Bedpan Humour

I’ve been in hospital for 5 days and sitting on my backside for 4 weeks. This has not been easy for me. I twitch unless I am doing at least two things at any one time as I fear Something Bad will happen due to my sloth. But once I recovered20170112_134705 from the anaesthetic, which felt like a really dirty Bank Holiday weekend with Morpheus, and learned to handle the fact my knee joints feel like horrendously short elastic bands on fire, I did a lot of reading. And a lot of thinking. The first was good (mainly). The second was bad (mainly). ‘Twas ever thus.

So for the record, here is what I have been reading:

The Victorians by A N Wilson saw me through the first few days when I was entangled in a cats’ cradle of sleep and pain. I doubt I did the book justice.

Himself (Jess Kidd) was an odd little thing, about a man returning to a village where his mother disappeared.

Die of Shame is Mark Billingham’s latest, about people undergoing therapy – though if you’re reading the post in 40 years then you will consider it one of his earlier works. What an odd thought. Will this blog still exist in 40 years? Will the internet still be around? Think of how may amazing letters, journals and notebooks we uncover from many centuries ago. What will we, our generation, have to offer historians of the future? Emails in draft form? Fake News and Facebook posts? Has history finished?

Blimey. Went on a bit then. Where was I. Yes. Die of Shame. Mark on sparkling form again, with an ending as satisfying as scraping up the crispy bits that stick to the bottom of the Yorkshire Pudding pan.

Saturday Requiem, the latest Frieda Klein book by Nicci French, and the first time I actually like Frieda. Which is a shame seeing as if the series follows chronology the next book will be the last about her.

The Haunted Library, a collection of ghost stories by Tanya Kirk. Wonderful gothic stuff – obviously ghost stories set in libraries, but apart from The Tractate Middoth (the MR James classic) I’d not read any of them. This was a real gem.

My Story by Jo Malone. An interesting autobiography and particularly pleasurable for anyone who feels fragrance is a vital part of life. I do – my quest to find a replacement for Dune by Dior (the new formulation is a bland shadow of the rich, salty 1990s version) has been going on for about 7 years and I still haven’t found the new Me.

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer. An easy to read, sinister thriller. I liked this, so much so that I ordered Dark Side from the library immediately afterwards.

A Life in Questions, Jeremy Paxman’s autobiography. Oh, how I loved this! It was like going out to dinner with Jeremy and ordering a twice-baked cheese souffle, fillet steak in peppercorn sauce with fries and chocolate mousse, all washed down with very fine red wine. It made me howl with laughter, but also made me think. I stored up some of the more pertinent sentences to use in conversation and make myself sound intelligent. Unfortunately I can’t remember any of them now but it is the perfect excuse to read it again.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. Quite good, but not something which I would rave about. I will still read the others in the trilogy then. And yes before someone gets smart I know she’s not really called Elena Ferrante but that’s what she wants to be called, so she can bloody well stay Elena Ferrante.

Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years is a different reading of Elizabeth I by John Guy. The strong, sharp-tongued Gloriana we have come to adore throughout history is not completely disassembled in this telling of her life, but the myths built around her as tall as one of her collars melt away to reveal someone utterly human. In fairness, you couldn’t be a child of Henry VIII and expect to come through life completely unscathed. Fascinating stuff.

The Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters by Nadya Hussein – only it’s not by Nadya Hussein, she of Bake Off fame. It was ghost-written apparently. An average story; interesting to learn about Bangladeshi customs and ways of living, but not something which will stay with me unlike the taste of one of her cakes.

The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths. This is apparently the latest in a popular detective series. Popular why I’m not sure as the book wasn’t particularly well written, and as a crime story it was pretty dull. There were holes in the plot (cannibals? is all I will say about that) and the end of the book was supposed to make you want to read the next one. It has just made me more determined not to – but I’m funny about things like that. No spoilers in this post! Move along, nothing to see here! But anyone who has read it will know what I mean.

A Smell of Burning: The Story of Epilepsy by Colin Grant. Incredible that I knew so little about epilepsy, and yet the first time I was introduced to it was aged 11 when we read Julius Caesar and the poor sod “fell foaming at the mouth”.

The Collected Stories of E F Benson  – fabulous ghost stories, like M R James but just a bit nastier. There were a lot of them though.

The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola. A historical crime story based on TruFac – the murder of  a young woman whose body turns up in various odd places around London. I enjoyed this because the author built up very genuine characters and didn’t embellish the facts too much, but still created a bloody readable book. I will look out for more from this name.

The Matrix by Jonathan Aycliffe. I do enjoy this chap and his spooky little stories. This one is about finding a way to bring the dead back to life.

