The nurses are busy catching up on admin, chatting about this and that, their day, their troubles, their plans. The conversation turns to holidays and the general mess of it all. Cancelled bookings, weddings abroad postponed, so-and-so who’s gone to visit family in Cyprus, somebody else who got caught in Spain and now won’t get paid for the two weeks quarantine they’ve suddenly got to do when they get back.
‘We were supposed to go to Turkey again this year. Turkey’s lovely. Have you been?’
‘Yeah. Hot and cheap and that’s how I like it.’
‘Cornwall’s nice but you end up spending just as much, you can’t fly there and – let’s be honest – it doesn’t matter how much you dress it up, the North Atlantic’s not the Aegean.’
‘Yeah. You go snorkelling and all you’ll see are jellyfish and tampons.’
They swap info on some patients, visits and so on, then get back to the important stuff.
‘Have you ever been to Egypt?’
‘What did you think?’
‘It was great. Well I enjoyed it. We stayed on a resort. Sharm El Sheikh. Before the trouble, of course. Everything was controlled on the resort, so you were pretty well looked after. It can get a bit much, getting swamped with demands for money or crappy souvenirs when you go out of the resort into some of the markets. But once you get used to just smiling and saying No Thanks they get the message. I told Steve, I said Steve, don’t keep waving your hands and saying Maybe later like that. They remember this stuff and bother you worse next time. But he wouldn’t have it. It was like he couldn’t help himself. And I tell you another weird thing. Steve has a phobia about camels.’
‘Camels? Why? Did he get bitten by one or something?’
‘No. He’d never seen one before. Just didn’t take to them, really. He said it’s the way they look at you.’
‘Well maybe in retrospect Egypt wasn’t a great choice, then. I mean – that’s pretty much where all the camels live. Isn’t it? I’m right, aren’t I?’
‘I suppose. Anyway – what happened was, we decided to leave the resort and go to a shop on the outskirts. We wanted to get a lilo and some flip flops, and we thought it’d be a bit cheaper. On the road out to it there’s this guy sitting on a camp stool with a big old camel next to him. And of course the man gets up and starts gesturing to the camel, trying to sell us a ride. Steve goes all funny. Keep that thing away from me he says. And he starts walking really quickly to the shop, and I have to make apology faces to the man, and then catch up. So we’re in the shop, and I’m having a nose around. I find some flip flops and I turn round to Steve to see what he thinks. And he’s not there. So I think – what the hell? And I look out the shop window, and there he is, sitting on top of the camel, with the man standing next to him holding the reins about to set off. So I run out there and I shout Steve! Steve! What the hell are you doing? And it was then I notice the man is wearing Steve’s sunglasses. So I ask the man if he’d mind letting Steve down, which he does, eventually. And I get the sunglasses off him, and we walk back to the shop. And I say to Steve, What was that all about? And do you know what he says?’
‘I cannot imagine.’
‘He says The camel made me do it.’
‘Yep. He said he could see it looking at him through the shop window, and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it.’