Carpenter has written – Of all the hard facts of science, I know of none more solid and fundamental than the fact that if you inhibit thought (and persevere) you come at length to a region of consciousness below or behind thought, and different from ordinary thought in its nature and character. It is a consciousness of a quasi-universal quality, and a realisation of an altogether vaster self than that to which we are accustomed.
Three near misses
We had gone to Pagham where Michou took no time getting into a tranquil looking sea. I had intended to follow suit but soon found I had been standing waist deep in relatively still water for long enough to know I wasn’t going to go in voluntarily. There was a moderate offshore breeze that made me feel chilly and the effort required to immerse myself just didn’t seem worth it. I turned around, tripped on a hidden stone, lost my balance and fell in. Effortless entry!
I floated around for a while, mostly on my back, not really swimming, just luxuriating in water that now felt almost warm. When I eventually looked around to get my bearings I was astonished to see I was quite far out, drifting towards the horizon.
I started swimming back and was mildly perturbed to find I was making very little progress. How could this be? I couldn’t discern much of a current and the wind was slight but I was finding it hard work to get closer to the shore. At one point, I thought I would rest for a while, and was disconcerted to find I was still out of my depth. I pushed on, getting out of breath through the effort. I wouldn’t say I was panicking, but if the conditions hadn’t been so benign, I might have wondered if I would become an unfortunate seaside statistic.
Eventually I made it back and staggered out of the water. I met Michou at the edge who said she had seen me swimming out to sea and wondered why I was going so far! To the best of my knowledge, I hadn’t made a single stroke until I started fighting my way back.
Driving back from Bognor towards Shripney, I had just left the duel carriageway section and was pootling along without much awareness of any traffic buildup when I suddenly saw a car with lights on heading straight for me. In a nanosecond, I recognised its nearness, and plunged my foot on the brake. In real time slow motion, I appreciated the cars instant response as it skidded along the road, recognised that this wasn’t going to be enough to stop a collision, spun the wheel and careered off the road onto a stretch of grass verge, sped alongside the oncoming car, peering at the driver malevantly as we passed, noticing her age, sex, demeanour, etc, feeling puzzled as she gave every impression of being terrified, saw she was in the process of overtaking a very long articulated oil tanker, and then left her behind as I took my foot off the brake, pressed the accelerator, returned to the road and carried on.
Looking in my mirror I could see nothing odd behind me so I had no idea if the car following had had to avoid the lady driver as well. The next day, we were doing the same journey again, and it was chastening to see that the amount of grass verge on that stretch was very limited and what little there was of it was full of lamp posts, electricity poles and trees! How I avoided hitting something I will never know.
Prior to going into the operating theatre itself, for the fitting of my fresh hip, I had an intravenous drip faucet attached to my wrist through which my anaesthetist gleefully inserted sundry tubes of painkiller, nutrients, blood thinner, etc, reeling off their names and purposes as he did so, while imploring me to watch. I interrupted him saying I couldn’t even look at hospital dramas, never mind real life stuff. Wearing a blue surgical gown with masked professionals in a room stuffed to the gunnels with powerful medicines, I was far enough out of my comfort zone.
He laughed and said the excitement of those fake dramas was something he had no time for. His ship was an uneventful one, which was how he liked it. I concurred with that, as he pumped in a vial of antibiotic, proclaiming it wasn’t penicillin, to which I was allergic, but something far stronger.
Fifteen seconds later I felt a creeping unease and managed to blurt out something along the lines of ‘feeling a bit groggy’. This was an understatement. An alarming rush of pins, needles, numbness, nausea and tremors, was coursing through my body. The anaesthetist and his assistant mentioned that I had gone beetroot colour. My breathing became laboured and I fought to stabilise rising panic as waves of weird and unpleasant sensations threatened to engulf me. I was already hooked to a blood pressure and heart monitor and the anaesthetist announced triumphantly that one was dropping fast while the other was racing in the opposite direction.
He seemed calm, but out of the corner of my eye I saw him searching in his cupboard, rifling though boxes. His assistant, while taking my hand in hers and squeezing it soothingly, said the adrenaline was on the left at the back.
