Sunday, December 12, 2010

10,001 WAYS TO DIE

Every time I sit down and stand up I do so like the frailer type of 90-year-old, and I have only slept on my left-hand side for the last ten days. I have what is now a very battered copy of 10,000 Ways To Die, Alex Cox’s book on Italian Westerns, sitting on a table. And I have a new mobile phone. Want to know what links all these? Read on...

My favourite way of travelling to and from work is by bike, which is good for the body, soul, pocket, and environment, but at this time of the year it’s not always realistic. Wednesday 1 December was a case in point; snow up the wazoo and the temperature was quite a bit below zero the whole day. So I took the train. Lenka decided to come and meet me at the station here, accompanied by our dog, who is always up for some exercise. The train was late leaving Olomouc and I whiled away the wait and the journey by reading the plots of a few films.

When I arrived there was a splendid snowstorm going on. Lenka suggested that my rucksack might be a better place for the book than my hands, which was where I had it. During the transfer process the handle of Charlie’s lead, with him attached to the other end of it, somehow managed to fall out of our hands and onto the ground. Being the kind of dog who is always wide open to the call of the wild, he made off and entered a nearby garden which had the gate open. Keenly aware as we are of what can happen when he escapes (we have vet’s bills and horribly clear memories of irate citizens bearing deadly weapons that they intended to use with maximal vengeful force on him) we set off in hot pursuit.

Charlie went past the house and into the back garden, which was large, white, and very featureless, with me hard on his heels. I was just about to grab him, with a huge sense of relief, when what I had fondly imagined to be the ground gave way beneath me and I found myself up to my chest in freezing water, surrounded by the ice I had just caused to break. I tried to get out but the sides of what I guess must have been the garden pond – it wasn’t deep enough to be a swimming pool or I might not be writing this now – were too slippery for me to get a grip. I managed to catch hold of the the dog’s lead but there’s no way a 10-kilo fox terrier can pull something like 85 kilos of me out of a pool, even if he wants to. So I did the next best thing and hollered for Lenka. She came and tried to gave me her hand, but then she slipped and ended up on her back, partly on the ice and partly in the water too – and let’s not forget that we are talking about a woman who is due to give birth within the next three or four weeks.

Amazingly, nobody came out of the house to investigate; you’d think two screeching people and a furiously barking dog might stir some kind of interest, but maybe they were out or watching TV or something. We managed to get first Lenka and then me out of the water, rescued the book, which was floating rather forlornly, and headed off towards the exit.

But we’d reckoned without the dimensions of the pool and so, with a ghastly feeling of deja vu, found ourselves immersed once more, but not so catastrophically this time. We struggled out again and headed home. We passed a couple of neighbours on the way (it was after dark and so the fact that we were soaked to the skin and icing up fast was not immediately obvious) and, like the nice suburban people we are, we all greeted one another as if nothing had happened.

Once in the house, we peeled off our clothes, many of which were quite literally solid with ice by now, and went and lay in the bath to unfreeze and most definitely not to chill out. Lenka was able to feel the baby moving, so that was our biggest worry out of the way. My mobile phone wasn’t so fortunate, though; it’s been given a Christian burial and a replacement has now been recruited. And my ribs started hurting like hell an hour or so later. An X-ray the next morning revealed nothing broken but the pain was, and occasionally still is, quite exquisite.

Thinking about it now, though, it strikes me how fortunate it was that it all happened just a few minutes from home and not somewhere further afield. It was, as more than one person I have told the story to has said, like something out of a film; luckily, it turned out to be an adventure story rather than a horror.

Oh yes, and the book survived too, although not in the kind of shape in which I can, in all conscience, return it to the guy I borrowed it from...