London, UK: It’s just after 9.30pm on a Tuesday in the intensive care unit of a hospital in south-west London. A vast spaceship dashboard of drug delivery systems is silent, monitors displaying the word ‘Privacy’. I sit by the foot of the bed while the other four crowd around the top. An empty bottle of scotch is propped in the sheets that cover the stricken, thin form of my father, along with a crucifix on a chain and a Dr Seuss book. I gradually become aware that he has died.
My father’s de facto nephew Charlie, a boisterous Irish lad in his mid-twenties, starts up a Hail Mary over the body of an atheist of Jewish extraction as if it might push life back into him. My aunt weeps. My half-sister in a red woolly hat, herself on six different types of medication, is on the phone to her mother, brightly telling her what she had for dinner. (It was stuffed aubergine.)
Charlie’s younger brother Tommy, a sweet skinny boy of 20 who I last saw when he was an six-year-old potential serial killer, dissolves into my arms, sobbing. Positively radiating serenity, I stroke his head and let his grief wash over me. I have a headache from the scotch we’ve all been sneaking around the bed. I hate scotch. It was Bill’s drink. It was Charlie’s idea. I look at my father’s body. He looks very dead, but then he has looked dead to me this last week, from the first time I saw him crumpled in the sheets, plastic tendrils curling from his head, one green eye stuck half-open.
I am quite aware as this is happening that it probably represents the single biggest headfuck and heartfuck of my life, and also that if it were happening in the US, the place of my father’s birth, it would probably be considerably worse.
In the UK, we treat any old fucker for free. This is why that is important.