I enjoy cooking, though I enjoy eating even more. Although I could probably cook quite a few things, there are a couple of dishes which I make over and over again: chili con carne and curry.
I learnt how to make chili after eating it at a restaurant and knowing that I had to make it myself. I found a suitable recipe on the BBC’s website, and when the chili is not too spicy, the meat not too fatty, and it has no magic diarrhoea-inducing tendencies, it is delicious. My Uncle taught me how to make a curry. After finishing my Standard Grades – my first real exams – I stayed with him for a week, and amongst gardening and walking the dogs and selling some ducks, I asked him to teach me his curry-making secrets. He made a chicken curry with freshly roasted spices and served with coriander and a peshwari naan. When I got home, I abandoned my ready-made jars and tried my first real curry. Progress was slow, but after months of trying, I had a tasty curry – though nowhere as tasty as my Uncle’s1.
About 2 years ago at this time of year, it was an already dark Saturday evening and I was making a curry, as I always do. This time I was including fresh chilis, fresh peppers and creamed coconut, as well as the usual onions, tomatoes, garlic, ginger, spices, and chicken. My mum was in the room, and we were chatting whilst I was preparing the ingredients. Onions are always difficult to cut – the knife I used wasn’t very sharp2 and the layers always have a tendency to slide around on each other, and I always worry that the knife will slip and cut my fingers. Well, that day, the knife didn’t slip, and it still hasn’t. I sauted the onions, then added the spices, and mixed them before adding the chicken thighs from which I had removed the skin. Then I prepared the rest of the ingredients; delicately chopping up the chilis and garlic particularly carefully. When the chicken was sealed, the tomatoes, chilis and peppers and the garlic and ginger went in, and I stirred the near-full pot with care. All that was left was the coconut.
Creamed cocunut adds a creaminess to curries that I find delicious, and whenever I remember, I crumble a packet into the curryat the end, and let it melt and thicken the sauce. It smells wonderful. What’s strange is that I used to hate coconut3, and indeed I still find dessicated coconut horrible4. I removed a packet of creamed cocunut from the box and placed it on the chopping board – it comes in small (stupid) plastic wrappers, the sort that you need scissors to open. But I didn’t have scissors to hand, so I picked up the knife, and in one quick, forceful motion I pushed the knife down and brought it towards me and sliced… Right. Through. My. Fingernail.
I screamed like I’d never screamed before. I looked down at my right index finger and saw a red line across the middle of the nail, with the top half at a funny angle. I had clearly sliced all the way through my nail – and then carried on through some of the nailbed beneath. The blood started to flow. Even 2 years on, writing this post forces makes me re-live that pain, that huge shock, that I felt at that moment. That fingernail now grows differently, and the finger no longer feels the same. There is no pain, but it feels wrong, and every time I see it I remember.
I rushed over to the sink and placed my finger under the stream of water. My mum had gone out of the kitchen, but she had heard my scream and she rushed in to check that I was OK. I told her that I was and what had happened, and showed her my cut. Looking back, it probably didn’t seem that bad, but I was shocked at the sight – I imagine it’s the same feeling you would get if you saw bone sticking out of your body: I never want to see my bones. Fingers should not look like that, I should never see a finger that looks like that.
The main event was still to come.
The bleeding didn’t stop, but it wasn’t even bleeding that much. I suppose nailbeds aren’t the bloodiest of places. I wondered why it was still hurting so much, and I put it down to the very sensitive nailbed. Later, I realised what caused what happened next: the knife that I cut myself with, to which I exposed my blood, was the unwashed knife that I had used earlier to chop my ingredients: ginger, peppers, onions, garlic, chilis. Chilis. There was chili in my wound. Even chili on the fingers can feel uncomfortable after cooking a chili, chili under the fingernails can burn. So chili in my nailbed? Agony. Now I even wonder: did chili get into my bloodstream? I think it did.
Standing at the sink with my finger under the tap, I started to feel strange.
“I – I need to sit down,” I gasped to my Mum. I felt overwhelmingly weak, and I repeated the sentence.
I walked the few steps back to a seat and slumped down in a chair. My weakness increased and I felt like I didn’t have the energy to do anything. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. I noticed the edges of my vision start to fade, just like that caused sometime when you stand up – the only difference was that, after a few seconds, the fading had not gone away. It was increasing, right towards the centre of my vision. I loud ringing noise started in my ears and I could hear my curry bubbling away on the hob, louder and in more detail than I’d ever heard anything before.
My Mum saw me. She shouted for my brother. There was fear in her voice; I’d never heard the tone that she used, and I’ve never heard it since – I hope I don’t have to. My vision had gone completely and all I could see was colourful shapes floating around beneath my eyelids, and… it felt good. I felt good.
It was hard for me to admit that, and I don’t think I’ve told anyone this before, but sitting down in that chair and feeling my consciousness slowly slip away was a brand new experience to me, and I enjoyed it. There was no pain from my finger, no pain from anywhere – I probably couldn’t even feel my body. I may have been paralyzed. But for some reason it makes me feel guilty to have felt that way. Maybe I see it as indulging myself at a time of crisis – but I believe it has given me a new perspective that I am glad to have. If that feeling is like taking heroin… I can understand why people are addicts. Perhaps I’m scared that one day I’ll try and recreate that experience. I don’t think I’ll have any trouble resisting, but the future is not certain.
The next thing I remember, my brother was helping me to the back door to try and cool down in the night air – carrying or just walking I don’t remember. I recall saying something, or at least trying to, but I don’t remember what and I wish I did. Knowing me, I would have probably said “I’m alright, I’m alright”, but probably breathing was all that I would manage. I lay down on the doorstep, forced myself to stay conscious this time — but I couldn’t, and I passed out again.
I remember very little (if nothing) about what happened whilst I was unconscious, though I’m quite sure that I dreamed. I was only out for a few seconds, maybe 10, each time, but it sure felt like I had done something during that time. Out of body experience? I don’t think so – I think I probably just dreamed. But it was a dream like no other, packed into just a fewand I wish I could remember it, like so many others.
What struck me about the whole experience was how similar it was to the passing out and waking up that is portrayed in the movies. The loud noises, ringing, the distorted and fading vision. I experienced it all5 and it was amazing. I’d had a new experience of consciousness: losing it, but being aware of that fact at the time.
There’s not much to say about the waking up, however: whilst you don’t remember falling asleep, you usually remember waking up. The only difference is what you wake up to. Waking up in your own bed is easy, whereas waking up in an unusual bed you can have a serious ‘where-the-fuck-am-I’ moment. But waking up on the floor at your back door is just scary. What’s going on? How did I get here? Wh–
OW. My fucking finger.
After a drink and some painkillers, I went and watched television6, and then ate my curry after directing its completion. For the next week or two, I wore a bandage over my finger, but if I applied pressure I could hear a noise made by the severed piece of nail as it rocked, still attached to the nail bed. It was horrible. Eventually, the nail grew back, and it’s almost as good as new.
- I now use a different recipe taken from Rick Stein’s Food Heroes – the ingredients are similar but everything is liquidised at various points, producing a curry much more like those available at a takeaway. I think it tastes better than like too – it’s easier to get a consistent flavour. [↩]
- We have an awesomely good Santoku knife now. [↩]
- Strange fact about Wilf: I always type coconut as cocunut. [↩]
- Why would anyone want to eat it? And Bounties? Ew. [↩]
- No white light or tunnel though. [↩]
- It was House, I think. [↩]