Progress has been slow on the physical front. I’m still pretty much tethered to the sofa, apart from a short walk. I seem to spend a few weeks building myself up again, then lose as much as I’d gained almost overnight. Still, each time I notice what it was I did wrong (last time: sitting on the patio for ten minutes in the evening sunshine) and on that basis hopefully I will be able to go on a longer winning streak soon.
In the meantime. I’ve talked before about how I feel others moving on and passing me by, as I’m stuck here both literally and figuratively. And a long while back I talked about trying to learn new things, but that was when I had a higher level of functionality than I do now. So I started wondering: how can I use my time to develop myself, in this reduced state, so that I can feel that I’m moving on as well?
Podcasts have long been important for me, as earlier in the day, TV and reading are too much for me to handle. The great thing about podcasts is that you can either listen to them actively or you can turn them right down, let them wash over you and just catch bits here and there. So I’ve added in a bit of home learning to my podcast repertoire.
Specifically, I’ve started listening to some French podcasts. I have a headstart here as I have A level French, but it’s more than a little rusty. I’m catching up with a bit of back-to-basics instruction (using Coffee Break French, which has a ton of free lessons) and combining that with this ace concept called Slow News In French, where each week they read and discuss the news … in French … but nice and slowly, so that it’s easier for non native speakers to understand.
And my French is coming back! Even with my poor attention span, even though I’m not listening properly half the time: that’s the beauty of languages, they go in anyway.
Here’s why this is so good: usually when I think about how long I’ve been sick, and especially how long I’ve been cared for by my parents, I feel under some kind of time pressure. I should really be better in time for the spring – or the summer – or the autumn; I shouldn’t leave my flat, my garden and my car alone for too long; surely, at some point, my mum is going to need a holiday; and really, at the end of it, how many years am I going to lose to this?
It’s hard to take that pressure off completely, no matter how much I try. But if I keep doing these podcasts, the longer I’m sick, the more I’ll learn. Once my French is back up there, I might start Spanish. After that, sign language maybe. And if I still have time after that, I think Japanese or Chinese, for a real challenge. (If anyone with ME/CFS is reading this and wondering how on earth my memory is going to cope with this, I think the answer is very badly, but you can’t knock me for trying!) So the longer I stay on the sofa, the more languages I’ll know. It’s something at least.
Plus, when I’m bored of the TV, I google something random on my phone. I’ve learned how the US political system works. I’ve got the geography of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict clearer in my mind. And the other day, my mum and I looked into the history of how time – well, not time, but our measurement of time – was developed. It occurred to me that years, (lunar) months and days are determined by the solar system; but minutes, hours and seconds might not be. Or were they? I wasn’t sure.
So we looked into it and I was right the first time – they aren’t. We use divisions of 60 for minutes and seconds because the Babylonians liked the number 60 (which, I learned, is actually a very talented number – it’s the lowest number divisible by all of the numbers 1-6, and also by 10, 20, 15 and 30) … and we use 12 for hours in the day because the Egyptians had a thing for 12.
But these measurements only became fully stable once we developed common mechanical systems for doing so, in late medieval times. Isn’t that interesting? So before we had clockwork, we did count ‘hours’ and, of course, measure out nights and days. But, because everything was dependent on the movement of the earth around the sun, daylight hours were shorter in the winter and longer in the summer! Blows your mind, doesn’t it. (Although, when exact time really mattered for religious reasons, Egyptian priests would use water clocks.)
Oh, and if that blew my mind, this next thing was more of a gentle puff of wind. Sundials aren’t accurate most of the time; only at the equinox. How I thought they worked otherwise, I don’t know, but who knew?!