Wednesday 16 January 2013

Just imagine if...

Sometimes my imagination is a little over-exuberant. I’m not complaining, I quite like the world of fairies and ‘what if’s?’ I frequent, even if it does mean that I bang my head sometimes (or put my arm in a fully-functioning spin drier or break my knee falling over a plant pot.)

Take the date stone incident this morning.

Unsurprisingly, when I placed the said date in my mouth, I wasn’t giving the task my undivided attention. I do believe I was looking for the phone number to cancel my daughter’s dentist’s appointment while straightening out the pile of washing-up. I stopped. Checked. Then I checked my mouth again. Flesh of the fruit, yes; date stone, no. I’d swallowed a date stone! I reflected for a moment. I seemed to be OK. It did appear that I was still breathing and, duly tested, I could still speak.

I wondered if I should cough. But what if the stone was lying safely at the top of my oesophagus and a cough disrupted its angle, turned it squarely across the width of my windpipe and all breathing ceased? Just like that, with nobody aware, save for next door’s cat which would remain un-fed while its owners were in Australia.

I thought about my children at school, my friends at work and my husband on a train, no doubt in a tunnel without mobile reception, and felt panic rise up of proportions last felt six years ago at the top of the Eagle’s Claw at the local theme park. I’d have given myself a slap but uppermost in my mind was any ill-fated jolt to my insides. I took a few breaths in through my nose – was the air getting stuck somewhere between my throat and lungs? I couldn’t be sure but there was definitely a stone-shaped lump there, I could feel the ache. I shuffled over to the tap and poured myself a pint of water (in an unwashed glass, that’s how serious this was), hoping it would smooth the passage for the date stone and we could put the whole, sorry incident down to a blog post.

Should I call an ambulance? To tell them I was fine? No, I’d try my husband. I’m not sure what I thought he would be able to do, now an estimated ten miles away, but as he is always the consummate hero, and well-practiced, in a crisis, it seemed the only logical step to take. He said he thought I’d have already died if it was going to happen but that he’d leave his phone on just in case. 

Maybe NHS Direct was the answer but I couldn’t risk them suggesting I take myself to hospital, just to be sure, only for me to be sent home with a clean pair of heels and a stomach full of guilt for taking the staff’s time away from a proper patient.

You see, I was starting to think I might have had a lucky escape from a premature death without witness but still, I wasn’t taking any chances. The stone could move at any moment. I took both the landline and the mobile with me to feed the neighbour’s cat, happy to see me alive, I noted, from its tail swish against my calf, and thankfully made it back into my house. Could I risk a shower? First things first. I left the door on the latch in case the paramedics needed quick access and I couldn’t wrench myself from the heap I’d become on the floor. Having worked at Crime Concern, I know all the statistics about opportunist crime so was pleased that in my impromptu test, I unequivocally valued my life over my possessions – even the photos. I stood one phone against the bathroom wall and the other just outside (in case the steam should render the first one useless) and took with me the largest towel in the house and a plan to grab it if I fell, to cover my modesty.

When I emerged from the shower, although the date stone was still making its presence felt, I was still breathing. Three further glasses of water later and I decided that the initial danger had well and truly passed. Wikipedia told me that the greatest threat now would be a blockage in my intestines but that was of little concern. It meant I’d still have time to prepare my evening class before the problems started. Time itself right and I could have a gaggle of people around me willing to offer me up to the hospital in which all responsibility for my own survival would happily be taken from me.

Then the plot lines kicked in. Without the threat of imminent death, I sprinted down stairs to lock the door. Was that, I asked of my barely functioning hearing, a single foot step in the kitchen? I threw myself against the wall, braced myself and peered around the door frame, à la 50th anniversary of James Bond. Nothing there, it would appear. I tiptoed further into the kitchen. There was just a pile of half-washed dishes, a discarded phone, the business card of the orthodontist and a half-full packet of dates. But what if the noise hadn’t come from the kitchen at all but was, instead, behind me? I spun round. Clear. But I would still check every room in the house.

There was only me. I had survived a potential chocking fit and my house was free of vagabonds. 

Six hours later, I still find my hand intermittently reaching to my wind pipe and my ears prickling at the slightest rustle. I can see the opened packet of dates goading me from the work surface as I write but there they will remain. I will never eat a date again - which is a shame as we still have three punnets of them left over from Christmas. Quality Street, anyone? Soft centre, just to be sure…

Thursday 3 January 2013


I had a surreal experience in the run up to Christmas. Cursing the fact that it generally took so long to drive the short distance into town to do my present buying due to the long trail of cars of, err, present buyers, I decided a single minute before its departure that I should catch the train instead.

The station, on a good day, in indifferent weather, without traffic on the only road I have to cross and with a clean pair of heels, I can reach in two-and-a-half minutes. And so it was, sliding over the black ice, dodging the plentiful, albeit driving very gingerly, stream of vehicles, that I saw the train pull in. I gave one last sprint up the hill. As my toe hit the platform, the doors slowly, but defiantly, closed. However the conductor, with Christmas spirit a-plenty, laughed and re-opened the doors. I say, ‘doors’, more accurate would be, ‘his’ door, the one at the far end of the train and thus forcing me to run the entire length, passing every single waiting passenger en route, now fully cognisant as to the exact reason for their delay.

No matter, it was my lucky day.

Oh dear. In the rush I’d forgotten my phone. Once I’d chided myself for the inconvenience, settled down the panic that one of my perfectly well children may be taken seriously ill at school without her mother being contactable and once I'd surmised that the texts and e-mails I’d usually answer seated on Northern Rail would be waiting for me once I got home, I realised I had no watch. Its new battery had been on my to-do list for weeks but there had never been any hurry, my phone chooses to flash the time at me at every available opportunity.

And so I arrived. With no phone or ready access to the time, I sped off towards the shops with one foot firmly trailing in my youth.

Slightly stunned to have ticked off the remaining items on the Christmas list with my stomach barely grumbling for lunch, I sat myself down for a sandwich and began to write. With no alerts, notifications, texts or invitations to get ahead of the game with a seven-egg-white-a-day diet commencing January 1st, I wrote two chapters.
I asked a lady on the next table if she had the time. She looked at her watch. She never remembered her phone, she said, much to the annoyance of her friends and family. I remembered a text from a friend who said she’d tried umpteen times to ring – I’d been driving and only for ten minutes – and the reason for her call wasn't pressing. I don’t blame my friend for her frustration but do ask myself whether it’s a superior world we’ve built where people are irritated if we can’t be reached at every moment of every day - even though we’re so much more contactable than I was in my youth with my 2p coin and a red phone box.

I caught the train home, timing it so that I only had a five minute wait for its departure, don’t ask me how. My children had survived their day at school without a line to their errant mother and while I boiled the kettle, I answered my messages.

Did I enjoy my step back into a pre-nineties world? Yes, I truly did. I was calmer and my memory was better; I didn’t once have to retrace my steps into the shop to remind myself of the purpose of my visit, for instance. Was my day more productive? Yes. Was I more efficient, more satisfied? Yes, definitely yes! And it was so pleasant to chat with a stranger, as I always used to do when I caught a train or stood in a queue. Would I do it every day? Probably not, unless everybody went with me on this, I think I’d find it quite lonely on a regular basis. But as a brief reminder that the world doesn’t stop when we’re not contactable by at least three methods at any one time, and of the time it really takes to perform everyday tasks when they are constantly punctuated by a glance at the phone or a response to a text, wouldn’t do any harm.

Happy new year everyone! May the year be filled with fun and happy times and here’s to technology working for us all.