The Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield
Paul was only sixty two but this week I found myself sleeping in a room with three men all over eighty. There was John who once ran two successful off-licence businesses with his wife and made enough money to plan a comfortable retirement on the east coast near Bridlington. They even bought the house and stayed there at weekends but sadly she died before the retirement plan could come to full fruition.
Quietly and in intricate detail he described how he had cut his lawns for the first time, making neat parallel lines up the slopes - just like Wimbledon - then filling thirteen black plastic bags with grass cuttings. After relating this tale, he shuffled to the lavatory holding an aluminium walking frame with a support worker holding up his green pyjama bottoms. He laughed when I told him to stop running.
Albert lay in another bed. Five feet tall with devilish blue eyes, this wiry little fellow had been a joiner for fifty years and in that role had served with the British army in Singapore and Malaya. He had eight children and several grandchildren but oh dear - he was losing his marbles. There was the battle of the locker key. "One key! There's one key!" he kept saying. It was gripped tightly in his right fist and he wasn't letting anybody else have it even though another man's belongings were in the locker. Later he seemed to suspect a staff conspiracy against him. "They're all acting as one!" he confided. But he took a shine to me and acceded to some of my requests for him to lie down or take his pills. The staff were grateful as Albert seemed to soak up far too much of their precious time.
Then Sammy strolled in in his chinos and sandals with a stripey shirt and a shoulder bag. He was eighty three years old and had lived in northern California for twenty years. He had loved it there - "Oh! Yosemite!" - but his Sheffield-born wife was homesick so finally they returned. She died eight years ago. What a lovely man he was. His face was full of sunshine. He sat by the window without reading glasses, engrossed in Tom Stoppard's play "Rosencrantz and Guildenstein are Dead" and he kept engaging me in conversations about Sheffield's history, the existence of God, California, the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkeagaard and his "lovely girl" - the wife he had lost.
If only our Paul had made it to eighty. Another eighteen years at least, like these men. All so different. Different pathways. Different results. Heading so differently for death's exit doors. I promised to take Sammy out in August to show him a couple of historical sites that he had never heard of in this Un-Californian city - assuming of course that, like me, he survives hospital.