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Wednesday 2 June 2004

The hardest haircut in the world.... [houmous]

Di had to do the hardest haircut she had ever had to do yesterday. It wasnÂ’t technically demanding and she had done it loads of times before. The trouble was that she was doing it for the last time for Lisa, a 45 year old and mother of 2 kids who has been here many times for a hairdo.
A month or so ago Lisa had gone to the doctors not feeling well.He initially said she had an acid stomach but after tests she was found to have cancer of the lymph gland and sent home with what was, by yesterday, another two weeks to live. What the hell do you say to someone in those situations? Sitting in my lair I was amazed at LisaÂ’s laughter from the salon (for those of you that donÂ’t know Di works from home), especially when Di suggested 'well how about going blonde then'.
I decided I wanted to go in to say something before I had to go out even though I only knew her to say hello – but what the hell go you say – I got as far as 'Hi' before I faltered…She looked at me beaming – Its OK Robin you don’t have to say anything she says...'Good luck Lisa' I replied before leaving. I did have to go out but I was pretty glad I didn’t have to be there when she left and Di was pretty upset when I got back.
Three months ago I went to a funeral for Martin, 44, who I had worked with for many years. About 18 months previously he had found he had got a bone cancer and after fighting it for all that time (marrow transplants, chemo etc) his kidneys finally went and he knew it was over. Friend after friend took turns at the front of the church to say how they had had a call from Martin in that final week which started 'IÂ’m sorry to bother you mate but IÂ’m going to pop my clogs by Saturday so I just wanted to ring and say goodbye'.
Without detracting from the immense bravery of these two people I could go on. A friendÂ’s wife who died in childbirth, other people I know who found out of the blue they only had a short while to live...
This brings me to my point. All these people were over 40. I’m not saying that life ends after 40, far from it – in many ways for me it began about then, but what I saying is that the nasty man throwing wet sponges at you gets a damn sight more accurate after 40.
So...what I am saying to all you sub 40 people is this. If you have a goal, if there is something you want to do, then do it. Now. Want to learn French? Play the piano? Move to Australia? Change that work/life balance? Have a tattoo done? Begin a relationship or end one? Then do it.
Yes I know they are superficial at a certain level but they won’t be to you – and you won’t forget them – (and at the end all there is is what we remember). Because the worst feeling in the world must be to find yourself on your deathbed with that sinking feeling – like when you suddenly realize you have forgotten to go to the shops to get something you really need and they shut in 5 minutes and it’s too late.
Obviously feel free to respond to this blog however you like but IÂ’d far rather see examples of what we are going to do than other examples of people keeling over. Then maybe LisaÂ’s and MartinÂ’s stories might be just a tiny bit less pointless and futile.


  1. Just started painting :)
    You do have a valid point, i lived quite hard when i was younger. And we knew we played a nasty game with death, that be an od a carwreck or some nasty cut. So we really *lived*, and tried everything you should and shouldnt do. Of course, at 32 this means i find that its really fucking hard not get bored with pretty much everything people suggest. So to get that fix of the fresh i gotta turn totally anal and ram my head up the ass to find out what i wanna do for myself in some kind of Elle 'you deserve it' way. Learning to fly would be nice though, gotta remember that when a pigeon suddenly drops a 50 kilo golden shit infront of me :]

  2. One of the biggest troubles with the human condition, in my view anyway, is that that's whole sorts of things we can come to understand on an intellectual level but which are infinitely harder to put into practice. I understand exactly what you're saying Robin. I feel it as the truth and I want to rip free of the my pretty mundane life and grip it by the balls, do the things I've always wanted to and so on.
    Death has a way of making you think about your place in the world, when it's so easy to live your life not seeing the wood for the trees. I don't know if it's something other people think about or if it's just me, but over the last few years I seem to be spending more time wondering really why the hell am I actually here. I mean, out of the countless souls in the world over the millions of years and even wider, why do I have my name and why do I look out from behind my eyes.
    It's pretty easy to see how people turn to religion. I think my response to it is try to make some effort at describing the human condition, if only to my self. That's my big project and it's kind of at the top of the big things I want to do.
    I haven't heard others anyone else describe the sort of half made and obsolete way we actually think, in the way I think it to be so. So rather than wanting to do extreme sports, or learn something new, or visit a place I haven't been before - that's what I want to do. I hope it doesn't sound too navel gazing and depressing, the idea really is that if we can realise that then maybe the first step can be in working that out.
    So for me, I feel the goal of my life is to ask some of the big questions. I'm not arrogant enough to think that I can do anything that hasn't been expored by philisophers in ages gone by and probably it is, in reality, just the futile scratching from within a box, with a tiny mote of life occupying the briefest wink in history. But you have to try, we're made that way.
    At least if you think that there might be more than just wood and trees.

