Monday, July 25, 2011


An evil spammer has hacked my email account and has sent advertising messages to everyone on my email list.

Sorry about this. I woke to over 80 messages in my own spambox. Please ignore until I figure out what to do about it. Hate to lose an email address I've been using for ten years.




Saturday, July 23, 2011

"Allowed to die" a quick lesson in media manipulation

Today the Daily Mail is running a poll with the question, "Should 'minimally conscious' patients be allowed to die?

As of this writing, 29% said No, 71% said yes.

I have to wonder though, if the people who clicked Yes had given much thought to the form of the question. Something I learned as a lobbyist paying close attention to various pieces of legislation is to always look very closely indeed at the pages of the bill that give the definitions of terms. What does it mean to be "allowed to die"? And what, exactly, are we talking about when we refer to "minimally conscious" people?

I'll help here with some research I have done into the question at hand. In the cases I have studied closely, that of Terri Schiavo in the US and Eluana Englaro in Italy, neither woman was a) terminally ill, b) on a respirator c) sick in any way. Both were brain damaged, but the damage did not impair any of their vital bodily functions. In both cases, the only care they needed was ordinary nursing care, bathing, clothing and, most crucially, feeding. Both of them could have lived a normal lifespan if these had been continued.

In the case of Terri Schiavo, her family made it public knowledge that she was not "in a coma," not in a "vegetative state". In her case, the public was shown video and photographs of Terri awake and responsive to the people and stimuli around her. In the case of Eluana Englaro, although we were shown no photos, it was revealed to the public that she was not ill, was not on a respirator, was not in a coma and required only food and hydration via a feeding tube. In the US, the delivery of food and water via a tube is classified as "medical treatment" that can be refused by a patient or (and here's what killed Terri) by a patient's guardian. In Italy this is not the case, but the artificial delivery of food and water was not specifically dealt with in law. However, in both countries, "assisting a suicide" is an offense, as is homicide.

We are all aware of the media frenzy, including a great deal of misdirection, surrounding the case of Terri Schiavo. In Italy, there was also a loud uproar and the media paid a great deal of attention to the case, particularly towards the end of Eluana's life. In most cases, the media consistently used this phrase: "allowed to die," a piece of deliberate and conscious misdirection, that I maintain is maliciously motivated to promote the cause of legalised assisted suicide and euthanasia, a favourite cause on the left in Europe and the US.

In parliaments too, the phrase is consistently used as a type of pacifier by legislators trying to lift prohibitions on assisted suicide. It sound quite natural and harmless doesn't it, and it plays on the perfectly moral principle that patients who are near to death from illness should be able to refuse extraordinary, aggressive or painful procedures if there is little chance that they will significantly prolong life.

If a cancer patient is in the last stages of the disease and all normal measures have been taken, everyone agrees that it is not only perfectly licit but in fact desirable to provide palliative care and allow the patient and their loved ones some quiet time before the end.

But the question asked by the Daily Mail above doesn't mention "terminally ill" patients. It doesn't specify that a person who is potentially to be "allowed to die" is about to do so anyway and is being plagued with aggressive extraordinary treatments. All it says is "minimally conscious" and "allowed to die".

Let's examine the following scenario. A healthy person has been drugged into minimal consciousness. He is strapped to a gurney and wheeled into a room and left there without provision for food and water.

Now, ask the following question: Is he being murdered or is he being "allowed to die"?

Now, let's examine another scenario. A healthy person is in a car accident and is rushed to the hospital with a severe head injury. It is determined in the hospital that although she remains otherwise healthy and undamaged, her brain function is never going to be what it was and she will require help with feeding, dressing and bathing etc., very likely for the rest of her life which, barring future illness, should be a normal span. She is taken to a nursing home run by nuns who are happy to take on the duties of caring for her for the rest of her life. This includes delivery of food and water via a stomach tube.

If the nuns then removed her food and hydration tube and refused to care for her and she died, should they be liable for charges of neglect causing death? Perhaps even homicide?

Is it "allowing a person to die" if he is helpless and is refused food and water?

I wonder how the British public would be answering a poll question like the following:

"Should vulnerable patients be deliberately starved and dehydrated to death when their lives are deemed to be worthless by a hospital ethics committee?"


A punto...

It's an old standby. Whenever there is a huge, distracting, celebrity-saturated news story going on, watch Parliament especially closely...

With British attention distracted by the phone-hacking scandal, this week the European political elite hurled another £96 billion at the ailing Greek economy, desperate to stave off a financial meltdown that could plunge the entire European project into disaster.


Friday, July 22, 2011

One nation, under...

