EARLY LAST WEEK I was sitting among some 1200 generous people who had paid high prices to see a royal gala preview of the new musical On Your Toes. Later in the week I sat among some 20 or so of the sort of people who receive, at last indirectly, grant benefit from such generosity.
The latter were some of the patients at St Joseph's Hospice in Hackney and, thanks to the kind cooperation of an old friend, and long-time regular visitor to the hospice, I was able to join some of the patients during their early afternoon period of recreation.
Exactly a month ago the Queen spent some time amont a group of such patients, though not necessarily the very same ones. For the grim facts of life, and death, at all such hospices is that, though life is made as bearable and happy as possible, every day, for every patient, could well be the last.
You would certainly not think this when chatting to the patients, most of whom seem what one can only describe as unnaturally happy. This makes one realise that we who are blessed with normal health are often unnaturally unhappy since we are thrown off balance by the slightest piece of adversity.
It is thus a humbling and salutary experience to visit the gallant patients of a hospice such as St Joseph's. The Queen's visit is still talked about and looked back upon as a red letter day. The radiance of her charm and sensitivity will be remembered until the end of the possibly very short lives of all who met her.
Her visit, on May 17, enabled her to talk to many of the patients before officially opening the new Training Unit and Occupational Therapy Centre called the Norfolk Wing. It is in part of this new, delightfully light and airy, building that the recreation period, including tea, takes place each day for those patients able to come.
On the day I was there, the usual Thursday Bingo session was replaced by an excellent concert given by some of the team from the former televison show On the Buses. It was much enjoyed and many of the patients joined in the songs. On some days of the week, voluntary helpers come from outside to give a hand with the (not always easy) practical arrangements connected with making the recreation period as relaxed and beneficial as possible.
The patients naturally love to see a few different faces, which is to say nothing against the absolutely marvellous staff of nurses, sisters and other regular helpers. In general charge of recreation was a wonderful person, tailor-made for the job, called Norah. Expansive in every sense of the word she makes sure there is never an awkward moment.
The special preview of On