Saturday, January 24, 2015

a short ride

‘Not bad – considering I’m ninety-three.’
‘If you’d have said seventy-three I’d have said no.’
Would you?’
John narrows his eyes and leans forward, his wiry white eyebrows tangled as a hedge in winter.
‘Yep,’ I say.
He holds my gaze a little while, then relaxes back again.
‘Well, I’ve looked after myself,’ he says. ‘Smoking, drinking – it all comes out in the wash.’
Trudy, his daughter-in-law, stands by with all his bags – the medication and the toiletries, the clean pyjamas and the spare dressing gown, the newspaper, address book, brushes and slippers – whilst we help him into our chair.
‘Don’t spare the horses,’ he says.


‘Shame it’s such a short ride to the hospital,’ I say to John, the paperwork done.
‘We could’ve had a nice chat. You could’ve told me about your life.’
‘That would take a long time,’ he says. ‘I am ninety-three, you know.’
‘That’s what I mean.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean – for instance – where were you born?’
‘London. Shoreditch.’
‘I know Shoreditch.’
‘Do you?’
‘Yes. I used to live in London. I was born there. Pimlico. Just behind the Tate.’
‘Oh yes,’ he says, closing his eyes and nodding, as if he could see it all laid out in front of him.
‘By the river,’ he says.
‘That’s it.’
‘Ooh!’ says Trudy. ‘Pimlico. Isn’t that quite posh?’
‘It is now. I don’t think it was then.’
Trudy sighs.
‘It’s all gone up market,’ she says, brushing something from the coat on her lap. ‘I think even Shoreditch is dead trendy now.’
‘Ye-es,’ says John. ‘The railways. All that noise and fuss. I used to spend a lot of time in Farringdon. Liverpool Street. The bridges and arches. ‘Course it was all steam in them days. Great crowds of people coming and going. And the noise! One big, tremendous fuss. And they had these enormous sheds where they used to turn the engines round. The steam engines. You know? Oh yes. When I think back. I must have spent half my life in a cloud of smoke.’
‘Did you work on the railways, then?’
He opens his eyes, turns his head and frowns at me again.
‘The railways,’ I say to him. Did you work on them?’
No I did not!’ he says.
‘Here we are!’ says Trudy, folding the coat over her arm and putting a hand to the bags. ‘You were right about the hospital. That was a short ride.’


tpals said...

Shame. It would have been a fascinating conversation.

Spence Kennedy said...

Particularly to see how many times I could jump to the wrong conclusion!

I think what surprised me most was how violently he reacted when I suggested he worked on the railway - esp. considering how affectionately he described it. Plus it just sounded as if he spent a lot of time hanging round the sidings &c.

No surprise they they busted me off detective squad :/

jacksofbuxton said...

I wonder if John was there for the filming of Passport to Pimlico?

Lynda Halliger Otvos (Lynda M O) said...

Wonder what crossed his mind to generate that type of response ?~! We just cannot know what goes on inside the heads of those we treat; it's one of the best parts of the job, in my view--the little vignettes in which we play a small and yet significant part...

Thanks for sharing.

Spence Kennedy said...

Jack - I think I qualify for that passport! At last - dual nationality!

Lynda - It's a perk, that's for sure. I love it when an elderly patient cuts across the conversation with a random story. They're so vivid - like they're seeing these long past scenes with greater clarity than the present.