March 30, 2012

Mum and I are sitting in the car drinking tea and waiting for Dad. It’s been a busy half hour or so. First I picked up Mabel, with all the palaver and paraphernalia that involves. Then I collected Ian and drove him to his physio appointment. After that Mum and I went in search of cake to eat with the flask of tea I’ve made for us. What we found was a fruit slice, which I’ve been tearing into bite-size pieces so that Mabel can enjoy the rich sweetness of the currants and pastry. Now she and I are waiting for Ian to emerge from the cottage hospital. How long is his appointment for? Nobody knows. So we wait.

On Mabel’s coat is a badge that says ‘Twinkle, Twinkle,’ on it. All around the badge are crumbs from the fruit slice. Well, I suppose crumbs twinkle in their own way. Certainly Mum isn’t keen on me getting rid of them, not while she’s still trying to sit with her tea in peace.


Yes, peace is the word. It’s relaxing sitting here staring at the front of the cottage hospital. ‘HOSPITAL ENTRANCE’ it says in bold letters against pebbledash walls, an arrow pointing towards doors that automatically open and close whenever anyone approaches them. I’m aware of Mum’s breathing as well as my own. I’m aware of the building’s opening and closing. It’s kind of timeless here, if that can possibly be the right word when I’ve become so conscious of our collective mortality.

Eventually an elderly man emerges from the building. He’s holding a stick in one hand and a sheet of paper in the other, and his gait involves a certain amount of lateral movement. ‘Who’s that?” I ask Mum, not really expecting an answer. And indeed I don’t get one.

“I see you’ve got your discharge papers,” I say as Dad climbs into the back seat of the car. “For you, Tommy, the war is over?”

Actually, it’s his Personal Exercise Program and he hands it to me to have a look at. The first of three exercises reads: ‘Stand sideways onto your kitchen worktop and hold on with one hand.’ I’m not sure why exactly, but I start to laugh.

“Not exactly King Kong stuff, is it?” admits Ian.

“Ah, but wait, Dad. It goes on to say. ‘Take three steps backwards then jump over tall building while holding woman against side of body.’”

“I think I’d better wait until you're safely back in the home before doing my exercises. Eh, Mabel?”

Ian is thirsty, so I pour him tea. He tells us that he was sitting outside the physio room for twenty minutes before he was noticed. So while Mum and I were waiting for him here in the car, drinking tea. He was sitting in the corridor outside the room marked ‘physiotherapy’. It’s a well known fact that wet-waiting is more tolerable than dry-waiting, so I express sympathy for his predicament.

Dad tells us that when they eventually became aware of his presence he was told off for not letting them know that he was there. Dad’s retort was that when he’d entered the physio room unannounced on a previous occasion he’d been given some stiff looks, so he wasn’t going to do that again in a hurry.

I form the impression that Dad’s physio session was mainly a tit for tat operation. When one of the physiotherapists offered to give Ian a sheet of physical exercises, he offered to give them a sheet of exercises that would improve their memories so that they didn’t forget about appointments in the future.

When it was suggested that Ian might show a bit more commitment to his exercise program, Ian’s retort was that yesterday he’d called round on a neighbour who’d told him that at his last physio appointment ‘they’d gone too far’.

‘We wouldn’t go too far with any of our patients’, claimed one of the physios.

‘Ah, now I don’t know who to believe,” said Dad, no doubt with a smile.

At home I make a beeline for Mum’s diaries, intent on finding the entry that applies to when she saw
King Kong at the cinema. It’s the 1943 diary I take up first, the year in which Mabel was eighteen. No luck re King Kong, but never mind there is this:

‘Went to pictures to see “Tarzan’s New York Adventure” it was swell, boy how I should like to meet a real he-man like Tarzan, and if you took me away with him I would live happy ever after.’

That was on March 27, 1943. Funny thing is, she’d already met a real man because an entry earlier in the month reads as follows:

‘Went to Quinns to see Micky Rooney, it was swell. Of course, maybe the fact that Ian was there made it so perfect, but the trouble is we’re both too shy, we just give each other a nice smile every time we meet, so that is all the length our marvelous friendship has got, so far.’

Nowadays, Ian still gives Mabel a nice smile every time he meets her, and again when they part, usually without getting much back. Luckily he doesn’t need anything over and above what he was given over the last seventy-odd years.

The way I see it, Mabel gave her all to Ian. How else would he be able, at his age, to emerge from a cottage hospital and leap tall buildings?