I don’t know if you’ve ever read Edgar Allen Poe’s story ‘The Man Who was Used Up’. It’s a great surreal tale of a man who was all body parts and when he took off his false leg and false arm and took out his false eye and everything else, there was nothing left but a voice. It’s well-told and very spooky, and you can read it here via the excellent Project Gutenberg:
I’m guessing Sue Townsend’s ‘The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year’ is a sort of modern version of that. Eva Beaver (that name is only the start of her troubles) wants to sit down one day when she’s tired, and she notices that on her embroidered chair, the chair that took months to complete, there is a soup stain. Eva is the mother of high-functioning, autistic twins and the wife of the most self-centred man in the Western Hemisphere who apparently can’t even use a ladle. Unable to take any more, she hurls soup at her chair (henceforward known as the soup chair) and heaves herself up to bed, where she stays for a year.
This is an utterly hilarious book; a tour de force of humorous characterisation in which the twins go to university where they cannot function socially and eventually get arrested for hacking into government computers, and Eva becomes known as a saint who can solve people’s problems without getting out of bed. I really enjoyed it – except that it has the same problem all Sue Townsend’s books have, for me – which is a lack of resolution. At the end of the year when Eva is forced to get out of bed and get on with life once more, nothing has changed from the beginning of the year. No-one seems to learn anything or make any progress or change in any way. I know, I know – it’s a comedy and I’m taking it too seriously; but I so wanted her to have some kind of epiphany through all her experience. Instead she just gets out of bed and, we assume, life carries on as before – except that her children are both in prison and now she knows her husband is having an affair with his co-worker Titania (‘Tit’).
Still, I recommend this for the sheer genius of its comedy.
‘Hoards of wildebeest were sweeping majestically through the jungle.’ That’s what Basil Fawlty said, or something like it – but I want you to look closely at that sentence. Is it right? If you read it and thought there was nothing wrong with the spelling you are one of a seemingly growing army (a horde, no less) of people who confuse these two words hoard and horde. The number of references I have recently seen to ‘hoards’ of people makes me both grimace and laugh. Who is hoarding these people? And why are they keeping them in a railway station? I want to ask. But, fearful of being called a pedantic numpty, I keep quiet. And now I can be silent no longer: I insist that you learn this! Are you a hoarder? You’re a hoarder if you store things far in excess of your need of them. People hoarded things during the war and were punished for it. Hoard. The other kind is what happens to wildebeest or people in a railway station and it’s probably (I’m speaking off the top of my head here) related to herd.
This thankfully puts me in mind of a scene from Yes Prime Minister:
It’s just as well I had a laugh at that – because this very morning I came across this sentence in a short story:
‘The only sound is electricity coarsing steadily through concrete block walls’.
‘Coarsing’? Of course that could be a typo but I know from experience that stories on Everyday Fiction are double-and triple-checked so that would suggest both editors and writer think ‘coarsing’ is correct. Yet as far as I know there is no such word as ‘coarsing’ unless in the context of coarse fishing.
(Incidentally, what is coarse fishing and how does it differ from the smooth variety?)
This is what happens when you rely on your spell-checker, because spell checkers don’t know what you mean, they only see what you say. Relying too much on your spell-checker is like relying on your sat-nav: it’s a useful tool but don’t forget to use your loaf as well.
In other news, the elderflower is nearly out, so I shall be starting another batch of wine soon. That makes four: nettle, blackberry, elderberry and elderflower (the berries were frozen last autumn). I like the way elder bookends summer; the flowers coming out at the beginning and the berries at the end.