The plan was to meet at M’s at 10am on Monday morning. I had the day off so ideal for making a trip up to town to see Compo. Compo is currently residing at the Royal Marsden so it is not an easy trip from somewhere in darkest London. Moreover, neither M nor I had been to the hospital before now.
Compo’s friend R had given H directions. We go from our mainline station to Victoria, tube to High Street Kensington and then a quick walk.
The day was chilly but dry as I stepped out of the house this morning, a little late as Guin had a bad day yesterday and wasn’t eating much. I made sure she had her fish and ate some biscuits and I got to M’s about 9.20am.
M had sensibly made coffee and she made me a much needed cup of tea. We discussed what to take. Compo wasn’t eating last we heard so food and treats were out. We couldn’t take flowers. H suggested we ring R, his friend. R wasn’t a whole lot of help but agreed practical things were best.
We had a second cup of tea and poor H, who, like us, had memories of sitting by the bedside of terminally ill loved ones, was keen to go and get it over with. I mentioned picking up something to eat along the way, M immediately made us rolls.
A little more time was spent discussing our memories of Compo. The time he lost Tinker, what he said and what he did. Other favourite memories of the shop crept in. It turned into a mini-prewake as we went over old ground, forged in the love and care that that shop gave us all.
At last we gathered our courage together and walked to the bus stop, all three of us dreading this journey. We found we had just missed a train so travelled one stop back to catch another, faster train. As we neared Victoria, the heavens opened. M and I chatted, as we always do, back and forth, with H chipping in. There were comfortable silences, the ones you get amongst people with a long-shared history. It was six and a half years since H had given up the booze and fags. He looked 20 years younger and we told him so.
Getting to Victoria, I, occupied with the thought that I just had to Fucking Get This Done, marched ahead. Called back by M, she reminded me that we wanted to go into Superdrug to get some essentials. I led the way. Working up in town in various places for 15 years has given me a sense of direction so good I could navigate around all the main stations with my eyes closed.
We trotted around Superdrug. M wasn’t happy with what we found and engaged one of the shop staff. Directed appropriately, we found the perfect bag and got what we wanted – wet wipes, man-sized tissues (R had explained that Compo had just run out of them the night before), a little deodorant, a deluxe sponge, lip balm, etc etc.
We then got on the Tube, M dallying a bit trying to check whether I was right, me initially not finding High Street Ken but remembering it was on the district line, on the way to Richmond, a remnant of all the late night tube journeys taken seemingly a lifetime ago, when I was young and life seemed so full of promise.
We got out at South Ken into the rain after a tube snafu, agreeing to catch a cab and thank heavens we did because the second glimmer of chaos was apparent when the sullen cab driver insisted it was in one street and we said we had been told another. We went with the cabbie though and travelled exactly one and a half minutes before he stopped. Had we gone to High Street Ken we would have been hopelessly lost.
H, a little disconcerted, scouted ahead to make sure we had the right place as M and I pretended to admire over-priced jewellery in a shop window which had a very convenient awning that allowed us to have a smoke without the accompanying soggy. The shop owner peered at us through the steamed-up glass but undeterred, we puffed away whilst pointing at the tat. There were diamond elephants which were enough to keep us looking interested.
H then rang to say it was the right place, come on then, hurry up. We got in, did appropriate loo breaks, I checked my phone to discover no coverage at all, we reconvened, found the lift, got in and looked for the fifth floor.
The wheels then fell off when there was no such thing. H and I leapt out at the first floor, with the intention of asking directions. M stayed behind, pressing the “lift open” button but it didn’t work and H and I watched in horror as the doors closed and took her god knows where. Separated, in a strange place, no mobile coverage and not sure of where we were going, I suggested we go back to the ground floor. We obtained directions to the ward (which was in another part of the building and indeed on the fifth floor) H agreed and we jumped into the lift again. M wasn’t there.
I thought a moment, realised that she would have a 30 second panic and then go back to the 1st floor. I said to H to stay where he was, that I was going back to the 1st for exactly five minutes to wait and if M appeared on the ground floor, he was to grab her and either wait or come up to the first floor, depending on how much time had elapsed. I caught his eye and we roared – only M and I could get separated in a fucking lift for pete’s sake!!
I trolled up to the first floor and stood there looking like a lost fart in a thunderstorm in the lift lobby. Several lifts came and went, with me doing meerkat impressions into every one in the hope of seeing a blonde in a red coat. Sadly, my Schindler’s list moment never came and four minutes later I pressed the button to meet H on the ground floor. M wasn’t there. I knew then. The cow had been very sensible and simply gone to find Compo herself, trusting that her best friend wouldn’t be stupid enough to spend time lift hopping in the hope of finding her.
