I'm that 8 year old boy again. Waiting at the side of the stage. Scared. At least I don't have to sing this time; and my parents aren’t in the audience waiting to be embarrassed by my childhood stammer; and this is not St Monica's junior school. No, it's Hackney and I’m older. Much older.
I breathe - good for anxiety I've heard. I don’t think we knew about breathing back in 1965.
I’m going to read from the journal entries that I kept while I had cancer. Until recently no one even knew I’d written notes on my treatments, my fears and my hopes. Now I am about to share them with strangers. I know they should be read out. I know they will help others. But speaking them out loud feels odd. Alison is going to read too, extracts from the letters she sent while I was ill. But her letters are funny. It’ll be easier for her.
They’re introducing us. Keep smiling. Appear as if I’m enjoying myself. I can't look at Alison. She seems so confident and composed. Applause, and then I’m on the stage, in front of the spotlight and microphone. Put on my reading glasses. I can't see much of the audience if I do that. Breathe.
Alison begins to read her first letter and the audience are laughing – the funny side of cancer. I can’t see their faces as I read but a hush has descended. I have their full attention. The room is still. Then laughing again for Alison. Quiet respect for me.
The next thing I know is that the audience are clapping and there's even a whistle. The 8 year old smiles up at me. I did it. People are asking about From Me to You. Do letters really make a difference when you’re so ill? If they didn’t I certainly wouldn’t be putting myself through this, I want to say.
Three weeks later I am in Kings Cross. Another reading event. Another stage. Another spotlight. But this time I feel confident. I know that our material works. I listen to the other readers. They are good. No pressure! I feel my nerves returning. But this is important. We have to get the message out. Letters and cards to friends suffering with cancer help keep them connected, feel loved, give hope.
I breathe and begin.