Magazine article The Spectator

Out of It

Magazine article The Spectator

Out of It

Article excerpt

I think I've got that Seasonal Affective Syndrome business, or SAD, otherwise known as Winter Blues. The symptoms, says my medical encyclopedia, are despair, misery, guilt, anxiety, lethargy, joint pains, stomach disorders and a tendency to gorge on carbohydrates and sleep too much.

According to statistics, 10 per cent of us are affected by SAD to a mild degree at this time of year, while 2 per cent of us are completely off our onions with it.

My main symptom is a schizoid feeling that I lack substance, that I'm too ethereal to have any effect on the material world -- in short, that I'm not all there. I'm not complaining, mind. In spite of my feeling to the contrary, I'm perfectly visible to the naked eye. People talk away to me quite happily, and when I speak I do so appropriately, apparently, and they appear to hear me. It's a bit like freedom without responsibility.

On Friday, however, I went to Oxford Street to buy a light box. I had to change buses at St Paul's Cathedral, and on an impulse popped into the crypt to see Nelson's tomb. Even though I was in Nelson house at primary school, I knew nothing about him, and remained in ignorance until last year, when I read a few biographies and belatedly experienced the warm glow felt by cognoscenti the world over of 'the immortal memory'.

'Not the least glory of the navy, ' said Joseph Conrad, 'is that it understood Nelson.' And not the least glory of Nelson was his respect, unusual in that day and age, for the ordinary seaman. In his dispatch after the battle of Cape St Vincent, in which he'd led a boarding party that after a bloody fight captured not one but two Spanish ships of the line, he wrote, '. . . and on the quarterdeck of the Spanish first-rate, extravagant as the story may seem, did I receive the swords of the vanquished Spaniards; which as I received I gave to William Fearney, one of my bargemen, who put them with the greatest sangfroid under his arm'.

All through these recent dark, short days, my heart has been bursting with love and pride as I've read about Horatio Nelson, who was a slight man, often described as 'ethereal' by contemporaries.

And when I've been confronted through these dark, short days by the latest squalid dealings of the porcine-brained sermonisers that have shouldered their way to the front of the trough, I think of Horace and can afford to laugh. …

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