It is three minutes to midnight at Highpoint North and Keith decides that he is going to bed. It’s a curious decision, not just because having come so far he may as well tough it out and share in the moment such as it is with his brothers in arms, but also because his cell mate C has been crystal clear throughout the day that on the strike of midnight he will be playing God Save the Queen, (the Sex pistols version obvi) at full volume. Sleep will not be a viable option. Keith’s mind is made up however and so he will lie, long suffering in his bed throughout the deafening rendition, running over the past year perhaps and wondering why oh why oh why?
Rob likes C a lot. He is interesting and thoughtful. As a lifer he has had the chance to re-educate himself – he has the time. He is generous too and is often to be seen bouncing around Unit 12 rattling a tub of Quality Street, dapper in a date night shirt (he has an array of these, all garnered from a previous prison job on a recycling unit), re-homing the toffees which he daren’t eat for fear of unwittingly expatriating his one remaining tooth which still clings valiantly and with unique alignment, to his upper jaw.
The New Year gets off to a good start when Unit 12’s B team win the Highpoint Four Aside Football Tournament, (indoor of course – God forbid anyone should be given access to actual fresh air or grass). Rob’s roommate J is their star player and Rob and C feel stirrings of quasi paternal pride as he returns home victorious. J’s mum doesn’t know what to make of it when she comes for a visit and hears her boy talking posh and using big words all of a sudden. Cellmates are the luck of the draw, but she wasn’t expecting this. Wait ’til they get him started on the scrabble.
I wonder how a Nashville-bearded 54 year old yogi and a 22 year old boxer from Bermondsey manage so well together? Division of tasks apparently: Rob is in charge of cell temperature and manages the window and air flow, and J controls the TV. They both educate each other. Rob is new to Big Brother and Undatables, but he confesses to finding popular culture more interesting than he had feared. Acceptance is another key to surviving the shared cell: Rob will be deep breathing his way though his asanas well before seven which can, (and I speak from personal experience here), be mildly annoying. Mostly though it is the realisation of how much they have in common that connects them: fatherhood, prison, adversity.
In Stokey we know how to let our hair down. My sister-in-law Sarah pops in for a cup of tea with Grandma and me, and we sip and chat whilst keeping an eye on her dog Foxy who is recovering after an unfortunate space cake stealing incident at a teenage party and is still looking queasy and finding co-ordination of all four legs challenging. She (Sarah, not the loose-living dog) has brought champagne but we can’t be bothered to open it, and stick with the tea.
Death, prison and divorce have rendered us all single tonight, and a combination of arthritis, canine drug abuse and baby sitting mean that we can’t go out, but it is one of the sweetest, cosiest New Years I can remember, with Tala asleep on the sofa and Okha awake in Thailand, texting in her greetings.
Rob and I used to have a pact never to leave the house on this night after a string of incidents in my twenties, most involving intoxication, unwise use of kitchen equipment and A and E, so it is no hardship for either of us to forgo the outside world and greet the New Year with sleepy sobriety, counting our blessings and feeling in spite of it all, that we are where we should be and that all is well.