The omens were all against me.
For a start, I'd written Dave Cockfield a letter saying, "no article for quite a while", and such a trifle as my not having posted it would scarcely baulk the wrath of Gannetfandom and the Lady with the Scissors. Moreover, Leroy the inarguable Kettle, whose generosity buggers description, had just sent me some early copies of True Rat. Carrying such things as these must infallibly make one a focus of evil emanations....
Staggering blearily to the bus-stop, I didn't expect any nasty essences to assume a substantial form. Maybe a whiff of existential nausea, whatever that may be. What actually hit me was a motorbike. (Pause for doom-struck organ music.)
Hearsay evidence, you understand, I myself distinctly recall approaching a main road and slipping through a discontinuity into one of those strange hypersomethings where time has no meaning: after a few centuries of transcendental experience I was ejected into Real Space on the other side of the road, my body having been reduced to a thinnish jelly by the fearful fibre-wrenching transition between one universe and the next (or just possibly, the next but one). Closer examination revealed that the jellification only covered one side of my head, which was encouraging.
The mundane world, unable to credit the near-miraculous nature of the event, had meanwhile concocted an unlikely story involving my being struck an underhanded blow by a motorbike. My cosmic experience was just not believed: they laughed at Galileo, they scorned Fred Fairless, they derided the Goon show, it was pretty easy to mock me too. So eager were the Secret Masters to cover up that this motorbike – which I never saw – was standing at the roadside, somewhat damaged (heh heh) when Hazel passed by fifteen minutes later.
In the ambulance, the attendants seemed startled when the corpse sat up, removed its glasses, and delivered the memorable line, "Oh dear." Pleased with the effect, I said it again. And again. No doubt something more pungent and fannish would have been appropriate. Any Ratfan worth his salt would have started, "Bloody hell –" and won an Award for Most Loquacious Corpse of the Month: whereas a Gannet, reassured by the familiar supine position, would keep his eyes comfortably shut and croak, "Mine's a Newkie Brown."
By the way, the glasses which I removed in the last paragraph were slightly bent but otherwise OK, one of the more refined variants of Finagle's Law being at work – since a certain hearing-aid, costing about five times as much, had been thoroughly flattened. Ho, ho.
After depleting my strength with strategic bursts of X-rays, the hospital staff forced me into a six-foot bed and thus unleashed the Terror of the Protruding Feet. Unnerved by the sight of these immense and malodorous objects hanging in the aisle of their nice ward, nurses eventually shifted me into a bed of more reasonable size. There I lay for some minutes before realizing: "Bloody hell," I thought – possibly an improvement on "Oh dear" – "this is a hospital!" The realm of Doctor in the House and Rob Jackson. Horror stories of hospital jokes recurred to me. Fumbling through my lunchtime chips, would I discover an enormous ox-eye from the students' dissecting rooms staring glassily up at me, the greatest laugh since the rubber hypodermic and the soluble bedpan?
"Lie flat," they said, and I did, feeling like Sunday morning at Mancon; must have looked that way too, since Drowsy appeared several times on the Top Ten Symptoms chart next to the bed. More fiendish than this, the first entry also said Orientated, which led to endless mental turmoil. Had I swivelled irresistibly into a North-South alignment? Was a coincidental attack of jaundice giving me that Eastern look?
When they'd stitched up my ear (don't laugh), the man in the next bed said, "Watch out for the physiotherapist."
"She came and wiggled my feet after they took the stitches out, and me gashes opened."
"Don't you let her wiggle your ear."
Later he read out a letter from his solicitor. He had put his foot through a plate-glass window (my neighbour, not his solicitor) and was being done for aggravated burglary. "Bloody hell," he said, revealing himself as a secret Ratfan, "I was only trying to get back my daughter from this bloke she was living with."
All human life was there.
The incredibly attractive nurses attended me hourly, checking blood pressure, pulse, and best of all temperature. Wiped with alcohol, the thermometer could carry as much as a thousandth of a cc of raw spirit into my receptive mouth. Later I found out that it was propanol and not ethanol. I have a great imagination. Under this placebo influence I launched into my "I'm not so dopey as you hic" act and delivered some random monologues, as noted and deplored at various cons by Bryn Fortey. For my pains I was branded "alert and talkative."
Then Hazel came. I'd shamefully delayed calling her, hoping that I'd be out in mere hours and able to tell her in the evening. "You should have called me sooner," she said tearfully, "I would've got more time off work."
At the end of visiting hours I tried to read True Rat. This was a mistake. I laughed a lot and it hurt, and I moaned a lot, and they ordered me not to read. So I wrote instead, heedless of the curious nurses leaning over and blue-penicillin all references to them.
(Talking of penicillin, I had to wolf capsules of the stuff for days afterwards. It smelt vile. A depressing side-effect became apparent in the bog – the stuff slips through unchanged in aroma. Had I visited some primitive society I could have been hailed as holy for my mystical medicinal urine. "Passing a miracle," it's called in the trade.)
And what else happened? Not much. A trendy bearded gentleman in a white cheesecloth kaftan came by and heartily, horribly heartily, asked how I was. I gave a detailed list of my symptoms; vastly pleased at being taken for a doctor, he told me, "You're a very good patient," and bounced away. Hazel guessed suspiciously at the nature of his peculiar brand of bonhomie, and was proved right next day when he returned, sporting a snazzy wooden cross on a leather thong.
The absence of hearing-aid led to problems. I reconstruct one conversation roughly thus –
Chinese Student Nurse: "Bowels move?"
Nurse: "Have you had a bowel motion?"
Nurse (with a wealth of embarrassing sign language): "YOU – HAD – BIG – TOILET?"
Fortunately I caught on at this point, so the ward was spared the interesting hydrostatic details of smallest rooms and the doughnut in Granny's greenhouse. The motherly black nurse had no such difficulty. "Hadda piss?" she would boom, and I responded right away.
Okay, okay, I know the route these things should take. You slide the reader down a smooth chute of quips and would-be funny incidents, and at the bottom of the page he gets hit – ouch! like that, see – by a lump of Stark Reality. To this end I should either suffer amputation of my gangrened temples ("Don't you feel rotten for laughing, you bastards?"), or trip over an odd corpse on my way out of the hospital ("Suddenly I was sobered. There but for the bad aim of a motorcyclist and the low botulism-count of Friday's lunch ..."), or be the victim of a chilling irony: "My god, the hearing-aid insurance expired last week!" No such luck. The insurance expired three months back.
Obviously I'm one of those people to whom things don't happen – not, at any rate, bitter, tragic, ironic things. So saying, I knock rapidly on wood, stroke a rabbit's foot (damn difficult getting the beast to stay still), and bribe Rob Holdstock into carrying a black kitten back and forth in front of me, Worse things could happen yet. The skies may fall, the earth may crack, Dave Cockfield may print this article....
Oh, one minor coincidence. On the day after I was taken away, Hazel stepped out of our front gate and was nearly struck down – by a Hell's Cherubs tricyclist, too small to be seen over the fence. The hand of fate misses again.