Lowering the bar of Eva Beaver

23:08, Dec 11 2012

Every so often a person needs a mental health day.

It often coincides with feeling a bit off-colour, but not specifically unwell.

The need for them often creeps up gradually as a reaction to various stresses, crowded schedules and generally trying to pack too much into the average day.

And so it was at the weekend, that I felt like trying a mini-version of the act of passive resistance made famous in my favourite book of the year, Sue Townsend's The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year.

Townsend was the creator of Adrian Mole, the geeky teenager, and has a gift for capturing the humour and despair of what we shall describe as difficult ages.

Cruelly named Eva Beaver, I related to the anti-heroine on so many levels.


OK, so I don't have a socially-inept but brilliant husband who is having an affair with a similarly graceless workmate.

Neither do I have two intellectually precocious but autistic twins who have made my life hell for the last 17 years and have finally gone away to be great academics.

Nor do I have an interfering, complaining and critical mother and matching mother-in-law judging my every move.

But in every other way that matters, I could be Eva, the woman who went to bed for a year, to have time to think, and to work out what really matters.

On days when mind and body demand a day off, the idea is so very tempting.

There is something about the buildup to Christmas, the shopping, the preparations, the travel plans and working out how to incorporate various branches of the family into the celebrations, that can trigger one of those days.

In fact, Eva's story about how to "do" Christmas is one of the funniest recounts of domestic reality that I have ever read outside this column.

Confined to bed, she has to give instructions on how it is done, in what descends into a horror story of last-minute shopping, car-park rage, desperate dashes for vital ingredients and the latest in-thing for technophiles, and late nights, all because of the pressure to deliver on expectations.

It is so real, it is almost not funny at all. More heartbreaking, really.

And then there's the bewildered husband, genuinely surprised by the emotional outburst, having never paid the slightest bit of notice before.

Anyhow, spending the year in bed means missing out on the inept efforts of those downstairs to manage on their own.

I could not imagine withdrawing for a whole year.

But surely, I could manage just one day in bed, a lazy Sunday with no commitments.

I made it until just after 10am, when I had to get up and feed myself, food-dependent character that I am.

I lowered the bar, and decided I could at least manage a pyjama day.

In between lie-downs, checking my Lotto ticket and browsing the newspaper, I did pop the washing machine on, and hang a few towels out on the line, and tidy the kitchen bench, and feed the cat.

I managed lunch in my dressing gown.

The teenagers were still asleep.

What was the point, I asked myself, of having an off-day if there was no-one about to notice?

So I went and knocked on the teenagers' doors and demanded that they wake up, and get up, while I went to have an afternoon nap.

The gesture caused a moment's puzzled whispering down the hallway before they returned to their usual low-activity habits.


Here I was making a grand gesture, and all I had managed to do so far was behave like a normal teenager having a moderately conscientious day around the house.

By mid afternoon I knew I would sleep no more, and was restless.

I showered and dressed and changed the bed sheets, put on another load of washing and hung it on the line and cleaned the toilets.

There was a pile of Christmas cards on the table, so I wrote some notes and addressed envelopes, and went online to do some Christmas shopping.

The roses needed deadheading after a week of wild weather, so I did that before popping out to do some messages, which I didn't resent, because cabin fever was starting to set in.

So that was my attempt at staying in bed for the day, and one that left me in awe of Eva Beaver. Yes, I know she's not real, but I'm still captivated by the idea.

The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year, by Sue Townsend (Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Books) was released in June.

* This is the last Parent's Life of 2012. The column returns at the end of January. Meantime, the author intends to have a holiday, enjoy Christmas, and catch up with friends and family, and have the odd pyjama day with a good book, and wishes lashings of the same to readers.

The Manawatu Standard