She's okay. All the tests were fine. Apart from that, they didn't actually tell her very much, by the sound of things - which seems to be par for the course as far as hospital consultations go. They either say very little, or else they swamp you with so much information you can't make any sense of it.

I suppose it's quite tricky from their point of view.

What would really help would be a few words of simple explanation in plain English. But these hospital specialists have spent years and years training to be hospital specialists. They haven't spent years and years training how to handle patients.

Poor communicators.

There was one chap when Megan was having her treatment... He was absolutely terrible. He couldn't look any of us in the eye. He could hardly string a coherent sentence together. Couldn't stand still, didn't know what to do with his hands, blushed and broke into a sweat the minute anyone spoke to him. I can see him now. Thin blond hair, hardly any eyebrows, and the most peculiar complexion: very red lips, very red cheeks, very pale everywhere else. Glynis loathed him. She used to fire questions at him, and he absolutely used to squirm.

Did Glynis go with Megan this time?

No, she prefers to go by herself these days. It's quite difficult for us to let her do it. We both feel as if we ought to still be in there, holding her hand - but she's in her twenties now. The other thing, of course, is that you can never be absolutely sure that she's telling you everything that took place. If someone told her something fairly dramatic, would she pass it on to us?

Like, the only way you can ever be at peace is to kill both your parents.

Well, precisely. All she said today is that the test were fine, and they're going to refer her to another specialist. In all honesty I'm sure she wouldn't hide anything important from us, but... All children learn how to keep secrets from their parents, in my experience; and the older they get, the bigger the secrets tend to be... You've got all this in front of you.

I hope I never have to go through what you've been through.

No, but you'll still have to deal with your daughter growing up and becoming independent.

If anything goes wrong, I'll just blame it on her mother.

This is it. Very plain exterior.

No glass doors here.

Not on this side, anyway.

This is Wren, isn't it?

I believe so. I don't like the look of that cherub above the door.

No, he's a miserable-looking bastard, isn't he?

A lot of seventeenth-century cherubs seem to look like that.

Do you think they modelled them on real children?

If they did, then I'm glad I wasn't a schoolteacher in those days.

He's got a real sulk going on, hasn't he? God's just told him he can't have any pocket-money this week. Look at him: great big fat cheeks, squidged-up mouth, and a horrible-looking scowl. Perhaps they used to feed the kids nothing but suet in those days, and it gave them all terrible indigestion.

Two elderly ladies in the doorway.

Oh - did you want to come in? We were just about to lock up.

It's all right - if you're locking up, we don't mind. We can come again another day.

No no no. Come in, come in.

We won't be long.

It's quite all right. We were only locking up because it looked as if we weren't going to get any more visitors today.

You won't lock us in, will you? We've already been locked into one church this afternoon.

No, no. We'll just shut the door behind you, and then we won't get any latecomers.

Are you church wardens, or...?

We're volunteers. We can tell you a little bit about the history of the church, if you're interested. It's one of Wren's, as you probably already know - in fact I would say that it's a very good example of a Wren church. This is typical Wren, these pillars, and those square boxy-looking bits in the corners of the ceilings.

It was built in seventeen hundred and something.

Yes, in the seventeen hundreds. I think it was 1680, and that wood...

Seventeen hundred and something, I think. I get quite confused with all the different churches.

Oh yes, so do I. I think it was 1680. It wasn't destroyed in the fire. I ought to know this because I was reading it up this morning. And that wood behind the altar, that's original, that goes back to before the fire.

Look, that didn't work, us shutting the front door like that. There are some more people coming in.

Oh my goodness, there are quite a gaggle of them! Oh no, it's not too bad. Two adults and three children.

We'll have to lock the door. Don't worry, we can unlock it again when you want to leave.

We've already been shut in once, at the church before last.

The church before last! You must be keen churchgoers!

Well, we've done five or six today.

My goodness! Five or six! Your brains must be quite tired out, I expect.

You do get church brain after a while. You start to get a bit muddled about which one is which.

I expect you do. I look after three different ones, and I get quite muddled between them.

Oh, you look after different ones, do you?

