A Knight’s Tale (113: Terminal Illness)

One evening, late in 1997, over the space of three hours, what seemed to be ‘flu’-like symptoms reduced my wife Jessica to a terrifying inability to swallow. I telephoned the emergency GP service and spoke to a most unhelpful doctor. He refused to visit and told me to give Jessica aspirin. ‘If she can’t swallow, how am I going to give her aspirin?’, I asked. The response was that I should contact my GP in the morning, and if I became concerned in the night take her to casualty.

In the small hours of the morning I drove my wife to Newark Hospital’s casualty department, by which time panic had set in. There we were seen by a man in white, presumably a qualified medic. He stuck a spatula into her mouth, peered into it, and said he couldn’t see anything. He took a blood test, told us to go home, and said we would have the results in three days. I stood between him and the couch, faced him squarely, and asked: ‘If you can’t see anything, why can’t she swallow?’. At that, without a word, he walked out of the room leaving us alone. After what seemed like an age another man came in and announced that we were being sent to Nottingham. There followed a 25 mile ambulance trip.

Within minutes in one of that city’s casualty departments, with the aid of more sophisticated equipment, epiglottitis was diagnosed. I asked the doctor on duty what would have happened had I not stood firm. He replied that at the next stage Jessica would have been unable to breathe and would not have lasted the night. She was treated, rapidly improved, and we thought that was that.

Jessica seemed well, we forgot about the blood test, and I resumed my commuting to London. A couple of days later, in my consulting room 125 miles away, I received a phone call from my GP sister-in-law. ‘It’s myeloma’, she announced. I had no idea what that incurable bone barrow cancer was. This is what the test had revealed.

Naturally I complained in writing both to the hospital and to the GP services. I had no energy left to pursue the bland responses I received. There were much more important channels for it.

There was a sequel to this story. One of the professional tasks I undertook in Newark was the supervision of other freelance therapeutic counsellors. One day one of my supervisees spoke of a couple with whom she was trying to engage. She said she was unable to work with the man who was unbelievably chauvinistic and treated his wife very badly. She asked me if I would take over this piece of work. I replied that I couldn’t because this was the emergency GP, in fact a psychiatrist, who refused to visit Jessica.

There followed ten years of various treatments, including blood transfusions, two stem cell transplants, and finally, an unsuccessful donor transplant.

Knowing that her first bout of chemotherapy would result in hair loss, she asked her friend Jane Keeler to cut it all off for her.

Mostly she was treated as an outpatient, but there was one week when to visit her in hospital I travelled by train from Lindum House to Kings Cross early in the morning, carried out a normal day’s work, took a train to Nottingham, visited, then took another train to Newark. I was relieved that I only had to do that once.

Initially, periods of remission were such that Jessica was able to continue working as an emergency duty social worker. The months of relief gradually became shorter and shorter, and the relapses longer and she retired on ill health grounds after about five years. She died on 4th July 2007.

Out In Force Today

Jackie cut my hair this morning.

She grabbed my Covid locks

and trimmed them down to size.

And here was I wishing to turn the clock back.

Contrary to expectations today, albeit several degrees cooler, was, from midday, bright and sunny.

We drove to Otter Nurseries to buy some primroses, including a pot for Elizabeth, which we took to her with a pair of gardening gloves. After a lengthy socially distanced pleasant conversation in her garden we took off for a drive.

A patch of green on Pilley Street generally fills with fresh, reflective, rainwater after the amount of rain we are currently experiencing.

Today a pair of ponies slaked their thirst thereon.

Kewlake Lane is one of those in the forest where local people have lined the verges with large stumps to deter visitors from parking on them. One mossy specimen, reflected in a pool, had been in use for quite some time. We looked down on a fairly orderly sun-streaked landscape.

Along Furzley Lane we encountered more basking ponies and one solitary donkey. The shaggy coated equines were out in force today.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s substantial, flavoursome, chicken and vegetable stewp, with tangy Welsh rarebit, and fresh French bread. The Culinary Queen drank Hoegaarden and I drank more of the Garnacha.


Welcome steady rain fell for most of the day. What’s that? An Englishman welcoming rain in July?

Yes. It is much needed at the moment.

This morning we drove to Crestwood of Lymington to book an assessment for replacing the very poorly laid flooring in our sitting room that we inherited five years ago.

Later Jackie drove me to Sears Barbers in Milford on Sea where she photographed Peter cutting my hair. Bobby Moore and Mohammed Ali were on hand to vet the proceedings.

