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The eclectic views, reprints & thoughts of Greg Lance-Watkins


AA Gill: “More life with your kids, … – but only if you pay” …

AA Gill: “More life with your kids, … – but only if you pay” …

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Greg Lance – Watkins





(Adrian) AA Gill who was born on 28-Jun-1954 died of advanced metastatic lung cancer on Saturday 10-Dec-2016 – having only been informed he had cancer in November.
Something of an object lesson to us all to ensure we present with any symptoms, which persist, as soon as possible!

Cancer survival rates in Europe
The UK has the worst cancer survival rates in western Europe — a third lower than those of Sweden.

“Five-year cancer survival rates are so low in the UK because we’re so slow at diagnosing cancer in the first place. A patient must first see their GP, then be referred to see a specialist. The lag time can be months. And when each GP consultation lasts a few minutes, people can slip through the net altogether. In European countries, patients can access specialist care easily and straightaway.”
Dr Conrad Lewanski, consultant clinical oncologist and fellow of the Royal College of Radiologists

Here is AA Gill’s final article, published the day after his untimely death, by way of a tribute to his courage, an example of his wit and honesty and together with a bit of an obit. as an encouragement as we all follow him into that long and inevitable goodnight in our various ways and at our various times in life, whenever that end may be:

AA Gill: “More life with your kids, more life with your friends, more life spent on earth — but only if you pay”

AA Gill used to think that being an NHS patient was like travelling second class on a train, grittier than first class, but in the end everyone ended up at the same destination. But in his farewell piece he tells of his discovery of a drug not available on the NHS …

AA Gill in his garden on November 29, 2016PORTRAITS BY TOM CRAIG,

It seems unlikely, uncharacteristic, so un-“us” to have settled on sickness and bed rest as the votive altar and cornerstone of national politics. But there it is: every election, the National Health Service is the thermometer and the crutch of governments. The NHS represents everything we think is best about us. Everyone standing for whatever political persuasion has to lay a sterilised hand on an A&E revolving door and swear that the collective cradle-to-crematorium health service will be cherished on their watch.

When you look at our awkward, lumpy, inherited short-tempered characters, you’d imagine we might have come up with something more brass-bandy Brit: a bellicose, sentimental military fetishism, perhaps, or sport, or nostalgic history, boastful Anglophone culture, invention, exploration, banking avarice. But no. It turned out that what really sticks in our hard, gimpy, sclerotic hearts is looking after each other. Turning up at a bed with three carnations, a copy of Racing Post, a Twix and saying, “The cat misses you.”

We know it’s the best of us. The National Health Service is the best of us. You can’t walk into an NHS hospital and be a racist. That condition is cured instantly. But it’s almost impossible to walk into a private hospital and not fleetingly feel that you are one: a plush waiting room with entitled and bad-tempered health tourists.

You can’t be sexist on the NHS, nor patronising, and the care and the humour, the togetherness ranged against the teetering, chronic system by both the caring and the careworn is the Blitz, “back against the wall”, stern and sentimental best of us — and so we tell lies about it.

We say it’s the envy of the world. It isn’t. We say there’s nothing else like it. There is. We say it’s the best in the West. It’s not. We think it’s the cheapest. It isn’t. Either that or we think it’s the most expensive — it’s not that, either. You will live longer in France and Germany, get treated faster and more comfortably in Scandinavia, and everything costs more in America.

‘The face of real cancer wipes our expressions to a pale neutral human,’ says AA Gill  TOM CRAIG

I’ve wanted to write about the National Health Service for a long time, but it’s resistant to press inquires. While the abstract of the NHS is heart-warming, the truth for patients is often heart-stopping. And junior doctor strikes, executive pay, failing departments, slow-motion waiting times and outsourcing tell a different story, and I’m regularly, ritually refused access by PRs and administrators, or they insist on copy approval or preplanned stories.

One of the doctors I approached was Professor Brian Gazzard, who has a reputation mostly for being an exemplary and inspirationally brilliant physician, but also as something of an ocean-going eccentric. He treats, teaches at and runs the Chelsea Aids clinic. I asked him what had changed most about his job.

“When I started, I told every patient that they were going to die. I could make it easier, make them live a little longer, but everyone died. Now I tell every patient they will live. They will need to do what I tell them, they’ve been silly, but they’ll live to die of something else. That’s astonishing.” He paused so I would understand the effect it has on a doctor. “Look, I really don’t want to be written about. You won’t remember, but we met once before.”

A decade ago, Gazzard diagnosed my foreign correspondent’s dodgy tummy as acute pancreatitis, the result of alcoholism. “Of course I remember. You told me I could never drink alcohol again and I said, ‘You haven’t read my notes, I’ve been teetotal for 20 years.’ And you gave a sigh and reached into a drawer and lit a cigarette and said you’d been dreading telling a restaurant critic he couldn’t have a glass of wine.”

