Sunday, 26 February 2012

Never Injure Yourself in London and Other Life Lessons

Last week, Ruth feel through a roof. She rang to tell me whilst I was having one of my legendary “giant Nandos and a bucket of beer” evenings with my flatmate, Amy. “Roof’s fallen in the Ruth!” I exclaimed, as I replaced the receiver. Then, realising my mistake, I continued to say the words “Roof’s Ruth! Ruth!” in quite a beer-addled way before Amy shoved a spicy chicken wing in my mouth just to shut me up. Turns out “Ruth’s fallen through a roof” is quite difficult to say, even when sober. Go on, try it now. See. I can’t imagine why that sentence didn’t feature during Eliza Doolittle’s vocal training in ‘My Fair Lady’.

A few days later, I was due to meet a bruised and battered Ruth for lunch and it seems, subconsciously, I was determined not to be outdone on the injury front.

In North East London, where I live, the landscape is categorized by a series of gigantic main roads, which have several small roads veering off them, at right angles. For non-Londoners, this can be incredibly confusing during bus journeys. The silky-toned bus voice-over lady will announce the names of the right angled roads, as opposed to the one you are actually on, leading you to momentarily believe that either one street inexplicably changes it’s name at two minute intervals, or that the bus is playing the wrong ‘journey announcer thingmy’, or that you’re lost, or that you are mad, or a combination of all of the above.

The other unexpected side effect of my local infrastructure is what I like to call ‘breezy corners’. In summer, ‘breezy corners’ are, in my humble view, the best thing about London. You can be sweltering in 35 degree heat, hating the world and feeling as though you might spontaneously combust and then you will approach an intersection between the main road and a side road and there will be magical, cooling, glorious wind. Last summer, I was mainly to be found standing around on North London street corners, in the style of a low grade prostitute.

On this particular occasion, however, it being unusually windy even when not in the vicinity of breezy corners, as I traversed the intersection my umbrella broke. We’ve all been there- Your umbrella blows inside out and sensible people with waterproof hoodies laugh at you. I’d thought my suitably huge and sturdy umbrella would be robust enough to tackle the weather conditions but, clearly, I had been wrong.

“Oh, bum”, I thought to myself, as I closed my umbrella and hurtled towards the bus stop to seek shelter.

Later, our bus driver, for no apparent reason, decided he was concluding our journey. This is another eccentricity I associate with London living. You’ll board a bus to Waterloo and mid journey, with no prior warning, the silky-toned lady will say “this bus terminates here, please take your belongings with you” and you’re turfed out onto an unfamiliar street, cursing under your breath and invariably late. You then follow your fellow ex-passengers, assuming they’re walking to the nearest tube station, without knowing that they are equally clueless as to where they are and just picked a direction at random. If you’re lucky they have an I-phone, or are tourists who are not too proud to ask someone where they are (it is an unwritten rule that if you live in London you must never, ever do this, no matter how lost).

As I struggled along the street in the rain, my umbrella refused to open. “How annoying” I thought, shoving it violently with my left hand, in the hope that this might prompt it into a shape that had some hope of protecting my freshly straightened hair from the elements.

“Ouch”. My hand collided with a broken umbrella spike.

I’m always injuring myself. I have a propensity for haphazardness which is legendary amongst my acquaintances. If there’s a step to trip on, broken glass to cut myself on, stupid shoes to stumble in or a hot baking tray upon which to burn myself, the smart money’s on me succumbing to that particular danger. It’s because I’m quite nebulous in my thinking – I’ll be nurturing some sort of embryonic social theory about why posh men love the colour pink and it distracts me from the need for oven gloves. Or, that’s my excuse anyway.

So, even though my tussle with the umbrella hurt, I wasn’t too alarmed. That was until I felt hands around my shoulders. A man had raced up behind me, shouting incoherently (but people shout incoherently all the time, so I’d assumed it wasn’t aimed at me).

“Oh my God are you ok?” he asked.
“Errr, yeh, why?” I replied.

That command unleashed chaos in my brain. Because I did look. And the three or so feet of ground between myself and the bus stop had been painted red by my blood. I looked at my hand. Blood was dripping in great rivulets from my hand, but also squirting in all directions, covering my clothes (including groovy new boots I got for Christmas, I was later gutted about this) and the surrounding architecture.

