Two wee boys meet up on Boxing Day.
"So, what did you get, then?"
"I got Monopoly, and a book token, and an orange."
"Oh, right. I got a bike, and an Xbox, and an iPad, and a TV, and a blue-ray player, and…"
"Gosh. Wish I had cancer."
It seems that all you need to do to become the centre of attention at Christmas is to contract a life-threatening medical condition. If I'd realised, I'd have done this years ago.
I'm not talking about the presents haul. That was good, but I'm a middle-aged man; there isn't much anyone can buy me. I can only use so many socks, I don't wear aftershave, and if you try to give me books or music, chances are it'll be wrong or I'll already have it. Although if anyone does come across a cure for glioblastoma in the sales, snap it up, I'll pay you back.
I mean instead a new sense of social attention: my drinking calendar filled fast this festive, everyone seems to want to take me to the pub. Which is very nice of them, although also slightly disturbing in that there is a sensation of a box being ticked, just in case I'm not about next Christmas. Still, since I fully plan to be, I hope to take full advantage of people's Yuletide largesse then, too. And in 2013. And 2014. And for as long as my brain and liver hold out, really.
But it has been good to get out, because I didn't really get any kind of festive feeling this year until the day itself was almost upon me, so I'm sort of catching up. Advent opened along with the hole in the side of my head, continued with four days in hospital, moved on to the grim news about the nature of my ailment, and closed with continual trips in and out of various hospitals. So the whole period just hasn't been very Christmassy.
Obviously, I was aware Christmas was coming. I could see that all the TV series I had been watching were coming to an end. I did my Christmas shopping, insofar as I logged onto Amazon and went "I want that one!" until my credit card melted. I even got the tree down off the roof (six years old and still alive, despite hurricanes, barbecues and neighbours using its pot as a base from which to launch their fireworks) and put lights round it. I just didn't feel festive, I wasn't getting that sense of impending occasion; possibly because people seemed to want to take so much of my blood for various and nefarious purposes - I'm convinced the Beatson is keeping a bonsai vampire out the back somewhere - and there's something really not that jolly about being punctured and drained on a regular basis.
Not that I particularly missed the build-up. I quite enjoy the festive period itself - the big family feed, the drinks with friends I don't see very often, the Doctor Who Christmas Special - but the approach is pretty horrible. I don't give a toss about the supposed true meaning of Advent (enforced migration, astrology and child genocide, apparently) but I find its commercial replacement equally distasteful: I can't understand how all those people can be allowed driving licences when they seem to find walking around a shopping centre so difficult; the music in shops and pubs (and hospital wards, incidentally) becomes more unpleasant than usual; people seem to expect me to care about the X Factor and to understand why I should (I did take a passing interest in the denouement of Strictly Come Dancing, but only while there was a faint hope of hearing the sweet sound of Jason Donovan's cruciate ligament popping).
Still, that's all over and we're into the nice comfortable slot between the holidays. Unfortunately, my social whirl is punctuated by the first round of the vaccine trial I'm taking part in, which means spending most of my daylight hours sitting about in hospital, and being quite knackered when I go out at night.
This first stage of the trial is an intensive three-day set of injections, after which it slows down to a less frequent event, just in time for the daily chemo and radiation fest to kick-off. So Wednesday began with the now-traditional blood-letting and then two intradermal injections, followed by four hours of sitting around waiting for me to not go into anaphylactic shock. Thursday and today have involved the same, although they seem to have enough blood for now, so that part hasn't been repeated. Although I daresay the nano-Nosferatu will be peckish again soon enough.
The injections are quite painful, although briefly so. A needle is shoved between the layers of skin in my thigh and some kind of immune-system booster is squirted in to stretch the layers apart and form an immensely itchy artificial blister, followed by the same process with the vaccine itself ten minutes later in exactly the same place. Subsequent days' injections also go into the same hole, so each visit is cumulatively more uncomfortable. They've obviously realised that with my recent extensive experience I'm getting used to feeling a prick, so they've come up with this new method to keep me on my toes.
Still, that's it all over until 2012. As I write this I'm sitting in the Clinical Trials Unit at the Beatson waiting to be told I can go home. I'll be back next week, though: first on Wednesday for a lengthy MRI at the Southern and a quick jaunt under the river back to the Beatson for what's known as pre-verification, which I think involves making sure the orfit mask still fits and some more x-rays; and then on Thursday again to kick off on the harsh chemicals and cosmic rays, plus another round of thigh-stabbing just for luck.
But until then I have a full social diary, a very nice Christmas bottle of Isle of Jura Superstition, and 50 Years of Private Eye to keep me occupied. And I'm going to a Hogmanay barbecue at a friend's house, so the horrors of celebrating Amateur Night in a public place will be spared me.
Happy New Year everyone.