Why, why, why, Delilah?

So I’m sitting in the waiting room at the little hospital – where my doctor’s happens to be. The lighty-up thingy above the receptionist’s desk isn’t working, for which I am thankful.  Some long-ago receptionist misheard Mrs – or possibly Ms – for Miss when entering my details for the first time, so the lighty-up thing converts me into a Miss, every single time. When it lights up I have to skulk off down the corridor conscious of all those pitying glances at my back.

Poor old soul, never had a man. Sent back unopened, etc.

Since there is no lighty-up thing today I need to keep my eye on the corridor ahead, since the doctor – or in my case nurse-practitioner, whatever that is – will have to come out in person and shout for me. I have an unobstructed view ahead until…

‘Delilah. Isn’t she sweet? Only born a couple of weeks ago.’

Blocking my view, suddenly, are a mother and daughter, possibly the largest and most look-alike mother and daughter combo I have ever seen. My God, they are so fat. They are also both wearing at least half a ton of make-up. How long did it take them to plaster that lot on? At least an hour each. It must be social media. Everyone feels they’ve got to look like a Kardashian before they leave the house.

Delilah is a po-faced moppet in a shawl and pink cap thing. She is overburdened with ‘product’, as I think they now call it. So many pink garments. Earrings. Frills. On the floor is a two-tone beige carrier thing, with handle. Looks like the Rolls Royce of carrier-things. Baby Delilah and those two gigantic mumsy bottoms are inches from my nose. Like Mr Bean I try to crane my neck around them slowly, so slowly that I won’t be perceived as critically craning. My nurse-practitioner is running fourteen minutes late. In any case Delilah, her besotted attendants and expensive equipment-mountain get called in before me.

I am glad I got the nurse. Many sad years of experience have taught me that all medical practitioners are going to end up faintly despising me. I just can’t communicate in those staccato, scientific sentences medical and normal people use. I have to start way back in the story and sort of creep up to it. Then suddenly veer away from it at the last moment, then finish it, in a breathless rush. When they start trying to logicalize and coherentize me it’s fatal. Either I gabble faster still or turn into Eeyore and stare at the wall, not listening.

But women doctors despise me for fewer things. Both men and women medical-types get impatient with me for being odd, incoherent, long-winded, unnaturally anxious, gabbling and therefore probably hypochondriac. But men doctors also despise me for being female – therefore certainly neurotic- and past reproductive age, therefore incipiently senile. Not worth glancing up from the computer.

I try to explain to her the excruciating pain in my hip, which I am convinced, having looked it all up on the internet, is either Arthritis or some deadly form of You Know What.

Well, it’s not You Know What, she says. Otherwise it would go on hurting even when you were lying down, now wouldn’t it?

Maybe Arthritis? I venture. More likely Sciatica, she says. Hmm – Sciatica doesn’t match the internet I think – but of course, do not say. Doesn’t much matter either way, she says. Treatment’s the same. Painkillers. Patience.

I have to hang on to the receptionist’s desk for a few seconds on the way out; since I am once more vertical the waves of agony are washing over me.

I have to pause on one of the chairs in the waiting room until it subsides again. No sign of Delilah and her entourage.

I have to sit down on one of the squashy chairs outside the pharmacy before I can go in and queue for a packet of Ibuprofen. In the pharmacy, while some woman takes her time deciding between this type of sticky plasters or that – I attempt to stand upright rather than cringing forward or quietly screaming. I wonder if I look pale and drawn, like the heroine of a Victorian novel. Suspect I look irritable and yellow.

The car-park was full to bursting when I arrived, in fact cars were blocking in other cars and littering the muddy grass verges all the way up the drive. My little car ended up more or less abandoned at the last minute in a tiny residential street opposite the hospital. I had to limp uphill for a muddy quarter of a mile or so to keep my appointment.

