So here I am, back in the land of the living, as in showered, fully dressed including earrings, and having eaten food that looked like normal breakfast at breakfast time. It is 10.22 am on Christmas Day. The Systems Administrator is still in bed with a temperature.
On Tuesday when I last posted I did not feel awfully well, hot and cold and shivery and snuffly, and as I went to bed that night I felt the beginnings of a headache. By Wednesday morning the headache was firmly in place, maybe a 3 or 4 on a scale of one to ten (though I have never felt very accurate about putting pain on scales. Is it a logarithmic scale or a linear one? Somebody should write a short description of symptoms for each grade of headache, like the Beaufort scale.) I had promised to drive the Systems Administrator to the railway station for the first of two back-to-back reunion lunches, and so I did. Then I wrapped up the SA's presents with the SA safely off the premises, and fiddled around in the kitchen for a bit, but gave up. We had beans on toast for supper since the SA was full of reunion lunch and I wasn't terribly hungry.
In the night I felt hot and ill, and announced when morning came that I had a temperature and was staying in bed. The Systems Administrator peered at me with furrowed brow and asked if I was fit to be left, and I grumpily testified that I was. Well, it's important to go to these sorts of things when you can, or you slip out of touch with people, and whatever bug I had was developing with such a slow onset that I didn't feel I was about to lapse into delirium in the next few hours. I did not have the energy to root around in the bathroom cupboards looking for the thermometer, but working on the basis that there are four levels of human temperature which are normal, hot, scarily hot, and no longer making sense, I was only in the hot zone. I mean, I could get myself to the bathroom to use the loo or get a glass of water without my legs feeling weak. I felt very tired, though, and the headache was screaming up into the eight territory. In a situation like that there is little somebody else can do. I didn't want anything to eat. I didn't want to chat, and I certainly didn't want anybody dabbing at me with a wet flannel. I didn't even want anybody coming into the room to ask if I wanted anything when I had just managed to go to sleep.
The SA went off the the jolly, having done something to the central heating controls so that the room would stay warm, and I lay in bed with the electric blanket on. Sometimes I slept, and the rest of the time I shuffled about. The radio was no use because it made a noise, and I couldn't read. Through the floor I could hear the phone ring, and then ring again, so eventually I crept downstairs to see if had been two people or the same person ringing twice in which case it might be urgent, and check my emails. I saw from the phone handset that the callers had been two different numbers, one of them my mother's, who had also emailed asking if I was All Right. The answerphone was bleeping loudly to alert me to the fact that one of the callers had left a message, but when I pressed Play it just kept on beeping. I emailed back to say that I was All Right but had the flu and please not to keep ringing because of the noise, then I unplugged the phone at the wall to stop the beeping and tottered back to bed.
I had to get up at noon to feed the cats, and again at teatime to give them their tea, and then at dusk to shut the hens, when I noticed with some irritation that their water had run out. And I did not know whether the SA had a front door key, since the door had been unlocked when I came down to check the phone, so I sat grimly at the kitchen table until the SA returned, and unlocked the door with shaky fingers while the SA stood on the other side of the glass feeling around all his pockets for a key. The SA asked how I was, and I said that I was Very Ill and was now going back to bed, and that the hens' water had run out. The SA followed on to check quite how ill that might be, and we established that I was not sick and did not have a rash or chest pains, just a temperature and a screaming headache. The SA had suddenly grown rather nervous about such things since that day's reunion lunch had mainly brought news of major health scares and cancer diagnoses for the spouses of practically everybody else at it. The SA decamped to the spare room for the night to give us both some breathing space, leaving me with the better of the bargain since I got to keep the electric blanket, and I settled to a night of strange dreams and muffled Radio 3.
On Friday morning I stayed in bed, but remembered about the hens' water, while the Systems Administrator made an emergency dash to Waitrose to do the shopping I would have done if I hadn't been ill. I rather doubted that we were going to need it, but I wasn't going to argue. Apparently the SA was there at the head of the queue as the doors opened, and being swept into the store by the tidal wave of trolleys was like riding at the head of the peloton. The SA did a swift, efficient grab of the basic elements of a Christmas lunch, plus the traditional Christmas Eve steaks and some already reduced Christmas shortbread because I'd warned I didn't think I'd be making any mince pies or stollen on Christmas Eve. By the time the SA left the car park was full and the queue was stretching all the way down the inner bypass to the roundabout, and by the time the SA got home he was beginning to look a bit grey and fluey himself. I never got up all day, though by late afternoon I felt well enough to eat one slice of bread and butter which the SA kindly brought up for me, looking fairly ill. It's bad luck being ill when your other half is iller. You get lumbered with the fetching and carrying when you'd rather sit down yourself. The SA says he gave up and went to bed at eight on Friday night.
