Saturday, June 03, 2006

Nancy's story

When Nancy talks, her ill-fitting teeth portion out her phrases like pastry cutters.

'There's a man who owns everything - all this land around us now - as far as the eye can see. But he only had one daughter, a beautiful girl. And she went on a cruise. Or was it a cruise? No! It was a horse thing. And the girl was coming out of a horse box, and she took a turn - and she died. And the man was never the same again. You wouldn't ever get over something like that, would you? It's my birthday today. I've got a cake for my husband in my bag.'
'Oh! Happy Birthday! What flavour's the cake?'
'Who made it?'
'Marks and Spencers.'

Friday, June 02, 2006


Mr Bennett sits straight and tidy in the chair with the day's newspaper folded on his lap. As he talks he punctuates the details of his story with a benign little fall of the mouth, as if this is a story that even he is finding difficult to follow or believe.

'I was an international salesman in the 1960s and 70s. I was abroad more than I was at home - my poor, poor wife - selling power cables to countries like the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Israel, Cyprus. They all wanted electricity, you see. I went all over the world. Beirut was amazing. Everyone went there to let their hair down. They had a casino with a river running right through it - literally, right past the tables. Then one day they drained it and staged a horse race along it. Amazing. Incredible. Not that I gambled much.'

'My wife saved my life you know. I was in Cyprus, staying at a hotel before flying on to Israel the following day. I had taken a shot of insulin ready for the evening meal, and was having a quick drink beforehand in the bar when the waiter stood in the doorway and announced that there was an international phone call for Mr Bennett. I ran upstairs to take it in my bedroom. It was my contact in Israel, ringing up about arrangements for the following day. So we chatted about it for a while, then I hung up and went back downstairs to the restaurant to start my meal. But before I could eat a thing, the waiter came over and tapped me on the shoulder and said that I had another phone call. So I ran back upstairs - and it was Israel again, with some silly little piece of information he'd forgotten to give me. When I put the phone down I knew I'd made a terrible mistake with the timing of my insulin and what have you, and fell on the floor. A few minutes later the phone rang again, but this time it was my wife. I managed to reach the phone, but all I could was make a few slurred sounds. She immediately realised I was having a hypo attack, and that she had to act fast. She also knew that the line to Cyprus was volatile, and that it sometimes happened that the line would go dead and there would be no connection again until the following morning, by which time it would be too late. Anyway, she managed to get back through to the hotel, and persuaded the manager to look in on me. He came back on the line after a minute or two, very cross, and told her that she was to ring back in the morning as I was lying on the floor, drunk. She told him that I certainly was not drunk, that I was going into a diabetic coma. The manager said that he was sorry to have to tell her that I certainly was drunk. I'd been seen drinking in the bar that evening, and I was lying on the floor in my bedroom making disgusting noises. Jenny told him that if he did not give me some sugar immediately that I would die, and he said that he didn't know much about diabetes, but what he did know for sure was that sugar was the last thing he should give me, and hung up. Amazingly, she managed to find the number of a nearby hospital, and they sent a doctor round. It saved my life.'

She was an amazing woman. So strong, and funny. We were both on the same ward six weeks ago, me with my knee and Jenny with her lupus. And that's when she died - I still can't believe it - I was just across from her when it happened, but I didn't know. So of course I couldn't go through with my operation. I doubt I'll bother now.'

Mr Bennett smooths the paper on his lap.

'Another time I was packing the bags away in the lockers over my seat on a flight to Frankfurt when an Indonesian man passed me in the aisle and shook my hand. I knew the face but I just couldn't put a name to it. Anyway, he turned out to be the General Secretary of the United Nations, Mr U-Mant, shaking just about everyone's hand as he made his way down to his seat. And the only reason he was on this particular flight was because he'd swapped planes at the last minute as a security precaution. And we found out later that an hour or so after he got on our plane, the one he was due to fly in was blown up and everyone on board killed.

Oh yes - my life, my life reads like a thriller.