April 13, 2024


 A trip to London’s south bank resulted in my first public encounter with another diabetic (Written in 2009).

My girlfriend and I had spent the day at the Christmas markets in London’s Hyde Park; and later at the South Bank where we stumbled upon Las Iguanas – a South American themed cocktail bar that, once upon a time, served the best Tequila Sunrises this side of Saturn.

Las Iguanas have since decided to scrub Tequila Sunrises off the drinks menu – which is like Severn Trent Water deciding not to supply H2O anymore. In all fairness, though we asked if they could mix us some Sunrises anyway, and they did – at happy hour prices, too!

I did have get narky with one of the bar staff at one point; he decided that he would only serve Tequila Sunrises in pitchers – priced at un-competitive mortgage rates. I assertively remarked that this was our third call to the bar – for the same drink – and challenged him to explain his sudden shift to the right-wing of bar politics.

Upon my triumphant return to our table, another couple had perched themselves on the sofa beside us. I noticed that the blond girlfriend who was injecting into her right arm, using something that looked familiar: it was the same insulin pen that I use.

“Excuse me,” I asked, holding my own insulin pen aloft; like a secret hand shake of the Freemasons. “Are you Type 1?” She smiled and nodded. I couldn’t help but give a wry grin at her response when I told her that I was a recent type 1, “How’s that working out for you?” It was like a prison inmate asking another prison inmate ‘what are you in for?’

The diabetic I had just introduced myself to was named Lucy. She was 24 years old and had been ‘doing her time’ since the age of 11 – just as she should have been starting to enjoy the fruits of life. Lucy and her boyfriend, James, were out on a day trip toLondonin an attempt to ‘do something cultured’ with their day.

After a while we began swapping stories and comparing our likes and hates of our disease; like the overwhelming temptations of certain foods – and, generally, the general unfairness of it all. We soon discovered a mutual adoration for adopting spirits as a coping method – well, spirits are sugar free!

Naturally, being so young, Lucy took the news of being insulin dependent quite hard and constantly rebelled against her diabetes; stubbornly doing the same things as her friends, only to end up getting incapacitated by hypos. She even secluded herself from the other diabetics at the local clinic; resenting being viewed as different from her friends.

Lucy’s gung-ho attitude was swiftly rectified at the age of sixteen when she found herself in hospital as a result a severe hypo. Lucy recalled hearing her mother asking the doctor if she was going to pull through; the doctor simply shrugged his shoulders.

It was during that brief spell in hospital were Lucy acknowledged the fragility of diabetes – how easy it is to kill yourself without trying. It was the wake-up call she needed and has since grabbed the diabetes bull by the horns.

She still goes off the rails from time to time, but she is still young and comes across as mature enough to understand that anything can be enjoyed in moderation. I have since met a few other diabetics who were diagnosed quite early in life; I can’t imagine how restricted they must have felt during the times when rebellious instinct was at the forefront of their adolescence.

I was diagnosed quite late in life and had already enjoyed my rebellious teenage years in pirate fashion; drowning myself in murky, snakebite infested waters and high spirits; chocking on the thick layers of fog as I passed duchies on the port side.

I have since become far too cautious for my own good; even my diabetic nurses feel the need to persuade me that it is okay to ‘let go of the reigns every now and again’. Meeting and talking to people like Lucy has definitely helped me come around to their way of thinking.

Lucy told us that her handbag had recently been stolen, containing the essential glucose meter and insulin pen. While waiting for a replacement glucose meter she was getting by on sheer guess-work. Lucy’s improvisations had recently resulted in a nasty ‘episode’ on a tube train; I had a similar experience.

Lucy’s boyfriend, James – who eventually managed to get a word in – works with dogs. He provided a fascinating insight into the new training techniques being developed for medical benefits, including ‘hypo awareness dogs’ for people with poor diabetic control.

Happy at having had his chance to speak, and Lucy finding that her cocktail glass was empty, the couple set off on their cultural adventure.  After all the help and advice she gave me, I felt like should have offered something in return, but the only helpful thing that sprung to mind at the time was, ‘don’t go to the Tate, it’s really shit’. So, I wished them well on their adventures and returned to the bar.

Update:  Las Iguanas have once again started selling Tequila Sunrises.