There was an episode that occurred in my time working for ‘Mad Science’ that I never really told anyone about before. On reflection it seems absurd because these sorts of things do happen all the time. You tend to read about them in back pages of the travel section of the voluminous sunday papers; wading wrist deep in ink and smudge I often find myself flicking through absolute shit, wondering all the while why we are chopping down the planet’s lungs to feed our already slaked thirst for more cheap air deals, can anyone enlighten me on this? I doubt it. Anyways, this is beside the point.
I was taking an after school club science lesson in Belper, a little village not a million miles from the Peak District. We were covering the topic of chemical reactions and why things change. It’s a pretty good lesson to be honest. The kids really loved the use of candles, ethanol burners and the such, and at the end we sort of did this multi-colour flame display and the kids go wild, screaming and guffawing at the green flames and the sparkles. During the previous lessons at this school I had grown to adore this little boy called George. He was one of the younger kids and was one of those ones that would just crack you up every time he said anything. I remember him asking, with utter incredulity, how it was possible for water to travel in clouds when clouds were self evidently made of dreams. When I told him the short-winded scientific explanation he freaked out and started shouting “It’s ray-ning it’s poor-ring, sigh-ence is bor-ring” and ran around and around the desk before tripping and falling down with a gentle enough thud. Fortunately he was unhurt, because my giggling may have seemed somewhat unprofessional otherwise.
The lesson had finished and George was the only kid left behind. I waited with him at the school gates and because it was the winter term it was already getting gloomy. The school caretaker-cum-janitor came over and asked if we were alright. He had a clean shaven face that had reddened around the jowls and a fading patch on the crown of his cranium. Although somewhat bedraggled looking he had an aura of kindness and warmth that belied his dreary navy blue t-shirt and trousers. He waited with us for ten minutes but still the parent hadn’t shown. By this stage, predictably, George’s lovability was fading and he was becoming a bit anxious. I calmed him somewhat and the three of us (the janitor’s name was Paul) went to the school office to leave him in reception.
Unsurprisingly, the receptionist had left and the office was closed. I was a little annoyed as it wasn’t in my job description to take care of the kids past this point but what could I do. Paul offered to take him back to the gate and wait, but seeing as my car was over that way too went with them. I suddenly realised I was desperate for the toilet and asked Paul if there was one I could use, it wasn’t like me to have sudden realisations of bladder imbalance, but I put it down to my concern for George (it didn’t cross my mind that I hadn’t actually drunk more than 200ml of water in the past four hours). Paul said I could use the staff toilet but I’d have to go in through the side entrance. He gave me a key, reckoning it wouldn’t be a problem as no one else was about, and gave me directions.
I found myself urinating into an unbelievably tiny urinal. Paul had told me that it was a staff toilet so I obviously got lost or something, finding the wrong place. As I began the business I looked down and to my sudden horror, noted that my urine was bright green and sparkly, just like the flames I had lit for the kids in the lesson. A burning sensation suddenly ripped through me and I had to stop what I was doing and hold fast against the wall while what seemed like an age (but in fact must have only been half a minute or so) passed by. I collected myself, as the pain had subsided, and quickly left the toilet. I was panicking somewhat and half ran half stumbled back through the dark corridor, I found the door and went out into the balmy summer evening air.
I walked quickly back to the gate and found Paul standing by it alone. “You look shocked mate, everything ok?”, “Not really”, I said to him truthfully, “I just pissed green and got a massive pain through my torso”. “Really?! Shit, I’ve heard about this before, mate, you might have some kidney trouble or failure or something, we need to get you to a doctor, how do you feel?”, “Ok, a bit dazed to be honest, no, actually I’m fine”. “No, mate, you need to see a doctor, I’ll take you to one I know, he’s not far”. I looked at Paul, and in the evening light his hair waved in the breeze and his head seemed to wobble, as if he were sitting on a little outrigger dinghy, I suddenly felt I wasn’t in any state to be driving myself home or to a doctor. “Ok…ok, that would be really kind of you, thanks”. “No, probs, here jump in my van”. I turned to my left and opened the van door that was there, within reach, I fumbled up into the passenger seat and focused on breathing, I felt woosy and dizzy. “Don’t worry buddy, we’ll be there in no time”, this warm statement of comfort came to me from the fading world of light, as I spiralled into unconsciousness.
