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Used to work for AVIVA offshoring IT to India.  Now retired through ill health, writing my life story as a series of blogs chronologically from birth to current time.  At www.jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com

Monday, 19 March 2012

A journey into Darkness

Cynthia Joan Weaver
Through the windscreen of the Dodge Shelby, the names of previously unknown towns and a few I recognised from the John Steinbeck novels of my youth offer themselves in a line and pass by as we sweep southwards along Highway 101 in California.  Gilroy followed by Steinbeck’s birthplace, Salinas, is followed by Soledad, in turn followed by King City and onward I drive.  Spanish names, Atascadero, San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, Santa Maria, Los Alamos and Los Olivos tumble past in a blur. 

Then Solvang, exit left appears, Danish, in California? The name fixes itself somewhere deeper in my mind for later recall.  Any conversation from my companions has long finished; slumbering as they are, unaware and therefore unconcerned at the speed I am driving, which would get me stopped in any country apart, from Germany probably, but especially in America; freeway speed limit 55 mph, my speed 80 to 100 mph.

A little over 3 hours ago I was naked and dripping wet, standing at my bathroom door, more or less knowing the phone call from Tammy’s dad has something to do with mum.  Mark is stood in the hallway with a look on his face that says “I am your best friend, I am here and you are going to be OK”.  Behind me, Tammy is naked and in the shower, the water running, the room full of steam.  Dave our flatmate is stood just behind Mark, the phone in his hand.  I turn my gaze from Mark and drying my hand with a towel take the phone from Dave and say “Hello” to Tammy’s father Steve.
“Jonathan, I have just taken a call from Sandra, (Tammy’s Mother) your mum had a heart attack in the hotel room and has been taken to hospital in Santa Barbara.  I am going to give you a phone number for the hospital; it’s the St Francis Hospital”, I listened to him giving me the number but could not concentrate, so passed the phone to Dave and asked him to write it down.  I sat on the floor in the hallway and said “What am I going to do?”  Not to anyone in particular, more a question to myself.  Mark sprang into action saying “we’ll drive down there!”  My reply was along the lines of “not in our car, it’s a piece of shit”.  Dave said he would take us but he had to work and I wondered whether we could hire a car.
Mark went off to make some calls and I went back into the bathroom to dry off and get dressed.  Dave made coffee.  It was well after eleven PM and the only car hire offices open were at San Francisco Airport.  I called the number for the St Francis Hospital, got through to the Emergency Room and spoke to a male nurse there. Mum was in good hands, was being monitored and was under control, for now.  I should travel down as soon as possible.  
I asked the guy for directions.  “Where are you coming from?” he asked.  I told him San Mateo and that I would use Highway 101.  “Ok then” he said, “drive south on 101 to Exit 99, turn left onto Mission St, then right onto Garden Street and then left onto East Micheltorena Street.  The hospital is on your left”. 
Simple really, just drive for 304 miles, take a left, a right, another left, boom, you’re there!  5 easy steps to get to my mum!

As I hung up, the phone rang, it was Big Bad Bob, Marks Karate buddy.  This guy was, as Mark recently told me, as tight as a ducks ass, he’d nickel and dime you over a restaurant bill.  He called to offer us his Dodge Shelby.  No questions asked and based upon nothing more than being Marks friend and an acquaintance of mine; the guy gave up his pride and joy.  This car was a 2.2 Litre turbo mental case, which went like stink off a turd and scared many who drove it.  We thanked Bob and he was at our door within 15 minutes and Dave ran him home after we had left. 
He neither gave instructions nor veiled threats as to the wounds to be suffered, should we damage his baby, only that it drank gas and simply to wish my mum a quick recovery.

