Oops, no title…

I’m not good at having fun, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever had fun in my life; not really. However, today was a good(ish) day. The sky was blue and so was the sea – well, the one mirrors the other – and it was warm. Shouldn’t have worn the boots, really. Or the long-sleeved autumn outfit. But I thought it was autumn. Well, it was autumn at six o’clock this morning when I awoke, dozily crumpled into a corner of the living room sofa in a sort of uncomfortable dressing-gown/person bundle.

I did go to bed but eventually had to retreat from the bedroom after one of the cats for some reason took fright and leapt into the air, gouging three long tramlines into my right forearm. That woke me up, as you can imagine, and by the time I had partially staunched the bleeding and debated whether to apply TCP to my right arm and risk stinking out the Over 50s minibus tomorrow, or not apply TCP and risk yet another bout of cellulitis, with a subsequent two weeks of daily drives to the hospital for antibiotic injections, and possible death – I couldn’t get back to sleep. And supposing yet another one of the nineteen moggies should land upon my sleeping form and savage me.

Hence, the sofa. I turned out the lights, arranged myself uncomfortably upon it, trying to keep my stinging arm away from the pale green faux leather – and yet more cats came to perch themselves uncomfortably upon me – any of whom, of course, might leap up in a fright at any moment – and plugged in my MP3 player. And listened to hours of John Renbourne, which reminded me of Ex, which made me cry in a self-pitying, 3 in the morning, just gouged by a cat sort of way. And finally I reflected that listening to John Renbourne would not in any way remind Ex of me, or make him cry, and fell asleep.

My life is so complicated, but I have said that before.

Another complicated thing about life is female friendships. I am no good at this sort of stuff. I don’t understand it. I feel the same about human social interactions as I felt about those interminable netball and hockey games at school – the ones I couldn’t find an excuse to get out of – left-handedness, short-sightedness, a touch of depression, left my PE kit at home – that I am in the middle of a lot of beings flying about and throwing or kicking things at one another, but I don’t know which team is which, or which way I am supposed to be running, or which goal is mine, or why… Why are we running about? What is the purpose? What are the Rules? Why has everybody else had a copy of the Rules, but not me?

The politics of them are more complicated than anything that goes on behind closed doors at Downing Street. I think I may have made a new friend today but I’m not sure how I did that. I mean, I wasn’t trying to. I never try to make friends but just occasionally total strangers for some reason decide to pick me up, look me over, dust me down and adopt me for a while, like a lost bear. And then how do you fit the new friend in with the old friend when they don’t seem to like each other much – or am I imagining that? Should I walk with this one or that one? How do I have more than one friend?

Over the years I have learnt enough to know, at least in theory, that I don’t need to worry myself sick and arrange everything. People usually sort themselves out without my help. I’ve also found that people tend to appreciate me more if I just allow myself to be an oddity instead of trying to appear normal – masking, I think it’s called. Thing is, first you have to notice when you are masking, and that’s an art in itself.

Talking of lost bears, I found another, in a Barnardo’s shop on a coach trip to Whitstable. Even that was complicated. I felt compelled to explain to the volunteer lady in Barnardo’s that I wasn’t the sort of person who habitually walked around with a bear, like Sebastian. Of course, she hadn’t read Brideshead Revisited and had no idea who this Sebastian was.  She told me of an old lady she knew, a harmless madwoman, who carried a doll everywhere and had even made it an outfit to match her own. Well, presumably a  number of outfits…

And then I – and my new friend – and my old friends – oh, so many of us and the relationships between us so fluid and complicated, jostling for position and attention around the depressing racks of wilted cast-offs and bobbly old men’s jumpers in Barnardo’s – went on down the street to a rival charity shop, Demelza’s. Where I got told off by the Demelza lady for buying my bear in Barnardo’s when hers were half the price. And how then to explain the subtle psychic difference between a merely cheap bear (I could have gone to Tesco’s for that) and a damsel-in-distress bear in a blue velvet dress and lopsided velvet bow, languishing among racks of jigsaw puzzles with several pieces missing; brown plastic handbags no one can ever, ever have liked and coffee-stained CDs of jazz musicians that nobody has ever heard of.

