Saturday, 2 January 2010

Urchins on the Stairs

"The child lying dead in the little sleeping room, which is behind the open screen. It is winter-time, so there are no flowers; but upon her breast and pillow, and about her bed, there may be strips of holly and berries, and such free green things. Window overgrown with ivy. The little boy who had that talk with her about angels may be by the bedside, if you like it so; but I think it will be quieter and more peaceful if she is alone. I want it to express the most beautiful repose and tranquillity, and to have something of a happy look, if death can...I am breaking my heart over this story, and cannot bear to finish it."
Charles Dickens (Instructions to illustrator George Cattermole for the Death-Bed of Little Nell)

every autumn for at least ten years now; late in 2008 I had a jab for pneumonia, supposed to protect me for ten years (I figure the year it wears off I'll most likely die of a severe lung infection, unless someone invents a new vaccine that will carry me into extreme old age).

Because I've had those flu jabs (not for the so-called Swine Flu though, which is by invitation only so far), and because I have a runny red nose, streaming eyes, a headache and tinnitus, a cough, a good deal of wheezing, and I've been unable to breathe easily for days (and, worse, nights) I'm guessing it's not the flu, but a truly stinking cold. My appetite is fine. My mother used to chirp: "Feed a cold! Starve a fever!" I'm not consciously stuffing myself full of healthy food, but I am dining very well and enjoying it. Sure things taste a bit odd, but not so awful as to be inedible. I think that if I were going against the rules and feeding a fever, I'd know about it.

Hot baths, of course, with various fragrant oils which I cannot appreciate being unable to breathe deeply. I'm kind of panting, which has Cailean puzzled. The sneezes really have the poor dog anxious for my wellbeing. Aleks was the same way: He knew when I wasn't up to scratch. Cailean has been sitting quietly at my feet, or lying next to me on the sofa. No leaping about. I tried bunging some sort of ointment that is the Boots equivalent of Vicks VapoRub in my nostrils last night, and smeared some on my chest. I noticed no relief. (I couldn't get to sleep till four this morning when I must have passed out from exhaustion after several nights without rest.)

I did go up to Alnwick on the morning of New Year's Eve, got caught in a snowstorm. It has snowed regularly ever since. We had a white Christmas and Boxing Day (my last was in 1994 in the Rocky Mountains) and I gather the temperature in rural Northumberland hasn't been in positive territory for a few weeks. I don't think snow and cold weather gives one a cold (my mother would have chirped that it did), but I've been freezing and thawing so often lately that I imagine it cannot be the best way to live.

I've hunkered down at home with the television. I've pretty much ignored my computer. I'm finally making headway with stacks of DVDs that I've bought over the past four years and haven't seen. I'm into box-sets: "Absolutely Fabulous"; "Jonathan Creek Mysteries"; "The Mighty Boosh"; "Two Fat Ladies"; etc. And I've bought a fair number of modern classic films: "2001: A Space Odyssey"; "Women in Love"; "The Full Monty"; "Close Encounters"; "Strictly Ballroom"; etc.

I've also watched a number of films on the telly. I finally saw "Citizen Kane", and I rather enjoyed it. The British television stations have taken to airing tired old American films that, I suppose, are no longer under copyright. Those and Disney-shit. So, I've passed on "Journey to the Center of the Earth" (Pat Boone's version, and the one starring Treat Williams). I have not watched "The Guns of Navarone" either, or "The Italian Job", which have British actors in them. Not one "Carry on …" film, I had enough of Barbara Windsor's tired old tits decades ago.

I did decide to watch a recent version of Dickens' "The Old Curiosity Shop" for no other reason than I'd never seen it, or read it, but that I knew Oscar Wilde had said of it: "One would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of Little Nell." "Shop" aired on or near Christmas Day, and I couldn't see anything Christmassy in it. Derek Jacobi plays Nell's simply awful grandfather who gambles away every last penny the family has, and even gambles away Nell's virtue. Almost. Fortunately, Nell, by then a waif begging on the street, collapses in the mud and muck. Is Dickens suggesting it is better to collapse and die (yes, Nell pops her clogs) than to struggle towards the sun? Dickens somehow makes death attractive, something the Victorians would really appreciate.

Was Dickens religious? Did he believe that what we do here, and deal with in this lifetime, is rewarded in the afterlife? He certainly created some monsters. Nell's grandfather has no redeeming features; one senses he'll be playing cards before the girl's corpse is cold. Seems to me the grandfather should be bumped off. My mother would chirp: "The good die young." So Little Nell has the silliest deathbed scene (adding insult to injury, surely).

Earlier in the film there's a scene that is classic Dickens. In the entrance hall of a lodging house one sees a small, scruffy boy - he might be twelve at the most - on the stairs, looking through the balusters at the filthy goings-on below. There's always an urchin on the stairs in Dickens. And on the landing, at the top, there's a young servant girl looking through a keyhole with hopes of improving her station in life. Always in Dickens, the lower orders at the keyholes.

Well, Little Nell, a little holly on your bed and the angels there to collect you, you are a laughingstock.

Be a fine thing if this cold does me in. I should get some holly from the hedgerows. Cailean can play the urchin.

Happy New Year!


Ruth L.~ said...

Hope ypu're feeling better, Ross. Happy New Year... sneeze into you elbow, they say. The modern way. Now we can shake hands, but don't hug me with your snotty sleeves.


Ruth L.~ said...

Grrr... Nasty typos. Blame the Merlot.