So I know no one wants to hear about my illness, but the fact is, it’s the most significant thing that’s happened in my life over the last few days and I can’t help it if it colours my perspective. More importantly, I have eaten, since Monday, a bowl of cereal, a tiny tub of yoghurt, two bowls of plain pasta, a bag of lightly salted crisps, and several slices of toast (sometimes with butter, sometimes without), so you’ll have to forgive me if I seem to be fixated on the trite, but I want to bring up a few things today, in no particular order:
1) First, let’s discuss men who wear sweatbands (I mean the ones that go round your wrists, not the ones round your head, though that would be weird on a whole different level) whilst doing something ordinary and untaxing–say, walking down the street eating a pack of crisps. Wearing a perfectly respectable shirt and jeans. And flip flops. Not trainers, but flip flops. (Did you ever see anyone play sport in flip-flops and look anything but silly? Come to think of it, did you ever see anyone play sport in flip-flops period?) Because I just don’t understand this one. Maybe in the 1980s this was cool (it made you look preppy, sporty, ready-f0r-anything?), but in 2009, it just makes it look like you’re either a) suffering from worryingly overactive sweat glands, in which case why is that crisp Jack Wills polo so miraculously dry? or b) strangely concerned with dripping sweat into your crisps or indeed, c) both. So I guess what I’m trying to say is, boys, get a grip: either on a tennis racket, in which case, please feel free to wear wristbands to your hearts’ content, because Roger Federer does, and it seems to work for him; or on reality. You look silly.
2) Shops. Let’s talk about shops for a moment. I don’t mean the high-street, high-fashion variety, or the second-hand charity kind, or anything in-between. I mean, I sometimes don’t know where to go when I need to get something very basic, like, say, Vogue (just this once, don’t ask the inevitable “need?” question–remember, I’m ill). Not either of the two corner shops within a stone’s throw of our house, certainly–though I can go to either if I need the basic ingredients for a meal, and one or the other if I’m short on newspapers or booze. Not the Co-Op down the road, either, apparently (I stuck my head far into the magazine rack to check, but all they had was Cosmopolitan and about a billion tabloids, so I bought the Cosmo and spent a furious half hour on the couch wondering how the editors get away with it all and, if they really know all the secrets to success, happiness, self-confidence and a sizzling sex-life, why anyone bothers to buy the magazine anymore–shouldn’t we all be out fucking and shopping?). I struck gold at the newsagent across the street from the Co-Op, unsurprisingly, but here’s the thing that gets me: the newstand seems to carry just as much food, and as many household odds-and-ends, as the Co-Op.
I always thought that newsagents, like newsstands, were temples to the printed page, where glossy magazines and dozens of newspapers in dozens of different languages stood proudly on display, while cigarettes and the occasional bit or bob hid behind the counter, but this is obviously and vastly untrue. There’s even one on the Cowley Road with a post office and, allegedly, a dry-cleaning service. I’m just not sure that in the US, there’s a comparable complexity of shops. Sometimes I want to pop into Boots, which I’ve had a hard time learning is not, despite appearances, synonymous with CVS, to buy something I think I should be able to get there–a magazine, a house-cleaning product, laundry detergent–only to be whisked by the crowds past baby clothes, expensive perfumes, women standing idly at designer perfume counters, seven aisles that encourage you to shampoo-condition-colour-moisturize-stylize your hair, and a thousand other things I didn’t know I could use to improve my appearance.
3) On a similar note…when I’m sick, there are two things that I crave invariably: lots of love and attention, and an infusion of brand-name artifical American goop. The former has been bestowed well and kindly upon me by the Man, who has been nothing short of angelic these last few days; but the later has proven far trickier to get hold of. Specifically, I want Gatorade, I want PowerBars, and I want saltine crackers. The first and the last I can more or less find replacements for, but there is not, I don’t think, in all of England, a single PowerBar. Ordinarily, fake food shot up with vitamins, made chewy and artifically flavourful, wrapped up in shiny plastic, would not particularly appeal to me, and I certainly wouldn’t mourn its absence in a country which has given me so many other good unwholesome foodstuffs, like Jaffa Cakes and Curly Wurlys (they do know how to name things here). But PowerBars are like comfort food for times of physical woe, and when I’m sick I get particularly irrational about this. Obviously.