Thursday, August 30, 2007

30th August
A cryptic email arrived this morning:

Below is the result of your feedback form. It was submitted by (jenny+killick) on Wednesday, August 29, 2007 at 23:07:50---------------------------------------------------------------------------name: jenny+killickSubmit: Send Form to Jo---------------------------------------------------------------------------__________ NOD32 2490 (20070829) Information __________This message was checked by NOD32 antivirus system.

Jenny Killick directed my first three plays for the Traverse - LOSING VENICE, LUCY'S PLAY, and PLAYING WITH FIRE.
I would so love to get back in touch with her... but the email offers no clue. As to what she might have been trying to say, or how to get in contact.
It's so frustrating.. I look her up on GOOGLE, and feel disturbed to see most of the entries seem to refer to my account of working with her.
I hope I did her justice..
I realise what I debt I owe her for LOSING VENICE... a lesser person, faced with that situation, would have defended her ego by destroying my play.
Instead, she abandoned her ego and saved my play.

(Perhaps she'll read this. She could try:
I hope, somehow, we can make contact)


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

28th August
I'm not sure why, but I've become fascinated by Keats.
At the beginning of a mostly forgotten poem called ENDYMION, he wrote:
"A thing of beauty is a joy for ever;
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quet breathing."

Mostly we don't hear about beauty nowadays, and indeed most artists would be embarrassed even to think of it.
Most visual artists gave up the idea of creating beauty a long time ago; and techncal skill, the amazing communication between eye and hand.. instead they rely on concepts. But what distinguishes so many of them is an amazing poverty of thought.
i went to an exhibition on sunday which consisted entirely of mediocre photographs of buildings with a white line drawn on them which purported to show the route the artist had taken when he climbed on them.
And yesterday I went to a production of Ibsen's Doll's House. Its ideas were that the male characters would be portrayed by dwarfs (because they were small-minded); that Nora would be played with an affected childish voice (because oppresion infantilises the oppressed)and a cod nordic accent (because Ibsen came from Scandinavia).
So there was no truth, no subtlety, no compassion... none of the qualities that make Ibsen a worthwhile artist.
It was sad and contemptible; and has been hailed as 'revitalising' him.

Perhaps that's why I'm becoming obsessed with Keats: I need reminding of what I am trying to achieve.


Monday, August 27, 2007

27th August

The night before I last fell ill we went for a walk along a secret path. It ran through woods and fields beside the hill of Arthur's Seat, like a slice of unknown countryside in the heart of Edinburgh.

Somehow the secretive magical quality of the walk is connected with the theatre company we were on our way to see - Theatre Alba (
I first came across them many years ago, it must have been about 1983, because I was still reviewing plays for THE SCOTSMAN and I had been sent to review an utterly unknown play, THE SHEPHERD BEGUILED, by an unknown company (which turned out to ne Theatre Alba) at an unknown venue (a disused and shortly to be demolished cinema in Abbeyhill).
The play was written in Scots and told the (apparently true) story of a minister of the kirk who lived with the fairies for 12 years under the fairy hill in Aberfoyle.
Both production and play were stunningly beautiful, and filled me with the profoundest joy and happiness.

What is amazing about this company is that it still exists, and with the same director, Charlie Nowoskielski, the same composer, Richard Cherns, and even many of the same cast. Only now they perform every festival in the grounds of the manse of Duddingston Village kirk. It has to be one of the most beauitful venues in Edinburgh, as the sun sets of a summer evening.
This time the play was THE LASS WI' THE MUCKLE MOO a by now totally neglected Scots comedy by the utterly forgotten Alexander Reid, who flourished in the fifties. He also wrote an utterly beauitful and utterly neglected play called THE WARLD'S WONDER, which really deserves to be revived.

I'd forgotten all about him myself until I saw his name on the programme, and this play, too, is a gorgeous piece of work that it was a joy to see. There's a boy-meets-girl, or rather girl-meets-boy kind of plot to it whose comic potential is so skillfully exploited, all interwoven with a weird and very wonderful tale of Thomas the Rhymer and the Queen of Elfland, full of wonder and longing for a different, truer, richer existence.

All performed on a shoestring by a company that know each other well, operate without subsidy, and work for the love of what they are doing. That doggedly, skillfully and lovingly plough their own furrow without prestige or recognition, firmly on the fringes of everything, and give an enormous amount of pleasure in the process.

It's very hard to get less fashionable than Alexander Reid...except perhaps to do MARY ROSE by James Barrie. Characteristically, that's another of their productions this year.
In the Netherbow Theatre in the Scottish Storytelling Centre where their chronic lack of resources sometimes is painfully evidence; for Barries was very skillfully exploiting the resources of the London West End stage in the early twenties, and the wobbly scenery and lack of scenic effects is a kind of sad reminder of the price this company pays for their integrity and fierce independence.
In another way none of that matters; for this totally neglected and overlooked play is written with such superb skill. It's about a young girl who mysteriously disappears on a haunted Scottish island; and who, when she reappears a month later has no memory of anything strange having happens.
She marries a young naval officer, gives birth to a son, and then disappears again, on the same island, for twenty five years...
It's a kind of allegory of grieving and loss, and when it was written - soon after the First World War - it had the most amazing potency.
The cast respect that potency, and its sensitivity, its poignancy and its gentle humour, and they perform it with astonishing respect and skill.
Because I lost both my mother, when I was still a boy, and my partner so very recently, it had the profoundest emotional effect on me. I still dream of Susie: dreams in which our parting has somehow been a huge misunderstanding, and we are reunited as if nothing had happened. The play spoke so directly and powerfully to that so important part of us that inhabits such dreams.

