The wedding was wonderful. Set picturesquely in the Tithe Barn of one of Henry the Eighth’s old hunting lodges, all exposed beams and low doorways, topiary mazes, huge fireplaces and old red brick. I had visions of Hal’s incumbent wife being sent out to run across the manicured lawns with the rest of the deer: a Hunger Games for the 16th century.
My friend Carla was gorgeous – in a bespoke, gold bias-cut, strapless gown: she shimmered and glimmered through the ceremony. Jason, her groom looked delighted as they danced down the aisle – it really was one of those moments when you know two like-souls have found each other, braved all the nonsense we throw in the way of our own happiness, and come out trumps and triumphant the other side. We danced and we sang along to favourite songs, stayed up late, ate too much, caught up with old friends and generally had a ball. Just what a wedding should be.
And then the virus hit.
That’s one of the things I love and hate about England – it always serves up a curved ball when you least expect it. I had seen the headlines on the way in from the airport – “Norovirus hospitalises 1000s”, “Schools report mass absenteeism”, “Shops battle to staff holiday rush”. The virus had even taken a cruise ship hostage – forcing it to return to Southhampton when sick travellers started to outnumber the healthy. I had ignored the billboards – there’s always something assailing the masses over the holidays and I thought this was just another of those.
Man was I wrong. One by one we succumbed – I was first. Going from happy, healthy party-chick to retching, helpless stumbling-crone in literally 30 minutess. Turns out this virus is no slouch. It is spread by the most casual of contact with an infected person (800 000 at last count): give it a handshake, a shared cup or improperly washed fork and it will grab hold of your insides and throw you to the ground. I got lost in a whirl of fever, aches, gastroenteritis and nausea. I wobbled back to London with my friends Johnny and Lotta, carrying sickbags and a wet flannel, and then used my yoga-taught body locks to survive a 30-minute onward train ride.
I spent the next day and a half at my brother Chris’ place zonked out. All of our plans had to be shelved – going up to Oxford Street to see the lights, a shopping trip with my niece, a walk in Richmond Park, lunch with family and friends on Sunday. Even my customary last-minute lope through Zara was halted by churning sea-sickness. And so, as I boarded the plane on Sunday: I wondered if it had all been worth it?
Perhaps it was my fever-addled brain, now dealing with the sleeping tab I had added to it’s current health challenges, or perhaps it was an epiphany – but I woke in the night to a flood of images and a sense that they were all linked:
Carla decorating a village hall with pink feather boas
Thabo grinning out from under a huge yellow umbrella
My Uncle Gary drawing a big + on a blackboard
Emily sticking a silver star on my forehead
Me falling backwards into circus-water
The images were surprising literal for my dreams … and they made immediate sense: Carla met Jason whilst arranging a wake for her friend Nikki’s daughter – a sad loss that ended in a union, Thabo has disappeared – I can only imagine he has succumbed to the cancer he was fighting for the past year, a fight I did my best to help him win. Gary, my much-loved uncle and god-father has been diagnosed with a “good cancer” – an ironic oxymoron in any other circumstances, but here words that offer a promise of successful treatment. And my lovely niece not minding that her flatulent aunty spent most of her time in her PJs, taking it easy.
As to the tub of circus-water – my subconscious was telling me that, well, life is a tub of circus-water. Sometimes you get wet and sometimes it’s just a fake-out.
Sitting there in my cramped little seat, I had a sudden sense of the connectedness of things. I saw that it’s not about achieving or completing. It’s not about being right or perfect. It’s just about showing up. About closing the gap in our tiny link with the universe.
That’s not to say I am going to embrace the philosophy of the greeters at Williams Sonoma – who urge shoppers to ‘deny yourself nothing’, but I am going to stop treading water so often and get swimming – out there in the rough.