Gazzard laughed. “You’re one of the lucky ones,” he’d said as he walked onto the street clutching an armful of patient files and raised a hand in farewell. He repeated again: “You’re one of the lucky ones. I can always tell.” It was his first misdiagnosis of the day.

What neither of us could know is that my pancreas was already a stuffed wallet of cancer, though not pancreatic — a migrated, refugee, desperate, breathless lung cancer.
I stopped smoking 15 years ago and as a gift to myself, proof of the clarity of my lungs, I would spend a week stalking on Loch Maree in Wester Ross. Every autumn since, I have climbed the same hills, chasing the deer, and, trudging upwards, recited a doxology of mostly extinct snouts I no longer puff: Weights, Guards, Navy Cut, Olivier, Black Cat, Passing Clouds, Number 6, Sovereign, Gitanes, Gauloises (does anyone remember when Paris smelt alternately of Gauloises, pissoirs and Chanel?), Winston, Camel, Sobranie, my father’s pipe in the cinema — clouds of sweet latakia smoke in the flickering projection. A Greek cigarette in a red box with a lasciviously smiling girl that called itself Santé, without irony: an untipped fag called Health.

This year, for the first time, I couldn’t make it to the top of the hill. I knelt in the heather, weak and gasping. It was the first time all was not well. There was also a pain in my neck that my doctor said was probably a cervical spine thingy and I should get a scan.

He sent me to Harley Street, where another doctor said: “You haven’t got insurance, it’s going to be expensive. Why don’t you get it done down the road and send me the pictures. A third of the cost.” I said: “I’m here now, just do it.” And he shrugged. A couple of hours later I went back for the results. He had the bland bad-news face.

“That was the best money you ever spent.” He turned the screen around and there was a beautiful spiral of colour clinging like an abstract expressionist collar to my spine. “This is cancer.”

My alien was the most common cancer in old men, our biggest killer — an aggressive, nimble cat-burglar lung cancer that is rarely noticed till it has had kittens

That afternoon I was back in my doctor’s surgery. He was wearing the antiseptic face, the professional-doctor tragedy mask. I’m getting to see this a lot now. It is as much a protection against the infection of catastrophe for them as a respect for its victim. They glaze the bad news with sweet spittle. They’ll say: “The test results were not quite what we hoped. It might be trapped wind or it might be the thing that hatched from John Hurt’s stomach. Realistically, we’ll have to assume it’s more alien than fart.” My alien was the most common cancer in old men, our biggest single killer: an aggressive, nimble cat-burglar lung cancer that is rarely noticed till it has had kittens.

Guy has been my doctor for 30 years — 32 to be precise. He was the doctor who put me into treatment for addiction and he’s looked after me and my kids ever since. He’s private, so I pay. If I need a test, an x-ray, a consultant, I’ll pay. If I need anything more than a couple of antibiotics, I’m going to the NHS.
Within 24 hours I have an NHS consultant oncologist and early-morning appointments, for scans, blood tests and x-rays.

You couldn’t make up Charing Cross Hospital. Well, not as a hospital you couldn’t. It’s a monstrous, hideous, crumbling patched-up mess — the Elephant Building. On the way in I notice a couple of posters on the street saying “Save Charing Cross Hospital”. They’re stuck on a municipal noticeboard that’s falling over.

It’s plainly the result of dozens and dozens of attempts to make things better and, in fact, it is the physical embodiment of how most of us, trying to make our way through the teetering automatic doors, feel. It has a very good collection of contemporary British art. In some back corridor there is a series of Peter Blake’s best silk screens.

I love it: it’s how I feel. The lifts take hours to arrive, emphysemically, wheezingly opening their doors, and when they do, it’s without confidence or conviction. A man going up to the cancer ward puts his hand in front of the door and gets out. “I’m too frightened to take this lift,” he says.

In a waiting room, hundreds of us take numbers to sit like wilted potted plants in an autumn garden-centre sale, to take it in turns to meet the antiseptic face. If this were a set for a film, all the actors and extras would be pulling looks of agony and sadness and fear, but the face of real cancer wipes our expressions to a pale neutral human.

The NHS has one of the worst outcomes for cancer treatment in Europe. It’s something to be borne in mind when you’re deciding to combine chemotherapy with a safari, or want to embark on a bar-thumping argument about health tourism. It was the first question I asked my oncologist, Dr Conrad Lewanski. “Why is this such a bad place to get cancer, when we have lots of hospitals, when we teach doctors from all over the world, when we’ve won more Nobel prizes than the French?”

“It’s the nature of the health service,” he says. “The key to cancer outcomes is the speed of diagnosis and treatment.” The health service was set up with GPs separate from hospitals. The system means you probably have to wait a week or so for an appointment to see first your GP, or a clinic. The average time for that consultation will be seven minutes. Perhaps your cough isn’t a priority. And then if your doctor thinks it does need a second opinion, he’ll suggest you see a consultant, and that’s likely to take a month. If the GP suspects cancer, that referral time is reduced to two weeks. He or she will probably write a letter, often two — all doctors still carry fountain pens.

