Sunday, 17 November 2013

Technological Rage: Revenge is Mine

Don't try to deny it; sometimes, technology is actively malevolent. I know, I know, that the printer understands my request. And what's more, the printer knows that I know. The printer, in fact, is enjoying sincere, perverse pleasure in my knowing that it knows that I know that it BLOODY WELL UNDERSTANDS MY REQUEST. Its persistence in refusing to honour my request serves, extremely effectively, to send me into the throws of a technological rage. Meanwhile, the printer kicks back and enjoys the show. Two hours later, after I have given up and am sitting forlornly amidst the ruins of my pride and patience, the printer has one final laugh by unexpectedly, and very noisily, turning itself off. I live alone, so loud, unanticipated noises tend to freak me out in quite a big way. Then I get angry all over again. Don't tell me the printer didn't foresee that exact result. It was planning it. Waiting for the exact moment when I was about to relax. See? Malevolent.

Once, in a technological rage, I threw a printer cartridge at the wall. This was a mistake. A big, messy, splattery mistake. Since then, I have effectively been afraid of exacting physical revenge on technology, no matter how much it angers me. I have been conditioned to fear technology, and to bow hopelessly to its will. If the GPS tells me to turn right, I turn right, even if I know for sure that my destination is left. Basically, I am technology's bitch.

Or, at least, I was.

Not so long ago, I purchased a running watch. I wanted this watch to perform a few, relatively simple, tasks. I wanted it to tell me for how long I had been running, in terms of time. I wanted it to inform me of the distance I had covered, in either kilometres or miles - you choose, watch, I'm not fussy. It would also have been nice to know how fast or (more likely) slowly I had performed individual laps. That was about it. I don't think it was asking all that much, especially not for an investment of a cool hundred pounds. Would the watch perform? It would not. Time after time I put the watch on, headed out for a run, and came back utterly clueless as to any of the above pieces of data. I won't bore you with the whys and wherefores, it just so happens that I chose a particularly perverse, unuserfriendly  piece of technology. It UNDERSTOOD what I wanted, it just didn't want to give it to me.

After a particularly stressful workday, I came home intent on having another attempt at going for a run. This time, watch, I said, without much conviction, it must be noted, you are going to work. We are going to go for a run, and you are going to tell me what I wish to know about this run. Afterwards, we will both be happy. See how it works? I run, you work, everyone happy. Bon?

Pas bon. I started fiddling with the watch, endeavouring to reach the basic set up page and, well, set it up. No good. I then decided to try pitting technology against itself, and searched YouTube, using some variation of the words: 'how the effing hell does my effing watch work?' I found a video, I watched a video, I was none the wiser. So I decided to try an old tactic, namely, pleading with the watch. Please watch, I whimpered. Please, I really just need you to work. I really want to go for a run. Only a little run. Please watch. Pleeeeeeeeease.

No good. I started crying. I didn't think that this was going to make the watch work, but I was at the end of my tether. I was tired, infuriated, frustrated, with myself, the watch and the world. I was lonely. I was fed up with trying to make things work on my own, with having no help. My rage and self-pity were reaching tipping point. I'd spent £100 on this stupid bloody thing that wouldn't do what it was supposed to. I'd chosen badly, AGAIN. Another crappy life decision, bought to you by me. Another piece of technology picking on me, taking me for a fool. I was so furious I think I remember actually BITING the watch. The run was a write off and I cried myself out, utterly defeated.

Then, suddenly, magically, I was overtaken by a profound sense of calm and determination. My rage was gone, replaced with a cold, calculating understanding of what I had to do. It was time for technology to learn a lesson. Sod the £100. I went to the tool cupboard and collected the hammer.

I was slightly disappointed by how little of a fight the watch put up. Within a very few seconds it had been comprehensively smashed to smithereens. I was still finding pieces of it in the garden weeks later. Now, I'm not generally an advocate of violence, but in this instance it was exactly the right call. By taking decisive action I saved myself from future frustration at the hands of that particular piece of technology. Interestingly, the printer has since behaved itself immaculately.

Oh, and someone I love very much bought me a new running watch. So maybe I'm not quite as alone as I thought.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

The Bonkers Tree

I've been going around in circles with this blog post for a few days now. I've been worrying that readers are going to misunderstand, and think I'm being flippant about a subject that is not only serious, but that I take very seriously. 

