The Little Things

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

In the present climate, I was just thinking of those little things that I take for granted. It could have been a book, but it is not. Nobody deserves that.

The Little Things

 

As I lay in bed last night (see below) I thought that it might be nice to write something about all those little things that I love and that I take for granted. Here is my list. I’m sure you have your own, equally valid, inventory. Feel free to share it.

 

1.Having a Wee

Now, we all take this for granted. It is a natural function and it clears the body of poisons. The kidneys filter about fifty gallons of blood a day and about two litres of that is excreted. Without our kidneys, we either die (horribly) or spend potentially many years hooked up to a haemodialysis machine three times a week waiting for a biker to take a curve too fast.

If we need a wee while watching the TV, we wait until the ads come on. At night, we turn over and try to ignore it, go back to sleep for a bit longer. If we’re down the pub, you don’t wee unless you absolutely have to because men’s toilets are pits of despair. Generally we try to avoid it, because we see it as a necessary interference to our fun and we don’t like interference, no matter how necessary.

And this is all fine until that one day when your body revolts, as bodies are wont to do. We all have revolting bodies. Everything becomes slack, wrinkles, shrinks or expands. Everything starts to fail, little by little, until you find that those around you are repeating themselves more than they used to or you need a magnifying glass to read the small print. You cannot take the stairs as quickly as you once did, you can no longer run for the bus or eat cheese before bedtime and you cannot tolerate alcohol like you used to. You trip over the smallest things and walk into tables more and say ‘I’m sure you didn’t tell me that, I would have remembered’.

I have always taken immense pleasure in a good wee. When your bladder is at the very edge of overflowing, when you think that you cannot hold it for one more step, when your lower abdomen actually hurts because your kidneys are relentlessly pumping out one millilitre of urine per minute and that one millilitre is about to be one millilitre too much, the feeling of letting go is spine-tinglingly joyous.

I take pleasure in a wee and I never take it for granted.

Here is why.

When I worked in Medical Records in a hospital in Ascot back in the early eighties, part of our remit was to book people into A&E. There was none of this bullet-proof screening to hide behind or any computer-driven filing systems. No, we had a large black book, like a big bible, in which we recorded all the details - in pen. (What is a pen, you ask? Go back to your Nintendo!)

We had what was essentially a hole in the wall in a wooden frame, through which we would talk to the public. Regardless of your crisis, you would be required to discuss it through this hole, so that everybody could hear what was said. If you asked to speak to someone privately, then there was a large red light that went on, which flashed the word PERVERT across the department.

I digress.

One day, it was my turn to book people in. I enjoyed it. It was a change from the paper-chase and you got to meet people and, if you were lucky, grab a bit of gossip for later[1]. I am not, as anyone who knows me will testify, a people person, but I am very good at that superficial bit when you first meet someone. I can act. I can listen and say the right things, but I do tend to find myself getting bored very quickly, especially when they take out pictures of their children or start telling me about their failed marriages. It is my problem, without a doubt and some very nice people have received very short shrift from me because I just wanted to slit my wrists whenever they opened their mouth.

Anyway, this very respectable gentleman, I can still see him after all these years, in a suit, about five feet eight inches tall, with thin greying hair - a man of much dignity - came to the window.

He was clearly in some discomfort. He was squirming, to the point where he actually had his legs crossed and was maintaining a posture which, under normal circumstances, simply would not be possible to maintain.

Now, I have to say that this marks the point in life when men and women truly begin to go their separate ways. Women pee too much and too frequently, often without control. This is more often than not as a result of childbirth and the fact that their insides were stretched to buggery during gestation.

Men, on the other hand, have a thing called a prostate gland. This is a walnut-sized gland that surrounds the urethra, the main drain, so to say, in the same way that an overbearing mother smothers a child - and if she doesn’t let go, the child will eventually suffocate in her ample bosom. This is a design fault. It is akin to putting the glove box on the bonnet or the laces inside the shoe or contact lenses in your ear. The concept is great, the positioning all wrong.

The prostate gland has a mind of its own. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if they found out one day that it was a parasite that had moved in at puberty.

The problem is, as you get older, it becomes more sensitive, like a mildly demented grandfather who takes umbrage at the slightest change. I have known perfectly healthy men come to the surgical ward upon which I worked for something as simple as a hernia repair. With one whiff of anaesthetic, the prostate blows up like a puffer fish and strangles the urethra. They cannot wee. They leave hospital with a bag strapped to their leg and a two-year stint on the waiting list to come and have the little nut-sized bastard shaved away. Meanwhile, their quality of life disintegrates, as does their self-image and when they do finally come in for surgery, their wife has left them, they have lost their jobs and cats follow them wherever they go. All because of a tiny, tiny hernia and a walnut-sized gland.