And then there are all the appointments — for tests, a cancellation, a missed x-ray, a scan — which can put months on a diagnosis. It’s not the treatment, it’s the scale of the bureaucracy and the Attlee-reverential, immovable-but-crumbling structure of a private-public doctor-consultant arrangement, which was the cornerstone laid down by the 1945 government at the insistence of doctors. That is the chronic tumour in the bowel of the system.

How do men react when you tell them it’s fatal? ‘Always the same way — with stoicism.’ Bollocks, I thought that was just me

I’m given a talk by a nurse on the consequences of chemotherapy. She uses three pens. Two of them have three coloured barrels each. The scribbling, the underlining, the stars, the acronyms, the exclamation marks become ever more emphatic and decorative. Finally she hands me a notebook that is unintelligibly runic, but says not to worry because it’s all on the computer, which she then turns on to show me a heart-warming film about sexual infections and high temperatures.

The hospital flutters with bits of paper like mayflies. They’re propped up against screens, wedged up against keyboards, stuffed into teetering files, and then there is the constant Tourette’s questions, “When’s your birthday? What’s the first line of your address?”, all to collide you with the right cancer, to go with all the forms, the signatures, the screens, the machines, the radiation disclaimers and destiny. It makes Kafka look like ee cummings.

I like my oncologist. He doesn’t have the morphine face; he looks amused, inquisitive, like a shaved, garrulous otter. All he does is lung cancer. This is his river, tumours his trout. He’s been a consultant for 15 years. Two years in, his father got it and died: “The worst thing I’ve ever had to go through. I do know what this is like — so how much do you want to know?”

“Everything, and the truth.”

I’ve never Googled cancer, but I’ve discovered that every one of my friends who owns their own house has a preferred cancer specialist and a hospital to go with them. They also have a perfect gardener, an ideal interior decorator and a masseur that they insist — insist — I use, because they are all the best and, of course, you only get what you pay for. Lots of them are astonished I’m still in this country of catastrophic cancer statistics.

Those who don’t have money for their own homes have magical diets, homeopathy and religious new-age cures, or at least a conspiracy theory about big pharma hiding the efficacy of vitamin C, kale, magnetism and mistletoe. If it doesn’t make you better, at least you get snogged a lot.

And everyone, but everyone, will have a mantra story of their secretary’s husband or a woman they used to work with who was given three weeks to live and is still stacking shelves or conducting operas 10 years later. These little homilies are handed out with the intense insistence of lucky heather, using the language of evangelical religion and locker-room encouragement.

Why is our reaction to cancer so medieval, so wrapped in fortune-cookie runes and votive memory shards, like the teeth and metatarsals of dead saints? Cancer is frightening. One in two of us will get it. It has dark memories, unmentionably euphemised. In the public eye, not all cancers are equal. There is little sympathy for lung cancer. It’s mostly men, mostly old men, mostly working-class old men and mostly smokers. There is a lot more money and public sympathy for the cancers that affect women and the young. Why wouldn’t there be?

“How do men react when you tell them their cancers are fatal?” I ask Dr Lewanski. “Always the same way — with stoicism.”

“Bollocks,” I think. “I thought that was just me.”

Actually it’s not being told you’ve got cancer that is the test of character, it’s the retelling. Going home and saying to the missus: “That thing, the cricked neck. Actually it’s a tumour, the size of a cigar.” It ought to come with a roll of thunder and five Jewish violinists, instead of the creaky whisper of fear.

People react differently to different cancers: most women think they’ll survive, and statistically they’re right. Most men think they’ll die — and likewise.
“So, what’s the treatment?”

“Chemotherapy. Platinum in your case. It has a very good chance.”

Someone should write a paper on the euphemistic size comparisons for tumours. There should be an esite, Euphotumours. The images are very masculine: golf balls, cricket balls, bullets, grenades, ruminant testicles. No one ever says, “I’ve got a cancer the size of a fairy cake.”

And what about after the chemo?

“Well, there’s a new treatment, immunotherapy. It’s the biggest breakthrough in cancer treatment for decades. Cancers camouflage themselves as chemical markers that tell your body’s natural defences that there’s nothing to see here, move along. These new drugs strip away the disguise and allow your body’s natural system to clean up. It’s new and it’s still being trialled, but we’re a long way along the line and it is the way cancer treatment is bound to go. It’s better for some growths than others, but it’s particularly successful with yours. If you were in Germany or Scandinavia or Japan or America, or with the right insurance here, this is what you would be treated with.”

The doctor looks at Nicola, the missus. His otter face has grown a little sphinxy.

