Despite the speed of long haul aircraft, those 12 hours heading back to the UK seemed to drag and drag. I think we just do not realise still how much of the earth is a huge empty space, particularly the oceans. It takes nearly four hours before you hit Africa proper near Mombasa. Then you have the interminable stretch over the Sahara before crossing into the Mediterranean at Benghazi. And then even parts of Europe – heading up the Italian peninsula and crossing rural France, seems to take longer that it should. When you have a reason to get home as fast as possible, those distances are plain cruel.
It was early evening when my landlady and good friend Vicky picked me up from Heathrow’s Terminal 5, a cold, dark, October evening so contrasting from the hot balmy weather in Mauritius. She’d cooked a meal for me and I went to bed early. Next morning the same suitcase I had brought with me was bunged in the back of my car and I drove up to Liverpool. My brother Robert had been there a couple of days already; we both went in later that afternoon to the Royal Hospital above the centre of the city. Although Mum had told David to ask me to come, she had not been told I was on my way, so there was a mixture of surprise, joy and a realisation in her face when she saw me there. Even in the first couple of hours of my first visit, several of her closest friends turned up and tried to act normally. But the woman in the bed was hardly my mother. Robert had warned me but it was still a deep shock to see how much weight she had lost, the lines on her face deep, her hair a ghostly white.
There were a series of practicalities do deal with during the week which helped to deal with the tiredness from travel and the emotions of the situation. The forecast was that this was just a bad incident – mum had swollen up once more with excess fluid on the abdomen causing all sorts of complications with her digestive system, but now this was drained the plan was to send her home again in a week or so. To make her comfortable, we had to convert the dining room to a bedroom for her; she was not going to be able to tackle the stairs. This meant ordering a hospital bed that could be easily adjusted into different positions (currently mum was most comfortable perched up to about 45 degrees). A commode was also needed. Robert had to go back to his work in Norwich for at least a few days, and my brother Christopher who lived with mum in Liverpool also had his work to go to. So I was in the best position those few days to help sort out these issues; we moved the dining room table into the Living room, which meant a rearrangement there too, an NHS van turned up one day and a man assembled the bed and ensured it would work. I went out and bought a freestanding lamp – due to the curious arrangement of our house, the only light switch for the dining room was in the adjoining kitchen. We tried to turn the dining room in to as comfortable a bedroom as we could – at least she would be able to see out the window into the garden she had perfected over the years and watch the myriad species of birds play on the various feeders.