I’ve written this blog through the highs and lows of Summer 2014, while undergoing the final stages of Thyroid Cancer treatment and waiting on test results. It ends with a post that was written on the 5th September 2014, which is exactly a year to the day that I was diagnosed and found myself on a very different journey to the ones I usually go on as a Film-maker. It’s a long post but then I do have a lot to, at least, try to say in my usual inarticulate style. So I forgive you in advance if you don’t want to read about cancer, war, football, the film Blade Runner, surfing and stand-up paddle boarding, dead cats or Glasgow’s East-end, and instead just decide to scroll-down through my traumatized ramblings to find out if there’s a happy ending or not.
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Back-court in Blossom Copenhagen
The Summer heat is starting to turn up in Copenhagen along with the noise from music festivals – all supported by the state of course – which go on here from the early Spring, throughout the Autumn and into the existential darkness of the Nordic Winter. It seems you only have to mention the word ‘festival’ here, and thousands of happy Copenhageners are out dancing, drinking and – in the case of the current ‘Distortion’ Festival – pissing in the streets. And it’s not just the hip and drunken Danes I hasten to add who are doing this, because the growing number of preppy-American and home-counties English Public school accents in our Nørrebro neighbourhood is becoming disturbing! Rewinding back just a few days earlier to a different city in another country, and the happy, drunken-anarchy and Techno noise of Nørrebro seems to make the East-end Social pop-up indy music festival, in my old native Glasgow hood of Dennistoun seem like an aging hipsters tea-party. But then I would never have imagined skanky-manky-Dennistoun with its dodgy tanning parlours, skip-hat wearing youths, sectarian dividing lines and pavements full of dog-shit ever even trying to hold a pop-up indie music/arts festival on Duke St, let alone become home, as it has done – because the rent is still relatively cheap – to a generation of artists, film-makers, musicians, skateboarders and other creative industries types, who were ‘popping-up’ as both the performers and audiences in the new barber shops, tattoo parlours, Art Galleries, curry houses, eco-coffee bars, rustic bakers and pulled-pork BBQs that have opened in 21st century Dennistoun.
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Rewinding back much further still – more than 30 years and into another century – when I first moved into Dennistoun in 1983 as an angry, young, struggling video artist, who was then kid, cat, life and care-free, with my girlfriend and eventually future wife Nicola, an English accent was as alien as the Afghan/Kurdish/Arabic and Afro-Glaswegian ones that are heard in the city every day now. Back then, many of our new-found Glaswegian friends thought we were mad to even want to visit – let alone live – in Dennistoun, even if the flats for rent were cheap and spacious, compared to the much-sought after multiple-actor occupied, fire-risk arthovels and leaky bohemian bedsits that were on offer around Byres Road in Glasgow’s then trendy West-end. A burglary just a few weeks after moving into Garthland Drive, unknown to us at the time, below a heroin dealer by one of his desperate customers, was proof – if it were needed in the first place – that mibby we’d made the mistake that our West-end pals had warned us about all along; Especially as we also ended up being interviewed not just about our stolen vinyl collection, and a Hi-fi centre that I’d got as a 21st birthday present, but also quizzed about our possible involvement in drug trafficking by an East-end Cop in London Road Police station, who I’m pretty sure I ended up filming as the Detective in charge of the Kris Donald murder investigation more than 20 years later. But back then it seemed everyone in Glasgow was burgled at least once, so in that respect it wasn’t such a big deal – especially when compared with the racial abuse and broken windows regularly being suffered by our close neighbours: an academic Iraqi family, who’ve probably – unless they sought Asylum – long since disappeared back into their troubled homelands and may sadly be no longer of this world. But we – as did they – stuck at making a go of living in Dennistoun and faced up to verbally and also even, on occasions, physically not just the local kids responsible for the broken windows, but also some of their would-be gangster Dads, who – as time went by – we would even eventually end up drinking a beer with in the Duke bar or Crown Creighton on Duke Street. Because even if they didn’t understand our Iraqi neighbours cultural sensitivities, or could see the point in any of our arty weirdness, then they at least respected and accepted that we were a part of their neighbourhood and weren’t going anywhere fast.
It wasn’t long after we’d arrived that a few good friends and future creative collaborators would also start moving into Dennistoun; Folk who were for the most part just like us: skint, disillusioned and yet at the same time idealistic English incomers and working-class Art school exiles, who wanted to avoid the fate of either becoming mentally ill yuppies in London, or alternatively find themselves trapped back in the soul-destroying backwaters of a Thatcherite nation, which was in the grip of a Miners strike and – although we didn’t understand it at the time – a full-blown class-war. And as we all struggled to do our own thing in a conservative artworld, amid the austerity of 1980’s Glasgow, the process of neo-liberal gentrification was even reaching-out and into parts of Glasgow’s lost East-end. As a result, even the odd style-bible generation TV Producer was attracted into Dennistoun both because of the cheap property for sale, which appealed to cost-cutting TV Producer mindsets, but also because the area was still by-and-large a dinner-party/latte/vegetarian and media studies student free-zone. Also living in the area still gave you a certain edge/street-wise credibility when you talked about “where yous were fae” in arts and media circles, who were for the most part still reluctant to take a taxi ride let alone a walk down Duke Street, to even consider making a reality TV series about it. That actually did come later with the piss-poor/dishonest work of faction called: ‘ Car Wars ‘ one of many cheap, camcorder-abusing/eye-candy formats that used the word: War and heralded the start of what is now called constructed reality TV.
