The show must go on

The monastic sojourn has ended and I’m back in London with a new appreciation of myself and the amazing group of people I’m privileged to be training with. I also have a speaking voice that’s an octave lower than usual – not thanks to over zealous singing, chanting or Bible reading, but thanks to some kind of autumnal virus.

The dome of the rather lovely Merville chapel.

This virus emerged on our first day in Merville. By Monday morning I was croaking out the words of BCP morning prayer. Normally this would have been a mild inconvenience – I’m a person who does not appreciate their ability to talk being compromised. However, as I mentioned in my pre-Merville post, I was preaching my first ever college sermon on Tuesday morning. A lack of speaking voice would be a major issue.

So, I did the sensible thing of taking to my bed for Monday afternoon; not talking too much; drinking sloe gin to ease my throat; and asking Twitter (& the St George’s faithful) to pray. [Actually, my fellow ordinands prayed lots too. I was stunned that so many of them – when they heard my voice – immediately prayed for me. I’m not sure why this surprised me.] Twitter did pray, but it also suggested a back-up plan:

If my voice completely failed me, I could always do my sermon via mime or, even better, interpretative dance. Hmmm. [As it happens, someone in my year at college is a mime artiste – I think I’ll leave miming sermons up to him…]

On Tuesday morning, I awoke early and tested my voice. There was noise, it was crackly and croaky, but it was something to work with. I got through the sermon, it received positive feedback, and with the pressure over, I took to my bed for most of the rest of the day.

As I commented to a fellow ordinand & fellow child of clergy, it was a valuable lesson in the show must go on. Sometimes, no matter how rubbish you feel, or how little voice you have left, you have to get on with what you’re called to do. Services need to be conducted, sermons have to be preached and pastoral care needs to be provided. Not that I’m suggesting that vicars never get a break, it’s just that sick days aren’t always as easy to take as they might be in an office job.

Also, sometimes you’ll discover two days before you preach that someone else had the same passage as you, and was going to use your main theme just 36 hours prior to your own sermon. By some ridiculous quirk of the worship rota, Daniel 2 was the Old Testament reading for Sunday night’s service, as well as being the designated lectionary reading for both Tuesday (verses 1 – 24) and Wednesday’s (25 – end) morning worship. That’s three sermons on Daniel interpreting Nubuchadnezzar’s dream. Needless to say, the ordinands are now very au fait with Daniel…

But in such circumstances, one cannot simply get up and say “sorry, I had a sermon when we got here on Saturday, but unfortunately Ashley made most of my points on Sunday night”. One has to instead re-write one’s sermon, trying not to think about the poor person who’s preaching 24 hours later. [That person was slightly miffed that I’d used her Brueggemann quote, but she made a good joke out of it.] Fortunately, it seems that there is a lot to be said regarding the interpretation of dreams – which makes me wonder if interpretative dance/mime would have been a good way to go had my voice escaped me entirely.

The vaulted ceiling of the chapel gives it a marvellous acoustic.
This makes singing sound wonderful, but makes coughs highly conspicuous.

Sick bed reflections

Today marked a turning point. For the first time in three weeks I woke up to an alarm, got out of bed (on three occasions in the last week there have been alarms, but simply to make multiple calls in an attempt to get a Doctor’s appointment) and went to work. Shock to the system to say the very least. I think this is the longest I’ve worn actual clothing (as opposed to PJs) since the day I travelled back from Belfast.

Over the last few weeks I’ve learned a lot. I’ve discovered that you are never too old for daily motherly calls to check on your health and that it is always reassuring to have their back-up that you shouldn’t be at work. (In our home, sick days were so rare that parental approval to stay off school really meant something.) I’ve realised that one needs a lot of patience to get anywhere with the NHS – especially during holidays – and that it’s kind of fun being the person in the Doctor’s waiting room with the awful cough that everyone wants to avoid. Most of all, I’ve come to the opinion that while a couple of sick days can be something of a novelty, several weeks of feeling extraordinarily rubbish truly suck – especially when they coincide with Christmas, New Year and the only time in the year when you get quality time with your whole family.

But enough whimpering and moping. I’m on the road to recovery and 2011 will get better, soon. In the mean time, I have a few sick day tips for you…

1. Do not underestimate the power of multiple pairs of PJs. By this I mean that it’s great to have more than one pair to wear during a day – one to sleep in and then a clean pair to change into after a shower to wear during the day (with underwear) and then change out of at bedtime. This means that you have the illusion of getting dressed and an idea of wearing actual clothes, but are still comfy enough to just crash out on the sofa or in bed. Plus, you don’t spend the day dwelling in sweaty night-time PJs – gross. It’s even better when your ‘daytime’ PJs are brand new Christmas PJs from Fat Face. Of course, this only works if you’re not in a fit state to leave the house as one doesn’t pop to the shops in one’s PJs…

2. However desperate you get, do not fall into the trap of watching Wedding House. I love a good bit of daytime TV, preferably of a house buying/DIY variety, but this show truly takes the biscuit. It’s basically a company that will arrange your entire wedding for you, down to the last detail and each show features three or four couples getting hitched. The fact that all the planning is taken out of your hands severely disturbed me, and some of the company’s idea were quite frankly bizarre. Channel 4 has been forgiven for this piece of scheduling though, being as it followed a daily dose of Glee – meaning that on Friday I saw the last episode of season 1 prior to season 2 starting tonight.

3. Delve into nostalgic DVDs. Last time I had a sick day back in the summer, I ended up ordering Party of Five (and buying Ally McBeal a couple of days later). This time, I was lucky enough to have been given hours of classic entertainment at Christmas, so was able to spend an afternoon in front of The Worst Witch (the 1980’s original film, not the TV series) and an entire day absorbed in the BBC’s Chronicles of Narnia (currently halfway through The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and loving it in all its retro glory). What you need while languishing is comfort food and comfort viewing, thus old favourites are the best.

