When I was younger I got drunk one night end ended up in a police cell. As I lay on the solitary piss-stained bunk I looked up at the ceiling of the cell and felt a tremendous feeling of placidity wash over me. This isn’t so bad, I reasoned, if this is what prison is like I can handle it.
The reality was, however, that unless I killed one of the guards with a sharpened lolly pop stick I was most likely going home in the morning and the little bit of notoriety that this experience would afford me would be healthily repaid in beers and possibly women. I knew plenty of girls back then who liked a bad boy. Perhaps I would be a bad boy once I’d done my tiny dribble of porridge.
That happened 35-years-ago and truth be told I never quite made it to bad boy status. The last guy I actually fought with is now dead of cancer, and the reason that we fought was because he accused me of plagiarism. It was a distinctly middle-class difference of opinion and an equally flocculent variety of skirmish: he aimed a punch at me and I sort of wrestled him to the floor, where we rolled about in the Zerox dust like a couple of wrinkled teenagers. Isn’t that what Christmas parties are supposed to be all about?
I never quite earned bad boy status but I’m getting to know what it’s like to do my time. Because life for me at the moment is all about living in a prison cell. Lights out is around nine-thirtyish and my prison wardens are all young and beautiful. (And even if it wasn’t 2016 and I get a detailed daily breakdown of visitors to my web site I’d still be saying that, ladies.) From there on in it’s the sounds of silence that fill my head. The noises made by anguished, frightened children crying for their mothers (never their fathers) which, without fail and usually in exactly the same order, elicit from me feelings of abject sorrow followed by selfless pity followed by aching sadness followed by mild irritation followed by red hot anger followed by if you don’t shut that whining fucking brat up so I can get some sleep I’m going to chuck the fucking whinging parent out of the fucking window and really become a fucking bad boy. Sleep deprivation is a very efficient torture method and has been known to start wars.
As I wrote that last sentence an electronic alarm sounded from a gadget by my daughter’s bedside that looks a little like the one used by Bones to check out unconscious Klingons. It keeps doing that. It’s letting the whole ward know that the drug being pumped into my daughter’s arm via a thin plastic cable is not reaching its destination. It’s a bit like what happens when the hose pipe bends while you’re watering the garden (Oh, to stand in the sunshine watering the garden…). And amid the farts and burps and snores and slurps of the rest of the ward I am aware of a murmur of irritation. Some other sleep-starved parent wants to throw me out of the window and earn themselves a slice of bad boy status.
But none of us can do this. Because we’re in a hospital for sick kids and whatever feelings you have about your lot in the world you have no choice but to make like an erstwhile Page Three model: grin and bear it. And this is actually no bad analogy because when you’re the parent of a sick child in hospital you are naked. Every routine, every ritual, every secret practise that makes you who you are is cast aside and laid open to the universe.
7:34 a.m. and lights have just come on. I’ve already been up for two hours. At least we don’t have to slop out. In the beds around me anxious parents are already talking in not quite so hushed tones about their own concerns, their own damaged children. Soon a damp mop will be dragged around the ward and my daughter will be offered a breakfast menu which she’ll refuse to choose from. Interesting the speed in which new rituals worm their way into your life. In two hours’ time Sofia and I can go home for the day. Compared to many here we’re the lucky ones. But it’s not really home because it’s a home that is invaded twice a day by still more elegant prison wardens as they refill my daughter with drugs. There goes that alarm again.
Each time that alarm goes off you’re aware of an onrush of footsteps. This is followed by the bustling image of an impossibly pristine young woman in a sparkling pressed nurse’s uniform, a mere child of flawless skin and glossy hair. We’re all destined to get to know nurses in one way or another and I can tell you that they have very little in common with the old Benny Hill version of a nurse. While they can occasionally be seen to move at Benny Hill double-quick speed it is there that any similarity ends. Without going all political on you, you only have to spend a couple of minutes in the company of these young women to start wanting to see Jeremy Hunt’s flaccid dick stuffed into a sausage roll and force fed to David Cameron via any orifice that isn’t his mouth. How dare these Oxbridge Bullingdon buffoons play God with loaded blue dice? How dare they attempt to stand in the way and block the paths of these people who give so much and get so little back?
It is the nurses – my stoic, uncomplaining, smiling prison wardens – that I find most interesting of all. Each one is my daughter and each my mother. Because even though my own mother was a nurse I never actually had any understanding of what she really was. I don’t remember her having the driven look in her eyes of the girls who surround me here. And she never struck me as someone who was prepared to sacrifice herself for others. But she must have been. How could I not have noticed?
This is the long haul for me. Life has temporarily ground to a halt. My days are spent waiting for the nights and my nights are spent longing for the days. And already I’m finding out more about myself than I’d really like to know. More than any person would really like to know