In July 1999 I was poisoned by a VSO. I think his name was Gary and he visited the campsite I was living on in Namibia, made banana fritters for us all and nearly killed everyone.
I was in Namibia with Raleigh International, trying to ignore the fact that it was my Gap year, but I didn't have anyone to travel round the world with. Nobody wanted to travel round the world with me because I don't smoke pot and need to go to bed at 11pm. So I went on Raleigh, with a whole lot of other people who also didn't smoke pot and needed to go to bed at 11pm.
It was pretty nice.
Here we all are:
I'm in the back row, blue sarong, second from the right. The guy on the far right in the white t-shirt was fresh out of a tour of duty in Bosnia. He had a huge scar on his leg and the rumour was that he'd been caught in a landmine blast and had to have a skin graft. He was the toughest bastard I've ever met and yet brought his own pillow to camp. "Any fool can be uncomfortable," he said, as we stared at this grotesque thing of personal luxury. Needless to say, we all thought he was pretty hot.
Washing your hands was a big deal on Raleigh. Almost the first thing we did wherever we set up camp was to fashion a hand-washing station out of a stick, some string, a bottle and some lightly bleached water. There was a lot of peer pressure around it; if you didn't have the industrial stench of bleach around you, you were a potential Patient Zero.
Gary had no such bourgeois ideas about cleanliness. We all noticed that he wasn't washing his hands as much as we were, but we were too excited about our banana fritters (having been living off porridge and sardines for the last 6 weeks) to care.
I'm not sure what it was exactly in the end that Gary rubbed all over our fritters - someone suggested the name of an illness but I couldn't quite hear it over the sound of retching and groaning. I didn't even have whatever it was that badly, just 48 hours of the most crippling stomach cramps and nausea known to man, which would make unanaesthatised dentistry seem like a trip to the movies. Paul Gibbon, back home a warehouse manager from Leeds (front from third from right), lost about a stone in four days. I don't think you need details, only know this: projectile vomiting is not a made-up thing.
Since then, my stomach has never been quite the same. After I came back I would have bizarre and humiliating intestinal reactions to:
And so for what seemed like forever, but in reality was only about two years, I ate nothing but Special K for breakfast and chicken with rice at all other times. To this day I put my chronic heartburn down to that stinking Gary and his filthy hands - a curse on his eyes for all his days!!! - even though I know full well that I've inherited my chronic heartburn from my dad.
It's not so bad anymore, a mere 11 years later. But the last couple of days, out of the blue, I've been feeling sick as a dog. I've got the old "giardiasis list", which is when you walk slightly bent over at an angle, because if you straighten up you feel so much worse. It ought to feel all romantic, like I'm some a Victorian explorer returning from adventures in Africa with recurring malaria and a permanent tan-line, but in reality it's just a bit shit.
At lunchtime yesterday, because if you don't eat it's downhill all the way, I reached for my old bad-tummy staple, chicken and rice.
I was lucky enough to have some chicken stock hanging around in the freezer and a new kind of rice I happened upon in Waitrose - Thai sticky rice, by Thai taste, which I've been meaning to try out for ages. I simmered everything together for 12 minutes with half a stick of lemongrass, 1 thick slice of fresh ginger, 1 large whole clove of garlic and one whole small Thai chilli. When it's cooked you fish out the lumps of spice to leave just the rice in broth. The Thai rice transformed the stock into a silky, comforting soup and the spices fragranced the whole thing without actually being allowed to mess about with my guts.
Now if you'll excuse me, there's a voodoo doll I have to go and stick pins into. It's called Gary.