London is the place to be, I am more or less thinking as the day dawns. It should dawn late being the first of the new year, but my eyes burst open early, and what is there to do but throw the legs off the edge of the mattress and rise to the occasion? The real occasion is over, of course. New Year’s Eve in the Paddington Hilton featured the booming bass notes of some unseen party somewhere, complete with the occasional run of a sitar and the general sense of a Bollywood music track. What could be more London? The capital in its post-colonial glory. Still, it must be admitted, things feel out of joint. A strange New Year’s Eve here in the hotel, dining on a surprisingly good chicken tikka…alone. Jane would enjoy this, I keep thinking.
As midnight approaches I turn on BBC 1 and watch the British year in review. The Queen’s Jubilee. The Olympics. The Paralympics. And then live to the south bank of the Thames. And damned if it isn’t even clear. Where is the rain? The locals I have spoken to assured me that they weren’t getting anywhere near the fireworks, for what could be more silly than sodden pyrotechnics? Answer: staying home to miss all this. For the view across the river at Westminster Bridge must be very much what I am seeing on this tiny screen. Big Ben chiming the hour, fireworks going off like neon palm trees. A glowing shower descending to the river, and descending and descending. Everyone yelling. Happy New Year. And that thing within me that suggests this is a permanent condition, the evening’s solitude, makes its presence known.
Which makes the morning all the more welcome. Yes, there is this annoying part, the absence of a shower. Not that I did not consider sliding myself to the end of the bathtub, standing up and walking the considerable distance to the showerhead. Thing is, it was only a couple of years ago that I could easily adapt any physical situation. Even now I can see how this would be, sitting, rotating the legs, up and down to the showerhead. Nothing to it, and to make a point, why not now? Because the easy has become difficult…and I wisely decide no. So now it is soaping and laundering one’s critical areas in the wheelchair, by the sink. One day of this won’t kill me. Standing up in the bathtub could.
Mine is a luxurious disabled life in many respects. I have almost daily help with dressing. Years ago it would never have seemed possible that I would have this amount of assistance. Or that I would need it, that is the other thing. Both realities blossom now. For here I am, getting on my socks, pulling off the one-handed trick of stretching the sock from the big toe to the small one, then yanking. It takes only two tries to manage this, and now everything seems possible, for this is the worst. If I wasn’t feeling tired this morning I would get out of the wheelchair, sit on the bed and pull up my black jeans. But I can’t be bothered. Instead, I do this in the wheelchair, which isn’t so simple. For I keep leaning back against the wheelchair cushion, this being part of my neuromuscular orientation. Tilting forward is required to pull up the pant legs. It’s exhausting, all of this. The bed would have been a wiser choice. Too late. Dressing is too far advanced now. Standing now, wriggling my jeans above my hips, I collapse back onto the wheelchair.
This jars loose the headrest on my wheelchair, the thing tilting forward so that I cannot sit without my head, you know, tilting forward. I am now in a pose that is either highly reverent or highly obsequious or maybe just highly uncomfortable. Never mind, trouser fastening time. I stand, swivel back onto the bed and inhale. This should provide enough abdominal contraction to pull the two sides of my trousers together. It should, really should. I am pulling and pulling.
Meanwhile, the last 10 days are coming back to me in a caloric dream. How many times did I have Christmas pudding? Only twice? Did I not refuse this on one occasion? What kind of surfeit of feasting involves three of this boiled concoction of dried fruits, brandy, butter and God knows what else? Ten days at Caroline’s house, comes the simple answer. There’s nothing wrong with the turkey, was there? All protein it is, and the stuffing and the potatoes and the bread and the…there was always cheese, wasn’t there? Wensleydale. Blue Stilton. White Stilton. Not to mention this stunning soft cheese from the Loire Valley…and how is it I have never been there? People who make cheese like this deserve my vote, that is all I have to say at this moment. Except for the chocolates. Two obscure and indescribable soft chocolates from some handmade outlet in the West End, given to Caroline and Alastair by some godly figure. And the omelette or was it omelettes? Actually, there were several, now that I think about it. And I am thinking about it. What I’m not hinking about is tea. Tea and more tea, which is always an excuse for more chocolate biscuits. And, no it wasn’t just the turkey, but the little English sausages traditionally cooked with it. And it wasn’t just the turkey, was it? Goose, less popular in the States, for reasons that are not clear. Although the staggering fat content may have something to do with it. As each of these scenes erupts in my culinary memory, I curse myself, my lack of restraint, self-indulgence, general piggishness and, of course, the day I was born.
And I cannot get my trousers on. I even get back in the wheelchair, tilt the thing drastically and try to use gravity to collapse my stomach. This doesn’t work. Help. I could ring for help. After all, I still know people in West London…. But not on New Year’s Day, the quintessential morning after. No one wants to get up out of bed and head for Paddington to help fasten my blue jeans. There are limits. I passed one of those limits 45 minutes later.
I ring the concierge. He sends a bellman to my room. I have propped the door open with a crutch, my way of making it clear that this is no ploy for crotch-level maneuverings. He is a young South Asian guy, Pakistani or Indian or God knows. He buttons my trousers. I tip him. Later that night heading out the door to Sadler’s Wells, he tells my companion that I am a brave man. South Asia not being my idea of an easy place to live…and London having done in many an immigrant…I am inclined to say the same of him. But he is not the subject at this instant, and I am, and though this makes me uncomfortable, something of his words sinks in.