So, this is what had happened to this poor, dignified, besuited, city gent. His puffer fish had taken fright at some small thing and inflated to the size of a barrage balloon - on the 4.28 from Waterloo.

I don’t know what happened to him in the end. I can have a guess; it will have involved a massive loss of dignity brought about by some very personal poking, a bag of some sort, an operation and, all being well, a delay of death by a few years.

This is how it was when I peered through the square window. People came in, skimmed off my life like a flying fish upon the meniscus of the sea and then disappeared through those doors into A&E forever, no beginning and no end to their tale.

This is why I never take a good wee for granted.

 

2.Getting into Bed at Night

I have a bedtime routine. So do you; do not deny it. There is immeasurable comfort to be found in those moments when you know that you can go to bed, when you creep under the duvet, when you feel the soft, cool pillow(s) against your back, when the coldness of the bed sucks at your body heat and envelops you in a truly loving cocoon.

You see, it is more than just switching off.

It is resolution.

The day is done.

Fuckoff day. Just…fuckoff.

Sometimes it is all we can do, because the day has been so out of control, so beyond our ken, that we can do nothing but retreat into our cocoon. It is a safe place to be. Like the womb. We can lie in our amniotic bedclothes, foetal to the point of sucking our knees, and just let the rest of the word lie outside our darkness. It does not exist. What is a shame is that we cannot put our memories in a little glass bowl on the bedside table, like an ethereal goldfish, and let them sort of swill about overnight, get themselves in some sort of order, in the same way that you can defrag your hard drive. Come the morning, we slip those memories back in and go out with a smile.

This is though, essentially what we do. Sleep is defrag time. This also why we dream.

In a physical sense, the body slows down. Your heartbeat slows, your blood pressure drops and sleep, as research has shown, actually promotes healing and, as research continues to show, prevents physical decline in the first place.

I don’t know about you, but I look like shit in the mornings. I don’t think I sleep enough.

In the psychological sense, sleep is as vital as any diet, any fluid intake, any exercise. At a basic level, if you go without sleep, you will crack up. You will crack up, fall apart and probably die. That’s because both the physical and psychological aspects of sleep, are inextricably bound.

But there are also the layers of sleep, five of them, which break down into non-REM sleep (3) and REM sleep (2). We might go through several rounds of this every night. It is in the REM sleep that we dream and it is in those dreams that lie the answers to God, the universe and everything – and it is never 42. Dreams, however complicated and unfathomable they might seem come the dawn, mean something. If we could take a dream, strip its component parts like a car and examine it, we would find its creator - you. And we would find the answer, or at least a workaround, to that problem with which we went to bed. This is why we ‘sleep on it’, because we know, almost instinctively, that there will be a chance of resolution in the ‘neuronal shower’ that takes place overnight, ‘whose very purpose is to remove neurotoxins from the central nervous systems. Amyloid plaques in particular are removed during this process, resulting in improved neuronal functioning, especially related to memory.’[2]

Every dream has a meaning, but we cannot always interpret it, either because we are bombarded with so much information, which can happen if the REM period is too long, that it becomes little more than an LSD trip or we simply don’t remember it in the morning or because we are not self-aware enough or because we do not have the training which enables us to interpret such things.

At night (it’s fess up time) I take a hot drink to bed, a mixture of malty drink and chocolate drink. On the way up to bed I check the front door is locked and then I check the thermostat to make sure the heating is okay for the morning. I get upstairs, put my drink on the bannister, outside the bathroom door, turn the landing light off, then go into the bathroom and turn the bathroom light on. I do whatever business is required, open the bathroom door, grab my mug from the bannister and only then do I turn the bathroom light out. This is because I do not want to knock my drink from the bannister and spill my glutinous delight all over the stairway. I then go into the bedroom and, by the light of the TV to which my wife has fallen asleep, I make my way to my side of the bed. I put my drink on my bedside table and turn on my alarm – always. The two acts are conjoined. If I am not working the next day, I have to make a conscious effort not to turn my alarm on.

In order of clothing: I take my trousers off first. Then then sit on the edge of the bed. I then take my socks off and leave them in a place where I can reach them in the morning, usually at the bottom of my trouser legs, which themselves are stretched out like a tired dog on the floor next to the bed. I sleep in underpants and nothing else. I don’t know why. Last off (and always first on in the morning) is my shirt, which is left like a corpse, spread out and easy to handle in the morning, so that I can simply whip it on with barely opening my eyes. For your interest, if you are indeed still awake by now, I dress in exactly the reverse fashion. If I have helped you to hit your own, private REM, it was my pleasure.

