Wednesday 18th February. Bletchingley, England.

If you've come to this page today, expecting a light hearted review of life here in the land of drizzle, warm beer and cold pork pies, turn away now because it's not the day for it. I'll get to the point, but first I want to ramble on a bit.

Today's writing will touch on five subjects; Mothers (always with a capital 'M'), Cancer (sadly also deserving of a capital), regret, prayer and toughness.

*Mothers. Is there anyone else who can take the place of your Mum when you need her? You better know who's the first person I call or email when there'sI worked with a carpenter in Australia. Years before I met him, he lopped his little finger off in a drop saw, not deliberately. With one hand, he picked up the severed digit, and with the other he grabbed for his mobile phone and dialled his Mother. His Mother had died years earlier, but in his shock he wasn't thinking clearly and all he wanted was his Mum. He was telling me this story because it related to an experience that I had at work. While I was daydreaming about New Zealand, I let my thumb slip into the table planer. Mistake. As soon as I left the emergency room, I phoned Mum from my mobile. Never mind that it was mid afternoon, and she would be enjoying her much needed daily nap. I needed her right that moment. Just hearing her voice made me feel that everything was going to be allright. And it was. These days I just have an unusual thumbprint.

Mum and me, when we were both a little younger. Mum last year, on her first ride in a stretch.

*Cancer. I know first hand how Cancer can destroy lives. My Dad died of a brain tumour when I was nine. He and Mum battled to beat the disease every step of the way, but after eighteen long and gruelling months, it finally had its way. In hindsight, maybe it would've been better to forgo the treatment, and let him go much earlier, but at the time you struggle to gain every day, and clutch at every possible hope. Just days before his death, Mum asked the doctor how much longer Dad had. "Not long, thankfully" was the doctor's response. Dad died at about four o'clock in the afternoon, just as I was collecting the eggs from our chickens. They laid five eggs that day. Four fitted in the old jam tin that I fed the chickens from, with one left over in my other hand. When I heard the phone ring, I placed the eggs down on the lawn and sat on the grass waiting till I heard Mum crying. During the course of Dad's illness, his friends drifted away like mist. Dad's behaviour was changing from the effects of the tumour on his brain. He was initially forgetful, then irrational, then well.. you can imagine. We lived just across the road from an apple packing shed, and on a quiet day, voices would drift across the road into Dad's bedroom. They were the voices of his orchardist friends, come to deliver a load of apples. Poor Dad would get so excited, thinking his friends were coming to visit him. But they never did. They did come to his funeral, though. I'm sure Dad thought that was just grand of them. That's why I'm not much of a one for funerals. I'd rather pay my respects to someone while they're alive.

*Regret. I read a quote recently that went something like this: "I regret very few things that I've ever said or done, but I regret many things that I've left unsaid or undone." Me too. I have only a few regrets, but the thing with regrets is that you can never go back. My Uncle Bob died a couple of years back. He was the second last remaining of my Dad's siblings. Uncle Bob had moved to New Zealand decades ago, bought a dairy farm there and brought up a family. He lived a life fairly separate from the rest of the Savage clan. My earliest memories of Uncle Bob were from when I was about six or seven. He was on a visit to Australia and helped Dad put the roof on our shed. He always had time to listen to my stories, even then. I visited Uncle Bob and Aunty Alice in New Zealand three times over the years, and they were always wonderful to me. He'd always tell me stories of when he and Dad were kids. Just hanging around with Uncle Bob was always like a glimpse of what my Dad might have been like. Then I heard Uncle Bob had cancer. I thought about paying the old boy a visit. Then I heard that his days were numbered, and I phoned the airlines to enquire about fares. Dad would've wanted one of us boys to go, I know that, but it was peak season at that time, airfares were expensive, and I had a tax debt to pay off. I was thinking about it at work one day, and my thumb dropped into the table planer. Instead of a visit, Uncle Bob got a phone call. A fifteen minute phone call, barely long enough for us to swap a couple of dirty jokes. Not long after, he died.

Aunty Alice and Uncle Bob, milking the cows.

*Prayer. Every week, I receive emails from people who tell me they're praying for me. I like it. It's nice. Having people thinking good thoughts about me can only be a good thing, no matter what your beliefs. It certainly can't hurt. But what I don't understand is this: is God really more likely to watch over me if lots of people pray for my safety? Doesn't that seem a little simplistic, and almost like a popularity contest? What about the poor homeless guy who doesn't have any friends or family, let alone a website like this with a readership of a couple of thousand? He's gotta be screwed, doesn't he? He's gotta be S.O.L (that means right out of luck) with no-one praying for him. I've just found out that a friend of mine has Cancer, a huge tumour that extends from behind her nose, down to her chest. The first sign she noticed was a lump in her neck, a few weeks ago. She had a scan, and when she returned for a second scan two weeks later, the cancer had already spread to the other side of her neck. In two weeks! She's twenty-five years old. God would let my twenty-five year old friend keep her tumour, and sit idly by as she suffers a terrible fate, but if enough people pray for her, he'd consider curing her cancer and letting her have a second chance at life? Honestly? Is that the way it works? Forgive me- I don't mean to be sacrilegeous- but that's one hell of a system we've got going. That's not to say I want you all to stop praying for me though... just in case :) But maybe you could find time for a prayer for my friend, even if it means taking a day off from praying for me. She's living in a foreign country, a world away from her Mother, and other friends and family. If she returns to her home country, there will be no possibility of treatment for her. If she stays here....

*Toughness. The amazing thing about my friend is the strength and spirit with which she's handling this whole awful situation. I've never seen her depressed or dispirited. Quite the opposite, she's constantly smiling. In fact, when I'm in the doldroms because of the lousy cold weather, or because something didn't go well at work, her glowing smile cheers me up. If I was in her situation, I'd be a blubbering, quivering mess. Mum is nodding as she reads this, saying to herself "Yes, he would be!" She knows I've never been tough. I'll tell you a story of toughness, though. Once when Mum was in hospital, she received a visit from her old friend Pat. Pat had been for an appointment with her oncologist that morning- she'd been undergoing treatment for cancer, and Mum had been very concerned for her. But this day Pat breezed into Mum's ward as bright as a button, smiling and radiant as her old self. When Mum enquired about her health, Pat told Mum cheerfully that her oncologist said he wouldn't need to see her again. Mum was overjoyed. It was the best medicine anyone could've prescribed for Mum, and for a while I'm sure it took her mind off her own problems, which were serious enough. It wasn't till sometime later that Mum discovered her dear old friend had only told her half the truth. The oncologist didn't need to see Pat again, because there was nothing more he could do for her. Pat died quite soon after- I'm not sure if Mum even had a chance to catch up with her again. Pat goes down in my book as one of the toughest, most selfless people I've ever known.

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