The final act is one of the most beautifully written pieces of theatre you'll find anywhere; and I left feeling so grateful to the Company for their love and skillful respect of it.

Unappreciated as they tend to be, the world is so much the richer for them.


Sunday, August 26, 2007

26th August
Yesterday I got a letter from Cruse. They are a charity that provides a counselling service for people who have been bereaved.
I've been seeing one of their counsellors for the past few weeks? months? and on my lats appointment, rather to my surprise, found myself saying that I felt somehow that this process was over.
Perhaps i was being premature: two days later i was back in hospital.
Who knows. Anyway, yesterday came a letter asking for a donation, which as proper, the usual feedback, and a request for personal experiences. Sometime, apparently, they can help with fundraising.
I must have some weird writer's instinct that I cannot resist; because before I knew it I was at my desk writing the account that follows. God knows if it will help them raise any money; or whether, in a deep sense, it should be published in any form.
But I also understand that I cannot resist.
So here it is:

It was towards the end of June 2004 that Susie had her first attack.
She said it was like some hideous gargoyle landed on her shoulder.
Something evil, with intent to attack her.
She thought she’d brushed it off, somehow, and that the wound was slight.
We all believed her, and believed the doctors when they said that it was only a minor stroke, that she would recover from it, and that there was no reason for us not to go on holiday later that July.
And so we went, and Susie bought herself a stick, of the kind that hikers use, and walked each day up and down the beachfront to recover her strength.
It was towards the end of the holiday that she seemed to be losing it again. Or at least she got dizzy again sometimes. And couldn’t always find her way from the hotel foyer to our room.
And in August, back in Edinburgh for the Festival, I remember trying to help her negotiate the crowds on the Royal Mile with the greatest difficulty. She had lost half her peripheral vision. It had suddenly gone.
And then the headaches began.
Hideous, agonising headaches, and constant phone calls to the doctor to get stronger and stronger painkillers. That never seemed strong enough.
Until in the early hours of the Wednesday she gave a cry and I found her unconscious. Strangely spread-eagled on the bed.
And that night, in the hospital, a grave-faced doctor told me they had noticed a shadow on her brain-scan. That they would transfer her to the Western where they’d be able to take a better look.
And a doctor there told me she would have to drill a hole into the back of her skull to take a sample of what looked very like a tumour. Just so they would know for sure.
The computers can tell us very precisely where it is, she explained, and they can guide us to the best possible route. But once I’m working inside the skull I’m working blind. It may happen I hit a blood vessel.
It all sounded incredibly crude. I couldn’t help but be reminded of trepanning, which they did in the Middle Ages: drilling a hole in the skull to let out the evil spirits.
By now it was Friday. Friday the 13th. They told me the operation had gone well, technically: they had located the tumour and obtained a good sample.
But the tumour they had found was of the most invasive and malignant kind. It was growing close to the brain stem, and there was no way of removing it. Most likely days, the doctor said. Possibly weeks. Gather the family.
I had to tell them. Tell Susie’s widowed mother, in her eighties, that her daughter was going to die. Tell my two daughters, 19 and 24 years old, that their mum was going to die. Tell myself that my life long lover and companion, who I had known for 33 years, was going to die.
Try to understand.
Although on reflection trying to understand was all a bit beside the point.
It was more a question of simply trying to cope. Cope with the endless crises that the tumour used to throw us into with what felt sometimes like deliberate malice.
The utterly unpredictable changes of awareness and personality and mood.
Keep organising the circle of astonishing kind friends who would undertake to be with her. Because she needed someone to be with her all the time.
To keep buying the groceries, cooking the meals, doing the washing. Trying to keep the house clean. Trying to keep life going in the midst of it all.
It wasn’t just a time of grief and torment: at the beginning, especially, every new day of life felt like a gift.
There were times of wild joy and deep happiness.
But it was as if the shadow they found that night in the hospital grew larger and deeper and blacker. As the effort to organise the daily trip to the hospital for radiotherapy seemed to become more and more intense. Radiotherapy whose effects no-one could predict, that seemed more and more like a gesture to ward off hopelessness.
As she suddenly one night entered status epilepticus – one fit succeeding the other without any understanding of why or how they could ever be stopped.
The tumour, I read somewhere, did not so much destroy the cells of the brain itself as the connections between its various centres: and more and more her mind seemed to be like a giant wheel spinning out of connection and control.
There were days and nights too when it seemed she would never stop talking.
Until one day, just before Christmas, she fell unconscious.
She was unconscious right through Christmas and into New Year. It seemed to everyone that this had to be the end.
It was a dreadful sad time, but it seemed right, somehow, that she should go in the house she loved among us whom she loved.
And then in early January she suddenly recovered consciousness again.
Only by now she had lost all strength in her legs and there was no way we could continue to nurse her.
She resisted going to the hospice with all her strength.
I fooled myself into thinking that they might help her there recover some of her strength so she could come home again. But she knew better; and I guess that was why she so fiercely fought going.
But in the end there was no choice. We were all beyond the limits of exhaustion.
The truly terrible thing about a brain tumour is that it turns the person you love into a total stranger.
It was a kindness for her, I suppose, in a cruel kind of way, because it shielded her, I think, from total awareness of what was happening to her.
But for us it was torment.
And those last 7 weeks in the hospice we were all torn between our desire not to lose her and our wish for the torment to end.
The nights were worse, because she was afraid and would never want me to leave her. It was like trying to settle a child who’s afraid of the dark and won’t settle: and you are tired, so very very tired, you just feel desperate for her to sleep do you can tiptoe quietly away.
And then one night she gave me a clumsy hug. I left her listening to a Burns song.
“Ane fond kiss, and then we sever...”
The next morning the hospice phoned to say she was unconscious.
For several nights and days we camped in the hospice, watching her in turns.
And then one afternoon, when I was in Marks and Spencer stocking up on grapes and sandwiches, sticky buns and bottles of wine – on the provisions to help us through the long night ahead – the hospice nurse phoned me, in tears, to say she had gone.