A while ago, an Irish friend involved in politics told me that the EUrocrats are going to be taking full advantage of the instability created by the economic crisis to solidify their plans to abolish the nation state in Europe and unite the EU member states into a single socialist European superstate.

Apparently, that happened on Wednesday, while no one was paying attention. Which, in my experience, is the way really big things are brought about by politicians who know the public doesn't want their really big things. It is an axiom among lobbyists: if there is a huge news story breaking, it is wise to watch with extra care that day what the government is doing in Parliament.

European politicians have developed the same superstitious attachment to the single currency. They are determined to persist with it, no matter what suffering it causes, or however brutal its economic and social consequences.

There is only one way of sustaining this policy, as the International Monetary Fund argued ahead of yesterday’s summit in Brussels... Admittedly, the IMF should not be regarded as an impartial arbiter. Theoretically, its responsibilities stretch around the globe, but it has become the plaything of a reactionary European elite, of whom its latest managing director, Christine Lagarde (a dreadful and backward-looking choice), is the latest manifestation. However, the IMF was entirely correct when it pointed out that the only conceivable salvation for the eurozone is to impose greater fiscal integration among member states.

This advice was finally being taken yesterday – and it is almost impossible to overestimate the importance of the decision which European leaders seemed last night to be reaching. By authorising a huge expansion in the bail-out fund that is propping up the EU’s peripheral members (largely in order to stop the contagion spreading to Italy and Spain), the eurozone has taken the decisive step to becoming a fiscal union.

So long as the settlement is accepted by national parliaments, yesterday will come to be seen as the witching hour after which Europe will cease to be, except vestigially, a collection of nation states.

It will have one economic government, one currency, one foreign policy. This integration will be so complete that taxpayers in the more prosperous countries will be expected to pay for the welfare systems and pension plans of failing EU states.

This is the final realisation of the dream that animated the founders of the Common Market more than half a century ago – which is one reason why so many prominent Europeans have privately welcomed the eurozone catastrophe, labelling it a “beneficial crisis”.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Let's see how long it takes, shall we?

Until the Catholic bishops of Ireland say something, anything at all, about the attempt by the government to shut down the practice of the Catholic Faith in Ireland.

A friend commented this evening:

"Well, why don't they just bring their enormous moral authority to bear ...

Oh, wait..."


For our bulging Anglicans Are Peculiar file...

I realise that she's very helpfully with us on at least one important issue, but really,

what on earth is she wearing?

I have to say that the absurdity of the whole Anglican Ministrix thing comes painfully home when presented with the day to day usages. For instance, I had trouble not bursting out laughing when I was instructed to refer to one as "Mother" so and so. You see, she was...err...umm... a priest and because one calls a "male priest" "Father" it stands to reason that...

(I solved the problem by addressing the person in question as "Miss" so and so, since she was not married. I thought this was a hilarious solution since, at first sight - processing down the aisle of Chester Cathedral in a cope - I had had no idea that she was not a man. It is perhaps a bit improper, but have you ever heard the joke about the real reason the Anglican Church agreed to start ordaining women? It's slightly impolite, so email me and I'll tell you.)

That sort of thing. That and the clothes. I had the pleasure of meeting Victoria Matthews, lauded far and wide as the most "conservative" Anglican "bishop" in the Canadian Anglican establishment. And she is. It's just that, well... when I met her, she was all got up in a black skirt/jacket suit combo paired with a purple clerical shirt and collar. I had a hard time figuring out where to put my eyes so they didn't become an occasion for at least a giant social faux pas.

It's what happens when a group of people replace The Real with their personal preferences.


Pious and overly devotional

The post below quoting Fr. Faber (whose writing on the spiritual life deserves a great deal more attention than that of the attention-seeking Newman) has generated much interesting comment here and on Facebook. I post below my addition to the discussion.

First, I simply have an instinctive aversion to public displays of devotion, for much the same reason I object to public displays of affection between members of a pair-bonded unit. This might just be an English thing, but it embarrasses me on the person's behalf. It betrays a lack of a certain kind of social modesty. One keeps that sort of thing private. It's a thing appropriate to moments of sincere discussion between intimates.

I think (though he was not my favourite Catholic writer) I remember Thomas Merton also making a similar comment in Seven Story Mountain, along the lines of "There is something nauseating about pious talk".

The other reason is that it tends to cheapen the devotional life. Talking about, thinking about and praying to God is so important that it should not be tossed about like the wrapping on a bag of take-away.

But mostly I posted Fr. Faber's quote because of the ongoing debate about the Traddie world over nice vs. holy. Trads are notoriously given to very public displays of devotion (and insisting that they be conducted in the right way!!) while holding the knife ever-ready for the quick one between the ribs of anyone who crosses them. This tendency is hardly limited to the Traditionalist movement in the Church, but it certainly seems to be more prevalent as a community trait there.

