the reception. Note: not a wake. As you might expect, there were many tears, hugs and embraces, but also many smiles and laughs amid much swapping of stories and memories; there was singing, there was dancing, there was a lot of drinking, oh-so-many glasses clinked together in his name.

He would have loved it.

*****

So I thought I’d explain how Llŷr and I became such good friends. Truth be told, we were thrown together by circumstance.

I had been living with a bloke I knew from college days, who found he was about to be a father and decided that my bedroom would be much better deployed as a nursery, which definitely did not require a sponging, chain-smoking lodger residing in it.

Hint taken, I promptly moved out, and found myself a flat in the Grangetown area of Cardiff. It was the first time I’d ever lived alone, and I greatly enjoyed being able to eat what I wanted when I wanted without disapproving looks from housemates, or watch whatever I liked on TV. And if I wanted to watch TV in just my underwear, I could, without anyone either judging me or dry-wretching at the sight in the same way as you are at the image now in your mind.

Around the same time, Llŷr found himself in a similar situation; he had been lodging with Richie, a chap who I had worked with years earlier in the video shop, who now worked at the same insurance company as we did, and who also suddenly found fathership was impending. Llŷr moved out and got himself a flat on the same side of the river as me and which just so happened to be about five minutes walk from my flat.

We knew nobody else who lived in this area of Cardiff, and so consequently, united in our ostricisation, we started spending more and more time in each other’s company, usually at his flat, partly because it had central heating (a fact I had failed to consider when moving into mine), partly because Llŷr didn’t live under the permanent shadow of the electricity going off as I did (as I had to pre-pay via a meter which only accepted discontinued fifty pence pieces which I had to purchase from my landlord) , but mostly because Llŷr had an absolute treasure trove of a collection of popular culture for us to feast on.

Firstly, a mountain of vinyl, some of the most ludicrous but still somehow cool records you’ve ever seen. A gatefold Bay City Rollers album, you say? Ordinarily, not fussed. But somehow, imbued with Llŷr’s consent, such things seemed cool.

Secondly, an absolute wall of video tapes, all crammed with stuff he had taped off the TV. This was manna from heaven for me, and most nights I was there I would just sit back, drink beer and smoke whilst he fast forwarded through another VHS to find the next good bit he had captured.

Now, I’ve always been a bit of a hoarder myself when it comes to popular culture, but my VHS taped-from-TV collection pretty much ends at a load of clips from Top of the Pops or any other music show. Llŷr, however, took it to another level.

I will never forget the night that we drunkenly watched – several times – footage from The Big Breakfast he had taped, where some blokes from shouty-not-very-good-indie band Reef played that game where you place your forehead on a broom, run round it several times then try to run a short obstacle course, inevitably falling over in a dizzy mess. The night ended with both of us taking it in turns to lay on our back in his living room, trying (with an impressive degree of success) to light our own beery farts.

I had just turned thirty and I felt like a teenager again.

Llŷr suggested us sharing a place and initially I was resistant. I was thirty, and had finally got a flat of my own. To start sharing again felt like a step backwards.

And then the bills at my flat started becoming a bit much, and suddenly it felt like a good idea to be splitting them with someone.

We went to visit a couple of female friends of ours, who rented a ground-floor flat back in Cathays, the cooler studenty-area of Cardiff. They just happened to be moving out and were looking for someone to take the flat off their hands. Llŷr floated the idea of us sharing a flat again, and this time I jumped at it.

We became inseparable. On the rare occasions that he went out without me, he would come home telling me everyone had been asking where I was, and I found the reverse to be true. We very briefly discussed that perhaps everyone thought we were “a couple”, dismissed the idea, and decided that we didn’t really care what anyone else thought anyway.

The flat, pristine and beautiful when we moved in, fell into decay because we behaved exactly as you would expect two lazy blokes to behave. Shall we do a bit of housekeeping, or watch some more utter tat on the telly? Telly it is!

