George drinking a huge cup of hot chocolate
Sometimes it’s too late in the day for coffee, so hot chocolate will have to do…

For a coffee-lover and football supporter, what could be better than marrying an Italian? There are plenty of other reasons why I hit the jackpot with Mariacristina, but in the early days of our relationship, I assumed that fantastic coffee and long arguments about the relative tactical merits of the ‘false 9’ and the trequartista would be part of the contract. Perhaps I should have insisted.

Mariacristina, it turned out, is a great lover of tea. I like the occasional tea myself, and was complimented on my making of it by my flatmates at university – probably because their desperation for a cup of tea meant they always poured it too early when it was their turn, whereas my relative indifference usually meant I’d forget I was making a pot, which gave the tea plenty of time to infuse properly before I’d remember it was there waiting. That’s my theory, anyway. Anyhow, I’m a great lover of coffee, and remember painfully an occasion in Naples when Mariacristina just didn’t understand my longing for an espresso to perk me up on our wanderings through the city.

As for the football, it turns out Mariacristina is an absolute fanatic – when Italy beat England; otherwise, she shows a complete lack of interest. Unfortunately, of course, Italy once again beat England on Saturday night, although this time, as it didn’t finish until 1am, we were both too tired to be particularly enthusiastic or despondent about the result. By the time we got up on Sunday morning, I think she’d forgotten.

“Some people think football is a matter of life or death,” said Bill Shankly. “I assure you, it’s much more important than that.” The quotation is great rhetoric, though of course not to be taken too seriously – as shown when football has been overshadowed by matters of life or death such as the Hillsborough disaster.

Mariacristina emerging from our garden shed
Mariacristina’s hiding from the football (except when Italy win) in our new shed

It would be easy when seriously ill to jump to the conclusion that things like football don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. So too rugby, tiddlywinks, theatre, music, comedy and all the other forms of entertainment that might catch your interest, distract you or inspire you. You may be facing the toughest challenge of your life, but the way I see it, that’s exactly when you most need the enjoyment, thrills and emotions that your interests bring (I’m thinking of tiddlywinks, particularly).

Admittedly you’re unlikely to skip an important medical appointment in order to make sure you catch Belgium vs Algeria live on ITV, but now the World Cup’s started, I’ve been grateful for being able to watch so much football on domestic television. I may not be able to go to the theatre and cinema, but in a way have replaced that drama with an over-reliance on Lovefilm (or Amazon Prime, as it is now). The pleasure I take in it all is undiminished; instead it seems more important than ever to do/see/watch/read the things I enjoy.

In my case, I don’t go to nearly as many live sports or music events as I’d like to anyway, so in one sense I’m not missing anything by having to stay away from crowds. It’s amazing how being deprived of something can make you want it more, though. Seeing football supporters at the World Cup makes me doubly jealous: firstly because they’re having a great time watching the top nations (and England) playing football in Brazil; but secondly just because they can. Had I not relapsed and had my stem cell transplant, there would have been close to zero chance I would have been out in Brazil at the World Cup, but I could have been.

It’s true that you don’t appreciate things fully until they’re gone – or unattainable. Now we’ve got our own little red car (WOOHOO!), we drove to Balham the other day – only about five minutes away – and it was only when I stepped out of our red tornado and looked around me that I realised how claustrophobic it had been with just Streatham and St George’s as the limits to my little world. We may still have been in smoggy London, but it was a breath of fresh air.

Now it’s Day +82 (blimey!), my mild GvHD seems to be clearing up and my ciclosporin dose is being dropped again. As Day +100 looms, the most important tests since my transplant will be taking place. As ever, it’s nerve-wracking but exciting: hopefully all will be well and a lot of the restrictions I currently face will be eased. For now, though, I’m just getting on with life and enjoying the World Cup more than ever – despite England’s defeat…

George outside a Balham pub
The exhilarating liberty of going to Balham
George driving the new car
Look out, London…
George and our new Citigo
Proud (joint) owner
George putting shopping bags in the boot of the new car
Being in Balham, it seemed only right to buy from Waitrose

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