Creepy moment in Krakow

Roll up, roll up. Visit the concentration camp where 1m Jews were killed. Tour the huts where they suffered deprivation and misery before being taken to the gas chambers.  View the clothes they wore at the time, which along with human hair and prosthetic limbs, were recycled for the German war effort. Book now with our super saver ticket offer.

Granted, this sounds like some circus barker outside the tent containing the freak lady, but in essence it’s the tone of the message greeting visitors to Krakow, a 90 minute bus ride from Auschwitz.

That and sister camp Birkenau are ‘must do’ on tourist itineraries to Poland, attracting more than 1m visitors a year. Have they come solely to “pay their respects” to the victims, as the official website reverentially informs us, or is there a voyeuristic element? There is precious little reverence in the garishly coloured stickers advertising camp tours in Krakow’s tourist bureaux, or among the touts populating the inner city streets.

 We left others to “pay their respects” and instead opted for the second biggest attraction, the Wieliczka salt mine. The bus taking us there was delayed for five minutes, waiting for its last two passengers, a slim blonde in a short white skirt and huggy boots, and her partner, who looked like he had overdosed on steroids.

The mine, which features its own cathedral, was awesome, but my abiding memory was of Steroid Man wolfing down burger and chips in the cafeteria, also underground, before joining us on the lift back to the top.

The ornate facades of apartment buildings in the old part of Poland’s second biggest city convey a palpable sense of pre-war culture and prosperity.  Then a 30-minute tram ride transports you to the suburb of Nowa Huta, a post-war legacy of Soviet occupation and as soulless as Milton Keynes. Its central square once bore Stalin’s name, but the Polish authorities, in a mischievous act of irony, changed it to someone personifying the antithesis of Socialism, Ronald Regan.

Back to the city and less assaulting on the senses because it doesn’t have the strident promotion accompanying the concentration camps is the Schindler factory. Indeed, it takes some determination to find it, with haphazard street signs leading to a nondescript industrial estate.

Inside, the only reminders of Steven Spielberg’s epic film are some location shots in the lobby and coffee area.  The rest contains the usual artefacts of war: identity cards, uniforms, weapons and photographs, including of course ones of Oskar Schindler looking uncannily like his movie counterpart Liam Neeson.

 Interesting, absorbing even, during an hour’s tour. But, like visits to so many ‘places of interest’, most of the visual and written content falls through the sieve of memory, leaving perhaps one or two nuggets that will never be forgotten. Like the full-sized swastika flag. Within touching distance, it felt as though the devil was perched on my shoulder. Or, most memorable of all, a reproduction of a railway station room with a window. Beyond it some 1930s black and white film footage of people on the platform and getting off a train, accompanied by station announcements. It’s the sheer ordinariness of watching that clip that generates such force, taking you back in time, with the knowledge of the horrors to follow.  


Car names: Up! with this we should not put

 What is it with car manufacturers and the promotion of their products? They spend millions on researching, developing and producing the latest models and then christen them with names that are either puzzling to pronounce, pretentious, illiterate, or just plain daft. Then they spend millions more on ad campaigns that, with a few notable exceptions, are as bland as Starbucks’ coffee.

My first recollection in the ‘how do you pronounce it?’ category was the Mazda with its 1992 Xedos, an indifferent saloon that soon went into oblivion. Imagine a hapless customer going into a Mazda showroom and stuttering something about an ‘Exedos’ before a smirking salesman says “Ah, I think you’re referring to the Ker-say-dos”.

More enduring, despite its silly moniker, is the Ford Ka, introduced four years after the Xedos. Arguments over how it should be pronounced overshadowed the car itself. Was it ‘Ka’ as in Katherine, ‘Ka’ as in, er, kart, or ‘Kay-A’? Ford itself got confused, confirming that it was Ka as in Katherine and then Ka as in kart before common sense prevailed with Kay-A.

