It’s a curious thing but now I can’t smell anything or hear properly, my appetite for reading books that are in any way difficult or challenging has diminished completely.
For anyone who doesn’t actually hang on my every word (yes, I know), a reminder of something I wrote a week ago:
“The trouble? Well, annoying rather than ‘anything for you to worry about’. A stubborn chest infection, moving through to a rather vicious throat infection, followed by clogging sinus congestion and now, joy of joys, a middle ear infection which even my doctor winced and called ‘Nasty!’ when she looked down my ear and diagnosed it. All the same infection? How would I know? All I do know is, despite a few runs and some work, I’ve been feeling well under the weather, fairly depressed and recently and increasingly, barely able to hear. My left ear, the infected one, is playing me only the tinnitus symphony of my rushing pulse. And the other one, still sinus impaired, is hardly the finely tuned hi-fi instrument I usually so delight in.”
Since then the good news is that the tinnitus has gone and I think the ear infection’s gone too. But the hearing is still severely impaired and the sinuses severely bunged. Though I can tell from my tongue whether food is sweet or salty or spicy, that’s it. I can’t taste at all beyond that.
And the effects of all this? Well, annoying of course and a bit worrying too. Though I’ve no reason to suspect this state is permanent I do of course suspect that it’s permanent.
So I walk along the street aware of only vague background noises going on. Missing the snatches of overheard conversation that usually so delight me. You know when you pass a couple of people and one says to the other, something like ‘The main problem was the eggs’ and I’d walk on imagining entire reproductive or nutritional stories? Well that’s gone.
I’m very, very careful crossing roads. Depending entirely on my eyesight, particularly on the left side, the deaf one. Driving is difficult too, even on suburban roads. My right side sounds like a heavy construction site compared to the drowsy country lane going on over on the left. So I’m avoiding it.
As for listening to music? My days are spent mostly in silence, not even trying to listen to things. But in the evenings my great joy in this past year has been to put an LP on the turntable and get lost in the beauty of what I hear. Now I might as well be listening to the tinny sounds of the little transistor radio we have in the bathroom. Listening to Peggy Lee for example.
In the post a week ago when I first wrote about all this I mentioned getting an LP by Peggy Lee. It’s a 1950s mono edition of her Nelson Riddle and Frank Sinatra album. And I know it’s a beautiful thing because I’ve heard it before. But not in the last week I haven’t. Put the stylus down on the record at the moment and it sounds like Peggy’s singing somewhere down the hall while standing in an echo chamber. Not good.
And food? It’s not that I can’t be bothered. In search of the great breakthrough taste moment – and to generally improve my health – much garlic has been crushed, chillies added and spinach slaughtered. To no noticeable avail. I might as well be surviving on toasted Wonderloaf never mind the wondrous Baltic Bakehouse loaves I have here.
So I hope and hope and hope it’s all temporary and a matter of time. And though I’ve been able to do some work through all this, much of my time has been spent, like any sick person, losing myself in books.
But not the usual sort. A dense and complex historical situation? Usually love it. Virtually unreadable Booker nominee? Pass it over here. Stream of consciousness rant about growing up in a dysfunctional Irish family (yes, I do mean ‘A girl is a half formed thing’)? I’ll read it in one enthralled sitting.
Not now I won’t. At the moment I’ve got Siri Hustvedt’s new one, ‘The Blazing World’ waiting to be read. Yes ‘waiting’. Because, like all of her stuff I know it’s going to be multi-faceted, thought-provoking and philosophically challenging. And I’m not up for that just at the moment. It’s like if I can’t taste and I can’t smell and I can’t hear, then I can’t think. Not yet anyway.
No doubt if this were to turn out to be a permanent state then I’d get used to it, plenty of people do. But in the immediate shock of sensory deprivation I’m not used to it yet.
So what am I reading? Simple stories well told. Murder mysteries, particularly Ruth Rendell. Very good stuff, beautifully done, the social history of the last 50 years. Still you know pretty much where you are. Surprises there may be, but someone dies, someone tries to hide it and someone else tries to find out.
Another good one was J.K. Rowling’s ‘not Harry Potter’ book ‘The Casual Vacancy’. Quality story telling, page turningly good and not at all ‘difficult’. Perfect for me at the moment.
So there we are, a report from the reading frontier of the sensorily deprived. The blog’s called ‘a sense of place’ after all, so fair enough its readers should know not all of its writers senses are working at the moment, and the curious effect this has had, particularly on what I can and cannot read.
Coming some time soon then, I can only hope, an appreciation of the works of Siri Hustvedt and Peggy Lee!
All books, of course, from a local Public Library – while we still have them.
Oh yes, and deliberately, no photographs on this one. My would be ‘arty’ attempt to illustrate the current sensory deprivation round here.