reading, stray thoughts
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The kingdom of the well

The Thames



It’s been a week of illness – theirs & mine. It starts to occur to me that with a family of five there is always someone else to catch whatever it is. But yesterday was sunny and we had sheets blowing on the line. The clocks went forward at the weekend & the evenings have that magical summertime promise.  Everything feels somehow different, shifted towards the light. In the front garden the tulips (all three of them!) are blooming. And in the back garden the magnolia petals are starting to drift to the ground. It’s perfect ‘perfume’ making time of year and there are jam jars & tiny French honey pots scattered round the garden, each full of brown water & petals in various states of decay. I love it when they tap on the back door & ask me to smell their concoctions.

Alone in the house on Saturday morning, I knew that I was genuinely ill when I found myself lying in bed with a book that I couldn’t even open. What a sad waste of time alone! (And pity poor B, who had somehow managed to take three children & a cat to the supermarket. Short version: they’d been to the vets first, then decided that they needed to buy supplies & realised that it was too hot to leave the cat in the car. I can’t stop thinking about how incredibly funny they must have looked. Apparently, Pops kept turning from his seat at the front of the trolley to point at the cat basket behind him and say, ‘Cat!’. Truly, I’m amazed they weren’t just thrown out.)

Anyway, all this to say that I haven’t read much this week. But I did read Geoff Dyer’s wonderful essay on his stroke. I always love his writing, and while I’m sorry that he had to have a stroke to file this piece, I’m incredibly grateful that he returned from the experience as articulate, funny and surprising as ever. His description of the world half disappearing matches my own experience of migraine (another annoyance of last week), so I was relieved that the ophthalmologist said migraine or stroke. It’s such a fine line: illness/health. One we might tip over at any moment, perhaps without even knowing.

I was reminded of Susan Sontag’s ‘two kingdoms’ in Illness as Metaphor:

“Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”

Thankfully, Dyer’s visit to that other place was remarkable for its shortness. And, like me, he’s delighted to be back in the kingdom of the well for as long as possible:

“So at this moment it feels pretty good, being where I’ve always longed to be, perched on the farthest edge of the western world. There’s a wild sunset brewing up over the Pacific. The water is glowing turquoise, the sky is turning crazy pink, the lights of the Santa Monica Ferris wheel are starting to pulse and spin in the twilight. Life is so interesting I’d like to stick around for ever, just to see what happens, how it all turns out.”

What a last line.


Photos from a trip to the Southbank last Thursday. The boys & I went to meet a friend & her beautiful new son for lunch. Less than a week ago, but I’d forgotten that we’d even been. Strange to find myself taking photos along a stretch that was once part of my daily commute. London makes me nostalgic every time I visit at the moment. [More on the wonderful murals here.]


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