Authors: Ross Gilfillan
The following moments are a chaos of sights and sounds. Someone is shouting like a maniac, then I realise it’s me, crying for help and ordering people to ‘stand back and give her some air.’ I’m taking charge, kneeling by Rosalind, checking her airways, looking for vital signs. I’ve seen this done a thousand times, but all of them have been on TV. She’s breathing, thank God. Her head is in my lap as her eyes open and there’s that perplexed frown again. I tell her not to move and ask the ring of concerned and confused faces, where the hell is that ambulance? I’m talking, shouting rather, to Rosalind, asking her what’s the matter, where does she hurt, has she eaten something, taken anything?
Her eyes flutter and for a moment I think she’s going to answer me but then something unexpected happens: she sneezes, a real tsunami of a sneeze, spraying my face with atomised snot. Mr Clegg is with me now, but he doesn’t know what to do, he’s reached stress overload. He’s asking me what is it, is it an overdose? I don’t know what I tell him, I can’t even hear myself think because no one has told Andy O to kill the music and some of the concerned onlookers are tapping their feet and one or two are starting to shuffle about to
More Than a Woman
I make Ros as comfortable as I can, folding my jacket under her head and telling her now-unconscious form not to worry, I have everything under control. Time passes, then, thank fuck, the paramedics are there, with their rucksacks of equipment and bottles of oxygen and they’re asking me stuff and I’m nodding. They might be asking me if she has taken something, whether, as Mr Clegg is now asserting, she has overdosed. She’s back with us now and trying to say something, but I am in charge, I am saving her. I tell her not to waste her breath, that she will be all right, she’s in good hands. Then we’re outside and there’s the flashing blue light and the brightly lit interior of the ambulance. Rosalind is on the gurney, still trying to say something but the paramedics are holding an oxygen mask over her face and her arms are restrained by straps and a red blanket. The doors are closing and then Rosalind has gone. It’s been a horrible experience but the ambulance men have assured me she will be okay. At least I had been there, ready to take control, ready to show what I was made of. My prompt actions may even have saved a life and not just any life. Yes, it has indeed been a horrible experience but, looking at it another way, it’s one which will probably have earned me Rosalind Chandler’s undying gratitude. Result.
People Are Strange
It’s funny how things never seem to turn out like you expect them to, isn’t it? Not funny, but you know what I mean. Adolf Hitler probably said something like that to Eva Braun before blowing his brains out and I expect much the same kind of thought was occurring to Julius Caesar when Brutus stuck the knife in. The best laid plans and all that. Well, that was me and Prom night all over. There was the way things were supposed to have gone and then there was the way they actually panned out, pan as in toilet.
Now, in an ideal world (that one with the multiple suns and an England side with a sense of direction) the night might have gone like this:
Clive would have taken home Shelly Lark or any of the other fanny suddenly available to him and given her one on his Linda Barker duvet. This would, of course, have cured him of his homosexuality and given him something to think about other than designer decorating. A grateful Roger would probably have slipped me a bunch of used tenners, or at least a dodgy roll of roof leading.
The pill Diesel found and swallowed would have been merely Viagra and given the amount of sizzling pussy about that night, would have provided several bulbous inches of riotous entertainment for anyone checking him out.
Faruk would have amused everyone with his impression of a schoolboy only slightly drunk and would have been ready and available to drive us home in the Green Dragon, our suspect Escort.
I would have hooked up with Rosalind, this night marking the beginning of a long, beautiful and highly sexual relationship.
Was that really so much to ask? That we might all have stayed
sober and out of trouble for just one evening? Partly, I blame Tesco. Had their Value Vodka not been so cheap and so easily available to anyone who knew Billy Fairchild, who’s old enough to pop in and buy it, then maybe things would have been different. But compare and contrast what actually did happen, the full horror of it all, which was this:
Diesel necks a tab of E and goes off to the bandstand in the park with Lauren ‘the gob’ Sykes.
Faruk pretends to be drunk so convincingly that he starts a fight with Dave Fletcher and needs three stitches to his bottom lip.
Clive doesn’t get off with Shelly Lark, but gets off instead with her brother Kevin. They are found by Miss Hogg ‘practising Greek wrestling’ Clive says, in the girls’ changing room.
And me? Well, according to a tempestuous Teresa Davenport, who’s Rosalind Chandler’s best friend and protector from creeps and idiots like me, what I do is this:
a) comprehensively mistake Rosalind’s symptoms;
b) refuse to listen to her when she tries to correct me; and
c) assure teachers and paramedics that this is a classic case of overdose, so that Rosalind is rushed to casualty and immediately stomach pumped, when all she has, from what I’ve been hearing, is a virulent type of flu.