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Standing at the Gates of the East
As the years turned into decades and the end of the 20th century fast approached, we were all growing older – if not any richer – and discovered for ourselves the highs, lows, heartaches and human cost that comes with chasing lofty professional aspirations and artistic visions. And along with some creative success – if not any professional recognition – also inevitability came failures, which resulted in a hardening of attitudes and a loss of our earlier idealism and innocence: While the love and respect that we shared for each other as friends and soul-mates also changed, along with our views of the world and what we wanted out of life. In our case it all ended with my, by then, wife (and still one of my best friends) Nicola and I growing apart and, to use the correct counselling term, becoming ‘incompatible’. When I look back now into the end of the analogue century, and see the start of the troubled digital one, I can see that along with the adrenaline buzz – which I sought out and thrived on – that I was also chasing some pretty wild, perhaps unrealistic and self-destructive visions, as I dreamt of being a camcorder-wielding/globe-trotting/digital-version of Robert Capa or Don McCullin, the end result of which has been bomb damaged ears, possibly – if not probably – my thyroid cancer as a result of exposure to depleted uranium (DU) someplace and – although I didn’t know it at the time – a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (ptsd). The symptoms of which, I now know, because of what I’ve been going through in this past year, are just like a cancer that grows, batters and bruises the spirit, and leads to creative disillusionment and a more fundamental loss of respect for the preciousness of normal life, and the abuse of those who are closest to you. It finally all ended on the day I walked out of my family home – by then at the top of the hill in’ Posh Dennistoun’ – just a few days before the events of 9/11, 2001 and after 20 years of love, life and mostly happy if tough times in Glasgow’s East-end.
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Dennistoun Sunset looking West
It’s nearly 35 years since I first arrived in Glasgow and almost 15 since I walked out of the family home. And yet since I was diagnosed last year, I’ve found myself staying back there again during the course of my cancer treatment in the guest room – which for most of the past decade has been given over for use by a charity for homeless, female Asylum seekers – And I’ve probably spent more time back in my old home than I ever did in the final years when I was meant to have been there as a Good Dad, a loving Husband and a caring friend. But with time, and if they don’t kill you first, all wounds can heal – even if they do leave scars. And on my/our last stay in Dennistoun and for the first time in nearly a year, it didn’t involve surgery or treatment up at the Beatson; while I also experienced a lot of happiness, optimism for the future and positive energy both among the people I’m close to and also out on Duke Street, where there were signs that Dennistoun, located in one of the poorest and unhealthiest cities in the UK in one of the most militarized countries in the western world, is changing; And that it just might, with the self-determination many Scots – indigenous and incomer alike – will get a chance to vote for in a few weeks, become a more prosperous and less mean-spirited place, where wealth starts to trickle down and equality and diversity are the norm, rather than are just given lip-service to by politicians, or are ticked-off in the boxes on the evaluation forms of the politically correct professional class that plague Scottish creativity. So any personal optimism I may have about the future also still comes with a degree of intellectual scepticism and – as much as the art/media elite in Scotland hate the idea of it – pragmatism and common sense. Because even if you can now as a result of art-world colonization and hipsterfication, buy a pulled pork sandwich and schooner of craft beer rather than a pint of pish-lager on Duke St, it’s still close to the notorious Belgrove Hotel where the casualties from a different kind of war that’s been going on for generations can be found, and also close to the Bridgton and Calton districts where the average male life expectancy is comparable to Baghdad.
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John’s not in….Calton Glasgow
Being in Glasgow on a holiday of sorts also means I’ve been out Surfing, and was lucky enough to catch the swell both out west on Scotland’s Atlantic coast and also east down in the borders on the North/Nordic Sea coast. Although Surfing has always been a part of my life, over the past year, especially, it’s taken on an important role in my recovery, as I’ve taken to thinking and referring to all my trips back to Scotland for operations and treatment as ‘going on surf trips’ to the extent that the first thing that always goes into my travel bag is my wetsuit, which – although it has been used a fair amount – has mostly stayed dry – for health reasons and to avoid infections. So – without talking too much self-help-hippy bollocks here – the whole idea of ‘‘going surfing’ has helped me to adopt a different mindset during often very dark and difficult times; While one of my lesser regrets generally in life – and not just over the past year – is, that I didn’t waste more time getting to be good at this no-brainer, hedonistic activity or adopted its accompanying nomadic, wave-chasing lifestyle, rather than wasted so much of the precious sweat of a youth that won’t come back, pursuing all the bastards, misfits, waifs, strays and demons that make-up any creative/artists life, some of which will haunt us forever. And even though I don’t think I’ll ever be good enough at surfing to charge around on the peaks of waves as if I were on a skateboard – like my son Danny does – I will someday, I know, manage to regularly glide in without that much grace, elegance or style on a decent sized wave. And along with the chance to go and Surf in May a loaned family camper van, also gave Marie and I the room to not only see Scotland, but also to find the space that we both needed to breathe a bit after the uncertainty and doubts of the past year. But putting aside my wave-chasing and hormone imbalanced ramblings, being back in Dennistoun has, above all else, not only made me confront the pain and regret I may have about the past, but also remember the many, many good things, and I can see for myself now that both life and time are moving on, and that there’s happiness in people’s lives where for a long while there was only sadness, loss and anger.
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I’ve just started the preparation for the final stages in my treatment, which once again involves medication withdrawal and a low iodine diet, which will then be followed by a much-lesser dose of i-131 treatment and a detailed body scan that will determine whether I’m clear or not. I’m fast realizing – just like many people who’ve been through cancer, survived a war or who’ve lived their daily lives under siege – that our individual time frames in this world have a certain finite inevitably to them, which is something we all share and can’t escape from, irrespective of poverty, wealth, religion, or whether we see ourselves as good or bad people. I’ve always loved the scene at the end of Ridley Scott’s legendary sci-fi film: Blade-Runner which was another one of those influential mainstream films I saw while at Art school in the early 1980’s and which – just like the Deer Hunter – we would bunk-off to watch as an antidote to the avant-garde cinema course which was being taught to us – if that’s the right word for it – by a well-meaning, lost old hippy/sixties radical. Who, as well as practically teaching us to become masters at threading and getting the tension right on 16mm film projectors and Steenbeck editors – an art in itself – also showed us films which would variously fascinate us, make us fall asleep or instead just decide to stay in the pub, nursing hangovers, drinking Kentish cider or Hurlimann lager and chatting up the Art school girls. Yet despite both the fascination and utter boredom which the clever-old hippy’s films induced in us they would always provoke a debate – especially with the privileged feminist film-makers and curators, who he would on occasion dare to invite down to the primitive cultural swamp, as they saw it, of Maidstone from the security of their studio squats in the Docklands, or tenures at St Martin’s and the Royal College of Art to talk to us. But moving out from a local art-student pub in the early eighties, and back to the timeless subject of Blade Runner’s closing minutes: Deckard (Harrison Ford) having killed a sexy, acrobatic, android called Pris (Daryl Hannah) with a hairstyle that’s influenced generations, then sets himself up for a brutal and vengeance-filled-doing from her cloned Brother/incestuous mate: the ultra-violent Aryan-android Roy Batty – which is, I admit, a strangely understated name for the character being played by Rutger Hauer – who having first broken most of Deckard’s fingers in a sadistic game of ‘this little piggy’, instead of just watching him fall into the abyss decides in a Hollywood cliff-hanger moment to save him, before sitting down beside him in Glasgow East-end/Dennistoun style rain, to deliver a profound speech that’s known as the: Tears in the Rain soliloquy:
“I’ve have seen things you people wouldn’t believe….
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion….
I watched c-beams glitter in the dark in the Tannhäuser Gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Time to die….”
So the point I’m getting to is that both the Android Roy Batty and his creator: Phillip K Dick whose short story: Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep Blade Runner is loosely based on, knows that he only has a finite life expectancy and time-frame before his Android Duracells run out. And that even if he decides to go on the run, and refuses to ‘know his place’ in an Android-class sense, he will eventually be hunted-down by a Blade Runner like Deckard, who by the end of the film has fallen in love with a beautiful Android called: Rachael (Sean Young), whom he plans to escape with into a jungle/unknown zone, despite a warning from a fellow Blade Runner Hannibal Chew (James Hong) that he’s wasting his own life and time-frame, as she’s as good as dead anyway because sooner rather than later her own batteries just like Roy Batty’s, will soon run out. But then as Roy Batty points out: At least he’s had a chance to live in the first place and experience things we’ll never believe….
Friday 13th June
As I write there’s a full moon in the sky over Copenhagen, which inevitably means insomnia for some of us at least. The World Cup has now started with a disappointing Brazil match which despite the score-line was a far from convincing performance by the host nation; While the current world champions, Spain, have seen their brand of ticky-tacky football all but destroyed by the total-football of the Dutch. Over the next few weeks now, I’ll not only be watching a lot of the world cup late into the night, but also starting to feel the withdrawal symptoms from my Liothyronine tablets once again. As for the football and the teams I’m supporting – if not so much putting money on – I know that I’ll have to suffer the self-inflicted pain to imperial arrogance and under achievement that comes with being English these days, when our overpaid footballers are once again either knocked-out in the group stages by teams that they underrate, or at best get beaten in the round of 16 or 8 – if they’re really jammy – by either the Germans on penalties or the Argentinians with the golden boot of Messi, rather than with the hand of Maradona’s God. And then for lots of personal as well as emotional reasons I’ll also be cheering on Bosnia, because it’s the country where I think I really started to find my heart and soul as a film-maker of sorts, but whose football team – as it would turn out – were in Brazil as much for the parties in the Copacabana night clubs as they were to play football. And along with dealing with hypothyroidism by watching football into the early hours with Lager, I’m also determined to complete the remaining 3 of the 10 introductory Stand-up-paddle boarding (SUP) lessons that we need to complete before we can go out and do one of the coolest things you can possibly do in this too-hip-by-half noisy building site of a city: SUP board in Copenhagen harbour and around the hippy-heartland and free state of Christiania. And by the time we’ve finished all 10 SUP lessons and the World Cup reaches the round of 16 in 2 weeks from now, I’ll be starting out on the final round of my treatment back over in Glasgow and irrespective of the final result, I’m ready for it – even though I readily admit at this stage – that I’m shitting myself.