Er, yes … of course … eventually …
We got to the fifth floor. I spent a minute or so locating the buzzer which was exactly where you would expect it not to be (behind you once you were standing in front of the door). We were buzzed in and told second door on the right. Second door on the right had a great big no entry sign with the words “wash your fucking hands, face and little bits with our disinfectant solution before you even think about coming in here” (okay it didn’t but it might as well have). H opened the door as I was anointing and trying to stop him entering.
Multi-tasking is not my forte because as I was trying to apply disinfectant to my little bits, he went ahead and opened it anyway. An “Ooops sorreee” followed as he backed out and said “not that one” as a nurse came running behind us to apologise for giving us duff info.
I am not sure what he saw because we were smartly directed to the door opposite and two completely thrown people (one still trying to find her little bits to apply appropriately) flew in the door and came face to face with our friend. And Marion, here forward known as Ms Sensible. Apart from when it comes to buses but that’s later in the story.
Compo, taking everything in his stride, explained that he wasn’t coming out again. That everything was sorted out, that he intended to completely snafu our main road by planning a funeral that included a black coach and horses and he not only intended to snafu the main road but his route would include his own road and he made us giggle as he pictured the same coach and horses trying to turn in the cul de sac where he lived.
Two hours passed as if by magic, immersed in the past and the present and we eventually, as he tired, said our goodbyes. There is nothing more poignant than saying goodbye to someone you may not see again but his chipper demeanour, his flirting with the nurses (Royal Marsden is bloody wonderful, by the way, it doesn’t even smell like a hospital) and his eating (because he had just started again) gave us hope that we may well see him again.
Overcome by tears, I sniffled in a corner of the reception area whilst the other two took a bathroom break. Yeah I know, I am a CAMEL – I can’t do public loos …
I got a hold of myself as M came back and we waited for H. One of the staff was wielding a mop and M and I did the Oops sorry we’re stepping on your clean, wet floor dance before we decided to go out the security doors. Stood outside, M was demonstrating how she had problems getting in (not dissimilar to mine) and explained that the nice young man who was sitting at the reception desk had let her in.
The same lovely young man was gesticulating at me through the glass, clearly asking whether we wanted to come back in, remembering both of our misguided attempts to enter. I shook my head and mouthed that we were waiting for someone who was on a bathroom break.
Unfortunately, my hands moved of their own accord and before I knew it, they were mimicking a very rude action that made it look like the person we were waiting for was indulging in a spot of self-pleasure rather than a widdle. As I was trying to mimic a fireman and his hose, this was a total surprise to me.
He looked at me completely horrified as I looked aghast at my hands, lost it and had to stand in front of the lift, my shoulders heaving. Sharing my breakdown in communication with M, she too had to stand facing the lift before she went and banged her head in hysteria against the wall.
H came out, looked at us and asked the fateful question “are you both pissed?” The wrong verb got us completely disconfabulated all over again.
Thankfully the lift arrived, sans people and we got into it, still roaring. The rest of the journey home was taken up by me insisting that I knew where I was going, M missing us the bus by wanting to double-check, H caught between us, not sure where to go and rain, lots of rain.
Victoria station was heaving with people and condensation as we exited the bus and entreed into a coffee shop for warmth and tea and noms before wending our way home.
Except there was one last faux pas as we got on the bus. Heading home in rush hour, the bus was rammed. A very reluctant
arseholeofreknownwhohadhisbagacrossaseat lovely young man eventually moved to make way for Marion. He asked whether I wanted his seat too. I said, no it was okay, I was happy swinging. M corpsed as I tried to keep a straight face and failed.
I am not sure whether I could ever go to the Royal Marsden again without risking arrest or deep embarrassment, or both. M is not sure that she can go anywhere without causing a scene. H is probably only too glad the day is over.
But one thing is for sure … we did what we needed to do for Compo, we walked individual and collective journeys into the past and into pain, we took each others’ arms to gain courage to make those journeys and we stood together to embrace a future which will be minus one steadfast, courageous, funny man whose life has enriched so many of our feathered and furry friends. Bless him and may his journey into the future and into the unknown be accompanied by the souls of so many he loved and looked after.
And please people, unless you want us to shock and awe your nursing staff, please don’t get terminally ill, okay?