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Diary: Ian Marchant

17 February 2023


Bid for a bed

I HAD been alternately shaking with cold and ranting in fever all morning. My temperature was almost up to 40°, my oxygen at 92, my blood pressure was low; and my GP didn’t like it at all. My wife drove me to Hereford County Hospital, sat me down in the A&E waiting area, and booked me in. It helped that I had a letter from my GP, since I spent only 12 hours perched, half-dozing, on various chairs until I was given a bed.

Because we hadn’t expected to be going to hospital, never mind taking up residence, we had no food or drink; and I hadn’t packed a bag. No change of clothes; no washbag; no pills; and — horror of horror — no book or reading specs. My wife went home to pack what was needed, and my daughter shuttled from Hereford to Presteigne and back to pick up my book, change of clothes, etc.

My chest was X-rayed, enough blood was taken to fuel a remake of The Brides of Dracula, and, a little after five o’clock on Tuesday morning, I arrived on Arrow Ward, diagnosed with streptococcal pneumonia, and was put in a bed in the hilariously named E Bay.


Comings and goings

AFTER an hour’s sleep, I was tapped awake for “obs”; then, half an hour later, for the first of my meds; then, half an hour after that, for breakfast, and so on. I grabbed what little sleep I could.

In the middle of the morning, my first roomie turned up: an unpleasant man who called himself Clive, even though it wasn’t his name. He wore hospital-issue pyjamas, and a flat cap that he refused to take off. Clive was not a congenial companion, mostly because he was aggressive to the staff, whom he accused of being “foreigners”.

I slept as much as I could, but had a fever dream that Mad Stan from Presteigne was in the corridor and looking down at me. I put on my specs, and realised that Mad Stan really was in the corridor — was, in fact, the sole resident of the room opposite.

I staggered from my bed for the first time in hours to say hello; and he begged me for books to read, which I fixed with my eldest daughter, recently moved back to Hereford from the US, and keen to look after her Poor Old Dad.


Help from on high

IT STRUCK me hard that both Stan and Clive were lonely and bitter. Clive was evicted by the psychiatric team after 24 hours, for the crime of not being ill in the way you needed to be on Arrow Ward; Stan has no family, is virtually homeless, and has no real friends — he couldn’t help but be unpleasant, even after I’d arranged for three novels to be delivered. What to do? I was an unwell inpatient, but also, it seemed to me, visiting the sick.

By the grace of God, I had installed a prayer app on my phone a few nights before I was admitted: the excellent Tuia from the Anglican Church in New Zealand and the South Pacific. It has daily devotions, an examen, and an order for night prayer. So I prayed for Clive and Stan, that God might find a way past that part of them which resisted help of any kind, spiritual or otherwise.


Soul friends

MAD Stan was sent to a halfway house in Bromyard, and Clive was replaced by Brian, who had been on a trolley for 17 hours before being admitted to E Bay. He was not at all well, but that didn’t stop him being a most congenial room-mate. He was 20 years older than me (and I’m about to turn 65), but we found we had much in common — mostly, a humorous interest in the world.

Brian had read a lot of ancient history and, after the death of his wife 15 years before, had travelled widely, visiting the great antiquities of Europe and the Middle East. I told him of my Christianity. All at once, he wanted a bit of theological debate: admirable, really, given his agnosticism, and how unwell he was, but awkward for me, given my hopelessness on this front. I have never known what to say about my faith in debate of any kind. As Van Morrison sang, “It ain’t why, it just is.”


Parting shot

BRIAN thought this a bit wet, as well he might, but I offered a historical defence. Guy Marchant was a printer, active in Paris from 1483 till 1505, when he was succeeded by his nephew Jean. We almost certainly share common ancestors in the Pays de Calais as far back as the 12th century.

Marchant’s best-known productions are the five editions that he printed and published of the Danse Macabre (he was the first person to publish the famous allegory of the “danse” in book form). I found his printer’s colophon online and, with it, a motto: Sola Fides Sufficit: Faith alone suffices. This was several years before Luther. On finding it out, I (re-)adopted it as the family motto, and suggested to Brian that it was going to be the best that I could manage, but that I could throw in hope and love, if that was OK with him.

When, after five days, they finally discharged me, I shook Brian’s hand, but fought the desire to plant a kiss on his forehead. Best not, I reckoned.


Ian Marchant is a writer and broad­­caster. His new book, One Fine Day: A journey through English time, will be published by September Books on 6 April at £20 (Church Times Bookshop £18); 978-1-912836-99-4.

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