This is the first, and I hope, last column I write to you from a hospital bed. If you’ve ever heard PM, it won’t surprise you to know that I’m often sitting opposite guests with brows so furrowed that the folds of their foreheads resemble mountain ranges. Forced to respond to a question from me that is especially badly phrased, ill-informed or just plain stupid, they contort their faces into scenes of horror.
Picture our heroine in a Christopher Lee flick at the moment he bares his fangs and his true intentions suddenly become clear to her trusting eyes. In the studio, the poor guest stares back at me, boggle-eyed, mouth agape, words not quite forming in response to the gabbled monstrosity that’s just emanated from my pie-hole.
I have seen that look several times in the past couple of weeks, yet I’ve been away on holiday in South America. Now I think about it, I may have had the look myself as I was pulled to the ground by two muggers who liked my backpack so passionately they wanted to have it for themselves and were disinclined to take no for an answer.
It’s very important that victims of crime never blame themselves. The person to blame is always the criminal. Please see the Victim Support website. Yet, as I was helped to the ground by the two young men who were not from the tourist board, I could not stop myself reflecting that I had to some extent brought this on myself.
I’d arrived in this sun-kissed and dreamy metropolis only the day before and set off in the morning on a sweaty trek through its parks and shopping streets. Seeing a new place on foot is one of life’s sweet pleasures and for five or six hours the city opened up to me in the blazing summer sun.
I couldn’t face stopping for lunch or shade: there is nothing to beat that first exploration of a virgin venue and my passion for the place was rising with every quivering lunge through its molten delights. By two o’clock I was pretty pooped but carried on following my nose through new neighbourhoods.
I took a left, with a view to heading back to the city centre. I didn’t like to get out my little map to be sure where I was. Everyone knows that’s a rookie tourist mistake so there’s no way I could have looked like a lost tourist. Sure I had a backpack, rapidly reddening skin and was sweating like I’d just arrived on Venus but I wasn’t staring like a loon at a giveaway map.
Upon reflection, there were clues. A cadre of police officers was gathered outside the area I was about to enter. At the time this had the effect of making me feel safer. As I sallied forth into the impoverished alleyways ahead, I considered turning back but the song in my heart was a little loud.
The poverty was stark. Corrugated iron and tin foil provided walls and roofing. Dogs roamed. The boulevards of the city vanished into a vista of intimidating alleyways.
After only a minor struggle as the muggers wrestled the backpack from my shoulder, I gave it up, along with its contents: credit cards and some cash. My posh watch and smartphone remained untouched, as largely, did I.
Later that afternoon, back at the hotel, calmer, cards cancelled, I felt thankful it wasn’t much worse. Grazed knee and a slightly sore neck. So what am I now doing in hospital in London?
To be continued…