It turns out that I have a cousin who is a forth year medical student at Nottingham university. She is a member of the StopAids society and they invite me to screen my HIV/AIDS documentary ‘On the Frontline’ at the medical school. This is all very exciting and I rise to the occasion by finally getting my hair trimmed. Unfortunately, on the Thursday morning I wake to find my eyes on strike. They are sore, swollen and I peer at the world as if through a thick mosquito net with a couple of rents in it.
I like my hairdressers. They talk slowly and loudly to me because I am v I s u a l l y I m p a I r e d and I talk loudly and slowly to them because they are h a i r d r e s s e r s. I explain to the rather perturbed stylist that I can’t really see much in the mirror and am reliant on her not taking the piss. She does not and I emerge with chic, shiny locks that frame my reddened, puffy, haggard face. It’s not a movie moment. On the way out one of the salon’s owners gives me a gentle squeeze and the ‘some of my best friends are blind’ schpeel. ‘Some of my best friends have mental health issues’ I respond nodding kindly, trying to join in.
After lying down with frozen eye pads on for 40 minutes I feel able to travel. The journey is easy and sunlight bounces and glitters across the fens as I chug through Ely and up to Nottingham on the train. The screening goes well. It takes place in the massive lecture theatre in the hospital on a gigantic screen and we have a good turn out. After the Q and A there is .. pizza. Well, they are students so cheese and wine is out. Having seen the place I’ll be staying that night I drink a couple of pints at the pub with a few fresh-faced young medics and nurses. Strangely, I am the only one drinking even though I offer a round. This goes against everything I remember of student life where one started breakfast at lunchtime with a yard of snakebite and black. It turns out that many are in the middle of exams and heading back to the library. (It is nearly midnight and I am full of horrified admiration)
At the student house I find my bed has been sweetly made up with a curtain…with full heavy curtain rail still attached. ‘Must have been a good night,’ I think as my cousin sheepishly pulls it to one side and finds some real (clean) sheets). Her housemates return celebrating something and although at first there is much drunken and very loud shushing eventually the festivities get louder and someone starts banging on the piano. Chopsticks at 2am. There will be no sleep this night.