Monday, 27 May 2013

The Halving

I attended a wonderful poetry reading by Robin Robertson in Dublin. I had been a fan since reading his collection, Swithering. In the small, seventeenth century, theatre in Temple Bar, he read from two more recent collections: The Wrecking Light and Hill of Doors, which was being launched in Ireland.

He is a marvellous reader. His resonant voice filled the rectangular cockpit space with its exposed brick wall and seats on three sides. His poems are fresh, compelling, and full of tension: being austere and powerfully imagistic, spare and deeply moving.

Early in the evening he read The Halving. A poem he wrote about his heart surgery and its aftermath. I was immediately transfixed. Then I began to shake with recognition.

After the reading I disclosed that I had suffered a similarly brutal invasion of my person and we spoke about surgery, post-operative depression and recovery. He explained that he had written this poem recently, some 25 years after the operation. I was at first a little surprised, given how fresh the poem felt. Then I told him I understood the necessary delay completely. After my hospitalisation, it had taken me the best part of two years to begin to write poetry at all again - and I hadnt written a word about my surgery.

The Halving

General anaesthesia; a median sternotomy
achieved by sternal saw; the ribs
held aghast by retractor; the tubes
and cannulae drawing the blood
to the reservoir, and its bubbler;
the struggling aorta
cross clamped, the heart chilled
and stopped and left to dry.
The incompetent bicuspid valve excised,
the new one - a carbon-coated disc, housed
expensively in a cage of tantalum -
is broken from its sterile pouch
then heavily implanted into the native heart,
bolstered, seated with sutures.
The aorta freed, the heart re-started.
The blood allowed back
after its time abroad
circulating in the machine.
The rib-spreader relaxed,
the plumbing removed, the breast-bone
lashed with sternal wires, the incision closed.

Four hours I'd been away: out of my body.
Made to die then jerked back to the world.
The distractions of delerium
came and went and then,
as the morphine drained, I was left with a split
chest that ground and grated on itself.
Over the pain, a blackness rose and swelled;
'pump-head' is what some call it
- debris from the bypass machine
migrating to the brain - but it felt
more interesting than that.
Halved and unhelmed,
I had been away, I said to the ceiling,
and now I am not myself.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Balmoral Show

This was the first time I had been to a large agricultural show. I found it fascinating: so many different animals, from huge Aberdeen Angus bull's to furry little rabbits. And every type of breed too: I saw so many strange sheep, including some that were all black apart from a white stripe down their nose.

I had a free ticket because Kabosh Theatre were doing a show called Inventors in a pop-up barn beside the cattle sheds. It was a series of short pieces on 19th Century Irish inventors, done in Music Hall style. We sat on bales of straw and watched the witty and wacky show, filled with songs and props as quirky as the inventors they were depicting.

Outside I roamed again and became engrossed in the show jumping. I stood right next to one of the fences and watched horses and riders soar over. A great day out.


Thursday, 16 May 2013

Robert Jeffcutt

This is the third anniversary of the death of my brother Rob.

Much loved and sadly missed.

Rob, Al, Gill and myself in 2009

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Celebration of Life

On Saturday, Phil and Nathan held a Celebration of Life party for Jean Morgan. Around eighty people gathered at the Community Centre just above the beach at Branksome Dene Chine for an afternoon of sharing stories, thoughts and photos of Jean.
There were friends, relatives and colleagues from the many places Jean, Phil and Nathan had lived and worked: Gloucester, Plymouth, Bristol, Poole, Woodgreen, Bath, Southampton, Brighton and many others. We ate, drank and chatted. I met people I hadn't seen for years and made friends with some people I had never met. It was a bittersweet occasion.
In the middle of the afternoon Phil called everyone together and invited us to join him and Nathan for a dip in the sea in memory of Jean. There was little hesitation from a majority of the company. Soon the Community Centre had become a changing room, as people stripped to reveal a range of bathing costumes.
We assembled on the beach. A cool wind blew under an overcast sky and most clutched towels around their shoulders. Waiting for stragglers to join us, we huddled like penguins on the Antarctic ice shelf.

Then Phil shouted 'cmon, lets go' and ran towards the sea. Some raced to join him, others strode purposefully. All gasped as the water hit them. It was chilled to 9 degrees. The skin tingled and smarted. Some dived in and swam. Others paddled, meeting the bracing waves on tiptoes. All returned to the beach with shivers and smiles.

About fifty members of the party had entered the sea. An element that Jean was at home in had briefly become ours too. Returning to the Community Centre we celebrated her life and her memory, enlivened.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Belfast Marathon Walk

I'm very pleased to say that all of the Sing for Life walking team completed the 9 mile Marathon Walk in good time today. The advance group, myself included, finished the walk in a little under two and a half hours. The weather was fine and with the enthusiasm of the event, we walked a good bit quicker than we had done in training.

A good proportion of the walking team are cancer survivors. I feel very proud of them all as I've been their trainer for the past couple of months. We undertook this challenge to raise funds for Cancer Focus, the primary cancer charity for Northern Ireland. People have been generous, many thanks to all of our donors. The Just Giving page is still open for donations.

I managed the walk very well, despite a few aches and pains en route. It felt very good to be involved in a mass participation event again (there were about 18,000 taking part today). I was remembering that my last big event of this sort was running the London Marathon in 1992, when I equalled my best time of three hours and twelve minutes (posted a decade earlier).
But that was a swansong of sorts, for a persistent back injury put paid to my running career a couple of years later. So I took up cycling and was very actively involved until not long before I became ill in 2011. I'm looking forward to getting back on the bike this summer.

The advance group all smiles at the finish