April 1st. 2019
Wake at 5.45 to the returning light…
6AM with relief at the dawn, fling myself onto the floor to meditate for twenty minutes.
6.30: Drink two glasses of hot water and lemon accompanied by a madeleine, if John has been baking. Otherwise, I suffer a gluten free oatcake that I share with Dido who is about to wake up.
6.40: Upstairs to my son and daughter in law’s apartment where T is feeding fourteen-day-old Zac. I spend thirty minutes holding and getting to know ‘the babe’. I am finding it hard to address him by name yet, and to congratulate T for getting through another fractured night. I cannot think of a more privileged way to begin my day than to hold a baby tight in my arms, which is still trying to work out the shapes and shadows of the room, our smiles and gaze. I inhale the furry warmth of his fontanel in awe. He already likes, or so it seems, the sensation of my dangling hair flickered across his face. His studied gaze in return is scholarly and it is evident that he already finds sleep to be a challenging occupation.
7.10: Downstairs where John has now fed Dido on raw chicken and mince and prepared porridge and my coffee of the day.
7.30: Bell, my seven-year-old grand daughter comes down for me to brush and braid her hair before she leaves for school at 7.50. She tells me they are working on the eight times table. Bell does not know it is April 1st. I explain to her about All Fool’s Day and we plan a quick April fool together. With all the stress of a new baby in the house it needs to be benign as I am sure nobody has remembered the foolish consequences of today. I think on my feet for something credible… Bell announces to Granddad that there is a very large stray black cat growling in the front hallway. (We have already reluctantly housed Zen – our exquisite black stray – who Dido rescued two years ago and who has become the house totem.) Zen moves between our two apartments with a freedom pass. Granddad grumpily tears himself away from breakfast and climbs the stairs to be fooled.
7.40: Bell puts on her coat while I look for her trainers and she leaves for school with her father, my son Alex. Dido and me perform our morning ritual, (I want to do a blog about ritual, tradition, and the habitual versus spontaneity) of me waving and jumping accompanied by Dido who barks with enthusiasm from the window bay. Bell dances the Floss in the driveway and continues to Floss along the road and then she waves, blowing kisses like bubbles, until she reaches the car.
7.45: I clean my teeth, using brushes of variable sizes to satisfy even an alchemist. I clean Dido’s teeth with liver flavoured toothpaste. Obedient, but fearing the worst, she opens her mouth. Each day I start the operation from a different side of her jaw, which she balefully keeps open.
8.00: John drives me to our local deli to collect an avocado and Polaine loaf of sour dough bread for my routine lunch of avocado on toast along with papaya, which is known to soothe a spastic gut. The loaf will last us all week in the fridge.
8.30: We arrive at Regent’s Park to take Dido for a walk. The light on the lake shimmers like a swirl of Dervish. I feel blessed to be forced out by Dido’s ritual insistence into a profusion of Spring bounty. The hawthorn is gathering pace. Linen knots of white flower are crowning the thorns. Proust would be impressed. We have a solitary walk up the hill. The sun illumines a bower of reclining lilac blossom that has overgrown into an overhanging and dense canopy of a sun drenched purple haze. Yesterday’s lilac light was unremarkable but this early morning it has approached the sublime and I feel blessed. Tomorrow, I shall feel April-fooled; I will never experience this likes of sacred bower-lit-lilac-light again.
When I thought that their trees, pear trees, apple trees, tamarisks, would outlive me, I seemed to receive from them the warning to set myself to work at last, before the hour should strike of rest everlasting. (Proust)
This particular and uninhabited overgrowth of parkland is silent and privileged. Every tree commands catkin. Two gaudy cockatoo flirt above. I cannot help imagine their plunder of fledglings. Now, there is a pink flash of marauding jay. The ground glistens with fragments of shell.
9.30: I arrive at my consulting rooms and immediately set to work spraying the plants. I rather like to do a spot of hoovering before my clinical day begins. I have always found cleaning floors weirdly soothing.
Between ten and one o’clock I am scheduled to see three male ‘patients’. In the following accounts they are all impenetrable in their disguise and fictional composites with the exception of the ‘bouquet’ incident.
‘John’ Number One is a retired ‘consultant’ who had a nervous breakdown when he retired early having accomplished everything he set out to do professionally but who has now learnt how to live an enviably varied life of retirement. He devotes his time between philanthropy, learning Greek, his Harley Davidson and enjoying his children. He is also a governor of a local state school as he attributes his material success in the world to his grammar school selection.
We have long stopped addressing the paralyzing anxieties, which made our original paths cross many years ago but we continue to meet weekly. I have become a reservoir of memory, and a mirror to his inner world that is still often at odds with the ‘life lived’. The anxieties have evaporated but he still finds it hard to uncover his emotional life. Today, a small cloud irritates his sunset as the GP, during a routine investigation, discovered blood in his urine which needs rapid investigation. He is frustrated that his body may not be playing the right sonata.
