Monday, 19 January 2015

Ten Things I've Done (But You Probably Haven't)

Since everyone is allegedly unique – something I don’t believe, one little bit, but let’s go with it for the moment – let’s take a trip through ten things that make me “unique”, that is, that I’ve done...but you probably haven’t.

Please note that I’m not accusing myself of not being unique even if you’ve done six or seven of these things. You may well have. But I’ll bet you that it’s very, very, very unlikely that you, too, have done them all.

And if you have, given the nature of some of these “achievements”, I’m sorry for you.

1. Killed a rat by sitting on it (accidentally).

This happened many, many years ago, when I was a kid. It was a school holiday, and I was planning to go to the library, when I saw a largish rat in my room. I chased it around for a while (since orders were strict to murder all such members of the Rodentia), but it vanished. After looking for it everywhere, I gave up and went to the library. It was a hot day, and by the time I came home I was sweating and tired. I dropped the books on the table and sat down on the bed. All of a sudden I felt something squirm under me. Lifted the bedcover, and you know what? It was the rat, which had hidden in my bed, and which I’d well and truly squashed.

Rat squash. Is that a drink you’d like? Instead of orange squash, on a nice hot day?

2. Fallen into a river, twice in two minutes.

This happened in December 1988 (I remember the date because it was just about the time of the earthquake that hit Spitak and Leninakan). Our college – the biology classes – had been taken for a field tour to Manas wildlife sanctuary on the India-Bhutan border. It wasn’t a particularly successful trip, since fifty or sixty people trekking through the jungle tend to scare off all animals on a higher organisational level than crickets, but we did come across the skeleton of a wild buffalo. The teachers decided to take the skeleton back for the college museum. I got hold of a rib, which was a pretty big piece of bone, reaching almost up to my shoulder when placed on end.

We were working our way back to the camp site, and had to wade across a wide, shallow, fast flowing river. The bed of the river was all round stones, the water came to a little above the knee, and everyone began wading across one by one at one of the shallowest points. I had sneakers on, which I decided not to take off since I didn’t fancy getting the bottoms of my feet rubbed raw by those stones. Unfortunately, the soles of the sneakers were also pretty smooth. So as I reached the halfway point, I slipped on a round stone, the world turned in a complete circle and I was sitting up to my shoulders in the river, holding on to the bottom to keep from being washed away in the flow. I managed to get up, and then I found I’d dropped the rib. It was still there, lying under the water about a metre away, and I bent to reach it...and fell in again. People were yelling at me not to get up, and then two of those who’d gone across earlier came back and helped me get across. The strange thing is that I was the first one to fall in...and after me, at least five or six went under as well.

As for the rib, I suppose it’s still under that river...somewhere.

3. Got a tick stuck to my neck for three days before I knew it was there.

Same biology field trip. We students were put up in a series of sheds with no furniture and concrete floors, on which we spread sleeping bags. Bathing facilities consisted of one hand pump – and this was December. So basically “bathing” meant wiping yourself down with a wet towel as quickly as you could manage it. Now while hiking through the forest on the first day, I got a spot of soreness at the right side of my neck under the collar. I didn’t really think too much of it amidst all the other discomfort. When I got home, three days later, and had a proper bath, I found something hard sticking to that point. I tugged at it and felt legs squirming against my fingers. A moment later I’d pulled the damned thing off and it was a hard tick, about the size of the erasers they used to have on pencil tops. It was still twitching. I flushed it down the loo.

The joke was on me, really, because when I pulled it off the head of the arachnid remained embedded in my skin, and it caused a local infection that took weeks to disappear.

4. Got bitten by a chameleon.

You can totally do this too.

Step One: Find a large green chameleon on the street.
Step Two: Pick it up with the intention of putting it somewhere safe on vegetation. Be sure not to hold it close to the head, or else it won’t be able to turn round enough to bite.
Step Three: Watch as it takes your thumb between its powerful jaws and gives the digit a working over.
Step Four: Hold on to your dignity until you put the animal on its tree, and then suck your thumb like a rabid vampire.