Oh yes, there's a team of us, an organisation, all looking after different city of London churches. Now, this bread on the shelves here... Somebody left a bequest, when he died, some rich patron of the church, for penny loaves to be bought for the poor people. And those are the original shelves.

But not the original loaves of bread.

Well, no, quite, it wouldn't be the original loaves. And we've got a door over here, there's a door in the corner here which is attributed to Grinling Gibbons. Attributed to him. Of course, there are churches all over the place which say that they've got carvings by Grinling Gibbons. It's quite a commonplace thing to hear.These are meant to be his signature pea-pods. Apparently he would always do these pea-pods, you see, splitting open like this so that you can see all the peas inside, as part of his carvings. But anyone can carve a pea-pod, can't they?

Well, it's a very nice bit of carving, whoever it's by. What does Sir John have to say about this church?

Let's have a look.

Oh, you've got Sir John Betjeman's guide, have you? We've got that on sale here. It's on that table. It's a beautifully-written guide, of course,

I've also got the one by Pevsener.

Oh, dear me, I can't understand a word of that one.

Nor can I. Ah, here it is... The interior is no anti-climax. Three thick arches with plaster coffers separate the Ludgate Hill front from the body of the church... That's why it's quite dark in here, I suppose, because the windows are on the other side of those arches.

Yes, that's to reduce the noise from the street.

Yes. So it's quieter than it might be, but it's also darker. What about this swan or whatever-it-is over here?

Oh, I think it's meant to be a pelican. The pelican was believed to feed its children on its own blood, so it was regarded as symbolic of Christ.

Symbolic of all parenting, I'd say.

Funny-looking pelican.

Well, I don't expect they saw many pelicans in those days. Are you making a thing out of visiting churches, then? Is this a sort of hobby of yours?

Sort of. I'd like to visit all the churches in the City of London.

Oh, you should get in touch with the Friends of City Churches. That's the organisation we belong to. We've got a website, and it's got all the details of opening-times on it, because some of the churches are only open on certain days of the week. Like this one, for example, we come here and open this up every... Now I've forgotten what day of the week it is.

Monday.

Yes, of course it is.

So it's only open on a Monday, then!

I think it might be open again later in the week. But we come here on a Monday.

We were lucky to catch you, weren't we?

Yes, I suppose you were.

Well, it's been nice meeting you, and thank you for all your help.

Yes, nice to meet you too. Goodbye.

Goodbye.

Goodbye.

 

Shall we walk over the footbridge? I'll ring Glynis in a minute, to let her know how Megan got on.

Do you feel as if you're out of the woods now, as far as Megan's concerned?

Oh yes, on the whole, yes. This consultation today is about a relatively minor matter. Officially she's been out of danger for some years now. But I don't think you ever completely relax after something like that. It's always in the back of your thoughts.

I suppose it must be.

I remember, the night before we heard her diagnosis, I couldn't get to sleep because of some tapping and scratching noises. I thought there must be something trapped in the loft. It was quite spooky. Have you ever read The Owl Service? It was a bit like that. Then the first night Megan had to spend in hospital - Glynis was there with her, so I was all by myself - and I heard the same noises again. This time I managed to track them down: they weren't coming from the loft at all, they were coming from the bedroom window. And it wasn't an animal or a bird: it was a climbing rose. It wasn't tied in properly, and when the wind blew it was tapping and scratching on the glass. So then I thought, Well, now I know what it is, it won't bother me any more. I'll be able to get to sleep. But it wasn't true. I'd heard it on the night when Megan was diagnosed, you see, so in my mind it was associated with something bad happening. I started to think that something terrible must be happening on the ward. In the end I had to fetch the secateurs from downstairs, lean out of the window and hack off as many rose branches as I could reach. But as soon as I'd done it I started worrying in case it brought Megan bad luck. This is how your thoughts work when you're under that kind of stress. I mentioned it to the Head of Art the next day, quite an unconventional woman, sort of a spiritualist, and she immediately said, Put a coin in the earth at the base of the rose bush. So I did, and I must say it did make me feel better.

The footbridge over the Thames. Fresh breeze, green choppy water, and breadth of sky.

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