I’ve just come home from a night in Penge.
14 of us sat upstairs, being an audience, in the THE BRIDGE pub. Down the road from Anerley three women acted beautifully in a play about loss and age. Three women in a room the size of my sitting room, reduced me to tears.
It’s been a long time since I sat anywhere and watched anything. My youth was spent watching the likes of Isla Blair performing in ‘The Kings Head’ on Upper Street in Islington, or sweating in the ‘Hope and Anchor’, just down the road, as Ian Dury stomped around fronting the Blockheads swearing and inciting us.
Back in the seventies I knew everything about music and bands and theatre. I scoured ‘Time Out’ and remembered names and watched and listened and spent any money I had on buying tickets to see, hear and drink in the culture of my youth.
Acting and touring in a theatre group meant we rubbed shoulders with anarchy. Sleeping on dirty mattresses in the homes of our loyal fans. Performing on the streets from Liverpool to Frankfurt, headlining pubs, getting chucked out of working mens clubs. Back then with the arrogance of youth and a thirst for adventure I did whatever it took. When a glass beer bottle was smashed and held against my face for forgetting the lyrics of ‘The Red Flag’ I knew not to forget them the next time. It didn’t occur to me that a threat of violence was perhaps a tad over the top. After all I had been brought up with rolled cuffs and right handers. Living alongside sociopaths and narcissists was nothing new to me. The familiarity of bluster and bullying made me feel at home.
Tonight in Penge was of a time gone by. Three actresses in a little room performing to a little audience in a play written by a young man, was a delicious moment of passionate creativity. Doing it because it had to be done by people who were still passionate enough to do it. Luke Adamson’s critically acclaimed comedy-drama about Alzheimer’s ‘One Last Waltz’ reminded me I was turning old. But also reminded me that I was forever young.
Getting up and getting out gets harder, especially when the old git is going through his fucking shocking journey. A journey so lonely that all anyone can do is offer an arm on a walk, a smoothie with dandelion leaves to relieve the inflammation, and a hand to hold whilst watching a good telly show like ‘THE GALLOWS POLE.’
I’ve been asked how I am. What about you? Ask people as they shove their faces close to mine. Whatever I’m feeling is nowhere near what the dear old ‘oosbind is going through. Processing his life, wondering about his death. Trying not to be frightened. After all death is inevitable, but a night in Penge helped me. Of course I feel guilty going out, leaving him with the dawter, but I’m told I have to be as normal as possible.
So yesterday I was treated to lunch by an Irish woman who has not lost her accent and shared her life stories with me in the hot sun. It’s been a long time since I’ve sat with a woman of words, we stayed long after we had to leave the restaurant where they were throwing a wake. She made me remember life before illness. She reminded me of the power of vulnerability. She treated me to a bit of myself.
How not to be the old gits’ illness. How not to be suffering the old gits’ suffering. After 46 years of a living a life next to somebody, it’s hard to detach. But my Irish lunch was joyous, and my night in Penge serves to remind me that I am me and he is him and there’s no point in me sinking into any kind of abyss.
When he was in hospital, last week, for the second time, the routine of intravenous anti- biotics and saline on an empty stomach and the sickness that ensued, the blood tests, the x-ray, the brain scan, the pissing in a corrugated cardboard bottle, the indignity of lying on a bed in a side room with noise and no communication, the sheer exhaustion of waiting for a doctor, the frustration of sitting next to man who needed an antacid and not another anti sickness drug, the annoyance and anger of being left alone with no information with my old man, in a side room because their were no beds, the sheer indignity of being treated in an underfunded NHS that is doing its best, but whose best is just not good enough, and then me after 8 hours of rumbling rage staring at the floor and my tears dripping on the lino. Then four dots turned into my mothers face. I took three photos and three people could see my mother’s eyes nose and mouth. Staring at my mother on the floor of the hospital Lino she said, ‘It’s not their fault. It’s not their fault.’
So I stood up and walked the corridor and blamed the fucking Tories for their mismanagement of this country, their incompetence, their utter selfishness, their incomprehensible solipsistic decision making, their dismantling of everything and anything that is good. I chanted – for my mother – that it wasn’t the nurses or doctors who were at fault but the fucking Tories for orchestrating the dismantling of the NHS so they could fill their pockets by trading in Private medicine. And then the doctor arrived who was so patronising and dismissive that had my mothers face not turned up in the lino that fucking condescending doctor may well have got the plastic chair broken over her supercilious head.
I complained and got an apology which is why a night in Penge reminded me that humanity and empathy does still exist. That there is a generation of young people who will turn this fucking awful state of affairs around. That in back rooms in little pubs all over everywhere there are people making a difference.
There will be more nights in Penge.