Pneumonia

Well, we had the party. Augustus Sly could be seen across the street with Ijaz, watching people coming and going. I hadn’t asked Augustus Sly, partly because he wanted to come so much. I did invite Ijaz; he declined because of the risk of being exposed to alcohol and non-Halal food – but with a good grace. Other neighbours came, however, bearing different gossip from that provided by the friends, work colleagues and so on; most impressively a family originally from St Lucia, who had relations recently arrived on holiday, who tagged along. Some were of great age and went into the garden where, fortified by strong drink, they slept. Amy couldn’t make it.

People stayed to the very end to show how much more amusing our party was for them than the football match, which began at 11 pm. This disdain for the Tube schedules, lovingly written out in longhand by Boris – apparently it’s the one thing that he will not delegate – and pinned to the tfl website for all to see, meant that some of our guests were still to be found standing at night bus stops in places like Peckham when first Dawn’s rosy fingers etc., etc. Meanwhile we went to bed.

In the morning I felt terrible. You’re hung over, said the better half, counting the empty bottles. I denied this, and I was right. I went back to bed and spent the rest of the day unconscious but hurting. At midnight, the better half said, ‘How do you pronounce ‘diphtheria’, because I think you’ve got it?’

She determined that the best thing was to ring for an ambulance. I’m not moving from my bed, I said. If it’s diphtheria I can direct you. I’ve read Stalky & Co.

We compromised on a visit the following day from my GP.

A home visit from a GP, I thought. Goodness.

It’s not diphtheria, he said, putting away his Stanley knife with some reluctance. It’d the other one: pneumonia.

So I am confined to bed with antibiotics, green tea, of course, weak lemon squash and Bella sleeping on my toes. It has its compensations.

I have been thinking back to the last time that I had pneumonia. It was the spring of 1963 and I was at boarding school. They took me to the school sanatorium and put me in a room by myself. For reasons best known to themselves they didn’t tell me that I had pneumonia and they didn’t let anyone in to see me in case, I supposed in a mildly paranoid way, they dropped some hint. After a certain amount of speculation I gave up, assuming that they knew best, and that if the whole rigmarole was because I had gone mad it would be undignified to ask. I was surprised when I got out to discover that my friends had all thought that I had been on the point of death.

In retrospect the instruction to sleep sitting upright, ‘or you’ll die’, should have been a clue.

It was a well-provided room with a bookshelf, and I spent some weeks there. These things took longer in those days.

I discovered P G Wodehouse and read all the Jeeves books. They were on the bookshelf.

I read Prester John, but it was on a particularly feverish day and I’ve never trusted that book since.

The lights were turned out early but I had a little Bakelite Sony transistor radio with an earphone. I don’t think that model was then available in Europe. It was very cool. I still have it and it still is. It was a gift from my friend Tsunekazu Matsudeira, a colleague with me in the school jazz band. He still plays jazz: in Tokyo. He’s on YouTube. Anyway when Matron had retired to her quarters to nurse a cup of cocoa and muse over rugby-genic multi-fractures of yesteryear, out would come the transistor radio under the blankets (duvets had yet to be invented) and I would explore the music available on its little dial. The Third Programme (as Radio 3 as called) was in its pomp then and not about to make itself accessible to anyone, which is just what I wanted.

Sometimes instead of music it had radio plays. One evening it was Home Sweet Honeycomb by Bernard Kops. I thought that it was the most wonderful stuff I’d ever heard, the wild imagination of it. I wish I’d been able to tell someone. I tried to tell the doctor (I thought him a better bet than Matron) but he just smiled. Bernard Kops, I see from Wikipedia, is still with us, and I am glad to know this, but he hasn’t troubled me since and I suspect that a return would be a mistake. There are hints: the Times-They-Are A-Changin’ cap for example worn, if Google Images is anything to go by, into late middle age. It was a revelation at the time, though, of what might be possible, and I wrote a number of plays along the same lines. Once burnt, twice shy: the doctor didn’t get to see them.

But a major event was to take place in my little Kafkan room during those weeks, it was to change the world, divide my childhood from my youth, and it was on the Light Programme not the Third. On Sunday they had the Hit Parade. In the third week of my confinement the Beatles’ single Please, Please Me went to number one: their first. I hated it, and I still do. It’s the only Beatles song that I dislike musically (with Piggies it’s the words) and I would then much rather that Island of Dreams by the Springfields (featuring the young Dusty) or Diamonds by Tony Meehan and Jet Harris had achieved the coveted number one slot. But my likes and dislikes were of no account in the maelstrom that was about to engulf us all.

But nothing so zeitgeisty this time around – so far.

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