Further beyond the cupboard of broken toys — part 4


I am going mad. My leg hurts. And I have an itch but I can’t scratch it. It is driving me up the wall.

I am supposed to be going on a summer work-placement to the Canadian Conservation Institute. I have got the funds in place and have booked flights and accommodation. It may be the most important step in my career.

But instead of looking forward to it in anticipation I am a nervous and anxious. I am a mess. I have been knocked down in the road and my leg is in plaster. I am supposed to be flying out in less than four weeks. But not with my leg in plaster! I have been in touch with the Canadian Conservation Institute. They are sympathetic. They are prepared to re-schedule my placement until next year.

I can’t do that. I doubt if I will be able to raise the necessary funds two years in a row. I will have fucked-up.

In my mind, things are pretty desperate. This is one of those ‘window-of-opportunity’ things. If I miss it, there will not be another chance. I am getting panicky. I am very worried.

I have been badgering the orthopedic bloke at Guy’s hospital to take my plaster cast off. Even though it has only been ten days. I am fed up with hobbling around on crutches and taking pain-killers. I want it all to be over. Now!

I am like a petulant child. I am getting cranky. I can’t sleep properly. I lay awake at night and I start thinking about things again. This cannot be good. It is like those times on Ward 9 when I was just beginning to understand my circumstances. I would lay on my bed at night and wonder what was going to happen to me.

I once read somewhere that all illnesses are ‘psycho-somatic’. That expression should never be used in a dismissive way. Illnesses can affect the mind and the body equally. That means is that a mental-illness has the capacity to affect your physical health. Equally, a physical ailment can affect you mentally.

If someone uses the expression: “It’s only psycho-somatic”, dismissively, you are allowed, by law, to punch them in the face.

So that is what is happening to me. The pain and permanent discomfort, not being able to scratch the itchiness on my leg and not getting any sleep, they are wearing me down. I am suffering sleep deprivation. I am anxious and depressed. Oh, please, not this again!

I see the orthopedic surgeon and tell him I need to get the cast off. He looks dubious but agrees. I can tell he doesn’t really want to but I am persistent. They have checked the x-rays and can find no bone damage but there is certain to be soft tissue damage. I will have to wear a knee brace for a couple of months.

Fine. I will do that, then. Whatever it takes.

So, I hand my crutches back and hop-off home, with a sprung knee. I am like Zebedee from the Magic Roundabout. Boing!!

I am ready to go. I will fly out from Heathrow in a couple of weeks. My mood has magically lifted, despite the continuing pain. At least I can scratch my itches. I am elated!

I arrive at Ottawa International Airport to be met by Dr Barclay. He drives me to the apartment where I will be staying. It is a penthouse on the roof of a giant concrete gulag off Vanier Parkway.

I am renting a room from one of the conservators. Despite the sheer luxury, it is not very expensive. Also, she is hardly ever in and I have the place to myself most of the time. There are great facilities to be found everywhere in the complex. Swimming pool, sauna, cocktail bars, cinema. And it is all mine!


I am not sure what I was expecting Canada to be like. A chilly, Northern version of Australia perhaps. Or a watered-down version of the US. But it is not like that. I have travelled six thousand miles across the ocean to find a previously undiscovered, self confident, World nation. A nation proud of its European heritage, but equally proud of its truculent, assertive First-Nation citizens. Canada has an affection for its own internal conflicts and handles them with finesse. Canada is civilisation personified.

At least, the bit that I get to see is.

The Institute is a bit of a way from the penthouse. There is public transport but I decide I need personal transport. The first weekend, I go into town. I am looking for a particular kind of shop. After snooping around Bytown for an hour I find what I am looking for. It is a courier-cyclist’s bike shop. I explain to the bloke. I want a bike that will stay together for three months. After that I don’t give a shit.

For C$100 I get a wreck of a bike, a helmet, lights, a crook-lock and a lecture about road-safety in Canada.

That suits me fine. I am entirely with them on that. And I am independent.

I am independent. The city of Ottawa is my oyster. But only as far as I can cycle. But hey! That is pretty-much my limit at home in London, so I have nothing to complain about.

Working at the Institute is fine. I am already experienced enough to start doing bench-work without supervision. I have to conserve an early 1800s square piano. No problem. I breeze through it in a couple of weeks.

The Institute conservators are surprised and amazed at my industrious productivity. They like to work at a much more leisurely pace.

A new job has come up. We are going out to the Sharon Temple. There is a chamber organ in need of restoration and we are going to pick it up. My first big outing across Ontario.

I am very, very pleased.

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