Tiny Tale of Terror

Things have a way of sneaking up on us. A certain Wednesday in mid-June began with characteristic Langford bleariness: Hazel had gone off to be a civil servant and I was pottering around in an old dressing-gown, doing constructive things like putting milk-bottles away in the fridge and wondering what on earth I was going to say next in a longish and boringish essay for the British Library's book of critical appreciations of Jack Vance. As does not happen very often, a full bottle bounced out of the fridge and smashed on the kitchen floor, and I uttered certain words. Ten minutes later the great milk lake was more or less blotted up, the bits of bottle were gathered into a plastic carrier-bag, and (this part refuses to come into precise focus) as I picked up the bag for disposal something somehow slipped: a nasty glass shard got me in the wrist. There was a sense of utter disbelief as I saw blood jetting out in an arc several feet long, the way they say it does in detective stories but one never quite assimilates.

Instantly and totally forgetting all first-aid precepts, I got things more or less right by applying direct pressure and a wad of paper towels, and took stock. Already I was feeling extremely odd and the kitchen was best not described. It suddenly seemed unwise to try walking to the hospital; the world kept going wobbly. With rather too few usable fingers, I dragged a jacket with keys and things in the pockets to near the front door, deposited my hearing-aid on top of it (it seemed impossible actually to put it on without letting go), wrestled with the phone for a while and eventually got through to the ambulance service. Phone now covered in red polka-dots. Oh dear. Hazel won't like that. Left the front door open, just in case, and propped myself against a wall which seemed to be undulating rather a lot. Aeons passed.

The paramedics decided to sit me down and bandage me up in the front room, leaving me thinking a great deal more 'Oh dear. Hazel won't like that,' as surprisingly copious pools of blood collected on her favourite carpet, table and William Morris coffee-table book. Confused interlude: ambulance, oxygen, much rattling and bumping, emergency room, some hidden but welcome hand thrusting in my hearing-aid so I could answer questions ... and eventually relative calm on a bed with my injured arm strung up in a sort of left-handed Nazi salute while the other was immobilized by a drip-feed. You know those times when scratching your nose seems the most important thing on Earth? At least I was appropriately garbed for the occasion. 'Old dressing-gown and pyjamas,' I mumbled, 'we have been through many adventures together, but none as strange as this.'

After which, of course, the day settled to nice comforting boredom ... punctuated by trolley journeys (in which I studied several miles of ceilings belonging to the Royal Berkshire Hospital), x-rays, many blood pressure checks, the threat of an operation to stitch up that gashed artery, the cheering discovery that after several hours of pressure the bleeding had more or less stopped of its own accord.... By early afternoon I'd managed to phone Hazel's office with warnings about the great 94 London Road abattoir, and to extract a pen and (great good luck) notebook from that jacket pocket. So for want of anything else to do, I wrote 17 excruciating pages about Jack Vance after all.

Towards evening, with the dodgy arm in a sling, I returned home by taxi at my own expense: a compromise between the conflicting schools of medical advice You Really Shouldn't Walk Yet and Er, We Don't Have A Spare Ambulance. Hazel was soon back, enjoining me to do nothing, sit still, be utterly calm, let her clean up, etc. Then, as I'd rather feared, she took a look at the bloodbath and went to lie down and recover while I guiltily scrubbed away at the evidence one-handed. It's amazing what you can do with cold water, though: the carpet, the coffee-table and – thanks to a laminated cover – even the defiled William Morris book cleaned up good as new.

All that now remains is a small scarred lump on my wrist, but I still find it hard to look milk-bottles in (as it were) the eye. Nasty, vindictive little beasts.

Even more alarmingly, this bloodstained episode had brought out the antifannish worst in me. Kim Huett helpfully reminded me of traditional Langford reactions to disaster, 'Was almost concerned when I read you had inflicted HIDEOUS INJURIES upon yourself. The twin themes of suffering HIDEOUS INJURIES and owning HIDEOUS CARS in your fannish writing blunted my sympathy somewhat though. The author who cried OUCH too often perhaps?' But the truly horrific subtext was that all through that aching day, I'd failed even once to think of the traditional consolation 'Hey, there's a fanzine article in this!' – and instead scribbled endlessly away about Bloody Revenge Themes In Bloody Jack Vance. Am I going all sercon; am I turning inexorably into John Clute? The only way to exorcize this horror is to write about it after all....