Alfa Romeo’s supermini, MiTo, at least has some logic behind its name. It’s an abbreviation of Milan and Torino, the respective homes of Alfa and parent company Fiat. But the badge looks as though it’s been nibbled by mice. Alfa says it was chosen by visitors to its website, who were given seven choices. That smacks of focus groups and we all know what a dog’s breakfast they can produce.

Daddy of them all for pretentious names has to be Kia with Cee’d and Pro Cee’d. Apparently, Kia wanted to remind us that it was the company’s first European designed and built car, so it took the initials of the European Economic Community and added ED for European Design. Then it shuffled the letters to form CEEED, decided that it was a character too long and dropped in a substitute apostrophe. Then in a final perverse twist, it converted the whole name into lower case.

Of course, Kia is not the only motor manufacturer to play fast and loose with the English language. Mercedes and VW chose to name their respective Smart and Up with a lower case ‘s’ and ‘u’, with VW adding an exclamation mark to Up.  It reminds me of Winston Churchill’s retort – this time mocking the use of prepositions – “Up with this I will not put”.

 BMW took the original Mini and then presumably wanted to remind us all that today’s slab of a car bears no resemblance to Alec Issigonis’s masterpiece by calling it MINI.  But these are initials and don’t stand for anything (unless it’s a contradiction in terms, er, a large mini).

Jaguar didn’t have the gall to call the successor to the E-Type by the same name, so it simply skipped a letter of alphabet and called it the F-TYPE, but again with this same sense of upper case aggrandisement.

While some in the motoring media slavishly conform to the carmakers’ styles, others adopt the common sense approach. One national newspaper, for example, has simply translated cee’d into Ceed.

What seems to be lost on those who dream up these names and ways of spelling and punctuating them is that industry is the first to complain about poor literacy among school leavers who apply for jobs. Or do they look at a CV, note that the applicant has ‘KREATIVE riting sk’ills’ and recruit them for the marketing department?

Perversely, carmakers tended to choose more appropriate names when the products themselves were rubbish by today’s standards – the capacious Austin Maxi and the nippy Hillman Imp, for instance. If you wanted some chrome-finned Hollywood glamour, what better way to convey this than the Chevrolet Bel Air? Or the Morris Oxford, perfect for Dad dressed in his best tweeds and clutching his favourite pipe.

Now all we get is a relentless list of fatuous names, ranging from the Vauxhall Adam (and its variants Slam, Jam and Glam), to VW's extension of its Up! range with Groove-up! and Rock-up! (mercifully, it dropped the idea of Black-up! because it sounded like something out of the Black and White Minstrel show.

Even commercial vehicles don’t escape, with Renault announcing the arrival of a Twizy Cargo. It’s like something out of Sooty with his ‘ Izzy whizzy, let's get busy’. And don’t let’s forget Seat, figuring that since Wii seems to work for Nintendo, it will call its new supermini Mii. That also happens to be the name of a cosmetics range. Says it all, really.

Scarcely better are cars that don’t have names, just a mix of digits and characters. The result looks like some sort of code, with all the anonymity that goes with it.  Unless you’re a Volvo fan, would you know the difference between a V60 and an XC70? Or Peugeot with a 308 and a 3008?

As for the TV commercials, I’m reminded of the saying that no one ever got sacked for following the herd. So we get a succession of launch promotions, featuring smug looking drivers in a permutation of locations – urban night time with a bit of whirling litter seems to be in vogue at the moment. Accompanying them is some meaningless slogan: Motion and Emotion (Peugeot), Technology to Enjoy (Honda), Live Brilliant (Hyundai) – where you could insert any car.

What they all share in common is instant forgetability. Only three ‘getable’ ones spring to mine: Model Paula Hamilton back in 1987 ditching her rich husband – along with fur coat and pearls – but keeping the keys to the new VW Golf with the tagline "If only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen"; a series of Mercedes-Benz ads in the mid 1990s, but that was mainly due to Janis Joplin’s song “Oh Lord won’t you buy me....”; and Griff Rhys Jones in Y-fronts wittering on about the  Vauxhall VX220. That one is remembered simply for its awfulness. So all you carmakers, any chance of weaning yourself off  names that sound like characters from CBeebies and producing commercials that don’t have a Mii too mentality?


