‘Holiday’ Time!

It’s been over a week since my last entry. No – this time, I’m not in hospital. I’ve been out. I’ve been about. I’ve seen people, places and done things – engaging in actual, proper pastimes and such. Like a normal person…well as normal as I’ve ever been. I’ve been well enough to cavort about town like I don’t have a life limiting illness – I’m pretty sure I even smiled more than once! So here comes a blow by blow account of a week in which every single day contained some kind noteworthy activity. I’ll try to mention everyone, but if I miss someone out, it’s because this week has just been so full of wonderful experiences…and pizza. Lots of pizza.

Shortly after finishing Sunday’s blog, my brother Jon arrived and this time, unlike so many others recently, I was on pretty good form. After the trials and tribulations of the week in hospital, I felt I owed him that and we were both delighted to get through a forest walk and a pizza (1) without dwelling too much on cancer or death as the latter didn’t seem quite as close as it had a few short weeks previously. My energy levels weren’t great and I fell into bed pretty soon after Jon left, but that could just as easily have been carb coma from the pizza as being knocked out from surgery.

On Monday afternoon, I went out for a walk, as I had the day before. But this wasn’t any old walk. Because Five Oaks Lane may as well have been the road to Damascus, given the revelation that hit me with such force that it brought about a sudden wave of tearful emotion. These were not the tears of painful and pitiful despair that accompanied me through the Total Obstruction saga. Quite the opposite in fact. Because, for the first time in perhaps a year, I felt…OK. Fair to middling, fine, adequate, untroubled – alright. No – that emotional state does not normally merit such a heartfelt outburst. But a gentle breeze drifted by as I was bathed in the mildly warming rays of bright sunlight. The birds were singing and the ambience was decidedly pleasant. Not necessarily good, great or fantastic. Just pleasant and that was plenty. Because, for the first time in around a year, I felt no pain and was completely free of any kind of suffering. Never will I forget to appreciate just feeling ok. Because, so recently lying forlornly in that forsaken hospital bed, I couldn’t imagine a life without suffering…Yet here we are and I still can’t quite believe it.

That evening, I continued to indulge in the pleasantness with a big band rehearsal. I could just about engage my abdominal muscles without pain and blew the literal and metaphorical cobwebs off a trombone that I hadn’t touched at all this year. This was the first time I’d been out with such a large group and I received the hugest bear hug from bandleader Simon. Remarkably, I made it through until 10:30 still able to play the trombone and focus on a series of increasingly tricky bits of sight reading as my lips reminded me that I haven’t played much recently. But this was the first of many trips back towards my former capabilities this week and I took in every second.

By Tuesday morning, I discovered that it’s possible to get delayed onset muscle soreness in your lip muscles. So I rested those and turned my attention to those in my legs. Over the previous week, I’d worked my way up to 4k on the treadmill, but the weather was good again and I thought I’d make it out for a run. I didn’t just want to run on Tuesday – I needed to. Because February the 14th is a very significant day for me. It’s not just Valentine’s Day, but the birthday of my first love and fiancée Holly Miller. Most people reading this already know but if you’re pleasantly surprised that I’m engaged, I’m sorry to have to share the next bit. Holly died following a brutal year long battle with ovarian cancer eleven years ago when we were 25. Holly was many things including a national championship level swimmer and her fighting spirit was well honed to the point that she took that horrible disease further down the line than anyone could have hoped or expected. Until her very last breath, Holly didn’t stop fighting – I guess I have a pretty good role model there.

Over the past decade or so, I’ve reacted differently to this day. From being able to do nothing but visit her grave and nurse a heavy heart to being forced to somehow engage in whatever diversionary tasks happened to come up. More recently, I’ve taken to running to and from Holly’s grave and naming the effort in her honour. Well on this particular occasion, I couldn’t manage a run to Manor Park. But I did get to 5k and had to overcome the kind of running based pain that would previously have taken at least 50k to set in. This felt like a significant enough achievement to name this run in Holly’s honour. Perhaps the same could be said of a fair few recent endurances.

They say time heals and that’s possibly true – at least a bit. And on this particular February 14th, my mental state allowed me to get out and do a some more living in the form of a sunset catch up by the Thames and a pizza (2) with former colleague Anne Marie and her partner Ryan. N.b. They assured me that they weren’t doing any valentines stuff and I took that at face value. AM was very patient as we discussed the intricacies of unaccompanied solo fiddle tunes and made vague plans to go see some more.

