'Month in the country' comes to an end
08 Sep 2011
Picture: Haddon Hill, Exmoor
Transition time: summer is slipping away and autumn is blowing in with strong winds and rain down here in East Devon. The blackberries are almost over and the apple trees are bending over with the gales and the weight of their fruit. The potatoes are dug up and the garden furniture is stored away for next summer.
Th e weatherhas been varied all summer: one bright, clear day followed by a wet and windy one or, sometimes, the full range of sunshine, cloud and showers in a single morning. The best days came in the first few days of September. My memories of this summer will be led by a lovely, warm sunny day watching county cricket with old friends at Taunton and another day swimming in the sea on a glorious September day at Putsborough Beach on the North Devon coast.
My 'month in the country' has worked its magic. My last chemotherapy treatment is now a fading memory and the side-effects are fading too. I still have very slight numbness in my feet and fingers (which explains a spate of dropping things) but otherwise my energy is much better. I feel much more my old self and I think that this feeling is more important than anything the next CT scan (due on Monday) might show.
The month has also allowed me to reassess my old life: too much chasing-my-tail, sitting at the computer, commuting into London, trying to juggle several priorities and deadlines. Down here in the country my daily activities have been decided by the weather rather than by the diary. I have really felt the benefits of physical activity: walks on Exmoor and in the Blackdowns, a few cycle rides, and swimming in the sea.
I have also, perhaps uncharacteristically, really enjoyed doing some practical jobs in the garden and around the house. I'm ridiculously proud of the saw-horse I made out of the bits of timber that were lying around in one of the sheds and of the guttering and water butt I set up to capture rain-water off a shed roof. I didn't even swear once, so maybe my new, post-cancer outlook is leading to a more patient me? It bodes well for my furniture-making classes, which start tomorrow.
I've read some great books this summer. They are a varied collection,mainly gifts or books recommended or loaned to me. They include:
Captain Joshua Slocum: Sailing Alone Around the World (Sheridan House, 2008). This is a wonderful autobiographical account of the first man to sail alone around the world. Slocum, a wonderful philosophical sailor of the old school, completed this astonishing feat in a 37 foot , 9 ton sloop between April 1895 and June 1898. It's an uplifting account of what can be achieved through hope, determination, and an optimistic, generous and positive outlook. I'm not a sailor but I loved this adventure. Thanks to Colin (my old ship-mate from our student days working on the ss Uganda) for sending it to me.
Tanya James (ed.): Along the Wild Edge: A journey through the northern Blackdown Hills (Neroche Landscape Partnership, 2011) A wonderful guide and description of this rather wild, remarkable and little known area at the intersection of Somerset, Devon and Dorset. This beautifully and lovingly produced book covers the natural and the human history of the area my ancestors come from and to which I have returned.
Nicholas Hastings: Round the Next Corner (Peter Davies, 1949). An autobiographical account by a restless adventurer who had a remarkable WW2 in the Royal Navy and then set off on an extraordinary journey with his wife and young daughter to start a new life farming in Kenya. I only came across this out-of-print book because it was written by the father of a local friend. Like the Slocum book it is uplifting because of its 'never-say-die' attitude an the triumph of (almost reckless) optimism over adversity.
Roger Deakin: Notes from Walnut Tree Farm (Penguin, 2009). The posthumously-published daily notes, thoughts and observations of this wonderful, slightly eccentric nature-writer, many of them research notes for his book Wildwood (mentioned in an earlier blog). Full of wonderful information about trees and timber. There's a Hardy-esque elegiac note to his observations on the way Suffolk has changed over the past 30 years. Like the other books mentioned here, this offers an inspirational alternative approach to life shaped not by any desire to proselytise but by sheer enthusiasm for the writer's subject.
Finally, I want to mention another book - which although I've not finished - I have found particularly helpful in shaping my approach to cancer. This is Gill Edwards: Conscious Medicine (Piatkus, 2010). I'm wary of giving a summary, partly because I haven't finished it, but also because I don't think it could do justice to the complex argument behind this book. But to quote the book jacket, the book 'explores how stress and trauma lead to emotional and physical disease' and 'why our emotions are central to our well-being and how our thoughts affect our DNA'.
So, as the weather changes and the leaves on the trees turn orange, red and brown, I'm heading back to London and back to work. But the cancer no longer dominates my life as it did. It is, of course, still something I cannot ignore. But, 22 weeks after my lung cancer diagnosis, I think my month in the country has helped me to learn to live more peacefully with it -- not forever but until such time as it is time for the cancerous cells to depart.