Trying To Escape
October 28 2011
Hi, My name is John Leyland. I’m calling to see how my uncle Peter Leyland’s doing.
RECEPTIONIST. PALMERSTON NORTH HOSPITAL PATIENT ENQUIRIES: Peter Leyland? Peter? We don’t have anyone by that name.
Sorry. My mistake, you’ll have him down as RONALD.
RECEPTIONIST: Oh, RONALD, the 100-year-old? He’s in the Medical Assessment Unit. I’ll put you through.
… NURSE: Hello,. Medical Assessment Unit. How can I help?
I wondered how my uncle Ronald Leyland’s doing.
NURSE: I think he’s sleeping. His breathing was pretty bad when he came in, but he’s doing okay now.
That’s good. I …
NURSE: I’m going to chuck up this job on account of him. He’s been telling me all about his grandfather who lived to 104, and how the secret of longevity is ‘hard work and plenty of it’. I think nursing is too soft a job for me. I’ll need to find something more energetic.
He's been telling you about Old Phil?
NURSE: Yes, that’s the one, Old Phil.
… I think you uncle might have woken up. I can hear him. Would you like to talk to him?
Yes please, but I can hear him struggling for breath. Is he okay?
NURSE: Sorry, he’s too out of breath to talk right now.
Perhaps I’ll phone back tomorrow. Thank you.
NURSE: You’re welcome.
... October 29 2011
Aha, Peter, at last I’ve got hold of you.
Hello — hello boy.
I hear you’ve had a bit of a rough time.
Well, two or three days ago, not sure exactly when — I can’t even remember if I’ve had my breakfast these days, or eaten my porridge — but something bad happened. A nasty fall — a collapse — in fact my walker gadget broke, the frame snapped.
Weak tubing I suspect. It wouldn’t have happened if Chater-Lea had made it.
It certainly wouldn’t. They used quality. Anyway, it was actually the floor that was to blame. The floor came up and hit me — badly. I ended up on my right side. Bruises. Banged my head. But I’m improving all the time. I had a good night’s sleep, so I must be doing okay.
Is it possible you’re just trying to avoid being at the book launch next Tuesday?
I would like to avoid it. It’s not my kind of thing, and I’d give this celebrity stuff a miss if at all possible. But there’s pressure from the library, and the family, so we’ll have to see what eventuates.
You’re a victim of your own words.
I’ve noticed, over my lifetime of observation, that somewhere along the way someone always seems to crop up who is a real master of language, and they’re the people worth studying. Robert Louis Stevenson was one. R.S.L. A real master. You read their work, and you remember it.
Like ‘Treasure Island’?
That one made him famous. ‘Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum.’ Lots of memorable characters and happenings. But to my mind the most memorable was his own requiem.
Requiem? Do you mean ‘epitaph’?
It ended up as his epitaph, but the proper name for it is ‘Requiem’. That’s what he called it. It goes — ‘Here I lie where I long to be, Home is the sailor, home from sea …’
You recite it very well — there’s lots of feeling in the way you say it.
… and the hunter, home from the hill.’
Great words aren’t they? ‘Here I lie where I long to be, Home is the sailor, home from sea …’
Enough, Peter, enough! Far too much feeling — you’ll have me in tears.
‘AND THE HUNTER, HOME FROM THE HILL.’ Requiem, by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Apparently he suffered from tuberculosis — TB — a bad infection of the lungs — problems breathing most of his life. Incurable in those days, but these days there’s antibiotics. ‘Here I lie where I long to be.’ We used to read his works and they stood out, and some things were recited at school, the whole class. ‘Home is the sailor, home from sea.’
It’s a pity, but there’s not much of that done these days.
Why is that?
Sometimes I think it’s the modern way of life — so fast — but I had a thought the other day and it was that ‘perhaps they’ve nothing worth saying’. That’s one possible explanation. But there is another, and it’s another saying from the old days, along the lines ‘Anything memorable and worth saying has already been done.’ It’s all been said before.
So there’s no point in trying to say anything memorable?
Personally, I think it’s nice to have a try, to say something fresh, to put it out there. See, this whole book thing is very strange to me. I’ve never been a writer, but just a teller of tales, yet here I am, at 100-years-of-age, involved in publishing a bally book! It’s a new thing for me. Putting it out there.
A new career for you? Tusitala?
It looks like it. It’s what they’re trying to do to me — signing books — reporters.
I hear you’re also branching out as a career advisor.
WHAT! Who said that?
The word’s out around the hospital, ‘Old Leyland will tell you what to do. Talk to that 100-year-old guy’.
What’s being said? Tell me — go on, tell me!
Your nurse says that after listening to your tales of Old Phil, she thinks she needs a career change. She should chuck her job and get something more strenuous. ‘Hard work and plenty of it.’ Peter, you’ve got the young ones quoting Old Phil.
Of course the other secret to longevity is porridge, but as far as hard work is concerned, not many people want to follow that advice. Back in our day there wasn’t much by way of mechanical help. You wound the cheese press by hand. You built the house with a handsaw and hammer. You made the roads by hand. Pickaxes, shovels and wheelbarrows. Old Phil did that. He was head of a road gang up the line — Waipawa way. These days they all ride around on big machines and wave at you as you pass. You can hardly call that proper ‘road work’.
Some people think being an author is hard work, but I know an author who just lolls about and rabbits on to his scribe. Then they take themselves to hospital to avoid picking up a pen to sign their book.
Easy on! I can scratch a signature.