I used to be quite good friends with Clive Barker. The next time I see him, remind me to kick his teeth down his throat.

Clive knew quite a bit about pain. He wrote about it in the most visceral, extraordinary way, as if no-one had ever written about it before, as a living thing, something so solid-edged and real that you would come to savour it and even learn to respect and love it, greeting it like an old friend. I often wondered if he had experienced some debilitating long-term childhood illness. Knowledge like that doesn’t come easily.

I should have listened to him. After signing off on the diary yesterday and expecting to gently bring my medication schedule to a rolling stop I was instead plunged into the most astonishing pain I have ever experienced, my ‘peak’ hitting later than anticipated, too powerful to be halted by drugs or even books. If I wake up transformed into a gigantic cockroach I shall not be best pleased.

I spoke to someone online who has experienced this seventeen times. I wonder if it scars you, if you become less frivolous, less able to launch written flights of fancy. Mervyn Peake’s powers waned so shockingly and suddenly that reading his third volume ‘Titus Alone’ was quite unbearable, and revealed what he had been through, how difficult it was for him to continue writing.

Many authors pen silk-light prose that becomes calcified and unreadable over time. Does the sheer hard work of life scour away its pleasures? Can the earliest sensations we experience still be recaptured on the page in later life? There’s nothing worse than reading an author who has grown cynical and weary. I’m sure readers prefer finding the shock of delighted recognition in themselves rather than life’s shared disappointments.

The odd thing is that with the Bryant & May books I was writing about states yet to come, and although I’m still a way off from my characters’ ages I feel more sympathy growing for them. They endure, because it’s what we do, but importantly they remain wide-eyed and laugh, because that’s my nature too.

‘Two coffees please,’ Bryant requested.

‘What kind?’ asked the barrista, not unkindly. There were forty varieties listed on his blackboard, the most complex being a freetrade organic half-whole milk split-quad decaf soy-whip vanilla cinnamon great white with sugar-free syrup.

‘The one made with beans,’ said Bryant.

That’s from ‘Bryant & May and the Devil’s Triangle’, a missing case in ‘England’s Finest’ that has just been longlisted for the Short Story Dagger Award. There’s no danger of my mind maturing for a while yet, don’t worry.

16 comments on “Ouch!”

  1. Jo W says:

    Chris, I laughed when I read that in England’s Finest. I said to Alan,”that’s us, asking if they can just make two cups of coffee,no milk.” Some of the blank looks we’ve had and ordering tea isn’t without its trials.
    How I wish your pains could be shared out to your faithful readers. Please know that we are (virtually) sharing this with you and still sending hugs to you both. X

  2. Brian Evans says:

    I am so sorry to hear about the pain. I do so hope that was the peak and now you are on the road to recovery.

    “There’s no danger of my mind maturing for a while yet, don’t worry.” That is encouraging news. Don’t forget, growing old is inevitable. Growing up is optional.

  3. Liz Thompson says:

    I hope the pain eases quickly for you. At 72, I can assure you that you don’t need to grow up. I’ve resisted it successfully, though it’s lost me a few friends and earned some very funny looks.

  4. brooke says:

    B&M (and you) endure because you’re intelligent and sentient. Rare qualities in characters and humans.
    Hope today is a better.

    Despite unrest, our city has moved to “yellow” phase…COVID-19 new case rate decreasing fast even with more testing and mortality rate/1000 down. So farmers market open, with interesting new model. You order from your favorite farms/vendors (bread, home-made ice cream, flowers) and have a designated pick up time. Otherwise, you queue and practice social distancing. .

    Also good news, despite protests, COVID-19 and storm), high voter turnout! Results favor new educated community based candidates–ousting old traditinal guard.

  5. SteveB says:

    Hi Chris
    I read this and thought a long time whether to write anything.
    Anyway keep going keep smiling keep strong.
    All the best and also to your other half

  6. Jan says:

    Hope the pain levels decrease Mr. F. I have read a couple of B+Ms in the last few weeks. I have really laughed. Cos I rush read them first time round I never really twigged how funny they were.

    You’ll still be funny when your’e done with this monster on your back – might even be funnier still.
    It’s odd how that works really. Some of the funniest driest folk I ever came across were having some pretty rough times. Really going through it ………but it sharpened them into something rather than destroying them. Take it steady X

  7. Chris, I feel for you. I suffered cluster headaches for most of my life until I was diagnosed as coeliac. It’s something worse than childbirth through the brain. When AstraZeneca created Zomig, they saved a lot people from suicide. It’s good to write about the pain, but not so much to talk about as you will receive a load of useless opinion. Keep on keeping on.

    Does the pain leave scars? The answer is yes more often than we imagine: physical scars in the body, especially the brain, and emotional ones in the soul. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t get better or that we have to grow up.

    Incidentally, the usual Italian word for ‘espresso’ is ‘caffè’ or coffee. You’ll probably see some mild confusion or be immediately identified as non-Italian if you ask an Italian barista for an espresso.

  8. Debra Matheney says:

    So sorry about the pain. Sounds awful.
    Why have a grownup brain and lose all the magic of imagination and creativity.
    Take care

  9. Helen Martin says:

    Like Steve B I wondered whether to write anything, but know that we are all out here doing anything we can think of to make you heal. Not much, of course, but remember that Peter is suffering at least as much as you because he can’t help either and that hurts. We’re not all witty or funny but we most certainly care. I hope this is the worst over. (going through it 17 times, I can’t even imagine.)

  10. anna says:

    Hope that appalling pain has resolved by now, it must have been a very shocking experience. I’m so sorry you underwent that.

    While you were perhaps experiencing that, a visitor to my place at the other end of the world used her smart phone to enable me to hear you voice – recorded in an interview. Your voice has a wonderful resonance, it was a special experience for me after decades of reading you. It’s one of the best voices I have ever listened to. Thanks.

  11. John Howard says:

    I am so glad to hear that despite the pain and the trials and tribulations that the mind will not be maturing for a while yet.
    I will worry not… You do understand that we readers are selfish bastards don’t you.?
    Take much care and love to you both.

  12. Kenneth Mann says:

    Having experienced extreme pain whenever a doctor asks me to rate how much something hurts on a scale from one to ten I always start by clarifying to them where my ten is located.

  13. Ian Luck says:

    At least Doctors don’t do the builders’ thing of a sharp intake of breath when you ask them what their diagnosis is.
    Not that you’d be aware of it, but do Surgeons, when ferreting through your vitals, and finding signs of previous work, say things like:
    “Tchoh! What cowboy did THAT?”

    Get Well, Chris.

  14. Simon Barnett says:

    Ian – I am sure they do, and we are just lucky to normally be under the influence of anaesthesia when they say it so don’t hear it too often.

  15. Jan says:

    I’ve only done a very little bit in theatre time but trust me there are sort of variants surgeons use sort of coded msgs on the hairdresser remarking “Who cut your hair last?” Meaning – into what style???

    You’re more likely to be under a general not local anaesthetic as Simon remarks…

  16. Ed DesCamp says:

    Chris – I’m hoping that the pain has lessened by now (I’m behind). I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but I can hope it passes soon. Please stay immature as long as you are able. As you already know (you are Arthur, aren’t you?), it’s better than being an “adult”. Warm wishes for you and your partner.

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