Cancer 6: The small things

Go to content

Cancer 6: The small things

Paul Brasington 2023
Published by Paul Brasington in Good health · Monday 24 May 2021
Tags: Cancer
I saw a post from young Australian cancer sufferer written shortly before she died. The gist of it was that we should stop fretting about the small things, and be more mindful of what we have in the simple fact of life.
In a sense of course that’s hard to disagree with, but I’m not sure it’s profoundly true. Most of the time the fact that we’re alive is a necessary given, the baseline from which we experience everything, and in most contexts not a necessary consideration. It is inevitable that we will fret about the small things, because in those moments they will indeed matter to us. To insist on a bigger or different perspective is arguably insensitive about the reality of daily stress in our lives, which cannot be simply wished away. In this sense the idea of memento mori risks being a loss of perspective in its own right.

I was reminded of when my teenage daughter was feeling wretched in the wake of my separation from her mother and I made the mistake of urging her to think how privileged and fortunate she was in most aspects of her life. She replied reasonably, asking me how the truth that many people were also miserable was supposed to make her feel better.
The stress of small things is also an inverse corollary of the delight of small things. The prospect of our imminent demise will often heighten our experience of the moment, and I’ve certainly been finding this to be true at unexpected moments. I spent a part of yesterday morning making a lemon meringue pie. I’d not count baking as a particular strength, but I like cooking and prepare most of our meals. I’ve made this pie three or four times now and though it requires a certain amount of diligence to create the soft meringue it’s not difficult. The labour was a distraction from less welcome thoughts, but more than this seeing it emerge from the oven (as in the image above) engendered a great surge of true delight. Fortunately it was also delicious.

The food of love
Music is a larger more important delight to me. Ten years ago after decades of neglect I picked up the violin I’d taught myself to play in school and college bands, and began to perform in public again. It was my midlife crisis perhaps, and it’s been transformative. These days I play regularly with two bands: Entertaining Mr Stone (EMS) here in Rye with Steve Stone and Dave McKean, and a version of Afro jazz with the sublime Maiuko. For EMS we had our first rehearsal since the summer last week, and it was simply wonderful both to be with friends and to be creating Steve’s strong romantic songs once more. With Maiuko I have a gig on 12th June as part of the Equator Festival’s garden series. It will be the first outing for a new lineup, and I’m excited about it.

I’m mentioning all this to make the point that I have an enhanced interest in the violin, which also perhaps explains why I first thought of writing this blog series while listening to the Gigspanner Big Band’s recent album, Natural Invention.

Whether in small or big band form, Gigspanner is led by the violinist Peter Knight. He’s best known for his work with Steeleye Span, which I was certainly well aware of, but it’s only in the last ten years or so since I first heard Gigspanner that I’ve come to appreciate the subtle power and finesse of his playing
The Big Band is a relatively recent development, and Natural Invention their first album as a sextet. British and Irish contemporary folk music has come a long way from the beards and beer of the 1960s, or the heavier moments of folk rock in the 1970s, and bands like Lau and The Gloaming have been creating quite beautiful original music weaving together traditional material and diverse other influences, played mostly on acoustic instruments.

Natural Invention is in line with this trend. Many of its songs are well-known in the folk canon, but brought new life here by the tasteful and imaginative brilliance of the arrangements, as well as the uniform excellence of the musicianship. Just as an example: the album opens with Awake Awake, putting an early spotlight on Hannah Martin’s gorgeous voice, which gives way to what sounds at first like it might be a routine folk dance instrumental, until Peter’s violin cuts across those rhythms with something far freer and more arresting.

In my cancer-induced mood of heightened awareness it is literally spine-tingling, but even before I knew my condition it would wrench my attention from whatever else I might be doing. I’ve loved the album since I bought it on its first release, but now when I get to their version of Earl Brand I’m reduced to a tearful wreck; it’s a sad song, but it’s the beauty of the performance from all concerned that gets to me, the power of loveliness, not sadness.
I don’t know my fate yet. I heard this morning that the consultation with a full diagnosis will happen on 10th June, which is an unwelcome two and a half weeks of further limbo. But whatever happens to me I can only be glad for these continuing moments when I feel most fully alive.

There are no reviews yet.
Contact    +44 7798 913129
Back to content