I don’t know how you ever recover from an experience like that. Or how, after being lucky enough to love someone for most of your life, you manage to create a new life after they’ve gone.
Perhaps it’s just not possible: I am still in the process of finding out.
But what I do now is that when she comes to me in dreams, as she still does, the dreams are different. In the beginning, they were a torment. It was unbearable to wake up after them and remember, again, that she was gone.
But now, when she comes, and she is always young and full of joy and life, it is a comfort, somehow. It is as if it’s a reminder that in some ways she will always be with me: that the love we have felt, the love we have truly and deeply loved, never completely leaves us. Is never completely lost and gone.

I don’t understand that, and I don’t understand the process that has made it come about.
But I do know that being able to talk about it all and cry over it all with someone who listens and is there for you without being embarrassed or heart-broken or ashamed all helps somehow.
And it is true, I think, what they say: that time can heal. And that life does, in spite of everything, still go on.

Jo Clifford. Edinburgh, Sunday, 26 August 2007.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

23rd August
In the interval between coming home from hospital and now, I seem to be reflecting with uneasy frequency on the fact that there are so many common sayings linked to the heart. 'Losing heart', 'taking heart' 'disheartened', 'faint hearted'. And others linked to the latin root: 'take courage', 'lose courage' 'encourage' 'discourage'...
And I can't help but notice that they all are linked to the physical heart.
That this metaphor is based on strong observation.
At least, so it seems to me, having suffered from, and still struggling against, all the 'weak-hearted' conditions.
Of losing heart, being discouraged. Not having my heart in it (in living, that is).
There's a kind of cruelty to this condition, just as there is to every negative condition we suffer from: in the sense that it creates the conditions that worsen it.
So it becomes harder to do the simple jobs: washing, tidying, keeping the house in order.
And then with the house in disorder, it all gets more depressing.
And harder to emerge from it.
And that's the other ratchet to the spiral: that the very things that would help us emerge are also the very things that feel utterly impossible to do.
A simple phone call to a caring friend.
Just getting out the house...
The other night it took me all my will and strength to go out, get on my bike, and cycle to a concert for which I already had a ticket.
Even the small cycle ride across town to the Usher Hall seemed to give me strength.
And then the concert itself gave me more: Haydn's Creation, which I had never managed to listen to all the way through before.
It's such an amazing affirmation of the beauty of the world and the amazing potential within each human being.
I found huge happiness just in being there and witnessing it.

The beauty of these pieces in themselves is importan, yes, but perhaps what is also important is that we are witnessing a pretty amazing act of human solidarity and co-operation. I mean the act of practising together, working together to make the performance happen.
And even though that act is unspoken and uncelebrated - completely taken for granted in fact - its existence still communicates itself to us at a subliminal level and helps lift our spirits.

And maybe that's helped me, in turn, overcome my discouragement and write this (tentatively hopeful) entry.


Friday, August 17, 2007

17th August
This began last Thursday.
I woke up, phoned Susie’s mum, as I always do.
The radio said it was 8.45.
I took my blood pressure, it was down, and went upstairs to make a cup of tea.
When I came down again, I noticed that even this slight exertion had set my pulse racing.
I began to get afraid.
When I went into hospital last June and went through the whole process that led to my heart operation, this is exactly how it began: a racing heart and an intense fear.
This time, too, there had been flashes of this in the past few days and I had ignored them.
I just didn’t want to go there.
I tried to reassure myself by thinking I had been down to the gym on Wednesday, nothing had happened. Surely nothing was going to happen today.
I tried to have breakfast. I tried to live as if nothing was happening.
I wanted to hang out my washing: but by the time I had carried the basket upstairs I had to sit down.
I checked my email.
By some hideous irony, one had come from the Suporn Clinic in Thailand saying that they had decided I was fit and well enough to undergo SRS surgery.
I felt sick.
I went downstairs. Diarrhoea.
So I phone the doctor. By some unheard of chance, it turns out I can see her in 40 minutes.
I get dressed, with difficulty, pick up my i-pod, and leave.
It’s as if history is repeating myself: I have to struggle up the tiny slope opposite the house.
I catch a taxi to the surgery, struggle up the last slope to it, and arrive utterly exhausted.
And it’s the same story: I need to go to hospital, the doctor will write a letter: only this time she calls an ambulance. I start crying. I am so frightened: I am convinced it means I am back to zero, and will need to go through the whole nightmare of the heart operation again.
In the surgery, they are kind.
The two ambulance women are kind.
They give me oxygen, they wheel me down the main corridor and past everyone waiting in the waiting room.
I close my eyes so I don’t see them seeing me.
I’m wheeled past into the lift.
The ambulance is in a car park under the building: and as the lift descends I feel I am being taken down to incarceration.


