The rain is still falling.  Still.  Part of me struggles to believe it.  So much water has poured in through the hole in my ceiling that there’s now a hole in the floor, the boards rotten right through.  Tomorrow the erosive power of the cascade will wear a hole through Mr Clarke’s floor too (and his one’s concrete), down and down, on its unassailable path to the centre of the Earth, at which point the sheer volume of water careering downwards through the many layers of the planet’s innards will quench the fire that burns at its centre, and the great cooling process will begin that sees this globe descend into another – this time irreversible – Ice Age.  All life extinguished, the planet silent, formless and void once more.  All because of this blinking rain and that crummy hole in my tiling.

It may sound silly but put yourself in my position and maybe you’ll appreciate the weight that’s on my mind.  I can’t help it if my imagination runs away with me – I try to remain level-headed but it’s all so infuriating.  What started as a drip from a tiny crack in the middle of the Artex last February is now a gaping chasm two inches wide with a steady stream of fluid dropping into a succession of frustratingly-too-small vessels from around the house.  The washing up bowl, plant pots, mugs, even the bucket we usually reserve as the sick bowl in times of illness – all of them are lined up, waiting to take their turn at collecting as much of the stuff as they can muster, while my wife and I conduct our new cyclical routine of one of us rushing to the window to deposit the contents outside while the other positions the next receptacle beneath the open maw of the ceiling, for 18 hours of the day (overnight we heave the bath out of its fittings, to give us a chance of some sleep – we’d do it in the daytime too but it’s an awful lot of effort to tip out).  Admittedly, yes, our system would work just as well with three, and even just with two containers if we’re careful not to spill any of it during the transition, but really we feel we ought to give all of our belongings a chance to show their worth in an emergency situation.  Even the lid from the mouthwash bottle is currently in the queue, ready and willing to be of assistance in our time of need.  The bottle itself, however, is still about thirty percent full, and I’m not keen to waste its precious cargo or dilute it to pathetic homeopathic proportions for fear that by doing so I might be sacrificing my oral hygiene.

Our friends are being very supportive.  Bill pops round every afternoon to bring us some nosh, something to keep our energy levels up and our stomachs satisfied.  Sometimes he offers to hold the biscuit tin in place below our new water feature so that we can take a quick relief break or have a cup of tea.  I suppose the one advantage to the situation is that it’s easier to fill the kettle with one hand now; no more faffing with the mixer tap.  You’ve got to take the positives where you find them – even if they are potentially contaminated with traces of asbestos.

Jenny visits us on Tuesdays in her lunch break.  She’s awfully busy down at the office but it’s nice to know that she still thinks about her parents at a time like this.  Her boyfriend Mark has been round just the once.  Took one look at the place, turned up his nose and said he’d be in the car.  Git.

The only real trouble I’ve faced is with the boss at work.  First chance I got I rang him up to explain that I might be a bit late.  Ever since then he rings me up every morning to ask if I’ll be back in.  It’s been three weeks, he says.  Six weeks, three months, six months, a year – I can’t keep your job open forever you know.  Besides Mrs Wilson called and you still haven’t gone round and sorted her smoke alarm.  What if she dies in a fire?  Nag, nag, nag.  Thankfully I’m still being paid, even if it is only at half rate.  Claire’s work were much more understanding.  Take extended leave, they told her.  We’ll cover your shifts until everything is sorted – we’re here for you honey, hugs and kisses, mwah mwah mwah.  She’s a nuclear physicist on the SPARTAN programme, investigating the rates of decay of alternative energy sources.  Claire says that in all her researches she’s never come across anything as corrosive as this weather.  It’s a joke of course, and it lightens the mood – you should see some of the stuff she has to handle at work, it’s at least four or five times worse than this.

Oh, here we go again.  The urn is full once more and I’m on my way to the window to empty it out.  Poor dad.  After we scattered him to the winds from the top of Ben Nevis (his favourite place) I’m sure he’d never have imagined his former post-death lodgings would be put to this use.  Still, I know he’d be happy to know he could be of use to us in this troubling time for the family.  Right now, he’s smiling down on us – I can feel it.

I used to complain I was caught in the rat race, that every day I was doing the same thing over and over again, with no real end in sight, no real hope of achieving anything.  Little did I know, hey?  If there’s one thing this ordeal is teaching me, it’s not to complain about what I’ve got – there’s always someone else worse off than yourself.  That’s what Cilla used to say – Cilla Black; used to live next door.  Always singing.  Barmy, she was.  But so wise.  And the jokes!  Every time she saw me – heeeere’s our Graham!  Still makes me chuckle now.  Never had the heart to tell her my name was Ian.  But she taught me a lot of things while she was alive – or I can see that now anyway.  Life may sometimes seem like a loop, an endless sequence of day after day after day – but it isn’t.  Within that structure there’s always a chance to break the loop, to stop the cycle.  You just have to be on the lookout for the opportunity, for the chance.  Because it’s there alright, it just might not be all that obvious to the person who drives relentlessly on, blinkered to their environment, their heart closed off to hope.  This is a loop – this never-ending water-catching dance – but life isn’t.  Life is a series of forks in the road, and all you have to do is have the courage to take the turn-off that you’ve never taken before.  Otherwise you’ll end up back where you started.