I released myself (quite rudely, I now realise) from the kindly stranger’s grip and stumbled into the nearest building, which transpired to be a Starbucks. I briefly considered queuing and then decided that, however much of a nuisance I might have been at that present moment, the degree of nuisance-ness would quadruple if I spent any more time than strictly necessary coating the place in blood. As it was a pool was gathering at my feet and the peculiarly-angled sprays were splattering on the glass edifice of the snack counter.

A woman started screaming and threatening to faint. Everyone ignored her. I later reflected how ridiculous it is for any woman to claim to be blood-phobic when we have periods once a month.

“Excuse me. Have you got a first aid kit?” I said to the startled young man behind the counter. He was inanimate for a second, presumably cursing the fact that this wasn’t in his training, before leaping into action, handing me reams of that blue kitchen roll type stuff they seem to use in every single bar and cafe in the UK, in a fruitless attempt to help me stem to flow of blood. I noticed that my voice sounded strange. I realised I was sobbing.

The Starbucks Youth led me into the toilet, sat me on a chair in front of the sink which seemed to have materialised from nowhere and instructed me to hold my hand underneath the cold tap. The sink turned crimson. And that’s when I glanced into the mirror and noticed I had mascara streaming down my face. “How embarrassing” I thought, and promptly spat on my uninjured hand and began wiping at my face, as if it’s common to see someone drenched in their own blood and judge them for having imperfect makeup – But shock knows no logic.

Starbucks Youth was on the phone to NHS Direct, I was thanking him and apologising profusely for making a mess with my stupid innards between sobs and the manager was bellowing at the other staff to get cleaning equipment (clearly worried about the aesthetic effect of blood coated glass counter on fairy cakes). A woman came sauntering up to the bathroom door casually avoiding the puddles of blood as if they were milk, or water (or even wee) and clutching a laptop.

“Excuse me.” She enquired of the Starbucks Youth, forcing him to interrupt his conversation with the NHS about whether or not he thought I might faint....

“Do you have free WiFi?”

Post A & E and feeling sorry for myself

Ruth's Roof Injury

(On the plus side, these shall make cracking Body Gossip stories *)


As I type this amusing little anecdote about the ridiculousness of modern urban culture, I have one very swollen and severely bruised hand, which makes it look a little bit like I’m at an American baseball game and wearing a giant foam finger (I’m supporting the blue, purple and black team).

Turns out, I’d severed an artery with the umbrella spike (those with any medical knowledge will have guessed that already).

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Starbucks Youth, whose First Aid knowledge allowed us to eventually stop the flow of blood and who sat with me until I felt well enough to get a taxi to A & E, my friend Derek, who missed half a day’s work to come and sit with me in A & E and made me laugh with silly rants until my prescription painkillers set in, and the lovely nurse who gave me said prescription painkillers (which are amazing) and a tetanus shot so that, with any luck, my arm won’t drop off.

*Body Gossip does not advocate injuring yourself in the pursuit of a good story.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. You couldn't make this up! But having spent 8 years working in London and commuting back to Liverpool, I recognise quite well the picture you paint of buses, 'breezy streets’ and the public's habit of following one another like lemmings.

    BUT, and here is where I may sound critical but don’t mean to be, the experience of someone rushing to help is not one to be experienced frequently in London! Therefore, not one to be shrugged off lightly. Having said that, with it being such a rare occasion, it is easy to think that the person grabbing hold of you to help, may well be about to mug you!

    Such appears to be the mindset in London, and I suppose may also be the case in many large capital cities around the world.

    I'll never forget a guy on the platform of Holborn tube station laying sprawled out, and my bending over him to find out what the problem was, and being met by shouts from passers by to leave him as I may be about to be knifed!

    Whilst that was late '89 with Thatcher still creating division and paranoia amongst the population, I'm pretty sure that today I'd get the same response from the great unwashed of 'Thatcher's children'.

    Interesting that you felt safer in Starbucks than you did when a passer by expressed concern, and one who may have been also able to help you himself. Also interesting that selfishness and blindness to others being hurt exposed itself inside the place, when a customer, ignoring the blood fountain you were producing; asked about free wi-fi!

    A lesson indeed of the many sides of our society that can be experienced on the streets of London, and no doubt in many of this nations major cities.

    I did laugh at your comment about women who have a fear of blood, given that they have periods. I doubt many have periods though which manifest themselves by blood spurting out of them in all directions, no matter how heavy their flow may be!

    I hope you recover quickly and I am relieved that your wounded hand does not stop you from gracing us with the entertainment of, and wonders of your 'Body Gossip' mind.

    I need my regular fix of your writing - never a dull scribbling from your quill and pen Natasha!