I am trying to guess how many drunken nights out with the lads I have had. Actually, I have no idea, but one night’s drunken antics is much the same as another’s. One particular session does stick in the mind, if only for the miracle of escaping a nasty accident alive.
I was in my favourite position within any pub or night-club: propping up the bar with a ciggie dangling from my lips (John Major was PM, Big Brother hadn’t got in yet), pint in hand, looking at the women wandering and dancing about, wondering if any of them had recently read any Dickens and would be happy to recommend something. I was stood with a friend, James, and he was looking around at the women as well, no doubt hoping to find a fan of Jane Austen to chat to and tell her what his favourite passages were. There were more than the two of us out together. The other guys – at least three, I remember – were around in the dark somewhere, buying crappy cocktails or playing hit the ceiling in the toilets (a great drunken toilet game that all men should have a go at. There is also ‘swords’ and ‘piss flush’: the latter of these being my own creation, but these wonderful, urine-based games are taking me away from the point). The bar we stood at was a half-circle, sticking out from the wall like a huge neon tongue. Where the bar joined the wall on the left side were the doors to the male and female toilets. On the right, where we stood, was one of the fire exits: a big green sign across these double doors invited anyone interested to push bar to open.
A fellow James and me both knew, Simon, spotted us in our corner and decided to come over and say hello. Well, that was what he thought he would do; but his mind, pickled in alcohol, was having none of that. We heard him before we saw him, his shouting grabbed our attention. What he shouted I don’t know, it was lost in the slurred, drunken delivery and the loud music. Whatever it was, it made sense to him at the time. We recognised him instantly as one of our tribe and our defences were relaxed. Shields were down. Closer he came, a big wobbling mass of drunken blubber, arms outstretched, ready for the few seconds of male bonding that would commence when he reached us. I was smiling, and James probably was to – we knew the guy and liked him.
There is a bizarre visual effect created when strobe-lights flick on and off quickly. If you watch someone dance or wave their arms when this light is on them, they appear to be moving in slow-motion. A similar effect must have been created as Simon came closer, either by the lights, the darkness or the cigarette smoke. Something conspired against us because we both underestimated the speed at which he approached. When he was only a few feet away, he was close enough for us to hear his voice over the music.
What he was shouting, when translated into sober English, would have been something like: ‘I say, I really have a great deal of affection for you two splendid chaps.’ As it was, a rush of hot air with the distant promise of a syllable was all we got. A second later he charged into us like a pissed-up Sumo wrestler. James and me were shoved backwards with surprising force. We stood no chance. All three of us smashed into the fire exit, and the double doors gave way as soon as we hit the bar.
On the other side, at the bottom of thirteen cold, unforgiving concrete steps was the scene of the accident. Simon somehow managed to stop himself taking a dive, proving beyond doubt there is no fucking justice in the world. James and me were lumbered with the thin end of the wedge, or rather, the bloody sharp edge of the concrete. Not only did we crash down the stairs, we had the pleasure of setting off backwards.
The fall must have taken no more than two or three seconds in reality, but in my mind it lasted a little under six months. Each impact was felt and considered in detail. Every lump of flesh that left my body was felt as it was gouged out. Patches of skin on my elbows, shoulders, shoulder-blades and neck were worn away to damp red patches of raw, weeping flesh.
My head was my brake, but the momentum meant my legs wanted to keep going. Had I been in the same position, but laid comfortably on a sofa, it may have looked like I was trying to kiss my own penis.
James was the first to stagger to his feet. ‘That was fun’ he said, and I’m sure I could hear sarcasm in his voice. I flopped over and groaned, slowly got up, and felt the pain running up my spine and across my shoulders.
We trudged up the stairs back to the bar. Security didn’t seem too bothered; the club staff didn’t either. Simon was nowhere to be seen, but the rest of our friends and forgotten their crappy cocktails and toilet games, and wanted to know what had happened. One guy, Chris, had seen it all happen from a distance. He stopped laughing after roughly an hour. ‘I wish you could have seen your faces,’ he said, tears streaming down his, ‘I would give a million pounds to see that again.’
Simon eventually showed himself; his eyes blood-shot, not from booze but from laughing so hard. I showed my friends my injuries and this caused more laughter. I can’t complain, I would have laughed the hardest and longest if I were in their place.
The pain was subdued by the alcohol in my system. I dread to think what the experience would have been like had I been sober. I would have tensed up much more; maybe the booze relaxed me enough to prevent a fracture or two?
Had I picked up a fracture or a breakage I would have coped admirably, I’m sure. I have experience of dealing with injuries and trips to the hospital.
My first bit of accidental bone damage came from kneeling on a plastic train while at play-school. I chipped a small piece of bone, and can remember kneeling down onto it but not much else; I would have been about four years old when I did this so I have forgiven myself the lack of details. A little while later I managed to break both my arms – at the same time, by the way – by jumping off my garden wall.
I stood on it, looking down at the grass. It was no more than a five foot drop, and five measly feet, let me tell you, is fuck all to a reckless little boy. The best jumping from that wall could be had by starting the run-up from across the road. I used to sprint across, right foot hitting the top of the wall (which from the road side was only about a foot high) and launch myself over. The drop to the grass was the best bit: the second and a half of flying through the air then landing perfectly, rolling over and legging it back up the garden steps to have another go.
My family seem to think I attempted a somersault from a standing position atop the wall, landed badly and broke my arms; this is untrue. I did jump from a standing start, but attempted a mid air-pirouette, not a somersault – the rest they had spot on. The hospital plastered both arms.
