31 July 2011

Caffeine Withdrawal, Day Two

I'm actually feeling like a bit of a fraud at the moment. It's... let's see... 50 hours since I last had coffee, so that's genuine enough. What's odd is that the promised withdrawal symptoms -- and in particular the violent chiselling headaches which I remember from previous attempts -- have yet to materialise.

I had some milder headachiness yesterday, which was easily addressed with paracetomol. I haven't needed to take any today. I'm also tired, though not nearly as much as I'd expected, and have exploded with unjustified rage at my beloved wife three times for no reason that would have made sense to anyone with any understanding of logic. My thinking feels muzzy and unfocussed, but no more so than on a warm day after a heavy lunch, say. I've even been able to get a small amount of writing today, with the help of fruit teas and a strategically-timed nap.

My aforementioned beloved wife has two mutually contradictory hypotheses about this. Either: a) I've been drinking so much coffee that my body has stored up caffeine reserves which it's still working its way through (unlikely on biological grounds), or b) I've been drinking so much coffee that my body has stopped experiencing it as a stimulant and has merely been experiencing it as a toxin (also unlikely, though possibly slightly less so).

What seems most probable to me is that the headaches are still to come, but are awaiting the most effective moment to strike -- probably as soon as I get to work tomorrow morning. In my impaired mental state I feel like a dinosaur waiting for an asteroid.

30 July 2011

Caffeine Withdrawal, Day One

This is a difficult post to write.

I don't mean it's emotionally charged or brings bad news or anything, just that it's an extraordinary challenging task to actually compose it. My head feels as if it's been inexpertly filled with cavity wall insulation which someone's still trying to hammer in, and attempting to organise anything like a sentence in a form which my fingers can interpret as instructions for muscle-movement is a matter of considerable difficulty.

I'm giving up coffee, you see. This isn't the first time -- if I had to guess I'd say it's probably the fourth -- but it's likely to be the most difficult so far. Since R. was born I've been staving off the sleep deprivation by drinking somewhere in the region of ten cups a day, and the progressive desensitisation which accompanies caffeine addiction has left me all but incapable of writing, working, concentrating or, under certain circumstances and at certain times of day (afternoon meetings in warm rooms being a particular killer here), staying awake, even when I'm actually drinking the stuff.

Needless to say this is all very unsatisfactory, and I've decided I need to finally just give up drinking the demon's bile altogether. I'm very nearly 40, and health problems like this have stopped looking as amusing as they used to.

It's 21 hours since I last had a mug (and that wasn't very nice). Now, apart from the aforementioned inability to concentrate, I'm feeling headachy, irritable, lethargic and resentful of everything. Frustratingly, approximately every two minutes I think "Oh, hang on! I know what will make me feel better! I just need a -- Oh."

[Have you enjoyed reading about Phil's abject misery so far? Come back to this blog over the next few weeks for daily updates!]

05 July 2011

Books Update: Page head separator

For the last few weeks I've been reading Hodd by Adam Thorpe. It's a dense text, bleak in its outlook and not an easy read, but I enjoyed it.

Superficially, it's a revisionist retelling of the Robin Hood legend, set in an authentically violent, slimy, pustule-ridden Middle Ages, following a young minstrel (later a monk, whose confession in old age we're supposedly reading) as he's pressganged into a thoroughly vile horde of wilderness-dwelling thieves, murderers and rapists led by a charismatic Antinomian heretic, Robbert Hodd. The ballads in which the protagonist later admits to his crimes become notorious, and over the eight decades which he somewhat implausibly lives through in his cloister, give rise to the romantic legend of Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

It's a nice conceit, but a relatively small part of the story's subject matter. Though he's no miller's son, the minstrel / monk (whose true name we never learn, unless the Guardian's reviewer managed to spot a clue I didn't) is nicknamed "Much" during his time with the robbers -- their thuggish ranks also include a "Lytl John" and a "Will Scerlock" -- and his greatest crime is that recounted in the ballad Robin Hood and the Monk. This isn't a spoiler, as the relevant stanza's printed as the epigraph to the novel:
John smote of the munkis hed,
No longer wolde he dwell;
So did Moch the litull page,
Ffor ferd lest he wolde tell.
But that's about it. Aside from a passing mention of him giving money to a group of beggars, the priest-turned-heresiarch Hodd has nothing particular to relate him to the Robin of legend.

Instead, the story is about the orphaned narrator's search for a surrogate father -- Hodd being one of three he destruct-tests during the course of the novel -- and his jealousy towards his pseudo-sibling rivals. It's about love and hatred, guilt and penance, the twin dangers of concealment and honesty, the constant effort to rediscover old truths or to fabricate new ones. It's a deep-immersion simulation of the medieval worldview, and most especially of its religion -- orthodox and heterodox -- which is treated with complexity and a wilful refusal to make judgements easy for the reader.

There's an odd, seemingly pivotal account of an encounter with a woodland lunatic whom the narrator mistakes for a "green man" of the Antipodes. I'm sure this means something important, but I can't quite work out what.

To me, the most interesting aspect of the novel was literally marginal: the fake scholarly apparatus (including square-bracketed Latin words of dubious meaning, elenchi in the text and footnotes) which allows us to believe we are reading a translation from a lost Medieval Latin MS, also allows for the possibility that the entire narrative was concocted in the 1920s by a traumatised, shellshocked and perhaps syphilitic medievalist who lost a close friend, possibly a boyfriend, in the World War I trenches. Oddly no review of the book I've seen so far comments on this possible reading, though the novel's bleakness, its savagery and its obsession with death, disease, mud, mutilation and the imagery of Hell make far more sense in this context. (There's a further dusting of fiction in Thorpe's "editing" of the narrative as well, and of course it's just as much a document of the author's own time.)

Hodd is a clever, unsettling and complex novel, but it's only tangentially a retelling of the story of Robin Hood. It's done little to illuminate my understanding of the legend, even in its medieval context, but it has made me feel quite intrigued about reading some of Thorpe's other works. Ulverton and Still come recommended, so I may well give one of those a try.

Finally, you'll be pleased to know that the double "d" in the title reminds me of Eddie Izzard impersonating a carpet-sweeper (starting at 4m 35s), which provided some much-needed amusement during the more uncompromisingly grim passages.