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Chapter 5: culture: Leisure

The First Day of Feeling Well Again

It wasn’t, hopefully, too serious, just enough to keep you in bed, and feeling a bit miserable, for three or four days:  you got a flu virus, you had an unusually heavy cold or a bout of tonsillitis.

Being unwell – obviously – is far from desirable. But all the same it had certain compensations. You had a bowl of lentil soup – hot and bland, you sensed its worthy goodness seeping into you: calming and nutritious. Someone brought you a cup of weak tea and this little act of kindness really touched you. A crunchy, bland slice of dry toast – which normally you’d never consider eating – was very appealing.

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While you were feeling poorly, certain themes of your life took a back seat. It didn’t seem to matter so much what was happening at work. You didn’t have the energy to get roused by the little things that so often irritate you. You took a break from scanning the news. You didn’t feel obliged to respond to texts and emails. Your sexual appetites were in recession and stopped occupying your mind. You felt oddly calm. And that tranquility lingers as you start to feel better.  

You slept well last night. Your body is newly functional. Things you’d never normally even notice are sources of positive pleasure. Being able to breath easily is interesting: how nice to feel the air drawing through the paranasal sinuses; it’s lovely to be able to swallow without wincing. You can focus on the the back of your head – there’s not a trace of the throb that’s been your companions for the last 48 hours. Your eyes feel energetic. You brain is coming alive. Feeling hungry is really very nice. The mere act of standing up (without feeling dizzy or weak) is a pleasure in itself. It’s rather fascinating to put on proper clothes and going outside seems, briefly, like a treat.

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As we reemerge into the world, we are remaking acquaintance with things that had been taken for granted but now seem fascinating. You haven’t used a house key for a few days and you see it anew as a beautifully intricate machine that by a process you almost (but don’t quite) understand can manoeuvre the small a tongue of steel that is the only real barrier between your private domestic civilisation and the barbarian world into its snug little slot. You turn the key this way and that in the lock for the sheer pleasure of hearing the decisive click of closure alternate with the flat thud of release. A shoelace seems astonishing: how odd that we tie ourselves into our shoes with little bits of string and that our culture has very strict ideas about what the knot should be like – theoretically you could knot the ends together fifty times into a large ball and it’s curiously tempting to give it a go. One is returned to the condition of a child who has just mastered the art of doing up a zip and for whom zips are still (what they always really are) wondrous little pieces of portable engineering, generously sewn into onto one’s clothes for entertainment value.

 

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We’re not literally required to be ill to have these pleasures. Potentially we could discover them by the pure exercise of imagination – but mostly we have to wait for the special prompt of a few days lying in bed.

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