Of course, the darkness from Friday night crossed the English Channel and tempered everything. And then, Saturday morning, there was a chink of light in the gloom.
During a routine optician’s appointment a few months ago, a problem with my eight-year-old daughter’s retina was flagged, and an urgent hospital referral was made. We had that appointment, the issue was confirmed, and an urgent MRI scan appointment was made. Disguising all debilitating concern with a casual jocularity, I went in with Millie. While I wore protective ear muffs and was armed with a buzzer to halt proceedings should she become distressed, she lay in the machine clutching her favourite teddy. The machine swallowed up her tiny frame.
And so, on Saturday morning, a letter arrived from the hospital. Afraid to open it, my wife handed it to me. With some trepidation, I tore open the envelope, scanned the minimal lines, then passed it to my wife, saying “Here you go, with pleasure.” The results of the scan was normal. Though we still have to discover what is causing our daughter’s problems, we now knew, after two months of worry, that it was not the unthinkable.
The weight that lifted from us was indescribable.
Whether it is the senseless murder of strangers, or the health fears of a loved one, sometimes it seems that the world is beyond our control, and we are nothing but impotent bystanders.
That may not be the case, perhaps it all comes down to attitude, perspective and inclination. But, as you get older, your idealism tends to become diluted.
Recently Abigail had been knocking on our windows. She was the first of our American-style manner of named storms. Now, as she threw us a final, casual glance over her shoulder as she departed, we had been warned of heavy, prolonged rain and possible floods.
Outside the deluge had started. Listless, with coffee, I began writing a few lines that became the embryo of a new poem, Rainy Day Blues.
Rainy Day Blues, whilst listening to blues. Specifically Tommy Johnson’s Canned Heat Blues. The rain’s persistent rhythm accompanying his high falsetto.
It was the time for the barely anticipated Christmas lights switch-on in our town centre. There was to be face-painting, music groups, and all manner of stalls and attractions which had not taken into account the truculent wake of a dame named Abigail.
A wall of rain swept the concreted area clear of people. A compere tried to extol a festive spirit over loud speakers, but there were temptations everywhere.
We sought refuge inside the shopping centre, immediately bumping into a jovial Father Christmas flanked by two female elves, one of them around six feet tall.
“You’re a bit tall for an elf, aren’t you?”
“I’m from Head Office.”
I thought it a great comeback.
After drying out in Costa Coffee for a while, we ventured tentatively back outside as the time for the illuminations’ debut drew near. Miraculously, the rain had stopped, and a drunken man was heartily joining in with Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody, but lost all enthusiasm when a, ahem, ‘star’ of the local pantomime, clambered on stage to sing a couple of songs from Frozen. It passed the time for the kids, though. She acknowledged their spattering of applause with a plug for Peter Pan which we could see at the Middleton Arena.
Next she treated us to a rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine, and promised us that she would wave to us when we went to see her in Peter Pan at the Middleton Arena
She introduced us to some local political figures and even, believe it or not, managed to slip in the box office number for booking tickets for Peter Pan at
“We know-the Middleton Arena!!”
The time for the Christmas lights arrived. The compere tried to crank up the tension with a countdown.
“10, 9, 8, 7..”
I was going to go for a piss with Peter Pan at the Middleton Arena, but my kids hung onto me tightly.
“… 6, 5, 4, 3…”
The crowd joined in with fervour.
“… 2, 1, MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERBODY!!!!” his greeting reverberating over the crowd.
Now, I know that the borough council, like all others throughout the country, has been hit by severe cash-saving cutbacks, but still: they were pretty pathetic. The compere continued, because at least he had been paid. Or threatened by that elf from Head Office.
“These are your Middleton Christmas lights!” he exclaimed. He actually gave a desultory laugh, too. Or maybe he just couldn’t hold back his embarrassment.
Then he said something about fireworks, and I saw the look of horror on the face of James, my five-year-old son. If he’d have known there was to be fireworks, he wouldn’t have come. He jumped into his mother’s arms as the sky fragmented.
At least, to the townsfolk, the fireworks were okay and made their rain-sodden wait worthwhile. More entertaining to me was the later spectacle of a giant Olaf trying to lift his over-sized feet as he climbed the staircase in McDonald’s, clutching desperately onto the arm of the food chain’s teetering Carer Of The Month.
After a busy day, the rain beating once more against the window, I fell back into form and curled up with a book: a biography of Wyatt Earp. My son James, firework trauma now behind him, was fascinated with the image of the imposing lawman on the cover, being cowboy-mad having recently watched the film Tombstone.
“Dad, one day, can I have your books?”
“Yes, when I die you can have them all.”
“Aw thanks! I can’t wait.”