The story starts in Australia. In Perth.
I was staying there as part of Perth Intervarsity Choral Festival. We’d finished rehearsing the music for the night and a few of us were catching the train back to Freemantle. It was late, so trains were infrequent, and connecting buses to where we were staying Bibra Lake at the other end of the line were even less frequent. If we missed this train, it would take us an extra 2 hours to get home.
We ran onto the platform just as the train began to pull in. I was tempted to run for it and chancce the fact that I hadn’t bought a ticket, but I could see ticket inspectors waiting just inside the doors. I was still frantically shoving dollars into the automated ticket machine as the doors slid open.
The machine whirred a bit. It coughed. I glanced over to the waiting train. The machine whirred some more.
In the nick of time, it spat out my ticket. I grabbed it, the ticket inspectors yelling out encouragement as I raced across the platform.
I was almost there when I tripped.
My bag flew through the open train doors, spilling its contents all across the carriage floor. As for me, I fell flat on the ground. My momentum carried me forwards, and my entire body slid across the tarmac platform and onto the train, wrecking my jeans and scraping all the skin off my left knee. The ticket inspectors dragged my legs inside just as the doors closed.
I bandaged up my injury, but as is so often the case when you scrape the skin off, it didn’t want to heal.
A few days later, I flew to Singapore.
Being Singapore, it was far too hot to wear trousers, which mean that my big white bandage was right on show. When I got chatting to a woman on a market stall in Little India, she asked me what was wrong with my leg.
‘I fell,’ I told her, ‘it took all the skin off my knee.’
‘A few days ago.’
She nodded, ‘And it isn’t healing? Not drying out?’
I shook my head.
‘You need chicken essence.’
‘What’s that?’ I asked, trying to sound mildly curious. Privately, I thought that there was no way I’d be rubbing anything called ‘chicken essence’ on any part of my body.
‘Chicken essence,’ she repeated, ‘You can buy at any medicine shop near here. Just ask. Good for cuts, injury, anything. You follow the instructions on the bottle before you drink it.’
You DRINK it?!
I was about to make some objection when the woman’s grown-up son arrived, ‘What’s that about chicken essence?’ Then he noticed me knee, ‘Ah. Yes, chicken essence will fix that. Easy.’
‘Right. Great. Thank you.’ I tried to sound enthusiastic – I really did. But it wasn’t long before I bought the pashmina I’d been looking at and made my exit.
‘Chicken essence,’ the woman reminded me on the way out.
Well, you can probably guess where this is going.
About 15 minutes later, I happened to walk past a pharmacy, and, in the spirit of adventure, I braved going in to buy some chicken essence. It was only about $5 (less than £3), so I figured it didn’t really matter if I decided that I wasn’t brave enough to actually drink the stuff.
Of course, once I had it, I couldn’t really let it go to waste. And who knew? Maybe the woman was right and it would work miracles on my knee.
So the next morning, after breakfast in the hostel, I followed the instructions: leaving the little pot to stand in a bowl of hot water for a couple of minutes, and then drinking the now-lukewarm substance in one go, like downing a shot.
I braced myself.
It tasted as though someone had boiled an entire chicken (bones, eyes, feathers, organs and all) and condensed the stock into a jar not much bigger than a standard shot glass. Come to think of it, that’s probably exactly what had happened.
Fortunately, I’d deliberately saved a much-needed biscuit to take the taste away.
Did it work? Well my knee certainly started to heal withinn the next 24 hours. But whether that was a result of the chicken essence, the change in climate as I returned to London, or just because it’s time to heal had finally come, I guess I’ll never know.