Winter flu

Sick in bed, wheezy and nauseous, spluttery and querulous, achey all over, feverish. Fond of complaining to anyone who will listen. Swallowing litres of homemade chicken soup and mugs of hot tea. Craving bowls of mac ‘n cheese, toast with Bovril, custard and jelly.


Bored when I’m not too sick to be bored. Too headachey to read much. Imagination like dry toast.


Glancing at a review of Charles Fernyhough’s The Voices Within: The History and Science of How we Talk to Ourselves:


The book explores a wide range of types of voice, from the everyday, such as my own rather banal example, to the creative and the bizarre. Voices are associated in the popular mind with schizophrenia, but they are also frequent attenders on other psychiatric disorders. During the years I spent working as a psychoanalyst, I became acquainted with many kinds of inner voice: nags, down-putters, savage persecutors, prophets of doom, the siren calls of idleness, the seductive beckonings of recklessness – these and many other soundtracks afflict people who are by no means mad but nonetheless are victims of vocal inner correspondents prejudicial to their health and balance.


When you’re sick and feel guilty about work piling up on your desk, feel whiny and self-pitying and useless, it is easy to begin punishing the sick self. It is curious that I have an inner starchy headmistress and inner bossy matron who order me around when all I want to do is to sleep and get better, can’t argue back. Doris Lessing, the Zimbabwean writer, talks in her memoir about the persona  she called ‘Tigger’, a bouncy, jolly hockeysticks, highly competent and relentlessly cheerful schoolgirl who made a joke of everything and spared the inner sensitive questioning Doris public exposure.


Being sick makes me feel I have failed in some way. I know it’s nonsense. I can see my tired face in the bathroom mirror, the oddness of wearing pyjamas in the middle of the day, waiting  to have trays of  soup brought through to me n the evening, creeping from the bathroom to the bedroom without any desire to work or go into the garden. A slow mental fog, so that the usual story-making, analysing, observing self has just fled. And at the same time the sick self is convinced it is a mild bout of flu, that  I should be able to shake it off with a little shrug and some determination. Which I know too is nonsense.


The winter storms at the weekend left broken branches and pools of water all around the garden. A disconcerting crash on the roof at 2am and when we searched the next morning we couldn’t see any broken tiles or guttering. I sat and listened to the music of Prince (so missed) from the 1980s while reading something on the poet J H Prynne. From Living in History:


 He wants
only the patient ebb, as
following the shore: that’s
                 not honest, but where
                 his foot prints and
                 marks his track
                                 in the fact of
                                 the evening
the path where he grabs at
motion, like a moist plant
                 or the worth, of
                 hearing the tide come in.
Walk on it, being a line, of rest
and distinction, a hope now lived up
                 to, a coast in awkward
                 singular desires
                                 thigh-bone of the

Mid-week melancholy

Why do some of us run out of momentum  mid-week? I have been sitting at my desk with a computer screen of drafted fiction in front  of me but in reality I have been daydreaming about planting an almond tree this winter. Next autumn I might be cracking open fresh almonds for toasting.


Amy Lowell:

When I have baked white cakes
And grated green almonds to spread upon them;
When I have picked the green crowns from the strawberries
And piled them, cone-pointed, in a blue and yellow platter


I don’t have enough energy for the present, past and future seem easier places to hang out for an hour or two.


Homemade bread, kneaded and baked by the housemate, waiting wrapped in a warm towel. A thunderstorm last night but no rain. Filling up old terracotta pots with grey water, hearing the gurgle and straining as the water soaks down through roots of thyme, erigeron, white vinca. Later, once I have done some work, I am going to peel and grate stubbly roots of horseradish to make fresh horseradish in crème fraîche to be eaten with a beetroot salad.


In the UK, this is Depression Awareness Week. Tim Lott in the Guardian:

Other negative emotions – self-pity, guilt, apathy, pessimism, narcissism – make it a deeply unattractive illness to be around, one that requires unusual levels of understanding and tolerance from family and friends. For all its horrors, it is not naturally evocative of sympathy. Apart from being mistaken for someone who might be a miserable, loveless killjoy, one also has to face the fact that one might be a bit, well, crazy – one of the people who can’t be trusted to be reliable parents, partners, or even employees. So to the list of predictable torments, shame can be added.


Empathy, empathy, empathy. So easy to know it  in a detached or abstract way, so much harder to keep it in mind when spending time with withdrawn, monosyllabic, desperate friends.
Margaret Atwood:

“There’s the story, then there’s the real story, then there’s the story of how the story came to be told. Then there’s what you leave out of the story. Which is part of the story too.”