Just over a week ago I was mentally congratulating myself on having got through the winter with no more than a few sniffles.
As spring sunshine turned skies blue and my neighbours socialised in their gardens, I was wrapped in my quilt, the light filtered through the half closed shutters, my temperature risen and my head pounding.
It’s amazing how quickly things fall apart. I can easily understand how people are reduced to eating sardines out of the can; leaving the washing up; allowing laundry, cleaning, everything to slip. Illness, physical or mental throws us off balance, upsets our routines, our systems; reveals the chaos that lies just beneath the surface.
I had to work on Saturday and again on Sunday morning. It’s all a bit of a blur, but I was very glad to get home and into bed. There I stayed for two and a half days with some breaks lying on the sofa or letting MasterB in and out.
At least it provided some precious reading time when I wasn’t sleeping. I read Helen Macdonald’s sublime and extraordinary H is for Hawk which won the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction last year. After her father died, she decided to train a goshawk.
Now that is not as crazy as it sounds. Certainly not as crazy as if most people were to announce they were about to train a goshawk. She was already an accomplished falconer with considerable experience working with birds of prey. But this venture took her somewhere else, somewhere very dark at times, as she poured heart, soul and fathomless grief into training Mabel, her hawk. A training she describes as an addiction as strong as heroin; a way to lose herself ‘when powerless from hurt and grief’ an addiction ‘that collar(ed) the broken soul’.
One beautiful section that stands out for me, is where she realises that Mabel likes to play. Afterwards, to her friends’ disbelief, she plays catch with Mabel; makes her toys from ‘paper and tissue and card’. It redresses a little of the balance.
‘Other people with goshawks have people too. For them their goshawks are their little splinter of wildness, their balance to domesticity… I only have wildness. And I don’t need wildness any more. I’m not stifled by domesticity. I have none.’
It is a searingly honest book, totally devoid of self pity and self aggrandisement, unsparing in how she exposes her weaknesses, her fragility, the ruinous madness of grief. Yet it is also a glorious celebration of her father, of her hawk, of nature and of friendship.