There is a coincidence because this symptom has strangely cropped up three times this week in three different men who are all in their late fifties.
‘John’ Number Two who rings the bell promptly at 11 had a similar diagnosis the previous week although it was followed by a traumatic A and E incident. Unlike ‘John’ Number One, who often strolls in without much regard to punctuality, ‘John’ Number Two is never a minute late. I soon get to know the gestalts of everyone’s arrival: who is early, who is late, who is punctual. And then there is another category of ‘No Show’ and not even an explanation until the following week. I call that arrogant. Goldilocks and her bowls of porridge is a living metaphor of measurement for me.
‘John’ Number two had a medical crisis last week when he thought he was having an uncontrollable panic attack and was discovered to have an acute kidney infection, which often initially tricks, or masquerades as acute panic. He is at pains to tell me how grateful he continues to be that he was able to reach me out of hours at a late hour to discuss the medical intervention.
During this session in which we are deconstructing his frightening experiences in A and E and admission to the surgical ward of a decaying NHS teaching hospital my entry buzzer starts to ring energetically. I am agitated because I know this ‘John’ does not tolerate intrusions lightly. When I cannot ignore the intrusion any longer I press the entry buzzer.
A courier is standing there holding a stunning bouquet of white flowers. ‘John’ Number Two is wearing a mixture of feigned irritation and irrepressible delight. I am a tornado of feelings: anger at the intrusion and distraction from our conversation, confusion and gratitude at the thoughts contained in this cacophony, or cornucopia of flowers. There is also relief that I did not get the times of my sessions wrong but the incumbent disrupted himself with his generous anxiety and gratitude. I have to find a way to express both my delight but also my concern to emphasize that my ‘out of hours’ engagement does not need to be rewarded. A tricky combo, and lots of thinking on my feet.
‘John’ Number Three is the final ‘patient’ before lunch. A poet who suffers from acute seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and has a unique, at least it is in my portfolio, phobia. This weekend, the clocks went forward. Once the clocks go forward, instead of enjoying thoughts of the extended hours of light, he lives in bilious and consuming despair of the returning October darkness. The only time when he feels ‘normal’ is after the December equinox when he knows there are only three months to endure before the days grow lighter. He has designed his own titanium torture wheel. Our conversation takes us towards ‘Judgment Day’. And eschatology.
Between one and two thirty I have a lunch break during which time I do twenty minutes of yoga, (if I have slept well enough) and another twenty minutes of meditation. I prep and eat my avocado and papaya on toast. I drink only warm or filtered water, recommended by Chinese medicine, throughout the day: minimum of two litres.
Between two thirty and six I see three more patients: two more men and one splendid lady who is preparing for her eightieth birthday party. She has the distinction of being my eldest and by far the most elegant patient. She cannot decide whether or not to give herself an eightieth birthday cake and then frets whether anyone will come to her party. She is sad that I will not be persuaded to be included on the guest list. I try to convince her that I share the privilege of hearing all about her hopes, fears, disappointments and Mrs. Dalloway accomplishments of party planning. I may not be there in person but afterwards together’ we will perform a party post-mortem as detailed as any autopsy of the brain.
6PM: I get an Uber home and join John who has returned from his Monday art class and prepared me a sweet potato, which is distinguished by having white – not orange – flesh, and tastes like aniseed, along with some yellow courgette. We have our ongoing argument about courgettes: whether the yellow besides being more expensive and exotic tastes different to the green variety. I insist they do.
Without warning, Bell appears beside the supper table and I almost jump out of my skin. No matter how many times this happens I always do. She loves to descend without alerting even Dido. She is clutching at the Bella Beanie bear who we Amazon Primed yesterday as a small and temporary consolation for no longer being an only child. She wants to know whether I have any Blue Tack.
7PM: I get a Whats App from a proud patient telling me that her son is on television in an hour. I watch the documentary program and let her know I am impressed.
9.PM: At John’s request I watch, but I do not like television, Laura Kuennsberg expounding backstage on the Follies of Brexit. I wish I could chill watching box sets. I am always being instructed to by my ‘patients’, most recently ‘Cheated’ and now ‘Fleabag’ which my son tells me is exceptional, but I have already listened to too much narrative and plot during my day. Television is an instant but temporary narcotic with the consequence that having shut my eyes for less than minutes it may turn out to be my night’s sleep ration.
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk
(Ode to the Nightingale.)
10PM: I start worrying about whether or not I will sleep. I hope that fifteen minutes of Audible and Virginia Woolf’s A Room Of My Ownmight do the trick.
12AM: I am awake and flounder like a suffocating fish back onto the floor to do a panicked night meditation.
The breath of the enchanted wind mingles the fresh scent of the lilacs with the fragrance of the past (Proust)