I tried to speak but my mouth seemed to have swelled to a monstrous size and the words wouldn’t form. I thought to myself this was not going well and I needed to impose some sort of structure to my rampant breathing. Everything was strangely haywire. Ears popping, bile rising, skin flushing, tingling, numbness and tremors coming and going in waves, my head felt it was about to burst with the pressure and I had a clanging ache between my temples that echoed my raging pulse.
The anaesthetist opened up my wrist faucet and said he was putting antihistamine directly into my blood stream. Things gradually began to calm down from then on and I soon found I was breathing evenly again. He then said we could terminate the procedure if I preferred, as I was clearly a bit shaken, or should we ‘plough on’, as it had been, he insisted, only a ‘mild’ reaction!
I said plough on, aghast at the thought of starting again another day, so he sank a vial of anaesthetic into the base of my spine and I felt total numbness spread throughout my nether regions. This was alarming enough, but then the numbness started creeping up towards my ribs, slowly enveloping them. I became worried I wouldn’t be able to breath. I voiced a feeble bleat of concern. He ‘tested’ my condition by spraying my upper trunk with mist and pronounced himself satisfied when I said I could feel it, though, frightened witless, I wasn’t at all confident in my own assertion.
At that point, I gave up and decided to go with the flow. I was increasingly numb, still had that clanging headache, doubted I would be able to breath for much longer if the numbness spread, but happily passed out as he shoved a mask over my face and switched on the gas.
I came to a hour or so later feeling clear headed and relatively normal. Huzzah! But my bladder, despite being still numb, was tight as a drum. I had it scanned and it was found to have a litre in it that needed to come out. After two hours of forcing thimblefuls into the pissoir, using hidden muscles that seemed to be the very last to regain feeling, the doctor was summoned to insert a loathsome catheter. Before he arrived I made one last effort to ‘relax and urge’ simultaneously and, lo and behold, filled the pissoir to the top. Huzzah again!
A thief in the night
I was woken at 3am by what sounded like a key being turned in the door to our apartment. I sat up. We had left the light on in the bathroom so as to be able to see easily at night, but my view of the door was obscured. I touched my wife to rouse her, and she muttered something about the noise only being the rain. The door unlocking sound continued and then died away. I was in a befuddled state, even when my wife said her bag was missing. It turned out she had left it beside the bed, with her purse inside, covered with her dress. She got out of bed and found the bag by the door. The purse was on the top, open, with the 350 rupees (£17) in notes she had put in it the night before missing but all the coins remaining. I was suddenly alarmed for my own bag, which I had left lying on the floor by the door. It held a veritable treasure trove by comparison – credit cards, a wad of £20 notes and more than 2000 rupees. Thankfully, it was still there, with nothing missing. So was my phone, charging – and illuminated – by the toaster.
The window over the kitchen sink was closed but turned out to be unlocked. The door was also unlocked. I find it hard to reconstruct what must have happened. The thief could have entered via the kitchen window, closing it behind him, and exited through the door, unlocking it first. I could have been woken by the sound of the door being opened and shut as he made his getaway. It’s not inconceivable I omitted to lock the door when I came in the previous evening, so he could have entered and exited that way, though it doesn’t explain the unlocking sound I heard. I certainly didn’t check the kitchen window, though if he came in that way, how he managed to avoid knocking over the glasses in and around the sink, or leave any footprints on the sink rim, I can’t say.
I consider we got off very lightly, and I am eternally grateful the thief failed to notice my bag, so casually left lying in his path, which he must have carefully stepped over, on his way in and out. However, the more we thought about what he had done, creeping over to our bed, where we lay naked, with not even a sheet over us because of the heat, picking up my wife’s bag from the spot where, presumably, most people keep their valuables – as near to them as possible – and dragging it to the door, extracting what notes he could find before leaving, the more uncomfortable we felt. We had been in a unerringly vulnerable position. He could have woken us and threatened us. Or, I could have stirred earlier and seen him creeping along the floor towards us … horror of horrors!
We didn’t sleep so soundly after that, though I made sure every opening was locked before retiring. Often, during the night, I would hear a sudden noise, and sit up, alarmed. I was also very mindful of the fact that during heavy rain – of which there was a lot – the noise of the downpour would have totally obscured even a sledgehammer being used to batter down the door, never mind any feeble cries of alarm we would have been capable of!
Pomegranate by moonlight