(Yes, I made the Sebastian joke again – I just couldn’t seem to stop myself – and no, she didn’t laugh either.)

But Whitstable was OK, and so was Herne Bay. Later, trying to eat a huge pink and white ice cream before it melted, under a blue sky, beside a blue sea, at a rainbow-painted bench, I reflected that it wasn’t such a bad day out after all. And recalled that my Aunt always planned to retire to Herne Bay and open a cake shop. It was her dream. But she married a blind chap from Devon several feet shorter than herself, and lived in Exeter, and never visited Herne Bay again, as far as I know. And then died.

That’s the trouble with dreams.

Trad Jazz and Tarantulas

If you had asked me to make a list of what I was expecting from last night’s Outing tarantulas would have been unlikely to feature on it.

Not that I would have probably got round to making such a list because making such a list would fall under the banner of Mushroom Stuffing, Mushroom Stuffing being but one of that multitude of things that life is too short to do. A further example – Bertie spent much of our Thursday bus stop waiting time recounting the lengths he had gone to in rejuvenating his last year’s Remembrance Day poppy. The black bit in the middle had come out, he said, and he couldn’t find it, but eventually he did find it under the fridge/ washing machine/ spare-room bed/ hallway hat-stand, and then it was a matter of attaching a fresh bit of wire, hunting out the superglue and attaching the battered red petals to the new framework… This must have taken him several hours. Mushroom stuffing.

I mentioned mushroom stuffing. Nobody knew what I meant, of course.

Last night I went on an Outing. For most of my life the concept of Outings has been a foreign one to me. I am that pathetic, lone-wolf type person whose default position would be Do This Alone, Go There Alone, Solve This Yourself etc. But now I no longer have a car and have perforce become more reliant on other people and have had to retrain myself, somewhat, if not exactly into sheep-hood, at least into a lone-wolf/ovine combination. I have also read that Social Interaction might help you not get Alzheimers.

This I how, with three of my fellow Over 50s I came to be being driven into town (after dark) in a frankly odoriferous – dog/ cigarettes/ air freshener/ unidentified-but-unpleasant, possibly nappies – car, to a district on the outskirts of Town that I would until now have been nervous of frequenting in daylight let alone on the night before Bonfire Night, with premature fireworks lighting up the sky. I focussed on my breathing. There was very little air inside this car, and so many people breathing it.

However, it was a good night, if stressful. In this district the new owners of an old shop were renovating it when they came across a sealed room. On breaking in they found a perfect little music hall theatre left over from 1879 or thereabouts and somehow forgotten. It had offered “rational amusement for all classes”, including a one-armed juggler.

The sound of one arm juggling…

They restored it, making it into a mixture of tiny heritage centre, tiny museum, tiny cinema and tiny theatre. Just the sort of place I like. Sort of place you could set a book in.

Behind the Scenes at the… oh no, that’s been done before.

I wasn’t expecting much from a 1920s evening. Not even the oldest Over 50, I think, can actually remember the Roaring Twenties. I imagined we might be in for a party of not-very-good flapper dancers in thick, cheerful make-up, performing ragged Charlestons, or maybe re-enacting romantic scenes from Noel Coward plays. But it was an Outing. I just went because Outings are supposed to be good for one.

But it wasn’t that at all, it was an “orchestra” of six elderly chaps playing traditional jazz, and rather well, plus a slightly younger crooner-type singer, wearing a tuxedo, a bow-tie and sinister BBC announcer/German spy type spectacles, and playing the saxophone in between. They consisted of a trumpeter, with mute; a clarinet player with a white ZZ Top type beard; a snowy-haired, feisty drummer, for whose life I feared during a vigorous drum-solo; a guitar/banjo player who appeared to be asleep through out, with mouth open, but nevertheless kept on playing, and someone in the middle at the very back playing what I assumed to be a tuba – something like a battered brass snake that enveloped him, with a giant gramophone horn attached to the end – but later discovered it was a souzaphone.

