It must have been three weeks ago when I first caught what I thought was “only a cold”; but after a week of sneezing and nose blowing it took up residence in my chest and provoked a bout of asthma that lasted for another week and then – just as I was feeling better another opportunistic virus sandpapered the back of my throat and left me sleepless and unable to swallow. Meanwhile Madame caught the intial cold off me and consequently we’ve been doing a deathly gavotte keeping one another awake with our snoring and spluttering. The solution has been to circulate individually between the living room, the bathroom and the bedroom alternately sleeping and reading, while the viruses occupy our vital organs and conduct the viral equivalent of a stag weekend in an Airbnb flat. Our bodily furniture is trashed and the carpets will never be the same again, the curtains torn down and don’t even mention the sink. How on earth can such a tiny thing as a virus be so awesomely destructive?
Anyway, all is not bad news – apart from the enforced silence online that was so uncharacteristic of me I had an email to make sure I was alive! Am I that noisy usually?? – the upside was an unprecedented amount of reading time and I’ve been ploughing through Owen Flanagan’s book “The really hard problem” as well as Byron Rogers’ biography of RS Thomas, “The man who went into the West”. I’m not even going to try to summarize the Flanagan book except to say that if you’re interested in human flourishing and/or you’re a Buddhist or, like me, (and RS Thomas) still searching, then it’s worth the effort. “Can you teach virtue?” – here’s a book that tries to answer.
The RS Thomas biography is brilliant but can’t really penetrate the enigma of the poet. Of course, what the book does is excite a longing to get back to Lleyn that’s almost overwhelming. I did meet RS once at a reading at Atlantic College, and I thought he was delightful and very funny, but the more I read about him and especially about his first wife Elsi and their relationship the more bewildered I get. Was it a generational thing that so many incredibly talented women artists subjugated themselves, or were subjugated by their husbands? Elsi Eldridge, Rose Hilton, Winifred Nicholson, all swept aside by their partners’ ego.
But apart from the ill-advised trip to the Littleton Wassail that just made things worse, I’ve been confined the the flat unable to think about cooking the Seville oranges and sighing helplessly at the prospect of sowing the chillies in the propagators – until today – when we ventured up to the allotment and found it frozen solid. I picked a good week, it seems, to be hors de combat. The Timperly early rhubarb and the broad beans in their fleece cloches are all growing merrily but everything else (apart from the snowdrops in the windowboxes) is taking a break. The worms had chewed through another six inches of kitchen waste while we were away, undeterred by the low temperatures. Perhaps they’ve got a warm nursery somewhere deep at the bottom.
And the good news for meditators? Well it seems that some research has suggested that when vaccinated with the flu vaccine, skilled meditators produced significantly more antibodies than those who didn’t meditate. It’s all the rushing around that’s making me ill – I’m not kidding either!