Me being trashed in Second Quad, Jesus College, OxfordI realised the other day that it had been a year since I finished my exams. That’s probably the best way to date the end of my student career, since I haven’t actually graduated yet, and everyone took their leave of Oxford at different times. I well remember 2nd June 2005: I remember a few people telling me they’d never seen anyone quite so ecstatic at having finished exams… I was pretty delighted.

What struck me is just how differently my first year in the Big Wide World has turned out to how I had expected. And to how it could have turned out. I’m not a big one for looking at the future, so I didn’t have detailed plans and huge ambitions: in fact, it wasn’t until a few days after I finished exams that I went to Literary Review and was offered a job. So I suppose upon finishing exams my life could have taken just about any path.

The cover of the June edition of Literary ReviewBut as it was, I did get my job at Literary Review, and moved to London. I managed to work for a good three months or so, before the tiredness and limb pain I would later be able to put down to leukaemia put me out of action. I lodged for a couple of months in Denmark Hill, and then a couple in Chelsea: both times with wonderful and generous landladies and landlords. I went to Lourdes and carried on my job as Secretary of the OMV, while starting to consider the possibility of running for Chairman in April. And then, of course, on 31st October, I visited the haemotologist who rushed me into St George’s, where I was diagnosed with ALL on 1st November.

So I’ve been imagining where I might have been… Working at Literary Review, still probably as Editorial Assistant, though given a bit more time I might have found a few ways to supplement my income (I had been planning to try to get a bit more freelance journalistic – probably literary, at least to begin with – work; I was also going to look into private tuition, which pays very well, particularly if you have an Oxbridge degree up your sleeve). Even more settled in London: possibly still in Chelsea as it was working out so well. The OMV logoI could have had a run at the OMV Chairmanship in April, and if I’d been successful would no doubt have had my life dominated by it from then on! Poor Adam… Either way, I’d definitely have been to lots of OMV events, especially as being in London makes it a lot easier. I might have found a nice local choir to join in order to keep up my singing. I was also keen on getting a bit of fitness up and joining a football team, or finding a few friends to get a 5-a-side team together. And how about ham dram? I’m sure that if the opportunity had cropped up, I’d not have been able to resist the smell of greasepaint and the tread of the boards… These latter plans were all postponed firstly by the fact that I wanted to get settled into my job and room before getting too stuck into other activities, and secondly by my health: I told myself that when I felt better I could go out and find a choir/football team/etc.

St. George's Hotel signBut life never quite proceeds as you plan, and I’m quite happy to accept that. I didn’t imagine I’d be spending most of my time in hospital; moving back home for the times I’m allowed out; terrifying my family and friends, not to mention myself, with a visit to Intensive Care; regularly having to avoid crowds due to neutropaenia; getting almost 4000 visitors to my blog in a month and a half; increasing my knowledge of medical terms by an infinite percentage; and so much more.

As an older, wiser Norton has been known to comment, “the only thing that you can be certain of is that nothing is certain”, and though he was referring to my treatment, I guess the same is true of life. I mentioned early on in my treatment that I felt my general philosophies on life prepared me quite well for something like getting leukaemia, and thinking about how everything’s turned out, I still think that’s true. As I say above, I’ve never been much of a planner in my personal life, so if you’d asked me a year ago where I would be and what I’d be doing now, I expect I would have struggled for an answer. Admittedly that would partly have been because I was most likely in a post-Finals drunken stupor, but it would also have been because I do appreciate how much things can change. My trip to ITU is a good example: one moment I was pretty much fine, having a course of chemotherapy that had been touted as being easier than what I’d faced so far, as well as being the less risky option for the relapse-prevention phase; the next moment I was down in Intensive Care with my lungs and heart at full pelt struggling to keep me alive. Best not to count your chickens before they’ve hatched, methinks…

Comparing what this last year might have been with how it has turned out might make the latter seem a little depressing, but to me it isn’t. I’ve learnt a huge amount about myself, about life and about my friends and family. I’ve often wondered to myself whether I’m not happier now than I ever was, in spite of – or possibly indirectly because of – the leukaemia. I feel so well supported and loved, and that is something you cannot put a value on. A bacon sarnieUnfortunately a lot of people don’t realise it, unless life takes a turn for the worse. I’ve really learnt to appreciate life, and recognise that it can be a lot shorter than it seems, so needs to be grasped! I’ve found out what’s important to me, I’ve come across some amazing people, and I’ve decided that bacon sandwiches are among the greatest pleasures in life. Perhaps more importantly, I’ve realised that being happy is much more the result of such small pleasures, and making the most of things, than of life happening to fall into place. I fully intend to get better, but this leukaemia has taught me so much.

That’s why I entitled this ‘annus mirabilis’, rather than ‘annus horribilis’. True, it’s had its unpleasant patches, including the deaths of both my grandmothers, and having leukaemia isn’t necessarily something I’d choose, but it has in many ways been a ‘wonderful year’ (certainly a year to wonder at…) – in large part due to people, many of whom might be reading this. So; I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: thank you. Your love, support and kindness has ensured my spirits have been buoyant and have given me the strength to get through the tough patches. Thank you so much.

14 thoughts on “Annus mirabilis?

  1. Hey George

    Wow, quite the writer! You are a truly amazing human being and I feel abit sad that I never got to meet you… I’ve been reading your blog since Harri told me about it (in about March, I think). You give a new meaning to the words inspiration and tough boy!

