COLUMN: October 24, 2013

I HAD to visit my aged mother in hospital. I suppose I did not have to, but these are straitened times and it would be foolish to put an inheritance at risk.

On arrival at the ward, I was confronted by a security measure, an intercom.

I do not like intercoms because I am a natural mumbler with a slight lisp and for some reason I always end up having to spell something containing an S and an F.

In the end, and after several attempts, I am forced to enunciate like Brian Blessed speaking patiently to an idiot who can’t remove his headphones, while people around watch me and throw change into an upturned hat.

It isn’t even a very good security measure. If I were a mob enforcer or enemy agent all I would have to do is say: “I have come to see Fingers O’Shaughnessy. Who am I? Why, I am his brother, Sergei… I mean, Gavin,” and I’d be straight in with my silenced pistol.

I decided to go James Bond myself, and waited till somebody exited the ward, then nipped through the slowly closing door. If I had been in a position to do a forward roll, I would have done that too, but I had just used some anti-bacterial gel on my hands, and also I had a carrier bag with me.

I made my way to the room, where my dear mother was sitting up in bed, holding forth on a recent holiday, and looking to all as if she’d somehow managed to wangle herself a couple of days in bed with room service. And I experienced once again the Iron Rule of Hospital Visiting.

The Iron Rule of Hospital Visiting is this. The number of chairs in a hospital ward room is equal to the number of visitors in the room, minus one.

“Fine,” I thought, forgetting what happens every time I visit somebody in hospital. “There’s plenty of room on the bed. I can sit there. If anything the bed will probably be more comfortable.”

The trouble with sitting on the bed, which becomes apparent immediately, is that you are sitting with your back to at least one person. And so you conduct all conversation as if reversing a car up a tight road.

I am getting old and my neck cannot stand up to this sort of pressure any more, so I looked for a way out.

There was a slightly forbidding elderly woman in the bed opposite. I would not say she was rude, but if you were serving her in Gregg’s and her steak bake were not absolutely piping hot you would not be left in ignorance. She was dozing and her visitors had taken advantage of this fact to leave.

I crept across and liberated one of her chairs, then implanted it at the foot of my mother’s bed and commenced chatting to her and her other visitors like a normal person, trying to think of things I hadn’t said on the previous two visits.

A couple of minutes later, I heard the words, “Excuse me, young man?” Nobody calls me “young man” anymore. The last time I was called “young man” I was in trouble. Slightly Forbidding Elderly Woman must have counted the chairs. She looked the sort.

I stood up and turned around.

“I’m sorry, you were asleep, and…”

She held up a hand. “I want to read. Please switch on my light.”

That was a relief. For the second time that day I’d got away with borderline criminal behaviour.

This is how Breaking Bad starts. Perhaps five years from now I might be an actual mob enforcer.

There was a daunting array of switches behind the woman, like the flightdeck of a jumbo jet. I flicked the switch behind her, but it did not settle, springing out again like a doorbell. I tried it again and again, then realised it clearly wasn’t that one.

I struck lucky with the next switch. The light came on, she thanked me brusquely, and I sat down.

Then a nurse burst in to the ward and strode over to the woman, crying: “What’s wrong?! What’s the emergency?!”

The woman looked baffled. “You pressed the call button three times,” the nurse said.

The woman was outraged. She pointed at me with a bony finger. “HE did it!” she barked, like Lady Bracknell.

“You’d better go,” my mother said.

“But visiting time isn’t over,” I said.

“Yes, I know,” she replied.

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