It is Christmas Eve, 2013, and I am dressed like a bauble in a black and gold sequined pencil skirt, chainmail gold necklace, and black patent heels with gold buckles as I head off to my local North London hospital for a PET scan.
“You’re not going to the hospital like that, are you?” says my husband. “You’ll make the scanner short-circuit.”
I ignore him. It’s my older son’s fifteenth birthday today and I’ve got a celebratory lunch to get to the moment the PET scan is over. Whatever a PET scan is. The National Health Service, with whom I am developing a precipitate and intimate relationship following a diagnosis of head and neck cancer three days earlier, has apparently written me a letter explaining the scan. But I have not opened it. Who would open such a letter?
Before the appointment I make a planned diversion to a nearby bookstore. I have poetry to buy, as a matter of urgency. Should I kick the bucket in the next six months or a year, I won’t have left my sons, aged twelve and fourteen, a code of conduct or moral legacy, and I am turning to poetry to step into the breach. Quite what I have been doing all these years I don’t know.
A cursory audit of The Few Important Things I Have Shared With My Sons That Might Influence Them In A Positive Way amounts to six items:
1. I stopped eating meat when I was nineteen because of the cruel husbandry of mass-produced meat and battery eggs then in common practice.
2. I once turned down the opportunity to visit the East End gangster Reggie Kray in HMP Parkhurst, the notorious Category B prison on the Isle of Wight whose former inmates include Jack the Ripper and one of the Moors Murderers. Reggie, who had nailed his rival, Jack “the Hat” McVitie, to the floor through his throat, had a photograph of me in a strapless fuchsia silk ball dress on his cell wall. We struck up a correspondence after I did some research for his book—I use the term loosely—on East End slang, and he had requested that I visit him in prison. I was successfully vetted by the Home Office, but then pulled out. I decided it did not do to humor murderers.
3. When the boys were seven and five, I ripped out pictures of Margaret Thatcher from a newspaper weekend magazine and together we burned them on an open fire in a cottage in Suffolk. They already knew the “Maggie Thatcher, Milk Snatcher” chant, so we recited it together.
4. A few years later, the former British prime minister stood behind me in The Daily Telegraph offices where I worked. I wanted to pour my can of Coke over her. I refrained.
5. I do not shop at Primark.
6. I bang on about how the drugs trade is immoral and exploitative.
As for what the boys will actually remember about me, I can’t think. Probably just me shouting, and the fact that I made them make their First Holy Communions. They think, erroneously, that I believe in God, hands down, no questions asked, and are embarrassed when I wear a black leather belt studded with the legend “Jesus Rocks.” They do not think the garment is to any degree ironic.
Read more at The New York Review Of Books.