I’ve been off the radar for a lot longer than I’d imagined, had hoped for or expected as a result of an operation I’ve undergone to remove half of my thyroid gland and a suspect tumour. Things have – as it’s turned out – been more complicated than expected and the results are far from as positive as I’d like them to be – at this stage at least. As much as I love Glasgow (by far the best city in the world!) my trip back in August beat the shit out of me and any desire or current need I have to make films : 4 hospitalizations because of infections and other complications and then the bombshell news that the autopsy on the removed tumour contained cancer cells. I now face further surgery to remove what’s left of my thyroid and possible treatment with radioactive iodine to blast – away whatever’s left that’s nasty and may have caused the problems in the first place.
The NHS (brilliant btw – hands off it Politicians!)Medics that dealt with me refer to “the particles that caused my problem” but won’t speculate any further than that on their likely source. Although thyroid cancers occur as a result of natural causes, age and just plain bad luck, others have been attributed to more worrying man-made factors. There have for instance been reports of Thyroid tumours among people (particularly children sadly) who have been exposed to radiation and live around the sites of nuclear accidents (such as those at Fukushima and Chernobyl) and also elsewhere on the planet wherever Depleted Uranium (DU for short) munitions have been used in wars. Although Washington and its Allies state of ‘perpetual war’ is moving on to other foreign fields, the lethal legacies of their more recent unwinnable and possibly illegal conflicts will remain behind for generations – not just in the form of the Human Trauma and Unexploded Ordinance (UXO) that they leave behind them: Land Mines, Cluster Bombs, Guns and other weapons that are used for maiming and killing, but also in the form of other ‘invisible bullets’ which have infected the earth, the water , the food chain and the air that people breath.
When I think back about my many wing-and-a-prayer road trips and assignments in the Balkans and the Middle-East, I always remember the dust that got everywhere – into the fabric of your clothes and the mechanisms of your cameras, onto your skin and worst of all into your lungs and body. Wherever I went, I also always ate what the locals ate. I swam in the rivers of the Balkans and the Oasis of Iraq; I saw fires that just seemed to keep on burning in Kosovo and Kurdistan and filmed on battlefields and in Tomahawked buildings. In the making of Kurdi, we filmed in places where they deactivated and cut up Saddam’s bombs and rockets for scrap metal on the banks of the Tigris. And then if I think back further still, I remember eating the fish out of the Danube near Novi-Sad at a gypsy restaurant (seen in the film: Black Car White Cat) close to where NATO’s cruise missiles had vanished into swamps, their pay-loads still intact and leaking into the soil and rivers. At the time, I remember we even joked about the size of the fish and the fact it probably didn’t need cooking in the first place! And wherever I filmed there was always the simple, basic, human act of breathing – whether it happened to be in cluster-bombed Nis, wind and rain-swept Skopje, dirty, dusty Pristina, smoggy Beirut, or amid the sand storms of Baghdad under siege, not to mention the hidden and secret places of Lebanon’s Bekaa valley the site of many ‘secret wars’. Perhaps I’ve really been just unlucky or perhaps somewhere in all of this, I might – just might – have come into contact with those particles that the medics are referring to – an invisible bullet?