Muriel Spark

Day One

It is terrible to be me. The shingles that struck me down three months ago have left me with burnt-out nerves in both legs. I walk with an elbow crutch, I shuffle. How long this will last I don’t know. Three to nine months said the professor in Florence who gave me a lot of electric shocks in the legs to test the reactions. Perhaps you’ll have this always, says another doctor. I was never a walker, rather, I was always lazy. But now whenever I wake up and think of things I would like to do, like going round an art gallery or the shops, it involves walking. People write to me from England, letters something like: Dear Dame Muriel, We are planning an Authors’ Orphans’ Day to be held on 14th August in the grounds of Watling Castle, Shropshire, by kind permission of the Countess of Watling. One of our features, to accompany a strawberry tea, is a series of adult races. We wonder if you would care to participate in the egg-and-spoon race. ..?

I write back carefully enumerating the reasons why I have to reluctantly decline, starting with my age. Living here in Italy as I do, it’s difficult to understand how my readers in England and elsewhere misjudge my age. Perhaps I write young. I hope I do. Another of my excuses, always valid and true, is that I am writing a book. Finally, I add that my legs are not now functioning due to post-herpetic neuralgia. This is quite likely to bring forth a second try: If the egg-and-spoon is too strenuous for you, we can offer a place in the three-legged race. We are hoping to have Lady Thatcher give the prizes. Your cooperation in this good and needy cause would be appreciated by …

I don’t write further letters but go on wondering when again I can go round the art galleries, sometimes quite small, throughout Europe, especially France. When I had a hip operation, the larger galleries usually provided wheelchairs. Penelope, my pal, who drives the car on our travels, wheeled me round and got to see the pictures all the easier because of the make-way space which occurs when the other visitors see the wheelchair. It is difficult to realize that quite recently, we did a gallery-tour. I stocked up with innumerable scarves signed Miro, Picasso, Kandinsky—quite a collection. I wear them sitting behind my desk where nobody new in my life can possibly guess that my walking is so slow.