And here we are in the depths of winter - and the coldest snap for fourteen years - and immersing ourselves in stews and soups; and toasted sandwiches the size of doorstops, with cheese melting out onto the plate; and porridge with honey in the morning and raisin toast with honey at night; and red wine and black beer and mashed potato and well-roasted pumpkin and caramelised onions cooked in ghee piled up on mountains of rice and red lentil cooked with cardamom and nutmeg and cinnamon and black pepper.
All well and good. But not if you can't taste it. I had a slight winter chill last week and thought nothing of it. On Saturday morning I got out and set myself the task of removing a section of invading agapanthus. I took a splitter out of the shed. It was like digging up a rainforest. The further you go in, the more there is. I turned the radio on and listened to Off the Record and that kept me going. They played more of The Dingoes' new release and a bunch of other great music including an old live track from Ummagumma and something from Levon Helm sounding like Billy Thorpe at Sunbury. I dug and cut and threw roots and leaves across the yard. The tubers were four feet high, entwined over each other. They couldn't grow out, so they had grown up. I kept finding lost treasures such as tennis balls from the days when they were white. Remember when tennis balls were white? Of course you don't.
It was a sunny day, but cool, and I was wet; and I stayed wet from sweat while I pottered around and carried armfuls of chopped agapanthus and stacked them and threw the splitter down and said the hell with it. Then I put the tools away and shut some gates and changed my shoes, and then I realised I was cold. Next day I was still cold. Then I started shaking.
The doctor checked my ears and told me I didn't have flu. So far, so good. Then he got out the stethoscope. 'What have got in there?' he asked, rhetorically. Or ironically. Or mischievously. You can never tell with doctors. Each of my lungs felt like one of those paper bags of concrete you used to see at building sites along with hand mixing machines and Italian migrants with knotted handkerchiefs on their head and a Rothmans in their mouth.
The doctor told me to go home, and take penicillin, and go to bed. The downside had an upside. I get to hibernate for a few days, and see the house the way you never see it at this time of year. The sun, low in the northern sky, comes right into the room and makes pools of warmth on the walls, and then on the floor, and then across the bed. After that it jumps out the other side and crawls up the other wall.
So down comes the curtain for a week or two. When it rises again, there might be another player on the stage.