Rattus

This is the name H* gave to her resident vermin when she moved into her new flat. I was reminded of it as I examined the jar lid full of dead slugs at the back of our cupboard. But there were little white pellets scattered about, and the paper of the flour bag had been eaten again, so I shall have to put out more snail bait.

And I have been thinking of rats in general, because lately I have felt like one becoming fused, Deleuze-like, to its wheel. I work at the library, then work at home, and have one afternoon and one day off a week. I’m fixing up my Salzburg paper because it’s been accepted for publication in a book, then (over the long weekend) I have to rewrite the paper for a non-fiction competition, then I must redo my Heidelberg paper for possible inclusion in another book, and on top of all that I have to write 20 000 words of my thesis before I am released from my shackles for a trip to Oz in mid-October.

Little wonder, then, that my body has rebelled and cast me into bed with a very bad flu. I’ve spent the day staggering from my desk and into sleep and back to my desk again. Then I gave up and finished Diana Souhami’s Mrs Keppel and her Daughter which is the most brilliant and gripping piece of non-fiction I’ve read for ages. It’s a biography of Alice Keppel, mistress of Edward VII (the eldest son of Victoria), and her daughter Violet Trefusis, who was a lesbian and passionately in love with Vita Sackville-West. What makes the story interesting (aside from the excellent writing) is the intricacies of aristocratic society and how Violet’s relationship with Vita threatened the foundation of that society: marriage. It was a tempestuous and heartbreaking affair, especially because Vita chose conformity over Violet. She wanted to stay with her husband Harold, for her life with him represented calm and stability, even though Violet roused in her violent emotion and happiness. I was irked by Vita. Although I could understand her desire for conformity, I was angry that she shunned Violet for sleeping once with her husband (Trefusis), even though Vita had chosen to stay with her man. In addition, she often dangled the chance of happiness before Violet like a bait, and always withdrew it. Violet was constantly cast as a dangerous seductress and marriage-breaker by those caught up in the storm of the affair, even though her only crime was Othello’s – that of loving not wisely, but too well – and of wanting recognition of her love in an era which would never permit it. I was in tears by the time I got to the end of it and read the following extract from Vita to Violet, written after years of separation:

We simply couldn’t have this nice, simple, naïf, childish connexion without it turning into a passionate love affair again … You and I can’t be together. I go down country lanes and I meet a notice saying ‘Beware unexploded bomb’ so I have to go round another way. The unexploded bomb is you (275-276).

If you want a fascinating take on the tangled threads of class, passion and sex, read this book.

On Wednesday I had to work at one of the medical libraries because they were short staffed. After the hour and 45 minutes it took to get there in the vile weather that supposedly constitutes Summer, I was regretting having volunteered. However I’d gone because I wanted a change of scene, and it was vaguely interesting to employ the same processes in a new place. The only unsettling thing was being hit on by a doctor who gave me his mobile number and email address within five minutes of meeting me, when all I did was crack a joke, be friendly and helpful and smile when I took his money for a photocopy card – in short, be good at my job. H said he probably mistook all that for interest, since the usual expectation of customer service in this country is to be spat upon or grunted at.

Tomorrow we are off to Bath to dogsit Henry, which I am very much looking forward to. Not only because of Henry, but because I can go shopping in Bath’s lovely shops, drink some coffee and watch the people, and walk in nice parks, and generally see something other than the four walls of my room. It is supposed to be hot, so I am carefully deliberating over which of my many unworn summer outfits I shall pack. I also have to take my wheel with me, but at least the change of scene will do me good.

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