I promised myself I would not, Kermit-fashion, jiggle up and down in my seat in time to the music, or even tap my feet, but of course I did. They played all those bits of jazz I remember from black and white films on TV on rainy Saturday afternoons in my childhood. Long, silly introductions. Little sung stories leading into sudden bursts of rampageous jazz. I looked around. We were surrounded by union jacks and tasteless swags of red ribbon, and vases of lilies, something that looked like a church organ, weird deco. It could have been wartime. How appropriate, as Britannia sinks beneath – or, fingers-crossed and baited breath, may just about float upon – the waves…

Never, Never, Never to be Slaves….

Afterwards, as we were standing outside awaiting the return odoriferous lift , I asked a silly question. What’s behind that great big wall?  Right opposite us, mere feet away, was the tallest and oldest brick wall I think I have ever seen. This would not have been a silly question for a visitor from outer space (and I could see by the micro-expressions on my companions faces that I had just asked that sort of question) but I do live here. That, I was told, is the Dockyard.

And this is where the tarantulas come in. Behind that wall, my companions explained, as our breath steamed in the damp night air, is the Dockyard. And in that wall are tarantulas that have escaped from all the crates that were ever unloaded here. They live in the cracks in the wall… The wall is still pitted with shrapnel holes from where this street (well, they were obviously aiming for the Dockyard) was bombed in the last war.

Really? Do they bite?

No, they’re not the biting sort. They just live in the cracks.

Someone has tested that?

And suddenly I imagined all these poor little tarantulas and the lives they must have led. The Wall was as far as they could get. Scuttling out of their crates into, not the tropical sunshine they had been used to but some grey, damp February or November day. Heading for the nearest cover – that Wall. Living in the cracks, unable to go any further, unable to go home. How sorely they must have missed it, the music of the oil drum bands, those joyous calypsos beneath the palm trees. I hope they were at least tapping their feet along to strains of jazz drifting across from the little theatre. I hope they were jiggling just a little, Kermit-fashion in their shrapnel holes, and those crumbling interstices.

souza

 

Unexpected Rainbows

Sometimes life throws you an unexpected bonus or – if things have really been bad –  a consolation. For example, the other day I had to wait an hour at the hospital for a blood test, and the buses home only go once an hour. I sat with my torn-off paper ticket (number 106 in a queue starting at 85) and I sat, and I sat, and finally I got behind that blue curtain to get my blood test, one minute after the bus was due to have left. I trudged to the hospital bus stop and found nobody waiting. Yes, my bus had definitely gone. And then there it was, like magic, my precious bus coming round the corner, two minutes late. Did you just do me a good turn? I asked the universe.

And today I have rainbows. I put some sheeting stuff up at the kitchen windows – it’s clear, textured plastic, held up by nothing more than warm water and washing up liquid, plus suction. The reviews on Amazon did mention rainbows but I hadn’t seen any. Ah well, I thought, I am now invisible to the neighbours and vice versa, and that’s all that matters. Privacy is restored.

I have this thing, you see, about eyes. It feels as if I am caught in the headlights when someone stares at me, and particularly if they persistently stare at me. I read somewhere that in the 17th century and earlier, people did not yet understand about light and vision (I believe it was Newton who eventually sorted it out) and actually believed that people ‘saw’ by sending out an invisible beam from their eyes. In other words, their eyes were sending out light rather than receiving it. John Donne uses this to good effect in his erotic poem The Ecstasy:

Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread / Our eyes upon one double string…

Anyway, although I am a Thoroughly Modern Post-Newtonian Person and know that nobody is actually fixing me with their X-ray eye-beams, that’s what it feels like. In some sort of psychic or psychological way, it hurts. And similarly, if I am forced to stare at someone or even see them when I don’t want to, it hurts. Without intending to they are invading me, and the space around me, just by being in my line of sight.

So, given this weirdness, which seems to be  one of two absolutely fundamental and incurable issues with me – boundaries and visibility – I more-or-less solved the problem by buying two rolls of the plastic stuff on Amazon. And today, finally, the sun shone brightly enough through my kitchen window to create those promised rainbows.

