So there I was at the beginning of December driving the endless M25, M4 route from the South to Swansea, tears of self-pity streaming down my face and Jiminy-fucking-Cricket on my shoulder, alternately telling me to "buck-up - it is not you lying in hospital with a broken hip" and that "crying never solved anything". I turn up the volume on my Ludovic Einaudi CD, the crescendos of music matching my waves of misery, at every peak I burst in to sobs. The sound drowns out Jiminy fucking Cricket and his little homilies, he is beginning to sound suspiciously like OldMaSock.
December is the dog-end of the year with only the artificial tinsel barrier of Christmas to stop our miseries overflowing into the New Year. They will flow in again anyway when the tinsel is confined once more to the attic. December starts badly with my health (which, since a relapse early in the year, has gradually improved to my usual level of sub-existence) knocked back again by a horrible cold and chest infection. I am already feeling miserable when BroSock phones with the news that OldmaSock has had a fall and is in hospital with a broken hip. The Bedsock is out of action after a minor op on his back and there is nothing for it but for me to make the long journey on my own and do what I can to sort things out. How can I do this when I barely have the energy to haul myself up stairs? I pack what I can into the car, some food as there will be nothing edible at OldMaSock's house, some clean bedding, and most importantly a bottle of red wine! I have every suspicion I am going to need it.
|Biarritz old harbour 1965|
The wine reminds me that I have been meaning to write on my Fourth Plate blog about the first time I got drunk! It was 1965 and I was aged ten. The Sock family were staying in Biarritz, a favourite place I would re-visit many times over the years. After a long day on the beach, surfing and sunbathing, we went for a meal at a cheap, local bistro, I know it must have been cheap because my parents didn't do expensive food. I remember the formica tables, the harsh strip lighting and the carafe of red, house wine. Wine that MaSock gave to myself and BroSock, wine that we knocked back greedily, excited at being treated as grown-ups. And then, on our way back to the hotel, stopping outside a toyshop window and laughing and laughing at the bright, twinkly, lights as if everything in the whole world was euphorically hilarious!
I always felt that my parents, whilst rarely drinking themselves, were somewhat sophisticated in having introduced their children to the joys of alcohol at such an early age. But a while ago, reminded of this occasion when transferring old family photos onto the computer, I mentioned it to OldMaSock whose long term memory is pretty damn good. "Oh yes" she said happily "I remember that well. The wine was corked so rather than waste it we gave it to you and your brother!".
|Biarritz 1965 - The Sock family searching for crabs|
Eventually I arrive at the hospital, I feel faint with fatigue but struggle along to the ward wearing my cheerful face. As OldMaSock drilled into me many times over the years, nobody likes a misery. How true, how very, very, true..
OldMaSock is as fine as she can be under the circumstances. She's had an operation to put a screw in her hip and I ask her if they have tightened the loose one in her head whilst they were at it. Apart from the fact that she isn't mobile she seems no more, or less, demented than usual. She is happy to see me, happy with the chocolates and puzzle book I have bought her, laughs at the photograph of me in my new hat that I have put in a frame for her so she doesn't forget who I am. Then, when I ask if she is OK, she whispers very loudly to me "There seem to be an awful lot of WELSH people here". This is unsurprising as she is in Wales where she has been living for the last sixty years. What did she expect, a ward full of Mexicans playing guitars and wearing sombreros? OldMaSock giggles at this and reassured that she is still as much in the land of the living as ever, I depart.
It's late, cold and dark when I arrive at OldMaSock's house. Despite it all being in reasonable order I feel lonely and uncomfortable there - I never did like being on my own overnight even when I lived there. Now it feels particularly empty without the, still dynamic, presence of OldMaSock. I turn the TV on in the lounge, blaringly loud as OldMaSock has it, filling the house with the noise that is no substitute for life. I can't settle and despite my tiredness I make a start on all the tasks that need doing to secure the house until OldMaSock returns. I can't bear to think that she might not be able to return.
I open the fridge, the smell of decomposing chicken greets me - two raw portions are sat on a plate, days past their eatby. Who knows how long OldMaSock had had them there even before her fall? I take everything out of the fridge and bin it, the smell making me gag. Outside the bin bags, left on the driveway as the rules for collection are so complex even I can't understand them, have been ripped open by foxes. I scoop up the rubbish and rebag it, retching. I clean and disinfect the fridge, who knows what vile bacteria is in there with the badly kept food I wouldn't even feed to my cats.
Eventually I stop, too exhausted to continue, too sickened to be able to eat. Thank God I have bought the bottle of wine. I wash one of the largest, greasy, wine glasses from the cabinet, spend ten minutes of panic trying to find a cork screw, take the bottle through to the lounge and sink into the sofa, at last able to relax at the end of the worst sort of day.
The red wine glugs from the bottle into the glass, as I raise it to my mouth a musty, sour smell assails my nose.. corked..