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Although most people tend not to ask, either out of politeness, sympathy or, more to the point, because it reminds them about their own mortality and time-frame, what it feels like to know that you have a life threatening condition? I can only answer that I actually don’t notice it that much, because there’s not much to see really. And apart from the pain/pain-in-the-arse of infections and the soreness that recovery from surgery always involves, along with the current physical and mental discomfort of being hypo-thyroid, I actually didn’t even feel the lump on my lower neck – even though I could see it – until I caught a heavy cold after a magical below-zero surf in the golden, low winter sun of Pease Bay, down close to the English border on Scotland’s North Sea coast, and just a few days into 2012. The only difference between back then and now is that whenever I look into a mirror, I always look twice and – thankfully – only see a very neat surgeons scar that looks like a skin-fold, and which I only ever feel after physical exercise, or when I get dehydrated or suffer from a hang-over – which I usually am at the moment after late night world cup football watching. But beyond that, the fatigue and my current lousy sleeping patterns – which are probably all more stress and anxiety related then they are a physical thing – there isn’t much to see. But I’ll just keep on looking anyhow….
England 1 – Italy 2
The week before the world cup final takes place on the 13th July in Rio, I’ll be going through a World Cup final of my own over at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer centre in Glasgow – at which point at least I’ll know the final score – even if I don’t get the result that I’m after. But who knows where we – the human race – will be by then when I look at what’s currently happening in the Middle East or in the Ukraine, or in any number of those forgotten conflicts and human disaster-zones that never get shown on our celebrity obsessed no-news-that-is-the-rolling-24 hour news, solely because they aren’t considered sexy enough to bother our Safe European lifestyles with. I always remember a former Channel 4 news Editor – one of the few people in the station that I have ever rated or respected – dismissing a pitch we’d made in that privileged tone, and professionally indifferent manner that sausage factory journalists and home-counties commissioners always use to get rid of annoying freelancers, by simply referring to all the forgotten and unknown wars and human disasters that were taking place, as happening in a place she called ‘Dragistan’: A dismissive newshound description for the many war-torn areas of the planet, which aren’t considered important enough to send bang-bang chasing public school types out on assignment to. And right up until 9/11, Dragistan included all the different stans (which translates as: lands) of the Caucasus and Caspian regions, along with the Pakistan tribal areas, Afghanistan, and a stan that’s become close to my own heart and film-making activity and which is now seen as the must-be place for just about every privileged war-hack and freelance bang-bang chaser on the planet: Kurdistan.
England 1 – Italy 2
Over at the World Cup meanwhile, there is civil unrest on the streets of Rio and San Paolo in response to the economic shock-doctrine that the Brazilian people are having imposed upon them by a neo-liberal economic world-order that’s proving itself to be as rotten and corrupt as FIFA’s football circus is. Only – just like all the wars that are taking place in Dragistan – we don’t get to see that much of it in our Unreported-Reported world. Instead what we do get, in Corporate endorsed-ultra-High-Definition, is the boredom, excitement and occasional flashes of genius that turn a game with a ball – that was formerly known as the ‘people’s game’, and from which ordinary people are being increasingly excluded – into both magic and art. While I – along with my countrymen – will also have to suffer the usual, predictable let-downs and disappointing displays of Ingerland’s over-rated and over-paid bunch of celebrity-Johns, whose inability to play a game which lasts until the referee blows a final whistle – as they did against the Italians – is a direct reflection on the state of a small over-populated nation’s psyche at the moment. As for the teams that really look like potential world champions? Well there’s the host nation Brazil, who, although playing disappointing football so far, will probably be there or thereabouts, along with either Italy or Argentina. And then of course there are the Germans – already doing what the Germans always do.
England 1 Uruguay 2
I can feel my energy disappearing now, along with the momentum that drives me to get out of bed in the mornings and do what I do; Which in my case as a cancer patient, is mostly living each day as it comes, writing and filming a bit, spending far too much of my time on twitter and, in between, trying to fix a Go-Pro camera that keeps freezing up on me and is becoming more trouble than it’s worth. And as well as everything feeling as if it’s slowing down, I’m also waking up with a growing sense of anxiety. But on a positive note at least, last night, before another predictable and disappointing Ingerland game, we completed our 9th SUP boarding session. Which leaves just one more – and that’s due to happen on the night before I head back over to Scotland. And for the first time since all this began nearly a year ago, I’ve decided that I’m not taking my wetsuit. I’m also steering clear of my Avid edit-suite and all its hard drives until after all this is over, mostly because last time I went through withdrawal – back in January – I managed to delete 3 months of the material I’d been filming – and not just from a master edit drive, but also from a safety back-up, because of a fogged brain, with a few forgetful clicks of a computer mouse. Thankfully though and following the ‘rule of 3’s’ which many common-sense film-makers and photographers have adopted since we started polluting our lives with digital files – I did have a further drive with some – if not all – of the raw material that I’d erased. But I know for sure now that I’ve lost some pretty precious stuff that will never come back. All of which makes me wonder whether film-making is not just about what we do or don’t get on film, but perhaps also really about those things that we just can’t or perhaps shouldn’t film – things that Roy Batty the Aryan Android talks about….
Ingerland 0 Costa-Rica 0
A poor-draw with Group D’s so called no-hopers who had been written off when the tournament first started by overpaid football experts the world over, sends Ingerland back home. The result not only says a lot about the state of an Anglo-Saxon island nation at the moment that’s all hype and PR men, but also much about the whole idea of ‘experts’ in general, and why it is we tolerate such fools so gladly, in whatever foreign fields they happen to be lurking on expense accounts – and whether their expertise happens to be football, politics, counter-terrorism and, especially Art or film-making. So Costa-Rica now top Group D above not only Ingerland – who are bottom on one point – but also Italy, leaving another small nation, Uruguay, to qualify with Costa-Rica for the last 16. And it’s at this stage I have a confession to make – as a fickle Englishman of dubious French ancestry, who has lived most of his adult life in Glasgow/Scotland by choice: I didn’t even bother watching the game or its highlights. Because I had more pressing things to attend to – namely completing SUP Board lesson 10 – which involved practise rescues on a pretend to be unconscious/injured/dead partner in the murky water around the back of the Danish Film School which – if it had gone on any longer – would have ended with me needing to be rescued for real, in a bigger real-life drama than anything that’s been produced by film school students in years. And if some of the football has been less than engaging, at least Marie and I have now completed one of our smaller shared objectives for 2014, and know now that there are only much bigger ones that still lie ahead of us.
