Old ‘Chesty’ Puller of the US Marine Corps once described pain as ‘weakness leaving the body’. Begging his pardon, but, had he not already died back in 1971, he could shove that idea where the sun don’t shine.
Because whatever else was leaving my body when I accidentally stood on an upturned bottle crown on my kitchen floor at breakfast this morning, it wasn’t weakness. Blood, certainly; faith, of course; self confidence, maybe. But not weakness.
Old Chesty was a lifer in the Marines, so the chances are that he was quite good in the mornings. Most of the rest of us aren’t, and we are super-reliant on things not getting in the way of our unthinking routines. We weave our automated web of movement across our floors in a series of long-rehearsed actions: turn on radio; let dogs out; put kettle on; get milk from fridge; put porridge in microwave; bag in tea; turn radio off as too annoying; check emails etc etc. The last thing that is on your mind is a sharp stab of pain where there shouldn’t be one. You already know which parts of your body hurt some or all of the time, and the bottom of the left foot isn’t one of them. Yet.
In my own case, the stab of pain set in train a rapid, but ineffective sequence of activity that started with a yelp that may or may not have been gift-wrapped in the word ‘fuck’, I couldn’t say. Precedent suggests it was.
The yelp was immediately followed by my lifting my foot up to see what had attacked it. However, it is the nature of a bottle crown, viciously toothed as its design requires it to be, to stick to things, in this case, the underside of my foot. Thus, first standing and then hopping on one foot, I searched fruitlessly for the cause of the pain in the other.
Eventually, the bottle crown lost its grip on my plantar aspectand fell to the floor like a tossed coin. Still standing, I tried to see what damage it had done, by pulling the sole of my foot round to a point where I could actually see it. I now realise that this is a job best done at my stage of life by sitting down; I was so absorbed in looking at the welts of blood that I failed to realize that I was falling over, albeit fortuitously onto the edge of a neighbouring chair.
The tragedy of most domestic injuries, at least the ones in my life, is that they never look quite as heroically bad as the accompanying pain suggests they should, and I realized with sad resignation that this wouldn’t be one for the long winter nights with future grandchildren. Worse still, I had been leaking pathetic but noticeable quantities of blood onto the limestone floor, which Dog number 2 saw as a tiny hors d’oeuvres best taken at source for maximum freshness. Which meant I had to clean up behind myself which of course made more mess. For a while, like Pooh, Piglet and the Woozles, I simply followed myself around the floor with a J-Cloth, mopping up the last bleed as I laid the next one.
And on it went. Porridge boiled over. Check. Teabag left too long in mug. Check. Toast burned. Check. Dogs not walked. Check. Into the fragile ecosystem of my morning routine had come the wrecking ball of unplanned activity, and it threw everything. It was like one of those breakfast phone calls I used to get from my mother asking me to utilize some part of my brain that wasn’t yet functional to tell her articulately what I thought about something Gordon Brown had just done.
‘Chesty’ would have been alright. ‘Great!’ he had once said when entirely surrounded by Sandinista rebels; ‘That simplifies the problem’. He would have used the pain to fuel his dawning day, and to better mutilate his enemies.
Unfortunately, I am no Chesty and, by the time I had collected the debris of my routine together, I was Thursday’s broken man.