ARE there any days when a wonderful feeling of emancipation sweeps over you? Mine arrived on Monday. I’m out in the recreational world for the first time in months and there’s not a hospital in sight. I therefore have taken occupation of Nirvana.
Currently, as driving is being discouraged, I’m sitting in the back seat of our car awaiting my wife’s return from the local shopping centre. A leg injury means she’s picking up prescriptions from the chemist.
Now, at times like these, I replicate a coiled spring, ready to rant about the time she has spent shopping. Not on this day. I have things on my mind and, for once, they do not include the indignity of terminal prostate cancer and impending death.
Soon, the past is whispering in my ear as if it has signed a confidentiality agreement. There is no need for secrecy, really, because I am restored to my youth and those halycon days when serious maladies were scarcely a consideration.
Yet, complications are occurring. Having left Aberdeen Academy with qualifications that only a dolt would endorse, I am looking for employment that acknowleges respectability. No luck there. Rejection is everywhere. at almost 19 years of age, I decide on diversification.
At least I’ve passed my driving test and there is a vacancy up in the city’s west end with a rather elite private taxi firm. It is mainly account work and, in general, you know exactly the calibre of your fare.
First, however, comes the initiation test. Those of you who have watched Stanley Baker in Hell Drivers will capture some of the picture. Anyway, I sit beside a veteran employee of Campbell and Sellar, who prompts me to drive a Morris Oxford to a two-mile distant destination. The car has a column gear change, – completely foreign to myself – and, therefore, with a lack of correlation between my brain and my accelerator foot, begins exhibiting all the signs of having being sponsored by kangaroo petrol.
The man beside me is unimpressed and expresses his reservations. It is all or nothing on the return journey. I finally conquer the gear change conundrum. Luckily for me, his better nature prevails. I am hired and introduced to a lugubrious-looking chiel called Mr Sellar. Youwould not want to meet this gentleman in a staring competition. He is not wearing socks and doesn’t appear to be wearing me, either. On our introduction, he tells me to get my hair cut and wear the company cap at all times.
I find myself billeted in a bothey with a bell that summons drivers to their various tasks. It is not a bothey of fraternity, being filled with rather old, rather fractious, men with a dislike for young thrusters like myself. Yet, young thrusters have their uses.
Towards the end of a rather uneventful first week, the bothey bell is imbued with a new urgency; almost like a fire bell. Whatever, the room suddenly empties of old men with chips riding on their shoulders. The bell, however, pays the exodus no heed and maintains its emergency tone.
Where have my colleagues gone? These fuckers know something that I don’t, but there is nothing for it but to answer a call of this nature. Mr Sellar hands me a slip that tells of two sisters who live locally and insist on an hour’s tour of the city once every week. But there are caveats; the driver must not exceed 25mph, or take corners in a daredevil fashion. If at all possible, cobblestones have to be avoided in addition, of course, to emergency stops. A complete no-no, this.
I am confronted by two predecessors of Miss Daisy. If the sisters are conversationalists, they prove mistresses of disguise. The hour’s journey which takes us down to the heavily cobbled streets of Old Aberdeen, on to the again cobbled fish market – my mistake, ladies – is conducted in silence but at a pace that would besmirch the reputation of Stirling Moss. At least there are no jolts or calamities, however.
The uneasy hour is up but the ladies seem pleased enough with my performance. Highly pleased, as it turns out. ‘Weel, driver,’ said the more garrulous of the two, resorting to the vernacular and pressing two half-crowns into my right hand, ‘I’ve got to tell ye that’s the best ride we’ve ever hid!’
I’m absorbing this segment of the past and laughing uproariously when my wife returns. By this time, I have taken occupation of the driving seat. I haven’t driven for many months and Margaret is not about to let this situation alter. But I’m adamant and deaf to her entreaties that my legs have been sorely weakened by the cancer.
Off we go, then, with Margaret trying vainly to suppress her anxiety. We drive all over the Southside of Glasgow and eventually alight at my son Darren’s house. My performance behind the wheel has been exemplary and I’m still congratulating myself whilst taking up safe distancing in the back garden. When it’s time to leave – and that’s about ten minutes later – I attempt to negotiate the first decking step which looks to be deeper than normal.
Hereabouts, my luck runs out so fast that no-one could catch it. I feel my left knee collapse and I land up in an undignified and painful heap. The melee transfers itself to Margaret, who is helping me up: she also takes a dangerous tumble. Our son is summoned to effect the rescue act.
Now, I’m waiting for the inevitable reproach from the distaff side of my life but, incredibly, it never comes. Indeed, I resume my position in the car’s driving seat and motor sedately back to our apartment, without a squawk from Margaret. You will never know how much this hour or so of independence means to me. Am I getting better and ridding myself of the remorseless enemy that is prostate cancer? Of course I’m not. But the point is I’m feeling better about myself while renewing my acquaintance with normality.
How do I explain my good health, even if it is of a temporary nature? I must make an admission hereabouts. You may remember I refused the offer of a third blood transfusion some weeks ago, adamant that the presence of Covid-19 meant I’d be giving hospitals the widest of berths. I stopped just short of stamping my feet. No, nothing would change my mind.
Well, I did change my stubborn mindset, after an assurance from the medical profession that there would be minimal risk as hospitals were now equipped to deal with the behemoth of coronovirus.
On the day, I, too, was equipped for the situation at the hospital: I donned my mask and rubber gloves, and settled into a wheelchair that would only work if it was being pulled backwards. There was a radically different regime there now. Security was everywhere: plus warning notices, demarcation lines for patients to follow and enough hygiene gel to cover a multitude of hands and then some.
The panic which lay just below my breastbone gradually evaporated as they settled me into a private room and began pumping new blood into my sorely depleted body. The process took approximately seven hours and the attention given me could not be faulted. I was attended by a doctor and a host of nurses, all of whom meticulously obeyed the new strictures forced upon them.
After a long day, the lovely presence of Margaret filled the room; she was coming to take me away, bless her. We thanked the nurses, the doctor and bade them goodbye. Margaret wheeled me to freedom, leaving me just inside the back door, and left to re-position the car.
There was a guy standing next to me: I imagined him to be a porter. He volunteered to pull me out to the car park. I was in no position to refuse. So out we went and I took up my usual position in the back seat. It was then I congratulated Margaret on a day without complication. ‘And full marks to that porter,’ I added.
‘That wasn’t a porter,’ she responded. ‘That was just a helpful member of the public – and he wasn’t wearing a mask or gloves!’ she said. I had only words of the desperate. ‘And there was me taking every bloody precaution!’
The thing is I’m still here and Covid-19, thank God, is hopefully somewhere else.