Off work and too sick for Twitter or Instagram, Eva Wiseman closes her eyes and tunes in
Yeah, I’m OK now. I’m all right, cheers. I was really ill, violently, hyperventilatingly sick last week, though. The kind of sick where you feel like you’re turning inside out, like there’s a small but serious chance you are being possessed and are doomed to forever watch from inside as a demon uses your body for evil, and when you talk, the demon takes your voice, and when you move, the demon kills.
And during the vomit downtime, when I was too sad to watch TV and too tired to read, I lay in bed and tried to control my thoughts. When you’re ill, it’s as if you go analogue. The channels of your mind are limited. I’d be trying to remember something important, but it was as if my mind had been locked inside one of those safes that’s disguised as a tin of soup, and not only did I have to prise it open but I had to find it in a pop-up soup-tin shop.
Lying there, I listened to Woman’s Hour. It’s only when I’m lucky enough to be ill that I catch the programme, as it airs mid-morning, when I’m usually hip deep in my swivel chair, two teas, three chats and 500 words down. I’d read about their controversial Power List in the paper, the Queen perched atop a selection of women chosen, it appeared, purely to anger those of us who question the glut of inheritance and private education. But it’s only when Woman’s Hour is in the news that I remember it exists, that lone spurt of programming that is solely for us.
And it was in the paper last week, too, a recap of their phone-in on feminism, which I heard through weary ears – a selection of well-spoken ladies talking about choice. It occurred to me then that it felt like a privilege to be listening, there, with my blinds drawn at 11am, when everybody else I know was at work.
Who is Woman’s Hour for today? When I hear it I love it, its slightly batty mix of politics and thick tights, but I don’t hear it. Despite its pieces about business and equality, those it aims them at have long left the house by the time it starts – surely its real audience has retired from work. Its scheduling feels misplaced today, like a shrugging gesture that says: “Well, maybe the best place for women is in the home?”
But much confused me in those few sweaty days. Limbs, for instance. Limbs confused me. And colour. In the middle of the night, as I’d slept too thickly all afternoon, the bright lights of Instagram felt like a mirage. Like postcards from health, both teasing and reassuring, and their colours leaked into my dreams, along with images of Lena Dunham’s dog, and a hand factory’s worth of nail art, strobing. Sickness is like scrolling through Twitter with mittens on, or your head getting stuck inside your favourite dress. I was no longer a full movie; I was a comedy gif on constant repeat. And, half-awake, I’d be feverish with ideas for work that felt important, but that, as the painkillers kicked in, revealed themselves to be mundane. Like when you’re walking down a dark road and the people in all the lit windows look so unique and romantic, but then when you get closer you see that they’re all just leaning out, smoking. That’s what people do by windows now. They’re not signalling to secret lovers or musing on the moon like in the old days – they’re leaning out with a cigarette to avoid getting smoke on the sofa.
Some things, though, get clearer with the addition of germs. The greasy marks around the light switches. The patronising tone of daytime programming. What One Direction are trying to say with their explosion of awful tattoos (“I own me”). How, when you’ve mentally moved on from winter, the return of snow has a crushing effect, as if you’re seeing a ghost.
I’m better now, thanks. But I was ill.