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Friday, 20 April 2007

The Red Indian

You can see the balcony where I threw the telescope. Warning: This posting will only be interesting to my children, far off grandchildren, nephews, nieces and cousins, or those curious about how a child's mind works.

I was visited every day by my mum, dragging my brother in tow. What we talked about I don’t know, but I wasn’t a grateful child. Not all the time. Once they brought me a small blue telescope. I vaguely recollect one of them saying I’d be able to look through it and see them as far as the bus stop. By this time I was able to walk. As soon as they left the ward I made my way to the front balcony of the hospital where they kept a large rocking horse, and looked down through the railings. My mother and Tony looked up and waved, and I threw the plastic telescope at them and watched it smash on the floor. Bad hair day.

Not all days were ‘bad hair’ days. Twice a week we had sausage for breakfast. Why is it that decades later I can still….almost…recapture the smell of those sausages, their taste? I loved them and have never had a finer sausage since. Pork sausage, Toulouse sausage, Cumberland sausage, lamb and mint, Chorizo, beef sausages, beef and tomato sausages, organic, lo salt, hi salt spiced or otherwise I’ve tried them all, but none to compare with the Myrtle St. Breakfast Sausage.

Then there was the day my dad came to visit me. He’d been at sea in the Far East and was on his way home. When at last he walked through the ward he became aware that everyone was looking at him, the nurses in particular. Some of them edged closer and then walked quietly away, nodding their heads. It was the first time I’d ever told a story, and I’d told it with conviction. My Dad was a Red Indian. Not a chief or shaman or even something specific like Choctaw or Pawnee. No, as Goebbels discovered, tell a lie often enough and the world will believe you. Better still, make it a big one. My dad was a Red Indian. They watched him striding down the ward, matching his face to a story even I’d come to believe. A tropical sun had given his face a dark and coppery look and it was easy to see him in buckskin and war-bonnet. Vindication at last.

I can still remember my mum’s joy when I eventually came home. Only now do I fully understand it, but then I didn’t have children of my own. I also remember how I effectively rained on my own parade. I was not happy. The street seemed small and narrow, the house even smaller and dark. I had been ‘institutionalised’, had grown to love the ward. It was light and airy, comforting at night. I loved its daily routine, the nurses, hospital food…sausages. I even liked the toilets. When I passed through the door of 14 Ribblesdale it was like walking into darkness. My mum was hurt; Tony my brother perhaps puzzled. I don’t recall.

At home the hospital routine continued with weekly visits from Doctor Rosenthal. A night spent in bed followed by a day on my back on the living room couch eating salad and raw vegetables - at least until my mother gave up. The penicillin continued though. Through habit, inertia and bureaucratic oversight I took my two tablets daily until I was twenty two! Had I not then volunteered to donate some blood I might still be taking them now. My blood was swimming in it, or should that be the other way round? I was a walking penicillin factory.

Hospital was great, but now I had no friends. Childhood is bright and ferocious; Liverpool was tough. As parents now, I think we verge on the over protective, but I’d hate my own children to experience what I learnt to take for granted. Two years behind in school and way down the pecking order in a ‘gang’ that had materialised during my absence, I withdrew into a world where I was in control. Making friends was another lesson to be learnt.

Getting up from the couch was always a bit of a treat. Some days I would sit on the front door step with a cup of tea in my hands. My mum, like most parents, was worried; in her case about my lack of friends. (They’re all in hospital I’d cry) So the door step it was; me sitting provocatively like an Amsterdam model. Sometimes it worked. Michael Barnard who lived opposite suggested a game of ‘William Tell’. He had the bow and arrow. I was to provide the apple. As games go, it wasn’t brilliant. He had four shots. The first three hit the door. The last one got me in the eye.

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