Don’t Look Now by Daphne du Maurier (and other stories). Why has it taken me so long to read the story upon which one of my favourite films is based? Oh I loved these short stories. Each with a sting in the tale as delicious and sharp as sherbert.

The Binding Song by Elodie Harper. A story about a psychologist investigating several suicides in a prison. Not perfect, but intriguing. The story lost its way towards the end, but it was spooky and brutal enough for me to read more by the author.

Her by Harriet Lane. This built up beautifully, although blimey doesn’t the writer like describing EVERYTHING…. and then the denouement (that is before the actual denouement – when you find out why Nina is so full of loathing for Emma) is really disappointing. The ending of the book though has stayed with me. I keep thinking about, wondering if what I imagine happened next really did, and what was in the author’s head. That is the sign of a good book; like you can forget the disappointing egg mayonnaise in the middle of a sandwich if the last crust is really chewy and tasty.

That was the reading. Now for the thinking.

Two weeks ago I used a bedpan for the first time EVER. Even when I had my appendix removed I didn’t get to use one – the nurse brought me a commode and I had a meltdown when a boy in the next cubicle peeked through the curtains at me. I was naked (why, I don’t know.) I was 9 – they don’t care about segregating you by gender when you’re little. This time I was in my own suite at the private hospital. I got to choose food from a menu and my sheets were changed on a daily basis, whether they needed it or not. 

The evening of the operation, I  wake up at about 1830. I’m cold, so cold. The nurses are talking to me and they lift my sheet up and blast me with a massive hairdryer which is the best feeling I have ever had IN THE WORLD because it makes me warm instantly. I go back to sleep. I wake up again this time in bed. The hairdryer has been turned off and two white pads pummel my calves. They are attached to the bottom of the bed. I’m pinned to the top by oxygen to my right and fluid to my left. It’s like a pleasant version of Misery. 

Come midnight I need a wee. Really, really need a wee. I can’t move – even lifting my hand to have my blood pressure checked is such hard work the nurse has to do it for me – so she says she will fetch a bedpan. The thought makes me go cold, remembering episodes of Casualty where the patient has an icy stainless steel pot slipped under their hips. But this one is cardboard and environmentally friendly. She pulls back the sheets and expresses surprise that I am still in my “knick knacks”. Not for long! With one deft tug she sees more of me than anyone has in seven years. The bedpan is slipped efficiently in place and I am left alone relaxing with my thoughts. 

I

literally 

can’t 

go.

I am stranded on my bed in a half-bridge position like a desperate whale. When I was very little I had bed-wetting problems. And when I was not quite so little, if I’m honest. (I mean aged 10-11, not last year.) The horror of that I’m-on-the-loo dream and waking up to find out you’re really, really not has never left me. Now I’m entitled to pee in the bed, nay, encouraged, and I simply cannot. My manners and upbringing refuse to give me the release I need. 

The nurse, Rosa, comes in. She is foreign – that is all I remember in my sedated state – with very tight shiny brown curls and a glossy pink mouth like an exotic flower. She mumbles something kind at me. I drool something back. She goes away. Twenty minutes later she comes back. She mumbles something again and I bleat my distress at her. “It will come, it will come,” she says phlegmatically, as if predicting the arrival of the second Messiah. 

An hour later – I even fell asleep in that position, like a cat – she comes back in, slips into the bathroom and subtly runs the tap. That does the trick. Boy, the trick is done. “Heavens, you can pee,” she says, visibly impressed, as she staggers out of the door under the weight of my bladder. Please God, I pray, don’t let her bump into the fit anaesthetist on her way out (he really was very handsome, the kind of man they don’t make any more, like Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart) – and please God don’t let her TRIP.

Hmmm.

I don’t think I want you to know the things I have been thinking about … and I don’t think you would like to know them, either. So I will leave it there.

Next time I write a blog post I promise I won’t have a glass of wine beforehand. Yes, that really is all it takes…

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Where there is no imagination there is no horror

‘Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world.
(Shakespeare)

Arthur  Conan Doyle, one of my heroes, was spot on re imagination. My friend and I saw Paranormal Activity IV at the weekend, and agreed that the most frightening things are those which are not seen. This is why The Others frightens me a lot more than Hostel (that just sickened me), and fiction stays with you much longer than film. Ones worst enemy is ones imagination. I remember a few years ago staying at a friend’s house in Portugal alone. During the day, when it was sunny and bright, the light felt it would go on forever, and there was not a cloud in the sky, I foolishly read a book about Jack the Ripper. I then watched a film about Nazi Zombie Killers in the evening. And then went to bed. I was utterly alone.I lay very still and very quiet, not wanting to lie facing the door in case I saw whoever it was Coming In, but at the same time not wanting them to surprise me. Every creak was Jack tiptoeing up the stairs. Every tickle of tree branches at the window was a zombified Nazi clawing at the glass. I have learned my lesson (more or less), and try to alternate between good light-hearted reading material and embracing my darker side, but I just like frightening myself too much!

