Well, let's get the hardest news out of the way first: I'm currently undergoing a combined course of chemo and radiotherapy for bowel cancer. Daily (weekday) sessions at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton - with Capecitabine tablets for the chemo. It was diagnosed on the day before I flew off to Egypt for a holiday in May 2015 (great timing, huh?) but it didn't come as a complete surprise, to be honest. I'd been experiencing blood in my bowel movements for several months and initial thoughts were piles - then they thought they'd identified a fissure. But when they went in (literally), they found cancerous growths: relatively early stages, they believe, and hopefully quite easily treatable. But the regime I'm on is going to be intense over the next few months and the side effects are likely to be pretty severe - fatigue, nausea, diarrohea; and that's just the good bits! Work, thankfully, has been very supportive - insisting I take as much time off for treatment (and recovery) as I need; but I don't do 'time off' well - unless it's under my terms; I don't like it being imposed on me by circumstances beyond my control like this. I need to keep active, and that's probably going to be one of the hardest parts of all this. Family and friends have been great too - though they are inclined to fuss (I don't like being fussed over either, hehe). But at least it's giving me the time to update this website.
So, how did I feel? Well, physically, not too bad - so far - but I am only in the early stages of treatment. Mentally: well, there's an irony that it's hit me in the arse when, having been a heavy smoker for 40 years, you might have expected it to attack the lungs. But, there you go - shit happens, as they say - and quite literally in this case. More broadly, though, I suppose I'm scared and feeling very vulnerable. Worst case scenario says the treatment might not be successful and, after all the drugs and radiotherapy, I might still be en route to a premature death. Not nice to think of when you're only 60 but then, my beloved Blair had his life cut short at the age of 41, so nothing's guaranteed, is it - except death and paying taxes, as they say. I'll return to my thoughts about Blair in all this shortly.
Let's assume, then, that the treatment does work as they're predicting. The next few months are going to be hard. I'm going to be weak; I'm going to be cantankerous (sorry, Frank!); and quite possibly, I'm going to be in a great deal of discomfort (at best) or pain (at worst). No one looks forward to that. I have to trust in the skills and abilities of the medical experts and in the support and prayers of my family, friends and colleagues. I'm also trusting in God giving me strength and caring for me, though my faith does tend to waver considerably - even though I was brought up a cradle-Catholic and have worked at the heart of the Catholic Church for the past 25 years: I would hardly say my faith is a fortress. I believe in the basics but it's far from a blind faith. I often wonder how much ritual and sentimental clap-trap obscure the fundamental belief in God's unconditional love for us that means He not only created us but cares for us: loving us despite all our failings and doubts. And yes, I have many doubts, that no amount of prayer - either my own or other people's - can eliminate. Yet, at this difficult stage in my life, I have no alternative really except to trust in Him and His providence, do I? Without that, I would be truly alone.
Which, I suppose, brings me back to Blair, at which point my eyes well up with tears, even though it's now been 16 years since he left me. How different would these past 16 years have been, if he'd still been here? Where would we be now? What would we have done? Where would we have gone? We'll never know. I'm basically happy - or lucky - or both now. I've got a comfortable home, a good job, solvecy (who would have expected that!?) and, of course, a great band of friends around me. But I miss the intimacy of quiet nights in the arms of the man I love. Unsurprisingly, I suppose, he feels particularly close to me at this time of illness. Not a day has gone by since he died in 1999 when I haven't heard his voice in my mind; I've held conversations with him, argued with him, laughed with him. Sometimes, I've just listened and felt his arms and his love enfold me. This morning, I heard on the radio Michael Jackson's 'You are not alone': as usual, it felt like a message from beyond the grave. And part of me even thinks: if treatment isn't successful this time round, at least we'll be reunited. But damn, I miss that man!
Anyway, time to wind up these random jottings for the time being, I suppose. I was just wondering my purpose - not in life (!), but just blogging like this. In one way, it's a sort of therapy, a release. I enjoy writing and this enables me to express myself, unravel my thoughts on paper or on a screen, even if no one ever reads what I've written. But then again, someone else might chance upon this website, someone - even - who might be going through something similar, an illness, or a loss, or some other challenge in life. If so, I very much hope that my own experiences might offer you some comfort and, should you want to contact me, just drop me a line via the Contact link. I want to update some other pages with photos of recent productions and snippets of news, but I'm getting bored now: short attention span, see? Time to save and exit for the time being ...
