I’ve been here nearly four months, and the asthma medication is running low, so it’s off to the doctor’s to register. I look for the nearest GP surgery. There’s one which gets two stars from its patients, and another, a little further away, which gets four and a half. First, I wonder that you can actually review GP surgeries. Second: that’s some difference. I wonder how a GP surgery manages to get a bad review. Have the seats in the waiting room given someone herpes? Is one of the doctors called Crippen?
I start dwelling on it and decide that this is not a good idea. Does Dr Phil Whitaker know about this? A friend of mine who’s a teacher told me that pupils can now leave reviews of their teachers on the school website, which adds a whole new terror to the job. I am shown a couple of examples. Bloody hell. They didn’t really think it through when they invented the internet, did they?
It’s a sunny day, but the wind is racing all the way up the hill from the sea. One rarely sees the immaculately coiffed in Brighton, I realise. At the moment the largest demographic out and about is grandparents and their grandchildren. I am aware that if I were to father another child, everyone would assume I had grandfathered it instead. Meanwhile, I notice that the grandparents have different skin tones to their grandchildren, which I find immensely cheering. One grandfather shepherds his two grandchildren with immense care over a zebra crossing. But boy, does he look old. Will I make it to that age?
None of my children look like they’re going to be reproducing any time soon. This is fine by me, but at my back I always hear time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near, and the fact that I’m walking to the doctor’s doesn’t help these feelings of mortality go away. Let’s say the eldest decides to have a child when she’s 30, in six years’ time. Her mother didn’t want children until we were six or seven years into our relationship. She said at first she didn’t want children; and after a certain point she didn’t want anything else.
I remember agonising about this to a certain novelist I knew well and he told me to get on with it: if I didn’t, I’d be missing out on an essential aspect of the human condition, and, besides, it was all good copy. He was right.
I do the maths. So, let’s say the eldest reproduces in seven years. I’ll be well into my sixties by then. It’ll be another five years before I start registering with them. That puts me at 68. I am getting slightly out of puff walking up the hill. Am I going to make it to Victoria Street, let alone the age of 68? Christ.
I make it there, and am handed the usual 78-page form. Who doesn’t love filling in a good, long form? Of course, my favourite bit is the “how much do you drink?” section. As I have said in this column before, it is my policy to answer honestly on these occasions. Doctors have a difficult and demanding job, and it is important to offer them some light relief from time to time. Any doctor doubling my intake, as they are said automatically to do with all such declarations, would be pursing his or her lips in admiration. I can’t help doing it myself. At least a bottle of wine, or the equivalent, a day since the age of about 24, and the years between 16 and then weren’t exactly dry, either.
The hand holding the biro pauses over the page.
You know what? Maybe this level of intake isn’t that healthy after all. Maybe I should be cutting down, and drastically. Get healthy, go to the gym or something. My friend Ben has been trying to get me to accompany him to the gym from the moment I moved to Brighton. And if not the gym, then boxing. I giggled like a young girl when he suggested that. Me, with my epicene features, my large and fragile hooter? You’re having a laugh.
“No seriously mate, you’d be a natural. Anyway, it’s important knowing how to punch someone properly.”
“Ben, you’re a qualified bouncer. You have to know how to punch people properly. I’m just a writer. If someone pisses me off, I’ll write a really nasty review of their book. One that will make them cry.” Ben runs up the 16 floors to his flat every time, instead of taking the lift. Even the thought of it makes me gasp for breath.
I hand in the form, whose worst moment involved my having to recount the circumstances of my father’s death. (Kidney failure, aged 83.) Back outside, the wind is still blowing fiercely, but this time it is at my back. But is that the wind? Or is it a wingèd chariot, hurrying near? I don’t want to look round and find out.
This article appears in the 28 Aug 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The long shadow of Hitler