There are no mirrors in the toilets of the A&E department of the Bristol Royal Infirmary, presumably to prevent people from swooning into unconsciousness at the sight of their own sick, damaged reflection. This meant that I was working by feel, using tissue paper to dab at the mighty Orinoco of blood that was flowing in a stately fashion from out of my head, across my ear and jaw line, down my neck and on to my t-shirt, which was now irretrievably stained. I was covered in blood, and I had no idea of how much success my efforts were enjoying, if any. Still, if it stopped me from attracting quite so many appalled glances - people had been gawping, literally gawping at the horror show that I'd apparently become - then it would be worth it.
I was in a bit of a state. Five minutes earlier I'd presented myself at reception with a fistful of bloody tissue pressed to the back of my head and tried to affect a rakish, devil-may-care attitude, as George Clooney might were he to find himself in the same unfortunate situation. A mere trifle, my good lady. A moment's inconvenience. Nothing at all to worry about. Unfortunately rakish devil-may-careitude is difficult to pull off when your top lip is rapidly swelling to the size of a small haddock; for some reason the haddock lip detracts from the overall effect, don't ask me why. We went through the usual name and address preliminaries and then:
"Can I presume that you've been assaulted?"
"No you may not. I came off my bike."
And I don't even ride a fucking bike. I don't like them, being as I am a natural pedestrian. I used to try to feel solidarity with cyclists as fellow sustainable transport users but these days I find that they just piss me off, with their stupid shorts and their habit of speeding silently past your ear, from behind, at about 40kph. And then they give you a dirty look. But free art cinema booze + Fraisia's mountain bike + ruined castle= dangerous levels of showing off, arsing about and ill-considered horseplay. It's all depressingly inevitable when viewed with the benefit hindsight; I took the bike off a bit of a drop, landed successfully, went to receive my rapturous applause and discovered that they'd all been looking the other way. I tried it again, fucked up and went headfirst over the handlebars, thence to an inelegant landing on my face (fat lip) that coincided with the bike coming down on the back of my head (gash).
Luckily it was grass and not concrete or I'd most likely still be in hospital now with a smashed nose, shattered cheekbone and no teeth. As I lay there in a heap spitting dirt and blades of grass I let out one of those low animal-type moans that you do. I dragged myself upright; the back of my head felt hot and wet, although I was more concerned with my nose which I was sure was broken. And, of course, my pride, because you feel like such a tit. Ok, it was dark. OK, there was nobody around but my friends, who have all seen me make an arse of myself an unguessable number of times. The fact remained that I had, once again, cocked up in public and that concerned me more than any other damage I might have sustained. Or it did for a while. My nose was fine but there seemed to be an alarming amount of blood coming from my skull. I pressed my hand to my scalp and it came away sticky and shiny in the streetlight. There was no getting around it; I was going to casualty.
The first hour or so in the waiting room passes quite quickly. It was around 1:00AM, Big Brother was on the hospital TV and there was a whiff of the old Dunkirk spirit about; the British are very good at spontaneous camaraderie in the face of adversity. Two girls, obviously strangers, chatted away next to us; each one had their injured boyfriend snoring on their lap. It seemed to be that way all over. All of the injured were men, and most were accompanied by at least one woman. That was true for me as well. Fraisia and Karen had left early, on the quite reasonable grounds that all they were really doing was filling seats that could be better used by the wounded. I sent Phil home a while later, despite his protestations. He's a good lad, I've always said so. Lisa stayed for the whole show, for which I am eternally grateful. No other bugger wanted to sit near me, that's for sure.
And time drags on and spirits drop as people start to sober up. There was one kid who had hurt his knee. They'd bandaged him up but he was bleeding through it. They fetched him a towel but he bled through that too, then another, then through his mate's jumper. As blood dripped on to the floor he grew paler and sleepier, and so did I, and the pool got slowly larger. The nurse had seen me pretty quickly. Now I was just waiting for them to staple my head back together so that I could go home.
At 4:30AM, when I'd had just about enough for the evening thanks very much, I was called in. A blonde, attractive and clearly very busy doctor looked at my head, shone a light in my eyes, asked me if I was all right (fine, thanks) and left the nurse to do the actual stapling. I'd had visions of a massive office-grade staple gun being applied to my scalp but it turned out not to be like that at all. Barely even felt them; just a little pinch, in the end. Then we were off, into the grey dawn, with a leaflet on head injuries to peruse at my leisure. No contact sports for three weeks (but fuck that, I'm going to kung fu on Wednesday as usual), no alcohol (with you there, no problem), no drugs (oops). I dossed down on the camp bed in Lisa's front room. Got to sleep around 5:00AM.
The next morning I felt like shit.