Frighteningly, Eeyore came too. Given that he hadn’t been there at the conception of No3, let alone his birth, the fact that he actually took time off to accompany me to the Hip Man, gave me cause for concern. This must be grown-up stuff.
We sat in a private waiting room, thanking God for BUPA and trying to ignore the Aston parked outside. Irresistibly, it had a baby seat in the front and a BMA sticker on the windscreen: either this chap was a complete fake or he was both a god of orthopaedic surgery AND a family man. Too much to bear – for Eeyore at any rate: frankly, rather exciting for me. In reality of course he was neither. He was reassuring, confident without being arrogant, and definite. Two resurfacings: first the right, then the left, six weeks apart if I wanted to be back on my feet by the summer holidays. But first I had to go away and think about it: these were two major operations with minimal recovery time between them. I was 43, and I had early onset osteoarthritis.
It seemed that the hyper-flexibility of which I had always been so proud hadn’t been a good thing at all. Being able, despite my size, to bite my own toenails at the age of 40 for example, while diverting to some (winters are long in Lincolnshire and we have to make our own entertainment) and lucrative to others (namely my dentist, who benefitted big time when I bust my front tooth doing it) was in fact a bad sign. Making the ‘funny clunky noise’ as No1 called it by waving my legs around, was another.
‘Right.’ I said, as we sat there, winded. ‘Just one question. What are the scars like?’
‘I can’t pretend’ he said ‘They’re big – about eighteen inches long, and they curl from just below your hip to the top of your buttock.’
‘One on each side.’ Obvious, but I sought to clarify.
‘Yes.’ he said patiently.
There was a pause. Then my natural defences kicked in. ‘So that’ll be the end of my international bikini modelling career then?’ was all I could think of to say. Eeyore sighed. There was the tiniest hiatus as the Hip Man opposite me struggled – probably for the first time in his life – to get it right.
‘I was joking.’ I said.
‘Ah.’ he said. ‘Very good.’
Later I was to worry that I had antagonised the man who held my footballing dreams in his hands, but at the time I think Eeyore and I were fairly much beyond rational thought. I knew I wasn’t dying, and that this was a finite problem with a tried and tested solution available, but mine was already a long and boring history of procedures and dramas and medical crises of one sort or another and to have this added to it, at a time in our lives when everything was absolutely and undeniably – though chaotically – Coming Together, was a bit much. We sat in silence on the train on the way home and, unlike us, held hands (under the table of course, in case anyone saw us – we’re not Spanish, after all). I remembered the time I called him back as he left the room on the liver ward in the Cromwell Hospital where I spent a month very shortly after No2 was born. ‘Sorry love’ I had said. He smiled, shoulders down. ‘I know we said sickness and health’ there was a pause ‘Could we have some of the health bit, do you think?’.
But, with no real option, on we went. A month later we were back at the jolly old private hospital in London, chosen because this was one of the two places where the Hip Man worked, and because it wasn’t too far from Eeyore’s workplace. The idea was that No1 was safe and secure at school; No2 and No3 would be happily looked after by Saintly Sylvia; Eeyore would come and see me every day after work, and I would lie in bed eating grapes and watching daytime TV. Oh, and have my flanks sliced open, my joints dislocated and my bones shaved.