The sunny, growing month of November is the British expat’s Provençal dividend. Every morning the meridional sunshine comes in through the left-hand bedroom window, lighting my face as I sit up in bed with the breakfast tray and the daily paper. By 11 o’clock it has moved across to the right-hand window, warming the blanket and the dry soles of my bare feet. On the bedside table is the heavy brass base of a first world war French 75 artillery shell. Even on a November morning the brass heats up until it is hot to the touch. I use the shell base as a handy pot in which I keep my daily foils of morphine and paracetamol. The empty foils I let fall into my bedside bin, a 1944 US 105mm brass artillery shell case, bought at a local car-boot sale.
Last week, while I was lying in a cubicle in the day hospital ward having another dose of chemotherapy dripped in, the young pain nurse, prénom Ludivine, popped in for a cosy chat, during the course of which she trebled my daily morphine dose. Instead of the familiar yellow and red ones, from now on I must take one bubblegum-pink capsule twice a day. She carried a pretty laminated chart supplied by the pharmaceutical company illustrating the different strengths and colours of their product. Catching a glimpse, I noted with relief that I had some way to go before I was up among the darker, more ominous navy blues and dun browns of act five. Then she made a solemn and apologetic speech. In essence she couldn’t promise, for the duration of our relationship, and in spite of her box of tricks, to keep me pain-free. She could only promise to reduce it to a minimum. The fingertips resting lightly on my wrist while she spoke underlined the seriousness of what she was saying.
Then she went off and I resumed my chemotherapy habit of reading randomly from the Book of Common Prayer.