“You remember asking if the treatment Adrian got on the NHS would be any different from being a private patient? And I said a better cup of coffee and more leeway with appointments. Well, this is the difference. If he had insurance, I’d put him on immunotherapy — specifically, nivolumab. As would every oncologist in the First World. But I can’t do it on the National Health.”

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), the quango that acts as the quartermaster for the health service, won’t pay. Nivolumab is too expensive — £60,000 to £100,000 a year for a lung-cancer patient; about four times the cost of chemo. And the only way to see if it will work for an individual patient is to give it to them all, and the ones it doesn’t work for will weed themselves out. What Nice doesn’t say about the odds is that immunotherapy mostly works for old men who are partially responsible for their cancers because they smoked. Thousands of patients could benefit. But old men who think they’re going to die anyway aren’t very effective activists. They don’t get the public or press pressure that young mothers’ cancers and kids’ diseases get.

As yet, immunotherapy isn’t a cure, it’s a stretch more life, a considerable bit of life. More life with your kids, more life with your friends, more life holding hands, more life shared, more life spent on earth — but only if you can pay.
I’m early for my first eight-hour stint of platinum chemo. The ward in Charing Cross looks like a cross between a milking shed and an Air Koryo business lounge. I am settled into a hideous but comfortable chair and a tap is jabbed into the back of my hand. A series of plastic bags full of combative and palliative cocktails slowly dribble into my body and every 10 minutes I have to shuffle to an invalid’s loo to dribble it out again.

I like it here. The nurses are funny and comforting, optimistic, and bear the weight of the sadness, the regret and the pity in the room on their shoulders with an amused elegance and sincerity that comes from their years of experience, or the naivety of inexperience. The other patients shuffle in with their partners to share sandwiches, talk about shopping and the cousins in New Zealand and window boxes. There are children with ageing parents, happy/sad to be able to repay an infant’s debt.

I manage to find the one dealer in the ward, or rather she finds me. Her boyfriend’s making hash cakes — they’ve definitely shrunk his tumour, I should definitely have some. I smile, shrug apologetically and say sadly I’m already a junkie. I don’t take drugs.

“Really? Even for this?” I’m not giving up 32 years of clean time for some poxy lung.

And there are the ones who sit alone, who don’t have any friends to play cards with them, to drip the will and the strength and the faith to face this. I don’t know how anyone manages to do this on their own.

An old friend sits through the mornings with me, Nicola comes with lunch and Flora and Ali, my grown-up kids, share the afternoon. If it wasn’t for the cancer, that would be a really lovely day. If it wasn’t for the cancer.
There’s a natural break in the article here. It should have been finished two weeks ago, but I had a bad night, a really bad night.

Nicola called Guy, the GP, and he came round and took a look and said: “He needs to be in A&E now.”

So I’m on a gurney in Charing Cross at nine in the morning. On the other side of the blue plastic curtain, a bloke is being held down by three policemen shouting, “Don’t flick your f****** blood over here, I don’t want what you’ve got.”

A young doctor comes and asks me questions. All doctors in A&E are preternaturally young. One of the questions after “What’s your date of birth and the first line of your address?” is inevitably “Can I put my finger up your bottom to see if there’s any poo or blood?”

The other question is: “On a scale of 1 to 10 — 1 being a scratch and 10 unspeakable agony — what do you think you’re suffering at the moment?” You wouldn’t describe this as thin pain. It’s 10 out of 10. My stomach is agonised with a terrible wrenching distension. I’ve lived a middle-class, sheltered, uncombative, anti-violent life, so I don’t know how this compares to other more manly men’s pain, but this is by miles and miles the worst thing I’ve ever been through, thank you for asking.

More x-rays and blood tests and the surgeon returns with the complete granite face and says: “Well, it could be a burst ulcer, but of course it isn’t. The tumour in your pancreas has increased in size very fast. It’s as big as a fist.” And he shows me a fist in case I’d misplaced the image.

I’ve decided to call the pancreatic tumour Lucky, as a nod to prophetic Professor Gazzard. So the chemotherapy isn’t working. I ask my oncologist what’s next.

“It’s a bugger,” he says. “It looked so hopeful, but you’re right, it isn’t working. The pancreas is a bad place. We can’t operate and the side effects of radiation aren’t worth the risk.” And there’s pancreatic pain, which is famously in a league apart, so at least I can be stoical about that.

“What next?”

“Well, on the NHS we can give you another round of chemo, a bit rougher with slighter outcomes … but there is really only one treatment for you: nivolumab.”

From behind the blue curtain, the nurse asks the policeman: “What do you want to do with him?”

“Oh, let him go,” says the copper.

“I thought you’d arrested him?”

“No. Let him go.”

That evening I’m sitting in bed on the cancer ward trying to get the painkillers stabilised and a young nurse comes in.

