Remembering Rory

November 3, 2011

There is a framed black and white photo hanging in my parents’ living room. It’s of me at my third birthday party, posed on the sunny garden wall while most of the other partygoers are playing in the background. Sitting beside me and holding my chubby hand in his, is my first playmate Rory. He was from just over the road, close to me in age and the eldest child in his family. Less than a year after the photo was taken, Rory died of leukaemia.

I only have snatched memories of Rory. I remember him calling to the door to see if I wanted to come out to play (it was the sixties, and our suburban cul de sac was a safe playground even for three and four year olds). I remember his little toy horse on wheels, which he called ‘Jossie’. Most of all I remember my mother gently explaining to me one day that Rory had gone to heaven. I cried and cried, though I must have had only a minimal understanding of death and its finality.

I’ve looked at that old photo many times over the years and wondered how my friend would have turned out had he survived. Rory’s parents somehow got through their unspeakable loss, have stayed together to this day and have raised two daughters. They still live on my old street and I often wonder how they coped with the devastation of losing their precious little boy, every parent’s worst dread.

Recently I ran into Rory’s mum Mary. She was very keen to know if I still remembered him. We began to talk about him, and for the first time I heard the story of the lead-up to his death. It was even more heartbreaking than I had imagined.

A few months beforehand, Rory had been admitted to hospital with complications following a bout of mumps. He recovered and was sent home but, to Mary, he was ‘never the same child’. She knew there was something wrong.

He was generally unwell and suffered repeated episodes of tonsillitis. She wore a path to the GP’s surgery to try to discover what was wrong, but time after time was dismissed as an over-anxious mother. The attitude she got was very much ‘there there dear, calm down it’s just tonsillitis’. But she knew.

Rory was given an appointment to see an ENT specialist, but it was months away. Eventually, in desperation, Mary took it upon herself to phone the consultant at home at the weekend. He wouldn’t hear a word of apology for calling him at home, and agreed to see Rory the following week. When Mary brought her son to the outpatient appointment, she also brought an overnight bag for him. Because she knew.

Sure enough, the consultant felt that there was something a lot more serious than tonsillitis going on, and admitted Rory immediately for tests. Mary says that leaving her son behind at the hospital that day was the hardest thing she has ever done.

When the results came through, her deepest fears were confirmed. Rory had leukaemia. It was at an advanced stage and he passed away just four days later. She told me that she still cries for her lost boy, more than forty years on. After she left, I cried too.

Before we parted, I asked Mary what her GP had said to her after Rory died. He apparently said he would always regret not listening to her and that in future he would pay much greater attention to mothers. Because they know.



September 8, 2011

I’m standing outside the door of my daughter’s school half an hour after classes have commenced for the day. The school secretary’s face falls as she approaches and she sees who it is, but she forces a smile as she opens the door. I know what she’s thinking; ‘Not you again’. I regularly interrupt this unfortunate woman’s work, turning up with whatever item my child has forgotten that day, be it lunch, homework or a vital book.

When I get home, I spot my son’s recorder on his desk. He was supposed to bring that in with him today for his music class. I’m not chasing after him, his school is too far away and in any case he’s older and needs to learn that forgetfulness has consequences. Yesterday I received a note from a teacher in his new school asking me to buy a hardback notebook for him. What she doesn’t know is that the notebook was purchased two weeks ago but has been languishing in his locker ever since. He forgets to bring it to class.

Between them my kids have lost two fairly new jackets and a water bottle in recent weeks. I get annoyed with them about this, but really I don’t have a leg to stand on. It’s all in the genes; they get their absent mindedness from me.

This week I totally forgot to watch or record the second part of a drama I had really enjoyed last week on TV, despite the fact that it featured David Morrissey (I have blogged before about my embarrassing crush on him). I greeted a man with whom I had arranged a meeting with a blank stare when he arrived at my workplace at the appointed time. I got distracted when processing an online payment from my bank and by the time I remembered again the cut-off time for payments had passed.

One wallet found its way home thanks to these guys

I could blame early senility, but my life has always been like this. I have left keys in hall doors and on shop counters, a wallet on a park bench and another wallet on the London Underground. I once went on holiday with no knickers because they weren’t on my list. I’ve had to call out the fire brigade because the grill went up in flames while I was upstairs reading poetry, toast long forgotten. I don’t even like poetry.

To my shame, I can be relied upon to forget birthdays and anniversaries of close friends and family. A friend once phoned me to know why I hadn’t turned up for a lunch date at her house. I rushed over, but she never really forgave me and I didn’t blame her. Why don’t I write things down in a diary or put them in my phone? Well I do, but then I forget to look at it.

What’s to be done? Are my kids to doomed to lead lives of mild chaos, constantly accompanied by that uneasy feeling that something has been forgotten?

Photo by Ian Mansfield, Flickr Creative Commons.

Good Weekend?

September 8, 2011

What did I do last weekend? Let’s see…… 

  • Had a back and shoulder massage
  • Watched a comedy acrobat show
  • Met up with some old friends in a wine bar for a couple of drinks
  • Saw two Booker prize winning writers read from their new books
  • Tasted some wild mushrooms, and some amazing Bacon Jam made by butcher Ed Hick
  • Heard from two hopefuls in the forthcoming Presidential election

    Bob in a tent

  • Saw an interview with the charming, witty, erudite, ferociously intelligent and still snake-hipped Bob Geldof. The best President Ireland will never have.  He would miss his girls too much, he sweetly said. And he wouldn’t be allowed to swear
  • Picked up a secondhand Georgette Heyer book, a writer I’ve been meaning to read for ages
  • Was given two other books – brand new Penguin classics this time – completely free
  • Chatted with eternal boy, journalist, publisher, actor and man behind, John Ryan
  • Saw director and writer Nick Kelly present a screening of his short films, including ‘Shoe’, which was shortlisted for Oscar nomination last year
  • Ate some delicious dinners – crab linguine from Rathmullen House, a ‘Shamrock’ pie from Pieminister and a gorgeous Thai red chicken curry from Wok ‘n’Roll.

Oh, and heard loads of great live music as well. I loved Jimmy Cliff, I Am Kloot, DJ Shadow, M Ward and the Lost Brothers. But OMD were my personal highlight, taking me straight back to the early eighties and even being the cause of some unseemly, creaky, middle-aged dancing. Electric Picnic is a music festival after all.

My message is; if you are middle aged or older, do not fear the Electric Picnic. I’ve been attending with my beloved for a few years now. Given our advanced ages, (we are both in the 45-55 age bracket, that’s all I’ll say) we don’t do the nasty camping business. It’s a cosy off-site B&B for us, with a proper bed, a proper sleep, a proper bathroom and limitless supplies of tea and toast with the full Irish in the morning.

With sturdy walking boots donned, wet wipes, toilet roll and folding seats packed, we’re good to go. On site, the atmosphere is super-chilled and a little bit magical. Even the nocturnal drunks just stagger around benignly, apologising for bumping into you and attempting clumsy high fives. Everyone chats, and I’ve never seen any aggro apart from occasional moments of discord between over-refreshed couples.

Each year when we tell people we’re going to the Picnic it provokes a mixture of pity and bewilderment amongst many of our contemporaries. They just don’t know what they’re missing. I defy anyone not to enjoy it. If you like music, art, literature, food and culture, just go.