In October 1989 I went on a bike trip with some neighbourhood kids to a hill around three miles from our collective houses, our ages ranging from 11 to 13. Normally at this point you’d get a nostalgic few sentences lamenting the way this kind of trip is almost inconceivable in this today’s climate of safety elves and paedophiliac motorised terror, but it did end up with what my Dad agreed was the worst head injury he’d seen in around 30 years of GP doctorising that didn’t cause death or permanent and debilitating brain damage, so maybe we’re doing something right these days by insisting on sending at least one adult along on this kind of thing.
I saw the pictures from the cleanup operation, and I looked exactly like I’d taken John F. Kennedy’s exit wound. Pics or GTFO, right? I assume they’re buried in some file somewhere in Tayside and one day I’ll get round to asking to see them again, but I’m also very lazy. If your name is PuzzleCycles on Twitter or you’re stalking her, you’ll now understand why I asked to have ‘JFK’ Tweeted at me the other day. I don’t have those pictures yet, but for you ghouls out there, I’ll remind you if and when.
Puzzles had a spill off her bike and surprised herself by how quick she was back on the saddle. At the risk of being annoying competitive, I think I have you beat, Miss Cycles.
My first clear memory after the collision is being on my awesomesauce Raleigh BMX and wondering why it was, as I pedaled down the road (with a ragged cadence that as a fixed-gear rider I would now be horrified by) that something was bouncing up and down on my right ear. It was the palm-sized flap of skin I’d just rent from the side of my head. Then I tapped the floppily bleeding area and felt bare bone. A couple of minutes later I caught up to the rest of the kids, who had stopped while I was lying unconscious in a ditch bleeding heavily to wonder where I’d gone, and one of them asked if I was alright. That was my sister, and it now occurs to me that it’s been at least three weeks since I reminded her of just how epic her question fail was. I’ll send her a text once you’ve finished reading.
She then went off to find a phone to call for help, which in the days before mobiles was difficult, and if you’re even thinking about suggesting that there is any nostalgic value in being unable to contact people in an emergency, you’re an idiot. Go away. Help arrived in the form of my Dad, who was the local GP on call that day. You are entirely allowed nostalgia about GPs on call as opposed to NHS24. Knock yourself out. Thundercats. He-Man, Drink cans with ringpulls that came off.
My Dad then established himself as one of the coolest cucumbers I’ve ever met. He looked at the huge ugly wound in the side of his only son’s head and declared, with the calm but authoritative tones of a veteran greenfingered gent discussing a troublesome lawn: Aye you’ll have to go to Ninewells for that, but I’ll do a couple of things to tide you over while we drive there.
I do have some photos from tonight, for what it’s worth.
This is about the best my limited photographic abilities can muster in terms of showing the dent from the double fracture. That scar gets to the end of its 82 stitch length somewhere on the back quarter of my head. The surgeon was a master – I had no reconstructive work done after the first operation and the implement that did the deed was a wooden fencepost, so to have such a neat wee scar basically means I have You Other Plastic Surgeons Are Elephant-Thumbed n00bscum tattooed on my forehead.
Children don’t do tact, not even middle-class Edinburgh children, so they just come out and ask what it is, and if they know what scars look like, how I got it. Adults tend to drop their voice into the mode that conveys sincerity and concern for my feelings before asking what it is, and even then usually only after weeks or months of rapport building.
The lying-to-children part is that I tell them it wouldn’t have happened if I had been wearing a helmet.
Here’s me with my lid on as I normally wear it, and you can just see the scar’s bottom 10mm or so peeking out from under it. I’m not going to focus on whether the fencepost would have bounced harmlessly off the black skirting, popped the straps off and sliced’n’dented me regardless, cut me but spared me the double fracture or used the staps to snap my neck like the fencepost was Bane and I was…oh you can take your pick of people Bane goes all vertebrally disconnective on. I just don’t know. I honestly don’t enough about the physics of that lid, the fencepost, my skull and that lid’s straps to make an informed decision. I know I’m not going back there to headbutt the post again, this time with the chapeau plastique. Partly because I went back there a few months ago and all the fencing by that road has fallen over and rotted so much that I’d simply break down and cry, under the grinding inescapable heel of entropy, if I tried to recreate my youth by the false and vain installation of a new one, but mostly because it’d fucking hurt and…fuck off I’m not doing it.
I’m enough of a stickler to call it a lie when you know for absolute certain that the thing you’re talking about has error bars bigger than the quantity you’re measuring, but you claim to have a definitive answer anyway. On the other hand, kids fall off bikes. They just do. I reckon it’s worth slapping a lid on them until they’ve gone a few years without a self-inflicted spill. So I gather all my spineless shitbag powers and lie to them when we’re talking about my scar in the belief that it’ll save them from a more minor injury. Oh, I was going 20+mph round a blind hairpin bend with a 15% decline when I splattered myself. Not many of them in Edinburgh.
I wear that helmet on sport rides because I’m riding harder than usual, my morning commutes because I’m a dozy git before coffee #2 of an AM, my evening commutes because I prefer to have the kids see me wearing one, and usually my lunchtime commute because it’s the easiest way of carrying it home. The rest of the time I’ll wear a buff or my hair.
Now, this is the part of the blog that means I’d like you to spam the whole thing, without pity, mercy or remorse, to all the parents of children whose helmets you’ve seen so far up their forehead their hair pokes out.
This angle doesn’t show it so well, but the double fracture site ends just at the edge of the helmet. I’m perfectly comfy saying a lid worn like that would have protected me less than factor 4 suncream. Even if you’re sold on the notion that lids can prevent every injury from head to foot, why o Daily Mail would you let your nippers out with the damn things hitched up so high they might end up like me?
edit – It’s just occurred to me, a day later, that I’ve not mentioned motor vehicles in any capacity. If you infer from this that they don’t come into my risk calculations, then you infer like a boss. I wear them in case I fall off my bike, which as a clumsy person I have form for, in the reasonable expectation they’d save me from a minor-ish injury. The fact I have no expectation of them saving me in the event of a motor vehicle collision or very high speed bike/Earth collision doesn’t mean I’m idealogicly committed against them. My stock analogy is that I know a raincoat won’t keep me dry if I fall in the canal, but that doesn’t mean I won’t wear one if it looks like rain and I’m going for a stroll along it.