They are ever-ready too, with the quick and often pat rejoinder when faced with any criticism: "The hard truth is better than the sweet lie". This is usually followed by recitations of Our Lord's open displays of anger against the pharisees and money-changers. Passers-by, non-Catholics and children, however, are often witness to these kinds of exchanges and I think are justified in going away disappointed. See how they love each other?

Well, I'm not a spiritual writer and it's not for me to correct, particularly since the quick and irritable rejoinder are defining characteristics of my own interpersonal and devotional life. I am faced daily with the temptation to the quick and snarky response.

I posted Fr. Faber's comment because I was relieved somewhat to learn that this is not a modern problem, that others greater and holier than I have observed it and fought against it. It's comforting to have companions in temptation.

The question of real vs. false devotion is extremely pertinent, and is a big part of Fr. Faber's very pointed writing on the spiritual life. Of course real devotion produces real sanctity, but it is only too easy to fall into the trap of presuming one's self devoted, and therefore superior to the general run of humanity, or even the general run of Christians. It is a salutary warning, and one that is repeated many times by C. S. Lewis and nearly all other writers on the Christian life.

It is for this reason I have banned excessive God-talk in the commbox, and the reason it tends to irritate me so much. I have found that in many, if not most cases when a person engages in gratuitous God-talk, particularly in a public forum, the person is much more likely to be talking about himself. Or herself, since it seems mostly to be a female vice.

In fact, this was proven to me quite aptly recently when a person who had left a particularly flowery God-talk commbox post became abusive and extremely nasty when I deleted his comment and said why. From the excessively POD language and tone, I had guessed that this was someone who was greatly enamoured of his own holiness and was very interested in demonstrating it for the world to admire. The incontinent note I received as punishment for daring to call him on his bullshit proved my suspicion to have been justified.

Don't keep your light under a bushel, by any means, but I think it's good advice to try to keep our phylacteries as narrow and our tassels as short as possible, yes?


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

So, I'm not the only one who's noticed

“Devout people are, as a class, the least kind of all classes. This is a scandalous thing to say; but the scandal of the fact is so much greater than the scandal of acknowledging it, that I will brave this for the sake of a greater good. Religious people are an unkindly lot."

Fr. William Frederick Faber, founder of the London Oratory


Let's play a game!

Well, enough of all that.

Had a nice few days, bought a bunch of needful stuff, new pj's and whatnot, to get ready for Chemo 2.

They were going to start me today, but having seen the results of some blood tests have decided to put it off for a week or so, to let my liver have a bit more time to recover. I'm taking liver-fixing drugs as well as a bunch of vitamins. Other than this everything's fine. Back to work in a limited way, which is really great.

Nice to have a week of reprieve so I can get some more cooking done and get things ready for Dorothy's visit and ... (fanfare) The Return of Sarah! (woop!)

Starting chemo 2 next Wednesday, if the blood tests come back favourably.

In the meantime, let's play a game.

Name the strangest place or circumstances you've ever had your confession heard.

Mine is on the steps of Canada's parliament in Ottawa.

Behind a plinth.

Oh, I almost forgot. I've also made confession in Latin at the Jesu in Rome. I had been told that there were always English speaking priests available at the Jesu, which is a conveniently located church in Rome (near a big bus stop). So I went in and sure enough there was a box near the entrance that had a sign on it saying "English" but when I asked the old chap in the box, he shook his head and said, "Mi dispiace". I went away annoyed, and then thought, wait, this is the Jesu and that's an ancient, retired Jesuit. No way he doesn't know how to do it in Latin. So I went back and asked and he looked a little startled, but said, in Italian, that we could try. I knelt down and riffled through my mental Latin files and we stumbled through on a halting combo of Latin, English, Italian and French. I got the gist across, he gave the ancient absolution formula. And "three Hail Mary's and one Our Father" is pretty easy to understand in any language.


Friday, July 15, 2011

I am a jerk

Readers and friends,

I recognised so many of those names as they came into my inbox with donations. The 63 people who donated are people I've known personally for many years, people I've known through writing and blogging, people I've had heated arguments with in commboxes, people I've worked with, people you might have heard of, people I barely know and some I've never heard of until now. I'm astounded and humbled.

But I think perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised, and I'll get to that more below.

To let you know, in the last few days, donations have covered the airfare for two friends, one coming over from Scotland for the first half of August and the other all the way from Raleigh, North Carolina, to stay for the second half.

There is also enough left over after airfares that ancillary medical fees will be easily covered at least for the next month.

