Wednesday, 28 December 2011


“But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.”
St John 19:34

THE WIND IS BOOMING TODAY. Here in my kitchen, the sounds made by the changes in pressure on the chimneys on top of the building are no less than those of a relentless hurricane passing over the Bermuda Islands at the end of summer. In my life, I have experienced a number of those.

I have just walked to the corner shop, about a hundred yards away. Getting there, with the wind at my back, I had to struggle so as not to be pushed forward on my face. Coming back, with my carton of milk and bottle of apple squash, I tried to get as close as possible to the walls on my right, pausing several times in doorways, then pushing ahead again, gasping for breath.

I have a memory of my grandfather, Henry Charles Christopher Eldridge, stored away in September of 1961. Charlie Eldridge was born on 26 July 1894, which happens to be the same day that the English novelist Aldous Huxley was born. In 1961, my grandfather and Huxley would have been about 67. My grandfather died in 1962, and Huxley in 1963 (on the same day that JFK was assassinated, so that Huxley’s passing went pretty much unnoticed in the media). Cancer. They both died of cancer.

The two novels I have read most often in my life, and love the most, are Aldous Huxley's "Island" and D.H. Lawrence's "Women in Love". Huxley and his wife were at Lawrence's bedside when he died of consumption back in 1930.

My memory of Charlie Eldridge, recorded in late summer of 1961, is of a tall man bent over by poor health. Charlie could not, and did not, walk too far. Not without sitting here and there to catch his breath. He had advanced lung cancer. So, we are in London walking along a street that seems to feature many antique shops. My grandmother and I had to keep stopping to allow my grandfather to catch up with us. It seems remarkable to me that he would have gone up to London with us, which would have involved an hour on a train and then buses. I am glad he did, because I have had the memory of it for 50 years now.

About the time my grandfather died, I began writing letters to family members who happened to be across the country or across an ocean sometimes. I corresponded with family at first, but as the 1960s rolled on, and I left school, I tended to keep in touch with friends. I suppose many of my elderly relatives were dead or dying by the 1970s.

I have always enjoyed writing. It has been almost a compulsion at times, making things real. I came to write a newspaper column for a few years, and then, in about 2008, I began blogging. My blog was “Barking Mad in Amble by the Sea”. I use the past tense, because I expect this will be the last entry there.

I am done with writing.

I have finished reporting, finished remarking, finished with the news. I have finished preaching. I am done with writing. All the words I ever had have gone out of me. Done.

A fortnight or so ago, I received the sort of Christmas present one really does not want. The diagnosis of cancer. I have skin cancer, which started in my right side, then moved into the lymphatic system, both lungs and other tissues. Funny, I celebrated 30 years since I last smoked a cigarette last August, and the disease is in my lungs, of all places.

What can I say? If you smoke, then quit. If you are young and are tempted to smoke, it is possibly the worst thing you could do with your life to smoke.

I have that memory of Charlie Eldridge, walking slowly along a pavement in Chelsea. It was a sunny day, not windy, unlike today, 50 years on.

Yes. All the words have gone out of me.