Nick Wood – January 2010

I hoisted a pile of keys in my hand this morning, but couldn't find the front door one. I trawled left, poked right, prodded both front and back of this jangling pile hanging heavy in my hand, wondering if they had somehow mysteriously bred overnight. There were big keys, little keys, keys with black rubber casings and strange contours that looked as if they could open the doors of perception . . . but no front door key. I was in a hurry, but had no wish to bash my own door down in order to get out. Instead, I decided to stay calm and be systematic about it, on the premise now faltering in my mind that a front door key could not vanish - at least not without good scientific reason, such as someone removing it. (I do write science fiction after all!)

So I sat down, made a cup of coffee and pursued my key hunt, holding each key I looked at in my left hand, working through the massive shifting pile with my right. Finally, I found it, hiding behind a little circular brown tagged key-ring, one of eight cluttering the amorphous pile. My appointment now missed, I gave up the drive to go as it was replaced with a stronger motivation; namely, to look through the pile in order to identify how many keys I actually recognised.

  • Car
  • Front door
  • Inner door

That's it in total, as I have a computer card for my office! Three keys in 28 recognised - I have vague memories two of the unrecognised 25 keys might be from a previous job a decade ago, perhaps being an office and computer key. Maybe. That's still at least 23 keys for which I can fathom no memory or purpose - keys that stalled my day, instead of opening my door and starting the car, as they should have done. Keys which might open the Kingdom of Heaven or Hell for all I knew. But right now, all I needed to do was leave the house.

For those of us on the Gregorian calendar, this is my New Year resolution - to strip this pile of confusing breeding metal to three keys and a free bottle-opener key ring, although it's years since I last saw a bottle-top that it might open. I can manage that at least. I'm old enough now to not promise myself anything more for the year. This is the year that small changes such as these will hopefully gather pace like snowballs in this frozen British landscape, starting a metaphorical avalanche in my life that I hope and pray will improve my health, compromised - thankfully not in anything like terminal fashion - for 30 months now. I practice the techniques I taught when working at the Pain Clinic at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town; never realising then just how hard and focused one has to be, in order to get any leverage from these strategies. It's going to take more than techniques to put this to right though - I must uncover the meaning of this illness in a personal/familial/environmental narrative, even if in the end it is just about endurance and the creation of meaning. I need to keep the words rolling - words are life, words are light.

Two stories of mine are due this year at least - Of Hearts and Monkeys will almost certainly be out in Postscripts in the next issue or two and another one is on the short list for an award, which will include publication - should it make the grade. But that's all by the by, the real words of significance drive our daily lives.

May you find the right keys to joy and creativity this year, whether it's the start or not of your own calendar year. (As for me, I have just three.)

Finally, a link to a life riven by real pain and despair - please help if you can - see Lauren Beukes's plea at

Nick Wood - January 2010