Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

By Clarke, Jeremy | The Spectator, June 13, 2015 | Go to article overview

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke


Clarke, Jeremy, The Spectator


On Sunday morning, I was kicking a football in the back garden with my grandson. I had bought him his first pair of football boots, Optimum Tribals, junior size 11, blue and orange, each boot furnished with six very adult-looking steel studs: four on the sole, two at the back of the heel. We were shirtless.

With a football at his feet and his shirt off, my grandson is transformed from an intelligent, biddable boy who is perhaps overly concerned with questions of right and wrong into an arrogant, argumentative liar given to pettish sulks. He tackles like a terrier gone berserk during a rat hunt. It wasn't long before I was rolling around on the grass clutching my ankle bone after a two-footed studs-first challenge. I sat up and rolled down my sock to inspect the damage. And as I fingered the bruise, quite out of the blue I remembered that I had cancer.

It's been just over two years since I sat opposite the urology consultant, Mr Mason, and watched his lips form the dread words 'cancer', 'highly aggressive', 'spread' and 'lymph nodes'. And I panicked, I don't mind admitting it. For several weeks, mentally, I was Corporal Jones with an unexploded bomb stuffed down the front of his trousers. I assumed that that was it -- curtains -- and I pictured myself lying in a bed with the lights going out one by one. I prayed not that I'd live (there are limits to my presumption), but that whatever happened I would set a good example to the children.

A week or two after my chat with Mr Mason, I met my oncologist for the first time. She was calm and reassuring and she had a plan. We were going to 'throw the kitchen sink' at the cancer in my pelvis, she said, and we were simply going to hope that the slightly enlarged lymph node in my aortic region was merely a freak. This sounded to me like an excellent plan. But even before we started throwing the kitchen sink at the cancer, my mental attitude towards the possibility of my being brown bread in short order inexplicably turned around. I stopped panicking and in spite of myself felt more cheerful than I had done for years. The rhythm and blues guitarist Wilko Johnson and I were diagnosed with cancer at about the same time. I was hoping to find him in the same rowing boat as we crossed the Styx. …

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