FIVE – Christmas
When I was seven years old I had pneumonia and pleurisy. The pleurisy was courtesy of a doctor who, despite being called out by my mother every day for five days, insisted I had nothing more than a cold. My mother tells me that I never complained and that it was this toughness on my part that caused the problem. Apparently those with a stiff upper lip are born with it and hey presto, there was I. The doctor was full of comments such as if he were really ill he would be more distressed and complaining. I, meanwhile, soldiered manfully on, nary a grumble.
Actually, I don’t buy this bullshit. If I wasn’t complaining I can only think it was because I was getting something out of it. When you’re one of four kids, any mark differentiating you from the anonymous horde is worth exploiting. Besides, no school. Trumps everything at that age. Sometimes things are not quite as they seem. Sometimes? Who am I kidding?
Anyway, bottom line is that one of my lungs almost collapsed and I was finally rushed to hospital at some unearthly hour. Can’t remember if it was day or night, only that I ended up in Swindon. Can’t even remember what it felt like. I can only remember the injections three times a day in my arse, the doctor who had mis-diagnosed me visiting so that he might apologise (he had broken his leg – had my dad sent the boys round?), my younger brother Kevin peering through the ward window (in those days the criteria for visiting was somewhat different than it is today and young children were to be kept away – God knows what they might catch or pass on) and pertinent to this story, that all those years ago I had spent Christmas in hospital.
It was horrible. My dad used to say that it was this period of my life that ruined me. You were never the same again, they spoiled you in that place, spoiled meaning spoiled, he would say (often). Of course, this was quite some time later when I would stumble through the front door half-cut or when I would pass out in mid-sentence. Once I remember being woken up by a persistent sharp pain in the ribs. It was him kicking me. Actually, not unreasonably so, as I was comatose on the living room floor in the early hours of the morning. Apparently, I wasn’t following the whilst you’re under my roof rules.
I say it was horrible but you know what? I was in that hospital for three months, the first month in a wheelchair, injections in the arse three times a day, Christmas at Dotheboys Hall, but what do I remember most? My parents had promised me a monster truck (fire engine, I think it was) for Christmas. On the day, Santa must have got stuck in the chimney because it hadn’t turned up. It’s been held up in the post I was told (clearly I had graduated beyond the point of believing in Father Christmas), but rest assured, it will come in the fullness of time. Every day I waited for that fucking firetruck! And you know what, it never turned up. And when I say never, I mean never. Seriously, I think it was this that scarred me for life. Once I got home, my parents never mentioned it again. Incredible as it seems, I still remember it now and when I say remember it, I mean remember not recall. When I visit that particular set of neural connections, I can still feel it, even this moment as I write this down. It was, it turns out, the beginning of my evolution as a shit. To this day I still wake up in the middle of the night screaming, where the fuck is my firetruck? OK, maybe not, but you get my drift.
So, relevance? What the fuck is the relevance of all that to my story?
Christmas, of course. I had to get out of that hospital before Christmas or I wouldn’t get my truck or whatever its equivalent was, albeit some kind of ethereal, non-sensicality.
So, 23 December 1991 I stepped outside, dosed up on Amiodarone hydrochloride, scared not by what had happened to me but by the medical profession’s continued harping on the fact that I was at risk of sudden cardiac demise. Beware, death is peering over your shoulder! But don’t worry, we don’t know what the fuck is going on either. The very real prospect of death, subtly substantiated by a medical profession determined to establish its hegemony, had chased away all my previously held certainties and I was afraid.
I had entered St George’s without a single thought on the big D. By the time I left, it dominated the landscape. Thank God for Christmas or I would probably still be there to this day.