Although I’m sturdy as a turnip and don’t fit into any of the high-risk groups, I had a flu shot last year. I got through the winter flu-less, so it seemed good sense to have one this year. The surgery couldn’t fit me in until December 23, but, as soon as I made the appointment, I began to worry. What if I felt crummy for a few days afterwards?
How would I ever cook my way through Christmas with flu-like symptoms, a post-jab syndrome that had received much coverage in the press? So I changed my appointment to January 5 and sailed through the treadmill of festive feasting. And as soon as the last bone was picked and the last guests had left the land of plenty, I collapsed in a heap of flu-like symptoms.
Despite all the hoo-ha in the news about the flu epidemic, and all the blame hurled at the Government for not running the television ad with the man sneezing in the lift, it isn’t easy to know if you have the flu. I finally lugged my laptop to my bed and Googled ‘symptoms of flu’. I was relieved to see that you only have to have two of the eight symptoms (I had six) in order to say you have it.
Flu sounds so much more deserving of bed rest and cups of tea than a bad cold. Although I didn’t have the last symptom listed-the one that might have contributed to weight loss-I did lose all desire for alcohol and coffee. A painless little detox that was a welcome side effect of my fevered state.
Another side effect was less desirable. I found myself sinking into gloom. It really began earlier when our tenants who live in the vineyard cottage called on the 23rd to say they had no water. Claire, a robust optimist, is eight months pregnant and really felt that running water over Christmas would be a good thing, especially as she had a houseful coming for Christmas Day. The problem with country life is that pipes come onto the land from mains that are often a field away. It’s not a case of calling Anglia Water. We could only ask Mr Pollard, our steadfast builder, whose men were all ready to begin their holiday. Instead, they spent two freezing days digging up pipes.
The farm brought over bales of hay to burn over the frozen bits, all to no avail. After Christmas (which Claire and her husband transported to her mother’s house), the digging began again. It took two more days to discover the problem: sugar-beet harvesters had scraped away almost all the topsoil that covers the water pipes. Meanwhile, updates about the waterless cottage were echoed every hour with news bulletins on the waterless misery of citizens in Northern Ireland.
The radio, the invalid’s faithful nurse, kept me up to date with alerts: on the urgency for pregnant women to have flu jabs, the remorseless floods in Australia, and, as Radio 4 transformed into the World Service, cruel regimes (Zimbabwe, Somalia, North Korea), vile diseases (AIDS, malaria) and the allied starvation (too many places to name).
And suddenly I got better. I’m pretty sure it was the chicken soup, a magical cure made by my friend Helen. Thus strengthened, I was able to change the channel and found Mozart on Radio 3. Within 24 hours, I was able to go out and count the chickens, turkeys and peacocks, a private census I keep quiet about in the name of marital harmony.
All of this is really to say that a period of isolation in the sick bay is a useful way to begin the year. It increases, not diminishes, one’s human sympathies. Unable to do anything, there is no guilt about the Great Undone. Members of this family who have never undressed a tree discovered that it is not done by fairies and mice. As I languished upstairs in bed, the 21-year-old son cooked the New Year’s Eve dinner for eight. The world is still in a precarious state, but we’ve lagged the pipes and covered them with 2ft of earth. The water is running and the sky is intemperately clear.