It’s about midday.
There’s a hitch in the casualty department: all the spaces are taken up.
I’m parked on my trolley in front of the counter like an unwanted parcel.
The usual suffering all around.
After a while, I’m wheeled into a cubicle.
The nurse has to plonk various forms and bits of equipment onto my legs, because there is nowhere else to put them.
She says: “Yes they did ask us what we wanted in this new building and we did tell them but they went ahead and ignored us anyway.”
And that’s how it is in this place. I can’t remember all the countless times I’ve heard that here.
Or will hear it again.
Meanwhile, I’m hooked onto a monitor.
I’ve also had the armband like a handcuff round my wrist.
I’ve become a prisoner: and, quite unconsciously, have started to envy all the free individuals who are walking freely past me.
Unaware of their freedom.

I’ve had an xray. Joking with the x ray man, I also manage to take advantage of a wait in the corridor to phone my agent and tell him we won’t be meeting.
Maybe it’s this tiny bit of regained control, or the discovery that I can still joke, can still work to make each of these encounters as pleasant as they can be made... but i feel a bit stronger. More as though I can deal with this nightmare.
The X ray gets taken away, it’s like the next step in the chain, and I remember there is really nothing to do.

2.30 something. I’ve been given an injection to slow my heart down. It hasn’t. But I do feel sick.
The doctor says she’ll come back to check. She hasn’t.

3.00 ish. She still hasn’t. I feel utterly helpless, absolutely part of the machine.
A cog. I have simply to try to be a good cog.
Take as much entertainment from the situation as I can. Keep observing. Try to make a success of each encounter. Don’t anticpate: that leads to fear. Don’t look back: that leads to frustration.
Live for each moment.

1526 (I have just discovered a clock on my monitor).
No sign of the doctor. No sign of anybody.
I feel hideously uncomfortable.
That’s what these trolleys do to you.
Designed to move in every direction and every possible configuration.
But they forgot people would actually be lying on them.
Sweaty, a bit nauseous.
Various bewildered people walk slowly past.
Other than them, all I can see is:
Signs that say:
Switch Off Your Mobile Phone
Our Staff have the right to work without assault or abuse
Disease Risk: BIRD FLU.
All scattered over the walls at random. Can’t they put up a picture? I wonder. Has it occurred to anyone that desperate, anxious, bored people will be looking at these walls? People still with need for beauty?

I feel abandoned.
There is no obvious way of calling for help.
Apart from screaming.

1536 The doctor walks past, starts guiltily, and promises to come back with something else to slow down my heart.
Meanwhile she disappears with a man being given oxygen.

1545 An unknown enters, says: Its not slowing down, is it?
And goes again.

1550 The doctor returns.
I’m not getting anything different: jusy more of the same.
Do we know why this is happening?, I ask.
No. We don’t. The blood tests aren’t back.
She’ll be back though. In a minute.

1557 She comes back. Whatever she’s given me must be given in small doses, apparently. They don’t want the heart to slow down and stop.

1614 The staff nurse has been in and out a couple of times.
Looking worried: and then leaves suddenly without saying anything.
There’s a queue of wheelchairs and trolleys now outside my cubicle.

1623 Someone tells me they’re trying to get me a bed. And something to eat.

1642 An injection in the stomach. An anticoagulant.
And there is a bed in combined assessment. Just no porter to take me there.

1805 Now I’m in Combined Assessment.
It’s like being in an inner circle of hell.
Or perhaps on the way to becoming a trusty in the system.
In A and E you have nothing.
Some of the bandaged souls I passed on the way out didn’t even have a trolley.
They were sitting waiting in a blank cubicle. Crowded together on plastic chairs.
Here you have a bed. You can access your possessions.
I’ve put my own clothes back on.
I’ve been given something to eat and drink.
I’m even sitting in a chair.
There is even a window in the distance. Even if it does just lead onto a court.
There’s no telephone, but you can unofficially use your mobile.
Assuming you can get it to work.
No telly, no music. Unless you bring your own.
I feel well equipped, with my ipod and my fancy headphones.
I can disappear from the world.
I’m still hooked to the monitor though.
And I feel sick at heart.
What am I to do?
How am I to live?
What does this mean?
Just when I thought I had put this heart nightmare behind me.
If this means I am still living wrong, then how?
And what is to be done?

There is a Pole lying in abed opposite who speaks no English.
He is waiting, everyone is waiting, for an interpreter.

Nine-ish? Losing track of time...
A doctor is explaining that I have a condition called atrial fibrillation. Or perhaps atrial flutter. That something’s gone wrong with the electrical activity in the atrium of my heart. It’s maybe some kind of short circuit. So its beating too fast, and the ventricle can’t keep up.
It happens, apparently, when the heart is abnormal.
As mine is now.
There is a risk of clotting: hence of a stroke.
So I am on anti-coagulants.
And now they are trying digoxin.
Which is having no effect.
They will try something else tomorrow.
If that doesn’t stop it, maybe electrical stimulation will do the trick.

