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Lucas Elkin: Keep calm and curry on

When I was a child in the early 1980s, for several years in a row we would chuck a load of camping gear in the back of the estate car and our summer holidays were two or three weeks camping down through France and back again. Great fun!

In one of the early years the French dock workers in Calais decided to go on strike. The French family on the pitch next to us warned to us, and I remember my Dad tuning into obscure French radio stations to picking up news as we headed north: massive queues, no food, only one or two ferries sailing per day, disruption on an international news scale. Along with many, we diverted to Belgium and managed to get a Zebrugge to Ramsgate boat (which dates this story in its own right – Ramsgate hasn’t been used for passenger traffic in decades), finally limping back into Britain about 9:00pm at night, a day or two late.

So what did we do as a family, at this moment of stress? We found the first Indian Restaurant we could, had a curry, and soon felt much better.

This has always been this family’s automatic “what shall we do in a crisis?” reaction. It’s also been the standard go-to for happy events just as well. Birthdays, engagements, exam results (for better or worse) have all been marked by either by takeaway or dining in. And nothing much has changed in the last few weeks – if anything it’s got stronger.

The day Nick was admitted to hospital, I got a call from Susan mid-morning, immediately wrapped up work and headed for London. We spent all day in A&E, trying to alleviate Nick’s obvious worry and confusion in a strange place with various medics coming and going, probing, testing and discussing what to do. After about 10 hours, they finally decided to admit him “overnight, for further tests”.

There was no shadow of doubt, nor debate about what to do next. Susan and I jumped off the bus a stop early and went for a curry.

Seven weeks later,  Nick died on Tuesday 20 August having never left the hospital or stood up again. On the Monday evening (19th) I got to the hospital about 8:00pm. No discussion was required: “Glad you’re here” said my brother. “We’ve been waiting for you – we’re going to the Indian over the way for a bite to eat”.

We went for another on Wednesday 21st, the day after he died. Although it had only been two days since the previous one, if felt like two weeks in terms of what we’d been though. Abdul, owner of the excellent Rukhsana on Randlesdown Road, Bellingham, has become an extended friend, asking each time: “How is your husband/father?”. We’ve all been very grateful for his kind, well-thought out words of encouragement and sympathy.

It’s been a hard few weeks, and the period of family adjustment will take some time – a process that will be eased, no doubt, by a curry or two.


Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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