When my father was diagnosed with colorectal cancer twenty months ago, the first thing his doctors decided to do was fit him with a stoma, which turned out to be a less dispiriting term for giving him a colostomy. He had private health insurance, so he was booked in at a small hospital outside Brighton with a view of the sea and, he was assured, a functioning wireless network. He bought a new laptop to take along – not for working on a book he’d always meant to write or even, primarily, for sending emails, but for playing Scrabble against opponents on the internet while convalescing. My brother and I visited him soon after the operation, and I remember thinking, on the way in, about the scene in Blue Velvet in which Kyle MacLachlan visits his father in hospital. As I remembered it, the father’s horribly trussed up, with a respirator pumping and an oxygen mask on his face, as a result of his heart attack in the opening scene. My dad, post-surgery, looked healthier than Kyle’s, but he did have a transparent oxygen mask on, and after I kissed him he indicated it and said: ‘It’s like Blue Velvet!’ I think he meant Dennis Hopper's more memorable gas mask, and I admired him for joking about that then.