First line of defence
THE chirping of my phone woke me from what had been a fitful sleep. Bleary-eyed, I read the first words of a text from Number Three son, “Don’t be alarmed Mum but . . .”. As you may imagine, “alarmed” was only one of the emotions coursing through me as I snapped into maternal high-alert mode.
After his graduation in July, the son and his friends had decided to make the most of the remainder of the lease on their student house and enjoy a final few weeks together before scattering around the globe. Unfortunately for him, what started as a mundane sore throat became a rather dramatic case of quinsy: a peritonsillar abscess that is not only excruciatingly painful, but also makes it impossible to swallow, and, in severe cases (like my son’s), increasingly difficult to breathe.
Thankfully, realising that he was seriously ill, his housemates had taken him to A&E, where he’d been rushed into a treatment room, stabilised, and then admitted to the main hospital.
After two days of IV antibiotics, and some heavy-duty analgesia, plus a rather unpleasant procedure to drain the abscess, he was on the mend, and able to cope with the long journey north to be coddled by his relieved mother. Not for the first time, as a family, we had cause to be grateful for our NHS, and the expertise, compassion, and humanity of the staff who make it what it is.
Things that go bump
ONE such person was an anaesthetist who took time to chat to me. It transpired that we had both worked in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh — not the shiny new one on the south-eastern outskirts of the city, but the majestic old infirmary next to the Meadows, in the city centre. It is now known as Quartermile, and is a mixture of commercial and residential properties.
We swapped tales of our time there and found that, although I had left for the army long before he arrived, we had a similar stock of stories and experiences. Suffice to say that, however luxurious the flats in certain areas of the old hospital might be, neither of us would be too keen to live in them. The “ghosties and ghoulies and long-legged beasties” might not restrict themselves to Hallowe’en.
WHENEVER my husband, Robin, is away overnight, I take the dog upstairs with me — the only time when she is allowed upstairs, as she is an inveterate shedder of hair. Recently, Robin spent two nights at the diocesan Spiritual Directors Network annual residential; so the hound took up position in her spot underneath our bed. The first night passed without incident; on the second, however, I was awoken by a menacing growl followed by what felt like an earthquake as my valiant defender erupted from under the bed.
I turned on the light to be confronted, not with a horde of marauding robbers, but with a black shadow flitting swiftly around the room in eerie silence — well, the movement was eerily silent, but the room was not, as the dog continued her rumbling growling interspersed with distressed yelps as the intruder swooped past her. This shadow was not some eldritch creature, but merely a bat from the colony in the ruins of the Old Rectory, which lie immediately behind our house.
WHEN I regaled him with the story, Number One son laughed, and promised to refrain from making any jokes about my becoming “batty” (so kind). He had much better tales to tell, having just returned from exploring Uzbekistan and the cities of the Silk Road, including Samarkand, home of the ancient Ulugh Beg Observatory.
At about the same time as the Old Rectory was being built in Warton, astronomers at the observatory were calculating the length of the solar year to within 25 seconds, which, according to my enthusiastic son, is more accurate than Copernicus. They also, apparently, managed to catalogue more than 1000 stars and their positions in the night sky before the observatory was destroyed in 1449.
MENTION of stars evoked memories of walking the Camino for Number Three son. He walked the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela (“field of stars”) several years ago, and recalled trying to beat the heat by setting out before dawn each day — which meant that he walked out beneath a canopy of stars.
He’ll soon be off on another adventure, as, all being well, he will be spending 15 months teaching English in China. The quinsy has delayed his departure, but it has also meant that he has had more time to learn some Mandarin, which should be a great help as he settles in. In the hope of visiting him out there, I’ve been trying to learn some phrases, too; but it’s not going too well — unless I should ever need to say, “Hello, my name is Wang,” in which case, I’ve got it covered.
Elizabeth Figg is married to the Vicar of Warton and Borwick with Yealand, in Lancashire.