Congratulations to my neice Sally and my great nephew Will - who both achieved a 2:1 at university this summer! Sally (right) has been reading media studies at Cardiff and deserves a career in broadcasting; and Will is now in Cambridge working hard for his post grad. Well done to both of them! Will (below) is pictured at The Making of Harry Potter theme park. For more photos of him, his brother Oli and their mother, Sarah (my niece), click here.
GOODNIGHT MR TOM
In June 2014, I had the great pleasure of playing the title role in the musical version of Goodnight Mr Tom. The script was written by Michelle Magorian, based on her award-winning novel. The music was by Gary Carpenter. It was not an easy score to learn or perform; and the synopsis was bleak - even though the ending was heart-warming. Nonetheless, the amazing cast of the Avalon Theatre Company excelled.
In particular, I need to mention the two lads who played Will (William Beech): Laurence and Kai. Each brought his own endearing vulnerability to the role and were a delight to play opposite. Will was befriended by another London 'evacuee', the flambuoyant and charming Zach, played by Alex Cusano, who brought a tremendous depth and sensitivity to the character.
Follow the link on the left for a selection of photos from the two dress rehearsals of Avalon's Goodnight Mr Tom. There are lots more: send me a message if you'd like to see them.
News about the recipient of the Blair Wilson Award
Oscar Castellino - the recipient of the Blair Wilson Award - is currently singing in India. He recently gave his graduation recital at the Royal College of Music and I expect to be able to upload more news about his plans for the future here shortly. Oscar is pictured (far right in the photo) with tenor, Russell Watson, and singers from the RCM who performed at the Classic BRIT Awards at the Royal Albert Hall on 2 October 2012.
In Conversation with Luis Dias: Oscar Castellino, baritone, 1 August 2012
"The RCM gives its students many opportunities to learn and perform, but it is up to each student to make the most of them in their own individual way." So said Oscar Castellino in a newspaper interview in India,shortly after starting his studies at the Royal College of Music in London. He continued by paying tribute to Blair Wilson - in whose name he received a modest award that will enable him, over the coming years, to continue his studies at the RCM. "As a result of my initial success," he says, "I was offered the Blair Wilson Award and the Lee Abbey Award. Blair Wilson was a very successful tenor who died early and I am proud to carry on his name and legacy. Being associated with his name helps me work harder to maintain the highest standards. I have a great working relationship with Patricia who is my principal study teacher; that is something all students dream of." Read the full, exclusive interview with Oscar in the Navhind Times here.
Indian Baritone, Oscar Dom Victor Caastellino, gained media attention in 2012 for being one of the "soaked singers" (BBC) at Queen Eliazabeth's Diamond Jubilee
Celebrations acclaimed for their "grit and determination" (The Telegraph) when singing in harsh conditions. Castellino and a few other singers were interviewed by the BBC in early June, 2012.
Castellino is unique in his fascinating journey from a corporate job in Mumbai into the hallowed halls of the world's most renowned Western Classical music conservatoire. Introduced to classical singing by reputed soprano Patricia Rozario as a part of her initiative "Giving Voice to India", he received his first vocal lesson at the age of 23. He then got an opportunity to work with famed baritone Tom Krause at a masterclass in Salzburg. Krause and world-renowned pianist Norman Shetler, in Salzburg, were keen that he pursue a career in singing. Guided by Rozario, he auditioned successfully for a coveted place at the Royal College of Music, London, where he is currently training his voice with her.
Recent performances include Bass Soloist (Bach) with the RCM Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir (Sandwich, 2012), Tosti songs at the Italian Song Concert (London, 2012), song settings of poems by Victor Hugo for soprano and baritone at (Con Brio, Mumbai 2011), as baritone soloist for Stainer’s Crucifixion (Mumbai 2011), selections from Schumann’s Dichterliebe at Schumania (Mumbai 2010). He shall be performing Handel arias and duets at Con Brio 2012 (Mumbai, July,2012). Castellino is the recepient of Lee Abbey Award and the Blair Wilson Award. He is also generously supported by the Tungare Manohar Family Foundation, the Godrejs, the Navajabi Ratan Tata Trust, the Sir Ratan Tata Trust, Meher Pudumjee and Sophie Ahmed as well as numerous well wishers who have contributed towards his studies.
From Tosca - Giacomo Puccini:
della Madonna al manto,
e diedi il canto agli astri,
che ne ridean più belli.
I lived for art, I lived for love ...
I gave jewels
for the Madonna's mantle,
And songs for the stars,
That shone forth with greater radiance.