I keep my old diaries. They’re just lists of appointments, school visits, lunches, meetings. I like to look back and see what I was doing this time last year.
This time last year I was getting ready to go down to Brighton to talk at the Southern Schools Book Award. I wasn’t on the shortlist (again!) but I’d been asked to introduce people and give a talk. I was especially excited because I’d heard Charlie Higson was going – his Young Bond book was on the shortlist. I was and still am a huge fan of his comedy work and had in fact read a couple of his adult crime novels from yonks ago, even before the Fast Show. It took all my self control not to rush up to him and say one of his catch phrases from the Fast Show but I did manage.
This time two years ago I was due to go to The Red Awards in Scotland (where I was on a shortlist). But I’d been ill for a while and had to spend a couple of weeks in the Brompton Chest Hospital in Kensington. It was a strange hospital stay. What I needed was a ten day course of intravenous anti biotics. So I had to go in hospital but not act like an ‘in patient’. All I needed were the drugs injected three times a day and the rest of the time was mine. I spent a lot time walking round Kensington, up the King’s Road, towards the Museums. I should have taken a lap top and wrote but I didn’t. I just took time off from my life and came out feeling hugely grateful for the NHS.
This time three years ago my father was dying. We didn’t know this at the time. We spent the days of January and February chivvying him along to the doctor’s and the hospital. We found a long list of reasons why he was feeling unwell. We suggested a new diet, new medicines, new blood tests, a change of scene. We comforted each other with stories of people who had exactly his symptoms and recovered. He was seventy nine but he had years and years and left. He had time, we thought, to play more games of Bingo, to bet on many more races, to have numerous political arguments and to play cards with his granddaughters. But he didn’t have time because during one of those visits to the hospital we found out that he had Mesothilioma, an asbestos related cancer. He died in May. His name was Frank Cassidy and I still think of him every day.