I’ve known David George over four decades, which is a sobering thought. Not that there were as many of those back in the day. I first met him in the mid-70s in London when his girlfriend (and long-standing wife, who features in what follows) replied to one of those flat-share adverts in Time Out and she passed whatever tests we’d set. They were students at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.
Since then Dave has played many roles. Equity rules forced him to become Lewis George and as such he trod the boards at the National with Ian McKellan: First soldier & First watch in a celebrated Corialanus, peasant (and understudy to McKellan) in Wild honey. He’s been in a Guinness ad, and stopped at many other stations along the way; I was surprised eating my muesli the other day to see him in a late-series Minder as a smooth criminal (or at least smooth enough to con Arthur). He has been a London cabbie (the Knowledge – the real thing) and toured North America as the one in the wheelchair in a Flanders & Swann tribute act (although after much discussion, not performing in a wheelchair). He’s been a social worker, an independent Ventnor councillor, a youth worker and probably a couple of other things I’ve forgotten or didn’t know about. Many times I’ve told him he should write an autobiography. He is a Nottingham Forest supporter and a keen angler.
These days David George is a film-maker. With an impressive client list, Utility Films – click here for the website link – named after a Jeremy Bentham quote, specialises in information films and documentaries. You can watch Better shed than dead, a film about the Men’s Shed movement here. In 2009 they made a feature-length movie for an expenditure of £2,000 pounds. The splendidly titled and very funny Death in Ventnor was an occasionally dark crime caper that lived up to the wit of its title and then some. Here’s the trailer:
It really should be better known.
Here’s what I said at the time:
April 22 And so to the Isle of Wight last weekend for, among other things, no less than a film premiere. Old friends Dave & Jill George’s ‘Death in Ventnor’ – how can it fail with a title like that? – was made locally for £2K (and they say most of that went on catering), and a lot of goodwill. It’s a huge achievement – a lot of laughs, some great dialogue and a whole slew of tremendous performances. There are lines and scenes that stick in the memory still – the early morning bagpiper is a stunning off the wall image, the post office raid pure Ealing, the lobster named Derek, I could go on. A lot of cinema homages going on too. Fascinating to have been close to the making of the movie; there was a hilarious scene involving a pensioner, a Zimmer frame and a drug dealer we saw in the early rushes that had to be cut, for example, and you could see why but … bring on the outtakes! The night itself was a triumph, a real community event with over 300 people at the Medina Theatre, Newport. A delight.
Anyway David had a bit of a health episode not so long ago, and here he is to tell you all about it (© David George 2016):
The Cardiac Hotel
by David George
Every seven minutes someone in the UK has a heart attack. That’s around four hundred a day. On Dec 13th 2014 at 2.30 in the afternoon it was my turn.
I have to be honest about this. I was asking for it. 61 years old, smoked profusely, and was going to live for ever. Well that perception changed quite quickly.
I was in the back garden, digging the vegetable plot. And smoking. Of course. A lot of people have asked me “This heart attack, what did you think? What did you do?” What did I think? I thought “Oh shit”. What did I do? I did the only sensible thing. I rang my wife.
A word or two about her. She’s a very highly trained nurse, working for the NHS. The NHS? I don’t need to waste time explaining that – it will soon be history. But for me it came in handy.
So my wife. She’s from the tough love school of nursing. You have flu? – two paracetamol. Broken leg? – two paracetamol. You’re dying? Two paracetamol.
“Listen I think I’m having a heart attack”. A long pause.
“Why do you think you’re having a heart attack?”
“Because my chest hurts, and I really don’t feel at all well.”
“I’ll come home.”
Now, we’re lucky, we have stethoscopes and a blood pressure monitor lying around the house. She arrives and we sit on the sofa playing patients and nurses. She looks at me:
“St Mary’s. It’s probably nothing, but they’ll check you out”
Now I know I’m dying.
The car journey is interesting. I didn’t realise she could drive this fast, nor did I realise she could shout so loudly at ageing pedestrians dawdling on zebra crossings.
“If you carry on like this I’ll have a heart attack”
How we laugh.
I live on an island, but we do have a hospital. In Accident & Emergency things get worse. Much worse. Of course she works there, so everyone seems to know her. As I sit down struggling for breath all I can hear are voices saying “Hi Jill!” “Hiya!” “How’s things?” “Oh fine!”.
I don’t know what light-hearted fripperies are exchanged with the triage nurse but I’m pretty quickly installed in the re-sus room.
It all starts moving quickly. I’m wired up to monitors. More nurses.
“Hiya Jill! How are you?”
“Excuse me … I mean why do you keep asking her how she is? I mean . . .”
The doctor arrives with a print out.
