Monday morning. In comes Frank. Frank is a carer in his late fifties. He comes daily to wash me. Still half asleep, I sit upright in my mechanical cradle forking in Greek yoghurt, strawberries and granola and looking out of the window. Up here on the cliff, it’s another clear, blue, busy day ahead for our feathery nest builders, egg rearers and chick scoffers.
Although he was a bit brutal with his caring to begin with, Funky Frank has become gentler over time
In his spare time Frank plays bass, he says. Of all the styles he likes funk best, he says. His style is a busy, intricate one. He’ll show you his air guitar version. Funky Frank is his nickname in the local pub music circle. I’ve been washed in turn by all the local carers now. Catriona and I have decided that although he was a bit brutal with his caring to begin with, Funky Frank has become gentler over time. Also that he has a good heart, and that we like him. This morning he was caring alone instead of in the usual team of two.
“Monday morning, eh, Frank?” I said sympathetically. “What do you mean?” he said. “Is this what you say in England to start the week? For me it makes no difference. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Every day my spirit is the same. Nothing changes because of what day it is. I am still Frank.” I think Frank has been to India or somewhere and fancies himself as some sort of Buddhist. “Everything changes. Or nothing changes — is it? Or is it nothing changes except the avant garde? I can never quite remember.”
I was in bloody agony, however. “My spirit isn’t the same, Frank,” I said, making my vital objection in an undignified tone. I’m wired up via my right thigh to what is known as a morphine syringe driver. As well as delivering a “bolus” or glob of morphine once an hour day and night, I can press a button on a remote control once an hour at my discretion and get a double hit. Or I can leave it. It’s up to me. As a rule, however, I never fail to take the full morphine allowance. But last night something went wrong with the machine and I got only my hourly dose and nothing else. Which ain’t enough. Not to mask the bone pain entirely it’s not. So for the previous few hours I’d been waiting for daylight to edge the curtains and the sun to breast the hillside and the sounds of a Provençal village rising and shining. And then Catriona padding downstairs and putting the kettle on. And returning with mugs of Lapsang Souchong and crisp toast and “intense” apricot jam. And shortly after that the sound of Frank’s feet on the steep stone stairs leading up to the front door, and his voice saying: “Coo-coo!”
So that’s it, I think. Nothing left for me to do in the mornings except to lie back and let Frank wash me. I don’t even have to measure the colorful little morphine capsules into the palm of my hand and chuck them down my throat at the right times. It’s all done by the machine, which measures the morphine doses and strengths and doles them out hourly. And now I have reached the exciting stage where I can double up on these extra-curricular morphine doses should I want to. I do, but up to a point, Lord Copper. What happens later on, I don’t know. Perhaps a point is reached where I or somebody else, somebody sanctioned by the state, can whack in a massive dose and end it right there. I don’t yet know that either. Naturally one rather hopes so. One hopes anyhow that the French flair for doing the right and best thing in any given situation will hold firm once again in my case.
After Frank had washed me, two nuns came upstairs. Spiritual cleaners. Sister Mary of the Angels and Sister Maria Clara. Sister Maria Clara was the younger of the two. Their visit had been planned for two weeks. This bedroom is getting a little crowded and they perched on low stools. They perched and spoke about the nature of God’s love and as they did so they looked me in the eye. Invariably I blinked first.
We talked about Mary. Sister Mary of the Angels thought that praying to Mary was not exactly the same as praying to God. She said also that as a sisterhood they loved me. They said that every one of them loved me and that they were praying for me. Then they gave me a rosary and went out.
There is an Anglican vicar down on the coast. He says he will come at the drop of a hat to give me Holy Communion. I shall ask him to come, I think, and soon. I do miss the Sir Thomas Cranmer version so. Not much time left, though, for shilly-shallying.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s UK magazine. Subscribe to the World edition here.