Archive | September, 2013

Strangers in some pain (in Maidstone). 5.

6 Sep

Maidstone is the county town of Kent. It boasts some 100,000 souls. The unsightly, jammed roads feeding into it from the four points of the compass are warnings for those who enter: abandon some, if not quite all, of your hope. The tawdry and the chic nestle cheek-by-jowl; the former like seeding nettles overgrowing the latter. Moat Park, however, is a glory – so too the hidden quiet of the Medway towpath. The occasional grand mediaeval architecture rebukes the hideous one-way system. Benjamin Disraeli and Anne Widdecombe, perhaps surprisingly, thought well-enough of the place to represent the locals in Parliament.

My GP had sent me for an endoscopy – a questionable procedure involving a camera being shoved down your throat and pictures taken of your insides while the Nikon tube enjoys the ride through your body. My Renault Laguna approached the city from the south, negotiated the stop-go swirl of the one-way and headed for Maidstone Hospital along the Tonbridge Road. Papers informing me of the horrors of my impending appointment lay on the passenger seat along with the consent forms sealing my fate. It couldn’t be worse than the traffic, surely? The Maidstone NHS Trust had predicted ‘up to three hours’ for my little excursion to their medical nirvana. They didn’t reckon on car parking, for starters.

The hospital is on Hermitage Road – a highway clearly ill-equipped to deal with  the mass of sick humanity, their carers, their families and friends – and the frantic comings and goings to A and E (situated mid-hospital), of wailing ambulances. Early afternoon and car-park A was full like a Tesco Extra. I hovered, engine idling, waiting to ambush a departee. I was ambushed at my first park-slot-shimmy by a white-van man who was far too slick on his accelerator. An old hand, I thought. No matter, a slot two bays along appeared within seconds and I wasn’t going to be gazumped again. As I heaved myself out of my wagon I caught the eye of white-van man striding past. I was sure he fired a smirk in my direction.

Then into the Cathedral of Pain. A charming lady at the front desk directed me down this corridor or that and I strolled purposefully through the bustle. My parking delay had contrived to bring me to the Endoscopy and Urology reception desk, bang on time, rather than my usual, calm, ten minutes early. I had noted the light green fatigues that are now all the rage in the NHS. Doctors and others swagger down corridors looking as if they are about to paint the walls rather than save lives. Identity cards are clipped at rakish angles in unlikely places – usually about the hip. Whatever happened to lanyards (great word) around the neck. Oh yes, one or two admin people use those. I guess surgeons don’t want their plastic mugshots to get in the way of lifesaving surgery.

My receptionist was a smiling delight. She was a large handsome girl who had shoe-horned herself, unforgivably, into something designed for Audrey Hepburn. I was to wait on one on the red chairs, not the blue. I sat next to the water-cooler and surveyed the waiting room. About thirty people, I guessed, evenly gender-distributed,  waiting for ‘procedures’ of one sort or another. I estimated that around half could have done with losing more than a couple of stone. A calm, quiet concern hung in the air. It was a steamy-hot day. Not far away the rescue services were trying to sort out that huge pile up in Sheppey. Here, as there, no air-conditioning. The staff-nurses fluttered by. Eventually one alighted on me. Another charmer, a young Asian woman with nice manners and a winning smile. She checked the papers which the receptionist had checked. She checked that I had understood what I had already agreed to. She checked my blood pressure.’ And now sir, all we have to do is wait a little while.’

Well, the little while was a little hour but, I had been forewarned. Meanwhile I resumed my place by the water-cooler. No sooner was I back in position and opening my book than a man looking remarkably like Peter O’Toole boomed into the area. He had a rather cowed, bespectacled lackey in tow – clearly to chauffeur him away after his ‘procedure’. In a voice that the back row of the dress circle would have heard comfortably he announced himself to Audrey on reception and looked about the room as he addressed her. ‘We’re early, darling. We found a simply brilliant route through the ghastly traffic. I’m dying for water but I don’t suppose I’m allowed even a moistening of the lips, am I?’

Audrey charmed her way through his litany of camp pronouncements and, to my joy, I discovered dear Peter coming to join me just the other side of the water-cooler. I wanted to engage him in conversation but, knowing that the whole waiting room would hear his thespian boom, I shrank into my book. He dismissed his man to the café and shook a copy of the Times open. Within seconds he was making response-noises to items of news. A comment here: ‘…Well that’s just plain silly…’ ;a snort or harrumph there. An occasional giggle; a final ‘Oh, no!’ How wonderful to be unconcerned by those around; what fun I had in listening.

And then I was called. Clothes off, gown on and into the chamber. Three people: a smiling young trainee who cracked a joke I didn’t get as he sprayed a numbing anaesthetic on my tonsils; an older nurse, like an auntie who was going to hold my head as the camera entered my body; the taciturn doctor with an Eastern Euro name who was all efficiency and calm. The process of having the tube rammed down me along with concomitant retching, I need not describe. Ten minutes and a sore throat. That was all, really. I’d like to claim some greater hero-status but there are too many who have had the gastroscope to gainsay me. Mr Estonia showed me the pictures of my insides and explained the workings of my oesophagus. I was definitely impressed.

