A Diagnosis Is Burden Enough Without Being Burdened By Secrecy And Shame

When I was a poor student, I was fortunate to secure a waitressing job at one of the local hotels. I worked there for a few years whilst I completed my studies and became really good friends with the other staff at the hotel. Although we worked hard, I always enjoyed the good-natured banter and the shared meals at the end of our shifts. I had a particular soft spot for the Head Chef, a loud cockney with a ready twinkle in his eye and a fast one-liner for every occasion. He was a big man in every sense of the word and he’d worked for the hotel company for many years since leaving the army after achieving the rank of sergeant. Unlike many other chefs I worked with, he was an excellent mentor to many of his young trainees and wouldn’t tolerate bullying of any form within his kitchen.

He was a jolly soul and played up to all the new waitresses, pinching bottoms and leering suggestively over the hot plate always in a non-offensive manner. Of course, I knew that he was just play-acting as I was aware that he was gay man but it was never my secret to share and I respected his decision to live his life as he wanted.

Just before the last year of my studies he secured a top job at a prestigious hotel nearer to his family in London and from time to time, he would visit each time looking a great deal thinner than the last. He assured me it was the pressure of the job, and sometime later he moved back to Devon taking a less high-profile role in yet another flagship hotel.

Shortly after he relocated he was involved in a car accident in suspicious circumstances; he had apparently been driving across Dartmoor on his own in the middle of the night when the car had left the road. The police report said that there had been no other vehicle involved and the reason for the accident remained a mystery.

Immediately after his discharge from hospital, his mother and father collected him and he just disappeared from our lives, returning to his family home in London. Initially we had been advised that he had terminal cancer but eventually the real reason for his departure was disclosed and that was that he had contracted AIDS.

I sent him several letters, none of which he ever answered but I like to think that he read them. A few months’ later we heard that he had passed;I can’t begin to imagine the grief which his parents felt having to nurse him through this debilitating disease whilst watching him fade away in front of them. It saddened my heart that he felt unable to share these dark days with those that loved and admired him. Regrettably, we still live in a world full of ignorance and bigotry and I truly hope that our lives never get too busy or too full to be able to hold out a hand to comfort a friend.

So my dearest pal wherever you are, I want you to know that I often think of you and feel comforted to know that there is an extra star in the midnight sky burning as brightly as you did in life.

aids

There’s No Business Like Showbusiness (Part Two)

Following on from Part One

As we were directed to the Exhibitors’ car park by the local parish verger who was marshalling for the day in an attractive “hi-vis” rain poncho, he couldn’t help himself from mentioning that he hadn’t seen me in church much recently. feteYeah, well buddy try working night shifts together with overtime and then see if you have enough energy for a rousing chorus of “All things bright and beautiful”. So instead I just gave him a vague smile and asked him to point me in the direction of the Cakes & Handicrafts Marquee.

My accident-prone niece and I gingerly carried the boxes together with the cake remains across to the tent. We squelched through the water-logged field in our wellies, waving at various neighbours and family friends whilst searching for the marquee.

Sally who was a former district nurse and whose farmer husband was leading a bull over to the livestock arena, shouted across at me “rash alright now”? As she had been retired over twenty years and the rash to which she referred was infantile German measles clearly, one of us needed to get out more.

“She’s been jilted since then Sal”! My niece yelled back at her, shooting a quick grin at me. As my darling nieces have the lungs of a giant blue whale, there will never be a need for the use of a public address system in our family!

“Could never really take to that young man; one or other of his family always had impetigo! Honestly, I think his mother’s unsavoury hygiene was to blame”.

My day was just getting better and better; I’d just discovered that the traitor who’d abandoned me practically at the altar was also germ-ridden and insanitary. In hindsight it that may well have been a blessing in disguise and spared me from a gruelling course of tetanus injections not to mention weeping open sores.

We found the marquee and handed the boxes over to my mother’s friends in the Women’s Institute where they were busying themselves with setting up the trestle tables and displays. We made a quick getaway before the full extent of the cake catastrophe could be discovered and went in search of the refreshment tent, where I was hoping to find something a little more substantial than the cereal bar I’d had for breakfast.

The female members of our clan spent a leisurely afternoon dodging the downpours, watching the displays and catching up with friends and neighbours.

