So I was ill in Scotland all of January with flu that turned into bronchitis. I lay on the sofa in my dad’s cosy book-lined study in a snowy village by the sea and read books about witches and Bram Stoker and even one about corpse medicine until it started making me feel too green. Powdered mummy (the bandaged kind) was all the rage in 18th century Britain, thought to cure all manner of ills. One of the king Charleses, I forget which, died four days after ingesting it, unfortunately, while the first Charles was allegedly made into corpse medicine. He must have been much in demand. Surely king trumped even mummy, what with being appointed by God and all that. I imagine king was wildly expensive, like Beluga caviar, and was perhaps consumed from the blushing bellies of virgins, to make it even more effective. Speaking of virgins, mummy was often a bit pricey for the common folk – like Beluga – so virgins made an ok second-best, and lots of young girls were kidnapped for the purpose. But the corpse medicine purveyors were too avid for their very filthy lucre to wait until the virgins had crumbled to dust, so they just sold their blood, bones, skin etc instead, to be supped, devoured, even applied to cuts and grazes. When even virgins weren’t available, dead soldiers would do. When I got to the bit about people drinking the blood straight from dead soldiers’ wounds as they lay festering on their battlefields, I had to put the book down, and watch a Julia Roberts movie to changer les idées, or think about something else. Unfortunately later that day I had a nice manic spell of hallucinating in which lots of furniture started shaking and leaping and even changing places, so where the rocking chair had been, there was the sofa, and vice versa, it was very startling. The kitchen table vibrated and glittered with menace and cupboards leaned forward alarmingly as if they were trying to fall on my head. Ding dong yelled the clock in glee and I would have been hyperventilating except I could barely breathe because my bronchii were all bunged up, and then my dad and step-mum came in. They were then treated to a terrified incoherent wail which they couldn’t make out because all I could do was wheeze and squeak, and it was all about harassment by furniture so wasn’t very comprehensible anyway. They were very understanding indeed, despite not understanding at all, and after a bit I calmed down and took some codeine and a tranquilliser and managed to snooze. Hallucinating is very tiring. Unbeknownst to me, throughout this whole month of choking and coughing and cold sweats and misbehaving furniture, I was pregnant. Which perhaps didn’t help.
The book is called ‘Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires : the History of Corpse Medicine from the Renaissance to the Victorians’. Best not read when sick with bacterial infections or prey to psychotic visions. Probably.