It's the choice that makes it even worse

I HAD A LOVELY time in Poland, before the Wall came down. Cold as a witch's tit, a nimbus of frozen air around the intermittent street lights, the warm feral smell of sausage-and-sauerkraut bigos in the kaviarnia, and nothing in the shops. Or, rather, one of everything. You wanted soap, you went into a shop and said, "Do you have soap?" If they said, "Yes", you said, "Good. I'll have a cake of it, then, please." None of your nonsense about Palmolive or Roger & Gallet or Wrights or Imperial Leather or Dove; no wracking of the brain between vetiver and petitgrain, rose and lavender; no worrying about whether to go for the one which made women run their blood-red fingernails down your tanned, muscular (excuse me?) chest or the one which turned you into an Olympic triathlon medallist. Soap? Soap. Good. And then you went home and got clean.

There's a wonderful, epiphanic line in Michael Frayn's screenplay for Clockwise where John Cleese is sitting on the roadside in a monk's habit and a frightful stew and his companion tells him not to despair. "Despair?" he says. "It's not the despair. I can handle the despair. It's the hope ... " Close, so close, but I sometimes wonder whether it's not even the hope, but the choice. We're riddled with it, and it's killing us. Rats can take anything you throw at them, but if you give them too many choices they get neurotic and won't eat and either fight or pine and die, and I know how rats feel. I get like that over underpants, I get like that over pipe tobacco and wine lists, I get like that when the tailor starts showing me his cloth swatches, and once or twice I've got like that over women. Yesterday I got like that over notebooks, highlighting pens and collapsible umbrellas, and today I got like that because my mother is in hospital and it doesn't look good.

It doesn't look good at all; so not-good that the first claim has already been staked, to her fish-knives (fish-knives are coming in again, you see). "She said she wanted me to have them." Yes; well; as may be, hepatotoxic encephalopathy being a rum old thing, but I always thought that only carrion- feeders put in their bids in vivo ... and here I am thinking, "Mummy's going to be outraged when she's fit again," but the truth of the matter is that I'll probably have to deal with it myself, which means the fish-knives are going to Oxfam, but not just yet. Do You hear me, whoever You are? You fucker? NOT JUST YET.

Ach. I'm not ready yet, but nobody ever is ready. Even the ones who are tired, who've battled on indomitably for years, laughing and joking and showing spirit, showing balls so that nobody ever got the true picture of just what a horror it all is ... even they aren't ready when the time comes. My mother got hepatitis C 40 years ago, when her well-meaning obstetrician gave her a pint of blood which turned out to be contaminated with a virus which nobody even knew existed. Nobody's fault; just a bad choice, but from then on her health was never really quite right. Eighteen months ago she had a liver transplant, but the new liver succumbed to the virus in her bloodstream with astonishing speed, helped by the immunosuppressive drugs, and here we are, the old, old story, a vivacious, determined, spirited ... what was the word she used about her young self? - Bobby Dazzler - reduced in the blink of a subjective eye to an old lady, paper-thin, breathing shallow and painfully in a hospital bed. Self-indulgent spotty-arsed writers maunder about each word being plucked out of them in pain, but last night hers were, each one. "Can you massage my hands gently?" she said, but when I did so she cried. She won't eat or drink, being watered through a tube like a little hydroponics plant, growing dope.

Forty years ago, when I was little and dreaming of following my Daddy into doctoring, it would have been easy. Renal failure, probably, then a gentle coma, the knotted mooring-ropes loosening one by one until the frail craft of her body, become lighter than air by time and fevers, rose softly into oblivion. But now we have choice. Dialysis to flush the toxins and rest the exhausted kidneys, a chest drain to reduce the pulmonary oedema, then see if the body comes back into focus and sustains the terrible complexities of its own survival. If not, what then? The same again? And how often, for how long? And if it does work, if she gains a respite, what then, too? Another transplant, eight hours of ferocious surgery, of pain and insult, with the risk of the same thing happening again? So many choices, and no clear good. What is fair?

By the time you read this the picture will probably be clear, one way or the other, and it would be nice to think that she'll be giving me a bollocking for being a gloomy bugger, for - literally - writing her off. I dreamed of our old house last night, where I was little, a magical place beneath a dripping sandstone wood miraculously located in the centre of the city; and then I dreamed of her, mirabiliter reformasti, in all the vigour of her middle years, full of beans and giving me hell. We went back to see the old house the other week and it was as magical as I remembered, but the other magic is improbable; the miracle of miracles, the Most-Wonderful, is to be found elsewhere.

Yet as I stood at her bedside last night, feeding her jelly - one for Nelson - and thinking back, over 40 years ago, to her feeding me jelly - one for Drake - it seemed that a gentler miracle had occurred when I hadn't been looking, that a circle had been closed. Orange jelly is an unlikely sacrament but there it was, a shy epiphany of love and vulnerability. There may be a miracle in the night, but more likely there will be hard decisions to be made. Choices, bloody choices, and the worst thing is, I know what I want. A grown man, a big boy now, and 35 years since I last remembering thinking it, but I want my Mummy.

Suggested Topics
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit