Sunday 9 December 2007

Like death warmed up, inadequately

It’s a funny expression, “feeling like death”. Because I imagine that the main feature of being dead is a total lack of feeling. At any rate, that’s what I hope. I’ll be pretty peeved if I discover on Christmas Eve 2012 that I’ve made a catastrophic miscalculation, and that death actually features the sensations of being excessively hot, smelling ordure, and being poked with a trident from all sorts of inventive angles.

Nevertheless, I feel like death. Or, to put it another way, so bad that death would come as a joyous release. I woke up in agony in the early hours of the morning, and have swallowed enough strong painkillers to halt a charging rhinoceros, to precisely no effect. In addition to the pains in my stomach, all my limbs ache like very sensitive and sore things. My only consolation, on staggering down not to eat breakfast, is to discover that at least one member of my extended family probably feels even worse. That would be the one who was found unconscious at 2 a.m. after the interesting experiment in the bar. Maybe we should have used the traditional white mice instead.

At half past ten precisely, there is a Grand Exchange of Presents in my cousin’s house across the road. My role is confined to sitting on the sidelines, like a UN observer on the Green Line in Cyprus. I’m astonished by the scale of this extravaganza, and by the number of evidently carefully chosen, expensive and tasteful gifts being handed around. Some might question the appropriateness of the large golliwog which one of my cousins found in the “Educational and Progressive Toys” section of a local general store, but it could have been worse. At least the lucky recipient sensibly rejected my suggestion that it would be a fun idea to call it Mohammed.

There is nothing I covet for myself, apart from a rather fine coffee table picture book of the historic buildings of Newcastle upon Tyne, but then I’ve never actually liked receiving presents. Even as a child, I preferred to be given cash so that I could go and buy exactly what I wanted. Knowing that, if an adult were presented with a choice of two items by an assistant in a toyshop, they would unfailingly pick the wrong one. Particularly if it happened to be marginally cheaper.

Haven’t we done well, I think, as the discarded wrapping paper mounts up; it eventually fills an entire black bin bag. Compare this with my childhood Christmases, where I would be enjoined to unwrap my presents carefully so that my mother could fold up the paper and put it aside in the biscuit tin she reserved for this purpose, so that it could be re-used next year. It’s a wonder that the Government hasn’t asked us to appear in a series of TV advertisements about this upward social mobility they claim to be in favour of.

Then someone suggests a walk. We’re staying in one of those Norfolk towns with -next-the-Sea at the end of its name, but it has evidently been put there by some mediaeval precursor of the Tourist Board. Or maybe the sea has moved – yes, now I come to think about it, someone was droning on last night about the Great Storm that shifted the tidal channel and blah, blah, blah. Still, I think they should have renamed it -short-drive-from-the-Sea in the interests of accuracy, though it’s probably not worth going to the trouble and expense of changing all the signage now. A forward-thinking town council would take a look at the projections on global warming and rename it -under-the-Sea: twinned with New Orleans, Dunwich and Atlantis.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I get halfway through the interminable walk to the rumoured beach and think “Blank this for a lark, I’d rather be in bed.” So that’s where I spend most of the rest of the day. I drag myself up in the evening to have a glass of water with the Bloke I hoped to talk to at some length during my stay, in order to progress the book we are supposed to be writing together.

“Ah no, mate,” he says, avoiding the usual offence I take at being addressed as “mate” since he is a licensed Antipodean, “I’m off on holiday in the morning. I did tell you.”

Er, no you didn’t.

Still, the way I feel it’s a bit of a relief.

And where do you suppose people from Norfolk go for a pre-Christmas holiday? The Caribbean, Mauritius, the Seychelles, the Maldives, Thailand, Tahiti?

No, none of the above.

Suffolk. The sunny south. It’s obvious when you think about it.

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