Wednesday was busy in at least four ways and after a routine hospital appointment got me out of the house, I was able to enjoy the three. First, I travelled to Wanstead for coffee, then pizza (3) with a load of colleagues who let me in on a fair bit of gossip and made me feel at least a little more connected with what’s going on. In summary, the education system is on its knees and people are having to take on extra duties left right and centre. But hey, it was half term so at least there was some time to pause for breath. We talked writing too and it was most gratifying to hear from a load of English teachers (including a certified borough assessor/authority on the subject) that this blog is well received. Although I haven’t managed to fit in many fronted adverbials recently, I was roundly congratulated on my use of subordinate clauses.

A meandering walk through Wanstead Park/Flats in the fading orange light provided a pleasant transition to the Forest Gate portion of the evening when Ollie found me somewhere in the wilderness and we picked out a pub that had provided us with dinner and a game of scrabble. Being a doctor of letters and a seasoned English teacher, Ollie predictably wiped the floor with me, but I cobbled together enough swear words to consider the experience not to be a complete **** ****.

The scrabble almost made us late for the day’s final act. I’d contacted Graham, who was at Monday’s rehearsal, to ask if I could play a few tunes in his jazz quartet gig – by this point, I’ve just started brazenly inviting myself to things! Very kindly, Graham let me join and, rather than a couple of tunes, I joined on about three quarters of the gig and felt something I haven’t for a number of years in which teaching has (quite rightly) diverted my focus. I felt like a musician. A real one – not a teacher trying his best to assimilate with the proper musicians but a jazz soloist with something to say in my own right. I didn’t realise until it was happening how much I’d missed this feeling. If I’m ever able to go back to work full time, I’ll have to reassess a few priorities – no price could be put on what I felt that night.

By Thursday, I was well aware that the week was going really really well. Which is perhaps why, when running comrade and yak enthusiast Jane arrived with her tweenage daughter Matilda to do some cleaning, I just felt so undeserving of this kindness. They’d repeatedly threatened to do this and I’m aware that, given my situation, people are more than happy to help in any way they can, but I really find that kind of help difficult to accept. But no matter – they got to work on surfaces and reorganising cupboards in between breaks to play the various instruments lying around my living room and have a couple of goes on the new treadmill. They even plied me with gnocchi, which made up for the day’s lack of pizza.

There was a short overlap with a visit from my oldest friend, Madelyn. With some people, it doesn’t matter if it’s been a day, month, year or decade and we had a great catch up whilst exploring some parts of the local area that are no longer blocked off and covered in scaffolding. We even made it to some green space beyond the sprawling housing development. Being Thursday, I then went to conduct my lovely brass band just like normal and being to keep that commitment two weeks in a row really did my heart good.

Friday brought with it another pleasant walk in the forest with my boss, predecessor, current replacement and pedagogical Yoda, Jo. If Wednesday had helped me feel more connected to the work I miss so much this really did – even if the discussion soon moved on to local orchestras and obscure ceilidh dance moves. After that, I hot footed it to one of my favourite parts of London – the South Bank – where I met Ollie again for pizza (4) and a performance by the LPO. I’d deliberately booked a space in the choir stalls and geeked out on observing the conductor’s technique, poise and musical/artistic choices. I’ve a mind to sit there in future concerts.

As it was half term, there was no music school to get up for, so I took the opportunity to attend a rare 5k park run, back at Wanstead Flats courtesy of another lift from JP. I pushed hard to break 30 minutes and so only have to call myself a third slower than my previous best of just over 19 minutes. This was followed by cake with a few good running friends and a few errands, followed by yet more pizza (5). After the day/week’s heroics, I didn’t have much left that afternoon and literally lay in a darkened room for an hour or two.

Sunday’s opportunity to get out of the house was provided by the amazing local folk musician Emma Scarr, who was headlining a lunchtime gig in Leytonstone. Emma provided the unexpected opportunity to listen to a few more solo fiddle tunes as well as some wonderfully idiosyncratic songs about living in East London. I walked of one more pizza (6) with another circuit of the local forest and capped off quite an unexpectedly lively week.

The juxtaposition from constant pain and requiring infantile levels of care a few short weeks ago is something I’m still getting my head around, but never mind – I’m overjoyed to have experienced such a full on week. What’s more – if all goes to plan, this next week is set to be even better…


  1. Hi, I’m so sorry to hear about your current health issues and suffering but I enjoyed reading at least the last eight – maybe twelve -blogs in one go from a literary perspective – I’m so sorry for the suffering and heart-ache and pain you’re feeling. It’s fabulous writing, truthful journalism; I’m so sorry you are going through all this but think you have so much to share. I think this blog will benefit many people, and I hope – believe – your writing will help more people seek medical advice and intervention earlier. I wish you all the best of health and hope you keep writing.

  2. Thank you!


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