In books people almost never get sick. What I mean is, obviously people in books get the heart-wrenching terminal illness kind of sick, but they almost never get the kind of sick where you just get so fed up with blowing your nose that you stuff a tissue in each nostril to catch the drips.
There’s a good reason for that. Having a cold is very, very boring. This week it feels like I’ve been forced to experience my life like the internet used to be, over a slow dial-up connection. Having a cold is the absolute opposite of excitement. Could you imagine if Jason Bourne or James Bond decided that actually, rather than jumping out of windows and shooting people, what they really wanted to do right now was have a hot bath with some eucalyptus oil?
I’m hoping that someone will add a comment with a link to a story that manages a really riveting narrative that depends on one of the characters suffering from man-flu, but I think it’s unlikely. I will add it to my list of things that it’s impossible to write well about. I say a list, the only other thing on that list at the moment is Chess.
I love playing chess, but I continue to be convinced that it is impossible to write a thrilling story about a game of chess. A really good game of chess is fascinating for all the possibilities that the positions create, all the paths not taken, the unexpected opportunities that open up when a player tries something unusual. The excitement is in the speculation of which path a player might choose, or in whether or not he has spotted an opportunity. The action of making a move itself is almost never dramatic. I have never yet managed to write anything that captures a game of chess as being anything other than dreary, despite finding the game captivating. And I’ve never come across anyone else who’s managed it either.
Once written about, a game of chess sounds about as interesting as having a cold. There are brief moments of suspense in both. Will he sneeze or not? Does he realise how little time he has left on his clock? Will one tissue be enough? Has he forgotten that the pawn will be pinned? Will he be able to wipe that fleck of snot off his hand before he has to greet his guest? But all the rest is just tedium. The too-loud ticking of the clock and the memorised opening moves. Tissues jammed up your nostrils and a whistling in your ears reminiscent of that modem noise that defined the internet for so long.
So Chess and Colds. What else should go on that list?