Mark called Paul and Shirley, told them what had happened and that we’d update them later, once we knew what was happening with mum.  Tammy insisted on coming along with Mark and I and Mark insisted on driving, as I “might kill us all, as you’re fucking stressed out mate”.  We threw together the bare essentials, toiletries, change of clothes, under crackers and socks, pants and t-shirts etc, dropped into Tammy’s on the way for her to pack a bag and we were off.  The car was filled with nervous chatter as Mark drove south.  We decided we were all hungry and as the car needed fuelling up, pulled into a service station in the town Morgan Hill.  Mark gassed her up and Tammy and I went to pay for the fuel and get coffee and Twinkies, Donuts, Pastries and potato chips.

We came out to find Mark climbing into the back seat of the car.  “Sorry mate, I am knackered already, you will have to drive”.  What a fanny! But, that was fine by me and with Tammy holding my coffee, off we sped.  Mark was soon asleep and after a few more miles, Tammy was asleep too.  I focused on the road and as I was too wired on caffeine and nervous energy, barely noticed the miles passing under the wheels of the Dodge.  The three hundred odd miles passed by in a matter of four hours or so, and we swung into the car park of the hospital and walked into the ER a little after four in the morning. 

The nurse on duty sent us to the Cardiology ward and we emptied out of the elevator onto a darkened floor, low level lighting guiding us towards the nurses’ station.  I told the nurse there my name and that of my mother and she called another nurse over.  This lady took us into a side room, sat us down and left to get a doctor.  The Doctor came in, he looked not unlike a film star; late thirties, neatly combed hair, tall, tanned and good looking came in, followed by the nurse.  He introduced himself as Doctor Blaine Braniff, Cardiologist. 

Sandra came into the room just as he started speaking, rushed over to me, crying and hugging me, saying she was sorry, it was her fault, she should have noticed something was wrong.  Tammy stood up and took her mum out of the room and Dr Braniff started again.  After introductions, again, he said that it appeared from the initial tests that mum had suffered a number of heart attacks over the last few days, and that earlier today she had suffered an “acute myocardial infarction” (Heart Attack). 

She had been brought to the hospital by ambulance, and during the journey had been resuscitated a number of times using a defibrillator.  She had been administered that procedure both in her hotel room by the paramedics, again in the ambulance and a couple of more times in the ER, where she had then undergone a series of tests, once her heart beat had normalised.  She was very ill and the next 48 hours would be critical.

“Oh” I said, “can I see her”.  In fact, I was crying my eyes out whilst saying this and spent some time sitting with Mark, Dr Braniff and the nurse as he asked me questions to determine what might have been the cause.  I talked about my dad, his heart attack and subsequent death, about mum’s diet; her pain leading up to the trip to Santa Barbara, my brothers and sister, our family history and anything else that seemed relevant.  Mum had been sedated, he said, but I could see her and leaving Mark with the nurse, Tammy and her mum, Dr Braniff and I walked down the corridor to my mum’s room.

Her door was slightly ajar, Dr Braniff pushed it open and I walked past him and into the room.  Dr Braniff stood by the door and I walked over to her bed.  For a while I stood listening to her breathing, the beeps and whirrs of the machinery monitoring her and began noticing how weak and frail she looked.  The only light in the room was coming from the various machines and their readout screens, each casting a pale blue, red or green glow across the floor and bedclothes. 
A small yellow lamp on a telescopic arm, leaning over the bed like an angel, watching, waiting quietly. 
I touched her hand, it was noticeably colder than mine, the bedclothes reached her waist and she wore a thin hospital nightgown, so I gathered the sheets and drew them up towards her chest, trying not to disturb the legion of wires, trailing out from her body and arms.

 Her eyes were closed and she appeared peaceful and resting, no sign of the struggle for life, the battles fought by unknown medics, no horrid marks showing, except for needle entry points and a cannula in the back of her hand.  Her hair was a mess though; she’d be angry about that I thought, I noticed how thin her hair looked, wiry and swept in all directions.  I turned to the doctor about to speak, I was crying silently, but huge sobs started to build in me, I felt them rise, fought to hold them back, failed and a wail came from me, a noise I had never made before, almost primeval, made worse by the attempts to restrain it, animal and loud, so deep and guttural that it hurt my stomach to make such a noise.  I sank to my knees, trying to breathe in, but the noise was still coming out and coming and growing and growing. 

