Friday 28 August 2020


It rained all day today. It has been raining most days this week. No walks for Dad. There’s a giant puddle in the pavement outside our house where our next door neighbours’ twin girls jump... where other children, unknown, wrapped in rain jackets, pause, position their boots carefully, and then jump! jump! jump!

A week ago, it was my birthday, and while I was still sleeping, Mum garlanded the front door, the dining room door, and one extra garland in readiness for my neck when I awoke; she hung birthday banners, geranium leaves and hibiscus everywhere that I might see and rejoice in being loved. I felt so loved and content that when it turned midnight, I wanted the day all over again. From seeing the Singaporean siblings off to school on their bus, to opening presents sent by the Malaysian twins, a bread maker sent by my brother, cards from afar, and talking to my childhood friend Fudge and her daughter in Bombay about dogs and drawings and fairy lights.  

I floated around all day, baked a Victoria sponge cake that evening and then, the next morning, when Joseph aka Badger, arrived to pick us up, bundled myself into a warm cosy blanket, mask on, and off we went, like the three bears, to Badger’s Wood. This was Dad’s first outing since his fall almost a year ago, and although he managed a goodish walk into the wood, he had a near turn in the heat - so I hustled back for water and Badger ran back for a chair and we all collapsed, while Dad recuperated in a kingly fashion, among the birch and blackberry bramble. 

Yesterday, during my respiratory consultation at the hospital, I shared the secret to surviving my new form of home therapy by subcutaneous injection - Colette and I FaceTime. Tuesdays at Two. We are each other’s video girls, smiling, laughing, commiserating and listening, each to the other, as we move forward in this strange pandemic, made stranger by the needles and tubes we administer in the casual atmosphere of home. The three medics present and the nurse who had trained us were all intrigued, impressed and hoping to present our buddy system at the upcoming European Immunology Delegation as an idea for all new patients and perhaps even the veterans - to help cope with pandemic isolation and the claustrophobia of an unshared trauma. It helps to have a friend-mirror. Coco and I have known each other for years, hence the trust in visiting Badger’s Wood at all. We didn’t hug, much as we wanted to, but just being near, sharing stories and warmth and courage, was enough. Clive would have hated home injections. Claerwen, his daughter, would have had to inject them for him, so he would have had company one way or another... 

I am reluctant to pull the banners down, but oh so grateful to have felt like celebrating myself. So grateful to have been cocooned in loving messages from California to Peru. Most of all, I suppose, I am grateful to have tidily tucked my infections away into what I Hope was the final admission of the year. Winter will be upon us soon, I hear you say, but my eyes are still busy with summer days...

Saturday 8 August 2020


I was watching the Korean drama, Romance is a Bonus Book, when, in the penultimate episode, our heroine Kang Dan-i, is horrified to find plagiarised translations of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's epistolary 1774 novel The Sorrows of Young Werther. My face resembled hers in that moment, for a different reason. I had only just heard of this novel in the strangest of circumstances.

A week ago, my childhood friend Arzanne sent me tickets to a play. She had already attended it, and it had moved her so much that she wanted to share the experience. And it was an experience... I have watched plays online since quarantine began - Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Fleabag for Soho Theatre on Demand, where our donations helped to keep theatre cast and crew afloat during these audience-silent times, and Frankenstein with alternating lead roles between Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller for the National Theatre at Home productions we have been so fortunate to enjoy free for a week each. (Frankenstein's monster also finds The Sorrows of Young Werther in a leather portmanteau... but that wasn't my connection). 

Every Brilliant Thing, a play written by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe, does not require its audience to be silent. Would it terrify or invigorate you to be part of a play, your own participation fuelling the thing itself? A woman suffers depression. Her husband fetches her little boy to the hospital. That little boy must live, now and always, with the shadow of an unknowable beast stealing his mother from time to time. Macmillan's play has been traveling the globe, and the director/actor use the alchemy of their nation's idiom to alter the words but not the impact or emotion of the original idea. 

