(I am ill. I have been ill since the dawn of time. On Saturday, or some other day separated from me by HOURS OF PAIN AND CLOUDS OF SORROW, I wrote this —
Grudgingly, I admit that the symptoms have begun to recede. This might just be like the bit in books where consumptive people rally and get gorgeous for half a chapter before pegging out.
In my case, it was more like a paragraph. I am now on disgusting antibiotics, and say once again, thank God for the NHS. Mostly because my doctor called me four times to check I hadn’t died of the drugs (my notes were vague on the subject of whether or not penicillin would make me swell up and die, I was vague, and the good folk of Jericho Health Centre didn’t seem to think that two vagues made up a comforting certainty). I haven’t died, obviously. Nor am I making a miraculous recovery. Meantime, if there’s an exciting social occasion, you can feel sure that I am right here, missing it. Me and the Ribena. And the tissues. And the Beechams Hot Blackcurrant. And the penicillin. And the ready-meals. Oh, and the coursework due in in eight days’ time. I don’t know what I was doing when I was structured the first draft. Not running a temperature, sadly, which is what I’m doing while trying to restructure it. My nose is now set in the centre of a red, indignant crater, with – with its desert-like texture and angry core – encompasses most of my face.
I felt a huge fraud on arriving in the surgery, given that a long December taxi ride (the driver took one look at me at rolled down all the windows; I couldn’t blame him) had brought my temperature down for the first time in a hundred years. Nor could I produce a rash. There’s usually (well, hopefully) a moment in every doctor’s consultation where they ask you some meaningful question, look pleased at your ‘no’ and visibly decide that you’re not really a problem and almost definitely going to live. For girls, it’s usually ‘Could you be pregnant?’, a question which – while you’re a minor – is typically heralded by a stout medical professional herding your mother out of the room. Yesterday I thought it was going to be ‘Do you smoke?’ but instead – mysteriously – it was ‘Any burning?’. I mean, really. NO.
Meantime, I’ve been spending a lot of time reading the Little Women etext (trying to work out why that cow got to marry Laurie, what Beth died of and if I’ve got it too), hating Thomas Hardy, thanking God and the relevant IT professionals that someone finally dragged Oxford into the shiny new world of online resources, and being hideous to anyone brave enough to visit me. This latter confirms what seems to me to be a particular truth of fourth years in Oxford: if you yourself are considering staying on longer, you will employ all possible means (rhetorical, physical, vicious and inexcusable) to persuade others not to leave. viz, when my best friend – who has just left my bedside, hopefully without the dreaded lurg – announced that she’d quite like to go to Aberdeen for DPhil, I began by saying everything bad I’d ever heard about Aberdeen/Scottish universities/the Frozen North (not successful, since she’s from Newcastle), and eventually progressed into ‘you’re leeeaving meee, you’re leaving me when I’m dyyying’ emitted in a cracked soprano wail as she tried to leave the room. Never have I been quite so offensively snobbish, and I didn’t have to try. It was automatic. The fact that Aberdeen is, quite genuinely is, the best place for [the incomprehensible but noble piece of dialectology Janette is determined to do, at least for the purposes of her research proposal] did not stop me. Of course, I have to balance the desire to Make People Stay On with my own horror of Potentially Never Leaving. Not that I don’t still love it here. Because I do. Oh, dear.
My coursework is due a week on Thursday, I start work a week on Friday. I could say ‘a week tomorrow’ for the deadline, but that would just be hyperventilation time. Am going to lunch with my uncle tomorrow, probably an unkind act since he has four children and a busy schedule. Felling him with this moments before the festive season would not be ideal. Meanwhile, I am missing social events at blinding speed, but at least no longer lying awake about them, thanks to Emma, who is an angel and has taken over my responsibilities for a week.
Since my dearth of a social life – or indeed, any life not centred on penicillin and the antics of Wilkie Collins’s later heroines – means I am spending a great deal of quality time with Firefox 3, I would be incredibly grateful if somebody could tell me how the hell to make my Del.ici.ous spawn a nice little ‘save this to del.’ button for my bookmarks bar. Safari, in all other respects one of the worst things to happen to the internet, managed this. Firefox 3 does not.
So, in conclusion –
1. What did Beth die of (of what did Beth die)?
2. What should I do with the next year of my life? and
3. Why is Firefox 3 so dreadful?
Dr Sophie Duncan is Fellow in English at Christ Church, University of Oxford. She works regularly as a historical advisor and as a dramaturg for theatre, TV, radio and film. She likes theatre, detective fiction and cocktails.