Oldie Towers has been struck a great blow this week. Our star columnist, Wilfred De'Ath, has died. Here, he reflects on his visits to Addenbrooke's chapel
Not wishing to spend the long winter nights on the Cambridge streets, I decided to throw myself on the mercy of Addenbrooke’s Hospital – not as an in-patient but simply as a poor, unaccommodated old man (821⁄2) in need of the help the housing people are still refusing to give me.
Addenbrooke’s pointed out, fairly enough, that it is not their job to provide accommodation for people, however needy. But they said I might sit up and pray in the multidenominational chapel (it includes prayer spaces and mats for devout Muslims) all night long, provided I did not actually fall asleep – in which case the brutal security guards would come to throw me out.
I don’t know about you, but there is a limit to the length of time I can pray without a break. Mine is about 30 minutes; after that, I tend to doze off and then the security thugs, who have CCTV all over the place, arrive to drive me off the site. One of them actually pulled the chair from under me, leaving me with a badly bruised back. Should I sue Addenbrooke’s?
After several weeks of this, I found the chapel too cold – they were overdosing on the air-conditioning. So I retreated to the hospital’s 24/7 Costa next door where I had a number of interesting encounters: a) Survivors of terrible road accidents – you can always identify them because they start by laughing hysterically (relief at still being alive) and then sink into deep gloom.
b) Pentecostalists and followers of other religious groups, who are always to be found in large hospitals. I do not enjoy being preached at at 6 o’clock in the morning, but they usually turn out to be quite generous and even give me money.
c) Whole family groups – often Romany gypsies, for some reason – who have come to watch their family patriarch as he dies. He sometimes hangs around for several days – so they do, too. (I do not want anyone sitting at the end of my deathbed – not that anybody would want to.)
At 6.25am, I catch the first bus back into town and begin a day of intensive shoplifting. Such is my life for as long as it lasts.