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Meeting Bernard

photo of Bernard in an armchairFebruary 2004. Tuesday in the Day Centre is always much noisier than the other days. This is largely down to the same group of older men - all struggling with cancer - who sit round the same table each week where hold forth volubly about the ways of the world. I call it the Tuesday Philosophers Corner.

There's Peter, the cabbie, who doesn't know whether he's Jewish or not but is 'saving up to be'; there's sad Bob, the truck driver, who misses the solitude of life on the road; there's Martin, a postman, who longs to get back on his round but never will; and there's Bill, and there's Fred, Max, Geoff sipping their mid morning scotches as the banter gets louder and the women clustered in chairs on the far side of the room raise eyebrows and tut-tut at the noise.

Lunch arrives and the group make their way to the dining room, leaving behind a man I've not met before. Bernard is blind and can't feed himself. His brain tumour has not only affected his vision but confines him to a wheelchair. He won't join the others for lunch because he can no longer feed himself. Instead he is spoon fed a liquidised lunch by Steve, the male nurse.

Bernard is unembarrassed by this enforced infancy. We start chatting and I discover he has spent his working life 'in the print' and was a shop steward at Fortress Wapping before Murdoch broke the union there. A labour man, then, not that far to the left but a long way when measured against the working class conservatism that characterises the philosophers still lunching next door.

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