Before I get into bed, I make my two pillows right and put the channel I want on the TV. I then get into bed and realise that the pillows were not right and spend some considerable amount of time getting them into what my wife would call the ‘OCP’ – the Optimum Comfort Position.

This done, I realise that I am on the wrong TV channel and search for the right one.

Then I am comfortable.

For half an hour or so I half watch television and half think and drink my drink. Then, I put my empty mug down behind my alarm clock, get rid of a single superfluous pillow and turn off the TV.

I lie first on my right side. I think about things, usually writing and my great plans to change the world the next day. I try to banish bad thoughts, but they often creep in like skinny, underfed, threadbare cats and I have to hush them away.

I invariably then fall asleep.

There is so much comfort in this final part of the day. It is not the same when I am on holiday and frankly, it disturbs me. I cannot find succour in strange beds.

There is a tie-in here with having a wee. I love having to wake up for a wee at night; it is about as pleasurable as life can get. Why?

  1. You wake up because you desperately need a wee and you know the sensation, the relief, will be great. Just great.
  2. You can get to get back into bed and snuggle down all over again, often with the deeply satisfying knowledge that you don’t have to get up for several hours yet.

If this is not Heaven, I do not know what is.

If we are honest, we all have our own routine at bedtime and we all find comfort in it, because it is our chance for resolution or for self-congratulation or simply to find comfort on the darkness.

I like my going-to-bed-time.

 

3.Writing

I like writing. I have always enjoyed writing. I suppose, much like dreaming, it is an outlet. I hope though, it is a little more comprehensible, although…

The first thing I can remember writing was when I was very small. We still lived at Makepiece Road in Bracknell, so I would guess I was about nine or ten years old, perhaps less.

My mother was still using one of those washing machines where you put the washing in the top of it, through a hatch; a bit like the entrance to the command module of the Apollo spaceship. You did not then have the delight of watching the smalls go round, but closed the hatch and prayed for a safe return. There was always that smell of washing powder which you don’t really seem to get any more, maybe because it’s all fragrance nowadays and ‘when I were a lad, soapflakes were soapflakes’. It was a Monday morning smell. I’m sure she did the wash on other days, she had her routines for washing and shopping etc, but that was Mondays. The Broadmoor siren also went off at ten o’clock on Monday morning. Go figure.

She also had a mangle. A mangle was really just two rollers turned by a handle, used to squeeze the excess water from clothes before putting them on the line to dry. She would run the clothes through the mangle, then fold them up and pile them up (on top of the tiny fridge, if I remember correctly) until there were enough items to hang out.

Now, this is where my mother’s washing and my writing come together. I had, with one of my father’s expensive Paper Mate felt pens from work, written my James Bond novel. It was, I think, nine sides long (it might have been six or ten), written on my father’s work paper, which was headed by a civil service crest. It lent gravitas to my work.

I put the finished piece in a brown folder (also from my father’s office) and left it on the fridge next to the mangle.

Now, I could leave you to guess what happened next, but I won’t.

My mother put the damp washing on top of it. Oh, yes, as sure as Bobby Charlton hit the back of the net, she smashed that washing down. When I found it, it was like one of those experiments we would do in chemistry with chromatography paper, where the colours of an ink would spread and separate to create pretty patterns.

This is what happened to my novel. It became a blob. A damp blob. Each letter of each word had spread like a spider over the page, intermingled and caused the whole to become an amorphous, meaningless mess.

Needless to say, I received little sympathy, other than, ‘well, you shouldn’t have left it there’, which was probably a quite reasonable retort.

Now, I can say, without fear of contradiction, that it was probably the best thing I had or have ever written. The world lost a jewel that day. I did not write again for many years, such was the sensitivity of and damage to my creative soul.

I dithered on the fringe of literary greatness for years. I would write down thoughts and phrases that I believed to be world-shattering in their depth. Most of the time it was merely a variation of something I had heard by Pink Floyd, but I think the point is, the words struck a chord. They were not simply a set of far-detached lyrics, but a code to a world of which I had very little understanding; it was by reading the words of others that I somehow managed to find a tenuous grasp on reality and a way to relate to the world. It was an umbilical cord between me and society.

One day, when…oh, what the hell, I’ll let me explain it:

 

‘I wrote Uncomfortably Numb twenty-odd years ago and, despite coming back to it every now and then, it's remained pretty much unchanged.