Well, nice one, Brian, you played a blinder. You finally meet Rosalind Chandler,
Rosalind Chandler, the girl of your dreams, but rather than making small talk and showing her how intelligent and interesting you are, you have her sent to casualty and unnecessarily stomach pumped. AFB. Absolutely Fucking Brilliant. Of course, I offered to go to the hospital, where they’re keeping her in for observations, but Teresa tells me that I am the very last person Rosalind wants to set eyes on now. As I said before,
And now it’s the day after the prom and for want of something better to do, I’m standing in front of the big, plate
glass window of Foo’s Quality Asian Remedies, the new shop on the high street which is quickly becoming known, at least among the town’s culturally challenged, as Foo Q’s. Through the glass I can see potted plants and on the walls, bamboo mats with paintings of mountains and waterfalls. There’s a polished wooden counter with hundreds of little wooden pigeonholes behind it, each containing a labelled packet. There are little pyramids of packets on the counter, where the owner or maybe the shop manager is weighing a quantity of grey powder on a set of scales. It’s much like the back of my local pharmacy, really, but everything looks a little more interesting, exotic, more likely to help someone suffering from a very particular condition.
I’m running an eye down a sort of menu which is printed in large and small lettering on the window. I once saw a documentary on TV about how Oriental medicine was treating conditions we weren’t even looking at. Could hundreds of millions of users be wrong, it asked? The printing on the window suggests there may indeed be something for me here; there seems to be a remedy for everything. I scan down the list hopefully, occasionally looking up to see Mr Foo, presumably, leaning on his counter and watching me with a dull curiosity. I start with Acne, Anxiety, and Asthma. Then there’s Backache, Balding and Breast Cancer, Diabetes, Depression and Diarrhoea. Further down – I notice that Mr Foo has straightened up and is watching me with interest now – there’s Hangover, Hepatitis and Haemorrhoids. Under Sexual Matters, they have something for impotence, loss of libido – I’m getting warm now – erectile dysfunction and what must be a polite term for premature ejaculation.
I scan right down to the bottom of the long list, unwilling to believe that I haven’t come across what I’m looking for, then I start again at the top in case I have missed it. Perhaps there’s another name for what I want curing, some special medical term for having a small cock. Or perhaps it’s not the sort of thing you’d
print on your window and the cure has to be kept under the counter. I wonder what the cure will involve. Pills, probably, and powdered rhino horn will almost certainly be involved.
I see a notice threatening acupuncture and allow for the possibility of a physical cure. They might use a system of small weights attached by wires to the foreskin which pull and stretch the penis, I’m thinking, but then I realise I have this all mixed up with some weird porn we were watching at Diesel’s the other night. But still I can’t find any mention of what I’m after in the window, so I peer through the glass, using a hand to provide shade from the reflective glare of sunlight as I try to read the notices and advertisements on the walls inside. I don’t notice Mr Foo opening the door.
He pops his head out and beckons me in. He’s not saying anything, probably doesn’t speak English. So I speak slowly and loudly, and use my own sign language to thank him for his kind invitation (I bow once) to inspect his new shop (a sweep of my hand indicating his premises) but tell him that I am only a curious (forefinger to temple) passer-by (two fingers walking across the other palm) who is naturally interested (two taps of my temple) by the phenomenon of an Asian (point to Mr Foo) remedies shop on our High Street, but (flat hand over my eyes like a sailor searching for land) am only looking.
Mr Foo looks like he is having trouble understanding me. I bow once more, and I’m about to go when Mr Foo utters something that sounds intensely foreign, a strange, alien noise which reminds me of how little I know of either China’s Mandarin or Cantonese dialects. For a moment I can’t make head nor tail of it, but now I think about it, what he said to me was – if I have this right, ‘Hey up, me duck, if there’s owt tha’ wants that’s not in ‘window, chances are, we’ll have the bugger inside. Pop in for a butcher’s and a warm – by heck, it’d freeze the knackers off a brass monkey today. Call this summer?’ And I’m inside before I’ve worked out that if Mr Foo’s from the far East,
it’s the far East of Yorkshire.
Mr Foo can see that this is all new to me and helpfully explains many of the practises and procedures of Chinese medicine. Soon I am about as clued up as I ever will be on the holistic theories of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), ‘how tha’ has to balance t’ yin and t’ yang’, given a smattering of Taoism and Confucianism and asked if I know what I might be (he does my sailor thing with his hand) looking for? I’m examining everything, reading labels, hoping to stumble on what I want without asking for it. There is literature in Chinese and diagnostic charts unlike anything I’ve seen at my GP practice, where I’ve been having treatment for a verucca. Everything, in fact, apart from Mr Foo himself, is so exotic that I can’t help feeling that my answer must lie here, if I can only find it.
There’s a black door behind the counter marked Private and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the real secrets of this place, the cures for cancer and stunted cocks and so on, are all kept in that room. But knowing what you need is one thing and telling a Yorkshireman, even a Chinese one, that you have a small todger is quite another. I make a mental note to return soon armed with a totally credible story about an unfortunate mate of mine who, poor sod, has a deficiency in the dick department and wants to know if Foo Q’s has a remedy for this? My friend will say that he doesn’t want to overdo it and that just an extra two or three inches would probably be all right.