When I come out I collapse at the bus stop for a while, thinking the bus might come along in a minute or two and might give me a lift down to the end of the drive, though it would mean explaining the whole thing in front of a busload of earwigging strangers.

No bus arrives. Eventually I heave myself up and hobble off down the driveway. I have never been quite so pleased to unlock the driver’s side door and tumble in behind the wheel. Then the bus arrives.

Painkillers. Patience.

The meaning of life passes me by – again

So, I was sat there at the bus stop opposite the station having, as nearly always, just missed the bus home. There is a gap, after lunch, of one and a half hours. I had hit that gap.

I had been waiting there for over an hour already. Other buses came and went, and various other people came and waited – and went, on all the buses that arrived that were sadly not my bus. There was just me and this very, very old man. I was sat in the shelter, such as it is, with the narrow hard seats that slope forwards (on purpose, to discourage sleeping tramps, according to Bertie). He was sat behind me and to the side, on a low bench. The low bench is much more comfortable, though difficult to arise out of if you have been sitting in it for any length of time.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the very, very old man wished to talk to me. He was doing that fidgety, glancing in my direction and then glancing away thing that people do. So I went over and sat down next to him. He told me his sight was really bad and he couldn’t make out the numbers of the buses.

Was I by any chance waiting for the same bus that he was waiting for?

I was.

Would I be so kind as to tell him when that bus arrived?

I would.

He had a very soft voice, and unfortunately in the range that I find most difficult to hear. I tried to disregard the noise from a constant stream of traffic, and watched his lips. He told me that he was ninety… something. And now, strangely, that is nearly almost all I can remember of our conversation. I realised he was an educated man. We seemed to be talking about philosophy, and the meaning of life… and all that. I remember struggling to answer him in a way that would make it appear that I had heard… clearly. I wanted to hear. I could tell that what he was saying was really interesting. It came to me that we were kindred spirits of some kind, and that he was meant to be here today, sitting on this bench, and that he had an important message for me.

Finally our bus arrived. He sat next to me and carried on talking, softly. At one point I realised he was reciting Desiderata to me in that soft, kind voice. He knew it, and other poems, by heart. He said when he understood his sight was failing he had begun to memorise poems that were important to him. He said he worked to keep his memory sharp by reciting as many as possible of these poems daily. We discussed the origin of Desiderata, agreeing that it had not been found been nailed to the door of Old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore AD 1692 as was claimed in the 1970s, but that this didn’t matter in the least.

And then, whether by reason of my own physical weariness and anxiety to be home (it had been a long and stressful day) or because the bus was negotiating a series of hills and narrow, twisty roads, causing an increase in background noise, I could not hear him at all. Out of politeness, desperately, I continued to watch his old lips, still reciting and philosophising, still asking questions which I could not hear to answer, and could not lip read either.

As we reached his stop, he suddenly became audible again.  “Well,” he said, “here my journey ends. And yours continues.”

There is actually a timetable affixed to this bus stop…

Bertie from the bus stop has asked me my name, eventually.

We are standing outside his house, which is just around the corner from the bus stop, way before my house. I still have a fifteen minute hill to climb and am so tired I am wishing that someone would install one of those ski lifts, so that I could just hop on. Bertie thought this was a good idea last time I mentioned it, and asked me how much it would cost.

He has been telling me about his blackberries. These are a tangle of what I would have called brambles in one corner of his front garden. However, they do actually have blackberries on them, half of them unripe as yet. He is saying something about picking them, or not picking them or other people picking or not picking them. I am past the stage of being able to piece it all together. It has been a whole day on public transport to visit Mum.

I have sat next to Bertie on the bus from town for almost an hour and he has been talking at me all the way: shards of his life: fragments that would probably make sense if only he would give you some sort of context for them. It is like ancient coins under a metal detector – you never get the whole horde, only this battered coin, and that.