Sorry it’s cats again – and sorry for apologising since I know from previous feedback that this is British of me – but sorry, anyway – but cats is what I have a lot of and cats are what I spend most of my day either feeding, tripping over or being sat-upon by. I just saw these rainbows on the cats – and on the floor – and decided I must try to capture them – for posterity – for this electronic treasure trove of ours – and for – not having to wash up a whole sink load of cat dishes for at least another five minutes. So much more fun to tiddle about with photographs.

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Plastic rainbows on my grubby kitchen floor (hence the vignette filter causing a convenient Darkness on the Edge of… um, the floor tile)

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Henry in his basket, bedecked with rainbows. Suspect he cannot see them, as I read somewhere that cats can only see in shades of blue and lilac. This seems like a terrible disability, if it’s true, but it doesn’t seem to stop them catching mice.

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 Henry – more rainbows.

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Martha -no rainbows, because being a tortoiseshell (calico) she carries one around with her.

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Rosie – no rainbows, just because I love her, and she’s getting on a bit now. Rosie was rescued from a road in Norfolk as a tiny, sick, dehydrated kitten and brought to me on a hot summer’s day, in a cardboard box with no proper air-holes, all the way round the M25 and beyond. She is the inspiration behind my blogging name: Rosie2009 and the reason for much subsequent confusion.

Like a bird on a wire

When the song first came out I wept, picturing the bird (aka Leonard Cohen) trapped in a snare, a loop of wire pulled tight around its leg. In those days we didn’t know so much American. I learned later that what we would call a telegraph line Americans would call a wire, and so the bird was probably just perched on it, ready to fly away.

The lineman in Wichita Lineman, then, should have been obvious to a Brit but he wasn’t. He was something ultra-romantic, science fictional almost, a wandering, lonely creature performing some unimaginable task for The County (what was The County?) – not one of those blokes that climbs up poles to fix the electrics.

Of course, I wept at the bird in its imaginary snare, flapping and flapping its tiny wings in a desperate, futile to escape because the bird, aka Leonard Cohen, was also aka me.

I was always two people. One of me was lonely, wild and free. One of me had known even as a child making messy daisy-and-buttercup chains on her grandmother’s lawn, that one day she would take off. As time went on I read the colour supplements my father discarded from the weekend papers. I pored over the photos of remote temples and marketplaces and traveller accounts of exotic destinations.  I was that traveller. One day very, very soon that would be me on the road to Marrakech in my long hippie skirt and my cheesecloth blouse, a fraying backpack containing all that I had in the world; feet blistered, sandals dusty and worn.

The other me knew it couldn’t go, knew even as a child that it was tethered to a family in which it had no place, engaged in a lifelong struggle of trying but failing to earn that place. The other me knew it needed the mirror they formed, because without that mirror it would vanish. I was only what they showed me; away from them I had no substance: I was a ghost.

And so I enrolled in a teacher training college only a short ride away from home. I took my Mum to a film show there once; she wasn’t impressed. I plodded away at that course for three years, trying to be interested in tessellations, Cuisenaire rods and lesson-planning whilst my friend Anji – she of the wispy, piled up hairdo and the Indian father; she of the many-page letters in green ink and that great circular artistic script; she of the long white raincoat and cool sunglasses; she of the unmistakeably gay boyfriend she was always hoping wasn’t entirely absolutely gay and one day might be startled into kissing her  – Anji went to France with a girlfriend. They worked as waitresses for a while until her friend stole a tablecloth and they were dismissed. She slept under lorries with lorry drivers. It was all in the letters, until they stopped.

But I have found that at least some of those fantasy Me’s do appear, eventually. But it’s like they get watered down and de-romanticised. So, at one point I imagined myself a mysterious Englishwoman living out her final days in a cliff-top village in Brittany or Normandy or somewhere. And here I am, not exactly in France and not exactly mysterious but certainly alone and in a village with a cliff-top.

