Homo What?

Homo What?

We were just retrieving her disabled badge from the dashboard of my car, and as she leant in she spotted the paperback book I had casually jettisoned onto the driver’s seat to make less weight in my bag. Its actual title was Homo Deus and it was by a gentleman I had never heard of until I spotted him on the Three For Two shelf at W H Smiths – Dr Yuval Noah Harari “who now lectures at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem: specialising in World History”.

One thing I am good at is lightning deconstructions of trains of thought, ie what people were thinking before they came out with that strange remark. OMG, I thought, she doesn’t speak Latin (not that I speak Latin per se but enough to know what Homo Deus means) and now she is anxious that the Nice But Dim lady she befriended at a rainy bus stop sometime last year, suggesting she might like to come along to the local Over 50s, is going to turn out to be a Man In Drag, and she might turn out to have bagged herself a Gay Best Friend rather than someone to provide convenient lifts here and there: her very convenient disabled badge – which allows us to park free for hours-and-hours in all sorts of car parks – nice wide spaces so you are not forced to damage the door of the car next door, take a huge breath in and slither out like the Basilisk from Harry Potter – versus my very convenient little red car, and continued ability to drive it. (She has a car – a very nice car – but is scared to drive it now due to dizzy spells.)

One thing I am not normally very good at is summarising books, instantly, when someone asks “What’s that you’re reading?” I always hate it when they ask that, especially when I’ve only just started reading it. However, a quick reply was obviously needed, so I took the sort of huge breath normally reserved for Slytherin’ out of narrow gaps between parked cars, and exhaled: Oh no – it’s – it’s, um, about Men being gradually upgraded into Gods.

It was a good enough one-line précis of a huge book, but I could see it hadn’t helped. She clutched her disabled badge to her chest and dropped her walking stick again.

Got to cut this short, I thought.

“It’s non-fiction,” I said. “Nothing to do with – you know.” And so we went on our way, possibly for another lot of Tea and Buns somewhere, I can’t remember.

Anyway, I’ve got a bit further on with Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow now. It makes excellent bath-time reading, though I keep having to discourage the three-legged cat, who is convinced he can navigate the entire soapy edge of the bath without Slytherin’ into this trough of steamy bubbles containing the mysterious bare human.

Thanks to Homo Deus I have decided I am an Animist rather than a Theist or a Humanist. Yes, I am some sort of primitive throwback to times when one could communicate with trees, and ghosts and spirits mingled unselfconsciously with mice, deer, bears and human beings, and all had an equal value in the universe, and equal rights. I have always been one of these, without knowing it, and that is why thing like factory farming and cruelty to animals make me so miserable. Ah, all those trees I failed to hug, back in the days when tree-hugging was an acceptable pastime and not associated with the Prince of Wales. All those yurts I failed to build and wild nights out under the stars I failed to experience…

And now I am too old. My neighbour pointed out a tree branch to me yesterday, that had somehow got trapped underneath my little red car. I had been driving around with said branch dragging along the ground for a week, I guess, judging by the length of time the unexplained knocking and banging had been going on. He was obviously expecting me to throw myself full-length on the ground, man-fashion, that instant (even though it had been raining) and retrieve the shameful branch before it “gets tangled in the electrics” but my days of throwing myself full-length are over. It’s not the getting down, it’s the getting back up.

So I temporised. I thanked him for pointing it out and slunk off indoors, returning with a patchwork cushion and the long metal hooky-thing the previous occupants of my house had once used to hook down the loft-ladder, and knelt, in the damp, with a creak or two. I was dreading a kind of wrestling match with some ferociously entangled-with-electrics piece of wood but actually it came away quite easily. I looked round, hoping against hope that he wasn’t still observing me from his front room window, as I clung to the wing-mirror and mountaineered myself up the side of the car, clutching pole, patchwork cushion and branch. The neighbours feel sorry for me, but they think I’m weird.

You know how you can always tell, when people think you’re weird?

I wonder why I started writing this? Oh yes, The Ratties.

I have rats – or at least I did, until yesterday. I don’t dislike rats, or any other living creatures, and had quite enjoyed watching them scuttling backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards at the bottom of the garden, pinching pieces of bread and seeds from underneath the bird table. They had neat little tunnels, I realised, allowing access from the piece of waste land beyond my end fence. Then they did a kind of circuit round the myrtle bush, and that green shrub that gets yellow spots on it in the summer. They had worn little rat-runs through the grass.

It was OK when there were only two of them. For a whole winter there were only two of them. Then, suddenly, there were little baby rats and then, equally suddenly, there was a garden-full, and they were right up by the back door. Every time I looked out there was one running off with a lump of cat food from the stray-cats’ dishes, or a lump of dog-food from Mystery Dog’s Dish. I could see that soon they would start coming in through the windows, running up the drainpipe and chewing the electrics in the roof, causing neighbours to complain to the Council; the Rat Catcher in his smelly moleskin trousers, knocking on my front door.