Today’s Executive (with apologies to John Betjeman)

I am a young executive, ambitious to the core.
I have an urban backpack and drive an Audi 4x4.  
My suits are all Armani, with shirts from Jermyn Street
And I hang out in the Long Bar, with the usual City clique.

What’s my job? you ask me. It’s mostly leveraging a deal 
Calling lists of punters and giving them the spiel.
Basically, I use my wits, in this game it’s a must 
But long ago, I’ve heard it said, there was a word called trust.

Team player, mentoring, role modelling, it’s all a total joke.
What you really need in business is a mind that goes for broke.
Or another way of putting it, if you want the boss’s seat 
Is to hack into his exes and learn from his deceit.

iPad, Smartphone, you name it, gizmos, I’ve got them all
Plus an Apple laptop and a monster telly suspended from the wall.
As my credit card will testify, spending’s never frugal
Not while I can shop online for stuff I’ve found through Google.

Though I sometimes take some Uppers, it’s my high-powered job you see,
I use the gym, stay off the coke and weigh in at 12 stone 3. 
I have a girl friend, Lucy, who shares my Docklands flat
And for ski-ing there’s another, this time in Zermatt.

As I sit here drinking Bolly, playing war games through an app
Lucy’s reading Shades of Grey, her head upon my lap.
So all in all life’s pretty cool; turned out the way it should.
Ask me how I am then and I’ll text you that ‘I’m good’.


Daffodils (with apologies to Wordsworth)                                           

I wandered lonely as a cloud
Emitted from a nuclear plant
When I saw, through furrowed brow,
Waste bins by a restaurant.
Of various shapes and many hues,
From muddy browns to darkest blues.

And beside them, strewn around,
Were plastic bags, some unfilled,
Forming an unsightly mound
Among a clump of daffodils.
Spirits lowered by this scene,
I resolved to join The Greens.

Rambling on, I passed a field 
Once a pastoral heaven.
Yet more litter was revealed
In this deepest part of Devon.
And from the distance looms
An artic lorry belching fumes.

Now, lying on my bed I hear
Through walls so paper thin
Rapping music loud and clear.
Oh Lord, protect me from this din
And banish man’s inflicted ills
That suffocate the daffodils.






Over 50s with the Tenerife tans

 It's early February and another balmy evening in Tenerife as Fred and Jackie Lynn stroll back from their favourite restaurant. The couple are half way through a ten week holiday in Costa Adeje and both are heavily tanned as they wait to view another vivid sunset.  

Mr Lynn, a self-employed plumber who celebrated his 65th birthday in Tenerife at the end of January, and his 58-year-old wife, a shop assistant, live in Herne Bay, Kent, and have been on extended winter holidays in the Canary Islands for the last five years. “Of course, the main reason is the fantastic weather at this time of the year,” said Mr Lynn.  “Also, you can be in a pub or restaurant and within minutes you start chatting to another couple or see a couple you know from previous years. It’s a very friendly place – a bit like England used to be before the pubs there became so expensive to go socialising.”

 Later, in a bar overlooking the marina, Mr Lynn proves his point by going over to a table to greet another couple, Donald Driscoll (74) and his wife Mary (70) from Leeds. They have been coming to Tenerife for 20 years, staying in hotels for two weeks at a time before Mr Driscoll took early retirement as a maintenance engineer with Unilever at 56. Now they rent an apartment in Tenerife, as well as other sunspots like Malta and Cyprus, for up to four months a year.

Mr Driscoll estimates that eight weeks in Tenerife, including flights and meals out (“I don’t cook while we’re away,” said his wife) will cost around £3,500. “We’ve both worked hard all our lives and now we’re spending what we have – it’s better than an old people’s home taking all your money,” said Mr Driscoll.

Though Costa Adeje adjoins Playa de las Americas, with its dubious reputation as the party capital of Tenerife for young hedonists at the height of summer, from November to the end of March it becomes a pensioners’ paradise.

