“Hello, I have been agreed a hospital bed. Can I check on delivery options so I can organise the removal of my old bed?”
“It’s not been authorised yet. Try us again tomorrow.” “Oh dear, it looks like you have two accounts with us.” “Merge and use the one with an H in the surname.”
“I can’t see an H” Sigh.
Ring ring. (GP surgery) “The hospital has left me short of medication. Is it possible to get an emergency delivery from the chemist?” You’ll have to speak with a GP.” We can do 4.15 this afternoon.” Gp rings. “Can you tell me how many you need” “Nine.” What’s that in milligrams? How many milligrams are your current pills?” “Ok, we can do that.” “Can I have them tomorrow please?” “You’ll have to speak to the pharmacist.” “I’d like you to that please to give a sense of gravity and to impress the urgency.” Ten minutes later: “They can deliver on Wednesday.” “But I need them tomorrow” “Oh well, I can give you the number of the voluntary delivery service” Why didn’t she say that in the first place? I’m not scratching around myself because of an NHS error.
Hunger report; it must be the steroids. I’m snacking like mad.
Bed still not authorised. Suppliers adamant that I sort it. Pills finally arrive. Phone calls advising of OT visits, cardiology nurse, MS nurse and oncologist. Ok Ok Ok. I’m just out of hospital with a bag of serious news. Can I breathe? Begin to organise bed removal. I now need to ring up carers to ensure Friday is an early visit.
Hunger report; my kind friend Graham is binging delicious rations which have not touched the sides.
Wednesday: FOOTBALL. YAY!
Ring ring. Bed still not authorised. Ring tomorrow. Let’s cut it fine shall we? Days are becoming a blur. Food report; slow down, you’re not going to starve.
Oh yes I am.
Thursday: The old bed is definitely going on Friday. No authorisation. Golly gosh, how unfortunate.
We can give you a number for the person dealing with it.” Why didn’t they offer that on Monday? I had spent enough time trawling the PC trust web site but only found switchboards.
I rang the appropriate OT only to find the ubiquitous answer machine. But she rang back and sorted it straight away. Back to the suppliers.
“We can only do Saturday.” Better than nothing. Two long phone appointments from the cardio and MS nurses took 90 minutes in the afternoon; so much information!
hope you’re sitting comfortably.
Here is the story of the last night in my old bed.
My mate was there to help.
“No nasty tricks,” I warned the bed. I shifted onto the edge of the bed. I was close so I decided on a bum shuffle. Was there ice on the bed? The shuffle turned into a graceful pirouette sending me crashing to the floor to land on my left foot. More friends came round; no. Humpty could not be put back together. I think it may have been the inability to breathe and the panic which prompted the 999. But they came within half an hour and I was professionally shifted into bed. That was a spectacular two hours leaving me a bit bruised.
Hunger report; I have to remember where the food ends and the fingers start.
Full marks to the morning carer for getting me up despite all the bruises and strains. I felt like a punch bag for an angry boxer. Great friends came to move the bed. It was a bog bed! Look at all that space. The rest of the morning was lazy tea, coffee and chat. I can’t really remember much else apart from sleeping in the chair.
Hunger count; lock up your pets.
A sequel will follow.
Thank you for reading.
Having collected such accolades as dirty dishwater and gnat’s urine, the thought is rather unsavoury. Do we still have visions of a ward orderly, dolloping out lukewarm tea from a rusty old teapot the size of St Paul’s dome? As she slops it out in a stained cup, the poor patient worries that the extended ash at the end of her fag won’t fall into the chewy mash, thus enhancing texture and flavour.
She hands you a bowl full of clotted white stuff and a tainted spoon already coated in a coarse salty carapace that’s laughingly referred to as sugar. It gets slammed down on your wobbly tray spilling half into the saucer.
Do you empty the saucer back into the cup? Your decision.
Naturally, the first experience of this molten delight is delivered at some obscure hour of the early morning as the old radiators of the ward rattle into life and the condensation runs down the windows. You attempt to sit yourself up, trying to get the limp liquid into your mouth before dripping that yellowish stain to your sheets. And you’re ill.
Your next decision? Hide behind the bed curtains to fill your jerry can or brave the cold, don your dressing-gown and queue in a smelly old toilet for the morning constitution? It’s your dawn chorus. By the time you return to bed, the ward is now full of smoke to the further sound of throaty coughs and ejecting phlegm.