It came about during a lecture when I was training to be a nurse. Some fat guy was telling us about the riveting world of microbiology and, being in yet another of my 'life sucks' phases, I started on 'Uncomfortably Numb'. The play developed over a couple of months...

What's it about? That's open to interpretation. What do you do when Ambition dies? Do you attempt resuscitation or let it slip peacefully away? Do you spend your life thinking of the consequences of every tiny thing you do, thereby essentially nullifying your existence, or do you grab it by the balls and the Hell with consequences?

It's also about loyalty and friendship, about justifying every breathing moment, and it's about Death. Does death make experience pointless, or is experience the only thing that lets us know we're alive, that we have lived?

I've noticed different things, possibly subconscious meanderings of the time, in this piece of work every time I've returned to it, wondered how I managed to string such words together in such a way that they summed up my feelings towards myself and the world at that time; still do to some degree’.

 

I still stand by that work and still adore it. It moves me tremendously. I would love to see it on stage because I think it has so much to say. It was fingernail marks against the door of life, a desperate urge to get that door open and find out what it was all about.

From there on, I didn’t really stop writing. Much of it was rubbish and has thankfully been lost, but not all of it. I have learned my craft as I have gone along and, I hope, improved with each effort. I am very proud of certain pieces of work, works such as Eidolon and The Stilling of the Heart, which examine and confront those existential brick walls into which I smash my face on a daily basis.

But writing is, like sleep, an escape. For a while I am not me and the rest of the world is excluded by my literary blinkers. When I complete a hard-worked paragraph or come out with a turn of phrase that perfectly encapsulates my meaning, it is a joy beyond measure. It actually puts butterflies in my gut. It is better than a good wee (I was once told off for saying ‘wee’, that it was a woman’s word and that ‘piss’ or ‘slash’ was more appropriate for men).

There is little to no reward for writing, unless you’re truly one of the greats. I don’t make money at it and I am certainly not known for it, but there is reward in the act and maybe that is enough.

 

4.Pink Floyd

A strange choice you might say, even after the previous mange touts. Not so, say I.

I was introduced to Pink Floyd by my Auntie Maureen, Gawd bless ‘er. She did me a great kindness; a life-changing kindness.

I went to boarding school. Now, before you all sigh with envy and believe that I went to the Cotswold equivalent of Hogwarts, think again. There was no magic, there was no Quidditch, there were no secret railway platforms or flying Ford Anglias, there was only the kind of hell reserved for somebody who just wanted to be left alone, who had the social skills of Frankenstein’s monster and had a total lack of comprehension for the world. I still don’t understand it, but I can at least sometimes pretend I do; at least I am that self-aware.

Anyway, Maureen (Gawd bless ‘er, guvnor), made me a tape. I’m sure that even if you never had the displeasure of handling a tape, then you will have at least of heard of them. I say displeasure because they were bloody awful. They hissed and warped and always, always, had their guts ripped out by the very machine that was meant to give them life! Damn them to hell! I am glad they are gone. And vinyl. God I hated vinyl! That though is a different tale altogether.

Maureen (I shall say again) made me a tape. I think it was a C90, which meant that it was ninety minutes long and I’m sure it was a BASF tape. I might be enhancing my memory a bit here, but that is what I recall in my knotted brain.

A small aside here:

I used to live abroad, in Mauritius (hence the reason I went to boarding prison). One of the delights of this island, particularly to me and my sister, was that there were certain shops who, with an absolute disregard for the law and the international recording rights of musicians, would sell albums which had been recorded onto a C60. That’s right. A C60. Sixty minutes. Thirty minutes per side.

One of the albums we got, God help me, was Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, arguably their most personally significant album, about their rejection of Syd Barrett, their original singer, as well as the vagaries of the music industry. It was, ironically, also a reflection on the subject of absence. I say ‘ironically’ because, for so long, I thought the album ended at the beginning of Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI–IX). When I found out that there was an extra twelve and a half minutes which I had never heard, I was both apoplectic and overjoyed. I had bought into the whole ‘the album ends here’ garbage, while at the same time essentially discovering that there was buried treasure on my musical island.

We also got Leo Sayer’s Greatest Hits - well, half of them.

Just as another aside, there was a single supermarket on the island in the town of Curepipe. It was a French variant of the type (the name escapes me) and we would go there as a sort of treat. One day, I saw Queen’s A Day at the Races. I begged my father to buy it for me. It cost fifty rupees. He did. It was another path to the light. Oh, sweet Queen.