Walk the 4.5km promenade from the glitzier part of Los Cristianos in the south to the quieter area of La Caleta in the north and, apart from the occasional young family, you’ll see a legion of 50-to-80-year-olds – mainly Brits, with a smattering of French, Germans and Scandinavians.  Some of the steeper climbs for the more geriatric can be overcome with the hire of ski sticks and motability scooters.

With repeat visits and extended stays, it doesn’t take long for these elderly vacationers to establish a network of the best, namely value for money, bars, cafes and restaurants. For Mr Lynn’s birthday, the couple had gone to the Valenciana, a few minutes’ walk from the marina, where a T-bone steak or a 'Dover' sole costs just over 9 euros and a pint of beer 1.50 euros. “Even with today’s exchange rates, those sorts of prices are a bargain,” said Mr Lynn. While restaurants further along the promenade were touting for business, the Valenciana had a queue of people waiting for a table. Other regular haunts include Scotch Corner, where a breakfast costs 3 euros, and The Pantry, run by ex-pat Gordon Alan, that specialises in afternoon cream teas.

As apartment owner Alan Dow put it: “The typical pensioner wants all the comforts of home and the near guarantee of summer weather in the winter.”

Mr Dow decided to buy an apartment in Tenerife after a bad rental experience 18 years ago. Today, he has properties to rent in the Canary Islands, Florida, Cyprus and Spain, and manages 10 others for a German company.

“Property investment in the Canary Islands may seem like a goldmine, but that’s far from the case,” he said. “There are mortgages to pay off and loss of rental incomes while apartments are being refurbished, plus a decline in income during December and May, the two lowest months for holidaymakers. Property prices, too, have suffered in the recession. I recently sold one apartment which cost me 120,000 euros for 90,000 euros.”

Mr Dow, who also runs an engineering company in Aberdeen, said winter bookings range from a couple of weeks to three months or more, with some loyal customers making reservations up to 2016.

But what about those who have long since given up work? Aren’t rising living costs and paltry interest on their savings forcing them to curtail their long winter breaks?

Alan and Susan Bosworth, both 65 and from Nottingham, paid £1,200 for their all-inclusive nine-day break. They estimate their yearly income – made up of state pensions, Mr Bosworth’s company pension and Mrs Bosworth’s earnings as a part time shop assistant – at around £20,000, plus savings of £60,000. “We find we can live comfortably on what we have coming in every month – we don’t touch the savings pot,” said Mr Bosworth.

“Our generation is different from today’s who want all the good things in life early on. We were in our late 30s before we went abroad – holidays before then were meant a caravan in Skegness.”

Peter and Ann Knight from Ipswich took advantage of a three-week-for-the-price-of-one deal at a four star hotel and say the cost will be significantly offset by savings in heating bills. Mr Knight, 70, a former newsagent who retired six years ago after a heart attack, said: “We have friends here from Leeds who stay for a month at a time in January and November and have booked the same self-catering apartment until 2014. We see them a couple of times a week – the rest of the time they spend their evenings watching Sky.”

For Fred and Jackie Lynn, an easyJet flight will take them back to a caravan in Herne Bay where they are living while their 29-year-old son, his wife-to-be and their grandson stay in the couple’s house saving enough to get on the property ‘ladder’. “The caravan has a restricted residency clause – it has to be unoccupied for a month a year – and that was what gave us the idea of coming to Tenerife,” said Mrs Lynn.  