So I guess I just want to say that yes, maybe I do seem flippant, but what I actually believe is that sometimes it's OK to poke fun at even the most awful, painful things. That, sometimes, poking fun might be the exact right thing to do. Here goes:

I'm not ashamed to say that 90% of the people I love the most in this world are at least a little bit bonkers. Bonkers people make my world funnier, richer, stranger, quirkier and all round better. I like to think I'm a good bit bonkers myself. But the trouble with bonkers people is that, well, they're bonkers. Bonkers people do all sorts of bonkers things, not all of them good. Over the years, I have loved - and still love - people who occasionally hang out under the following branches of the bonkers tree: depression (in several forms), drug addiction, alcoholism, obsessive compulsive disorder, anorexia and bulimia.

This post was inspired by a beautiful, bonkers, bulimic. For the first few years of our friendship, she was in recovery, and I didn't even really know that she was ill. There wasn't anything wrong with her, as far as I could see. She's drop dead gorgeous, inside and out. Now she's relapsed, in a pretty spectacular manner, but I only know that she's ill, that she's suffering the most horrendous distress, because she trusts me enough to tell me about it. From the outside, she still looks drop dead gorgeous. It is only very recently that I have started to really comprehend the bleak and stormy landscape in which she is living. She wrote this eloquent, elegant paragraph to me in an email last week:

I think in the last five years I've been able to grow a comfortable layer of denial over it, and because I was never hospitalised, and always appeared functional, in some ways it's easy to talk yourself out of being entitled to have any feelings of loss. It's not like I'm in a cast and can say 'look, it's broken!' and get people to write all over it. That would be cool. What would you write on my bulimia? 

What would you write on my bulimia? It is a beautiful, strange idea. What would you write, if faced with inescapable physical evidence of an illness that generally hides out deep in the mind? For me, it comes down to a realisation I have had over the past year or so, that the last thing you want to hear when you are suffering is a platitude. I may think that my friend is extraordinarily beautiful, and most definitely NOT FAT, but what the heck does she care about that? The point is not whether I think she's gorgeous or not, it's what she feels about herself. I'd rather look her straight in the eye and say, "yep, wow, that's TOTALLY BROKEN. Ouch. Here, let me write on that."

So, without further ado, behold my (very poor) visual representations of the things I'd like to say to the psychological bonkerosity of some of the people I love:

Drug addiction
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Looking at this now I see that it's really only the tiniest seed of an idea. Yet it's kind of an interesting idea, and an important one. Human beings can be broken in all sorts of different ways. It takes a lot of courage to admit to the outside world that something is broken inside you. People, lots of people, won't know what to say, what to think, what to do. I'm probably not saying or doing the right things for my friends, half the time. So I guess the point is, I SEE YOU. I can see that you've got a broken thing. I'm guessing it hurts. I'm sorry. Can I cover it in coloured pen? 

Monday, 4 November 2013

The Prank - or How I Almost Accidentally Caused a Heart Attack

Right after university, I worked a ski season as a chalet maid. It wouldn't usually have occurred to me to do such a thing, but I was madly in love with a boy whose family owned their own chalet in the French Alps, and he was going to spend six months skiing right after graduation. Not one to be left behind, I applied for a job with a tour operator and was promptly offered the glamorous role of 'all-purpose-cleaning-welcoming-waitressing-smiling-dogsbody'. Hooray, I thought! I can go and make zero money in the mountains whilst I decide what to do with my life! Yay! Plus I get to be with Tarquin! (His name wasn't actually Tarquin, but if you imagine a Tarquin, your mental image probably won't be too far off).

I would like to state here, for the record, that I was actually dating Tarquin. I wasn't indulging in any kind of international stalking, and there's no need to contact Interpol. The problem was, alas, that Tarquin did not love me. He broke it off a couple of months before we were due to head for the white stuff. Damn you, Tarquin. I did a lot of crying, and then I sat down and asked myself what to do. Should I contact the ski company and say that, unfortunately, heartbreak prevented me from honouring the contract I had already signed? OR, should I sod it, and go anyway? Screw Tarquin! I had nothing better to do, so I was off to France. One grey morning in mid-November I stood in the car park at South Mimms service station and waited for a large, uncomfortable bus to pick me up and take me, painfully slowly, to Courchevel.