So as soon as this is over, once the rain finally ceases, I know I’ll take every chance I get.  In a world of possibilities I will steel myself to seize the day.  Carpe diem.  My eyes will be actively open, looking for the forks, seeking out the roads down which I’ve never walked.  Especially the one that leads to the house of that blasted plumber who told me he’d be here last Easter and then I promise you he won’t hear the end of this.

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Nine years had passed since Simon’s last trek through the mountains.  Nine years.  Whole ones at that.  Funny to think also that nine years ago he’d been nine years younger…  Nine years.  Nine!  On top of that it was downright hilarious that on his last trip he’d been one of a party of nine climbers.  Nine!  In one party!  The thought of it made him chuckle to himself.  All these forgotten significances of the number nine last time he was in these parts, and here he was now, returning to these peaks at long last and having to dial three nines on his phone.

“The team will be with you as soon as possible Simon.  Simon, did you get that?  Simon, stay with me – did you hear me Simon?”  “Yes…  Got it,” Simon grunted, drained and exhausted from his enforced stay near the top of this particular tricky Munro.  He’d prepared well for this solo expedition.  He had enough food and water to last three days in this wilderness; he had his waterproof jacket, his waterproof boots, his waterproof map and his Thermos flask (sadly not waterproof).  He’d picked a day with fine weather, not a cloud (or a clown) in sight… but it was impossible to plan everything.

Some things in life are beyond one’s individual control, Simon thought to himself, gazing down from his lofty viewpoint to survey a beautiful scene of lochs and purple-heathered slopes.  It’s important to know your weaknesses, to realise when something is beyond your grasp, and – most important of all – to buy the red Frusli bars, not the brown ones with nuts in.  He wasn’t allergic or anything – he just really liked the berries.

“Simon, what’s the weather like up there?  Simon, can you hear me still?  What’s the weather like – still sunny?”  “Yes, lots of sun,” he murmured unexcitedly.   Time passes very slowly while waiting for the emergency services, he mused.  Much more slowly than when waiting for a bus, or when choosing a new sofa, or when eating toast.  More slowly even than when performing a handstand, or when cleaning a telephone receiver with one’s tie, or when unzipping a tent from the inside, unaware of the intensity of the morning dew.  Very slowly.  Very, very slowly…

“Simon, you should be able to hear the helicopter soon.  It’ll be coming from an East-North-East direction, from between the two heights you can see off to your left.  Keep focussed on that area Simon.  Can you see where I mean Simon?  Simon, can you see it?”  “Mountain…  Helicopter…” muttered Simon, believing himself to be truly on his way to passing out good and proper.  How had he managed to become wedged into this cleft up here?!  The incident replayed itself in his mind.  Nope, still no idea.  One minute he’d been admiring a particularly elegant thistle, the next he’d slipped, fallen a little way and was now completely rooted to the spot, unable to move his legs.  This wasn’t how his sponsored hike was supposed to end.

A sound of whirring rotors came faintly from the horizon.  Straining his eyes to see more clearly, Simon could just make out a dark shape appearing from right where the operator had said it would.  The helicopter!  Nearer and nearer it came, before finally halting in the air some way above him and to his right.  With no site flat enough for it to land for a good few hundred metres, a cable ladder was unfurled and now hung down close to him, two men descending it and then running over to his aid.

“Simon, this is the rescue team.  Can you hear us Simon?  Simon?”  Simon nodded lethargically.  “He’s still conscious,” remarked the second rescuer.  “Okay Simon, you’ve only fallen a few feet so hopefully you’re not in too bad a state but we’re going to examine your legs to gauge the extent of the damage.  Do you understand me Simon?  I’m just going to look at your legs – if it hurts, let me know and I’ll stop.  Okay?”  Simon nodded again.  The medic began to pat down his right leg.  Then he patted down Simon’s right leg.  Receiving no response, he continued to work his way down towards the ankle.  Then he stopped suddenly.

“Ah,” he exclaimed.  “That’s our problem.”  “Is it bad?” gasped Simon.  “Truly awful,” responded the medic.  “No wonder you can’t move your legs, mate.  Your waterproof trousers are snagged on this rock.”