“There you are. I’ve been waiting for you all day. You’re supposed to be with me down in chemotherapy. I saw your name. Why are you up here?”

“Well, it turns out the chemo isn’t working.” Her shoulders sag and her hand goes to her head. “F***, f***, that’s dreadful.” I think she might be crying.

I look away, so might I.

You don’t get that with private healthcare.

Cancer survival rates in Europe
The UK has the worst cancer survival rates in western Europe — a third lower than those of Sweden.

“Five-year cancer survival rates are so low in the UK because we’re so slow at diagnosing cancer in the first place. A patient must first see their GP, then be referred to see a specialist. The lag time can be months. And when each GP consultation lasts a few minutes, people can slip through the net altogether. In European countries, patients can access specialist care easily and straightaway.”
Dr Conrad Lewanski, consultant clinical oncologist and fellow of the Royal College of Radiologists


  • What is immunotherapy? This is a treatment used in cases where chemotherapy hasn’t worked. The drugs involved strip cancer cells of the “camouflage” that stops the immune system from attacking them as it would other diseases. Only 20% to 30% of people with non-small-cell lung cancer — which accounts for 85% of lung cancers — respond to the therapy, but researchers have found it to be remarkably successful among those whose tumours were caused by smoking.
  • How is it administered? Immunotherapy drugs are injected into the patient’s bloodstream via a drip or Port-a-Cath: a plastic tube leading into a large chest vein. Patients tend to receive the treatment for an hour every fortnight, but this depends on the condition.
  • Who has access to nivolumab? The pioneering drug nivolumab has received its licence for use in the UK and is under review by Nice, which says: “We do not have the full picture yet and we are still working with the company to see what we can do to answer the uncertainties in the evidence.” This means patients in England and Wales will have to wait to find out if they will be able to get it universally on the NHS. In Scotland, which has its own drug-approval system, nivolumab is already available.
  • What is pembrolizumab? This immunotherapy drug, similar to nivolumab, is also licensed in the UK. Ten days ago, Nice announced that it will finally be available to patients with non-small-cell lung cancer on the NHS. This is not the drug AA Gill’s oncologist recommended for him.
  • How much does nivolumab cost? The approximate cost for treating non-small-cell lung cancer is £5,700 a month or £68,400 a year.
  • What is Nice’s role? Nice makes recommendations on whether the NHS in England — and in some cases Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland — should fund new drugs so they are available to all patients. Their review process is based on a treatment’s cost effectiveness and efficiency. It takes into account the patients’ life expectancy and quality of life after the treatment.

AA Gill began taking nivolumab after writing this article

To view the original article CLICK HERE but it is hidden behind Rupert Murdoch’s pay wall.

My thanks to the friend who supplied his paid for copy, thus bringing AA Gill’s profound and moving article to those amongst my readers who may benefit from it – I know I have!

  • How much does nivolumab cost? The approximate cost for treating non-small-cell lung cancer is £5,700 a month or £68,400 a year.

As this drug is administered as a drip into a vein often via a ‘pic-line’ once a fortnight this would indicate each dose costs £2,850!
As the EU insists on tampering in every area as it imposes UN, WTO, CODEX etc.s diktats why are they so indifferent about the drug companies’ profiteering from fatal illness, when they crow about such irrelevancies as forcing mobile phone companies to standardise roving rates – surely that is upto the consumer and no business of the EU!

Adrian Gill’s first wife Cressida Connolly, they married in 1982 & divorced in 1983

with his ex wife Amber Rudd who he married in 1990 & divorced in 1995,
with whom he had two children

In better times with Nicola Fornby his long term partner & mother of his twins, with whom he had been since 1995 until his death, though only becoming engaged in the November of his final weeks!

As everyone, save the few he berated or made fun of, Adrian Gill, who styled himself AA Gill after his treatment for alcohol and joining AA, was honest and professional in his writing expressing his beliefs and opinions humorously and well, without pandering to fashionable PC, as Wikipedia shows in this selective extract:

Gill’s acerbic style led to several media controversies. In 2010, The Sunday Times disclosed that Gill had been the subject of 62 Press Complaints Commission complaints in five years, none of which had been upheld.


In The Sunday Times, Gill described the Welsh in 1998 as “loquacious, dissemblers, immoral liars, stunted, bigoted, dark, ugly, pugnacious little trolls”. His comments were reported to the Commission for Racial Equality.[21] and used as an example of what was described as “persistent anti-Welsh racism in the UK media” in a motion in the National Assembly for Wales.
[It is my opinion that he left out humourless and lacking in self confidence!]

Isle of Man

Gill’s feud with the Isle of Man began in 2006 with a review of Ciappelli’s restaurant in Douglas. Gill wrote that the island:

managed to slip through a crack in the space-time continuum […] fallen off the back of the history lorry to lie amnesiac in the road to progress […] its main industry is money (laundering, pressing, altering and mending) […] everyone you actually see is Benny from Crossroads or Benny in drag…. The weather’s foul, the food’s medieval, it’s covered in suicidal motorists and folk who believe in fairies.