I imagined myself a hippie traveller, someone who never put down roots, someone who passed through places and had brief conversation with exotic, world-weary strangers. And there I was yesterday, catching buses after years of car-driving, alighting from one train, searching for the next and being talked to (or mostly at) by a series of eccentrics of my own and other generations.

At a bus stop a group of us tried to understand the murder of so many children by a terrorist scarcely older than they were.

On the bus I learned about sunflower seeds.

In a train a young man with learning difficulties spent a long time explaining to me that the train I was on was indeed the right train, and how to tell, in future, if it wasn’t (‘It won’t be at this platform’).

At a station I discovered the Station Master’s name was Estelle and she was the sole member of staff so she had to sweep the platform in the intervals between trains. Also that the station had no loo and the nearest one was Burger King over the road.

In another train I watched a sober old man trying to calm and distract a very drunk young man so that he wouldn’t bellow the F-word aloud in a railway carriage.

I sipped on warm bottled water and ate granola bars in instalments.

I sat behind a boy with a brutally shaven neck and the top of his head crisply waved and dyed bright orange.

I saw many exotic tattoos exposed in hot sunlight and realised how difficult it was to get twins in a buggy off a bus (you have to climb down backwards).

I sat on what might have been an artwork or merely a dysfunctional bench to wait for my friends outside Marks and Spencer.

Hejira, finally.

Sprightly!

There are some words you somehow never expect to hear said about yourself and “sprightly” is one of them. It’s one of those Catch 22 words. On the one hand it’s a compliment, because who would want to be the opposite of sprightly, whatever that might be. Sluggish? Creaky? On the other hand, whoever called a young person sprightly? Nimble, perhaps. Quick? A live wire? A bundle of fun? But sprightly seems to imply that you have reached, or are about to reach, the age and stage of not being sprightly. Sprightly implies a certain surprise as to your physical condition.

There are words and phrase that only old people seem to merit. There’s Dear. And then there’s good for your age or some variation thereupon. My dentist recently remarked that my teeth were in about as good condition as could be expected for my age. You’ve still got your own, she said. You can eat with them and they’re firmly attached. I mean, they’re not going anywhere…

Now, where would my teeth go? Would I wake up one morning to discover that all my precious gnashers had leapt out of my mouth overnight and were lined up on the duvet swinging their tiny suitcases. Well, they would chorus, toothsomely – we’ll be off. Sayonara!

And today, not one hundred yards from that dentist’s surgery, a lady in a blue carer’s uniform described me, to me, as seeming to be quite sprightly still. Not even sprightly, but a qualified sprightly.

I had gone, in desperation really, to my local charity for the aged. I knew I needed people to talk to – social interaction as they now call it. I knew I had been sitting indoors on my own for at least two years talking to the cats, talking to the TV, talking to this blog… and basically it wasn’t doing me any good. Furthermore I had endured four years, five maybe, of first creeping, then galloping, then all-consuming dementia with my mother and I didn’t want it! How hard could it be to be taken in a coach to the beach for ice creams, to decorate a wooden spoon, to make a paper hat, to sing along to crooners from twenty years before my time? Surely I could throw a bouncy plastic ball about or reminisce, when required?

Social interaction is one of the things they say you should do to avoid the dreaded D-thing – along with exercise, not smoking, not being overweight and intellectual challenges. I thought back over my mother’s long life and she seemed to have done almost everything right – she never smoked, never drank, was never more than an ounce overweight; was always determined to offer you a saucer of orange segments rather than something nicer, like biscuits.

Until earlier this year, battiness notwithstanding, she could walk for an hour and a half, out into the traffic and over busy main roads with never a glance to left or right, at a pace that left daughters and pursuing social workers puffing to keep up. All her life she had walked, she had cycled, she had spent long days in the garden, out in the mid-day sun like mad dogs and Englishmen, heaving up tree roots or whatever. She was just one huge accusation to her weary and slothful progeny. And still she got dementia.

