Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Battling with Stupidity

Last week, I was told by a doctor that I was suffering from “non-specific post-viral fatigue”. As well as utter exhaustion, the main symptom has been one of feeling a bit stupid, like a hangover when you’ve not been drinking. I have to confess that none of friends have noticed any difference.

Feeling hungover is not necessarily such a problem. Sure, it makes writing a bit slower, but I can generally function. At the weekend though, I am due to appear at Cowbridge Book Festival to talk about The Mango Orchard. If I am to avoid the audience slow-hand clapping like the one Tony Blair suffered from at the hands of the WI, I have to have my wits about me.

I go to collect my train tickets from Paddington station. I pocket the tickets and go to buy some lunch. With one eye on the clock, I do a quick circuit of M&S and then shuffle slowly forward, mind in neutral, in the long queue waiting to pay. The lady at the checkout has a cheery round face and sing-song accent. She tells me how much I owe. I look in my wallet. My credit card has gone. I must have left it in the ticket machine.

After trying and failing to find the number of my credit card company – the number is, of course, written on the back of the card – I go into the ticket office to see if it has been handed in. Amazingly, it has. (Bless you, whoever you were.)

I now have my credit card, but I still haven’t had my lunch. Feeling exhausted, a little stupid and hungry, is not a good combination. I have less than ten minutes to find something to eat and get on the train.

I again rush around the aisles of M&S and then stand in the long, slow-moving queue. Again, I am served by the woman with a sing-song voice. She doesn’t seem to remember me, despite the fact that the last time she saw me, ten minutes before, I had cursed loudly, suddenly dropped my shopping basket and run out of the store.

I find my train seat and sit down. I get out my paper, open my lunch, and spill it all over my one clean pair of trousers.

At Cardiff station, I wander down the platform, conscious of the dark stain in my crotch, and am greeted by my hosts, the local writer, John Williams, and his wife Charlotte, also an acclaimed novelist. They live in a lovely, book-filled house over-looking a park. We sit in their conservatory as the sunlight fades and I feel myself relax. There’s something about being out of London that enables me to switch off more than I ever can in the capital.
Signing a book for my beloved Godmother, who came to the talk
I sleep soundly, but wake early as I am to be collected and taken to the festival at 9.30. I’m still feeling a bit stupid, but there’s nothing like a live audience to wake you up. I had worried I might forget my own name, but the talk goes well and the questions really make me think. As I write this, I am desperately trying to remember what their brilliant questions were… but I’m afraid I’m feeling a bit stupid again…