08 January 2019

Fear itself

At some point on Saturday morning, the A&E ejected most of the sinners, and what was left were the illnesses that made it through the night, but couldn't keep going. A teenager in a bathrobe and pyjamas and two-tone shoes laid on his mother's lap, his father sitting uncomfortably next to them. The father's face said something I read as scepticism or annoyance, a lack of belief, and the mother, if she felt anything other than sympathy, was not showing it. Sat on the edges of the waiting room, other miscellaneous unfortunate cases didn't seem to have as clear problems. I caught myself judging the ones that seemed to be fine, using some pious criteria for assessment to conclude they were not genuinely ill, but the sorts of people abusing the system, whose own bad choices brought them there. The sorts of people, I tell myself, who complain about the Chinese and the Poles using the NHS and don't recognise that the good will of people like me — my tax revenue and NHS surcharge — is holding this whole damn thing up. Me, at my classist-worse; me, angry and bitter, having learned all the middle-class euphemisms, the things you can say in polite company and everyone knows what you mean. An old woman came close to collapsing, and I suddenly felt a kind of claustrophobia, like I shouldn't have come there with the kids, that there was illness all around. We should leave now before we are sucked under too.

Over Christmas, Brexit went away — how British to not let that affect the holiday. I threw out the tree and the girls sorted the ornaments and then today and yesterday made their way back to school, in black jumpers and yellow polo shirts. I returned to my own patterns as well, worked out today and yesterday and all the days back last week, and felt the glycogen get squeezed out of my thighs as I drove out from the catch position on the rower, each stroke bringing me back. I opened the book manuscript file and the virtual learning environments of two or three universities and wondered if, by some magic, this would all dissolve into a dream and I would find myself in the other universe, the one where I had applied for the job in Helsinki and we would have just finished moving. Where the house on Victoria Road, the Home Office, St Peter's, and vegan wine, where all of that would have been the past, not the enduring present.

A half-finished visa application is instead sitting on my desk and another twenty-some-odd days of January ahead of us. I am trying to organise my thoughts, write a book, a lecture, a collection of essays, but what can you do when you're waiting. The maths tell me my body will be back on Thursday and the email will surely materialise, the one that will let me make my application and leave it up to someone else to decide our fate. I'm being dramatic; I apologise. Here, the present, have that, the practicalities of life, wherever that life is. Harborne, Helsinki, Hakone — which is reality and which is fantasy doesn't really matter, the same things percolate through, the same joys to recognise. Sun at a January mid-day, the blue sky. Health, for the most part, and legs that can be pushed to drive harder.  A daughter stomping loudly through the house and laughing. The girls and Yoko head up Victoria Road to school — there are things for me to do as well, I'm sure.