Raised a bruise, but didn’t cut the skin, fortunately enough.

5. Faced down a mob.

I have actually never told anyone about this before so far as I can remember, mostly because they’d imagine I was heroic. I was not heroic, just stupid. Here’s how it happened:

Circa 1992, when I was studying in Lucknow, I used to have several Kenyan friends who lived off campus. (One of them was a certain Felix Feisal Mboya, whose mother was called Zeituni Onyango. What’s so special about that? Oh, nothing, except she was the aunt of someone whom nobody had heard of then, one Barack Obama. But this story isn’t about him.) I used to go visit them on Saturday evening, stay overnight, and go back to the college on Sunday afternoon.

One grey Sunday, two of them – Tom Ogutu and Saleem Abdallah, if I remember right – and I had gone out on the ancient Yezdi motorcycle one of them owned. Three on a bike, yes, and not a helmet between us, either, but that was common back then. I don’t recall where we were going, exactly, but all of a sudden we turned down a street and found ourselves amongst a mob of men armed with rods and machetes, who surrounded us and ordered us to stop. They then began asking the two Kenyans – in Hindi, which they hardly understood, of course – what they were up to and where they were going, and punctuating the questions with threatening shakes of their rods and so on.

All this got very much on my nerves, because I’d already witnessed at first hand the pernicious anti-African racism of North Indians, who would openly call black people “monkeys” to their faces. And I blew my top and gave them a tongue lashing, telling them exactly what I thought of them and their behaviour towards “guests” in our country. They looked a bit startled. I think this was the first time anyone had given them a dressing down. But I was obviously very young and very harmless, and they let us go without another word.

It was obviously an insanely dangerous thing to do, in retrospect, but, you know what, when you act on the impulse of the moment, sometimes you win.

6. Passed off a hickey as an insect bite.

Short story (again this was in Lucknow):

I spent the night with a girl. She gave me a large hickey on my throat, just under the larynx. I didn’t notice it. Went to the clinic with the hickey visible where my shirt was open on the top. Clinical partner – another young lady – saw it and said, “Hey, what’s that on your neck?” I looked in the mirror and there was this huge lip-shaped bruise. “It must be an insect bite,” I said. The first thing I could think of, you understand. “Must have been a very large insect,” she told me.  I nodded. There was nothing for me to say.

7. Saw a UFO.

Actually, I have seen a UFO thrice. I should explain that when I use the term UFO, I mean Unidentified Flying Object, no more, no less. I do not mean that these things were spaceships from Andromeda. Hell, if they were spaceships from Andromeda, they’d bloody well be spaceships from Andromeda, not Unidentified Flying Objects, right?

In any case, in the interests of scientific accuracy, I must admit that none of them stayed unidentified for too long.

The first was a bright red meteor, the very first and still by and far the most spectacular meteor I have ever seen.

The second was a hot air balloon flying at night. These unmanned balloons – like Chinese lanterns – used to be not too uncommon. I haven’t seen one in decades, though, and again, that was the very first.

The third was a bright point of light that seemed to alternate between hovering in the air and looping the loop. I really couldn’t understand what this thing was until I fetched a pair of binoculars. It turned out to be a kite made out of some kind of metallic material, probably aluminium foil.

Next time maybe it will be a nuclear missile flying overhead or something.

8. Broken someone’s jaw (accidentally).

No! As far as violence goes, I’m with Bruce Springsteen: “I ain’t no fighter and that’s easy to see”. It happened this way:

I was working in a dental clinic attached to a hospital (which shall remain nameless) when I got this specimen turning up: an old man with almost no teeth. I say almost, because he had a wisdom tooth in his left lower jaw which was impacted, that is, embedded in the bone, and badly infected too. The rest of his jaw was completely toothless, and the bone badly shrunken.

While extracting the tooth, which I had to do with rather primitive instrumentation compared to what I have in my clinic these days, and with no assistant to help me, that thin, brittle bone of his jaw broke clean in two. My first intimation of it was when I saw a sharp “step” appear between the back of his jaw, which had the impacted tooth, and the toothless front part. The white jagged bone showed clearly in the cut.

