This morning I was awoken by the carbon-copy of a conversation I had already participated in six months ago when I last stayed here, but this time it was my brother David playing my part. Olde dad says I have to go to see doctor. David says what’s wrong? Olde dad says I’m bad. David says where do you feel bad? Olde dad says everywhere. David says why don’t you have a cup of tea and see how you get on? David was up early to go for a walk in the hills. Olde dad had handbagged him in the hall.
After a cup of tea the crisis was nearly past. The doctor was forgotten but I had to go to the chemists for pills (olde dad calls it the pharmacy for extra gravitas). I said let’s push the boat out and have another cuppa. Olde dad takes two types of pills. One called Somethingaprazzle which is for his stomach; the other is an ibuprofen type pain-killer for his shoulder which aches now and again. I tell him he’s gor a bad shoulder because he sits around all day and a bad tummy because he eats shit. I try and phrase it nicer than that. But he wants to be taking pills. He is astounded and dejected that he isn’t iller than he is. Everyone of his generation is now dead – wife, brother, sister, all the family of his wife, all those uncles and aunts of mine in Manchester or Australia – all dead, all gone, and he’s left with the younger generation who don’t understand anything. And he isn’t even ill! He’s actually fighting fit. It’s a scandal! He’s hunting round for an illness to have. There is decline, of course there is decline, but there is no big enemy. He’s involved in a skirmish but he wants a battle. The other day he went to the dentist. The dentist said what’s the problem? Olde dad said I’ve got a bad shoulder. I try imagining the look on the dentists’s face. Olde dad is like Fabrice del Dongo in Stendhals’ novel La Chartreuse de Parme. Fabrice rides all the way from Italy to a place called Waterloo to fight next to his hero Napolean but when he gets there he kind of misses the battle. Wherever he rides off to, the battle seems to have shifted on from. He sees some horses disappearing over a horizon; he hears some explosions in the distance, he spies some soldiers in fancy hats who might be generals, but he can never get himself into a centre where the key action is taking place. He is always on the margins. He’s like a man who comes to the dentists with a bad shoulder.