His face is intelligent and kind.
But I’m not sure I can take any of this in.
I am losing heart.

The interpreter arrives. A pleasant, intelligent, sympathetic looking woman.
She listens with obvious skill.
I think of the stories ahe must have been told: toy with the idea of making her the subject of a series of some kind.

0036 Sleep seems impossible.
My bed is broken so I can’t sit up properly.
Yet if I lie too low I start coughing.
If I move incautiously I set off an alarm.
And then if I do manage to turn on one side I’m just aware of a my heart hammering in a broken down kind of way. The whole bed seems to shake with it.
Also I have been told I need to take a pill at 2am.
It hardly seems worthwhile sleeping.
And I need to pee. Sort of.
It’s an endless, a dull debate: should I call?
I decide to wait.

2am has passed and nothing has happened.
About 250, I get the pill, ask for a bottle.
Sometimes I’ve been using a bed pan: but it makes a noise.
And i can hear my neighbour peeing into her commode about a foot from my right ear.
The bottle is silent. And I’m quite impressed I can still use it.

355 and the whole question loses importance: I know I’m going to be sick.
I press the alarm. Everything lights up a livid purple, and it makes a quite colossal noise.
I am sick.
Then I have diarrhoea in a commode.
The stench is utterly repulsive. I feel unbearably aware of it.

“It’s the worse time”, the nurse says. “This time of the shift”. And we commiserate.

0830 I feel like I haven’t slept at all, but I must have done, for the Pole has been replaced by an utterly desperate old woman.
No teeth, sunken eyes, gasping at an oxygen mask. Arm flutters feebly. She looks terrified.
I think, not for the first time, I hope I don’t hang on that long.

A new nurse makes the bed work by yanking it.
I try to negotiate a shower.
Fail, make do with a basin.
It’s all very awkward, but I feel a grim determination to wash and dress and try to look human.

The doctor’s round begins. He speaks in a particularly loud and jolly tone to the gasping old lady, who says nothing.
Another lady is told she can go home: and she transforms.
Suddenly from a straggly haired derelict into a smart looking, purposeful, and very capable lady.
Meanwhile they tell me I’m to be given amidarone. And if that doesn’t work, an electric shock.

Sitting up makes me exhausted.
Lying down, I’m aware of my heart still hammering.
But in a frightening, broken down kind of way.
As if the two halves are not working in harmony at all.
Which, of course, they’re not.

Time passes.
For me, the amiodarone is a possible way out of this hellish situation I’m in.
For the nurses, as they painstakingly start to assemble the gear in the teeth of endless interruptions, it’s a tricky hassle to get together on a busy shift.
It needs a big tuble, apparently. It is quite toxic.
Eventually a very nervous young medical student is talked into inserting the tube.
He tells me my veins seem bigger at my wrists than at my elbows.
He squints at the instructions on the packet in a way that does not inspire confidence.
The nursrs, as they pass, look in quizzically.
They seem to know he’s going to make a mess of it; I get a sense I am a pawn in a long running struggle between nursing and medical staff.
Eventually, on the third attempt, he finds a vein.
Blood squirts everywhere.
“Oh dear” he says, in deep embarrassment, “I have made such a mess”.
And he dabs at it, ineffectually.
No sooner has he gone, than another even younger student appears and has to take a blood sample.
From no one, every person who sees the place will tut at it.
Meanwhile the amiodarone arrives, at last, and is fixed into a drip.
It’s a very fierce drip that bleeps furiously if I dare to move.
But it works:
As if by a miracle, the little ticking monitor by my head which has been obstinately registering 140 all this time, suddenly goes down to 60.
A huge pressure and tension seems to flow from my body.
The delight of it. The intense delight.

1300 The elation passes.
I seem to have been forgotten again.
I am still hooked up to the monitor, still on NIL BY MOUTH because if they were to give me the electric shocks I would have to be anaesthetised.
I need to pee. But I feel unable to ask the nurses, these smart self-possessed young women, for a commode.
I wonder how long it will be before I pass on through the machinery.
My heart sinks at all the obstacles I have to overcome before I can escape.

1630 A charming young doctor appears from nowhere. He tells me he’s from the coronary department. That is the department of electric shocks. I won’t be taken there.
I have learnt by now the golden rule is always when you can to ask. Ask ask ask.
Can I get off the monitor?
When he’s phoning cardiology will he ask?
I feel well and bursting with energy and being shackled feels utterly unbearable

The news is bad.
They want me to stay on till morning.
So I try a tack with the nurses. I need to use the phone, to tell my companion I won’t be going to the Festival’s opening concert.
They have to let me off the monitor to use the phone; and there’s an air of relaxation I decide to exploit.

I nip out along the corridor and stare out a fire escape at the evening.
All I can see is the car park: but I have never seen a sky more beautiful.

1745 I have also now discovered how to unplug my own self from the monitor.
I can’t stop the alarms, but they’ve turned the volume down as low as they can and, in any case, the whole ward is a cacaphony of alarms..

I feel like I have never been aware of how precious and important freedom is before this moment.
I resolve (vainly) never to forget it again.