There’s a brief silence. Old Bill didn’t make it. He was a funny old boy. He couldn’t laugh without bursting into the famous hack of tuberculosis. His remaining packet of Players disappears into the body-shifter’s pocket.
Has hospital tea improved?
I don’t know! This is just my sense of the past running wild-a really fun thing to do.
It was March 7th 1977 when I received my first cup of hospital early morning tea. I was a student at the time so there was really no difference.
Perhaps the hospital cup was cleaner than mine. My morning tea usually came from a machine with a plastic cup. It was all a bit false. At least the hozzy tea was real if affected. But if someone makes me tea, I’m not complaining. In my recent twelve-day NHS stay, I took every cup going. It was strong and fortifying. Just like from the old urn in the staffroom.
What of the rest of the hospital?
Of hospitals past, present and future?
There is the old image of the grand, stark yet imposing Victorian institution waiting at the end of the long driveway. With long echoing corridors and tall ceilings, it’s easy to imagine the purgatory they offered in the days of crude medicine and brutal surgery.
For how many people did the closing of the main doors behind them signal the end of their days? Some still survive. They are now polished up to modern standards. They are good places but that architecture sticks.
In the twentieth century, so many hospitals were built and extended leaving a myriad of rooms and passageways with inside and outside access. A real hotchpotch of a building. Some were converted, transformed from old Nissen huts into, well, new Nissen huts. Always long corridors.
The new Tunbridge Wells/Pembury hospital opened about ten years ago. Most of the wards consist of single rooms and it all appears shiny and new. But some people are wrong. It’s not a hotel. I’d rather be out than in. It’s not like being served by a swathe of young smiling nurses.
It’s a hard place for hard caring work operated by dedicated staff. I have taken every opportunity to thank everyone there for their support and have shown interest in their stories bringing them to Tunbridge Wells, albeit from The Philippines, Kerala or Darlington. I have enjoyed meeting people associated with school and beyond. And the tea was fine; always gratefully received. I’m not false, this was genuine.
After being taken in, I was covid tested. Oh, that dab goes in a long way. Excuse me whilst I throw up! Then up each nostril to scrape underneath my skull. At least I’m clear.
I went into another ward with a view of the woods beyond the gas tanks and heat exchangers. It was a whole succession of scans, blood tests, therapy and bed bathing. The drugs came thick and fast and my symptoms eased. I’m currently reducing my steroids and trying to restore some strength to my core. I desperately need sympathetic physio but it’s not going to happen.
Adjustments are being made at home to keep me independent. Let’s do it. And somewhere in the future is a happy manageable life.
It seems like I missed a local opera singer who sang some favourites from the helipad. Never mind.
As for tea; I can’t get enough of it.
Thank you for reading.
It’s fridge/freezer clearance time. I found a pair of chicken wings in the freezer and an assortment of veg elsewhere. As I couldn’t find any remnants behind the sofa cushions or under the dishwasher, I tried the salad shelves in the fridge. Here’s what I d.
Half a big carrot (the other half was used for coleslaw.) Split into 4 lengthways
Half a massive courgette (Ditto) Sliced
A fist-sized piece of cauliflower.
Half a bag of watercress.
2 sticks of celery. It was about 2 sticks. All I do is buy a new bunch and slice through the whole thing across. It’s quicker for my busy modern life.
A couple of handfuls of frozen leeks; bonus find! (A chopped onion will do but that’s hard graft at the moment.)
2 cannonballs of frozen spinach.
2 fat chicken wings.
3 or 4 cloves of fat garlic.
1. Place chicken wings, carrot, garlic and courgette in a roasting tray. Coat in salt, pepper and a hint of oil, place the garlic under the veg or chicken and roast for 30 minutes at 180C.
2. Chop up the celery and cauliflower and wash in a colander.
3. After roasting, allow chicken and veg to cool before chopping veg and flaking the meat.
4. Deglaze the roasting pan with some white wine.
5. Put everything into a big pan, cover with water, add more seasoning and boil gently for over an hour.
I didn’t find any need with stock as the vegetables had enough oomph in them. It’ll also lend itself to any robust herbage. I wanted to leave it in its purest state because I’m pretentious. (Moi?) It went well with a homemade roll.