Cynthia Joan Weaver 5 years old
I put my hands flat on the floor and wailed out that noise, thinking about the other patients, I’d wake them, wake mum, make people worry, got to stop, can’t stop, where is it coming from, my guts hurt, can’t breathe. 

I saw my sister Helen and my brothers Mark, Richard and Julian, they had to be told, how to tell them, what to say, I was gasping for breath. 

Arms pick me up, help me into a chair, pass me tissues, stroke my hair, rub my hands, soothe with words and I fall into regular sobs, deep but regular, able to breathe but unable to speak, just crying and crying for my mum.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

You gotta have Faith a Faith a Faith Ah!

Pull that gut in Fat Boy!
Following on from (http://jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com/2012/02/splish-splash-i-was-having-bath.html), I kissed my girlfriend Tammy goodbye at SFO and wandered off to find my gate.  My British Airways flight back to Heathrow was due to take off late afternoon, dropping me back on UK soil early morning the following day.  My sister Helen, nieces Claire and Katie and my mum Cynthia were waiting for me when I into the arrivals hall.  I wore my tasselled sleeved Black leather jacket, my Levi 501’s, Hokusai T-shirt and black crocodile leather cowboy boots and a pair of Rayban Aviators.  My hair was almost blonde with highlights and I was tanned and healthy (apparently).  Claire and Katie spotted me first, their squeals of “there he is” accompanying their run towards me as I stopped, dropped my bags, and lifted them both into the air.  Claire and Katie gave me the once over and approved of my new look.  I walked forwards to my mum and sister and hugged them both.  It was great to be home!

As it was still early, we went for coffee and a catch up before piling into my sister’s car and driving home to Norwich.  The journey home was filled with my stories and theirs.  They told me the latest news of my brother Richard and his wife Tracey in London, Brother Mark and sister in law Monica, their sons Ben and Jason and daughter Michelle.  Julian and his girlfriend Toni, who had just had a baby boy Lewis, were now going to get married.  I was home for three weeks and was due to take Mum back to California with me.

Once home (mums house) and after a sleep, I was off to the Wensum Community Centre to catch up with the lads there.  One commented on my tan thus “Look at the fucking colour of him!”  I did not tell them it had been developed by spending some serious time on the sun bed, rather, I said that it was due to the unending sunny days in the Bay Area, in fact, the days can be overcast and cloudy/foggy more often than not.

I planned to hold a party at the community centre for my 24th birthday and booked Saturday the 18th June.  A buffet would be pulled together by family and friends and I was looking for some live music, a disco and as I had by now been perfecting my “George” shtick, would need a tape deck and microphone as I had discovered that I could actually sing.  Mark and I had been to a couple of Karaoke bars and I always got up and did a George Michael number.  I had bought the Father Figure CD single as it had an instrumental version on it.  I also had an instrumental of Faith and Kissing a Fool, all from the Faith album.

I went around to my friend Rick Holmes house and after a few cups of coffee and multiple cigarettes, we agreed that his Band “The Law” would play a few covers, as well as their own stuff; I would then accompany them on backing vocals and follow them with my George songs.  With at least a week to go until the party, I went along to rehearse and watch the band go through their numbers. 

Rick at Back, Luke Bullen seated in blue denims
I expect many of you know someone who had been in a band, had almost made it, should have made it etc.  The Law were one such band.  Patrick (Rick’s brother) was a front man in the style of Bono/Adam Ant/Mick Jagger/Jim Morrison.  He looked not unlike Adam Ant, had Jonny Depp cheekbones and a swagger and attitude that made him the perfect vocalist for their brand of rock music.  Their cousin Steve was on Lead Guitar (he now teaches guitar in schools), Melly, an old school friend on bass, was a steady consistent player and they had Luke Bullen on drums. 