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Borgen and Palm Trees/Copencabana….
The following day after yet another dawn flight out miles-high across the Nordic Sea and also still a bit wet behind the ears from the previous days’ paddling dramas, I find myself in a queue at a chemist in Duke St, Dennistoun. My head like all the other customers here, someplace else as I wait to collect a prescription of the Liothyronine that I’m due to start taking directly after my scan on Monday. I stand waiting behind a few Single Mums, some OAPS and also a sad reminder of the dark-side to Duke Street, which has been here for generations, the former Heroin addicts in for their prescriptions of methadone, a green liquid which is being dispensed in plastic cups by a young shop assistant. And while many of us see what’s happening here as a state funded humanitarian obligation to try to at least save our wasted youth, others – right-wing politicians, tabloid hacks and increasingly Dickensian-throwback reality TV Producers – would hold it up as an example of the poor getting something for nothing yet again; Instead of applying some common-sense and compassion, along with their large sensor cameras, to see that what’s happening is a direct symptom of the ruthless and mercenary capitalism that they and their privileged masters champion, and which takes no prisoners as it shatters the hopes and dreams of generations whose daily lives are a million miles away from the junkie chic imagery of fashion magazines like Dazed and Confused or the ‘Choose Life’ philosophy of a book/film franchise like Trainspotting. Because in the end you can only ‘ Choose Life ‘ if you’ve been given the chance to live a life in the first place….
The scene here is something I’ve witnessed on many, many occasions down the years and have long since taken for granted: The OAPs moaning about what is or isn’t available to them with a hard-pressed Asian pharmacist, while the former addicts, some wearing the football tops of world cup losers, talk to the young girls who dish-out their methadone in the resigned, mournful and despairing tone of people who sound like they’ve both been beaten-up by drug dealers and beaten-down by the state. This is the other side of Duke St, Dennistoun, Glasgow and even of Scotland to the one I’ve written about and tried to talk-up elsewhere. It’s a world which has always been here in the shadows and is reflected not just in the addictions, but also at the food banks which out-number the discount supermarkets that used to feed the poor and hungry in this part of town when they used to get regular benefit cheques. In a private consultation room whose door I can tell is left open deliberately – probably to add to the humiliation taking place inside – I can see and hear even with my own bomb-thinned ears, the raised and aggressive voices of two Cops, searching through a female addict’s bag, who is repeatedly denying an accusation that she’s been shop-lifting. The Police Officers eventually find what they’re looking for: makeup. And show their evidence to one of the girls behind the counter, who identifies it with a sullen nod of her head, before allowing the young woman shoplifter – who it works out also has a pram to take care of – to queue-jump and receive her daily methadone, before she’s led away pushing her pram by the Police..
Friday finally comes
A short train ride east-to-west, from Belgrove station across town to Glasgow’s affluent Hyndland station and then it’s just a short walk – which it feels like I’ve done a million times now and always alone, up to Gartnavel Hospital, and then into its Nuclear medicine department which is located down in a nuclear bunker-like basement. Taking my second and much lower dose of i131 is even more of a non-event than it was the first time around, although I am reminded that even though I don’t have to be isolated in the room this time, I still need to stay away from pregnant women and young children for the next 48 hours, along with a more practical piece of advice:
“Just make sure youse sit down when youse take a pee for the next 2 days – because it’s a bit radioactive – and so you’s avoid doing what all men do…
And pull the flusher after youse – twice….”
After 2 weeks my body is closing down. A week more or even less of this and it would probably start to shut down completely. So thankfully I only have hours, rather than days left now before my scan and I’m counting them down in football watching hours – fish and chips, Indian takeaways and lager…
Brazil 1 – Chile 1
Colombia 2 – Uruguay 0
Netherlands 2 – Mexico 1
Costa Rica 1 – Greece 1 (ends 5-3 on penalties)
By the day of my scan I’ve finally hit a wall, and have even stopped thinking about the train journey across the city or about the depressing thought-filled solo-walk up past the Beatson – which still always gives me butterflies in my stomach – to Gartnavel. I’m soon lying and watching an X-ray machine passing over me and listen to the young radiologist, who cracks jokes about how other medics refer to his specialism as being ‘unclear rather than nu-clear medicine’. The machine meanwhile, which he also tells me costs millions but is free on the NHS to everyone by the way, and the radiation it emits, takes detailed, abstract pictures as it passes back and forth, before finally coming to a stop after about 45 minutes or so. The young joke-cracking nuclear medic, who by now I’ve decided is also a bit of a smart-arse, smiles and says:
“Good – All Done!” before adding: “Well done!”
I smile back at him, but can’t quite work out if that’s a “well done” for the last few shite weeks I’ve been going through, or whether his words and smile are trying to tell me something :
“You can start taking your medication again now….youse do have it with you don’t yous?”
