Ten years old. With the family in the hills. We visit Uncle Alan. He’s forty now and the home brew’s showing. We all stop as he turns to see us in his kitchen. A big silence. Which I break with, “Boy you’re fat”.
Later I’m admonished quietly.
Seven. At school. My first divinity class. Never heard of God. I’m there with my sister who’s there because of a boy. The chaplain is young and eager. It’s our first class and maybe his. He builds it up, let’s the story sound big: Christ, Adam, Moses, the whole thing up to now. Wants us all to gawk and gape. I try to help him, thinking mistakenly that the best way to show you’re impressed is to whistle – Whooo Whooo!
He asks me to leave. No more God.
Italian class 1997. Many women studying with me and one other bloke. Teacher is warm and motherly. We discuss Andrea Boccelli. The blind singer. Apparently he’s not just handsome but angelic and many other things. La Professoressa’s way of exploring adjectives. Focus comes to me. “Ecco Don, le piace Andrea Boccelli?” (Do I like him?) I pause before asking in English what the Italian word for saccharine is. Groans of despair and disappointment.
I’m no longer the amusing guy. (Saccarina by the way).
Hospital. Early forties. Just had cardiothoracic surgery. My aortic valve has been replaced with a tungsten one. A big moment. The nurses - terrific, warm, loving - laugh and giggle at the morphine antics. Early morning on the ward. In and out of the opium daze, happy it’s all done. The TV a bleary box in the air. I wake to see the doctors doing their morning round. All at the foot of my bed: Indian surgeon, Pakistani registrar, pretty Vietnamese med student. Very pretty. All standing where the TV was. The nurse shakes me awake. I look. They smile. I say, “Who switched over to SBS?” (the ethnic TV channel).
They don’t laugh. The nurse, imploding, has to leave.
Six days later, after the doctors have found me to be just a wag and not so nasty. I’m keen to go. Feel ready! Please docs. Want to go! It’s been a week. But they say I can’t go until my heart rate is below 90 beats per minute - resting. Been practising. Meditating and long breathing. Got the rate down. Down. Calm. The doctors arrive at 8. “Mr Smith” says the Indian as his head does that dance. They all smile. I sit up ready for the pulse test. The Pakistani doc says “No” as the nurse tries to take my pulse. He nods to the beautiful Vietnamese girl. She slowly moves to me, takes my arm in hers, takes my pulse. Pulse of 95! Libido’s back! Damn!
Again his lovely sub-continental head wobble. This time with a big smile. “Sorry Mr Smith. Maybe tomorrow.”