1945 I discover I am to be moved after all.
And they turn the monitor off!
And there is a bed ready in 104.
Invigorated, i start packing. This turns out to be a mistake.
Because nothing happens.

2132 It now turns out my bed has disappeared. Ward 103 is full.
But nobody knows if it’s full because my bed is accounted for, although I am not in it, or because it really is full.
They’ll phone.

2150 It turns out I do have a bed after all.
But its not ready yet.

Everyone meanwhile is in the usual palaver of trying to bet observations done. Thermometers are a precious item that are passed from hand to hand.

2245 The bed is now ready.
But there are no porters.

2312 There is no porter.
I feel utterly exhausted.

2327 Still nothing. Two beds down is a woman recovering from alcohol poisoning who is blearily asking about the safe.

2340 something. The porter comes. The nurse who accompanies me is unspeakably weary.
This is her first night shift and she’s been on a course all week.
The porter has to work 3 out of 4 weekends.
I make a joke about my notes: they look enormous. Very ominous.
The poor nurse has picked up the wrong ones.

0019 I’m finally left to myself.
The staff nurse who admits me, a charming bluff utterly straightforward shaven headed young man says he gathers I’m waiting for another operation.
I assume he means another heart operation – that they haven’t told me about.
We laugh over this. It turns out he means SRS.
I’m not really up to this conversation: and am slightly taken aback at how much it shows I get gossiped about.
However. I do my best.

Then blessed peace and solitude.

0755 I only wake up once.
A shower.
What luxuries.
I try to enjoy them, and curb my impatience for the machinery to expel me.
As it happens I don’t feel 100% right; but when i try to explain this to the rather distracted young doctor who appears, there is no interest in it.
My pulse is right, my ecg is right, sinus rhythm has been restored.
Suddenly the machinery is all in full gear: by 1045 I’ve almost gone.
I’m waiting for the discharge lounge to come and fetch me.
Which they do; and phone me a taxi from a rather hastily thrown together looking room on the ground floor.
I’m feeling a bit bemused by all this.
My sense of certainty which I still had only a few days ago, has been utterly undermined.
I feel I’ve just confronted the possibility of death or disablement, and there must be a reason for it, and I would like to talk to someone about what it all means.
But the doctor shave not time, or no inclination.
They sum up the whole of this huge experience in four words:
Atrial flutter.
Successfully cardioverted.

And with that, I am sent home.


13th August.
This was the day three years ago that Susie was diagnosed with the brain tumour.
All of us, in different ways, are keeping her in mind this day.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

7th August (2)
Tonight I went to see another play at the Traverse.
THE WALWORTH FARCE by Enda Walsh. Druid Theatre Company.
A beautiful company. Clearly an important writer.
"Enda Walsh's extended day-glo nightmare of The Walworth Farce, about as brilliant and savage a final comment on the inner life of a defeated nation as Irish theatre in all its magnificence could have hoped to produce." (The Scotsman)
A full house. Who laughed a lot.
It is disquieting, this feeling of utterly going against the flow of things.
For I could see nothing in it but cruelty and self-loathing.
And could not begin to see the point of it.
Perhaps all that has happened to me in the past few years has taken me so far outside normal experience that I cannot engage with it at all.
I can understand how it would make me utterly incapable of appreciating the macabre humour based on 2 sons losing their mother. And a widower losing his wife.
Perhaps that's all there is to it.
Or perhaps I'm getting old.
Whatever. Here I am: going my own way.
In uncertainty and some great excitement.


7th August
I saw my bereavement counsellor this morning.
Just before then I had said goodbye to my daughter, who is off to a rock festival on an island in the river near Budapest.
My mother's so sudden death when I was so young (12 years old) has left me with a real fear of farewells. I no longer have any guarantee I will see the person I love again.
This has deepened since Susie died.
I walked down the road, crying, and suddenly became aware of what a familiar place this is.
This place of tears.
And that being familiar, it has a kind of safety to it.
Perhaps that was why I both surprised and frightened myself by saying that I thought our process was finished now, that a new chapter had begun.
Something of this had come from a dream I had in Nantucket.
I dreamt I was with Susie again, and it was so lovely to see her again.
Just unequivocally, totally lovely.
And I understood that the deal was I would not see her in daily life, she would be gone from there, but that she would present in that place. In the place of dreams.
And I wept bitterly, but at the same time knew that was right.
It's connected with that, this feeling that the deep mourning is now over.
And also with the explosion of story ideas and of creativity that I have been experiencing since.
And I feel uncertain and a little scared: as if poised on the unknown.


