One Good Thing about Having Surgery

Sanjay is only in his 30s but he’s had a lot of surgery, all of it since the cancer was diagnosed. That’s if you don’t count ingrowing toenails as a teenager, now best forgotten along with his pongy trainers.

As with Laura, Geoff and the other people in my novel, I made Sanjay up.  He only lives, breathes and sheds tears in my fiction.

In his opinion, the only good thing about operations is the pre-med.  That injection is chock-full of morphine.   Makes you as legless as a freshers’ night out.  There’s also some stuff to dry up secretions, so your mouth is like an African drought.  But with the morphine on board, who gives a fuck?

Then the anaesthetist gets him to make a fist.  “Now count to 10 for me.”   He never gets beyond four before drifting away.230991_2134 surgeon crop

Whatever delicious thoughts he has on going to sleep, there’s always hell to pay when he wakes up.  Last time, someone was moaning like a wounded animal in the recovery room.

And Sanjay was in serious pain.  Just because you were asleep when they plunged a knife into your neck didn’t stop it hurting like hell afterwards.

He thought of his mate Ben.  He must have been in agony for hours.  Sanjay wondered if anyone had given him enough morphine, whatever ‘enough’ means when an IED has ripped off one of your arms and a hunk of leg.  Was there was someone sitting by him, like this nurse here?  Probably not.  Just another wounded soldier, doing his best with a tourniquet and praying the MERT would show before they both snuffed it.

In the recovery room, Sanjay had the irresistible urge to sit up, but the pain and the nurse kept forcing him back down.  He had a sore throat and felt sick.  The smell of antiseptic didn’t help, nor did the bilious scent of dressings.  Nurses insisted there was no smell, but they were wrong.  Since the chemo, he could smell everything.

The moaning still hadn’t stopped.  Some poor deranged sod really didn’t want to be here.  “Hush now” the nurse said. “I’ll get you a sip of water.”

The thirst was unbearable, but all he got was a plastic thimble of water, with instructions to take a small sip.  Most of it went down the front of his hospital gown.  Miraculously, the moaning stopped when he drank the water, which was when Sanjay realized that he was the deranged sod making all the noise.

He patted his neck and shoulder tentatively through the dressing.  Strange that such a small procedure would lead to so much trouble.  Maybe it was the drugs.  It was always a bad idea to mix drugs, but hospitals dosed you with reckless abandon, with gases out of metal cylinders, and loads more stuff into your veins.  One of the anaesthetists explained it.  She was one of the new docs, a woman with long red hair and a piercing that went right through a massive freckle on the side of her nose.

She was flirting with him, he was sure.  So he flirted back, as best one could when lying down and wearing a hospital gown instead of Paul Smith loafers, Armani jeans and lucky pants.  That was when he learned about the IV anaesthetic drugs, like fentanyl and ketamine.  All the stuff to make sure you didn’t come to during the op. No wonder by the time he got to the recovery room he felt he’d gone four rounds with David Haye and had an overdose of Ivory Wave or whatever high you could get for a tenner these days.

Jeremy's scalpel

He’s hoping he won’t go under the knife again, but the cancer always seems to have other ideas.

Female, 38, seeks altruistic single male

“I’m fussy, that’s the problem” says Laura.

Her friend Ruth nods.  They both know ‘fussy’ is shorthand for 38 and single.

lavender heart This week, Laura escapes from the pages of my novel and ponders a report that shows altruistic behaviour makes men more attractive, even as one-night stands.

Now that Laura is back from working abroad, her CV looks great but her love life doesn’t.  She needs to meet people other than those at the office.  Hooking up in bars is dodgy.  But more dodgy than hooking up at work?  She thinks back to last year and Jamie in socks, tie and nothing else.  Er, no.

“How about what’s-his-name off that dating site?” asks Ruth.

Laura makes a face.  She had a drink with what’s his name last week.  ‘I’m a paralegal’ she replied to his question.  ‘A pair o’ legal what?’ he leered, getting too close.

In fact she’s a lawyer.  She also tells people she’s 34, called Emma, and lives in Hampstead.  There’s a fine line between honesty and ending up dismembered in some lockup.  Or several lockups.

There hasn’t been one big dating disaster that she can dine out on, just a series of soul-destroying evenings trying to find something in common with people like Wayne from Wasp Control.  He’d said he was a wildlife expert, so obviously he’d bigged it up a bit, like his photo which looked like Johnny Depp.  In life he looked more like Johnny Come Weekly.   He’d also promised that she’d never meet another man quite like him.  Laura hoped that bit was true.

“What exactly are you looking for?” Ruth asks.

She wasn’t looking for smelly guys in grubby leather coats, emotional idiots who blubbed about the ex-girlfriend, jolly men who said they had GSOH. That meant they laughed at their own jokes.  Or the forgetful type like Tom.  One detail he’d omitted?  He was still living with his ex-wife.  Another detail was that the wife wasn’t ex.

Most matches she deleted without meeting.   The ones who claimed to be’tactile and sexy’ were plain creepy.  The more discursive entries were equally cringe-making: ‘I’m into all kinds of sports, and keen to find a partner who wants to explore our physical passion in all its forms.’  Why didn’t they just cut to the chase and write ‘deviant’?

Ruth had an idea. “You want someone who does good deeds.  Have you seen the paper today?  Research shows that altruism makes men more attractive as a potential partner.  Women too, apparently, but it works best for men.”

“I’m not looking for someone to help me cross the street just yet.”