Well, what did I do? The rest of his jaw was intact, so I removed the tooth, set the fracture back in place, stitched the gum closed, gave him antibiotics and painkillers, and checked him daily for the next weeks. He had a huge swelling for a few days but that subsided quite rapidly, and over the next few months the bone healed completely – all without any kind of metallic fixation or other special treatment.

So not only did I break someone’s jaw for him, I healed it too.

9. Eaten steamed caterpillars (accidentally).

OK, this is something you might want to skip, in case you ruin your appetite for chop suey for a lifetime.

This happened back in circa 1989 when a couple of friends and I went to a certain eatery in this town which I’ll call New Oriental Restaurant. It was one of those places where the light is kept so dim that your pupils dilate to the maximum, giving your date the illusion that you’re sexually attracted to them. The side effect, of course, is that you can barely see to eat.

I ordered chop suey, and ate about two thirds of my portion when for some reason I don’t recall at this time we got some bright light – I think one of the others wanted another look at the menu. And then I saw my chop suey was liberally besprinkled with tiny black caterpillars, maybe a centimetre or so long. By that time I must have consumed (going by the number still on the plate) at least twenty or thirty.

I’m not actually against eating insects – far from it. But, you know, before being crammed full of entomological protein, I’d appreciate being told about it.

Bon appétit.

10. Attempted (and, obviously, survived) suicide three times in five days.

This is not something I will talk about in detail here. I’ve written about it elsewhere, and it’s not a part of my life I have any great desire to revisit. Suffice it to say that I survived attempted suicide by poison, hanging, and drug overdose, and the last of it put me in a coma for three days.

And there are other things, like being racially profiled, sexually humiliated, interviewed on TV, etc , which have happened to a lot of you, I’ll bet, and I don’t think anything’s either unique about them or worth my describing here.

But, hey, I found ten things to list, and I didn’t even have to stretch to make up the numbers!


I looked for 'unique person' and this is what I got. [Source]


  1. Nope, never done any of those things. Stop trying to kill yourself, you ass. I would be very put out if you ever succeeded.

  2. Crikey! That poor old man! I hope he was well anaesthetised at the time! What a grand mixture of humorous, interesting and, at the end, sad. I am so glad you survived. I do hope you don't feel the need to try that again. You are an awesome man and people like you are needed in this world. Now I am going to confess something I have never told anyone before because I felt so bad. When I was a kid I sat on a baby rabbit one time and squashed it, and it was still alive, and man, I felt sooo bad. You have put me off chop suey for life I think but I am going to dine out on that caterpillar story for a long time to come, anytime I hear someone order chop suey. Maybe I will wait until they are halfway through. I can't do the chameleon thing, we don't have them in NZ. This be a very safe country as far as bugs go. Loved this post. It was like a series of short stories - you are very good at the short story thing.

  3. You are right I have never done any of these things. I am glad you survived even if the rat did not.

  4. Great stuff! I might even do my own version of this, provided I can stretch my list to ten items...

    No. 5 - Very good point about acting on impulse. It makes people hesitate, and for a moment they usually don't know how to react. Good work!

    No. 1 - I haven't sat on a rat, but I did run over one on my bike last year. It was quite a distraessing moment, as I watched the rat breath it's last, helpless to intervene and pathetically thinking "It's not my fault, it ran right in front of me!" Ah well...

    No. 7 - Bonus points for use of the word "thrice"!

  5. Don't they use "thrice" any longer in Britland? It's still standard English in this part of the world. How about "twice"?

  6. Thrice is almost dead as a word in Britain now, and twice could go the same way. I always seethe when I hear someone say "two times".

  7. We never say thrice in the US. I have said it thrice in my life.

    1. *Snerk.*

      Back in school we used to make up words based on "once", "twice" and "thrice." Four times was "frice", five was "fice", six was "sice" and after that consensus broke down.


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