A week ago I went to training. I suited up, headguard, mouthguard, knacker box, gloves and shinpads, and faced my opponent. We grimaced dementedly at each other and moved in like buffaloes in a bad mood, ducking, weaving, kicking, punching and generically trying to beat the shit out of each other.
We had been ambling along very satisfactorily for a few rounds with no more than a few trickles of blood and black eyes to show for our efforts, when, all of a sudden, in the heat of a mid-round stoush, the other bloke let fly with a back-leg roundhouse kick designed to break the leg of an elephant. Being, however, the consummate strategist that I am I danced backwards out of harm’s way with all the elegance and grace of a constipated rhino, and the killer kick went flying harmlessly past me, making a faint sound of air being ripped apart at a molecular level. Three or four flies fluttered slowly to the ground, making tiny squeaky sounds of despair, their wings sliced off. They crash landed on the ground and caught fire, sending showers of blue and purple sparks into the air and leaving inconsolable fly-widows and -babies to fend for themselves in a cruel and callous world.
Immediately keen to capitalise on my opponent’s deadly mistake I rebounded back out of my dodge-manoeuvre with murder in the piggy eye, and moved in behind his leg to bash his brains in. However, unbeknownst to me this bloke had another trick up his sleeve. Finding that his demolition roundhouse kick had missed me by a country mile and that he was about to get his legs amputated and his skull opened up and emptied out as soon as he put his leg back on the ground, he turned his failed roundhouse kick into a sidekick from hell, coming right up underneath my left fist aimed at his head with a view to providing an instant, take-away lobotomy, and smashed into my ribs like a runaway train with a stainless steel bull bar.
I doubled over and clutched my side while trying to suck in a bit of breath, never the easiest thing to do in mid-frantic-shit-fight. We held off for a bit, I cried for my mum for five minutes, then we continued our session.
We finished up and walked out and went home and I just reckoned I’d be a bit sore for a while, and it would all clear up the next day.
But my ribs are pretty shithouse. They have been broken so many times in innumerable car crashes, sparring sessions and fights, drunken and other, that they appear to resemble polystyrene foam more than actual bone.
So early the next morning I crawled out of bed for my bright and early pre-dawn surfing session, and I found that I could hardly move, and that the side I had taken the kick on had turned positively painful. However, I wasn’t going to be deterred from going in the water by something as insignificant as an annoying rib, and so I made my way to my beach, suited up and waded out.
Lo and behold. I went to lie down on my board to paddle out through the surf, and three observations immediately presented themselves in my tiny fog-clogged and surf-obsessed mind: 1. I couldn’t lie down on my board, because, inexplicably, pressing down with my ribcage onto the fibreglass surface hurt like hell; 2. I couldn’t paddle because I couldn’t lift up my arms; and 3. and very interestingly, I couldn’t breathe.
All three dotpoints mentioned above are reasonably obstructive in the process of catching waves and riding them. I found that point 3 in particular was fairly inconvenient. I struck out and pumped my arms and rolled from side to side to try and find a sweet spot where I could lay without pushing down on my apparently mildly injured ribs too hard, and gasped and heaved and panted for air. I held my breath as I paddled onto a wave, and jumped up ignoring the stabs I felt in my side. It was all right as long as I stood up and didn’t actually do anything, but any sort of movement became uncomfortable pretty quickly. So, after a fair while of snorting and grunting and getting a few good waves I decided to pull the pin and cut the session short.
Wisdom is a quality that’s hard fought and won, it doesn’t come easy and, once acquired, tends to lose out very quickly against such tantalising temptations as salt water, great swell, and, especially, moonshine. Not so much the kind that’s 99.9 % proof, burns with a clear blue flame, cleans out your sinuses a treat and makes you go blind, but the other kind. The kind that comes off a big fat bright full moon, sitting high over the bay while the nighttime swell rolls in and out alluringly.
In my wisdom I decided to have a few days off to let my ribs, surely only slightly a bit bruised, recover for a while, and I stayed out of the water for five days, an unheard-of stretch of abstinence. But on the sixth day, roundabout the time that the god of the christians finally got around to creating some animals and people to scratch around on all that empty land that he had made on day three, showing some bizarre hiccups in the bloke’s working schedule, since he’d gone and put fish in the sea and birds in the sky first, and had taken valuable time off under the pressure of deadline to do some big infrastructural works such as sticking up a few suns and moons and stars and miscellaneous other celestial business, on that day I decided it was time for a change.
Wisdom, like caution, is best experienced dynamically, and, more particularly, in an aerodynamic environment. It was therefore, comprehensively and thoroughly, thrown to the wind.
The moon came around again in its full glory, and so, as tradition requires, we all got together for our monthly moonlight surf, and there was no way I was going to miss out on that, ribs or no ribs. So on the seventh day after having had my ribs kicked in I waddled out into the warm salty water of our bay with my usual partners in crime, and had another crack at surfing with a broken rib, a proposition which could be interpreted as being, quite possibly, a pretty stupid thing to do.
