skelly's Stories: I suppose my feelings on what I'm trying to do and what is driving me came after the death of my closest friend and confidant.
I've been trying to establish a style of writing and presentation unique to me since 1995. From that time onwards my apprenticeship was focused on one story 'The Resurrection of Timothy Malone.' I wanted to inject into that irony, pathos, humour and hope all within the realms of plausibility. When I retired I stuck to it doggedly and often disappointed my enthusiasm waned. To some extent depressed I began drinking heavily. My greatest friend was to suffer from brain tumours and witnessing his painfully slow decline I realised I hadn't time for self indulgence and writing became a priority. I went to visit Howard every other week. He was hospitalised in Devon and I would travel from London which gave me the time and opportunity to recall and note all we'd been through together. From what I practised when writing Timothy Malone I used to my satisfaction to write the journal 'Two Slugs and a Satsuma.' which is a description of the tumours that led to my friend's demise. Coincidently,between my visits I began passing blood which was misdiagnosed as kidney stones, the later and true prognosis was bladder cancer. I've tried to offset the pathos when visiting Howard with an account of the treatment I received in a critical, sometimes sarcastic and hopefully humorous style. I'd like to present an example.
Early morning at seven o'clock, I made my entrance at the reception of the urology department in St. Marks. I brought with me all that I was required to bring, house coat, slippers and toiletries. Handing my appointment letter to the receptionist, I joined some twenty people or more waiting. I had no idea what to expect as no doubt had the others sharing the same glazed expression that I probably had, each of us resigned to our fate, unsure and a little afraid. Because of the advancing years of myself and almost everybody there, I felt that I could have been an extra on a film set somewhere in Poland, who, after being selected, had been waiting with others to be taken from the ghetto to the camps. Names were called out in groups of four, and because the initial of my surname belonged to the far end of the alphabet, I joined the last. We were taken to a room where there were four cubicles to change in, and we were each given a flimsy gown that tied at the back. Once I'd changed and attired in my house coat, I followed those in front of me to a mixed ward and watched while curtains were drawn around the beds to afford those laying upon them some privacy. Shortly afterwards a nurse came to check my blood pressure and pulse rate. Before she'd finished another lady joined us to go over the forms that had been ticked and I'd signed days previously to make sure that my answers to her questions then were correct. Shortly afterwards the surgeon came to explain the procedures I would undergo and the risks involved. Knowing full well what would follow if I didn't, I gave my consent and waited after the curtains had been drawn around me with my head on the pillow while the morning passed, not caring to be taken to an experience I would sooner delay, until the curtains opened upon the next act when I'd be taken to the theatre.
I awoke amid the groans from a mini multitude and the recovery room was bathed in sunlight. I lay there wide awake, but unable to read the clock without my glasses. I watched a nurse making her way through rows of trolley beds until she reached mine. She looked first at the all-important information on the clipboard that had been hooked onto the bottom of the bed, and then adjusted the drip above my head. At my request she reached down to the shelf beneath me for the transparent bag that contained my personal belongings and what had been of more concern to me, my glasses. It had been four o'clock and I waited another three hours watching the daylight dim until being taken to a ward when it would seem a bed had become available. The clown that came to collect me began a chain of events that would make my short stay unforgettable. It soon became apparent that the staff attending to the menial services had angst with the NHS. My assigned porter made a point of striking every obstacle he couldn't avoid with the wheels with as much force as he could. Going over some more than once, to send reverberations through three tubes sprouting like an antenna from a catheter that swung in every direction. When I yelled at him he seemed to become more determined to add to my misery, until leaving me in the middle of the ward. The small knitted blanket that had previously provided me with some dignity, had travelled to the end of the bed where I'd been unable to reach it; consequently he left me exposing the recent additions to my lower organ to the other patients and their visitors. When a nurse finally came to see if I needed anything, I expressed, through my annoyance, that that should be apparent to anyone with regard for another's self-respect. She apologised and pushed me to the end of the ward and to a bed next to a window on the right. Shortly afterwards she returned with another porter and between them they removed the bed there and replaced it with mine. I'd not ingested anything other than a glass of water that morning since midnight the previous evening. I requested something to eat to be told the last meal had been served before my arrival. Her concern had been to the extent that she returned a short while afterwards with some digestive biscuits and a cup of tea. I expressed my gratitude, but through no fault of hers, I spent the night awake listening to the sounds from my stomach increasing. Periodically I would try to release the pressure building as quietly as I possibly could to enable me to feel more comfortable.
My breakfast the following morning, which as far as I was concerned, consisted of a piece of toast and a cup of tea because I found the porridge with jam previously ordered unpalatable, became another disappointment. To help pass the night I had been anticipating bacon, egg and beans and at times felt I could smell it once daylight lit upon the ward.
Later on a uniformed lady, seeming of some authority, came to visit bringing with her a locked case with warning markings that would put to shame those of the most venomous creatures on the planet.
Inasmuch as my demons had hardly made their presence felt, they were about to make their departure known. Impressed by the gently ability she displayed when she flushed and emptied my bladder I began to feel more kindly towards her. Unfortunately when she began filling it with one of her many toxins the following acute burning sensation had been more effective than a bucket of cold water in extinguishing the kindling of any previous fellings.
