I'm in the kind of low mood which makes reckless displacement activity seem perfectly reasonable - getting a drastic new hairdo, running off with an unsuitable man or boarding a plane to Somewhere Else. In the far distant past I once managed all three at once.
A dense grey mist presses itself against the windows, attempting to insinuate itself into my little flat. The washing I hung out days ago is still on the line drooping and disconsolate. What passes for a lawn is almost as high as an elephant’s eye. It’s certainly higher than a Fox Terrier’s eye.
The dog, who hates wet weather as much as I do, has made just one expedition outside, driven by an irresistibly full bladder. The long grass closed over his head immediately and the only evidence of his passage across the yard was the twitching of green stems in his wake.
I am busily not working on the folders of writing projects jammed into cane baskets under the dining table. Every surface and some of the floor is covered with piles of paper and stacks of abandoned or partly-read books. And magazines. I'm months behind with the New Yorkers, which I love, and I'm boycotting the Vanity Fairs. I'm not in the mood to read about the lavish homes of the rich and famous. One article – about a “Louis XIV fairy tale” château is particularly irksome. It has an “enormous horseshoe drive” embracing “a vast green field dotted with thousands of yellow buttercups”. My own small piece of real-estate is accessed via a puddled and pot-holed right-of-way. But I want fairy tale. I want symmetry. I really want buttercups.
A walk with the dog would do me good but it’s raining and the thought of coming home with a muddy, smelly dog and more wet clothes to wash and get dry is unbearable.
In short, I've let myself slip into the kind of low mood which makes reckless displacement activity seem perfectly reasonable: getting a drastic new hairdo, running off with an unsuitable man or boarding a plane to Somewhere Else. In the far distant past I once managed all three at once.
Failing immediate access to a private jet, a hairdresser, and - thank God - an unsuitable suitor, I’ve decided to colour my hair. My head is now daubed with henna and bandaged in Glad Wrap which means I have effectively trapped myself at home(and in my pyjamas) because the cow-pat-on-the-head must not be disturbed for at least three hours. That’s quite a lot of down-time to feel down in.
According to my horoscope “The sun in Cancer at this time of year makes you hugely creative. So do something out of the ordinary over the next 48 hours, something that cannot fail to get you noticed. It won’t be long before your name is up in lights.” Well obviously I could get myself noticed by splashing in the puddles on the driveway while wearing my PJs and my Glad Wrap turban, but I have my pride.
So it’s time to resort to the tried and true antidote to Cabin Fever and Seasonal Affective Disorder: books. Reading has been escape, solace and refuge for me as long as I can remember.
Paul and I part company in Peshawar where I hitch a ride on one of Edward St Aubyn’s autobiographical Patrick Melrose novels. The books, harrowing and hilarious, recount the horrors of St Aubyn’s upper crust childhood and his ensuing drug addiction. In it I come across a tantalising excerpt from Middlemarch and I abandon Patrick Melrose mid-sentence (grateful that my childhood miseries are in a much more minor key) to explore the full passage.
“It is an uneasy lot at best ” says George Eliot, “to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self - never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold, never to have our consciousness rapturously transformed into the vividness of a thought, the ardour of a passion, the energy of an action"
And that is the miracle of books. The words of an Englishwoman writing in the nineteenth century, evoked by an Englishman writing in the twenty-first century, expresses exactly the dilemma of a woman sitting reading in a small cluttered flat, on a rainy day, in a city in New Zealand, over 200 years later.