It’s been a funny old year for me and I would imagine, some of you. However, whilst my year didn’t get off to a very good start seeing as I found myself in my local A&E one Saturday night / Sunday morning in January having collapsed at home. And before you jump to conclusions, I had not been drinking! Anyway it turned out that my prostate was very enlarged and to cut a long story short, two weeks later I was informed that I had cancer. My PSA reading was 39 [ 5 or below is normal for a man of my age ] and following a biopsy I was further informed that my Gleason Reading was 9 [ 10 being the max], the cancer was very aggressive but so far, it had not spread to my bones. If it gets into your bones then you are pretty well doomed! However, I was still fairly worried as the cancer was close to my bladder and if it spread any further I would spend the rest of my life connected to a plastic bag which would put a stop to my beloved Zumba sessions.
As if that wasn’t a bad enough start, David Bowie passed away, leaving behind an incredible album Black Star which has been on rotation in the Brown’s household all year and will remain one of my favourites among his twenty five albums [ not including compilations ]. I loved David Bowie, even those early recordings where he sounds like Anthony Newley. I loved his R&B stuff which he recorded with various sixties bands most notably, Davy Jones and The King Bees and I loved reading in an interview with Kenny Jones of The Small Faces recently, in which he revealed that David Jones [ Bowie] had tried to join his band. What a waste that would have been? However at five feet eight inches, the future David Bowie was just too tall for the diminutive foursome and had to console himself with the knowledge that he was probably a genius anyway and would have spent less time in the band than he did with The Lower Third.
So anyway, I was put on Hormone injections designed to shrink the cancerous growth around my prostate with a view to introducing radiation therapy at a later date should the injections work. The side effects of Hormone injections, apart from acting as a chemical castration are pretty unpleasant although they do vary among patients. Unfortunately, I got the full works but on a positive note, the injections certainly worked and within six weeks my PSA reading went from 39 to 0.8. I felt well enough to put on a couple of concerts with Tom and Graham followed by a two week holiday in our favourite beach destination, Dassia, Corfu. As usual, we had a fab time meeting up with our Greek friends and drinking lots of vino however, looking back at the pictures we took I was clearly not at my best. We love the Greek people and the little village of Dassia in particular however, when we want a little more hustle and bustle we head for Corfu Town where this year I found a new record shop stocked with some great vinyl! I had not expected to be heading home with some classic Jethro Tull albums but that’s Greece for you, full of surprises.
On our return, we were fortunate to catch one of our favourite bands in concert, The Hot Club of Cowtown, who were just fantastic and a few weeks later we saw Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones in another amazing concert. Teddy was a revelation in concert and far more entertaining than his old man, Richard Thompson in my opinion. Talking of which [opinions] we then had the mother of all debates with the EU referendum. I ignored all of the media discussions until the result was announced. I won’t say that I was surprised by the result however, Brexit provoked the kind of debates that I found so unlike anything I would ever have expected from the British people. Whatever way you voted, it was the pro campaigners that let this country down. Cameron was so complacent as to not even consider that the vote may go Leave and to his discredit, no planning for that particular outcome took place at all. It was all very well shouting foul play each time the Leave campaigners mentioned immigration, taxes or household incomes but the pro group were just as guilty of spreading untruths. Had any of them been honest they would have acknowledged that the EU does not bestow benefits on everyone here in the UK or elsewhere in Europe for that matter. It doesn’t protect jobs, quite the opposite. The EU legislated the practice of employing workers on zero hours contracts and despite the celebrated working-hours directive, it is commonly known that workers are being made to work beyond the restricted limits. Elsewhere, companies are using “self employed” workers and thereby claiming that it is they not them who are breaching the EU rules which is simply rubbish.
