What’s Up, Doc?

My mum has escaped from hospital. I say ‘escaped’ because it turns out getting discharged from hospital isn’t too dissimilar to applying for parole from prison.

First, you have to be assessed by a team of various people to check that you are fit to leave. Then you have to pass… The Stair Test.

The Stair Test is probably the biggest hurdle between being a hospital inmate and getting dispatched back into the big wide world. It involves two physiotherapists assisting you to a flight of stairs and then cutting you loose. If you can make it to the top unaided, you walk free; if you don’t, it’s back to bed with cold custard for one.

Luckily, my mother was already braced for this Krypton Factor-style physical challenge. The poor Scottish woman in the bed opposite (the one who was left stuck in the shower last week despite her cries for help) failed The Stair Test miserably and returned back to the ward with her tail between her legs. She also made the mistake of telling the nurses that she only had a bathroom upstairs. Schoolboy error!

My mother was so determined to get out of hospital, and away from Mad Margaret (another patient who had imaginary telephone conversations using the handheld device that moves the bed up and down), that she mustered up every ounce of her strength to reach that top step.

Now that she is convalescing on the sofa at home, she looks back on her hospital stay as ‘being to hell and back’.

Still, I think the nurses might miss my mum a bit. Each time I visited, she seemed to be living a real-life episode of Holby City. She was able to give a detailed explanation of all the other patients’ various woes and life stories. She was on first name terms with the doctors, nurses waved at her as they passed, cleaners chuckled.

As she was exiting the hospital, someone bore down on my mother clutching a questionnaire asking whether she would recommend the hospital to friends and family.

‘I was speechless,’ said my mother. ‘I told them I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy!’

‘It is a bit weird that they’re asking you to rate the hospital like a hotel,’ I said. ‘No-one goes into hospital by choice. Next, they’ll be on Tripadvisor!’

My father now seems to be occupying his days roaming around supermarkets, looking for things to cook for my mum, who is on a very strict diet.

He has also identified that B&Q have mobility scooters, should she fancy a day out when she’s feeling a bit stronger. Given that my parents are on B&Q Preston’s top 100 customers list, this is a distinct possibility.

My father was despatched to buy a white loaf (white bread for her no-fibre diet) from Booths.

Booths, if you haven’t heard of it, is like the Waitrose of Lancashire. Started in Blackpool in 1847, they have stores dotted around the county and have even reached as far as Ilkley in Yorkshire. It’s generally full of slow-moving, silver-haired trolley pushers who base their whole day around one supermarket visit.

Anyway, my father did manage to procure the white loaf. But unfortunately he somehow missed the huge label emblazoned across it that read, ‘now with all the fibre of wholemeal bread’ – much to my mum’s dismay.

In the midst of all this activity, it emerged that my parents’ rabbit of 8 years was taking its last breaths in the garage.

My father was so flustered about the rabbit’s imminent passing that he decided to drive 10 miles to a garden centre that he knew had cardboard boxes – to buy one to bury her in.

I offered to go to Booths and rectify the bread situation.

When I got back, the whole family – sister included – were assembled in the lounge, dabbing moist eyes with tissues. It was very sad.

‘What’s happened?’ I said.

‘Your dad thinks the rabbit’s dead but he’s only 95 per cent sure,’ said my mother wearily.

‘We’re all waiting for you to go and check on it,’ she added.

‘I’m not checking,’ I said. ‘I can’t cope with dead or dying animals.’

My sister and father weren’t keen on re-entering the garage either.

‘Shall I phone Mr Cummings from next door? He could come and have a look,’ suggested my sister.

‘I’ve heard of some odd things but phoning your next door neighbour to come and write a death certificate for your pet rabbit is pretty weird,’ I said.

‘I am sure the rabbit’s dead,’ said my father. ‘She felt stiff and cold. And I’m certain she had stopped breathing.’

‘Well, you need to get her in the box before rigor mortis sets in,’ said my mother. ‘Otherwise, she won’t fit in the box; her legs will be sticking out!’

My father disappeared for while. When he returned the rabbit was now in the box and he was now ’99 per cent sure’ she was dead.

