‘Normal as Hell’
The Arabs were coming! 427 million of them!
Almost a year after breaking my arm, I’d gone with my parents on a holiday to Canada and to Greece. Now we were staying at my parents’ village in Greece at our cousin’s farm. I’d awakened in the middle of the night, terrified that 427 million Arabs were about to invade.
The village was tiny and sat in the mountains isolated from civilisation. It was maybe half a kilometre long, and comprised a single road with houses on either side. There was probably only a population of six or seven hundred. There was no way we’d be able to contend with 427 million Arabs.
I considered waking a Canadian guy I’d been hanging around with. He’d have no idea what to do, but at least then I’d have an ally. But, again, it was the middle of the night. I knew the house he was staying in, but didn’t know the people there. What was I meant to do? Wake them all?
I woke my dad.
I wanted to tell him about the Arabs, but then felt embarrassed. Instead, I told him I wanted an escort to the toilet, which was outside and at the end of a yard filled with the farm’s animals. A few days earlier, I’d come out of the toilet and found myself face to face with a cow. It had stared at me. I stared back, then turned and ran for the stairs. The cow chased me.
My dad escorted me to the toilet as my mind nailed the incongruities of the threat. 427 million Arabs? Attacking a remote village in Greece? The terror simmered. What I needed to do was go back to sleep. Things would be okay in the morning.
They were. I tried to piece together what happened. I’d gone out and had a few beers – just a few, as I also had a bad flu. The last few days, I’d been reading a spy thriller about a politician’s daughter who’s kidnapped and sold into white slavery. I rationalised I’d woken up, delirious, and my mind had still been trapped in the remnants of some dream fuelled by the book I’d been reading.
That was the best explanation I had. I didn’t want to tell anybody else – friends I’d made in that village, or my parents – because it was embarrassing. People would think I was mad.
Best to try forget it.
But something similar occurred about six months later, back at home, when again I woke panicked in the middle of the night. A friend, Carl (and Carl wasn’t a very close friend) wanted us to wallpaper 349 million houses.
The enormity of the job staggered me. How long would it take? If you did one house a day, and a house every day of the year, that would be 365 houses, leaving the figure still in the 349 million mark. This was going to be impossible.
I woke my brother Nick, who slept in the bed next to mine, and tried to tell him what was happening. But even as I spoke, I realised the absurdity of it all.
Nick told me to go back to bed. When I woke in the morning, the episode was so dim I thought it had to be a dream. But my brother brought it up the following day, asking me what had been going on. I played dumb, telling him I couldn’t remember. He said I must’ve been drunk. I had been out that night and, in fact, the circumstances were similar to what had occurred with the Arabs: I’d had a few beers, and was suffering from the flu. Was this delirium again?
It occurred again about a month later, but not as bad. I awoke panicked. Something about a lottery and millions of dollars. Now, though, it was immediately apparent this couldn’t be real. I was able to settle and go back to sleep, thinking nothing more of it.