• Austin Birks

Fluorescent Socks, The New Black

I've always loved music, from an early age. Indeed, I can recall when I was about 13 and had been working as a washer upper in a Wimpy Burger. I did 8 hours on a Saturday, and although the working practices were the polar opposite of what today’s health and executive would find even remotely acceptable, it was money in the bank. And what captured my 13-year-old imagination more than anything, was a smart pair of luminous socks as worn by the King “Elvis the pelvis Presley “himself. So, armed with my hard earned cash off to Northampton market I went and came back as the proud owner of my very own glow in the dark socks. Naturally they required a proper introduction to society life, so not unlike the debutantes of the socialite forties and fifties, my new socks needed a high profile event to appear in public. Oh no, none of your tardy popping down the shops for these babies, they needed a proper platform. So, of course my grandfather's 80th birthday was the ideal family occasion.


Naturally enough, the abuse that I was subjected to by my siblings, merely fuelled my sense of fashion independence and flair individuality that they clearly lacked. However, as we made our way into the restaurant and the gathering of the clan, I was mortified when the former conservative mayor of Mansfield, my grandfather Arthur Lloyd Birks took one look at me in that head to toe, instant judgement kind of way that old people have earned the right to do. And he bellowed at me “Good God, what the devil has that boy got on his feet”.


This was an absolute social disaster of the highest calibre. My smooth operator style had envisaged a very different result. I was anticipating a more worldly result, where subtle nods of adult approval would reinforce my teenage sage sense of sophisticated style. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that the spotlight of grandfather disapproval would be given the restaurant foghorn to draw immediate and public attention to my wildly controversial sockwear. Of course, immediate giggling and sniggering abuse was dished out unmercifully by my nearest and dearest, looking back - can I blame them? Maybe not, I, too, would have been the first great white to have sniffed the blood and raced in to maximise the few precious seconds of family diplomatic immunity that such rare occupancies offer.


So, that was my first foray into the wonderful world of fashion. It was wounding, it was liberating, it was humiliating, it was funny. Indeed, quite clearly it left a lasting impression that has lasted to my almost 60th year. How does that work? Why would this still resonate after all this time and all those Pooh sticks that will have have passed under the bridge?


And this is the strange and funny thing, after my cancer diagnosis I found myself, and still do, reflecting back on all the strange, wonderful, and life-changing events that have shaped my life and world. And there are very many, my dear chums, that pop into my beleaguered brain box; morning, noon, and night, they gather again, just on the fringe of consciousness.

It is rather odd when I reflect upon it, that actually when you get this whole cancer experience, it does not come with any warnings. Which is looking back hugely ironic, because these days if you buy a packet of fags (which I do not, but I am always intrigued at the ghastly photos and blunt messages that sell such products). Also, the same with buying booze, where it tells us to drink responsibly, which frankly is the last thing that they want you to do. Although my personal best is the all night adverts for bingo and gambling sites, where they like to remind us that “when the fun stops, it’s time to stop”. Well, the last time I checked, most people who gamble on these sites were not financially secure enough to decide that actually it’s no longer fun, it’s time to stop.


So, when you draw the cancer card out of the pack, it might be useful to arm yourself with some reasonable questions. Firstly, the whole prognosis of your future is usually accepted without hesitation, because that is how it is. That is what the man said, you believe and you absorb, which is an interesting concept.


Funny really... would you accept the same horrific diagnosis anywhere else? Let’s flip this around. Say you popped to your local garage to get your car MOT done, and when you popped back, and the chap said: "Well, we have done some tests and your car has a terminal illness. We can give it extensive surgery now that will actually destroy the cells in the engine stump, where the malaise has been identified, but sadly it will also destroy the engine, clutch, ignition and electrics. But it might kill the cells off short term before they come back. I presume this is fine with you." And of course, you agree without hesitation, because these are the experts.


And this is part of my journey now with this disease. You owe it to yourself to question and counter claim; after all it is your body, not the GP’s or anybody else. It is you. Of course, all is meant well and the system is super and the staff are amazing. It is much more about the bigger options and potential solutions, and this is my point. If in doubt, wear the fluorescent socks in life. Be you, be individual, don’t just believe the man. Be true to yourself. Live your live, be the master of your own life, and even dare I say it, maybe your own death... but not yet!


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