So I’ve had to bite the bullet, stop putting food out. Now Sunshine the stray ginger tom no longer even bothers to detour through my rat-run grass. Last night I heard Mystery Dog woof-woofing mournfully in the garden, wondering where his monster plate of food had got to. And no birds sing (mournful sob!)

O WHAT can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.

I have gone against my every instinct, and am become La Belle Dame Sans Merci.

Hospit-ality

Hospitals are not my natural milieu, you might say

(she types, wincingly, with injured paw).

I mean, I just don’t go with the décor. Sitting in the Friends of the Hospital shop toying with a Styrofoam cup of unlikely-coloured tea with rapidly submerging tea-bag

(the dangly bit fell in)

is not my idea of Christmas Eve. I have bought a TV listings magazine to pass the time until I make my way to the clinic for my appointment

(if you don’t arrive before ten a.m. there are no parking spaces till tomorrow before ten a.m.)

but it contains nothing but staged photos of soap-opera actors pretending to be anguished, because it’s Christmas, and everyone knows Christmas is the perfect time to murder your missus and bury her beheath the patio.

(I hate soaps.)

At least it’s different. I mean, what else would I have been doing over Christmas? Compared to sitting in the conservatory with my mother for three silent hours listening to the clock ticking, and maybe knitting a row or two, driving 23.3 miles to the nearest A&E hospital

(and the same back)

four days in a row

(yes four, including Christmas Day)

to have my bitten hand prodded and redressed and antibiotics injected into some miniature piece of yellow or blue plastic bandaged into to my arm for the duration, this is actually quite exciting. This hospital is almost beginning to feel like a Home From Home. Like Home, without the cat litter and the non-functioning lightbulbs

(they are packing up in some mysterious sequence – it may be a code)

and Bertie ringing me up at 1.30 in the morning saying he thinks he’s dying but he’s not sure what of and it could be his waterworks but it might be his throat… or his psoriasis… and now I’ve got a car would I mind driving him to the hospital because an ambulance will never arrive in time… but that’s another story.

I may not tell it. Maybe it would be unkind? It probably would be unkind. But I may still tell it, because in spite of the nurse telling me I was a kind person, really I’m a bit of a moo.

I might tell it…

Suffice it for now to say that Nurse has instructed me to instruct Bertie next time he telephones in the middle of the night that the Nurse has ordered me to conserve my strength at the moment or my hand won’t get better. She says the technique is to be apologetic, kindly, sympathetic but not of any actual practical use over and over again. Eventually, she says, the person gets the message.

(I do not think Bertie is of a constitution to get any message, ever, but maybe her advice would be worth a try. It was kind of her to offer it, whilst slowly squeezing cold stuff into my arm from an enormous syringe.)

You will be please to hear

(I hope you are not reading this over your Christmas Dinner)

that although my cat-savaged hand still looks like the surface of some distant red planet, with scattered, erupting volcanoes, and feels as sore as the surface of such a planet must feel after aeons of being erupted under and onto by volcanoes, the hand itself has now returned to normal size. It originally swelled up and looked like the puffer fish featured above, without the mouth and the funny little fins. And at that point, of course, I could not drive although the taxi driver

(I have met quite a few taxi drivers in the past few days)

did explain to me that I could probably change gear for 23.3 miles by pushing the gear stick with the puffer-fish-type hand. He has obviously had to drive this way in the past so as to maintain his livelihood. A truly scary thought.

There’s a few good things about stuff like this. You get to chat to people you would never have chanced to meet, in your life. This morning, for example, I spent a couple of minutes with a middle-European lady who was allergic to painkillers, who was suffering from the most agonising bad back I have ever witnessed someone trying to walk along with. I think she must have slipped a disc. Even sitting still, talking to me, she was pausing to scream at intervals. I wished – I jut wished, at that point – that I possessed those healing hands, the sort you can just lay on or hover above people, to take away their pain. But hopefully they will find at least one painkiller she is not allergic to.

You may find out things about yourself you would never otherwise have known. I discovered via the blood tests that though  I may not have sepsis (may not, presumably I’d feel a bit iller if I had) I do have anaemia. So now I have iron tablets. How exciting! This may be the beginning of the inevitable metamorphosis into one of those old ladies with a medicine cupboard bursting with cardboard boxes of tablets for this and tablets for that…

And you get to master new skills, if only tiny ones. I am a coward, you see. I tend to avoid doing stuff that’s stressful, and for me, anything I haven’t done before, anything new, tends to get avoided. New cars contain many such skills, and I have been avoiding learning them all. In case I couldn’t. In case it was stressful.

