“At the age of twenty seven, copper-haired Maggie Hope had already foiled a plot to assassinate Churchill and blow up St Paul’s, saved Princess Elizabeth from being kidnapped, rescued a captured pilot from Berlin, taught at a school for Special Agents in Scotland and prevented First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt from being implicated in a lesbian murder scandal which would surely have led to America refusing to join in the War.”
I think it’s the gritty realism of the Maggie Hope novels that most appeals to me.
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.
“It’s one thing joining a gym – it’s another actually going.” She was a wise bird, our old GP: retired now, alas. Of my pregnancy with the InfantPhenomenon, she said: “a summer baby, how lovely! You’ll be able to sit in pub gardens.” Not my first thought but she had four children so knew whereof she spake.
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!
Stop there. Your name is not Mary; you are not calling from Microsoft – go and get a proper job. I’m busy. Goodbye.
Stop there, person that is almost certainly not called Peter. At what stage in your life did you decide to become a crook? Suppose it was your grandmother who had picked up this phone and was even now installing your evil malware? Now, I’m very busy – I need to get to the shops – go and rethink your life choices.
Hello. Now that winter’s here…
“And next on the line is Jellywoman. Jellywoman, what was your experience of being diagnosed with Parkinson’s?”
In truth, I have no idea what I said to Nicky Campbell, beyond reassuring him that only about 5% of PD is hereditary: apparently, his mother had it. By the time I was actually speaking live on air, I’d already talked about being diagnosed to the nice young man who’d answered the phone in the first place, and to the nice producer who called me back. Now all three spiels blend together under the general theme of ‘Don’t panic, Mr Mainwaring,’ which is the message I’d needed to hear on diagnosis.
“I’m a glass half-full person… I spill the rest.”
We laughed. A lot. “It’s an old joke,” said Tom Isaacs, a little apologetically. Well yes, it probably is. But given a whole new life from being told by someone with severe dyskinesia who is wrestling with their glass of water. A joke repurposed, in fact, and all the funnier for it.