“Take it away and burn it – it does not belong here.”  Craig stared intently at Dr Pannacotta, replying through gritted teeth, “That is my grandmother.  And I know she does not belong here because this is an A&E department – the only things that technically belong here are a job lot of uncomfortable bile-coloured chairs, a stack of magazines so old that one of them sports a young Isaac Newton as its cover model, a pot plant that appears to have been used as an emergency vomit receptacle, and that nurse who’s arranged all of her shifts for the week to run in one continuous sequence – you know, the one whose face is more bags than eyes and who has a 6-litre cafetière permanently glued to her left hand.”

The percussive sound of hundreds of pills shaking in their bottles announced the passing by of said nurse, struggling to keep a steady grip on a tray of medication whilst humming La Marseillaise at 240 beats per minute and blinking like a heavily-oiled sash window in a frame coated with flubber.  The doctor turned back to face Craig.  “Mr Wenceslas, please keep your voice down.  It is all well and good you understanding that your grandmother does not technically belong here, but that is beside the point.  Gladys came in for treatment 3 hours ago but, unfortunately, today is a very busy day for us and still no member of my staff is available to treat her.  Now, new NHS guidelines say that if we are unable to get a patient in and out in less time than it takes to watch JFK then the correct practice is to have them incinerated.”  At this point he gestured towards a TV-and-VCR trolley in the corner of the waiting room.  “As you can see, the credits are now rolling – it’s too late; any second now we’ll see Oliver Stone’s name on the screen.  So you’ve got a choice: either you remove your grandmother from the premises or you help me find some kindling and we chuck her in the furnace – so what do you say?”

Craig’s eyes bulged.  “Take her home like this – are you mad?!  She’s got a broken leg!  She can’t walk on that…”

“Well, you could give her a piggy back?”

“A piggy back?  The bone is sticking right out – it’d catch on the wool in my jumper and then the whole thing would unravel.  And my Auntie Lavender slaved away for weeks on that – can you even imagine how irate she‘d be if I turned up at her house for brunch this Thursday with fragments of femur interwoven among the stitching?!”

Dr Pannacotta winced.  “Okay, I see your point – nobody would want that.  But the fact remains Mr Wenceslas-“

“Please stop calling me that – my surname’s Amylase.”

“I know Mr… Amylase… but old habits are hard to kick – I still connect you with the village Christmas production in 2006 when you played-”

“Good King Wenceslas, yes.  ‘Bring me flesh and bring me wine’…”  Craig smiled.  “Yes, still one of my best performances I have to admit, but a discussion we can save for another occasion.  My nan is currently sitting in your emergency department’s waiting room, desperately in need of medical attention or at the very least some kind of paracetamol to take the edge off the pain, and you’re telling me that because Kevin Costner spoke particularly quickly on the day they chose to film the scenes that made it into the final cut she’s got to face either a trip back home with her skeleton showing or be disposed of via a short, sharp cremation?!”

“Well it doesn’t have to be short Mr Wences- Mr Amylase.  We can drag it out if you like – set the oven at a lower gas mark, douse her with water and dress her in fire-retardant clothing – you know, anything that helps.  These can all be arranged.  Asbestos – we’ve got plenty of that lining the walls here; simply tons of it.  If there’s anything within our power to make your grandmother’s extinguishing lengthier, you can rely on us.”

Dr Pannacotta smiled cheesily and Craig groaned, casting his eyes to the floor.  Summoning his strength he once again glared back into the medical man’s eyes.  “I think we’re talking at crossed purposes here doctor.  My aged granny – the beloved matriarch of my family – urgently needs a surgical procedure to save her leg.  You are telling me that Health Service protocol now forbids that she be ministered to unless circumstances within your (admittedly busy) emergency room permit that she be seen by a medically qualified member of staff some time between pressing ‘play’ on the VCR – I’m assuming it is thoroughly rewound to the very beginning of the tape?”  Dr Pannacotta nodded assent.  “Okay, some time between that and when the video stutters to a halt.  Am I right?”  Again, Dr Pannacotta nodded.  “Right.  So… how about just before this tape reaches the very end you accidentally push this button marked with a double back-arrow and – completely by coincidence, you understand – allow the film to run through one more time.  And if you do that, totally not on purpose, then I can make sure that this twenty pounds somehow magically appears in your coat pocket…  What do you say?”

Dr Pannacotta thought hard for a moment, sucking on the end of his stethoscope.  Suddenly he stopped and looked straight at Craig.  “Okay, I think we can manage that – completely unintentionally of course.”

“Of course – I wouldn’t expect anything less,” Craig returned.

“Right.  Well that shouldn’t be a problem Mr Amylase.  And what if we get to the end of JFK again?  Am I to take it that in that situation you wouldn’t mind if we then actually did go on to incinerate your grandmother?”

Craig held his hands in the air.  “Oh that’s absolutely fine doctor – of course, no problem.  You’re being more than obliging already – I wouldn’t want to feel I was taking advantage of you…”