Within half an hour of taking Liothyronine I’m out and walking in the sunshine around one of the tranquillity trails that surround both the Beatson and Gartnavel hospitals. They are designed for patients and probably staff alike, to lose themselves in and contemplate what they’re going through, sometimes with a relative or a nurse, but probably more often than not – as I walk and pass others – alone – just like me. The thing that I have really come to terms with now is that as much as no one should ever have to face the realities of cancer or any other life threatening illness or an addiction come to think of it, alone, that it’s just as important that we – the patients that is – need space and time to reflect alone – even away from those who are nearest and dearest to us. Because it’s only in that space and solitude where we can come to terms with ourselves, our time frames, who we are and just what it is we’re going through. As I walk I’m already starting to feel physically stronger as the Liothyronine – which I need now just like an ex-junkie needs his or her methadone – starts to do the trick, and it feels like a radioactive fog is lifting from me in the sunshine. There’s a week ahead of me now before my post-therapy consultation over at the Beatson with the Oncologist, who I’m constantly being reminded/reassured is one of the world’s best by an admiring NHS staff/smart-arsed radiologist, all quite rightly proud of his and their own achievements in keeping people alive. But before that day comes and once my Liothyronine has kicked in fully and my blurred vision has completely cleared, I’ve arranged to hire a car and take a road-trip south more than 400 miles, back to the closest place I have to an ancestral home, in an irrelevant and not very important part of Kent and England to visit family. And while the winning world cup teams are left to rest, endorse products and prepare for the next round in FIFA’s multi-million pound circus, it gives us an excuse to go to the seaside, visit the celebrity-chef endorsed south-coast town of Whitstable and the Asylum seeker dumping ground that was used in the Last Resort: Margate.
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Margate: The Lost/Last Resort in the sunshine
France 0 – Germany 1
Brazil 2 – Colombia 1
Argentina 1 – Belgium 0
Netherlands 0 – Costa Rica 0 (4-3 on penalties)
After a disappointing 90 minutes that’s followed by an edge-of-your-seat period of extra time, during which the Dutch Manager Louise Van Gaal played mind games against his opponents, by substituting his team’s goalkeeper in the closing seconds with a Dutch giant, who was at the world cup to do just one thing: block the goal in a penalty shoot-out. As a former goalkeeper myself who never quite made the height/size to be a professional and also from a pretentious existentialist’s viewpoint, I have a thing about goalkeepers. Albert Camus, for instance was a goalkeeper – and having now watched just about every game in this world cup, I can safely say that goalkeepers have proved to be the real anti-stars of the tournament so far, in complete contrast to much that has been disappointing from some of the world’s greatest celebrity outfield players. – Here I’m thinking of the entire Brazilian team, the world’s greatest footballer: Argentina’s Lionel Messi, and the biting, racist Uruguayan: Luis Suarez. But then I also need to mention just how good the Germans are looking – as a football team…
“After many years during which I saw many things, what I know most surely about morality and the duty of man I owe to sport and learned it in the RUA.”
What Albert Camus actually did say about Football and Morality
My skateboard recycling son Danny has called me up from Glasgow with some good news – he’s happy because the offer he made on a flat has been accepted. So now even he’s moving his life on and if not away from Glasgow yet, then at least out from the family home in Dennistoun – a place where he’s lived his entire 22 years so far. And even though his new home is only about a mile or so away from his Mother’s house, he’ll now start to experience – as we’ve all done – the liberation that leaving home brings – along, surely, with the cooking, cleaning, washing-up and paying of utility bills. So after a few days of Kentish sunshine, orchard cherries, the best strawberries in the world, Whitstable Oysters, a traditional English Sunday pub lunch in a place called East Farley and some precious time spent with a family who – I readily admit – I haven’t seen nowhere near enough of over the past year, since all this started, and I’m heading back North on a 10 hour journey that will take me from the home counties of true-blue and UKIP England, out across one nation, to the border of another where changes just might be coming in late September.
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I’d only been back in Glasgow a few hours and drank a beer or two with my son and his Mum Nicola to celebrate his new home and future life, before there was a knock on the door which is something that’s unheard of in this part of the world late on a Sunday evening. Because cheek-by-jowl with the other versions of Dennistoun I’ve written about, there is also a gentrified and mostly peaceful neighbourhood here as well. A place where – save for the odd burglary, domestic row, bit of middle-class/mid-life swinging and recreational drug taking – nothing much ever happens. The century old Church of Scotland manses and tobacco Merchant terraced villas that make up the area, originally built by the coffers of a God and with the profits of the slave trade, are now home to some of Dennistoun’s more affluent, professional classes and Scottish society’s success stories: BBC employees, architects, the odd celebrated Scottish female writer and some embittered minor newspaper hacks, who wish they could write like her, a few Scottish Art stars and their more successful, better-paid curators and even the odd D-list TV personality and Life-style telly Producer. So for the most part it’s an area of Dennistoun that’s more like a quiet village than it is a privileged enclave in a poor inner-city neighbourhood, where addiction and poverty are rife. And it was also sadly – until that night – home to Jasper the cat. And without getting too sentimental here about a ginger furball with a screw or two missing – he was as much a part of the character, heart and very soul of the neighbourhood as some of the residents like to think they are. Jasper the Cat was not only much-loved by his owners but also by many of the neighbours and the numerous regular passers-by/commuters and local kids who – despite tormenting him and pulling his tail – were all taken in by his affectionate nature and ginger tomcat stupidity. Quite what all Jasper’s nine-lives had been used up on I don’t know, but a few I do know of had probably been lost fighting with urban foxes – a task to which his brother, Badger, is more adept, or were wasted locked away in the garages and sheds of the neighbourhood, which he seemed to have a knack of managing to get stuck in and, on one particular case, for a period long enough to allow the process of mourning for him to pass – before he eventually re-emerged spooked and spectre like – scraggy, hungry and wide-eyed – into the arms of an appreciative family. But that Sunday on the night before my own end game of sorts Jasper the cat’s lives and time-frame finally ran out. I found Jasper’s body in the back-lane of the terrace, wrapped-up in a good-hearted teenager’s hoodie, who’d found him dead by the roadside. His body was still warm then, although his face was smashed and his neck and skull were broken and his wild and mad cat’s eyes were now lifeless. And again without getting too profound about a daily occurrence like a cat getting run over, we all sensed – as did the neighbours in the days and weeks that followed – that a kindred and free spirit had moved on from this world; And with it another reminder that life in Dennistoun was also moving on and changing for good and bad, for better or worse as it had always done down the decades.