I’ll never forget the night a couple of female friends came back to ours for a drink; one went to the bathroom, and when she hadn’t returned some twenty minutes later and we went to check she was okay, we found her scrubbing our bath with bleach because it was so grim. Llŷr’s reaction: “Oh, have we got bleach?”, which pretty much sums up our distant relationship with keeping the flat clean.

Initially we just had the sofa in the living room – part of the features and fittings when we moved in – to sit on, but at some point we added to the furniture by retrieving a knackered old arm-chair somebody had thrown out onto the street. Under cover of darkness, we dragged it into the flat one night only to find that the springs had all gone; still, stick an upturned washing-up bowl (it wasn’t required for any other purpose in the house of filth) underneath it and it worked just fine. But Llŷr made it very clear: this had been my idea, so the scuzzy armchair was mine, the sofa was his. Fair enough.

While we lived together, my re-education really began.

It was Llŷr who reminded me, in my early thirties, that it’s absolutely fine to like pop records, and there’s nothing to be embarrassed about in doing so.

See that “There’s No Such Thing As A Guilty Pleasure” tagline? It simply wouldn’t be there were it not for Llŷr.

I’ll go further. Without that little seed sown, I wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it. He told me many times that he really loved that I do this, regularly left grateful comments or sent me encouraging messages about something I’d posted, and once told me that he wanted to start writing something himself: you know, like younger brothers often do, to impress their older sibling.

It may seem glib or inappropriate to post tunes now, but everyone who knew him would agree that Llŷr was all about the music. There’s a multitude of songs I could post which will always remind me of him. It’s impossible to choose just one.

OK. Here’s one. To start.

One night in a bar in Cardiff, Llŷr got into an argument with a friend who dared to be dismissive of Kelly Clarkson, of all people. Llŷr wasn’t having that: just because she’d won American Idol did not automatically mean that her songs were awful. He was right, of course. This is a belter:

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Kelly Clarkson – Since U Been Gone

And then there’s the night, in a different bar, when he defended his love for Energy 52‘s ‘Cafe Del Mar’ to another long-standing friend by pointing out that it really didn’t matter if a tune had no words, as long it sounded great and didn’t sound like whoever the friend’s favourite song was by. If ever there was a tune which makes me think of Llŷr, that’s it.

All of which makes Llŷr sound a right argumentative bugger, but he really wasn’t. Passionate, yes. Persuasive, yes. And generally right.

Llŷr and I lived together for four or five years, and I can only think of one occasion that we argued in all that time. The disputed subject was telling: the BBC had announced the winner of American Idol before ITV had shown the final; he couldn’t believe the Beeb had broken that bond of trust, whilst I couldn’t believe he thought the BBC wouldn’t do whatever it deemed necessary to prevent their audience from watching a rival channel, even if it was only ITV2. I still think I was right, but I wish I hadn’t been.

We were once asked to DJ for an hour or so at a friend’s wedding. Suffering a crisis of confidence, I suggested that he did the actual DJ’ing bit and I’d just pass him the records he wanted. Llŷr was having none of it: he might play the records, but we would jointly decide what was played.

We agreed on this, and the dance floor went wild:

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Girls Aloud – Love Machine

The actual DJ for the night gave us his business card and asked us to call him if we ever wanted any work. We never did. We didn’t need him.

Then there’s the night my parents visited Cardiff, and stayed at our flat. We all went out to eat, came back to the flat, and after my Mum had gone to bed, Llŷr and my Dad bonded over obscure records by none other than (who else?) Edward Woodward. Llŷr had something by him on vinyl. Of course he did.

About a week later, I received a parcel through the post. It was a load of Max Boyce records my Dad owned on vinyl, burnt off onto CDs. The post-it note attached made it very clear that they were not meant for me, but for Llŷr. They’d discussed him at length, apparently. That was the effect he had on people: they immediately wanted to share things with him and be part of his story.

He was perfectly happy to admit when he liked something that you really wouldn’t have expected him to. The term “eclectic music taste” was probably devised to describe him. Which also meant that if you told him you liked a band that he didn’t like, or knew little about, he would want to understand the appeal, and would go off and investigate for himself.

