Comfort is one of the most basic needs after food and water.
I’ve been in need of a lot lately, for reasons I can’t fathom. My eating has not been wonderful; binge-and-purge (which sounds like a pair of Terry Pratchett villains) has been on my mind for the last couple of months. I felt hideously ashamed of myself after eating six squares of chocolate one after the other, none of them satisfying the need I couldn’t name. Food is on my mind constantly. I walked past a packet of Jaffa cakes at work, left temptingly open, their smooth dark surfaces shining, and it took all my strength not to scurry back and wolf the lot. I don’t feel proud of myself for resisting my urge; I feel a little defeated that 20 years after my eating issues first started they are still whispering, twitching, tickling at the back of my mind, like hideous sirens.
The last few weeks have been difficult not only because of physical illness which while ultimately harmless has left me drained; I’ve spent far too much time online debating sensitive matters. In my social circle, I do not come into contact with these people who believe that girls who get drunk deserve what happens to them; that women who don’t like Page 3 are “hairy arsed lesbians”; that asylum seekers should be left to drown; that disabled people should just learn to walk. You probably don’t associate with these types either, but someone must; they do exist, because I hear them on Jeremy Vine (I now turn over to Radio 4 1200-1400), I see them commenting on newspaper articles and Facebook campaigns, and they appear utterly unashamed of their views and the fact millions of people can see or hear what they think, and will judge them on it. I wonder if the creator(s) of the internet ever considered allowing online access only to those who had passed a basic IQ and decency test. It’s a little late now, but because these people see their views shared they believe they are validated, and this makes them more convinced they are right. Much as I love the internet and how it has utterly revolutionised our society, in many ways for the better, I also think it’s one of the most dangerous things invented. I found I was getting really distressed by engaging with people like this; I was staying awake late at night or waking up early just to refute their arguments. It helps nobody, and means nothing, and made me hate the world. So I’m withdrawing from it, living in my own little bubble for a time while I grow a new skin, as right now I feel I’ve had mine peeled off and I’m open, raw and bleeding. I hope this will make me happier person, and help me spend my time more productively – and perhaps stop me looking to food to make myself feel better about people who really do not matter.
Reading is of course one way of escaping the unpleasantness of real life. Spending less time online has the knock-on effect of having more time to spend on a book. A few days off sick were also beneficial to my bookshelves as I ploughed through the following:
Dark Angel by Sally Beauman. I enjoyed this although I wanted to strangle the erstwhile heroine, Constance, and all those who got sucked in by her.
Trespass by Rose Tremain. I keep forgetting how good she is, and then I find her again and want to read ALL THE BOOKS.
Disclaimer by Renee Knight. A startlingly original book about a woman who starts reading a novel and then realises it’s her life. The twist in the story made my stomach flip like I was on a rollercoaster.
The Marriage Game by Alison Weir. This was about Elizabeth I and her relationship with Robert Dudley. I usually enjoy Weir’s stuff, but this was a little patchy. I do think reading it didn’t help me feel better about myself as Elizabeth – at my age – began losing her teeth, getting wrinkly, and wearing a dreadful wig.
Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach. A story set in 17th century Amsterdam when a young artist falls in love with the woman whose portrait he is commissioned to paint. The plot seems simple enough, but like an Old Master the brush-strokes are only the surface of the painting. What lies beneath is a rich, bubbling tapestry of life.
No Safe House by Linwood Barclay. This is the sequel to the fantastic No Time To Say Goodbye about a teenage girl who wakes up to find her whole family missing. I loved the latter, but this was a big let down. Cliched, uninteresting and a bit pointless.
The Strangler Vine by M J Carter. A mystery set in colonial India. It was fun enough, but I wouldn’t seek out any more of them (it appears to be the first in a detective series).
The Girl Next Door by Ruth Rendell. When severed hands are discovered in a box, old schoolfriends are unexpectedly – and not entirely happily – reunited. The detective/crime story is almost forgotten in Rendell’s effortless detailing of lives turned upside down.
The Revival by Stephen King. This is an odd story of one man’s obsession following the death of his wife and son, as told through the eyes of someone who once looked up to him. It lost its power at the end, as I found the the climax of the story unconvincing and a little hackneyed. I’m not saying that I think King is a factual writer, but some things are easier to believe than others!
Rifleman: A Front Line Life by Victor Gregg and Rick Stroud This really taught me about the Dresden bombings, of which I knew very little. The interesting and readable autobiography of a rifleman in WW2 which makes difficult reading in places, and rightfully so.
Last night not even John Cleese’s autobiography (which I’ll tell you about once I’ve finished it!) could distract me from my very dark (chocolate) thoughts. So I decided to be practical, and determined, and I tried something new. Jogging by moonlit in air so cold it cuts off your breath.
Bell ringers were practising in the church and the moon was as crisp and clear as a newly minted coin. Me and my shadow, slowly but nonetheless steadily, running on the road, my trainers regularly smacking on the tarmac. My nose ached, my ears were numb and my thighs felt like slabs of frozen meat, but gradually peace seeped into me.
Back home it was warm. I put on a thick rust-coloured cardigan and felt like someone had put their arm over my shoulders.
Since I was born I’ve slept with a toy dog which now resembles nothing more than a dessicated raisin. She still fits in the crook of my arm and the weight of her, the shape of her and feel of her makes me feel very calm, even though I’m far too old to still do this. So I curled up on the sofa with Pippa, and a mug of warm milk with a sprinkling of cinnamon.
I thought about chocolate, crumpets dripping with golden syrup, bags of crisps, cheese, bread. The moment passed, and I slept.