Friday, 24 June 2011

Tomatoes, buses, cancer and loss

Richmond's Obelisk
For the same reason I never buy tomatoes prepacked in a plastic bag, sometimes I take the bus into Richmond.

With the car parked close by there’s no … gap. A simple step into a mobile cubicle, a cozy journey, and I’m outside the static pile of rooms I call home.

Car-less, there’s a gap. A distance. Independence. Freedom. A sense of isolation that only the wild adventurer in me can overcome. Will I find the return bus stop? Will I get on the right bus? Will I have the correct change? The correct change … even now, crouching here in my sun-drenched conservatory, I shudder at the thought of standing before ‘the fierce gatekeeper’ - Charon, if you will - with only … notes.

Anyway ...

I’m in Richmond, free of car. Sat on the warm worn sandstone steps surrounding the Obelisk. Eyes closed, basking in the sun. My hair’s now so thin on top I can feel the rays bouncing off my dome. It feels good and I smile.

“I’m ninety-three you know.”

The voice comes from a bent old man leaning on walking sticks. His heaving chest tells me he’s out of breath.

“Are you Okay,” I ask in the loud-but-definitely-not-patronising voice I reserve for potentially aurally challenged wrinklies.

“I’m under Doctor Bagshaw. Cancer,” he tells me.

“I ... I’m ...” I’m speechless. Behind those rheumy eyes is a person. Under that concave chest beats a heart that has thumped away since the end of World War One. It was thumping when Hitler invaded Poland. Thumping when Churchill roused a nation. Thumping when my own heart first lurched into life. Thumping when I stopped other men’s hearts in Angola. Thumping now.

“You have to smile,” he says.

And off he goes - the length of his stride wouldn’t challenge an arthritic hamster - left stick, right stick, left foot, right foot … slow and steady.

It occurs to me I must have been sat quite a while for the old gentleman to have sneaked up on me like that.

The skin on my face and head is hot, dry and tight. I’ve caught the sun.

Here’s that feeling again - will the bus arrive in time to save me? Or will my dry bones be discovered crumbling onto the stone steps, one day prompting archaeologists to wonder if Obelisk worship was common around these parts.

As for prepacked tomatoes: there’s something too corporate, commercial, convenient, you must-have-this-six about them. Picking loose ones is more dangerous, free thinking, closer to nature, independent.

There: they’re out. A curtain of words drawn to hide away the thoughts of my brother’s death from cancer.

People. What are we like? You have to smile.


  1. Oh, I liked this very much. The phrase regarding your "static pile of rooms". The "gap" that the bus provides. The introspection regarding the old man's life... Just read it again. There's so much here. Wow. So good. Thank you.


  2. This is one of the most moving blog posts I have ever read. Thank you.

  3. Hello! Just letting you know I gave your blog the Liebster Award! ^_^