Danny Wallace is a Man

Danny Wallace is a Man

Why we are still good in a crisis

We are tired but we are thrilled.

We have a daughter. She’s tiny, she’s wondrous, she’s beautiful. I am now a father of two, yet like a lot of men I’m not quite sure how this happened. I know I’m a dad, but I still feel like a son. Mainly because I still like video games and films with Jason Statham in them.

My folks come to town, and my wife’s mum too, and we decide to spoil my son for having a stinky little sister. So we take the train into the city – me, the two grandmas, and him. We find our way to a children’s party, and then we eat sandwiches at the Waldorf, because that’s the kind of thing grandmas like to do, and it’s just as we’re on our way home that the worst happens.

I turn, carrying my son, to see my mum catch her foot on a paving stone, and begin to fall forward.

Like in a dream, the rest is in slow motion, as I work out she’s not going to be able to right herself, and I’m too far away to stop it happening, and she falls further forward, and she can’t get her arm out in time, and as my heart starts to pound and my body is shocked into action, her head slams hard on a grey city slab.

I shout and start my dash towards her, still clutching my son, and as I get her up the blood starts to pump from her forehead – bright, fresh, red blood, almost neon somehow – and it gushes and runs and covers her eyes.

We are just passing a pub and I yell to some men to fetch water and serviettes to press on the wound, and I feel for my phone – because this is an ambulance situation, right? – and I ask her a question but she’s too stunned to answer, so we start to lay her down.

A group of women pound towards us, all comfort and concern, and it is then that I realise I am still holding my boy, who is quiet and timid and staring.

I dial for an ambulance as these wonderful, kind women hold my mother’s hand, and I move my son away but make sure mum knows I’m there, as she lies on this London pavement, surrounded by blood and chewing gum, smokers standing around outside the pub, concerned but still dragging on their fags.

“How old is the lady?” asks the woman on the end of the line.

She’s not old, I think. She’s my mum. But “She’s 70,” I say.

My God, when did that happen? She’s 70.

“Help’s on its way,” says the voice and I kneel by my son.

He shouldn’t be seeing things like this. I can see he’s scared. This doesn’t happen to grown-ups. Grown-ups aren’t the ones who need help. “I promise you,” I say, looking deep into his eyes. “Everything is going to be OK.”

Finally the bravado crumbles, and this little boy’s voice cracks as he says “OK”, and he melts into me, trembling, his head pressed deep into my neck, and he clings to me, squeezing me tight, and we move to his grandma so he can hold her hand.

The landlord of the pub is out now, and one of the waitresses asks if she can bring us anything. Someone produces an umbrella to shield my mum from the sun, and a passing nurse kneels down to check on her. My mum doesn’t want to be a bother. She asks the women who have stayed with us where they’re from. Turns out they live on the same street as my cousin in Carlisle. We all try to laugh.

Finally – the ambulance. The staff are calm and kind. Inside the van, they make my boy a blow-up elephant out of a grey surgical glove and take his blood pressure just for fun. He starts to smile again. They’re at the end of a 12-hour shift on a Saturday in London and still they do this. At the hospital, I could cry when I see how kind they are to my battered, bleeding, broken mum – this woman who has only ever been kind to others. How does our NHS work? How can these people be so warm, so reassuring, so good at their jobs on shifts that long and wages that low? Why don’t they sigh and treat us with contempt, the way people in the bakery or department store or garage do for something as slight as not having the right change?

My mum broke bones and earned scars and completely ruined a pavement that day. But I hope in time my son will forget that and remember instead that what she’d always taught me is true; that people are good. In a crisis, their instinct is to help. So, Carlisle girls: thank you. Passing nurse: thank you. Guys at the Leicester Arms: thank you. And to the tired, happy staff of the London Ambulance Service and the NHS: thank you and how do you do it?

It’s a horrible moment, the moment you have to care for a parent. It does not feel natural and yet it is second nature. I still don’t quite know how I feel. I stood there with my mum and my son and I was both man and boy; I was both father and son. But I do know this: I don’t think there’s ever been a day I haven’t told my mum I love her. And now more than ever I know there won’t ever be a day I don’t.

Normal service will resume next week.


Eat the rich but start with poor

Rusty the Brummie in Clapham was peckish the other day so opened up a packet of Gurma Chips.

You know – Gurma Chips. Made by Fritröper?

No? Well, anyway, you can tell Rusty’s got ideas above his station when you see what flavour he chose.

Fantastic plastic and she knows it

The children’s party I took my son to (see main column) was covered in Playmobil, which is about as wholesome and innocent as it gets.

Which is why I was so disturbed to happen upon this extremely arrogant young woman who seems to think the world of herself.

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