Saturday was Christmas Eve. I should have been making stollen and the Systems Administrator would traditionally have been bringing in ivy to decorate the mantelpiece, which he does beautifully, except that by then the SA was in bed as well. I tottered out to open the hen house, refilled their water which had run out again, and fed the cats, and went back to bed. The headache was down to only a five or so, I fed the cats at noon, and at two I tottered downstairs to give them their tea under the impression that it was four o'clock. As soon as I got down to the kitchen I realised I'd misread the alarm clock in the darkness of the bedroom and without my spectacles, since although the evenings have started getting lighter they certainly hadn't got that much lighter, but then I thought that now I was up I might have something to eat, and made a slice of toast which went down so well that I had a second one, and a fruit flavoured yogurt and a small orange. The headache had dropped to a three.
At teatime the SA appeared, feeling slightly less grim, and we opened the box of Waitrose Christmas shortbread and lit a fire, and discussed what to do with all the food, since we clearly weren't going to be up to cooking a full roast chicken with all the trimmings, or eating it, let alone coping with the tide of leftovers. Some of them like the ham and bacon were so long dated they could be absorbed into normal supplies, and even the chicken was good until the 27th, so we agreed the best thing was to keep an eye on them and freeze anything that was about to date expire if we didn't want to cook it that day. By evening my headache had gone, except that my head felt very fragile the way heads do when you have had a continuous headache for the best part of 72 hours. The SA's head was still pounding and he went to bed early. I went to bed a bit later and lay there trying to work out if I could in any way identify with the five year old me who used to be so excited on Christmas Eve waiting to open my stocking, but I couldn't.
This morning the headache was creeping back, but I put that down to having subsisted on three slices of white bread, two glasses of milk, two glasses of apple and elderflower, two small bits of shortbread and a handful of peanuts over three days. I found that I could contemplate the idea of putting water on my head and had a shower, which improved things greatly, and went downstairs and fed the cats and opened the hen house door. There was no sign of movement from the spare bedroom. At half past nine I looked in just to check that the SA was still alive and no more than hot on the human temperature scale. The SA was alive but claimed to feel terrible, so I came back downstairs and listened to Harry Christopher and the Sixteen's Early English Christmas, and started this blog post. A while later the SA appeared, dressed and not feeling quite so terrible after some more sleep. The SA ate two shortbread biscuits and went for a shower.
And that has been our Christmas so far. It isn't what I'd planned. After all the effort, the finding the potted tree and researching presents on the internet, the making of lists and sending cards and planning how to cat-proof the decorations, it would have been nice to bring the tree into the house instead of it still being tucked away in the greenhouse. And nice to hang up the fairy lights and my new die cut string of reproduction Victorian Christmas cats in the study, and listen to the Watersons on Christmas Eve in front of the fire like we do every year, and make stollen, and be looking forward to an enormous lunch of roast chicken with all the trimmings and traditional pudding made in the Lake District by barn owls. And it would have been nice not to be ill. Mainly it would have been nice not to be ill. Up to last weekend I was reading Thomas Mann's fantastical novel about a Swiss sanatorium, and the young hero is taken to task when he sympathises too much with the feelings of the more seriously ill inmates. It is an error, his interlocutor tells him, to imagine that they feel about their situation as you would feel now when you are not that ill. And Thomas Mann was dead right. While lying in bed feeling really, grottily ill you don't wish you were downstairs hanging coloured decorations on a small potted Nordmann fir. You are much more bothered about your headache than the fact that you are missing Christmas.
Of course most of it will not be wasted, strictly speaking. Most of the food will be eaten, though if the SA remembered to get any mushrooms to go with what should have been last night's steak they may be past it before either of us feel like mushrooms. We will still have the presents people have bought for us, and in three months time we will like them exactly as much as we would have if we'd opened them by eleven this morning so that the SA could go and start cooking the lunch. I sent our cards with our genuine goodwill, and those we received were read and appreciated and in some cases brought welcome news. It will be a horticultural challenge to try and bring the potted tree through to Christmas 2017 in good shape and preferably larger, and I'd have done that anyway. It is just the occasion that's gone for this year, the ritual. We agreed yesterday afternoon that the one thing we would definitely not be doing would be cooking the chicken and ham and all the trimmings two or three days after the event, and pretending that we were having Christmas late. No kidding. We missed it and that's that.