Step back right here:

On one side of the tape (Maureen’s tape. Remember?) was A Night at the Opera by Queen, something else for which I have to be forever grateful to Maureen. On the other side was Animals by Pink Floyd. I fell in love with both these groups, but it was Pink Floyd that grabbed a hold of me and shook me and has done ever since. They can still manipulate my emotions like a devious woman and bring me to the edge of tears or to a zenith of joy.

They helped me find a place. For someone who at that time had no place, I lived either abroad or at school and neither of them was home at all, they were an absolute light in the darkness.

One thing I have never told Maureen (and never will) is that there was, thanks to the bastard vinyl, an error in the recording, where the music skipped three times and therefore repeated the same piece thrice. Much like the end of Wish You Were Here on a C60, I thought that it was supposed to be there until I bought my own proper copy of the album and discovered that it was not.

When The Wall came out, possibly their (Waters’) most self-indulgent yet inspired album to date, it was like putting the missing part to a jigsaw. I revelled in it. If you could marry an album, I would have married The Wall. I know that, within the band, it was a divisive and controversial piece of work and probably led to the end of that particular line up (which was probably disintegrating long before that), but we all have one record that represents a time in our life and this was mine. I don’t think I would get on with Roger Waters to be honest, he’s far too disruptive and bitter for my liking, but he is a genius, something he continues to prove each time he brings out a new piece of work. He has made a difference to my life, for good or bad, and I appreciate it.

One of my favourite Pink Floyd albums, A Momentary Lapse of Reason from 1987, was actually the first post-Waters. It has been reviewed by some as a disjointed make-do of an album, but hindsight will come to know it as a great rebirth. Likewise, The Final Cut, from 1983, has been unfairly dismissed as a cut-down Floyd because it was essentially a Roger Waters album featuring David Gilmour and Nick Mason; Rick Wright had been sacrificed by then. I still go back to this constantly, because it is a fabulous piece of work (sorry, David Gilmour), peppered by the emotional honesty and lability that we have come to expect from Waters’ labours.

Even now, I will always go back to Pink Floyd. When I am down, I will put them on and use them as my spirit level for the world. Similarly, when I am happy, I will listen to them but from a completely different, celebratory, joyous perspective.

To a social isolate like me, to someone as socially inept as me, to someone who has never quite clicked with any fragment of society, they are medicine. I thank them for that, for what it’s worth.

 

5.Cigarettes

Don’t you judge me! Don’t you dare!

I loved cigarettes. The best one was after a meal and I still miss it. I think, when my time comes, much like the man on the edge of a firing squad, I shall ask for a final cigarette. There has never, ever, ever, been anything to replace them. That is probably why I drink too much. I am, at heart, in need of addiction. Thank God I could never afford cocaine or heroin, though I believe that they are both cheaper than cigarettes these days.

Let’s do a quick pros and cons of the evil weed.

  •  
  1. It’s a legal drug. That is not necessarily a good thing, but if you look at the damage that alcohol does, then the ground is slightly firmer beneath my feet. Everybody needs a drug of some sort. And the government rakes in the taxes. They like to pretend that by putting the prices up, they are discouraging people from smoking. No! Only those on a low wage! It’s all about the taxes.
  2. As a smoker, you get the equivalent of something like 6 extra days a year off work, just for fag time.

 

‘Employees at a company in Swindon are being rewarded with four extra days of holiday if they don’t smoke.

Recruitment agency KCJ Training and Employment Solutions introduced the policy on 2 January to compensate staff who do not smoke, rather than penalising those who do.

Managing director Don Bryden, who is a smoker himself, introduced the policy in the hope that it would inspire employees to quit, and force other businesses to follow suit.

Inspire Creative Media's James Hackett, who is representing Mr Bryden, said the company was inspired to introduce the policy after reading about businesses doing the same in Japan.’[3]

 

Another article goes on to say:

 

‘For employees at one Japanese marketing agency, a simple submission turned into almost a full week of paid time off. After watching their coworkers take multiple smoke breaks during working hours, one employee complained their regular absence disrupted productivity. The company responded by giving nonsmoking employees an additional six days of paid vacation time.

If that sounds like a lot, consider this: Every year, smoking-related illnesses cost over $156 billion in lost productivity, including $5.6 billion as a result of secondhand smoke exposure…Americans in technology, wholesale and retail, and finance and insurance spent more than an hour and 20 minutes each day on smoke breaks at work. Those breaks equated to over 40 hours a month and more than 20 days every year for each industry.’[4]

 

I can vouch for this. When I was a nurse, smokers were constantly parachuting from the ward to go for a smoke (in those days, there was a smoking room in the hospital). It wasn’t a courtesy either; it was expected. If a smoker was told no, wait until your break, it made Les Mis look like a street party, such were the sulks.