There are lots of adventures associated with the five months that followed. These include the time my chalet was filled with Christians on a singles holiday, the time I set fire to all my clothes, and the time I won employee of the season. OK, that last one wasn't really an adventure, I just wanted to smugly get it in there. Screw you Tarquin, screw you. My family might never own their own chalet in the French Alps, but you can never take my Employee of the Season badge away from me. OK, there was no badge, but who cares? I care. There should have been a badge. Anyway.

This story is about a prank.

I was a few weeks in to my season, and already pretty comfortable with my job. I had a perma-smile, and just the right balance of cheekiness and deference with my guests. Nothing was too much trouble, and I was loving my afternoons on the slopes, learning how to ski. A new set of guests arrived; a large group of male friends in their late 60s. They were clearly up for a laugh, and I noticed when cleaning their rooms on the first day that each of them had a mask or costume of some kind. That evening, when they came back in from the cold, I asked them about it.

Me: What's with all the masks and costumes, guys?
Guest: Every year, on our last day, we go out on the hill in costumes. It's a tradition that's been going for ten years.
Me: Nice. But who brought the Freddie Kruger-type mask with the fangs? It's horrible.
Guest: Oh, that's Bob's, don't you like it?
Me: No! It really gave me the creeps when I saw it today.
Guest: Haha. What's for dinner tonight? Can I have an extra pillow? What about another towel?

That was the end of that conversation. The next day, I went up to clean the big room first, since it always took the longest. A quick glance as I walked in told me that all of the beds were already made, so the guests got an extra tick in my good guests book. My loyal if somewhat ineffective companion, Henry the Hoover, traipsed around behind me, and we endeavoured together to remove some of the fluff from the carpet. I was just about to go and tackle the bathroom when a sudden, eerie feeling crept up the back of my neck. The sun was shining happily through the window, and yet the room felt cold and hostile. My palms became clammy and I fumbled Henry's off switch with my foot. Slowly, my heart thudding in my chest, I began to scan the room. Bunk beds? Check. Nothing unusual there. Bedside table? Check. Single bed? Check. Other single... HOLY CRAP! I dropped Henry's nozzle and leapt backwards. This is what was sleeping in the other single bed; had been sleeping there the whole time I was cleaning:

I'm not going to lie. They got me good. They pranked the living hell out of me. A few deep breaths later I regained my composure, cleaned the bathroom, and moved on to the rest of the chalet. Two hours later I was done. My little empire was clean from top to bottom and Henry was taking a well deserved rest in the storage cupboard. Normally, this would be my cue to eat a hasty cheese sandwich before hitting the slopes for the afternoon. But not today. No no. Non monsieur. Pas aujourd'hui. Today, I had other plans. Plans that I had been working on from room to room, as I scrubbed toilets, repaired hospital corners, and picked miscellaneous clothes off the floor. PLANS FOR REVENGE. MWAHAHAHAHA.

I returned to the scene of the crime, and removed Mr Freaky Face from the bed. On my way, I had gathered a small selection of props, including a pile of old newspaper, usually used for starting up the log fire in the lounge, and a fresh pair of rubber gloves. I ransacked the closet in the room, extracting all that was necessary to perfect my scheme. It wasn't easy. It took significant ingenuity. It took string. It took patience. But by jove, by jingo, mon dieu, it was magnificent.

I drew the shower curtain closed on my creation and, with an evil laugh and malevolent rubbing of my hands, descended back to my lair. I chuckled as I got changed into my snow stuff. I chuckled as I clomped down the road to the ski lift. I chuckled like a maniac up and down the slopes. And then, quite suddenly, just as I finished my last run, I stopped chuckling. It had occurred to me, quite out of the blue, that I had engineered a pretty effective scare for a group of OLD MEN. What was I thinking? There was a good chance that one of them might have a weak heart. I MIGHT HAVE JUST KILLED ONE OF MY GUESTS. I clomped relatively swiftly back to the chalet. As swiftly as one can manage in ski boots, anyway. No flashing blue lights outside. I opened the door cautiously, and could hear laughter from the lounge. OK. There probably wouldn't be laughing if someone had recently died from a heart attack induced by a sudden terrible fright. In a slightly cowardly manner, I retreated to my bedroom, whence I showered and dressed for the evening service.

