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On 6th November 2010, at Leeds-Bradford airport, I boarded KLM flight
1546, to Amsterdam Schiphol. With me were Allyson, my ex-wife and
old friend, mother of my eldest son, and her sister Vivienne. We
had return tickets all, just in case. From Schiphol to
Zurich. From Zurich a taxi, Allyson's wheelchair strapped down
and her strapped in it, comically in the centre of the open minibus,
looking like she was riding chariot and we laughed about it as the
unfamiliar landscape of Switzerland sped by, postcard pretty.
We spend three days in Pfänikon. It's a pretty town, clean as a
whistle and with mountains spectacularly reflected in a deep, tranquil
I shan't be going to Pfänikon again. Nor will Vivienne, I
shouldn't think. And Allyson...
Allyson arrived back at my flat a fortnight later. Or rather, a
version of her. It was sooner than I had imagined. Damn
efficient, the Swiss. We'll take her up to the Chevin, when the
time is right. Me and the family. We'll say some words
while the Yorkshire wind takes her.
Sodium Pentobarbital can cause vomiting, if you swallow enough of
it. So an anti-emetic is administered, half an hour
beforehand. You have half an hour, when you can phone your son,
back in England, read some of the cards, remember your childhood
A solution of Sodium Pentobarbital is the worst tasting thing you ever
put in your mouth. I don't know this for certain, of course, but
the grimace that Allyson pulled told you it was no
milk-shake. The doctor had warned her, a few days before,
in one of a series of careful euphemisms. The taste is bitter,
you must swallow straight down. Practice doing so. The
quantity of a large brandy. They give you a chocolate,
afterwords. It's Switzerland, they have chocolate for everything.
Back at the hotel, me and Vivienne. Everyone is looking at us, or
pointedly not looking at us. We smell of Death. That's how
it feels. We are taboo. We are disgusting.
In Allyson's room, the following morning we are packed and ready to go,
stunned as cattle. A chambermaid is at the open door. We
have bin-liners full of redundant medicines and nappies, we have
suitcases with our clothes in, we have a electric wheelchair,
dismantled and gaffa-taped for ease of transport. We are weighed
down with the clutter of guilt and grief and helpessness. The
chambermaid sees it all. I have seen her around, these last three
days, not to speak to but they've worked around us: coming back to
change the sheets when we're downstairs for cups of tea. I wave
her away, signalling, do next door first, but she stays there. I
say, in bad German, the other room, thank-you. She stays there,
sheepish but stubborn, looking at Vivienne.
says eventually – and it's a question - your sister? I translate
for Vivienne, who starts like a guilty thing as if the Police have
called. Yes, I say, her sister.
Ist besser fur Sie,
says the maid, impelled to continue no matter what. In a soft
tone she says, ist besser fur Sie,
jetzt. I denke so. Ist besser fur Sie.
Again I translate but now the tears are thick lumps in my throat and
Vivienne's eyes are not her own, either. Thank-you, I say, yes,
it's better. She was in a lot of pain.
My mother says the chambermaid, softly, touching her own heart, my
mother. The same. And so it goes. The first of many
who will touch her own hearts, to touch ours, to show that we are not
alone. In a shitty world, full of Lies and Adverts, incurable
diseases and curable cruelty, the human instinct for kindness, for
empathy, shines through stubborn. And there rests some kind of