Thank you for reading
You know when you’re tinkering about with something and after undoing a certain part, the whole thing goes boing spraying a thousand tiny pieces all over the floor?
Growing up in Wallasey was brilliant. It was less boingy than today.
The Seacombe community centred around football in the groves or down the garages and the youth club at the Brougham Road church.
Now, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we’re all back in contact with each other.
Some of my brothers’ friends thought I was a bit odd. I’d be seen hefting my cello on and off the number 3, I played the piano and I went for walks. Long walks. The prom was the best place. I’d always gaze over the wall of Mother Redcap’s and imagine what misdemeanours had taken place within its historic frame. Schoolboy talk was rife with tales of smuggling and underground passages.
New Brighton was the constant draw. It used to be the funfair, crazy golf, pitch and putt and the baths before becoming the place to drink and stagger back home along the prom. I don’t know about a brass band but my stomach often played tiddly om pom pom. In the summer, I’d often take girlfriends to walk languidly, hand-in-hand taking in the far-reaching views and the massive skies. One came from Manchester. She had no idea how amazing it was. But the thing was, I took the time to take it all in.
From St Hilary’s church to the crumbling old docks, it was a giant slice of modern and historical life.
At the end of the eighties, I knew things were turning. I felt the need to get myself a career as a teacher. I was going to Leeds University, yes me, scally slippery Steve, “I’ll bang those sills on for a tenner a side”, was going to a university for a PGCE. I was going to unleash my energy into the classroom. The world was there. I was quite fit in 1989. I still cycled and swam despite spending days underneath old cars, welding to fresh air.
I had to have a medical before my course to ensure my general health was ok. I made the time, turned up somewhere in Oxton and had my medical.
“Have you been rushing around,” asked nursey.
“I’m always busy,” was the reply.
“Because your blood pressure is high.”
I was shocked. Dramatic music screeched through my head. Imagine Psycho and the screams of the woman in the shower.
Now, when I received my January letter offering me a place at Leeds, it was one of those historic moments. The envelope that arrived was rather thick. Silently, I sneaked upstairs to open it in the privacy of the bedroom. The subsequent jubilation was transmitted far and wide. I went back down to the living room all calm if slightly bubbling:
“You got in then?”
Dad had the gift of the sarcastic understatement. The blood pressure news seemed like a setback but nothing I couldn’t get over. It was only the start, I’m afraid.
My MS journey has been well tracked and it’s a major factor of life after Wallasey.
Was it the change of air?
Was it going from the fine dining of The Rani to the “ay oop lad if it moves put it on a butty” mentality?
Was it the dawn of global warming awareness?
I remember a very windy winter of 1990. I was at the lights by Leeds/Bradford airport watching a twin-engined freight plane trying to go forwards as it took off. It just went upwards with a visible plume of pollution shooting from its engines:
“Go on. Warm that globe,” quipped my mate Martin in his semi Wallasey/West Yorkshire accent with a topping of south London. It’s funny how accents can wander with locations.
After Leeds, it was into a massive comprehensive in North London before finally ending up in Southborough and moving to Crowborough. Twenty-two years in total followed by eight years of retirement. With the PGCE, that’s thirty-one years of being bloody ill.
Some days, back visiting at Kenilworth, I’d go for the morning papers via a mini-tour of Wallasey. At the same time, communication was becoming more advanced. I could argue on forums and I was still able to get in and out of the car.
I’m not quite sure when I noticed that the step into the house was absolutely enormous.
This is the step I’d played on and sat on. Its wooden trim was beautifully rounded with the passage of time. But then it became an Everest. It ended up with ramps. It seemed ok, however, because I had an electric folding chair, tailor-made for hatchbacks.
Then came the boings. The health thing began to get important. And who invented ill on top of ill? I’ll spare you the details but the steps forward are met with a coiled spring launching me backwards.
And this is why the Wallasey days are precious. If I’d continued as a piano teacher cum mechanic, there would be no pension so moving south has got something going for it. Besides, it never really takes long to travel from one to the other. Now I use the train, I can enjoy the iconic Mersey crossing.
A global pandemic and other circumstances may threaten but I won’t change. Wallasey was not always a bed of roses and my glasses may have the same floral tint for which I make no apology but I was able to enjoy it with the freedom of being able-bodied.
