March 11, 2018
A conversation from three years ago: My then 82-year-old mother was talking to her then 83-year-old sister called Joy.
Mum: ‘What happened to your floral bedspread?’
Joy: ‘I gave it to Barbara.’
Mum: ‘Didn’t she die?’
Joy: ‘Yes, she did.’
Mum: ‘Did you get the bedspread back?’
February 23, 2018
Bloody H3N2. Your head hurts. It feels as if your brain has swollen and is rubbing against the inside of your skull. Your throat and lungs are raw, as if you are standing over a boiling kettle, breathing in the steam. Every cell in your body feels bloated by disease. It hums with alien life. It boils and aches.
In your mind’s eye, you picture vicious influenza A virus subtype H3N2 invaders piercing your cells, swarming in and destroying. You look in the mirror and see tiny, watery eyes weighed down by exhausted lids and eyebrows. Your face is murky. Your dreams are fever nightmares about all the things you haven’t done and all the catastrophes that are about to befall you.
But miraculously, Day Six dawns and the heavy military machine of your immune system is waking up. It’s fighting back. You are out of bed and although it feels as if you are walking on the moon, you raise your arm and shake your fist. You will not destroy me.
January 19, 2018
My mother visited her local clinic yesterday. While she was having a blood test, the nurse casually asked her how old she is.
‘I’m 84. I’ll be 85 in March,’ she replied, not without a touch of pride.
The nurse told Mum she’d seen another 84-year-old woman the previous day. ‘She brought her mother along,’ she said.
‘What?’ Mum asked. ‘Her mother?’
Yes, the nurse replied, ‘Her mother. She’s 104.’
December 11, 2017
I woke up in the middle of the night with a very clear awareness of death. It was not frightening. It was an understanding that one day all this, all that I perceive to be real and important, would no longer exist. It was a razor sharp moment of insight into the end of things. It wasn’t a dream. It was a glimpse of the inevitable. A moment of illumination, an unveiling of truth.
November 26, 2017
Last night I was entering a side door to a party in a bar above a pub when someone said loudly, ‘She’s a homophobic lesbian!’ I stopped and looked at the young man who had said it.
He was drinking at an outdoor table with two others. He looked embarrassed and sweetly apologised, ‘I didn’t mean you. We were talking about someone else.’
Laughing now, I carried on up the stairs, following the signs for the private party. At the upstairs bar I was greeted by three people in fancy dress. One man was bare-chested and had a large donkey head sticking out of the front of his trousers. The place was decorated with balloons for a party. There was a piddly bowl of punch on the bar. But there were only these three people. They looked expectant and slightly awkward.
I didn’t know them. I was at the wrong venue. The place where I was supposed to be was another five minutes up the road. It was a much, much better party.
November 10, 2017
The footpaths are quite wide on the boulevards in Paris. I was hurrying along one of these on Wednesday when I noticed a man standing in the middle of the pavement. He was in his forties, a little ragged around the edges. He had a cigarette in his hand.
I was moving around him when he coughed. He turned without looking and spat, only missing me by a nanometre because I managed to do a sideways leap in time. I let out a squeak of protest. His mouth dropped open. We were both as surprised as each other.
He began to apologise but then seemed to think better of it. He chuckled. ‘You should never walk behind me,’ he scolded.
I hurried on, laughing to myself. The cheek!
October 10, 2017
I am getting a new laptop today. A souped-up MacBook Pro. Bells and whistles. Adaptors and software galore. It’s the computing equivalent of a red Audi R8 coupé with a spoiler on the back. I should probably buy some racing gloves, the perforated leather kind with a sporty Velcro strap on the back. I wish I could just enjoy my good fortune, throw open my windows and shout, ‘Good news everyone, I’m getting a new computer!’ But the idea of getting something fancy makes me nervous and itchy. Who do I think I am getting a new laptop when there are people somewhere writing in the sand with sticks?