Marcel Proust, my radioactive friend, and one of the weirdest chat-up lines ever

Sun 16 – Sat 22 Nov


The main theme about last week, and it was a completely unplanned surprise, was Marcel Proust! I know he is a classic writer from late nineteenth century France but I have never read his books partly because they always look so intimidating. However, my first reading book last week was Philippe Besson’s ‘In The Absence of Men’, originally published in France in 2001. I started to read it because I found a copy in a charity shop for 50p. It’s about a sixteen year old boy in France in 1916 who finds himself befriended by Marcel Proust and who has a soldier sweetheart at the Front aged 21. Actually I thought it was a pretty dreadful book – pompous and written almost in abbreviation (partly as a series of letters); it felt at times like the author enjoyed the idea of being a classic writer rather than having to write a classic novel.

Ultimately it was a hard book to read as it was not very good even though very short. But Marcel Proust dominates it. I remembered I had an unread book called ‘The Year of Reading Proust’ by Phyllis Rose (1997). I recalled this had good reviews (but so did the Besson book… ). This turned out to be a strange one. There were references to Proust but overall these felt quite fleeting. The book is actually autobiographical recalling key parts of her life in a way that Proust writing is also supposed to be semi-autobiographical. Overall, interesting but disappointing as it did not feel to me what it advertised to be. I have decided to keep up the theme and so I have moved onto Edmund White’s, the great gay author and a with a walk-on part in Rose’s book, short biography of Proust written in 1999. It is actually a very decent short biography of Proust that helped me understand his life story. Separately I explored on the internet and in a bookshop to realise that although a great writer Proust himself is also considered as one of the most difficult to read – his books certainly appear very heavy. It made me think of Cervantes ‘Don Quixote’, supposedly the best book in history which I have never managed to progress beyond around the first 100 pages. So I won’t touch Proust himself yet but will add it to the long list of authors I really must read before I die.

Another thing that really was pretty amazing last week was seeing my old mate James who is being treated for liver cancer. He has had bowel cancer as well and been treated for about two years with chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery (70% of his liver has been removed). He is currently receiving a new treatment for which he has to travel to Oxford. It involves directly inserting radioactivity (isotopes?) into his liver to kill the tumours. So when I visited him last Thursday, he was still radioactive. His partner was at the house but could not be in the same room as James as he had already had his maximum radiation dose having shared the car back from Oxford. I was allowed to have up to two hours in the same room but not too get close. James looked rough and has lost more weight, he always was skinny. But as we chatted he perked up. Back to Oxford in two months to check the cancer has gone – fingers crossed.

Following on from seeing James, I carried onto Brighton to check on my two old chaps Bob & Brian. I stayed over in a hotel on Thursday night and treated myself to a massage in the evening by one of my favourite masseurs – really nice especially getting him to work on my legs. After the massage, I treated myself to an Indian meal – Dave does not like spicy and liquidy food so we never go to an Indian to eat. I like eating on my own (‘ table for one’) not least to listen into other conversations. One of the best I heard was a man and a woman on a date once when I was in Birmingham. Her English was not great and the conversation really died when he explained he was a recovering alcoholic but had won slimmer of the year. Another straight couple in Brighton this time and he was desperately trying to chat her up. They looked at photos on his phone of cockatoos and you can imagine the conversations which made me snigger. But his best line was ‘I think I’m more woman than most women I know’ – weird.

On Friday, I first visited Bob at his nursing home. He had a cold and the grey weather really meant we could not go out for a walk which annoyed him. But we had a good chat for two hours and he said he didn’t want me to leave when I had to go. Then onto meet Brian in Kemptown for lunch. He was in good form and we had a good meal and chat. He is arranging Christmas lunch with some people from his sheltered accommodation. I am very happy to report that before I went to Brighton I was thinking, please don’t let me bump into my bloody ex again – this did not happen which was excellent news. But it was weird to bump into Louise from FACT in Liverpool (see WotW) whilst I was there.

Last week was a good one for exercise and fitness. I managed three gym sessions and my Saturday jog-run as well as a session each with my trainer / friend Sara and my physio to work on my achilles. Gym sessions came on Sunday and Thursday, and with an intensive one after seeing Sara on Monday which I had not planned but just seemed right for the time. I love it when a gym session unexpectedly grows and becomes enveloping to the point where I don’t want it to end. It was quite similar on Thursday. Almost certainly linked to my new workout routine. I am concentrating on the main body parts (chest, upper back, lower back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, legs, core) but doing at least one exercise for each part and 4 sets of 10 reps on each exercise. Jog-run time was 38.34 – slower than last week and well over two minutes above my personal best. But I was trying a new running technique to avoid injuries so I need to see if that made the slow time worthwhile. I did weigh myself but I am at my constant weight of 13 stone & 10 pounds. Short of just not eating, that seems to be my ‘normal’ weight these days which is too high.

Office days last week were Tuesday and Wednesday (Friday I took off as a leave day). Both days were busy but not unpleasantly so. Main thing at the moment is preparing papers for committee which always goes a bit to the wire with so many people involved and the need for alterations. We had the findings of customer service research with the projects we fund which said basically we are doing OK and they like us. Couple of slightly strange work things. First, on Tuesday night I went with two colleagues to the Royal Opera House (very nice) to see a performance by the Fallen Angels Dance Company who we fund (see WotW). They do a lot of work through modern expressive dance with people in recovery from addiction. I don’t always understand dance but this was good and it was particularly good to hear the stories of some of the participants who were not who you would imagine as dancers – tall, thin, young, sinewy, etc. And on Wednesday we had a lunchtime talk by The Unchosen. This is a charity that works to tackle slavery in the UK by encouraging film-makers to make short films on the subject – again see WotW.

Frustratingly little to report on developing my digital skills but at least a half dozen Spanish sessions on DuoLingo which is some progress.

Websites of the week

Wonkers of the week: Mylene Klass for rant about how the mansion tax mean she would pays more tax because she is rich and lives in a multi-million pound property. I like the Daily Mirror headline ‘Myleene Klass should stop whining and pay her share like the rest of us’ However I also agree that Emily Thornberry was being a complete snob with the picture she tweeted but I would contest that Rupert Murdoch and the rich journalists at The Sun are the voice of the working class.


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