Not everyone can say that.
Soon, the boings will be going forward.
Thank you for reading.
BBC, this was such a marvellous opportunity to big up your bite-size learning programmes. And in typical Auntie fashion, you have grasped the mettle and thrown your whole weight behind it.
Imagine the development meeting last March:
DoE (director of educational studies.
We’ve been rolling the bite-size for years now and here is our chance. How do we get it across?
Butter up those parents. Tell them how well they’re doing and how impossibly good they are for wanting the best for their children before they turn into smack-riddled hoodies. (Other types of teenager are available.)
Tell them they have to turn into the teacher. It’s their chance to put their own stamp on the little ones.
Show images of happy families glaring at a laptop.
Jenkins. Show them laughing at the perfect experiments.
Let them run around fields, shouting excitedly as they pick up samples of fox poo.
Show them pulling faces whilst eating it.
Griffiths (looking up to show the face of inspiration)
Let them analyse their own poo.
Someone begins to play a recording of Land of Hope and Glory while fists are pumped.
Let’s show the teachers we are as good. It is our curriculum, it is our world. Let’s show the lazy whinging bastards we can do their jobs for them.
So we have trailers for Bite-size. I’m not objecting to bite-size. It has proved very handy for class and homework. I like the graphics and the rhetoric. But I’ve just watched the advertisement for the umpteenth time.
Oh, the Beeb knows how to dole out sickly shite in huge sickly spoonfuls. This has been their speciality. Anything associated with publicising issues involving morals and all things good, has been set to a soundtrack of thick gluey, simple resonant piano music.
Not only that. Who else gets irritated by programmes presented from various people’s houses? Note the staged background, usually books thus inferring some level of intellect. Everyone talks in raised voices echoing in the empty lounges of their existence.
Some will throw in the odd cute animal:
“Oh look, Mr Tiddles has come to see us.” Then follows one of those little “isn’t my cat cute and aren’t I such a proper human” moments.
Why didn’t you just close the door?
Then there are the adverts.
Who started it? Probably the banks. They were already advertising through globular sweet sticky vaults of sugar with serious-faced black horses and stimulating little sound-bites encouraging us to think deeply about where we belong. Now they are talking with soft voices about unusual times and praising us for coping with our new restricted circumstances.
Naturally, we are all so conscientious we are anxious to enhance our new-found lives by using their products.
What’s so good about a washing powder? How can it transform our sense of sanctimony?
After all, we are always striving to go one better than the neighbours. You know, the ones we see but now avoid. I mean, it’s a good excuse to eschew the company of Brad over the road. He’s been unbearable since he drove up in his new BMW.
And you are no longer forced to follow Mrs Buttocks around the glorious floral displays of her garden, complete with the cheap Japanese water feature she bought from Homebase. You’d think someone who spent a lot of time and love on their garden could provide a decent cup of tea?
What do we do to tear ourselves away from this media-led claustrophobic assault on our morality? The internet is now bespattered with recordings of families, wiling away the hours with bouts of jolly frippery. Songs, tricks and cooking wizardry. I’ve had enough. It may be worthy but I’m choking on it.
What are the answers for me?
Take up a new hobby? What again?
Read more? Eyesight problems.
Audiobooks perhaps? Not yet.
Be more adventurous with cooking? I’m not having the best of experiences with food at the moment-medication overload.
Keep the man cave tidier? Don’t even go there.
I may actually complete my five short stories about running in the shadows. Then I need to proofread some earlier writing. But that means fewer blogs.
Oh my giddy aunt.
Thank you for reading.
Let me leave you with an extract of one of my running stories:
Tom looked ahead. It was a strain to bend his neck. Then he remembered his father’s words:
“Don’t waste time or energy looking at the finish. Look at the ground and open your ears; you’ll look ahead when you need to.”
On the sound of the gun, he flew from the blocks. With arms pumping and legs pounding, Tom eventually looked to the line. There was no-one in front of him. He could hear the frantic pulses of his punching breath. The line came and went. Tom tumbled onto the track. He lay there panting, looking at the sky.
