My word, you do look queer!

My father loved Stanley Holloway’s monologues, and would recite ‘The Lion And Albert’ at the drop of a hat:

Then Mother said, “Right’s right, young feller;
I think it’s a shame and a sin
For a lion to go and eat Albert
And after we’ve paid to come in!” 

The one I was reminded of today is of a man who thinks he is feeling better after an illness, only to be told by everyone he happens to bump into how very, very bad he looks.

I’ve been very poorly but now I feel prime,
I’ve been out today for the very first time.
I felt like a lad as I walked down the road,
Then I met Old Jones and he said, ‘Well I’m blowed!’
My word, you do look queer!
My word, you do look queer!

Sadly, the meanings of some words do change over time.

Well, I celebrated the 1st of October in style by indulging in one of my quarterly (ish) hospital check-ups, audits or assessments – they call them something different each time. Friends and relations have a nasty habit of sending me good luck texts in advance of these, or putting on that sad, sympathetic face.

‘You’ll be so worried, but I’m sure it will turn out OK’.

‘Don’t let the nerves get to you. Think of something nice while you’re waiting.’

‘I’m keeping my fingers crossed.’

‘Thinking of you… xxx xxx’

By the time you’ve received a whole lot of these anxious, condolence-type good wishes you do begin to wonder if they all know something you don’t. Should you be more worried? Maybe you should be chewing your fingernails or tearing your hair out in little clumps?

Actually, I don’t worry so much about the appointments. The initial diagnostic sequence of events was a bit of a shock to the system, but now it’s just wait around for ages then get told a lot of numbers you don’t entirely understand by a dishevelled, distracted young lady who is reading them off a computer screen, generally indicating that not much has changed since last time you met. Then you go home.

Two things really stress me out, the twenty-two mile drive to the hospital through the morning rush hour, and finding the one remaining space in the hospital car park. I set off at seven this morning for a nine-thirty appointment, having been up since three-thirty feeding and mucking out the cats. Nose to tail traffic. Headlights, more headlights. Rain on the windscreen. Listening to local radio as I drive. The helicopter has spotted long, long queues on the very road I am on, and have no option to get off. By the time I get there my hands are stiff from gripping the steering wheel in fierce concentration. My eyes are beginning to hurt. Since I gave up the TV I haven’t needed to wear my glasses, except for driving.

The reason I opt for the earliest possible appointment is to stand a chance of finding that elusive space. The hospital is huge, reached only via a maze of tiny street lined with pigging little sooty-looking houses, like something out of Dickens. There is nowhere to park in these pigging little streets and indeed every one of them for miles around is double yellow lined, just in case you might be tempted to try. Even early in the morning the queue just to get in to the hospital stretches out into these streets. It stretches round the corner and through the traffic lights and back up the preceding road. The lights change, but nothing can actually move, because of that queue.

And once inside the gates there is another queue, to get to the car park barriers. Above one’s head giant red signs inform you how many spaces there are, theoretically, remaining. These signs bear no relation to the actual number of spaces.

You have to draw up next to the barrier, wind down your window and press a button hoping that a ticket will, eventually, slide out and the In barrier go up. Sometimes it doesn’t slide out. You can be pressing that button every few seconds for five minutes or so. No ticket. This is because the machine believes there are No Spaces Left. Effectively, you are waiting for one person to come out the hospital, amble to their car and leave.

Then suddenly you get your ticket, which you have to grasp between your teeth whilst accelerating madly and fumbling with the button to wind up the window at the same time. If you’re too slow the ghastly yellow thing might come crashing down again – chop the car in half. Or maybe you.

And then when you get in there are no actual spaces only theoretical spaces and cars circling, and circling. And once in it’s like the Hotel California – even if there is no space, you can’t leave. Not without having spent several hours in the hospital first, and then inserting your little cardboard card in another machine, which will not, of course, pay any attention to your bank card when you attempt to ‘contactless’ it…

No, the appointment is the least of my worries.

Heaven won’t have me and hell’s afraid I’ll take over

Today I found myself stopped at a red light behind one of those in-your-face shiny black cars – very high off the ground so that the driver can look down on the likes of you and me, costing at least three years of the likes of your or my wages and never taking up less than one and a half parking spaces. And I don’t know why – I was musing, about meeting my friends for coffee later, then going to Tesco to buy more yoghurts because I had run out and I did like a nice yoghurt with a spoonful of honey for my tea – and I suppose it could have been a senior moment – but I was looking up at this in-your-face shiny black car and I thought:

That’s a very big man! Gosh, he’s taking up both of the front seats.

It was an easy mistake to make. Anyone could have made it. Out of the near-side window dangled a meaty left arm, heavily and colourfully-tattooed. Between the first two fingers of the hand was a newly-lit cigarette. Out of the driver’s-side window dangled a meaty right arm, also heavily and colourfully-tattooed, and also with a newly-lit cigarette. From inside the car came metallic, head-banging, in-your-face music. Smoke drifted back to me, raw and summery, reminding me of college campuses and lazing around on grassy banks on blazing hot afternoons instead of going to lectures…

Wow! I thought – still with half a mind on other things: the red light about to turn green; the traffic sliding to a stop in several parallel lanes; the traffic facing us, also raring to go.

He must some kind of fitness instructor! Or a cage-wrestler!

Two entire seats!

And at no point did it occur to me to wonder how this spectacular specimen was able to change gear and operate the hand-brake, since his massive, muscular hindquarters would be covering both gear stick and brake. Neither did it occur to me that even if he had invented an ingenious method of doing so, he couldn’t have. Not with a lighted cigarette in either hand.

Xindi nanobots had invaded my brain and were scrambling my neural circuits… And then – maybe I shook my head or something, meaning they cascaded out of my ears, those little metal perishers –

Ah – two seats – two men – one arm per man – one cigarette per arm – ah!

They were some way down the road and I was turning right before I recalled something else: that long message-strip in the rear view window, spookily highlighted by the red rear light:

Heaven Won’t Have Me and Hell’s Afraid I’ll Take Over

In which case, if there were two separate men, to be totally accurate the strip should have read:

Heaven Won’t Have Us and Hell’s Afraid We’ll Take Over…

No wonder I got it wrong.