I took my prescription to the pharmacy and a Chinese-looking guy with perfect manners and English warned me of a twenty-minute wait. OK. I had only used up two of my three hours anyway. I sat and returned to my book – Life Class by Pat Barker. A nurse walked by and asked what I was reading – clearly a bookish girl. ‘Best to bring a book when you come to the NHS!’ she jauntily remarked. I protested that I always take reading material for any sit-and-wait experience…but my excusing the NHS got lost in her rushing to her next thing. I wondered if employees believe their own negative press.

A fat middle-aged woman appeared with a thin husband. Jack Spratt. She approached the same charming pharmacist. He apologised for the delay. ‘Twenty minutes!’ she screechingly repeated. ‘That’s not good enough.’ Before the young functionary could apologise more a nurse came in from A and E, by-passed the now-burgeoning queue and said firmly but calmly that she had to get supplies for an ambulance that had to go out on a call. She was allowed the jump the outpatient queue. Fair enough we all thought. But not Jack Spratt’s wife. ‘You’re joking,’ she whined – and then – ‘It wouldn’t happen at Pembury.’ The beleaguered nurse kept muttering apology and while I thought of a scything, bitter piece of sarcasm to wither the crone, I kept my rapier sheathed. More’s the pity.

Another charming chemist delivered my bag of sweeties and I walked with trepidation to the parking payment station. I passed Jack Spratt’s wife slurping tea in the café – having left hubby to wait at the pharmacy. A half-eaten piece of chocolate cake lay waiting for her final attack of the afternoon.

£3 for parking. A snip after two and a half hours. But wait. The queue to exit the place extended out of sight. No matter, my throat was easing. I was leaving a tad earlier than planned. I had been well-treated, with good manners – and entertained by the great British public.  My Renault Laguna headed south, hope intact, from the inferno.

Only Words..

4 Sep

It was bad enough and sad enough when we heard that Cliff Morgan, great rugby player, great rugby man, great human being died a few days ago. To follow this with the news that first David Frost and then David Jacobs had gone too has given me such pause for thought.

What characterised each of these eminent but very different broadcasters was their use of language. Morgan was all passion and instinct – the words flowed as effortlessly as his enthusiasm. Frost developed from the sharp satirical witticism of TW3 to the consummate stealth interviewer of Richard Nixon. Jacobs, incongruously cast as the chair of Juke Box Jury in the early 60s was all suavity and a husky timbre of voice that I can hear as I tap the keys to write.

It’s unfortunate that my children can’t tap into the memories of the 50s and 60s when I was growing up. Of course they will have similar triggers, one hopes, for excellence in broadcasting and those men and women who were defined by a certain style – a way with words.

Cliff Morgan is renowned for his commentary of the 1973 classic New Zealand v Barbarians game. That try. He was enraptured: This is great stuff…Phil Bennett covering…brilliant!…Oh, that’s brilliant… great dummy…brilliant by Quinnell…this is Gareth Edwards…a dramatic start…what a score! Oh oh that fellow Edwards. If the greatest writer of the written word would have written that story, no one would have believed it.

Naturally words in a blog can’t convey the poetry of the moment so Youtube should help. Cliff was an institution for those of us tuning in to sports on TV back in those days. His relish of that turn of phrase to convey his joy at brilliant skill was infectious. He was no commentator -that famous game apart – and he deferred to that other charismatic wordsmith Bill McLaren with characteristic charm and humility. His use of language was as instinctive as his love of people and life.

Sir David was higher profile from the moment Ned Sherrin took him on as the feisty frontman for That Was the Week That Was. So much followed. He became a broadcasting superstar but I still have shivers when I recall his demolition of the corrupt insurance executive Emil Savundra.

And David J. All huskiness and aplomb. It’s hard to imagine him fronting the ‘cutting edge’ pop music show Juke Box Jury in this day and age. What links the three men is their part in my youth but, more, their voices, their words, their charm. The spoken word can be so memorable and we are lucky to come across a few in our lives whose eloquence can raise our spirits and understanding. These three were broadcasters but perhaps even they might defer to Seamus Heaney whose death has added a fourth voice stilled of late.

Heaney’s Nobel Prize of 1995 rewarded a prodigious worker-in-progress. I missed him at school but his influence on my teaching life – and that of the current generation has been profound. Death of a Naturalist seemed a whole new way of conveying the experience of growing up. Affecting and effective Heaney wrote: Between my finger and my thumb/The squat pen rests/I’ll dig with it. This fusion of his rural, farming heritage and his writing life gave his poetry a similar dimension to that of Ted Hughes:authenticity.

So wordsmiths all. And as Barry Gibb once sang: Words are all I have/To take your heart away. The heart has taken a little bashing this week.

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