In which I recuperate – move out- and paint a shed
“When you had braces, did you ever worry that if you went out in a thunderstorm and smiled, lightening would hit your face?”
“Oh yeah, kept me awake every night for a year. ”
Maria and I were stretched out on the lawn covered in half an inch of sun cream, AS Level and uni exams behind us and a rare British blue sky above us. Maria ran her tongue over her new set of braces (top and bottom, aqua blue bands) and sighed.
“I know the dentist said they’d be on for at least a year, but I’m gunning for 10 months, no nine, no wait – eight. They wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t keep falling asleep on my face every night.”
There was a rustle of wings. The pigeons who frequented our garden every summer were back. One of them bowed, fanning its tail and cooing. Its fellow threw it a look of deep disgust, stretched its wings and flapped slowly away. I grinned and turned back my Wodehouse novel.
My second year of university was over and in all honesty, it had not been the best. I had spent the last four months enduring varying degrees of illness and was only just beginning to feel myself again. This was largely due to Dad feeding me enough pasta to make an Italian weep and the sudden appearance of the English sun, which was doing wonders for my vitamin D deficiency.
I had arrived home four months before, halfway through the semester, with a hurriedly packed suitcase and spent the following two weeks barely able to leave my bed.
“Well, on paper you’re perfectly healthy,” my doctor said on my fourth trip to the doctors’ surgery, the latter of which I had had to take a five minute break just from getting out of the car.
“I think you’re just really run down but I’ll send you for some more tests anyway.”
The tests results came back as normal but two months on, I was still exhausted, dizzy and weak.
“It’s probably a virus,” my doctor said. “We’ll do a few more tests and see what comes up”
Nothing came up, so I spent a day in hospital having ECGs, chest x-rays and bloods tests. The nurse who saw to me that day was hilarious. “I can tell you do a lot of exercise,” he said, checking my veins. “Young people are usually the worst for bad veins. No scratch that, the worst are young and fat people. And they usually smell too.”
My lecturers had been beyond wonderful and sympathetic. “As long as it’s not your inquest we end up going to,” Jonathan said, when I voiced my worries about not getting all my court cases in on time. “Just go home and get better please.”
I managed to finish all my coursework and exams, with much love and support from my course mates, especially Emily who, when I was feeling a bit down, would send me a gif of Benedict Cumberbatch ripping off his scarf to cheer me up. It had the desired effect.
I had also, joyously, been made Head of News at my uni radio station and was beyond desperate and excited to start making changes to the news team. Being currently housebound however, this was a bit of a problem. But, our assistant head of news Luke held the fort during takeover and was generally a bit of a hero. There’s a special place in radio heaven just for Luke.
I was eager to leave the confines of my damp and ailing uni house too. The mouse situation was becoming unbearable, as was the unnerving habit of my bedroom ceiling to slowly creak as cracks snaked their way along the plaster.
Taking the rodent problem into my own hands, I had spent an uncomfortable half hour in the local hardware store trying to buy mouse traps.
“We stock mostly humane traps,” the shopkeeper said pleasantly. “You see here with the little trap door-” she handed me a box. “Then you can just release the mouse at the park once it’s trapped inside. Or these, which are similar but you put pellets down as well…”
“Actually, I was looking for spring traps,” I said.
There was a pause.
“I see,” said the shopkeeper. “You mean-” she brought her hands together with a sharp snap.
A couple browsing the watering cans peered curiously over the display.
“Yes,” I said apologetically. “I’ve tried all the humane traps for at least six months now and none of it’s-”
“No, no that’s fine.” She inhaled sharply. “I’ll fetch you some. We keep them in the back.”
I hadn’t been this judged since I made the profoundly un-English mistake of telling someone they were sat in my reserved seat on the train.
So what with that and the fact that my neighbours, the actually-not-that-ugly naked couple, having moved out, and heavy-metal-guitarist-with-no-sense-of-consideration having moved in, I was pretty eager to leave.
