Its amazing just how quickly something can become a distant memory when you actually return from a great experience. It seemed but moments ago that I was floating on the edge of the sea on Troulos beach in Skiathos, making the most of my final opportunity to soak up the view before I had to return to my accommodation and pack.
Now, slightly more than a week later, I was sat with a nurse who was fiddling with a needle in my arm, trying to draw blood.
This was my first visit to donate blood, having accompanied my wife several times just to keep her company. I had never had any inclination to donate mainly out of laziness I suppose. I think my wife believed that when I passed out in hospital after knee surgery, it had had a lasting effect.
But I have to admit needles don’t bother me, its the effort involved in donating that does. (And that’s bad, considering I’d be lay down through-out with a cup of tea and all you can eat biscuit pile to go at upon completion)
There’ll be women out there who will recognize immediately the syndrome. It’s the terrible “I’m a man” malady.
In an effort at avoiding possible life-threatening energy loss, I would reason it out with Jane whenever she tried to encourage me to donate.
“I can’t. Its because I’m special Jane. My blood is important.”
“Why? Whys it so important?”
“Because its mine. (Der) Its probably rare. I’m probably one of those whaddya call it? Rare blood groups, like a Z or something.”
“What are you talking about you idiot? There isn’t a Z blood group. You don’t know what blood group you are!!! Your just lazy! Your probably the most common, common blood group – O positive! Anyway if its rare, you should donate!”
“All the more reason to keep hold of it Jane. What if there’s only two of us with a Z blood group? What if they won’t donate theirs? What if they won’t share?? I’ll bet he’ll be happy to take mine though! I’m not giving some bastard all my blood if he won’t give me any of his! I need all I can get for Christ’s sake! I can’t just be handing it out willy-nilly!!!”
Jane’s snort of disgust would be the end of the conversation.
As it was, I had years ago committed myself to The Anthony Nolan trust after hearing about a young child at my sons school who was suffering from Fanconi’s Anaemia – A genetic disorder that tends to lead to suffers developing cancer, often acute myelogenous leukemia, 90% leading to bone marrow failure – she was 5 and they were searching for possible matches in order to help her.
What would you do?
I was happy to go along with everyone else and give blood samples and register with the trust, in order to give this child an opportunity at a possible cure. After all, I only had to look at my own 3 young children and imagine being in the position that this child’s parents found themselves in. As it was I wasn’t a match. Fortunately though, they did eventually find one and last I heard she was recovering after a successful bone marrow transplant.
After that I never thought anything of it. I think deep down the thought of someone drilling away at me for marrow wasn’t over appealing, and in some ways I was relieved to forget about it. So it was with some surprise I received a letter from the trust telling me I was a possible match for some poor bugger.
I went through the pro’s and cons involved in the procedure and I have to say, the last thing I had expected (and secretly fervently hoped I would never be) was to be discovered as a match for someone suffering with such a serious disease.
It meant a couple of days away in London where I would – most likely – be attached to a machine that would draw Stem Cells from my blood to be donated to the recipient. The other procedure would mean being anaesthetized while they drew marrow from me.
What finally sold it for me was I would be in a nice hotel and be paid to do it.
Until I stopped fooling around and seriously thought about the implications for the desperate person hanging on at the other side of this requirement.
I had to say yes. There was no other option. It was a case of waiting to see if they needed me after I sent confirmation samples of blood off.
After some weeks the answer came back as a “thank you but you’re no longer required”.
I have to admit I was relieved. I also have to admit I spent a good while thinking about the person who had needed the donation.
See, I never discovered if they found a donor for this person so I don’t know if they survived. I don’t know how old they were, or whether they were a man or a woman or a child. But I think the implications of what I was asked to donate, the implications it meant to some desperate anonymous life, finally hit home.
It wasn’t just stem cells, or marrow that you donate to the trust.
It was a chance at staying alive for the person who needs it.
Finding out it was no longer required and not knowing if they had found someone more suitable to donate or whether the person who needed it survived or not, touched a nerve. It was the anonymity I think, that did it.
Knowing that there was someone out there seriously suffering while I and most of the population went about our business without that dread and worry hanging over our lives. What it meant to those families supporting this person, completely powerless to do anything about their illness unless a donor could be found. If it was a child? A wife or a Husband? A brother, a sister, a father a mother..?
Simply forced to watch them travel that road and support them along it until they received the help they required.
Or they didn’t.
Implications that some unknowing healthy person out there could change. For someone.
Anyway, it was due to this that I finally decided to donate blood. And had the conversation with Jane about how special I must be…
We had just returned from our first holiday abroad in 6 years. And I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. Some three weeks prior to sitting where I was now I was preparing to journey to Greece. Skiathos. A small, very green Island in the Aegean sea. Its some 7 miles long and 4 miles wide and its quiet. Its my third visit and the peace and quiet never fails to envelope me.
