It was going to be a bit of a celebration; old friends reminiscing and enjoying each other’s company. Monday morning was a bit of a struggle. I was a bit too late getting up for my 7.10 taxi. It’s no good being in a hurry when it takes over twenty minutes to dress in preparation for an epic journey. The art of putting on a winter coat whilst in a wheelchair (and in a flap) can be infuriating at the best of times but when one is being watched over by a fairly clueless cab driver, my head does well to stay in place.
Still, I was ready for the 8.59 to Charing Cross. It was packed with commuters jammed into a silent carriage seething with Monday morning regret at the prospect of a week’s work.
Most of the travellers carried a little too much weight. This is the legacy of long commutes and the need for snack food. I don’t blame them. Then, as we pulled into Charing Cross at least three kind souls offered me a broad smile and asked if I would be ok to alight from the train.
A nice touch. Nice people.
The weather was atrocious. Cold rain and a colder wind. I was hoping London would be basking in a pale watery winter sun (as the weather forecast said) but it was totally miserable.
I’d spent the weekend creating home-made mince pies and apple pies to offer to anyone homeless I saw in London. But I noticed that Hungerford bridge was deserted apart from a few hardy commuters preoccupied with the obedience of their umbrellas in the vicious wind and rain. So it was taxi to Euston. I saw no-one in shop doors.
I had anticipated a leisurely roll, giving out pies, sherry and seasonal cheer to many of the regulars I usually chatted to between the two stations. But I ended up arriving at Euston two and a half hours before my train.
What about all my pies?
One of the station cleaners was happy to take one! A Guardian crossword and a cup of tea later, I decided to say hello to the assisted travel team; nice warm waiting room. I gave them a dozen mince pies. They weren’t expecting that but I use them a lot-they’re brilliant and I told them.
At the Liverpool end I did likewise. The Liverpool weather was bitter and bright.
I found quite a few people to give the rest of my pies to. Some even enjoyed a drop of my sherry. It was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
But after the ferry and the roll up to Kenilworth, my battery light was flashing. So where did the battery finally pack in? Only half way up the ramps into number 28. The grab rail came in very handy as did the wonderful people next door.
With wheelchair rescued and unloaded, I warmed up in the tropical heat of Dad’s house. Now that was a journey. It had a “skin of the teeth” feel to it but I was there, with beer and whisky.
Next morning came the hammer blow. My old friend George had always been the one to organise our get-togethers. He liked to assign some obscure collective noun to the gathering. This was to be the encrustacean of barnacles. But as my mobile sounded with a new number, I had my usual sniff of suspicion.
“I believe you’ve had an accident that wasn’t your fault?” was the expected response to my stern protracted hello. It was the news that George had died suddenly the night before.
I have only one word to describe my reaction; numb. I will elaborate about the life and times of the great man in a future article but for now, I’m still coming to terms with it. My brother and Rose came later, as did my cousin Pat and Denis.
We all still met on the Wednesday to pay our respects to the man down. We were able to give some comfort and support to his partner, Kevin. We also took comfort from our own company, sharing some of our memories; many of them happy times. There was a lot of love.
The journey home had a couple of hitches. Again, I’m so grateful for the kindness of others. The taxi operator wanted to help by offering a hackney so I could stay in the wheelchair. But the driver was unsure if his ramp would take the weight.
I ended up in an ordinary car with only half an hour to the train. No problem, I had a whole two minutes to spare as I wheeled quitely on the soft carpets of Virgin first class. The stroll from Euston to Charing Cross was cold and glorious. The late afternoon light set the grand old institutions of studentville and theatre land in a soft haze of gentle glory.
Trafalgar Square welcomed me with intensity of the sun itself.
I was reflecting. George loved cities.
The last hitch was fixed by a kindly bus driver who politely asked the bunches of young students to make room for me. They did.
Kind people, old and young.
Thank you for reading.