When I arrived at dinner, I was greeted with a round of applause and a small bottle of whisky.
Here's what happened:

  • Guest number one returned to his room, approached the shower, suffered a moment of APPALLING TERROR, re-closed the shower curtain, and hastily got into bed, where he pretended to be deeply asleep. 
  • Guest number two entered the room, noticed his friend taking a nap, tip-toed to the bathroom, approached the shower, suffered a moment of EXTRAORDINARY PANIC, swore, noted his friend's strangled laughter from the bedroom, re-closed the shower curtain, returned to said bedroom, and, upon hearing Bob's footsteps on the stairs, also jumped, fully clothed, into his own bed.
  • Guests one and two buried their heads in their pillows, biting down hard on a serious case of the giggles, and pretended furiously to be asleep.
  • Bob, owner of the offending mask, entered the bedroom. It was not protocol to take a nap before dinner, but nonetheless, he kindly left his friends to it and entered the bathroom...
I have never, in my entire life, heard a grown man make a noise like that, guest number one told me, a broad smile on his face. It came from the very depths of hell, that noise that Bob made. It was classic. I thought he might have a heart attack. Brilliant. It'll go down in history, that one.

I'm actually not a prankster. In fact, I'm not sure I'd ever pranked anyone before that day, aside from tying mum's shoelaces together, which didn't work, since she saw me doing it under the table. I had certainly never used props in a prank before, and haven't since. I think it would be difficult to top that one. I think it was my crowning glory, as far as pranks go. I'm so glad I have photographic evidence of my creation. Do you know, I've just decided? I think I'll call him Tarquin. Good job, Tarquin. Nice prankin'.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

How We Found Rosy, And How We Lost Her.

She's not staying, mum said to me, as she opened the car door to reveal the Miniature Yorkshire Terrier trembling on the front seat. She was on the road by the river, about to be run over. I scooped up the tiny dog and felt her heartbeat racing against my chest. She's not staying, said mum again, her voice firm. I nodded and tried to steel my own heart against the ache already pulsing there. If she wasn't staying, it wouldn't do any good to fall in love with her.

This was no stray. This dog seemed fresh from the grooming parlour. Her fur was soft, clean, and fragrant. Clearly, she was someone's treasured pet, and much as I relished the feeling that she was beginning to relax in my arms, I knew the pain and distress of whoever had lost her. We called the local police station. The desk sergeant told us that he had spoken, not an hour before, to a distraught foreigner claiming to have lost a small dog. The woman's Spanish hadn't been good, but it sounded highly likely that this was the owner of the elegant fluff ball currently reposing on my lap. Had the woman left any contact details? She hadn't, said the police officer, but we were welcome to leave ours. If she called back, he'd pass them on. Over the next few days the dog, who we named Rosy, made herself increasingly comfortable. I spent the whole time expecting and dreading a phone call that never came.

Since the police hadn't managed to help, we decided to try the vet. I confess, my heart clenched uncomfortably when his scanner beeped over the tiny microchip buried in her neck. I knew it was our obligation to return the dog as soon as we found out who her owners were, but I was already deeply attached. I may have been in my twenties, but deep down I was still the little girl who wanted a puppy. I will probably always be the little girl who wants a puppy. I braced myself for a name and address, but the microchip was blank. It was probably implanted by the breeder, but never registered by the owner. Mum and I linked eyes across the vet's table. Perhaps it was wrong to admit defeat at that stage. Perhaps we should have tried harder - though I'm not sure how - to find out who had lost her. What happened was, of course, that she stayed. She was somewhere between four and six years old at the time.

It would be difficult to overstate how important that little dog became. Rosy had special powers. She had this uncanny knack of soothing loneliness and raising spirits when spirits were low. She was exceptionally loving with us, whilst being comically bad tempered with most other people, especially men. She had a zero tolerance policy as far as rival dogs were concerned, and firmly believed herself to be at least as big as an average German Shepherd. Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough! was her general approach to all things four legged, despite the fact that any fair-sized cat could probably have given her a sound trouncing. Rosy was also particularly strident on the subject of seagulls, and other miscellaneous birds. She was positively indignant that they felt they had the right to flap about in the sky near our apartment. The bally cheek of it. She would bark and yap and generally make a total nuisance of herself at the sign of all things winged.

