When my father died his second wife seemed to forget that he was born a Jew. He had the looks and attitude of an East End market trader – which he was – when he died in Luton she had arranged a Christian burial. His disgraceful behaviour throughout his life meant the turn out was small.
The Vale cemetery opened in 1959, an archaeological dig revealed evidence of an early iron age settlement, the Crematorium retained all the charms of that muddy hill fort. His living siblings travelled all the way to Bedfordshire as did we. The Jewish contingent, a surly bunch to be sure, assembled on the right and the rest of us on the left.
No flowers, a cheap coffin and a little Christian celebrant. We were asked to stand to sing Hymn No.27. The siblings who knew nothing of Hymns, looked to us as we belted out ‘Amazing Grace.’ I made it onto the raised platform to say a few unrehearsed words. I shook hands with the aunts, uncles and a couple of women from the betting shop as my father slipped away on a creaking catafalque.
The following day we went to a funeral in Tunbridge Wells. The Kent cemetery, as described in the brochure is ‘Set in 16 acres of tranquil grounds, the crematorium, situated in the heart of Royal Tunbridge Wells, provides the perfect place to commemorate ….’ Soft furnishing and flowers adorned the comely plot. Not a smelt of iron anywhere.
We stood on the left behind the grieving family. The celebrant, using my fathers self same service, asked us to stand to sing Hymn No 27. The organ piped up and the old git leant over and whispered in my ear that she had more rhythm than the Luton Organista. I stifled a laugh, the suppressed squelching of a giggle is fatal. The ‘oosbind caught it. The dawter turned around sternly. We pretended we were crying as our shoulders heaved up and down.
That night the sympathetic Northerner took me to the cinema. Ewan McGregor in ‘Big Fish’. I fell asleep only to be woken by singing. In 1725, in Wapping, JOHN NEWTON was born, 47 years later he wrote Hymn No 27. Three hundred years down the line Tim Burton used it. Round the grave the acting celebrant invited the acting mourners to sing Hymn No 27. As’Amazing Grace’ filled the cinema I started crying.
Last Sunday I called twice for an ambulance but they couldn’t give us an arrival time so I drove the old git to Pembury Hospital.
The triage nurse revealed his oxygen levels and Blood Pressure was normal. I suggested we left. The old man wheezed that he wanted to see a doctor. In a wheelchair, as unstable as a Lidl trolley, he was wheeled into the acute ward. Whereupon he become delirious and started hallucinating. T’was a vicious infection we found out three days later. He ripped his thermals off revealing purple mottled legs, he fought me, two nurses and a doctor, pulled out the cannula spraying blood on the blue blanket, the floor and all over his hands . Trying to sedate him was worthy of Jack Nicholson in ‘One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ They couldn’t get the needles in so he was left sitting on a blue polyurethane upholstered chair his little legs sticking to the faux leather seat. I watched as he tried to break the arm rest off – for 6 hours he fought and won. Then the dawter arrived and, in five minutes, managed to get him onto the trolley.
‘She is an angel’ said one of the nurses.
He was sedated, rehydrated and sent down for a brain scan.
When he came back, because of the lack of nurses, were asked to stay with him until
Betty arrived to sit with him over night. We left him with her.
Monday morning we visited at twelve. He was propped up on a bed in the corridor outside Room 19. He remembered absolutely nothing of the day before. He was still fuzzy round the edges. They fed him lunch with something that resembled food. There was a sweet sickly smell hovering round us.
Me: ‘When is my husband being rehoused in room 19?’
Me: ‘When will he be relocated into Rm 19?’
Nurse 2: ‘I’ll check.’
Me: ‘Just when are you going to take this man out of the corridor?’
Nurse 2 left the door ajar. And there on the bed was a corpse. Wrapped in sheets and tied at the head and feet’ It was the mummified ex-patient who was emitting the sweet sickly smell of distress.
Me: ‘You dont expect my husband to go into that room do you?’
Nurse 3: ‘It’s Bank Holiday Monday and we dont have many porters.’
I went to the reception desk.
Me: ‘If you think my husband is going into room 19 to take the place of a dead corpse you must be joking.’
The man on reception shook his head from side to side; was it the tautology I wondered?
Ten minutes later the ‘oosbind was relocated to room 23.
We were all traumatised. We left him over night in a white room with a toilet that flushed by holding your hands over a black sensor. It took three of us to work that one out, a tray of something that resembled food and BBC2 on the telly.
On Tuesday we went to visit after he had been told that the tumour had grown but he was now an outpatient.
Me: ‘When can we take him home?’
Nurse 1: ‘When he has been checked by the consultant’
The consultant never came. And then a man wearing a loose nappy, and bloody bandages round his legs, shuffled up the corridor. He sat on the window ledge, rocking back and forth, I ran to the nurse to tell her he was about to unpin his nappy and relieve himself in the old gits room.
All quietened down until. Mr.Nappy cranked up to sing. Clearing his throat he adjusted his nappy, stood tall his bandaged legs apart and without one word of irony belted out Hymn No.27
We sprung my poorly husband at 12.30 on Wednesday. Waiting in the discharge lounge I thanked all the nurses for saving my husbands life.
On the way home in the car I put on a podcast, as I turned left into Halls Hole Road somebody was talking about John Newton and the slave trade, before I got into second gear Hymn No 27 started.
FFS. I turned it off.