I WAS having dinner at the Red Lion with the Undertaker when all hell broke loose.
Let me be honest: I shouldn’t have been there in the first place in my condition. I am recovering from what my GP diagnosed yesterday as ‘a bacterial chest infection’ which has laid me low for almost two weeks with chronic catarrh, wheezing, sweats and a hacking cough.
“With your medical history you should have made an appointment ten days ago,” the doctor chided. “Why didn’t you?”
“I thought it was a cold and that I could see it off,” I said. “Besides, I’m terrified that with all the years of antibiotics swilling around inside me my bacteria would be just about resistant to any medication you might care to throw at me. I’ve been reading about the pigs in China!”
“You’re a doctor yourself then, are you?” he muttered wearily. All of my doctors have been long-suffering.
“No,” I replied sulkily.” I didn’t get the Latin. Besides, I’m doing what the NHS is urging and not just turning up begging for antibiotics every time I get a sniffle.”
“A chest infection is not a sniffle,” he said. “Anyway,” he added, squinting at my notes so voluminous that they sat on their own trolley, “that advice doesn’t apply to the likes of you.”
That was when my son’s patient coaxing call from Ghana replayed in my head. “Dad,” he reasoned, “they are talking about perfectly healthy people who beg their doctors for antibiotics for a hangover; not a 67-year-old who has survived leukaemia and meningitis, lost an eye and has more plastic in his mouth than teeth!”
“So you’re siding with your sister,” I sulked. She, the suffragette Guardianista, had been more direct when she checked up on me from London, knowing my wife was away: “Crazy old man! Go to the doctor! Now! (She tends to talk in exclamation marks) Antibiotics! And no whisky (she knows me well), it will dehydrate you!”
Anyway, enough about me. . . where was I? Ah, yes: in the Red Lion. With the Undertaker (at my age you keep your carers close and your undertaker closer), picking at fish and chips and wishing I’d settled for a starter, when it all kicked off.
In strode the Deacon’s wife, dressed to the nines and eyes blazing, the Deacon meekly trailing behind her: “So THIS is where you are, with your so-called ‘bacterial chest infection’? You’re supposed to be dining with us!”
And with that she swept grandly on, greeting a group of friends who had travelled north secretly to celebrate a special birthday, leaving me horrified that I had somehow slighted my sister-in-law and leaving the Undertaker wishing he could dig himself a hole (it wouldn’t be the first time, after all!).
It had been, of course, a misunderstanding: WE, the poor relations, are lunching with her somewhere grand on Sunday. THEY, the old friends, were a surprise party arranged for her by the Deacon, for whom things rarely go right.
But on the day, in the face of such withering fire, my resistance had crumbled. An hour later I crept away to my bed feeling distinctly the worse for my unwise trip to the pub.
I blame the antibiotics.