I have a small and slightly feverish boy at home today. Much to the disgust of his big brother who is ALWAYS in rude health and NEVER gets a day off school harumph garumph. Poor Bill.
Eddie is often on strikingly good form when mildly feverish, talking nonsense nineteen to the dozen like the best sort of drunk. I have just abandoned the attempt to read him soothing stories in his bed. He will NOT be read to and will only read TO me. I found myself slowly closing my eyes and drifting off on his pillow as he worked his way through an animated rendition of the puzzle instructions in his Marvel Superhero Annual 2011. Something is the wrong way round here.
I need to enlist 'Nurse Matilda'; Christianna Brand's magical nanny of 1964, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone, and reincarnated in movie form not so long ago by Emma Thompson as 'Nanny McPhee'. Return to source if you don't know the original books. They're marvellous and very very funny; concerning an impossibly large family of impossibly naughty children who must be brought to order by the intervention of a seemingly impossibly ugly and impossibly strict Nurse. Her methods are unorthodox but effective: When her charges are misbehaving she simply slams down her big black stick and terrible consequences ensue until the lesson is learn't.
Thus when the children decide that they won't get up from bed and will pretend they have the measles they are promptly given real measles and find they cannot get out of bed however much they want to.
"They couldn't. They just had to stay there, humped under the blankets- which were suddenly dreadfully hot and scratchy- and their noses felt dreadfully stuffy and they had pains in their pinnies and weren't at all sure that they really going to be sick. And they put up their languid hands to their hot faces and tried to wipe away the spots- and the spots wouldn't go."
To add insult to injury they must then be given Doses of three dreadful medicines; a spoonful every hour ('Hoggig meggikig', said the Baby.), and their lovely lunch of steak and kidney pudding and treacle roly-poly is given away to the village children.
So they beg nicely to be allowed to get up the next day, and Nurse Matilda taps her stick once more and grows a little prettier with each lesson taught.
I should reread this chapter to the boys tonight; in case Bill is getting any ideas about the joys of being sick and to remind Eddie how to really behave When Ill. Looking at him on the sofa now though, I think we can say it may all be catching up with him:
Maybe I'll just read them one of the glorious lists of all the wicked things the children get up to that also punctuate the book:
"'Miss Tora has cut off one of Miss Susie's plaits-'
'-and Master David has made a beard out of it and glued it on to Miss Charlotte.'
'Master Simon 'ave dress up ze dachshoooond in my best Parees 'at, and take eem for ze promenade.'
'Miss Helen has poured syrup into all the Wellington boots-'
'Miss Stephanie has grated up soap to look like cheese, and now poor Cook's dinner does nothing but foam-'
'-and all the other children are doing simply dreadful things too...'"
Then we'll all remember that there are worse things than being either poorly, or not poorly, or having to look after boys who both are and are not poorly. Cure by giggling.
'The Collected Tales of Nurse Matilda' by Christianna Brand, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone, pub. Bloomsbury isbn 978-0747576792