Jeremy Clarke Jeremy Clarke

Low life | 18 February 2012

Eight o’clock on a cold and frosty Sunday morning and my boy is driving me to the NHS emergency dentist. My boy’s seven-seater Toyota Previa cost him £300 and it’s turned out to be a reliable and comfortable old bus, though ‘very thirsty’ as he puts it. He’s proud of it, and seems pleased to be of service to his old man in his hour of need, in spite of the early start.

These days the only opportunity we have to talk is like this, in the car, when he’s running me somewhere. At his home, with five kids under eight charging around, the racket and the chaos make conversation impossible. All we can do there is shout short, panic-stricken sentences to one another like soldiers on a battlefield overrun by the enemy. In his bus we can talk for a change.

The journey takes 45 minutes each way. We are heading inland from the coast. On cold mornings like this the warming effect of the sea on the land is apparent. Two miles inland and the muddy fields are suddenly blanketed with frost. Five and we’re driving through a winter wonderland. On the underside of the passenger-side sun visor there is a little vanity mirror with a light that comes on when the covering flap is pulled down. Every now and again, I pull down this flap, lean forward and study the swollen side of my face in this mirror, fascinated by my grotesque appearance.

So how are you, I say? What’s the latest? My boy tells me about a new young doctor who has arrived at the health centre. Presumably, a new doctor is headline news on the social-housing estate where he lives. This new young doctor is putting everyone’s backs up by refusing them drugs.

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