  1. When I smoked, it gave me ten minutes to think. This might not seem like much, but if you are about to lose your rag, to say the wrong thing to the wrong person at exactly the wrong time or just need to take a bit of time to take stock of a situation, those ten minutes are invaluable.
  2. Some tobaccos taste lovely, especially roll-ups. Mmm – sweet heaven!
  3. A drink and a smoke were like Rogers and Astaire – perfect partners.
  4. The smoke after a meal was like an extra course, only better.
  5. It is good for you. Doctors said so; it could clear your chest and make you look like a cinema god.

The cons:

  1. Yer stink like a bonfire with a dead, rotten badger in it.
  2. Yer can’t breathe.
  3. Yer get cancer.
  4. Yer kill those around you.

 

So, the pros, by dint of numbers, win.

Vaping is now the fashion. If you vape and have one of those massive, over-manicured beards and plucked eyebrows, you are so a winner. You might look ridiculous, but you are bona fide.

I miss cigarettes, but at least I can get upstairs to the toilet without help - for an exciting wee.

 

6.Movies

When I was young there were two things that I liked about Saturdays: football and movies.

If I wasn’t out over the fields throwing myself into the mud (I liked to be goalie), I would be at home in front of BBC2, watching a black and white film. My go-tos were Cary Grant, James Stewart, Hope and Crosby – the ‘Road…’ movies, of course, but pretty much anyone would do – and musicals, particularly High Society. I fell in love with Grace Kelly because of High Society and was captivated by Sinatra and Crosby. I was also in love with Doris Day. West Side Story is still a three hanky movie. It was all just magical.

The highlight of every year though, the apex of everything TV, that got circled in the Christmas Radio Times and advertised to all and sundry, by me, was the James Bond film. No matter what was happening on Christmas day, I would be in front of the TV for James Bond and it would be a thrill-ride. When it was over, I could not wait for the next one. Sometimes they showed one at Easter. I was ripe with anticipation.

My sister had a tape recorder. I would borrow it, hang the microphone over the knobs (no remotes as yet) and record the film to listen to over and over again. I thought to myself at the time, if only I could own these films and watch them over and over and over again. Well, I do and I do. What a marvel (no pun intended).

In the same way that I love CDs for wiping out the heinous, hideous, pop-cracking, tack-tack-tack, jumping, scratch-laden vinyl record (and bitch-hissy tapes), I adore DVD and Blu-ray for wiping out the VHS. And neither is streaming as good, so don’t give me that. Just don’t. Blu-ray is superb. The sound is wide, the picture sharp and the extras a tasty platter of film fare upon which I may gorge at my leisure.

I don’t like the cinema any more. There are always morons in the cinema. There is always someone with a rustley packet of sweets in their hands or their phone on the go. There is always someone who wants to talk. I was once in a cinema and a woman had brought her baby in. Her baby! And it cried! So did I!

The staff no longer wander the aisles looking for reprobates; they are too busy selling sweets or on their mobile phones. And who needs aggro from a gibbon when all you want is your minimum wage? Not me. And the prices? To see a film? My house was cheaper than the admission to a London cinema.

My mother worked in a cinema when I was young, the ABC in Bracknell, so I basically lived there; I saw Diamonds Are Forever eight times in one week, but now, they are just money machines, which charge too much for food and drink and are filled with gibbons who care about movies about as much as I care about…well…gibbons.

So, I prefer to stay at home, put my headphones on and get lost inside the movie. Plus, the drinks and snacks are way cheaper and I get to stretch out on a sofa.

But there is still the buzz. When I see the 007 gun barrel on the screen, it sends a thrill through me. When I see the pages of the Marvel comic flicker, I know I am about to go on a wonderful journey. When I take a journey back in time with Casablanca or The Philadelphia Story, I know that for that hour and a half or so, there is only me and those few characters in the whole world. I am the person who watches titles, who looks at producers and directors and musicians. I listen to the music in a film. That is John Barry’s fault. He was really the driver on those journeys because what was a Bond film without the music?

But this is not about nostalgia. Movies are still as good now as they have always been. If anything there is a greater variety of films, because the technology to create them is so much more available and it is now a very small world; social media generates the buzz, cinemas still feed the senses, streaming gives both an outlet for films that might not otherwise have been made and a chance for people like me with no social life to see them. Yes, there is a lot of rubbish made because of the easy accessibility to film, both as a creation and as merchandise and so many people are willing to take a chance, but rubbish has always been made, which is why the great films stand out, why they move us and captivate us and why they always will.

