‘Time Like the Present’

Time like the present

Arthur inspected himself: shirt, pullover, trousers (with belt), and sock. Just the one sock. The other was stranded on the end of his foot like a piece of flotsam at high tide, a pixie hat of ruched wool with a holly pattern woven into it. Bugger! Arthur took a deep breath, coughed rousingly, and geared up for another assault. Rocking himself forwards in his seat, he rode the impetus towards his target, now illuminated by a sliver of sunlight angling in between the still closed bedroom curtains. Aha – a bomber’s moon! In my sights now, slight course correction at Knee Joint, Danny giving it everything in the rear gunner’s bay, RAT TAT TAT! Old girl had better hold out or we’re done for. And it’s a direct hit! Back to Blighty in time for tea! He pinched the recalcitrant sock between finger and thumb and hauled it downwards and then upwards to dock with the cuff of his long johns. Three Six Three squadron counted home, all present and correct, Sir! He dropped back into the chair, huffing a little from the exertion, and closed his eyes for a moment, half a salute hovering in the air.

‘You decent, Arthur?’ It was Allie; cheery, bustly, and somewhat rotund due to her having a face like a starved puppy around people’s chocolate supplies. ‘Sarah’s all dressed up and ready for her date,’ she said, pulling back the curtains and eyeing up the biscuit tin Arthur kept on his dresser. He noticed but said nothing. Often, she would bring her tea in with his and they would share a dunk on a Saturday morning, but not today. Today was special. Arthur’s thoughts flickered like an old film, re-winding, cutting and splicing, bringing up the colour. A soundtrack crept in alongside on syncopated soft shoe shuffling patent pumps. Jazz and boogie; all the girls in ration-shortened dresses and glowing with excitement at the prospect of meeting a handsome sailor or a soldier, or even an airman.

‘Need a hand out of that chair?’ Allie was standing, hands on ample hips and head cocked over to one side in professional evaluation.

‘Got rope and tackle?’ Arthur winked back. ‘Thought not. Right then …’ and he began rocking back and forth to gather momentum.  ‘Let’s see. How soon. I can reach. Escape velocity!’  And he was upright. Allie slid a hand under the blue blazer that had been laid out on the bed, military insignia neatly pinned to the lapel, and held it out behind for Arthur to slip his arms into.

‘I bet you were a right looker, in your day,’ she beamed, turning him round and fussing like a proud nanny over a child in his new school uniform. She smoothed down the pockets and pulled the shining buttons towards their targets. ‘I bet Sarah had to fight off the competition, alright.’ Arthur raised an eyebrow and mustered a twinkle. ‘Ready for your Christmas lunch then? Table for two, Sir, right by the window!’ She offered her arm.

‘Thank you, Allie, but not today,’ Arthur replied, not looking at her, looking instead at the man in the mirror. ‘Today I will get there under my own steam.’ Face: shaved, no nicks. Check. Collar: crisp. Check. Tie: neatly knotted and centred. Check. He felt in his pocket for the little box with its smooth edges and precious cargo. ‘You get, on, I’ll be there in a minute.’ The man in the mirror looked back; blond hair slicked and brylcreemed into place under his precariously balanced cap, eyes ready to burst into life with the telling of a rambling story that might or might not be true, the faintest of smiles threatening to crack the carefully assembled military carapace supposed to add gravitas to his bare eighteen years. Time to go.

The young airman straightened his back, tugged down his uniform jacket. Then, cap tucked under his arm, he made his way down the corridor into the hall with its flags and bunting, and across the crowded dance floor towards the best girl in the room.

(c) suzanne conboy-hill 2011


Using Virtual Reality to Provide Health Care Information to People With Intellectual Disabilities

Bit of a cross-post, this, but writing is writing, right? We’re all rather chuffed to have our research paper in the Journal of Medical Internal Research. The link is on my other blog here

Donald Sunderland Hill: a very fitting send-off

tree with candles

October 26th was a remarkable day. It was the day we hand-delivered our dad to life’s engine of renewal on his first step back to the stuff of stars. We held our ceremony at the residential home where he had lived the last year with Mum. She grasping less and less of the substance of life, and he falling foul of a need to take care of her at the expense of his own health, despite having no need to do so. The people we invited: a small group of family who had laughed with him through most of our lives; and friends who had laughed, danced, and reminisced with them both, gathered with staff from the home and elsewhere to help us send him on his way. We had a cherry tree to plant, and the home had kindly dug the hole for us earlier in the day. We had candles to light up the darkening evening, and we had strings of solar lights to sparkle through nights to come, outside the lounge window where Mum sits with her cup of tea.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have my dad. At least not as readily to hand as we had expected. Seeing the lovely food, and the gathering guests, Mum had beamed and asked ‘Is this a party?’  We reminded her that, no, it was for Dad, because he was gone now. ‘Oh,’ she said, appearing to take this on. A moment passed. ‘So how’s your dad getting here, then?’ My sister did not miss a beat. ‘He’s already here,’ she told her. But neither of us had checked, and he wasn’t. And so it came to pass that my sister and nephew raced off down the road to the funeral director’s office, while I held the fort with the Vera Lynn/Ken Macintosh mega mix.  They returned some 20 minutes later with our dad in a bag, weaving nonchalantly through the small assembly and placing him discreetly in position for his curtain-call. That he almost missed his own funeral would have creased him up with laughter. It very nearly finished us off for sobriety, and it was hard to delete from imagination the Benny Hill soundtrack that must surely have been playing in some cosmic theatre of the absurd. He would have loved it, and regretted only that there was no stuffed-shirt present who might have failed to see the funny side. Puncturing pomposity was a hobby verging on job description.

tree with candles

By the end of the day, we had rested our Dad in a place close to Mum’s favourite position in her preferred lounge. There is a tree that will blossom in spring with the blooms they brought to every house they lived in, and in due course, it will be joined by their other favourite, a Mock Orange, when Mum’s turn comes around. She has already said this is what she wants. A wonderful afternoon spent with lovely, gentle, people; good food, music of an era that brought us to liberation and never went away, and soft rounded wine to mellow the soul. He would have loved that too.