We never quite saw eye-to-eye on R.E.M., who I love but he was generally indifferent to. They played Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium on their tour to promote their not-very-good Around The Sun album. We went to see them, me as the uber-fan, he as the curious outsider. He’d done his research of the band’s discography in advance, which had led him to one tune by them that he really loved.

Llŷr (at the gig, in between songs): Do you reckon they’ll play it, Jez?

Me: Nah, they won’t play that one. They never do.

Llŷr: Are you sure, Jez?

Me: Yup. Won’t happen.

Llŷr: A tenner says they do.

Me: Deal.

Llŷr: (as the band crashed into the opening chords of the song in question): Shall we stop at a cash machine on the way home?

I later found out that in advance of the gig, he had checked the set-list for all of the gigs the band had already done on the tour, and knew bloody well they’d be playing it.

This one:

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R.E.M. – These Days

(I learned at the memorial service on Friday that he’d played a very similar prank on his younger sister, Sian, when they were kids, this time tricking her out of her pocket-money by getting her to bet on a horse in the Grand National, a race where he miraculously managed to pick the winner. Unbeknownst to Sian, the race had happened hours earlier, he already knew the result, whilst she was betting on the highlights.)

Another case in point: he and Hel (his older sister, also often mentioned on these pages) went to Glastonbury in 2009, a year I didn’t manage to get a ticket for.

2009 just happened to be the year that my much beloved Status Quo played on the Sunday morning. The two of them went to watch them (because they knew I’d be really annoyed with them if they didn’t), and I got a text from Llŷr at some point that day telling me that they’d played Mean Girl, a song that, whilst he wasn’t at all bothered about anything else they’d ever done, he had found for himself and loved.

My response, articulately put and spread over a number of texts, was along the lines of:

“They never play that! They never played that. Did they play that? Tell me you’re joking. No. They didn’t play that.”

Come the edited highlights on BBC4 later that day, I had to eat my proverbial hat.

You think I’d learn, wouldn’t you? Still, at least no money changed hands this time.

He never let me forget that. Ever. You know, like smart ass little brothers don’t let you forget stuff like that.

Sorry, I have to post this while I have a little cry:

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Status Quo – Mean Girl

Just to be clear: I’m not claiming that as a result of knowing me he suddenly loved R.E.M. and Status Quo. Far from it: he saw I loved them, gave them a listen, and decided he liked precisely one song by each.

Then there was the time that I won two tickets to go and see Gene play at Clwb Ifor Bach; initially he was dismissive as Sian had been a member of their fan club when she was much younger (so he told me, citation needed) and he had – as older brothers are supposed to – mercilessly ripped the piss out of her for it.

But he came with me anyway, and left the gig buzzing, telling me that his opinion had changed, asking to borrow all of my Gene records, but making me swear I’d never tell Sian, of his conversion. Well, I managed it until now…

There’s one song by Gene the title of which would be sadly, horribly appropriate for me to post here, but I can’t bear to listen to it, so instead a song the opening lines of which we both felt a great affinity with:

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Gene – Sick, Sober and Sorry

And then everything changed forever.

One Sunday, when Sian – who had been sofa-surfing at ours for a couple of weeks and, moving into her own flat the next day, had offered to take us out for a Sunday lunch somewhere as a “thank you” for letting her stay – suddenly, scarily, started banging on my bedroom door, imploring that I come help quickly.

Something was happening to Llŷr.

He had gone to the bathroom to clean his teeth, and had started having some kind of fit. I emerged to find him on his back on the bathroom floor, seemingly unconscious, frothing at the mouth.

I sent Sian off to the front of the house where phone reception was better to call an ambulance. But now what to do? Having taken control of the situation, I had to do something. Remembering films I’d seen, where this sort of thing happened, I threw water on Llŷr, believing that would snap him out of it.

It didn’t, of course, but by the time the paramedics arrived, his fit had ended. They asked why his hair and T-shirt was all wet, a question which Llŷr himself asked as he was lifted into the ambulance.

I looked sheepish. “Threw some water on you. Thought it might work. Sorry.”