  3. Very sad. This is coincidental for me as only yesterday I was outside chatting to my 50 something asian neighbour who was oogling over my bike and telling me that if there's something I want to do in life, I must do it now, before I settle down and get married. Go traveling, see things, whatever I wanted. He got married at a very young age, and into an arranged marriage, and regrets not doing more in life already.
    It has made me stop and think a bit, as I've always lived like this to a degree, doing things I should and shouldn't just to satisfy curiosity. Perhaps it is time for me to do the other things I want to. This includes spending time abroad, doing more racing etc.

  4. The general response to these stark moments that come so few and far between but nevertheless sequentially and repeatedly is the clearest evidence of the state of the human mind. The message doesnÂ’t get any more profound full fucking stop but somehow weÂ’ve all (ok most) let it go previously.
    Welcome to the world of the fucked up self.
    When I was 17 I lost near 85% of my lung function for two weeks while being 48 hrs off the coast of east-Thailand. The island in question later got made up to be The Beach. Before the romanticism and before fuckin Alex fuckin Garland tossed it up, it damn near killed me. I remember getting back to the main island (Koh Samui) off the island and walking up to the main harbour to try to get the boat back to the mainland and basically passing out on the road coming up to the harbour. The sun was setting in front of me over a deep sea in dark orange and I remember looking up and thinking it was my last sunset. I remember the curve of the road exactly and I remember the smell and sights of it precisely like almost nothing in my life. Clearly it wasnÂ’t my last but it damn near was. I skip the latter details for the sake of decency in context of the main post.
    2002, pissed up, I jet out of a taxi which me and missus are in and get some cash out. I turn off the cash point and decide to leg it past the lights that I can see just about to change. What I havenÂ’t realised is that there is a counter-flow bus lane coming the other way. I basically launch myself straight into the path of a double decker bus doing 35 miles an hour. To this day I remember the way in which I realised my auto-pilot had caught me, totally pissed up, and the edge of the bus actually skinned my nose. I had no business being alive 6 inches further in less than half a second later but I made it.
    2003, my sister in law tells me a story of the partner of her best friend in Mexico who gets taken into hospital with the shits and vomiting one morning and gets told sheÂ’s had a massive heart attack and has less than a few hours to live. She expires that day with no prior warning aged 50 telling her partner how sorry she is for smoking and drinking like a fiend all her latter life trying to express herself while being given the last rites and just as she has a terminal attack.
    How the hell do you deal with these things?
    After the ’88 event I basically decided that life was fragile and that I would have the best fucking time all of the time possible. I have a stupidly supra-normal metabolism and couldn’t, previously, maintain any kind of “normal” weight on more than about 1,500 to 1,800 calories a day despite playing county-level squash 5 times a week. I did this for 3 and a half years / 4 years between 14 and 18 It’s a freak show and many people don’t believe it but it is nonetheless the truth. After the Thai experience I said “well fuck it” and lapsed into, no chose, hedonism. It seemed worth it, if life were so fragile that you might as well give it some fucking large. Boozing, dr00gas and weight were the entertainment and expression of these things.
    I spent all my AÂ’ levels doing politics, philosophy and theology then degree doing philosophy and politics. I had the luxury of being taught for 5 years at a very high level in all the totality of the human raceÂ’s insight into the the meaning of life. My conclusions were that I had got some interesting pointers but that it made jack shit difference to my view which is still unformed. So then I thought hedonism wouldnÂ’t be a bad stop-gap.
    Years on it’s true to say I’m reconsidering the same. It doesn’t seem that wonderful to be able to drink anyone under the table. Ok make that everyone. Now there’s a few other factors in the mix. I too don’t feel for all the trappings of some mental success by which previously I’ve felt my brain and intelligence is the justification of my achievements-so-far. The bottom line is if The Man came tomorrow and said “one month – any good?” then, guttingly, I know I wouldn’t feel happy at all.
    I guess the move to the coast weÂ’ve got planned is a big thing that has made me feel for the first time in a long time that IÂ’m taking care of something important. ThereÂ’s other things that have to be done too.
    The point of this story, as Houmous aludes to, is not to tell the nightmare stories and itÂ’s also not to tell the success stories prior engaged (who gives a fuck). The point of this story is to give context to those that didnÂ’t get it before. To try to find something that otherwise wouldnÂ’t have been there so that when the bomb drops you grin just before it all goes off....IÂ’d forgotten some of this. Ok a lot of this. Respect to the bravery and spirit of the people leaving us and thanks for the blog and the prod-again.