We had spent a busy weekend before travelling visiting both our daughters, Emily and Holly before we went away. Both were at university at either side of the country so it meant a bit of travelling on a bank holiday weekend. We wanted to make sure we spent some time with them before we went, making sure they were both ok and see if either could pop home at some point and check up on Callum.
Also, the reasoning being that if the plane went down at least they both got a hug and a sandwich before we went, and would be aware that Cal was in charge of Ben the dog at home, and he may need feeding by then..
We had had some reservations going, as it meant our first holiday away alone would mean leaving our son Callum home-alone. Now Cal is 17, almost 18, but I think him cooking anything is a recently acquired ability that has plenty of room for improvement. Walking into waves of heat in a swelteringly hot kitchen, with the oxygen all but gone, to find the oven still on and the gas on the hob in the process of melting the extractor, created some reservations.
Him also asking if the dog needed feeding “Everyday?” and being mildly surprised to find this was the case, didn’t inspire confidence
So I had taken to trying to show him how to cook some meals, just so that I would know he would eat something reasonably healthy. And not move into a Pizza shop.
I prepared a Bolognese sauce for him, reasoning that him cooking the spaghetti wasn’t much of an ask and would encourage him to see how easy it would be to prepare something nourishing.
“Ok with this Cal?”
“Yep no problem dad.”
“Spaghetti in pan, add hot water….”
“Dad. I’m not an idiot.”
Fair play son, I thought, and left him to it.
Sat in the other room, I became aware of some frenzied activity coming from the kitchen, a clatter and a banging I wouldn’t normally associate with cooking spaghetti. I mean, Spaghetti in pan, add hot water, boil, drain…How hard can it be? But I was still hesitant about intruding, thinking he just needed the opportunity to organize himself. Lets face it, The sauce was done, ready and waiting, all he had to do was cook the spaghetti.
Finally he was finished and I edged into the kitchen.
“Yeah, yeah. Fine Dad.”
“Lets see it then?”
He edged over to quickly flourish the plate then began to turn away. I caught a glimpse of a mountain of pure sauce and briefly noticed that poking from under it, were an alarming number blackened, charcoal like strands.
“Jesus Cal! You only had to boil the spaghetti! How did you burn it??”
“It wasn’t my fault! The pan was too small!”
“Too small! It was the biggest bloody pan! Did you leave the spaghetti hanging out? You bloody did didn’t you!”
It didn’t occur to him that the gas didn’t need to be on full, nor that the spaghetti hanging over the lip of the pan ready for the hot water, needed to be encouraged to fold into the pot as he added it. Instead he poured the water in, turned the gas up full, then stood back and began sorting his plate out.
The spaghetti, left unattended, did fold over, over the lip of the pan where it was licked by the flames from the high gas. Finally, over the shoulder of Gordon Ramsay – picking out his favourate fork, it caught fire and went up like so many fuses.. Eventually the smoke or the smell caught his attention. The clatter and banging had been him trying to run the tap on a Tee towel so he could flog the flames out.
He had then broken off the really badly burnt strands and tried to stretch the remainder into a meal.
I had done everything bar stand there and watch it boil. I had Loaded the actual amount of spaghetti in the pan, boiled the water in the kettle, and left him with simple, step-by-step cooking instructions. I was left with the dreadful realization that he was going to be home alone for 2 weeks fending for himself.
Jesus. He was going to burn the fucking house down and kill the dog.
We arrived at the airport ready to forget about everything and just enjoy our break alone. 2 weeks stress-free. Doing, what-ever we wanted to. It had been a long time coming and we were both determined to make the most of it.
The best start to my holiday has always been – for me- arriving early at the airport and getting rid of our bags and just relaxing in the knowledge that we were on our way. We had worked our way through the airport in a snaking queue that I hadn’t encountered before. It led from check-in to security where our hand luggage would be checked prior to entering the departure lounge and duty free area. It was just before we reached the security area that a dawning realization hit me.
I tried to quietly get Jane’s attention before we moved forward and placed our bags on the conveyor belt that would draw our hand luggage into the X-ray machine. Mumbling out of the side of my mouth,
“I’ve got a knife in my bag!”
“What! What are you doing with a knife here?? Who carries a bloody knife in an airport!!!”
“I’ll say its a bottle opener! I have a bottle opener in there too!”
“A fucking bottle opener??? Why have you brought a knife you idiot????”
“Its only a little knife!!!”
Not the best answer you may agree. But it was. A little knife. A pen-knife in fact. It was the knife I peeled my apple with everyday. But lets face it, in this climate, you’re not going to do yourself any favours by flourishing a blade – big or small – at an airport.