I kicked my heels and felt sheepish.

I love the NHS. But that Sunday in Cardiff they were completely overwhelmed. We spent hours waiting to be seen and then, when he finally was, as I recall, the seizures having stopped hours earlier, they gave him a quick once over, resolved all was okay, and sent him home with an instruction to take a day or two off work.

Back at the flat, we ordered Chinese food and Llŷr made us both promise not to tell his parents. Neither Sian nor I were happy about it, but we respected his wish. Okay, we can convince ourselves that was a one-off.

I took the next day off work as a precaution too. Llŷr’s dad was due to visit to collect Sian, and since we didn’t want him to know what a shit-hole we lived in, or that Sian had stayed in, we pledged to clean the flat before he arrived.

Llŷr went off to clean the bathroom, and since this was where his last incident had happened, I was wary. Just take it easy, I said, and if you get into difficulties, just holler.

Ten minutes, later there was a crashing noise from the bathroom. I, stupidly, assumed he was having a laugh at my expense.

“Llŷr, are you okay?” I called.

No answer.

“Llŷr..?”

Still nothing.

“Okay, I’m coming, but you’d better be properly ill and not winding me up or I’m going to kill you myself”. Funny how words said in jest can come back to haunt you.

I found Llŷr laying on his side, having fortuitously landed in something approaching the recovery position, having another fit.

Reassuring words spoken. Ambulance called, again.

And this time, a much-needed stay in hospital.

When he was discharged, I hated leaving him at home alone for fear of anything happening whilst I was out, but he was insistent. Before he became ill, Llŷr and I often went clubbing together, and he was adamant that I should carry on even though he no longer could. Unsaid, I think he wanted to live vicariously through me, for whenever I went out clubbing he would be waiting up when I got home, eager to hear who had been out, and more importantly, what tunes had been played. I could remember the former, rarely the latter. And so we devised a system: if I was out, he just had to text me a code word – and I would come home.

And so fast forward a few weeks. I met some friends in a bar in Cardiff, heading club-wards. They offered me some coke, which I declined. Seconds later my phone rang, and it was Llŷr. I answered, but could just hear a gurgling noise from the other end.

Fuck.

I ran home, passing people I knew through clubbing who were very surprised to see me run, and found Llŷr laying on the living room floor, in the final throes of another fit.

Nerves calmed – “I’m here, it’s going to be okay” – ambulance called.

Shortly afterwards, Llŷr was diagnosed with a brain tumour which was causing the seizures. He was given medication to stop them happening, but tragically the tumour was inoperable.

And that was fourteen years ago.

Fourteen years. Fourteen years where he has struggled and coped and fought and never once did I ever hear him complain. He knew the cards he had been dealt, accepted it but refused to let it define him, refused to let it stop him from doing whatever he wanted to do for as long as he could. He would still go to gigs, would still go to Glastonbury, and no annoying thing living in his head was going to stop him.

I wish I could say I’d react the same. I can’t say that I would. Who knows. But what I do know is that despite his restricted capabilities, Llŷr carried on regardless. Like he knew his time was limited and he was going to make sure he continued enjoying every second he had left.

Much as I may try here, I can’t properly express my admiration for him and the way he insisted on conducting himself.

And now Llŷr has left us, and there’s a gaping hole in my life where he used to be which nobody can ever fill.

Never again will we go to an indie club and do our little joke to each other where we would sing along to a record but take a swig of our drink when it gets to a lyric we don’t quite know (which we found so much funnier than I just made that sound).

Never again will we get to play “French, or Student?”, a game we devised – and even made up a theme tune to, nicked from Raw Sex’s musical enunciation of French & Saunders. The game was that when out at an indie club, one of us would stand behind someone who was dressed like they could be French or could be a Student, and the other had to guess which they were. Again, you probably had to be there.

Never again will I be able to text him the word “Pennoes!” and know he would be watching the same football match as me.

Never again will I have to worry about him spilling the beans on some of the more embarrassing moments that happened when we lived together. Never again will I be able to buy his silence with the threat of an equally unsavoury  tale.