 

7.Pain Relief

My final nominee for this tour do force of a list is, as stated boldly above, pain relief.

This is one of those little things that, nowadays, we all take for granted. Got a headache? Pop a paracetamol. Bad knee? Bag a Brufen. Back gone? Cadge a co-codamol. There is something for everything but, at the wrong moment, in the absence of pain relief, Death seems like a pal.

There were two occasions in my life when pain relief let me down and I was, therefore, without it.

The first example, as you should be well aware by now, comes with a small tale (so does the second example, I’ll be honest).

I used to be a bus driver. It was an unpleasant job. The public were rude, the hours absurd, the buses were badly maintained and the management were intransigent, to say the least.

On top of that, according to a rather eccentric professor at the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield, I caught a virus. Now, this wasn’t just any old virus (one would hope not), but one, according to the professor, which had been found predominantly among officers in the desert during World War Two.

I would like to state publicly here that a) I was not an army officer b) in the Second World War and c) in the desert - ever. I wasn’t ungrateful for his input, but I was surprised.

It doesn’t really matter either way because the outcome, whether it was an army officer’s bug or a demonic possession, was extraordinarily painful and would not be touched by any form of painkiller. It took all the bones in my back, screwed them up into a little ball, then threw them back into the empty space where they had previously been in completely the wrong order. It really was agony and, to add insult to injury, it stopped both my shoulders working. It left me flapping like a penguin on hot coals. You try taking your shirt off when your flippers just flop.

The only good thing to come out of it was that I was no longer fit to drive a bus and the bus company let me go. Every cloud, eh? And let’s be honest, when a door closes, a window opens (as we go along this road, please feel free to look out of the left side of the bus and wave at the giant cliché) and out that window I struggled with withered shoulders and a desperate heart into yet another experience on this ridiculous path towards oblivion. There’s no experience like experience and it’s better to be philosophical about these things. It’s all cheese for the inner mouse.

The other occasion was only last year.

As a warning to any sensitive souls out there, it involves dentists.

I have always been afraid of dentists. I think the Weisse Engel from Marathon Man didn’t help. My first experience of dentists was when I was about nine. The dentist, who was a very nice man, had to give me a filling. There are two things I remember about this. One is that his fingers reeked of tobacco. The other is that he hurt me. Now, in fairness to all people of all medical persuasions, I am a wimp - putting shoes on hurts. I’m pathetic. So, if there is pain to be had, like a pig after truffles, I will find it.

I had to have a tooth out. Ten years ago (maybe more), I had a crown put on but the crown, like most of my body, had decided to jump ship. It had done well. It had taken some abuse. I’m one of those people who ate something and then thought afterwards about the consequences. Peanut brittle? Shove it in. Gobstoppers? Load away. Pork scratchings? The enemy of waistlines, teeth and cardiac vessels? I will take your fingers from your hand to get at them. It isn’t until I have crunched down on these things and something fractures that I realise that I might have gone too far. I went through a phase last year where, to be honest, if I had sucked too vigorously on soup I would have lost a tooth. They had had enough. My entire mouth is fractured.

Anyway, I had to have the tooth removed. It was giving me a lot of pain and, in case you didn’t know, I don’t like pain.

I had had a good and painless extraction earlier in the year, so I plucked up courage to go for it. It would be five minutes of discomfort for an eternity of sucking happily on pork scratchings.

Or so I thought. It turns out that the courage inside your head is absolutely no match whatsoever for reality.

I once had to have electricity passed through my body to check the integrity of my neural pathways. I realised then that if I would never have to be tortured. Want my money? Here’s my PIN number. Want my car? The keys are in the bowl. It was ghastly. It was one of those pains that was so awful it made me laugh, like when you hit your thumb with a hammer and look down to see nothing but a bloody, bony pulp. It is a laugh of utter disbelief. The guy doing the test must have thought me insane.

The dentist, who was a very nice Southern Asian chap, gave me the injection. I usually find that to be the worst bit; the way the needle which, in the mouth, feels like a drainpipe and then the pressure and the sting as the lignocaine or whatever goes in.

I went back to the waiting room to allow it to take effect.

It didn’t.

He gave me more anaesthetic.

That didn’t work either, not completely, but it was enough for him to give it a go.

Away he went.

He wrapped the pliers tightly around the tooth, took the stance (legs apart, knees bent, grimace on face) and gave it a tug. The tooth, noisily, fractured. To pieces. Well, fair enough, I was warned that this might happen. What neither of us was aware of was the fact that the nerve, that nerve deep inside my porcelain mouth, was still alive and kicking and wriggling like a worm. He brushed it with something. Probably the tiniest whiff of air in the world.