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Jasper the Car RIP July 6th 2014
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The following day, having helped to dispose of a stiff and dead cat, I drove a little saddened by his loss out to my post therapy assessment at the Beatson, which, as it turned out, was to be the last appointment of the day. My heart immediately sank when I received this news from the nurse at the reception, remembering back to the last time that I’d had such an important appointment, and it too was the last one of the day – and that was over at Gartnavel hospital. The reason then was to give the surgeon and her wonderful NHS support staff, enough time to tell me the bad news and let it sink-in about the results of the autopsy on the tumour they’d removed, which had come back positive, due to what the pathologist had simply termed in their report as: ‘ incidental findings’ caused by exposure to particles of some kind – and on which they wouldn’t elaborate or speculate any further. Despite the sadness and trauma taking place behind the closed doors, in the wards and treatment rooms of the Beatson, it still has a certain business-like atmosphere about it, that wouldn’t suggest that within its lead-lined walls many, many radioactive tears are being shed every day. And as much as you do get a sense that lives are ending here – as they are in every hospital – there’s also a feeling – a certain vibe – that tells you that people are also being given a second chance in life. As I sit and wait for the final few minutes to pass I’m left wondering about whatever it was that caused my cancer in the first place and the legacy of those particles: That invisible bullet which I may have picked up in one of the many desperate places on the planet that I’ve found myself either during or after wars, or even from something that was in the water while out surfing close to a nuclear power station outlet on the North/Nordic Sea coast, or perhaps – when I think back even further still – it was a possible legacy of that radioactive cloud which drifted-out and across Europe after the incident at Chernobyl back in the 1980’s… Or even back further still – was something that I breathed in as a young-gun in a dusty, radioactive compound at Chatham Naval base in my late teens in the 1970’s, and an era when health and safety risks didn’t seem to matter. Then perhaps in the end, it was none of these things and my cancer has just occurred as a result of an unlucky flaw in my less than perfect DNA, the legacy of which to-date is a son with type 1 diabetes, my own genetic deafness – in part at least the rest is a war wound of sorts – and an ailment in my joints that’s commonly known as gout, which I thankfully haven’t had an attack of in years. But whatever the cause was, I know I’m here now to discover if there’s been a cure – of sorts; But like I’ve said before – let’s forget all this self help-hippy-dippy power of positive thinking stuff – because you never beat these things – you cheat them – for a while at least, that is until your own android Duracells run out – just like Roy Batty’s.
I don’t remember much of the medical detail about the conversation with the Oncologist – one of the best in the world I’m reminded – except to say that despite his Professorial formality, he was obviously showing signs of being a bit fragged from a tough day delivering good and bad news to patients, while also managing his own emotional armour and retaining a certain establishment stiff-upper lip, which protects him– as indeed it does all of his staff here – from the realities of what they deal with every day in the business of both saving life, as well as helping us cope with the realities of death. I do remember the pleasantries we exchanged though: A brief discussion about the wonders of Copenhagen and the time he’d spent there as a medical student, although we never quite got onto the subject of festivals and I can’t really imagine the Distortion festival in Norrebro ever being his bag. Then he confessed that he hadn’t actually seen my scan results yet – because as he’d already told me at a previous appointment, he wasn’t expecting to find anything untoward – which was just as well because his unpredictable NHS computer had crashed. And while it took time to reboot, he physically examined my neck to see how the scar was healing and also, I could tell, searched for other warning signs – just as I do now every day in a mirror – before reassuringly saying:
“ Good! – All healing very nicely…”
A rustle of paper followed as he looked over my medical records and turned to his now on-line computer screen and took a quick and cursory glance over my abstract scan pictures, which, I’ve since learnt, he would have been alerted to already had there been any real problems by the (un)nuclear medic – before he finally turned back to face me and said in the kind of business like language that’s reserved for the medical elite:
“ Yes – well….It’s all…Very satisfactory!”
After a routine blood test – one of many which I’ll now have to get used to, along with scans every 6 months – and without any sense of euphoria about the fact that I am now officially what’s termed as a ‘Cancer Survivor’ by those wonky-mostly American-self-help websites which I ignore and you should avoid, I left the Beatson behind me and walked out into the fresh air and rare late-afternoon sunshine of Glasgow on a Summer’s day and breathed…..