Never again will we go to a Super Furry Animals gig together, as we did countless times, and laugh with each other as we basked in our self-perceived glory when we air-drummed the fill after the bridge on this tune, which we did every time, without fail, much to the bemusement and confusement of anyone who was with us:

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Super Furry Animals – Slow Life

Never again.

All of these records – and so, so many more – will always make me think of Llŷr.

They are ours.

Not past tense. Are. Not were.

For whilst he may be gone, they’re here with me now, as he will be whenever I hear them, for as long as I’m still breathing through these knackered old lungs of mine. I’ve felt him at my shoulder as I’ve written every word of this: “Oh Jeremy, don’t tell that story…and pick that tune…no, not that one, that one.” He’s gone, but he’s not, because I, and every person who ever met him, remember him as the most joyous, loveable, force of life you could ever hope to meet.

I’m honoured to have known Llŷr, to be able to call him my friend, my best friend, my little brother, and to know that would be reciprocated.

Dude, I miss you already. I always will.

There’s so many things I feel sad about. Selfishly, that my own recent illness robbed me of a couple of visits to see him, that I didn’t get chance to say goodbye to him properly.

Unselfishly, for you, my friend; for the battle you had, for all of the normal things one expects a life to deliver that you were robbed of, for the opportunities and experiences you’ll never have.

And angry at how terribly, terribly unfair it is that you’ve been taken from us.

Sleep easy, dude, you deserve a rest. We’ll all love you forever. We’ll never forget you. And I will forever try to be the man you should still be.

*****

The final hymn at the memorial service on Friday was this, a song I have heard many times before, usually in the build-up to a Welsh rugby match. It never fails to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. But never before had I heard it sung so beautifully, so passionately, as it was on Friday:

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The Treorchy Male Voice Choir – Cwm Rhondda (Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah/Bread of Heaven)

I warned you: here come the snot and tears again.

*****

Sian is running the London Marathon this year, raising funds for The Brain Tumor Charity. As I write this, she has smashed her target of £5000.00 – but that’s not a cut-off point. It would please me, and Llŷr’s family and friends, immensely if you could see your way to contributing, no matter how large or small an amount, so that one day, maybe, a family doesn’t have to go through what Llŷr and his family have had to.

If you’ve read this far a) well done, b) thank you, and c) please click the link below and read Sian’s words about Llŷr. They were written before he passed, but she says it way better – and, crucially, more concisely – than I have. But be warned, I’ve just read it again and I’m bawling my eyes out. Again.

 

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More soon.

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A Surprise Discharge

There’s not much more to tell you about my time in hospital, or rather there’s very little left that I can wring a bit of humour and/or a tune or two out of. So I’m going to rattle through the rest of the incidents of note and wrap things up.

Firstly, there’s something I omitted to tell you; in between the nurse’s call to my folks and them walking in on me mid-grease, there is some news as to what exactly I’m still doing there.

The nursing staff remain concerned about my vomiting episode. It is thought that I may have a tear ‘somewhere’ which has led to any liquid I’ve consumed to fall into places not intended to store liquid (you’ll let me know if I get too technical, won’t you?). I am to remain on a water only diet for the time being.

Added to that, and more definitively, on a couple of occasions, it has been observed that I get short of breath rather easily. Test results are now back in and I am told I have a pulmonary embolism, which is a blood-clot on my (left) lung to you and me. As a result, I am placed on a oxygen mask, which makes talking to my parents when they visit rather difficult.

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Radiohead – My Iron Lung

For the record, I am not placed on an iron lung, but this post needs breaking up a little bit and I can’t think of any other songs which are even vaguely appropriate.

Although, maybe this:

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The Sweet – Love is Like Oxygen

or perhaps..

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JJ72 – Oxygen

In other news, in a conversation with one of the consultants, I am told that my “sepsis is now under control”. This is a condition which has never been mentioned before and doesn’t crop up again; I assume at the time it is to do with the alarm over my blood tests which first led me to hospital, but it is also omitted from my discharge report.

