Clang! Clang! Ding-a-ling! Can I have silence in the bar please! Your landlady would like to say a few words.
I would like to propose a toast.
Some of my more regular readers are aware that I have been unwell for a couple of years now, a malfunctioning thyroid, backfiring and spluttering its way through the day has caused all sorts of problems.
Thanks to the wonderful French health service, I have been primped and primed with all manner of substances, and the thyroid is now running reasonably well. No Ferrari, but serviceable.
I’ve never been one to read the instructions, so paid no attention to the blurb on the bottle that said ‘May also cause….’ I should have done.
Yesterday I left the consultant’s office reeling from the effects of – to quote that admirable wordsmith, Anton Vowl – “a pool table landing on my head as I walked through life’s cornfield”. It seems that ‘may also cause’ on the side of the bottle of artificial hormones went on to say, rheumatoid arthritis. It’s a bloody minded disease, and not something you should try at home children.
I was fairly stunned you could say, and it was not just the searing pain. As it happens, we have a house full of visitors at the moment, and a lot going on in our ‘real’ life. I needed to hobble back in through the front door looking full of cheer. Not easy with a pool table on your head.
Mr G. the ever present rock in my life, gave me a few minutes to compose myself, and went on ahead to briefly tell our guests the news. By the time I entered the room, there was a conversation in full swing regarding an ex-neighbour of ours, a stunningly beautiful girl who had contracted the same malady during the hormonal upheaval of her first pregnancy. By the time her son was two weeks old she was in a wheelchair and needed round the clock care from two carers with a third for her son. Two years later the house was a forest of lifting devices, walk in showers and all the paraphernalia of the permanently disabled.
One day she announced that she was pregnant again. Social Services were horrified; enormous pressure was put on her to have an abortion – she couldn’t possibly cope! She sat in my kitchen in floods of tears after yet another ‘it’s in your best interests’ attempt to change her mind. She wouldn’t. Even though she had just found out she was carrying twins…Social Services were beside themselves.
A couple of months later, she went into labour, wheeled into an ambulance with the full panoply of carers beside her. I didn’t see her for three weeks or so. When I did, I was stunned.
There she was, happily skipping down the road, wheeling her new born sons and her toddler down the road without a care in the world. The hormonal upheaval of the second pregnancy had quite literally chased away the rheumatoid arthritis overnight, and was never heard from again.
“That’s the answer Mr G” I said – “you’ll just have to get me pregnant with twins”.
“I don’t think I’m quite man enough for that task” he said. We all laughed. It is the only task I’ve ever set him that he has baulked at.
They say that empty vessels make the most noise – Mr G is a vessel so full that if it does emit a sound when struck, it is not audible to the human ear. The rare occasions when he speaks, and then only when a grunt will not suffice, you can be sure that no weasel words escape his lips, no unfulfilled promises, no carelessly meaningless words of charm and flattery, nor of sarcasm or unkindness; he has no ego, no desire to be admired by the outside world. You will never see a comment on the blog by him – it is not his way. He is a man of solid, silent action. You can set your clock by him; you can bet the farm on his word being his bond.
You might catch sight of him in the distance, sawing an unwanted tree into planks that will turn into an eminently useful table for someone, or whittling a discarded piece of rosewood into a new leg for an old chair, you can be sure he will be doing something of value, some piece of ‘action’ that will benefit someone somewhere. It is his way.
A little later that afternoon, he caught up with me in the kitchen, put his arms round me and burst into unaccustomed expansive speech. “Don’t you worry about twins, I’ll look after you” he said. And he will. He handed me a new walking stick he had made me during the afternoon, fashioned from a piece of Hazelwood in the hedgerow – the centre of gravity just so, the gnarled handle grown at just the right angle for my hand, a protruding joint whittled into a comfortable ‘knob’ to prevent my hand slipping off, – and the right length for my long legs. Practical and perfect.
As I’ve stumbled and groped my way around the house the past few months, sometimes reliant on his arms to move me from computer to kitchen, sometimes doggedly under my own steam, he has developed a shorthand to avoid speech. One quizzically raised eyebrow means – ‘you look as though you are trying to get up, can I help you’, two eyebrows raised in alarm means’ I think you’re going to topple over, let me get it’.
Last night as I made dinner for our guests, I reached for a lemon, he handed me a different knife – ‘try that, it’s lighter and I’ve sharpened it’, it sliced through the lemon without any pressure from me; before I had finished, the lemon squeezer came down from its high resting place without any reaching from me, strong hands volunteered to extract the juice ‘while you check on the rice’. Seamlessly, silently, he pre-empted my every need, and tactfully took care of any action I might find difficult. To the untrained eye, I was still in charge of cooking dinner for my guests. We had a wonderful evening, full of laughter and joy and light.
It has been difficult to keep the blog going the past couple of months; I have made mistakes and released posts earlier than I should have done; sent e-mails to the wrong people, with potentially deadly consequences; written leaden prose; stupid errors of fatigue and too many pain killers. I am going to give it a rest for a bit; ten days, two weeks, three weeks?
I don’t know. I need some time to train the binary habits of the new medication into something I can cope with. At the moment it veers between ‘not working yet’ and ‘so you wanted to sleep for 12 hours did you’.
I leave you in the capable hands of my esoteric choice of bar staff, SadButMadLad, Andrew, Gildas, Gloria and the rest– a crew so varied that you never know what to expect next – but they will continue to man the pumps, pull you a pint, open the doors each day, light your fag for you, and encourage you to join in the conversation. This blog has never been about my voice, or theirs, but yours; mine just happened to be the name over the door.
I shall be back; soon, I just can’t give you a date at the moment.
In the meantime, would you raise your glasses and join me in a toast to Mr G? – a quite remarkable man, a real man. When the going gets tough, the sort that is right there where you can lean on them. You can keep your silver tongued charmers.
I am an incredibly lucky woman.