My eldest niece & friend

My eldest niece & friend

We enthusiastically cheered on the participants in the Tug of War, the Dog Show, Falconry displays and the Gymkhana ’til we were hoarse.

My Dad shadowed all afternoon by his minders, the dynamic duo, demonstrated avoidance techniques that the Special Forces would have envied. He managed to navigate the entire showground all day without being detected by my mother which frankly was an amazing accomplishment as I can assure you she has a built-in sonar when it comes to locating me and my sister. I remember once being sat in the hairdressers chair awaiting a cut and blow dry when she rang my mobile which I ignored so she doggedly rang the salon instead until I resigned myself to the fact, that my mother was like a Mountie and would always get her (wo)man in the end.

My mother was keen to catch the start of the home baking judging and hurried us all over to the Womens’ Institute Marquee. I steered her away from most of the organisers on the pretense of wanting to catch a better view from the other side of the Marquee.

The vicar had been invited to start the judging in the home baking competition but as he started his speech, he leaned back against the trestle table and it was then that the table leg started to disappear into the mud and slowly topple over, scattering all the beautifully displayed competition entries onto the mud. Boxes and jars of preserves crashed into a pile on the wet earth below. Audible gasps could be heard throughout the audience.

Ernie or could have been Sid hissed rather indiscreetly from the rear of the marquee “There is a God”!

The vicar quickly recovered from his flustered status to utter those immortal words “Let Us Pray”. I couldn’t help but think that he needed to ask for deliverance from the fury that was the Women’s’ Institute. All was not lost; my Dad sensing that he had dodged a bullet, graciously gave the Vicar a couple of bottles of his latest vintage of dandelion wine.

There’s No Business Like Showbusiness (Part One)

As usual we awoke on the morning of the village show, to torrential downpours and thunderstorms. As mum was putting the final touches to her cakes, we were forbidden access to the kitchen so she thrust a cereal bar in my hand and hissed “make yourself useful” as she brushed past me. Try mustering the enthusiasm for that when you’ve only had a stick of muesli for breakfast! Dad had been down at the allotment since dawn with the dynamic duo that is Sid & Ernie.

I soon discovered that “making myself useful” was actually another term for “humping and lumping” boxes into the car and transporting them to one of the marquees in the showground. My youngest niece is a tad accident prone or a bit of a Cack-handed Carrie as my old Grandma would have said; so in the interest of my mother’s sanity, was forbidden from carrying anything remotely fragile but was allowed to ride shotgun with me in the car.

Enroute to the showground I got a text from the Three Allotment Stooges asking me to call in at the shed on my way. As I pulled up my Dad and the dynamic duo were waiting by the gate with baskets and containers and before I could climb out, my Dad was loading them into the back of the car. Judging by the ruddy cheeks of the dynamic duo they had already been freely partaking in my Dad’s dandelion wine.

I reminded him to be careful as if he damaged my mother’s cakes in any way, he needed to be aware that down at the allotment no one could hear you scream. As he was making a pig’s ear of re-arranging all the boxes, Cack-handed Carrie jumped out to help him. Within minutes disaster struck and the bottom of one of the cake boxes collapsed emptying the yellow fondant iced contents onto the tarmac below. There was an audible gasp of horror from all of us as we knew the consequences for this misdemeanour would be severe. Trust me when I say that Hell hath no fury like a cake-maker wronged.

“We’re going to be for it now” my disconsolate Dad remarked

“No shit Sherlock, and anyway who’s the “we” kimosabe? You’re on your own Wreck It Ralph; I don’t want to live on Muesli Bars for the rest of my life”!

We scooped up the remnants of the yellow fondant iced cake back into the box whilst my Dad endeavoured to mould the fragments back into some shape; the result resembled something along the lines of a pile of pale lemon elephant dung. Ernie handed me a couple of my Dad’s dahlias and suggested that I cover the worst of the damage with them. I pointed out that emergency reconstructive surgery wouldn’t be able to conceal the mutilation.

As they slammed the boot of the car shut, they bade me farewell and shouted “break a leg” at me through the open window; which was exactly what my Dad was going to get when my mother caught up with him.

If you enjoyed Part One catch Part Two here 

cake 2