Margaret played first clarinet and collected the subs. In truth, we barely knew each other; I mimed with the second flutes and we rarely rubbed shoulders with our reeded sisters.
But she sent me an email in June 2012 which meant a lot to me at the time and still sits in my Parkinson’s folder, in case of wobbles.
This time, we said, we are definitely going to take Considerably Smaller Suitcases.
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been planning our second Grand Tour. Autumn come she will and we’ll be hopping on and off trains with gay abandon, clutching our trusty Interrail Passes and Considerably Smaller Suitcases.
What with Manchester and London Bridge and elections, I’ve been tiptoeing around social media of late, in an attempt to avoid the slabs of pure venom which are scattered amid the good stuff. So, it was only this morning that I hit upon a post sharing the shattering news that one of my heroes – Tom Isaacs, president and co-founder of the Cure Parkinson’s Trust – died last week. His passing was, apparently, “unexpected and swift”. He was just forty nine.
“Now, I have to tell you about the possible complications,” says the Good Doctor. “These are incredibly rare: I’ve done many, many lumbar punctures and no-one has ever had a problem but, legally, I still need to tell you.”
“Can I say that I’d rather not know?” I ask.
“I’m afraid not,” the Good Doctor tells me.
We were nearly late for the appointment. Couldn’t find anywhere to park. The only spaces near the hospital were for wheelchair users – don’t you think they could be further away? After all – they’ve got wheels.
So, the professor got me to walk up and down a bit and prodded me and said ‘yes, that’s Parkinson’s.’ My wife said ‘how can you tell just from that?’ The professor said ‘well, there are other signs too. Your handwriting has got very small, for one thing. And your facial muscles seem a bit frozen – you seem to be finding it difficult to smile.’ ‘Well, that could be,’ I said, ‘because you’ve just told me I’ve got Parkinson’s.’
“Now, we need to make sure that all the points have contact with your skull. If you look at the screen, you’ll see that most points are showing red at the moment.”
I look at the screen and indeed, on the diagram which represents my skull, there are many, many red spots – a positive plague of red spots.
“Now, when the points have sufficient contact, they go green. So I’m going to manipulate the points until they have contact. It is not painful – a bit like having your head massaged.” And off he goes.
I wasn’t put to the piano as a child. Refused the offer of lessons, apparently: as good a reason as any to invent time travel. But I’d really like to be able to play and, to quote Bro-In-Law – a man of infinite resource and sagacity – when someone asked him why he’d just taken up learning Gypsy Jazz Guitar, “I decided not to wait until I was younger.”
I did sort of start learning about twenty years ago but, what with teaching full-time and having two children, practice never seemed to reach the top of the To-Do list. So the enterprise was shelved, pending retirement. Which is Now.
Snazzy plain blue Mao-style disposable trouser suit on – check.
Cannula thing in left wrist artery for radioactive tracer and splint applied to keep it firmly in position – check.
Thing in vein of right arm for regular taking of blood throughout and tape applied to keep that firmly in position – check.
All paperwork signed; permission given; off to the PET scanner we go, in search of possible brain inflammation. All in the cause of Parkinson’s research.
I clamber clumsily onto the scanner trolley, which is darned tricky on account of not being able to bend either arm. How the Plarchers manage to do all the farming and stuff with non-bendable arms, goodness knows!
“I kept this for you,” says Mrs Jones and hands me a leaflet.
Mrs J it was who greeted news of my diagnosis by telling me that she knew several people with Parkinson’s “and they went on some lovely trips.” A rosy prospect, as you can imagine.
I look at the leaflet. ‘Fit for life,’ it’s called, and is illustrated with a photo of elderly people stretching and smiling. I read the back and laugh.
“What?” says Mrs J.
“‘Produced by Age UK’,” I read. “I’m not sure I’m ready for that.”