Saturday 22 December 2007

There really is no such thing as free beer!


More than any other time of the year, when we sit around our dinner tables on Christmas Day, we are aware of who is there and who is not.
At the age of 17, having performed impressive acrobatics with my Yamaha 250, a saloon car, a ditch and a barbed wire fence, I spent six weeks in hospital, over Christmas and New Year. My femur was snapped in two, which is no mean feat with thighs like mine, and my tibia had a crack or two as well. Bed-bound, with my leg in traction, I developed a bronchial chest infection after an emergency operation.
So every two seconds I coughed in hacking spasms, thus shaking my smashed leg, which was hung in a sling, supported by a metal pole they had driven through me, just below the knee.
Then came the discovery that orthopaedics is a brutal art. In our part of the ward, there were four beds and three bikers with broken bones.
There was Kev, who had fallen off his sleek and mean Suzuki GT750 (a two stroke 3-into-1, since you ask), and opposite us two was brick shithouse Yorkshireman Gary, ex-SAS, and mighty embarrassed, having survived several covert tours of duty in Northern Ireland, to have to admit to falling off a Honda 125.
Then Gary was told that because his bone had set at a bad angle, they would need to re-fracture it, to re-set it, so that he might walk again.
Wishing him luck, myself and Kev waited in hushed anticipation for just under three hours, when finally the big guy was wheeled back onto the ward, writhing in agony, swearing profusely.
“How’d it go, mate?”
“Yeh, Gaz, all sorted, is it, eh?”
Gary was a hard man who could really take pain. He’d already told us how he hated himself for flinching after being stabbed in a bar in Belfast, but now he was hurting so much, it took him an age to form words.
“ ...they couldn’t ... break the bloody ... bone, lads ... they banged me with hammers ... smashed and chipped with chisels ... jumped on my leg ... couldn’t re-fracture it....”
Kev looked at me and then we both looked at Gary.
“But but but mate, you’ve been gone for two and a half hours! They can’t have been trying to break your leg for two and a half bloody hours!?!”
“Aye, but that’s what they did, lads. They tried, but it wouldn’t break. So I’m a bit sore now, like!”
So no, a fine and precise art it is not, but compared to the other patients in the hospital the three of us were well off.
We were not sick. We had all had our operations, and apart from antibiotics for wounds, and pain killers for broken bones, we needed very little medical attention.
We were young, male and bored, and allowed to drink beer. Naturally, we tried to attract the attention of the student nurses as much as possible, and equally, they were happy to have a bit of a laugh with lads who were not ill, physically, at least!.
By the time Christmas came around, the three of us were well aquatinted with all the student nurses, and then we were told we would be allowed to drink spirits during the Christmas period.
So we did.
We got plastered, if you’ll pardon the pun, and so did the student nurses. We told them that by having a tipple or three with us they were really doing their jobs, because they were helping us through a difficult time.
On Christmas morning, the Consultant Surgeons came around the wards, carving the turkeys at our besides, and general merriment was had by all.
Karen, my favourite student nurse, had had a lickle ickle bit too much to drink. She pulled the curtains around my bed, produced a half bottle of vodka from under her skirt, and taking some lemonade and a clean specimen bottle from my bedside cabinet, mixed us up a festive cocktail, after which she gave me a lovely snog, and left me feeling a million dollars.
Looking back now, I can only think how wonderful she was, because not only was I away from my family Christmas table, but so was she.
After the Christmas pud, we were all wheeled out of the ward in our beds, and taken to a large and crowded area, where the staff were putting on a Panto for the patients.
Gary’s wife, (a woman of such substantial proportions and brooding menace that she clearly put the fear of god into our man of iron) had turned up with several cases of brown ale, and so we sat up in our beds, enjoying the show, drinking frothing foaming pints of beer from plastic glasses.
Half way through the performance, I realised I needed to pee. I’d done precious little but drink all day, and now I really really needed to go, all of a sudden, with the fiercely demanding urgency of someone who knows that he cannot go.
There was no way I could ask anybody to wheel me to the loo. To get me and my bed out of that area would have meant interrupting the show, and causing a kerfuffle that would spoil everything for everybody.
So I did all I could do.
I drained my pint glass of beer, and, errr, then I refilled it!
In my drunken state, I decided it made perfect Archimidean mathematical sense.
Reaching out of my bed, I placed the foaming frothing pint onto a shelf, and watched the rest of the show, making a mental note to remember to pick it up afterwards and dispose of it myself.
Trouble was, when the lights went up, it was no longer there, and to this day I do not know whether some unfortunate alcoholic scrumper thought his luck was in.
Free beer! Whoopee!
Best not think about that too long.
But on Christmas Day, please, let’s all for a minute think of those who have given up their day to work: to serve us with safety in our homes, at sea and overseas; those who comfort and care, and those who volunteer to help others without a home to go to.
If you spare them a thought and give thanks, you won’t be far off pleasing whichever God you might worship!
Happy Christmas, Diwali, Hannukah and Solstice, and may your God go with you.

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