Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Dramatic Licence

We have been watching our favourite medical drama on DVD – all utterly preposterous, all very enjoyable, but seriously... can anyone have that many disasters in their life? I was grumbling about it to my other half... and I was reminded of a few things. If anyone were sad enough to dramatise my life, perhaps pack it into a three part miniseries, just how many crises and disasters are there to draw on, given a little dramatic licence?

I started adding it up – so we have the standard family bereavements, paternal grandfather in my teens, maternal grandfather in my late twenties, all the way through to my mother the year before last. Nothing out of the ordinary, really, although plenty of scope to pepper the script with personal tragedies.

Wait... one more... need to add Jim, the son of our neighbour when I was growing up, only a matter of months younger than me. Jim was a bright guy, degree from Oxford, and a stellar career in the financial sector. Mum phoned to say he had had a massive stroke – now that is a serious kick in the life experiences. All of those 'standard' family bereavements were people in their eighties and nineties, but Jim... thirty-something... if it could happen to him, it could happen to me...

So now, roll on a few years, and changing jobs. After time-served in the scientific civil service, I decided I wanted a job out in the real world. I deliberately took a month break between old and new, just to build a new back door for the house. I thought it would be fun and interesting (which it was) but there was time pressure – a week before the new job, we were going to a convention, so the door had to be in and secure. And there had to be time to cook a whole selection of easily re-heatable meals for a family party just after our return from the convention, and then be ready for the new job on the Monday. And then...

Commuting by train to Slough – not my idea of fun, but scarcely a disaster. By my second week, I was experienced enough to know that something was wrong, just little signs, not enough people at the station, no west-bound trains, and then in the office, not enough people. I had travelled east from Reading and got off at Slough; had I been coming west from Paddington I might have had a front-row seat for the crash at Ladbroke Grove which killed 31 people and injured over 500.

A year or two later, and I was going to Slough by car, so welcome to the game of Russian Roulette known as the morning commute. On my first day, I was fractions of a second from being part of a multiple pile-up. I just happened to be in the outside lane whilst passing the motorway junction East of Reading and saw the vehicle three cars ahead drift into the central reservation, enough to give me warning.

The first and second ranks of cars somehow dodged through the mess, those of us in the third managed to stop. That still left a van parked up on the bank beyond the hard shoulder, a hatchback destined for the scrappy in the middle lane, and the initiator of the whole sub-second crisis parked hard against the central barrier, facing the wrong way. No one was killed, no-one injured enough to need emergency attention, but a tenth of a second or two different and I would have been testing the crash-worthiness of our Volvo.

The list of dramatic (or dramatisable) incidents goes on: near-misses on the motorway, test results to confirm it wasn't cancer, the announcement of a redundancy round the day we were signing the papers for a huge mortgage, the employment hiccup that led to the move to Cornwall, or even just the day that Bitsy, a delightful cat who had been with us for nearly fifteen years, died curled up on my lap (after a short illness, as the press-release might say). One ordinary, run of the mill life, filled with largely near-misses (for which I am very grateful) and still packed with stuff that could be an over-blown miniseries with just a little dramatic licence.

I suspect it would be hard to find anyone who didn't have a similar list. It doesn't all happen at once, there is no music to hint that it's time to reach for the tissues, and no stunt double if it really does go wrong.

Now, I'm off to watch another episode of over-hyped, unrealistic, and dramatic nonsense (only half a step from the stuff that happens to everyone at some point) and ignore the news channel with its snapshots of the people who aren't lucky enough to have the near-miss.

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