Collapsing, nearly fainting and then projectile vomiting at the end of a poetry event, while a young mandolin group is serenading the audience, is wayward behaviour.

Collapsing, nearly fainting and then projectile vomiting at the end of a poetry event, while a young mandolin group is serenading the audience, is wayward behaviour.

But as soon as you think you are not actually making your final exit, as it were, it’s hard to decide which is worse: feeling crap or feeling horrendously embarrassed for your hosts and fellow poets. I’ve never done it before. I hope never to do it again.

I hereby nominate the following people for the Noble Behaviour to Wayward Poets Award (NBWPA):

Helen Birtwell (kind and generous organiser of the reading as part of the Cley and Sheringham Festival).
Jehane Markham (whose lovely lunch was unceremoniously splattered across the school hall floor and who had made my visit to Norfolk, up to that point, such a joy).
Helen Ivory and Martin Figura, who received WP Helena Nelson at their house in Norwich at three o’clock in the morning when A & E let her out.

The NBWPA is not, regrettably, a cash award, but nominations automatically ensure membership of a secret (but not that secret now) organisation whose members know they will be rescued, whatever the crisis, at any moment anywhere in the world that members of the NBWPA are present. There are more members than you might expect, the organisation having been set up in the early 1990s, at around the time of the first poetry festivals.

Anyway, I spent five or six hours in an A & E ward in Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. I don’t watch much television. In fact, I mainly only watch one programme on a Saturday night when I have finally stopped working. I was brought up with a grandmother who was an addict of hospital drama. We watched Emergency Ward Ten and we watched Dr Kildare. Avidly. So continuing this family tradition, I watch Casualty, even though it is not intentionally funny.

My time in a real A & E was just like a five-hour episode. No, better because I was actually in it. I was the Collapsed Poet storyline. As the nurse extracted my blood, she asked me to recite one of my poems. It’s harder than usual to remember poems — even your own — while your blood is seeping away for nefarious purposes. However, I managed part of the peeing poem. It seemed appropriate. There were a lot of people — much iller than me — peeing and vomiting and groaning around what they call the ‘trolley bay’ (Friday night, remember?). So I was something of an exception, in that I wasn’t drunk.

The people who looked after me there were, every single soul, kindness itself. They were working very hard — I watched them for several hours — but with humour and cameraderie. They checked out more bits of me than I can remember since my only other A & E experience, an ectopic pregnancy 24 years ago.

All of which resulted in my blood pressure returning to normal (it was not co-operating earlier) and me being discharged, no worse for wear, except to be very worried about all the people who were worrying about me.

Back home now, I’m glad of the extra hour. I could wish the bathroom hadn’t been dismantled (it is currently being refitted) so we are still washing in the downstairs toilet (don’t ask — I really mean the washhand basin), but that’s a minor detail.

And the whale? Very complicated. The whale is Gillian’s design for Graham Austin’s pamphlet Fuelling Speculation. And the picture is Jonah inside the whale (read the pamphlet and the penny will drop.)

I should have got that whale organised last week: we are running behind schedule. However, Gillian’s computer died, and then the scanning software for the new one wasn’t set up, and then Photoshop wasn’t installed. And one thing after another meant that when she came to meet me at the airport yesterday, to make sure I was fit to drive my car, she brought the sketchbook with the whale so I could scan it myself. I haven’t done that yet. I’m still treading softly.

But brushes with mortality are good for us. They make us hug the people we love a little more closely than usual, and phone the ones we can’t hug, and think how lucky we are. Jonah probably felt like that when the whale sicked him up. Everything connects.

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