In the days of long ago, about 50 BC (that’s my personal time scale where BC = Before Cancer) I attended Wolverhampton Grammar School. Although I enjoyed playing football, I was not good enough to make it into the First XI and so I ended up in the school cross-country team. However, I still played football for my House team, which was actually a pretty strong team. We did not have so much in the way of school first team players as some other houses, but we did well because we played very much as a team. So without any Beckhams or Rooneys we were successful in things like the inter-house cup competition. It was definitely a matter of good teamwork rather than reliance upon a couple of brilliant individuals, and it showed me that the key thing is to be aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. By doing so, I learnt that weaker people could be encouraged and helped to improve.
A major change in my sporting interests came when I left university, and I took up hockey. I was working in Nottingham, and played for South Notts for a while and quite enjoyed that.
As I was employed at Raleigh Cycles, I also turned out for Raleigh a couple of times. However, I could not believe the acrimony which occurred whenever the opposition scored, with people blaming one another rather than getting on with the game. There was definitely no feeling of teamwork and two games were more than enough for me! It was a really good day when my wife Pat and I returned to Wolverhampton and I resumed playing with Finchfield Hockey Club where I had started my early hockey career.
This was definitely a case of good teamwork, and not just on the field: it was a young club, and there was a great deal of effort put into raising funds and working on the grounds when we eventually acquired them. In addition, there was an excellent social life, and the formation of some lasting friendships which have endured to this day.
Well, the years have gone by and I’m now in my fifth year AD (AD =After Diagnosis), and I have found myself involved in and supported by a number of different teams, although no longer sporting ones. Of course, one is my family team which provides me with so much love and support. They had quite a bit of practice before my cancer came along because of all the years when Pat battled with the disease, and I don’t know how I would cope without them.
Another team comprises my friends: some go back to school, scouting, university and work days, others were gained when Pat and I lived in Wolverhampton for thirty three years, and others have been gained over the last thirteen years since we moved to Shifnal. Those living farther way keep in touch through phone calls and emails and occasional visits, whilst those nearer to hand have been able to give practical support such as invitations to meals, transport to hospital and so on.
Then there is the team from St Andrew’s Church in Shifnal. It is not just the love and support from the clergy and the pastoral care team, but the love and support of so many in the congregation, particularly through their prayers. Thereby hangs another tale: like most churches, the congregation is invited to pray for the sick and those who have asked for prayerful support. At St Andrew’s, the list is read out each Sunday, typically comprising fifteen or so names. I’ve been on the list for a good while now, and the approach is to add new names at the end, whilst deleting those who are no longer in need of prayer for the relief of illness. This can occur when people pass away, of course. I had seen my name progress gradually to near the top of the list and joked with the vicar that if I reached number one, it would be a hard job to dislodge me since I was determined to hang on in there! Well, I’ve been number one for a while now: I’m sure that prayer helps and intend to continue my run for as long as possible.
My medical team is also very important, naturally. Nurses, doctors, specialists and registrars, GP and Hospice doctors and consultants all support me, and manage to co-ordinate their various efforts very well. I am very appreciative of all their work, and particularly grateful to have been receiving a very expensive drug for the past eleven months: it has made an enormous difference to the quality of my life.
It is interesting to try to look at the Hospice support for me: yes, it is a team, but made up of a number of different teams – other patients, volunteers, therapists, and medical staff all combining to aid me in so many ways. Thank goodness I did take that first step through the doorway almost two and a half years ago!
Yet another team has emerged for me during the past few months. A community choir has been launched at the hospice, as I have mentioned before (see Singing from the Same Sheet). So far I have attended on a couple of occasions, although I have missed out a couple of times because I was not well enough. It does provide a great feeling of togetherness and much enjoyment, with Mary, our musical director, able to help us to achieve things which many of us individually thought were not possible.
On the last occasion I attended, we were tackling a Bulgarian folk song. Mary is always keen to have us splitting into parts, which does make it more challenging and enjoyable. I had been singing happily away entirely to my own satisfaction, when Mary decided that it would be good to gather a few of the ladies together to sing a higher part. She invited any lady who wished to relocate to join this group. At this, X (the lady just in front of me) shot across the room to the furthest corner from me.
I amused myself by thinking that it was perhaps down to my voice, but thought no more of it until our tea break. Then X came up to me and said “Do you know, Philip, I think it really would be a good idea for you to bring your flute along and play”. Was this a second coded message about the quality of my voice, I wondered. However, we continued until the end, when there is a leaving collection to pay for the afternoon. Having no loose cash, I had put £20 in the basket and was helping myself to some change when X came up and said “Everybody else is putting money in, but you are taking money out!” A hint to tell me to stay away?
By now, I was feeling like Goldfinger. You may remember that James Bond kept crossing his path and Goldfinger said “Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, but three times it is enemy action”. Of course, there was nothing in any of these choir incidents, but I do meet up with X from time to time. So next time I met X, I teased her mercilessly about all this. It provided us with some amusement, at the end of which X said “I suppose I shall be blogged about this”. Well, I honestly had not thought about writing this anecdote up, so thanks for the idea, X.
Well, how can I sum up all these teams? Is there a collective noun for a number of teams? An obvious choice would be a league of teams. But the problem with leagues is that they tend to imply a degree of competition, and that is not the case for my teams. All my teams are helping me without trying to outdo one another. A group of teams, perhaps? Rather bland, I feel, and not reflecting the fact that I feel blessed by my teams’ love and support. That has to be it: I have concluded that the right term for me has to be a Blessing of Teams.
Finally, there is one other team which I cannot overlook. It was formally acknowledged back in June 1965, when both Pat and I were able to answer “I do” to the key question posed by the vicar. That team proved to be immensely strong as we journeyed through the vicissitudes of life until cancer finally claimed Pat nearly four years ago. At the time, that seemed to me like the end of our team, but gradually I have come to realise that it has continued, albeit in a different form. Each and every day, I remember Pat. Almost every day, I find myself with a smile on my face as I am reminded of some happy moment of our lives together. When I wrote a short autobiography nearly two years after Pat’s death, I dedicated it to her, saying” to the memory of my wife, who enriched my life beyond measure”. Well, she is still doing so: what a precious gem to be able to add to my Blessing of Teams!