‘Natural’ is a word that has become unmoored by its meanings. If you go into a vitamin shop, things are natural, and people look at that, and they think it’s good. It’s no different than any other thing you swallow. Michael Specter
We were sitting at the breakfast table, just about to start a daily round of Yahtzee while we finished off a pot of Earl Grey. Our routine of a number of years, since we began our retirement, has been to spend a couple of hours in the morning, eating our muesli, diced fruit, usually melon or pineapple, and yoghurt. We then bring out the Yahtzee, with our pre-printed score sheet, made in Excel and play two or three games while we finish our tea and discuss our plans for the day.
The sun was glistening through the window, highlighting the millions of tiny specs of dust, floating in the room. My mind was wandering at the thought of how many of these fly into our bodies with each breath. Is it hundreds or thousands?
“Ha ha, a high straight. Forty points,” I gloated as I marked forty against my name on the score sheet.
“Darling, do you have a suggestion or special wish for lunch today, as it is Christmas Eve?”
“Do we really need a lunch today?” I said. “I mean, we will surely be eating an awful lot tomorrow when the whole family are here.”
“I need something though. I can’t go all day without a proper meal. How about I nip to the fishmonger and get a couple of trout? I can get some spinach and potatoes. That will be a light lunch, which should still leave us with plenty of appetite for the big day tomorrow.”
Belinda was always the sensible one. For me, it wasn’t so important either way, so I just nodded agreement. “It’s on you. You are about to be well and truly beaten,” I said, passing her the dice.
And so we spent the morning wrapping presents for tomorrow, putting up Christmas decorations, which has been our family habit since the children were born. We had the idea that their excitement on Christmas morning was far more acute if Christmas hadn’t been diluted by weeks or months of familiarity with Christmas lights, trees and streamers.
Belinda went to the shops and returned in time to make our lunch as arranged.
She made my favourite horseradish sauce with extra cream and hot horseradish which we get from the farmers market.
While we were eating Belinda frowned at me. “Jeff, do you really need to eat so quickly? Surely you can’t enjoy your food as much when you eat at that speed. You don’t take the time to chew it at all.”
I was a little embarrassed. Belinda was right. She had spent the time, probably well over an hour, to deliver a lovely lunch and I had eaten it in less than five minutes. As I finished she was barely a quarter of the way through hers.
“I’m really sorry,” I whispered. “I had my head in the clouds again and just got carried away. I’ll try to mend my ways before you decided to stop loving me,” I winked and smiled to try to cover my embarrassment.
After lunch, having had a couple of glasses of wine with our food, we decided to take a nap, so that we would be bright and fit for a long day tomorrow. Belinda was purring smoothly within minutes, but I was restless and couldn’t drop off to sleep. I listened to her gently breathing and gradually felt a slight tickle in my throat, imagining that it might turn into a cold or something. “Please don’t let me be ill until after Christmas,” I thought to myself.
Maybe I did, at some point, fall asleep, because I looked at the clock and it was five o’clock. We had been in bed for nearly three hours. Belinda murmured, yawned, stretched and opened her eyes.
“Wow, I must have needed that,” she said through unfocussed eyes. “What time is it?”
“It is just after five,” I replied. “I think I may be coming down with something as I have a permanent tickle in my throat. It feels like one of your long blond hairs.”
I felt something under my tongue and tried to catch it between my thumb and forefinger. Sure enough, it was a hair, but not one of Belinda’s blonde ones. It was wiry and curly, and very strong, as if it came from a wild animal. I pulled it and felt a strange sensation as it slid up the back of my throat.
By now, Belinda was wide awake and looking at me.
“How weird,” she giggled. “I wonder where that could have come from. Surely I would have seen it, if it was in the meal.”
I slowly pulled and it kept coming. Eventually I had nearly a foot of hair hanging out of my mouth and could still feel it at the back of my throat. I started to feel a little concerned. For nearly an hour I continued to extract the – whatever it was – from my throat. I pulled slowly because I was worried that I might do some damage if I yanked hard enough. Maybe the thread (I had ceased to think of it as a hair because of its unending length) could be caught around an organ and I might hurt myself if I pulled too hard.
At seven o’clock we were still on the bed. Belinda was holding the ball of thread that had been extracted. She looked very concerned at such an unexplainable situation. By now I was feeling quite shaky. My throat was becoming a little sore, and I was having repeated bouts of choking due to the feeling of this thread down my throat. I had a terrible feeling of fear at the thought of needing to swallow, maybe dragging the thread back down inside of me.
Eventually Belinda demanded that we call the NHS hotline. By eight o’clock there was a clod of thread, enough to fill a carrier bag, all over the bed cover. Belinda went to the phone and dialled 111.