He starts in the middle, or he’ll just tell you the edges. He skips from when his Mum was alive, which now seems to have been back in the 70s and in another part of the country; to his health and mobility problems, which he is assuming I know all about; to the problems of a friend who is struggling to help another friend, who lives a long way away. It’s one of those stream-of-consciousness autobiographies – you feel that if only you could put enough energy into your listening you might be able to piece it together.

He is still telling me about the blackberries. My feet are on fire from too much walking about in new walking boots. I am overheated, wilting. The sun has been beating down on me through the bus window and before that there was an hour just waiting at the bus stop in town. Until Bertie came along, that is, and started advising some woman about the times of the buses. Five minutes ago she had asked me the same question and now she was asking him. People just automatically ignore everything I say.

‘There is supposed to be a bus at half past,’ she said. ‘So where is it?’

‘Where exactly are you trying to get to?’ I asked, although I could tell from the look of her where she was going – the holiday camp.

‘To the holiday camp’, she said.

‘Then it’s twelve minutes past’, I say, ‘though it may be up to ten minutes late’.

‘There’s supposed to be one at half past (this hour).’

‘No, there isn’t one till twelve minutes past (next hour).’

So now she turns to Bertie and asks ‘When is the next bus?’

‘Eleven minutes past,’ he says, ‘though it’s usually late’.

She nods, comprehendingly. Oh, eleven minutes past, not twelve minutes like that woman just told me. Eleven minutes past. Bertie, of course, has now got her by the (metaphorical) throat and is regaling her with the intricacies of the local bus timetable; telling her where in the town centre she could obtain a copy of said publication, although of course she will miss the bus if she sets off to obtain one now.

People at bus stops tend to annoy me anyway, especially holidaymakers. They are always cross from the unaccustomed hanging about (apparently buses happen more often than once an hour up in London), they have never read the timetable and every one of them has a different and contradictory certainty as to when the bus ought to have been due. But still they ask you when it is due. And then they don’t believe you when you tell them.

There is actually a timetable affixed to this bus stop, I hear myself pointing out, snarkily. Occasionally, nowadays, I seem to be saying exactly what I mean, having spent a lifetime avoiding this dangerous practice. Pretend Me is always shocked when Real Me decides to pop out of her box and Say Something Snarky. I know it is only because Pretend Me is very, very tired, also hungry and thirsty having just spent lunchtime watching repeats of ‘The Simpsons’ with her mother in a bedroom with a dark blue wallpaper frieze and a view consisting of air-conditioning clutter and a toilet window or two.  All her life Pretend Me has managed to keep Real Me stuffed down under that painted lid, the catch firmly on. Now, at random moments, this strategy fails.

Confused and distracted by Bertie’s monotone mumbled timetable monologue, the woman hasn’t in any case noticed the underlying acidity of Real Me’s remark. She is a faded blonde, this woman; hooped earrings; strappy sundress; glittery cheap flat sandals with bunions poking through the straps, chin beginning to sag into her neck. She’s around about my age, pretending not to be. Pretend Me feel ashamed of Real Me’s intended nastiness, even if she didn’t notice.

But not very.

I sometimes wonder if this blog isn’t the same sort of thing: fragments of a whole life – the double-helix life, perhaps I should say, of Pretend Me and Real Me. And as with Bertie’s autobiography, no one will ever have the time, energy or inclination to piece it all together. Maybe this is an autobiography but with other bits and pieces tossed in for good measure, like the sixpence and the mixed spice in the Christmas pudding.

Maybe one day, so far into the future that nothing remains of this century but internet echoes, some future history student will decide to ‘do’ this blog for their dissertation. And fail, distracted by blackberries, bus stops, observations apropos of nothing, chance acquaintances and recipes for appallingly sugary cakes.

‘I don’t think I caught your name…’ says Bertie, oddly formal and still lurking beside his blackberries.

‘I don’t think I told you,’ I say, and tell him. He repeats it to himself several times.

‘I’ll try to remember that,’ he says, looking anxious.

‘Don’t worry,’ I say, ‘I can always remind you’.