My reaction to this has been a little surprising. I'm embarrassed. I feel as though I have gravely and unjustly underestimated ... well, everyone really. I have given my friends and readers and everyone one else terribly short shrift. The experience has shown me that I have a pretty deep-seated set of assumptions about people and that a lot of them are simply wrong.

Some of you may know that I left home very young and have very little family. By the time I was thirty, I'd been fending for myself in the world for half my life. I am often reticent to talk about my personal life as you know. I've learned that it does not do to share too much. But some of you know some of the background, so you will understand when I say that I have, what a friend calls, "family of origin issues" (the acronym is pronounced "phooey"). This has left me, as it will, with a profound distrust of other people and the assumption that when the chips are really down, I can count on no one but myself.

The other evening, I was having a talk about this with a friend. I was watching my friends here booking flights to go back "home" for their annual summer exodus from Rome, a process that usually leaves me somewhat depressed. It highlights the fact that there isn't really a "home" for me to go to. For as long as I can remember, whenever I am having one of those conversations, and the question arises, "What do you really want, Hilary?" my gut-instinct answer, the one hidden underneath a lifetime of cynicism and carefully trained wit, the one I never say out loud, is that I want to go home. It's been the one thing I've wanted since I was fifteen, and it's the one thing that will never, ever happen.

This year, it made me more than depressed to watch all my local friends leaving; it made me frightened. I hadn't bargained on the cancer thing still going on so late in the year. I got the diagnosis on March 9 and things have dragged and dragged. There were weeks of waiting for test results and whatever else it is one waits for in a public healthcare system. I don't know really how it happened so slowly, but now that things are finally happening fast, it is the worst possible time and I was in a near panic that I would be facing the worst part of it alone.

Until now, I've had a whole team of people to take phone calls from non-English speaking doctors, and to arrange appointments, to deal with government red tape, to make runs to the pharmacy when I can't, and one at a time, each one of these people has either left or will be gone soon.

I am now going to share: those of my readers who are like me and find such things excruciatingly embarrassing, should avert your eyes.

I've mentioned before, I think, how my brain is evil. Well, one of the elaborate theories my Evil Brain has come up with, and refuses to drop, is that there are two classes of relationships between people. Primary relationships are the ones that incur the most duties on the people in them. For the most part, they are the ones you are born with: mother, father, brother, sister, children. These are the kinds of relationships that take priority in life. When it is a choice between duty to one of these and anything else, that relationship takes first place. The only primary relationship you can acquire without being born into it is marriage.

Secondary relationships are everything else. Friends, co-workers, colleagues, neighbours. With these, the duty is still there, but is not as strong. In a secondary relationship, you are bound to help when help is needed, but only so far as it does not interfere with other important things in life, with your duties to your family, say, or to work or school.

I don't have any primary relationships. My mother is dead, my father has been out of my life for decades; I'm an only child and so was my father, so there were no aunts, uncles or cousins. My mother was estranged from her family and I've never heard from any of them. Until I went back to England in 2008, I had not heard from my mother's foster family in Manchester since I was six.

I have been aware of this relationship hierarchy since I left home and was confronted with the reality of having no one in the world to really rely upon. It's a hard lesson to learn when you're a teenager, but at least in my case it was swift.

When I was fifteen, I took a bus from the arctic where I had been living with my mother and stepfather, back to Victoria. My father picked me up at the bus station. I stayed with him a week and then he told me we had an appointment with the family court. We went into a court room and my father told the judge that he didn't want to care for me and that I should be made a ward of the court. The papers were signed and I was taken from there to the first of a series of foster homes. I was a ward of the state until I was 19, then a social worker told me I had to get a job. I never heard from my father again.

I can imagine what you are thinking, having read this, and I'm right there with you (I can also hear a few of you saying, "It answers so many questions..."). But you might be surprised to hear that it did not occur to me until I was in my 30s that anything untoward had happened. It wasn't until I told it to a priest, who had been trained in psychology, and saw his reaction that I started to understand how appalling it was. At the time, I just accepted it and got on with surviving, which might have had something to do with my already well-developed familiarity with my father's character.

In the years since then, I have to admit that I have developed a set of emotional and psychological barriers to other people, that have shaped who I am and that would be very difficult to overcome. I can't assume that they are all bad, but there are ways in which they have hardened me.

All of which leads me back to the cancer crisis. This is really the first time that I've faced something with which I am actually not capable of dealing alone. This has, naturally, set up a kind of war between my ears. When the cancer thing started, my friends and helpers, co-workers and colleagues, readers and supporters, and a whole bunch of other people I've never met or heard of, all dove into the breach to help. Often without being asked. Despite this, my Evil Brain continues to insist that depending on another human being, particularly a group of humans, is at the very least, extremely unwise. It's a funny thing about habits of thought, as I'm sure any confessor will tell you, they powerfully resist the evidence of our senses.

