Monday, 11 March 2013


In the car park at Llandough the easterly wind is cutting through my jeans.  It’s March and the weather is following form.  There’s no one here, hardly.  Some workers on the hospital redevelopment, their vans dots the tarmac.  These are the trades in all their multiplicity -  plasterers, electricians, heating engineers – no job too big or too small – all aspects of building work undertaken – style added in olde English font, mobile numbers the only point of contact.

My appointment is for 7.45 am, an out of regular-hours slot beaten only by the 8.00 pm Saturday evening appointment I was once offered by X-Ray. The Llandough waiting room, a warm refuge full of happy posters and machines offering granola bars, rice cakes and healthy bags of nuts, has one other client.   In the vastness of the sea of chairs we sit not acknowledging each other.  He’s on sticks, unshaven, wears a builder’s check shirt coupled with trackie bottoms.  He’s got a Bluetooth hands free stuck in his ear in case anything urgent comes up.  Nothing does.

The receptionist has turned on  breakfast TV for our pleasure.  Primary colour vapidity delivered by a   well-groomed couple lounging in arm chairs.   Their voices bounce excitedly in that new century pre-fab high street manner where everything is perky bright and vicissitude is permanently banished.  The book I’m reading can’t compete.  It’s a history of the blues with stories of black men in river deltas twelve-baring themselves to fame and Muddy Waters sitting outside Mississippi juke joints thrilling to the sound of his first record coming at him out of the windows.  But before the hi-vol emptiness of early morning TV it’s a total non-starter.

Right on the button I'm called in and asked questions.  I’m  made to stand on tip-toe and have rubber-headed hammers tapped on my knees and lower legs.  Bend your knee.  Straighten it.  Fine. We, the consultant and I, gather around his computer screen and look at a flow of successive images. These were taken during my last MRI scan - my spine revealed in cross section.  Bones and the shadow shapes of muscle and cartilage. There it is, says the consultant, pointing.  The white blip of the cyst.  I’ve seen it before.  It looks like a seed – a flageolet or a butter bean.  It moves and presses against the nerve.  Is it hurting now?  No.  Excellent.  You are having a good day.  He smiles, indulgently.  We’ll let it alone for three months and I’ll see you again.  If it’s still a problem them we’ll have you in, push this muscle aside, cut out a bit of bone, drain the offending cyst  and then put some metal in there to hold you together.  I don’t know if I should be stunned or not.  I don’t say anything. We shake hands and I go - back out through the morning wastes of the TV drenched reception and through the double doors into the cold air. 

There’s a familiarity to all this.  The consultant spells out a future and then you find yourself  wandering the car park, your vehicle lost, your head full of fear and fury.  But I get straight to it, the green car of mine with the rust everywhere and the demister which hasn’t worked for three years.  I  climb in and drive back.  Rock and roll on the player.  Old stuff, like me.

At the house my construction workers are moving apace.  Where the dining-room wall once was are now acro props and dust.  Out back in the wreckage of the garden a cement mixer cranks and spins.  The walls of the new extension are rising from the flower beds.  Where they meet the house they mesh.  There are metal pins strapped across the cracks in the plaster.  A man in a check shirt is tapping the brick work with a hammer.  Another is squirting gunk from a syringe into the gaps.  They are similar processes,  surgery and construction.  Both start early, both remove rot, both fix by pin and glue.  One set wear check shirts, the other gowns and bright hats.   Both walk away saying see how you go.  If you have any trouble give us a call.  All aspects covered. 

Should I be worried?  Given the prospect of having to spend a fair slab of time on my back waiting for post-op recovery not to speak of running the risk of something going wrong and the pain not disappearing but increasing I guess I should.  But there’s been so much of this stuff, going on for so long and appearing and reappearing so often that I’ve come to accept this as the norm.  Just be grateful, I tell myself, that you are hanging on in.   Like I say in the poem:


John Tripp  59
B S Johnson  41
Arthur Rimbaud 37
Buddy Holly  33

Kingsley Amis  74
not managed him yet

But I will.