Friends really does prepare you for real life
James came to pick me up. I thought I’d done a pretty good job of packing. I’d managed to fit all my clothes, bar a few jumpers, into one suitcase and other than the two massive bags of books (I’d tried and spectacularly failed to to part with any), a lamp, yoga mat, a pink chair and bedding, it wasn’t too bad. Plus, all my tiny boxes had fitted conveniently into my other medium sized boxes.
James was not quite as convinced. “Um,” he said, on entering the living room and seeing all my belongings. “Shall we make it two trips?”
Luckily, with two cardboard boxes on my lap, yoga mat at my feet and the pink chair poking James in the neck every time he braked, we managed to squeeze it all in. I was staying with Alison and the boys until we could get the keys to our new house, her current house being five minutes walk from the new one.
I’d stayed at Alison’s lots of times, but nothing can quite prepare you for the amount of protein powder living with six boys entails. Nor the amount of questionable meat in the freezer. But it was fun all the same.
“What is this?” Adam asked.
James, David and I were watching Edward Scissorhands in the living room.
I told him.
“Never watched it,” Adam said, sitting down.
“What, you’ve never watched Edward Scissorhands?” I said, appalled.
“Get out,” said James.
“Is this one of those freaky films?” Adam asked. “You know, where weird crap happens?”
“It’s a Burton film,” said James, which was the only answer necessary.
We watched Johnny Depp give a series of dogs makeovers.
“Who’s that girl?” Adam asked.
“Winona Ryder,” I said.
“Yeah, that means nothing to me.”
“Are you serious?”
“Actually, I’ve never heard of her either,” James confessed.
The Kermode in me was disappointed in all of them, although David, who was munching his way through a packet ofTwiglets and saying nothing, was spared judgment.
I went to Becca’s the next day for cake and company. Becca was a Sheffield hero since she’d gotten her bicycle wheel caught in the tramlines and fallen off on the way to her exams. She’d broken her hand but was only twenty minutes late and still managed to write three essays.
In a fit of joie de vivre, her friend Jo had sewn googly eyes to her bandaged cast and Becca was getting on with everything like a trooper. She had made sponge cakes baked in jam jars and was finishing them with strawberries, cream and mint when I arrived.
I’d brought a puzzle which Emilie had left in the attic and we sat listening to Stephen Fry and sifting through the pieces until Becca’s friends arrived for a barbecue. They looked a little shocked to see two twenty-something girls puzzling at five o’clock on a Saturday.
“This is what happens when you get to second year guys,” I said wryly. “No more partying and having fun – it’s all downhill from now on.”
Little did they know I had just bought tickets to see Stephen Fry at City Hall in September. It’s going to be wild.
Back home, I decided I was feeling well enough to start a project and re-painting the garden shed seemed just about do-able.
I wrapped a scarf around my head, which Dad said made me look like a “war girl in a field”, lay down dust sheets and got to work.
By lunchtime, the soles of my feet were a pleasant seawood green, but the novelty was beginning to wear off slightly. My right arm was aching and I kept sitting on the paint lid.
Mouse was sulking in his hutch because I’d destroyed his favourite guinea pig lair under the fig tree. I’d given him a stick of cucumber as compensation but he wasn’t buying it.
By the time Mum got home, I’d managed two coats of paint on every side and was feeling decidedly pleased with myself.
“It looks good,” Mum said when she came to inspect it. I shuffled a couple of plant pots onto the worst splashed bit of paving with my foot and beamed.
She scrutinised me closely. “You do seem a lot better.”
“I’m feeling a lot better,” I said.
And I was. It had been a pretty tricky year but I had so much to look forward to – Ruth’s wedding next week, work experience at BBC Countryfile magazine, getting stuck into student radio and a whole summer stretching ahead. And as Mum pointed out, I’m now an absolute expert at dealing with rodent infestations.
I’m just learning to dance in the rain.