Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

Homesick for England, family and friends, I flew back, and the next day went for a long walk with my brother.

We've both had the same cancer, my brother and I, and we've both been chemically castrated. We attend the same oncology department, and we are both recovering.

(In my brother's case this is almost miraculous, given that when his cancer was first identified it was found to be spreading as rapidly as Islam in the 7th century.) And for both of us, the shock of diagnosis, and the prospect of an early death, was quickly followed by a surprising joy, which intensified during treatment, then diminished as the tumour shrank, the alarm bells died away, and the prospect of a reprieve became first an undreamed-of possibility, then a reality. Apart from the breasts,neither of us would have missed our enlivening experience for the world.

My brother is not the sort of person to spill out his guts at the drop of a hat and neither -- I hope -- am I. But we see each other only rarely, and as we walked we talked non-stop about the ramifications of our disease and our castration. It was refreshing to speak as truthfully as I knew how to about a subject that is intensely personal and in many ways complicated, and I spoke candidly to my brother as though he were a comrade.

For a good part of the way, we walked beside or along a stretch of coast road that was closed to traffic after the sea rose up in a fury last winter and bit out a chunk of it. The road has been closed since then, with no sign of any reconstruction work even being considered. We joined it at a point where it runs dead straight for three miles across reed beds, with the sea on one side and a nature reserve and freshwater lake on the other.

My brother's peculiar access of joy at being diagnosed with a terminal illness hasn't yet quite petered out, and the beauty of creation still transports him. Around a bend in the abandoned road we came upon a profusion of yellow wildflowers, and poking up between them about a hundred foxgloves in their absolute pomp nodding in the stiffish sea breeze. 'Look at that!' said my brother, enraptured. He whipped out his phone and took photos from different angles. …

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