September 24: the king is sick

I did a little writing dictation for Clara, my five year old goddaughter based on a line I’d once heard her use to try and start a story; the king is sick.

1. Story

The king is sick
The people are sad.
The princess sings a song
The king gets well.

I realize there is a range of stories I could make.

2. Tragedy

The king is sick.
The people are sad.
The princess sings a song.
The king gets well.
The princess is sick.
The princess dies.
The king sings a song.

3. Black Comedy.

The king is sick.
The people are sad.
The princess sings a song.
The king gets worse.
The princess stops singing.
The king gets well.

4. Horror

The king is sick.
The people are happy.
The princess sings a song.
The king dies.
The people are happy.
The princess is queen.
The people are sad.

5. Soap Opera

The king is sick.
The people are sad.
The princess sings a song.
The king gets well.
The king tells the princess to go to bed.
The princess says she’ll never sing a song again.
The king says whatever.

September 23: single at a dinner party

When you are single at a dinner party it’s not easy. Everyone else is there in a couple and you aren’t. They whisper secret confidences into each other’s ears and you sit there with a smile on your face, deprived of the private persona. But as the years go by you find other people emerging as singles too. Divorces; break-ups; abandonments; whatever. And, of course, you are a professional single, your steely competences in the field honed over long years of experience. How to insinuate into the conversation of a couple; how to offer the enthralling alternative option; how to just walk off into the night, free, the charisma of the singleton intact. Those newcomer singles do not have the skills. I mean, you don’t learn the dark arts of the single overnight. In a play you might write about the subject, all the couples would disappear one by one over the five acts of the drama, and in the last act everyone would be single. Except the initial singleton who would turn up (coup de theatre!) with a partner. The wheel has turned full circle. From then the cycle might begin again.

September 18: buses: the agony and the ecstasy

I was doing the Proust questionnaire and one of the questions was ‘what is your favourite journey?’ I wrote ‘when you get the last bus and it is waiting with the engine off. My favourite moment is when the engine starts and you will know you will be on your way home in a minute.’ Buses can be bliss. Getting the bus after rush hour, about ten o’clock, with all the morning chaos out of the way and trundling through to your destination in the sunshine. At such moments the bus is a good friend to man.
There is another side to the bus story. When you are trying to get somewhere and the bus driver is in advance on his timetable and he keeps hanging around for an extra thirty seconds at every bus stop. That’s when the bus is early. It makes you late. Then when the bus is late it won’t go to its terminus but stops at some earlier provisional terminus and you are all turfed off to wait for the next bus. All the passengers are inconvenienced so that the bus company can pretend it’s running everything on time. Oh bus, you are no friend of mine!

September 12: extinct

Doch auf einmal kehrt sie, wie geweckt,
ihr Gesicht und mitten in das deine:
Und da triffst du deinen Blick im geelen
Amber ihrer runden Augensteine
unerwartet wieder: eingesclossen
wie ein ausgestorbenes Insekt.

(Scwarze Katze, Rilke. 1908)

And suddenly it turns its face
into yours, awake, alert :
and you meet your own image in the golden
amber of its round eyeball
caught off guard: you’re locked in there
like an extinct insect.

(Black Cat, Rilke. 1908)

We are all becoming extinct, gradually, as we understand less and less of the world, its vocabulary, its excitement and reactions. Sometimes we try and keep up with it but our heart isn’t in it. You end up like your dad with nothing left in the world that you recognise and the things that are left a bit rubbish.

September 7: problem solving

In the Seventies the world was not so rife with business-speak. The only thing that people used to trumpet, as though it was the latest in high-tec analysis, was that people at work were either people-oriented or task-oriented. It was the people who were task-oriented that most liked to make this distinction. The people who might be people-oriented didn’t quite understand the distinction. You don’t hear it so much nowadays, this fancy nuance. These days the term that bemuses me is problem-solving. It is a term that people who have studied sciences have always used to distinguish a certain type of question, I believe, but now it has made its way into everyday life to characterise a kind of no nonsense attitude to getting things done, and the new problem-solver types are a bit like the old task-oriented types. They are the kind of people who think that popping a pill will be a simple solution. They say things like: I’ve popped the pill. End of. Or I’ve popped the pill. Full stop. Or Period even. Or they use the prefix Job done. Or I’ve popped the pill. Next. Or Been there. Done that. Got the tee shirt. Oh, it’s tiresome stuff. Problem-solvers must have such manicured minds. But the worlds of ambiguity, ambivalence, compromise and complexity (ie the real world and the world that actually makes life worth living) are closed to them.

