Yes, better, thank you. Working my way towards the perfect linctus cocktail, and I haven’t seen any of my meals over the last 48 hours more than once. It’s been suggested I have something called ‘man flu’, which I must admit I’d never heard of, but it sounds pretty butch, something to drop into a macho pub conversation alongside par five birdies and twin turbos.
Anyway, it does free up even more time for reading, which is how I’ve just finished, at a single interrupted three day sitting, ‘Black Swan Green’, by David Mitchell. This is one of those novels that enfolds you in a world that’s always been there waiting for you, new and surprising even though you’ve known it for years; and then, when it ends, leaves you there, looking for the way out. In this case, the world of a bullied thirteen year old boy, suffering from an affliction in a small community, and how he deals with it. Well, I’ve been there.
I suppose I was a sickly child. Certainly I had a few serious babyhood ailments, like whooping cough, and I was always getting colds. So was everyone, of course, but mine were somehow given credibility by my chilblains. A cold and an outbreak of chilblains, in the winter, would suffice to get me off CCF drill days; I’m not sure what I used in the summer. Stomach aches, probably. Of course, whilst adults – parents, teachers – were easily fooled by these tactics, my peers saw through it, so I was, for a year or more, setting myself up as a natural victim, allowing this blanket of identity to be woven and wrapped round me by other people.
You don’t realise this sort of thing is happening, until something jolts you into suddenly feeling the weight of the blanket. I clearly remember being ordered by a master, with an expression of disgust, to go and wash my hands; a nudge from the boy next to me (“Tell him!”); and explaining that I wasn’t allowed to. And the strange feeling of empowerment the teacher’s embarrassed apology gave me.
Lonnie Donegan rescued me. Learning to play the guitar cured the chilblains; performing in a skiffle group, which you can’t do under a blanket, took care of the rest. (Except the colds.)