After the North Wall

Friday 6th July 2012

HEAP of body parts strewn across scattered pillows; the sweat, cough and dribble of an old alky; bin full of soggy tissues; herbal teabags in the sink; am expectorant the worst; must be at least influenza, if not pneumonia.

The North Wall Arts Centre is a terrific venue – they offer coffee the moment we get there – and Question of Words a fabulous event.

Everyone arrives in good time; my younger daughter, standing in as co-host, woos another Oxford audience; a hundred scholars perform with panache and invention, taking home certificates and numerous book prizes; four years and four different schools have now won the trophy; finishes on time and a lift to the station, avoiding the downpour.

We’re home by six. She has a degree to celebrate and goes out with friends. I shuffle off to bed, completely exhausted. The symptoms strike within hours.

The same thing happened when I was a teacher. You somehow struggle up the north face of the academic year, then collapse. Anyone moaning about the profession’s holidays has obviously not spent a few months in a classroom.

This being my first free weekend since the clocks went back in March, I was looking forward to catching up with the cricket, Wimbledon, Le Tour de France.

The body decides otherwise, however, having, as it were, waited its turn before demanding attention.

“No sympathy,” it tells me. “Too many snatched meals, cigarettes, late-night emails and early morning train journeys. Get under that duvet and shut up.”

And so the toil of fifteen relentless weeks takes its toll. I splutter only meek resistance, sneeze several times, sip honey and lemon, sleep fitfully, and awake in the small hours, feeling even worse.

I get out of bed, bury a thump of head beneath a towel, and inhale pine oil vapours to counter the congestion charge. Blurrgh. I do not like being ill.

But the work is done: the wall has been climbed. And it’s not as if I’m missing a glorious summer. Better to have a cold now. Perhaps August will be warm and sunny…







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