    Hope the rest of your treatments go well and according to plan and that you stop losing your grandmothers.. πŸ™‚

    Keep your chin up and spirits high

    With Love from Roz
    all the way in Sunny South Africa

  2. Wow!

    George you are amazing; what you wrote was so touching & well thought through. Anyone who reads this will know you quite well.

    I can promise for myself that though your thanks are lovely, I only wish I could more. If there ever is anything I can help with remotely then PLEASE let me know?

    I’ll keep up the long-winded, daft comments to give you something to read (or use as tissues if printed) never fear!

    If I seem babbling & nervous that’s because I am. It’s nothing to what you’re going through, but I have a big meeting with a visiting American Prof of History tomorrow! EEK! Me trying to explain portraits to a Prof; can you imagine?!

    Anyway darling, try & stay cool (in all ways). I’ll pray that things start up again treatment-wise this week.


  3. Ahhh, George, that’s so lovely. Glad you’re feeling happy and philosophical! But your photos have reminded me I hid some bacon in the freezer, curses, another week away from the bikini!
    Lots of love

  4. Sorry George, not another admiring female (just how many women do you know anyway?!) but your Uncle Philip. Yes, recognising the “small pleasures” are what its all about but I have a feeling you would have got there anyway had the sliding doors stayed open longer and your other year transpired…

    I confess that now the WC has started www/ has overtaken Inventing Better Fools as the priority site to visit (it was a close second anyway). Hope you are enjoying the games if not the England performance. As a Pompey fan I suspect you are also not yet convinced by the ex Southampton robo-crouch. (By the way, did you know that in only one WC final has neither Brazil nor Germany appeared?)

    We all love you George – keep up the great writing,

    Philip (plus four more admiring females in Singapore)

  5. Wonderful George. Was that champagne or a bucket of water in the photo? What a waste if it was champagne!!!! We will bring on the champagne when all this is behind you.
    Love as usual from all of us down here in Aus. Talking of WC, the first Aus game is this evening against Japan. I think some people are excited. Aus. played England here last night with a different shaped ball, and they actually won. I must admit all the players looked very young or is it another sign of my ageing .
    Love Melanie xx

  6. Melanie – that’s water in the bucket, I can assure you, although there is small champagne wastage in the tradition of firing corks at the College clock.

    As always I find your writing enlightening, entertaining and touching. Reading your blog this past year has been something of a journey, and although not as big a one as your own I am honoured and priveleged to have shared some of it through reading this.

    With much love,

  7. ah georgie, such a lovely blog entry. I agree, its totally mindblowing the way life works and it’s something that keeps me awake at night, wondering why things happen… my little brain is often very overwhelmed by the hugeness of stuff like that. Thank you for doing the blog, it’s funny and sad and inspiring all at once. May i just say how impressed I am that you managed to find a picture of a bacon sandwich to put up… you really are quite strangely obsessed – I’m like that with jaffa cakes.
    With the risk of sounding like yet another ‘admiring female’, you’re a gorgeous george.
    Love love love X

  8. Hi George,

    If only I had a way with words like you do…all I can say is you’re the best. It certainly has been a tough year for you but you seem to have risen to the challenge like only you can. well done for being so brave and SUCH an inspiration. Do do hope to see you very soon. Good luck with the treatment meantime, fingers crossed we will have you back as OMV choir master sooner rather than later. Biggest kisses, steiny xxx

  9. Dear george,Food for thought indeed.Jess and hilarious here-we notice Dad/Philip got here first!Sending our very best of all good things to you and advanced notice we are on our way…arriving tuesday next…shall talk to your daddy et al re best place to see you.
    Had Graces soccer birthday party on sat but it was not the same without you….those ghastly stormdrains continue to catchout unsuspecting visitors and parents returning from latenight parties.
    jess rather alarmed by the baconsandwich -she feared it was another bodypart!
    now she says she didnt but she really did….masses of love from we two and the rest,hil & jessxxx

  10. Hi George
    Have been reading your blog since October so thanks buddy for always having it current. That is a fantastic finals picture, I’d almost forgotten your silly floppy hair!
    Feel so privileged to have met you and to have known you through the last year, in spite of leukaemia, you’ve been the brightest and best. Please let’s speak extensively about nothing very soon.

  11. Hello Darling Cousin,

    You are utterly amazing, and was very moved by your latest blog posting, so proud of you and how brave you are, I will keep checking to see when you are back in St George’s and hopefully catch up with you really soon. Just swelteringly hot in our offices, with the delight of no air con, but we mustn’t grumble, as loving the sunshine. See you very soon.

    LOL Marie-Soph xxx

  12. Wow…you have already got so many lovely comments, so I will probably be repeating a lot of what they have already said…
    Gob-smacked, amazed, inspired, thought provoking, laughed, panicked are just some of the feelings I have felt over the past year when reading your blog.
    You have even confused me many a time with all your medical terms, might buy Rachaels medical dictionary to understand a lot of the lovely terms you have been using!!
    Anyway you really are a legend to me.
    Loads of love from another admiring female.

  13. I’ll say it again – you are AMAZING! You can thank your friends all you like, but YOU are the one with the infinite strength. It is true, it has been an odd year. You have said some wonderful things, all of which need to be appreciated more often by more people, I think.
    Loads of love as always,
    Ellie xxx

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