The review was attacked in the Tynwald, the Manx parliament, with House of Keys member David Cannan demanding an apology for the “unacceptable and scurrilous attack”.

Gill made further comments regarding the Isle of Man in his Sunday Times column on 23 May 2010, when he described its citizens as falling into two types: “hopeless, inbred mouth-breathers known as Bennies” and “retired, small arms dealers and accountants who deal in rainforest futures”. His comments were made in the aftermath of Mick Jagger‘s suggestion that drugs should be legalised in the Isle of Man.[26] Gill added that “If … they become a hopelessly addicted, criminal cesspit, who’d care? Indeed, who could tell the difference?”[27]


In February 2011, Gill described the county of Norfolk as “the hernia on the end of England”. In December 2013, his column just before New Year’s Eve, was the result of a night on the beat in Grimsby and Cleethorpes and was heavily critical of both towns where Grimsby is “on the road to nowhere” and Cleethorpes is full of “hunched and grubby semi-detached homes”Humberside Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Grove described Gill as “A tweed-suited, Mayfair-based writer, whose only experience of the North of England was his visit to Cleethorpes and his regular trips salmon fishing in Scotland”.


In a review of Clare Balding‘s 2010 Britain by Bike TV programme, Gill referred to the presenter as “a big lesbian” and “a dyke on a bike”. Gill’s Sunday Times editor, John Witherow, responded to Balding’s complaint: “In my view some members of the gay community need to stop regarding themselves as having a special victim status and behave like any other sensible group that is accepted by society. Not having a privileged status means, of course, one must accept occasionally being the butt of jokes. A person’s sexuality should not give them a protected status”.



If you enjoyed AA Gill’s style and wit above here is an article he had published the day after his 60th. birthday on 29-Jun-2014, 2 years before his diagnosis of cancer and his untimely death – enjoy:

Life at 60

How does the former alcoholic drug addict AA Gill feel about reaching this milestone? Surprised, mostly, but happy to ruminate on sex, travel and friendship

AA Gill Published: 29 June 2014

Young Gill at schoolYoung Gill at school (A A Gill)

Every morning, after taking our twins to school, Nicola and I read the papers over breakfast and I recite the birthday list and she will guess the ages. She’s uncannily accurate. Yesterday The Guardian will have said: AA Gill, critic and baboon-murdering bastard, 60.

I share a birthday with Henry VIII and the shot that started the Great War. I’ve always read the anniversary roll and over the years I’ve watched people my age go from rarely mentioned as sportsmen and pop stars to more commonly as leading actors and television presenters and now ubiquitously I find myself in the thick of captains of industry, ennobled politicians, retired sportsmen and character actors. You only notice the accumulating years in relation to other people.

Last week an editor breezily mentioned that as I was coming up to a milestone decade would I perhaps like to write something about it? You know, is 60 the new 40? Why do you make those little noises when you get out of a chair? Am I considering getting a shed, or a cruise, or Velcro? And what about sex?

The only people who ask about significant birthdays are younger than you. No 70-year-olds are inquiring about my insights on being 60. Age is the great terra incognita. But then, all the people who tell me to do anything are younger than me now.

And please, can we stop this “60 is the new 40” thing? No one is saying 20 is the new 10. And who wants to be 40 anyway? An insipid, insecure age.

My generation, the postwar baby-boomers, are over the meridian of our vital parabolas. We’ve done our best and our worst, overachieved and underperformed, are either preparing to bask on the sun loungers of our success or suck our bruised fingers in the waiting rooms of failure. So 60 is both a personal summit from which to look back, breathing heavily, hands on my knees, and a generational one.

AA Gill as a young manAA Gill as a young man

I was born in 1954 in Edinburgh. Winston Churchill was prime minister, there was still rationing, we were the first generation that would grow up with television, pop music, central heating and a National Health Service. As a child, every old man I knew had fought in the First World War and every young man in the second.

War still hung like the smell of a damp, grim nostalgia over everything. We played Spitfires and Messerschmitts in the playground and you could, as Kingsley Amis pointed out, walk into any pub in the country and ask with perfect confidence if the major had been in. London was still moth-eaten with bomb sites and black with coal smoke. One of my earliest memories is of the last pea souper fog.

How do I feel having reached 60? Well, surprised, mostly. And grateful. When I was 30, a doctor told me that I had a dangerously damaged liver and, all things considered, I probably wouldn’t see another Christmas. I am an alcoholic and a drug addict but, with a lot of help, I stopped. I haven’t had a drink or picked up a drug since. My grandfather died at 59. He was a tooth-puller in Leith. My mother says it was anxiety about the coming of the health service that killed him, which is a braw example of Scottish humour.