However, a little research tells me that sepsis is not necessarily, as I thought, a blood problem, it’s a serious complication of an infection, which, if untreated, can lead to multiple organ failure and death. Not so funny anymore, right?

Symptoms of sepsis include:

  • a high temperture
  • chills and shivering
  • fast heartbeat
  • fast breathing

…all of which I have presented with or complained about at some point during my admission and stay in hospital.

Although it’s not specifically mentioned in my discharge papers, it seems pretty clear to me that the alarm the hospital showed when they got my blood tests back just before I was admitted was because I probably had sepsis due to the pulmonary embolism.

(After I’m discharged, I go to stay with my parents for a week or so, to convalesce. During that time, various family members visit me, including an aunt who for many years was a nurse, and whose opinion is often unwanted, but on this occasion is gratefully received. She reads my discharge papers, and mentions that it was a pumonary embolism that killed my grandmother. Later, she sends me a message where she mentions me having had a “near-death experience.” I show it to my mother, and flippantly comment that she’s exaggerating things a tad. “No,” says my mother, “I don’t think you realise how serious things were.” Having done the research, I get it now.)

No clever song for this bit, so you can let it sink in just as I did.

Oh ok, maybe one:

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The Housemartins – Think For A Minute

For the rest of the week,  friends visit: Hel, Kay and Ian on Monday; Richie on Tuesday, Jo on Wednesday. It’s absolutely love to see them, to know friends are true friends concerned for my well-being (that’s not to sound like I’m dissing those who didn’t visit; I got texts from everyone who knew I was in hospital asking how I’m doing and wishing me well). I am snowed under with fruit, magazines, books and an ipod charger.

This last thing is essential as by Monday evening I’ve decided that the in-house entertainment leaves a lot to be desired. There is a television in my room, attached to one of those moveable crane-arms. But here’s the thing: you can only watch the terrestial channels (which is fair enough, I suppose a Sky subscription is a little too much to ask of a cash-strapped NHS), and you can only watch those between 7am and midday.

My morning routine now includes catching the end of the BBC’s Breakfast show (I’m ill, but not so ill that I’d choose to watch Piers Morgan on ITV), followed by a progam about celebrities tracing family members who fought in the First World War, followed by Homes Under The Hammer (seriously: what is former Manchester United striker Dion Dublin doing on that show?), followed by the first fifteen minutes of some sort of ‘criminals caught on CCTV’ show, hosted by short-arse slaphead do-gooder Dom Littlewood, and then the screen is filled with a message asking me to purchase credits if I wish to keep watching.

I pay my TV licence, and I pay my National Insurance contributions, so I feel a little put out by this demand. I decide I’m not sufficiently obsessed with Bargain Hunt or Flog It! to pay for (what I consider to be) a third time for the privilege of watching them. Thankfully, the radio is free, but none of the digital channels are provided as options. No 6Music then. I end up listening to Radio 2 from mid-day onwards, to idiots calling in to Jeremy Vine, and then Steve Wright, who I find hasn’t changed since the last time I listened to his show, around thirty years ago on the bus home from sixth form (this is not a recommendation).

Alarmingly, repeated exposure means I find myself quite liking the new Michael Buble single. Ipod it is then.

Over the course of the week, I have some physiotherapy, designed to help me walk better again. This is more because I have been laid up and have not actually used my legs for days, rather than addressing the pain, loss of strength and grip in both my hands. But still, on the second session, I progress from standing and walking from my bed to the door, to completing a circuit of the hosiptal floor.

Rem Murmur demos

R.E.M. – We Walk

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Helen Shapiro – Walkin’ Back to Happiness

On the Wednesday morning, I go to have a scan on my left arm, to see whether or not I have a blood clot there too. As I am wheeled out of my room, my physiotherapist happens to stroll by. He tells me that he probably won’t come to see me again today (as we had arranged) but he would definitely be back before I am discharged. He gives me the impression this is not going to be soon, that there’s no real rush, and that I’ll be here until the weekend at least.