My entire body broke out into a hot/cold sweat and my head actually fell off.

That reminds me…

When the kids were little, like all kids, they would get up to mischief, go where they should, so what they shouldn’t and generally put the fear of God into their parents. When They did this, I would say to them, ‘My sister did that; now she only has one arm’ or ‘My sister did that and now she only has three fingers on her left hand’.

Well, the day came for them to actually meet her. They must have been expecting this mutation of a woman, stitched together like Frankenstein’s Bride. According to me, over the years she had lost most of her limbs and not a few of her organs. After that, I could no longer say ‘My sister did that…’.

My head did not really fall off. I want to make that clear. If you ever meet me, I will not be headless. Brainless, maybe…

Going back to the dentist, what he was left with was this wreckage of a tooth, distributed like the remains of a downed plane across a foggy hillside, just bits of shrapnel peppered across and within my gum. And a nerve end the size of a tube train.

Now, the dentist was a very nice guy. He really was. He talked to me, kept me informed and made sure that what he was doing was absolutely, completely, one hundred percent my fault.

Dig away, I said. Just get the bloody thing out.

I will be clear on this point; this was not bravery on my part. I had by this time past the point of no return. My choice was to either leave the dentist and, as he now suggested, wait for an appointment up at the hospital to have the remnants of my face removed by a surgeon with a JCB or to plug on.

But, he said, if he carried on, it would hurt.

It was a stark choice; let him finish, with all that implied, or go home and sit on my sofa with this abomination in my mouth, my tongue constantly probing the shards of broken tooth and occasionally hitting that nerve and sending me through the ceiling.

We carried on. I was not going to leave that dentist’s chair with that goddam tooth in my mouth.

It took an hour. I don’t know that it was like for the dentist, but I found it quite disturbing.

I screamed. I screamed a lot and I did not care who heard me. Surprisingly, I only had to apologise for my bad language once when I let slip a ‘motherfucker’.

When I eventually left his chair and staggered into the waiting room, the place was deserted. I can’t begin to imagine what trauma I had brought to anybody waiting to go in. The two receptionists, lovely girls, turned their heads and stared at me as I came through the door.

Crushed by the silence, I said, ‘Well, at least I kept my dignity’.

They laughed in the same way that people laugh when you watch someone get run over.

That was at the beginning of last November. It is now April. The last piece of tooth came out two weeks ago, the tiniest splinter that had been protruding from my gum like an unexploded Second World War bomb.

I thanked the dentist profusely. That might seem odd, when you consider that there was probably less torture in The Deer Hunter, but the man could have taken a step back, held up his hands and said, ‘I will not do this. This is beyond my remit’ and thrown me out of his surgery. He did not. I genuinely believe that the experience, for all the pain and humiliation, was worse for him than for me because that was not what he was paid for and if you are not used to torturing people, then I does rather go against the grain. What a champion fellow.

 

 

So that is it. That is my list. I could have added other things like mobile phones (they still astound me), coffee, computers, the petrol engine, glasses, George Clooney and a whole host of other things, but the list would go on forever. It is very rarely that I am not astounded. The things that this species has invented are remarkable. And we, for the most part, take every single one for granted because they are so entrenched in our everyday lives.

I do wonder at the cost of these achievements. Every iPhone is built upon the exploitation of the poor in some faraway land. Every cheap pair of jeans likewise. Animals suffer so that I can have the medication I need to keep me alive. For every day I get to snuggle under the bedclothes, a hundred others, for any number of reasons, but mostly because they are lost, don’t. We are pulling resources from the earth far more quickly than nature can ever replace them. I fume when chefs vainly put gold leaf on a cucumber. It serves no purpose. It will all soon run out.

I think that the most remarkable thing that humankind will achieve is that we will be the only species to ever bring about its own extinction.

That will be a truly unique and appalling event.

 

22 April 2020

www.chrisbradburywriter@hotmail.com

www.chrisbradburycreative@yahoo.com

 

 

[1] For my Ringo Starr story, see ‘Jobs’. It will be worth it, really.

[2] https://www.phoenix-society.org/resources/the-healing-powers-of-sleep-there-is-so-much-more-to-the-nightly-slumber

[3] https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/smoking-holiday-leave-pay-compensation-swindon-company-a9282841.html

[4] https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/you-wont-believe-the-staggering-amount-of-time-wasted-on-workplace-smoke-breaks


Submitted: April 22, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Christopher Bradbury. All rights reserved.

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