Monday, December 13, 2010

59. Sudden death of Anthony Bulling

Jane was away visiting Caroline, who was living in England and expecting her first child, when mother phoned me from Jane’s house in Waterford. Jane’s gardener had run all the way from Waterford to Bulawayo (a 20 minute drive!), where he managed to find mother’s house, to tell her that Tony was sick. Mother got into her little Fiat and drove to Waterford to see what was wrong. Imagine her horror when she found Tony dead, apparently from a cerebral haemorrhage. He was only fifty and had always been in the best of health, exercised, ate properly and never had a single day off sick. We were all in total shock, and Maureen had the awful task of phoning Jane to tell her the awful news. Jane returned immediately and was out of her mind with grief. Tom had done the identification, which upset him very much because he and Tony got on very well together; they were two of a kind. As soon as the post mortem was finished, the funeral was arranged and hundreds of people attended. Tony was well known for his work on stage at the Bulawayo theatre, and for his television commercials and radio broadcasts. He had been the star at Tony and Jeni’s wedding, proposing toasts and dancing with the bride. Such a lovely, lovely man.
Tom’s health was now a cause for concern. Stressful working conditions in the Air Force, being called out for emergencies in the middle of the night in all weathers, never eating breakfast or lunch, smoking and drinking strong tea all day long, not to mention downing gallons of acidic beer when off duty, had caused irreparable damage. He came home from a visit to the doctor, and announced that he had rheumatoid arthritis and emphysema. I got out my medical dictionary, and when I saw the pictures of patients’ arthritic joints, and read the prognosis, my heart broke. How could this be happening to my lovely man? But, he battled on, in and out of hospital, enduring several operations with great fortitude, while his fingers became dislocated and the pain unbearable. He hated anything medical and almost fainted at the sight of a hypodermic. Tom was a Mason and a committed supporter of the Masonic Hospital in London, and someone suggested that he go to England for further medical assessments. He was given extended leave from the Prudential and left for England where he stayed with Beryl, who had been on his staff at Air Ministry, and her husband Mac an ex RAF Policeman, two of the best friends he ever had.

Tom attended the prearranged consultation with a rheumatologist who, after the examination, told him that they would admit him to the Masonic Hospital. Further discussions showed that the charges would be more than his RAF pension plus his salary in Bulawayo, if he were allowed to remit it, which he could not because sanctions were still in place. We had really expected that as Tom had contributed to the upkeep of the Hospital for so many years, and his circumstances were unusual, that he would be admitted for a reasonable charge. As it happened, the Specialist was a consultant at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, to which he was admitted and where he received the very best attention

Tom had been away almost three months and his return ticket was about to expire, and a new single fare was as much as a return. I devised rather a naughty plan. If we had to pay the equivalent of a return ticket for Tom to get back, why couldn’t I buy a return ticket, travel to England on it, come back on his expiring return ticket, and leave my return ticket with him? The surname was the same, and I doubted anyone would look at the initials. I would only have two weeks with him, but at least I could see for myself how he was. There was very little accommodation available in and around London at this time, I think there was some Royal Celebration going on, but I did find a room in a bed and breakfast in Hampstead, within walking distance of the Royal Free.

Tom had now been in hospital over two months and he was in a dreadful condition. Beryl and Mac had been wonderful to him, visiting alternate evenings, all the way from Shepherds Bush, taking home his washing and bringing back anything he needed. I could never thank them enough. The specialist in Bulawayo, a man known for his rudeness and offhanded manner, had prescribed cortisone, under a different name, for Tom, without telling him of the dangers of the drug, and the fact that a patient must be aware that he was taking it. The doctors at the Royal Free were trying to wean him off it and the results were frightening. He could barely stand and hardly spoke.

The house were I was staying was “managed” by an Irish couple who had two young children and the place was shabby and not very clean. A student came in to make the beds, clean toilets and set the tables in the mornings, and wash up after breakfast. The couple seemed to do little other than prepare the breakfast. As I would be staying for two weeks I wanted to be able to do a bit of washing and make a cup of tea during the day, I could only visit Tom in the afternoons. One day the student cleaner did not turn up, so I offered to do her work. They were very surprised that I was prepared to clean the bathrooms, make the beds and help in the kitchen but were pleased to have the help because the guest rooms were full.

I started cleaning the kitchen. The deepfreeze had fish frozen solid to the sides of the freezer that looked as if had been there since the ice age. The cooker was covered with enough grease to oil a train, and ones feet stuck to the kitchen floor. So much for Health Inspectors! I made the beds, cleaned the bathrooms, laid the tables, washed up and thoroughly cleaned the kitchen. The end of the story was that I had one of my two week’s stay free of charge and was able to use the kitchen to make something to eat and used the washing machine, which suited me just fine.

Tom was being nursed by every nationality you can think of, but I was so touched by one very large Jamaican ward orderly who, on hearing where I was staying said, in that lovely accent, “Dear Lord, you must come and stay with me at my house. My son has just moved out and you can sure have his room!” She was so kind, but I only had two more days left so I did not accept the kind invitation. Parting from Tom was a gut wrenching moment. He was too weak to walk with me to the door, and when I left him to return to Rhodesia I truly wondered if I would ever see him again.

Like many folk living in Zimbabwe today, I was a financial prisoner unable to get money out of Rhodesia, as it was still called, and unable to live in England on Tom’s RAF pension. I decided to sell the big house; without the girls there we no longer needed it anyway, and acquire some capital, but it was 1979, white rule was ending and those who foresaw a bleak future for the country were already packing up. Houses were not selling. Eventually the house did sell, at a big loss and there was very little left after the mortgage and legal fees were paid. I moved into a rented flat in town. Meanwhile, back in England, Tom had told the doctors that they must put him back on cortisone because he had to get back home and back to work. Within a month he was back in the office.

The flat was not too bad but there was a night club across the road which caused endless problems. It was not so much the noise of the drunks leaving the nightclub in the early hours of the morning, sitting on our garden wall and throwing their rubbish into our little courtyard, it was the thump of the beat of the music travelling underground, up the legs of my bed and into my head that was driving me mad. To get a good night's sleep I would drag my mattress through the flat and onto the kitchen floor! After a few weeks of this I decided to draw up a petition with the neighbours to try and get the place closed or at least quietened down.

Although we did not live under apartheid as such in Rhodesia, economics separated the different races and our rented flat was in a very mixed area. Interviewing the folk across the main road, behind the nightclub, was an education. My biggest faux pas was asking a coloured woman if I could speak to the 'madam', only to be told that she was the madam. 'Madam', in Rhodesia, meant the lady of the house and had no immoral undertones! Everyone I called on was so welcoming, maybe thinking that because I was white I might be able to do something to help them. One girl told me that it was not only the noise she objected to, it was the shouting and mostly the swearing. “It’s bloody disgusting!” she said. All the flats were dark inside because the windows were boarded up with sheets of egg boxes and hung with heavy curtains, anything to try to reduce the noise. I was very sad because I was unable to get any satisfaction from the authorities and could do nothing to stop the menace. We were lucky because we were able to move out of the flat and into another interesting phase of our lives.

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