Dinner over (roast chicken, roast potatoes, purple broccoli spears from OldEngland & NewEngland’s garden; Elisabeth‘s delicious rhubarb crumble, dark and sweet and unctuous; a good bottle of Montagny; the most recent Stereolab album), we settle down in front of the second episode of the BBC’s new Trollope adaptation, He Knew He Was Right – in which Anna Massey’s magnificent “maiden aunt” character truly comes into her own. You can’t beat a decently constructed bonnet or two on a Sunday night – to say nothing of the chignons, which were incomparable.
Never mind the pollen count; this “hay fever” is starting to feel more like a full-on viral infection. An early, but restless night follows: sleep is fitful, dreams are of the relentlessly frustrating kind (I have a particularly tough time trying to find my seat at a Madonna concert), and my body feels about twice its normal weight. By the time the alarm goes off at 7:30, I feel like an inert lump of aching phlegm. Despite the urgency of the hour, it still takes me ten minutes to get out of bed.
Indeed, we are both slow this morning, not managing to get away until 8:45 (our cut-off time for leaving the cottage is usually 8:30). I still feel dreadful. During the course of the drive back to Nottingham, I cancel today’s dental appointment, and call in sick to work. Today wasn’t going to be especially busy, anyway.
Back in Nottingham, K goes upstairs to work while I flop on the living room sofa with the newspaper and a bunch of music DVDs. The Cesaria Evora concert from April 2001 turns out to be the best choice, its easy, rolling bonhomie somehow chiming in well with my physical and mental fogginess, and lifting my spirits accordingly. A bunch of us will be going to see her in Leicester next month; she may not be the most obviously charismatic of performers, but her band sound fantastic and my anticipation steps up a notch.
K’s business partner S turns up mid-morning; they stay upstairs talking until around 13:30, after which K nips out for sandwiches. We have lunch while watching a recent BBC4 documentary about the competition to fill the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. Although the six shortlisted artworks are uniformly dismal, the show’s sharp, irreverent presenter is consistently entertaining, with a perceptive, direct manner, bordering on faux-naivete, which frequently wrong-foots his more smug, self-important interviewees. It also acts as a pleasing counterfoil to the irritatingly uniform (indeed, newly conventional) faux-naivete of many of the shortlisted artists; how bored I have become of their Being There style of monosyllabic vapidity.
As the afternoon wears on, malaise sets in; I’m tired of music, tired of reading, tired of telly, and start flicking disconsolately through the channels. A variant on Changing Rooms entitled Sixty Minute Makeover amuses for a while; at least it makes no mental demands, and the sight of other people stressing up under ludicrous deadlines is oddly relaxing, even if it has all been staged for the cameras. Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby fail to deliver – some “screwball” comedies date better than others – and before too long I have bottomed out, surfing backwards and forwards through the music channels. The new Faithless single (Mass Destruction) is a trite disappointment, which tries too hard to be topical and merely ends up spouting easy platitudes; to think that six years ago, they were my favourite band. The awfulness of the current Number One, Eamon’s F**k It (I Don’t Want You Back) is surpassed only by the “answer record”, Frankee’s F.U.R.B. – F U Right Back. The aural equivalent of Trisha, marketed mainly at sniggering pubescents (“tee-hee, they said f**k“), these two records threaten to bring out the latent Daily Mail reader in me (has popular culture come to this?).
I reach for the Off button, heave myself off the sofa, and shuffle off to prune the geraniums in the conservatory before my mother gets here. A highly organised woman with an efficiently well-regulated lifestyle, my mother’s exacting standards can sometimes feel a little intimidating, her visits requiring all the preparation of a tour of inspection by a member of the royal family. Like the royals, she would never actually be so rude as to actually pass comment on our domestic shortcomings; her manners are never anything less than impeccable. However, the slight flicker in the corner of her eyes, and the slight downward twitching of her mouth, would tell us all we needed to know. To give us only a day’s notice of her arrival is most unlike her. This evening, she is simply going to have to take us as she finds us.
Of course, I know full well that this is a form of cosmic payback for the perfect weekend which has just passed. As the heavens open outside, I heave a heavy sigh and soothe myself with happy images of budding tulips in the PDMG. Be brave, my little angels! We’ll be back amongst you tomorrow evening!