Northern Soul

Henry Normal’s Big Break

August 25, 2022 Authors & Reviews, Books Comments Off on Henry Normal’s Big Break

I’ve broken my arm. Not a great career move.

I’d like to say I damaged it snowboarding in the Himalayas or kite-surfing at the Great Barrier Reef or freebasing the Chrysler Building in New York. But I did it falling off a small step ladder in my back garden while trying to fix my pergola. Not as glamourous or as rock ‘n’ roll but equally as painful. Less Led Zeppelin more Lead Balloon. Less Robert Plant more Japanese Knotweed.STEP LADDER TO HEAVEN

Like Icarusflying too close to the sunI never should have stoodon that fourth rungA lack of careSome might call it hubrisGod clearly thoughtI was taking the pissIf only my headhad broken my fallI’d now be deadin no pain at allI remember prior to my accident seeing Rick Allen, Def Leppard’s one-armed drummer and being impressed. Now he is rock ‘n’ roll. Even though I’m not a DL fan I take my hat off to him, with my good hand. There are so many brilliant people like Ella Fitzgerald, Frida Kahlo, Cole Porter and others who have overcome the loss of a limb or two and met challenges. I feel inspired, but a heady cocktail of drugs is certainly helping in that respect.What caused my fall were several rookie mistakes. Firstly, I positioned the metal step ladder on gravel. Not the most stable of bases – one notch above custard. Once up the ladder I leant to the side which is never a good idea. It’s like I was seized by some unconscious death wish or had recently undergone a full-scale lobotomy. As the ladders wobbled, rather than run down them I chose to jump to safety but got my arm caught in the rungs. I proceeded in the direction of the ground but the ladders remained standing and, with the full weight of my body and gravity, my arm was pulled from its socket.I stood dazed for a moment, my limb flailing loose like a broken doll, until I instinctively put it back in the joint where it came from. I began to lose consciousness but, being at the bottom of the garden, I knew I needed to get back to the house. I stood quite still for a minute breathing heavily. Then, holding the damaged arm with my good hand, I started to walk slowly. The bruised flesh was now a dead weight. I managed to scramble into the house. No one was home. I climbed the stairs and lay on the bed, my side throbbing, my head spinning. It all seemed unreal, like a false memory, a bad day-dream or a nightmare I suppose, only I was awake and the sun was shining.Thirty minutes later my wife, Angela, returned from the shops and insisted on taking me to hospital. Hastings Conquest Hospital Accident and Emergency looks fairly modern. You have to sign in on a screen to see a doctor. Not the easiest task with a broken arm, especially if it’s your writing arm, as was the case with me. How people in wheelchairs or blind people are meant to cope I’ve no idea. Angela sorted out the screen and I sat with the rest of the ‘walking wounded’ as my dad would call anyone injured. I consoled myself by conceding I probably wasn’t the most serious case in the room.I was lucky. Within two hours I had had X-rays and was sitting in front of a medic. He informed me that I had a spiral fracture to my humerus bone. He asked me to put my arm on the table and then asked me to lift it. He asked me again and I explained that I was trying. Trying with all my might. This is when it really hit home. I couldn’t move my arm even a millimetre. Nothing. I immediately feared the worse. I’ve severed something. I’d never use my arm again. The sickness in my stomach was overwhelming.The medic reassured me that the use of my arm would come back but would take at least six weeks, possibly two to three months, before I could dress myself, lift a cup to my lips, write with a pen and wave goodbye with my once dominant hand. I couldn’t shake his hand if he twisted my arm – literally.My immediate concern was pain relief. If I sat perfectly still the only pain was a dull ache like a toothache in my arm. If I moved at all then sharp pains stabbed my upper arm like a knife being twisted. I was given a small packet of Cocodamol. The problem with Cocodamol was, firstly, the Coco start didn’t mean they tasted of chocolate and, secondly, they caused flatulence and constipation – not a winning combination in itself. Added to a broken arm when you are not at your most able, or your most attractive, it added insult to injury.NO TO ‘DO IT ALL’ – YES TO ‘DO FUCK ALL’DIY is not for this OAPDIY is too close to D.I.E.I’ve no wish to be R.I.PEven A & E seems OTT .As an MO – It’s a big N.O. for meR & R is better by farI’m recently retirednot keen to be expiredWe shouldn’t be climbing creaky ladderswe’ve enough trouble with leaky bladdersA Black ‘n’ Deckeris not worth breaking y’ neck f’Don’t be a berk mateput down that WorkmateI now draw a pensionI’m officially unfiti just need a bench onwhich to sitto enjoy the yearswithout further tearsso sod home repairs and all that shitBan the saw and spannerfrom your four year plannerForget tongue and groove jointsjust so long as you can move jointsPark the Pozidrivconcentrate on staying aliveNow HOMEBASEis not my kind of placeSCREWFIXIs not where I get my kicksWICKES – It’s for dicksTHE RANGE – I just find strangeB & Q – FUHome improvement’s fine if you’re a young buckbut later in life – why be a schmuck?When no longer spryDIY spells bad luckEverything I tryseems to come unstuckFYIfor DIY, I give not a flying fuckThe first night was probably the worst. Getting ready for bed I couldn’t stop shivering. My body rocked and each movement stabbed deeper. I stood half-naked in the bathroom unable to move and cried at how pathetic I now was. As Angela tried her best to help me all I could say was ‘what have I done, what have I done’.Why I was shivering during the most extensive heatwave for years I don’t know. It may have been shock or my body exacting revenge for its mistreatment. I’ve never been the fittest of people and, approaching my 66th birthday, the sight of my broken body in the mirror reminded me of the scene in 1984 when Winston Smith is confronted with his wasted image and taunted about his representation of humanity. Is this what I’ve become?For the past three weeks, I’ve slept sitting upright in the spare bedroom so at least Angela can try and get some sleep. She’s not only looking after me every day but, as ever, our autistic son Johnny. I almost added the words ‘single-handedly’ to that last sentence but realised the misleading imagery. Angela, thankfully, has two strong capable arms and the biggest heart in the universe.WET SHAVING WITH MY WRONG HANDRemoving a new blade from a sealed packetis difficult enoughCutting through plastic with scissorsusing only one handSpraying shaving foam on the sideof the sink makes it easier to applySlow and steady with short strokesis the key no matter how many bladesUnderstanding the contours of your faceand the elasticity of your skin takes timeReaching over to the far side of your jawangling the razor and keeping a gripwhilst dragging it through the foamat the right pressure takes practiceI’ve managed to avoid cuts so farbut leave the occasional hair protrudingIf only this was my main worryYou can’t put a plaster cast on your upper arm so the hospital has strapped me into a plastic harness to help my bones fuse properly. In this heat it can itch like hell so I sit in bed with a thin wooden stick I can poke down the edge of the harness to help me scratch. It’s a kebab stick. It is my greatest pleasure at this moment.After a couple of days it became apparent that I couldn’t perform in upcoming gigs at Petworth and Edinburgh. I did consider changing the title of my show to ‘Poet with a Broken Arm – plus Supporting Cast’. I apologise to anyone who had planned to see me at Petworth or Edinburgh. You wouldn’t have enjoyed seeing me in pain for an hour. Perhaps some of you would but it wouldn’t have helped speed recovery.I’m very much looking forward to Liverpool Philharmonic on Sept 15 and Morecambe Poetry Festival on September 17 with my old friend Lemn Sissay. Lemn came down from London to visit me at my home in Fairlight this week. For a few hours I almost forgot I had a broken arm. Thank goodness it doesn’t now hurt when I laugh.I’ve started to write some poems about my experience. These were the first poems I wrote. It’s a new hybrid form I’ve been toying with – a Haiku that contains rhyme. I’ve not thought of a name for this form yet. Perhaps ‘RhymeKu’. I’ve broken some words over two lines to emulate my fractured arm.BROKEN ARM TRILOGY now in 4 parts1.Though fractures on my humerus are numerous I’m notrendered humourless