Luke, then a young drummer learning his craft, has gone on to great things and is now married to KT Tunstall, after becoming her drummer, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luke_Bullen).  He was very committed to his craft even then and attended Drumtech (http://www.techmusicschool.co.uk/) in London.  The Law won the “Battle of the Bands” on Radio One and recorded in London, performing live sessions.  The pictures here are (apologies for the focus – crap camera) of the band in the recording studio in Norwich recording a EP “Jacky D”.   Not lacking confidence, they even gave themselves more "rock star" last names Rick Holmes became Rick Sheridan and Patrick Holmes became Patrick Kingston!  Love it........
The picture left is Rick (Red Bomber jacket) and Luke Bullen leaning on wall far end in Black Leather Jacket.
I met up with everyone I knew, including the girls who came to Rhodes (http://jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com/2011/10/all-roads-lead-to-rhodes-and-police.html) along with Helen Breakell, (my Brother Richard’s sister in law and an ex of mine), Jackie Barton who I had a serious crush on, but who was going out with someone else, Elisa Savory, who I dated after Helen, and her twin sister Emma.  I invited all the boys from the club and the football team, my extended family and anyone else I bumped into and felt like inviting.

When not rehearsing during the day, I was organising my mum’s trip to California.  She had organised her flights already, (linking with my return on BA) and we went into Norwich City centre to the CO-OP to get her travel insurance.  He trip was for 32 days in total.  The insurance was sold in blocks of weeks and months.  Mum could have insured herself for the month (31 days) for £44.  I told her better safe than sorry, so she added an additional month for another £44, had some discount applied (returning customer) and paid the grand sum of £81 for travel insurance.  I realise there a bit of detail there, but hold on to that as it becomes very relevant in the forthcoming blogs.

Saturday 18th June 1988. 

I accompanied “The Law” to the community centre and helped them set up and we sound checked, laid out the buffet and then all headed off to change.  Patrick and Rick always put on a proper show no matter where the gig was being held and my party was no different.  Imagine a rock concert at a stadium venue, intro music on a mix tape that Rick would produce, some light show effects, a backdrop, an intro song to reflect the bands output and then their entrance, well the musicians anyway.  They’d kick off the first number, something like Sympathy for the Devil (Rolling Stones) and repeat the opening bars, until with much fanfare and ado, a bottle of brandy in one hand; Pat would emerge through a backstage door and make his way to the front of the stage.  They’d crank it up and Pat would launch into the song, a showman. 
This photos shows the band at full throttle, note the concentration on the face of Steve the Guitarist far right.
The Law - Left to Right, Rick Holmes (Sheridan) Patrick Holmes (Kingston), Luke Bullen and Steve (Coz)
I joined in on a number of songs towards the end of their set.  I then took to the stage and sang Faith, but started it Acapella (without music) and slowed down.  Rick picked up his acoustic guitar and Luke his sticks and we punched out a version of Faith that had everyone singing along.  I couldn’t believe it! 
Well, You Gotta have Faith

I loved performing in front of people, even if the songs weren’t mine. 

I called my nieces Claire and Katie on stage and on bended knee, sang Father Figure to them. Yea, I know, really gushy, but those girls were/are so special to me. 

I finished my set with “Kissing a Fool” and another run through of “Faith”, this time to the backing track and left the stage. 

My mum said “I never knew you could sing” and I am sure someone said, “He can’t”.  But, everyone had a great time that night and we closed it off with a trip to Ricks Place, at that time the “in” club in town.