August of 1979 I was hit by car and got myself a broken leg for my trouble. I simply walked out into the road without looking. My sister yanked me backwards and the car hit my leg rather than dragging me along under it or flipping me over the top. I remember one visit from the woman who was driving – but there may have been more – to check I was okay and apologise for running her half-ton death machine into me. (She had nothing to apologise for, obviously.) The hospital plastered my leg. The plaster-cast was drawn on, signed and decorated by family and friends. The only message I remember is my Uncle Doug’s effort. He wrote: Johnny car-basher – black belt! He drew a car chopped in half which had jagged edges where the two halves were once joined.
Not all injuries I inflicted upon my self when a child needed plastering up. We had a tree in our back garden and climbing the thing begged to be done. As I shuffled along an upper branch, reaching for my next hand-hold, I missed the grip I was going for and fell out of the damn thing; landing, quite safely, on my head. I opened my eyes to see a man wearing a dark peaked cap staring back at me. I heard the sound of an engine and knew I was in ambulance on my way to hospital. I assume the hospital plastered my head.
Our bathroom faced the rear of the house and my dad was in there at the time I fell past on my way to head-butt the ground. Lucky for me, I think. (Years later I fell from a considerable height from a tree in a school-friend’s garden. I hit every branch on the way down and landed on his neighbour’s wall without so much as a scratch!)
Trees were only one danger, though. Bikes and go-karts could be lethal as well. One lad who lived across the road from me, Brett, had a go- kart and we all took turns in it. The best turns were when you could get another kid to push you. Fast. And those turns were even better when the driver, and the scruffy, two-legged engine behind you, had someone to chase!
This type of game is great fun when you’re in the driving seat, but a bit rum when you are forced to sprint for your life, or at least your ankles.
I recall racing down a steep footpath in a church-yard close to my house. This path was two long straights, joined by a vicious hairpin corner halfway down. Take this corner too fast, and you were over the edge onto a steep grass slope with a grave as a landing mat.
Once – but only once – I took this corner too fast. I yanked hard-left on the steering wheel and the go-kart tipped up onto its right-side wheels. I parted company with the vehicle and was sent down the grass slope toward a grave which I thought was about to become my own. Sliding flat on my stomach, one arm outstretched like Superman, the palm of my hand ploughed a furrow in the grass as I went, slowing me down to a stop before I cracked my head on some poor corpse’s headstone.
This steep pathway / race-track was for those people too scared to take the steps – the quick way down to the grave yard’s lower level – but I had no such problem. No-one ever suggested driving the go-kart down the steps – they were very steep – we had to take this challenge sensibly. That meant stealing a green bread tray from the back of the supermarket, flipping it upside down, and using it as a toboggan!
Clack-clacking down, with your head flopping about as you picked up speed with each step, and praying (while grinning) to keep the thing straight long enough to reach the bottom without crashing over the edge, was a great way to pass the time. It seemed normal. That was what fun was made of for me – speed, danger, thrills and excitement.
I am amazed I didn’t kill myself when I was a child (actually, I would have if my sister hadn’t saved my life by yanking me out the way of that stupid car), and it came close a few times, but I had only one genuinely serious accident.
It was a race, and I was racing a girl, Samantha, and racing a girl meant I had to win. I’m powering down a hill on a borrowed BMX – in the middle of the road, naturally – I kept taking quick glances to my right to see how I was doing against my enemy. I was peddling like a lunatic and my right foot slipped off the pedal and my foot was scraped along the floor, causing a wobble. Then, avoiding the warning signs, and after skillfully (or luckily) regaining control – I did it again. The second time was bad news. The last thing I remember was the road rushing toward me as I soared over the handlebars. Luckily for me my landing was cushioned by my face.
The walk from the scene of the accident back to my house would have taken no more than ten minutes, and I have no recollection of the first nine. My memory starts as I approached my house, with no idea how I got there, dripping with blood and my head feeling as if it was on fire. I had taken an almighty whack. I was a very unhappy eleven year-old.
Sometimes, however, jumping off a moving bike was the point. The game Ghost Rider is the perfect example of this type of fun.
All you need is a grassy slope, an old bike, and, as I found out to my cost, balls of steel. The trick is to get the bike up to the perfect speed: fast enough for the thing to keep going after you jumped off the back, but not so fast that you couldn’t get off in the first place. I took my go at the top of a hill in a local park. Two friends, Darren and Chris, stood behind waiting to see if I could get the thing to run along on its own for longer than they had managed. Off I went, peddling down the hill. As I reached the optimum speed for the bail-out, I made sure the handle-bars were straight because the bike would roll along further if they were, then I jumped off the back. Everything went wrong from that moment.
The tatty pair of jeans I was wearing became caught – unseen by me – around the saddle. As I jumped backwards, a few strands of denim made sure I didn’t get very far and the rear tyre did its best to grind my testicles out of existence. Suffice to say I suffered in those few seconds before the front wheel hit a tree and what was left of my testicles hit the seat post.
Darren and Chris were curled up on the grass in fits of laughter. Chris wouldn’t laugh at me again with such teary-eyed enthusiasm for another decade, when he would claim watching me and James fall backwards down a flight of concrete steps was the funniest thing he’d ever seen.
Having these accidents can be character building. You can learn you are capable of great agility; you can learn your head is a lot harder than you think, and your face will grow back if you scrape half of it away. Hanging and dropping from trees may not be good for your ankles, but it is good for your heart.