I hardly know what to say at this stage. Everything I need to deal with this is in place. I suppose that my Evil Brain is more or less unkillable and I will continue to be "astounded" by people helping me. Maybe at some point, I'm going to give my friends the credit they deserve.

Until then, I hope y'all won't be offended by my surprise that you all are decent, kind, honourable and caring.


I'm really trying to be less of a jerk.



Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Weather II

Dropped down to a balmy 26 today, nice breeze off the Med.



Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Weather

It's THIR-ty FIVE freaking degrees in Santa Marinella today!

Good thing I shaved my head, or I'd be wretched!

What a good idea that was!


A conversation:

Me - "I don't want to go outside like this. I'll be all funny looking."

Christopher - "Yeah, and you'll have really short hair too."


Important News

We interrupt our regularly scheduled litany of woes and horrors to bring you this important public service announcement.

They've found a new Leonardo!

Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi"

An eerie painting of Christ holding a glass orb in one hand and making a benediction with the other, all the while leveling an otherworldly stare at the viewer, has been authenticated as a long-lost Leonardo da Vinci portrait, putting it "up there with any artistic discovery of the last 100 years," according to ARTnews. Called "Salvator Mundi" ("Savior of the World"), the painting will now go on view in a Leonardo show opening at London's National Gallery in November, and it is said to carry an asking price of $200 million.

Someone bought it at an estate sale in 1958 for £45. It is the first new Leonardo attribution since 1909 and one of only about 15 oils by him to have survived.

The painting was originally commissioned by Louis XII of France and completed in 1513. Somewhere along the line, it came to England as part of the collection of Charles I, but between 1763 and 1900, the painting's history is unknown and its attribution to Leonardo was forgotten.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Blegging again

Alert readers will have noticed the re-appearance of the PayPal button on the top of the sidebar.

I have a big spiel about this. There's stuff that's been going on. Stuff I'm going to write about as soon as I can. Long, thoughtful post coming.

Meantime, suffice to explain for the moment that expenses have been well covered by the kind donations so far, but it turns out that we've got further to go than I had anticipated. It is working out that the whole procedure, if everything goes as I hope, will take me into late September/early October to be finally done.

I'm scheduled to be back in the hospital next Monday for the second cycle of chemotherapy. Then there is a long wait for recovery and then surgery, then recovery from surgery. In there somewhere, I have to get MRI and CT scans, blood tests and whatnot. Between expenses for drugs, user fees for scans and tests, transport and phone/transport, I'm looking at a lot of ongoing costs.

But there is actually something more pressing and important.

The big problem during the first two weeks after the first cycle of chemo was that I was alone and didn't have enough information or the right kind of medication.

I am pretty far out of Rome, and it is a big undertaking to come out here for most of my friends who are still here. The other problem is that most everyone I know is either gone or at the busiest time of their work year. This is the height of tourist season and most people I know here work in the tourist trade.

For the last round of chemo, we were given only one day's notice before I went into the hospital, which made it impossible for people to change their work schedules to be with me. I did all the preparation I could, shopping, cleaning, cooking, laundry-ing and organising as much as possible in the 24 hours they gave me. But there was nothing at all to be done about finding someone who could be here with me. The side effects of the drugs were a lot worse than we had been led to expect, and we simply could not find anyone who was able to come out here and stay.

The doctors had not warned us about the possible side effects of chemo, and when I developed peripheral neuropathy, and the pain and paralysis that went with it, I had no idea what was happening and really could not cope. It was difficult to reach anyone to talk to at the Gemelli, I was unable to get out of the house to go see a doctor locally and I could not get prescriptions or even to the emergency room (which is one town over) by myself. It turns out I had not been give the right kind of pain medication for neuropathy, a condition that is notoriously resistant to regular painkillers and that left me unable to walk unassisted.

The upshot was that for the first, and by far the worst, week of recovery (and among the worst weeks of my adult life) I spent most of my time alone, in pain and, frankly, terrified.

The doctor told me that the second round of chemo will be worse than the first, since the effect of the drugs, particularly the neural damage, is cumulative. It takes months for nerves to heal and there are only three weeks between cycles. This means that I am going to be in worse shape after the second round than I was the first time and will take longer to recover.

The trouble is that this is the very worst time of year to be doing this. All the people I know leave Italy starting in June, and by the time I'm out of hospital after the second cycle, there really isn't going to be anyone around.

A friend has found a voluntary organisation, based in a town close to me, that helps cancer patients with home helps, rides, nursing, information and various kinds of support. This will be a big help and I've already got a ride to the Gemelli on Monday with a hope of some help at home. But what I really need is someone, anyone really, who is able to be here during the first couple of weeks.