I was still pulling the thread out as I listened to one half of Belinda’s conversation.
“We need some advice………A ball of thread has been coming out of my husband’s mouth for over three hours…..no it is not a joke….”
All of a sudden the thread stopped. I had finally reached the end or, as I had feared, perhaps it had caught around something internally. Belinda dropped the phone, immediately forgetting about the call, and joined me back on the bed.
I stared into her eyes as I gently pulled on the thread, trying to feel if anything untoward was happening inside of me. It had become much thicker and stronger and was offering a lot of resistance, but no pain. Belinda was almost crying in anticipation. I watched little wet tears pop out of her eyes, as I braced myself for one last tug. I had decided that if this didn’t work she must drive me to the hospital. I was sweating and trembling terribly by now, quite exhausted after such a long time.
I squinted my eyes and saw Belinda’s eyes squinting in a mimicry of sympathy as I gave one final hard yank at the thread. I felt something move deep down in my stomach. There was no pain. Something in my brain told me that it was safe to continue. I pulled hard and felt a large object slowly slide up through my chest, into my throat and gradually into my mouth. Belinda gasped, with her mouth wide open as she saw what it was.
“It’s a fish. It’s a blinking massive fish. My God, how can that be?”
I wasn’t out of the woods yet. The head of the fish was now out of my mouth, but I could still feel the fins and trunk down my throat. I couldn’t breathe and had no choice but to give one final last yank. Out it came, a fully formed trout. I lay it down on the bed. It was as though, with its ugly head, was looking at me. Neither I nor Belinda spoke for some minutes. I felt the bile rising in me as I stared down at a three or four pound trout, far bigger than any that I had ever caught on my fishing trips, with my two brothers over many years.
We didn’t know what to do. It made no sense to call a doctor. I wasn’t ill. The Guinness Book Of Records would have been more appropriate. Belinda took a photograph and we packed the whole mess into a large carrier bag and put it in the wheelie bin.
I felt so exhausted that all I wanted to do was sleep. Belinda made me some warm lemon and honey for my throat and by the time I had finished it my eyes were closing. I fell into a very deep sleep.
“They are here,” Belinda shouted, looking through the front curtains. “Oh, both of them at the same time. How lovely.”
Cheryl, Matt and their three children, along with David, Ruth and the twins all came up the garden path, all carrying presents, wine, and all sorts of wonderful goodies.
We soon proceeded to give out all of the presents. The children whooped when they saw their gifts. We all hugged and kissed, thanking each other for such well thought out items. Belinda received a new yoga mat, a Samsung tablet and from me some new gold earrings. I received some new gardening wellies and a lovely pair of silk pyjamas from Belinda.
Finally Cheryl and David came with two packages. They said that they wanted to buy me something particular, but due to the cost had decided to buy jointly.
My excitement grew as I saw the anticipation of both of their faces. This was obviously something quite special.
It was a Daiwa trout fishing rod and the book that I had always wanted, but could never afford, an original new copy of Robert Roosevelt’s ‘Superior Fishing’.
I looked at Belinda. She was nervously smiling, trying to reassure me with her lovely caring eyes. The tears began to roll down my cheeks. I couldn’t speak.
Cheryl and David stared at me in amazement. The whole family was looking at me. No one had ever seen me cry before.
“Dad! What’s up? Don’t you like it? We just wanted to buy you something special this year, especially as you will have time on your hands now that you have retired.”
I tried to speak, but the words would not form. The horror of yesterday came flooding back into my mind. Eventually I stammered, “No, really. It is lovely, just what I always wanted”
“Then what on Earth is the matter Dad?”
I just managed to get the words out before I finally broke down completely, blubbering like a baby.
“I never want to see another trout as long as I live.”
Of course I calmed down eventually. Our Christmas lunch was wonderful. Crackers, paper hats, turkey and all of our usual traditional celebrations were as perfect as ever.
After lunch, while the children occupied themselves with their presents and played games, Belinda and I told the story of yesterday’s drama with the miles of tread and the extra-large trout. Everyone was quiet, listening intently until we had finished. After I had explained how a four pound trout came out of my body, at the end of hundreds of yards of line, David was first to break the silence.
“Brilliant Dad. Absolutely brilliant.”
Everyone burst out laughing, totally impressed with the joke tears, the whole crazy story.
“You must have spent the whole day preparing that one. And the tears. You really had us all fooled.”
I leant over to Belinda and whispered, “should we go to the rubbish bin and show them?”
“I think not,” she quietly replied. “better to leave it as it is.”