In Bangalore, the actor Vivek Madan, used to performing in the round, graciously invited our tiny screen faces into his home. Some of us had already been sent a word or a sentence - a brilliant thing on the list of the little boy who walks through darkness towards manhood, signalling for light with 1) Ice cream 2) Water fights 3) Staying up past your bedtime 4) The colour yellow... which reminded me of Albert Espinosa's memoir The Yellow World, and the yellow benches it inspired for sparking conversation between strangers... on and on to me at 521) Plinth (not the easiest word to wrap one's tongue around mid concentration!)

A thousand brilliant things... 2389) Baby elephant... ten thousand brilliant things... 10,000) Waking up next to someone you love... And somewhere, in the midst of that list, a book appears - the one that has for 250 years touched a raw nerve of how to be young, and filled with desire, and the thing you want not wanting you... and how, with that seeming failure, you exit the world, with violence and the poetry of your grief. The book has been banned for showing the way out, literarily speaking. 

I liked seeing the tall trees wave, friendly and rhythmic, behind Vivek as he moved with expert familiarity around his home, us in his home, known words on his tongue and making space for unknown words on our tongues... Occasionally, he'd call out a number and be met with silence... sometimes a zoom call is a fumble! What is worth living for? Many things. Who gets it right for a child? A counsellor with a sock puppet. Or an idea to record the good thing that lives between our fight or flight stress mechanism. Depression changes the chemistry of the brain of children... so should we lie to our children to protect them? Should we share the nature of the beastly growling lurking thief of happiness and peace of mind? I think it is difficult either way. And with that in mind, QTP, the theatre company producing the play, arranges for a mental health practitioner to join the audience at the end. How loving, how considerate. 

I liked seeing the sky darken behind Vivek, and then turn black. Night had come for him and everyone else watching in India. In my pocket of the world, sunshine streamed through the lilies and rose bush and the white butterfly pranced, keeping her promise to return to me year after year after year. The play was directed by Quasar Thakore-Padamsee, who, not enamoured of attempting an online theatrical experiment, was inspired to take that leap of faith by his fellow producer Nadir Khan, another childhood friend of mine. Nadir and his brother Darab were a brilliant thing when I was a girl growing up in Bombay. Two more brothers to add to mine, two more friends to make life worth living and memories worth holding dear. So many brilliant things, couldn't we just cry thinking about them? But we don't. Because we forget. Or make ourselves forget. Maybe your children could start their lists? And maybe your parents, too. 

Number 7,800,000,000) Us. You and me. 

Tuesday 4 August 2020


While I was in hospital, my friend Victoria sent me photographs of her garden. There are gardens in my hospital, one in particular that I claim as my favourite, but while in a shared ward or private bay, there is no green to be found. Blue and cream aplenty but no living, moving green. So I thought I would share Victoria’s photos with you, with her permission, so you can see what cheered me...

Of course there are other ways to escape while in hospital. My new friend Mary, with the wandering mind, was not in Addenbrooke’s at all... she was in Selby in Yorkshire, and sometimes in the mining and weaving towns of her youth... sometimes she would give me directions to the cemetery nearby and sometimes she accepted that I was not real, I was a visiting spirit to whom mundane things of the mortal world would be of little interest. ‘How long have you been here, like this?’ Mary asked, her hand fluttering, indicating my other worldliness ... ‘Oh, I come and go,’ I answered. We spoke exactly the same language, Mary and I, both of us being of this world and not of this world. It’s all very mysterious, we both agreed.
When I was finally discharged I said goodbye to all my ward mates except Mary. I couldn’t bring myself to utter the finality. Mary had said I would return to her mind from time to time, and I told her I would never forget her. Mary Longbottom of Selby, Yorkshire. So why say goodbye?

(All photographs, except the last, by Victoria Kingsley-Pallant)