The adventures of Sir Laughalot
Long ago in a land called Wibblewotsit there lived a knight. He was a very unusual knight. He didn’t live in a castle with tall towers and a deep moat. He lived in a tent.
“Why should I live in a castle?” said the knight. “Castles are cold and gloomy and cost a lot of money to look after. Besides, with a castle you have to live in one place all the time. With my tent I can travel about.”
This knight was also a very unusual knight because he didn’t have any shining armour. “Why do I need armour?” he said. “It’s heavy and it always needs polishing.”
But the knight did have a horse. He needed a horse to carry his tent. This horse was rather an unusual horse because he didn’t have a tail. But he did have very big ears and very big feet which went clip clop, clip clop very loudly. So the knight called him Cloppalong and besides carrying the tent, he was the knight’s best friend.
Wait a minute. We haven’t been told the knight’s name. Well, see if you can guess.
Although he didn’t have a castle and wear armour, this knight was famous in the land Wibblewotsit. No other knight could beat him in the field of battle, and no dragons had ever breathed fire on him.
Which was very strange because this particular knight didn’t even have a sword. “Who needs a sword?” he said. “Swords get tangled up in your legs and besides I might cut myself if I had a sword.”
Well, how did he drive away dragons if he didn’t have a sword? It was quite simple really. The knight made them laugh. He would go up to a dragon in his dark cave and smile at him. The smile would change to a chuckle, the chuckle would change to a giggle and the giggle would change to a laugh....a big, booming laugh which could be heard throughout the land of Wibblewotsit.
Then the dragon would start laughing too. And you can’t breathe fire over someone when you’re laughing.
And so, throughout the land of Wibblewotsit, the knight came to be known as the knight who laughs a lot. Which is how he got his name. That’s right. Sir Laughalot.
Now one day, when winter approached the land of Wibblewotsit and the leaves turned brown and started to fall from the trees and cold winds blew in from the north, Sir Laughalot decided it was time to visit the far off land of Stiffenstarchy. So he packed up his tent, loaded it onto Cloppalong and pair set off on the long journey
They went across flat land, down into valleys and across high mountains, until at last they came to a deep river. Across the other side was the land Stiffenstarchy.
Suddenly, there was a cry for help. There in the middle of the deep river was young maiden with long hair waving her hands in the air and shouting Help! Help”. Please save me, I’m drowning.
If Sir Laughalot had been an ordinary knight, he would have had to take off his armour and unstrap his big, heavy sword. By that time, the young maiden could have drowned.
But without armour and a sword, Sir Laughalot was able to dive straight into the river. “Hold on, hold on,” he shouted as he swam towards the flailing arms. Being a big, strong knight, he soon reached the young maiden and helped her to the river bank while Cloppalong made his way across the river.
“Thank you, kind sir, thank you,” said the young maiden as he helped her onto Cloppalong’s back. “Not at all, don’t mention it, always ready to help a maiden in distress,”! boomed Sir Laughalot, who was slightly out of breath after his rescue.
Now the young maiden’s name was Katherine. She lived in a big castle, with tall towers and deep moat, and her father wore shining armour and carried a big sword. But that was not surprising because Katherine told Sir Laughalot that her father was the King of Stiffenstarchy.
The King thanked Sir Laughalot and said he was very happy to see his daughter safely back home. But he didn’t look happy. He looked glum. “Why do you look so glum?” Sir Laughalot asked the King. “Your daughter is safe and well. You should look so happy.
“Oh, but I am happy,” replied the King.
“Then why don’t you smile?” asked Sir Laughalot.
“Because I’m a King and kings don’t smile,” said the King of Stiffenstarchy. “It’s a very serious business being a king.”
“That’s silly,” said Sir Laughalot.
On hearing this the King became very angry. “How dare you call me, the King of Stiffenstarchy, silly?” he shouted.
“Because you are,” said Sir Laughalot. “If you never smile, then the people you rule won’t smile. That’s why being King is such a serious business to you – nobody smiles.”
The King got even angrier and stamped his foot. “I’m not silly,” he said.
“Oh yes you are,” said Sir Laughalot.
Oh no I’m not,” said the King. He started to get off his throne, but the heavy sword got tangled in his legs and the heavy armour he was wearing made him lose his balance. “Oooooooooer!” yelled the King and there was a loud clatter as he toppled onto the stone floor. He was not hurt, but his word was bent and there was a dent in his helmet.
“I still think you’re silly,” said Sir Laughalot. In fact you look even sillier down there on the floor.”
“No I’m not,” shouted the King, as he struggled to get up.
“Oh yes you are,” said Sir Laughalot, who was now booming with laughter.
“Oh no I’m not,” said the King, but now he didn’t seem so angry. In fact he started to smile, and the smile changed into a giggle and the giggle changed into a laugh...a great big booming laugh like Sir Laughalot’s. And all the people round the King started to laugh. And sound of laughter could soon be heard throughout the land of Stiffenstarchy.
Sir Laughalot called to Cloppalong and made ready to leave. “Before you go,” said the King, “how can I repay you for saving my daughter and making me laugh? Gold, castles, a suit of shining it and it shall be yours.”
Sir Laughalot thought for a moment and then said: “Well, there is something you can do for me. Stifenstarchy is such a, how can I put it, starchy name. Now that you are all laughing, why don’t you call your kingdom Wobblechops?”
And so Sir Laughalot’s wish was granted. With a farewell laugh, he got on the back of Cloppalong and started his long journey back to the land Wibblewotsit.