Globally, I can expect to live to see another two World Cups. But by living in the south of England I should make it for another four. I tell people too quickly that I am 60 and wait, like a needy toddler, to be told I don’t look anything like that. One of the surprising symptoms of getting to be 60 is that I now can’t tell how old anyone under the age of 40 is; you all look 16. And don’t believe the beauty page gush that you are in fact only as old as you feel. It’s a nonsense, based on the assumption that ageing is primarily a physical process. It isn’t, it’s a maturing one. It’s not a feeling, it’s an experience. You are as old as you can remember.

Smiles from younger days

I dictate these articles to clever overeducated colleagues who are much, much younger than me. They constantly and consistently don’t get references to things that to me seemed to have happened only a couple of months ago. They’ve never seen black-and-white films or known the difference between 78, 45 and 33⅓.

So, if you know who Jan Palach, Gary Powers, Gary Gilmore, Squeaky Fromme, Adam Adamant, Albert Pierrepoint, the Piranha Brothers, Harry Worth and Fyfe Robertson are, then you must be 60.

A contemporary of mine, after a number of marriages, found a girlfriend less than half his age of a transcendent pneumatic beauty who hung on his every word — and dumped her after a couple of months. Why, I asked — she was perfect! “Too many things we didn’t have in common,” he said sadly. Like what? “Well, the Eighties.”

Which brings us to sex. Nicola has just exclaimed with unusual force that she has never slept with a 60-year-old and she’s not planning on starting now. Nobody wants to think about 60-year-olds doing it, least of all 60-year-olds. Another contemporary pointed out that it wasn’t finding the first grey pubic hair on yourself that was the doom-laden shock, it was finding it on the person you were sleeping with.

After a certain age it’s best not to have mirrors in your sight line. And lighting is important: the less the better. But you must have some, because everything sags and moves about. The pale, flickering glow of the television is the illumination of choice for most middle-aged couples.

I’ve been making a list of the sex that I’m now too old to consider. I will probably never have sex again on a jiggling sofa with her parents asleep upstairs. Or in a skip. Or in the back of a stationary 2CV or the front of a moving Alfa Romeo.

I won’t do bondage, sadomasochism or erotic yoga or miss them. Neither will I partake in role play. I am too old to be a pirate, a policeman, a Viking or the Milk Tray Man (they don’t know who the Milk Tray Man was either).

And I realise with a sudden shock that I’m probably too old to sleep with anyone for the first time. The thought of having to go through the whole seduction, will they, won’t they, can I, can’t I, is far more terrifying than it is exciting.

Sex definitely changes. It is less athletic, more romantic, more intense, more a special event. Not because it’s rare, but because it’s finite. There is a point in your life when you stop counting up and start counting back. It’s not the laps run, it’s the laps that are left.

This is one of the biggest changes in ageing. The continuous heartbeat rhythm that tells you your experiences are now rationed. How many more Ring cycles will I get to? How many more times will I see Venice emerging out of the lagoon? How many cassoulets, English cherries? How many summits in the Highlands? How many long lunches with old friends? How many old friends are left to me?

That sounds maudlin, but it doesn’t feel like that. It adds to the pleasure, a sentiment to everything, an extra gypsy violin to life. I linger over things now: flowers, moonlight, Schubert, lunch, bookshops. Also I mind less about standing in queues, sitting in traffic, waiting for a bus or my call to be answered. Everything has a pinch of piquancy, a smudge of melodrama, and I like that.

There are other things to which age adds an imperative. I’m pretty sure that when I’m lying on the gurney and the children are searching for the off-switch while telling me sweetly to go towards the light, the thing I regret won’t be, as John Betjeman said, not enough sex, and it won’t be not enough caviar or cakes. It will be, I think, that I never got to see Timbuktu or South Georgia. Never saw the northern lights. Never travelled up the fjords by boat.

The abiding pleasure of my life so far has been the opportunity to travel. It is also the single greatest gift of my affluent generation. We got to go around the globe relatively easily, cheaply and safely. Postwar children are the best and most widely travelled generation that has yet lived. We were given the world when it was varied, various and mostly welcoming.

Whether we took enough goodwill with us and brought back enough insight is debatable. But today the laziest gap-year student has probably seen more and been further than Livingstone, Stanley and Richard Burton.

One of the things that surprises and dismays me is how many of my contemporaries spend their time and money on travelling to sunny beaches. All beach experiences, give or take a cocktail, are the same experience. My advice to travellers and tourists is to avoid coasts and visit people. There is not a view in the world that is as exciting as a new city.

So I regret places and I will also regret not being a better friend. My generation has been profligate with friends. I look at how my parents husbanded theirs, thought about them, wrote to them, talked about them. Because they had lived through the war their friends were innately more precious than ours have been to us. Our friends are not disposable, but they turn out to be forgettable. I regret not making more of an effort to keep up, keep hold and keep close the people I loved. Now their absence and my casual wastefulness upset me.