Back in my room, I’m visited by a consultant who rather sheepishly tells me that they may have lost the results of the biopsies they did the week before. I think she is expecting me to kick off, but it’s not in my nature.

“Ah well, these things happen,” I say. “So you’ll need to do them again, I suppose?”

She looks at me, somewhat surprised.

“If we can’t find them, yes. We have got somebody going through all of the results trying to find them, though. I must say,” she adds,”you’re taking this very well.”

“Well, what’s the point in getting angry about it?” I reason. “It’s not going to make the results magic themselves back into existence. It’s an admin error, as far as I’m concerned, and I’m always blaming admin for things going missing at work, so I can’t really complain when I’m on the receiving end, can I?”

But the following day, before I can have any more physiotherapy, or find out whether my biopsy results have been located, I am told I am to be discharged. Given everything that has been said or alluded to previously, this comes as a bit of a surprise. But several hours later, after a lot of paperwork is completed (the discharge report lists not just the pulmonary embolism and the vomiting event, but also tells me I had pneumonia. As far as I can recall, this is the first time this has been mentioned during my stay) and I have been given a load of medication and creams and strict instructions about how to use at least one of them, I am waiting outside for a taxi.

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Simon & Garfunkel – Homeward Bound

And that’s it.

But.

I can’t leave it hanging there, so let’s rewind a few days.

It’s just after my first session that my physiotherapist suggests the catheter should be removed so that I can build my strength up by actually having to get out of bed to go to the toilet. The day before, I had summoned the nurse and advised her that having not had a bowel movement of the solid variety for several days, the urge was now not quite overhwelming or urgent, but certainly imminent. She provides me with a bedpan, offers to help me position myself upon it (“No thanks!”) and then leaves me to my own devices.

I climb on board.

Have you ever tried to use a bed-pan? It’s really difficult. For although you know that everything is in place to catch whatever emerges, your mind remains resolute.

“You learned a long time ago”, it says, “that having a shit in your bed really isn’t the done thing.” I’m not Spud from Trainspotting, for God’s sake. I have control.

And so my body resists, and I have to ease myself back off the bed-pan and admit defeat, mission unaccomplished, .

The next day the catheter is removed. Just so you know, it hurt more coming out that it did going in. Ouchies.

And the combination of these two events (the failure to crap, and the begrudging knowledge that I now have to get up to pee) leaves me with a song in my head, the title of which explains my thought process now I have to actually get up to perfom my daily ablutions in a normal way:

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Slim Whitman – I’ll Never Pass This Way Again

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

The post-Berry R.E.M. albums generally get a fairly bad press, and there’s a reason for that: they’re mostly nowhere near as great as what had come before then.

But to write them off completely is madness, for each of them has one or two absolute jewels hidden away: there’s usually something just drop dead gorgeous, and/or which fits the jangly guitar template of their earlier records.

Tonight’s record falls into the former category, a song I’m really rather surprised I haven’t already posted. I was torn whether to plump for the album version or the demo version which pops up as an extra track on the lead single from that album, Imitation of Life. But since I’ve just banged on about hidden jewels on their later albums, I guess album version it is.

As with many of their piano-led tracks, this is quite lovely:

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R.E.M. – Beat A Drum

More soon.

Ba Ba Ba Ba-Ba Ba Ba Ba

When listening to today’s track, try to ignore that this cover version of an old Troggs record was purportedly the inspiration for Wet Wet Wet releasing a bloody horrible version themselves in 1994, which stayed at #1 in the UK charts for 15 weeks until the band finally put us out of our misery by deleting the record from sale.

Instead, think about what a different band R.E.M. would have been if Mike Mills had sung lead vocals more often (I can only think of two others where he does: Near Wild Heaven and Texarkana, both from Out of Time). And then realise why that is, when Michael Stipe’s backing vocals really swoop in towards the end of this:

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R.E.M. – Love Is All Around

More soon.

Mock the Weak

Back in 1983, when I was at secondary school, there was a General Election.