The next few days were spent putting final plans together for mum, making sure she had her visa sorted and that she had all she needed.  She was really excited to be coming to America and when my sister drove us back to Heathrow she was smiling all the way there.  Goodbye over and done with, we made it through to departures and ate breakfast.  The flight was mid-morning, getting us into SFO late afternoon.  Mark was due to collect us and his cousin Trevor had flown over to California in May and was working with Paul to cover my absence.  Trevor was a real character and he and my mum got on like a house on fire.
Mum took my room and checked in next door to Mark’s room.  He was eager to have mum stay as he and she were really close.  Mark has always had the ability to make friends with the generations older than us.  He is a great listener and a good sounding board for people to share their thoughts with.  We arrived in Sa Francisco on a Friday afternoon.  Mum got over the flight pretty quickly and Mark, Trevor, Tammy, and I showed her around the local area, especially Burlingame and we took her to meet CeCe at La PiƱata, the Mexican Restaurant. 
She met Paul, Victor, and Shirley, and she and mum were soon great friends, talking about home (UK) and life in America.  Mum thanked Shirley for helping Mark and I out when we first arrived and after a few days reconnaissance, mum said “Jonathan, you’ve got a wonderful life out here, you are very lucky”.
I introduced mum to Tammy’s parents on a trip down to San Jose.  We were talking about how mum was going to occupy her time whilst I was at work.  Tammy’s mum then suggested she accompany her and her sisters to Santa Barbara for a week.  Mum would have been stuck in our apartment once I returned to work, Paul having let me take a few days off, he was starting to moan about workload and I knew I’d have to go back soon.
Tammy’s mum explained that she and her 3 sisters were taking a week in Santa Barbara, staying at Fess Parker’s Red Lion Hotel (http://doubletree1.hilton.com/en_US/dt/hotel/SBAMCDT-Fess-Parker-s-DoubleTree-Resort-by-Hilton-Santa-Barbara-California/index.do)  that the actor had opened during his movie career along with a Winery at Santa Ynez.  His most famous role was as Davy Crockett for Disney studios.  Mum was a bit worried about the trip, but Tammy’s mum assured us that she would be well looked after and she would have a wonderful time.  Mum decided to go and after dinner, we went back to the apartment in San Mateo. 
There was a week or so before the Santa Barbara trip and I had to go back to work.  On our excursions, mum had been short of breath on occasion.  She had her Ventolin inhaler as she was pretty sure she had Asthma and would take a few goes on her “puffer” as she called it to ease the breathlessness.  I went back to work concerned about her breathing; she said I wasn’t to worry and that she would take a walk along the sidewalk everyday to get some air.  This she did and most evenings when I got back she’d be out of breath again.  Whilst I did not have health insurance, she certainly did and I told her we would go to the medical centre.  Mum was having none of it, telling me to stop worrying, but agreed that once back from Santa Barbara she would see a doctor.
The Friday evening before her trip to Santa Barbara on Sunday, Mark’s pals at the Karate studios organised a BBQ, at Coyote Point County Park.  The guys were all 3rd Dan Black belts and above, so knew how to handle themselves.  Marks pal Frank came along and they all doted on mum and made her welcome and she, being my mum, treated them like long lost sons and they loved it.  She soon took over the cooking duties as they played Frisbee and threw a football back and forth. 
One of the gang had a Dodge Shelby Daytona, a beast that could go Zero to Sixty in 8 seconds, was fully trimmed out, and went like stink. I had only met this guy twice before, he was a great big bear of a guy, but really decent as I was to find out.

BBQ over, we headed home, mum out of breath and me fussing and getting told off, which made her more out of breath, so I stopped.  Saturday afternoon Tammy’s Dad collected mum and she stayed over at their house, so to leave early on Sunday.  The distance to Santa Barbara from my place in San Mateo was 308 miles, a five hour drive.  I would speak to her when she got to the hotel she said. 

So, mum packed off and my room back for a week, what else to do but get Tammy over for a weekend of debauchery.  Saturday night dancing and dinner, Sunday morning in bed, Sunday afternoon a drive out and Sunday evening, well we decided to take a shower together. 

The shower was running and we were both oblivious to outside interruptions.  In fact, it took Mark quite sometime to get our attention, which he eventually did, by hammering on the bathroom door with his fist.  I opened the door and asked what was so important?  Mark said "Tammy's Dad is on the phone, its not good"....................