“Have I won?” It was only a passing thought. Tom didn’t care. He was just glad it was over. All that training; hour upon hour running up and down while the world lay sleeping. Days in the rain and wind, fighting the stopwatch, trying not to answer back to his over critical coach. Then he remembered his father and what he would have to deal with. Win or lose, the consequences filled Tom with a sense of dread. As he stared blankly at the swirling clouds overhead, the approaching march of his father’s footsteps shuddered towards him. He could see a tall dark-suited figure tower above him. Tom still didn’t care about the result. Then he heard the sigh.
“What did I say? What did I say?” Tom’s dad had an annoying habit of repeating himself. Tom closed his eyes. “You jumped off the blocks, you just jumped out of them. Then you missed your rhythm; missed your rhythm and ended up flapping your arms. After a strained pause, he looked at his father silhouetted against the fluid sky. “Flapping your arms.” He walked off. Tom sat up to see his coach bounding towards him.
“Nice one Thommo. I’ll check the time again but it looks like you’re below eleven.” Tom smiled back. He didn’t like his father or his coach. They ordered him, worked him and punished him. Yet they always criticised.
“Did I win?” (was anyone going to tell him?)
“Yes, you stormed it,” replied the coach, making a running gesture with his arms. “Just get that start a little bit tighter.” Tom let his head drop.
“You’ve got hockey tonight.” Tom looked to his father. “Hockey, tonight,” he repeated as if expecting a response. Tom sighed a silent sigh. It was no good arguing or trying to say that he was too tired or had no real interest in chasing a vicious hard ball around a field with a big stick.
This is what is was like. Every day of the week had some extra little activity. “It won’t do you any harm Thomas. It’s good to keep busy. We’re known as a sporting family. “
I continue to be impressed by your heroic stance as the leader of the Western world. It’s awesome. You are infiltrating the cultures of the English speaking nations by means of stealth and subliminal nuances, gradually turning our idiosyncratic patois into something far more wholesome and good.
Why I can almost smell that apple pie cooling down by the open window of the kitchen.
I think perhaps you should step back from your selfless battles with fake news and subterfuge and take the applause for your fine influences on the development of English in the third world you see as the UK.
Three cheers for the extended use of the term “Mom”. It appears regularly in many platforms of UK social media. Now my mother, referred to as Mum, was pretty special but if I’d been able to use the more enlightened name in that naturally elongated way which explores the twelve tones of well-tempered pitch, it would have been the icing on the cake.
I love the way you show no tolerance of the inferior press. Soon you’ll have them all eating out of your spotless hand, Putin on the blitz of your progressive forward-thinking policies. (I hope I’ve gotten the spellings right.) Because in Russia, we see none of this contention between press and government.
It would leave you free to pursue your dreams. (Would that be big Moomoo from the press office with the fiery hair and the yoyo knockers? Not a word to Melominor; whatever.) Only the other day you masterfully brushed aside an over-inquisitive hack who dared question your laissez-faire mentality to Corona.
“What did you do with that time that you bought? The argument is that you bought yourself some time, and you didn’t use it to prepare hospitals, you didn’t use it to ramp up testing. Right now, nearly 20 million people are unemployed. Tens of thousands of Americans are dead.”
To which you replied:
“You’re so — you’re so — you’re so disgraceful. It’s so disgraceful, the way you said that.”
I bet he left with his tail between his legs after being escorted out by your well-suited Trumpington army, proudly showing the bulges beneath their snappy jackets and trousers.
Now, may I make a suggestion?
To reinforce the compulsory daily intake of disinfectant, restrict all sales of Corona lager to the Hispanics. Then gather them all up to build the wall. The communities of the border states can utilise your generous gun-laws to stand guard. That way, the likes of Dick from Albuquerque can tote his tool and intimidate the filthy gringos whilst sipping on the purity of Miller Lite. It will also help expedite the daily dose of disinfectant (perhaps your own brand called “Sympathy for the Devil”) if they are facing the barrel of Gus’s antique gun, given its first airing since the bailiffs showed up in 1967.
That way, you’re killing so many Mexicans- sorry birds with one stone.
One final plea:
I’ve kept this communication relatively short because I know you have so much on your mind. (Your swing, the next burger, world power and big Moomoo.)
Can you please make a brand of disinfectant that doesn’t evoke memories of little Radar being sick in school assembly. Yes, I know it keeps the roaches away but I smell like a caretaker’s bucket.