This leads me to the gist of the PayPal button. I have a friend who wants to come and stay to help me during recovery. Sarah was my roommate here, but had to go back to the US unexpectedly in February, a little less than a week before all this started. This might sound an odd thing to ask, but we could really use a little help with her air fare. She is the only person I know who is not either married and looking after a husband or family, or completely snowed under with work or schoolin', who is willing to come all the way here to help. We are hoping to find a reasonable flight for the early part of August.

It seems funny to me that the loss of my hair should have so failed to upset me. But this may be because I have now got a keen sense of just how dangerous and debilitating chemo is: nerve damage, kidney damage, liver damage, debilitating pain and paralysis, all help to put an extra-short haircut into perspective.

Christopher has chastised me for being all stiff-upper-lip, stoic-British, and failing to "clearly articluate my needs" to the people who care about me. And a few days ago, Kathy Shaidle, who has had Lupus, warned me not to try too hard to be the "brave little sick girl" all the time.

So I'm gritting my teeth and asking for help. To be honest, I'm really scared about next week. What I have already experienced, and what I expect to go through, has broken down the barriers. The last round was, frankly, terrible and facing it mostly by myself was one of the worst things I've ever had to endure.

I realise times are difficult for a lot of people, and I don't want to diminish the help I've already received, both from my good readers and from my friends here, but I could really use some company in the next few weeks and months.




Once again I am deeply moved by the generosity of my readers and friends. Thank you everyone.

I've been asked to put up a little note about the currency and donating from different countries. When you log in, if you are not doing so from Canada, you have to click the thing saying what country you are in. It's in the upper-right-hand side of the PayPal home screen. My Paypal account is set up to receive Canadian funds. I'm not entirely sure how it works, but I think you can donate in any currency and Paypal will automatically turn it into Cdn with an appropriate exchange rate. That's what happened last time. People sent in funds in three currencies and it was automatically all worked out by Paypal.

Update to the update:

Here are Steve T's very helpful instructions.

Right. I'm the chap who requested the PayPal update. Clicked on Hilary's donate button again today, and it's differnet than yesterday.

Here's the proper instructions on using PayPal to toss some cash to Hilary if you aren't Canadian:

1) Click on her donate button.
2) Her Paypal page will come up, with the email she uses for PayPal transactions. (I am not reproducing it here for fear of the dreaded spambot finding it and using it to barrage her with spam at this inconvenient hour.)
3) Copy the email she uses for PayPal transactions.
4) Close that page.
5) Call up the PayPal appropriate for your country:


6) Make a payment through your country's PayPal system, using the email address you copied from Hilary's PayPal site. (Be sure to use that one, her contact email on her blog is quite different.)

PayPal will do its magic behind the scenes and convert your currency into Euros.

If you are actually in a country that uses Euros, the process is the same: get her transaction email, go to your local PayPal, and proceed.

ADDENDUM: if one goes to the U.S. site,, there one will find the thingie (i.e., the drop-down list) that will allow one to select their own country. Merely click on the words "English (United States)."

NOTE: one must actually be surfing from a country from the U.S. for this to appear. (There are terribly geeky things such as cookies that control this.)

CORRIGENDUM: "one must actually be surfing from a country from the U.S. for this to appear"

Please mentally replace the word from with the words other than. Thank you.


How to keep cool when it's hot

First: shave your head. Seriously, this is the best idea I've ever had. At exactly the same moment my hair started falling out, the temperature shot up into our annual Italian Summer-on-Venus range. It's been in the low thirties for five days and no end in sight.

Second: get a cotton bandanna and soak it in water, and stick it on your now wonderfully unburdened head.

Third: enjoy the glorious coolth.

You can also make iced tea.

My friend Andrea the Artist came to spend the weekend with me and when she saw me running my normal 3pm programming, putting the kettle on and getting out the tea, she looked at me like I was mad. "You're making tea in the hottest part of the day in the hottest part of the year?"

Realising that what I was doing was, in fact, insane, I changed tack. Fortunately, she had brought me a lovely present; a brand new silicone ice tray that makes 32 nice big cubes at a time. (For the non-ex-pats: Italians, though they complain about the heat as much as the rest of us, are terrified of anything cold. They don't have air conditioning, they don't like to use fans, and they're really REALLY not into ice. You can't buy bags of ice at the grocery store, you can't get ice in your drinks and it is very difficult to get a decent ice cube tray. They'll sell these dumb little tidgy plastic trays that make ten tiny ice cubes at a time that melt in the glass in about five seconds. So having an ice cube tray that actually makes proper ice is a big deal.)

