I don’t remember the names of any of the other patients in Colchester Stroke Unit or Northwick Park – except one. He was called Roger Livesey and – when I learned to talk again – I said: ‘You have the same name as a great 40s actor who played the lead role in The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp.’
He said he knew – but had never watched the film. I thought this was like being called Hamlet the Dane and never having seen the play. But I decided to say nothing. You wanted to stay on the right side of people when you slept opposite them, couldn’t ‘mobilise’ and were likely to stay 12 weeks.
I don’t want to write about the physio and the speech therapy and so on. Edwyn Collins was also at Northwick Park after his stroke and his wife’s written her own memoir of all that. He absolutely hated it; I quite liked it – except for the food. I got wise to the fact that South Asians could have curries for dinner, so I just stuck with them.
The day-to-day routine has stayed in my mind, broken up into half-hour slots: physiotherapy, speech therapy, OT, playing the piano left-handed while a tall female classical musician played the right. She worked for a charity; ABBA was the only thing we had in common. The gym had a view of Harrow-on-the-Hill. It’s just the names that have gone – and with them any chance of staying in touch.
Having a left-brain stroke (which means the right side is paralysed), this loss of language – and names – isn’t such a surprise. Celebrity stroke victims like Andrew Marr and Robert McCrum have right-brain strokes. And though I’m sure they don’t have it easy either, McCrum could take notes from day one for his book. I couldn’t. I didn’t even conceive of the possibility…
I only told Hugh this recently. (He had childhood memories of someone being involved with The Omen and told me that Northwick Park was where the Lee Remick character was in hospital – until evil Billie Whitelaw threw her out of the window.) At Colchester a ‘strokie’ was put in the ward who had disinhibition. He was apparently unaffected physically – but his brain was certainly changed. Every time he was left in bed, he’d get up and go out of the ward. Where he was going, we soon found out: the women’s stroke ward. He just wanted to f*** someone.
The nurses knew the score. They’d bring him back and say: ‘Please, Mr X. Stay here!’
Then they’d be called away. And so it went on…
At Northwick Park we had another disinhibited patient. He didn’t bother the women; he just masturbated, again and again. Those of us who could use our hands would press the ‘call nurse’ button – only to nod in his direction, when the nurse arrived: ‘It’s not me…’
The wanker was busy.