Gina has enough to deal with for one week: a disapproving daughter, her ex-psychotherapist living next door and a hopeless ex-husband she’s still in love with. Without a diagnosis of cancer. Catapulted into the unknown territory of surgery, chemo and support groups, Gina faces her predicament with strength, wit and a faithful pair of elasticated-waist trousers. As treatment progresses, Gina finds herself asking surprising questions. Will she ever be able to concentrate on what her oncologist is saying, without being distracted by his enormous moustache? Should her best friend’s thirty-year love of David Essex prevent her advice from being taken seriously? And how will she explain her bald bonce to her seven-year-old granddaughter?
Please have a look at the YouTube video of the book – here.
‘This one’s going well,’ says Moya.
‘Do I have eyes this time?’
‘No. And only one leg.’
Great. When Moya introduced herself at a party, saying she was an artist and would like to paint me, I’d envisaged portraits of vibrant beauty. She told me I looked like ‘a post-iconic Debbie Harry’. Despite realising that ‘post-iconic’ meant ‘gone to seed’, I was flattered. In your forties, compliments are not as forthcoming as they used to be. I reasoned that, if I agreed to pose, I’d be entitled to refer to myself as ‘a model’. And even if Moya had a Lucian Freud style – brutal in its fleshy honesty – at least I’d be immortalised. But it turns out Moya’s work is unflatteringly abstract, which explains why I never appear with a full set of limbs or facial features. And why she rarely sells anything. You have to give the well-to-do, buying public what they want, and what they want are pleasant-looking young women, not middle-aged catastrophes.
I used to be married to an artist. It was wonderful, if you happened to like having an installation of gas masks and Victorian nighties swinging from wire coat hangers in a corner of your living room. But if you needed a bill paid or food on the table, it was rubbish. As if thinking of the devil has summoned him, I hear Olly’s distinctive tap-tap-tapping on my front door. Olly has devoted himself to remaining permanently stoned for the twenty-six years I have known him. His arrival is, as always, accompanied by a creeping, soporific brain mist, which causes all rationality to desert me. This effect must have something to do with his dazzling good looks, which, infuriatingly, have not diminished with time.
He taps again. I sigh, then get up from the table in the dining room, where I have been typing on the laptop while Moya paints me. Quite often during these combined working sessions I’ll forget she’s here. Although I don’t have to sit still for Moya, I am mindful of what objects are about me, for she will include them in the composition. The memory of seeing myself with a two-litre bottle of cola incorporated into my torso still disturbs me.
I open the door to Olly, and am consumed by his smiley emerald eyes, black dancing lashes, and lips, lips, lips that make me quake. Every time I see Olly I fall in love. Every time I fight this off. I have trained myself to remember what a useless git he is. So I now recall: the bailiffs arriving, even though he’d promised he’d paid the bills; leaving him to babysit Skylark and coming home from work to find her playing in the gutter and him stoned, asleep in the back garden; Olly claiming he slept with one of my friends because he ‘mistook’ her for me. If I allow myself to remember any more, I fear tipping myself over the edge, so I usually restrict it to three, but there is a range of hundreds, probably thousands, from which to choose.
I sigh again. Sighing replaces pouting when you get to my age.
‘It’s me,’ says Olly dumbly, but with a magnificent, sunbeam smile.
He makes for the front room. He has come to watch my Freeview TV as he only has an analogue, and because his girlfriend presents a bargain programme on the Happy Holidays Channel and he likes to roll spliffs and talk to her from the sofa.
‘Tea?’ he enquires hopefully.
I wonder when the ‘Olly effect’ will wear off. He is forty-four now, but it still shows little sign of waning. Perhaps it’s our shared history. We met when I was twenty-two and he was eighteen. We have spent our adult lives loving and hating each other, often simultaneously. Well, I have. Olly just smiles glibly, whether you’re telling him you’d die for him or want to bash his skull in. He’s always taken the path of least resistance, but it seems to have paid off. And he does have artistic talent, sort of. He was ahead of his time in the late seventies, as was pointed out in a review only last weekend.
There was an unsurprising lack of appreciation for his early artistic endeavours: installations consisting of disorientating, joining rooms constructed from plasterboard, onto which random cartoon images were projected along with strobe lighting. Fortunately, Olly went on to discover the more peaceful, and successful, craft of sculpting. Now he spends his days carving smooth egg shapes out of stone. His sculptures are beautiful: fine grained, but with the tiniest flaws which ‘make’ them, their sheer surfaces offering themselves up to be touched. Critics have called them sublime and transcendental, the perfection of their form sacred and moving. And those qualities are discernible, to the spiritually inclined. But I have come to see them as a reflection of Olly: a lovely surface with nothing underneath.
I’m being unfair, probably. Trying to reduce my painkiller consumption, having got rather attached to them after a recent operation, is no doubt making me extra crotchety. It was only day surgery, keyhole, but the healing has been slow. Moya took a message for me earlier, from the hospital. They asked me to ring back as soon as possible. I did, but it went straight to their answering machine. Now I’m waiting for them to call me back. The surgery was to remove a large cyst, but the doctor had to take the ovary as well, because it had become so twisted. That was weeks ago, but the follow-up appointment still hasn’t come through, which must be why they’re phoning.
Olly, yes, he earns a good living, or has done in the last ten years or so, the decade in which we finally divorced, so I haven’t felt the benefit of it. He has an undeserved lucky streak, too. Like the time his sculpture sank the ship that was transporting it to Italy. It had been commissioned for a small fortune by a luxury car manufacturer, but insured for five times as much, so Olly’s now waiting for the huge payout.
You can purchase it here at Amazon.