Friday 24 February 2023

Wings and weather around visits to The Beast

On Tuesday I rang the bell to mark an end to five weeks of radio/chemotherapy which, it's hoped, will have frazzled my bowel tumour. Before that, a colonoscopy, various scans (several involving unexpected manual probes...), and two biopsies under general anaesthetic. Borderline Stage One/Two cancer like this would normally be removed in an op, but as mine is in a difficult place, and it would be a whopper involving plastic surgery and stoma, my wonderfully energetic surgeon Maria suggested I try an alternative route first.

I now wait eight weeks for an MRI scan to see if this has done the trick, and if not...still the op. But at least I know I'll be fine; I'm one of the lucky ones. Below is one of the three identical Beasts, so named by my kind friend Maev, who also took the photo below. Very impressive; it circulates around you like the spaceships dancing to the Blue Danube Waltz in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I've also been fortunate in having only a ten minute walk to Charing Cross Hospital each weekday morning., with various cafes to stop off at on the way back if I have the time. I asked for early appointments because I wanted to carry on my Monday and Thursday afternoon Zoom classes - on Der Rosenkavalier and Nielsen respectively - which have helped keep me buoyant. I've also kept on reviewing, and witnessed some wonderful chamber and orchestral concerts, plus operatic production of varying degrees of success, mich the most impressive being Richard Jones's wacky new ENO take on Wagner's The Rheingold.

The main payoff of this is Margravine Cemetery, an arboretum with 70 different kind of trees and attendant birds: my big delight here was to witness the return of the overwintering Redwing flock which I missed last year.

I also took it as a good omen that while walking along the home square to the first treatment, I heard, then saw, Goldfinches in the early morning light. They haven't been back to the Niger seed feeder in the back for about a year, but good to know they're still around.

This was Day One, 18 January - a frosty day, one of many, beautifying the graveyard.

On the way back, it was surely serendipity that I bumped into near-neighbours Suchi and Jonathan, whom I hadn't seen since semi-Lockdown walks around the cemetery. We'd been planning to meet up, but now they were insistent that I joined them for supper as many nights of the week as I liked. Didn't want to overdo it, but have enjoyed two evenings of superb southern Indian vegetarian food and excellent company, the second on the eve of my last treatment earlier this week. I'm so grateful to them and all friends far and wide who've been supportive in one way or another. Certainly not been short of invitations to lunch and coffee...

While a hint of spring was already evident that day,

I snapped the first crocus in Margravine territory on 20 January, 

which was when I first saw the Redwings this year.

Three days later, an even more spectacular frost hit. I don't remember one quite like it in London, but probably I'm not usually walking in semi-nature so early in the morning.

Attempts have been made to have plenty of 'art' on the walls of the Radiotherapy Centre, and the theme here was alphabet-themed, but I did have to wonder about the wisdom of this one, next to one of the rooms where I had regular bladder tests (machine below pic) before the meeting with The Beast.

Moving swiftly on, here from 30 January is a clump of snowdrops from 30 January,


and crocuses waxing more abundant.

For about a week resurfacing of the cemetery paths meant I had skirt the edge, but that was all the better for catching the female Peregrine perched on the top of the hospital from different angles. Using my Leica Zoom to the full meant these aren't ideally sharp, but you get the gist.

Only a couple of weeks earlier, I'd joined the Peregrine watchers in the graveyard, was summoned to look through their telescope - 'be quick, before she flies off' - and then saw her swoop at immense speed over Margraviniana, circling back again (though without prey). Many of the hospital staff didn't know about their nesting guests who bring such glamour to the massive block, so it was good to be able to tell them and show them the pics. 

More common, but still a delight: on the morning of 6 February, there was a twitterfest going on just a couple of block further down the square, a convocation of Great Tits (here's one),

and the ubiquitous Ring-Necked Parakeets still add such colour, especially when they're eating the blossom on the cemetery's first flowering tree.

Snowdrops were now flourishing nearby,

and the magnolia next to the prunus will be flowering soon (though at the end of last week, there were no signs of that in Kew Gardens' magnolia grove.

Here's the first magnolia flower I saw, on Monday morning.

It's part of the beautifully landscaped garden in front of the Maggie's Centre in the grounds of Charing Cross Hospital. Read the story of the inspirational Maggie Keswick Jencks and her husband Charles here. I really regret not having gone there earlier - I hadn't even noticed it, though I knew of its existence from friend Cally, who found and still finds it a godsend during and after her extensive treatment last year - but I investigated on my penultimate day of treatment, and found it a very Utopia.

The building, like all Maggie's Centres, is an architectural treasure, designed by Rogers (as in Richard) Stirk Harbour + Partners, and won two RIBA awards in 2009; again, the website entry is excellent on this. This is the entrance as I first saw it

and one side of the building with the magnolia in front of it.

I look forward to the garden, designed by Dan Pearson, flourishing as the spring arrives - this is one of the first bloomers, a hamamelis or witch hazel - 

 and the three lovely people I met who worked there told me I was welcome to visit for as long as I wanted - one person in remission have been coming for nine years. Anyway, I earmarked it to host the four friends who wanted to come and hear me ring the bell on Tuesday. After my quickest ever treatment - 20 minutes; bladder and bowel fullness or not mean getting to be zapped can take up to an hour or more, and if you go later, there are inevitable delays - I had time to kill, so I wandered round the cemetery again and was very happy to hear the Redwing flock in full voice and see them in full flit and forage

before returning to radiotherapy reception at the time I'd told my pals to come along, 10.15. Wonderful Sharon, seen in the second photo below beckoning in the flowery blouse, summoned as many of the staff who could make it to witness my three rings.

My absolute faves weren't on duty at the time, but all the staff have been kind and courteous, without exception, and I was especially pleased to see my oncologist, Dr Basiak, who looked delighted: she's next to my flowers in the third pic, with friend Deborah behind. Then with a Gail's bag full of buns and cakes to Maggie's, where we sat at the central table and had excellent conversations with other visitors. None of them is in the below picture, because reasonably enough when I asked if I could take it, the request was to keep it to my friends - Carolyn, Tania, Henrik and Deborah. But you can see how lovely it is.

And soon, at last, I get to see my one and only in Dublin after a month apart; he was here for five weeks over Xmas and New Year, but the start of my treatment was put back, so he could only be around for my first four days. But how blessed I am in such good friends to provide support. Onwards!