  5. My other half is in a similar position. His uncle (32) had some serious headaches at Christmas '03, but was otherwise fine.
    Now he has no more than a few weeks to live, and is in a hospice - a triple brain tumour will shortly, tragically, leave two young children without a father and a wife without a husband.
    These things can happen to any one, at any time and without any warning. The brave faces put on by those in these most difficult of circumstances are an inspiration; the day to day difficulties of life pale into insignificance when you realise that nothing is for certain, and we can all go in the relative blink of an eye.
    The idea that you should live life to the full and not just talk but do is really hammered home when you see blogs like this; my boss lives his life by the motto 'Je ne regrette rien' - I regret nothing.

  6. It's very distressing. I try to console myself with the ole 'there's always someone worse off than you' thing, because shit most of us here have very sweet lives.
    As for living it up, well I'm pretty happy with the way its all gone so far. I've seen a lot of the world, I've done many things I want to do and now I have a family which I love and I strive to make life for them as best as it can be. It's true that I live for my wife and kids rather than mysel f these days, but if anything that makes the old 'what are we here for' question easy to answer. I'm here for them, and I'm happy with that.

  7. A slightly amusing postscript - or as amusing as you can be in these circumstances.
    Firstly Lisa came and had her hair done again on Saturday (you aren’t really dying are you Lisa - its just a ruse for getting free haircuts!). She looks a lot thinner and iller though :-(.
    Strangely both Di and I felt much better at dealing with it this time - 'How you doing Lisa' ' Oh hanging on in there Robin'
    The weirdest thing ever though was wandering into the salon while Di is doing her hair with Lisa idly flicking through a magazine - which was a coffin brochure! She wants to go for a range called the Pod (!). They are made out of eco friendly cardboard and she can get her kids to paint it. Bless her.

  8. My best mate from Uni topped himself (which was, as upsetting as it was, not unpredictable). On his casket were painted big yellow and red flames which was kind of him. Dunno about the kids decorating it - sounds simultaneously lovely and absolutely friggin awful at the same time. God knows this shit is always the hardest.

  9. Lassie from work emailed this to me. Thought it might be appropriate in here.A FEW THOUGHTS FROM GEORGE CARLIN (His wife recently died...)Isn't it amazing that George Carlin - gross and mouthy comedian of the 70's and 80's - could write something so very eloquent ...and so very appropriate post 9-11.-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time.We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, moreexperts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness. We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.We've learned how to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to life not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbour. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We've done larger things, but not better things.We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We've learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just hit delete.Remember; spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever. Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side. Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn't cost a cent.Remember, to say, 'I love you' to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you. Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person will not be there again.Give time to love, give time to speak, and give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind. Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away. Can you think of any?HOW TO STAY YOUNG:1. Throw out nonessential numbers. This includes age, weight and height.Let the doctor worry about them. That is why you pay him/her.2. Keep only cheerful friends. The grouches pull you down.3. Keep learning. Learn more about the computer, crafts, gardening, whatever. Never let the brain idle.' An idle mind is the devil's workshop.' And the devil's name is Alzheimer's.4. Enjoy the simple things.5. Laugh often, long and loud. Laugh until you gasp for breath or pee your pants.6. The tears happen. Endure, grieve, and move on. The only person who is with us our entire life is ourselves.Be ALIVE while you are alive.7. Surround yourself with what you love, whether it's family, pets, keepsakes, music, plants, hobbies, whatever.Your home is your refuge.8. Cherish your health: If it is good, preserve it. If it is unstable, improve it. If it is beyond what you can improve, get help.9. Don't take guilt trips. Take a trip to a friend's house, to the next county, to a foreign country, but NOT to where the guilt is.10. Tell the people you love that you love them, at every opportunity.If you don't send this to at least 8 people.... who cares? George Carlin

  10. Lisa died this morning :-(