However, things appeared to be going okay with my treatment despite the horrible side effects and after a bit of negotiation with my consultant, he agreed to start my course of radiation therapy. You might think that having a highly aggressive cancer with a Gleason reading of 9, that you would be put straight into treatment but the NHS doesn’t work like that. Nowadays, it’s all about personal choice, or, as I like to think of it, how can they save money. After all, I appeared to be fairly well in myself, I was my usual cheerful self and compared to the majority of sufferers, I was still quite young. However, my cancer had been identified and the best course of treatment was a combination of Hormone and Radiation therapy, so there was no alternative for me. The consultant had already said that because the problem had not been identified earlier, surgery was not possible in my case so why delay? I don’t know if any of you have had a similar experience but for many men, the problem can be eradicated by removing the prostate gland however, I’m not sure that the treatment I’m having isn’t a better option. Strangely enough, in the advice guides it states that the actual prostate gland is tiny and yet describes it as being around the size of a Satsuma. Well, it could just be that my greengrocer stocks unusually large Satsumas but I wouldn’t describe them as tiny!
I was due to start my radiation course in September but luckily, we were able to attend a new album launch for one of our favourite bands, Ranagri, just before my course started. We had a great evening and the album, Voices, is brilliant. Whilst we were down in that there London we also took in a West End show, Sunny Afternoon which was absolutely fabulous. I’d bought cheap tickets beforehand but when we arrived we were upgraded to the best seats in the house! I love The Kinks and the show is based, not very loosely considering that Ray Davies was involved in its’ creation, around the band’s early years. The story resonated with me because when I was much younger, I had a very good friend who had known the band back in the early sixties and had actually courted Dave Davies for a while. Their friendship remained long after my friend had moved to Leeds to marry a local lad, another good friend of mine and if the band were ever in Yorkshire, they would pop in for a cup of tea and a catch up. I don’t know about you but whenever I hear Waterloo Sunset or any of the early hits by The Kinks, I’m immediately transported back to the sixties. I can picture myself shopping in Carnaby Street and coming back to Leeds with some wacky clobber. It was “gear” as The Beatles used to say.
I had another unexpected surprise in September when I became a grandad for the first and possibly, the last time. Obviously, I’d known for a while that my son and his partner were expecting the stork arriving sometime around my birthday but my new status still came as a surprise. However, it was a wonderful surprise especially as our eldest son and his partner had somehow managed to create the loveliest baby girl that I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, with being in treatment every day since, I haven’t been able to see my granddaughter very often but I’m hoping to make up for that very soon. The only benefit of having to take things easy for the past few months has been more time to catch up on some of the great music released this year including A Moon shaped pool by Radiohead, Schmilco by Wilco and Stranger to Stranger by Paul Simon. There has also been some amazing archive issues such as a three disc collection of live concerts from 1973 featuring Van Morrison & The Caledonia Soul Orchestra which has to be my album of the year, Heartbreaker Deluxe by Ryan Adams, The Trio Collection and Boots #1 from Gillian Welch which is an extended version of her debut album. And finally, when I haven’t been listening to my new CDs and Vinyl, I have been able to attend concerts by the brilliant O’Hooley & Tidow, the amazingly eclectic, Pink Martini and the wonderful Ranagri with Tony Christie.
With only a few days to go before I complete my course of radiation another favourite musician of mine sadly passed away, Leonard Cohen or Laughing Len as I like to call him. Very few artists can truly claim to be iconic, Presley, Dylan, Sinatra, Springsteen maybe but Len definitely deserves that title. If Mount Rushmore was built today then Cohen’s head would be on it, he is that important. A lot of people only know him for the song Hallelujah which they probably heard on some Pop Idol type reality TV show but that’s not the one most of his fans will turn to first. Hallelujah may be one of the most recorded songs in pop music history but Suzanne, Sisters of Mercy and Bird on the wire are the ones that will live longest in our hearts. Only a few weeks ago, I danced to his song Dance me to the end of love and when I heard the news of his passing, I put on his CD I’m a man an album that many critics say, made him cool. I doubt very much whether Cohen ever considered himself to be cool, he was like so many of us romantics, a beautiful loser. I wonder what he would have had to say about Donald Trump being voted in as the 45th US president the day after he passed away? Cohen probably expected Hillary Clinton to win the race but frankly, any Democrat other than Clinton, would have seen off Trump. Oh well, let’s try and keep calm and just hope that someone like Richard Branson doesn’t try and emulate Trump’s achievement here in the UK or I won’t simply be heading back to Greece for a few weeks of sunshine.