Monday, August 06, 2007

6th August
Yesterday I went to the opening of the Festival of Spirituality ( at St John's church.
My friend Suzanne led everyone in a guided meditation in which everyone in the overflowing church held hands; a priest from Ghana spoke about two boys he knew who had been sold into slavery by their mother. She could find no other way to feed her other children.
She did it. She sold them.
And he told the story in a way that showed great understanding and compassion for her and the terrible dilemma she was in.
And this will continue to happen, he said, until we break the chains. The chains of poverty and injustice.
There was a steel chain, a heavy steel chain lying accross the front of the dais on which he was speaking. He picked it up. He held it out, and he showed it us.
We have to break the chain, he said. You have to break it. You, you, you. You and I, we have to break the chain...
And then to the Traverse to see David Greig’s new play, DAMASCUS.
It was an unfortunate contrast.
The Traverse in the Festival is always a difficult place to be. There's so much power broking going on; so many people taking pains to be seen with the right people.
In the context of the kind of issues that were being grappled with in St. John's - the theme of their Festival is "Power and Freedom: Breaking the Chains" - it seemed quite shockingly trivial and self serving.
David's play had all his best qualities as a writer: it was intelligent, perceptive, funny in self-deprecating kind of way. Warm hearted, too, and humane.
Above all, it was easy.
It made no special demands on us.
Perhaps that's why it irritated me to such an extreme and unreasonable extent.
The situation we're in is so extreme, so dangerous, that it demands huge and superhuman efforts of us.
How do we find the art forms that are equal to it?
How do we break those chains?
Not with jokes about TEFL teachers adrift in the middle east - TEFL teachers who can't speak French or Arabic and haven't a shred of emotional intelligence and half-engage in a half-baked act of adultery.
Yet for someone in the Guardian, its the best thing in the Festival so far (http://
and I wonder if my irritation is just envy, or frustration that my work no longer seems to hit the spot, or fear that I've become utterly isolated from my audience...
I hope not.
I hope I don't lose my faith - which at times seems so fragile a thing - faith in my art and in my inspiration.


Sunday, August 05, 2007

5th August

Nantucket was very different.
But similar in the sense that it all felt very unreal. As if I was in a theme park.
New York is maybe the scene for a thriller; I guess Nantucket would be the setting for The Stepford Wives.
Everywhere looked exactly the same; and the US flag seemed to be compulsory.
But then everyone looked the same too; for a country that makes such a fuss about its liberty, it manages to impose an amazing level of conformity.
After the first night of the Ring cycle, the space in front of the theatre was full of people trying to sell their tickets for the rest of the week.
Mainly not because they didn't like it or thought it was bad. We used to James Levine, one said - but because it wasn't what they were used to.
It seemed to be demanding that they think about it for themselves, and that made them uneasy.
They'd all applauded the conductor the night before, because he was Gergiev and everyone knows he is a "great conductor" - even though as it happened, he'd conducted really badly.
Because they all make such a fuss about 'freedom of thought' actually most of them seem to love being told what to think.
Patriotism, in especial, seems an utter requirement.
On the Tuesday night in Nantucket we went to a lecture about global warming; and the lecturer very cunningly managed to make it all sound like a challenge to US patriotism and US pride and US 'smarts'.
And she had examples - of the engineers who'd noticed that coke dispensers were very inefficient and had devised a system that would make them use 50% less power. Which was the equivalent of 10 million hours of refrigerator use.
Everything was embued with an astonishing optimism; it is the "fight of our time", "failure is not an option" and it can be won, according to her, without any change in our way of life at all.
She didn't mention - obviously - that it's the American way of life that is largely responsible for the crisis in the first place.
Or that something very strange seems to be happening to the American collective intelligence - the bridge in Minneaplois had been found to be "structurally deficient" and there are apparently 77,000 other bridges in the US in the same state - because they have not been adequately maintained.
Not much sign of American 'smarts' there.


Saturday, August 04, 2007

4th August

It's amazing, in a way, that we should so instantly recognise this image.

As if New York wasn't just a city, but a kind of prototype of The City.

A place where nature is defied, for one thing, a place seemingly utterly cut off from the natural world - but which still suffers from a ferocious climate..

which reduces its human inhabitants to utter insignificance - but which could not exist without them.

Our landlady in Nantucket described her first visit to the island on a plane, when she flew over from Hyannis (about a 15 minute flight) when the sun was setting. She said she felt just like a character in an episode of "Survivor" - and she repeated this observation several times - as if this feeling really dignified and gave special meaning to the experience.
Is that what makes it bearable to live in this place?
That kind of self-consciousness of being a character in an imaginary movie? The way, when I was an adolescent, I survived by imagining myself as a character in a novel I was writing as I was going along?
To be sure, the wealth of it is amazing.. the range of food available.. as if the rest of the world was being ransacked of its good things to feed its hungry maw...
Walking its streets I found I wanted to write some kind of epic.. something like the Aeniad that would somehow tell its story to itself and make sense of its existence...
But how could such an epic be told?
What form could possibly do justice to it?
But to be able to tell its story from its beginnings as wilderness to the wilderness it will eventually become..
And I was astonished by the matter of factness with which its inhabitants anticipated its demise. As if another catastrophe was absolutely inevitable.


Friday, August 03, 2007

3rd August
I got an email today from the Intercity Festival in Italy.
Last year, they presented GOD'S NEW FROCK in Italian and they want to do it again this year.
I'm very proud, especially because they say it's so necessary a play as a protest against the reactionary and repressive church in their country.
They want a blurb.
This is what i wrote them, and I'm putting it here because I feel quite pleased with it and don't have the energy to write more:

"Long ago, when I was still a boy, when I first became aware of the strength of the feminine in me, I felt very lonely and ashamed.
I tried to repress the woman in me, and thought it was all just my problem.
And because I was also trying to be a good boy, I read my bible.
And I was always amazed at how angry and unhappy the old testament god was.
Poor thing. It’s a real shame.
When I began to read his history, I discovered it was the Mother people often used to worship. And that Jehovah became Jehovah in a fierce cultural effort to suppress the worship of the Mother.
And I understood: God was a closet queen too. Just like me.
And when I came out of the closet I came to understand that much of my suffering, my guilt and my shame, came from an entrenched cultural hatred and fear of the female that had its roots deep deep in the Old Testament.
And that it was still being used and abused and exploited by a repressive and reactionary Church.
And then I finally understood all this suffering wasn’t just my problem.
It was everybody’s problem.
And so I wrote this play."


