Why and how I’m raising money for the Brain Tumour Charity and how you can help

In May 2013, a good friend of mine – Matt Morton – lost his fight with cancer. He was just 43, and even though he had been diagnosed with a brain tumour for a couple of years his death was felt very deeply by all who were close to him.

I got to know Matt through music. I was invited to join a covers band as rhythm guitarist – Matt was the lead guitarist. I hadn’t played in a band for over a decade, but was made to feel very welcome and Matt was no small part of that. He was one of the most genuine and friendly people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.

I wanted to do something to mark his passing and to raise money in his name.

Mat Morton


I ruled out things like a 10k run or a parachute jump in favour of something I felt was more fitting, more personal … a night of live music featuring some of the people that played in bands with Matt.

And so, with the help of some fantastic people (including Matt’s widow Helen, and Adam Vickers & Justin Chilvers who also played in a band with Matt) on 26 July there will be a gig night in Matt’s memory, at which three (maybe even four) musical acts will perform, and there will be raffles, auctions and bespoke plectrums you can buy.

Plectrums will be on sale

The money we raise will be split between St Barnabas House, who looked after Matt and his family so well, and the Brain Tumour Charity, who do fantastic work in this sector.

If you can get along to the 3Bs bar in central Reading on 26 July, I’d love you to join us.

But if you can’t, please consider making a donation instead – any amount large or small will be gratefully received.

Here’s the link – http://www.eventbrite.com/e/mattfest-2014-tickets-11672622127

UPDATE: we raised more than £1,600 on the night, far more than we hoped for.

RIP Isabel Joyce Fleming: b. 3 May 1924, d. 3 May 1997

Today would have been my mother’s 90th birthday.  It’s also the 17th anniversary of her death. (updated 2014)

Born in the 1920s in Newcastle upon Tyne, my mother moved south with her parents and some of her siblings during the war years of the 1940s – she was the youngest of seven children.

Although she left school aged just 14, my mother always seemed intellectually very accomplished and was a big believer in education. Some of my earliest memories are of her teaching me to read.  She had cut out small squares of card and hand-written letters on them; we would sit and make words by putting them together.

1966: yes, that’s me. And yes, I still like ice cream.

I can remember many happy times spent with her. Lots of warmth and laughter. But my memories of her also include the sense of disappointment she seemed to carry with her wherever she went.

I suspect she felt she could have achieved more … had a bigger life, had circumstances been a little different.

When the end came for my mother, it came in the guise of cancer of the oesophagus, which over the course of many, many months whittled away at her until there was almost nothing left. It was an ugly and unpleasant end.

She died before my sons were born. But I know she would have adored them.

She’d have been far less impressed by the life my father went on to carve out for himself in the years after her death. I think she would have considered him to have been an embarrassment. She’d have been right too. But that’s another story.

If the menopause doesn’t get me, the cancer surely will

This is the second of two pieces I wrote on 8 October 2011 on the subject of searching online for health-related information and coming face-to-face with the issue of trust. This was the first one: snake oil, bone-shakers and witch-doctors 2.0″

Spurred on by my recent search for food information and the number of hokey websites I found myself looking at, I decided to go one step further and investigate some online diagnosis sites.

Once again, it is nigh on impossible to tell the voice you can trust from the ones that ought to be denied access to the internet altogether. And of the majority, which sit between those two extreme points, there is no easy way of knowing who is well-intentioned but essentially wrong on too many counts, and who is being deliberately misleading in order to promote their own beliefs.

I decided to spend a little time filling in some online forms, answering questions about my health, so I could see for myself what kind of information might be presented to someone entering into this sort of activity genuinely.

With a mind to some everyday aches and pains (the kind I imagine we all suffer from occasionally) I answered all the questions accurately and honestly. Well, mostly – I lied about my gender on one site. We’ll come on to that shortly.

It might be worth pointing out that my family doctor, a charming and thorough man, recently insisted I had a full set of blood tests and an ECG. Everything came back normal, and his assessment was that I am in very good shape for a man of my age. In fact, my lung capacity and strength is that of someone 20 years my junior, he said. Perhaps that’s from all the practice I have of blowing my own trumpet.

So what of the time I spent with Doctor Interwebz? What was the diagnosis from that?

Well, I have always believed that when it comes to any form of self-diagnosis all roads lead to cancer. These beliefs were not shattered by this weekend’s activities. In three parts of my body I am – allegedly – exhibiting symptoms that could indicate cancer.

In addition to which, I learned I need an urgent medical assessment of my cardio-vascular functions.

But my favourite diagnosis by far was the one that told me I was experiencing symptoms that indicate the onset of the menopause.

It’s hard not to laugh, which is why I did indeed laugh. But there is a serious point buried in here.

When it comes to online information, the issue of trust – it seems to me – is as valid today as it has ever been.

In some ways, I take comfort from the fact that little really changes when it comes to human nature. Some folk like to be scared, while others are happy to lead you astray.

It’s a jungle out there people – stay safe.

And for goodness sake, if you really are concerned about your health don’t go anywhere near the internet. Go and see a real doctor.


A footnote: I decided against including links to any of the sites I visited. Trust me, it’s for your own good. Added to which I don’t think they deserve the traffic.

Up in smoke

It’s the time of year when firework displays are commonplace in the UK, as part of the traditional 5th November celebration of the evisceration of a group of 17th Century Catholics.

So this evening I went to a firework display.

In the grounds of a hospice.

The smell of hotdogs, the sounds of excited children and crying babies, and the sky – alive with explosions of bejewelled gunpowder.

Cheek-by-jowl with people in the latter stages of terminal cancer.

For many of those there, it was their first ever firework display.

For others, their last.

It gave me pause for thought.

Like a lot of people I can, when so inclined, list my problems, worries and regrets until the cows come home. Things I’ve done and wished I hadn’t. Things I somehow haven’t got round to doing.

Bridges I’ve burned. Troubles I’ve caused.

It wasn’t my first ever firework display and, unless fate has something in store for me, it won’t be my last.

It seems trite to say things like count your blessings. Or it’s never too late.

But there is more than a grain of authenticity in that outlook.

Staring at a burned bridge won’t get you back where you came from.

The fireworks were impressive.

The evening was humbling.



Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/cameraslayer/