“How do you do, Mehmet?”
“Very well thank you, Mrs Jellywoman.”
“How do you do, Ololade?”
“Very well thank you, Mrs Jellywoman.”
“How do you do, George?”
“My leg hurts.”
I look up. “Now George, do you remember me saying that this week we are answering the register like English ladies and gentlemen? Last week, Mehmet showed us how answer in Turkish, didn’t he? And the week before, Ololade taught us some Yoruba. And this week, we are being English ladies and gentlemen. So when someone says to you “how do you do”, you should answer “very well thank you. Yes Max?”
Max is wrinkling up his forehead. He looks weighed down by his six years. “Suppose somebody said ‘how do you do?’ but you’re not feeling very well? If you said ‘very well’ that would be telling a lie.”
“Good point Max. If you were feeling very poorly, and someone said ‘How do you do’, then you could just say, ‘how do you do?’ back to them. That way you wouldn’t be telling a lie but you also wouldn’t be making them feel sad that you’re not well.”
Max nods thoughtfully but still looks troubled. “Suppose you’re not feeling well and your friend is not feeling well? Then you would say ‘how do you do’ and they would say ‘how do you do’ and you would say ‘how do you do’ and it would never stop.”
“Good thinking again, Max. Luckily English ladies and gentlemen have an answer for this. In such cases, they talk about the weather. There’s always lots to say about the weather.
“Now, where were we? Oh yes, George. How do you do, George?” I glance up to see George engrossed in picking at a scab on his knee. Blood is starting to dribble down to the carpet.
“George, don’t do that!” I say. Having a naughty George in the class gives me hours of innocent pleasure. “Go and see Mrs Honey and ask for a plaster.” George skulks out, mumbling “I did say it hurt.”
It’s not easy, sometimes, being English.
GrannieBorders, of course, never saw herself as English, goodness no. However, living most of her life among Sassenachs had given her an upper lip as stiff as they come.
Case in point, when she was nearing sixty, she was persuaded to apply for an electric wheelchair. Wheeling herself around all day in a manual chair was taking a heavy toll on her arms and shoulders. Arthritis was setting in and life was becoming much harder work.
GrannieBorders turned up for her assessment with gritted teeth and her best wheel forward. She sailed in to meet the Men from the Ministry with a vigour that would have give Tanni Grey-Thompson a run for her money. And when asked about her health, she told them that she was very well thank you. Absolutely fine. No problem at all.
It took years before she eventually got the electric wheelchair that shredded our skirting boards.
I was thinking of GrannieBorders on my way up to the Hammersmith Hospital. I’ve mentioned before, I think, that I’m on a drugs trial at the moment. They are trying to see if Deferiprone, which removes excess iron from the brain, slows down the progress of Parkinson’s. A jolly difficult thing to measure as PD moves at different rates for different people, so there are lots of known unknowns. I’m convinced that I am on a placebo to which someone has added a disgusting flavour out of pure malice.
Every week I meet with the lovely Dr LaMancha, over here from Spain working his socks off in an attempt to find a cure for this Nonsense. We exchange pleasantries and talk about his cats. He is worried that the older one might have a ‘cognitive impairment’ as she is not responding when he skypes her. Then Dr LaMancha asks me how I am.
The temptation to say “Very well thank you,” regardless, is almost overwhelming. In truth, I am a bit achier and a smidgeon shakier at the moment, though I don’t think you’d notice. This could well be linked to the stresses of the last few months, what with GrannieBorders’s passing and all the house stuff. I’ve not been exercising so much either, due to ‘scrutiating idleness, and that has an impact.
But there is, of course, the possibility that the Parkinson’s is simply progressing. Dr LaMancha needs to know this if he is to assess the effectiveness of the drug or the ineffectiveness of the placebo, as the case may be. I steel myself.
“A bit achier and a bit shakier,” I tell him. “Probably due to the cold. Hasn’t it been terrible weather for the time of year?”