In a few days I’ll be sitting on my dad’s loo, fingering his books on the little shelf he built, just the right height and size to fit a perfectly curated selection of reads for a morning toilette. I can recite by heart the titles of many of the long-standing scribes. A Murder of Quality by John le Carré, much better than any Night Managers. The Rose of Tibet by Lionel Davidson (although I’ve been meaning to ask dad to swop this for A Night in Wenceslas, a far superior effort in my view. Seems I spend so long reading I forget to ask). The 5BX exercise routine, devised for the Royal Canadian Air force in the ‘50s. And then a more recent addition: Simon Hoggart’s compilation of round-robin letters: The Cat That Could Open The Fridge: A Curmudgeon’s Guide To Christmas Round Robin Letters.
Here’s mine. Ed has had an excellent year, producing a steady stream of important articles on such light topics as the death penalty, racism, poverty, sexism and generally any subject where human beings in the world’s most powerful nation are treated extraordinarily badly. It’s like starting every day with a cold shower – good for you! Felix had a wildly exciting gap year, lifting India out of poverty single-handedly, before moving to London where he acted as Steve Jobs for internet start-up uMotif. Now he’s shining at the highly progressive Colorado College, nestled in Colorado Springs, home to a major military establishment as well as more Churches per capita than any other city in the US. That’s what I call diversity. Tess is fulfilling her mother’s desire that there be only one letter on her report card, as she embraces her senior high school year with unbridled optimism, filling out college applications expertly, speedily, and generally being an absolute joy. It’s just the way she does anything I ask so immediately, without question, and with such a delightful smile on her face. The clothes that get picked up off the floor instantaneously, the refusal to wear any of my latest purchases, use my make up or wear my earrings. Emma also. Emma has joined Tess at the finest high school in the city (Beacon) and is already excelling at all aspects of the curriculum, including Friday night sleepovers at ours, which require Ed and I to don aprons and produce restaurant-worthy brunch offerings on Saturday mornings for scores of charming young women. Ah, the neatly made beds they leave behind them. They do all say thank you…. Perhaps the star of stars, however, is Jazzy, a wheaten terrier who arrived to brighten our lives, jumping sweetly over furniture to embrace us, showering us with dog kisses, while simultaneously chewing our most precious Alvar Aalto chairs and leaving indelible wee stains all over the taupe carpet. It’s not her fault that the wee stain doesn’t match the carpet, is it?
Back to the loo.
We are headed to an East Coast boutique hotel for Christmas, aka my parents’ house with the aforementioned loo. Stone House on Mersea Island is an oasis of calm, delivered through immaculate design, impeccable home cooking, constant hot water for proper baths, and really fluffy towels.
And a couple of the best human beings on this planet.
I want to pay tribute to my parents. This year they’ve had to grapple with the full spectrum from their children. At one end, my fantastically talented sister Frances shattered many a glass ceiling by becoming Director of Tate Modern. Richly deserved, and as her sister I’m allowed to say, a little overdue. Then my brother, navigating a change in family situation with care and patience, while renovating an extraordinary property on an impossibly beautiful spot in Devon. At the other end, my diagnosis.
Not many parents past their first flush of youth would get on the plane, come on over, cook and clean and garden and shower us with persistent and consistent strong and tender love.
And wow has it helped.
Last Friday I had my MRI. I was warned I wouldn’t be able to get the results until Tuesday this week, so had prepared myself for the wait. My usual ability to lie in the donut and focus on a James Bond red tunnel, with me coordinating the SAS zapping of TEF suspects, was hard to conjure up. I was so tired – the main side effect I get from ongoing chemo and schlepping up to Columbia New York Presbyterian from Brooklyn – and the gurney so comfy I almost nodded off. Even with the drilling pounding my ears.
But Dr Iwamoto isn’t any old doctor. He came and found me and gave me the headlines, and showed me the images. The cavity where my tumor was has shrunk yet further. He smiled. I smiled. Ed smiled. This was a bloody good result after a bloody awful year.
Back to the round-robin. Jessica began the year with an unexpected seizure, leading to the diagnosis of one of the most rare and aggressive of all cancers. She ended the year with no sign of it, nor of the 60+lbs she’s shed along the way, adopting the ketogenic diet, intermittent fasting, various supplements, and addictive daily dog walking around Prospect Park.
But more importantly, she and I have come to the end of the year knowing that we’ve achieved all this by drawing on reserves and replenishments of that most potent fuel. The one my parents have showered on me throughout my life, even when I’ve driven them nuts with bad behavior (so if teenagers never misbehave they’re just boring adults, right?!), working in a completely different field to them and my siblings, and – worst sin of all – by moving away. Despite all this, they’ve powered me with constant, unbridled, uninhibited and unconditional love.
So when people tell me how well they think I’m doing, as they often do, I wonder how I am able to. I’m actually, crazily, happy. Because I have very firm foundations. I’ve been loved all my life and I’ve given love all my life. And I love life. So as we end this tumultuous year, I see 2017 as the year I can inch from the psychological emergency room I’ve been in since January, to a more public ward. One where I can put to good use the knowledge and experience garnered this year. You’ll just have to hang on for the next post to hear more. But I’ve got some bloody good plans he he. And they’re all powered by love.
As my school motto stated: Amor Vincit Omnia. Sitting here, having not had a single day’s illness all year, and still flush from my fab MRI result, I can say – you bet. Love does conquer all.
Thank you for reading. For supporting, for communicating, for giving, for loving.
To you all, from me – a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.