When I came to we were just coming down to land silently on lush, thick grass. The moon was vast in the sky, forming shadows that I have only seen emulated once since, on my cycling trip in Spain (we were just outside of Valencia and the moon was shining so bright through the leaves of the orange grove that my camera picked up a photo that appeared to be taken in the daytime. Blurred shadows and fuzzy, beer-soaked memories). “Where are we John?” I asked, “Not far from home, in the Peak District, near Elkstone. Ok mate, if you get out we can see the doc”. I clambered out of the white van, and felt my bare feet on the grass. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried walking barefoot before? I did it for a summer once years ago in my mid-twenties and it changed the way I felt when in the outdoors, it was amazing to feel so in touch with the ground. I gave it up when the winter came in as it got too cold and I never did it again, but in that instant I remembered that feeling again and I smiled. My feet sank into the grass and it warmed them and pushed up against them. It suddenly occurred to me that it was my feet, my weight, that was holding down this grassy field and if I were to jump up the earth would escape, seizing a chance to get away from its eternal task of holding up all of us. I could feel the trembling desperation in the ground, like Atlas wanting to drop the weight of the world, so I held fast, not moving in excruciating fear of the blatant truth. “Come on buddy, amigo, this way!” shouted Paul over the din of the whistling wind. “I can’t move!” I screamed desperately to him, “It’ll all escape!” He looked at me with empathy, “Hee, you guys are funny sometimes, always assuming that it is you that is holding all this in place”, he gestured widely with his arm, “Can’t you see?! Seriously, its ok, just walk”. As his said this my feet became light and the fear I had lifted up and away on the breeze, I hopped up and carried on in order to catch up with him.
We walked quietly over the mounded meadow until we came to the edge of the forest. The trees; oak, ash, birch, sequoia, eucalyptus, willow, pine, yew, too many to name, their bark seemed to expand and contract smoothly as the leaves rustled and danced in a mirage of calming, yet extraordinary mixture of greens and reds. We came along, just under the edge of the tree canopy, and found a circular dwelling with smoke rising out of a hole in the roof. I had seen structures like it before, in books mind, and not in the UK, it almost reminded me of something you might find on the plains of the mid-west, with some Native-American folks living inside and smoking buffalo meat or something. Paul pulled aside a cover that was masking an entrance and gestured for me to enter. I hesitated on one foot as I moved to the entrance and then sucked in some air as I crouched down and went inside. The space was cavernous, great shadows from the fire licked up the walls and the echoing chatter of jackdaws, robins, yellowhammers, a plethora of birds, could be heard beyond the crackle of the wood. The fire seemed small, cosy even in the space, the proportions confused me, seeming to flow from moment to moment. I sat down next to the fire as Paul did and we waited for the doctor, a slight and tiny figure, to finish pottering in the corner over a number of clay containers. He turned around and before I saw his face I heard the giggle and noted his clothes. He was wearing the uniform of a Belper Primary school child and I realised it was little George I had come to see.
George sat down beside me and took a sip from the steaming pot he was holding. As he swallowed he closed his eyes and exhaled a steamy breath as his lips broke into a smile. He proffered the drinking vessel towards me and I took it and drank, for my thirst had suddenly exploded. The steam from the mug misted up my glasses and I drank as if I had been without water for days, some of the concoction dribbled from my chin as I began to offer it to Paul, before realising it was finished, “I’m so sorry, I totally didn’t realise I was…”, “Don’t worry, companero”, he said, “we have all we need, you needed that beverage more than I”. I heard his words even though his mouth did not move from the broad smile he was giving me. I felt a strong shaking in my legs which began to encompass the entire lower portion of my body. I looked at the two of them scared and concerned, but they simply smiled back at me with that look of total comprehension and understanding and compassion. My torso now began to shudder, although I felt warm I could think of no way to stop it save covering myself, so I wrapped a woolen shawl around my body. My arms and neck and even head now started to go, shaking, jerking, wobbling. I felt my brain bashing about in its casing, no pain mind, but much fear caressed me. I closed my eyes for an instant and when I opened them I was with George, covered in feathers and flying, soaring, across the open sky above the forest. George gave a shriek of glee and we passed through the clouds, seeing the dreams and fears and wishes of all those who had come before. As we passed out of the clouds we looked down to a see the forest, George’s smile suddenly disappeared as we approached a clearing where the sun illuminated a group of houses. Machinery was tilling the fields and saws were lopping down huge swathes of the woodland. I turned and met George’s eyes, he stared deeply into me and in an instant was gone. A shot rattled all around me as one of the landowners guns went off. The lead shot caught George in the body and as his feathers puffed and ruffled around in the air, floating softly and slowly to the ground, his small body fell, gaining on terminal velocity. He hit the ground with a thud that jolted me up and alert. I looked up from the green and sparkling flames to see the grinning laughing faces of all the kids in the classroom in front of me.