Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Battlers

It's been a staple of the journalist's list of cliches: INSERT NAME HERE has lost his / her battle with INSERT DISEASE NAME HERE.

Usually, the disease is cancer, and the more exotic, the better. According to our journalists (who know all, and see everything) famous people should not die of ordinary diseases, nor should they accept that the fatal disease they have is going to kill them. No, they have to battle it, and then bravely and stoically lose that battle.

This manure gets trotted out almost every time someone famous carks it. Ted Kennedy's the latest, apparently "losing his battle with Brain Cancer". There's so much that's wrong with the statement and the emotion that words almost fail me.

However, I won't let my internal splutering slow me down. First: what the hell sort of cancer is Brain Cancer? I'm pretty damn' sure that I won't find it in Jenny's Big Book Of Diseases, the grey volume that gets trotted out whenever someone gets a little crook. Wait a moment while I scurry off and check...

Nope. There are cancers of the brain, but no Brain Cancer. Oddly, I'm hearing a little "woo-woo" chord in my head when I tap out those two words... oh, wait: I'm listening to Ella Fitzgerald. Going "woo-woo". That's not Ella Fitzgerald Kennedy, you understand..

And I actually looked at Big Ted as he was busy working while cancerous, and he simply seemed - to me, anyway - to have accepted that fact that he was dying, and he was getting on with life while he had some to get on with. One thing he wasn't doing was "battle his cancer". That phrase indicates to me that the soon-to-be-ex-person is rushing about, trying quack medicines, going to shonky Mexican clinics or Filipino psychic surgeons, and brewing a cup of nettle tea to slurp down with their toast and ragwort jam breakfast.

The very phrase "battle with cancer" applies to people who are afraid of death, and set up some extraordinary startegy of prolonging life, and going all Egyptian about their imminent death. Going into de Nile, you understand.

I'll be spittingly angry if I ever contract some fell fatal disease, because - as an atheist - I won't be able to threaten to haunt any bugger who uses the phrase "Allan lost his battle with booger disease last Tuesday..". The phrase is a sodding insult to the no-longer working intelligence of the dead person. Yes, the person may have been pissed off at the thought of his or her imminent demise, but that doesn't mean they went all mushy-brained and started looking for some slightly demented layer-on-of-hands to pull a miraculous cure from the ether. And it dopesn't mean they went spitting and cursing in the face of Death, either.

As an aside: the proof that miracles don't (and never did) exist is the fact that almost anything these days is described as miraculous. The miracle of life. Yeah, right. The miraculous victory of the Wallabies against the Springboks, and the Black Caps against the Sri Lankans... well, actually, if that does happen I may start wondering about divine intervention. Pamela Anderson's miraculous dress-sense and cantilevered breasts, Miracle Whip whipped cream in a can, someone's miraculous brush with death (that's every second week, on the cover of any woman's magazine..), and so on.

READING: Bruce Kennedy Jones & Eric Allison "Fat Blackmail". Just started it, and it looks good.British crime.

LISTENING TO: Ella Fitzgerald, Best of album, and Nick Cave "Murder Songs". Nice and jolly.

WORD OF THE DAY: Dead. Let's not be afraid of death or dying... or of actually talking about it.


But he owed them a good death, just as he’d always striven to give them a good life.
He was afraid of the thought that came to him occasionally, a black dog in the night, that whispered that maybe he was more a symbol to them than a reality; that when he left them all they’d recall was what he stood for, what he’d meant, instead of who he was and who he had been.
His thoughts have become cloudy now, mushy. He must return home. Suddenly where he dies becomes more important than when. He marvels that he is vacillating, even now. He now knew that time, this vacant concept that Mary and he had been playing with for a moment, a lifetime, means nothing when you’re past your allotted span.
He was cold, and struggled to put his hands in his pockets. He was unequal to the task, and simply let his hands drop into his lap. The cold is right, somehow. It’s reaching into his flesh, slowing his mind.
“I’ll be all right. Just make sure you take care of yourselves.”
The lethargy he feels is now intense. His limbs are leaden, his lips are thick, and they prickle with pins and needles. His vision narrows, and his breath is rasping in his throat. A distant thunderclap tears at the silence, and he raises heavy, heavy eyelids to look out, over to the northern horizon. The sky is black, and rushing at him, a crackling giant overwhelming this vast landscape. Lightning stabs the ground, thunder booms a kettle-drum howl of conquest. He watches the display, unmoved. He can count three great anvil-heads towering thousands of feet into the air, storm clouds brimming and churning with the fury and anger of an affronted nature, and a shiver runs down his spine. The speed of the storms appals and terrifies him – in minutes the shack is engulfed in hammering rain, and the wind rages and whips at the windows and roof. A shutter slams and slaps at the wall, and he hears it as a distant clatter. Henry Talbot, lover of Mary, father to Adam, is dying. His eyelids flicker, and he welcomes the blackness that’s shrouding his mind. It’s coming, and I’ll be all right. Don’t you worry. I’ll be all right.
Christ. They’re going to be caught in this. They’d been told to keep clear of the gulch if a storm threatened, that flash-floods can come quicker than thought.
“Go on,” he’d said. “I’ll be all right.” Never once did he think that they might not be.

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