By Warwick Cairns
I think I began my monthly columns for Beat magazine with a piece about my last Injury Time. It was a lightish sort of thing about limping around the kitchen engaging in a bit of banter with my wife and two daughters after falling off of a skateboard, at the age of forty-seven.
I don’t think I fully explained. I’d like to now.
If you’re of a squeamish disposition, you might want to skip the next paragraph.
I won’t go into the technicalities of what I was doing on the skateboard to fall off it, except to say that as the result of my foot ‘catching’ on the surface of a wooden ramp at a critical moment, the thing I was doing went wrong, and I ended up on the floor pretty quickly and with some considerable force and momentum, with my legs rather farther apart than I would have liked them to be. I am not a naturally flexible person, but I was surprised at just how far apart my legs ended up: so far, in fact, that I could not see how I had not dislocated my hips. I hadn’t, though: something else had happened instead.
What had happened was that the bones of my pelvis had twisted, and in particular the curved structure at the front known as the pubic bone or pubic arch had pulled apart and ‘opened up’ in a way that, in the normal course of things, only happens to women in childbirth.
As well as that, the surrounding muscles and ligaments had torn and a number of the blood-vessels in them had burst in the process, and the internal bleeding that resulted had caused a large, protruding, blood-filled swelling to appear in my abdomen. Doctors call this a haematoma. I couldn’t move my legs: they had to carry me into a car and then they had to lift me into a wheelchair to get me to the hospital, and the pain of it was extraordinary.
In hospital I was injected with morphine, put on a drip, and put into a body-scanner. At some point my blood-pressure dropped through the floor, and I felt faint. I came to in a room surrounded by beeping machines and doctors in surgical masks.
And yet I distinctly remember laying there wondering whether it might be a matter of months before I would be able to get back onto my board and do the exact same tricks all over again, or whether I might, instead, be able to manage it in a matter of weeks.
As you sow in this life, so shall you reap.
I read once, in the newspaper, of a man – or perhaps it was a woman: I don’t remember which now – who won $2 million on a slot-machine in Las Vegas, and then put it all back again and lost the lot. My first reaction was to think “You stupid, stupid fool! What were you thinking of?” and to think how, in similar circumstances, I would have scooped up my 8 million quarters from the heap pumping out of the machine and stuffed them all into my pockets, and untucked the hem of my shirt to act as a sort of makeshift bag, and then clanked and waddled and dragged my way out of that room as quickly as my legs could carry me, never to return again.
But the fact is, I never would have won the $2 million in the first place, even if I’d been there; and neither, probably, would you. Because to get to the point of winning $2 million in a slot machine you are required, first, to gamble progressively larger lesser sums, and to take the kind of foolhardy risks that only someone of a very particular frame of mind would ever seriously contemplate. You win $10, and gamble it all to win $50: maybe you could do that.
So you gamble your $50 to win $500: yes, perhaps. But by the time you get to $10,000, or $50,000, or $100,000: well, who’s going to risk losing that once they’ve won it? Not me, I’m sure.
But if you are that way inclined, and if you are inclined to risk large sums of money against all the odds on the off-chance of winning still more, then who is to say that putting your $2 million back in the slot is any madder than putting back your earlier winnings of $½ million or whatever it took to get you there?
I don’t really ‘get’ gambling, I’m afraid; but when it comes to foolish risks, I am not really one to preach.
Certain fields of human endeavour attract people who, in one aspect of their personality or another, tend to believe, often in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that things will turn out alright. Or if things don’t turn out alright, that they will be able to deal with the consequences without too much fuss.
Optimism, you might call it. Or positivity; though both of these descriptions make it sound like a good thing, which isn’t always the case. Sometimes it’s the complete opposite of the case. Just ask Scott of the Antarctic where unbounded enthusiasm and disregard for consequences can get you.
This is why the pessimists and worriers and hypochondriacs of this world do talk a lot of sense, sometimes. It’s why they exist and why evolution has ensured that there’s so many of them still around. Because despite all their timidity and their moaning and whinging and their incessant fussing and their hand-washing and their precautionary measures, and despite their insistence on following the correct procedures all the time, and their risk-assessments and their CRB checks, they very rarely get themselves into the sort of position where they wake up, as I did, a week after being discharged from hospital, lying in a pool of blood as the haematoma from their skateboarding injury eventually found its way out.
There needs to be a self-help book of some kind for optimists, I think, or perhaps a self-unhelp book, you might call it, to teach them the Power of Negative Thinking and the can’t-do attitude to risk that will help them stay out of trouble, out of hospital, out of the bankruptcy courts and, at the extreme end, out of the morgue.
I even considered setting out a couple of the kinds of lessons that the book might contain. However, I found myself distracted by the thought of two really good things that came about as a direct result of my trip to the hospital, which I’ve absolutely got to tell you about right now.
One was a new book: I’ve just completed the third draft of a novel, set in the run-up to the English Civil War, about a young man fallen on hard times who takes up with an ex-jockey-turned horse-trainer, providing horses for the various militias gearing up for the coming conflict. Then he gets involved with a scheme to transport several wagons of gold and silver from Oxford to Worcester; and just when it all seems to be going swimmingly well, he falls off his horse. And lands badly, with his legs apart.
As a result of which… well, yes. Watch this space. It’s called The Fall, by the way.
The other was an email from a man by the name of Tony Hawk, who is, depending on your point of view, someone you’ve never heard of, or a character from one of your children’s video-games, or else a – the – skateboarding legend. Who, at the same time that my book In Praise of Savagery came out in ebook form, also had an ebook out; and who was, by strange coincidence, recovering from a fall involving a damaged pelvis and a haematoma. I won’t go into the technical skate talk in the email here: it may be enough, merely, to share the gnomic wisdom of his two-word sign-off.
“Keep ripping” it said, “Tony.”
“Keep what?” was my wife’s response; “What on earth is that all about?”
Me, I just smiled. How true that is, I thought: how very true.
More about Warwick Cairns can be found here
Warwick Cairns latest book is, In Praise of Savagery: the true story of a journey into uncharted land inhabited by murderous tribal warriors and ruled over by a bloodthirsty sultan – and the man, the explorer Wilfred Thesiger, who lived to tell the tale. And the story of Warwick’s journey, fifty years later, to a mud hut in Africa to visit him at the end of his life.
and the official, Friday Project page, on Harper Collins site is here.