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Martin Kelner, Journalist, Author and Radio Presenter.
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O Lucky Man...
By Martin "I should be so lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky" Kelner on May 26, 2014 - 5:09:50 PM July 2013, shortly after I was told by consultants in St James's Hospital, Leeds, that I had a massive tumour nestling dangerously amid my intestines, and would have to be cut open from chest to bikini line to have a chance of survival, I got up one morning and found my car stolen. 

What a thing to happen at what was already the most difficult of times.  I mean, I was that close to getting a blue badge, and there was the car.  Gone 

Then, after a week hovering between life and death, a month in hospital and another convalescing, scans revealed, in a classic consultant's euphemism, "the possibility of a small abnormality" in one of my kidneys. 

My man, genius urologist and Fighting Talk listener Mr J J Cartledge, said it wasn't clear from the pictures if there was anything to worry about, and booked me in for a scan focusing more directly on that area. 

When he reported on the verdict he revealed himself to be more precise in his surgery, thank god, than in his use of language.  "Well, I've looked at the image and it's clear," he told me, "Oh thank god," I responded. 

"No," he said, "It's clear that it is a tumour."

There's something that could have been better put.

So back into hospital I went, on March 27th, 2014, after a valedictory performance on Five Live hit show Fighting Talk on Saturday March 22nd. 

Or so I thought.

Here's the Racing Post column I wrote before going once more under the surgeon's knife...


I like a joke. The kind I particularly enjoy are those that leave the audience mystified while bringing great joy to the teller - and possibly a few close friends.   There's a kind of heroic bloody mindedness about that.   If you listen to recordings of the late, great scabrous comic Lenny Bruce, you'll frequently hear him in front of a confused, largely indifferent audience, while behind him the band dissolves in mirth.      


It's rare one gets the chance to follow in Bruce's giant footsteps, but I did in a bathetic kind of way a few years ago when, for a book I was writing about show-biz, I took instruction in the art of stand-up, and performed on a try-out night in a room above a pub in Camden Town.   My coach stressed the importance of making a connection with the audience.


On surveying the assembly that night, I noted a dozen or so students, not one much older than my youngest child, slouching with indifference in their ridiculous trousers, and realised the chances of my connecting in any way were not so much slim as emaciated.  


"So, here's some observational comedy," I began, "Have you noticed how we're all getting liver spots on the back of our hands these days?"   Exactly.   I got the same reaction in NW5, except from my friend, also in his 50s, who thought it a pithy and pertinent observation.  


Well, this week I performed to an even smaller audience to similar effect.   The set-up is rather laborious, I'm afraid, but you will be rewarded with what I optimistically call a punchline.  


As some of you may know, I occasionally guest on the panel show Fighting Talk on BBC Radio 5 Live, and was due to appear on Saturday.   But last Tuesday I got a call cancelling the booking.   As it happens, I was scratched for perfectly valid reasons.   I have been on the show quite a lot recently, whereas another of the show's regulars, the fine boxing writer and broadcaster Steve Bunce, had not appeared for some time.   Steve's sudden availability meant they needed to vacate a seat for him, and I was collateral damage.  

No drama, I shrugged and moved on.  


Or would have, except I got a 'phone call immediately afterwards from my son arranging his social diary.   I informed him I was now unexpectedly at liberty on Saturday having been "bumped for Steve Bunce."   I replied in similar fashion to the poor lost soul who emailed to ask when I was back on the show, and frankly began to rather relish my role as The Man Who Was Bumped For Steve Bunce.  


So when I got a call from my dental surgery, where I had a long-standing appointment for a check up on July 7th, to be told they could no longer see me on that date, I shot back: "Why, does Steve Bunce need some root canal work?" After a decent silence, the puzzled reply: "Er no. Annual vacation." (although with what he charges, he could probably afford to go in the school holidays.)


I'm taking a short - unwanted - vacation myself after today.   I am returning to hospital for another operation, as some of Leeds's finest surgeons continue their project to dismantle me one piece at a time.  


I am not thrilled by the prospect, and neither am I cheered by the writer Tony Parsons' argument that I might have found it easier to bear if, instead of being an effete hippy in my youth, skulking round record shops looking for old Lenny Bruce recordings, I had taken up boxing.


The novelist made the case for the life-enhancing properties of the sport in a Culture Show special on BBC2, The Art of Boxing.   Parsons boxes; he has a trainer, bounces medicine balls on his chest, wears the gear and everything.  Artistic titans, he argued, like Picasso, Hemingway, T.S.Eliot and, er, T.Parsons recognised the cultural significance of the sport, and it was only the 1960s peace and love-mongers "in their flared loon pants that made the rough virtues of boxing deeply unfashionable. But the hippies are old or dead now (not yet, Tony, not yet) and boxing is back."


I am not entirely sure what trousers have to do with it, but I plead guilty to some lamentable specimens, none of which however prevented me appreciating the skill and courage of participants in the toughest sport of all.


There was never much chance of my becoming one, though.   In that respect I'm a little like Woody Allen who, when asked if he had a yellow streak running down his back, replied: "Across, it runs across."


Turns out I'm a fool to myself, according to Parsons.   "Boxing has little to do with violence and everything to do with self-knowledge," he said, "In your darkest hour, when life hits you hard; when you lose your job, or your love, or your health, you might find there's a thread of steel inside you."


It's probably a little late now, as I go in on Thursday, so I might just ask if they can operate on Steve Bunce instead.


I still feel lucky, though. 

I'm out of hospital, and in prime mid-season form, save for some minor problems in the trouser area you really don't want to hear about.









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