My Zombie Story: living with acute bodily leakage.

The bleeding started with a microscopic razor cut on my chin. A tiny spot which started a trickle down onto my shirt and into the basin. It wasn’t gushing or pulsating or in any way projectile – just steady. Tissues didn’t stop it; steady pressure didn’t stop it; a cold compress didn’t stop it.

After an hour of this ever increasingly frustrating blood trickle, I dropped by the chemists and they supplied me with an aluminium sulphate stick which I applied zealously, eventually coating the whole of my face with a thin white powder as it dried. But the bleeding didn’t stop.

After 3 hours, 4 bloodied shirts and 5 entire boxes of Kleenex, I set off for the doctors, clutching a bath towel to my face. Still no pain at all – just the constant sensation of blood trickling down my chin and into my mouth.

By now I’m thinking, I must have lost a pint of blood at least. Am I feeling faint? No. Sick? No. What’s going on? No idea. No history of late onset haemophilia as far as I know. Perhaps my blood pressure is too high? Maybe. The doctor will tell me. When I see him. Which could be some time as the waiting room is full to bursting with people of all shapes and sizes and all sorts of ailments.

I’m still bleeding profusely as I strike up a conversation with a young woman whose nose has been running for over two weeks. She’s really aggravated by it but can’t identify why it’s happening. We’re joined by a young lad who has a blister which won’t stop seeping either. We joke about being extras in a zombie movie which lightens the mood but doesn’t stop the collective leakages.

We all take our turn to see the doctor who dispenses various prescriptions and as things are wont to do, we agree to meet up in a pub a few weeks later to see how we have got on.

Later that month, we three sufferers of unexplained bodily leakage meet up to swop notes on the state of play of medical appliances which prevent unsightly leakage from all bodily orifices.

The prognoses for our conditions are not encouraging. No-one as yet has yet found a way preventing acute bodily fluid seepage. If however you bleed chronically, there will be something there to help you, whether this be help groups, web sites or television programmes. If it’s really chronic, you might even be able to get into A and E at your local hospital.

But acute leakers beware: we have a long time to wait before our condition is treated with the respect it deserves. We risk becoming figures of fun in the meantime but one day our prayers for a cure for acute bodily disintegration will be answered and we will be able to hold our bloodied chins, mucous noses and weeping blisters up high.

My Zombie Story: Michael Jackson and me.

I stepped out of the front door, turned the key so the cats couldn’t escape and stepped out on to the pavement down the road when I noticed him.

The white socks gave it away first of all. They skipped steadily ahead of me, leading the way for the shiny patent leather shoes which weren’t too far behind. A skip, a hop and a jump and a quick stock still; then a mini pirouette and they were off up the road again, skipping, skipping, hopping but always skipping.

I put it down to a heavy night on the ale, and dismissed any fancy ideas of early morning lookalikees, second life apparitions or improbable resurrection. I walked on steadily, not looking up from the autumnal gutter of leave slush, Macdonalds wrappers and used condoms.

But in a breathtaking flash, he’d passed on beside me, in the air, throwing his trilby up and striking that victorious pose upon landing. There was no doubting it this time: Michael Jackson was back in the land of the living and he’d come to visit me to tell me everything would be alright.

I shrugged and continued my schlepping to the bus stop. Michael may well have defied death but he hadn’t stopped it raining and he would be unlikely to hold up the bus for me.

Meanwhile his cavorting was becoming a tad irritating. He was now mid- dual carriageway, moon walking for all his worth, white socks gleaming as never before. That little hiccup in the legs, his feet at odd angles, arms akimbo, mad staring look at passers by: he was at his best leaping gracefully from road side to pavement, torso jerkily cavorting in three different directions simultaneously.

There’s no getting away from him I frowned. He’s infectious, that’s what he is as I found myself stepping out in time, joining him in his Thriller routine, grimacing along with the best of the zombies who we’re joining me on their way to work.

There was the usual orderly queue waiting at the bus stop initially but before long, under Michael’s superb direction we were jazz handing like never before, rolling around in the gutter like we were possessed and on his command all leapt up fifteen feet into the air, tearing our clothes from our sodden bodies, blood streaming off our faces but dancing in cahoots with Michael as if our lives depended on it.

He disappeared as he quickly as he had appeared, no more white socks or shiny shoes to be seen anywhere. We all blinked in the sun that suddenly shone out from behind the clouds, looked at each other, disbelievingly. No one at work would believe us either but that didn’t matter. Michael was back in town.

Lean back and glare: a waiting story in the supermarket ebb and flow

I was shopping as-per in the as-per multinational su-per market today and was confided in by one of the check out staff whilst I was waiting to rid myself of my unwanted cash in return for their highly desireable goods.

I’m off in 8 so I sit back in my chair and glare at them hoping they’ll go away“. ‘Them’ of course being your average as per customer ie the likes of you and me.

