the struggle

Once Alan discovers I’m a socialist, he launches into a complex lecture on the rise of Neoliberalism and the dismantling of the Welfare State. He’s so enthusiastic, in such a rush to get his words out, that every now and then he gives a convulsive little sneeze, like an ancient cat clearing a hair-ball. There’s not much opportunity for me to speak, even though I think he gives Stalin an easy ride, considering.
‘So there we are,’ he concludes, gripping the arms of his chair, ‘The post-war consensus replaced by a neoliberal conspiracy and precious little to be done except perhaps civil war.’
I’ve been waiting to chip in with something else, too, something I know he’ll like.
‘You know what I think sums up the Establishment’s contempt for the working class? Zero hour contracts.’
‘Absolutely! Absolutely!’
I want to confess that I nicked that line from Owen Jones’ book, The Establishment, but I’m supposed to be getting on with the examination and I’m running out of time.
Alan’s a fascinating case. His notes describe self-neglect, and whilst it’s true his bungalow is extremely unkempt, it’s also true to say that I’ve never seen such a beautiful bookcase, filled with interesting books, some of great age, on philosophy, history, politics – all the spines nicely aligned, everything looking as carefully tended and height-ordered as a cottage garden.
Apart from the general frailty you might expect of someone in their late eighties, Alan’s past medical history is remarkably clear. Except for one term, something I had to look up before I came out to see him. Somatoform disorder. Distinct from psychosomatic in that his symptoms – dizziness, unsteadiness – have no discernible medical cause, and that after many years of detailed investigations. The fact is, the doctors simply don’t know what’s wrong with him.
‘Let me fetch you my folder,’ he says, standing up and tottering precariously across the room. ‘You’ll never find it.’
I write up his obs, which are all normal.
‘It’s been lovely talking to you,’ I tell him, shaking his hand.
‘Likewise. Keep up the fight!’
‘Don’t get up. I can see myself out.’
‘No, no,’ he says, struggling up and almost pitching sideways into a pile of clothes and newspapers (a soft landing, at least). ‘It’s the least I can do.’
I hear him lock the door behind me as I walk down the path. When I reach the garden gate I turn to look back. He’s still there, watching from behind the patio glass. I give him a raised fist salute: solidarity or something like. He waves back cheerily.
I throw my bag in the car and carry on with my visits.

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