Cancer 8: intolerance

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Cancer 8: intolerance

Paul Brasington 2023
Published by Paul Brasington in Good health · Monday 07 Jun 2021
Tags: Cancer
I like to think of myself as having an easy-going personality. I’d hope those who know me would agree with this. I don’t suffer fools gladly, but I do suffer them politely. I don’t have much of a temper.

As I’ve got older I’ve made a few conscious decisions about tolerance. I will remain polite, but I won’t sit by and listen to racism. If I hear arrant stupidity that’s likely to damage others, for instance from anti-vaxxers or anti-maskers, I won’t hesitate to tell them how much I disagree, and if possible to explain why their views are idiotic (because these things, like climate change, are not up for serious debate, though in truth I don’t expect their apologists to listen, or change their minds; I suppose then this is only about making me feel I’ve done myself some justice).

With politics I might make a more balanced judgement. I will always say whether I agree or disagree, but there’s a time and place for arguments about economics. On the other hand if faced with a Brexiteer, whose decisions and opinions are continuing to do me active harm, I have no real inclination to hold back. I might or might not be polite.
The pain of small things
It seems if disease and the prospect of an early death can concentrate our minds on the value of small things, they can also tend to make idiotic things (big and small) unbearable.

This isn't a new feeling for me; it's just got stronger. In my student days I drew an occasional cartoon strip for the fierce Cambridge arts magazine Broadsheet. The core joke was that for the lead character Kevin Sorry nothing had ever gone quite wrong for him. His world consistently failed to give him sufficient cause for his existential angst. Among other things he was unhappily married to the woman he loved. Without obvious catastrophe around him the small annoyances, a spilt cup of coffee, a mediocre haircut, a broken glass, could easily become quite unbearable, the procession of small disasters punctuating his every day to fill him with a rage of disappointment.

And that’s how I find myself feeling from time to time now.

I’ve just opened my email client. I like email. I like the way it lends itself to a thoughtful exchange, in proper English. What I don’t like is the deluge of spam, not all of which gets diverted to the spam folder. In an unhappy frame of mind this invasion of my privacy often by malicious actors and even at best by people who have no business contacting me (what happened to GDPR?) can seem intolerable. When the phone rings claiming to be someone from Microsoft technical support I can barely contain my equanimity: after all I’m sitting here talking to someone who wants to rob me.

When I see a tabloid (or Telegraph) headline peddling some new lie or idiocy, I can only be grateful that I’m nowhere near the writers, because I’d quite like to punch them for the wilful and cynical damage they are doing to our society. I know in reality I wouldn’t start throwing punches (I am not a violent man) but the urge is certainly there, and I would want to find some ways of expressing my utter contempt (via Twitter I’ve just seen an Express headline complaining that UK food prices are being pushed up by EU red tape; it really is quite hard to know where to begin).

Motorway madness
On Friday I had a rehearsal in a Hackney studio with the new line up for Maiuko’s quintet, the first chance we’ve all had to play together before a semi-private gig on this coming Saturday. Although I’m very happy to be making such music again, the physical journey in both directions was a nightmare. On the way to the studio I spent an hour sitting in the approach to the Blackwall Tunnel, for no apparent reason other than the fact that it was raining hard and suddenly everyone had jumped into their cars. It meant I arrived flustered and out of sorts in the studio with no time to warm up, which was bad enough, but more than this just sitting in the car, watching other cars swapping lanes in the hope of faster passage, I felt weighed down with the sense that it was such a stupid waste of time, especially when the number of hours I have left could be very finite.

I can put off that apprehension for the moment, hoping it’s not true. It still feels unlikely, and I’ve had a pleasant weekend including lunch out yesterday with old friends from Cambridge, picking up the threads of all that’s happened since our college days. That conversation brings a very different sense of time’s passing, an arc of our lives, a vivid sense of all we had hoped for at that pregnant point in our development just emerging as our adult selves, alongside the understanding of all that’s happened since.
The loss of friends
So I’ve been thinking about that Cambridge period. In the last few years three of the prominent contributors to Broadsheet magazine have died. Tom Lubbock, who went on to be a celebrated art critic on The Independent, died in his early 50s from a brain tumour. Eric Griffiths, controversial English literature don, friend and mentor, suffered a crippling stroke and died from sepsis nearly three years ago. Kevin Jackson, a distinguished freelance critic and writer, died suddenly a few weeks ago from a blood clot. Wondering how to illustrate this piece I chanced on a picture of Kevin at a garden celebration of our friend Nic’s 21st, a glass in one hand, a box of tissues in the other as he warded off hayfever. I haven’t seen him for many years and still it seems hard to imagine he’s gone. We all used to stay up all night getting the magazine finished, typing out articles on an IBM golfball, pasting up the text for photosetting, alcohol no doubt fuelling the moments of vituperation cast in print. That was a different species of arguably justified intolerance.
I hope still I’m not about to join the three of them in the great paste up in the sky. And I have learnt for the most part as we look at the world around us that kindness is best. It’s just not always easy, and I can see how I might come to feel I didn’t have time for it.

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