Back in March of this year my Mum had to go into hospital. This was down in Spain where she stays for the winter on a campsite with John, her partner of twelve years or so, in their motor home. She had to have an operation on her bile duct, which was ‘blocked.’ She was in hospital for a while, three or four weeks, which to me implied that it was more than something minor, though we were told that ‘they didn’t think there was anything to really worry about.’ The hospital was a nice place, by all accounts, ‘brand new, like a hotel, duck.’ I offered to fly down to Spain, but, really, as well as there being nothing to really worry about there was, ‘nothing you could really do, duck,’ either. So I left it at mobile phone calls and texts.
Eventually Mum and John returned to the UK, later in the year than they usually do, for the English summer. On the way over, before they got on the ferry, there was an episode involving a haemorrhage from a fistula. It was now I began to look up medical terms. Perhaps everybody knows what a fistula is but I did not: the dictionary says it’s: an abnormal or surgically made passage between a hollow or tubular organ and between the body surface, or between two tubular organs. My mum says it’s ‘where the pipes have been going in and out.’ My brother Bumble lives in Spain on a permanent basis because he has so much metal in his legs – from injuries sustained during a cat-burgling-type incident that went wrong some years ago – that he can’t really deal with northern winters because the metal conducts the cold right into his bones and makes him shudder. Bumble travelled in the motor home with them and was a great help during the haemorrhage -‘You’d have been useless mate, you’d have fainted,’ as he put it. He is forty-five, I am forty-eight, but we are still capable of marking the scorecard as if we were ten and thirteen. Schoolboy days are the days we will all be talking about soon enough, I reckon. Nostalgia is one of the places this will take us all.
Back in Stoke-on-Trent there was a second haemorrhage, in the kitchen, when my mum was alone. ‘Blood everywhere, duck, thought I’d had it.’ John found her in time. At the City General they sealed an aneurism ‘which had popped’ on the hepatic artery. Five days later mum was out of the City General and back on the sofa. I drove over from Norwich to see her. She looked a bit weak. I was beginning to find the whole of this narrative more than a little concerning. The word cancer had not been mentioned yet, I don’t think, but now, if I remember rightly, it was. Yes, the original blockage was a tumour but they thought it was all clear, that it had been removed, had not spread, and that the test results looked okay and that of course they hadn’t wished to worry anybody not from Spain and that that was why information was released on a need to know basis. Last Thursday everything changed. Mum phoned me up and left a message at lunchtime. I didn’t return the call for about four hours, I was sorting out songs for that stand in DJ slot at Future FM. But I had heard a slight note in her voice on the ansaphone so I did call back before I went out to the radio station. ‘The thing is,’ she said, ‘the damn thing’s only gone and come back, hasn’t it.’ There was more than a slight note in the way she said this. Then she started using expressions like palliative care, in the liver, can you sort a few things out for me legal-wise, and, do you think I ought to tell your brother and sister now? I surfed the net and found the likely prognosis, it looked like, it looks like, a year at best. I shed some tears, of course. When I told her this she seemed a little surprised. It’s Bumble who’s the sentimental fool, not me.
Yesterday I went over to see her, to sort out the legal stuff and to ask questions about other pressing matters, what best to do about Christmas, for instance, and what her surname is, by the way. She has two ex-husbands and will be getting married to John soon; I’m never sure where we stand: when I send a birthday card I just write Mum on the envelope. Apart from that I fell back on black humour and was direct. Mum, who is no shrinking violet and who can come up with some evocative imagery of her own (of which more in due course), and who wants me to put this story up on the blog, had moved the language on from ‘palliative care’ to ‘when I die.’ However, I still managed to provoke a frozen stare when I asked if she had thought of the songs for the funeral. ‘I have not quite got that far ahead yet, Stephen,’ she said, frozenly. I only get called Stephen if I am in trouble. ‘C’mon,’ I said, ‘Everyone has their funeral tunes sorted out, it’s like Desert Island Discs.’ Mum’s friend Sylvia had arrived and was picking at a chip butty while listening in to the conversation. Sylvia is spiritual, has almost certainly been to séances, and was wearing a Davy Crockett hat, indoors. ‘He can’t help it,’ Sylvia said, looking at my mum with a degree of sympathy beyond that which the situation provokes in any case. ‘It’s because he’s a Leo.’
I don’t think I’m going to be very good at this.