Monday, September 22, 2008

Invalid Reading

as in reading when you're sick. What do you read when you're sick? I've just spent two weeks (TWO WEEKS!) with 'flu/cold/whatever. In between snuffling, feeling sorry for myself and mooching through knitting patterns, I've wanted to read. But I only want to read certain kinds of books. Nothing too heavy, too worthy or too much work. I've tackled some light mysteries - you know the sort where the actual mystery takes a backseat to the portrait of a small town, or the dog show fraternity or even recipes.

I craved Kerry Greenwood's Phyrne Fisher or a new mystery from her Corinna Chapman series. But alas, there aren't new ones out. I've made do with some a dog show mystery writer - who knew? I did miss having the familiar landscape of Melbourne, however - though I feel I learnt a little more about dog shows.

What do you like reading when you're sick? What do you like reading when you're convalescing?

Can you write when you're sick? I don't tend to - I think about projects, however, and make decisions about what I'll be writing when I feel better.

Here's a writing exercise to do with memory. What are your memories of childhood illnesses? Who looked after you? What did you do when you were a sick child? Were you sick often? What kind of food were you given?

When I was young and sick my mother would come home with books for me. Sometimes these were new ones she bought, sometimes they were from the secondhand bookshop we owned. She used to make me inhale with a towel over a steaming jug or bowl of water.
'Sniff up! Sniff!' she'd order. My mother's response to illness was aggressive. Hot lemon and honey drinks, inhalations every hour and if I got that tickly cough that goes on and on, she brought in the big guns - anything to stop it. I'd gargle, between coughs. I'd swig Squill (I'm sure that's what it was called, though it seems unlikely). There'd be more lemon and honey drinks - with a squished up aspro in the days before soluble aspros came on the scene. On one memorable occasion when I was a teenager she gave me a sedative. That worked! I slept for about twelve hours.

She'd make me special invalid food - chicken with apricot sauce - and buy bunches of green grapes.

If I'd had gastro, the first solid food was always grated apple sprinkled with brown sugar. I still eat that - as do my children - as comfort food.

I liked being sick as a child. I loved the idea of my bed being my small kingdom, the books mounting up beside it, the smoothed down blankets and the glass of juice or water on my bedside table. I looked forward to my mother coming home and fussing over me. I liked having dinner on a tray in bed, hearing the talk from the other rooms faintly as I ate invalid food and read my new books.

Even now, if I've got a bad cold or 'flu while I get impatient with what it prevents me doing, there's still this secret pleasure in tucking up in bed for most of the day, tissues in reach, herbal tea steaming in a cup, idle with permission. I become ten again, waiting for people to come home with news from the outside world but content for most of the day to dream, read and plan what I'll do when I'm all better.


M-H said...

Yes, when I'm sick I like light mysteries too.

Our invalid food was junket or custard and stewed fruit, or poached eggs on toast. After a tummy upset it was stewed apple in our house. I think it was believed that the pectin was good to 'bind you up'. And the hot lemon and honey drink, in a special tall glass that was only used for that purpose, accompanied by asprin mashed up in honey.

I had a lot of those 'tickly coughs' too. I have found out that it was in fact asthma, having suffered a recurrence in middle age. Just as well it was never diagnosed, as my mother had a mortal fear of asthma; she was full of stories of people dying in the throes of a respiratory arrest, as they sometimes did in the 1950s (and still do, occasionally but much more rarely). She would have wrapped me up in cotton wool and it would have increased her stress levels enormously if she'd suspected I had asthma.

Anonymous said...

You've no idea how sick you could be seventy years ago. Deadly contagious diseases took you into a isolated hospital outside of Brisbane called Wattlebrae. Diphtheria was one such disease and when I got it at age seven my father fortunately was a feared journalist so the then Health Minister arranged for me to have a private nuse AT HOME! Neither of my parents could come into my bedroom and my mother used to sit in the hallway and wind up an old gramophone and play me Gilbert and Sullivan and kids' songs. No one but the nurse could come into the house. And when I survived and got better the whole house had to be sealed and fumigated.
My father sat in the hallway and read me The Arabian Nights very loudly. I wasn't allowed to handle the book so didn't see the illustrations until it, too, had been fumigated. The illustrations were nothing like I had imagined. I realise now the Arabian Nights cave had been like my sick room to me.

Cattyrox said...

Hi M-H - Oh, I'd forgotten about junket - I actually loved junket. I even liked the way it went weirdly watery and you had to eat it quickly before that happened.

What light mysteries do you read when you're sick?

Cattyrox said...

anonymous - what a wonderful story! Your poor mother winding up the gramaphone outside the room to keep you occupied. It must have been a real joy to finally see the illustrations of The Arabian Nights - they'd have been the Dulac ones, surely?

M-H said...

I read (and re-read) Kerry Greenwood too. And old Val McDermid (before Wire in the Blood when her plots were much gentler). And Barry Maitland, and various lesbian crime writers like J.M. Redman, Barbara Wilson, Mary Wings, Claire McNab, Katherine Forrest. I have quite a collection of these from the 80s and 90s. I don't think any of them are still writing (or at least being published).