30 Jan 23
Dear Readers, my dispatches will always be free and open to everyone. I am unable to use my hands and I’m writing, via dictation, with the help of my family. If you could become a paid subscriber and support me, it’d mean so much.
Being a tetraplegic isn’t all bad. As I write this, I am having a pedicure while eating caviar with a plastic spoon. My girlfriend is tickling me under the chin. I have just proposed to her. ‘Barkis is willin’’.
While she pretends to contemplate the question - to my surprise, and that of most of my friends, who consider me to be less than a good catch, in fact a bad catch, and had advised me against proposing while I am in this condition – she eventually says yes, of course, and laughs.
As a kind of celebration, as I said, I’m having my first ever pedicure. The man doing the pedicure wears a sort of miner’s harness on his forehead with a bright little torch attached.
From where I am lying, with his whirring machine and his glasses covered in foot-dust, he resembles someone cleaning the inside of a nuclear dump.
In the gym today a man tried to sell me a horse. He showed me a picture of the horse. I can confirm the horse is very pretty. I had to explain to him my garden in London is not big enough for a horse.
Like you, I was wondering whether the patient became paralyzed after being kicked in the back by said horse. But there is an etiquette when it comes to other patient’s injuries. You have to know them reasonably well before asking them about their accidents.
My physiotherapist tells me that most of the younger patients here have had motorcycle accidents. The public transport system in Rome is not efficient and the best way for young people to get about is to use motorcycles, which are very dangerous since the roads are in bad condition. But more about everyday life in Rome later.
I feel as if I am living in some sort of authoritarian regime in the hospital. Of course the people who work here are not tyrannical in any form. What I mean is that my body is constantly being invaded: someone comes in and shoves a tube into my ass; another nurse sticks a needle in my stomach; someone else inserts a needle in my arm.
Then I am dragged in my bed to a room at the far side of the hospital, where a complete stranger hits me over the head twenty times with a large magnetic ping-pong bat, for my own good. I feel like Jack Nicholson at the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, writhing in despair and helplessness.
I am feeling highly sartorial today. I am wearing my new white Snoopy socks, my black Uniqlo sports pants; on top, I have a long sleeve Picasso T-shirt, and over that, an off-white Gap hoodie.
On my head, I have an ochre woollen cap, of which I am proud. When I catch a glimpse of myself in any mirror, I am as enthusiastic and disappointed as any teenager.
I have been thinking a lot about my look, which is strange, since from the shoulders up, I resemble a man who has just run out of a burning building – his own house. I am not crazy about the Uniqlo trousers, which are made of a strange, somewhat sticky, synthetic material.
The sensation is a bit like wrapping bin liners around your legs and securing them at your stomach with a bit of old fraying rope. So this morning, as I lay on my back in the gym, and the physio was stretching me here and there, I was planning my next look, which Isabella can acquire for me on the streets of Rome.
During the physio, as I prepare for life as a married man, I am wondering what colour to paint my nails. The colours that I have suggested – which include the colours of my team Manchester United – have been considered by Isabella with some restrained hilarity.
Here in the hospital, I have seen a lot of Italian women - nurses, doctors, patients and visitors. Every day I see many nurses, but because they are wearing masks, I can only study their eyes, hair and eyebrows. I have to confess, I have acquired a knowledge of the Italian eyebrow which is extensive and detailed. Each eyebrow, is, of course, a story and an artwork in itself. One of the nurses here, Roberta, who used to work in movies, in hair and make-up, told me that the eyebrow is the most important feature of the face.
She added; the public might not notice it, but the eyebrow of the villain in any movie has to have special attention, as it must emphasise a ‘wrong’un’.
I should stress here that the Italian male also attends to his eyebrows with calculated care. This is not something I have noticed in the British male. We are more primitive, except in British soap operas, where the male eyebrow seems to be given particular attention.
Italian women take good care of themselves. Everything about them is neat and planned, and the women who are not in work uniform - the visitors - dress brilliantly and vividly, both to express themselves, and to show others who they think they are. They wear a lot of clashing colours, which is very stylish, and confident.
When it comes to myself, who I am, and who I might become, I want to return to the late Sixties and early Seventies, when I was growing up. I guess most people of whatever age, wear the clothes of their youth. I will be doing this, with the volume turned up, and with super-painted toenails. Pictures to follow.
In this shitty world,
Congratulations on your engagement. Great forward leaps into the unknown are still possible, even in the life of a tetraplegic, even while under the authoritative care regime of an Italian hospital.
Of all the obsolete organic material that we shed, or otherwise jettison, throughout our lives “foot-dust” is the most romantic sounding. It trails behind our heels like sands from a fractured hourglass. 'He ran out of foot-dust' is a poetic alternative idiom to 'he ran out of time.'
I will ponder on the ethics of selling the horse that kicked you. Many years ago, I was chewing quat (a plant with mild amphetamine qualities) in a cafe in Sana'a, which is the capital of Yemen. I was gradually shifting from a very animated, talkative state, to a superficially torpid disposition, masking the inner truth - that my mind was racing so fast, it was like a spinning-top rotating at such speed that the colours had combined and blurred to white.
A man who had lived in Aden under colonial rule sat down next to me and began to reminisce fondly about the British, and what he called “the British promise”. This segued into a detailed blow-by-blow synopsis of the Falklands War. At the end of it, he asked me if I wanted to purchase a suit of armour. He had been the curator of a museum during one of the nation's many wars and had looted the piece on the understanding that if he didn't, then somebody else probably would.
I declined his offer, as I did not want to go to prison.
In all the time that I was resident in Yemen, only two women said “hello” to me in the street. On both occasions it was a shock. Occasionally eyes (the only part of the body that was visible) would meet. I always felt guilty, as I did not want to get anyone into trouble.
One thing I noticed was that, after a few weeks in the country, I began to tune-in to a feminine shape that was still evident underneath the amorphous and unflattering black garments that were worn by the women in public. A cynic might say that this was a manifestation of the male gaze formulating a new way in which to objectify the female form. I prefer to think of it in terms of a line of dialogue, spoken by Jeff Goldblum in the first Jurassic Park film: “Life finds a way.” Or in this case, the biological imperative recalibrates itself to a new standard.
I recently found myself browsing florescent socks on Amazon – a throwback to my childhood where they were worn mismatched.
In regard to your own sartorial journey, I would advise that you follow your heart. I recently walked behind a lady with thinning hair that had been cut short and dyed bright red. I assume that she was in her 60s, or maybe even her early 70s. She was wearing dark sweatpants with the word 'juicy' embroidered across the top of the buttocks in pale-pink cursive script. She seemed at ease with herself and at peace with the world.
Hanif , I am a new devotee to your daily missives. Today I attended an ‘away day ‘ for team building with , amongst others , Nicola . She urged me to sign up and because I admire her and you and have done so . I have been working in the same industry for 30 years , have always slightly hated group bonding with colleagues but I now feel I’ve reached a maturity where I can enjoy the sensation of being part of a bigger picture . I even enjoyed the scavenger hunt which allowed all of us to reveal our true ,highly-competitive natures . I am writing to you because Nicola informed me that this is something you enjoy . I would like , in a small way , to contribute to your well being as I am a huge admire of your work . Amities Judy