And here I was, stood looking apprehensively at the serious faces of security, their eyes scanning people as they approached the conveyor belt, each person placing a bag on the belt to be x-rayed, and emptying pockets and removing hats and belts. Whilst security hovered, eagle-eyed, looking for potential problems. Just waiting for an alarm to go off so they could leap into action and quietly taser and frog march someone off to a subterranean room where they would be professionally beaten…
In this case me, with my shorts round my ankles, because another thing had occurred to me to heighten my stress levels to nails-drawn-across-blackboard levels.
I was wearing a pair of favourate shorts. The only problem being with them was they had metal buttons. These continuously sheered off and had to be re-sewn on. I had lost the top button from the shorts and had asked Jane a couple of days earlier to sew it back on for me and she had forgotten. So I removed the belt and the shorts automatically began to fall down and I was left clutching them to my waist as I waited to place my bag on the conveyor belt and for my knife to be spotted.
I knew I would be seized, and undoubtedly thrashed in a tiny room until I confessed.
And I would have.
And believe me I’d have sold my mother down the river on the way to that subterranean room, never mind admit to the knife. She has no idea how close she came to having MI5 kicking her back door in and hauling her off some where. These people had no idea how much information they would have had out of me over the first 20 feet of assisted shuffled steps. I’d have leaked like a sprinkler, I’d have dropped anyone in it as long as it wasn’t me that ended up in chokey…
I’m too pretty for jail.
So I walked through trying to be pleasant and smiley, hoping I wouldn’t be asked any questions or be searched. Because if I was, I would undoubtedly crack and say the first, most stupid thing that came to mind.
“Ahahaha. I’m not a bloody terrorist you know! I haven’t got a bomb under my jumper! I’ve only got a knife..”
My God, this wasn’t going to end well at all.
Jane obviously thought the same thing because as the guard beckoned me forward, she skipped past me to place her bag on the conveyor belt and hissed,
“Just shut up. They may not notice it. Ican’tbelieveyoubroughtabloodyknife!!!”
I was left goggling at her back as she stepped away and abandoned me, creating some distance between herself and me. It was obvious she didn’t want to impede the security guards when they realized I was armed and charged in to take me down.
My turn followed and I stepped forward to place my bag on the belt, watching it head into the X-ray machine, all the while hanging onto my shorts..
I looked at Jane and mouthed,
“My pants are falling down”
Jane, further along the conveyor belt, by now removing her bag, just rolled her eyes and visibly stepped further away, then turned to watch with interest.
My imagination was running away with me. All I could picture was myself being restrained with my shorts round my ankles, with security shouting,
“He’s tried to hide it up his arse! Get the gloves on!!”
My wife having created her bubble of safety, was obviously rehearsing expressions and reply’s. I believe she was prepared to be tearful and state she was forced along at knife-point and could they please save her from the bad man….
I moved through to wait for my bag to come out of the machine and make its way towards my waiting arms. Which it did and just as I reached for it, it slid sideways and down another shoot to a waiting security guard, who beckoned me around everybody else who had successfully navigated their way past the X-ray machine. Have you ever noticed how quickly you become a point of interest to all those who are safely through? I approached her side trying to act like this happened everyday.
Sweat was beading my brow at this point and I was absently wondering if she’d let me remove my inhaler and have a blast on it, letting her know I was asthmatic. My reasoning being she may possible go more gently with her approach before slapping the cuffs on and knocking the crap out of me.
Instead she greeted me with a bright and airy,
“Hello sir! Is this your bag? Is there anything in there that you want to disclose to me?”
“Yes! Yes I do!! I have a knife! Its only a little knife for peeling apples! I’m not going to stab you!! My pants are falling down!! Please God don’t stick anything up my bum!!! There’s nothing up there!! I had a camera up it once! A nurse said it was like a flute!! My wife knew I had the knife!! She’s over there!!!”
Fuck it. If I was going down I’d take Jane with me.
That was the initial jumble of words ready to spill from my mouth. But as she asked me so gently and apologetically, it took the wind from my sails somewhat. Instead I said,
“I have to say, I think my penknife is in there. I’m so sorry I forgot to remove it. I use it at work for peeling my apple everyday!”
I had Jane poking me, trying to shut me up before my mouth completely ran away with me.
“Ok Sir that’s fine, but I’m really sorry I’m going to have to remove it. You can’t travel on board with this in your bag I’m afraid.”
She said looking up at me.
“What? Is that it? Jesus take the bloody thing! That’s Fine!! Thank you – your so kind…”
(Nudge nudge nudge)
“Phew. I won’t make that mistake again. I’ll buy one over there. Not that I’ll bring it back mind!!”
“…ah..yes.. ok I’ll just move on then..?”
And finally we made it through to the departure lounge.
Next step, after Jane finished telling me off, all I had to do was get on the plane, fly 4 hours and land at the incredibly short run-way that was Skiathos airport..