Monday, 21 April 2008

Death, Dating and Other Natural Disasters

Sally didn’t fancy the funeral in the end, which is a shame because it was extremely moving. Ange’s mum was evidently very much loved. For some reason (blind prejudice) I had come to assume that the inhabitants of Dartford were all vile soulless cretins no more capable of genuine human emotion than a bucket full of piss and clams. But that was wrong of me. And yesterday brought that home.

Sylvia Charlton had two miscarriages and a still birth before Ange came along, all healthy and bouncing and bold. Then, even though they wanted more, Sylvia and her husband Ed stopped trying to have kids of their own. They thought they'd quit while they were ahead and Ed had a vasectomy. They loved kids so much however, that – as well as cherishing Ange, obviously - they did everything they possibly could for everybody else’s kids. I guess they realised more than most how truly sacred young life is and they wanted to do everything within their power to nurture it, and to make it great. And so they became community child carers in a way which would never be possible today. (I am led to believe that these days, before you can even blow a raspberry at someone else’s child, you need a qualification in midwifery and a certificate from the local council.) In the 70s and 80s however, children were not made of sugar glass and you could still throw half a dozen rocks into a crowd of people without necessarily hitting a paedophile.

So basically Ange was raised in a community crèche. And although she never had any siblings of her own, other people’s kids were always around and she never wanted for company. Sometimes she got jealous of course, and on occasion she lashed out, but that’s only because she was – in Sylvia’s words – ‘a proper little madam’.

Naturally, as she spent a lot of time looking after their kids, Sylvia spent a lot of time with the young mums of the area. Consequently, she got to know them, and when they had problems – problems of a sensitive nature – they would confide in her, and Sylvia discovered that she had a knack for sorting them out, giving them the right advice and helping them help themselves to get their lives back on track. And so, as well as her role as community childcare consultant, Sylvia became the first port of call for any young couples in need of any kind of advice. As far as I could gather, she gained a reputation as a kind of a cross between Dr Ruth and Dr Spock.

Consequently her funeral was a very emotional affair, with a long line of friends and relatives taking turns to pay tribute to Sylvia, to tell their stories of how she’d helped them better their lives, and to thank her for all that she’d done.

Then when they were all done, we listened to The Green Green Grass of Home by Tom Jones. I don’t think there was a single person in the church who was not crying.

Sylvia loved Tom Jones.

Tom Jones and Dr Hook.

Despite that, I wish I’d known Sylvia, and although I never met her, I found myself missing her. Grief is infectious. At some stage it seemed odd to me to be weeping over a woman that I never knew; but then later it occurred to me that it wasn’t at all odd. Funerals are an emotional business, and as any decent film or book proves, just a couple of tales of human kindness and suffering are enough to move a person. In fact, by the time I got back home this morning, I felt like I’d been dragged through a particularly involving episode of Six Feet Under.

In the absence of Sally, Keith accompanied me to the funeral. It was the first time (as far as I am aware) that he’d seen Ange since they slept together. Ordinarily such a meeting might have been slightly fraught, but death has a way of putting things in perspective. And although Keith may have ruined a decent relationship by putting his thing in Ange, at least no one had died.

On the whole, Sylvia's funeral was pretty amazing. Indeed, and I don’t mean to be in any way disrespectful or inappropriate when I say this, it was truly wonderful. It was everything a good funeral should be. It was a mega-moving celebration of a life tremendously lived.

‘There’s something I need to tell you,’ said Keith.

This was this morning, on an early train back into London. We were a little hungover and probably still slightly mawkish from the funeral. I already knew about the results of Keith’s MS tests. He told me last week. He asked me not to mention it here because he was intent on getting on with his own blog. But that hasn’t happened. And if I want to tell you what Keith said next, which I do, I have to tell you what Keith said before. So here goes.

Last week Keith went to see the specialist to talk over the results of his various tests. There was good news and there was bad news. The bad news was that he does have MS. The good news is that he has a very mild form of MS and apparently there’s no reason it should get any worse than the intermittent tremors he experiences now. Although it might. But there’s no reason it should.

