I’m lying on a trolley bed outside the operating theatre. I’m listening to the anaesthetist tell me how I will feel a cold sensation when the drugs are administered. As soon as I become aware of the icy pain trickling down the veins of my arm I’m in the post-op recovery room telling a nurse I feel fine. I was awake between these moments but I have no recollection of it. I know I was awake because a surgeon describes a conversation we had 15 minutes ago. 14 minutes before this memory. He told me the metal plate in my arm has been removed. The two memories are joined as if by one seamless hop through time.
The moments that led me here; a collision with a car, a bike ride through the night across the south downs, so many other points in between. Each moment like a grain of sand floating in an endless vacuum. Infinite paths between each one, each moment occurring both simultaneously and in sequence. The only linear path is the one my mind uses to piece them together. The linear distance, twenty years.
The crash. A glance from a large black Mercedes. A shove, poke, push into the kerb on Vere Street. I’ve just made a drop on Cumberland Place and radioed in “1–5, west one…”. I have the vaguest of hopes of another pick-up to take me home. It’s late, no other dockets come through on the radio so I head back to Soho with the last package of the day. The Mercedes and I meet as it moves towards the kerb on the slightest of bends. I don’t know if there is an obstruction, does the car need to move? Is the driver not paying attention? Do they even know they’ve hit me? I don’t think any of these things when I bounce off the car and fall onto the edge of the kerb. I am consumed by an intense white light of pain that blocks out all thought. When my eyes finally open a dark London street with a fuzzy white edge carries on as before.
The Downs are lit by a blood red moon. A warm breeze passes me. A herd of wild deer run past the beam of my light. I stand there for a while in the grassy valley, I can’t believe what I’ve just seen. I am in awe of this place. Later, I hunch over the bike as I climb a rocky path through a wood. I follow the path through the wood and emerge into a dark field. To my left I can feel a black expanse of nothing. The hill drops away and the space beyond is just…there. A giant cube of cool air. The world sleeps and the downs belong to me.
The receptionist signs my sheet and hands me back my clipboard. I struggle to put it back in my bag. I smile apologetically, pathetically. I head out into the street and unlock my bike. The West End is already full of drunks, short skirts, shiny shirts, shouting, laughter. I ride to the hospital slowly, my arm hanging limply by my side. I make it to A&E. I’ve still got my radio, my bike, my bag. I’m not sure how I’m doing things, I must be on some kind of auto pilot. The x-ray shows bits of bone. The decision is taken to fix a metal plate to the bone in my arm. An attachment.
The Earth spins towards the sun and I spin along the downs past Chanctonbury Ring, the monarch of the range. A faint smudge of light sits on the horizon. The grassy ridge narrows to a rocky path beside a field. I’m on the drops pushing hard on the pedals, full of joy at the silliness of riding across the downs at night for no reason. The best reason. A bounce on the rear wheel, breathe in, nope. The next bounce is the clang of wheel rim on flint. I fix the puncture and watch the sun rise.
I become aware of my surroundings. I’m in a hospital bed. A different time hop. My dad is there. He says something to me that I will never forget, something that stays with me forever, changes my life even. The paths between the floating grains of sand are altered. He has no idea the impact those words will have on me. I doubt he even remembers it.
I stop at the gate. It’s good to see smiling faces. I’m touched that friends would want to ride out and join me on a bike-ride-for-no-reason. We ride up and down the chalk hills. We stop for tea. We ride some more through the hot summer morning until we reach the end.