4. Make good use of the internet. When you have a nocturnal flatmate, daytime human company can be difficult to come by, it’s therefore something of a sanity saver to be able to chat with humans across the country/world via online means. Thank goodness for Facebook, Gmail, Twitter and sympathetic friends. (The not so sympathetic friends can occasionally be amusing too.)

My final tip for you? Take your vitamins and don’t get your feet wet – getting sick really isn’t worth it.

Organisation in adversity

Last week, while wallowing, I mentioned that we’d lost our water supply. What I hadn’t fully appreciated at the time was just how disastrous and newsworthy this event was. By the end of last Tuesday, more the 40,000 Northern Irish homes were without water – some having lacked this essential commodity since before Christmas. We knew things were serious when it made the main BBC news.

In the Clutterbuck household, the former missionaries rose to the occasion. On the first morning, I was the only person (out of six) to not have had a shower before we realised there was a problem. When you’re wallowing in the flu, the last thing you want is to be left in your sweat all day (not a pretty image? I do apologise), but fortunately my mother came to my rescue with a veritable cauldron of warm water – courtesy of the college’s kitchen (which still had at least a partially full tank). She did also attempt to instruct me on how to wash with a saucepan, but I reminded her that I’m a festival regular, so know all about washing one’s body without the aid of a shower…

The next day, things were a lot more organised. A bonus of living in a college was the sheer quantity of water storage and heating devices that could be borrowed. Stepping onto the landing I discovered one of two 14 litre urns producing hot water – genius. [However, on this occasion I left my showering so late that the water had returned again, in a reversal of the previous day’s events, I was the only family member to get a shower.]

But, my favourite piece of water conservation/organisation was this discovery in the guest bathroom:

The label reads ‘water for teeth’ in case it’s not obvious

Those labels are all over my parents’ kitchen – cake tins, the cupboard full of tea, home-made chutneys – so of course, it would be the obvious way to denote which water ought to be used for which purpose.

In the kitchen was a variety of bottled water, only a small amount of which was still (thanks to the national shortage which led to Scotland promising NI 160,000 litres of the stuff – but this was before it arrived) but what still there we had was earmarked for me and the dog. I like where I sit in the family hierarchy when I’m ill.

The lack of water was inconvenient, but not a total nightmare. Generally, it came back on mid-morning, no thanks to the next to useless NI Water website that never said when the water was going to be on or off. By New Year’s Eve it was back permanently. I have an awful lot of sympathy for those that were totally without water for days and days, and even more for those who have no regular water supply at all.

Christmas disaster

Forgive me, this is a wallowing post.

Christmas has been something of a disaster. Yes, I got to Belfast ok, so did Australian god-sister (though she had 50 hour journey from Milan to Belfast) and the sibling & sibling-in-law arrived safely on Boxing Day. Yes, presents were more than satisfactory (praise God for the Amazon universal wishlist), and there was plenty of yummy food on offer. However…

I spent much of Christmas day morning huddled under a duvet and managed to eat all of two mouthfuls of Christmas dinner. I stayed totally sober all day, while other family members indulged in cava, some nice red, a dessert wine – torture. Boxing Day didn’t exist, I slept my way through it, waking only to cough dramatically. I may have thought the lurgy was dissipating when I arrived on Thursday – I was most definitely wrong.

It is deeply unfair that during this holiday of food consumption, I have consumed next to nothing. Across the room from me right at this moment is a large tin of Roses, am I tempted? Not in the slightest. Bleugh. No turkey, bread sauce, stuffing, little sausages; no post-Boxing Day fry-up; no home-made mince pies or picnic slice (a family favourite that’s only baked once a year) – it’s all been deeply traumatic.

However, as a couple of friends have been quick to point out, there is a positive to this misery. I’m probably going to be amongst a very small minority of people who lost weight over the holidays and therefore won’t be making guilt-ridden trips to the gym in the new year. Every cloud…

Another annoying aspect of this malaise is that I’ve not had chance to make the Christmas project I’d come up with…hopefully I’ll get on to it before I leave on Thursday.

Oh, and to top it all, we lost our water supply this morning – along with the rest of South Belfast. There’s next to no bottled water available in the shops (there was already a shortage pre-Christmas because deliveries weren’t getting through from Scotland) and we now have a complicated system of which toilets can be used when. Nice.


*cough cough*

I’m sick. Sadly not sick enough to justify taking time off work, but sick enough that last night I got into bed as soon as I got home (and ate chips & beans for dinner – pathetic). It hurts to cough, partly because I seem to be being attacked by the hideous mucous gremlin seen in the Benylin ad and partly because of an intense pilates session on Monday. I spent most of yesterday trying to decide if I was about to die of horrendous flu because my body ached so much, or if it was simply the after-effects of over-exertion.

As a result, my blogging skill is severely impaired. I have an incredibly intelligent post brewing, but I’m not sure when I’ll have the brain power to get it into words. Shame, I know you’ll be bitterly disappointed…

All I really want to do is huddle under my duvet and watch mindless TV (I tried watching Mrs Mandela on the iPlayer earlier, but it was a little too demanding, so I switched back to Glee instead). But I’m clearly not that ill – I did manage a 30min bike ride at the gym earlier.

For now I will indulge in the things that make me feel a little bit more human and try not to be offended that the rest of the world is treating me like a social pariah, simply because I have the tenacity to cough in public. Paranoid fools.

With that, do excuse me, I need to sneeze and cough – again.

*cough cough*