Memories · Notes from West London

Birthday Musings 2017

Happy birthday to me, and also to singers Liam Gallagher, Faith Hill, Jason DeRulo and Corinne Drewery, West Indies cricket legends Curtly Ambrose and Chris Gayle, authors Stephen King and Shirley Conran, actor Bill Murray and BBC Radio 2 DJ Simon Mayo. I caught the start of Simon Mayo’s show just after 5pm this afternoon and he played the song that mentions our shared birthday, “September” by Earth Wind and Fire. It starts with the line, “Do you remember the 21st night of September?”

Leonard Cohen and Jimmy Young also shared this birthday, as I noted in this piece from last November, but they are no longer with us. Larry Hagman (JR from “Dallas”) was someone else born on this date. I knew he was no longer alive but couldn’t recall exactly when he left the scene. It was November 2012.

I reflect often on dates and ages. When my mother was exactly the age that I am today (on 24 April 1991) she woke up in Charing Cross Hospital, having been admitted the previous day. It was not a happy birthday. Two days later she was diagnosed with bowel cancer. The following Monday (29 April 1991) she had a major operation to remove a tumour, which was around the size of a golf-ball (not an orange or a grapefruit). This was followed by several weeks in intensive care, a summer of chemotherapy and, just before the end of the year, the all-clear, for a few years at least.

Thoughts about my mother’s birthday that year, and the rest of that spring and summer, have occupied my mind today. I dug out my 1991 pocket diary to check the chronology of when she was admitted to hospital and the date of the operation, but didn’t need to. Those dates are as clear in my memory as the happier event from the equivalent week a year later, when she had enjoyed several months of good health and Leeds United won the league, the last First Division title before the Premier League was launched. The dates of each chemotherapy appointment are noted throughout that diary for 1991, but they have never been committed to memory. I have compared my day (nothing special, nothing out of the ordinary, and incorporating three hours at a school open evening) with the equivalent day in my mother’s life: in a ward in Charing Cross Hospital, weak, unwell, uncertain about her future. I have been counting my blessings.



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