The only thing she did fall down on was the social interaction. Increasingly deaf (though there is a question now as to how much was deafness and how much a cover up for a growing inability to process language) and profoundly shy, she had avoided other people all her life. Dad did the talking, always. After Dad died I printed out lists for her and marked things with pencil X’s – things she might like to join – deaf groups, knitting groups, chatting groups, book groups – all which she filed, neatly, without even reading.

And now here I was, going the same way if I wasn’t careful. And there I stood, in the middle of the day care centre, surrounded by very, very old people at circular tables, drinking breakfast tea and eating, by the smell of it and from the pale blue haze that hung in the room illuminated by shafts of winter sunlight, very burnt toast. Burnt toast makes me cough.

It was no good. Try as I might I was going to stick out like a sore thumb here. It said Over 50s on the website, but no one here was that young. Or sprightly. I could have been any one of their daughters. I started to back towards the door, politely, and that was when she performed a lightning change of tack, that cheery lady in the blue uniform.

You still appear to be quite sprightly, and you can drive. We’re desperate for volunteers…

And away I went, with a sheaf of forms to fill in and return at my earliest convenience.

Featured Image: Ronald Searle “Gay and Sprightly” 1994

If only there was a recipe

My sister did the last trip to Accident & Emergency, and that was only three days ago. Mum had fallen, again. She spent three hours there until Mum had been tested, found to be mostly undamaged, and was about to be returned to the home. She duly reported to the rest of the family by email and, as always after one of these excursions, spent the next day in bed with a migraine. Yesterday it was my turn to spend the day with Mum, in a different Accident & Emergency some hour and a half’s drive away.

The home had left us a cryptic message. The ambulance was at the door and Mum was just off to Accident & Emergency and given what we think it is she was being taken to a different hospital. No hint as to what ‘what we think it is’ actually was. For about an hour we both, separately, attempted to call the home back. The phone rang and rang (and rang and rang) and eventually, every time, cut off.

In between abortive telephone calls I was trying to simultaneously get dressed, wash my hair, finish feeding the cats, do something about a fortnight’s laundry I had been in the process of sorting and washing by instalments, dry up the washing up I had washed earlier but not dried and pack a bag with things I might need on a hospital visit of unknown length, just in case. Did I need my mobile phone charger? Should I take spare underwear in case this was time would turn out to be the dreaded “it” that the daughters of a frail 87 year old cannot help but anticipate? Would I be required to sit at a hospital bedside all night? What was it, this what we think it is?

Finally it was decided that I would drive to the hospital, and so I set off, leaving the tumble-drier un-emptied, the bed stripped but not re-made, the cats fed once but not left food for later, my hair still damp, cups and plates drying smearily on the drainer, three loads of washing still to do, a mountain of ironing…

I stress about stuff, particularly when my routine is interrupted. Normally I would have been obsessing all the way down about whether I had enough coins of the right denominations for the exorbitant hospital parking machines. Should I assume I would be there all night, empty my purse into the fiendish thing and hope that was enough? But by now I had reached anxiety-overload status, and parking machine charges had paled into insignificance. If this was really my mother’s last day on earth, what would a parking ticket matter? What would it matter if they decided to clamp the car, come to that? I could sit in the car park and cry hysterically later. Eventually someone would come along and help me – or not.

I found her in a corner cubicle attached to all sorts of machines. They had given her painkillers she barely registered my presence. At one point she opened her eyes. “Hello?” I said, experimentally. She looked at me as if I might be a human being or possibly a kangaroo of some sort, but either way she didn’t care, and closed her eyes again. I learned for the first time that she had broken her hip in a fall.

After some hours of me just sitting there, being too hot and developing a headache, a man from Orthopaedics came along and enquired how the fall had happened. I said I didn’t know. Well, he said impatiently, what did you observe when it happened? He was not English but obviously felt he was being called upon to explain my own language to me because I was very stupid. I said I wasn’t there when it happened. I had just driven for an hour and a half to find out what had happened, because my sister and I had been trying to phone the home back who had left a message to say that something had happened, but were getting no reply from the home…

Just answer questions in the order I ask them to you, he snapped. I hate that. Being snapped at just confuses me and makes me even more circuitous.  I don’t know what happened, I repeated. My sister got an answerphone message that my mother had been brought to this hospital and I have driven down here to find out what happened.