To provide some context, the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher had swept to power in 1979. Labour were led by Michael Foot, portrayed by the press as a scruffy ultra-left threat to national security Communist (sound familiar?). The Social Democratic Party (SDP) had formed in 1981, but had not yet established itself as the third main party; that would take a rebranding or two before the name Liberal Democrats finally stuck.

The Falklands War Conflict had finished. Unemployment was high, but about to get higher. The Miners’ Strike was on the horizon.

My school, deep in the Tory homeland of Cambridgeshire (John Major was our MP, which gives you some idea) decided that they would hold a mock election, and my year was designated the year who would form the political parties to battle it out.

And so it was that one day in our English class (we didn’t have a Politics class), we were randomly split into groups, asked to decide which political party we were going to be, and instructed to prepare a manifesto and speech which we would have to present to the rest of the year, who would then vote.

We could act as one of the established parties, in which case our manifesto had to accurately represent that of the party we were emulating. Or, we could make up our own party, party name, manifesto and speech.

The class were separated out into groups of four people, and it soon became very apparent in my group of wallflowers that the person who would have to stand up and make the speech was going to be me. Which led me to insist on complete artistic control, that I would have the final say over which party we were to represent, what was in our manifesto, and what we were going to say in our speech.

The other three in my group realised this was a perfect opportunity for them to do absolutely nothing, so basically left me to it. All they had to do was stand on stage behind me as I made my speech, look supportive, and remind me not to speak too fast.

And so, I decided we would be an all-new party, and wrote a manifesto and speech which was basically a satire of the Conservative Party’s. I can remember very little of it now; however, since I wasn’t particularly politically engaged back then, at the age of 13,  I banked on very few of my year-mates having either watched or remembered BBC sketch show ‘Not The Nine O’clock News’, pinched a few gags from that and padded it out with a few of my own in the same vein. The only (stolen) joke I used that I can recall was one about increasing the age one had to be to receive a pension, and axing benefits for the disabled, because it made sense to attack those who were unable or unlikely to fight back. All strangely prescient in these days of Universal Credit, it seems.

On the day of the actual general election, my year trooped into the school hall, where each “party leader” took it in turns to stand behind the lectern and deliver their speech.

When it was my turn, I was terrified. I’d had to talk to large rooms full of people  before (at junior school, I was often given the role of Narrator in the school play because I could read), but never before (with one notable exception, which I’ll tell you about sometime) had I read out something I had written myself, even if much of it was plagiarised. My eyes never left my A4 pad. I read at a frantic speed. My fellow party members were lined up behind me. One of them, Robbie Watson, leant forwards and hissed “Slow down, mate” in my ear. I slowed down. And managed to get some laughs from the audience.

I left the stage, glowing with pride, back appreciatively slapped by my comrades.

We came second, losing by a handful of votes. To the Conservatives, of course. I’m used to it by now.

But whilst I can’t recall much of the detail of the manifesto or speech, I’ve never forgotten the name I came up with for my pretend political party: the Northern Irish Political Party to Lead the English.

Or, the N.I.P.P.L.E. Party, for short.

I imagine you can work out why I was reminded of that this week.

Here’s a song:

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R.E.M. – World Leader Pretend (Live “Tourfilm” Version)

Dear Theresa. Can I have my £1 billion now please? I promise to support you. Except on the occasions when I don’t want to.

More soon.

Wem-ber-ley

It’s a big day for me today.

I’m off to Wembley Stadium for the first time ever, with my old mate Rich, to see my beloved Spurs play European Champions Real Madrid.

Until the away leg two weeks ago, I had no real hopes at all of us getting anything out of either game, but a frankly heroic draw away from home gives me just the slightest glimmer of hope that tonight may be something special.

At the very least, after tonight I will be able to say that I’ve seen one or all of the following (injuries permitting) play: Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Dele Alli, Harry Kane.

Two songs whose titles sum up how I feel today. Firstly, an obvious one:

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The Candyskins – Wembley

And then, from a much maligned, wrongly so in my opinion, album:

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R.E.M. – Hope

COYS as they say on that there Twitter.

If I go all quiet and moody after tonight, you’ll know why.

More soon.