September 2 : seeing a doctor

Seeing a doctor these days is not like it used to be. First, I go on-line to check the phone number of the Medical Practice where I am registered. Before I can think about fixing an appointment I must answer a questionnaire. I am in too much of a hurry and mistype my date of birth. The red comment blocks me, saying You must be 100 years old or younger to have a consultation. Fortunately, I am less than a hundred years of age. But there are some who are not these days. Into the on-line questionnaire. What do you expect to achieve from this consultation? I don’t know. You’re the one who set it up. I’m just doing what I’m told. How much is your complaint bothering you? Well, I wouldn’t be bothering with this nonsense if it weren’t. Or, Quite a bit. Or, on a scale of one to ten, five. Is that really useful information? Next question: Is there any treatment you would like to try now? Just a minute. Who’s the doctor here. Or, Please give me some red tablets that look like jelly beans.
I am getting nowhere with this questionnaire. I go to the spontaneous drop-in option as an appointment would be four weeks away, I am told. It opens at 8 am. I get there at 7.30 and wait in the cold outside. At 7.55 two other people arrive and when the door is opened they run upstairs and get in before me. I get to see a doctor at 8.50. I explain what I can about my back. I am wary of saying what someone told me, that it sounds like a trapped nerve. I know doctors don’t like being told what it might be by the patient. Or do they? Difficult to know with this doctor, who won’t come near me or hardly even look at me. He is mostly on his computer. The doctor sends me off to get an x-ray at St Thomas’ Hospital. I go straight there and have the x-ray done. The results will be sent to my doctor, or rather one of the many doctors in the surgery. After a few days I get an email which says phone the surgery to make an appointment to see the doctor to discuss the x-rays. I phone. They say you must phone at 8 am exactly and the doctor will phone you back once you have phoned. I say, can’t he just phone me without me phoning at 8 am? They say no. I phone next day at 8 am. Nobody answers. I try throughout the morning. No answers. I try later in the day. They tell me the doctor has gone home. I don’t say, but there are seven of them. They can’t all have gone home. The next day I go in to the surgery and say Can’t we just pretend that this visit is the equivalent of a call to the reception at 8 am and the doctor can then ring me back? They are scandalised by the suggestion. It is a game whose rules nobody has told me. I have to take pot luck again next morning at 8 am. Next morning I get through. The receptionist is confused as to why I am calling. In the end she takes my number and says the doctor will call me back after 12. I say when after 12, or, rather, when-ish? They don’t like me making demands on the doctor’s time. But the doctor does ring me. It is a different doctor. She says yes, why did you want to speak to me? I say, you have an x-ray you wanted to talk to me about…? I put one of those Australian semi-questions at the end of the sentence. I am, after all, still feeling my way with the rules of the game. When I say you I mean the collective you of the six or seven doctors who work at that surgery. She says all right and finds it and reads me out the technical interpretation of the x-ray and then is silent. I hesitantly say, and what does that mean? She says, it’s difficult to say exactly. I feel as if I am driving the conversation. There is another big silence as if she just wants me to go away. I say, where do we go from here? She isn’t sure. I suggest an MRI scan. She says no. I suggest physio. She says I could go private. I say what about NHS. She says there’s a long waiting list. I say, how long? She says, 6 to 8 weeks. This is nothing compared to what I’d heard. Put me down for it, I say triumphantly and then remembering my place, if that’s all right. She says, all right. Will there be anything else? I say, can I still run? She says, the main thing is keeping mobile. She has never cast eyes on me. I feel she is speaking to me as if I were a very sedentary, not to say heavy, person. If she saw me she would see I was in pretty good shape. It’s all guesswork. It’s not satisfactory. And people are rubbish dot com, including doctors.