I haven’t had a proper day's punting since The Derby over a fortnight ago. Decent opportunities have been scarcer than rainstorms in a drought. So not that rare. I just haven’t taken advantage of them.
Today, there's a decent card up at York. And indeed I'm York bound. But it's to see my Dad who had his hip replaced yesterday. He’s been immobile for too long. The operation is long overdue. Mis-diagnoses. Lost referrals. Don't get me started.
So what are the chances of squeezing in a half-dozen races at the Knavesmire either side of a visiting time double header at the hozzie?
It's an early morning start to catch the 9am out of King's Cross. I'm sat on train hoping no one gets in to the vacant but reserved window seat next to me. I’ve just got settled with bacon butty (had to ask twice for brown sauce) and frothy cappuccino when the inevitable happens. She was a talker too. I am bombarded with a series of nervous-energy questions before the doors are locked.
"I'm going to Darlington. That's almost Scotland. Haha. Well it feels like it. Why does it take so long after the fast bit to York?"
"I think it's to do with the ..."
"I've left my husband and two children tucked up in bed. Don’t think they know I’d left. Chortle. Did you have far to come to the station?.
"I came from Fulham. It’s easy really. Hop on the yellow one. I’m coming back toady too. Flying visit. Celebration."
And so it goes on.
I plead for help on Facebook. “Smile at her and pat your lap” posts Cookie. “Works every time”. Love it. That boy is a genius.
As a diversion I try to dump rubbish in the bin behind my seat. I receive a glancing blow to my forehead from the bag of a Geordie girl wearing bright red trousers, of which I am getting a jolly good view. She peers down at me and hissed loud enough for several heads to turn, “Is this the quiet coach, like". I nodded and she plonked down her offending, cavernous, studded leather handbag on the seat across the aisle. She inquired of the bloke next to it "Is this one taken?" He shook his head and then rolled his eyes in my direction. In some ways I was glad of the interruption. The bin behind my seat that I was fumbling for was actually a hard shell suitcase.
In fact it was chatty lady next to me that fell foul of the quiet coach regulations, not Geordie girl. Chatty lady takes a break from the chatter when her phone rings and she makes arrangements with her father. "It’s the Edinburgh train, Dad. Edinburgh. No, Edinburgh.” A young woman in the seat in front is clearly riled by this. After the call has been completed she leans over and says, reasonably pleasantly, "Could you turn your phone to silent please? This is the quiet coach." Hmm. It's more the deaf father than the volume of the ringer that seems to be the issue. But point made I suppose. During the rest of the journey I keep wanting to lean between the seats in front and whisper, "Could you chew your quavers more quietly please?" or, "Would you mind turning the squeak in your flip-down table to vibrate?" But that would be churlish. And it is not even my beef. It's easy to see how world wars start...
I meet my brother Paul at the station. A problem in my ingenious York races plan becomes immediately apparent. Although Dad had been fine last night after the op and had even called Paul afterwards, he has this morning been shipped over to A&E at the District Hospital, after being ‘difficult to rouse’ this morning.
So now we are in A&E. I didn't expect that.
Paul is in with Dad. Only one visitor is allowed at a time in here. There are some interesting scenes in the triage waiting area. There’s a young man in a wheelchair with cuts all over his face and head, a big bandage on his right leg and plasters on the left. He got up and hobbled through to the nurses station. He had a big number 188 pinned to his back. So much for fun-running. I talk to him later. In fact he is a cyclist and was on a charity ride when losing control down hill, colliding with a wall and coming to rest at the bottom of ditch. The only thing he moans about are his wet clothes.
Paul emerges from the cubicles. He looks at me with red-rimmed eyes. Dad’s had a stroke. I’m stunned. My turn to go in. I work my way round the nurses station and in to Bay 2a with trepidation. Stroke? There’s a massive range of implications stored up in those six letters. Dad is hunched up on the bed, head seemingly fixed to one side. He’s pale and waxy and weak, hooked up to oxygen, vital signs monitor and drip. But he opens his eyes and manages a word or two. I think he can understand my questions, but he doesn’t know me.
After a while, Paul goes back in. Back outside I’m numb and feeling queasy. I blankly watch a telly in the corner playing out The Trooping of the Colour. I even pick up a well-thumbed copy of Practical Caravanning. Note to self. Bring in interesting magazines next time I’m in A&E. A selfless act that hundreds of charity cyclists may give silent thanks for.
The rest of the day is about trying to piece together what has happened; letting family and friends know; anxious watching and waiting; and snatched conversations with doctors and nurses. Dad’s brother, Roland and sister-in-law Christine arrive. It’s good to see them.
This morning I was on the train thinking I was hospital visiting for all the right reasons: a new hip for Dad to get him moving and mobile again. Now I’m left feeling like he’s been denied an even break.
…I’m back on the train heading to London. It’s Coronation Stakes Day at Royal Ascot. I’ve seen a few of the races from the festival. Frankel’s imperious demolition job, So You Think digging deep to repel Carlton House, Colour Vision’s rugged effort in the mud. But the racing has had to take a back seat. This has been my second trip up the East Coast main line after returning home during the week to keep some appointments and pick up family life. Mrs A has been fantastically supportive and the girls have been worried about their Grandad. This time it has been a better trip. We’ve seen some welcome improvement in Dad. Whilst there’s some way to go, it has been such a relief to observe speech and recognition and movement slowly returning. He still can’t grasp what has happened to him. We’ve explained, but some things he can’t retain yet. “Bah, it does takes some effort recovering from this hip operation”, he wonders. But he’s on the right track. And the sense of humour is intact. He nearly split his catheter laughing at our story about the bloke farting uncontrollably in the family room.
The doctors think a blood clot somewhere in his body triggered lots of small strokes all over his brain. There may have been a little heart attack too. It is likely to have been caused by the stresses of the hip replacement operation. Now the physio is underway, as is the blood thinning treatment. We can start to think about rehabilitation. Paul has been absolutely brilliant and he’s up for the aftercare, a good chunk of which will fall to him.
We’re both looking forward now. Dangerous to think too long term. But it would be nice to think there’s a day at the races for all of us somewhere further down the line.