The moon concurred and hid her face in embarrassment, as if to indicate she had nothing to do with it, wasn’t going to be held accountable for it and anyway she wasn’t there. The clouds moved in and brought a bit of rain, which, coupled with the smarting south wind, served to remind us that really summer was a long-gone distant memory, winter was well on its way and it might be just about time to replace that useless old wetsuit top full of holes with something maybe a little bit more substantial. The point was brought home in a reasonably persuasive manner when I got hypothermia after about ten minutes, mostly because my trusty, tried and proven wetsuit top, veteran of many a campaign in the dark, now more closely resembled a spaghetti strainer, and provided about as much insulating quality as a pair of wet jocks over your ears.
I didn’t think it was too much of a cause for alarm though, and reckoned it might still come in handy in spite of its advanced stage of deterioration. Apparently there’s someone out there with a bizarre fetish for hole-riddled wetsuits. One of my mates until recently was the proud owner of a wetsuit top that, across the stomach, had a hole in it the size of a shovel head, with rough ragged edges that used to flap in the breeze as he scooted along the faces of waves. He’d had it since he was fifteen, a mere 35 years, and had strong emotional ties to it, so imagine his distress when, not long ago, he accidentally left it behind in the carpark and returned the next day to find it gone, irretrievably lost to humanity. Clearly someone pretty hard up for a decent hardly-used wetsuit, as good as new, had come across it and decided to take it to a good home, where it would be able to provide several more years of faithful service. It never occurred to anyone that it might have been chucked in a bin by an aggrieved fashion-addict. My mate was devastated, and in between heart-broken booze sessions to forget his sorrows he posted adds on Gumtree, on various online trading forums and, for some reason, in Penthouse Magazine, offering a bountiful reward to anyone who could provide information about his beloved piece of equipment. We are waiting with bated breath.
I had a few mishaps due to my inability to actually paddle and breathe at the same time, and then, more or less by accident, I went over the top, slid down the slope, and managed to scramble to my feet and stand up, looking down the line along the face of the wave. The moon chose exactly that moment to finally come out from behind a cloud and poured out its light unobstructedly over the whole wide bay, and right there in front of me it illuminated the whole track of my ride, the moonlight cutting in and out of the surface of the wave, shining like black alabaster cut through criss-cross with old silver, and I went careering off along that long straight highway, right into the face of the moon. Of course I couldn’t leave it at that so I opened up my big mouth and let out a long painful deathrattle, yodeling like a poodle who’s getting his hair straightened with a red-hot iron while getting a pink fluffy ribbon tied around his balls.
Like before the ribs were fine as long as I was riding, but as soon as I hit the water they drove the point home again in full force, and so I paddled back up again, huffing and puffing and blowing and blabbing and moaning and groaning and, by now, rattling my teeth with cold.
A few more of the crew came out as I got back to the rocks, winded and wounded. Joining us were The Spice Girls, out in full force. There was Sporty Spice, lean and keen, always smiling and never mean, especially adept at not falling over when being crashed into by me when sharing the same wave, and, on one memorable occasion, keeping me from falling over by holding me up. There was Posh Spice, cultured, suave, educated and polite, and a specialist in riding her longboard like a toboggan, renowned far and wide for her ability to milk a wave for every last little bit of straggly bubbly foam to get it to carry her well beyond the boundaries of what can reasonably be expected from a wave, frequently landing her on top of a set of rocks not far from Alice Springs, alongside of a handwritten message in a bottle from 1815 saying ‘help can’t find north’. And, last but not least, there was Scary Spice, a Sight for Sore Eyes. Most widely known for her frightening appearance, she can often be seen barreling down the face of a cannibal wave with a great big head of wild hair flying around in the wind like an eagle’s nest inhabited by a poltergeist, a big ferocious people-eating grin spread widely across her face, and eyes flashing out dire warning to any mere mortal that might dare cross her path. Her progress along a wave is usually characterised by paddle-boarders being knocked over arse over tit and flying backwards, short-boarders duck-diving for their lives and groping for the sand, little children screaming hysterically for their parents, and dead seagulls floating plucked and cooked on the water for a quick after-ride snack, with clouds of feathers drifting down in slow motion.
And so we hung out and caught waves and had a good time, celebrated another bright full moon out on the water, and enjoyed being alive and well.
Or not so well. I surfed for two hours, then staggered out of the water with mild to moderate hypothermia, got changed and went to work. Later that day, at work, I spent two hours climbing up and down ropes and rope ladders and wobbly logs and various generic ropey-climbey contraptions we stick together for people to challenge themselves to climb up, and, usually, fall down. An interesting and entertaining thing to do with a busted rib.
After work I went home, laid down on the ground in the middle of the house and died. RIP, Rapped In Plastic, please don’t piss on my grave, it makes the flowers wilt.
Might have a few days off, maybe.