This afternoon I scanned a set of prints from 3rd June 2000. These were of Sam and the Wadham Eight competing in the Oxford Eights Week.

Wikipedia reports that ‘Eights Week, also known as Summer Eights, is a four-day regatta of bumps races which constitutes the University of Oxford‘s main intercollegiate rowing event of the year. The regatta takes place in May of each year, from the Wednesday to the Saturday of the fifth week of Trinity Term. Men’s and women’s coxed eights compete in separate divisions for their colleges, with some colleges entering as many as five crews for each sex.

The racing takes place on the Isis, a length of the River Thames, which is generally too narrow for side by side racing. For each division, thirteen boats line up at the downstream end of the stretch, each cox holding onto a rope attached to the bank, leaving around 1.5 boat lengths between each boat. The start of racing is signalled by the firing of a cannon, each crew attempting to progress up their division by bumping the boat in front, while avoiding being bumped by the boat behind. Once a bump has taken place, both of the crews involved stop racing and move to the side to allow the rest of the division to pass. It is possible to “over bump” if the 2 crews in front of your boat bump (and so drop out) and your boat can catch the boat that was in front of them. They then swap places for the next day’s racing, whether that be the calendar day or the first day of racing in the next year’s competition.’

The nearest boat in each of the first two of these images is the Wadham First Eight of which Sam was a member.

I imagine it was a normal ritual for the crew to hoist the cox. Sam appears to be pleased to be grasping the young lady’s thigh. The man on the right covering a mate’s eyes

later received a ducking.

When you appreciate that this was the gentleman, a good two stone heavier by December 2008, who, as recounted in “Oiling The Lion”, tackled me to the ground during a game of touch rugby, you will perhaps understand that now, with tongue in cheek, I think he got what he deserved.

It had been some decades since Wadham College last won an oar at the Eights. They won two during Sam’s time there. He has kept his own from 2000. I have this one from the 2001 Torpid.

The Torpids are the other of the two bumping competitions held each year.

Early this evening Becky and Ian arrived to stay for the weekend. After a pleasant exchange of information about our various ailments we all dined at the Royal Oak. Jackie and Ian chose very good burgers, chips, coleslaw and salad, while Becky and I enjoyed chicken pie, with an al dente vegetable melange. We all shared a vast portion of real onion rings. Jackie drank Amstell; Ian drank Moretti; Becky drank Diet Pepsi; and I drank Malbec.


Desk untidy

This morning was spent making up for procrastination in various ways. My desk sits in the hall that doubles as a study. Despite the fact that I know where everything is, it does become a little untidy. Jackie never complains, but I know she would rather visitors saw some sort of order when they entered the house.

DowelBefore moving some of the material from on and under the desk into the hall cupboard this required a little repair. The door of the Chinese cabinet is hinged with wooden dowels, one of which was broken in the move to Minstead in November 2012. The damaged piece needed to be drilled out to make room for a replacement which Jackie had bought soon after our arrival at Castle Malwood Lodge. I thought I had better get around to that, and fixed it before tidying up the desk. When they were children, Matthew and Becky bought me the slate coasters that are now visible and can serve their proper purpose instead of delegating that to any bit of paper or blotter that could be reached.Desk tidiedDesk after cleaning

It looked even better after Jackie had got at it, made a few adjustments, and cleaned the computer screen.

For a while we have been meaning to check the contents of the oil tank. I did that. It was a bit low, but not crucially so. A similar task was arranging the next emptying of the septic tank. I did that by e-mail.

It must be four or five months since I last had a haircut. Again, we have been saying for some time that I needed one, especially as anyone might think I was trying to recover my long haired days, which would probably be a bit sad. Jackie did it in the kitchen this morning whilst I sat and watched tits, robins, chaffinches, pigeons, and sparrows flitting past the window and enjoying their breakfast.

Derrick reflected in computer screen

When asked to photograph her handiwork for the blog, Jackie had the bright idea that I should repeat my previous unwitting image of a good haircut, so I photographed my nice clean Apple screen.

It was another Six Nations Rugby afternoon. I watched it on television. In the first, quite the best game of the tournament so far, Wales, in Cardiff, beat Ireland 23-16. In a rather less intriguing contest at Twickenham England beat Scotland 25-13.Aaron

Aaron continued his work on the back drive, which is looking very good.

This evening we dined on pork rib rack marinaded in barbecue sauce, and Jackie’s egg fried rice and stir fry vegetables with teriyaki sauce. I drank Chateau Les Mourleaux Bordeaux 2012, and Jackie didn’t.