Hospital visitors

Thursday 10th November 2011

X-RAY is busy today, but nobody has to wait long.

“My three were all born here. It’s a shame. Been like one big happy family. You can’t buy kindness.”

I pass Mark in the corridor. He too is getting the measure of the place; taking the temperature, so to speak. We are careful not to intrude, not to push anyone’s buttons.

“Bloody buzzers. You hear them in your sleep. That’s Godfrey, wanting the bed-pan. Tell him I’m doing a very important interview and I’ll be along to see him…”

(The nurse pauses, eloquent of punch-line.)

“…within the hour.”

I read notices, talk to patients, watch Mark photograph clean sheets being tucked up into bed, immerse myself in the hospital’s corners: spick and span the wards; needle-sharp the banter; cotton-wool soft the nurses’ care.

“Go and talk to her, Marcus, quick. She’s going this afternoon.”

Ninety-six, but as bright and neat as her lipstick. Lived her whole life in the house in Sharpness where she was born. Moving, today, into a nursing home. Sad?

“No-o. They’re only bricks and mortar.”

These buildings too: only bricks, I guess. Soon to be demolished by time’s hammer. A century of cottage industry moving to a new home.

This is the town of Berkeley, where Edward Jenner was born – and lived to learn how to save countless lives, his former home now a museum: the Birthplace of Vaccination, says a proud banner by the entrance.

“From the Latin for cow,” a nurse reminds me. “My sister was born here too. Christmas Day. Got The Gazette in for that one.”

“My husband used to dump me on the step. Matron did the cooking too. Had all mine here, in Maternity.”

Birthplace of several generations: countless lives delivered safely.

Mark’s eye is a lens, seeking those exact, small moments in bedside looks, the tea-trolley and linen cupboard. We talk of angles and shutter speeds. He’ll be back to do the bird-table with its rusting, empty feeder and the flaked varnish of the summer-house before it vanishes; before the shutters are drawn for the last time.

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