NO ONE ever said that chemotherapy would be fun, and now I know why. But it is interesting. I sat in a deeply comfortable chair, in a calm room lit by bright sunlight, with perhaps a dozen other patients. A nurse of incalculable efficiency put a small cannula in the back of my hand (“Just a scratch,” she said, but it was hardly even that), and we were off.
The various drugs are released into your system through a pump. In my case, the administration took about three hours. Every so often, beepers on the pump go off to alert the nurses to the various stages of the process. Each of the patients had their own beeping drug pump, all playing the opening three notes to the 1970s children’s show Here Come the Double Deckers!, which became an inescapable earworm. “Get on board!” the beepers chirruped. “Get on board!” I don’t see that I have much choice.
WHEN, in February this year, my wife and I were almost the last tourists in Europe, she bought me some prayer beads in Aachen Cathedral. Knowing that I would have to face chemo at some point, I thought they might be a good way to focus my concentration during treatment, and so they have proved. Just having them on the table next to my cancer chair attracted the attention of one of the nursing assistants, whose daughter, it transpired, is a candidate for ordination. If nothing else, the beads had brought me into contact with someone who was happy to indulge in churchy gossip while she brought me lunch.
I acquired a taste for churchy gossip when I was an undergraduate at St David’s University College, Lampeter, in the mid-1970s, because lots of my pals were ordinands. Only poets, in my experience, are better gossips, and gossip made a welcome change from the Double Deckers earworm. When I was done, my new friend said, “You did really well.” “It was easy,” I was able to say, “because I know that I am loved.”
THE reason that I’ve started chemotherapy now is because, as lockdown eases, new patients are able to begin their chemo courses. The day I got the letter from the UK Government, telling me that I need no longer shield, was also the day I got the letter telling me my chemo was due to start — and that therefore I would need to start shielding.
Lockdown easing has also meant that church services have been restarted, a process not without complications in one of a handful of C of E benefices in Wales. Steve, the Vicar, has arranged an especially extra-isolated seat for me, up in the pointy end, next to the locum organist — with whom I share a bubble, as we are married.
I HAVE managed to keep working, to an extent. Owing to the technical brilliance of my producer at the BBC, Mary Ward-Lowery, I managed to record an episode of Open Country for Radio 4. The interviewees were in the Lake District, Mary was in Lincolnshire, and I was in my study here in Presteigne.
To make sure that my little home studio sounded acoustically dead, I needed to hang extra drapery about the place. A few years back, a retiring vicar friend gave me one of her old chasubles. At the time, I was puzzled about what I would do with a retired chasuble. I used to play the part of an elderly vicar for walkabout theatre at various festivals, but wearing this seemed sacrilegious, and so it has hung on the back of my door — as a decoration, as much as anything.
Lockdown home-recording brought it into play. If you listen again to the show, what you will hear is a presenter with his head and microphone in an otherwise redundant chasuble. You won’t, I hope, be able to tell.
JUST as writers spend a great deal of time reading, so radio presenters spend hours listening to the radio. I start each morning with Pop Master on the Ken Bruce Radio 2 morning show, and then I spend much of the day flipping between Radios 5 Live, 6 Music, and 4. I rarely miss The Infinite Monkey Cage, a half-hour of secular worship devoted to Dawkins-esque scientism. Scientism is the belief that all possible phenomena can be explained by science, eventually, but we just don’t know how, yet.
In a recent episode, the guests were discussing the chances of life elsewhere in the universe. They were of the view that, what with one thing and another, Earth is most probably the only planet in the universe which plays host to intelligent life. People of another faith might have their own views on how this came to be.
Ian Marchant is an author and broadcaster, and the founder of Radio Free Radnorshire.