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Redster: Eight and a half

Cutester: Five

On Tuesday morning I was lying in bed steeling myself for the 6.15 start (Tuesday being the one day of the week that I catch a train to go and work in a real office, in a sort of parallel universe) when the Redster appeared at my side. She seemed agitated.

‘I can’t sleep,’ she fretted. ‘I can’t get into bed with everyone crowded round it.’

‘Who’s crowded round it?’ I said.

‘And they won’t stop talking and they’ve stolen everything in the room.’

‘Who have?’

‘Except for the clock and the bed’ – pause – ‘and the Cutester.’

‘WHO HAVE?’

‘The little people,’ she said.

Bearing in mind that I have only just led a public discussion on mental illness, that there is mental illness in the family and I have worked with people diagnosed as schizophrenic who do sometimes say things like this, you will appreciate that I was now wide awake.

‘Little people?’

‘Like Borrowers, but about twice the size and much more annoying.’

She then flopped down on the bed next to me and said with total seriousness, ‘I WISH we hadn’t won the lottery.’ [Er, we haven’t.]

‘Are you sure they’ve taken everything?’ I said. ‘Why don’t you go and look and see if everything is gone or not?’

‘I’m sure they have because they told me they were taking everything because of all the money we won in the lottery,’ she said.

I racked my brains to remember if early onset of schizophrenia can be as young as eight.She was definitely awake, and in fact claimed to have been awake since 3.15am, when she came and woke me up and said, ‘It’s 3.15 Mummy so you need to get up and go to work,’ which even then struck me as a little odd.

‘I’ll just go to the toilet,’ she said and was back in three seconds, saying ‘I can’t go.’ 

(I didn’t ask why, and I’m glad I didn’t, because later she told me that the little people were all crowding round talking at once and conspiring to push her off the toilet if she sat on it.)

Realising that I was not going to get back to sleep, possibly ever again, and nor was I going to work that day, I took her downstairs and took her temperature. It was high. I was immensely relieved.

Round about lunchtime she said, ‘I can think again now!’ It turned out that all day on Monday she couldn’t think straight or write things down properly, and when I picked her up she was in floods of tears, but said it was because she’d just hurt her ankle. She clearly didn’t understand why she was upset. She also couldn’t remember some of the things she’d said that morning. She couldn’t remember saying we’d won the lottery, but she smiled sheepishly when I told her because she’d just read a book in which a family wins the lottery. However she did remember the Borrowers talking and keeping her awake. 

‘I think they were just my thoughts,’ she said eventually. ‘But they were really, really loud.’ 

Can having a temperature mess with your head that much?! I suppose she was actually delirious. It was a vicious virus – the Cutester got it next and has been feverish and throwing up for the last 48 hours. But that was kind of easier to handle.