I peeped in the garage. I could see a box with some white fluff sticking out, surrounded by 200 cooking apples. It didn’t appear to be moving.

‘Let’s leave her in state for now,’ said my father, who I suspect would do anything to put off having to spend the afternoon digging a grave. ‘We’ll bury her tomorrow.’

‘You’d better phone Uncle Stephen and tell him to come to the funeral,’ said my mother, gravely.

‘Will Uncle Stephen even be bothered about the rabbit?’ I said.

‘I think so,’ she said. ‘He used to bring the tops of his Brussel sprouts. The rabbit loved them.’

‘Maybe Stephen could say a few words about the rabbit and his sprouts at the eulogy,’ pondered my father.

‘Tell him to bring a spade too.’

Seen But Not Heard

My friend’s wedding in London has left me completely speechless: Not speechless in the ‘awestruck’ sense (although it was a ruddy good do); I mean speechless in the ‘I’ve completely lost my voice and can only communicate through exaggerated hand gestures’ kind of way.

The day had begun like all wedding days do for the husband and I: immensely stressed and late as ever. The husband spent the morning haring around the city centre on an ill-advised and futile mission to seek out some tan-coloured shoes to go with his new suit, while I was anxiously checking my watch every five minutes as my hair was laboriously blow-dried into a Betty Draper bob.

Flustered and out of breath, we both convened at the train station, only to find that the 10.45 to London had been cancelled. We never mean to be late to weddings but circumstances always seem to conspire against us.

After much stress, involving further rail-related delays, attempting to get dressed in a poky train toilet cubicle (note: avoid at all costs), and a convoluted taxi ride through the back streets of Marylebone, we miraculously managed to arrive at the venue five minutes ahead of the bride – a record for us. (At the last wedding we attended, we missed the ceremony altogether and had to lurk in the bar before merging seamlessly with the exiting guests and enthuse convincingly about what a beautiful ceremony it had been).

But as soon as I opened my mouth at the reception and released a hoarse ‘hello’, my friend Ellie said, ‘Oh my God Palms, What’s wrong with your voice? You sound like Marge Simpson!’

She was right. I spent the rest of the reception croaking my way through conversations, while people visibly recoiled, hoping not to catch my laryngeal lurgy.

By 4pm, my Marge Simpson rasp had been reduced to an inaudible whisper. The people on either side of me at the wedding breakfast table had long since grown tired of having a one-sided conversation with a mute – and ceased communication completely.

I attempted to converse with a friend’s husband opposite me but midway through my miming act (I think I was attempting to explain my preference for stilton cheese over brie using lots of thumbs up – dull by anyone’s standards), his eyes glazed over and he simply turned around and struck up a conversation with someone else.

That left only the husband, who was forced to carry on my tiresome game of charades through marital obligation rather than any genuine desire. I tried to mouth, ‘How’s your chicken?’, while flapping my arms in what I thought was a good impression of a chicken. The husband looked baffled. After three attempts, I ended up typing ‘How’s your chicken?’ on my phone and passing it to him. He peered at my message curiously and then said, ‘Good’. It seemed like an awful lot of effort for a one-word reply.


By evening, I had become nothing but a silent witness to the continuing celebrations. All I could do was smile like a simpleton, while making over-the-top throat-slitting motions and shrugging in a slightly demented manner if anyone ventured near me.

My friend Al, never one to pull any punches, summed my predicament up as this: ‘You’re the muted old woman who gets plonked in the corner. No-one wants to speak to you. You’ve basically become… irrelevant.’

Thanks Al.

It had been a brilliant day but by 10pm, I was too poorly and weary to continue. I signalled to the bar manager whether he might be able to order a taxi for me (luckily, there’s a universal signal for telephone – it involves holding your hand to your ear and arranging your fingers like a receiver).

But before I could say ‘Marcel Marceau’ – let alone goodbye to anyone – he had hailed a black cab with one click of his fingers and bundled the husband and I out of the fire exit and into the pouring rain (probably relieved to see the back of me, after I kept requesting mugs of hot water for my Lemsip).

Tucked up in bed back at the hotel and sipping my tenth Lemsip of the day, I was unable to utter a single syllable.

The husband, meanwhile, had never looked so happy.