This morning, I was a bit of a tit.
Actually, I was a wanker of monumental proportions. Not intentionally, I hasten to add. It was just that an amalgamation of badly made small decisions culminated, this morning, in one catastrophic misjudgement. It was Victorian day at school and McMini was all got up as a Victorian boy. He is small and mercurial, with blonde curly hair. The epitome of cute. But he can take a while to get ready. So we were a bit late and after a weekend gardening, I’m a bit stiff. Consequently, though I needed to get a wiggle on, it was a bit of a labour getting us going on the bike – he sits on a seat behind me – and we start out with a hill. It can be a bit of a grim haul sometimes, getting us up that hill. Today was particularly pants, I felt very stiff and tired and seemed to be going incredibly slowly.
However, I’m not so sure I was. I’ve got a lot fitter over the course of the term without noticing. So when I get to the top of the hill, I build up speed and go faster sooner. I did notice this a couple of days ago, when frustrated with my snail like speed I looked down and realised I was cycling up the hill at 12mph which, at the beginning of term, is about as much as I can achieve on the flat. I suppose the nub of it is that when I think I’m going quite slowly, I’m actually riding faster and it could be that my judgement has not caught up. Yes, this is the making excuses for myself paragraph. But despite noticing I was cycling faster in places, I hadn’t really hauled in the implication of what that meant.
So this morning, after creeping up the hill I am trundling along the top and I approach the cross roads at the top. It’s a pretty blind junction so I always slow right down and either stop completely or roll very slowly, so I keep a bit of momentum to get across and get going again. Today, I got there, slowed down, as I usually do. I saw a car coming up the road but it was far enough away not to worry and braked some more, saw nothing coming the other way and started pulling across the road. Then I noticed there was another car. Very close. Something a bit panicky happened about the braking, here. I recall worrying that I hadn’t gripped the levers; whether it was true or borne out of the shit-I’m-not-stopping aspect of it, I don’t know. But I remember consciously ditching Plan A: stop because I knew that I wasn’t stopping and that braking or no braking I was going to overshoot the junction into the oncoming car’s path.
“Shit!” I thought. “Not with McMini up.”
My brain dropped words after that. They took too long. Instead, a picture of us being pushed five yards along the tarmac, trapped under the bumper of the stopping vehicle flashed into my head. I had to get out of its path. I pedalled like fuck. She got our back wheel, there were about 4 inches in it I reckon. There was a massive bang, the back of the bike came round, I didn’t consciously put my foot down but I knew I had because I felt my knee pop and then we were on the road, and McMini was crying, but clearly fine and trying to get his seatbelt off and get up. I unclipped him and held him tight. Telling him it was OK. Telling myself it was OK when I knew damn well that I’d almost killed both of us.
The first thing everyone said; the policeman, the nurse, the doctor – if you’re going to get knocked down, outside a Doctor’s surgery is a very good place – was that it could have happened to anyone, that we all misjudge things. I know this is true. And I know that when I do stuff up, there’s nothing to be gained by worrying about it. Keep calm and carry on. But there are times when I wonder, because either I misjudge things a lot more than other people, or I’m unlucky enough to receive full retribution every time. The short of it is, I don’t usually get away with my misjudgements, or maybe I’m no different to anyone else, but just more prepared to admit it.
And what does this have to do with writing?
Well, all this made me think about how I write about pain and danger. I write them from my own experience. I have endured the kind of pain, in both knees, that has made me whimper and reduced me to tears. The most recent moment being just now, when I went to the freezer to get a frozen chicken out. I’d say there are levels of pain I haven’t experienced but I definitely cry at about level 6. The most pain I’ve ever experienced was, er hem, wind after a c section. Yes ladies, they don’t tell you about that. Sudden evil pain that makes you cry and apologise to everyone round you for the fact you’re rolling about about whispering swearwords under your breath – an 8 for that one. Gripe Juice fixes it in minutes.
So when I put my characters in pain, or danger, they tend to react the way I do. Because using my experience is the only way I can make it believable. But I’m not sure it would be believable to everyone, because we all react differently to peril and pain.
So far, though, through any amount of pain, my thoughts have always been clear. Likewise, in danger, though I may make the wrong call, I weigh up the situation before making a decision.
Likewise, in pain, I’ve always been able to think. Which means I probably haven’t experienced the heights of agony I might think.
To be honest, four out of five times in moments of peril I’ve had very clear concise thoughts. As usual, I was surprised after this morning, at how incredibly clear and fast my thoughts were. But also disappointed at how, if I’d just been that little bit smarter, I could have kept braking and turned the bike sideways, allowing the girl to move her car out round me. I think that in some ways, it’s rather harder to write dangerous situations realistically once you’ve been in some. Because the way they unfold is so different to the way you would expect. And I suppose that’s why you can only really make things in your plot work if you, yourself, can believe that they can. And I suppose that’s how so many of those mad 1960s shows like the Avengers, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) and the like were so popular. Because while you have to have that grain of truth upon which to hang it all, it’s that writing with conviction, rather than what actually happens in real life, which allows us to suspend disbelief.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and have a bit of a lie down.