A steep hill, a bellyful of Chinese and wine, and a pair of posh shoes… disaster beckons

A  sprightly step and a fairly steep downhill slope, and what do you get? A fall. 

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To London, to have lunch with Roger, possibly the Moose’s oldest friend, for a reminisce and a catch-up. The plan is to have the traditional Moose luncheon experience: a few kirs in the French House, then a trip over Shaftesbury Avenue to Chinatown, and the Golden Dragon on Gerrard Street for dim sum.

The French House has smartened itself up quite a bit since I was last there, and I don’t like the way they ask me if either I or my friend have made a reservation – but in the end they put me at a very nice table in the sun, and let the record state this: I really can’t recall being treated so nicely by staff anywhere. The sun is out, everyone is in a good mood, and even the bittersweet nature of the occasion doesn’t dampen mine and Roger’s spirits.

The problems don’t start until I get back to Brighton. Presume not, oh miserable creature, to know the mind of Providence, the fate that lurks for us all. My friend A—, who seriously believes in such things, tells me that all Sagittarians, without exception, are having a dreadful time right now, but I am not a Sagittarian, and so have little time to spare for considering the doom that awaits me.

Now, bear in mind that there are two routes from my flat to the station, or the station to the flat. One is much shorter, but involves climbing up a hill and then going down it. There’s a longer one, which is more or less on the level but takes about five minutes longer. I have never taken the shorter route – until now. I am full of dim sum and bonhomie, not to mention a few glasses of kir, and I have been walking a fair amount today anyway, so off I go, up the hill.

The ascent is fine. I do not gasp or faint or have to pause halfway up to get my breath back, all of which, apart from the fainting, I have had to suffer in the past, when this was the only way back to my previous flat. All in all, things are going pretty well. London was much hotter than Brighton, which is still beautifully sunny but with a cooling breeze coming off the sea.

[see also: Mrs Down and Out has disappeared. So it is curtains for the old love life. Again]

At this point I ought to mention my shoes. They are very nice shoes, brogues by Barker, bought for me by a wonderful lady in Salisbury when she saw the miserably degraded state of the footwear I arrived in. These shoes have been in storage for a while, and have not been used too much since their purchase. Being posh shoes, they have leather soles, and the heels are studded with many nails, so that when I walk, they make a pleasing clop-clop sound, as if I were shod in horseshoes.

But the difficulty with the posh shoe is that, until worn in properly, it does not have as much purchase on the urban floor as, say, the trainer, or the Clarks shoe with a rubber sole. I think you can see where I am going with this. Put together a leather sole, a man full of Chinese food and French wine, and maybe a couple of Chinese beers, a sprightly step and a fairly steep downhill slope, and what do you get? A fall. My right foot skids out from beneath me, and I fall backwards, putting my right hand out to save me.

The same thing happened to me 44 years ago, but then I was on a skateboard. That resulted in a four-hour wait in A&E with my father, to be told I had a greenstick fracture of some bone or other. Medics among you will know that greenstick fractures happen mostly, if not wholly, to children. I am no longer a child in years.

Last night wasn’t so bad. I dosed myself on fearsome analgesics and more wine; I barely noticed the wrist until the small hours, and since then I have noticed little else. The pain is quite remarkable. I’d go to A&E by bus but my debit card is in limbo (long, fantastically tedious story) and cash is hard to come by. Also, I have this column to write, and I don’t want to befuddle myself with the Solpadeine Plus until I’m done.

The problem is that I have a cut-off point for visiting A&E in any case: after a certain time of day, the place fills up with men – it’s usually men – who have had, perhaps, a kir too many and who have come a cropper as a result. I can be shy in the company of such men.

It’s not the first time I have decided to sit out a broken bone until the next morning. The last time was a heroic cricketing injury. There is nothing heroic about how I hurt myself this time. Then again, I’m writing this with one hand sending out bolts of agony with every other character I type. I think that calls for some kind of medal, don’t you? 

[see also: With any luck, I won’t perish in a blaze – but I fear my fire alarms might be the death of me]

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 16 June 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The Cold Web

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