We lost her for a whole day once, and she came back so matted with burrs that it took about three hours to get her clean. We were so overjoyed to have her back that we didn't care. I knew, then, as we pulled the dry, spiky spheres from her fur, how her original owner had felt when she went missing, and I sent a silent whisper of thanks to whatever had bought her home to us. I hope that whoever lost her would have been happy to know that she wasn't dead by the side of the road, but had instead found a new set of human slaves to dote on her.

Rosy used to sneeze when you held a ball high above her head. She used to skid along the kitchen floor in pursuit of said ball, crashing into stools and kickboards. She steadfastly refused to bring the ball back to you, instead carrying it to her basket for a comprehensive demolishing. She always made us laugh.

Rosy had a lot of adventures with us. She had puppies. She made a policeman howl with laughter after she was reported as a dangerous dog by a particularly mean spirited neighbour. She woke me up time after time because she was too small to jump on my bed. She trembled during storms and fireworks. She chased a lot of balls across the floor. She told a lot of seagulls where to go.

I was less than a week into a new job when I got a text from my mum, who was on holiday, telling me that Rosy was missing from the luxury kennels where she'd been staying. We'd deliberated over these kennels - it wasn't cheap to house Rosy and her daughter, Gypsy, for a week - but we knew and trusted the owners, and the place was lovely. A particular plus point was the large outside run, which allowed the dogs to play in the fresh air rather than stay cooped up all day.

I cycled home, slightly anxious, but mostly confident that Rosy would be found. I imagined that she'd discovered a hole in the fence and headed off in hot pursuit of mischief. I sat down on my carpet, laptop on my lap, and video-called my mum so that she could update me on the latest. Baby, she said. Rosy didn't run away. She was taken by an eagle.

It is difficult for me to write this without my jaw setting and my eyes filling with tears as I remember my howl of pure, primal pain. From moment to moment I went from slight anxiety to the knowledge that something - someone - I loved deeply was gone forever. And not just that she was gone, but that she had probably suffered profound terror and pain in her final moments of life. I want to believe that she died almost instantly, that all she had time to experience was a shock of indignation before all turned to darkness. But I don't know, of course. I don't know for how long she suffered. I try not to think about it too much.

So that's the story of Rosy, or the part that we know, at least. She had another life, once upon a time, as a pampered puppy somewhere else in the world. Someone else has memories of her, and probably still thinks of her with a pang of longing. We will always remember her with great love. She came to us by an unusual route, and she couldn't have found a much more dramatic way to leave the world. She always did know how to get our attention. If there's such a thing as doggy heaven she's up there for sure, yapping at the angels, deeply unimpressed by their massive wings.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Wedding Ring

It wasn't that she didn't know about the affairs. She knew. She had known for years. But when she lifted the pile of clean shirts and found his wedding ring nestled in a stiff white collar, the stab of pain took her by surprise. She took a step back and sat down on the corner of their bed. She pressed the hand holding the ring to her chest and was still for a while, feeling her breaths, allowing her heartbeat to slow. At last she lowered her hand and looked at the ring, turning it between her fingers. He doesn't know, she thought. All these years, and he doesn't know that I rotate his shirts. It was worse, somehow, than the infidelity; that sudden, clear knowledge that the things she did for him, the small kindnesses, held no space in his consciousness. But he loved her, she was sure. He never crossed the threshold of their house without some small gift. A fresh apple. A wildflower from the side of the road. In many ways he was still so like the young boy she had fallen in love with all those years before. Yet in her hands she held evidence of his casual betrayal. His promise to remain true to her for the rest of their lives burned cold against her skin. He had taken it off, and he had hidden it away. He was out there, in the world, without it.

Her fingers tightened around the dull gold band and her eyes cleared. She stood, turned, dropped the ring into the pocket of her apron and swept her hands over the coverlet in a sharp, practiced movement. The creases disappeared. She returned to the wardrobe and finished rotating his clean shirts. The ring bounced gently against her thigh for the rest of the day. She felt it as she fed the hens, and as she buffed the silver frames in the living room with a soft, butter-coloured cloth. She felt it, and she thought about it, and she decided what to do.

The next day she dropped two gold rings into the hands of a jeweller. Not the local jeweller, where he bought gifts for her, and for their daughters and granddaughters. Another jeweller, far away, who did not know her face or her family. Who could not see the pride, fierce, in her eyes. What God has united, she said to herself, no man shall separate. And no woman, either.

