Friday 1 February 2008

The olden days: still going strong round here

14st 8lb; 4.0 alcohol units yesterday evening; 1,464; South-East Iceland.

In the olden days people used to come back from London, embrace their family and friends, then say “Hang on, what’s this?” as they noticed the sinister buboes developing in their armpits and groin. The best you could hope for was that enough people in the village would survive the resulting plague outbreak to bury the rest of the inhabitants.

I haven’t quite managed that, and luckily I’ve only got the dog to embrace (and he won’t let me), but I’ve definitely picked up a nasty dose of “man flu” in the capital. I felt pretty ropy when I got up yesterday morning, but put it down to having been woken at 3.45 a.m. by the violent gale raging around the house. Then I developed a sore throat, aching joints, tickly cough and a general feeling of debility. What I need is a sweet-natured, fragrant girlfriend to take my temperature and tell me to go to bed, where she will light a fire (ideally in the hearth, rather than by pouring petrol on the duvet and flicking matches at me) before bringing me up a tray with a lovely bowl of home-made chicken soup.

Of course, I realize that what I’d get is some boot-faced harridan telling me to pull myself together and lecturing me on how I can’t even begin to know what pain and suffering is, given that I’m not a woman and have never given birth nor had my bikini line waxed.

The best I can manage on my own is to limp out to the shed and unearth a container of frozen chicken soup, lovingly made by an ex-girlfriend on 29 October 1996. Or so it says. Still tastes fine to me. I’ve never been a great believer in the concept of use-by dates on food, though I’ve always felt that it would be an idea to have “best before” dates on the human body, ideally in a place where we could look at them without the aid of a mirror.

Christ, it’s cold today. I’m coughing my way around the house feeding three separate log fires, all of which seem to be making the rooms they are in colder than they were before I lit them. The wind is howling, snow is falling intermittently, and there is no way I am going for a walk. However long the dog gives me that look.

Still, it is at least a good day in one sense. It’s the last of the pheasant shooting season. I passed four survivors huddling in a hedge as I drove to get the newspapers this morning, and hoped against hope that they would have the sense to keep their heads down until nightfall (though conscious that hoping for sense from pheasants is a bit like longing for honesty from politicians). One of them was a most distinctive light beige colour; I suppose anyone with even a hint of poetry in their soul would have called it golden.

On my way back I came across the whole ghastly retinue of Henrys in their huge 4x4s with the personalized number plates (can you imagine the sort of person who would drive such a thing?) and the ex-Army amphibious truck which conveys the squad of flag-waving beaters. An ex-Army truck probably counts as luxury in these parts; the next estate transports its beaters in a tractor and trailer with a large garden shed balanced on it. I say “balanced”; I’ve been fascinated for years by the question of whether the shed is fixed to the trailer by anything stronger than gravity, and have been looking for an opportunity to perform an emergency stop in front of it in order to find out. One day, perhaps.

As for this day, however rotten I may feel, at least I can take comfort from the fact that I’m not outside with the icy wind in my face, snow flurries obscuring my vision and my finger freezing to the trigger of a 12-bore. And I’m not killing anything. But under these conditions, I suspect, neither are they.

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