AND THEN SEVERAL COME ALONG AT ONCE

I treated myself to a book today – an actual new book, from an actual bookshop. Also egg and chips and a pot of tea in an altogether more cheerful café than the Greasy one Mum and I seem to have to go to of a Sunday. I had a rubbish day yesterday and am set to have another rubbish day tomorrow, back at the eye hospital, so felt I deserved both.

The book – an ideal choice for waiting room perusal, I thought – is a translation of Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre. I dipped into it over the egg and chips and got as far as page x of the Introduction (which in itself is xx pages long) and stumbled over the following sentence:

Roquentin is a solipsist, trapped in a terrible echo-chamber of the self, haunted by the sonics of his inflamed personality.

As I poured myself a second, slightly chilly cup of tea (never waste what’s left in the pot) I wondered if there had ever been a time in my life when I would have understood that sentence, perhaps in my youth when my brain was firing on all cylinders? But I suspect not. It will give me something absorbing to focus on whilst waiting. Presumably there will be waiting, since hospitals seem to involve more waiting than anything else. I am looking forward to it – the Sartre, that is.

Tomorrow my transport is a volunteer gentleman called Roger, whereas yesterday I was driven to and from by a lady taxi-driver whose name I have now forgotten. It’s amazing what you can learn from a taxi driver. I myself rarely leave the inside lane. I would drive for fifty miles at thirty miles per hour sandwiched between two large lorries rather than attempt an overtake. Only in emergencies such as bicycles, sheep or wandering drunks would I briefly enter the central lane and I don’t think I have ever driven in the fast lane. My taxi driver drove more or less the whole 22 miles each way in the fast lane, and our conversation scarcely flagged.

This morning, from memory, I made a list of just a few of the topics we covered in our 44 miles together:

  • Why some prisoners in open prisons ‘escape’ intentionally, so as to get themselves sent back to the secure prisons they prefer (fewer men per toilet being one reason);
  • Whether you would spot the difference between someone who had a prosthetic leg and someone who was just limping a bit;
  • Why we could only see a quarter of a rainbow – something neither of us had seen before – and whether this might mean we were closer to or further from the legendary pot of gold at the end;
  • What it is like to lose a sister, and bring up a child alone;
  • What it is like to have an elderly mother – she having lost her own mother at a young age;
  • Whether and at what point you could swim across the river;
  • The pleasures of a night out at the Bingo when you had had to forego a social life for ten years;
  • Whether they ought to build another bridge;
  • The difficulty of getting signed off onto benefits with depression;
  • Where exactly the rain was, to have caused the rainbow.

And all this at 70 mph.

Seriously, I live a quiet life and often, it seems to me, get no chance a sensible conversation with a human being from one fortnight to the next; yet this week I have had two long chats with a taxi driver, a long chat over coffee with my two friends, a chat over the telephone with the volunteer driver who will be collecting me tomorrow, a chat over the telephone with my Canadian sister and a rather too long chat with a neighbour over a spare-room bed that was delivered in my absence and was now lurking in his living room, getting smoked all over. Like they say about London buses – you wait for ages and then several come along at once.

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