But you’re the daughter.

But my mother lives in a residential home.

But how am I to decide on treatment if you won’t tell me what happened?

But I don’t know what happened. Look, can I give you the telephone number of the home? Maybe they would pick up the phone to you, since you’re a hospital. Maybe it’s only relatives they’re not picking up the phone to.

I am aware that at this point a normal person would be acting differently. My sister, if (only) she were here, would be coolly, even humorously, in charge of the whole situation. My sister doesn’t merely cope she manages people. I am coping, I suppose, but with difficulty. Why can I never cope elegantly? Accident & Emergency is tropical; even the nurses are sweating and fanning themselves with handfuls of brightly-coloured information leaflets grabbed from the wall displays. It is very, very noisy. Every single piece of monitoring equipment in every cubicle, including Mum’s, is either beeping, whining or whistling and nobody seems to be making any move to silence them. The place seethes with staff in blue scrubs, green scrubs, maroon scrubs, office-wear or ambulance-drivers’ uniforms.

I have been here for ever.

In the next-door cubicle is an old man with a ruptured hernia. He is alternately moaning in dreadful pain and then apologising for being forced to moan. I learn all about his hernia and its side effects. I learn about the TIA he had, only a minor one, back in the eighties. I learn that he had a Zantac injection yesterday and maybe it was that that caused this. I learn that he is on blood-thinners. I learn his army pay number, which he keeps reciting, saying that’s the one number you never ever forget. (Don’t count on it, buster, I think. You can and quite probably will forget everything, not just who you were but what you are, and why you are.)

His whole family seem to be present in that next-door cubicle. Two invisible oldish children, the female of which used to be a nurse, and an invisible, senile Mother who is continually trying to feed Father biscuits and having to be prevented in case he needs surgery. As he will, to judge the moaning.

Invisible, senile Mother has parked herself on the other side of the blue curtain to me and keeps pushing her chair back into my space, crushing me against my mother’s hospital bed. At one point I hear myself quavering Oi, look out!  It does no good so I resort to kicking the intruding chair back again every time she sounds as if she may be shifting her considerable weight off it. But she keeps re-encroaching. Soon I will be actually, physically trapped in a corner and will be forced to contravene all the unwritten laws of British politeness, whip back the curtain and confront her. But how can I, when who knows what state of horrid undress the poor old chap may be in? A moment ago he said I bet you never saw your Dad like this before, son!

Once again I pull the thin hospital blanket back over Mum so that the whole of Accident & Emergency cannot see her like this. I want to be somewhere else. Could I just make a run for it?  But which way is out? I can see no Exit signs.

What medicines is she on? Asks the foreign interpreter of my own language, who does not seem to have gone away, whilst I was wool-gathering.

I don’t know, I say. There were at least four, but I don’t know what the home gives her now.

You must know. It just says Paracetamol here, is that correct?

It doesn’t sound correct. Unless they have stopped all the others without telling us.

But what are the others?

I don’t know what they are. Once again, if you were able to get through to the home, they could tell you what medicines she’s on.

I am aware that a normal person wouldn’t talk like this to an orthopaedi… atrist… atrician.  I refer to my comprehensive set of Mental Notes. Remember the status factor in this situation. The proper thing might be to attempt the submissive female simper or even the more drastic status-poor old female simper. And he’s a man, and foreign. He’ll expect enhanced simpering on account of that.

But how much simpering? What degree of feigned respect might be appropriate in such a case? How to respond to a series of stupid, unanswerable questions when your elderly parent’s treatment, maybe even her life, might depend on what you say now? How do you make someone actually listen, when they are determined not to?

Maybe try and channel my younger sister – attempt “brisk and businesslike”?

If only there was a recipe.

What is it about me that’s so scary?

