Last week passed on wings of delirium.
It started so well. Monday was a day of music and words and cooking and admin and more music and more words and food and a well-earned glass of wine and bed and same again tomorrow.
The next morning, though. That catch at the back of the throat, that sensation of intangible malaise, that bastard sentinel proclaiming ‘you are going to be ill, oh yes you are.’
Take your drugs of choice: Strepsils, Nurofen, Lemsip, Night Nurse. Comforting but ineffective. The horse has not only bolted, but is galloping down the High Street, hooves clattering on the tarmac and blanket flapping like drying sheets in a gale, sending shoppers scurrying for cover. You think a virus is going to abandon ship just because you decided to drink two pints of Berocca? It will do its work, and it will not leave until the work is done.
Highly professional organisms, viruses.
And so begins the illness, a series of moments linked by interminable periods of boredom.
Soon after the initial realisation comes the moment when you think it’s not as bad as you first feared. You get down to your day, normal as normal. But normal isn’t normal. You’re ill. You begin to feel terrible. Achey, shivery, hot in the head.
A quick lie-down, that’s what you need. You’re not a malingerer, but you’ve just written the sentence ‘Thanks thanKs for this I’m attaacching the doccumnet with details with best wishes Thanks I’ll get back to you as soon as All the best Levc’ so perhaps it’s time to acknowledge you’re not firing on all cylinders.
You wake five hours later. The percussion section of the London Symphony Orchestra are playing The Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore in your head while the Red Army perform manoeuvres up and down your spine.
There is an alien inside you, an alien with honky breath and tentacles of fire, an alien kicking off its shoes and putting its feet up on the sofa and opening a can of Special Brew and a packet of Sizzling Salsa Doritos and giving every indication that it’s going to move in for a while.
You will never be well again.
Once this ‘admission’ stage has been reached, some deep part of your brain relaxes. You’re ill. There’s nothing you can do about it except be ill. So you throw yourself into being ill with all the expertise of a professional. There is sleep; there is sweat; there is lolling. There is deep deep fatigue, so overwhelming that even the habitual comfort fodder – Dick Francis, Georgette Heyer, P G Wodehouse – feels outwith your attention span. Instead, you sink back into the pillows and look out of the window. It has four panes. You allow yourself to slide a bit lower, and urge a passing cloud to move on so the top left pane will contain only blue sky. You count the branches visible in the bottom right pane, the twigs on the branches, the buds on the twigs. You hear the sounds of cars passing – cruel, uncaring cars, oblivious to your suffering.
You wake at 4 a.m., hot, aching, exhausted, but unable to go back to sleep, instead languishing on clammy sheets while your mind, released from the rigours of normality, thinks delirious and unbidden thoughts of humpback whales, floor polishers, quantum theory, David Attenborough, Triumph TR7s, root vegetables and Morris dancing. In a bid to distract it, you decide to watch all of A Bit of Fry and Laurie on Netflix. You fall asleep halfway through the Privatised Police Force sketch in Episode 1, waking some time later, again delirious and again bathed in sweat, to the distressing sight of Stephen Fry impersonating Michael Jackson.
Good morning, world.
Reeling, your mind seeks refuge in safe memories of childhood illness, those far-off halcyon times before responsibility and the rigours of adulthood. It’s the convalescence stage you remember. That was the best bit, when you weren’t well enough to go back to school but also not really ill any more so you could sit in bed and listen to Abba and read Laura Ingalls Wilder and there was still concern in your mum’s face but not worry any more because you were past the worst and your face had lost that green tinge and she laughed at your feeble jokes and brought you two soft-boiled eggs and toast soldiers because that’s what you always had after an illness when you were ready for solids again and you turned the empty shells upside-down and pretended you couldn’t eat them and your dad came for the tray and fell for it because he had to because you’d been ill and afterwards you lined up your soft toys in order of height Snoopy first and then Searly-Wearly the bear with the sad look in his eyes and then Sheep and then the slightly scratchy one that didn’t really have a name and you’re not even sure what it was supposed to be but you liked it anyway and then Woodstock and then you got your blanket and tucked them all in and decided to be ill for just one more day.
But then you remember that you’re not eight any more, that a temperature of 101 for three days in a row is in fact potentially serious for an adult, that old people die of this kind of thing every winter and what are you now, 53?, some people would call that old, you should go and see the doctor, brave the waiting room, the ill people, but you’re not the ill people, you’re fit and healthy and 53 for god’s sake that’s no age and you’ll be back on your feet in no time, you just feel oh god so exhausted and hot, when will it go away just sod off you sodding alien.
And so the long day wears on.
Four months (two days) later, the alien relinquishes its grip. Your head clears. Energy seeps back into exhausted muscles. Small parts of your body stop aching. Time to get up.
A plan of action takes shape, a plan involving showers and getting dressed and sitting on the sofa catching up with admin in front of the Test match, and maybe a walk and probably some pottering in the kitchen and you have the shower and it invigorates you, and you can feel that even though you’ve been ill you’re not ill any more and then you start getting dressed and put on one sock and the alien surges back into your body from the little corner where it was hiding, and it suddenly feels like a good idea to lie down for a week or two.
It passes, as these things do. And then, energy properly restored, you sit down and take a moment to recall and formulate one of the stranger thoughts that came to you at the height of your alien-occupied delirium. And in the cold light of day it still looks a bit mad but somehow sensible at the same time, so you draw it properly and put it online.
And the people seem to like it, even though no doubt they still think you’re a bit mad.
Blame the alien.
Like this? Want more? Sign up to my newsletter.