I thanked her for her insight into the ways of the check out staff and made a mental note that next time I visited the as per su-per market, i would keep an eye out for staff who were due to come off their shifts, stack up the trolley with as much produce as possible, stagger over to them, laboriously unload all my shopping and then admit to forgetting my credit card.

This would be a sure fire way to disrupt the massive machine that is the as-per su-per market. This action could be coupled with plans for other shoppers to amble slowly the wrong way around the shops; breaking eggs in the wrong aisles, taking phone calls at the fish stall and ensuring that the smooth movements the market has planned for us the moment we enter their premises are disrupted at every conceivable opportunity.

Whilst this may not encourage modern capitalism to reconsider its ways, it may be a contributory factor to ensuring that the su-per market senior management oiks have to respond to the irrationality and unpredictability of human beings, even if it does mean their staff have to stay a bit longer and clean up the mess. There’s always more reasons to find ways to ensure every little helps with their overtime bills, I’m sure.

A Waiting Story: We’re not getting any younger these days

So said the heavy athlete slumped on the bench in the men’s changing rooms, gazing at his cracked up trainers, sodden t shirt and pale blue shorts strewn across the floor. He’d had a difficult match on a squash court, being raced around by just a strip of a lad who had humiliated him over 3 games, 27 minutes and never ending memories of how things used to be, back in the day.

True, we sympathised. There was a time, back in the day, when we did indeed get younger with the passing of the days.

There was a time, way back when, when getting older really did feel like you were getting younger: as the days passed, your skin shone a bit more, your hair grew faster, and your torso shed pounds quicker, the longer you stood looking at yourself in the mirror.

At what point did the days do a volte face and far from getting younger as we got older, did we actually get older as we got older?

A Waiting Story: Stupid ways of dying

Waiting for the next big call can be a mundane experience with the minimum of drama, pathos or tragedy. It can include being hit by a firework which has been fired along your street; a piano falling on your head from a first floor flat; or your offices being blown up in a gas explosion.

Slipping in the shower and drowning in an inch of water might qualify too as would falling under a bus. Whilst there may not be any recorded incidents of people falling to their death by stepping off the pavement only to be struck down by a No 19 red London bus, our thoughts and sympathies are with the family of Matthew Wood who was struck down by a helicopter falling out of the skies in London yesterday.

Being hit by a cricket ball which smashes your car window whilst you’re watching a cricket match at a village green whilst sat in the safety of your car, parked on the perimeter boundary would be irritating in the extreme but could only be capped by falling out of the doors of a stationery train which is parked at a railway station.

Choking on your mobile phone when you use that app which pretends to convert your phone into a pint of beer too seriously would take the biscuit.

Death is clearly a serious business but has its ridiculous aspects too. I aim to die in circumstances which come close to being farcical.

A Waiting Story: the border guard, coach driver and me

I’m in a brief queue which has decanted from the decrepit coach we’re travelling in from Niš to Sofia. The coach has seen better days and an eerie green luminiscent light which won’t be switched off has accompanied us for the past 2 hours all the way up to the border.

The penultimate guy in the queue – a Japanese backpacker – is called forward by the burley Balkan guard. He looks hard at him, hard at the passport and then back to the backpacker. ‘Is this you?’ he sneers and the traveller confirms it is. There’s a pause. He’s waved through and he calls me upto the desk.

He takes a lot of interest in my passport. He opens it, looks at the photo, flicks through the pages, looks at me, at the photo, at the text above it. He gets up and goes off to find a friend. A few minutes later he returns with friend who goes through the same routine; looks at me, at picture, flick through the passport, look at me, look at the photo. They now bend the passport back and look at the stitching of the paperwork.

I feel pretty relaxed through all this. They’re doing this because this is their job. They do it all the time. There is nothing untoward about my passport. I’ve had it in my possession all week long. Hang on – that’s not true. It was in the desk of the concierge all week. Maybe… Maybe someone had taken it out and done something to it. Photocopied it? Graffitied all over it? Replaced the picture? I start momentarily to get slightly nervous. And this probably shows.

‘Is this yours?‘ The friend stares hard at me.
Yes‘, I reply. ‘It is.’
Ok.’ Pause.
You can go.’ Just like that. That’s a bit more unnerving. No further examination or questioning. Just go. Now.

The problem is now that I’m last out of the shack and I can’t see my coach anywhere. I walk over to another border guard in a cabin and ask where the coach is and he just says go go go and I have no idea where he means. There’s someone next to him who looks like my driver. ‘Are you my driver?’ I ask him and he has no idea what I’ve said and so shrugs, mutters something and walks off.

I walk back to the pathway which leads out of the border control and through some passengers from what I think is another bus and up a slope to where I think my bus might have gone. But there’s nothing at the top of the slope apart from a garage and a couple of long distance German trucks. It’s gotten foggy. There’s no cafe nearby which might have been a site for a coach to have stopped in. There’s nothing now anywhere – apart from an impending sense that the coach has left the border station complete with my baggage, laptop, credit cards and eerie green light. All I have is a mobile phone with a dwindling battery. And a growing sense of impending panic.

