I have a trick leg. No, really. I know I often use this as a convenient excuse for avoiding dancing, but it's actually a fairly legitimate defence - sometimes, if I bend or twist my right knee incautiously, a rogue piece of cartilage pops out of the joint, making it impossible for me to straighten my leg again. It's not at all painful, but the leg - refusing to move within about 15° of straight, as the loose cartilage jams up the joint - is incapable of bearing any weight. It's embarrassing, inconvenient..... and the thought that I might perhaps never be able to pop the cartilage back into place and regain the use of the leg can become quite terrifying.
This is the result of a football injury I sustained nearly 20 years ago. I've had keyhole surgery on it, but..... well, unless you pay top dollar for a leading sports surgeon, it's apt to do more harm than good. On the NHS you get some bumbling junior doctor doing a lightning quick scrape-and-snip and hoping for the best. (It was particularly unfortunate timing for me: I had a medical insurance subscription form on my desk waiting to be posted on the day I suffered the injury! Cruel Fate!) To be fair, I think my surgery brought some improvement; prior to it, the loose flap of cartilage would seize up my knee on an almost daily basis; now, mercifully, these episodes are extremely rare.
But I had one the other day, as I dismounted from one of the high barstools at The Bookworm (barstool blues indeed!). Fortunately, there were not too many people around to witness my predicament (god, the place is dead on Fridays: actually, rather a pleasant change from the usual throngs); just a small group of jeering friends. Unfortunately, I felt it pop out in a rather unusual way (more to the side than the front), and I wasn't at all confident that I was going to be able to pop it back following the standard rigmarole I have learned for dealing with this situation.
The rigmarole is this: I have to get down on all fours; then, slowly pull my body back into a kneeling position, my bum pressed as low to the ground as possible to achieve maximum extension of the knee joints; then, I have to rock gently back and forth and from side to side until I feel the angle at which the cartilage is protruding (not sure if this element of the procedure is really necessary, but I have grown a little superstitious about it over the years); I lean back one last time, extending the knee as far as possible; then I walk forward on my hands, gingerly straightening the leg - until I am poised like a sprinter awaiting the starting gun. If I'm lucky, it will work first time, and everything will be instantly back to normal. On Friday, it took me about 10 minutes of grovelling around on the floor before I got it. While enduring the inevitable barrage of "Mecca's that way" jibes from my buddies, of course.
I was prompted to recall that perhaps the most embarrassing instance of this I've ever suffered occurred on my first visit to China - indeed, on only my third or fourth night in the country. I was staying with my friend Richard at the small university where he was teaching in Hankou. He was putting me up in the university guest house; but, for the first week or so at least, I was having to share the room with two Chinese guys (travelling salesmen, I think). I don't think I'd yet met or spoken to them: they were always fast asleep by the time I got in after midnight, and had departed on whatever business they were about at the crack of dawn, before I was stirring. One night I had to get up to go to the loo...... and the cartilage popped as I was getting out of bed (this is a circumstance of maximum hazard: leg bent at 90°, with no weight on it; I have learnt to be extremely cautious about getting in and out of bed; but I suppose on this occasion I was tired and drunk and not paying enough attention). So, I had to go through the rigmarole right away (well, after hopping to the bathroom for an urgent pee, that is). Despite being ever, ever so quiet about it, I did wake my two unknown companions - who were, I have no doubt, wildly freaked out by my strange behaviour (although they didn't say a word). They were probably thinking, "My word! These Muslims are very devout! I didn't know white people could be Muslims. Did you? Do you think we can switch to another room tomorrow?"