2.My humerus iscracked but, in fact, my funny bone is intact3.Forget the moans andgroans it’s better crackingjokes than cracking bones4. This is now – that was ZenIs there karma withmy arm a-snapping, the soundof one hand clappingI do like this form. It’s short and, as I’m typing with my left hand only, that’s very much a bonus. Strange to think ‘left-handedness’ was illegal in Albania even in the last century. There are things you need two hands for.TYPING WITH ONLY ONE HAND LEAVES MUCH TO QUESTIONI can’t hold down shiftand press a key – Are questionmarks now beyond meIt’s the mundane tasks I find I’m missing and that frustrate – loading the dishwasher, folding the washing, pulling up a stray weed. I suspect as a poet you’d expect me to say something more poetic, but being able to tie my own shoelaces is something I long for. The first week my ambition was to get out of bed unaided, which required using my left arm while swinging my legs as a counterweight. It needed the use of stomach muscles I seemed to have squandered recently.Overdramatising my pain, I looked up the name of the centurion who thrust the lance into the side of Jesus. His name was Longinus and the lance is more widely known as the Spear of Destiny. So my final RhymeKu is something to chew over.THE SPEARMINT OF DESTINYPlease tell Longinusto stop sticking his prong in usit feels wrong in usI became a pensioner last week and couldn’t open my cards or presents. I never imagined when younger that I wouldn’t be able to dress myself for my 66th birthday and that my food would need to be cut up for me. I was born on the same day as Napoleon, which is apt as I now resemble the famous painting of him with his arm inside his tunic.DON’T DWELL UPON THIS BROKEN BODYA solitary oak in an open fieldframed in the Georgian windowdraws my eye from this sick bedThe church spire and a lattice of hedgerowscompete for attentionSycamores crowd the foregroundIs it the particular that intriguesa projection beyond the commonplacethe individual happenstanceThere is man made design for surebuilt upon consequenceand an allowance to just beThe oak fills its space this late summerstrong in shape and colouring perfectas though drawn by a childDon’t dwell upon this broken bodyit is already behind meBeing made to slow down certainly forces you to consider your mortality and your choices. Next time I think I’ll choose to stay firmly on the ground. It now takes me five minutes to shuffle down a flight of stairs. Thirty seconds thought before climbing that ladder would have saved so much trouble. I hope you will learn from my mistake without the need to inflict self-harm.I’ve tried over the past three weeks to write a poem about what I’ve learnt. Like my healing, it is perhaps still a work in progress. Consider this cautionary verse.FRACTUREDMy writing hand has become dead weightlowering my head in humilityMemory twists under lidsShivering is painfulI’ve become a trainee ghosttravelling in thought and timeBalance is bruisedAmbition brokenConfidence an orphan childI am at the mercy of virtueA kebab stick is my closest friendSleep my chief physicianNo longer adroitI’ve joined the gauche and the sinisterGravity and trigonometry continueremembered or notNo need now for a knifeI’m redefined as spoonThe Earth is always open to hugsThis skeleton displays damageTrust in the left hemisphere is lostSelf determination lies out of reachI am a man who makes mistakesEmpires rise and fall

By Henry Normal

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