The Mitford Girls is one of my ‘lighter’ reads and I am enjoying it immensely. The book is very well written, as if you are chatting to an old friend, but it’s also searingly honest, making it clear that, popular and fascinating as the girls were, they were human, and not without their faults. It is most amusing in places, particularly in some of the things Sydney (their mother) says: “Ovaries? I thought one had 700 or so of them, like caviar.”

However, of course, as we approach Halloween, which is possibly my third favourite night of the year after Christmas Eve and my birthday, I am thinking of spine-chilling books, and want to share them with you, mainly because some of them are not terribly well known. At school, I raided the library for John Gordon, Aidan Chambers and Dennis Hamley. Our primary school was tiny, probably 40 pupils max. The library was, of course, my favourite place: a tiny corner in the corner of the ‘big class’ with dark shelves of rather old, tatty books covered in plastic. I could quite happily curl up on one of the little, hard-backed wooden chairs and spend hours. The books smelled of hundreds of pre-readers. I loved the way the pages were marked by blobs of Ribena or the occasional tiny squashed spider. It showed that someone had been there before me, and enjoyed them.

I recently tracked down, and bought, a variety of these story compendiums on Amazon. They are very simply written, and utterly chilling. Reading them again, 17 years after I first opened them, I felt that delicious silver shiver go down the back of my neck and tickle each vertebrae. They were quite hard to find – I remembered the title of a few (who could forget a book called The Shirt Off A Hanged Man’s Back?) but for some I simply had to Google lines I remembered from stories, and hope that the volume came up. It took a little digging, but I’m really pleased that my ghost story collection has grown to include these gems which I recommend for children aged 8 up, or from adults who like to curl up when the wind is howling down the chimney with a hot chocolate, a slanket, and cold fingers tiptoeing their way down your spine…

Catch Your Death

Ghost After Ghost

The Burning Baby

A Haunt of Ghosts

Favourite Ghost Stories

My favourite collection is Shades of Dark, by Aidan Chambers. Many of these stories I could recite word for word. I tried to order it from WH Smith years ago (before the days of Amazon) and was gutted when they told me it was out of print. Discovering it in a second-hand book shop in Cheltenham was possibly one of the most exciting days of my life, tragic as it sounds. It’s a real gem. I am infuriated that it took me some time to find it as that bloody 50 Shades is top of the list grrrrrr…Another very good compendium (all her own work) is The Shadow Cage by Philippa Pearce. These are SERIOUSLY creepy, highly original, stories, none of them without the ‘happy ending’ which one could really do with from a ghost story in order to tuck down and get a good night’s sleep. Fans of Tom’s Midnight Garden and A Dog So Small will know Pearce is one of the superior children’s authors, but she needs to be recognised for her chilling talent, as well.

Ramsey Campbell is another writer I really like for unusual fiction which leave sa bit of a nasty taste in the mouth.The last book of his I read, The Grin of the Dark, was not as good as I expected, but it hasn’t stopped me enjoying his old stories. Most recently I have enjoyed Dark Matter by Michele Paver – a darkly original tale set in Alaska, and of course, possibly the best ghost story ever told: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill. Don’t go to the book expecting the film, and don’t watch the film expecting the book: they are different to each other but I think this is the best way of doing it as the film shocks the reader, and the book the viewer.

I may well come back to this post and update it as I think of more strictly supernatural scribblers to share – M R James and Edgar Allan Poe are of course pure gold – but if anyone has any others to contribute I would love more recommendations.

I have written my own supernatural stories – a collection of very odd little tales I wrote when I got bored during my GCSEs, some based on dreams (I do my best work when I sleep, obviously!) and a couple which I wrote for competitions. I don’t think my story about a man haunted by the death of his best friend was quite what Gloucestershire Libraries were looking for but it was a damn sight more interesting than the soppy romance wot won, and I am quite pleased with it. I’m not putting any of them up here, because they might get stolen and published for millions, or (more likely) you will all go “Yeah. Nice work” politely and then never bother reading my blog again.

I am skipping out now – for a ghost walk, of all things! Let’s see what Cheltenham has in store. I had a lovely drive home last evening, just as the light started to fade. The trees either side were golden brown (texture like sun) and the road dusted with leaves.

I wonder if, like a leaf, I will be possibly most beautiful when I am dead. That would be just my luck!