But last night, thanks to Bertie and his hyponchondria/panic attack demand to be whisked to the Community Hospital (only about 6 miles away) I was forced to work out where the button was to switch on the headlights

(yay!)

and this morning, in anticipation of having to retrieve a car-park ticket from one of those scary yellow machines via the car window so that the barrier would lift, I had to devote some time to deducing how to open windows in a car so very modern it has no handle to wind. At all. And then I managed the drive to the hospital, round one of the worst-designed many-laned roundabouts of all time

(get in your lane well in advance and don’t whatever you do move out of it till you get to the other side: taxi driver)

and bought petrol, even though the petrol place is on completely the wrong side of the car and there is no cap just some sort of hole

and found my way on Christmas Eve through dense traffic in an unfamiliar town, and actually found a parking space, and then actually managed to reverse the entire sequence

(apart from buying petrol, which would have been silly)

on the way back.

I MEAN, I WAS ONLY TRYING TO HELP (Angels & Other Occurrences 3)

You see, that’s the trouble with people, they don’t want to be helped.

I mean, you’d have thought she’d be grateful, a woman at her time of life, suddenly pregnant. I mean, who’d have thought it? Didn’t think Zak had it in him, but obviously…

And she’s such a little mouse of a thing, I mean, wouldn’t say boo to a goose. You’d think she’d be pleased to have a woman of my experience, mother of no less than seven kids. I mean, I do know what I’m talking about when it comes to childbearing.

I told her, it’s no good pretending it won’t hurt. It’s agony. I mean, I remember with Kerry, my fifth…

I could see her going a bit green around the gills but… I mean, it’s better to be a realist, isn’t it? Face up to it? Better to know what’s in store for you.

Personally, I think the pair of them are a bit soft in the head. She said an angel appeared to Zak, and the angel announced it to him, and then Zak came home but couldn’t speak. This angel had struck him dumb, apparently. Load of old nonsense! Angels! I reckon it’s flashbacks. All that drinking when he was younger probably fried his brain. Not that he hasn’t reformed. I mean, he doesn’t touch a drop nowadays. Turned into a good provider and all that – held down that job at the castle for years now. Well thought of, too, I gather. Don’t know what all this struck-dumb business is about.

He had to write it down for her. Write it down! Beth, by the way, you are in the pudding club – or words to that effect.

I was only trying to help. I brought her some of my kids’ cast-offs. Thought she’d be pleased – I mean they’re not at all well off. Poor as church mice in fact. She looked at him and he looked at her, and she said thank you, but I could see she didn’t mean it. I could see she had no intention of actually using them. Not on her baby. Not on an extra-special baby that’s been announced by an angel, oh no!

When the baby actually came – well, it was lucky I was there. Zak was off at work when she started. She couldn’t get through – he must have had that mobile of his turned off again – although I suppose if he can’t speak there’d be no point – and she couldn’t find anyone else, so she came knocking at my door. Asked me to drive her to the hospital, she did. Well, after the business with the clothes I was half inclined to say no but you can’t, can you? We ladies have to stick together in times of trial. And I must admit I did rather want to be in on the action at the hospital. I thought perhaps I could go in with her. I mean, women nowadays, you can have what they a birthing partner, and it doesn’t need to be your husband; it can be anyone you nominate.

But she didn’t nominate me. Or perhaps – I don’t know – perhaps they didn’t ask her. It was all a bit of a rush. The first one always tends to be quick. After that, well, everything’s sort of stretched and sagging. All your muscles gone, you know. Gone for ever; slows everything down. I remember with my second, Mikey – went on for forty-seven hours. Forty-seven hours of absolute agony… how I didn’t die of exhaustion I honestly don’t know.

And to cap it all, there’s been this name business. I popped in to see her afterwards. Worn to a frazzle, she was. White as a sheet. I mean at her age, poor old thing. It’s too old to be having your first one, over forty. You don’t have the reserves like when you’re younger. I mean, it’s manual labour, is labour.

Anyway, the midwife was asking her what name she should put on baby’s little progress chart, and I told her Zacharias, because of course they’d be calling him after his father. People always do that with the firstborn son and Zacharias is a nice name – unusual, like. I mean, ex-alkie or not, Zak’s a good enough man and it’s a nice name and – why wouldn’t you? But then Beth opened her eyes and started shaking her head at the nurses. No, she said, his name is John. It’s John!

But Zacharias is a lovely name, I said. Whyever would you want to call him…

I mean, John. How plain can you get? Who calls a baby John nowadays? Sounds like a politician, or maybe someone who designs railway timetables.

John!! she said. She was beginning to get a bit stroppy by this time. I mean, labour, it does take it out of you. Can’t blame her for being a bit snappish, like.

And then there was this voice from the door, sort of rusty. It was Zak.

John, he shouted. John, his name is John. That’s what it said. That’s what the Bird of Light said. It said his name will be John.

What on earth was he rabbiting on about? But he seemed happy enough, crying and laughing. And somehow he’d got his voice back, after all these months of writing notes and waving his arms about. John, John, John he shouted. This baby’s name is John. And he did a little dance around the room.

Well, I’d had enough by this time. I came away. I mean, it’s not as if I haven’t enough to do at home, without getting dragged into other people’s business.

Luke 1 (57 – 64)