Hilary's iced tea method:


one full ball of Twining's loose Darjeeling
one bag of horrible Tetley's
one lemon, sliced
two sprigs of new mint from the balcony
about a tablespoon of sugar
filtered water.

Make about half a pot of tea. Toss in the Tetley's for strengthening. While the tea is steeping, score the lemon with the tip of a knife to release the lemon oil in the skin then slice it crosswise nice and thick. Put the lemon slices and the mint sprigs into the nice Italian ceramic jug that you bought last year at Porta Portese but haven't found much use for yet. Add sugar and about 1/2 litre of cold water from the filter jug. When the tea is steeped very strong, pour it still hot into the jug. The cool water will help prevent the jug from cracking. Stir to dissolve the sugar and spread the lemon and mint flavours around. Pour in a little more cool water to cool the rest of it. When it's luke warm, add ice and put in the fridge for about half an hour.



Sunday, July 10, 2011

Elf n' Safety?

Went for an evening stroll last night to the beach promenade. They have a sort of market there on summer weekends where you can buy things like antiques (or possibly "antiques"), sun hats, scarves, beach wear, jewelery, second hand books and random stuff. Mostly people stroll up and down in the warm, humid air, eat ice cream, chat with neighbours and tourists, listen to the waves on the beach competing with the music playing from the Gigi bar. My friend Andrea and I went down there last night after dinner. I bought another hat and she bought some "hand painted" traditional Italian crockery.

While I was trying on a hat, squinting myopically into a mirror, she said, "Do you see that?"

I have broken my glasses, so I had not at first noticed the procession that was moving past the market stroll on the Via Aurelia. A horde of young kids, teenagers, all rollerblading up the street, decked out in brightly coloured spandex clothes and safety helmets carrying lit tiki torches.

I laughed. "Only in Italy. In Britain, 'elf n' safety would be having apoplexy."

There's a lot to love about this country.


Saturday, July 09, 2011

My hair...

...a retrospective.
November 2010

March 8, the day before diagnosis.

May 2011

June 2011


You know Google Earth?

Well, now

Google Mars!

Oh man, science! Just when you thought it couldn't get any cooler!

I just downloaded Google Earth 5.0 and thought this would be an appropriate intro


Friday, July 08, 2011

Went to the parrucchiere

and got shorn.

All I can say now is, the rest of it bloody well better fall out.

The nice young fellow who did it took such minute care to make sure the bits over my ears were straight, and that it all came out even, and to tidy up the stray bits at the back, I hardly liked to tell him it was going to be entirely gone by the end of the weekend.


Oh bloody hell

there go my eyebrows...




With hat.

With other hat.

Clearly, need more hats.

It was just horrifying to pull out clumps of hair and it was getting me down, so last night, Chris paused the movie (Canadian Bacon) and said, OK, we're cutting your hair.

It took a bit of convincing, but it was clear that it really is all going to go, completely, so best to take charge of things. As a friend said, at least this way it will be something I did, not something being done to me. And I had had a hard night the night before, waking up every few hours in a fright, thinking I would wake up bald or, perhaps worse, patchy. Enough stressing.

We did the best we could with the sewing scissors, and Chris said it was coming away in his hands as he cut it. It looks very patchy, and that is only partly because of the limitations of the barber. This afternoon I'm going to the local parruchiere to get him to run the clippers over the rest of it. It is still coming out, but at least now is not scaring me so much, and I expect to be quite smooth by Monday.

It came at just the right time, since in the last day or so, the temperatures have shot up from a reasonably comfortable 27 to 31 today, and 32 tomorrow. Last summer it was so hot I was tempted to shave my head anyway. There is still a breeze off the Med and I must say it is a weird sensation to feel the breeze through the straw hat and on my scalp. Weird, but not at all unpleasant.

Next week is my one good week to organise things - shopping and stocking up and cooking and freezing - before Round 2. The neuropathy has eased a bit, and the pain killers are doing their work, so I can get around a little better, though even little walks to the shops leave me flattened afterwards. But at least I will be able to go to the local profumeria and see if I can buy some false eyelashes and a few eyebrow pencils. I've seen pictures of people with chemo-face and the no eyebrows/eyelash thing is rather frightening. Don't want to scare the locals.


Thursday, July 07, 2011


Lost about half my hair yesterday, expect the rest to go today. Got a friend to cut off what was left this morning. Looks pretty good in a sort of 1920s bob sort of way. And it makes my favourite straw hat fit better. I'll probably cut off whatever is left tonight. The hat works pretty well with a lightweight white silk scarf I bought the other day.

