WE are having a party to mark our youngest one’s departure to Australia for a year. The first guests will be here soon. The leaving girl is busy in the kitchen with her mother. I am sitting on the sofa with my eyes shut.
Normally I would be working out when the host can have that first glass of wine – is midday okay by you? – and going on a peanut hunt or sampling the food before being caught crumby-lipped. Instead, I am trying not to move. And trying not to cough.
Before anyone calls this man flu, my mother-in-law had it first, although in fairness she didn’t pass the dreadful lurgy on, as she was too ill to attend last Sunday’s leaving lunch (our girl is having more farewells than Frank Sinatra).
And if this is man flu, I am not man enough for it. After two days of being a nuisance at one of my jobs with my wheezing and spluttering, and three nights of almost no sleep thanks to the coughing, I am whacked out.
The guests arrive and I make feeble small-talk from the corner of the sofa, propped up by the arm. Later, I stand and do a mingle shuffle. I drink a glass of wine and don’t enjoy it (something must be wrong); and I eat food that tastes of nothing much.
The house fills up and I retreat to another sofa, the saggy old blue one that has been newly confined to the conservatory. I doze off again for a while as the party continues around me.
Normally I am good at the circulating, stopping to chat and top up glasses. After I wake up, I remember my duty and do the mingle-shuffle again. “Hello, Julian – I wondered where you were,” says a later-arriving friend. I explain my woefulness and repeat the conversation moments later with the later-arriving friend’s wife.
My brother tells me he’ll be leaving soon to catch the train home, but then he changes his mind and decides to stay and have more wine. Hang the expense, he’ll go later and they can get a taxi from the station. “Last of the big spenders!” says his wife.
Sometime after that I disappear upstairs. I think I saw the middle boy leave for Manchester with his girlfriend. The oldest boy was still here when I retreated. Upstairs I fall on the bed and sleep for an hour or so. When I come downstairs, my brother has just left, some hours later than he intended.
My mother and her partner are staying the night. I last until 8.30pm and go up the bed, leaving everyone else to watch SSGB. I hear later that my mother kept falling asleep and saying that she couldn’t follow the programme. “It’s quite simple, Margaret,” her partner said.
I sleep for 11 hours – about two normal nights for me – and stagger down for breakfast. Despite the sleep, I diagnose myself as being man-flued out and tick the box marked: still feeling crap.
When my mother leaves, I catch up with SSGB and then spend the day dozing and watching television. I go to bed at 10pm and keep myself awake coughing until 3am.
I fall asleep and have the strangest dream. I have driven to London in my new Mini (not that I have one of those) and park it somewhere outside a block of flats where one of my sons is staying. When I come out, the car has been stolen. I go to look for the car by walking up a steep and narrowing tunnel. After a while it becomes too claustrophobic and I want to turn back, but there is a man behind me and he won’t stop. “You’ve got to keep going, ” he says. “I’ve been in the pub since two-thirty.” The brick ceiling is getting uncomfortably close and panic is setting in. I can’t cope with this.
I wake with a cough. It is 4am.
It was a lovely party. I just wish I hadn’t invited all those germs.