I thought heatstroke was something that happened to other people. I should have been born in a hot country – heat doesn’t bother me at all. We spent weeks in Goa (37 degrees at midday) in direct sunlight, and I didn’t get so much as a headache. I finally got my arse kicked by the sun on a beach in Vietnam. I lay in the sun for an hour, then swam in the sea for 20 minutes, then I drank a beer. Then I lost peripheral vision and felt as if someone was drilling into my skull. I also had the distinct feeling I would be violently emptying my stomach of all content a few minutes hence.
I made my way back to the guest house – no mean feat with limited vision in Vietnam, land of ten million recklessly ridden motorbikes – and stumbled towards the lift. It was on the 10th floor. Our room was on the 8th. It stopped at every floor on the way down. I am not kidding. Every single floor. When it finally arrived, I dashed into it, desperate to reach the puke-safe environment of my room. A pair of fat American tourists shambled towards the lift with ‘Hold the elevator, buddy!’ expressions on their grotesquely over-fed faces. I thought about it for a quarter of a second, then dementedly and repeatedly pressed the button for my floor, ready to thumb the yanks in the eye if they threatened to disrupt my voyage.
After an eternity of waiting, I reached my room, predictably located at the far end of the corridor. I was ready to fling the door open, drop to my knees and puke the puke of the just. I was hindered by the FOUR cleaners in the room. They were physically blocking all puke options. One was dettol-ing the toilet, one was scrubbing the sink, one was emptying the bins. I don’t know what the other one was doing, but I pleaded with her to leave immediately and come back later. No speak English. I mimed a technicolor yawn and put my hands together in a praying position, gesturing towards the door. No avail. I said ‘please leave’, ‘go’, ‘out’, ‘ill’, ‘sick’, ‘later’ – nothing worked. In fact, each attempt to communicate my desire for immediate and absolute privacy confused my unwanted companions further.
Close to madness, swallowing mouthfuls of vomit, sweating like the proverbial Liverpudlian in an electronics shop and almost blind from heatstroke I had a flash of insight. The do-not-disturb sign! I grabbed it and held it proudly aloft, like the final custodian of the Olympic flame. At once, all four cleaners understood, and left with smiles and bows. The click of the door latch coincided exactly with the sound of vomit hitting toilet. Perfect!