Gill with his father, who died of Alzheimer’sGill with his father, who died of Alzheimer’s

I noticed in last week’s paper that if I were in the army (something, thanks to my father and my grandfather, I’ve never had to do), being in the 55-59 age bracket I would be expected to do 21 press-ups and 27 sit-ups within two minutes. Now that is down to 17 and 23 as I’ve reached the end of the tick-box line. I will now be for ever in the 60 and over category, after which there is just the margin.

Last year, for the first time, a young girl, French, offered me her seat on a crowded bus. I was surprised at how deeply I resented her. Health looms over the elderly like a threatening monsoon. No ache is innocuous. No lump or discoloured, sagging patch of body is ignorable except our toenails, which become the most sordidly repellent things in all nature. We covertly examine ourselves and our effluvia for the premonition of the dark humour that will carry us away. There is no such thing as a routine checkup. They are all life-or-death appointments.

Doctors start all their sentences with “It’s only . . . ” But we’re not fooled. This generation is also the one that lingers longest over its departure. Death came to our grandparents with a clutched chest and a searing pain. For us it’s a slow, humiliating series of it’s onlys. What we worry about is dementia, a condition that did not exist in the popular lexicon when I was a child. Mind you, we also thought cancer was as shaming as divorce. Now Alzheimer’s is our abiding fear, the thing we can’t forget.

My chats with contemporaries are like bridge games where we try to fill in the gaps in each other’s sentences to make one coherent conversation. My dad died of Alzheimer’s. I once asked him how he was feeling: “Oh, quite well, except you know I’ve got this terrible disease, what’s its name?” So we go to the gym, we have trainers, I do Pilates. But it’s only maintenance. I’m not looking for a beach body, there’s no New Me in the cupboard; I just want one that’s supple enough to put on my own socks.

After giving up drink and drugs, I continued to smoke about 60 a day until 12 years ago and then I stopped. And people said, “Well done! How did you manage it? What willpower!”

It didn’t feel like well done. It felt like a defeat — the capitulation to fear. When I started smoking at 14 I was golden, immortal. I smoked around the world; I took pride in my ability to smoke with elegance, panache and skill. Smoking was my talent and I gave it up because I lost my nerve.

I don’t miss the cigarettes, but I do miss the me that smoked so beautifully.

Oddly, the one thing that does improve with age is our teeth. Old people get perfect, white, even, marvellous grins. Paradoxically, we simultaneously lose our sense of humour.

I’ve had four children in two batches. It’s not for me to say if I’ve been a good father; that’s between the kids and their respective therapists. But I think I’ve been more benign second time round. With the first two, now 21 and 23, I was a cross between a Butlins Redcoat and Savonarola. I had plans and theories; I thought children were blank and malleable. I was brought up in the Sixties by Sixties parents who drank Sixties Kool-Aid. Much as I loved them I didn’t want to be like them, just as they didn’t want to be like their parents.

I had no plan or ambition for my kids and no Tiggerish belief in education. I know all the competitive insecurity that infects parents around schools, exams and universities. I’ve seen too many desperate kids becoming extensions of adults’ vanity, insecurity and desire for a second chance. And I told my children I had no interest in seeing their reports or knowing their exam results. Nothing they achieve will ever make me prouder of them than the day they were born. Nothing they do or don’t do will make me love them an iota less.

With his partner Nicola
With his partner Nicola

Through empirical trials I have discovered there is no intergenerational conflict that can’t be sorted with a tenner. Just say sorry and I’ll give you a tenner. Clean your room — there’s a tenner in it. Get your aunt a birthday card; keep the change. It’s not money; it’s a MacGuffin, a prop that allows everyone to back down without losing face or temper. And oddly I’ve managed to produce four of the least miserly and acquisitive children.

How did my generation do? Well, we get blamed for being selfish and self-obsessed and soft and pushing up house prices and saddling the next generation with hideous debts and nowhere to live and I suppose that’s not entirely unfair.

We are ridiculously obsessed with food, buy too many things and have too many clothes. But we didn’t start a war. Well, not a big one. And we didn’t nuke anyone. We defused the Cold War. We believed in the collective good. Although we came to confuse gestures with actions and we think going on a march and writing a letter are the same as doing something, making the world better.

We were the generation that were relentlessly for civil rights, human rights, gay rights, disability rights, equality, fairness. We were implacably against racism and censorship. We defended freedom of speech, religion and expression. We will leave the world better fed and better off than when we arrived in it.

Britain is a far happier, richer and fairer place than it was 60 years ago. And if you think that’s wishful self-promotion, you have no idea how grim and threadbare Britain in the Fifties was. You weren’t there, you don’t remember.

To view the original article you will need a friend who has a membership of Rupert Murdoch’s pay wall!

Posted by: Greg Lance-Watkins
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