A mixture of disinfectant and something that comes from a sixty-year-old still may suffice. I can suggest you contact Tommy the Texan from that farm just outside Area 51. (With extra special active ingredients.) He’s been making moonshine for donkeys’ years.
He’ll see you right.
That, along with an endless supply of Gaviscon would help take the taste away and decrease the rate of inner-organ disintegration. So good hunting from lil olde worlde Engerland and see what you can do about a complete ban of the apostrophe and the letter U.
Will write you again soon.
Thank you for reading.
No! I’m not going to plaster the page with images of big heavy moving machinery. Jet planes, combine harvesters, JCBs, road drills or massive trucks are fine, well more than fine but they’re not the things I recall. There were other things I enjoyed as a big boy.
I must have been eleven years old when this turned up at Christmas. My very first bundle of power. We already had motor racing and electric train sets which were the business but this was mine. It needed fuel and water. What did I do when steam was up and it burst into action? I drooled. Every so often, I cleaned it all up, convinced it would go faster when it was shining. It stayed with me until I was 28 years old before I gave it to a model boat maker who fitted a new valve to my mini and later stuck a new piston in my Ford Escort. I’m now looking longingly at the models available on E bay.
These may appear as pool frippery but as far as I was concerned, swimming was a big boy’s game. They were in common use at junior swimming as was the peer pressure. To be anyone, you had to be able to go back and forth with the float and then retrieve the brick n the deep end. There was no time for hesitation. Four lengths of weedy crawl may have been my limit in those days but the float and brick worked wonders for the confidence. I was thirty years old when I learned to swim properly.
It reflected my lifelong mantra:
Do you want to do it? Yes?
Is it hard? Yes.
Then I’ll work on it.
Whether it was Bebington or Guinea Gap, the forty lengths or more became part of the daily ritual. On holiday in Corfu in 1988, me and my mate had spent 12 days looking out to a rock. On the 13th day we did it.
The sea was calm but it took ages. My mate got bored on the way back and began to quote Shakespeare. Well, he was from Little Neston, the land of Pretentia.
Yes, this is a piece of music. It’s quite well known; certainly a regular of Classic FM. I can read it. I can feel my fingers moving in time with the sustaining pedal and I can feel the vibrations from the piano. This is the biggest of all my boy’s toys. Reading and interacting with a score was one of many things I needed to work on. I wanted it to be big. It got big. Look at the other “toys” I was able to play on:
Now, here’s a big boy.
Look at this gorgeous beast.
My old queen was born on a motorway. She was destined to transport me and friends around the country to away games. Norwich, Nottingham, Leicester, Newcastle, Oxford, Manchester, Birmingham and all places around London were not spared the flashing bronze goddess. This car gave me the transition from boy to man.
After the match, it was foot hard down to Stanley’s Cask. I’d be screaming around the pitch-black bends of the M6. From 1989 and beyond, the transport was less spectacular. A Fiat and a Fiesta did the job but the sense of the grandiose was not there. I’d turned urban.
Pete Shaw, leaning out of the window screaming abuse at Man United fans whilst doing 85 was never going to happen in my 1300 Fiat with its broken tailgate or my Fiesta throwing out black smoke like Mount Etna’s embarrassing brother, disowned by his parents for tainted lava. But it signalled the end of the eighties.
A pair of boots; walking boots to be precise.
To go out into North Wales and tackle its biggest peaks was a really big boy thing. In the early seventies, I’d been lucky enough to have Mooney. Mooney, or Mr Gordon, teacher of Geography got together with like-minded colleagues at the grammar to offer trips into North Wales. I remember doing Tryfan, Arenig Fawr, Snowdon and Molewyn Mawr among others. When I had my own car, I was able to do it all again. Snowdon was my favourite but I loved the Glyders Fawr and Fach. One damp misty Sunday, I was so keen to explore, I came down the wrong valley to face a twelve-mile walk back to my car.
It’s that moment when you finally drop below the clouds to realise that you’re staring at Pen y Pass and not Llyn Ogwen. I had to laugh. My unconventional descent did not follow a well-trodden path but took me to spectacular features.
One of these over fit over muscular extra sporty women I half knew scoffed at my perceived amateurism. What did she know? My final ascent was to Llyn Idwll on Snowdon in 1993.
I’ve done the train since then.
I’m staying in the eighties for my biggest big boy’s toy. It arrived in March 1987.
