Readers Are Not Strangers

Luck, Love and Protection

My last update, “Readers are not strangers” went down well so I’m permanently calling this blog (if that’s what it is) Reader Are Not Strangers. The goodwill continues to flow and I’m still enjoying the existential rush that comes when you’ve been warned your life may be foreshortened. This makes so many mundane things beautiful and beautiful things almost unbearably so. I mean things like taking my wife a coffee in the morning; gazing like an old-time acid-head at the sunlit dew on a perfect cobweb; looking at the fish-like skeleton of a rotting boat on a pond; listening to the younger savage practice on his fiddle in the dusk of a summer evening.

Really, you could go mad on the beauty of the planet. Off your rocker as we said when I was a kid.

Chemotherapy is hard work. Perhaps next update I’ll write about my first session. I had an unusual reaction and almost died when I went into anaphylactic shock. It’s a bit too raw to write about just now but I did seriously think The End was being bashed out on the universal keyboard. You know: grandma beckoning you forth, and all that. Anyway, I’ve had a few sessions since then with no repeat of that nightmare. The pattern is a period of serious weakness after the therapy, followed by a slow period of recovery, and then just as you start to feel better you have to return for more chemotherapy.

So in one recovery period we went to Rutland water with the savages, taking the kids’ bikes on the back of the car. It was a day of glory. The sun was hot in the sky and the reservoir shimmered like a blue-grey pearl. A yacht with a red sail seemed becalmed on the water, along with a few row boats dotted about. We found the luxurious deep-blue shadow of a beech tree under which to idle away the day by the shore.

When they built the car park there they unearthed the burial site of over a hundred Anglo-Saxons. One of the skeletons is exhibited in a glass case in the Information Centre. It is the skeleton of a young woman aged between 18-23. She’d died of cancer. (No, I’m making that up! But as a cancer-sufferer I do like to see a good skeleton whenever I go anywhere.)

Towards the end of the day Sue and I were regretting not having taken a bike ride around the cycle track at the edge of the lake. The savages had already got their rides in, but it was time to pack up and leave. I’d huffed and puffed and wheezed and got the bikes on the back of the car when we got a text message to say something or other had been cancelled. I huffed and puffed and wheezed some more and got the bikes back off the car so that we could have our late bike ride after all.

It was five in the afternoon, still very hot and the shadows were long. A breeze had come up off the reservoir and the light on the water now had a mineral beauty. There were a few clouds in the sky but they were swanfeather-white, brilliantly defined, like ensigns on a small flotilla of ships. We cycled for a couple of miles round the edge of the reservoir and came to Normanton church, built over the water on a small promontory.

There was a wedding going on at the hotel nearby. The bride was coming back from having her photo taken at the church. We had to stop and wait as she negotiated a swing-gate in her long dress. She wobbled on high heels as she came through the gate and maybe that’s why she looked a little tense.

But the sun beat down overhead and she was golden. I always think it’s a sign of luck to stumble across a wedding. But this bride seemed to be stepping from a picture book. She had a mythical quality. Her wedding dress was also swanfeather-white. She was a cloud with the blue sky and the pearly water behind her. I was mesmerised – this is what I mean by the existential rush – and forgot my good manners, which would be to say, ‘Congratulations!’ whenever a random bride crosses your path. But both Sue and I, in sunglasses and cycling helmets, were smiling at her; and when she looked up the tension left her and her face broke into a lovely smile by way of return, so I’m forgiving myself that momentary loss of manners.

After she had gone we went on our way. I managed about three or four miles, which at my level of fitness after all the chemotherapy wasn’t bad. But that bike ride. That sky. That bride. A bonus at the end of an already beautiful day. It was a ride I thought we weren’t going to have. It was like a cameo of life itself.

Meanwhile The Year Of The Ladybird has had a good response. I wonder if I’m the only writer to get great reviews from both SFX Magazine and The Lady. What a demographic. What a wedding that would make. Yes, the ladybird is a symbol of luck, love and protection. A bit like a bride.

And I’m still here.