Thursday, August 02, 2007

1st August (2)
One piece of business in New York was to see Wagner's RING cycle at the Met.
People can disagree about Wagner, but one thing is indisputable: committing to seeing the RING involves many visits to the loo.
And because there's no escaping this, and the whole giant theatre was full, that means queues.
Or, to translate into approximate American, lines at the men's, lines at the women's.
And I didn't know, I never know, which line to join.
At home I can generally avoid the issue by making for the disabled.
The disabled, apparently, have no gender.
When I was younger, the one thing that caused me the most misery was trying to pass as a man. Trying to pretend to be just one ordinary bloke among all the others.
And I still feel unhappy about having to pretend to be a woman.
Or pass, as they say.
If I was a hardline transsexual I maybe wouldn't have such a problem with this: I would know, deep in my heart, I was a woman.
Instead of which I know, deep in my heart, I'm a transsexual.
And although there I was with a woman's passport, the general smartness in the women's queue intimidated me somewhat.
I thought, I may have a woman's passport but I still have a prick.
So in the brutal reality of the loo queue, I'd better join the men's.
And did.
And felt wretched.
And in the second interval of the second night, a man kindly said "Aren't you in the wrong line?"
And I said, "Well, maybe not but to be honest I'm not altogether sure" and as soon as he heard my voice he had me clocked as a man and started to apologise.
Men tend to get deeply, unbelievably embarrassed when they take me for a woman because, in this misogynist world, there is no greater insult you can offer a man.
I thought, "this is ridiculous" and so the next night I decided to ask.
So Iasked. "I'm a pre-op transsexual", I said, "it's difficult for me to be in either queue. Is there any where that's gender neutral?"
Of course I was charming.
You learn to be.
The first two didn't know. They didn't want to know.
The third person said: "Maybe you just have to choose".
(And perhaps I have to)
And then she said; "I think there is a place. I'll make a call."
And she did.
I had to go down tohe lowest floor, talk to the Safety Officer.
Who took me through a door marked No Admittance and down a backstage corridor to the Nurse's room.
Which was locked.
Only he (and I guess the nurse) had the key: and he unlocked it.
And at the back of the office was a loo.
In this huge theatre, the only gender neutral loo in the building.
And so every interval, I went down to the basement asked for the safety officer, got myself escorted to the loo.
It struck me as a kind of metaphor for the problems we face: even in the simplest things.
Perhaps too for the kind of threat we apparently pose.
I got through two safety officers; who were grumpy but professional.
And then on the last night, at the end of Act One of THE TWILIGHT OF THE GODS or rather the end of the world, I met a third.Who plainly knew about me; but who refused to let me through.
"There's a doctor usung the room", he said.
I knew he was lying: but he wouldn't budge.
I felt humiliated to the core of my being.
I cried through act two.
And went back to the line at the men's.
Knowing for absolute sure (as if I really needed reminding) that it's not where I belong.


1st august
The thing I always dread about going to the States is their immigration proceudres.
They can be so offensive. They seem to choose people on the basis of who can be most effectively offensive and rude.
So I couldn't quite believe my eyes when I saw these signs that said they were undertaking to be courteous and efficient.
And they were courteous. But still scary.
I'd felt a little paranoid about entering the US on a woman's passport. So, just in case, I'd bought my old passport, and the doctor's letter saying I was a transsexual who'd chosen to live permanently as a woman, and the legal declaration of my change of name...
And it was probably this paranoia that caused me the problems. Because my being transgendered was never mentioned.
Because the guy asked me if I'd been to the States before. And I said "Not on this passport" and he pricked up his ears and said: "And have you got your old one" and I said I had, and he took it, and then he said "Step this way please" and before I knew what was happening I was being led away to an unknown destination.
Or at least to a lift, where a cheery man said "The good news is, we're not going to shoot you" and led us to a large room with benches on it, where were sitting the rest of the lost.
Some while away were desks with bored looked uniformed officials sitting behind them, looking through the clear plastic folders all our papers had been put into.
We had to wait until our name was called, generally very quickly and inaudibly, by one of said officials.
It was strange, sitting there, not knowing why I was sitting there, or what the problem was, or what the outcome might be, only knowing I could do absolutely nothing about it.
I tried to breathe. I tried to repeat a Buddhist mantra.
I told myself it was important to appear calm.
And then that appearing too calm might look like a sign of guilt.
But then so would looking too agitated.
I had spotted which desk my papers had gone to, and which official might be attending to them, and tried to will them to get on with it.
Hours passed. There were sinister looking officials in mauve disposable gloves. Searchinmg some people's luggage. Some had to fetch their luggage to be searched. Most were released: but some were led away.
Finally my name was called. A very bored official I hadn't seen before: asking meaningless questions about how much currency I had brought into the country.
Anmd then I was free to go.
It only took about forty minutes.
No: not forty hours.
And they were very polite.


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