Tuesday, March 27, 2007

On the up swing now!

My little patio garden looks pretty and slightly "just-out-of-bed" dishevelled as it emerges from winter. The Christmas cacti has remained unscathed by the cold snaps and I have counted so far 373 dead heads that have dropped off and there are still as many to come. It has been flowering since Christmas – the blooms lasting way longer in the cold than they used to when I was able to stagger indoors with the pot. This morning there is wintry sunshine and a faint spring rustling of the evergreen leaves and a lone insect floating about. Mr Blackbird has just arrived and I have thrown him a small handful of Waitrose mixed seeds and he can’t believe his luck and is now pecking furiously before he is disturbed - eating for England - he is even faster than me!! Mrs Blackbird will get the news later and both will be back for more. I have run out of grapes which they really love but this will make a nice change for them.

My small house is full! All three rooms are let to people who have become friends. Ulla Lagoni just arrived from Denmark and we have had a cup of tea and a chat. She has been here several times before. She is a dead ringer for Doris Day at 60 and a positive and fun person. Then there is Flavien from the South of France. He is a sweet boy of 22 and here to study English while he decides what he wants to do. He goes to school in the mornings and has just got a job at the Local Fulham Vue Cinema complex which he is very excited about. Sometimes when we girls go out on Saturday we find him taking the tickets and make a big fuss of him. He arrived as a rather lost and timid young man but he has blossomed whilst he has been here and it is lovely to see him looking happy. Yesterday Oxana arrived from Moscow. She is a very pretty and dynamic Film maker. Her company makes background films for use in videos and movies. If you wanted a shot of fire, or a waterfall, for instance Oxana would provide it. She is a bubbly 26 year old and happy to be back and has made friends with Flavien already. So we now have a very cosmopolitan household with a mixture of French, Danish, Russian, English, Scottish (moi) with a Moroccan cleaner, a Bulgarian lady who irons a Polish odd job man and an Italian son in law!

Naughtiness seems to have turned the corner, thank God, though he has to wait for final results of his chest X-ray before he can relax. It’s wonderful to hear him sounding better and his old cheerful funny-story-telling self again.

I am beginning to look really well. My eyes have cleared and are bright again and my skin feels good. I am eating much more healthily and taking supplements and exercising with power plate. There will no stopping me when I get over the fatigue that follows chemo!

Had a hectic weekend. First I went to stay with my old friend Annie de la Grange in her new house in Marshfield, Gloucestershire. I was driven down by Kerry (kind uncle) who had also been invited in his smart maroon jaguar. We are both Godparents to Ann’s oldest son Max and have all been friends since we were 17. It was lovely to see Annie again and her lovely new home which is still in process. Wonderful food as usual, a great walk in rolling country fields with no habitation in sight; lunch and a swim at the very swish Lorcum club, and a Mother’s Day service on Sunday morning where Annie and I read the 1st lesson and then giggled through a children’s hymn about a wiggly worm, each event interspersed by my taking a nap. Still very fatigued but it was a delicious rest in fresh country air and surroundings.

Drove back to London and went for Mother’s Day supper with Aimi and Co. Then a taxi over to Bernice in Twickenham for the night so that we could leave early on Monday morning for Digby’s funeral.

I had booked a table for 20 family members to gather at the Eastbury Hotel in Sherborne. David Whittingham came from Paris and John and David Willoughby from Devon and it was great to see them again, albeit under such sad circumstances. Here I am with my three remaining cousins on Dad's side:

We all walked to Sherborne Abbey and proceeded in last as “the family”. We were expecting a good turn out but it was amazing to see at least 600 mourners. They came from all over the world. There were 50 Ghurkhas and countless Cresta riders and many many old friends from the army or St Morritz.

I was especially pleased to see Sarah Wooldridge on my way down the aisle. I automatically looked for Ian next to her before the sudden remembrance that he too had passed away a few days ago. They had both been old chums. Good to see Sarah’s brother Tim again too.

Cherry had organised everything beautifully and the service was wonderful. An immaculate setting; rousing hymns; poignant readings from all three children; an address by George Bingham that had us in fits of laughter at Digby eccentricities and a talk by Lt General Sir Peter Duffel outlining Dig’s bravery in the jungle in Borneo and a few quips from him too which made us laugh again. The 'last post' ended the service, and the coffin was carried out to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. Digby would have loved it all and his spirit was very much present.

A short, very cold, and blustery trip to the cemetery and then back to Cherry’s barn at Stockbridge Farm for drinks and nibbles. All 600 appeared to have come back and were now shoulder to shoulder in the barn. A good atmosphere. A good send off. Bernice and I drove back to London in a blizzard but arrived safely at about 11pm.

So strange that I am still here and dear Digby has gone. Just goes to show that you can make all the plans you want but the hand of fate will do what it will, when it will, and there is no changing it. I love every day I’m privileged to be alive now!

ps Special thanks to Deborah Peat for lending me her "funeral" hat. It was the perfect hair concealer and looked very smart.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The worst is over !!

