Updated: Apr 10, 2020
Mike said to me, on the Camera Obscura trip, as he ran his hand down the Edinburgh News Steps' railings, that he couldn't help thinking of all the hands it would have taken to wear it down to such a degree. I cannot now walk past railings without thinking that thought, my hand making an invisible connection with hundreds of thousands of other hands - young, old, carefree, careworn, frail, in love, heartbroken.
When I had my water-slide accident in France three summers ago, Katrina found it difficult to believe that at the same time as we were having an accident, she had been having so much fun. It seemed to shake her, that thought. She did immediately take up the offer of staying on at the Water Park with our friends and their children, and continued to have fun. But a couple of days later she was thinking along the same lines - Do you think about the other people in the other cars, and do you wonder that while we are on the way to a beach they might be on their way to a funeral? Yes, I do.
Hands are beautiful, powerful, expressive. Dancers' hands. Piano hands. Hands turning a page in a book. Directing, questioning, trying out new things. Mending, creating, tearing down. Punching, grasping. Healing. When Ian and I were spat out of the water-slide inflatable, I used my hands to shield my golf ball cheekbone, elbows a rigid frame, legs scrabbling about the tubed black innards of the Black Hole Extreme. When we got to the bottom and into daylight, I used my hands to steady myself, crawling out of the way of the next inflatable.
Whenever I am anxious, my hand goes directly to my right cheek, soothing a dull memory there. When I am anxious, my brain tells my cheek to hurt. I do not enjoy this game and try different tricks. Breathing sometimes helps. My brain tells me as I write this down, that I am anxious.
The french Water Park attendants acknowledged the accident as little as possible and we were too dazed to question the signing of our medical forms, which stated we had left the park feeling fine. Ian developed a black squiggle, looking out, down the centre of each eye, and had a quick check over by the theme park doctor. It was only afterwards that he realised he had no memory at all of the event, no recollection of the tube journey without the necessary transport. It turned out that we and many others had been given the wrong colour of inflatable for that slide, by a summer worker. None of the staff at the top of the steps noticed it either. 'Non! Le bleu! Pas le jaune!!!!!' one of the more experienced staff began insisting. The yellow ones shuffled and jostled clumsily back down the 150 steps as the blues shunted their way up....... We had been unlucky with our physics. Others had clearly come down with the wrong colour. We must have been just the right size and weight distribution to send our yellow one too violently round the corners, too nearly up and over, and then with a crunch, up and over and out.
While we were being largely ignored by the supervising attendant at the exit/entrance to the ride, people at the front of the queue began to understand what had happened. A woman came out of the line with her teenage daughter, and their hands. The woman asked to see my cheek and my own hand seemed stuck there, cupping it. She managed to coax it off, simultaneously placing her daughter's there, with mine on top of it. I didn't question it. It seemed she knew what she was doing, she was calm and she had a sense that this touch was necessary. I ask now why it was her daughter's hand she placed there, not her own. Perhaps a way of involving her daughter, having her help instead of panic. It did help. I have known since then that the most important part of First Aid is the hands.
My cheek, elbows, knees over the next couple of weeks turned different shades of beaten. Poor Ian hoped at all times that nobody would think that he was the cause, as we walked around Beziers, in the south of France, sunglasses not covering, summer dress not hiding. Ian had no battle scars for he, unconscious at the time, had not battled.
Ian thinks the accident was the beginning of my problems, and certainly the nerve pain that developed was one of many things that caused me to slide into anxiety and depression. The next two terms at school brought me sudden, random nerve pain, jarring, unsettling. I wonder if had I known when to expect it, I might have dealt better with it. But I couldn't predict it and I don't know that answer. In the middle of a lesson, going to the bathroom at night, sudden raw distress. At times even the breeze hurt.
Ian is right, I think. You could place the starting flag there. Without the nerve pain then maybe the events at work wouldn't have left me reeling. Had the accident happened and then work just continued in the way it had done, things might have been alright - I could continue, with a passion, to do my job, in this most striking of places. You could call it a series of unfortunate events. I like Ian's best friend's summary - David referred to it as a 'perfect storm of shite'.
Some hands are wearing down those railings heading towards a party, a day out. Some hands are at the top of their game. Some are about to meet the love of their life for the first time. Some are having their last day, without even realising it. And some are about to slide.