Fred, the retired bus driver who had been in hospital five times in the last eight years, was in anecdotal mood. “I remember once when I was admitted to Bromley and there was this bloke with all these tubes trailing from him and they’d got the rails up round his bed to stop him falling out. And bugger me if he doesn’t drag himself to the end of the bed and there’s this almighty crash as he ends up on the floor.

“After they got him back and tidied him up, I says to him: ‘What do you think you were up to?’ And he says he was dreaming that he was running to catch a bus. ‘What?’ I says. ‘At two o’clock in the bleedin’ morning?’ “

Everybody at our end of the ward chuckles, except George, who is deaf and spends most of visiting time arguing with his wife.

Fred comes from Crystal Palace and was visiting his daughter in Stevenage when his appendix split. Now he’s perched on his bed in the fifth floor surgical ward, wearing a borrowed dressing gown with a vivid oriental pattern, waiting to go home.

The rest of us are waiting for lunch followed by afternoon and evening visiting. Before that we waited for our 6 o’clock cup of tea, breakfast, mid-morning coffee and whatever the postman might bring.

To help relieve the boredom, another cassette in the Walkman, a couple more chapters from one of three books, another look at the paper, and more chatting.

“I can’t abide pillows,” said Bill, a retired factory worker admitted the previous day with a lump on the side of his neck. “You know why?” His breath whistled as he waited for our attention.

“Well, when I was seven I was taken to hospital with a broken thigh and before the operation a couple of nurses crept up, grabbed me by the arms and legs and put this chloroform pad over my face. That was how they put you under in them days.

“It was like being smothered with a pillow. Course,” he went on, “it was all different then. Matron used to keep you for as long as possible when you got better ‘cos she reckoned you were far less trouble to look after than when you was ill.”

Mr Robins is sleeping, his grey hair spiked against a mound of pillows. He was due to go home after a colostomy, but a bug has got into his bloodstream which sent his body into convulsions, as though he were being electrocuted.

Now he’s on four shots of antibiotic, at £20 a shot. “Get well soon. You’re costing the NHS a lot of money,” said a girl doctor with a tired smile and a hole in her tights.

Outside, the early morning sun has given way to mist and rain, blotting out an unprepossessing view of the motorway and electricity pylons loping away to the horizon.

For two lads at the end of the ward, the view is of no importance. They are sleeping it off after a hernia operation.

George Chiltern is also sleeping after surgery to remove a lump from his chest. “But they closed him up again...can’t do anything for him,” says the bush telegraph.

George later confirms this. “I’m waiting to hear how long I’ve got.” He made such a fuss over losing the white hair from his chest when he was being shaved that one of the nurses put it in an envelope. “There,” she said later, “now you can stick it all back again.”

A consultant accompanied by a clutch of student doctors examines the lump on Bill’s neck. They go away, huddle together for a conference half-way down the corridor, and return for more probing. “I can’t abide being shut up,” says Bill. “I should be out in my garden.

Mr Pearson’s padding about the ward, making the most of temporary relief from excruciating pain caused by kidney stones. “Yesterday when my wife phones she was told I’d had a comfortable night. ‘Pleased you had a better night,’ she said when she came to visit. What! I said. They were pumping pain killer into me most of the time.”

