Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Killer Cold, Light Reading

I have that killer cold thing that’s going around. I got my flu shot, so it’s not the flu, but it’s about the worst cold you can imagine. Not pneumonia, I got a shot for that, too. But I’m wheezing and coughing and blowing hot then cold, and feeling what the English used to call “seedy.” I wonder where that term comes from, anyhow. Is it a form of “gone to seed”?

Anyhow, my writing is desultory and I’m doing what I often do when ill, reading old, familiar, comforting books. Right now, that’s Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat. Written in the late 1880s, it is a witty, funny, insightful, comic look at a boat trip up the Thames taken by Jerome and two male friends and a fox terrier. It was a huge best seller in its day, and is still fun to read. He describes the towns and scenery, tells funny stories about life in a boat, and wanders off into philosophy now and again.

In one chapter he he riffs on how “our art treasures of today are only the dug-up commonplaces of three or four hundred years ago. . . the pink shepherds and the yellow shepherdesses that we hand round now for all our friends to gush over, and pretend they understand, were the unvalued mantel-ornaments that the mother of the eighteenth century would have given the baby to suck when he cried.”

He continues, “Will it be the same in the future? Will the prized treasures of today always be the cheap trifles of the day before? Will rows of our willow-pattern dinner-plates be ranged above the chimney pieces of the great in the years 2000 and odd? Will the white cups with the gold rim and the beautiful gold flower inside (species unknown) that our Sarah Janes now break in sheer light-heartedness of spirit, be carefully mended, and stood upon a bracket, and dusted only by the lady of the house?” Yes, indeed, Mr. Jerome. You were a prophet.

And how about this: “The ‘sampler’ that the eldest daughter did at school will be spoken of as a ‘tapestry of the Victorian era,’ and be almost priceless.”

Well, we don’t consider them as “tapestries,” but a nineteenth century schoolgirl sampler in good condition can cost a twenty-first century collector a very tidy sum. They’re so prized they’ve even been turned into patterns for stitchers to copy.

Jerome’s feelings about people who own waterfront property and put up No Trespassing signs are amusingly strong: “The sight of those notice-boards rouses every evil instinct in my nature. I feel I want to tear each one down, and hammer it over the head of the man who put it up, until I have killed him, and then I would bury him, and put the board up over the grave as a tombstone.

“I mentioned these feelings of mine to Harris, and he said he had them worse than that. He said he not only felt he wanted to kill the man who caused the board to be put up, but that he should like to slaughter the whole of his family and all his friends and relations, and then burn down his house. This seemed to me to be going too far, and I said so to Harris; but he answered: ‘Not a bit of it. Serve ‘em all jolly well right, and I’d go and sing comic songs on the ruins.’

“I was vexed to hear Harris go on in this bloodthirsty strain. We never ought to allow our instincts of justice to degenerate into mere vindictiveness. It was a long while before I could get Harris to take a more Christian view of the subject, but I succeeded at last, and he promised me that he would spare the friends and relations at all events, and would not sing comic songs on the ruins.”

And then, to show what he’s saved the world from, he gives a hilarious description of Harris attempting to sing a comic song at a party.

Ah, Jerome K. Jerome, just the right thing to read when you’re not feeling well.

4 comments:

ellen said...

Jerome’s feelings about people who own waterfront property and put up No Trespassing signs are amusingly strong: “The sight of those notice-boards rouses every evil instinct in my nature. I feel I want to tear each one down, and hammer it over the head of the man who put it up, until I have killed him, and then I would bury him, and put the board up over the grave as a tombstone.

We call it "road rage" today, but it's the same impulse.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Monica,
You are absolutely disgusting. You are sick and you write like a dream. Drat. It just ain't fair.

Do take care. See a good doc if you need to--my prayers are with you.

Disney Mummy said...

Feel better Monica!

Monica Ferris said...

What makes this disgusting is that this weekend our writers group is having a retreat with lots of good food and talk and readings -- and I'm pretty sure I'll have to miss it. Here it is Thursday evening and I'm still hacking up bad-tasting stuff. I don't have a fever, so it's not an infection, but I'm doggone sick and tired of being sick and tired.