Afterwards she instructed me into synchronising my watch with hers then left, but not before telling me that I had to spend fifteen minutes on my back, either side and on my front. Lying on my back was bearable although I felt compelled to grit my teeth, either side produced inaudible expletives, but lying on the fucking front. Prostrate wasn't possible because of the bloody thing dangling from me, the only alternative being on all fours. The pressure gravity put on that thing which sounded like a Turkish dress increased with the minute and I felt that I had to restrain myself from sending it like a poisoned dart across the ward. My utterances became more vehement the more I cursed those who reigned in heaven and hell for never listening to my complaints. The nurse who apologised to me after my entrance into the ward came through the curtains with two pain killing tablets in a small plastic cup. To my shame I told her crudely to stick them in the one place where it was possible to at that time.
True to her word, after an hour, Josef Mengele's niece returned with Pandora�??s Box. She placed another pipe to join those there and began to flush away whatever it was she'd previously filled my bladder with into a strong transparent plastic bag. She carefully contained it all in the case, presumably to be safely disposed of later. When she'd finished she told me to lay back and cough while she removed everything that been inserted earlier. I drank litre after litre of water and was allowed to leave once I could pass some of it through an abused orifice that burnt like buggery. Told to take lots of fluids, I left to find the nearest pub.
Barbara, Howard's wife, rang some time afterwards with devastating news. Howard�??s lesions were three aggressive tumours which had become quite invasive and couldn't be removed surgically. They'd been described as being like two slugs and a Satsuma.
The following morning I went to Paddington Station and at the ticket office I asked the clerk what would be the cheapest way to travel by train to Paignton and return. He was very helpful and I purchased a senior citizen's rail card which, if I avoided travelling on Friday, reduced the fare to almost that of the coach. And comparing the train to a coach was like comparing a colour film to a silent movie. Barbara's words of 'we're all in denial' haunted me throughout the journey. In choosing to believe what I hoped would be the outcome, without the facts and when the odds were slim, seemed reasonable at the time, but deep down I suppose I knew this moment had to come. This hadn't been the only occasion when the truth presented itself after I'd chosen to ignore it, but it had been the first time I reflected upon it. It seemed to me now that in choosing to ignore what had really been going on was endemic, albeit to a greater or lesser extent, and was something we all chose to do because it became easier, and made us feel safer. When it comes down to it, the truth is what we choose to believe until, either painfully or not, we're made to realise differently.
I got off the train at Torre which was the railway station nearest to the hospital. When I got to the ward Roland was Howard's sole companion. He sat on the bed at the top with his arm around his father. With his other hand he kept reaching for Howard's to prevent Howard from reaching for one of the many things that either hurt him or irritated him. The monitor at his bedside bleeped, farted, l. e. d.'s flashed from red to green, digits constantly changed and when it emitted a high pitched monotone a nurse came to check and reset it. I took a chair and sat opposite, on the other side of the bed to Roland. He looked at me and his eyes said it all. I could find nothing to say and all I could do to help was to take the hand that Roland kept reaching for while listening to the words of comfort he spoke softly to his father. Whenever Howard reached up my hand followed his until gently lowering his with mine. I hoped that he was aware of my presence when he turned his head to me. His eyes were as large as robin's eggs, his lips partially open were fixed and he allowed me to bring his hand to my cheek. He continued to look and his lips parted further, but ever so slightly, sorrowfully, with a question he'd been unable to ask or with something he wanted to say. His hand relaxed making no attempt to rise and that was the only indication I was given that he'd drifted into sleep. I thought of Mac Murphy's last moments with the big chief as Roland lowered his father's head to the pillow. I left Roland with Howard to go outside to spend some time in the sun and spoke to Roger and his wife Patty when they came to visit.
Roger invited me back to his place. Later we went for a meal and a drink in 'The Vigilance.' The season approached mid-summer and the holiday makers were, as they generally did, making their presence felt, skimpily clad and a diversity of accents going from pub to pub. In order to avoid them, once Patty had left, Roger took me to a pub known to him and away from the tourists. The respect there shown to Roger had been from the parents of the children he taught and from those who'd grown to leave school. We stayed until late, the doors were locked at closing time to those outside, but those inside could remain and Roger introduced me to those concerned as Howard's friend. We went back to Roger's later. Patty was in bed and Roger put into the C.D.player 'Ten New Songs' by Leonard Cohen. I listened to it again and again that summer, especially, 'Alexandra Leaving'. Hearing it afterwards would bring me back here, to this time and place.
Roger and Patty, as I did, liked to indulge in smoking cannabis and Roger cracked a bottle of wine which we drank between us.
Roger spoke eloquently and he recited something from a selection of prose he'd written. It was descriptive of the 'The Overgang' a recreational area that overlooked Brixham harbour often drowned in the sound of gulls returning with the trawlers. I went there often that summer to contemplate, and would always be surprised to find myself alone in a place with such a beautiful and far reaching view. Roger enjoyed reading aloud and continued, reciting from Dylan Thomas of life's passing. I recalled a quote from another Welshman Howard and I both knew in 'The Roslyn Arms.' Doey Jones had a beautifully lyrical accent and I could never forget his words of 'When Dylan Thomas spoke on the radio there was a hush in the valleys and villages broken only by the sound of falling manuscripts'. I found myself close to tears, as no doubt did Roger, that night of our wake, which would be to be the first of many.