Sometimes with pain you can make it start. With luck you can also make it stop. In my case that’s stand up, stretch a bit, and then the electric begins to flash. Sit and lean forward and after time the sparks begin to stop. But pain, of course, has an antipathy to regulation, and it has ghosts. Just when you think it’s gone it comes drifting on back: a veil, a bank of fog. It settles around you like a dark cloak. From out of the past there it is: a heavy hand holding you back.
In desperation I’ve done all I know. High dose prednisolone, double naproxen, same for co-codamol. Yoga breathing. Hot compresses. Ice. Lying in a dark room, foetal position, Neil Young’s Psychedelic Pill on the player, loud, just to cover my moaning. Today, though, we try for the light. Out there, under the blue sky, heading for Homebase.
It’s a simple activity. Car journey, car park, short walk through the green-framed doors past the display of cut-price couches, wheelbarrows and January-cheap Christmas decs. We’re heading for the lighting. New stuff for the hall. Easy. But, naturally, it’s not.
The whole world has changed here. Where once I knew instinctively what a 60-watt bulb looked and felt like, how bright it would be, how long it would it last, how much it would cost, how hot it would get, how many times I’d need to change it, today I’m lost. Watts have become lumens. Simple standard bayonet and screw fit have been replaced by multi-sized prongs, screws, turns, clips and holders. The bulbs themselves have branched into LEDS, halogens, incandescents and energy-savers with subdivisions that involve sodium, mercury, metal halide, sealed beams and shatter-proof tops. Bulb shape is a past thing too. Today they are lozenges, globes, pyramids, cubes, drops, prongs and bubbles. Lamps in profusion. I have no idea which one I want.
Above the racks Homebase helpfully display a poster which demystifies everything. Except it does not. Lumens mix with watts, old merges with new, nothing is clear, nothing gets printed on the sides of the Made In China bulbs in the display below. I’d like it bright. Chances are though that I’ll end up buying something that takes ten minutes light up and will even then not be bright enough to find the door. There’s a light like that in our bathroom. I refuse to go in there for a pee without a torch.
Right here the pain intervenes. Electricity in the lower leg. Rising fire. I retreat to the store’s display of occasional furniture and sit. Usually works. I’ve chosen a sort of armchair that looks like a throwback from the 1950s. The past keeps recycling. But then I’m old enough now to have got used to that.
I lean forward and try to make myself invisible. But it’s no good. An extended family of Chinese origin arrive, clearly in the market for 1950s throwbacks, and start to examine the chair while I’m still sitting in it. They want to see how it revolves. One of them gets down and peers between my shoes to check the mechanism. “This is comfortable?” he asks. Yes, I nod, handing him the price card. £50 it says. I get up and stumble over to sit, instead, on the edge of a unit which displays various sorts of tile cement and other things in tubes reduced for a quick sale. The Homebase bargain bin. Do I want anything? Other than an end to the roaring pain, nope.
The Chinese family have decided that they will purchase the chair and are carting it off towards the check out. Good luck. I thought it was overpriced. We return to the car. Sue has a bag of bulbs under her arm, she knows how to decode the new lighting world. All I can think of is relief. What it feels like. How long it might last. How to make it arrive.
And then it’s no longer there. I’m sitting and watching the road go by and become slowly aware that the pain has gone. The immediate future, despite low wattage, might be bright.