There’s probably quite a range of things that can give you the heebie-jeebies and dent your confidence in your own sanity. As an example: if I started seeing little green men everywhere I went – the classic kind with boggly eyes and tinny, mechanical voices, my first thought would be –

Goodness! something has gone ‘ping’ in my head whilst I slept. Where is the nearest hospital? Perhaps I should just call an ambulance?

as opposed to

Gracious! Interplanetary voyagers have invaded whilst I slept. Are the police aware? Perhaps it would be prudent to hide in case they have weapons that reduce a human to a little heap of carbon dust or a puddle of water.

Well, it hasn’t got to that stage yet, but there is this something… this something about me that seems to startle or physically frighten some people.

And I don’t know what it is.

Earlier today I took one of the cats to the vets to get her claws clipped. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Judy the receptionist did not cower behind her desk and beg me to just take the contents of the till, and Rosie my cat, and be gone. I had a jolly little chat with yet another Polish locum who was all for charging me nothing at all to clip Rosie’s nails until Judy sotto voce corrected him.

So far so more or less normal, but then I got home. No sooner was I safely indoors and thinking about sandwiches than Charlie appeared in my back garden carrying an empty dog lead. This is not unusual for Charlie. He’s a bit simple, is constantly mislaying one pet or another and has no concept of trespass or privacy. There he was, nose pressed up against my patio doors, looking in.

So I went out. He took several steps back, quaking – sort of.

What’s up, Charlie? Though the empty dog-lead was a clue.

Together we searched my garden for his dog. He hung back, seeming unwilling to venture further into my garden with me. He’s happy enough to wander round it when he thinks I’m out – even in the middle of the night when he assumes I’ll be asleep.

She isn’t here, Charlie. Usually she just comes in, does a big poop on my lawn and leaves. I even had to buy one of those pooper-scoopers…

I am trying, in our oblique English way, to make a point about dog poop, but subtlety does not register with Charlie. You’d have to hit him over the head with a hammer –

Giant Poodle poop THWACK! in my back garden THWACK! not THWACK! at all THWACK! acceptable THWACK! THWACK!

And of course I wouldn’t do that. Live and let live; anything for a quiet life.

All the same, he is starting at me in horror and backing away, muttering. I give up and come indoors.

Gazing in the living-room mirror, I try to work out what it is, since this is not the first time I have had this reaction. Admittedly, it’s a bit gloomy in my living room since I have to keep the curtains closed, since the cats swung on the nets and ripped the rawlplug out of the wall… But surely I could see if I had sprouted a big hairy wart on the end of my nose? Do I have fangs, perhaps? All I can see is a tired, pale, oval of a face. Sure, it looks like no face I ever imagined I would be wearing, but we all grow old sooner or later. It’s familiar enough.

Am I making weird faces? Of course, now I am staring in the mirror I am not making faces, but maybe I only make faces when I’m not staring in the mirror. Someone once asked my mother if I had St Vitus’ Dance when I was an infant. I had no idea who St Vitus was or why he should be dancing or what that had to do with me, and I never found out. What I was left with was her displeasure. Her embarrassment, her irritation even, to be saddled with a child like me.

Do I twitch?

Do I grimace?

The other thing that used to happen to me was in supermarkets. I thought to begin with it was only when I was with Mum. She had this habit of grabbing at me in horror as if I was about to step on someone – or blaring (she was deaf) Watch out Linda there’s a lady behind you – when I’d been perfectly aware of the lady and was in no danger of crashing into her. And if anything she was the one who was not aware of her surroundings: I always seemed to be having to coax her out of the way of other shoppers.

I thought it was just me she did this to, but later discovered that my Canadian sister had also been irritated at being treated like some sort of ticking time bomb or monstrous impediment in public.

I thought it was Mum, not me. But then I was in the supermarket on my own one day, quietly shopping, aware of an elderly lady shopping some considerable distance away from me, when suddenly she gasped, stepped back and threw her hands up, as if convinced I was about to assault her. I wanted to yell at her What IS it with you? What exactly did I just do to elicit that reaction?

But of course I didn’t, since that would only have frightened her more. She’s probably have screamed for the manager.

Maybe I don’t want to know the answer, even with Halloween coming up.

What is it about me that’s so scary?