Sunday, 31 December 2017

WAR IS OVER?



We spent Christmas Eve with best friends in Highgate; saw the kids off at Waterloo to spend Christmas with their father, and zapped home to collect heaving turkey, trimmings and sackloads of sickly delights. We were just beyond Brixton in selfish traffic when the call came: that my father had fallen, my tiny mother couldn't pick him up, and that she had dialled Emergency. When we reached the Wolds maybe an hour or so later, a prickling of snow clouded the headlights as frosty wind made moan.
Paramedics don't mess about. They do the full-body on the spot. They toil to exacting guidelines. With oxygen levels deemed life-threateningly low, they were obliged to convey my father to A&E. With Dad stretchered, wired, cannula'd and 02-ed to within a gasp, I sat, holding his hand ... for eleven and a half hours. I realised that the anything but silent night had turned only when a bacon sandwich of a voice took to the hospital tannoy: 'The Paediatric Department would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas ...' followed by similar from various other hospital departments after that.
Back at the ranch, my mother and elder daughter had long retired. Perhaps not with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, but with what horror they might awake to.
We were waiting for a bed, so that my father could be admitted. No extortionate five-star health insurance policy will help you on this date, in this situation. We'd be lucky. A porter let slip that the only way we'd get one during the early hours of Christmas Day would be if some poor unfortunate up on a med ward should die. Who'd wish that? I dozed in the orange polypropylene chair. Watched the bleeding, the bruised and the battered of the Borough of Bromley and North West Kent being stretchered into bays as if from the battlefield. Back home, Mamma succumbed to norovirus, and spent the day appealing to the newborn Almighty on the white porcelain wall-mounted. The sumptuous feast went in the bin. There is always next year.
The days between Christmas and New Year tend to evaporate. They did this year. The killer germ took me down too, as it was bound to. Dad got the better of his chest infection, and has been allowed home, on nuclear antibiotics. I'll be back there tonight. If we can stomach the thought of champagne at midnight, we might have some.
I haven't been out-out on New Year's Eve for eleven years. We revelled blindly as a couple, and partied annually as a family, our round-the-clock home Party Central. Few would dispute that it's not the best singles' night. Real life does not propel Billy Crystals through freezing New York streets to claim Meg Ryan-sized hearts on the count of twelve. The rictus grin we feel obliged to pull when surrounded by kissing lovers is not the best look. I was once lured along to a singles-only New Year's dinner-dance, only to quit before 10pm, feeling like a chunk of meat on a stick in a lions' den. I was better off at home behind my own knitted cushions, watching Queen with Adam Lambert by myself. Which is not to say that I don't have the best New Year's memories. My favourite? Go on, then, David Bowie's old gaff, Britannia Bay House, Mustique, in 1991.
Resolutions? Well. On Christmas Eve, I saw shadows in the pale blue eyes of my eighty-six year-old father, as he asked me over and over where his mother was. They were him as a fierce young footballer, a debonair globe-trotter, the Richard Burton of Fleet Street, the Voice of Sport. As a child, I saw him on television more often than at our dinner table. He was in so many ways a figure of fantasy to me. He still is. Now a frail, slightly shrunken old man with his best years behind him, he is nevertheless no less than he always was.

The lesson being, if there is something that you have always longed to do, see, experience, be - do it now. Time will not wait. New Year's Eves are inconsequential. Reflect, if you have to, on the highs and lows of 2017 - but then move on. Memories and nostalgia are so time-consuming. Like all those boxes in the attic, they take up too much room. Our eyes are in the front of our heads for a reason.  What's on the cards? 2018, for me, will mark the publication of my debut volume of memoir. May the coming year be a thrill and a game-changer for you all.

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