My first flight was on the Eastern shuttle between New York’s LaGuardia Airport and Washington, D.C. I was age 9, and traveling with my grandparents. We three made the short flight to visit for a week with my uncle, aunt and cousins, who were then living in northern Virginia.
I kept that Eastern shuttle’s ticket stub for something approaching three decades after. Do you think I can find it now? Of course I can’t! (I have flown on so many airlines that are now long out of business. The list is extensive: Eastern, Pan Am, TWA, Tower Air, Air Inter. There may be others, but I can’t immediately remember them.)
My sister-in-law lost her younger sister about two weeks ago. We’re going to her funeral in Essex today.
As a toddler, Donna had been a victim of medical malpractice that led to traumatic brain damage. Her family received a huge compensation package from the National Health Service (NHS). The money was set aside to make sure she was properly looked after for the rest of her life.
And every pound and pence would be needed. It was projected she would not live to 21. But she far outlived medical estimates.
Donna never grew “old.” But, for over 35 years, she had been unable to do almost anything for herself. Her parents and family – her mother especially – mostly looked after her.
Somehow I found myself in an argument over the phone on Wednesday evening with a member of the family in the States with whom I’ve argued vehemently quite a few times before. I had thought we’d by now put that sort of behavior behind us. Apparently, though, I’d “triggered” something in that individual and all hell broke loose from that side of the Atlantic.
The phone was slammed down on me. I can’t go into why and I really shouldn’t anyway. Suffice it to say we have all probably had something like that happen in our lives at some point or another.
Yesterday, I had a terrible headache which virtually incapacitated me all day. I’m not 100 percent my old self yet, but I finally feel a bit better this morning. I can at least function. (When I get a headache, I can become very ill.)
The tweets that went back in response were about what you might expect. However, one of them included an old canard. It’s hard to tell if the tweeter, apparently a man, was joking; he may well have been trying to be lighthearted. The sixth tweet down: it’s about women who (apparently use too much) perfume and don’t shave (under their arms):
Our British Airways flight from Boston to Heathrow on Friday evening was full. According to the Captain, there wasn’t an empty seat on the plane – and it was a 747-400. So Going Global’s piece on U.S. domestic air travel numbers being higher than in years might well be said to apply to transatlantic flights too:
My Dad having now fully recovered from his heart failure back in August, and the implant surgery in December, we felt that after the tough, cold winter he and my Mum had spent in Pennsylvania, that they needed a holiday.
A novelist can create death at any moment. If you take what you do seriously, that’s actually an awesome literary responsibility. It’s not something that should be done – in my view – lightly.
You can also write long-term illness into a story. Suicide too. But naturally there are no ramifications to any such plotlines beyond what appears on your pages.
For novels are fiction, of course. When it comes to the issue of suicide in real life, I often think of what West German chancellor, Willy Brandt, surprisingly wrote in his autobiography. While a young man on the run from the Nazis during the Second World War – including in Nazi-occupied Norway – he said he had never considered taking his own life were he about to be caught by the Gestapo. He wrote that, unlike other resistants who had said they were prepared to kill themselves, he wouldn’t have because one never knew if a way out might appear unexpectedly at the last moment.
Unless we die suddenly, most of us will experience ourselves becoming terminally ill. Should we be able to ask someone to “assist” us in hurrying along to death? That issue has been debated fiercely for years, and the debate will likely continue. It also increasingly appears many to most of us do believe we should be able to ask for such “assistance.”
What does that have to do with novelists?
Some of them, such as former law enforcement people who now pen crime novels, have a professional knowledge of their subject. For example, my uncle. He may reasonably discuss “policing issues” on, say, Today; in his area of expertise he perhaps warrants being taken more seriously “policy-wise.”
However, once he’s on set with Savannah Guthrie (which he hasn’t been, to be clear) that doesn’t mean if he blurts out his take on U.S. policy over Ukraine, or the aerial campaign against so-called ISIS in Syria and Iraq, or on U.S. immigration reform, that his views on those matters ought to be granted extra credence. Or, indeed, that they will even make sense.
For given what I’ve sometimes heard from him privately about the likes of those, in my opinion, trust me, they may not. ;-) Much the same could be said for his view on legalizing “assisted suicide.” (Which I don’t know.) Outside of his “knowledge base,” he’s fundamentally no more insightful than the rest of us and is just another someone offering an opinion.
Yet for some media it appears being an author marks one out as somebody worth hearing spout on a variety of complex questions of the day. I suppose all of us who have written books should be pleased to discover how wide-rangingly brilliant we are about the totality of the human condition. But based on my own “knowledge base,” I suspect most walking egos novelists had probably best confine their public policy pontificating to storylines they’ve fashioned in their novels.
Have a good day, wherever you are reading this. :-)
My Dad’s due to be discharged from the hospital today. The recuperation, and learning to live with his implant, begins. He has no choice: he’ll have it the rest of his life. (Thank you for reading, commenting, and your “likes” over the months when I’ve written about this. It has made me feel good. :-) )
Even in the midst of worry, and change, some humor can be found. Yesterday, in the labyrinthine (although hardly huge) hospital, after we saw my father rolled by post-surgery on his way to recovery, my mother grabbed the attention of a nurse. She asked the woman – who was a bit younger than me – for directions to the cafeteria.
We had just spoken with the surgeon and he suggested we wait in the cafe for an hour or so until my father was taken to his room and we could see him. All enthusiasm – the staff at this hospital must have taken a customer service course, everyone is so helpful and pleasant – the nurse smiled at us and replied, “I’ll walk you part of the way.”
I thanked her and praised the hospital. I also said if you’ve not been in it much, the layout was confusing. I ended up walking next to her as she directed us down the hallway.
“I love your accent,” she suddenly said to me almost too enthusiastically. “Where are you from?”
Surprised, I remember joking, “Not Pennsylvania.”
Over the years, living in Britain, my accent has changed a bit. I know that. But I’m not usually conscious of it.
Thinking of my Dad, and focusing on where we were headed, my mind was somewhere else. I honestly don’t really remember much of what else she was saying to me. I was strolling alongside her conversing politely about nothing.
We finally reached an elevator. The cafeteria was just downstairs, she said; and when we came back up, she also explained and pointed out, my father would be a floor above us. She asked me again if I understood, and I said I did. When the elevator doors opened, I thanked her again, said goodbye for about the third time, and with my mother and sister, I stepped inside it.
After seeing my Dad an hour or so later, we left the hospital to do a few errands before returning to see him again in the late afternoon. At a supermarket, while my mother and sister shopped for some bits, I walked to a next door liquor store to buy a Christmas present my father had asked me to get on his behalf. He wanted a bottle of Polish vodka for a Polish man who snowplows, mows the lawn, and regularly does odd jobs around their house. The man has practically become a family friend, and I’m glad: he is a huge help to them.
I left the booze (in its American brown paper – “He’s got booze! He’s got booze!” – obvious bag) in the car, walked back into the supermarket and found my mother and sister already at the check-out. They must have been talking in my absence, because the very first words out of my mother’s mouth to me were: “That nurse was flirting with you. They’ll be none of that, thank you! Had she kept it up, I woulda smacked her!”
The woman cashier’s facial expression was priceless. The entire line must’ve heard too. My mother, you also understand, still sounds unmistakably Queens, New York.
At the time, I had kinda thought the nurse was indeed too expressive and arguably excessively friendly. I also hadn’t thought my mother had noticed that; but obviously, uh, Mother had. That has never happened to me before in a hospital – ever.
Have a good Tuesday, wherever you are in the world….