A few days later she collected her new ring. Forged from the gold of his wedding band, and hers, it was decorated with a repeating pattern on the outside, like a sheaf of wheat curling around her finger. Inside, his initials, A.A.G. and a date. She put it on, and it felt smooth and safe against her skin. The power of his mistress, of his mistresses, sank deep inside her like a stone, diving to the bottom of a river. It was heavy there, it would never truly go away, but the weight and rush of her love for him was stronger, faster, unstoppable.

Shortly after my great grandmother Josefina died, my mother, broken hearted, went to grieve with her grandfather. Before she had even removed her jacket he was pressing something firmly into her hand. She wanted you to have this, he said, his eyes damp and bright with tears. She was very insistent. She said it was for you. I don’t even know where it came from.

My great grandfather never knew what happened to his wedding ring. I wish I could ask him now, what went through his mind when he returned to the pile of clean shirts and found no trace of what he had hidden there. I imagine him lifting one and then another, trying not to rumple them too much, but increasingly desperate. Eventually, perhaps he emptied the whole shelf, shirt by shirt. How easily did he give up his wedding ring as lost? Did he think about replacing it? Did he know it well enough to buy an exact replica? And what would my great grandmother have said, had she ever spotted an imposter on his finger? I imagine she might have pressed her lips together, and turned her ring in a small circle, screwing it tighter into place. He did not buy a replacement. He did not ask his wife if she knew where his ring was. He never again wore a wedding ring, and they never spoke of it. I would like to say that he was ashamed, but I do not know if that is true. I know that he did not stop having affairs. But every day, as he crossed the threshold of their home, he bought his wife a small gift, as a token of his love for her. A fresh apple. Or a wildflower from the side of the road.

My mother wears the ring, and she told me the story when I was very young. She adored her grandmother Josefina, for whom I am named, and whose name I carry with pride. Maybe you think it's nothing to be proud of, this endurance of her husband's persistent, sustained infidelity. But I think it took enormous courage to take that ring away, to melt it down, to hold true to her absolute faith in the vows she swore in her church, before her family, and her god. For better or for worse. Wouldn't it have been easier to put the ring back, to do nothing, to ache in silence and bitterness? What she did, she did with love, and with extraordinary dignity. I admire that.

Just let some bugger try the same with me, though...

Friday, 4 October 2013

Barking at the Moon

I was living in Spain, in a rambling pink house complete with peacocks and a guard dog Alsatian that was more likely to lick a burglar to death than bite them. The Alsatian's name was, rather unfortunately, Denise, and she used to bark at the moon several times a night, right outside my bedroom window. It being Spain, and summer, and hot, I always slept with the window open. This meant that the barking reached my slumbering ears at full volume. I loved Denise, but anyone, man or beast, who interrupts my sleep on a regular basis is not going to rank high on the popularity charts.

I would generally toss and turn through the first three or four outbursts, but eventually, exasperated, I would leap from the bed, fling my head out of the window and yell "DENIIIISE" at full volume and with considerable vehemence. This was surprisingly effective, until the moon peeked back from behind the clouds and the darn dog started up again. This usually happened approximately thirty seconds after I fell back to sleep. It was a fun game. It was difficult not to forgive her in the morning, of course, when she welcomed me at the door with her big silky brown eyes and her innocent expression. "Me? Barking? There must be some mistake. I would never disturb your precious sleep, oh glorious mistress, for surely I do adore you, and your every need and desire is my greatest concern in life. Breakfast?" How could I refuse?

Anyway, one night I was sleeping particularly badly, even before the barking commenced. I was clammy, restless and uncomfortable, sweating under my thin sheet. When the barking started, I pulled the pillow over my head. Whilst this muffled the sound very slightly, it also significantly impeded my breathing and made my head a lot hotter than it already was. Not ideal. Nonetheless, somehow I drifted back into an uneasy sleep, and the dog must have given it a rest, because I managed to make considerable progress on a rather troubling dream.  Mid-way through the night, Denise piped up again, and I was dragged awake. Hot, angry, still half asleep, I stumbled out of bed, yanked back the flimsy curtain, and wound up to fling my head out of the window, taking a deep breath, ready to shout "DENI..."

