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  • Writer's pictureLouise Clover

One Flew Over Mamma Mia!

J and I are just back from Greece! It was fab, but not as eventful as our first holiday there together, as referenced in An Untameable Zebra. This is what happened …

Not long after we first met amidst the fag ends and beer cans on the floor of Club Oriana’s (that’s another tale), J and I went on holiday to Santorini. Naturally we hired a moped, and naturally we didn’t wear helmets. J drove, with me holding on, as we buzzed through sleepy white-washed villages and bumped down unmade tracks to secluded coves.

Evening approached and cicadas started shrilling, so we headed for home, but unfortunately a nasty bend in the road and a nasty slick of oil had us off the bike. I was okay, but J was not, because, in a bid to save me, his head took the brunt of the tarmac. From nowhere, a posse of local men appeared, immediately hijacking a passing American in a hired Fiat, and commanding him to take us to a nearby clinic.

It was a harrowing ride; our driver clearly thought he was James Hunt and, as we careered round blind bends on the wrong side of the road, it appeared we’d survived the bike crash but were about to die anyway. Added to which, a concussed J appeared to have lost his mind and was talking in a mad loop. It was at this point, I realised how much I loved him and couldn’t bear to lose him.

Eventually, in a cloud of dust, we screeched up at the clinic, which coincided with J’s madness leaving him, only to be told that we’d have to fly to Athens because they didn’t have the facilities to deal with my boyfriend’s injuries.

So, last flight off the island, amidst astonished stares from our co-passengers (think seeing Shaun of the Dead), an ambulance was waiting on the runway at Athens to take us to the city’s hospital. Thus transported Wacky Races style, we survived that boneshaker only to be told by a harassed doctor in a hot and stuffy A&E under clattering ceiling fans, amidst overflowing bins of soiled dressings, that J needed an MRI scan, adding that the hospital didn’t have an MRI scan. So now a Fast and Furious taxi driver was summoned to take us across the city to get that done.

By the time we got back to the hospital, it was 2 a.m. whereupon J was told he was being kept in for ‘observation.’ Meanwhile, I was told I had to go home. Having mimed I had no home to go to, a taciturn nurse led us through three grim dark wards to a fourth, where my boyfriend was shown a bed, and I was shown a chair.

And then the adventure really began.

In the dim light, it was hard to make out who else was in there, but we soon heard them. First there was a moan, like a foghorn, then a yelp that sounded like a chimpanzee that had burnt himself, and finally a recurrent baa.

J whispered:

“Get me out of here.”

The din went on. And on. And, as dawn broke, we could see who the perpetrators were. We could also see the brimming colostomy bags and the snails having a race up the flaking ward walls. The foghorn came from the bed opposite and was courtesy of a gentleman reminiscent of Alastair Sim. The baas came from a bed adjacent to J’s from a man in striped pyjamas with greased-back hair, (think Private Walker in Dad’s Army). As the yelps continued, Walker took a comb from his pyjama pocket, clawed it through his hair, got out of bed, pulled a stick from under it and walked to the yelper’s bed on the other side of J’s, who he then proceeded to whack.

“Billy!” he growled. “Stamatà!”

Billy, (think Norman Wisdom) squealed at first, before dissolving into giggles. Private Walker then returned to his bed and lay there for a bit until the whole thing started up again: the foghorn, the yelps, the baas, and the comb-stick-smack routine.

Fortunately, as the sun’s rays spread across the ward, it was a cue for everyone to fall asleep. Unfortunately, I was awoken by the rat-a-tat Greek of a middle-aged nurse chastising me for being in bed with a patient (I was on top of the sheet btw, at J’s insistence, I’ll have you know).

Dragged into the fug-filled staffroom full of bored young nurses and overflowing ashtrays, in tearful semaphore, I explained our situation and the scary nurse took pity on me and promised to chase up a doctor, not least to prescribe poor J some effective painkillers.

As the day unwound, there was still no evidence of a doctor, but what there was, was crusty bread for J’s meals. So, I took off to buy food more suitable for someone with a broken jaw. Each time I returned, my boyfriend’s ward mates became increasingly protective of him, eyeing me distrustfully as I approached his bed. J said that when I was out, Walker had tipped his colostomy bag over Billy. He also said, the only reason he wasn’t leaving was because he didn’t know where his clothes were.

I knew, but I wasn’t telling him. However, as he became more adamant, I went out to find a hotel for our escape, one without A One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest vibe. When I returned, Walker and his stick were waiting for me, warding me off of my sleeping boyfriend - which I suppose was rather sweet.

Sometime later, the doctors still hadn’t been, and I was just about to march back into the staffroom to demand that the bloody consultant be hauled off his bloody golf course, when J stopped me.

And then, under the watchful gaze of Private Walker, Billy and Alastair Sim, he asked me to marry him.

Did I say yes? Hell, yes! Even if he did have concussion, he looked bloody gorgeous in his bandages. And he admitted later that he might have been a bit opportunist – how could I say no?

We escaped that night, J clutching his painkillers, me clutching him, his ward buddies forlornly waving us off, like the cast of Mamma Mia.

I displayed the scan x-rays at our wedding to show that, despite some people’s doubts, J did still have a working brain. Although, over thirty years and two adult children later, on occasions, he does say the last thing he remembers is going into a bend in Greece …

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