Simon Palmer’s blog

March 27, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — simonpalmer @ 10:13 pm

I wrote this some time ago but decided I would put it on my blog…

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Tuesday is crisp, pale, cold and beautiful. The fall has been a disaster and we haven’t seen sunshine in 3 months. Today almost makes up for it all. The sun is shining. It may be weak lemon sunlight and baby blue sky, but that signals my perfect weather. I am born for the cold. I hate being hot. I was once asked where I would rather be, at the top of a mountain in winter, or on the beach in summer. Mountain. Winter. No doubt.

So Ottawa winters never scared me, although they are to be respected. They are as cold and brutal as any capital on earth. Ottawa is on the same line of latitude as Madrid, but the weather is no respecter of lines of latitude. While the Madrid residents may be throwing a sweater over their shoulders before a casual walk along the Ramblas and a bite of tapas, we are festooned in high performance clothes and jogging clumsily from the car to the office door.

Winter is cold. Harsh, unforgiving, brutal, impenetrable, dark and cold. But I am not afraid of it, and in order to survive you have to realise that a good pair of gloves, a nice hat, a fleece and a love of blue crisp days is the antidote to Winter; more, it is the survival skills necessary to live in the middle of a continent. I have gone beyond excusing the weather, it is what it is and there is a silent, natural, majestic beauty to the cold which is unmatchable.

I am sitting in a small, darkened room with taupe walls, forgettable pictures and the smell of antiseptic in the air, the low hum of the forced air heating providing a suitably bland soundtrack. There is a single bulb under a fitted cupboard illuminating a work surface and providing the only light in the room. I’m concentrating on a small TV screen on an arm just above head height right opposite me at the end of the room.

The image is grainy and black and white and indecipherable, strange images flash back and forth. Bubbles. Clouds. Static.

Then, suddenly a recognisable picture flashes past. And past again in the opposite direction. Did I catch that right? I am slightly confused about what I just saw. There it is again.

And then the whole world changes. The image fixes. Quite clearly in the middle of the screen in an upturned arc of black and white static noise is the discernable outline of a baby. Surrounded by space, lying on his back, legs outstretched, heart pumping madly.

I gulp and my eyes spring wide. He quickly flips over and turns his back. The image disappears. I look over at the lady sonographer who is casually typing with one hand and waving her wand with the other. Round we swing and there he is again, this time facing us, hands held up just by his shoulders as though in surrender. Big round eyes and a tiny nose. Hunched over in the foetal position. How else?

I sit down sharply. I didn’t realise I had been standing. I do know I have an astounded grin on my face, and I suspect my heart is beating as fast as his.


Two clicks and the lady says 5.5 cms. My immediate reaction is to hold up my left hand and make a gap of 5.5 cms between my thumb and first finger. I look from my hand back up to the screen. He flips over again and disappears.

I look over at Hua Lin half lying, half sitting on the table with her smart black dress unbuttoned from mid-chest, her legs crossed at the ankle, wearing her knee-high shiny leather boots, her smooth belly slick with conducting gel and acting like nothing happened.

I still have 5.5 cms between finger and thumb. I show her. She smiles.

I have a few memorable moments in my life. Stepping out of an aeroplane 5,000 ft above the Hoover dam. That revolver shot just outside my hut in Ivory Coast. The moment in The Mean Fiddler in Harlesden when the whole crowd was dancing. When the lights came on in half the town in Cuba. When I realised that I could solve a quadratic equation and maths was easy. Lying on my back on the deck of a boat in the Irish Sea in the middle of the night. Watching my bike slide out from under me and across the road towards the oncoming traffic. The hole in 1 with my 7 iron when I was 17. Being upside down in my VW Scirocco on the A40 facing the wrong way in the fast lane. Winning my first auction bid for a film poster at Sotheby’s.

Now I have one more.

March 5, 2008

The Mundane and the Extraordinary

Filed under: personal — Tags: — simonpalmer @ 7:55 am

My Uncle’s story has another chapter. The bureaucracy of death insists that a reason is established before the family can lay him to rest. The implication of that is a coroner has to be involved and the reason established. This process occurred earlier this week and the stated reason was a heart disease. Eric’s family are understandably perplexed, as are the rest of us. Eric never suffered from, complained about nor took medication for his heart.

Two theories abound. First is that Eric was of the generation of men who just did not involve anyone else, even the medical profession, in their health care. They basically just got on with it quietly. I think my Dad falls very much into this category, it is almost impossible to get him to visit a doctor, even when he is plainly very sick. Second is that the cause was not really able to be established and like many – perhaps all – men of his age there was some amount of heart disease and it is a not unreasonable thing to blame. Either way Eric’s family are seeing the surgical team that carried out his operation to probe more deeply and hopefully satisfy themselves that he was not in some way treated negligently. Are there not pre-operative test that should establish how fit he is for surgery?

Meanwhile, amid the uncertainty, there are two significant benefits to this outcome. First is that the activity of organising a funeral can commence and second is that, if Eric did have an underlying illness, it somewhat eases the sense of responsibility and guilt the family feel for the part they perceive themselves as having played in causing his death by encouraging him in to have the operation. This is a very natural pattern of thought, if quite wrong.

So the extraordinary event of Eric’s sudden death is surrounded by mundane activity in processing the fact of it. This combination causes huge altitude shifts; it’s like living in a lift that stops only at the ground and the 145th floor, it makes your emotional ears pop.

March 1, 2008

Uncle Eric

Filed under: Uncategorized — simonpalmer @ 11:09 am

My Uncle Eric died suddenly on Friday night.  Otherwise healthy, he was in hospital for a pretty routine knee replacement.  He had the operation on Friday afternoon and at 6.30PM he was very well and laughing with the nurses.  He was hungry and asked for soup.  As he was eating he simply died.  The hospital staff called my Aunt and tried for 40 minutes to resuscitate him, but he was gone.

My Uncle is the husband of my Mum’s sister, Judy.  My Mum got a call from Judy saying that Eric had taken a turn.  By the time she arrived at hospital he was pronounced dead. My Aunt’s children were away, one in a theatre in London and uncontactable and one in the US on holiday.

Uncle Eric was a warm, funny man with a nack for practical jokes and a very dry sense of humour.  I have many fond memories of him.  His life was punctuated by the tragedy of losing a son, my cousin Paul, aged 21.  For my Aunt this was almost too much to bear.  Losing Eric is… well…

We can’t believe he is suddenly gone.

He left the hedge trimmer out so he could tidy the garden.

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