I haven’t done much walking recently, but I did manage to get a few stationary miles in today at Southport Hospital, taking what is known as a ‘treadmill test’. This is a bit like going on a stepping machine at the gym, but with wires stuck on one’s chest, and lie-detector lines being drawn on screens and paper. I was advised not to look down, but instead to focus on the noticeboard filled with holiday postcards at eye-level in front of me – cheerful things, slightly faded, with a blue cast given the relative endurance of cyan pigment. There was a girl in a thong on a Greek island, and a star-shaped promontory in St Petersburg… While I rested from the unaccustomed exertion, Dr Mohammed gave me the result: ‘you have angina’. Not really a surprise, after two months of painful one-mile walks to work in the cold air, with syncope at the edges of my vision and a floundering collapse at the end. But still, I would rather have discovered that I was being a hypochondriac, or that these symptoms were a random after-effect of some virus.
I had to take another test, so I stepped outside the hospital during the enforced break. It was a beautiful sunny day. If this was Dante’s ‘dark wood’, it was gleaming… but I felt lost nevertheless. Angina may not be very serious (I really don’t know; I don’t even know which brand of angina this is yet) but the diagnosis felt like being told which bullet has my name on it. It felt like… an end to having an everlasting body? In a way my inner being had always felt solid, ongoing, but now suddenly not so. Until today, like Norman Maccaig I might have said ‘Self under self, a pile of selves I stand/Threaded on time’ but (stumbling into the hospital’s Applejack cafe, with its surprisingly-unhealthy sausage-themed menu) I felt like just one, scared little self. A small meat object with temporary self-consciousness and a long to-do list.
An ultrasound completed the day’s entertainment. All I can say about this curiously intimate experience is that my insides seem to have a soundtrack created by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
I finally left the hospital for the day. Feeling like a bracing bout of psychogeography, I headed for Southport’s ‘Sussex Road’, vaguely intrigued by the association between the beginning of my walk (Southport) and its end point (Sussex is where Brighton is). I walked this long street in the chilly bright sunshine. I have no idea what this angina gig will mean for the ‘walking home’ project – 20 mile hikes and Falstaffian drinking bouts may well be a thing of the past; worst of all I might even run out of words like the unspeaking couples in the hospital, simply losing life’s momentum. But I daresay I’ll power my way to the end point, buoyed by the chemical diet prescribed by Dr Mohammed (five daily pills and an optional spray), chemically-assisted arteries pumping away like fearsome cyborg engines and no worries.
One thing I do know is that moderate alcohol consumption of the ‘two unit’ variety is supposed to be good for chaps in my condition. Heck, it’s probably compulsory. Frankly, I was ready for a couple of units – if ever the dictum that ‘a pint of plain is your only man’ had been valid it was now. So I went into the Guest House, a Southport pub that is sublime beyond measure. There, over a glass of Copper Dragon, I staved off self-pity with a conversation with a man who said he was travelling the country writing a book about the ‘death of Britain’. This conversation was more fun than it probably sounds. Afternoon light moved across the wood panelling and the strange abundance of life continued to flow.