“I know,” said a nurse with mischievous grin. “I told a relative of one patient who was in a side room that he’d had a comfortable night. I found out later he’d gone home for the weekend.”


Perhaps it was that week in Benidorm when I was still kidding myself that days exposed to Spanish sun could turn my lily-white skin into something akin to brown. Whatever, 30 years later I had two sore spots on my forehead and one on my right ear. Repeated applications of  Savlon were having no effect, so I went to my GP who zapped them with liquid nitrogen. That cleared the forehead, but not the ear and when I returned to the surgery I was told that the liquid nitrogen treatment had been discontinued because there was insufficient demand.

Instead, the doctor prescribed a steroid-based ointment, but that, too, had no effect and the sore was getting bigger and more painful. Receiving pictures of my niece’s wedding, I sent her an email with the comment: “Relieved to see there are none of me with my poorly ear!”

There were two further GP appointments before he referred me to a consultant dermatologist. By this time five months had elapsed and the consultant suspected that, at the age of 64, I had skin cancer, but referred me to a cancer specialist for a second opinion.

I was not unduly worried, recalling that my father also had skin cancer – on his forehead and the edge of one ear, as it so happens - and he lived into his mid 80s.  

But time was dragging on and it was not until two months later that I saw the other consultant who suspected basal cell carcinoma (BCC), one of the two commonest forms of skins cancers which together affect more than more than 65,000 people a year in the UK. Those, like me, with fair skins are especially vulnerable. Still, I was reassured that BCC, unlike melanoma, is not life threatening.

The consultant told me that I needed an operation to cut out the cancerous area and a skin graft to cover the hole. He said it might result in my ear being smaller “and perhaps slightly floppy”.  I jokingly suggested that, since I had a couple of Clarke Gable-sized ears, anyway, perhaps he could make the other one smaller, so that my glasses balanced.  

Another six weeks went by, during which time the BCC really did begin to justify its alternative name of ‘rodent ulcer’.  It was so sore that I couldn’t sleep on my right side and once, when I inadvertently brushed against a wet tree, the rain drops showered down like hot needles. It was increasingly unsightly and smelled of what I can only describe as rotting flesh.  Appearances weren’t helped by liberal applications of antibiotic cream.

On a business trip to Germany, a colleague I hadn’t seen for some time was appalled by the delay in my NHS treatment. “Go private,” he urged. “I had skin cancer on my nose and had the operation two days after referral.” He’d also had a strip of skin on his arm removed because of a suspected melanoma.

I took his advice – after all, I had private medical cover – and four days later saw another consultant at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead. I’m pleased I did because a week before my planned NHS operation, I was told it had been cancelled because of a more urgent case. But I was advised to attend a pre-op session at the Lister Hospital in Stevenage, close to where I live, where I would be examined for blood pressure, etc. There, I explained to a sympathetic nurse that any further delay was “unacceptable” and I was planning to “go private”. A quick phone call and she got me booked in for the NHS op two days later.

From then on, everything went swimmingly. Under a general anaesthetic, the cancerous ulcer was removed and a skin graft was taken from my neck. I was out of hospital the same day, with some sponge-looking material holding the graft in place, and a week later the stitches were taken out.

My ear is slightly smaller, indented at the edge and feels strange to the touch. There is also a small hole, lending a literal meaning to the phrase that “people can see right through me”.  I’ve been advised to massage the ear twice a day with cream and keep it out of direct sunlight for two years. 

Five weeks after the op I was called in for a check-up and told that a biopsy revealed not BCC, but squamous cell carcinoma. Again, not life threatening, but one more likely to reappear. So I have to go for three-monthly check-ups for the next three years. As well as for tell-tale sores, the checks include my neck and armpits because of the risk, albeit slight, of cancer cells spreading to my lymph glands.

But it’s reassuring to know that, at the first sign of trouble, I can go straight to hospital, rather than the protracted process of a GP referral. If skin cancers are so common, why did it take so long for my GP to refer me to a consultant?






















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