Ambulance service triumphs again

Have lunch with an elderly friend. Later in the afternoon she calls to ask me to pray for a friend of hers who’s been taken ill. What’s up I ask. She’s fallen over and her speech and thoughts are confused but she’s got a friend with her and neither of them want to call an ambulance. Turns out my friend doesn’t want to jeopardise the friendship by calling an ambulance either. Sounds like she’s having a stroke to me.

So I offer to call instead and she is greatly relieved but worried they won’t be able to convince her to go to hospital. I remember when the ambulance was called for me six months ago and I was convinced all I needed to do was rest. The paramedics were amazing – somehow they gently persuaded me I couldn’t stay where I was and before I knew it I was wrapped up, in a chair, then blue lighted to A and E. They undoubtedly saved my life.

I think the older generation have a visceral fear of hospital; it has too many echoes of the workhouse for them, a place you went into and didn’t come out of. Things have changed of course, but it takes more than a generation to accept that.

The ambulance service were brilliant; they couldn’t tell me which hospital she’d been taken to, but gave me a list of likely ones. Took me fifteen minutes to find where she’d been taken and to confirm they were admitting her and let my friend know.

Turns out my skills are still useful then.


Lifeblood of friendship

A few days of active catching up with friends by text, email and in person sets the world back on its rightful axis. Friends old and new who understand my situation, are happy to talk or not talk about it and move on to having the good times that made them friends in the first place.

So what is it about friendship that works? Deep connection with one’s real and inner being, a recognition at a very profound level of who we are on both sides. True of new and old friends somehow. The unspoken as profound as the conversation is often light.

So an Irish pal comes over and we have our usual roaring time, even though both of us are having to make the hard yards of life. This involves a lot of laughter, a moderate amount of swearing and lashings of tea.

Food is crucial to my friendships – meals together whether out or at home are the mortar that holds the building up. So tea with foodie friends I’ve known for decades involves wonderful raisin toast (Marmite or marmalade – let’s try both and compare) followed by a delicious upside-down apple cake. And when I say foodies, I don’t mean read the occasional article in a Sunday paper to spot the latest ‘must have’ ingredient. This is a man who bought and dismantled a ham slicing machine  from a pal in Paris and brought it back on Eurostar, charming the French security with conversation about  the cost of a slice of decent ham in the UK. Yes of course he’d bought a Serrano ham as well. Got it all in his rucksack too.

A close pal is looking after his parents who are very frail and having a difficult time. We text most days and manage to turn our various difficulties from tragedy to farce. I would trust him with my life.

Met a relatively new friend for brunch today and realised that liking the same things culturally is really important; books, films and a quiet recognition that we are getting to know one another.

Then tonight for dinner with some very old friends and their grown-up daughters who came specially. I’ve known them since their Mum was pregnant with them; it’s wonderful to see them as bright, vivacious, delightful adults at ease with the world. We laugh, catch up, argue, just like we always have. And food is one of the key elements as always, my pal is a brilliant cook; we have mouthwatering risotto, pea and mangetout salad with flowers and roasted fennel. I’ve brought cakes for afters, which we divide up and politely scoff.

My friends are my lifeblood at the moment, I hope they don’t mind my vampirism.

Time travel

Went to see Alice through the Looking Glass with a pal this afternoon. Pleasant nonsensical plot with good fx and animation. Didn’t make any demands on me, which is just as well at the moment as my brain is mush after the heavy week of turmoil. Weird and touching to hear Alan Rickman’s voice.

It’s really a film for children and there was a young girl, about eight years old, who was clearly thrilled by it all. She was bouncing up and down with excitement during the credits.

Then as she left, she put her tiny hand on the screen. It cast a shadow, but she didn’t disappear into another world. She didn’t seem disappointed, just tried again.


Lollipop man

Passing a primary school yesterday at going home time and there was a lollipop lady on duty, seeing the children safely across a busy road. Apologies if they are no longer called that – they were when I was at primary and always will be in my head.

I had a sudden vision of Bert, our lollipop man who saw my sister and me across the road. But more often than not, we’d just wait with him along with other kids until our parents came to pick us up in their car. We’d chat amongst ourselves, talking about the day, who’d kicked who in the playground, what we were hoping to eat for tea. Sometimes if we had pocket money, he’d see us across the road to the cleverly placed sweetshop, where we’d buy  flying saucers filled with sherbet, or occasionally humbugs. We’d always offer one to Bert; he would politely decline the saucers but would take a humbug.

He was a deeply kind man, with all sorts of wisdom about the weather, working hard at school, making the best of life. A bit over the heads of most of us, but we took it in nonetheless. And he always stayed until the last child was safely in the care of their parents, sometime waiting way beyond his shift.

He’s long gone I’m sure, but he taught me lots of valuable lessons about what it means to be patient and generous. Thanks Bert.

Hello darkness my old friend

Turns out the good health news is actually a different sort of bad news. Spent the whole day at two hospitals. At the second one; the appointment was in a room in  paediatric outpatients. Walked in feeling very sorry for myself to find a room full of very ill children and frantically worried parents. Put everything in context and stiffened the sinews a little.

Took myself to lunch and had the best spinach and ricotta ravioli ever – just the contrast with the bad news perhaps made it taste especially delicious. Followed by an extravagant visit to one of my favourite bookshops, Daunts.

So the sunlit glade didn’t last long, but it’s no surprise really. I love the light but am getting used to the dark.

As I saw in the eyes of those parents, it’s the hope that kills you.



Perfume of the past

Remember that time you got in a lift, or someone walked past wearing a particular perfume or aftershave and instantly you were transported back to a different time in your life, happy or sad? That’s what last night’s talk was like.

It was strange to be in Dad’s old college, with memories of doing my homework at primary school in the back of the car, waiting for him to finish his work; of concerts and lectures there. I could feel myself, from eight to eighteen and Mum and Dad lurking in the fabric of the building. It was surprisingly sweetly nostalgic in the best sense.

Arrived for the talk to find that my computer and their projector didn’t like each other. The not so sweet-smelling reminder of hours of wrestling with equipment that just doesn’t want to connect. Then a wonderful tech  (the world’s problems could be solved by their can do attitude) came in and sorted it all.The talk itself went fine, they laughed in the right places and even asked some thought-provoking questions. I wasn’t as upset as I thought I’d be, just a lovely warm glow of Mum and Dad and my great-grandmother and her stories and how proud and astonished  they would all have been at my closing the circle.

But Lord I love lecturing and miss work.

Talks and tears

A big day today – giving a talk on my book in French to a group that my Dad and then my Mum used to run. Poignant of course as neither of them now around. Excited to be talking about the book and getting the slides and talk together. Had forgotten the wrestling with powerpoint, thought those days were over, but here it is again to drive me mad.

Gets me thinking about the memoir and how it’s going. Very slowly. But tonight is a chance to go up a gear and get it out in public. A friend asks if I have enough material to last for an hour; that makes me laugh. Apart from the ability to talk for Britain, I’ll need to keep an eye on the time as I have enough material and thoughts to fill several weeks of talks.

My main concern is the poignancy of it all; I went to that group as a child so there is a certain closing of chapters, am all too aware that Mum won’t be there. Bit concerned I might burst into tears at some point, my emotions so unpredictable. I’m counting on the habits of years of giving lectures and talks to see me through. Plus Mum and Dad at my shoulder to encourage me – they’d be delighted and proud at this circle completed. I’ll save my tears for the train home.