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JTS columns from the Guardian newspaper

1. Grumbling Brakedrumitis

I've got this pain. You'd better shut the door. I've got this old pain back. "You must go to the doctor's," Maggie said when she'd failed to kiss it better. We've got this little ritual of kissing things better that you get with girls half your age, though I must admit that when we're in public I take a swift look round first. In any case, the last thing you want to do is to go to see a doctor.

"It's like a knife," I'
m inclined to explain, but this is not accurate. It's more like somebody up there occasionally pushes a doorbell; a kind of short "zzz!" Depending on the situation I jack-knife double and pretend I'm tying a shoelace or rudely sit on somebody else's bar-stool and pull my knees up or, if only people I respect are present, grab it and curse.

Surely everybody's got things like this, which is why I decided to have it out at last. I mean talk about it. Sitting where you're sitting, it's not going to spoil your breakfast though I'd be inclined to skip the soft-boiled eggs.

"What happened?" asked the factory nurse at Marconi's when I was taken into the surgery. Instead of getting a brief "zzz!" I'd got a long "zzzzzzzzzzzz!" and fainted.

"It's appendicitis," she said. It was not appendicitis. "It's been grumbling all this time and you haven't done a thing about it." She was wrong. I was taken into hospital in an ambulance and later that day examined by a doctor and his women disciples in a rather, I felt, unnecessarily rude way. Appendicitis was confirmed and an operation fixed for the next day. Haha, though, during the evening I was shocked to see a man brought unconscious from the operating theatre with his tongue clamped outside his mouth by an odd bit of brass.

"I want to go ho
me," I told the sister. She said I couldn't for all kinds of reasons (it was against the rules was the main reason, whether you died or not) including the fact that my clothes had been taken home. I insisted, signed a form blaming myself for my own imminent death and took a taxi home in my pyjamas.

"You did the right thing," my doctor told me years later. "That wasn't appendicitis, that was colitis - different operation altogether. I know just the man for that."

If you had an operation every ti
me you had a "zzz!" you'd go to an early grave looking like a piece of Meccano. Doctors are a comfort as all experts are a comfort, even motor engineers; but you must not put more than your car in their hands. Halfway back from Islington to Hampstead after taking Maggie to work (she's working at Senate House now if you want any help with exams) I got this knocking under my right front wing - offside or nearside, I never know.

So I called the AA and after an hour surrounded by blacks at Tufnell Park the engineer arrives but doesn't notice me flapping my arms and goes straight on, coming back half an hour later. It was like being marooned with the natives popping out of the jungle. "Are you on the telephone?" I asked one of them. "We sho is," she said. A child kept walking up and down balancing a Sainsbury's plastic carrier bag full of potatoes on her head. There was a grey-haired ancient sitting on a chair watching the car, and a pretty wo
man wearing a tablecloth on her head kept popping out of an upstairs window and offering to phone Jim. By the time the AA man was under my car I'd got to know them all.

"I don't know how you got this car here," said the expert, "but you won't drive it away. The whole of the bodywork has come down on the wheels. I can't do anything. It won't tow. You'll have to get a low-loader and carry it away. I'll give you a telephone nu
mber if you like."

He was talking the expert's brand of confident rubbish of course. I got in the car and drove hi
m round the block at high speed; at high speed there was no knock.

"It was a stone in your brakedru
m," he said, happily forgetting his first death sentence. It's not that either. Since then it has been diagnosed as dry joints in the suspension and faulty shock absorbers and several other things. Having spent 20 I now accept that on dull days when I drive slowly I shall get this knocking. It's like the red ignition light that comes on at about 70 mph on Digswell Hill and nowhere else. You come to terms with things like that and forget the experts. Same with your old pains.

Having more than one home I was always ending up at one end or the other without
my asthma inhaler, calling at hospitals in the early hours. "I can't disturb the doctor," the night sister said. He was going to be more disturbed to find a corpse in out-patients in the morning. She fetched him and he gave me a small aerosol of the wrong inhalant. Aerosols are dangerous to people who only need the odd puff, especially when they contain the wrong substance. I thought at first it was somebody punching me in the back - it was my heart.

Pretty soon everywhere
my body, feet, backside, elbows touched the chair and floor was knocking like an old pump. When I stood up I fell down. "I can't disturb him again," said the sister. It took six aspirins and twelve hours to get my revs down. I survived because I've got a strong heart.

I have therefore as
much faith in doctors as in the AA. If at first they don't succeed they try, try again and their victims are put down to experience. Theirs. They're like children who only find out how their toys work after they've smashed them. "Your mother had a ruptured diaphragm," I was told after the autopsy. Well, well, she would have been pleased. If only someone had found it during 20 years of pain and X-rays and stomach-pumping and fishing with swallowed instruments.

People who believe in doctors no longer extend themselves. People who believe in nature cures run around like idiots. People with weekly psychiatrists distrust everything and are forever recapping on simple situations.

"You know why she didn't answer and he went out of the room..." You know why they never open their windows. You know why that dog stopped barking. You know why they have cushions instead of chairs. You know why he never comes to see me any more.

Now that's something we do know. Thank God I'm perfect - Oh! Just a minute. There it goes again - zzzzz! I'm going back to Tufnel Park to see if I can find a witch doctor, ah sho am. Find out who's pressing my button.

(The Guardian, Spring 1972)


Jack Trevor Story's texts copyright   the estate of Jack Trevor Story 2002. Not for reproduction. Copyright in all work by Jack Trevor Story is the property of the author's heirs. Permission for use of this material can be obtained through Jackie Edwards (Story), Peter Story, Lee Story or Michael Moorcock. Reproduction of copyright material whether in text, visual or audio form by unauthorised sources strictly forbidden.


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