Brazil 1 – Germany 7
Argentina 0 – Netherlands 0 (4-2 on penalties)
The Germans finally and inevitably did what the Germans were always going to do all along in the world cup, by not just winning it but also by asserting their total domination over the people’s game, destroying in the process the tournaments hosts and formerly the greatest-ever footballing nation, and a country which thought it had enough problems: Brazil, who were then only spared from a similar thrashing in the 3rd place play-offs by a Dutch-side who seemed to stop playing after they’d scored their 3rd goal in what looked more like a humanitarian act, rather than a football Manager’s mind-game. And after a lacklustre final which the German’s won by beating an under-performing Argentina team in extra time 1-0, World Cup 2014 ended. But I’ll be remembering it for many more reasons than a game that people play in-between life and death.
It’s now been over a year since I first went under a surgeon’s knife. A year which has taken me on a painful journey to places I’d never expected and where I’ve had to confront things I’ve either avoided, or would never imagine having to deal with. In the past I used to relish going on the kind of wing-and-a-prayer road trips around the planet where I didn’t know how, or where they’d finally end, or how long they’d take, or what they would eventually lead me to. As a result of doing this I’ve found myself over the decades walking and stuck on the borders in-between nations that were falling apart in the case of the ex-Yugoslavia, wandering through minefields in Cambodia, Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia and riding Ural motorbikes through the Caucasus in the company of traumatized and frazzled War-hacks and Easy-Rider Montana Cowboys and Girls, in the hope that someday, I just might get to make a film about it – which sadly never happened – mostly because of a clash of egos as much as a clash of cultures; While in the making of Kurdi I even found myself without a camera – let alone someone to film – who was by then being smuggled through Syria and into Beirut along with all that we’d filmed. While I was left stuck in the dangerous no-man’s land that lies between Iraq and Syria with a few old Peshmerga armed with a few ancient AK47’s, in an area which has now been overrun by a serious threat to the civilisation that we all – irrespective of our faith – cherish and who – as I write now – threaten the diverse tribes of Kurdistan and potentially the entire planet with acts of genocide in the name of their God .And in the end, the point of doing it all in the first place was never just to keep a commissioning editor happy or fulfil a brief, or do what I was told to by a battle-weary Executive Producer; But it was about doing it for myself as much as for an audience, who I wanted to take with me on an exploration in search of something fantastic, which opened windows onto worlds we don’t normally get to see. And to do that didn’t take privilege, status or cash – of which there hasn’t really been that much in an entire career, if I was honest – but a leap of faith and a very powerful and magical word that’s called: Intent.
And then a year ago all that changed and an observer of the world, who was always behind a lens, looking and talking to people and writing with a camera, suddenly found himself in another place where film-making, art and all that other stuff we think of as being so important to the world, didn’t really matter that much anymore.
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5th September, 2014
Since my assessment result in July, I’ve been adjusting to a new regime in life that involves taking thyroxine replacement hormone every day, which itself has had its own side-effects, alongside the radiation therapy, that’s affected my teeth and gums and made the hair on my legs and other parts of my head and body fall out, so that in places I now look as if I’ve made a bad attempt at waxing away some of my beer-monster body-hair. It’ll take time to rebuild the energy levels I’m used to having too and which in the past allowed me physically at least to do my own thing – whatever that’s going to be in the future. Because somehow the thought of wasting anymore precious time/life pitching-and-pissing–in-the-wind on unwanted film projects, doesn’t hold that much of an appeal – not that it ever did in the first place. But then I also can’t get away from the fact that whenever I pick up a camera and look through a viewfinder, things change. So I guess it means that there might just be another film or two to be made yet, or more to the point, and in the case of one project I’ve been working on for nearly 20 years, Minefield might at last actually get finished now.
I’m also dealing with the post-traumatic stress of living under a state of siege for over a year now, which I know has also affected those that are very close and dear to me, as much as it has my own well being. But then stress is just what it says on the label – personally I prefer the word: stretch – because in the end the important thing is not to let it: the stress/stretch – or whatever else you want to call it – break you, but instead let it take you as far as it and you need to go. So I’m dealing with it now in my own way by just letting it happen and by paddling around Copenhagen harbour on a SUP board, going out on real and not just imaginary surf trips, riding my bike around and making a no-budget film– of which more in the future. But until then it’s just about moving life on, seizing the day and living for every moment, while I re-armour myself in a very different way than I have done in the past. Because it’s not just about hanging tough anymore, or thinking that you are untouchable or indestructible, which I seriously did believe for a while, and which can be a dangerous thing that will only ever take you one way in the end.
As for a final bullet?
Well despite the fact that I can think of quite a few nasty people on this planet, who may well deserve it, I’m saving it for the time when it comes – which I know it will someday – when I need it. But perhaps, above all else, the biggest thing I’ve learnt on this particular wing-and-a prayer road trip is that sometimes we forget that the best things in life probably can’t be filmed and will always only ever be:
” Very Satisfactory “
Dedications and Thanks:
I’ve thought long and hard about this and know that I’ll end up forgetting to name everyone I love and care about here, and those who’ve helped and supported me over the past year. So I’m steering clear of naming-names except to say: Youse know who youse all are!, and that I am eternally grateful for all your love, friendship, warmth, support and humour. Thanks also to everyone whose read and followed my ramblings,e-mailed me or left comments on my blog, and I apologise for not replying to each of you individually. BIG respect is also due to all the staff and patients of the NHS, along with the city of Copenhagen (even if it is too annoyingly hip-by-half!) But above all Respect and Peace to the people of Glasgow who are too sharp by half and live in a city that I’ll always call my home – even if it does happen to rain all the time…
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