And that was that.

As I say, that was last week.

This morning, Keith said, ‘There’s something I didn’t mention.’ He looked me in the eye. The right eye. It twitched. ‘There’s something in my brain,’ he said. ‘The size of a blueberry.’ He smiled. ‘It’s not supposed to be there.’ He shrugged, looked out of the window.

He had a brain scan. And they found this area, this small dark patch. A shadow. It could be anything. It could be nothing. Well, not nothing. It’s definitely something. But it could mean nothing.

He has to go in for more tests this Wednesday. So he’ll find out soon enough. Well, not soon enough, but… you know what I mean.

Last night I had Ange crying on my shoulder, sobbing that she wouldn’t know what to do without her mum. I told her everything will be alright. Will it? Probably. One way or the other.

This morning I had Keith, all wet-eyed and looking elsewhere as the grey Kent countryside blurred past him like quotidian hyperspace. I told him everything will be alright. Will it?

We hang by a thread.

And sometimes it really scares me.

Meanwhile, in other, somewhat lighter news, Sally wants to take me out for a meal, which is as queer as it is exciting. (Queer in the old-fashioned sense). But she can only do Thursday. Which means that speed dating will have to be sacrificed. Apart from the fact that I’ve already paid, this actually makes me feel rather gay. (Also in the old-fashioned sense.) So… rather than throwing the money away, is there anyone out there who’d like a potentially humiliating experience on me? If so, drop me a line and I’ll give you all the details.


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DJ Kirkby said...

Wow, you've been through a lot recently (as have Keith and Ange)I am shattered from just reading about it. You have my permisison to run away and hide for a while.

curly said...

I shall come out of lurker-dom for once. Once only as I am quite shy with nothing at all of interest to say.

I'm sorry to hear K's news. I can't comment on the blueberry but perhaps there are many of us that live with things in us, in blissful ignorance until they're discovered by accident. I hope tomorrow goes okay for him. With regard to the MS - my sis has it - and although she has her moments and although it could get worse, it's not the end of the world as we thought it might be when she was diagnosed 10 years ago. With the exception of getting plastered she still does everything a 30 yr old should be doing. The best thing that he can do is ignore soap opera version of MS, take care of himself, live life and keep informed. Some of the info is scary but it will help him in the longer run - he may read about a therapy or a treatment that just might work for him in some way. He should esp consider Beta Interferon although he might need to push to get on it.

Thank-you for your blog. I'm new to it but I love it - it's smashing and you're smashing. In lots of different ways. Yes it will be alright in the end although there'll be times of shite in the meantime. And sorry it's a long comment.

La Bête said...

Thanks, DJ, but I don't want to run away and hide for a while, I really don't. I'm having a whale of a time at the moment and I don't want it to end. I'm tossing myself into things like a cat on acid. I feel all shiny and new. It's excellent.

Hi Curly, and thanks so much for coming out of hiding. You’re being modest to the point of bare-faced liar when you say you’ve got nothing of interest to say however. I’m really touched that you shared your insights and I’ve passed your words on to Keith. You’re smashing too and if anything, your comment was not long enough! I hope it’s the first of many.

thomkennedy said...

Really moving words Bête. I'm honoured to have my words of praise on your self-publicity roll!

Fingers crossed for Keith.

Roszs said...

Sorry to hear that news about Keith, that's bloody awful.

Ginny said...

I'm sorry for K. I hope everything turns out as well as it can do.

Anonymous said...

Sylvia sounds like an amazing woman and I'm glad she had a good send off.
Best wishes to Keith!
Oh alright...some best wishes for you too - I'm in a generous mood ;o)

La Bête said...

Thank you, Thomas.

Cheers, Bif, I know. But it's not the end of the world. He's reacting very positively at the moment, so I'm taking heart from that.

Ginny, me too. That's what I'm hoping.

Penelope, thanks for all of your wishes.

Jeremy Jacobs said...

Interesting take on dating!