The worst is over (fingers crossed). Last Friday I had my 6th and last session of chemotherapy. All went smoothly – no trouble with the veins. The cold cap was almost unbearably cold now that I have about 10% of the hair I used to have and I nearly gave up but perseverance for that little bit longer paid off and the cold started to ease off. Frances collected me and came with me for the morning session and after seeing Dr Monika and having finally plucked up the courage to ask her to put my details in the computer and come up with a statistic for the future, we celebrated my good news at the Crown. The 94% chance of being alive and well in 10 years time is fine by me – that is if I don’t get run over by a bus in the meantime!. I would still have had an 80% chance of this fact even if I hadn’t had any treatment – just the mastectomy, however, I feel the extra insurance has been and will be well worth the trouble.

As the doctor said at the beginning when I was in a state of shock, Early stage breast cancer (and prostate) are very treatable conditions nowadays.

Frances and I went off in great jubilation to celebrate this news with lunch at the Crown Pub opposite the hospital.

Verena joined us and stayed for the afternoon bringing me another very cute owl for my collection who I have named Toffee after Verena’s sweet dog whom she rescued from Battersea Dogs Home.

This week’s euphoria has been marred by several sad events.

My cousin Digby Willoughby died in his beloved St Morritz at the age of 72. How odd it is, that, having spoken to him a few times during my illness when he called to see how I was, that I am here and he is not. He will be very much missed. He was a brave soldier and a brave Cresta rider and people were quite frightened of his fierce and authoritative front. But I knew him as my gentle older cousin Dig who brought me exotic gifts such as a necklace of unpolished precious stones and beautiful raw silk material from Thailand when I was a pre- teenager and he was staying with us on leave from the Ghurkhas. Who took me for drives with my L plates on in the countryside and kept my parents entertained with his unauthorised “Bawdy songs and Backroom Ballards” albums and rude songs and limericks on his guitar. I knew him as a great fan of Burl Ives and the Ink Spots. I can remember as if it was yesterday how he patiently taught me to play the guitar and wrote down the chords I was to learn which was to lead me personally to a lifetime of adventure. Whenever I went to stay with him and the family, he would say “Bring your guitar” and we would have a jam session and I would sing harmonies with him. I knew him at age 60 something, as a very fearful son who had forgotten his keys to his 90 year old father’s house thus forcing the white-haired old boy to come to the door himself on his zimmer frame. The ancient austere monocled Colonel Bill, the father that never once gave Dig a word of praise for all his courageous achievements and could still cause Digby much anxiety. When he broke his neck at Shuttlecock on the Cresta one year, I phoned Uncle Bill to make sure he knew as there was a piece in William Hickey about it. “Have you heard from Digby?” I said carefully, “Oh Digby, he said, he’s off tobogganing somewhere”.

His death was a quick and sudden heart failure in the place that he loved with people that he loved at three score years and twelve so there’s a lot to be grateful for in that.

I hope you are “off tobogganing” somewhere Dig and really enjoying yourself. You deserve to – God bless you

The second sad news was of an old friend Ian Wooldridge, the Daily Mail sports writer extraordinaire who suffered a long illness with great bravery and courage. I also spoke to him a couple of times en route to his wife Sarah and the last thing I said to him was “Keep buggering on” (courtesy Caroline Upton who always says it to me!) Coincidentally I met Ian through his beloved wife Sarah who’s brother Tim Chappell shared a flat with Digby when they were both on leave in London.

The obituaries and Radio 4 etc have been full of both of them this week and feel pretty sure they are enjoying the prestigious reviews over a glass (or two) of whisky together.

After two deaths in a week I was feeling nervous as things often go in three’s, when yesterday at 8.30, I was hauled out of bed by a boy on his way to school, who knocked on my door to ask if an expired cat outside my house was mine. Having told him it unfortunately belonged to the people across the road and was very very old, I said a quick prayer for it and breathed a sigh of relief.

"The clock of life is wound but once,
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop;
At late or early hour.
Now is the only time you own,
Live! Toil with a will!
Place no faith in tomorrow;
For the clock may then be still".

On a happier note we celebrated my other cousin Christopher’s birthday in style with a drinks party here and then dinner at the Blue Elephant, Fulham’s best Thai Restaurant.

Mia carried in a birthday cake and we sang Happy Birthday. Lisa gave him a super new croquet set for the garden at Kenilworth, and I gave him a framed picture of him and the goat on the Majorca beach that we always tease him about, and a “Shag a Sheep” novelty apron to go with it! We also had fun with a pair of glasses I found that are made from a plastic drinking straw. You put one end of the straw in your mouth and the other in your drink and the glasses in the middle go on your face. When you suck on the straw, your drink travels up the straw and winds through the glasses round and round and them ends up in your mouth. It is hilarious to watch and we all had a go. Although it was Chris’s turn to pay for the dinner owing to losing the latest dieting competition, Lisa very kindly insisted on picking up the tab in celebration of the birthday and my getting over the chemo.

It was funny to think that is was nearly 6 months to the day that I found out I had cancer and we went to that same restaurant that night and I had tried to eat between bouts of tears.