Memories of memories.
I remember regaining consciousness, or perhaps the period immediately afterwards. I was in a different ward from the other survivors because of my fractured skull. It seemed to be always dark. The one constant memory I have is of the traffic noise that I could hear in the street outside of the ward: horns hooting, brakes screeching followed by what seemed to be the inevitable collisions. Oh, and the ward clock was going backwards.
Initially, under instruction from the doctor because of my head injury, my mother told me that my father and sisters had survived but were in a different hospital. I remember thinking that this did not sound right (why was everyone visiting me and not them too?) although, at the time, I couldn’t say that to her. After she had left, I called a nurse to ask if they were really OK. This sounds like a considered action on my part but, believe me, it was anything but. I was extremely distraught and very confused. I don’t remember how the nurse answered, only that she appeared to be a little annoyed, probably thinking that my mother had told me something. When my mother returned, I’m not sure whether this was immediately or later, she told me what had really happened: she said “Dad and the girls didn’t make it”. I remember that I lay there, not responding. She asked me if I had heard her: I had. I think I cried; I’m not sure.
I was visited every day by my mother, my uncle Reg and aunts Gladys and Audrey. There were other friends who came too. Kate Fergusson, my mother’s work manager and friend, had been climbing in the Dolomites at the time, and had come straight to Ljubljana when she heard about the crash.
My uncle bought me a Russian watch to try and convince me that the ward clock wasn’t going backwards!
Soon afterwards I was taken down to the ward where the other (male) survivors were. It was always busy: there were always people visiting us and there were American Life magazines to read. Apart from doctors, nurses and relatives there were English students who were studying at the University of Ljubljana, people from the airline, people from the British Embassy, some Americans (I think), and many Yugoslavians who came to bring us gifts and to try and comfort us.
Please read the page:
It describes the unbelievable kindness of the Yugoslavian people and it contains an “interview” that my mother had with a Yugoslavian journalist.
A nurse called Anicj tried, unsuccessfully, to teach me a bit of Serbo-Croat. I still have the piece of paper on which she wrote her name and which we used to try to communicate.
We were not restricted to hospital food: we were allowed to ask for what we wanted (I think I always asked for “steak and chips” for dinner).
I received letters (no social media or email in those days) and some unusual gifts from my school friends and colleagues I had worked with in a summer job at Unilever Research in Welwyn. Two books – “the Drowned World” by J.G. Ballard, and a statistics text book – and a bottle of honey mead! The letters were particularly comforting, especially one from Graham Billing, a school friend. I wish I still had these.
The phrase “memories of memories” at the top of this and the previous page, is taken from the J.G. Ballard novel “The Drowned World”, one of the presents I received in hospital. It is an unusual but appropriate coincidence that the phrase comes from this book.