Meanwhile, I pick up a packet from the counter top at random, pay more than I can afford and leave quickly, clutching, I discover when I’m safely around the corner and standing in the entrance of the Golden Days retirement home, a paper bag containing a Number One remedy for Alzheimer’s. I pop it through the letterbox.
‘Someone called for you,’ Mum says when I get home.
‘Who was it?’ I’m feeling a little under the weather, nothing
much, just a bit of a head, which is probably down to last night’s Sunny D&V. I can’t be bothered to go up to my room, so I slump on the sofa in the living room, where Mum’s ironing Dad’s vests and watching Jeremy Kyle with the sound off.
‘That man, the one your father doesn’t much like. He wants to talk to you about little Clive next door.’
‘That’ll be his dad,’ I say. ‘I expect Clive brought his new bum buddy Kevin back last night and gave him one up the arse, Mum, when I was supposed to be fixing him up with some fanny. So now Roger’ll be wanting to know what time I want to come round to be castrated with a Doc Marten’s toe cap.’
Actually, most of this was unspoken, but it was what I was thinking.
A pile of ironed golfing sweaters (not mine) makes a useful pillow as I stare out through the new conservatory windows at Dad’s ordered universe, his stripy lawn and square goldfish pond, his shed where all his garden tools have their places on the wall outlined in marker pen and the only thing that’s missing from this scene is a little ‘Keep Off the Grass’ sign planted in the lawn. He’s out there now, despite the rain that’s started, in a collar and tie and sharply-creased M&S slacks, fixing a trellis to the top of our already quite high fence with that slightly maniacal look he gets whenever his routine has been interrupted, or when we have unexpected visitors. This will mean we now have the tallest fence on our street, if not the entire district, but it also means we are that much more insulated from the disorder and God Knows What Else that lurks just over it, on Roger Dyson’s land.
Again I wonder what it must be like for Mum, to have lived with Dad this long. My parents met in their teens at a scout jamboree, to which the girl guides had been invited, to give the scouts a better idea of what girls were. What an innocent world they must have lived in. But times have moved on and I expect even the scouts have changed now. They’ll get badges for rolling
a joint or blowing the scout leader, I expect. Woah! Where are these thoughts coming from? How can I think such things in front of Mum? I’ve always worried she might tune in somehow, so I’ve tried to keep my more degenerate streams of consciousness for the bedroom or bathroom. I’m not even sure I didn’t say all that about Clive and Roger out loud. If I did, Mum doesn’t appear to have noticed, she’s too busy ironing the daisy-patterned curtains from the toilet window. But like I say, I’ve not been feeling myself. It could be down to Tesco and their cheap vodka but I’m beginning to think it’s the poisonous concoction of bitter disappointment and lacerating guilt I’m feeling about that fiasco with Rosalind. I doubt she’ll ever speak to me again.
But Mum and Dad getting their ging gang goolies off while other kids were raving in Madchester and popping E’s to the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays? From the photos I’ve seen, the only thing baggy about Dad in those days was his cardigan. But Dad’s always been like that, staking a tenuous claim on normality with his buttoned-down attitude, short hair, crisp shirts, knife edge creases and, in this day and age, polished shoes. Dad imposes order on things and people; he gave up on me the day after The Party To End All Parties but he still makes Mum march to his tune and she’s always been too meek to object. I can imagine him proposing to her. ‘The correct thing to do, Violet, would be to get married,’ he’ll have said, or maybe it was just, ’11.00 at St Just’s. White dress. Be there.’ She must have gone to the altar like a lamb to sacrifice.
Sometimes when she’s had a Bailey’s, which is at Christmas, she’ll tell me about the flower shop she wanted and how she has dreams about Russell Crowe. She likes men who make her laugh too, which is why she likes Diesel. The only time Dad made her laugh was when he fell off the ladder installing his CCTV system. I was there watching and there was the crash of ladder and Dad and then these weird noises. For a second, I thought it was Dad’s chest caving in, and these were the choking convulsions of a
dying man. But it was Mum, laughing quietly at Dad as he opened his eyes, got up and shook himself off.
I’m thinking so intently about my parents’ strange relationship, that I haven’t noticed that Mum is waving a pair of my own underpants in front of my face, trying to get my attention.
‘Have you said hello to Nana?’
‘Nana and GD? They’re here?’ This is news to me.
‘They came this afternoon while you were out,’ Mum says, looking at the rain spattering on the windows. ‘That’s why your father’s still out in the garden.’
Nana smiles as I enter the back bedroom where they always stay when they visit. Despite her condition, Nana can still get upstairs thanks to the stair lift Dad installed. I’ve always suspected it wasn’t put in so much as an aid for her, as a far-thinking precaution against his own old age. There was a closing down sale at the mobility shop, so he bought that, some handgrips for the bath and a wheelchair ramp for the kitchen steps. The house now has everything it needs to see him through to his death, in about 45 years time.