Ruth digs a newspaper out of her shopping bag and shows it to Laura.

As soon as Ruth has gone, Laura logs onto the site.  Now Alan the surveyor sounds quite nice. There’s already a message from him.  And look, it says here he helps out in a homeless shelter!

You have to live in hope.  Laura clicks Reply.

*Link to the study from Nottingham and Liverpool John Moores Universities

Five tips for Freshers’ Week

escolaresAny minute now, university towns will be invaded by young people, many of them away from home for the first time.  By definition, freshmen will be desperate to cram in as much as possible into just a few days.  Freshers’ Week can be a full 7 days, a mere 5 at some unis, or stretched out to what’s billed as ‘the best two weeks of your life’.  If you survive.

US-style hazing* isn’t part of the freshman experience in the UK, and may be illegal anyway.  But giving ridiculously cheap alcohol to 18-year olds and seeing what happens?  That’s a totally acceptable, even obligatory, part of the initiation that is Freshers’ Week.

It usually begins with an event called the Mingle and can end up anywhere.  Alone the way, the student body gets into heaps of trouble: sex, accidents, drugs, debt, stress, freshers’ flu, gastric complaints, hypothermia, blackouts, lost underwear, chlamydia and the full shag (syphilis, herpes, ano-genital warts and gonorrhoea).

instant idiot 1There’s no shortage of sensible advice around, but few students heed it. Here, passed on by an infinitely wise third year, are 5 tips for making the most of Freshers’ Week.

1 Smile at everyone.  You never know who will be your best friend.  Even better, snog everyone.  Make sure you post the evidence on Facebook.  You want people to think you’re friendly, don’t you?

2 Save time by multitasking.  It’s possible to drink beer while doing almost any other activity eg crossing the street, wrestling on the rooftop.  You can also make new friends in the queue at the sexual health clinic (see tip 1).

3 Be ambitious.  The Freshers’ Fair is an intoxicating event meant to convince newbies that anything’s possible, even if, for some very good reason, they’ve never tried it before. You’re tone deaf?  A choir beckons.  You’ve inherited Auntie Pat’s tremor?  Then the rifle club is for you.  Just sign up and pay up.

4 Send automated messages back home.  Whether text or email, these should be regular and reassuring.  Sample messages to start you off:

Hey Mum.  The library is fab!  I plan to spend a lot of time there.

Hi Dad.  I’ve joined the Chess Society and the gym.

This will ease the way when you run out of money sometime during week two.

5 Do the Circle Line pub crawl. Legendary and utterly London, this is where a second year, usually from some society or club, takes unsuspecting freshers to down a pint at each one of the 27 stops on the Circle line.  It’ll make a massive dent in your wallet and your liver, but at least the next day you’ll be too wasted to get into any more trouble.

*For more on hazing, see


Being on TV is the ultimate in glamour, as the late David Frost knew so well.  That’s pretty much how it is for me too.  Polish TVFirst off, I get chauffeured to the studio.  This driver collects vintage sweet wrappers, judging by his floor.  I can see them even though it’s 5am and still dark.  On our way, he relates all the symptoms he and his family have ever had.  I hope we arrive before he gets around to his Farmers.

Getting inside the studio is the next hurdle.  I’ve been to this one many times, yet each time the security guard peers at me as if I might be wearing a suicide vest.  On my way out, he may be asking for my autograph, but getting in means a ritual interrogation.

The Green Room (which is blue rather than green – whose idea was that?) is swarming with guests ranging from newspaper reviewers to a family with 7 children who live on E numbers.  In a corner two politicians from opposing parties are swapping dirty jokes.   In here they’re like bosom buddies, though on air they’ll be punching the verbal daylights out of each other.

The newspaper reviewers have covered every surface with newspapers.  The kids have eaten all but one of the biscuits in the box on the table, and I saw the youngest lick that one.

A runner asks if I’d like tea or coffee.  In hindsight, I should choose water.  It’s more likely to arrive before I go on air.

In make-up, the artists are busy working on presenters and guests while chatting about boyfriends and clothes.   Two artists become free at the same time.  I’m standing in the doorway as they eyeball each other.  “OK, I’ll do her” says one of them finally.  “I like a challenge.”

Foundation goes on ¼” thick.  It gives me an orange glow, as if I’ve been on holiday.  In a Doritos factory.  “Ever considered permanent makeup?” asks the artist who is now applying thick ribbons of black eyeliner.

My tip: ask to look like the artist who’s doing your panel-beating and respray.  Everyone likes a compliment, and it saves time because they’ve always got that look down to a fine art.

My artist sighs as she inspects my hair and asks how I’d like it.  With about twice as much volume is my answer, but that’s not possible. What I get is a headful of Velcro rollers followed by a vicious backcombing that threatens to yank my earrings off.

Sometimes there’s no time for hair and makeup, and I have to go on camera without it.  The message is more important than the messenger.

Presenters are invariably charming and can conduct three conversations at once: with the co-presenter, the guest, and, via an earpiece, the producer in the gallery. The interviewee only has to manage one dialogue.

It’s over quickly, but I always know that lots of people are watching, in other words the producer and my mother (actually my mother doesn’t bother so much these days).  On the plus side, I manage to get across most of my points on MRSA.  And someone finally hands me that coffee when I get out.

My driver is the same one.  On our way back he merrily clips the wing mirror of a parked BMW, and deposits me 100 yards from my home.  He can’t get any further because a refuse cart is blocking the road.

refuse cart crop

“Thanks” I say as I get out, feeling a bit rubbish.