I wanted to weld. There was no-one to teach me but I did have some idea. The welding road was four years long. It led me to new places and unimaginable pain. Here is a brief history:
My friend Jane’s Ford Fiesta; sills and loads of bits.
Old cars no garage wanted to touch.
Sills banged on for a tenner a side, plus the average price of £4.00. per sill.
A complete rebuild of a Beetle. It was done in a tiny village outside Chester called Great Barrow. It lead to other work.
Spending hours underneath old bangers trying to counter gravity; welding upside down was a real art. Having to do loads of mechanical work as well. I was doing the front wheel trunnion of a Morris Minor once to discover that one particular bolt needed a Whitworth socket. It cost me four quid to buy the socket.
I loved working on Mark four Cortinas. As well as my own, I did at least another four of them. There was the Edwards family in Bebington. I was teaching their wonderful son Simon the piano. They were hard-working but were struggling to keep their mark 4 estate going. It needed a lot of welding done. I had to replace the inner and outer sills plus do a bit of chassis work. They’d been quoted £200 by a local garage. So I spent three days doing it for eighty quid. It saved them having to take out a back-breaking loan for another car. I used the cash to buy a new welding mask. It was worth it to help the family. They had four intelligent lovely children. I was also happy to get Simon through his grade 5 piano.
My last job was another Cortina:
“Oh just a couple of sills” said out Tom’s mate. “And a little bit of chassis.”
The two floor panels came away with the two sills and the chassis was mostly plastic. It took two full days and he got his car through an MOT for £80.00. Three weeks later, he wrote it off. I
t was time to go into teaching.
My latest big boy’s toy?
Thank you for reading.
I see them. Flighty formless shapes darting across the floor and up the walls. If I look hard there’s nothing. Little lights flash in corners as the front door groans a pitiful monologue. Sometimes a voice, a familiar voice utters a random word. But there is no conclusion and no conversation. The little creatures are riding high.
The darkness of night leads to deep yearning sleep. Dreams of old cars and broken wheelchairs. First I can walk and then I will freeze only to wake in a fit of sharp brutal pain. Don’t lie on your side. Then the door sings again but the message is vague. Where is sleep? Where is awake? Who gives me these dreams of broken worlds?
The daytime scenes unfold through the window showing fleets of cars dropping bags to their mothers, aunties and friends. The white vans of service bring the fruits of the forest to break through the tedium of lockdown. The work of creation and the patience of saints is hitting the walls of wanton ennui. Soon, yes soon, the mind will explode and I will venture out.
Even writing this the shelves begin to shake as ornaments rattle with impending trepidation. The official correspondence smokes through its draconian bold type:
“You are vulnerable. You must self-isolate for three months. You may be a danger to others. Others may be a danger to you.”
Yes, thank you for your concern but I want to see this new world of fear; this new lonely world of solo isolation. I want to record living history. I want to see queues of two meters apart. Armies of masked warriors with chariots of chrome. All stand alone staring at the damp tarmac, gradually and blindly inching forward to the grand super entrance of the grand supermarket. Inside is the choreography of sensible shopping and the tuts for those who transgress.
I want to see the parks with their views of unkempt fields, suffering from the stay-away workers. Poles, Rumanians and Slovakians have kept apart. Who will pick the fruit? Let’s bully the idle and profligate to drag themselves off their sofas to spend hours in the fields, bending double to pick out the harvest. What chance of getting Terry the ex-builder to suddenly overlook his “back problem” and knowing his rights to spend the season being poetic about the bounty of our labours whilst grovelling on his knees fighting earthworms and bird faeces?
Those days in the hot times of 1976, spent picking strawberries in the searing sun. I managed three days and I’ve never been shy of hard relentless work. Oh the taste of that pint after five days in the warehouse, earned and enjoyed.
But who will do it? Who’ll pick the fruit? We’ll be left to gripe about the soaring prices. So what shall I do to keep my mind in the zone? I’m going to go out and defy the advice. If I were to catch this dreadful virus, would I be too weak to fight it? I’ve had a bad few months and recovery is slow. Will people avoid me? Will I be in control? I will be in control and I’m not stupid.
