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Mostly Concerning Not Being Hungry

On Monday I set out to work as one of a smallish minority of English teachers who have packed a roast quail salad for their lunch. The intention is to eat well in both senses of the word. To extend the boundaries of good food while eating in a way that promotes feeling healthy. It may have taken me many years to realise. And it may be a message that sounds tired and unappealing to those hell bent on hedonism, but feeling healthy is usually the result of being healthy. And being healthy is a pretty good short cut to happiness.


But it all goes badly wrong this week.

It’s a week of writing about the gathering chest infection that curtailed my Irish cycling tour and laid me low for much of 2011. Is it possible to catch a virus from writing about one? Can I have brought back the ailment so perfectly in words that it had re-infected me? Am I so utterly prone to auto suggestion?

I enjoy the quail salad after a busy morning completing novels and annotating scripts. In the afternoon I develop a powerful headache and early signs of a tight chest. I go in search of painkillers and am sent to a woman who doesn’t know that I am actually a colleague and seems to assume that the way to deal with people you haven’t been formally introduced to, is to be as horrible as you can be towards them. There is obviously a training centre somewhere in England that supplies this attitude to educational institutions throughout the realm. I am gentleness and sweetness in return which makes her suspicious that I am being sarcastic. Some people are sent out into the world woefully unprepared for the fact that there are an awful lot of nice people out here. Niceness throws them. They don’t understand nice.

I do get a couple of paracetemol out of her. Though she has to grill me. “Are you allergic to paracetamol? Are you taking any other medication? I think they’re still in their sell-by date.”

I may as well have taken two smarties. The pain gets worse.  I’m actually pleased I have a class doing an assessment. As they sit and write in the still January classroom, I feel the illness sweep over me like the sea at Arnside. No real warning, just one leading wave changing the way everything is. Land becomes water; a healthy body becomes an unwell one.

I’ve cooked a cheap ham joint on Monday night. As much as anything I wanted the smell of cloves to fill that end of the house. I know I’m ill if I gets craving for cloves! It makes good sandwiches for Tuesday but they only get half eaten. I can never remember which way the saying goes. “Feed a cold, starve a fever?” Or “Starve a cold, feed a fever?” I usually choose the one that allows me to eat heartily regardless of the malady. This illness don’t give me the choice.


Like severe hangovers of my early twenties, I feel groaningly poorly and the very thought of food makes me feel a good deal worse. Strange as the one part of my body that doesn’t feel under siege is my stomach. My temples throb and crack, my ears, nose and throat ache, my chest wheezes and coughs unproductively but painfully. Even my legs seem to have been relieved of their strength. I fear my attendance record is going to take a hit. I haven’t taken a day off in any of my guises since being hit a little harder than I expected to be by my father’s death. I don’t eat anything for the rest of the day.


Tea has lost its flavour, you can only drink so many Beecham’s powders without overdosing, so I rely on the old favourite of hot lemon and honey. Use a zester to put some nice streaks of zest into the mug before halving and squeezing the lemon. Top up the mug with boiling water and add a generous teaspoon of honey. Simple and utterly wonderful. Apart from as many painkillers as I can take within recommended dosage levels, this is what I survive on for the next 36 hours. When not in bed I spend much of my week under a towel, over a bowl of steaming water with a good slosh of Friars’ Balsam in it. It may not work perfectly at clearing my airwaves but it gives me a fine complexion!


I go for early morning slow dog walks with T and Jolly as a sort of fitness test each morning at 5. I don’t make the team. I don’t go out of the house. I hardly leave my bed for the first 48 hours. To cough is to turn the body into a wrecking, misfiring Thompson gun. To lie still is to become aware of yet another part of your body that has begun to hurt.

My solution is to snuggle as deeply into the quilt as I can and listen to endless discs of Michael Palin reading me his Python Years’ Diaries. It works. He has a very good voice for a hospital. Warm and calm and kind. I drift off for long periods and enjoy his observations at times when sleep is beyond me.

On Wednesday night T brings home some chips. Usually a treat. Too good to ignore. Too much to finish.


On Thursday a craving; Heinz tinned soups. I really want the Beef Broth. Aldi are unreliable on branded goods and it’s a proper craving. So, I enter the portals of Tesco for the first time in over a year and what a depressing barn of a place it actually is. Just not quite clean, miserable faces queueing for cigarettes and lottery and the same grumpy looking staff kitted out in different levels of man made fibre to demonstrate status. On current evidence, promotion comes with misery.


In the shop itself the displays look weak compared to a year of shopping in Aldi or from market stalls. The fruit and vegetables compare unfavourably with the huge pictures of perter, smarter, sweeter crops displayed above. I buy my five tins of soup and queue behind someone who makes a good deal more noise than sense and know that I haven’t missed out on anything at all by saying no to all that this retailer stands for. It really is a second rate shop. I went a year without going there as a challenge. It would be a challenge to think of a time I will go there again.

I had a bowl of soup. The best I can say is that it was OK.


On Friday another craving. This time for chutney. Steven’s chutney on a sandwich with double Gloucester starts to work. I don’t complete the sandwich but I do enjoy the chutney. It is the first sense of savour I have had this week. There is no better feeling than the first sense that you have turned the corner with a bug that has laid you low. I continue congested and achey to the very marrow of my bones but from Friday afternoon onwards we are feeding the fever and feasting the cold.


On Friday night we have a festival of rice by accident. I make a ham and mushroom risotto and T makes the most delicious rice pudding. Ah rice pudding. That’s proper invalid food. This is so good that it is almost worth being poorly for.