There is something viscerally terrifying about your hair falling out. Your frontal lobe, talky, rational brain can tell you all day long that it's ok, that it was expected, that it will grow back, but it doesn't stop that choke of terror when you run your fingers through and come away with a handful. That is something that goes way deeper than talking or rationality.


Wednesday, July 06, 2011

My hair is coming out in handfuls.



...Save ship...

Nothing like a Shatner vid.

All hail the alpha male.


Sharing too much

I've got some Thoughts for y'all tomorrow on what chemo is like and how much fun it is to have cytotoxins eat your nerve cells.

It's late, and I'm too tired to write anything (besides, it hurts to's called chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy and it's great fun) but I thought I would take a moment tonight to frankly ask for prayers.

I'm not actually doing too terribly well, and have been told that the second round, set to start July 18, is going to be worse than the first. The nerve damage has made things difficult in ways I didn't expect, and it takes months for nerves to heal, if they are going to do so at all. So with only three weeks in between doses of poison there isn't enough time for the nerves to re-grow and the damage is going to be compounded. It means a lot of pain, difficulty walking and falls. Which in turn means a lot of lying around at home unable to move.

For the first week, they gave me the wrong kind of painkillers so it wasn't much fun. I've got better pain medication now, but it is a lot stronger and is leaving me pretty addled, so it's a bit difficult constructing sentences. (I'm fine with that last part, actually. Thinking too much has been one of the biggest fun-killers of my whole life, so it's a relief to have an excuse not to do it at all for a while.)

My Evil Brain is also getting in on the act; seeing I'm weak and taking this opportunity to attack, the monster that lives between my ears and spends all its leisure time trying to figure out how to kill me, has started whispering all manner of horrible things to me. Your brain is not your friend. Don't forget it.

Truthfully, I don't remember ever being this ill and helpless. It's annoying. And boring. And painful. And frightening. And lonely.

And since going into the hospital, I was thinking, "Well, at least I can get to the Gardone conference," but as it turns out, even though I am out of the hospital, I'm so flattened that I can't get to the end of the block, never mind getting on a train to the top of the Boot. It's killing me that I'm lying around at home while all these cool friends of mine are here, having fun without me.

And just to add to the press, all of this is turning out to be very hard on the people who are trying to help me.

So, not much fun around here, I'm afraid. But praying helps, so I'm told, and at the moment, I'm not really up to doing it myself. So...


Friday, July 01, 2011

Oh, and Great Big Sea

...and Newfoundland.


This is awesome


Our Emblem Dear...

Happy Dominion Day, everyone.

One long post of all things Canadian today...

The 48th Highlanders. You can't be Canadian if you don't like pipe bands. It's a rule.

A grand Canadian tradition: the Tattoo

Halifax has one of the best in the world, and I went twice. I know someone, who lives now in Toronto but grew up in Cape Breton, (which is the source of all Canadianness) who flies back every year to sing in the Tattoo choir.


Oh, how I wish you hadn't left us. Things would have worked out better...

The Canadians arrive: Devil's Brigade.
I've got this movie. It's about how the clean-cut Canadians went to Italy and kicked the tar out of the bad guys. (Yes, that's Cliff Robertson marching in correct Canadian form at the front. I was taught this in army cadets, you make a fist with your thumb straight up on top, and bring your arm up so it is level with the top of your breast pocket.)

It is one of my all time favourite war movies.

Canadians war-like?

Best neighbours.


But of course, no one likes Toronto.

I went to PEI once. There were LOTS of potato fields...
"...anOTHER big load o' buddados..."

And if you're in Halifax, always get your chips at lunchtime from Bud the Spud, parked in his own officially reserved spot, outside the library.

Big Things! (It's kind of a Canadian thing)

Big Things in Canada I've seen:

The Big Nickel

The Big Hockey Stick

The Big Easter Egg

The Big Blueberry (admittedly, one of the smaller Big Things in Canada, but blueberries are big, both literally and economically in the maritimes...)

Curling! Paul Gross! Leslie Neilsen:

Three other Great Canadian Things no one outside of Canada has ever heard of.
(plus a funny scene with beavers)


(Real Mounties aren't really like Paul Gross in Due South. I thought I'd just say that in case anyone gets confused. For one thing, he never had the regulation mustache. And he wasn't a living embodiment of political correctness...)

(Speaking of PC, Dorothy seems a little down in the dumps this Dominion Day. I've told her that it's because she's an ex-liberal from Toronto, the Source of All Badness in Canada. Being a Toronto ex-liberal can leave deep scars. Toronto liberals are always raised on high-irony diets, which in later life can lead to Bitter Conservatism in which you can't like things any more. One way or the other, Toronto knocks all the cheerful out of you. Go on over there and cheer her up about Canada, OK? Go on. Quote her some funny Canadian poetry or something.)