Saturday, 18 February 2012

Getting a head

There is a baleful presence in my hallway; a pale, twisted Munchian face hovering just below the ceiling, soulless and blank, glowing slightly in the reflected half-light and staring eyelessly across the room, open mouth screaming silently into the void.

It is, of course, the Orfit mask which until Thursday was used to strap my head tightly to the zapping table at the Beatson, lest the death-rays miss and burn out 1982 instead of cauterising some tumour cavity. Since it's tailored exactly to my head and of no use to anyone else, the nice people at the radiation station let me take it home after my final session.

"Are you a mask-keeper?" they asked, leaving me briefly nonplussed: 15 years of internet use has left me aware of a number of memes and special interests I'd never have guessed at on my own (I mean, who'd have thought cat-breading was a thing? Seriously, Google it) and with a sense that it's best to answer these kinds of questions carefully. But I guessed this one was pretty specific, so I cheerfully agreed and we did a swap: I got my mesh model of the Smith skull in a Morrison's bag (which caused some interest and possibly some brand damage on the bus back) and the radiographers got some Marks & Spencer's biscuits and a big box of Quality Street.

Always give nurses and allied health professionals biscuits and sweets. Apart from being a nice gesture, these people work very hard, often under quite trying conditions (the long shifts, the general public, the specific public) and they do it with an amazing level of skill, charm and compassion. And you never know when they might next be shoving metalwork into your arm.

I'll tell you, though, the mask's a creepy bugger. So Clare has already shoved it way up high atop my teeteringly over-stacked bookshelves, just under the ceiling where it's least likely to terrify guests, unless they look up. And there it will remain until I can work out what to do with it.

Apparently some people like to smash their mask up as a kind of end-of-treatment ritual. I suppose that might be cathartic, a vengeance on the cancer and the uncomfortable treatment it has necessitated, but I see the mask as an ally, a trusty tool in the counter-cancer campaign, so I feel quite benevolent towards it. I feel like being more creative than destructive.

Here are the ideas I've had so far…

Scarecrow: the radiographers told me one guy is already doing this. It's a good idea, and we do have an allotment, but it's in a wind-tunnel that has so far minced an entire greenhouse, so the chances of someone somewhere on the southside waking up one morning to a mesh-form model of my mug pressed against their window are unacceptably high.

Hanging basket: there are already quite a lot of plants and flowers in my close. Packed with pansies, the mask could add that interesting medical theme you just don't get in communal stairwell horticulture.

Cress farming: shove some damp cotton wool under the scalp, sprinkle with a packet of seeds, and in a few days the Orfit could have the haircut I currently can't. And in a colour I've never tried, too.

Bust of Ozzy Osbourne: the former Black Sabbath frontman is shorter than me, but he does also have quite a large head. I think I still have a long black wig and some round-framed shades I bought for a Sixties-themed party to complete the look. The head will remain hollow and inanimate, but then have you heard Ozzy try to speak recently?

Evil bedside lamp: a low-watt red bulb inside, and the mask could add that whole Church of Satan look that most modern bedrooms lack. Eerie to sleep next to, difficult to read by, but it would keep the cats off the duvet.

So what do you think? Here's what the mask looks like, as snapped by me in my kitchen. All suggestions gratefully received – just add them as comments below.


  1. Wow. Just when I thought your posts couldn't get any more disarmingly frank and, well, let's be honest, slightly bizarre. I love reading your story Graeme, I think mostly because of the way it's written. I will stop taking the free ride now and stump up some cash on your just giving. Been meaning to do it for ages. Thanks so much for sharing all of this. I hope it's as comforting for you as it is for me :o)

  2. Have you considered wearing it whilst sneaking up on annoying unsuspecting American teens and waving a hockey stick about you head?

  3. You could always take up a career as a bank robber - a role reversal, to be sure, in the homeland these days.