CRASH. My forehead and face made hard, fast, catastrophic contact with the glass. I reeled back as it cracked almost elegantly, in a cartoon-like zig-zag. The window was closed!? WHO CLOSED THE BLOODY WINDOW!? Oh yeah. I did. Earlier, when I thought it might rain. Oops.

Dazed, bruised, but fundamentally unharmed, I fell back into bed and back to sleep. I slept pretty well for the rest of the night. Mild concussion, perhaps.

We all had a good giggle the next morning, in between giving Denise her breakfast and calling a glazier.  It may have been the one and only time I sincerely wished I had CCTV in my bedroom. I still laugh when I think about myself winding up to headbutt a window. We would have made our £250 from You've Been Framed, for sure.

After that, I never shouted at Denise again. I learnt to tune her out, or to accept her barking as the inevitable soundtrack to the long hot nights. In any case, who am I to interrupt a dog's conversation with the moon?

Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Lady Who Knew

I pulled into my estate carpark one day last winter, just ahead of a metallic blue minicab. I parked, and my friend and I walked towards my front door. Not quite there, we heard a shout.

"Can you help me?"

We stopped.

"Are you talking to us?"

The minicab driver was bending over something on the ground. He was, indeed, talking to us. His lady passenger had collapsed and he was struggling with her weight, holding her head and shoulders away from the cold concrete but unable to raise her up any further. The lady looked like she was in her early 70s. Her beige sweater was stained with something that was also crusted around her mouth. She was ashen and unconscious.

Hoping we could make her a little more comfortable, and warmer, we tried to lift her back into the car. But she was heavy and the car seat was too high off the ground. We couldn't do it. She started to regain consciousness, and to moan in protest at being jostled about. We set her back down, still keeping her head away from the ground. A neighbour came out with a blanket and the minicab driver dialled 999.

"She's just coming back from the hospital" said the neighbour with the blanket. "She's been in and out of there since Christmas. Her husband died. Are you alright darling? You're alright now. She's got a son, but I don't know his name. Can you tell me your son's name, sweetheart? What about his number?"

The driver was speaking to the emergency services, and the woman kept saying that she wanted to get up. We tried again to lift her, but there was no way she could stand. She had no strength in her legs, no balance, and she was far too heavy for us to support her. Once again we laid her down on the cold, grey concrete.

"Yes, she's breathing"  said the minicab driver into his phone. I felt a flash of horror at the idea that she might stop breathing. What would I do? Would I have the courage to lay my mouth on her mouth?

"I'm going to die" said the lady.
"No you're not" said the neighbour.

An ambulance was on its way. The lady was increasingly angry and confused. She wanted to get up, to get up, but there was nothing we could do. We spoke soothingly to her, asked her to stay still just for the time being, told her she could get up in a moment, that she'd be OK soon.

"I'm going to die" she said. "I'm going to die."
"You're not going to die" I said.
"Don't be silly" said the neighbour. "Of course you're not going to die."
"You'll be fine" said my friend. "Just take it easy. You'll be fine."
"I'm going to die".

An ambulance arrived in the close. "I'm going to die" she said, over and over again. She didn't give us a number and we couldn't call her son. "You're not going to die" said the paramedic. "No one is going to die".

Everyone was wrong. Except the lady. She knew.

We didn't see it happen. The paramedics lifted her into the ambulance, and me and my friend went inside, where we warmed up with hot drinks and settled in to workshopping a screenplay for the next few hours, feet pressed against the radiator. A day or so later, I met my neighbour out in the carpark. She told me that the lady had gone into cardiac arrest in the ambulance, and that the paramedics had been unable to revive her.

"I think she'd given up" said the neighbour. "After her husband died, she didn't want to live any more. We saw her son. He said thank you for being there. He didn't make it in time."

"She knew" I said. "She knew she was going to die."

How did she know? What did she see or feel that gave her that utter conviction that her time was up? She kept insisting on it, and we just kept arguing with her, telling her she was going to be fine, trying to calm and comfort her.Wouldn't it have been better if one of us had acknowledged what she was saying? I wish now that I could have said "I believe you, yes, you're going to die. It's OK. We're here. You're not alone. Don't be scared."

There's not much else to this story. My path intersected, briefly, with the path of a lady who knew she was going to die. Who was really only moments away from the end. Almost a privilege, to have been so close to death.