There’s a brief foghorn call at the bottom of the slope. It sounds like it could have been a coach horn. But I’m not sure so walk towards what looks like a coach, but it’s nothing like the coach I was travelling in. I walk up to its front and check its destination: Sofia. This is my coach, but it can’t be. Where has it been all this time? I get on and see the same passengers that I left Niš with. Where did they get to? How did I miss them? Why are they looking so irritated?

One of them says ‘chauffeur’ and I repeat back at him ‘chauffeur’? And straight away stumbling up the steps comes the driver – the same one who drove us all here, in that eerie green light, the same one who muttered at me at the border cabin only this time he’s not muttering but shouting loudly, abusively with ‘ingleski‘ somewhere in the mix accompanied by other words which probably resemble words such as ‘tosser‘ or worse. I speak loudly back at him in my best restrained Englishman aboard mode but he just says something which resembles a verbal spit. One of the passengers says something to him but I can’t figure out whether he’s on my side or not.

Either way, the driver starts the coach, we drive off at pace and I slouch back in my seat. It is at least my bus, eerie green light and all.

A Waiting Story: Little Red Riding Hood in the Macedonian Forest

In the time before Red Riding Hood got betrayed by a Wolf in Grandma’s clothing, the young girl would quiz her elderly relative about her habits and whereabouts. Some would say that this was the cause of her early demise but others dispute this telling of the fable.

Why do you cook toffee apples granny? Why is your house made of gingerbread? Why do you go walking in a forest? Is it for the peace and quiet?
Hardly, dear, you can hear trains and cars and city bustle. A call to prayers from a nearby mosque sounds like a wolf weeping but that’s no reason to walk in the forest.

Is it for the Fresh air and invigorating atmosphere?
Upto a point my dear: until the logging trucks drive by and the fumes wash over as you sit by the roadside, slightly blackened from the sooty deposits. So that’s no reason to walk in the forest.

Is it for exercise and maintaining a healthy body?
That may be fine dear, as long as you haven’t got knees which give you grief and buckle every step of the way. That’s no reason to walk in the forest.

Do you commune with nature, then? asked Little riding Hood impatiently. Or perhaps even yourself?

If you stood still long enough, it might be possible to commune with anything, but to walk in the forest you have to keep on walking: stumbling cursing sweating breathing so much, there’s not a lot of communing to be done. That’s no reason to walk in the forest.

Is it to get around the next corner then? asked Little Red Riding Hood sarcastically.

Ah, smiled her elderley relative, that is an answer. There’s always another next corner, another bend to get around, a hillock to navigate, there’s just another view to catch before you turn around and do the same journey but in reverse order.

So that’s why you go for a walk in the forest, Granny? she asked with a faux impression of relief.

Yes, my dear, that’s the reason to walk in the forest: to retrace your steps. I walk in the forest in order to go around in circles.

And enough of the prying questions! True to her word, Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother – who had her own genetic stock of impatience – stepped back, sprung the latch from the pantry and out leapt a huge brown wolf, scantily dressed in grandma’s clothing who proceeded to devour her then and there, lock stock and barrel. And that, dear reader, was the end of Little Red Riding Hood and her inquisitive questions.

A Waiting Story: Closing Schools’ Death Partners

One morning, waiting at some traffic lights on a motorway junction, I suddenly saw next to me, a travelling companion: my death. He was a well dressed fellow, politely sat looking out the car window, occasionally looking at his wrist watch and smiling. Not a big ogre figure but a patient, well mannered sort of chap who’s biding his time: because it will come, that time, at some point. It seems we all carry our deaths around with us but it takes time to see them in their fruition and in all their glory. There aren’t figures with scythes and black hoods but every day workalong guys with wives and kids to go home to.

The closing school is just that: a real live school which has been living alongside its death partner since it first opened its doors to its staff, its children, their parents and the many other landowners and stakeholders who have something at stake in that community. Its death partner, like mine, has been looking at it askance for some time, tapping its wrist watch and smiling.

The closing school, the dying school is not one that is somehow fading away out of its own volition. It is one that is being killed off: it is being put down and there are no mechanisms in place to help people through that – no bereavement counselling for those inhabiting it or any advisory measures for those who took the decision to put it down.

An Identity is being phased out and obliterated and the one thing that might help those going through this painful process would be the recognition that it was happening to this organism, the community, the school community. This is not an industrial plant that is being decommissioned, but an organism that is being laid to rest, having its life blood and oxygen slowly being sucked out of it.

Slowly and surely the school death partners take their places in the classroom and within the corridors, and in reversal of the processes which build towards creative relationships divide people, break up relationships, cause a loss of interest, stultify curiosity, and unalign people and places and things. They separate rather than bind. They deinstall rather than install. They cause the pulse to slow, the breathing to flutter and the skin of the school to take on a pallid hue. They effect inertia, stasis and once in a while you can see them in the wind blowing across the playground and see their reflections in the puddles which have stopped draining away as there’s no- one around to unblock the drains anymore.

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