Gut Feeling

In which The Author is struck by lightning for a second time

Well, you’d think I’d know better after years of living in Aberdare, wouldn’t you?
For as long as I can remember, it’s been pointless trying to organise a trip to go anywhere (for any reason) because of the Aberdare Effect. This little-examined phenomenon is the result of any number of external influences, largely involving other people’s notional presence on the bus. If Person A is going, then Person B won’t go. Conversely, Person C won’t go unless Person B is going.
If you think organizing the seating at a wedding reception is complicated, you haven’t factored in the Aberdare Effect. This probably reflects the fact that Aberdare’s a small town. When you live in a small town, and are necessarily part of a small subculture within that small town, pretty much everyone has been romantically involved with everyone of the opposite sex at some point (see Getting Stoned.) It’s no wonder that trying to get a bunch of ex-partners together for a bus trip is next to impossible. Visualize that scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral, where Charles finds himself on the same table as several ex-girlfriends. Now complicate matters even further. That’s a representative Aberdare trip.
For example, we went to see the Severn Bore a few years ago (see Time and Tide.) We started off with a promising number of people for a minibus. In the event, three of us made it on the night. Considering that one of them was Gaz (see The Power of Suggestion) we were lucky there were actually three of us.
A couple of months ago, I got wind vis Facebook of a protest march in London on 1 March. It was one of a number of similar demos planned to take place across the world, drawing attention to global corruption in politics, banking and business. I decided straight away that I wanted to go, and put a status on Facebook to that effect.
A couple of weeks ago, Huw F. sent me an email to ask if I was still planning to go. He’d decided to make the journey as well, and had found out that there was planned engineering work on the railways. With that in mind, he’d decided to drive up, and offered me a lift. We decided that we’d try and make up a carload, and split the petrol money equally. I started asking around some likely radical people to see if we could make it worthwhile.
The first to reply was my old school pal and fellow mature student Mark W. He’d promised to paint his aunt’s house that weekend. The second was Lew M., who was going to a wedding. I teased them about the way that the bourgeois lifestyle had crept up while they weren’t looking.
So I asked Karen J. and Ed L. whether they’d be interested. Karen told me that they’d both be skint this weekend. So far, so bad.
To my surprise, a couple of days later Helen R. commented on an anti-Government posting I’d put on Facebook. She said something like, ‘You seem to be channelling your inner radical a lot lately.’ As a reply, I sent her the link to The Armchair Anarchist, proving that I was just returning to the fight after a period of keeping my head down. Then I asked her whether she’d be interested in coming to London with us. She was very keen on the idea. And then there were three…
I decided that Steve S., one of my left-wing activist mates from uni, might be up for a trip as well, so I sent him a message to sound him out. He was waiting to hear from the Jobcentre regarding his claim, so he couldn’t commit himself. In the meantime, I asked Clint if he fancied coming up. The lads could fight it out between themselves – the first to come up with the cash got the fourth seat.
I decided to check out the local car parking situation with my cousin Mary, who lives in St John’s Wood. She tipped me off about a public car park in Swiss Cottage, which charges a flat fee of £10 a day, and which can be booked online ahead of time. It seemed ideal, so I booked a space. I also ordered an Oyster card, which would save me money on the buses in London. (That arrived in the post the following morning, which goes to show that decent customer service via Royal Mail can be done if the people involved put their minds to it.)
Steve emailed me on Thursday to say that his claim hadn’t been processed, and therefore he couldn’t make it. That left Helen – who had gone off-grid again. I sent her a couple of messages on Facebook, asking her to text me as soon as she could, but she didn’t reply. Finally, I put a shout on Facebook on Friday afternoon, offering the spare seats to anyone who wanted them. Now we were down to two…
As you know if you’ve read my previous entry Bad Wolf the last time I was due to go to London I felt ill the day before. I decided not to risk getting involved in a crowded, loud, adrenalin-fuelled rock audience, in case the pain in my chest was more than just indigestion. As a result, I didn’t get to see Roger Waters performing The Wall at Wembley Stadium. Huw was driving that day as well. Make of that what you will.
On Friday night, lightning struck for the second time. I’d had a pint in The Glosters in the afternoon, and then had something to eat when I went home. It was nothing out of the ordinary – just a cheese and onion quiche and some boiled potatoes. I went to bed at my usual time, and within twenty minutes I was bent over the toilet bowl. I think I must have regurgitated everything which had gone into my stomach during the previous day. I couldn’t understand why. I knew there’d been a stomach bug circulating around the schools in the build-up to half-term, but nobody I’d been in contact with had been affected.
After dusting myself off, I went back to bed. About ten minutes later I felt as though something was twisting my intestines, directly behind my navel. It was excruciating pain, and I ran back to the bathroom. This time, my gastrointestinal tract decided to empty itself from the other orifice. I sat there for a while, wondering what the fuck had happened to trigger this episode.
I’d had a similar attack a couple of years ago. Dr Davies had seen me as an urgent case after I described the symptoms. Then, as now, I’d passed blood – which is why she insisted that I headed to the surgery stat after I phoned up. The Piss-Artist Formerly Known As My Brother has a long-standing gastrointestinal condition, and it crossed my mind that maybe I was showing the same signs. Throughout the night, the pain returned at irregular intervals, and was only relieved when I passed some more blood.
I didn’t like the thoughts that were going through my mind by this stage, as you can imagine. At about five a.m. I decided to take a couple of Co-Codamol (simply to tackle the pain head-on), and that seemed to work. Even so, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to face a journey to London.
On the train it might not have been too bad – at least I could nip to the toilet as and when the urge took me. In a car, it would have been a different story entirely. Once we got to London, I’d have been at the mercy of the public lavatory situation. Mary’s mother Josie warned me thirty years ago that there was ‘a dearth of toilets in London’. and things have got worse since.
[A digression: As a matter of fact, I located most of the convenient conveniences on my regular stamping grounds fairly early on, and they served me well. I didn’t even fall victim to the gay guys who used to hang around, looking for casual trade. I like the anecdote about the writers John Osborne and Kingsley Amis, and a trick they regularly played in the pre-Wolfenden days in the mid-1960s. They would get pissed together in Soho before making their way to the toilets at Piccadilly Circus Underground Station. On their way down the steps, Amis would shout, ‘Have your warrant card ready, Sergeant!’ Then they’d stand back and watch the cottagers scatter in all directions.]
When Huw texted me to say he was leaving the house, I rang him straight back and told him that I was feeling like shit (no pun intended!) I suggested that he should call up anyway, as I had the car park booking and route ready for him. He sounded understandably disappointed, and said that he wouldn’t bother going on his own. I felt terrible – not just physically, but psychologically as well. It was the second time I’d let him down at the last minute.
Apart from more Co-Codamol at six-hour intervals washed down with a mouthful of water, I was nil by mouth until lunchtime today. Whatever it was seems to have subsided, but I’m not taking any chances. I think I’ll ring the surgery tomorrow and make an appointment to see Dr Davies. I’ll describe the events of the last two days, ask her to pull my brother’s notes, and see what she thinks.
The only consolation is that my other option for supper on Friday night was a home-made Quorn and Vegetable Madras with brown rice. Given the catastrophic effects of a mere quiche, that combination could have killed me!
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