“Erm … don’t I know you?”
“Yeah . . . you . . . you . . .”
Delight at a dawning revelation:
“You made that film here . . . a few years ago . . . here in A&E. I was in it, I was in your film. Yeah, that’s right I remember you! How are you?”
“Well I er . . .”
“Yeah well . . . anyway, great to see you again. By the way you’re having a heart attack; helicopter will be here in five minutes.”
“Yeah we can’t do what you need here. You have to go to another hospital, on the mainland.”
“What do I need?”
“It’s called an angioplasty.”
“Erm” He points to a nearby nurse “She’ll explain”, and then he rushes off, presumably to recognise someone else.
The nearby nurse is about to become my new best friend.
“Does it hurt much?” she says.
“Well . . .”
“On a scale of 1 to 10?”
“So I’m going to give you something to take that away.”
“Paracetamol?” I ask.
“No, morphine. You might feel a bit sick.”
I glance over at the wife. This is more like it. Morphine. And its intravenous.
Whoosh! Within a minute, I feel very relaxed. I don’t feel sick. Actually I feel, how can I describe this? I feel great! If there are any opiate addicts out there, I really do understand.
More medics pile in. A nurse who looks young enough to be my daughter’s daughter zips me up into what feels uncomfortably like a body bag.
“It’ll be cold in the helicopter”
The wife takes my hand.
“How are you feeling?”
“Great, that morphine! Wow!”
“You’re not supposed to be enjoying it, dickhead.”
Another nurse arrives.
“How’s he doing?”
“Just showing off.”
I have a terrible feeling she means it. I’m trundled out to the helicopter. It sits on the pad like a small yellow wasp. There’s a crew of four; pilot, paramedic, doctor and nurse. And the cargo. Me.
Everyone gathers round to load me in. Jill steps alongside me and takes my hand again. There’s no room for passengers. This is the Brief Encounter moment. I realise if this goes wrong we may never see each other again.
The crew have been here a thousand times before. Everyone stops talking, I look at her, she looks at me and she says:
“I’ll see you on the other side”
The silence is intense.
“The other side?” I croak.
“Of the Solent.”
This naturally cracks everyone up. I swear the paramedic and the doctor are holding onto each other helpless with laughter. I want to say something like:
“Well it’s great that my last few moments down here can be spent with such a wonderful audience,” but I just grin my stupid opiate grin and very soon I’m up, up and away in more ways than you’d imagine.
The angioplasty was simplicity itself. Unless you happen to be the guy doing it and then I imagine it’s pretty complex. A wire goes into an artery (either wrist or groin – wrist for me please if that’s OK) up across the chest and into the blocked area of the heart. A balloon inside the wire expands and opens up the restriction, leaving a stent behind. My artery was congested like the M25 on a Friday night.
The surgeon said, “Are you a smoker?”
“Not anymore,” I replied.
They wheeled me into a room in the Cardiac Care Unit, plugged into a lot of equipment that bleeped soothingly. Jill arrived. She came over and stood by the bed, she began to speak but I held up my hand.
“I know, I know. I love you too.”
“Actually,” she muttered “I was going to say if you don’t stop smoking I’ll fucking kill you”.
I try a brave, tremulous smile.
“And stop smirking. The kids are coming in the morning. I rang Ned in New Zealand. He loves you.”
“I love him too. When do you have to go?”
“Don’t worry”, she says “I’m staying”. Magically the door opens and a mattress is brought in.
“The Cardiac Hotel,” I say. “I’m tired.”
Later we lay quietly as the machines whirr and shimmer above our heads.
My hand, bruised and taped with tubes and plasters, finds hers in the dim half-light of the quiet room.
“I’ve stopped smoking.”
“But I’ll never stop loving you.”
“With all my heart.”
© David George 2016
A musical PS
Between David sending me this and me asking if it could be a guest post here on Lillabullero – for which thanks indeed – and me getting my arse into gear to actually put it up, his son Tom, who did the music for Death in Ventnor, borrowed the title The Cardiac Hotel for his forthcoming second LP/CD. Tom George is the up-and-coming singer songwriter who, both solo and with a group, performs as The Lion and the Wolf. “Genre crushing melancholy” is how he describes his music on FaceBook, and he has a nice tag line in “Bring on the sad” though he’s essentially an eminently happy chappie. Here’s a link to his Bandcamp pages – http://thelionandthewolf.bandcamp.com/music – and you can find more on YouTube.
What David describes above was happening while Tom was playing his last gig of the year he took the plunge and gave up the day job. The haunting My father’s eyes was written as a consequence of the events described above. The original is there on the Bandcamp page, but here’s a lovely version recorded with a full band in a Ventnor church: