I always feel slightly guilty when I make this observation…..but, at its worst, one of the things I most regretted about my arthritis was that it stopped me playing the piano. At its worst. I say ‘slightly guilty’ because the stories I read and the images conveyed in some of the recent TV adverts put out by ‘Versus Arthritis’ point to the fact that for many people it’s a good deal more serious than that. It can be the difference between getting out of bed in the morning, and feeling your only option is to lie still, prone, and in constant pain. And anything that involves work or household chores is a complete no-no. So I get it; mine has always been mild, and I’m hugely grateful for that.
I mention this because my good friend, fellow broadcaster Paddy O’Connell, has been one of many people around the BBC who’s been very supportive of me as I try to raise the profile of this condition and its effects. About three years ago he invited me on to his Sunday morning Radio 4 programme, ‘Broadcasting House’, to talk about my then return to piano playing, thanks to the anti-TNF drugs I was taking. I played the opening section of Chopin’s Raindrop prelude, because it requires a near constant use of the little finger in one’s left hand, and prior to taking those drugs that would simply have hurt too much. A keyboard was rigged up in his studio, I chatted and then performed without hitting any glaringly wrong notes, and there was general approval for what I said and did.
Roll forward to the present lockdown and self-isolation, and Paddy was keen to revive the idea, based on the fact that – every second day – I’ve been playing a tune on my piano at home, I’ve recorded it rather haphazardly on my tablet, and then posted it on instagram. So here’s what happened:
In so much as you can be left on tenterhooks by the choice between those two pieces of music, I will leave you in exactly that state. Suffice to say, listeners made their collective decision, and at the end of the programme I delivered their wish, and if you’re very keen to find out if I could play it then the programme is still available on BBC Sounds. I’ll let you into a secret and reveal that I was hoping people would pick the other one! And while I’m on the subject, thank you to those of you who got in touch with appreciative messages.
I wrote a ‘glass half empty’ blog a few days ago, and during these unprecedented times, more of those tough days will come along and we have to learn to manage them as best we can. But this one is a ‘glass half full’ blog. A few years ago, a pastime I’ve loved since I was five years old was no longer open to me, and now – thanks to medical advances – it is. The same will surely happen with coronavirus. Treatments will improve, maybe a vaccine will be found, and public confidence – even among those of us self-isolating and shielding – will slowly grow. Not overnight, but slowly.
A friend of mine wrote something thought-provoking on social media yesterday, which links to this. He discovered he was HIV positive twenty-seven years ago, and he describes the time like this: “there were hopeful drugs and horrible side effects. There was talk of a vaccine. There were endless funerals”. He talks of the optimism of his consultant as she pointed to the good news that was emerging about HIV, and so it was. “That I am here at all is evidence of that,” he concludes.