It won’t be like leaving the match. Thirty-eight thousand fans exiting Goodison in the dark depths of winter. We’d be crammed, shoulder to shoulder thinking little of sharing breath, sweat and saliva. Marching down Nimrod Street to County Road, gasping for a pint and analysis by Kirkdale Station. Taking the train to Central, we’d pile into Yates’ before landing in Newbo for the rest of the night. Pissed in a taxi. “Second lampost on the right mate.” Was there room left after the kebab? Always. If Mum cooked it, I ate it.
I won’t be coming out of football though. I’ll be trundling along as a free spirit.
Until then, I’m living with those little creatures; Phantoms, every one of them. In sheltered accommodation where the average age is eighty, many people have moved in and passed on. In the corridors, I hear voices and footsteps. Many more may pass but the heart remains:
“Good for you,” they say. “Just keep away from the pack. The people are kind and know you need space.”
I believe them. After a chequered roller-coaster of a past, I am reaping the rewards of all the graft and dedication. My new town is like my home town. The people on the streets are blessed with kindness. And what of those in cars? Who cares?
Thank you for reading.
What are you missing the most? Rude motorists, erratic weather, the screaming from the local primary school playground, family get-togethers where cousins learn to fight and you realise just how stupid Uncle Ted can be or perhaps the daily grind of the journey to and from work?
Here’s my list in no particular order:
There are little regular sounds to remind me that there’s a world outside. I live next door to a primary school. It would be quite sweet to claim the morning chatter of happy excited voices introduces me to the day ahead, acting as a reminder of my old job.
Well in fact, as above, it’s more of a scream; collective screams. That’s children making the best of that short window of opportunity between long bouts of supervision.
Obviously, I cannot tell the time of day by the sounds because I awake assuming it’s 9 o’clock and it’s actually morning break or even dinner time. I think of the melee of cars, fraught parents, parking chaos and the resultant overflow of temper and rage. All those red-faced mothers.
Another alarm is the 9.45 bus to Tunbridge Wells. These single deckers are largely underpowered and I live just off a severe hill. Another screaming sound as the poor bus, full of twirlies tries to gain some momentum up the north face of the Eiger.
The bone-shaking trundle over Crowborough’s third world pavements creates a sensation of taking a large dose of electrical current. Then some halfwit will cause me to divert to the road. I’m yet to hear the horn of impatience. I have been prone to leave insulting notes on obstructive cars with the phone number of who knows? Local authority offices usually. Then there are the shops themselves.
The accessible, the inaccessible and the supermarkets. Hang on. I don’t miss that at all. I miss having the choice.
This is a big one. I have the freedom to roam. It’s gone. Weaving my way through the streets of London, dodging tourists, oblivious of everything but their selfies. Talking to homeless people and offering food, are just a few of the things I like to do. Theatreland in the daytime is awash with the regular staff and caterers, usually sneaking outside for a fag break. My Norwegian cruise has been cancelled. I’ve had to abandon trips up north or even a bus ride to the great white elephant that is now Tunbridge Wells.
Friends and family.
What can I say?
It’s not the usual image of some hardened unsympathetic assassin bullying me through a tortuous routine leaving me exhausted for days. It’s more of a get together with friends in a similar situation to do a few K on the bike and chat about things. Many physios I’ve met have been ignorant of the core issues of MS. Once, I was using parallel bars to stand up for a few seconds. I managed three. That was a real achievement.
“Is that all?” blurted one physio.
“You have no idea,” I replied. Well, that gave her a face like a smacked arse.”You just focus on Geoff.” She was meant to be working with someone else.
I have MS, you need to play it, not fight it.
Football followed by cricket. Do I miss overpaid prima donnas floating about, screaming at a scratch, diving like the dying swan, swinging their handbags, squabbling with the referee or doing stupid goal celebrations? Yes!
The same for cricket. Lancashire had moved up to the first division. A whole new season beckoned. It deflates the weekends. Sundays without football leave an empty hole.
For some, Sundays are family days where the children may be levered out of bed and dragged off to do a walk along with the dog. Cries of “big mac” are ignored. Back at home Mum will attempt to foster a sense of the family thing, preparing the Sunday roast. Pippa’s vegetarian claims are countered by a reminder of the big mac war dance she was doing on the path by the old brickworks.
“Yes, you have to sit down without any form of screen in view and use a fork and knife to actually cut your own food and wedge it down your crying hole.”