Sunday, January 29, 2006

Phantom Illness

The Hodmandods needed food and so I had to abandon THE NOVEL last week to do a little 'hunting and gathering' in the ancestral tribeland known as Tesco.

What happened there has been puzzling me ever since:
(i) by the trolleys someone I knew asked me if I was well in such concerned tones that I suspected it was not just a variant on the usual greeting;
(ii) just as I was reaching for a handful of Brussel sprouts a former colleague greeted me and said that he hoped I would be better soon because I'd obviously not been well;
(iii) then in the lifts a stranger looked most sympathetically at me and said, 'Take care of yourself, love, and mind you keep out of this cold.'

This is very disturbing because I am, in fact, the picture of health. I scrutinised my face in the mirror when I came in and could not detect any sort of unhealthy pallor. True, I have rarely been out of doors recently and therefore it is possible I could be suffering from a vitamin D deficiency, and I guess have been concentrating on THE NOVEL to such an unhealthy extent that I sometimes believe I know (and talk to) the people I am writing about, and yes, I did suffer from the usual existential angst by the plastic bags of pre-sliced breads - but surely this is perfectly normal.

Now, every time I pass a mirror I look at myself. Is this how hypochondria starts, I wonder - looking into the mirror to check for signs of pathological decay?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Claire,

Reading this entry in your blog reminded me of an old Stanley Holloway monologue.

I managed to track down a copy of it on the web and it goes as follows:

Bob Weston & Bert Lee

I've been very poorly but now I feel prime,
I've been out today for the very first time.
I felt like a lad as I walked down the road,
Then I met Old Jones and he said, 'Well I'm blowed!'
My word you do look queer!
My word you do look queer!
Oh, dear! You look dreadful: you've had a near shave,
You look like a man with one foot in the grave.'
I said, 'Bosh! l'm better; it's true I've been ill.'
He said, 'I'm delighted you're better, but still,
I wish you'd a thousand for me in your will.
My word, you do look queer!'

That didn't improve me, it quite put me back,
Still, I walked farther on, and I met Cousin Jack.
He looked at me hard and he murmured,'Gee whiz!
It's like him! It can't be! It isn't! It is!
By gosh! Who'd have thought it? Well, well, I declare!
I'd never have known you except for your hair.
My word you do look queer!
My word you do look queer!
Your cheeks are all sunk and your colour's all gone,
Your neck's very scraggy, still you're getting on.
How old are you now? About fifty, that's true.
Your father died that age, your mother did too.
Well, the black clothes I wore then'll come in for you.
My word! You do look queer!'

That really upset me; I felt quite cast down,
But I tried to buck up, and then up came old Brown.
He stared at me hard, then he solemnly said,
'You shouldn't be out, you should be home in bed.
I heard you were bad, well I heard you were gone.
You look like a corpse with an overcoat on.
'My word you do look queer!
My word you do look queer!
You'd best have a brandy before you drop dead.'
So, pale as a sheet, I crawled in the'King's Head',
The barmaid sobbed,'Oh you poor fellow,' and then
She said, 'On the slate you owe just one pound ten,
You'd better pay up, we shan't see you again.
My word you do look queer!'

My knees started knocking, I did feel so sad.
Then Brown said, 'Don't die in a pub, it looks bad,'
He said, 'Come with me, I'll show you what to do.
Now I've got a friend who'll be useful to you.'
He led me to Black's Undertaking Depot,
And Black, with some crepe round his hat said, 'Hello,
'My word you do look queer!
My word you do look queer!

Now we'll fix you up for a trifling amount.
Now what do you say to a bit on account?'
I said,'I'm not dying.'He said,'Don't say that!
My business of late has been terribly flat,
But I'm telling my wife she can have that new hat!
My word, you do look queer!'

I crawled in the street and I murmured,'I'm done.'
Then up came Old Jenkins and shouted,'By gum!'
'My word you do look well!
My word you do look well!
You're looking fine and in the pink!'
I shouted, 'Am I?... Come and have a drink!
You've put new life in me, I'm sounder than a bell.
By gad! There's life in the old dog yet.
My word I do feel well!'

This is my first time commenting, but let me say I find your blog most entertaining and I have also read and enjoyed your books.

Anne Sydenham

Sun Jan 29, 09:28:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anne: Thank you very much for that! Nice to know I'm not alone, and very interesting to see how the word 'queer' has changed meaning. I always used to think it meant something like today's 'weird' or 'strange' but here it seems to imply illness too - very er...odd.
Also glad to see it was a Jenkins (my maiden name) who cheered him up at the end.

Been looking at your website and now see that I am going to have to add a Whittemore to the TBR pile since he is so well loved by so many people I admire. Can you recommend a good one to start with?

And THANK YOU for reading my books - I'm delighted you enjoyed them.

Sun Jan 29, 04:10:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think, with your predilection for obscure historical figures you would enjoy Whittemore, even though he treats history in a completely different way.

I would suggest reading "Sinai Tapestry" first, then "Jerusalem Poker". They are the first & second volumes in the Jerusalem Quartet and are the most fantastical of the four books.


Sun Jan 29, 10:05:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Anne, Sinai Tapestry it is then. Sounds good...One more for the pile.

Sun Jan 29, 10:34:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oops, Clare, sorry for misspelling your name. I have a niece called Claire so I mentally think of, and my fingers automatically spell it with an "i".


Mon Jan 30, 11:13:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No worries, Anne! I know once you get used to spelling a name one way it sticks like superglue.

Mon Jan 30, 06:20:00 pm  

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