Not often a chap gets to read his own epitaph.
Back in 1995 I was declared dead. I only found out because the UK press contacted my employers, de Beers, asking for a statement so they contacted me up country in Angola demanding to know why, if I was dead, I was still drawing my pay.
It was touching to read John Gray's description of a mythical figure, as rugged as the life he leads and realise John was writing about me. I was also moved by the overwhelming number of messages of goodwill I received, they were most heartening.
Yes, I have been a bit under the weather recently and yes, I broke a lifetime's habitual aversion to hospitals by checking myself in rather than the usual, being carried in unconscious. I am not really up to relating what would make a truly entertaining yet terrifying post of my experience in an Angolan hospital suffice to say it involved scalpels, hydrogen peroxide, squirting blood, the insertion of a garden hose in my thigh (which I later learned was called a drain), forceps, swabs four catheters each of which the inept nurse required five attempts to hit the vein and then managed to tear one out again after not realising he had taped his surgical glove to it and, above everything else, a remarkable absence of any form of anaesthetic, Angolan pain management evidently consisting merely of a couple of burly hospital porters pinning the patient down while muttering, 'Squeal, white boy, squeal.'
Sadly, not even Angola's finest were able to reverse or even slow a quite worrying infection so plans are being made to fly me back to UK on Wednesday. This will be my first time back in UK in over a decade so I expect the taxi fare from Heathrow to the hospital in central London will come to a bit more than ten shillings. For me, the stay in hospital will be unbearable knowing that not more than a few hundred yards away will be a pub with all the London Pride I could choke down. To be honest, more than ever I am extremely grateful I kicked the booze for to cope with a stay in hospital AND a dependency on alcohol would have been too much for me. I just hope they hand out nicotine patches on the NHS.
My brother will be flying over from Germany to meet me and take me to hospital. He's a decent cove. He told me not to burden myself with luggage, he would pick up everything I need in London. He asked me my sizes and then said that for trousers, he would pick up the safari kind that have the legs that zip on so they can rapidly be converted to shorts.
'That's thoughtful of you,' I told him, 'in case the bandages make my leg too thick to fit down the trouser?'
'No,' he replied, 'in case by the time you come out of hospital you don't need a left trouser leg anymore.'
Hospitals are boring. The last time I was in hospital for any length of time was after my first heart attack. I was flown down to Johannesburg in an air ambulance and was wide awake when we landed. I persuaded the ambulance driver to take the scenic route so I could see something of the city. On the ICU they could not keep me in bed. Also on the unit was a very frail old lady who received no visitors. All day she would lie there clutching a beautifully bound volume of The Story of Civilisation - The Age of Reason Begins so I started to read it to her. It was a very interesting book and passed the time for both of us but it wasn't half as interesting as her life once she opened up and started talking. Leaving her to her inevitable solitude again was my only regret when an exasperated consultant told me, 'Do you know? You are the fittest man I've ever had in intensive care, you can go home.'
I am not looking forward to going to hospital. I am dreading the flight. I have to walk onto the 'plane. If I can't, the airline are going to want a medical clearance certificate to clear me to board. Fortunately, Luanda is not like Heathrow so I will not have far to walk. I am, though, going to have to climb the steps to the aircraft which will bring a tear to my eye. This should, however, be unremarkable as most people cry when they leave Angola so hopefully mine will be mistaken for tears of joy.
I have no idea what is in store for me but I shall endeavour to keep you all abreast of developments. I am sure that once I have had my first decent full English breakfast washed down with a mug of Quartermaster's Tea I shall be right as rain, especially if my brother does the decent thing and smuggles in a pot or two of Patum Peperium, a chunk of Stilton and a packet of Bath Oliver's. In fact, I rather suspect that after exhaustive tests, the consultant will conclude that all I need do is buy larger underpants as the old ones were cutting off the circulation to my legs. And that reminds me of the sad tale of poor old Arthur Pennington;
Poor old Arthur suffered all his life from an excruciating pain in his back which reached all the way to his neck. No doctor or specialist could find a cure. Finally, one consultant informed Arthur that relief could only be provided by castration. Although aware of the effect such drastic action would have on their love live, Arthur's wife was supportive pointing out they were unlikely to have any more children at their age and could still enjoy a fulfilling life in each other's company with him finally free of this incessant pain.
After the operation he was indeed free of pain but very depressed so his wife, in an effort to cheer him up, suggested he had a new suit made.
'Which side do you dress, Sir?' asked the tailor.
'It does not matter,' replied Arthur somewhat embarrassed.
'Oh but it matters a lot, Sir,' said the tailor solicitously, 'if your trousers are cut the wrong way it causes a terrible back pain that reaches all the way up to your neck.'
Ta-ta for now...